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The Parasites of Pessimism

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Due to recent thoughts I felt the need to both reference and praise the artist/documentary-maker Patrick Keiller’s 1994 film London; a filmed about a journey through London, which forms a beautiful protest and desire for Justice in a time of loss of belief in a future

Patrick Keiller’s London

Although it should be a suggested alternative watch to Mind The Gap: London vs The Rest, the ‘documentary I criticised on here a week back, I am referring to it here largely due to recent concerns I have been sharing with friends that the Tories may somehow be reelected. This current government [the coalition by name, an unelected Tory coup by nature) thrive off apathy, our sense that there’s nothing we can do.The more apathetic we become, the more powerful they. They are parasites of pessimism.

I reject the idea that I am a pessimist: I am incensed with the injustice in the world/forced to look at what is happening to the world because I cannot stop caring. Pessimism is when you don’t care any more. I may focus on the what’s going wrong, rather than how things could be better, but this isn’t because I don’t care or desire for things to be better. My heart often feels like it is slowly turning to stone, but yet there still remains a utopianism within me.

Of those I’ve been speaking to we know our society well enough to understand why it may support something that can only maintain/enhance the silent miseries and frustrations; a resignation to all outside our family units and a bizarre fearful distrust in anything that could promise to make life better for us. Yet it remains baffling and relatively impossible to articulate why this happens. Yet this film uses a journey through London to almost map out a diagnosis of the illness stunting society. The real-felt consequences of the re-election of the Conservatives is well illustrated by the worried anticipations of the narrator and Robinson (whose life the art-documentary is based around) on the days surrounding the 1992 Tory reelection. Furthermore, I feel this description  that I have used below must be familiar to most of us in contemporary Britain, if we are honest with ourselves, regardless of how 2014 compares to 1992.

[pre-election] “I expected the [Tory] government would be narrowly defeated, but Robinson did not trust the opinion polls, which were in any case showing a last minute drift away from Labour…[post election]. It seemed there was no longer anything a Conservative government could do to vote it out of office. …[T]he middle class in England had continued to vote Conservative because in their miserable hearts they still believed it was in there interest to do so.”

[The expected consequences] “His [Robinson’s] flat would continue to deteriorate, and his rent increase; he would be intimidated by vandalism and petty crime; the bus service would get worse; there would be more traffic and noise pollution, and an increased risk in getting knocked down crossing the road; there would be more drunks, pissing in the street when he looked out of the window, and more children taking drugs on the stairs as he came home at night; his job we be at risk, and subjected to interference; his income would decrease; he would drink more, and less well; he would be ill more often; HE WOULD DIE SOONER” (London, Patrick Keiller, 1994)

I’m no defender of New Labour (I hate the small-minded arguments that try to pit the two parties together as being the full scope of possibilities of how our society could function), but I have definitely noticed many changes since 2010 (since the Tories got back into power), in the news, in the street, in my friends’ lives, in my life, that chime with the description above. The increase in cars on the road – as if somehow the increased psychological pressure of a more harsh, unforgiving, yet deliberately imposed reality onto people, has pushed us into using the form of transport most naturally at home with self-centredness – a pessimism reinforcing itself; as we no longer even dare contemplate the environmental consequences of this anymore. I am always expecting violence, self-inflicted and aimed at others; the nearby city of Sheffield seems to have had an increase of both homeless individuals; in my home town Barnsley, individuals evidentially being crushed by this imposed reality, due to the often-seen inability for rage to be controlled, whether it is aimed at others, or at themselves. I sometimes wonder whether we are a society of taught masochists wanting pain from the public school boy sadist-rulers. But there again, anybody who hasn’t become the ideal-functioning man-capital, must be wondering how much more they can hide from, and whether they will be in-front of the crusher sometime soon. How much can a “miserable heart” take, before it retaliates?

‘Rambles’ – part of a 2013 project taking a psychogeographical tour of the West Riding

Ramble through Barnsley, March 2013, John Ledger and Michael Hill

 

‘Ramble’ through Woolley Colliery and Darton, March 2013, John Ledger and Michael Hill

 

‘Ramble’ through Bretton Park, 2013, March 2013, John Ledger and Michael Hill

 

 

‘Ramble’ through Wakefield city centre, May 2013, John Ledger and Michael Hill

 

 

About West Riding of Yorkshire: A Psychogeographical Account:

I aimed to combine all memories/experiences from a year of walking/train/bus and car journeys through 4 areas that span the old West Riding of Yorkshire. It has culminated from years of wandering and musing around an area loosely centered around Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley and Sheffield. I’m trying to show what inhabiting these places /walking through these human landscapes feels like. All too often I find reality is massively cropped to take the more picturesque; but I’m also trying to show that the issues the world faces today can be observed on a local level as much as in any international city.

I have chosen this area because it is a landscape I know better than any other.

It relates to a course I began, but couldn’t complete, in London, called Mapping Capitalism, and in particular theorist Fredric Jameson’s notion of cognitive mapping, as a modern means of class consciousness and awareness of our real material conditions, in the disorientating 21st century world governed by global financial capitalism. Informed by both the philosopher Althusser and the urbanist/town planner,Kevin Lynch, who used psychogeographical ideas to create better living environments, Jameson argued that the “mental map of a city explored by Lynch can be extrapolated to that of the social and global totality [one that we] we carry around in our heads in various garbled forms”.  I travel often but regrettably I don’t often leave the 15 mile radius of my home that includes these areas of my focus. London was an anomaly which didn’t work out, yet it allowed me to look at (what I would class as) my home landscape with new eyes.

I’ve found this project deeply helpful.  I look back on what I have written and 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 potentially something to be gained conceptually from any walk. Not just a walk through the most tourist-friendly spots on earth.

But I must ask myself why do this here and why now? Well, disparate issues seem to have come to a head and collided; personal reasons, such as memories, lost dreams, a coming of age that are all embedded in this landscape, are becoming entwined with deep concern about the changes to the world happening at the moment; an increase in poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and recent weather patterns that go far to suggest we are amidst a rapid transformation of the Earth’s climate. These changes are very noticeable at a local level.

The philosopher Franco Berard ‘Bifo’ writes that “in the last decades of the [20th] century, the Utopian imagination was slowly overturned, and has been replaced by the dystopian imagination”. The social landscape is no longer a place for hope and opportunity but one that we increasingly fear; as theorist Mark Fisher says we use headphones, what he terms ‘OedIpods’, as “a walling up against the social”. We are encouraged to live in what Baudrillard called the Hyperreal, our own universes of simulcra that have no basis in, and which blind us us to a social void he called the ‘desert of the real’.

This landscape I know best more or less culminates around two railway lines; the Hallam and Penistone lines. I begin with the northern most point of this landscape of my mind: Leeds city centre.  Many parts of this area were visited by George Orwell whilst he was note-making for his book ‘The Road To Wigan Pier’, about life in the industrial north during the great depression. After 30 years under a neoliberal political economy, it is arguable that the quality of life for many, in relative terms, may be no better than it was in the 1930’s, and I am certain that the collective imagination is in an even worse state.

With Every Heartbeat (at ‘Ghosts of My Life’ tempo)

Ghosts of My Life – name taken from the title of theorist Mark Fisher’s next book.