Lost for words
…not strictly, but they are wrapped up in a thick cloud of confusion and contradiction. But I’m putting out there EXACTLY how I’m feeling in the wake of last week’s referendum vote.
Is this the nervous breakdown of a country? It’s becoming an unavoidable truth that what I’ve seen happening over the past few years has gone into overdrive since 23.06.2016. People around me having some sort of meltdown – something I suspect is happening because the strain and the pain of DECADES of Thatcherite Britain has suddenly become unbearable. Brexit, like it or not, seems to have worked it like an accidental alarm-switch.
Was Brexit an unexpected exercise of a country’s nervous breakdown, long overdue? And was this unexpected exercise the last, skewed, but true exercise of democracy we had left?
It is without doubt that there are people in places around the world enduring a hell the English (as this is mainly regarding the English) cannot imagine. But has this country, the first capitalist country on earth, finally broke down under the experience of late capitalism? Has life under this faded-glory-stained neoliberal project hit saturation point?
Last week I was off work, but, after failing to set up a postal/proxy vote, I wasn’t confidently care-free enough to miss voting. So I decided to spend my days off work heading a bit further than usual. It seemed the right thing to do upon a terrain that could, so to speak, be shifting under my feet.
On Tuesday I cycled all the way from Barnsley to York (exhausted, dehydrated, thus all the more porous to the Northern Europe-like feel to North/East Yorks – the red-tile rooftops could convince you there was no body of sea between Yorkshire and Denmark). YORVIK . On Wednesday I went to London, endured a far-more than customary level of alienation at Frustration at the all-out ‘Remain’ consensus congregating around the Kings Cross-based leafleters (even though I voted Remain myself). I felt wounded and inarticulate in a London that felt self-congratulatory-soaked in something that was promoting a cause that had no idea of the type of wounding I was feeling, a wounding I KNOW I’m not the only one feeling, because the wounds are slumped in the city’s streets corners when it bothers to acknowledge them. An anger rising up through the drains of Thatcherite Britain.
But I had too many friends with too many SENSIBLE reasons to vote Remain and too many frightening reasons not to vote Leave for me to take such a reckless leap for the cause of the anger I’ve been feeling for so long now. And on Friday morning I was stunned into inertia just like everybody else.
Aren’t we all lost right now? Heads boiling with a million voices all at once. Looking for blame victims. But I won’t blame 17 million leave voters by calling them stupid or racist. Calling people stupid for what for them is a genuine concern leads to nowhere, except a self-congratulatory flurry of Facebook ‘likes’.
“The Cunt with the gut and the Buzz Light-year haircut…calling all the workers plebs” (The Sleaford Mods)
In recent British history nothing has been as divisive as the destruction of the working class base, built over years of struggle, fucked over by Thatcher, and the market fundamentalism then driven between us all. Yet we overlook ‘the war between all’ conjured by this, and we parrot the words of a more affluent less trapped metropolitan elite for whom issues of race and gender are solely moral issues, and nothing to do with class stratification. The result is what you see in the video above. A top down, media perspective, which doesn’t even need to be based in London to be London-centric, looking at all those intolerant, stupid places like Barnsley -cherry picking the mixed up and politically incorrect voices.“Oh why, oh why can’t they be like us decent London Folk?” A slowly bubbling rage.
“I work my dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff “
So, these places where the majority voted ‘Leave’ – what do we do with these people who refused to do “the right thing”?
In 2015 the documentary Invisible Britain followed the music group the Sleaford Mods on a tour of towns not on the ‘cool-list’. Not just ignored by other music groups but also by the London-centred gaze of society. Invisible Britain is perhaps the only contemporary documentation of the great ignored that hasn’t stuck to a preconceived, condescending stereotype, laden with mockery or contempt. Expensively-educated Sacha Baron-Cohen springs to mind…
When you hear the Sleaford Mods, the lyricist Jason Williamson’s anger, if you ask me, is like a momentary placing of the head back on the shoulders of the decapitated and disempowered body of working class rage. Williamson’s seething anger at the alienation and humiliation of a contemporary life experience many can relate to gives a voice to this rage when the world is made to feel so unaccountably chaotic that the only tools for understanding it available are tools to blame yourself with for the hell that surrounds you. But, as the film states, they are still largely a lone voice.
That which informs racist anger isn’t born out of fresh air. Nor can those who spout it vanish into fresh air – which is what I often feel many on the diminishing liberal class long for. Out of mind out of sight.
What do you do with these people, then? “Get rid of the buggers? “. Create two separate States? One called ‘London‘, for the ‘tolerant’ ‘open-minded’ folks and ‘the rest‘? Actually, doesn’t this petition already exist? The ‘I’m alright Jack-multiculturalism’ mantra conceals an hidden contempt.
The Leave result has clearly blown everything else out of the water. And as denial against it kicks in, the truth of what has simmered underneath the seeming tolerance and liberalism of the past few decades is coming out. It’s nasty, and I’m sorry to say the most upsetting things aren’t just coming from ‘racist idiots’ but from the younger section of the Remain supporters, chatting away in the cooler parts of town. Behind the ‘coolness’, their inherited social Thatcherism is rearing its ugly fucking head. Their contempt isn’t for the migrants, it’s for Britain’s socially immobile who will “probably never leave their home town never mind live in another country” (actually heard!). It’s an hidden hatred for the existence of those who “clearly haven’t tried hard enough to better themselves” and join aspirational and cosmopolitan Britain. It’s not a contempt for people from other countries, it’s a contempt for the working class of this country, and it’s equally toxic – if not more due to its invisibility.
I’m sorry to say this but they may have just sunken your cosmopolitan dreamboat…
I can’t help but be convinced that, even though what evidently galvanised the victory for Brexit was a deep concern about immigration, the anger isn’t really meant for immigrants, but for the ruling class of this country, as inarticulate as the anger was. As self-harming as Brexit could potentially be to everyday people – it’s an anger about being ignored, overlooked and even looked down upon. And I’m not saying I don’t now find it all scary as fuck.
The same present day top-down reasoning bemoans the ‘loutish’ English for their seeming preference to take to throwing chairs and punches at other football fans than taking to the streets like the French. But after nearly 40 years of destruction of class consciousness and a narrowing of political horizons, creating a state of stuckness that Mark Fisher calls ‘reflexive impotence’, Brexit is a seismic working class revolt, even if it ends turning against the working classes.
The Ignored is geographical in nature, but it is fundamentally underpinned by class.
“The sorrows we suffered and never were free” Decades, Joy Division
In an article looking at why white working class children, out of all ethnic communities, perform so poorly in the school exams they sit before joining the adult world, Paul Mason says that “Thatcherism didn’t just crush the unions, it crushed a story”. Far from pitting different working classes against others, Mason looks at what happened to a specific story. This was a story of a long history of struggle, from the satanic mills and mines of the 18/19th century, towards an increasingly equal and better country for the working class, propped up on paternalism and solidarity. But, he adds, “suppress paternalism and solidarity for one generation and you create multigenerational ignorance and poverty”.
Left to endure the hell of ‘prole-life’ with no explanation to the pain felt, or meaning to guide you through it, it’s clear that migrants, who are nearly always thrown into the very same Ignored-lands, are mistaken as being the cause of this pain rather than being effects of the pain being felt.
After 30 years of misdirected rage towards the neighbours, the headless zombie of working class rage reacts in a destructive manner. I’m not saying what has just happened is a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, but the limits of my own imagination saw that something like this was bound to happen in the UK at some point. The cause for either a leftwing Remain or Leave were not being heard because they appealed to how they thought people should think rather than how they actually felt.
In a competitive world everybody wants to speak, but nobody wants to listen.
Blair and Cameron’s Britain…so much to answer for…
… a Negative Hedonistic Britain
Humiliation. Aimlessness. Shame. Anxiety. Anger. Dead-end pleasure-seeking.
Drink to take the edge off the pain. Drink to run away from the pain. Drink to locate the nature of the pain. Drink to find a way out of the pain.
Sooner or later you can’t see anything else. And I’m not even alcoholic – I just can’t deal with it all once the sun goes down.
I’ll be honest, I’ve hit a point in my life where I don’t think I can carry on in this manner much longer….I’m hearing you England.
Regarding the past ten years I can’t yet express the pain at the deep regret at the world I’m supposed to function in. It bursts out in drunken self destruction- it’d be articulated in sober tears if I hadn’t become so walled up over the years.
“Keep calm and carry on”.
It’s very hard not to internalise negativity. After all, it’s encouraged by a process that has seen this island become increasingly private and lonely over the past few decades.
“Feeling uneasy? then stick your headphones in and drift into private inertia”.
But with each passing post-2010-year I’m finding that what I thought was MY Story – that my struggle with depression has felt to have been caused by a loss, and REVERSAL of a sense that the world was becoming and fairer, more tolerant, less cruel place – was actually lots of other peoples’ too. It’s just that it was experienced in loneliness. It turns out that through the last decades of the 20th century many of us thought the millennium would be the harbinger of something better, and the cost on general well-being from the reversal of this conviction must be so huge.
Post-Rave. Post Britpop. Post Binge-drink Britain… what next?
And so to Friday 24 June…
As my train traveled through Manchester, and as a country tries to function after the morning’s news, I look up at the hills that circulate the world’s first modern city. This is a nervous breakdown! It sort of comforts me in some odd sense, because I feel like I’ve been heading towards one for a long time, and it looks like the rest of the country has found its rightful place beside me for this mass collective breakdown. Things could get very dark very quickly, if the racist incidents being caught on film are anything to go by, but I’m in a Kate Bush-methadone right now, as I listen to a slightly slowed-down version of her Wuthering Heights. It seems to always stir a deep conviction of there being something better beyond, for which the pennines (whichever side of the pennines) seem to become a more than adequate threshold to. Some of us can’t give up on Utopia.
LET IT BLEED…
Hearing that the English national football team had lost to a country with the same population as the Wakefield District (and I think the problem is mainly just about England), it felt like a symbolic act of surrender on a much larger scale. The country needs to collapse into a weeping mess, because if it pretends it isn’t having a nervous breakdown than the pain will just be extended and aggravated. Let this ‘pumped up’ ego-bloated nation, deluded about its place in the world, deflate, otherwise the pain will intensify.
This is as much a note to my easily beaten self as anything, but: right now, in the midst of what currently seems Dystopian, let’s not be swayed by the common rhetoric over the foolishness of Utopian dreams.Beneath my pathos, the pain I showcase idiotically at times is a unflinching dream of that better world.
I have 4 works (The Planet’s Mental Illness, Disintegration, Not Humanly Possible, and The Index For Child Wellbeing) in ‘Soul Searching’, an exhibition exploring mental health through art and poetry.
I’ve never shied away from explaining that mental health has had a continual place in the compositions I make; never shied away from telling people about my own history with mental health issues; never shied away from saying it as I see it: that the unrelenting injuries of life under a 21st century capitalism, that sustains itself through disbelief and cynicism, work overtime against our wish for a good happy, meaningful life. Which doesn’t make it impossible – but fucking hard, that’s all.
A semi-fictional broth of occurrences over the past few days.
I had a dream last night. Fuck knows what it was about. But to be honest, what it was about isn’t important anyway. What is important is that I had a dream, and judging my lack of anxiousness when I woke, it wasn’t a bad dream.
You henceforth feel like a balloon slowly losing air, as the components of your daily servitude to the system slide into place, like they’re literally replacing your organs and ligaments. You want to find somebody who will listen when you say “I’ve have enough: it shouldn’t be like this”, but most of them are too busy trying not to think of it to be enable to classify you as of this earth for suggesting such a thing. Better you forgot the dream in the first place.
Under Invisible punches
In the waking hours before my dreaming I had failed to control my frustration again. But I was holding it together so well! Keeping The Noise in check. Channeling it onto better things. Or so I thought. Cumulative blows, that I’m all the more sensitive to because I’m constantly noticing them, especially when I see them landing on the far-less fortunate folk than myself, who meander amidst our blindspots on normally-familiar streets; who lacked my support system; who were destined to be “losers” in “The Game” before they even got started. I’d kept my cool since the new year began, but it literally took one thing, the profit-seeking hiking of rail travel prices, to start a downward spiral that put the seal on the soundtrack of this day.
It all fell back on me: the injustices and fears of a world set into a motion I cannot often see a favourable end to. Cumulative computerised images of the “Epic Fail” culture came pouring back into my head, as the woman sat across from me on the train pointed out that an abandoned water bottle I pushed off the table in front of me in frustration was leaking onto the seat opposite. The way I felt her judgmental gaze on me for my surface-level unacceptable behaviour, like I was a paint-by-numbers pathetic person, gave me aimless and hopeless empathy for the hundreds of angry people who become “Epic fail virals” because of a surface-level idiocy that I can’t help but believe is due to an unmanageable deeper stress. What can I say? I’m a humanist.
We shout “get down, mate” as their morally-wayward actions slap them in the face in front of a camera phone. We don’t question the difficulties they may also have as the world becomes an harder and more fucked up place. Because, despite glimmers of the willing for a more compassionate world, we sense the dog eat dog nature of a lonely and competitive reality, and we respond accordingly.
Sometimes it seems as if the air around me is solidifying and compressing. An agitated persona follows suit – we can see it all around. And it is for this reason that, before I felt compelled to punch the seat, I moved from this no-doubt decent woman’s gaze, and found a seat on the next carriage.
I want to be wherever I am not. I want what they (seem to) have but I don’t want to be them. I want to be myself but the not the self I am.
I know the railway lines between the dysfunctional conurbations of SouthWest Yorks so well that there is barely enough room left to know anything else. The trousers I own, the shoes I wear, seem to be preprogrammed to march me to these destinations.
I stare at the train destination boards, like they’ll show me a way forward, or a way out – but with a 75% chance I’ll be seeking the substitute sedative of cider via a nearby pub after this hour of exhaustive indecision. No gap year trips when my wage packet can only stretch to the day in hand…for every day of my adult life. Although it isn’t an adult life at all – let’s be straight, I’m stunted…but at least I accept it.
Wise I bring the Gap Year up, I guess.
The deadlock I have usually skirted around with artistic focus for ten plus years becomes unavoidable within the Christmas/New Year burnout. Maybe it’s the sight of so many young rosy-faced adults with luggage (the clear indication of having purpose and of being wanted, by someone). It certainly helps impound a sense of lacking a life. As long as I’ve got a piece of art or exhibition on the go, I have a life. As soon as they end I become a wandering ghost on these streets I speak so much of.
Class plays a large part. It really does. I would never underplay this issue of class. You veer close to losing friends when talking ‘class’; it’s one thing many feel so uncomfortable about. I’m quite honest about where I stand, precisely because I have never known where I stood.
I was born into a poor family. Mining, and mill stock. My parents were really struggling. My dad had no job, as the majority of the community, including many of my uncles, fought for theirs in the 1984 Miners strike – the year in which I was born. We had to rely on family and friends. If I’m honest I think most my clothes were second hand until the early 1990’s, by which time my dad had toiled to get a degree and a teaching job against all odds. It looked like our family were in the process of adding the generational improvement of livelihood.
Yet, esteem issues, likely formed in the days before I could speak, due to our family being reliant, and thus subservient to others, seemed to cling on, and on, until I realised they’d clung on way into an adult life where everybody seemed to be headed for some destination, high or low, except me.
My village was literally split (by one road) between a middle class commuter estate built around the same time as the motorway arrived, and the council estates built for people who worked in the local mines, and the not-too-distant sewing factories. The cul-de-sac I grew up on was neither, and I was neither. I came from one, went half-way to the other, and ended up nowhere. I felt bad around the kids from the estate, like a traitor, due to our adoption of a handful or more traditionally middle class values. I felt bad around the settled middle class kids on the other estate, because I felt too common, too clearly ‘thick’ (I was mildly illiterate for much of my teenage life). It was the mid 90’s and the carrot and stick of Blair-year aspiration had convinced us all in some way or another that the middle class lifestyle wasn’t just desirable it was compulsory.
It’s taken me until my 30’s to realise how important confidence is to getting on in life. Without some self-belief you are well and truly stuck. I never knew how to get along in the world I had to get along in because I didn’t know who I was in this world – I didn’t really like who I thought I was because on each side of the fence I felt like an fraud, and imposter. But, getting to the point, this in-between place also gives you clear insight into the strong relationship between class and confidence.
I was an very detached child. Daydreams were mandatory, and I despised any interference in them. I had ideas, desires, expectations. But I came to realise that none of them were practical. Art studies seemed like the only realistic thing I could do. It ensued that my way of finding new and inventive ways of saying ‘fuck you’ (and little else to be honest) to the larger scheme of things (that was increasingly beginning to frighten after the unofficial millennium inauguration of 9/11) would be a semi-sufficient confidence-builder for my fast-approaching 20’s.
My life, and art, became so wrapped up in the ominousness of climate change, relentless capitalism and social breakdown as the first decade of the millennium passed into the second, that I completely unanticipated that I would be 30 one day, and, as the things that concerned me so much unfolded (as they clearly are doing), I’d still have to deal with life as a man in his 30’s come-what-may. I came here totally unprepared.
So here I am, in a well-known train station, on a day off from work, anxiously thinking how I can break through an aimlessness, knowing that I no longer have the time to dwell. And I’m asking any potential reader to bear all the previous text in mind when reading the apparent sweeping judgmental outlook of the following story, as I waited, waited, and watched in station terminals in the 2 Week-period around the Christmas/New Year.
The view from the fault-line
You go to University. You make far-flung friends. Develop a full-student life (sometimes finding yourself a misplaced target of anger from confused and angry drunk old men, once employed in the long-gone heavy industries, from a time before ‘University’ became this city’s main industry). You leave for Xmas and go back to your home town. Showering glittery sprinkles of ‘elsewhere’ upon its dying night life that usually has to rely on underage drinkers and mid-life crisis drunks. (I am neither of these, but this is where I see you all the same).
You head back to university on the 29th/30th December for New Years’ celebrations with your new friends. Suitcases at railway stations (this is where I see you for the second time). You leave University, have a brief spell of indecision involving low pay, temp jobs, Gap Years and other temporary crutches (this is where I see you, and briefly humour you, for the 3rd time). Then you slowly evacuate ‘the building’ for the relatively-fast ascent to career-building and family life.
Yet it doesn’t always happen this way; some of us slip between the fault-lines of the perpetual ruptures of contemporary life, and some of us can’t quite figure out how we even managed to complete a fecking degree in the first place, because we have always felt stuck in a fault-line.
I never went to university. I’ve got a degree, yes, but I never did Uni. I mean, I tried twice, and failed twice. But I was in and out of both too fast to be remembered. I got my degree qualification in my home town. Whatever you think or say about Barnsley (of which I am qualified to do due to being umbilically tied to it), it was never a ‘university town’. Some of the tutors you have, some of people you meet, are great – but it was never a university town (nor should it have to be, I guess).
I don’t resent you. Course I don’t resent you, as part of me wants to be like you. And I’m not assuming you haven’t got heaps of shit weighing you down on a daily basis. But from the view from the fault line you are people, and that’s what I don’t feel like much of the time.
I just lack something.
You’re all grown up now….
Except you’re not. You’re like a bonsai tree, “a bud that never flowers”. I walk out of the station to a pub, cursing a pre-new year landscape that talks over your story in your head every time you justify your life, to the extent that you begin to curse everything in sight.
I try so hard not to be like this. Today was another day when I really wanted those avenues to open up in front of me, so that I didn’t end up staring at train destinations hoping my number would come up.
My truth comes back to me. I know I’m somehow in the right when I look around and see that this is a world that can now only persist through cynicism. A world where we treat the swaves of unhappy teenagers with condescending contempt, ascertaining the assertion that these mere teenage blues will die, that they will take their indie posters down and eventually find their ‘safety niche’ within the cynical superstructure.
I’m talking of the chasm, where compassion should rest, in a Britain that’s been Tory in spirit for decades now. A miserable middlemass that suffocate the unreabilitatable vulnerables. A pessimist is resigned to such a world. Me, a pessimist? No, I’m a damaged optimist, who like many opened his heart incautiously to a cynical world, and survived by becoming lost in another life, a life that has long since had any cause, but has lead to nowhere else either.
The night is cold, revealing the stress scars on my face, as always. I accidently glare in at a fitness club just as its members appear to reach an endorphinated climax. I see a Guardian newspaper headline telling me to cut down my drinking to no more than a pint a day. But there’s no Guardians, or “guides to take me by the hand”; no real understanding of how helplessly walking past another casualty of the homeless epidemic, and then seeing my gaunt face stare back at me from a ‘Tory screen’ telling me how they’re helping the working person, is going to engineer a need for alcoholic comfort.
None of this will be understood until we all come to an agreement that “it is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a five a day diet in Cameron’s Britain”. Until that point this is just another blog pissing into Digital Rain. You can bunk up the tax on drink all you like, because in ToryNation we’ll always find a way to pay.
I’m smiling in the pub I enter because a barman error lands me with a free pint, and somebody plays Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive, a paint pallette for perpetual pop invention, on the jukebox. Little things make the here and now manageable. I just wish it could last…
The tipping point, on the weekly circuit of emotions. The gate has well and truly closed on the open field of youth. The gates into rites-of-passage-adulthood (property ownership -household, marriage? – as a substitute to the foreclosed horizons of a world beyond work/consume/die) neither entice me or let me in. Every time I look through its window it smiles whilst telling me to fuck off.
Yesterday was Thursday. Thursday evening is the time of the optimist if there ever is such a time. And there is, whilst-ever we remain under the clock of capital. I’m an optimist. I’m too optimistic to forget to forget. And I have become crippled because I’m forever looking for a way out. I can’t, just fucking can’t, accept it. Stubborn bastard that I am, trying every doorway except the ones I’ve been told to open.
So why does Friday always fuck me over? “The end of the working week!”. Maybe I took that too literally? The ending? Yeah, I’m up for that! So I set out across the hallowed avenues and urban hallways of my nearby towns and cities. But as my eagle eyes pick up not a way forward, but the crush and compression of Now, quick fixes rush through my mind like a stampede of life trying to exit a burning room.”Northern Powerhouse?” Go fuck yourself, that should have meant something – if the future had actually arrived. But you stole that and sold us it back. And right now, not one of your new trendy cafes or real beer pubs can be anything more than a more socially acceptable plaster over a scar than that of those emaciated street drinkers, who increase in numbers in tear-jerking numbers around here.
I’m a badly beaten optimist. I should be able to stand proud with these bruises. But it just gets me so fucking wound up, that I just end up looking for the nearest pub (mirror view of ‘drinkers face’ like watching a collision course with premature old age, in slow motion).
What was once an itch I have scratched into a permanent scar.
My no-year resolution has been to stop cursing others even if they almost literally push my esteem-drained body out of the way within the eternal rush hour.
I told myself to break a leg, and look for love. To give it that chance you never fucking dared giving it when there still seemed liked there was all to play for. To see if such emotions can be prised out of the interlocked catacombs where they roam up and down until they finally die of exhaustion. I told myself to take risks: say yes to silly escapades into the foreclosed future – because that foreclosed future may turn out to be far from what I expected.
I told myself all the things. I’ve told myself these things every day. But then there is Friday. Or more specifically Friday teatime, when that jaw-bridge on potential lifts up. That ‘new Dawn fades’ onto a another fucked up state. Rounded off with dead end binge drinking in my home town. I need that guide, with its (his or hers) hand to lead me quickly out of the circuitry of the ever-decreasing Dismaland.
It’s an invisible consolation, when I realise I still have heart, as I feel it break in two as my longing gaze lands on the injustice of a broken army of innocents left to sleep in the streets of possibly the coldest night of the year.
Maybe I should also take consolation in the fact that my anguish is in fact indicative of the fact that I will never stop caring and hoping for something better than this.
Friday is the crusher. But as far as things stand I have always got back on my feet again. The fact that I get back on the same two feet to enter the same old crusher seems illogical to most. But maybe it’s time to take pride in my stubbornness.
….and I’m STILL currently listening to Under The Script Bridge by The Chameleons
“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?”
This gallery contains 7 photos.
Originally posted on ASLI MAGAZINE – creating change:
Artist John Ledger ? John Ledger, 31 from Yorkshire, United Kingdom is an artist who specialises in fine art and drawing. With a self professed existentialist nature, John continues to search for what he defines as a “breathing space” in order to find the answer to one of life’s big questions “who am I” and says “I…
I must first of all explain how I was alerted to these lyrics from The Fall’s track Frightened, it’s only fair: via a great Youtube lecture by Mere Pseud who referenced them with a not-too-dissimilar-intent as my intent. But when I heard him echo the lyrics to his lecture audience I thought: that’s my life that Mark E Smith’s talking about… (although the original lyrics say ‘sixteen’ not ‘fifteen’ – maybe I started puberty, and thus a descent into a thinking-person’s-dead end a year younger than Mark E Smith?). It’s not the done thing to acknowledge that you’ve become stuck at a point in your life – but I’ve got fuck all to lose in pretending that I haven’t.
On rolls the deep summer. I have grown to despise both August and December (“you miserable fuck; why do always hate good things?”). I struggle, self-destruct and smash my fists against more psychological walls in these 2 months more than at any point in a year. It’s taken me a good decade of my adult life to fully realise this, to the point where I wish the ‘we’re all going on summer holidays’ and ‘season to the jolly’ months would vanish from my time on this earth. I wrote about the Xmas/New Year period in a blog last December called Share The Pain, with the conviction that our current social structure makes the adversities of life (both age-old and utterly preventable) far harder to deal with, due to the denial of the fact that life isn’t actually that great all the time. A society-hating society driven by implicit commands all based entirely on individualist fulfillment, where there is an immense deep-sea-like pressure to feel individually fulfilled more so around two points when we are supposed to living the good life; mid-summer and Xmas. The result is the knife of the pain-denying, market-individualism, that enshrouds us, punches deeper into ones coping mechanisms, making one feel more like a fuck up; a lonely, aging fuck up.
Genuinely decent human beings say to me “your art’s fucking mint man, it must make you dead proud”. This is possibly true, but only when I’m actually in the process of making. Otherwise there remains a great void, intermittently filled with the screaming-schizoid-noise of contemporary life; emptied only to be filled at some later point, like an urban sewage system.
“…I don’t know how to use freedom. I spend hours looking sideways, to the time when I was Sixteen” (Frightened, The Fall)
(A dream I had when I was 20 where I was encased in a rock on some distant planet, watching the around me)
I can roughly trace my thereon-after sensibility, of depression, to a point when I was 15, when the glow of life fostered by childhood vanished in the short space between hearing Radiohead’s then-2-year old track Paranoid Android and going out and buying it from MCV in Barnsley’s Alhambra Shopping Centre, and what I can now see as the beginnings of feelings of total emptiness from which the only state in which to resume the inescapable tasks of life was one of ‘controlled anxiety’, that broke into panic when the control-based routines were interrupted. The wider state was (and still is) one of ‘managed depression’.
Art-making became a prominent feature in my life from 3 years after this point, and proceeded to give a discontinuous continuity to my life. The broken bits, the gaps in the process of making, are where I keep on becoming aware that I’ve been spinning around since I was 15, going nowhere emotionally (and FUCK ME I’m tired of writing this every damn year).
People have said that I live in the past. I do: from 15 onwards I have never been able to picture a future. The thing is the place where I have become stuck doesn’t exist. it’s a void I hang over. A nowhere land, which I am all to aware can’t be revisited. A transient moment that was never superseded, where any memory becomes more desirable than the voided-present that sucks in the future.
I think this is the reason I have been enchanted by non-fiction writers who deal with depression and anxiety as something constitutive of the times I inhabit. They make it seem so sensible as to why I should’ve felt this way from day one of my self-designated adult life. Writings on ‘hauntology’ refer to how the future seemed to abandon us, in the latter half of the twentieth century, to the point where it has become impossible to imagine anything but a slow entropy dragging down life quality in this eternal-present-land. It’s a conviction felt more by those who grew up in the 1970’s, but I was duped by a sense of progress amidst the hazy, new-shiny-capitalist Utopianism of the early 90’s, once it had convinced us that socialism had been buried with the collapse of the Berlin Wall , and that was a good good thing “let’s party man!, things can only get better!”.
I genuinely have spent hours looking sideways, as I’ve always been tasking-up the day in hand to avoid the hell of empty time. In-spite of the bookshelves filled up with mindfulness, which is alienating dead language when you feel like I do, the only empty time I can actually appreciate is on trains, or when I’m caffeinated. The problem is this alienation comes from a general conviction, embedded further into our perceptions of the Other by social media, that most are building a life of continuities of emotional and material progression. And it isn’t a total illusion, as I have felt like an observer of life, as it drives past me at some insignificant bus stop.
When I try to think of myself in these terms it’s pretty much like the scene in the Truman Show when Jim Carey’s protagonistic character hits a wall painted as an horizon; the ability to perceive more than what’s in front of me vanishes.
“Back to the 90’s, feel good hits!”. Even those born too late into the decade to remember it are overly nostalgic for its hyperbolic optimism in the faded, yet CGI-ied, depressed continuation of it in our times of disbelief. We never really exited the 90’s. 9/11, The Iraq Invasion, and Broadband folding of all that’s ever been into a digitised ever-present, pushed us right back into the decade we were supposed to have left. So, what exactly are we trying to achieve, what exactly are we innovating, striving for? Why do I feel so alienated from this? As much artwork as I make, I forever remain in a renegade state of mind, because the general command to better ourselves comes across as equally absurd and stressful.
The boundary between what stunted me as a human being in my mid teens and the conviction that it closely corresponds with entering a ‘secretly depressed age’ is very blurred to say the least. But it isn’t so strange that I feel more optimistic and full of life when I find somebody who owns up to feeling this way too. I’m still an optimist. If I see clues to a genuine way out of this I can sense it in my bones.
I think we can sense when we have been duped long before we can acknowledge it. There’s a ray of light, as tiny as a spec in the midst of the long night in my eyesight, conjured by growing evidence that many more are admitting they feel like me. I have sensed for some time that there is no future for me the way things are. From my perspective it can only be a good thing the more people there are who own up to feeling the same.
“They keep calling me”
Amidst the pretty stark turbulence I experienced as 2015 began I became obsessed with trying to write something about Joy Division’s eternal-presence in my life. But I never got anywhere, convincing myself it needed to be a project of a sizable, I-know-everything-about-Joy-Division, quality due to the task of writing about one of those bands guarded with pitchforked-opinions by musos. But it felt crucial for me to write something both for myself, and for the reason brilliantly articulated in Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: “If Joy Division matter now more than ever, it’s because they capture the depressed spirit of our times. Listen to Joy Division now and you have the inescapable impression that the group were catatonically channeling our present, their future. From the start their work was overshadowed by a deep foreboding , a sense of a future foreclosed, all certainties dissolved , only growing gloom ahead.” (Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, 2014).
Ben Hewitt’s article Joy Division: 10 of The Best, in the guardian this week, gave me an motivational template: I’d use a selection their songs to expand on all this stuff about the band that I have been driven to tell people in pubs for the past 3 years. But I don’t have any desire to write about a fave song list per se: the album tracks I reference gain a great deal of their significance when listened to within the context of the entire album (this should seem obvious, but in the Ipod age, the ‘shuffle’ features heavily in the way we listen to music). I also wanted to use individual tracks to explain how the din of their resonance seems to get louder and louder the further we (in UK terms) descend further into the Thatcherite experiment that may finally be coming to end… “this dream it takes too long”. And although I found only managed to write about 7 songs, they were more than sufficient. Thus I have proceeded in writing the blog I’ve been wishing to write all these years.
In the past few years it seems overwhelmingly the case that we are looking back to a certain time for answers to a present day inertia. Yet we don’t seem to realise that this is what we’re doing, and so just continue doing it blindly. Cultural artifacts from the 70’s into the early eighties seem to be constantly at hand for reference on all media platforms. For example, Ben Hewitt’s article: although I think it’s brilliantly written in its own right (far more imaginative use of language than I could ever achieve), and it creatively touches upon material that relates to their ‘channeling of the present’, it also seems oblivious to it. When he writes of Dead Souls that “…Curtis sounds like he’s being pulled by ghostly apparitions, trapped in a place “where figures from the past stand tall / And mocking voices ring the halls”…” isn’t the most ghostly aspect of all in how this perfectly describes our relationship to Joy Division in the 21st century? Such articles and documentaries don’t seem to understand the motive behind their accumulative coming-into-being 35 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. Of the 7 Joy Division songs I have picked, I have tried, when possible to introduce them in relation to personal experiences, 1. Disorder
“Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
It must have been 2010; in that murky moment between something bad (New Labour) and something worse (all-out-Tory Class War-disguised as ‘the coalition’). Up until now Joy Division had been off my succession of cheap mp3 players for a few years – having told myself that the obsession I had with them in my early 20’s, some five years back into the thick of Blair’s Britain, had been a sign of immaturity, and that they’re subsequent increasing popularity was no more than a Topshop accessory. As the fall of 2010 arrived with the threat of immobilising snow storms entrenching a deeper existential inertia, it all reversed, and I found myself hurtling back towards some kind of early 20’s point.
We were drinking at a friend’s flat in the back-end of Barnsley- one of those new-build apartment complexes, squeezed in amidst unhappy-looking Victorian terraces still stained by the soot of a vanquished industry. A few cans downed and then it was time to head into town, myself regrettably still hooked the mirages of fulfilled hopes and dreams that coated the shell of the so-called Blair-year Party-times. But this was now descending into its zombie stage.
We came to an agreement that we needed a ‘going out song’, and we chose Disorder. The throbbing beat of the bass drum kicked in, and the trance-like state took over for the first time in years. This wasn’t a flashback, as I was back there again. The way my slightly inebriated friends were moving around the room, getting seduced into the whirlpool-like nature of Disorder when played at volume, made me realise that this wasn’t some “Lets all dance to Joy Division” indie-cool trend: this was real. My early twenties-daily dependency on Unknown Pleasures didn’t seem so weird any more. My friends may or may not have been depressed, but they existed, like me, in secretly-depressed times. At that point, despite differences in opinion of the severity the global and social issues outside the window, Joy Division felt like understanding of life that we all shared.
The insightful left-wing group Plan C convincingly argue, in their essay We are all Very Anxious that anxiety is the dominant ‘public secret’ of this current stage of capitalism (which doesn’t mean to say that other negative emotions have disappeared, just that this is the definitive one of our age). By ‘public secret‘ it is meant that it is “…something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. …[W]hen discussed at all, they are understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation”.
I would add that there are two public secrets; the anxiety we endure being the first, and the second being that we exist in ‘depressed times’, and many of us spend much of our lives rocking painfully back and forth from anxiety to depression. But what is incredibly important here is that Joy Division share the public secret with us, ‘catatonically channeling our present’ as Mark Fisher says. What makes Disorder so [Unknown]pleasurable is that it shares that publicly hidden anxiety with us. It speaks about something we normally have to hide. The guitar riff between verses is so riddled with panic it is intoxicating, it recognises the pain that is otherwise barred an outlet.
From 2010 onwards I remembered what this music did for me. How it’s darkness was often a life-saver. Perhaps a necessity as I stared down the barrel of a nastier, more Tory reality. As the drums continue to smash out in a death-drive whilst the rest of song exhausts itself into finitude, Disorder becomes an introduction to a record that makes no emotional compromises; doesn’t pretend things are OK; makes no effort to pretend it sees a bright side to life. And this is why from this point onwards it resumed it’s place as a make-shift prescription tablet ‘day in day out’, from 2010 onwards.
“I’ve lost the will to want more, but I remember when were young”
The mid years of New Labour were a weird time for those of us in our late teens and early twenties. So many people I thought were sorted were actually in a real mess, trapped between small-town college courses they had no interest in and bleak job prospects, propped up by bi-weekly drug or drink intake. I never put 2 and 2 together at the time. One friend from back then spoke of his recent depressive spell: “It’s like somebody flicks a switch, and I’m gone for days on end.” The minute-long opening to the track Insight has something of the uncanny about it. The soundscape of lift-shafts moving and doors locking is so close to epitomising the nausea-like continual-return of depression it’s almost an unreal sensation as the shivers go down your back and you think “fuck me, that’s exactly how it is!”.
I was pleased Ben Hewitt included it in his list of songs, although it’s with tracks like Insight that I come to realise that listing album songs merely for their individual qualities is somewhat lacking. Insight’s intro is the seminal moment in Unknown Pleasures. Even after the self-destruction of Disorder, and building terror in The Day of Lords, there is still potentially room for another world, another way. But Unknown Pleasures is the world of the depressive; once that door locks the depression sufferer knows all-too-wll what world we’re in; he/she knows that feeling of that ‘locked door’, once you’re inside “gone for days on end”. Insight plays the pivotal role in signifying that this is no ordinary record; you’re entering a specific world, at which point sufferers of repetitive bouts of depression have a moment of strength due to being able to invite others into it. It has much the same relationship as Heart and Soul does on their second album ‘Closer’ – the position of the sorcerer’s hand, dictating the overall direction of the record. Their producer Martin Hannett was clearly quite unique, his ability to conjure the soundscape around Joy Division’s tracks is so fitting the only word you could use in hindsight of what Joy Division became is ‘perfection’. It now almost seems like he was electronically connected to Ian Curtis’s emotional state, forcing him to be the cypher for our present day cyberspacially-fucked subjectivities.
Insight makes sense of what has been and what is to come from the viewpoint of clinical depression. But if we are to conclude that we live in a secretly-depressed time, then that sense seems far more wide-spread than merely being down to personal shortcomings. Insight really does channel something. The world they and their post-punk contemporaries saw/foresaw, one where social democracy was crumbling under a return of more powerful and relentless capitalism, where industry no longer needed them, no longer of value to society, well all that never went away. All that happened was that it was buried under the incessant command to be positive and proactive in the market fundamentalist economy that requires us to be market individuals, where opting out of the game is all but impossible without dying as it seeps into all potential waking (sleeping) moments due to computer technologies. This sense of having “no future” actually intensified, but was barred an expressive outlet amidst an intensifying downpour of aspirational dogma. I think this is why these days we so often find ourselves praising certain artists from the Post-Punk-New Wave crossover of the late 70’s to early 80’s, because that period seemed to be a ‘breathing space’ for raw emotional response to the early days of the Thatcherite transformation, before it became so entrenched that raw expression became so much harder to articulate; a ‘reflexive impotence’ (Fisher) that not only affects our ability for political engagement but also our emotional expression – “smile or die”.
I have previously written about this uncanny-like-relationship music from this period has with our contemporary situation. It’s like what happened from then onwards was some sort of icing over, and that we now stare at these voices as if they have been frozen in time, floating underneath the ice. I wrote previously of Kate Bush and Joy Division in particular. I think of the music video to Kate Bush’s Breathing (based on nuclear war – another issue that, although as relevant today, seems frozen into a 70’s/80’s time-pocket), and the images of her trapped behind the see-through skin of the bubble she is encased in seems to pretty-much visualise what I mean here. Perhaps the drive towards retrospection in this current moment is due to a slow-awaking to the horrifying future-less reality we actually exist in, finding ourselves with no choice but to push away all the hyperbole that disguised this truth to us from its onset there-on-after? 3. Novelty
“You’re on your own now, don’t you think that is a shame, but you’re the only one responsible to take the blame…so what you gonner do when the novelty is gone, ?”
A sense of loss. Novelty was actually one of the first Joy Division songs I ever listened to. Aged 18 (2002), it was a cassette featuring a Joy Division compilation on the one side, and Television’s Marquee Moon on the other. It signaled the end of teenage life. I was experiencing my first ‘They Live’ moment (where he puts on the sunglasses and sees the Real), when the comforts and sugary surface of the social construction fell away, leaving me shit-scared of a world my nervous system has no way of coming to terms with. It resurfaced into 2012 when my messy inability to adjust to a Masters course in 21st century London made me face the truth that I my youth had now come to an end, with no progression to another stage of life on the horizon.
I reference these two points because I think it is arguably most tragic of their songs, because it seems to document the point of loss – that point where a little something of you dies inside, from which ‘New Life’ proves impossible for many. Mark Fisher in his 2005 Kpunk blog The Nihil Rebound (published in Ghosts of My Life, and probably the strongest piece on Joy Division I know of) writes that “what separated Joy Division from any of their predecessors” was that their “bleakness was without any specific cause… …crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow…Curtis sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ but there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place”.
Yet I don’t think Novelty does this: it is even more tragic in that it evokes the act of loss. For me Novelty shares the same emotional space as The Smiths’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes (“and I will never sleep again”), the result of which Morissey sang he neither “happy or sad”, just numb. The songs evokes a point of departure. The Smiths, hailing from the same city, would (in my opinion) not make a song that came as close to the point of bleakness as this, whilst for Joy Division it signals the point of departure to “a bleakness without any cause”. 4. Digital
“Feel it closing in. Day in Day out”
As 2005 got messier and messier, I briefly entered a wider social group including of a group of lads from the incredibly-deprived former pit villages of the Dearne Valley (Thurnscoe to be exact), and a group from former mining communities straggling between Wakefield, Barnsley and Hemsworth. All of the places somewhat left abandoned after the pit closures, and which saw our area of South/West Yorks (Darton) as posh – a consequence of us getting the M1, and it becoming a split community of tepidly-affluent commuter houses at one side and council houses built for coal miners at the other.
Sections of this wider group would end up fighting and momentarily-despising each other (mainly over women), and each constituting a more-or-less ‘with it’ group leader and many emotional or physical wrecks. The Dearne Valley lot had no time for Joy Division’s near-death finale Closer, but were obsessed with Unknown Pleasures (and the album tracks most akin the Unknown Pleasures sound), even wearing the album-sleeve t-shirt. I would’ve thought it a fashion accessory back then, until I realised how much of a ‘fucked up’ generation I belonged to, and why such music may just appeal to these people.
“Let’s All Dance to Joy Division” was a track by a then in-vogue indie-cool outfit The Wombats (to which you WON’T find a link on here). It seemed to treat their surging popularity as something with a comical tint to it, as if we were all easy-come easy-go hipsters unaffected by REAL shit. But I saw no joke in what these tracks meant to me, at a very turbulent point, and even 25 years after they ceased to be. Before the death of small town student nights, the customary dingy indie night club would play non-album-track Digital for us every Wednesday, demanded as necessity and eventually granted.
If it weren’t so minimal the message would be lost. The song is like a drill piece, which, like the outro solo to Shadowplay, is violently unwilling to divert from it’s acceleration towards a dead end. It is 3 minutes of medicinal joy, an energy-release from the general continuity of mild-distress. “I feel it closing in”. If one sensation is necessarily put to the back of the minds of those who hit their twenties in the post 9/11/post Iraq invasion world of increasing cyberspace-interpenetration, it is one of being on borrowed time; where the future has imploded and is hurtling back towards us. ‘Stay young – what else is there anyway?’. With our hands perpetually hovering over our panic buttons, and our feet walking a tightrope above depressive dysfunction, Joy Division’s chaotic hell begins to arrange the look of the world in a way we can deal with. A way we could deal with, back then, when I for one most certainly relied on their music for survival at the most unstable of points. And yes, we did dance to Joy Division. 5. Decades
“Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders”
Decades, the final song on their second (and last album) begins with a soundscape the feels like entering some sort of bone-yard-remnant of unquantifiable suffering- but a suffering being undertaken with total indifference. Again, Hannet’s soundscaping seems, in hindsight, so close to a putting the seal of inevitability over Curtis’s then-imminent suicide, that you often wonder if he truly was a man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time: a tortured pop artist, radical to the cause, caught in the crusher of one huge transformation paving the way for the a much worse world: one lacking a future. The chilling intro conjures to mind a scenario similar to the raising of the skeletal dead from a parched graveyard on one of the most unnerving of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-frame-motion scenes in the 1962 film production of Jason and the Argonauts.
Decades doesn’t just seem to drag behind it the weight on the shoulders of the punk/post-punk generation, it seems to drag the ghosts of all previous proletarian generations, embodying the destruction of all that the working classes had worked for/fought for. Not only do Curtis’s vocals sound like the voices of the dead accidentally picked up on a tape recorder, but it is as if our forefathers are raised, bent and buckled by two centuries of exploitation, to see the future they believed they were building for their grandchildren crumbling into wasteland.
“I guessed they died some time ago” (Interzone, Unknown Pleasures)
Joy Division were beyond a cause, and weren’t political, even when Curtis sang of the worst excesses of unaccountable power. But without meaning to or not, they remain a cypher for the collapse of a humanist future, the swansong of a post-punk movement that woke up to the depressive reality of the no-such-thing-as society-nihilism that was Punk’s rallying call; the ‘spirit of ’45’ had been buried and a new nastier phase was on the cards. Curtis’s own political leanings and obsessions were more collateral damage than anything, conveying a sense of despondency with the course being taken by humanity, who seemed too far gone to be able to threat any longer over rights and wrongs. As I said before, this despondency articulated by post-punk never went away, but has been largely denied a contemporary articulation due to appropriation of any idea of individual expression into ‘market individualism’. Consequently their legacy grows larger and larger. Collateral damage indeed.
Ten years later The La’s, a Liverpudlian band, fronted by Lee Mavers, who was hell-bent in trying to make the best pop album in years, closed their only album with two tracks that seem to be living through Post-Punk’s anticipated breakdown in a city smashed by the Tories, Failure and Looking Glass. After the defeat of working class solidarity by Thatcherism in the 80’s, The La’s’ self-titled album now seems to make more sense in 2015 than it’s more lauded ‘Madchester’ contemporaries whose energies were far more easily subsumed into a more omnipotent capitalism’s demand that we enjoy our servitude. Although stylistically following the late ’80’s guitar-band tendency of looking back to the 60’s for solace, the lyrics to the La’s’ Failure “So you open the door with the look on your face. Your hands in your pocket and your family to face, and you go down stairs and you sit in your place” could easily have found a fitting place within Decades. But the incessant demand to ‘dance, dance, dance to our servitude‘ of neoliberal capitalism is wearing thinner and thinner by the day. I think the increasing popularity of Joy Division with young people is a sign of this, even if there little self awareness of the motive.
“there’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold/heaven knows it’s got to be this time …..avenues all lined with trees.”
It’s early 2002. I’m a anti-social 18 year old, plugged into his cassette tapes, still capable of day-dreaming in the learning centre of a now-demolished college. A tune comes back into my head from some early childhood point. This was a few years before the days where a tune could be found in just a matter of seconds after remembering it. If this could be classed as memory at all: as memories for me seem more akin to the pre-digital-tech cassette player, in how the original pitch of a track always seems to be lost in translation; a memory/cassette-tape error that allows for a unique relationship with a tune. This only really became apparent after I recently re-watched the film Donni Darko; Love Will Tear us Apart features on the film, and I am convinced that it plays at an higher pitch, which incidentally makes it sound like a cassette tape version.
The tune I remembered in 2002 was Love Will Tear us Apart. But it took me until the summer to actually manage to listen to it again. Thereon-after, as my teenage inertia was superseded by a young-adult inertia (based around what I would come to see as ‘Depressive Pleasure-seeking‘.), Love Will Tear Us Apart became an staple in The Retro Bar at The End of Universe; former bars would be replaced by future former bars, with their only continuity being the ‘stuck record’ of the ‘Indie Disco’. The hair-raising synth and drum outro feels like it could stretch out into eternity, due to perpetual dependency placed upon music that was new when capitalism’s ‘slow cancellation of the future’ was only just beginning. The ‘eternal present’ of our capitalist reality has to come to an end, in some form. But the end cannot be seen from within. But, my god, it is longed for.
As with Atmosphere and These days (written at a similar point) Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony (although properly recorded as New Order, after Curtis had died) share the same sense of painful longing for something that never materialises – “this dream it takes too long” as Curtis sings in 24 Hours. Ian Curtis’s lyrics may have been most directly attributable to the specificities of his collapsing personal life, but it is clear that there’s a longing here for something that stretches far beyond these confines, towards a promised world, perhaps? the dreams of postwar optimism, now falling into tatters in front of the atomised, lonely type of Utopia offered by Thatcherism. It is inconsequential whether Curtis voted rightward or not, he was caught in the headlights of a pivotal moment in history and expressed an anguish an increasing proportion of us identify with.
I listen to Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony with that sense of longing that other Joy Division’s songs do not allow for: the social world I long for, not the one being blown into atomized, lonely pieces by the end-game of neoliberal (market fundamentalist) political economy. It’s an in-the-making conclusion that I never thought I’d come close to making when listening to Joy Division; that there is a longing in some of their final songs that looks for an escape route from certain-demise, a last gasp of life. Ceremony’s “Heaven knows it’s got to be this time”, is a plea: that ‘I want another chance to live!’. “Avenues all lined with trees”, a social world of vitality, for our families, that we once saw as a guarantee. For me, in this past year, these lyrics have served as a mute wish I carry around with me to supersede this awful stage in something I have no embarrassment in calling ‘the human project’. You see, with all these documentaries, and articles, we are looking back to Joy Division to trace our steps back towards a future that was stolen. We want it back.
(Blog title: lyrics from The Fall’s Put Away)
A collection of thoughts swilling in my head in the wake of the 2015 UK election outcome
“I see the world moving in a certain direction, and if NOTHING changes there will be a catastrophe” Slavoj Zizek
Solidarity in Defeat
Amidst the dog-eat-dog ‘Psychic Timebomb‘ that is contemporary late capitalist life, I don’t think I’ve felt as part of something, or had a sense of whom my real ‘comrades’ (oooh, dirty word!) were in this world, as I did within realisation of the election outcome. Yeah, much of this activity was avataristic, the Self as Spectacle, via social media, but it was one of a few rare occasions when pulses of something closer to tangible interaction (action?) infected the millions of lonely slaves-to-self-promotion of a miserable fucking X-Factor society; a time when the 40-years-hate-your-neighbour project falls away, and we find ourselves genuinely ‘sharing’ something (maybe those worst infected by ‘40-years-hate-your-neighbour’, ‘trollers-cum-epic-fail-hunters’, can tell me it was my own little delusion, but I’m not prepared to listen to you until you are prepared to listen to the words spewing out of your own heads onto ‘comments’ boxes).
It already feels like it is fading again. Yet, as stated by a speaker at last Saturday’s anti-austerity demo in Sheffield, the speed at which protests against this elected government have emerged is notably much more rapid in comparison with 5 years ago. And although what we anticipated from the then-coalition government was very different from what we anticipate now, we shouldn’t be afraid to suggest that this time around the ‘slow suicide’ of a ‘keep calm and carry on’, over-worked existence won’t keep us passive, bored, and depressed Netflix-hovel-occupiers any longer. I’m not afraid to risk being wrong by speculating that our silently-shared depressive spell is over; although I expect a further spike in suicides and breakdowns in and out of work places, the fact that we ‘we can’t take it anymore’ means that it will no longer be silent, and energy will emerge from many souls that were too immiserated to respond during the past 5 years.
Losing Isn’t an Option
Just because we lost the battle of democratic reform, of parliamentary legitimacy, it doesn’t mean any momentum has been lost for a growing left movement. Nobody knows what a forceful movement for social, political and environmental justice capable of beating down the memes of late capitalist ideology would look like, but there again, how could we? We only know what they looked like in the past because they have been captured by a history that is technologically-enabled to be at our sides telling us ‘how the west was won’ more and more by the day, overburdening our minds with the failures of opposing ideologies, creating an air-tight impression that no future movement is possible. Capitalist relations were such a game-changer regarding all other prior social forms, that to suggest socialist social systems have failed because the Soviet experiment has proven them to lead to corruption and misery is to be totally naive to just how determined by capitalist reality these systems were; it is matter of fact, and not opinion, that a genuinely different system has not managed to supersede capitalism yet.
But losing isn’t an option now. Maybe these words are only vibrating in my ears in the wake of seeing a triumphalist right wing victors gleefully promise to be as cruel and as environmentally destructive as possible (how mind-fucked with malevolence does one have to be able to accept these born-to-rule creatures as our best governors?!) But if we believe our species’ own little story about our ability to adapt to any given situation, and that it doesn’t just mean a winner takes all in the ‘rule of the jungle’, then we’d come to see that our species has to respond to a system that really cannot now be be seen as anything but a crash course in the annihilation of life of this planet. The privatisation of health, the Auschwitz-like dogma about the virtuousness of work; the unrelenting hatred of the weak and poor – it is as one of my Facebook friends said, ‘a slow motion holocaust’. And let’s not even begin to talk about Fracking; a deranged warlord sweeping the Asiatic continent looking for fixes for his fucked-up addictions would even pause and consider the sanity of such a measure…but in our times it is presented as the most ‘pragmatic’ measure to take. And what does that tell you…?
It’s the end of the line. But this could prove to be a blessing in disguise. It could… The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.
“The Conservatives have figured [how to get votes whatever the situation]…appealing to the population in the following way…’vote for me…and I will protect YOU, and I’m gonner take it out on THEM’.” Richard D Wolff, Global Capitalism May 2015 lecture
What really constitutes self interest? If the politicians winning over voters are those appealing most effectively to self interest, then I’ll look at what I know constitutes my self interest. My self interest benefits from an optimally-bearable environment; upon not seeing poverty left blinded to its causation; aimless passive violence, always threatening to be more than passive, and the far-right graffiti stickers on lampposts making spaces instantly more threatening; and an expanding homeless population requiring constantly-updated blinkers and dancier Ipod numbers to pretend it isn’t really happening. My self interest benefits from a general trust of those I catch the eye of walking down half-empty streets, not an environment where you are warned of either CCTV watching your ‘for your own safety’ or potential ‘criminals’ spying on you as you enter your pin code. It doesn’t benefit from the ecological downsides of a miserably self-concerned society; such as congested roads, filled up like icy rivers with the distrust and screaming-competitiveness feeding into our every moment (the past five years have proven that forced-belt-tightening hasn’t reduced traffic on roads, but the anxieties intensified over those years have made us less likely to think about less tangible environmental costs, and more likely to use our cars to get to and fro our ‘unknown pleasures’ as quick as we can). Life becomes harder for the pedestrians, whose self-interest becomes more focused on their lonely TV-repeats-dominated-hovels that they’re returning to than the motorists, due to the hostile road-choked environments convincing them that they aren’t wanted anywhere else.
In a nutshell, my self interest depends upon the self interest of others as much as they can possibly enhance each other. At the moment our self-interests are far from benefiting each other; the ‘40-years-hate-your-neighbour’ has made us sick individuals, prone to bi-monthly breakdowns, yet unable to see that it may be down to the society we’ve built rather than it being a case of certain emotions that we haven’t quite ‘mastered’ yet (“I must try harder, I know!!). If only we could see through the atomising propaganda surrounding our goldfish bowl-like lives.
Has anyone ever noticed how you never see any signs of public joy, affection, street celebration (even if proven to be misguided – think 1997) in the wake of Tory victory? Miserable, atomised, self interest doesn’t really go hand in hand with the sharing I guess. This is not a victory where many who even voted for the Tories were happy, but a victory for fear.
Not that I expected too much to have changed if the Labour government had got in, still, as it is, in the process of being pulled to the seabed by the tentacles of New Labour. But, whilst being unfortunate enough to land my eyes on the [even more] right wing press championing THEIR Tory victory, in a shop on Saturday, I was shocked to find myself with a strong sensation that we were a people under enemy occupation. “Know your enemy”. But I didn’t feel “Let down and hanging around, crushed like a bug in the ground”, but energised. Energised by a realisation that fighting back is now not a task but a compulsion that many of us will no doubt find ourselves partaking in without much realisation of how we got here. After spending the last years of the coalition under a zombie-state, unhealthily-melancholic and obsessed with what was lost, there’s no way of repeating this growing sickness, that has already shown signs of being unbearable. May I be so unusually brave as walk out onto the tightrope above contemporary life to suggest that some kind of new approach to life is on its way, I can feel it…….? If nothing changes, everything is lost anyway. There is no way back. I have to be brave. We all do.
Maybe life how I once remembered it could still be around the corner….
“While There’s Still a World to Win, My Red Dream Means Everything” – RED SLEEPING BEAUTY, MCCARTHY
How the command to have perpetual good times causes its opposite
During the time I have kept this blog I have found myself annually writing a pretty messy and uncontrollably pessimistic piece around this time of the year, usually titled Crash-Landing of One’s Life at The End of The Year. This year [yes!] “to save me from [fucking] tears, I’ll try pre-emptive action, by getting to the source of the tributary that leads to Lake Breakdown. I have struggled around this time of year for as long as my post-millennial-mind can remember, yet what always makes it doubly hard, is that doesn’t feel like it is allowed the voice it usually carves slowly but surely out of the late-capitalist landscape. I know I’m not the only one, maybe even within the many, yet the banishment remains in place. As my mind labours throughout the day on this, blowing hot and cold, the words “Sharing the Pain” are repeatedly reiterated in my head, as a means of articulating what I mean in the face of accusations more or less inciting I take a pleasure in pessimism. I get to the point whilst I’m walking from place to place where I’m internally screaming “yes, sharing the pain is what is crucially missing” in our contemporary situation.
In a BBC Radio 4 documentary from 2013 commenting on the 25th birthday of the “wonder-drug” Prozac, Will Self argued that we shouldn’t be trying to be happy all the time that “[M]aybe the world is a difficult and abrasive place and hard place, and we’d be better off as a society if we acknowledged it in some way rather than papering over the cracks [and we] shared the pain”. The title of the documentary was [a] Prozac Economy, and maybe Prozac is emblematic of the implicit dictum of late capitalist society to be happy and living life to the full, 24/7. After spending 3 quarters of my 20’s on another brand of anti-depressant, I became convinced that what was often mistaken as/and resorted to by patients/customers as a solution to a genuine inability to function in life was actually the ‘papering over the cracks’ of all the things that were inconvenient to the command to be fully active, well-rounded, happy subjects in the ‘game of life’. What is being referred to here, isn’t even the massive cause for ‘pleasure-depletion’ caused by the expanding trail of ‘externalities’ (poverty, pollution, violence) sweated, and spat out by capitalist growth; what is being referred to is the banishment of the bad-to-mundane parts of life from the social lexicon. Good times and success have come to mean the same thing and an implicit command to be living life to the full glares at us from the workplace, street, and living room, making for an unending sensation that our lives are somewhat lacking.
“Life tends to come and go. That’s OK as long as you know”, I Won’t Share You, The Smiths
The Smiths/Morissey’s lyric on their final song of their final album from the late 1980’s almost seem to be wise words of warning for the increasingly USA-like consumerist landscape that the UK would increasingly exist as in the two decades following on, that life isn’t always full and memorably-great. Yet we now live in a social landscape drunk on expectation that life should constantly flow and never ebb.
But without going much further just yet, in comes the emotional-stomach-pumping that is Xmas/New Year; a annual occurrence that is more of an unwritten consensus for a time of mental illness more than anything. Tears, relationship breakdowns, taxi-rank travesties – a general unhinging of minds. It’s like being sucked into a black hole; you have to make plans well in advance to ensure your coordinates are on course to steer you way past its gravitational pull. Most of us fail to do this, and just have to hold on in the best psychological state we can until we come out the other end in early January. It disorientates, messes any routines we have that give us scope for making (some) sense of things; giving us no means of coming to terms with the burning sensation “why aren’t I having a good time? I’m supposed to be. What the hell do I do now?”.
Many of us (usually referring to some unfortunate other – but often meaning ourselves) talk about how Xmas/New Year can be a ‘lonely time’. But I don’t think it is actually that much to do with being alone at this ‘special time’, but more a loneliness induced by this omnipresent command to be ‘living it up’. We feel more left out, missing out, with a need to be having good times-max for 2 solid weeks – no wonder we feel so exhausted by the end of it. This pressure to be constantly sociable, in the thick of good times, coincides with the increasing atomisation of human beings, due to an increasingly presence of market forces coming between al human interaction, so much so that George Monbiot wrote a recent column calling this “the age of loneliness”; both our real and imagined loneliness have increased.
My interpretation of the usual defence of Christmas [specifically, regarding the UK], as an ancient tradition of good will in the deep dead of winter, is that the difference lay not really in loss of belief in the Christian story (or tradition), but in the shift from it being a time of bringing good will, and an easing of pain, to a time where the language describing pain and general not-good times is banished from the existence. A burgeoning feeling of unease, makes us feel more distant from the (seemingly) joyous crowds. But my suspicion is that most of that crowd are actually only connected by their hidden loneliness.
Perhaps this shift can be placed at a point within the 20th century when a newly emerging stage of capitalism (a more completely market-saturated, market-dominated and deterritorialised society) snatched the mores (the demands/actions for the liberation of pleasures, freedoms to enjoy life) from the cultural revolutions of the 1960’s that fought to overthrow a previous style of capitalist domination. The counter-cultural liberation of the human soul in the mid-to-late 20th century turned out to be like rocket fuel to what could be called an emerging hypercapitalism, that re-appropriated and ventriloquised it so well, that tracks like the Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties becomes a slogan for this different style of domination.
Many theorists have worked hard to interpret this crucial shift, usually located in the 1970’s-80’s, but most notably Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze’s essay Postscript for Societies of Control, using Michel Foucault’s description of societies of Discipline and Punish (“operating in a time frame of a closed system”, based on containment and territorial in nature) to delineate the previous form of domination, talks of the beginnings of a new form of domination by “ultrarapid modes of free-floating control” where the “corporation has replaced [the older model] the factory, and the corporation is a spirit, gaseous”, it extends into all walks of life and “constantly presents the brashest forms of rivalry as an healthy form of emulation that opposes each individual against one another, and runs through each, dividing each within”. We are no longer citizens and workers, we are competitors and consumers; enforced individualism. (Digression slightly, but being as I am referring to many bands here, I will argue that the quintessential record for a discipline and punish society is Pink Floyd’s The Wall – released at that crucial point, 1979, when the transition was truly occurring, and that the quintessential record for control societies is Radiohead’s 1997 pre-cyberspatial-horror record OK Computer).
And, In a simplified way, it would seem that what the revolutionaries of the 1960’s were trying to overthrow was the discipline and punishment stage of capitalist domination, unfortunately oblivious to the more gaseous ‘control society’ stage of capital that was de-territorialising the sources of power, and re-appropriating the energies pitted against that older form, at the time. Unlike in a society based on discipline and punishment our pleasure drives aren’t something to be kept in check from a watchtower, but something left to the management of the individual, whilst advocated as a consumer rite of passage. As Zygmunt Bauman wrote in his essay The Riots – On Consumerism Coming Home To Roost, the 2011 UK rioters were ‘disqualified consumers’ who were (financially) unable to carry out their ingrained duty, and thus the rage of injustice was followed by the return of the repressed rite of passage to consume/enjoy – thus came the looting. Because control societies are always losing control, from the macro-economical right down to individual level.
What has all this got to do with Xmas/New year though? Well, all the factors that drive our contemporary reality, hit a huge power surge at this point every year; as Xmas/New Year now operates as some kind of social nervous breakdown, from which it rises back out in vain with redemptive plans for the new year. All the cities in the UK, by weekend, transform into landscapes of people desperate in pursuit of pleasure, in what is still seen as ‘leisure time’ – do they find their fun? Maybe eventually. Christmas however, is this on overdrive, when we truly do become lonely prisoners to the pleasure pursuit. ( The Black Friday escapades, that are condemned by those who foolishly think they are exempt from consumer subjectivity, are if anything a mirror image of the London Riots).
I don’t believe the pursuit of pleasure, and the unrealistic expectations we become condemned to place on such periods deliver their promise at all (In all honesty, the best nights out I have are ones that come out of nowhere, usually when you bump into a friend whilst out on a mundane town centre stroll). The failure to find pleasure on a singular weekend night out can be shrugged off far more easy, but the command to be fulfilled around Xmas/New Year can bring about series mental distress.
There is no way to go much further than this when the most crucial thing (on my part) is getting through the period with minimal damage as possible. It’s fair to say, I think we’re all swept along (or pulled under) in the tide of society at different degrees. At least I’m being honest in saying I’m far more seduced with the perfume of aspirational hyperbole than I’d ever wish on anyone else. It’s like a sealed pocket that releases its poison at certain points throughout the year.
I truly believe if ‘sharing the pain’ was a dominant paradigm, in the place of ‘everyone must enjoy themselves’, life would be truly more easy. It is impossible for a society to share the pain, and accepted the difficulties of life whilst there is a command to be a ‘player’. I also feel a society that acknowledged the difficulties of life would find it easier to adjust to adverse scenarios, rather than responding to it like the infantile consumers it currently moulds us into; to consume and suffer in silence.