I really wanted to make more of this project before election day, but the things I had been documenting spread into a project I felt I couldn’t reasonably complete in the time space left. I had been making narrated maps and compiling photographs from the 7th May onwards, but to post all of that right now would just be the equivalent of showing the teacher all the ‘hard work’ I’d been doing in the past month in the hope that I could pass the GE2017 exam, so not to face the tidal wave of bickering sounds that’s building.
I begin with the series of maps I made during the last month, and conclude with a short piece of writing I have cobbled together within the last week, as I tried to make sense of the chaotic month, year, century leading up to now.
In a Barnsley Wetherspoons the ‘Love Manchester’ event that plays out from a screen usually emitting rolling news anxiety, prompts at least 10 drunk men to loudly and proudly sing along. If the Manchester brand of the past 20 years was borne from the far less deranged and nihilistic IRA bomb attack of 1996, the Oasis hit ’Don’t Look Back in Anger’ released in that very same year, has resurfaced to become the anthem for a Manchester hyper-branded through social media in a matter of days. It evokes a pleasant memory of spring in 1996; the entire of our year 7 class singing along to it on a cumbersome ghetto blaster in the school’s music department.
But that was 1996 – how did we all get so old?
I’m distracted towards the living rooms of the houses I walk back past, as the screens are noticeably showing the music event. The exhibited middle-aged white singer could be Liam Gallagher, Chris Martin, Damon Albarn or Robbie Williams. They all look the same; ageing men under the spotlights of an ageing spectacle. I start to see this gig not as a triumph of enjoyment over terror but as a send off to Britain. A gig to mark the sinking of ‘HMS Brexit’. It’s beyond doubt that something is ending… And I’m wondering if we are actually singing something altogether different, something that would spook the reality consensus of this 200 years-industrialised nation if we could hear it played back (perhaps through that old ghetto blaster?). Don’t Look Back in Anger, tragically, sentimentally and pathetically, has become this anthem.
How did we get so old?
Back in West Yorks I meet with Michael and we make our way out of the centre of a town that nobody is willing to admit is the heart of a dysmorphic, discontinuous, yet larger UK sprawl. This late spring heatwave has helped unveil the strangeness of the West Yorkshire mash-up of landscapes, now covered in a deep greenness. Rather than seemingly seasonally premature, it appears to spring up around us like a Jurassic landscape rising from a deep sleep that’s encouraged by the excessive carbon emissions we currently seem seized into emitting as the exorcism of the fossil fuel age heads hysterically to its death.
The sun’s heat just keeps on rising as we return from a walk that followed the Calder and Hebble Navigation. Once an essential artery for one of the capital machine’s long-gone dead skins it is now an extension of a leisure park for a post-historical England that was never successfully achieved. We marvel at excavations by hands, many hands, by a once disliked immigrant population now totally saturated in sediments of Englishness that seem to perpetually suffocate its potential. It’s such a familiar story, and like the immaculately engineered bridge we pass under, a mile down the tow-path, it feels like a painful reminder of how long in the tooth this game is here in England. And with the heat beaming down, it’s all too much. I’m massively relieved Michael suggests a pint at a nearby pub.
Later, we sit in Michael’s back garden in Ossett. Sandwiched between the multi-ethnic communities of Dewsbury and Wakefield, Michael talks in dismay about how this town is possessed by proactive wishes to remain miserably white-middle-class in preparation for the gathering storm clouds. The most severe indication of this was the line of union flags we observed along an ugly bypass past a new housing development where surely nobody with a sound mind in a sounder time would want to live. All seems bleak, but as his teenage children come and go, I just can’t envisage their generation finding a platform from which to practice such pessimist social philosophies. It just seems inevitable that all this has to fold into a brighter horizon.
But how did I get so old? This back garden reminds me of my grandparent’s on the periphery of the Darton settlement. Was it an interwar or postwar estate? I’m not sure, because both are longer ago than I feel I am willing to accept. I’m 33; biologically of grandparenthood if circumstances had been different. As I look at the garden of a man not much older than myself I have a sensation of having awoken from a deep and long sleep. But in the company of certain friends I don’t feel as fearful of this knowledge as when I wake up at 4am in cold dread over my stunted adulthood. From as long as I can remember my spirit found itself to be so vulnerable that my mind began draining its desire to live on daily basis ironically trying to work out life-living formulas to the digit. Formulas that confident pro-active behaviour would not give a second thought.
But that which causes regret and bitterness is for another time. “Don’t give up, man” I tell myself “optimism is the only way right now”. The forthcoming election requires a fight against depression, to wager on the ‘what ifs?’. And if all I think I’m seeing (?) on this streets of post-importance has some reality to it, perhaps we should look at post-industrial Britain in 2017 as being a patient half-way through psychotherapy treatment?
We are at a crossroads point in the therapy process. You realise you have a problem, yet the alternative is frightening, because it is the unknown. That past of downer-driven motivations seems easier, because you’ve learnt to numb yourself from the worst excesses of the misery and pain of it through a self-medication that numbs you to even the most horrific post 9/11 news stories; it’s a day to day battle with no future, but the alternative isn’t tangible and seems somehow far more frightening. And the most audible negative voices can anyhow reassure you that all this so-called alternative can muster is a return to the 1970’s. “And who would want to go back to the 1970’s?!?”. Their calls to your depression aim to convince you that everything has been done before. ‘There’s nowt tha can do, pal!’.
But, maybe this is just societal senility. Maybe, just maybe, everything hasn’t been tried before?
Trying to stop the memory mountain foreclose the future is hard. Even after the Tory party’s campaign blunders during the election run up, and sore memories of 40 years of social decay and financial anarchy, if their calling voices successfully manage to echo our depressive doubts about the world we live in, they will win cheer-led by the riotous and smug victory declarations of the Right Wing press, like In May 2015.
It does us no good to see ourselves as selfish and privileged 1st worlders who can’t get a grip; the consumerist addiction, and anger at small things is part of a depression that a culture that encourages atomisation and distrust encourages. To continue our punishment is to send out a toxic message about the way to distribute the wealth of life in a rich country. HMS Brexit: a ship of self-enslavement; enacting the sinking of the Mary Rose with seeming total complicity from those on-board.
If the vote goes the wrong way on Friday; I’m dumbfounded to think what new movements could grow in a country that has decided to stick to its depression.
But just now, we haven’t reached that conclusion.
Michael later texts me in disbelief over seeing the Tory campaign advert the owners of Barnsley local newspaper have decided was wise to cover it with. But the local rag’s lazy lock-down might have misjudged the nerves currently communicating on seemingly sleeper streets, like cable wires. Maybe, just maybe the meme hit a dead vein? As I’m travelling back through an obsessively familiar landscape that reminds me of the lines below my eyes more than a mirror, I realise that my eyes look forward from a time I don’t even remember; that the bags under my eyes seem to correspond to things seen in the decade before I was born; the 1970’s.
I don’t think I am alone, as many of my contemporaries felt aggrieved that they hadn’t been old enough to have physical presence at ‘the rave’ as if a curse had cruelly planted them in a time for which they couldn’t locate a pulse. For those who reached puberty in the mid to late 1990’s, a drink-fueled comedown-culture took over all that appeared to suggest that it could’ve been more.
It’s hard to imagine the only grown up ‘me’ I’ve been at a rave. The depressed and anxious vibes this post-pubescent body has emitted would have only sought sleepy cider sedation at a rave. But this body only ever knew the reality of the drink-fueled comedown-culture; the need to ignore the pain of losing that what we could have had.
And this is why a vote that could, at least in spirit, signal the end of the neoliberal clampdown consensus is actually fucking scary. But maybe I wouldn’t be alone in anticipation of a beckoning nervous breakdown; my god, we’d wake up and, maybe, just maybe, we would realise we could leave our shields at home. That would be so strange, and why would we need the drink at the end of the day, if we haven’t been holding them shields?
I’m sorry. How dare me, but Ive lost myself in idealism. I do apologise. But it’s better than idly saying ‘we’re fucked, whichever way it goes’.
Because I really do sense that something does indeed beckon.
Jeremy Corbyn has been a channeling force for the collective dysphoria borne in the wake of May 8 2015 (an election result reality nobody really prepared for). He is a head upon a ‘momentum’ that, if found disembodied this Friday, will gravitate towards a more extra-parliamentary form. And those who think Corbyn represents an ideological extreme should really prepare themselves now. At least from an English perspective, perhaps we will see extra pressure placed on the distressed and distracted collective conscious that burgeons on our times; it bleeds as a slow rain of individual meltdowns on a knife-edge between the impossible and the inevitable, but surely will be forced into the inevitable as the forces driving what currently registers as our annihilation engender its stage presence?
Short of nuclear war, the impossible future is the inevitable future.
21st Century Limbo-id Men (2017, mixed media on paper)
I probably woke up this morning to last night’s events that occurred 30 miles across the pennines with the same sense of disbelief as everyone. I imagine we are all awash with a mixture of feelings, but I sense that the main feeling is compassion, not only for the victims, but with all those who woke up to the news like ourselves. And it is always heartening to see that most people feel the urge to bond, rather than to rush into an ‘who dunnit?’ hysteria.
It is deeply appropriate that all political parties have agreed to put their campaigning on hold.
But please remember this moment of genuine heartfelt solidarity we are communicating today, when the divisive politics of fear seeps into political campaigning tomorrow. Social media sites show ample evidence that today most of us are wanting more than ever to break out of our modern cages of loneliness, to share the emotions and values we wished were dominant every day. But tomorrow a silent attempt to hijack this will begin, as it has before.
I’m not saying by whom, but we all know what sort of politics benefits most from divide and rule tactics. I’d like to ask us all to remember that the bonds we feel today in our collective mourning (whether it’s via the internet or not), will be replaced by fearful and hollow loneliness if those who’s aim it is to divide and conquer succeed.
Corny as it is, certain songs rekindle my faith in the collective good at times of lonely thoughts about the gravity of the challenges all face. In light of this, I’ve attached this song from the Hope of The States’ 2004 album The Lost Riots.
Dead Ethics Hysteria (2017, 125X95cm, mixed media on paper)
The driving force behind the direction of works like Dead Ethics Hysteria has its roots in a cold winter almost 7 years back.
I remember my anticipations of the ‘austere age’ as we entered the winter of 2010. Back then my head was lead-lined with heavy expectations of imminent ecological collapse, peak oil, and freak weather patterns as a pending normality. The freezing snowstorms of that winter were close to confirming these expectations as if we were, at that point, breaking into a new horizon.
But it never really felt like we broke into that horizon. Of course I’m fully aware of the growing evidence to show how human-made climate change is upon us. But what I’m saying is that it seemed like from thereon-after nobody physically had the time to care, and not only that, but that this constrained capacity is linked to what I misunderstood about what this ‘austere age’ would entail.
I expected a social landscape of less. And, certainly, there is less for the spiraling number of those without homes, those dependent on food handouts, and for regional councils with less to spend on infrastructure and services. But I expected less shopping, less cars on the roads, less costly fads, less frenetic energy pushing us along, whereas the exact opposite occurred. A preoccupation with ecological limits meant I foolishly mistook this sort of reality for what the reality of ‘austerity’ would be: a more, not less-capitalist society.
Such anticipations are evidence that I’d already arrived at a realisation that the dynamics of capitalist relations were leading humanity down a dead end. But perhaps I hadn’t quite understood what this world would look like when the shit started to slowly disperse into the air from the direction of the fan.
As I found out, the belt-tightening we were made to do for this austerity program was actually more so that our trousers wouldn’t fall down whilst in full-flight. Whilst the cost of living rose, the bar for what were the mandatory social standards was raised, and we were forced to run faster and more frequently, as the sense of being in an all-v-all competition bit at nearly every breath we took. The space for empathy, reflection, and actions developed out of that, seems to have been significantly squeezed (as is evident in the general loss of concern about the biggest threat to our survival on this planet). But why? Surely the vested interests of the 1% alone cannot fully account for this hysterical, and masochistic sort of self-preservation?
Many economists talk of how capitalism as we think we know it died in the 1970’s, but the writer Carl Neville explores the cultural implications of this in his essay-book No More Heroes. He suggests that the whole of Western Culture from, say, the mid 1970’s until 2008 was sort of keeping itself in suspense from its natural demise through artificial stimulants, as the extraterrestrial rationality of finance capital was mirrored in a culture of steroid-pumped superstardom (Neville uses Arnold Schwarzenegger has the ultimate embodiment of the entire neoliberal countrevolution) and a stimulant-fueled culture in general.
This leaves you to wonder where the hell we ended up in the wake of 2008 financial crash? The system, and the values upon which it feeds, have long since run out of time, and only seem able to survive by trapping the whole of civilisation in a hyperspace artificially negated from organic time. It needs to go, but what do we replace it with? I think that we all secretly wish that we could stop now. But we can’t; a huge itch inside our skins seems to be keeping us running, faster and faster.
Running is a word worth staying with when the streets of northern English towns now seem to more like a ‘California without the sunshine’ (to paraphrase Mark Fisher), as thousands of us, certainly including myself, pour onto the streets, alone together in our IPod races against only ourselves. It’s probably no coincidence that the music of the last, maybe final (?) counter-cultural moment is what I’d wager most of us choose to listen to on our loops around the block.
In many ways, rave, as a generational movement, stood for a people on the hinterland of becoming something Other; perhaps post-people (perhaps becoming-cyborg?). But their horizon never arrived. What arrived was a knee-jerk civilisational refusal to give up the ghost; the ghost of capital, the ghost of wage labour, the ghost of a system of ethics that no longer corresponded to a world we were now beginning to endure rather than enjoy. In fact rave, ecstasy culture etc. is now a strange sort of self-medication used to wed us to our slavery to the capital machine, in this weird situation where body perfection is a control mechanism self-employed to ensure maximum functionality and assimilation into the work/work-leisure sphere.
The whole thing can often begin to look like one of those contemporary sort of zombie films, where the undead are closer to Olympic athletes than mall sloths, as they chase the last humans past abandoned Starbucks cafes (another subject brought up by Carl Neville in his book Classless).
But I wouldn’t make these drawings if I felt this dead end of capitalist reality has to be a dead end full stop, and it can often be darkly spiriting to consider that this slowly unfolding giant nervous breakdown may break us into a new horizon that doesn’t have to be one solely of climate change catastrophe, but one of potential abundance over scarcity.
Which brings us to an number of theorists, and economists, most notably Paul Mason, who talk of postcapitalism has an inevitability. In his book, titled Postcapitalism, Mason lays out evidence to show how the current technological revolution, the information revolution, and computerization of the workplace, is not feeding capital’s fire like the tech-revolutions that came before it, and is in fact significantly contributing to the terminal downfall of its modes of production.
As things stand our relationship with these technologies looks pretty-much the antithesis of a postcapitalist world. Born into a culture ruled by the scarcity logic it is creating a right old toxic mess of the social body, our private lives and well-being. But, perversely, this too may be contributing to the demise of the system that engenders this reality.
In comparison to most, Paul Mason is very optimistic about our future together on this planet. But isn’t it worth working with the likelihood that he may be right, what have we to lose?
As things stand there are clearly too many vested interests in keeping the whole damn thing going, to the bitterest of ends. But I wonder where the ends and beginnings of those who really do have vested interests in this thing really do rest. I don’t see many signs of mental well-being from bottom to top. Trump (to use a seldom-used example from the top) seems so psychologically unfit that he often appears on-screen like a nauseous genie, conjured by a legion of collective neuroses from a diseased social body.
From top to bottom, I think most are intoxicated by a religion of work and the logic of scarcity. It often annoys people fighting for the most exploited to suggest that the global rich may not actually be a happy bunch. But short of killing them off, what do we expect to happen to them in way of the system-transition we need? Because such a transition is crying out to occur, and will occur for good or for bloody awful, because burnout is imminent. The Laws of gravity are tugging at this botched-attempt at cosmetic surgery for an entire civilisation.
This voyage, perhaps even whole flat earth that it navigates, has reached an end point.
This is an epochal moment – yet we duck, dive, and talk about following our forefathers’ impossible footsteps into yesterdays’ jobs, homes and families, where hair goes grey and skin wrinkles with the pride of purpose.
These footsteps lurch over the void – momentarily held in suspense by a binge on artificial enhancers (or Zombie economics).
We are led over this cliff by the bloated reign of the Baby Boomers.
They don’t mean harm, but they are.
They are ghosts trapped in a machine. A shit machine, but one of full employment, affordable housing, and visions of a future that isn’t our present. Dictating all down below down a road that doesn’t even exist.
No wonder we are lost. Clambering for any clarity. Doing anything to cleanse our bodies of workaday anxieties.
On HMS Brexit ‘work’ doesn’t make sense, because we have lost all direction. Work was the only meaning we had, but as it dies it lives on like a zombie.
He caught me when I was already at a pressure point. I found myself yelling “fuck you” at him. Two drinks later the rage has gone. But my head was melting with an urge to inflict pain on somebody already in pain’s main firing line.
I’m scared about how nasty all this is going to get.
This gallery contains 6 photos.
Originally posted on The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe:
(Originally posted in November 2016) Free-fall in Stasis (Barnsley, The First Week of Winter, 2016) Walking back to the suburbs through an M1 junction-hinterland in the dark of a new winter. But nothing feels new. It’s late 2016. To Ride The Fine Line…
This gallery contains 4 photos.
Originally posted on The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe:
ENDS (Stories From Time-locked Space) (March evenings , 2017) For nearly 2 years one of the gateways into the centre has been shadowed by a broken bridge. But although it may not hang waiting on Brutalist Death Row for much longer, what it…