One hand on a remote Control, a joystick, a keyboard, a touchscreen, itching with a need to turn over stones. Nothing ever matches up, but I feel so wired up that the urge to carry on searching wins every time.
To begin I have to talk about how uncomfortable my disinterest in a recent discovery breakthrough made me feel. News of the ‘Rivers of Mars’ (the headline on the shitbag-from-nowhere The Metro) left absolutely no stain on my train of thought. There seemed to be this lingering sense that it should mean something to me, that the news should run right through me as if I was an electrical rod. Of course, I want it to mean more – I’ve been reared through decades in a society where the words ‘science’ and ‘progress’ are nearly always used in an evangelical light. Yet there is a near total collapse in our faith in the idea that we are progressing to somewhere/something better, all-the-more impounded by the sickly sound the word ‘growth’ has when spouted from the mouths of our world leaders.
The partnership between economic prosperity and civilisation is probably most visibly now defunct in our ambivalence towards discoveries, new technologies that would have, at one time, served as star signs to a better world. Something has turned our radars towards such horizons well-and-truly off. Certain forces have set in, serving as a ‘slow cancellation’ of our faith in the future, making us “oppressed” as Mark Fisher writes (in his book Ghosts of My Life) “by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.” Yet we are still forced to get out of bed in a morning. We have no choice but to go through the motions.
Despite being laced with hypocrisy like an old oak beam is laced with woodworm, Victorian and postwar Britain sustained a collective belief that we were turbulently sailing the seas towards a better world. These pacts that endured through their hypocrisy were torn apart by the emergence of the neoliberal (or market fundamentalist) political economy, and it’s hammering home of its vision of individual guile amidst failed social projects.
There is a synonymous relationship between the move towards neoliberal economics in the 1970s and the rise of the dominance of computer (digital) technologies. It is beyond doubt that they both serve and strengthen each other’s stronghold over reality. In fact the anthropologist and general all round bullshit-buster David Graeber argues that the “profound shift, beginning in the 70s, from investment in technologies associated with the possibility of alternative futures, to investment in technologies that furtheres labor and discipline and social control” was instigated by the then-emergent New Right (with their perfect storm-broth of Neoliberal economic theory with Neoconservative politics). He suggests that the economic program they would eventually set in motion under Thatcher and Reagan was motivated by their ‘concerns’ over the potential of a less-work-more-leisure, less economically-driven, and less competitive Western world in the wake of the cultural revolutions and hippy movements of the 1960s. Graeber argues that the Right had finally caught on to the somewhat truth behind the Marxist conviction that “capitalism’s very need to continually revolutionize the means of industrial production, would eventually be its undoing”. Spooked by the social and political progress of the 1960’s they helped put the brakes on this by leading us into an age where one technology would underpin the rest, limiting possibilities and forcing us into an even more work-orientated structure. 40 years later when our ability to contemplate anything, never mind alternative social systems, is literally broken up by our craving to use the devices at our fingertips to find ever-more tasks to complete, we can see who won the war of ideas in the 1970’s.
The premise here isn’t that nothing new is possible (I dearly hope the opposite is true), but that the proliferating digitisation of life into security codes and distributive media, that is aggrandized as offering us limitless discovery, actually does more than merely limits our horizons, but actually makes us increasingly tired of life. Computer technologies foreclose all other horizons, compressing them into the same one dimensional blocks of information as everything else, who’s production and distribution, despite promoting difference, hammers down a sensory-attack of the ever-same. There’s Nothing New under Digital Rain.
The words Nothing New under Digital Rain came to me last week whilst hurriedly walking to work, as I end up doing nearly every morning. I have to enter the rural gap between the disjointed conurbations of West and South Yorkshire to get here – hardly the epicentre of cyberspacial connectivity. Digital Rain is a track by the music artist Zomby (from his 2011 album Dedication), who’s very sound takes the one-time-euphoric sound of late 20th century rave music, and takes it under the digital downpour of the 21st century, from where it literally sounds like a disintegration, a collapse of all narrative into an abyss of disbelief.
Even in this relatively broadband-free area, I still exist in a state of apprehension, anticipating unanticipated interruptions to the here and now, and thus having no sense of the here and now. Indeed I am occupied daily by a sense that nothing sticks anymore, that I have no real memory of the past few years, an era in which cyberspacial dependency has increased in conjunction with austerity-age-fueled survivalist anxieties. This clearly isn’t an isolated sensation when 2015 exists as as CGI-version of the 1990’s – the final full decade before the digital downpour. 2015 doesn’t believe in itself. Perhaps here, away from the warm glow of screens, as I walk feverishly quick in order to avoid the embarrassment of being late for work, I can more noticeably recognise that I (we) have been perpetually put to work. Perhaps the term ‘The Cognitariat’ (which came to my attention through the writings of Italian thinker Franco Berardi) is the best at hand to describe the residual psychological exhaustion of a continuous and largely unrewarded work-life.
In a performance piece myself and Leeds-based curator/artist John Wright undertook earlier in the year, called Non-Stop Inertia: a Stuck Record (named after a succinct account on the contemporary work-life predicament by Ivor Southwood), we concluded that you no longer need to be in the midst of an interruptive Non-Stop environment to be in a state of perpetual apprehension, and that this continual anticipation of the unanticipated may itself be altering our ability to concentrate on the here and now, perhaps more so than computer devices themselves fostering it, which we largely scapegoat the younger generation with, accusing them of speaking in soundbite form. Indeed Jonathan Cary in his book 24/7, suggests that the 24/7 life “has produced an atrophy of Individual patience and deference that are essential to any form of direct democracy: the patience to listen to others, to wait ones turn to speak.” This spreads into every corner of physical life in the all-against-all fixed-race of up-to-our-neck-in-it neoliberalism, where “the waiting that one actually does now – in traffic jams or airport lines – acts to intensify resentment and competitiveness with those nearby”. A work colleague was literally physically attacked in a unprovoked incident recently as a motorist got out of her car and hit her on a seemingly calm autumn morning.
If we aren’t utterly detached, continually sharing ‘buzzfeeds’ and cuddly pics like an electronic-Eloi, then we’re snarling and swearing at those who languish in the very same predicament as us from behind our steering wheels, or within ticket queues. The system is literally sending us mad, and we need to find an exit strategy.
Backwards to go forwards. An acceptance of defeat?
Seriously, is it not possible that the recent craze around the 21st October 2015 being the date when Marty and The Doc traveled into the then-distant future in the 1989 hit film Back to The Future 2 may have been motivated by a longing for us to be able to go back, an then forwards, again? This time onto a better course? Like much retro-phenomena, we are potentially missing the point: that our obsession with them may be down to them alluding to different futures than the one that became our present. One thing is for sure, even if some of the technologies predicted in Back to The Future 2 did arrive, they could not have predicted the depressive nature and lingering sense of broken promises that constitute our digital Dystopia. In 1989 the neoliberal idea was only just beginning to vanquish all other ways of living among each other, and was still far off creating the reality we endure today.
Speaking to my friend/artist Dave Jarvis recently, amidst the initial clarity of drinking, he said “maybe we need to admit we’ve failed?”. This was no knee-jerk reaction. It was a reaction of someone (like myself) who is almost pre-programmed to defend the benefits of contemporary technologies, yet who’s found himself soberly coming to the conclusion that computer technologies have got us so ‘stuck’, in the face of some of the biggest human and ecological crises in the history of our species, that we may have to admit we’ve failed. Concluding that we might have to stop looking for the answers within this technological framework, (which is admittedly hard to do when you’re doing almost everything you do within it), and if not take a step backwards, then at least try to move sideways, out of the way of the glare of the screen.
“One of the standing affronts of disempowerment within 24/7 environments is the incapacitation of daydreaming or of any mode of absent-minded introspection that would otherwise occur in intervals of sloe or vacant time.”
Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 is one of the most moving pieces of prose I have read in a long time. There is an unflinching devotion to the human condition running through the book. He is clearly captive to the longing to see our species transcend capitalist relations. The subtitle of 24/7 is “Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep”, and the book warns us that “sleep is a standing affront to capitalism”, due its unproductiveness, and it is being systematically eroded. Yet Crary isn’t just talking about sleeping per-se, it’s about the space to dream, concluding his book with the suggestion that “in many disparate states, including reverie and daydream – the imaginings of a future without capitalism begins as dreams of sleep.”
Such a sentence moved me profoundly, as I suddenly realised how much I shared this sentiment. We are all seeking arrival, a moment when we can finally fucking ‘log out’ for good. Nobody is on the social media all the time, job searching sites in their spare time after work (continuing the daily commute of physical space into cyberspace), because that is where they want to be. They want to be where media platforms promise but never allow them to final arrive at. Over recent years blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter trends have revealed how the majority of us share the same distress about the world we live in. Social media, unlike Television and Newspapers before it, has allowed us to see that most of us basically want the same things (even if some are led into the destructive demonisation of other social groups). But even if it helps as an initial platform, computer technologies must finally be moved away from as the dominant technological force within our lives.
Acceptance of this does not mean running to the forests, away from the 24/7 world, it means accepting that computer technologies, as David Graeber argues, may not actually be true progress at all, not in the sense of the epoch-defining breakthroughs that went before it. If we can accept that, we may be able to pick up the new tools, ideas, products that have been probably created in-spite of the digital downpour. As my friend John Wright suggests, it’s more than certain that they do already exist, but possibly just can’t be seen by us at the moment: that the tools towards a tommorrow cannot be understood amidst an eternal present under digital rain.
Feverish (new work). Ballpoint pen on paper
It seems to me that the crucial thing to do right now (individually, socially, and internationally) would be to pause for deep reflection on the situation neoliberal economics has brought us to, as if we could reach a consensus to slow the treadmill back down to walking speed (at the very least). Ironically “pausing for reflection” is perhaps the one act that is fundamentally anti-neoliberal – and actioning this when its agenda dominates decision-making across the globe seems unfathomable. Yet this is what is needed if we are to even come close to stalling the rise in right wing populism, frightening levels of inequality, state surveillance, cyberspace misogyny, and (lest we forget) climate change.
When a lone human being hits a crisis point, they only recover after slowing down to the point of almost total entropy, often having to become so disillusioned with daily social reproduction, that society’s feverish demands of them become inaudible as one becomes (metaphorically-speaking) submerged underwater, in a state of ‘depressive withdrawal’. Beaten, bruised, and perhaps finding oneself back at the beginning of a rigged-game of snakes and ladders that constitutes life in such a competitive system, but nonetheless able to reflect, without respiratory unease.
I have often found the dark optimism of theorist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s potential solution of ‘depressive withdrawal’ from cyberspacial capitalism an inconceivable solution whilst the majority of us are put to (unpaid) work within cyberspace in order to hopefully track down a relatively worthwhile future for ourselves – especially as the unpaid labour we give extends far further into life than traditional job-seeking endeavours. With a process he calls ‘semiocapitalism’, Berardi tals of how our entire cognitive and emotional energies are appropriated into the reproduction of the system, and that this demand of us is in a state of perpetual acceleration. “Semiocapital puts [our] neuro-psychic energies to work, submitting them to mechanistic speed, compelling cognitive activity to follow the rhythm of networked productivity. As a result, the emotional sphere linked with cognition is stressed to its limit”. My own recent experiences of ‘trying my best’ via cyberpsace (interpreting and taking part in political discussion via social media platforms, whilst simultaneously trying to ‘career-hunt’, promote my art, and – wait for it – even considering Internet dating) has made me feel so disorientated, and unable to gain understanding of situations, due to the speed at which information sources bombard you, that I am now writing this after slowly coming up for air from month-long spell of depressive withdrawal.
Life is increasingly mediated via cyberspace – a mixture of platforms tending to and enhancing our panicky aspirations, our need of social approval, and depressive pleasure-seeking that results from the exhaustiveness of all that precedes it. Regarding trying to play a traditional participatory citizen’s role via Cyberspace, I have found myself bombarded daily with calls to stop TTIP, challenge the threat of UKIP, Boycott Israel, and help gain the Green Party the media limelight their policies deserve. Yet I feel bowled over, electrodes hitting me from all sides, ticking boxes of things I haven’t read, just ticking boxes of my pre-set ideas of what is just and unjust, not gaining a clearer understanding of anything, except a growing disbelief in the dissemination of information.
Yet social reproduction is incredibly claustrophobic once it is echoed from every device capable of connecting to the web. Our souls are put to work feverishly, trying to get places, gain things, learn things, yet learning nothing really. As the journalist John Pilger said in a recent lecture, the world is experienced as a “a tsunami of unexplained horror through the media”. Contemplation is squeezed into narrowing pockets of time, promoting its opposite: pure emotive reaction.
The ‘social-disease of neoliberalism’ has taken over 30 years to reach its current austerity-age fever pitch level. When the profit motive eclipses everything else, reflection isn’t required, or given a chance; just the emotive reaction. No matter how much information disseminated about the truth behind Farage’s UKIP (for example), its emotive pull creates such a huge din that reason becomes unreasonable. Neoliberalism forces down upon us an emotive populism, from Xfactor-style television to UKIP-dominated current affair panels. Thought is compressed into tactics on how to gain ground in a race to the bottom reality, whilst the quality of our lives is evaluated via media-interfaces, often only leaving space for the grubby residue of life’s wealth – what Paul Verhaeghe calls ‘depressive pleasure-seeking’.
We have found ourselves living under a strange Autocracy of Populism. “Everything must be entertaining, everything must entertain”, and we are expected to be constantly performative (and with success). an exhaustive psychic shutdown and depressive withdrawal is inevitable to many of us; yeah, we start from scratch, but it always strikes again.
And all the while the so-called protestant work ethic has intensified in response to the increasing difficulties of getting by. With each of us working our hardest, hoping the system will spare us (and grant us the leafy and comfortably-off 2.4 children lifestyle) the survivalist instinct has become feverish, repeatedly reinforcing the dog-eat-dog social reality. Since the austerity-age reality adjustment of the past half-decade, the work ethic has become hysterical in society. To challenge hard work is seen as heresy. In fact work isn’t even good enough, you need to be striving to move onwards and upwards constantly. Yet this hysterical work ethic only registers paid work as legitimate; all the unpaid exhaustion of energy that constitutes our so-called leisure time isn’t recognise one bit.
To be successful is all. The biggest fear is to fail – to be systematically reduced to an ‘invisible’. Being socially visible, whether at celebrity or at group level is all – to be validated within the believed-to-be all-seeing all-knowing media (or social media), which the writer Carl Neville says has taken on the role of a “benevolent deity, conferring riches and status”[Classless, Zero Books]. Whether it is the high echelons of celebrity media, or cyberspace social media – it is the all-important decider.
In one of his essays on the erasure of class struggle within British cinema, Carl Neville says that “In Xfactor Britain, we’re all just one step away from being a celebrity. …that exclusive x factor, detecta ble only by those of truly heightened sensibilities such as Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole [the media embodied], are your tickets out of the most degrading of all personal situations, anonymity”.
We’ve all been pitted against each other, all against all, in this daily exhaustion to ‘get out’, to escape poverty, misery, anonymity. No wonder video trends with names like Epic Fail are so popular on the one-versus-all battleground of social media. Is the Xfactor nation depicted in the 15 Million Merits episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror really so far from our current situation? Will our lonely and feverish plights to ‘get out’ get more desperate, and more ruptured by increasingly frequent depressive shutdowns?
Within this drawing every figure is initially frantic. The zombie-like look isn’t coincidental; once the pursuit of ‘LIFE’ becomes feverish, lived life itself feels like it has ceased to be; many a frantic moment I have felt undead. It seems appropriate to add then that when I’m in a state of depressive withdrawal, whilst I go into a state of psychic shutdown, I still require to be in motion. But not frantic motion, more endless urban meandering, and a wish that the train journeys would never end, carrying on into an endless night. The problem isn’t movement, it is when competitive forces dictate movement. And these competitive forces are crucial to neoliberal dominance.
Our current situation isn’t understood because the speed of daily life has increased as to cancel out the bringing in of new understandings. Our current work ethos belongs in the 1970’s at the latest; in 2014 it is driving us mad, literally. The only solution is a reduction in the speed, but the fever has our blood racing. But patronising individuals by telling them to chill out and relax is both futile and part of the very atomising structure set in motion by the neoliberal ideology – ascribing an unreal self-determination to people which places them in charge of something they cannot alter from an individual basis, lets our current social reality off the hook. A global consensus on the need to stop and reflect is essential. If one chooses to argue that perpetual acceleration is at the heart of capitalism, then I think we can agree on the root-source of this ‘planetary mental illness’.
“I’ve seen what people are capable of when they’re in desperate situations. Are we really so far from that point already?” – Philip Carvel, Utopia, episode 6
I won’t dispute that the recent second series of Channel 4’s Utopia ( Dennis Kelly) was gripping. Nor will I dispute the fact that what made it more gripping was its use of overly homely locations around Barnsley and Wakefield in the final episode – fusing two of my obsessive pre-occupations: place, and our collective future in this century (the crucial issue within the drama). After all, I have a clear memory of reading Slavoj Žižek’s Living in The End Times in the very of bus aisle used for the beginning scene of the final episode.
Yet, Žižek’s approach to ‘the end times’ is in itself a critique of a cultural infliction that I argue is critically played out in Utopia’s ‘end times’. Žižek’s book deals with the civilisational dead end we have found ourselves at. That although a capitalist reality can only deepen the problems we face in the 21st century, we are incapable thus far of imagining an alternative reality. He, like many other take heed, and deepen the assertion from the famous quote made by theorist Fredric Jameson that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism”. A cultural infliction that theorist Mark Fisher calls ‘capitalist realism‘ prevents a civilisation from imagining a way out of the mess it has found itself in.
Utopia’s artful web of conspiracy ideas, all set up within the drama to enable a secret sterilizing-causing-vaccine called Janus to greatly reduce the human population, is greatly imaginative within the narrow realms of what is currently imaginable, but it goes no further. Whereas a film such as The Children of Men (set in the aftermath of mass sterilisation) dealt with the fallout of the inability to overcome a dead end, Utopia provides only capitalist realist solutions to it. Nowhere within the drama’s message is there room for contemplation that a more equal distribution of resources, and a more democratically planned growing and using of foods and fuels could perhaps be a solution, because this is far harder to imagine ever happening than the end of the world. Thus, the only option in such a reality is to greatly reduce the population.
The remark I expect to get of “can’t you just see it as a form of entertainment?” isn’t satisfactory when the subject of a drama deals with very real and imminent threats to our survival as a species. You come away thinking that there’s no alternative to a mass sterilising or culling of our species. This ‘no alternative’ can’t be of said apocalyptic dramas from the past. For example, Threads: with the terrifyingly real depiction of a nuclear holocaust set in nearby (to me) Sheffield, it was never a foregone conclusion – there was always an underlying message of “we don’t have to let this happen”.
Utopia graphically shows to us what we already know is unfolding around the world due to the fucked-up-ness unravelling from being psychologically-trapped in a reality of exploitation at all costs: psychotic violence, by state and by individual to reach the only ends given. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi said “If capitalism is to go on in the history of mankind, then the history of mankind must become the place of total violence, because only the violence of competition can decide the value of time” and aren’t we seeing such measures being exerted in both non-physical and physical ways to reach these ends/means? When another gruesome act occurs in Utopia, although it shocks us and gets the blood racing, isn’t it what we kind of expected to happen anyway though? That in our narrow Real that’s the only extreme-result we can imagine?
Utopia was a great series, but due to its ‘capitalist realism’ it gives us a deadly solution to the threat to survival we all try to forget about (hoping it will go away). But the problem with picking and choosing in an already vastly unequal and selfish reality could result in the most ghastly ethnic/class-cleansing imaginable. But nobody watches Utopia thinking they’d be the unlucky ‘chosen ones’ in such a scenario. The infliction of ‘capitalist realism’, in pitting all against one another, intensifies our subconscious belief that we are more equal than others, an instinct that less reckless societies throughout time have realised needs to be tamed for our good. Utopia does a great job of showing what human beings are capable of doing to each other, but I find it severely problematic that it just leaves it at that – a foregone conclusion.
Full marks for entertainment value, acting, and the plot, for sure. Just no marks for feeding our imaginations with a reality that often was indistinguishable from the brutal world we see unfolding when we switch channels to see blood almost dripping from the TV set on Russia Today and Al Jazeera.
Even though I intend this blog to be about my own responses and reflections on music that has informed my understanding of life during the past 20 years, I have been motivated to write it in the first place due to being captivated by the thoughts of many cultural theorists ; in particular, Mark Fisher and Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. It is very likely that their thoughts on popular culture within the past 60 years have prompted me to internally revise my responses and reflections on music that has made an impact. But also, as in the case of Fisher’s writing on Joy Division, it has given courage to previously ‘unsure-of-themselves-thoughts’, realising certain drug-like-dependency-responses to the music (of Joy Division) weren’t an oddity, and immature as I’d previously dismissed them as being.
So… Here I have attempted to gather together songs that evoke in me a sense of a world once imaginable. A sensation that is both personal and social, because it is both within my lifetime and also stretching back beyond my life, fed into my understanding of the world as a young child, even as these ‘alternative worlds’ were fading and dying by the time I was born (1984). Sensations that once felt alive and now just have an haunting presence.
When did things begin to feel like they were no longer alive? And are wider cultural impacts internalised and lived by individuals acting within that society? I believe so, and I am convinced that I have indeed absorbed the wider mood into my own character.
During the past 35-40 years society has gradually become almost-totally saturated with the postmodernist logic. However, a term I find far more appropriate to describe this process would be Mark Fisher’s term ‘Capitalist Realism’: a cultural infliction that sustains an inability to be able to imagine a world beyond this increasingly stale, yet frightened, ever-present .I’d say full saturation happened somewhere between the late 1990’s ,the 9/11 horror spectacle, the damaged done to the belief in democracy due to the ineffective 2003 anti Iraq-War demonstrations, then to be compounded by the farce and global insult of the 2008 financial fiasco. This is certainly the case here in the U.K, if not most of the world.
I say this because even after Thatcherism’s ‘There is no alternative’ agenda (TINA) reigned triumphant in the 1980’s (that precipitated the dictatorship of individualism that began to make people ideologically blind to all things but their own reflection) there was still space for a rejuvenated feeling of a better world on its way in the late 80’s to mid 90’s. I think it is safe to say that this was largely instigated by events such as the fall of the Berlin wall, that symbolised the end of a globally disliked Soviet order/the cold war, and then a few years later what seemed like the end of Apartheid/the freeing of Nelson Mandela. But it was also instigated by the utopianism surrounding the beginnings of the digital/Internet revolution (before the very troubling realities became a spectacle spreading disbelief, from where nothing shocking could shock any longer). Basically a culture-wide naive optimism (blindness to the vacuum behind the big new brands that were promoting a golden new dawn; New Labour for example) led us to imagine and put expectation in what would slowly crack, break apart and melt away as we passed through the first decade of the 2000’s, revealing the cold and harsh real in ‘capitalist realism’. Now we are surrounded by the ghosts from these times; a faded colour, like the advertisement holdings left behind after the 2008 meltdown, fading away in the sharp light.
Basically, I (and probably nearly everybody else alive today – if they truthfully asked themselves) would wish the world to be different to how it is now – very different. I firmly believe that it shouldn’t have to be the way it is. And I will never be truly satisfied until it is no longer how it currently is – if that change occurs in my lifetime. Music that makes an impact on us can enable us to imagine the world as a different/better place, but for me at least, these days music is much more an enabler of a feeling that it just shouldn’t be like this (as it stands now). Thus music from a time in social or personal history (and I do my best to stress that both are infinitely interconnected) that evokes a feeling of the world being a different one, from the decaying social structure under capitalism that we feel stuck, haunts us, fills the space with these ghosts from the past. I suppose, before I go on to list the songs, the that this leaves me little choice but to stress the importance of popular music can play in our wish for a better world. Music cannot start a revolution (and in our times when we feel trapped in inaction, music that is angry with the state of things can often be merely cathartic; providing the feeling of action,rather than action itself), but it can, and has before, been a way of enabling an awareness of the possibility of change in society.
These songs either evoke a feeling of something lost, that seems irretrievable, or of a time in my life when I had optimism for a better world, that eventually dries in the successive vitality droughts brought on by let downs/disappointments. I have attempted to club the songs together where they relate to experience.
Kate Bush: Wuthering Heights.
On Youtube there exists a digitally stretched-out video of Kate Bush’s mystical-masterpiece Wuthering Heights – slowing down the track so that it lasts 36 minutes. I have never listened to all 36 minutes of it (I think I found the time to get 30 minutes through), but 4 minutes is enough to experience a strong hauntological presence in Kate Bush’s music – a background element that the stretching out of the song brings to the foreground. There is something of the uncanny about Kate Bush’s (specifically early) music, how it seems to be very much at home amidst the then-contemporary music of the late 1970’s/early 80’s, yet how it also seems to expand into a mythological England of yesteryear, whilst also seeming to stretch into a utopian future; a ghost in the machine/the record player.
I’ve heard the original record so much. It has been etched into my mind that it is a song I love. Yet the reasons for this are no longer conjured up by listening to it, as if repetitive playing on personal music players has drained these connections of vitality. Unable to access what made it sound so good all those years ago, I find this slowed-down version, whilst not being incredibly ‘listenable’, has hauntological traces of the impact the original record had on me, first as a very young child, when it became woven into my understanding of what good music is, and then aged 19/20 when it (and the rest of her earlier recordings) synchronised itself with a rejuvenated sense of vitality within me, largely based on the confidence making art gave me, and a naive belief that I had overcome the heavy negatives within me. Hauntology – as traces of something no longer present: I can no longer access what made the original sound so good to me, because they clung to a vitality that belongs in the past.
Some chart-moulded, nightclub-driven, songs accidentally reveal what they most commonly try to blot out of the audio-visual horizon: real melancholia, real loss. Informed by the hauntological revelations the stretch-out version of Wuthering Heights gave me, and the presence of (what sounds like) samples of upbeat songs from the (surface-level) upbeat 1990’s in the music of Burial, I wanted to play around with certain songs to unlock the hauntological ‘particles’ I was certain were present within them. With Every Heartbeat was one track I has been eager to stretch-out.
I recall hearing the late 00’s chart song some months after its release. It struck a chord with a peculiarly satisfying point of sadness/let down that came over me whilst I was waiting for friends returning from the bar in a expansive chain pub in Barnsley. The video for the song was playing on large screen whilst I sat, strangely captivated and moved by visuals that were incredibly ‘production-line-pop-music’. Yet it stuck, as it isn’t supposed to for a person who (at least then) still dressed and wrote music as if there was still a genuine oppositional alternative culture to a conservative mainstream.
Hearing it thereafter, it strangely became synchronised with the 2008 financial collapse and the resulting reality just a few months down the line from the aforementioned moment in the pub. It became a sound to represent a party that was just about to end, a party that had nonetheless frustrated most of its attendants (UK society), by being the only thing that there seemed left to do in a public-space-deprived, capitalist realist, credit-sustained existence, which often ended in tears and regret. It frustrated because during this period, the big night out had become the unacknowledged ‘dream-keeper’ of society; promising to fulfill or at least find us those human needs of love, happiness, meaning. Even before the crash this song felt like a sad wave goodbye to all this, as if you could sense it was over; “at least you gave us dreams, but I know now they’re about to go“. Of course, most UK towns still exist as the heavy-drinking wild-wests (at least to the sober) after 6pm, but it’s with an intensified bleakness, as if an entire scene could resemble one person’s drawn-face and lifeless eyes; we’re now just ghosts of our past reveling-selves, even more future-less than before, haunting places that once at least promised something, just going through the motions. With Every Heartbeat thus becomes very painful in this light.
Annex and Genetic Engineering – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [OMD] from the Peel sessions recordings
Jacques Derrida describes hauntology as “the accumulation of ghost-like traces of the past as we move further into the Future”. These Peel session recordings already sounded like a past I remembered from my early childhood when I heard this record in 2009, even though they are sounds that evoke an era that was more or less ending by the time I was born (but there again why is it that childhood memories seem to absorb things you can’t possibly remember because you weren’t born then? It is as if the preceding years come pre-packed in you, from your family and the surrounding environment). The sonic structure, the synth sounds that evoke a future which often feels like it lost the will to materialise, remind me of a 1980’s I was in reality too young to remember.
“These are the lies they told us, that this is the only way” – Genetic Engineering. “This is the only way” is more than certainly an highly concerned ‘NO’ response to Thatcherism’s “there is no alternative [to capitalism”] assertion. Back then, however, it was an assertion, now it has become a cultural reality. In the summer of 2009, I was listening to this record whilst making my drawings in a studio in South Yorkshire, mixed with day trips to the nearest big financial and consumer centre, Leeds. I regret what happened that year, I regret what was probably inevitable in my life as if it wasn’t inevitable at all: the loss of the last bits of my early 20’s vitality, as I forced myself to take the issues seriously that has been running around my head for years, which forced me to look deeply into capitalism, climate change, and thus having to face the harsh truth that life will get less and less bearable by the year, unless something drastic changes.I am certain that the ghosts in the OMD-machine from the pre ‘capitalist realist’ gravitated towards the ghost-in-becoming of what died in me in 2009, and now listening to Annex and Genetic Engineering from the Peel Sessions is an haunting of both of these things as if they were the same thing.
Trans Europe Express, and Autobahn by Kraftwerk
Despite the Middle East oil crisis of 1973 – the impact it had on culture that would now have to take seriously the fact that resources and material advancement may not be infinite after all – Autobahn from 1974 seems to evoke a time when those things were firmly believed. The lush, superrealist album cover, and the bold step into ‘synthesiser-world’ look forwards to the future with wonder and excitement. Kraftwerk’s 1970’s work oozes the modernist impulse, and sometimes feels like music that could accompany modernist painting from 50 years prior to Kraftwerk. More than anything it sounds like a future that never came. Listening to Kraftwerk is (to paraphrase John Berger) nostalgia for the future. In current times, not even cultural products labelled ‘Science Fiction’, pulped into cultural white noise by an over-emphasis on CGI graphics, can generate a feeling of a future.
Kraftwerk’s music is music that carries ‘the new’, and, like the darker-underbellly-of-progress synthesiser music of John Foxx, it still maintains the essence of something new now. It has almost remained frozen, in radiant youth, in the age of retrospect and re-hash that came into being afterwards. I heard both of these albums at different points of ‘fresh feeling’ within myself. Stepping onto one of few the trains that arrive on time, and listening to Trans Europe Express I could half convince myself I was in a future that took a different track (no pun intended). In a similar way to the aforementioned OMD tracks above both the idea of a an era of new, and a feeling of the new within me, became attached and synonymous: the music now evokes the traces of them.
Dog Shelter and Unite by Burial
If I am to use Burial’s music here, it is to state with honesty, that my a lot of interest in hauntology was inspired by reading Mark Fisher’s thoughts on Burial, and my subsequent interest gained in the music itself. But the haunting feelings I had when I listened to the music were quite specific to my own personal experiences. Dog Shelter, a track from the Untrue album, particularly evoked this feeling. It now evokes memories of sat waiting for train in Sheffield train station, early summer 2012. Trying to think about whether or not I can make it to south London to go and study a masters. Burial is from South London, apparently. This made the music stick more.
Was thinking about my past, my memories of my ‘worldly-outlook’ in the early 1990’s; that this song seems to have ghostly traces of certain ‘feel good’ songs that remind me of the early 1990’s, even if what I remember was mostly the mainstream music from this period. It’s My Life/Rhythm is a Dancer/No Limits/The key The Secret; a chunk of early 1990’s optimism poured into the mind of a 8/9 year old, for whom previous to that remembers all people projected into the living room from screens as stale, white, head-teacher-like people (in hindsight, probably Tories on the Sunday politics shows of back then). Whilst also these projected music videos seem to include mixed-race, exciting-looking (largely) females, especially from someone coming from a town where there must have been only 1 non-white person for every 1000 inhabitants. It was an exciting future, that slowly dried up, not least down to (what is clear in hindsight) the white public schoolboy culture-coup ‘Britpop’ that basically banished all that wasn’t white boy guitar music, that (again in hindsight) belonged in the past, to ‘towny’ (soon-to-be ‘chav’), ‘degenerate’ music, and helped tear up a future Britain in exchange for a Britain based on an idyllic collage of its past. Burial, two decades on, seems, for me to be a ghostly ‘what-the-hell-happened-to-that-early-90’s-vitiality’ ode, mixed with the dangers of an uncertain age of climate and political uncertainties. Listening to it before I went to London made me feel really solemn about the past, and how all that feel good optimism has vanished. But that a new start was needed, maybe to leave the past behind now; stop letting it haunt me. The plan to go to London was not successful though, and Burial’s music has subsequently taken on another layer of traces of a lost energy.
Unite specifically evokes a chilling feeling of the near future, regarding the threat of climate change, political/social chaos in the near future. Memory of song: early Spring 2012. An haunting sound,(like sound of long-gone city rippling through time) that gave me image of people finding love, as things begin to fall apart – gave me the chills. Like a musical response to Jean Baudrillard’s ask, specific to our postmodern time, to see apocalypse as something that has already occurred. Faint noises,like trains at night,are like the memory of having dreams, having a future. As if we’re now just going through motions until it peters out.Music that is in its essence brave, the noise of facing the storm not burying one’s head
Coming from someone who’s life lived has bared witness to the slow decline, stagnation, and retreat of progressive dynamics in pop music, this song almost seems to sound as if it is a vessel carrying all the break-neck-speed at which pop music progressed from the 1950’s to more or less the date the album Dare (which contains Seconds) appeared (in 1981). It is powerful, energetic, yet strangely tear-jerking at the same time. The sadness doesn’t lay with the song’s subject matter because of a famous president (John.F.Kennedy) being shot, but because the assignation itself is one of a few 20th century horror-spectacles that seem to capture the tragedy that befell the century, as the expectation of progress (that a “better world is around the corner”) collapsed.
Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi writes about how “in the last three decades of the [twentieth century] the utopian imagination was slowly overturned. and has been replaced by a dystopian imagination”. Although the assignation of John.F.Kennedy was in the early 1960’s, still a point of ‘high modernism’, retrospectively it literally appears as one of a few bullets that eventually brought the belief in a future crashing to the ground; and I am in no way arguing here that John.F.Kennedy himself was a man who would have been a major player in this, if at all, just that his killing was one of civilsation’s ‘disaster spectacles’. Pop Music’s progressive, modernist impulse was a short-sharp surge in comparison with the rest of modernism. But, again retrospectively-speaking, Seconds by the Human League is a song that visualises something like a bullet fired into the heart of a past world that believed in a future.
In his recent film ‘A Perverts Guide to Ideology’ Slavoj Žižek ends the film by quoting Walter Benjamin from almost a century ago, saying that “every revolution (if authentic) is not only directed to the future, but it redeems also the past failed revolutions. All the ghosts…the living dead of the past revolutions, which are roaming around, unsatisfied, will finally find their home in the new freedom”. To return to what I said earlier, I would not consider for one moment that music could play an active role in a revolution (that in our times when we feel trapped in inaction, music that is angry with the state of things can often be merely cathartic; providing the feeling of action,rather than action itself), but isn’t Žižek’s above use of Benjamin’s quote most noticeably happening right now in our times through our audio/visual culture, the still mainly consists of cultural products made 30-50 years ago? Are we not at this moment surrounded by most ghosts from past failed revolutions that any other time in human history? The question is then, will these ghosts “find their home in [a] new freedom”? Or will this state of long decline just continue to be a dumping ground for them?
Mind Camp (2013, biro and collage on paper)
The title of Mind Camp is taken from a very ignorant error I made when I was somewhat younger; believing it to be the English translation of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s notorious book. Of course, Hitler’s book is actually translated as ‘My Struggle’, and the remaining connection here is that which I always thought my interpretation of the title referred to: the occupation of the human mind by ideas, doctrines, logic, as a means of making them socially compatible with a system of power; that is, power that doesn’t only (or doesn’t even need to) insert its influence externally, to make sure we are compatible entities within a system, but internally (what I would later understand as what philosopher Michel Foucault termed Biopower).
The theorist Franco ‘bifo’ Berardi refers to the current stage of capitalism as ‘semiocapitalism’: a system no longer driven by mass industrial production, but by signs/communication, which is all the more evident now human life is almost completely orientated around digital communications. Berardi writes that “semiocapitalism puts [our] neurophysical energies to work, and submits them to the speed of electronic machinery. It compels our cognition, our emotional hardware to follow the rhythm of net-productivity” Capital has synchronised itself with our conscious and subconscious. It is proliferated by the “digital web…” which “…spreads and expands by progressively reducing more and more elements to a format, a standard and code that makes different segments compatible”. In such a world, brands/logos have a seemingly unlimited reach over the imagination – as we can now see all too well. , Precisely because it is internalised, Capitalism is so culturally extensive and intensive that it is hard to consider that anything may be outside of it, so that “when we sleep, we even dream of capital” (Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism).
But this means new styles of exploitation for a new organisation of power. Franco Berardi believes it is important to see the global worker no longer a proletariat but a cognitariat, as capital puts more and more of our neurophysical energies to work. Michel Foucault’s reference to the Panopticon (an architectural structure built to allow total surveillance over the ‘inmate’s to maintain order and control) as a analogy for a whole form of maintaining obedience to a power structure, is still alive and well, but perhaps need only now be used in certain circumstances, when the internalisation of power fails to work. Most of us are now governed internally, a biolpolitical intrusion of all the flows and anxieties of the political economy, depolitising us in the process, as we become the guard in the watchtower of our own lives.
Franco Berardi describes the Life of the cognitariat: “labor has become fractalised. With the end of large industrial monopolies, new workers, now delocalized in the global peripheries, start resembling computer terminals, cells in the circulation of the commodity-sign”. The worker is condemned to be a component in the constant production and consumption of signs/information.”Each individual is a cell put in constant productive connection with others by the web, which ensures a deterritorialized fractal, and fluid sociality. The cellular is the new assembly line, deprived of any carnal sociality”.
Precisely because total competition is the name of the game, social mobility has actually become harder in societies more saturated by neoliberalism, and the more we partake in our ‘daily races’ against one another, the more we exacerbate the dynamics of an every-man-for-himself system where the winners have already taken all. Yet, because of the “non-stop inertia” caused as the cognitariat’s libidinal energies are constantly wired/re-wired into the digital matrix, the anxiety of this enforced competitive state of being makes it sometimes feel impossible for us to withdaw from these dynamics; indeed Berardi speculates that only when we crash (depression/mental exhaustion) do we withdraw our libidinal energies from the reproduction of semiocapitalism. Alone together, protesting through inactivity.
Within the drawing I wanted to try to visualise mechanisms that function by appropriating these ‘neurophysical’ energies from the cognitariat, but then merely dumps them once the required labour process is over, as the wealth accumulated by semiocapital becomes the preserve of a small section within the social system, who own the rights to the sign language as “intellectual property”. The ‘cognitariat’ is in a state of constant becoming; once their mental energies have been used, they drop (perhaps mentally exhausted, in what Berardi describes as a state of depressive withdrawal), only to find themselves reattached to the constant and futile ‘career-climb’ (the prospect of falling out of reach is often unthinkable as the welfare systems there to protect the financially vulnerable becomes less and less existent).
It often seems the case that the more one sends cell phone texts, posts images/links on their Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter wall, in the aid of becoming more (more financially, socially, and identity secure), the more one actually dissapears/becomes less, as they invest mental energies in an infinitely expanding information web, whose increase in size means increasing fragmentation of identity and of communitiy, as media wedges itself between more pockets of time/space; also this expansion not only engenders further exploitation of our psychic resources, but of our material conditions, as an increase in connectivity for the financial plutocracy means a greater reduction in labour costs for profit maximisation.
As the system refines its mechanisms in this so-called recession (the global 1% highest earners have seen their profits surge during this ‘recession’ period), jobs become so scarce to the extent that more mandatory, low paid jobs are absorbed more and more into the competitive, ‘careerist’, ‘life-as-a-CV’ job market, which was initially only the reality of those who were willing the work the career treadmill in the hope of a top salary. You stand still in a world of unrestrained ruthless capitalism and the fear is that one will be wiped from the game. It is evidential that we are witnessing a race to the bottom for (to use the now-common terminology) the 99% of us, as the concentration of wealth/power becomes more refined, with a logical conclusion that renders the fiction of films such as the recent Hunger Games imaginable.
The bulwark of information that is disseminated from the concentrated power is structurally designed to divide and confuse the population it relies on to utilise mental and physical energy from. This is the the only source that passes from the top to the bottom within this piece of work. The mechanism appear almost like pinball games levers, knocking all that is below back down, whilst only allowing these ‘media bombs’ to drop downwards. Sometimes I find the mechanisms visualised in games, especially early computer games, useful metaphors for the procession of power relations in the world, especially in the digital age.
Within the brain-like part of the work (which also attempts to refer to something inflated, and still inflating; a bubble of the logos of semiocapital) all signs, all logos, all companies, all sections of capitalist reproduction are shown to be connected/dependent on each others’ existence. Just as no individual is exempt, no sign/no commonly-seen logo is exempt from a network of images that descends into the darkest networks of reproduction; some brands seem to float like little fluffy clouds in a guilt-free cyberspace, but they are just as much as part of the system as the most destructive corporations wreaking havoc to the social/environmental, and also the darkests forms of image production from violent pornography to the filming of murder.
It’s an uncomfortable truth that the language of our times that often seems innocent on face-value is part of the same logic that allows the most brutal forms of exploitation in the world. Within this drawing there is no solution, I admit this (although there is cracks appearing in the super structure). But, to quote Franco Berardi again, because I largely agree with his opinion here, “The task of the thinker [to which, in my understanding of art, would include the artist] – if thinking has a task – is not to breathe hope into hearts, but to help in understanding reality, because only understanding can bring forth new possibilities”.
A Psychic Timebomb (no 2) (A4, mixed media)
The Place of Dead Ends (2013, biro and collage on paper, 120X100cm)
“In the last three decades of the [twentieth century] the utopian imagination was slowly overturned. and has been replaced by a Dystopian imagination” Franco Berardi (Bifo) – After the Future (2010)
For some years now I’ve had this feeling that things cannot carry on in the manner in which they have been doing. Furthermore: that we are watching the slow collapse of our civilisation. The feeling is closer year by year. It’s a broad-reaching feeling that dampens/taints the appearance of the world. I cannot switch this feeling off; there are traces of it in every thought. The only world (reality) we know seems to have reached a dead end. And because it cannot allow us to move forward, the past (or rather its past) takes control; it’s darkest ghosts re-emerge as a reaction to the huge problems we face; the dead come to rule the living. We run to the past for protection from the darkeness unfolding in the 21st century – right into the arms of the archaic forces that rise amidst such confusion and threaten to drag everything down back down with them.
The idea for The Place of Dead Ends fixed itself together whilst I was walking around the park-lands of Greenwich, London (a place saturated with popular history), in the autumn of 2012. I stumbled across the Queen Elizabeth [the 1st] Oak, a tree that the Tudor queen is said to have often taken refreshment under. Queen Elizabeth the 1st reigned over an historical period that played a crucial part in the formation of the British Empire, and (of course) the modern industrial world.
What I didn’t realise until then was that this tree had actually been dead for well over 100 years old. Yet the tree trunk remained; laying heavy upon the ground. Always having the gravity of the 21st century stalking my thoughts, I couldn’t help but see this dead relic as a metaphor for a world which is being ruled to ruin by ideas and beliefs that belong in the past; a result of a civilisation that is unable to look to the future.
In the past 5 years we have seen the massive failure of the neoliberal economic system (or global financial system); yet, because we are unable to picture an alternative/unable to picture a future past the ‘end of history’ announced with the inauguration of global capitalism, ever-more extreme neoliberalism is being enforced onto the world. Neoliberalism is dead as a idea, nobody believes in it, yet it rules in an almost zombie-like manner (using thoughts expressed by Mark Fisher in his Visual Futures lecture). This bad medicine is being inflicted by a global elite structure whose dominance is beginning to be dangerously similar to the archaic feudal rule the kings and lords once had over the population. At the same time as this, we are made witness to scandal after scandal amidst the ranks of those people, institutions and companies we used to see as the pillars of society,. The entire belief system has failed, but still governs us; we are ruled by the dead.
In the drawing the pillars of (a) civilisation have fallen across the route, like dead trees blocking the path. In this landscape protests are being made by many who desperately want to change the world into a better, more just place, but these pillars have landed on the protests, trapping them, making them unable to move – unable to make a difference (the most well-know example of this would be the 2003 protests against the US/UK imperial war on Iraq, where millions filled the streets world-wide, and were utterly ignored by the decision makers). On the rotting of the tree-like pillars grows all the forces that feed off the death of a future; runaway finance with no grounding in theory, and jingoist patriotism that feeds off the fears of global uncertainty.
The rest of this blocked route is occupied by people who have given up on the belief of a better future, and have given up fighting ; they live in a never ending avoidance of truth and empty feeling, condemned to the pursuit of immediate pleasures (drugs, alcohol, sex), only to spend much time in stupors of dissatisfaction and depression. I am not excluded from such a scene; I am both the protester and the individual drunken and frustrated roaming the evening streets, trying to forget reality. Every figure is interchangeable in my drawings; no individual is solely to blame and yet everybody is complicit.
Each side of the road are the barriers one faces when they try to think of a way out: the violence of the nation state, which becomes more ruthless and repressive the more it is threatened; and at the other side one faces the even worse plight of the poorer parts of the world, and the parts of the world already suffering greatly from changes to the global climate brought on by this governing system. There seems to be no way out. Clouds envelope preventing us from imagining another kind of world; they are both the very real human-made pollution we are failing to tackle, and the blotting out of imagining ourselves somewhere different; the clouds are full of the faces of ‘dead stars’, the icons of 20th century capitalism, who died and became immortalised in our collective hearts, having an ever greater ghostly presence that seeps onto the skins of us as we run backwards from the current world, in search of better times.
Drawing, for me is as much as a controlling (or management) of my darkest thoughts in which everything seems out of control. Yet, I hope my work can reveal the modern world to viewers in a way that is constructive to a collective demand for a better world. As much as I struggle to picture something more hopeful, the dead end is not the end of the world; only the end of a world, a world humanity surely must transcend in the 21st century else it may well be the end full stop.