I finished The Planet’s Mental Illness 4 years and 1 month ago. It was completed during a period of minor personal breakdown and slow recomposition. Although the breakdown was minor, the conception of the work in early 2012 was informed by something a friend said to me in the wake of the mere sparks of an uprising that galvanised a sense of immanency to social change in the summer and autumn of 2011. He told me how a number of people close to him were all somewhat simultaneously experiencing migraines. A physic pressure was building, but the confines of the prevailing ideology held on too strongly in interior and exterior structures. This physical pain, I would argue, if as widespread as I was sensing at the time, dutifully subsided into malaise and numbness in the years up to 2015.
I’d argue that from 2016 it has returned, especially during the past month.
The 21st century has been dogged by a ‘bug’ that has spread like wildfire throughout the highways of the millennial technological revolution: aka the Internet. The Internet is a tool, as in a means to an end. But the last 17 years have seen it rapidly become an end in itself, under the imperatives of capitalism.
This superhighway scarcity has brought the competitive element into our lives at a speed and quantity previously unknown, at an intensity totally unrelational to the general material conditions of the age; from the way we anxiously binge on information to the way people fight with words like Hunger Games contestants over small indifferences in the WorldWide One-upmanship of social media. It is slowly bringing more and more of us to the point of illness, fearful of not knowing or being as much as the next person, and generally just not being able to carry weight of a unravelling world in loneliness. The ‘bug’, as it has done in the past, mutates into extremism, into reactionary primal screams that are manipulated by the biggest and loudest in the competition.
We may well now face Fascism in the form we did in the 1930’s, but I’d speculate that it’s more than that, that, for good, for worse, or for both, we may actually be in the midst of some huge tectonic conflict – a shift in emerging collective psyches, that is pushing against the bricks and mortar of the established ones. But the sensation is being experienced in anxious, panic-stricken loneliness. It is pushing and pushing, and it feels like hammers smashing against the inside of our skulls, as we try to break through our competitive and fearful systemised loneliness and reach for the New.
My confines mean that whilst I have an urgency to act, anxiety, fear of conflict and fear of unsettling those upon which I depend, have made art-making my main tool with which to scream. The Planet’s Mental Illness was an illustration of the aforementioned. It’s not a blueprint for what is expected to come; the claustrophobia of the present, the stuckness of thought within white noise of information binging meant such future predictions would’ve been insincere. They still are insincere, even whilst it is becoming clear that new horizons, whether terrifying or darkly optimistic, are upon us.
…oh, also, before it is pointed out that want I really meant in the title is ‘world’ not ‘planet’, the usage intentionally points towards my deepest idealism: that human beings, in evolutionary terms, are the eyes of all that has preceded it. A desire for us to recognise consciousness as the universe’s ability to look at itself. If we choose to, that is.
PS, I’m writing a lot at the moment, I’ll hopefully be sharing it asap.
Do you feel like an angst-ridden teenager at 28? Which no confirmation of true age, when confronted with an ever-more aging face staring back at you from every reflection, can eradicate? With the ever-mounting pressure to remain young, to be hip, adventurous and to be eternally striving to advance oneself and be ‘living’ the high times, that is mediated to us by young-looking role models (whether they are actually young or incredibly well photo-shopped), the effects of alienation and discontent that traditionally by-and-large affect teenagers, now affect people further and further into their adult lives. The size 30 waistline is truly strangling us right into our 30’s. Yet there’s never any talk of this – alienating those caught in this existential no-man’s-land furthermore.
Doing my artwork from home, and having a job (when I have one at all) that gives me days off in the middle of the week (which no friends usually have free also), a much needed escape from my cul-de-sacked-residence is usually destined to be relatively solitary one, estranged from the friends who I don’t have the confidence to call until the time of day when English towns have become alcohol-gated communities. I’ve got into an early-afternoon habit, once my hands can’t take any more biro-gripping and key typing, of heading to towns/cities within the 20 mile affordable-to-travel-to radius. But once I get there I am suddenly confronted by an attack from conventional reasoning as to why I am in this place. Amidst the races of individuals trying to get places from the station terminus, I begin to stall, getting in peoples’ way. They seem to have purpose; a life which they are in such a rush to resume. I don’t. Just what am I doing here?
I start to feel a sense of not belonging, an estrangement, and an eagerness to find a place. An uneasiness I expected to be way beyond by now. My mind starts repeating “I’m 28 for god’s sake!”, desperately trying to make it feel true in the physical world. But no matter how I try to rush off’ trains when I’m meeting a friend, or arranging a van to pick my artworks up from an exhibition, my life seems to stay put. Nothing has really changed since I was the shy 16 year old school leaver who would avoid people he went to school with in the street, rather than have to walk past them, in fear of being ignored by them all together.
Many thougths and sights gather and congeal during the course of day that make me look back from these ‘post-Fordist’ times to the lives of my ‘Fordist’predecessors (the previous generations) in shame and embarrassment. Families, homes, ‘proper’ jobs in their 20’s. These societal changes don’t seem to register on the tips of most tongues, and whether possible to do so or not, there is boding expectation to make your way through the world, which hangs heavier around ones neck every time their age hits a higher twenty-something. But what’s there to be made, doesn’t make for this, and what lies in wait just perpetuates your past doings.
If we stick to the core meaning of alienation – to feel that you don’t belong; to feel not at home in your own surroundings – then this alienation may be behind why, after getting off the train, I then make my way to sit in the very chain cafes that I am often critical of for driving small businesses out of existence. In towns/cities which aren’t ‘my home town’, where I am at for no real reason, I feel out of context with the surroundings, with an imaginary person whispering “you don’t belong here” in my ear. And these coffee shops are out of context because they are everywhere and are thus nowhere; a place alienated from its surroundings for an individual who feels alienated (which in no way exempts me from the guilt of frequenting such places). And after that where? For, when I’ve done sitting in the cafe, I don’t really allow for anything much to ‘happen’, because I’m too eager for the feeling of at-least going somewhere, which the train back home-wards provides, and is this the underlying spur for the endeavour.
Regarding those who meander in solitude up and down streets, cultural discourse would have it that it’s a 15-19 age thing, circumventing the age of The Catcher In The Rye’s socially lost protagonist Holden Caulfield. And this holds true for musical tastes also; where bands dealing with discontent and alienation (a prime example being Nirvana, but I also the likes of Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, The The, Joy Division) are neatly categorised as “angry young man music/the sort of music I listened to in my teen angst days” (yes, I have actually heard these said), as a call to get rid of these feelings of not fitting into society, as if it’s an ‘age thing’, to find your seat within the big arena, something many seem depressingly able to do without any noticeable painful transition.
Well, the said bands are still some of my closest audio companions, and I first read the Catcher In The Rye when I was 25 years old, yet felt utterly in tune with this teenage protagonists aimless journeys to places in a city, that he realised he had no reason for being at once he’d arrived. Consequently I feel offended by the usual back-cover reviews describing the book as ‘the quintessential book about teenage-angst ‘, to paraphrase the many.
What does this mean? Does it mean completely shelving everything I have just said just in order for it to be fitting to say “you need to move on (grow up)”? Well, if that is so, please fucking show me how to! Please show me how to move on from this junction-less ring road. If my brain was made of nuts and bolts rather than organic tissue I’d gladly let you tinker around with a screwdriver if there was any hope of lifting the veil of grey mist blocking sight of progression into an ‘acceptable’ place to be for an adult. But it wouldn’t work. Plans are being made now, but if you see me still looking vacantly at train departure electronic boards in 1 year’s time, don’t be surprised.
Weekends seem to actually induce mini-crisis points, from where I wish I’d never asked my boss for them off, because it seems so much easier to be working. At least on weekdays I can at least be functional in my usual doings, and not feel bowled-over by omnipresent ‘evidence’ to a uncertain self of people having purpose to their weekly working as they are meeting up during their shared time off with friends for a much earned rest.
At least on weekdays, I see others as being in the same boat as me, as equally struggling to deal with the cultural norms subjected onto them. And I see other reasons for the causation of alienation. Looking at every lone person on a bus, every lone person with time on their hands, I’m seeing others who are alienated and needing a place also. Everyone’s looking for contact via their mobile phones. Perhaps it isn’t just directly the propagation of youthful imagery that perpetuates the teen alienation into adulthood, but the rapidity of the amount of electrical communication?
When others contact you it makes you feel wanted, but not merely wanted in the ‘desired’ sense but wanted in existence. Someone of strong enough self certainty to avoid irrational anxieties, may not need to needed/wanted by others in order to make their existence seem of worth, but for others, lost in the blur of a fast-paced life, lack of contact with others, when all you see around you in the street is others texting/talking on phones, can make you feel anxious about your own worthiness of existence upon this planet. Thus you begin rapidly texting people, and the desire to get (back) onto social networking sites, such as Facebook, hangs like big tangled branches from every inhalation and exhalation. I tend to text with more ferocity the more I feel like the spectrum of life is passing be by, and also when I’m places where I feel like I don’t belong, and regardless of what they text says, the real message is ‘Hey, I’m here! Don’t forget me”. And of course it is for everybody else.
The link between why we are a society both equally hooked to high-tech forms of communication and the pummeling from youth-obsessed imagery, is what I’d argue is also the link between my inability to move past my alienation and the social system we live under. We never feel complete, thus we never feel like we belong.
I used to find In Rainbows the most difficult album to listen to by Radiohead. Not because I found it a worse album than the rest of the (post Pablo honey) albums, just because there was something I found deeply uncomfortable about it, a truth in it that I couldn’t/or didn’t want to acknowledge right then. I didn’t know what was behind all this, until I read some essays on the album in Radiohead and philosophy. There is a truth in the album which is fought against to stop it happening in the previous albums, but ACCEPTED in In Rainbows: that of a looming mortality, an end, and not just to oneself but to our species. This truth is at its most emotionally heightened in The Reckoner and in House of Cards (the first synth entrance especially). This is why i still usually find myself listening to the 4 albums previous to this one, where the fight with bleak nihilism and against the erosion of democracy is still on going, as this is the fight that is waging in my mind most daytime periods. But In Rainbows has a fragility to it, when one can fight no longer, a coming to terms with the self also. In rainbows is about death, but coming to terms with it, like someone with a terminal disease must do. It makes it too beautiful for me to be able to listen to as I make my way through each day, and it’s only when i have my days when truths about myself and the world are face to face with me that it becomes the album I choose to listen to.“Dedicated to all humans….” The Reckoner