“2013 is unfolding real horror-show-like” said the protagonist Alex, as he sat back in a bubble of styles and tastes, mixed, and mashed together from decades gone, too alcoholically inebriated to care that the here and now is almost unidentifiable except for a general distinct lack of faith in everything” (Imagining the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange inhabiting our present social landscape).
The ghosts of every era have frighteningly come fully to life in our times. Full-throttle hyperreality. A world where people are more Victorian than the Victorians were; more 60’s than the 1960’s were, more Madchester than the Madchester scene was. A world full of simulacra. But why?
Surely the anxiousness caused by the inability to visualise/represent our postmodern (or late-capitalist) times need to be fueled by more than just confusion, in order for the past to embalm the present to such an extent that it becomes alive at the expense of the present? A collective sense that, in our blindness to our times, something is running amok, off its leash, slowly unraveling that which holds together civilisation?
In my last blog I described a feeling that 2013 gives me: a feeling of the uncanny. That all that should be dead and gone – inanimate – has now been brought back to life; or in another way of looking at it, we are behaving like ghosts ourselves; that the world we knew is dead, yet we go through the motions. We go through the motions despite there being so much scandal and corruption, in media/political/business establishments, that there is nothing left to trust in. We don’t know what else to do put to repeat our old actions.
A protective veil of simulcra helps us believe we are elsewhere in time. This veil gives way (either due to a descending social gradient or the passing of hours in a day) to the protective bubbles of alcohol/drug intoxication. You happen to pass through a certain part of your local area, at a different time of day, to realise the necessity of illegal drugs in peoples’ lives in order for them to exist (subsist). All avenues to deny the present have become so entrenched that you realise out-right madness is indeed a requirement to survive the strange and unsettling passing of days in 2013.
Amidst, what I would describe as a landscape of chaos, two television dramas (in particular) have settled into this mental environment, like large plants that have grown out of it all. They portray a tangibly close to The Now world, a sort of science fiction; the type of science fiction specific to a time that no longer believes in a future (our time). They are so close for comfort to be Pizza-eating TV-watching fodder, that you have to be in a severe state of disillusion not to notice that we are indeed looking through a Black mirror. Appropriately most of us are in just that state – in order to refrain oneself from running around and screaming. These two dramas being Utopia and Black Mirror, both shown on Channel 4.
As much as the extreme violence in Utopia initially sends jolts of shock through your nervous system, it isn’t what makes the lasting impact: it is that all this violence is perpetrated in order to find certain people and certain items crucial to controlling a global sterilisation project, which is being planned due to the very same issues that we must face in the century above anything else; resource depletion and feeding a growing population, with such a situation possibly leading to hellish ends.
Utopia reflects back to us the humongous issue that, due to its appearance of having no immediate effect, has almost vanished to the social conscious since the financial crash in 2008. We are locked into a cultural infliction that the theorist Mark Fisher diagnoses as ‘Capitalist Realism’. Utopia presents back to us the only solution we would have to save the human race under our ‘Capitalist Realism’ infliction: mass sterilisation. Surely one must retain the hope that a human race outside the dynamics of capitalism may yet find itself with a humane way of dealing with these century-defining problems?
Utopia’s networks of conspiracy get the mind working overtime, but the lasting mark it carves into our minds is the thought that says “hang on? what are we actually going to do to save the human race?” The violence is perhaps a welcome reflection of the levels on inhumanity that unaccountable powers will go to to get their way, but we need not rely on the possibility of acts of secrecy to know that this occurs. One must surely then follow up the first thought by asking whether the continuation of humanity under unaccountable power, which leaves a snail-trail of corruption as it inches towards the cliff face of civilisation, would be worthwhile anyway. But I’d argue that this is when one’s thoughts die via the thought-guillotine of Capitalist Realism, that places thought back into the survivalism of the here and now under extreme austerity.
If I do appear to have a somewhat paranoid feeling that I’m seeing the unraveling of things, so be it, (I hope it is!), I can’t help it, but I don’t think I’m alone in seeing the drama Black Mirror as being a zeitgeist-moment. Black Mirror is written by satirist/presenter Charlie Brooker, a man who is so apt for our cynical times, that it is maybe right that he doesn’t show the true size of his intelligence so often, allowing him to sneak it under peoples’ noses without them knowing.
Black Mirror is Science fiction specific to these cynical times, where we just hold on day in day out; a science fiction for a time when we have forgotten our own times, unaware that they are far more futuristic than we think – which has disastrous consequences. Three different episodes show a future so incredibly close, but it’s like looking a picture you know well yet then suddenly spotting something is incredibly wrong. This is our future, as with the future depicted in the Children of men; one where what is already present now is just made to get more extreme.
Yet Black Mirror operates perfectly in a postmodern society where more pedagogical warnings are told to go fuck off and get back on their high horse; it’s incredibly subtle. For example, the last episode. A cartoon character standing for election becomes more popular than real politicians. Anybody who has read ‘The Hell of It All’ ( a collection of Charlie Brooker’s columns for the Guardian’s G2 section) will know that this is what he more or less summed the then-London-mayor-candidate Boris Johnson up as being. Brooker showed a meek fear of the political consequences of people voting for somebody for their cartoon-character likability. With Waldo (the name of the character), in the last episode, who actually is a character, Brooker subtly leaves the consequences of the rise of such a figure to political power to short intervals between the ending credits, the point when people usually assume the story has ended: the man who did the original voice for Waldo, who quit because he became worried about they way it was all going, finds himself homeless in a fascist-looking state ruled over by Waldo television screens. The last shot shows him being beaten by police in black uniforms.
What does such an ending have in common with our times? Black Mirror’s subtle stabs through the blindness of cynicism, show us what social consequences can arise from a culture of cynicism and lack of trust. Our cynicism has been growing and growing, as the pillars of society have crumbled into total untrustworthiness over the past decade. In 2013, we now find ourselves in a landscape where we have no trust or hope in anything that orders our society, yet we have to carry on because we know no other way. We just Ipod ourselves out, even further so, and drape ourselves in even thicker reflections of a more comforting past. But the cracks in the present are getting harder to step over, and many are already tumbling down into them.
This year was always going to be one of re-building/coming to terms with falling back into a place that I felt I had to escape (believing it to be now or never) and realising it wasn’t the end of the world after all. This requires one to put things into perspective, not by comparing oneself to those less fortunate (not that they should be ignored) but in realising that nothing matters more and than obtaining that next inhalation of oxygen.
This has been a strange time, where initially the outside world fell away, to the extent that my life felt like it was in a momentary suspension from them, haunted by the (friendly-than-usual) ghosts of my past, and future. Almost felt like I was a actually a ghost hearing the sound of my life passing through the house where I have spent most of it. (The most appropriate musical soundtrack being Kate Bush, who’s music is quintessentially dream-like; but a certain type of dream, a dream where you wake up feeling you have left something behind in it; an haunting from the past, future and an unreachable present. The most apt song being Watching You Without Me (Hounds of Love): “there’s a ghost in our hall just watching you”. Her music may be so powerful to this situation because her earlier music is certainly one of my earliest memories of music, and it was also the music I was listening to in a rather similar situation 10 years ago when I tried and failed to do a course in Manchester. It’s phenomenologically important here.).
To cut all this short, it was a perspective that gave me reason to see the falling apart of the plans engraved into 2012 as anything but a mistake made; that now I could resume my creation of art, without feeling the pressure than I somehow ought to be more. But the rebuilding needs to be slow, like a physical healing process – just because you think you are fully healed it doesn’t mean you are. To go back out into the world too soon, well, this results in stumbling over obstacles that you’d have been floating safely over if you’d left it long enough.
I tried to understand what made me make think I was ready prematurely.
Social media has encroached so far into our lives that its omnipresence has made us blind to our total loss of privacy. The philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote of ‘falling into the world’, losing our ability to be philosophical, being unable to listen to our Being through the din made by society’s asks of us. Heidegger never lived to see the coming on the information-technology age. In this age (the ‘Facebook-age’- such naming of an era may yet prove to be not satirical and ironic at all) it is now almost impossible to refrain from ‘falling into the world’ in our very spaces of privacy.
Marc Augé wrote about this inversion in his book Non-Places, mapping the cultural logic that has landed us in the Facebook age, Augé Writes that the “[t]he individual, finally, is decentred in a sense from himself. He has instruments that place him in constant contact with the remotest parts of the outside world. Portable telephones are also cameras, able to capture still or moving images; they are also televisions and computers. The individual can thus live rather oddly in an intellectual, musical, or visual environment that is wholly independent of his immediate physical surroundings” One is surrounded by communication in the places they retreat to, and I now find myself going outside into the street to be alone with my thoughts. Finding it hard to tune out of the social media world, within a couple of weeks I have found my mind running on overtime. I didn’t have time to ground myself in a philosophically stable place, and my mind was ‘falling into the world’ with tonnes of stored-up energy that should have released at a much slower rate.
The past, present, and future that were previously in an harmless form, began to do immense damage to my well-being again. I don’t think anybody who finds themselves analysing 2013 can feel in a good mental state afterwards, it’s like the fruits of madness, all aging at different rates, all seem to have come to ripen in this year; there’s something uncanny about 2013. Almost as if we have hit a certain gage in our civilisation: now it isn’t a case of having to be unwell to function in an unwell society, you have to be utterly mad to function in society. Nothing looks different at first, but then walking the streets something hits you, the look on faces of utter confusion. Streets filling with the homeless, whilst others look at each other on phone screens. Pastiche and retro to such a saturation-extent that it’s like the entire history of man has been thrown into the same arena. More scandal in the political/media/corporate establishment that we can cope with; we’ve lost all faith in everything but still go through the motions not knowing what else do to. What’s the difference between a dystopia and an insane society? Or is the insanity the infliction that stops us realising it’s a dystopia? Utter confusion; necessary blindness. Just count your blessings that nobody really has the time to notice the moments when you yourself crack.
So I wait and expect social breakdown, but it’s likely that it won’t happen, and the breakdown is merely that my past seems to have collapsed in on my present, and I can’t figure out where next. Perhaps I am the one dummy at the end of history whilst everyone else just potters around until the transition occurs? I’m 29 now, and it feels like my 20’s were just a single year, but yet not for everyone around, who appears to have somehow merged into a walk of life. I’m still locked in these years not knowing where to go next. After the calm start to the last year of my 20’s I’ve suddenly found myself locked into a lifestyle which feels like I’m trying to finish the business of the entirety of my 20’s – not really knowing what that business is, just that some conclusion needs to arrived at. The conclusion was probably being arrived at until I fell into the omnipresent world, unable to escape social media. It certainy feels that some grasp on normality (a relationship with someone for example) would serve as an immense anesthetising tool, stop me staring too much into the uncanny, frightening 2013, but would it?
Looking at the world teaches you to be cold, emotionless, when you can’t help feeling that the future will be dark, you shut down your senses to prepare for it. It surprises people how honest I can be about my life, whilst also being so unemotional about it, as if I’m not speaking of my past but a record collection. It really doesn’t bother me at all, but I often fear I scare friends with what I say, but I can’t see it, because my emotions are now merely references for conversation to prove my points. I can speak of emotion but I can’t act on it; I could easily inform you if I was having a massive breakdown whilst calmly asking you to pass me the salt. Of course I don’t want to be like this, but like with everything else, re-learning takes time – I struggle to find this time, when the superhighways are flying past my eyes and ears.
When writing about the atrocities committed under the British Empire that seem to have slipped out of our cultural memory, the writer and activist George Monbiot said that “[w]e British have a peculiar ability to blot out our colonial history” that “…at least they [Holocaust deniers] know what they are denying. In order to sustain the lies they tell, they must engage in strenuous falsification. To dismiss Britain’s colonial atrocities, no such effort is required. Most people appear to be unaware that anything needs to be denied” (Dark Hearts, The Guardian, April 2012). I began to wonder whether it is because this nation cannot imagine itself as being anything but a force of good – after all it did used to refer to God as ‘being an Englishman. If the British psyche cannot see itself as being anything but good, how can it store memory of acts of evil done under the Union flag?
The subject of this blog is much removed from these atrocities, but the ability to forget isn’t, because if a human being has a desperate desire to be a good person, it’s likely memories of the darkest things they did will simply fall from their mind, just like a society’s collective memory. Yet, these memories can be awoken. Today a friend posted my way his new art project ‘The Wicth‘ which is a photo-documentation that looks at dilapidated but still occupied houses, arguing that “this dilapidation is not necessarily the product of poverty, or an inability to maintain these homes because of a disability, but is also a sign that perhaps the inhabitants have something more interesting on their minds than keeping up appearance. But fundamentally this makes them a target for “…likely victimisation…at the hands of their community. They are, like back in the days of witch burning, feared and further ostracised due to their (perceived, or actual) inability to conform…This “failure” to conform is often seen as a threat to those conforming as it has the potential to make them notice and question the walls of their protective bubble”. (The project is called ‘Wicth due to Stuart Alexander “as a child growing up in Surrey..” seeing “…one of these houses, and a child (or particularly inept adult) had written (a misspelling of Witch) in chalk below the living room window on the brick work”.
This brought back memories of something I too don’t deny, but just struggle to keep in my memory bank, although it certainly has made a hidden impact, which has likely contributed to my constant urge to apologise to people (it has left an indelible ‘guilty’ mark on my unconscious). When I was 10 years old (1994), growing up in an ex-mining village overspill (that’s only now begining to look this way retroactively as I grow older) I got involved in some rather bad things in the village; I’d just been allowed to go off a bit further by myself, on my bicycle. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I think I was a bit damaged in 1994; my sister had been hospitalised with anorexia, and with my parents visiting her most evenings, I was left at friends’ houses where I played violent computer games such as Mortal Kombat (although its level of violence seems comical compared to modern computer games) and I was getting in fights (what seemed like) everyday at school.
For a brief spell I’m pretty sure I was close to becoming a person who lacked empathy. One of these things was myself and another lad, almost killing a dog by purposefully throwing its stick into a wasps nest on the recreation ground; I, a poor thrower, told my friend to throw it, it was my idea… The other was when I got involved in a gang who found a lady who was living in a dilapidated house in the village and one of the gang members started making rumors that she was a witch. He was a bit of a goofy-looking boy and wanted respect from the more popular boys in the village, and he began by making stories up about unoccupied houses (which there seemed to a lot of back then) being haunted. He was obviously making these stories up, but boredom, coupled with many other things (as in hindsight most of the other boys were probably more psychologically damaged than I was, in one way or another) meant that we could make ourselves believe in them. It was an easy target to pick on a household that didn’t conform in anyway to the norm, being an utterly dilapidated house, which seemed to receive no visitors.
I was part of the external crowd, not so much chanting “witch” like the others, but stood at the back, half intoxicated on the mob mentality, half scared of getting into trouble. “Not being totally involved” is the story I told myself in order to feel exempt from the actions of those shouting and throwing things, but in a sense isn’t it the one’s who make the crowd, make the numbers surrounding a nasty deed that allow it happen and make it even more scary for the victim?
Since I have grown older my fear is of becoming one on the other side of a witch-hunt. Becoming the victim; a prisoner in their own home; as the community projects their fears, often through the actions of children who pick up on their community’s fears. In hindsight I think it’s very probable that this individual had severe depression. Having now suffered from depression myself; a know that fear of feeling like a freak once you can’t hide your illness to the world around you. I have often feared children, maybe a similar age to us at the time (9,10,11 years old) locating MY (potential) dilapidating dwelling and slowly beginning to gather there one by one on an evening. I fear this probably because I’ve seen what it can do; how horrible kids can be. Maybe it would be justice (or maybe read the second part of this blog… which deals with the idea of justice).
To my knowledge the harassment ended when her brother caught up with us on the recreation ground one day, and asked for the names of those of us present on that particular gang ‘outing’, when my parents drove past and noticed me, and my punishment was directed through them, as he escorted me to the car I had been called to. I suppose in a way, I was the only one out of about 15 (in total) who got into trouble with their parents for it. Perhaps I was one of the only ones to receive any sort of (small) retribution for it.
All I can say now is that I hate bullying, it makes me sick to see. In the years that have followed I’ve witnessed much bullying in my home town; a place full of estates left economically and socially neglected by the end of the industry they relied on, which sadly seems to lend itself to intolerance. I suppose in general, saying all this is quite timely as I’m feeling the need to be honest at the moment (although I’m never dishonest) there is certain parts of our life we conveniently forget about, parts that are best spoken about. Many things aren’t spoken about. (see Stuart Alexander’s work here http://www.stuartalexander.net/wp/projects/the-wicth/)
Many subjects aren’t spoken out because they are so taboo….
…So to remain briefly on the subject of witch-hunting (although I’m aware this blog’s getting to an attention-losing length now) I’d like to offer my praise to the subject dealt with in Series 2 episode 2 of the near future satirical drama Black Mirror written by Charlie Brooker, which was recently aired on Channel 4. To begin with Black Mirror has slightly restored my belief that television isn’t dead just yet, but there again the very subject of episode 2 deals in an eerily close-to-actuality depiction of television’s death robe: reality TV. A young woman wakes up in a house with no memory of anything. She goes out into a grim social housing estate only to find people who do not communicate, just document her the phone-cameras. Suddenly she finds herself being chased by apparent psychopaths chase her and another woman with weapons, wishing to cut them up, whilst the other people merely act as spectators recording the spectacle (which turns out to be the truth). A concoction of traumas is rained upon her.
After some time, people, who she believes are either companions and enemies, all turn out to be actors, who clamp her to a swivel chair that turns to face an audience. It turns out her memory has been erased as part of a show. She is the ‘freak’ in a ‘freakshow’. An actor who had previously pretended that he was about to kill her with an electric drill, turns out to be the host of this ‘freakshow’, who swivels this young woman around to have her now-erased life re-told to her. It turns out the woman was complicit in her one-time partner’s kidnap and brutal murder of a child. Because her ex-partner killed himself, it has been decided that justice must be inflicted on her in the most ‘satisfactory’ means possible.
She is then paraded as ‘the monster’ this society deems her to be past aggressive organized-mobs of spectators, where objects are pelted at her, only to be placed back in the house where she woke up, and have her memory erased again. It becomes clear this freakshow is an organised ‘justice’ theme park, where people come to partake in the never-ending ‘nightmare’ made for this ‘monster’. Like the previous episode, what makes Black Mirror so (rightfully) traumatising; a drama the “wipes the human face in its own vomit and then forces is to look in the mirror” (a quote by J G Ballard, sampled by the Manic Street Preachers), is that it is science fiction specific to our times. Old science fiction, of the 20th century, is now almost playful with its giant modern pyramids and flying cars. Charlie Brooker (who, with Black Mirror, has proven he has the intelligence many always thought he had) has written stories that understand where our postmodern society, one that stopped believing in a future and is now socially regressing, is heading. A near future world where everything looks the same, yet is just slightly more severe (slightly more fucked up). Because the driver of change, technology, is no longer visible to us, it is everywhere (in our hands, ears, fingertips) but nowhere because we can’t really see it, and in fact visually we start to look more to the past as the speed of technology further muffles our experience of the present; we descend.
The step forwards into the future (and the step backwards into terms of civilisation) in the second episode of the second series deals with something that society is usually too scared to confront: Black Mirror has subtly commented here on an issue sex criminals/child murderers (the most horrific crimes in a society). That, regardless of the acts, the societal hatred of them is a modern day witch-hunt, something that people wish back the death penalty for.
I’ve always thought that these horrifying acts are buried deep into our the dark heart of our society, which emerge in certain people who have perhaps been more damaged by society’s institutions along the way to adulthood. The witch-hunt is much more a fear of what one dare not confront in themselves rather than of the offender in question; the evils of society that are buried surface deep, but every time they emerge, we just hack off the heads rather than trying to pull up the roots to stop it growing back. These evils are-short-circuited, corrupted within certain individuals into horrifying acts, but destroying that individual won’t stop the act recurring; less tolerance actually stokes the fires of repression that feed social evils.
After the show was aired I saw a Facebook comment about it saying “she got what she deserved; child-mudering bitch” and it just seemed obvious that their comment was a symptom of what was being warned against: the horrors of witch-hunts, no matter what the crime and in what historical period they happen to occur. Although the crime on the episode wasn’t one specifically of pedophilia; it was a crime that synchronises with pedophilia as crimes that society is less and less willing to understand the causations of, and increasingly more likely to make causes for witch-hunts that are far more likely as tolerance retreats as civilization descends. If you haven’t seen it all ready, it is still available on 4OD. It is traumatic viewing, but most certainly essential viewing.
(Note: my dark imagination got carried away here; it’s not really a blog that calls for optimism)
Whenever I hear two particular sounds they emotionally grip me so intensely, because they seem much more than sounds that embody a time; they sound as if all elements of an entire era were being smashed together at high speeds. These two sounds are the terrifying siren noise made by the German second world war plane, the Stuka, and the monstrous sound of the flamethrower (which one is most likely to be accustomed to hearing from footage of the war between Japan and the USA in the Pacific).
The period that sounds like it is being smashed together within these noises is, for certain, the first part of the 20th century, but I’d probably argue that those noises are almost a some sum total of the entire 20th century. The noises sound more futuristic than possibly anything that has come after; an horrific modern era, where all the hopes of modernism were being torn to shreds, landing us in a postmodern desert, abandoned by geography; when the rock music (a sound of freedom), that rose up and died in the stars that culture burnt to a cinder, was at its most violent sounding, it sounded like the noises of warfare from the first half of the century.
In fact the death drive of modernity, and the death drive of the fated rock stars (who were possibily fated due to their late arrival to the modernist project), is what these sounds almost seem to capture. They are darkly intoxicating noises to all generations born afterwards, who don’t really know where they are in time anymore. One could actually imagine the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange enjoying the sound of a Stuka on repetition. Sometimes it feels like the future did well and truly die in the 20th century. And these noises sound like its death.
To follow up yesterday’s post, regarding leaving London and having to return to my home town, an incredibly less busy and noisy place, I have posted two maps I drew of routes I have walked, in order to show my thoughts and experience of that area whilst walking through it. One map is of a walk from Shoreditch to New Cross in London, and one is from the Mapplewell to Darton, in my home town, Barnsley.My intention was to show that the thoughts in ones mind whilst walking through an area and experiencing it, can make interesting documentation wherever one happens to be; that whether one is in the heart of a metropolis or in scattered former mining villages, the internal running commentary that accompanies that walk can be just as revealing and conscious-awaking of our real material conditions.
This all related to the Mapping Capitalism course I began, but couldn’t complete, in London, and in particular theorist Fredric Jameson’s notion of cognitive mapping, as a modern means to class conciousness and awareness of our real material conditions, in the disorientating world under late capitalism. Informed by both the philosopher Althusser and the urbanist/town planner who used psychogeographical ideas to create better living environments, Kevin Lynch, Jameson argued that the “mental map of a city explored by Lynch can be extrapolated to that of the social and global totality we carry around in our heads in various garbled forms”
These maps are just the beginning of many I wish to make. I do lots of walking, but not so much leisurely walking (in the sense of a country side stroll), more like walking to town to town, village to village. I have attempted to draw these maps right afterwards, visually the area as I draw the route I walked, in order to remember my emotions and things I saw whilst walking.
If not to anyone else, I find this deeply informative to myself. It’s like when I look back on what I have written the landscape reveals its true identity to me; something an A-Z or Google map could never do. It also made me realise that there is something to be gained conceptually from any walk. Not just a walk through the most tourist-friendly spots on earth.
Map 1. Sunday 7th October 2012
Map 2. Thursday 7th February, 2013
I’m slowly becoming more comfortable thinking about the experiences of my 3 month stay in London, now that it is becoming evidential to me that I wouldn’t have been able to complete my stay, or the course I was enrolled to. That it wasn’t a mistake to go, and then to leave; it was something I had to do and has possibly allowed me to return to that which I initially felt I had to leave, now greeting it with fresh eyes.
I made the decision to do a master’s degree right at the beginning of 2012, after beginning to feel that I was becoming trapped in a place in life that I wasn’t satisfied with, but being unable to picture a departure from for many years previous. There was a choice in destinations from where to undertake the course; between Leeds, part-time, the safest option, and Goldsmiths London, which was always a more ambitious-risk-taking option. But was it the kind of risk I wished to take? Sometimes you are so out of touch with your own subject (its capabilities and incapabilities) that you listen too much to your reflections in the hall of mirrors – reflections of what you think others will want from you.
A fear was coming over me. Something about the situation I was in (possibly the lack of change and optimism that it could change) was beginning to blunt the one thing that has given me a sense of self and confidence since day one of adulthood: my artistic expression. This fear joined forces with an existential anxiety, as I was heading towards my 30’s (with nothing to show for it but my art), and an informative anxiety, that the growing old and hiding from the unfolding world issues just wasn’t a viable option and I needed to immerse myself in whatever could sharpen my understanding of it. Basically I felt I needed to get myself out of a place where I felt that things could only get worse.
Looking at my decision to move to London now, it was a jigsaw that fell into place from pieces that just wouldn’t fit together in practice. I had made a way forward that wasn’t really such, to appease so many different pressures; I’d made a jigsaw out of ill-fitting pieces thinking it would confront my feelings of dead-endedness; my feelings of failure in both my eyes and the eyes of others; my inability to form relationships; my desire to sharpen my knowledge on social/cultural issues; and that out of this somehow a way forward would be paved, and I would ride out of my 20’s with a sense of self-pride.
I don’t need to overstate when I say that my every undertaking is haunted by a deep sense of something being wrong; whether I am emptying a plastic food packet and throwing it in the dustbin, drawing money from the bank, or listening to the same music on my mp3 player that I always have on to accompany certain daily routines. Most of the time this deep sense is overridden by the energy devoted to ‘carrying on with life’; most of the time, even when it does bubble up into my consciousness causing a sensation of being on borrowed time, slowly edging further to collapse (me and the world), I can deal with it by attempting to channel it into ‘something productive’. But the more of this there is to deal with in any given day the less chance my coping methods have of recovering; lack of life in a given area can throw one into objective despair, but so can too much life in a given area.
There was already an unspoken melancholy around moving to London in place before I even actually found a place to stay; before I even opted for London over Leeds. It felt as if the present had caught up with me, and with the world. It felt like moving there was the only real bit of logic left, that all these lines were reaching an horizon: I kept thinking to myself it was ‘a perfect storm’. ‘The perfect storm’ being that I have always had some kind of unappeasable frustration that I was going to live past my 20’s; being a male who, due to never finding his place, has never been able to appease his death drive; whilst being in a culture haunted to insanity by dead stars that burnt out before they reached 30; and also a culture that seems to offer no future, and no illusion of a future for those who can’t tune out from the signs of living in a ‘dying world’. The Jigsaw that was studying a masters in Culture Studies in London, seemed to offer a hypothetical conclusion to this death drive, that would never work in practice (many of us have this death drive, I just think many aren’t aware of it).
Yes, I did shroud this plan in positivity, which I even managed to con myself with (“a chance to go study something that would allow me unlock so many doors on conundrums that had being whirling around my head for years”). I was finally appeasing the ‘academiacs’, feeling like they were demanding an ultimatum; but of course this ‘academiac’ was merely my paranoia that had formed a chimera from all the disparate sentences from many mouths, which had nestled on my shoulder . But I cannot deny that the plan was very much motivated by this frustrated death drive, always feeling that life wanted me to burn out. I say this openly because things that motivate me to do what I do are completely out of touch with how I actually live my life; not heroic at all, but nervously clinging on, waiting for the next small pleasure in life (think of the protagonist in the novel 1984 Winston Smith’s’ existential crisis over whether he should kill himself before Big Brother kills him in a slower, more humiliating way). The entirety of my experience of 2012 is centred around this hidden motivation.
I don’t of course think I am alone in being motivated by a death drive: I think many young men are. They are made to feel like it is what the world wants of them. Apart from those who feel they are given no choice in life but to join the army, it hardly ever ends in death. As I mention above, when one is amidst life, they have no intention of ending it, despite civilisation seemingly offering them no future past the next alcoholic anesthetising. Yet, probably because of this, they cling on to life even more desperately and clumsily, trying to secure some stability (usually whilst drunk). But in spite of this, the death drive never disappears, and at low points/points of severe shame in one’s life, it will result in bouts of self-destruction.
“As your life flashed before your eyes” (packt like sardines in a crushd tin box, Radiohead, 2001)
I discovered music by the artist Burial during the lead-up to moving to London. I’d already read about how Burial was eerily reflective of the non-times we occupy, because it possesses the lamenting sound of the present in its mournful obsession with the culture of the past; music that actually sounds like the past haunting the present as we experience it, as opposed to most modern music which just seems to directly mimic the past, resulting in pastiche. Burial captures the sound of our times: a time that doesn’t know its time, but knows something is wrong with it anyway. When I heard Burial, this was so true, and in particular it sounded to me like experiences of my own life caught in sound that still induce a haunting lamentation.
This departure to London really did feel like the capping of a life that I had to lead, rather than a bridge to new opportunities (I don’t really believe that opportunities exist; more that the will to carry on makes cracks appear in dead-ends, which we then must take if we want to survive). This was despite what my inner narrator told me. London felt like a place that I had already lived in, like a part of my life I had got to exercise; the world, past and present, all in one. When I was on the many Mega Bus trips from London back to the north, when I was looking for a room, certain Burial songs were the soundtrack. It wasn’t a bright future that occupied my mind, but a future situated together with echo’s from the past. After all, this is why I wanted to do a Culture Studies course; but the intensity of this feeling would be what made it impossible for me to complete it.
I never did find a room. The slow reactions when it comes to decision-making from somebody who has to travel in his head from the past in order to make a present-day decision, proved me not up to the task of competing for a room, for which there always seemed to be at least 5 other ‘contestants’. By this time I was already exhausted. But I’d centred my year around this plan to such an extent that there was nowhere else I could think to go. The make-shift positivity I make up around old friends, meant that whenever I bumped into one of them, I’d find myself pushing myself into a pro-active position from which I had to go to London.
I eventually had to move into halls of residence, which I initially didn’t want to do, because of a rental cost around 100 pound more a month than I felt comfortable spending. The higher cost just upped the pressure. However, at least I had finally landed (finally escaped them night buses from Victoria Coach Station!), and for a brief spell actually thought that my exhaustion with the plan was just that, an exhaustion with searching, rather than with the plan. I began to believe that my previous inertia in life was actually down to my previous geographical location after all. I certainly had enough people who I could phone up, who would confirm this belief as truth (not that their advice was meant as anything but help for a friend). The pressure to find work still seemed a bit of a way off, as long as I had some savings to rely on. And I instantly seemed to be able to make friends there. I thought it was actually going to work out.
But I couldn’t escape the obsessive routine patterns (mainly just going running and walking) that I have accumulated through the years as a means to wall myself in from the inability to truly overcome the initial bleakness of nihilism; and it was beginning to get in the way of everything, including studies. The course was fascinating, but I was learning for the sake of it being important for me to learn all of this, not for a grade. And I was lost and alienated once I was confronted with the formalities and structure of academia, via other students, as talk began on dissertations from day one. Of course, this is why one does a course! But it wasn’t why I’d really begun it. The reality of this ‘perfect storm’ was beginning to set in as the thoughts the course generated heightened my sensitivity to a world outside my (new) doorstep, that had far more of life’s ups and down to concern one with than where I had previously lived.
The place I stayed was New Cross in South East London (which I stress I did actually develop a soft-spot for in spite of my difficulties) situated under a busy flight path for passenger jets, next to a busy railway line, and near the very busy A2 road. I realised the world was no longer something I went to find, it as on top of me. It was now everything all of the time, good and bad, everything from every walk of life, every noise, every sight; people from all walks of life; opportunity and destitution all on one’s doorstep. When I woke up in the morning I could already hear the world’s heartbeat thumping away without me, and in the fragility of half-sleep this felt too intimidating to face and I really struggled to get out of bed (which is unusual for me).
Such difficulties in my daily life just kept on upping the pressure, whilst I had no space to replenish my mental well-being, which was being quietly eroded day by day by all the sights I would see in this ‘world-city’. Cities the size of London really do make one feel like everything happening all over the world is happening outside their doorstep. This can initially be exciting, but I just argue that I haven’t got the mental make-up to ride these waves, and I get sucked under and under. This sure was the perfect storm, but the reality has a far different effect, than an abstract idea of it being some kind of perfect coming together of things; if you’re susceptible to inner city pressure it doesn’t hit you at once, it slowly and silently starts to knock bits off you, like waves against a cliff face.
As much as the sad sights most certainly had this effect, so did the things that ought to have made me happier than I was in my old location. Because it was everything all of the time and no beginning or ending to all of this for many miles all around, a feeling of utter objective despair began to fall over me, where nothing mattered. The additional growing pressure brought an anger and a large amount of irrationality into the mix. I found myself in a mental state which I thought I’d departed from in my very early 20’s: that of avoidance of tasks and of people, of a uncontrollable aimlessness that leads to walking the streets for hours at a time not knowing where to go.
Even though I could still meet people for a drink, I was spending the day hiding from the words that I expected to hear in academic structures, such as ‘dissertation’ and ‘marks’, thinking how they meant so little to me, now I was amidst this objective despair. My inner narrative, that was telling me to go to London no more than a month before, was now repeatedly and compulsively saying “what am I doing here? why am I even here?” The reality of “a perfect storm”, that one’s death drive conjures up but cannot cater for, began to hit home. I didn’t really want to be back in academia at all, but felt that I ought to delve into the subjects that had concerned me so much. All I look for in a lived life is substance.
Thus, I wanted to go to the pubs to soften the harsh world that had on unfolded from the eyeballs outwards. Most other people couldn’t join me because they were down there to do what they were supposed to be doing: a one year, full-time master’s degree. being unable to ‘switch off’ at times to shield my well-being from everything-all-of-the-time I felt like I was amidst my own made lunatic asylum, and I began to feel self-destructive. Self destruction is the death drive becoming frustrated, impatient, and embarrassed at the life one has.
I then discovered an early and much more raw-sounding recording of a Joy Division track; a track that had much resonance with the part of my life when this happened before, in my early twenties. An early recording of Novelty by Joy Division, had such a desperate and tangible closeness to the way I was feeling at this point. I was listening to the song many times a day. I found the track incredibly addictive for these reasons, yet it was encouraging self-destructive thoughts. The only way I was cured of this is when I abandoned everything and caught the Mega Bus back to my home town. From up here, after bumping into friends, suddenly London seemed so great and exciting, I even spoke of it with positivity. But it was an excitement that I found unobtainable whilst amongst this world-city, and there were no safety barriers preventing this from recurring. When I began to feel like I’d already fallen behind with my course, it wasn’t safe for my well-being to be down there any more, despite all the friends I had made.
“What you gonner do, what you gonner do when it’s over?” (Novelty, Joy Division)
At the same time I also felt like I had no future back in Barnsley. This was increasing the self-destructive thoughts, because I felt trapped and stuck, between something I knew I couldn’t do and somewhere I thought there was no way of returning to. But eventually finding myself on a Megabus trip back to Yorkshire, I knew that I couldn’t return back now.
Eventually, after having no money for a while, and being back at my parent’s – and as much as I didn’t want to be here, it was a roof and food which is more than people have in this harsh times. – the slower and less immediate world up here gave me time to gather some perspective, and I started to look at my home town with a slightly different perspective, in spite of all its short-falls, and the times when I have felt let down by it. I also began to look at my life with temporarily less anxious tint. Yes, ideally, if I could find work in the nearby city of Sheffield, which is both a place that offers something to everybody but is also incredibly close to wide open spaces (the Peak District), but in these times this may just not be possible: living in Barnsley doesn’t have to make one ‘the laughing stock of the world’ as many would say it would. Putting things into perspective also meant not looking at London as a disaster but as an experience that maybe taught me more about myself than I initially thought. And nor should I try to bury my head from all that I learnt on the course in the short stay, in fear that it will make me feel great regret.
An often-used environmental motto is to ‘think globally but act locally’. But this motto doesn’t just have meaning for the cultivation of the earth, but for the cultivation of society. I’ve never been an activist of sorts (I would be lying to say I have been to many protests, even though I support, and would go if it wasn’t for the unnaturalness to myself of these certain ways of trying to change things). Maybe this town is my and many others’ project? Why did I flit to London? I’ve seen what a disastrous effect this flitting to the capital has on many other towns and cities.
I’ve begun writing and documenting this area with my global concerns, and with influences from what I learnt on the London course, in spite of my failure to finish it. One example of this, is a psychogeographical tour of an area I put under the banner of the West Riding of Yorkshire (Barnsley, Wakefield, Leeds, Sheffield), where I am using photographs alongside thoughts related to geographical experience that one often instantly forgets once they leave the vicinity, leaving the truth of things to more official documentation of areas, which never really understands the reality of human life in them. I feel this area has much to gain from being documented in this manner, the local papers, and free magazines never get to grips with what reality is really like here, instead usually resorting to advertising lifestyles usually unattainable to the majority.
As much as my home area has frustrated me and made me feel alienated at times, the only way to overcome this is to confront these sensations. I refuse to mock the place, as I am part of the place, and to mock it would be to mock much of what makes who I am. But I also refuse to compromise myself within this environment. If I can’t leave it, it doesn’t mean it has to be the end of my life, as many who scoff at those who reside in smaller towns would argue.