“They keep calling me”
Amidst the pretty stark turbulence I experienced as 2015 began I became obsessed with trying to write something about Joy Division’s eternal-presence in my life. But I never got anywhere, convincing myself it needed to be a project of a sizable, I-know-everything-about-Joy-Division, quality due to the task of writing about one of those bands guarded with pitchforked-opinions by musos. But it felt crucial for me to write something both for myself, and for the reason brilliantly articulated in Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: “If Joy Division matter now more than ever, it’s because they capture the depressed spirit of our times. Listen to Joy Division now and you have the inescapable impression that the group were catatonically channeling our present, their future. From the start their work was overshadowed by a deep foreboding , a sense of a future foreclosed, all certainties dissolved , only growing gloom ahead.” (Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, 2014).
Ben Hewitt’s article Joy Division: 10 of The Best, in the guardian this week, gave me an motivational template: I’d use a selection their songs to expand on all this stuff about the band that I have been driven to tell people in pubs for the past 3 years. But I don’t have any desire to write about a fave song list per se: the album tracks I reference gain a great deal of their significance when listened to within the context of the entire album (this should seem obvious, but in the Ipod age, the ‘shuffle’ features heavily in the way we listen to music). I also wanted to use individual tracks to explain how the din of their resonance seems to get louder and louder the further we (in UK terms) descend further into the Thatcherite experiment that may finally be coming to end… “this dream it takes too long”. And although I found only managed to write about 7 songs, they were more than sufficient. Thus I have proceeded in writing the blog I’ve been wishing to write all these years.
In the past few years it seems overwhelmingly the case that we are looking back to a certain time for answers to a present day inertia. Yet we don’t seem to realise that this is what we’re doing, and so just continue doing it blindly. Cultural artifacts from the 70’s into the early eighties seem to be constantly at hand for reference on all media platforms. For example, Ben Hewitt’s article: although I think it’s brilliantly written in its own right (far more imaginative use of language than I could ever achieve), and it creatively touches upon material that relates to their ‘channeling of the present’, it also seems oblivious to it. When he writes of Dead Souls that “…Curtis sounds like he’s being pulled by ghostly apparitions, trapped in a place “where figures from the past stand tall / And mocking voices ring the halls”…” isn’t the most ghostly aspect of all in how this perfectly describes our relationship to Joy Division in the 21st century? Such articles and documentaries don’t seem to understand the motive behind their accumulative coming-into-being 35 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. Of the 7 Joy Division songs I have picked, I have tried, when possible to introduce them in relation to personal experiences, 1. Disorder
“Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
It must have been 2010; in that murky moment between something bad (New Labour) and something worse (all-out-Tory Class War-disguised as ‘the coalition’). Up until now Joy Division had been off my succession of cheap mp3 players for a few years – having told myself that the obsession I had with them in my early 20’s, some five years back into the thick of Blair’s Britain, had been a sign of immaturity, and that they’re subsequent increasing popularity was no more than a Topshop accessory. As the fall of 2010 arrived with the threat of immobilising snow storms entrenching a deeper existential inertia, it all reversed, and I found myself hurtling back towards some kind of early 20’s point.
We were drinking at a friend’s flat in the back-end of Barnsley- one of those new-build apartment complexes, squeezed in amidst unhappy-looking Victorian terraces still stained by the soot of a vanquished industry. A few cans downed and then it was time to head into town, myself regrettably still hooked the mirages of fulfilled hopes and dreams that coated the shell of the so-called Blair-year Party-times. But this was now descending into its zombie stage.
We came to an agreement that we needed a ‘going out song’, and we chose Disorder. The throbbing beat of the bass drum kicked in, and the trance-like state took over for the first time in years. This wasn’t a flashback, as I was back there again. The way my slightly inebriated friends were moving around the room, getting seduced into the whirlpool-like nature of Disorder when played at volume, made me realise that this wasn’t some “Lets all dance to Joy Division” indie-cool trend: this was real. My early twenties-daily dependency on Unknown Pleasures didn’t seem so weird any more. My friends may or may not have been depressed, but they existed, like me, in secretly-depressed times. At that point, despite differences in opinion of the severity the global and social issues outside the window, Joy Division felt like understanding of life that we all shared.
The insightful left-wing group Plan C convincingly argue, in their essay We are all Very Anxious that anxiety is the dominant ‘public secret’ of this current stage of capitalism (which doesn’t mean to say that other negative emotions have disappeared, just that this is the definitive one of our age). By ‘public secret‘ it is meant that it is “…something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. …[W]hen discussed at all, they are understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation”.
I would add that there are two public secrets; the anxiety we endure being the first, and the second being that we exist in ‘depressed times’, and many of us spend much of our lives rocking painfully back and forth from anxiety to depression. But what is incredibly important here is that Joy Division share the public secret with us, ‘catatonically channeling our present’ as Mark Fisher says. What makes Disorder so [Unknown]pleasurable is that it shares that publicly hidden anxiety with us. It speaks about something we normally have to hide. The guitar riff between verses is so riddled with panic it is intoxicating, it recognises the pain that is otherwise barred an outlet.
From 2010 onwards I remembered what this music did for me. How it’s darkness was often a life-saver. Perhaps a necessity as I stared down the barrel of a nastier, more Tory reality. As the drums continue to smash out in a death-drive whilst the rest of song exhausts itself into finitude, Disorder becomes an introduction to a record that makes no emotional compromises; doesn’t pretend things are OK; makes no effort to pretend it sees a bright side to life. And this is why from this point onwards it resumed it’s place as a make-shift prescription tablet ‘day in day out’, from 2010 onwards.
“I’ve lost the will to want more, but I remember when were young”
The mid years of New Labour were a weird time for those of us in our late teens and early twenties. So many people I thought were sorted were actually in a real mess, trapped between small-town college courses they had no interest in and bleak job prospects, propped up by bi-weekly drug or drink intake. I never put 2 and 2 together at the time. One friend from back then spoke of his recent depressive spell: “It’s like somebody flicks a switch, and I’m gone for days on end.” The minute-long opening to the track Insight has something of the uncanny about it. The soundscape of lift-shafts moving and doors locking is so close to epitomising the nausea-like continual-return of depression it’s almost an unreal sensation as the shivers go down your back and you think “fuck me, that’s exactly how it is!”.
I was pleased Ben Hewitt included it in his list of songs, although it’s with tracks like Insight that I come to realise that listing album songs merely for their individual qualities is somewhat lacking. Insight’s intro is the seminal moment in Unknown Pleasures. Even after the self-destruction of Disorder, and building terror in The Day of Lords, there is still potentially room for another world, another way. But Unknown Pleasures is the world of the depressive; once that door locks the depression sufferer knows all-too-wll what world we’re in; he/she knows that feeling of that ‘locked door’, once you’re inside “gone for days on end”. Insight plays the pivotal role in signifying that this is no ordinary record; you’re entering a specific world, at which point sufferers of repetitive bouts of depression have a moment of strength due to being able to invite others into it. It has much the same relationship as Heart and Soul does on their second album ‘Closer’ – the position of the sorcerer’s hand, dictating the overall direction of the record. Their producer Martin Hannett was clearly quite unique, his ability to conjure the soundscape around Joy Division’s tracks is so fitting the only word you could use in hindsight of what Joy Division became is ‘perfection’. It now almost seems like he was electronically connected to Ian Curtis’s emotional state, forcing him to be the cypher for our present day cyberspacially-fucked subjectivities.
Insight makes sense of what has been and what is to come from the viewpoint of clinical depression. But if we are to conclude that we live in a secretly-depressed time, then that sense seems far more wide-spread than merely being down to personal shortcomings. Insight really does channel something. The world they and their post-punk contemporaries saw/foresaw, one where social democracy was crumbling under a return of more powerful and relentless capitalism, where industry no longer needed them, no longer of value to society, well all that never went away. All that happened was that it was buried under the incessant command to be positive and proactive in the market fundamentalist economy that requires us to be market individuals, where opting out of the game is all but impossible without dying as it seeps into all potential waking (sleeping) moments due to computer technologies. This sense of having “no future” actually intensified, but was barred an expressive outlet amidst an intensifying downpour of aspirational dogma. I think this is why these days we so often find ourselves praising certain artists from the Post-Punk-New Wave crossover of the late 70’s to early 80’s, because that period seemed to be a ‘breathing space’ for raw emotional response to the early days of the Thatcherite transformation, before it became so entrenched that raw expression became so much harder to articulate; a ‘reflexive impotence’ (Fisher) that not only affects our ability for political engagement but also our emotional expression – “smile or die”.
I have previously written about this uncanny-like-relationship music from this period has with our contemporary situation. It’s like what happened from then onwards was some sort of icing over, and that we now stare at these voices as if they have been frozen in time, floating underneath the ice. I wrote previously of Kate Bush and Joy Division in particular. I think of the music video to Kate Bush’s Breathing (based on nuclear war – another issue that, although as relevant today, seems frozen into a 70’s/80’s time-pocket), and the images of her trapped behind the see-through skin of the bubble she is encased in seems to pretty-much visualise what I mean here. Perhaps the drive towards retrospection in this current moment is due to a slow-awaking to the horrifying future-less reality we actually exist in, finding ourselves with no choice but to push away all the hyperbole that disguised this truth to us from its onset there-on-after? 3. Novelty
“You’re on your own now, don’t you think that is a shame, but you’re the only one responsible to take the blame…so what you gonner do when the novelty is gone, ?”
A sense of loss. Novelty was actually one of the first Joy Division songs I ever listened to. Aged 18 (2002), it was a cassette featuring a Joy Division compilation on the one side, and Television’s Marquee Moon on the other. It signaled the end of teenage life. I was experiencing my first ‘They Live’ moment (where he puts on the sunglasses and sees the Real), when the comforts and sugary surface of the social construction fell away, leaving me shit-scared of a world my nervous system has no way of coming to terms with. It resurfaced into 2012 when my messy inability to adjust to a Masters course in 21st century London made me face the truth that I my youth had now come to an end, with no progression to another stage of life on the horizon.
I reference these two points because I think it is arguably most tragic of their songs, because it seems to document the point of loss – that point where a little something of you dies inside, from which ‘New Life’ proves impossible for many. Mark Fisher in his 2005 Kpunk blog The Nihil Rebound (published in Ghosts of My Life, and probably the strongest piece on Joy Division I know of) writes that “what separated Joy Division from any of their predecessors” was that their “bleakness was without any specific cause… …crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow…Curtis sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ but there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place”.
Yet I don’t think Novelty does this: it is even more tragic in that it evokes the act of loss. For me Novelty shares the same emotional space as The Smiths’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes (“and I will never sleep again”), the result of which Morissey sang he neither “happy or sad”, just numb. The songs evokes a point of departure. The Smiths, hailing from the same city, would (in my opinion) not make a song that came as close to the point of bleakness as this, whilst for Joy Division it signals the point of departure to “a bleakness without any cause”. 4. Digital
“Feel it closing in. Day in Day out”
As 2005 got messier and messier, I briefly entered a wider social group including of a group of lads from the incredibly-deprived former pit villages of the Dearne Valley (Thurnscoe to be exact), and a group from former mining communities straggling between Wakefield, Barnsley and Hemsworth. All of the places somewhat left abandoned after the pit closures, and which saw our area of South/West Yorks (Darton) as posh – a consequence of us getting the M1, and it becoming a split community of tepidly-affluent commuter houses at one side and council houses built for coal miners at the other.
Sections of this wider group would end up fighting and momentarily-despising each other (mainly over women), and each constituting a more-or-less ‘with it’ group leader and many emotional or physical wrecks. The Dearne Valley lot had no time for Joy Division’s near-death finale Closer, but were obsessed with Unknown Pleasures (and the album tracks most akin the Unknown Pleasures sound), even wearing the album-sleeve t-shirt. I would’ve thought it a fashion accessory back then, until I realised how much of a ‘fucked up’ generation I belonged to, and why such music may just appeal to these people.
“Let’s All Dance to Joy Division” was a track by a then in-vogue indie-cool outfit The Wombats (to which you WON’T find a link on here). It seemed to treat their surging popularity as something with a comical tint to it, as if we were all easy-come easy-go hipsters unaffected by REAL shit. But I saw no joke in what these tracks meant to me, at a very turbulent point, and even 25 years after they ceased to be. Before the death of small town student nights, the customary dingy indie night club would play non-album-track Digital for us every Wednesday, demanded as necessity and eventually granted.
If it weren’t so minimal the message would be lost. The song is like a drill piece, which, like the outro solo to Shadowplay, is violently unwilling to divert from it’s acceleration towards a dead end. It is 3 minutes of medicinal joy, an energy-release from the general continuity of mild-distress. “I feel it closing in”. If one sensation is necessarily put to the back of the minds of those who hit their twenties in the post 9/11/post Iraq invasion world of increasing cyberspace-interpenetration, it is one of being on borrowed time; where the future has imploded and is hurtling back towards us. ‘Stay young – what else is there anyway?’. With our hands perpetually hovering over our panic buttons, and our feet walking a tightrope above depressive dysfunction, Joy Division’s chaotic hell begins to arrange the look of the world in a way we can deal with. A way we could deal with, back then, when I for one most certainly relied on their music for survival at the most unstable of points. And yes, we did dance to Joy Division. 5. Decades
“Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders”
Decades, the final song on their second (and last album) begins with a soundscape the feels like entering some sort of bone-yard-remnant of unquantifiable suffering- but a suffering being undertaken with total indifference. Again, Hannet’s soundscaping seems, in hindsight, so close to a putting the seal of inevitability over Curtis’s then-imminent suicide, that you often wonder if he truly was a man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time: a tortured pop artist, radical to the cause, caught in the crusher of one huge transformation paving the way for the a much worse world: one lacking a future. The chilling intro conjures to mind a scenario similar to the raising of the skeletal dead from a parched graveyard on one of the most unnerving of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-frame-motion scenes in the 1962 film production of Jason and the Argonauts.
Decades doesn’t just seem to drag behind it the weight on the shoulders of the punk/post-punk generation, it seems to drag the ghosts of all previous proletarian generations, embodying the destruction of all that the working classes had worked for/fought for. Not only do Curtis’s vocals sound like the voices of the dead accidentally picked up on a tape recorder, but it is as if our forefathers are raised, bent and buckled by two centuries of exploitation, to see the future they believed they were building for their grandchildren crumbling into wasteland.
“I guessed they died some time ago” (Interzone, Unknown Pleasures)
Joy Division were beyond a cause, and weren’t political, even when Curtis sang of the worst excesses of unaccountable power. But without meaning to or not, they remain a cypher for the collapse of a humanist future, the swansong of a post-punk movement that woke up to the depressive reality of the no-such-thing-as society-nihilism that was Punk’s rallying call; the ‘spirit of ’45’ had been buried and a new nastier phase was on the cards. Curtis’s own political leanings and obsessions were more collateral damage than anything, conveying a sense of despondency with the course being taken by humanity, who seemed too far gone to be able to threat any longer over rights and wrongs. As I said before, this despondency articulated by post-punk never went away, but has been largely denied a contemporary articulation due to appropriation of any idea of individual expression into ‘market individualism’. Consequently their legacy grows larger and larger. Collateral damage indeed.
Ten years later The La’s, a Liverpudlian band, fronted by Lee Mavers, who was hell-bent in trying to make the best pop album in years, closed their only album with two tracks that seem to be living through Post-Punk’s anticipated breakdown in a city smashed by the Tories, Failure and Looking Glass. After the defeat of working class solidarity by Thatcherism in the 80’s, The La’s’ self-titled album now seems to make more sense in 2015 than it’s more lauded ‘Madchester’ contemporaries whose energies were far more easily subsumed into a more omnipotent capitalism’s demand that we enjoy our servitude. Although stylistically following the late ’80’s guitar-band tendency of looking back to the 60’s for solace, the lyrics to the La’s’ Failure “So you open the door with the look on your face. Your hands in your pocket and your family to face, and you go down stairs and you sit in your place” could easily have found a fitting place within Decades. But the incessant demand to ‘dance, dance, dance to our servitude‘ of neoliberal capitalism is wearing thinner and thinner by the day. I think the increasing popularity of Joy Division with young people is a sign of this, even if there little self awareness of the motive.
“there’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold/heaven knows it’s got to be this time …..avenues all lined with trees.”
It’s early 2002. I’m a anti-social 18 year old, plugged into his cassette tapes, still capable of day-dreaming in the learning centre of a now-demolished college. A tune comes back into my head from some early childhood point. This was a few years before the days where a tune could be found in just a matter of seconds after remembering it. If this could be classed as memory at all: as memories for me seem more akin to the pre-digital-tech cassette player, in how the original pitch of a track always seems to be lost in translation; a memory/cassette-tape error that allows for a unique relationship with a tune. This only really became apparent after I recently re-watched the film Donni Darko; Love Will Tear us Apart features on the film, and I am convinced that it plays at an higher pitch, which incidentally makes it sound like a cassette tape version.
The tune I remembered in 2002 was Love Will Tear us Apart. But it took me until the summer to actually manage to listen to it again. Thereon-after, as my teenage inertia was superseded by a young-adult inertia (based around what I would come to see as ‘Depressive Pleasure-seeking‘.), Love Will Tear Us Apart became an staple in The Retro Bar at The End of Universe; former bars would be replaced by future former bars, with their only continuity being the ‘stuck record’ of the ‘Indie Disco’. The hair-raising synth and drum outro feels like it could stretch out into eternity, due to perpetual dependency placed upon music that was new when capitalism’s ‘slow cancellation of the future’ was only just beginning. The ‘eternal present’ of our capitalist reality has to come to an end, in some form. But the end cannot be seen from within. But, my god, it is longed for.
As with Atmosphere and These days (written at a similar point) Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony (although properly recorded as New Order, after Curtis had died) share the same sense of painful longing for something that never materialises – “this dream it takes too long” as Curtis sings in 24 Hours. Ian Curtis’s lyrics may have been most directly attributable to the specificities of his collapsing personal life, but it is clear that there’s a longing here for something that stretches far beyond these confines, towards a promised world, perhaps? the dreams of postwar optimism, now falling into tatters in front of the atomised, lonely type of Utopia offered by Thatcherism. It is inconsequential whether Curtis voted rightward or not, he was caught in the headlights of a pivotal moment in history and expressed an anguish an increasing proportion of us identify with.
I listen to Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony with that sense of longing that other Joy Division’s songs do not allow for: the social world I long for, not the one being blown into atomized, lonely pieces by the end-game of neoliberal (market fundamentalist) political economy. It’s an in-the-making conclusion that I never thought I’d come close to making when listening to Joy Division; that there is a longing in some of their final songs that looks for an escape route from certain-demise, a last gasp of life. Ceremony’s “Heaven knows it’s got to be this time”, is a plea: that ‘I want another chance to live!’. “Avenues all lined with trees”, a social world of vitality, for our families, that we once saw as a guarantee. For me, in this past year, these lyrics have served as a mute wish I carry around with me to supersede this awful stage in something I have no embarrassment in calling ‘the human project’. You see, with all these documentaries, and articles, we are looking back to Joy Division to trace our steps back towards a future that was stolen. We want it back.
When writing about the atrocities committed under the British Empire that seem to have slipped out of our cultural memory, the writer and activist George Monbiot said that “[w]e British have a peculiar ability to blot out our colonial history” that “…at least they [Holocaust deniers] know what they are denying. In order to sustain the lies they tell, they must engage in strenuous falsification. To dismiss Britain’s colonial atrocities, no such effort is required. Most people appear to be unaware that anything needs to be denied” (Dark Hearts, The Guardian, April 2012). I began to wonder whether it is because this nation cannot imagine itself as being anything but a force of good – after all it did used to refer to God as ‘being an Englishman. If the British psyche cannot see itself as being anything but good, how can it store memory of acts of evil done under the Union flag?
The subject of this blog is much removed from these atrocities, but the ability to forget isn’t, because if a human being has a desperate desire to be a good person, it’s likely memories of the darkest things they did will simply fall from their mind, just like a society’s collective memory. Yet, these memories can be awoken. Today a friend posted my way his new art project ‘The Wicth‘ which is a photo-documentation that looks at dilapidated but still occupied houses, arguing that “this dilapidation is not necessarily the product of poverty, or an inability to maintain these homes because of a disability, but is also a sign that perhaps the inhabitants have something more interesting on their minds than keeping up appearance. But fundamentally this makes them a target for “…likely victimisation…at the hands of their community. They are, like back in the days of witch burning, feared and further ostracised due to their (perceived, or actual) inability to conform…This “failure” to conform is often seen as a threat to those conforming as it has the potential to make them notice and question the walls of their protective bubble”. (The project is called ‘Wicth due to Stuart Alexander “as a child growing up in Surrey..” seeing “…one of these houses, and a child (or particularly inept adult) had written (a misspelling of Witch) in chalk below the living room window on the brick work”.
This brought back memories of something I too don’t deny, but just struggle to keep in my memory bank, although it certainly has made a hidden impact, which has likely contributed to my constant urge to apologise to people (it has left an indelible ‘guilty’ mark on my unconscious). When I was 10 years old (1994), growing up in an ex-mining village overspill (that’s only now begining to look this way retroactively as I grow older) I got involved in some rather bad things in the village; I’d just been allowed to go off a bit further by myself, on my bicycle. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I think I was a bit damaged in 1994; my sister had been hospitalised with anorexia, and with my parents visiting her most evenings, I was left at friends’ houses where I played violent computer games such as Mortal Kombat (although its level of violence seems comical compared to modern computer games) and I was getting in fights (what seemed like) everyday at school.
For a brief spell I’m pretty sure I was close to becoming a person who lacked empathy. One of these things was myself and another lad, almost killing a dog by purposefully throwing its stick into a wasps nest on the recreation ground; I, a poor thrower, told my friend to throw it, it was my idea… The other was when I got involved in a gang who found a lady who was living in a dilapidated house in the village and one of the gang members started making rumors that she was a witch. He was a bit of a goofy-looking boy and wanted respect from the more popular boys in the village, and he began by making stories up about unoccupied houses (which there seemed to a lot of back then) being haunted. He was obviously making these stories up, but boredom, coupled with many other things (as in hindsight most of the other boys were probably more psychologically damaged than I was, in one way or another) meant that we could make ourselves believe in them. It was an easy target to pick on a household that didn’t conform in anyway to the norm, being an utterly dilapidated house, which seemed to receive no visitors.
I was part of the external crowd, not so much chanting “witch” like the others, but stood at the back, half intoxicated on the mob mentality, half scared of getting into trouble. “Not being totally involved” is the story I told myself in order to feel exempt from the actions of those shouting and throwing things, but in a sense isn’t it the one’s who make the crowd, make the numbers surrounding a nasty deed that allow it happen and make it even more scary for the victim?
Since I have grown older my fear is of becoming one on the other side of a witch-hunt. Becoming the victim; a prisoner in their own home; as the community projects their fears, often through the actions of children who pick up on their community’s fears. In hindsight I think it’s very probable that this individual had severe depression. Having now suffered from depression myself; a know that fear of feeling like a freak once you can’t hide your illness to the world around you. I have often feared children, maybe a similar age to us at the time (9,10,11 years old) locating MY (potential) dilapidating dwelling and slowly beginning to gather there one by one on an evening. I fear this probably because I’ve seen what it can do; how horrible kids can be. Maybe it would be justice (or maybe read the second part of this blog… which deals with the idea of justice).
To my knowledge the harassment ended when her brother caught up with us on the recreation ground one day, and asked for the names of those of us present on that particular gang ‘outing’, when my parents drove past and noticed me, and my punishment was directed through them, as he escorted me to the car I had been called to. I suppose in a way, I was the only one out of about 15 (in total) who got into trouble with their parents for it. Perhaps I was one of the only ones to receive any sort of (small) retribution for it.
All I can say now is that I hate bullying, it makes me sick to see. In the years that have followed I’ve witnessed much bullying in my home town; a place full of estates left economically and socially neglected by the end of the industry they relied on, which sadly seems to lend itself to intolerance. I suppose in general, saying all this is quite timely as I’m feeling the need to be honest at the moment (although I’m never dishonest) there is certain parts of our life we conveniently forget about, parts that are best spoken about. Many things aren’t spoken about. (see Stuart Alexander’s work here http://www.stuartalexander.net/wp/projects/the-wicth/)
Many subjects aren’t spoken out because they are so taboo….
…So to remain briefly on the subject of witch-hunting (although I’m aware this blog’s getting to an attention-losing length now) I’d like to offer my praise to the subject dealt with in Series 2 episode 2 of the near future satirical drama Black Mirror written by Charlie Brooker, which was recently aired on Channel 4. To begin with Black Mirror has slightly restored my belief that television isn’t dead just yet, but there again the very subject of episode 2 deals in an eerily close-to-actuality depiction of television’s death robe: reality TV. A young woman wakes up in a house with no memory of anything. She goes out into a grim social housing estate only to find people who do not communicate, just document her the phone-cameras. Suddenly she finds herself being chased by apparent psychopaths chase her and another woman with weapons, wishing to cut them up, whilst the other people merely act as spectators recording the spectacle (which turns out to be the truth). A concoction of traumas is rained upon her.
After some time, people, who she believes are either companions and enemies, all turn out to be actors, who clamp her to a swivel chair that turns to face an audience. It turns out her memory has been erased as part of a show. She is the ‘freak’ in a ‘freakshow’. An actor who had previously pretended that he was about to kill her with an electric drill, turns out to be the host of this ‘freakshow’, who swivels this young woman around to have her now-erased life re-told to her. It turns out the woman was complicit in her one-time partner’s kidnap and brutal murder of a child. Because her ex-partner killed himself, it has been decided that justice must be inflicted on her in the most ‘satisfactory’ means possible.
She is then paraded as ‘the monster’ this society deems her to be past aggressive organized-mobs of spectators, where objects are pelted at her, only to be placed back in the house where she woke up, and have her memory erased again. It becomes clear this freakshow is an organised ‘justice’ theme park, where people come to partake in the never-ending ‘nightmare’ made for this ‘monster’. Like the previous episode, what makes Black Mirror so (rightfully) traumatising; a drama the “wipes the human face in its own vomit and then forces is to look in the mirror” (a quote by J G Ballard, sampled by the Manic Street Preachers), is that it is science fiction specific to our times. Old science fiction, of the 20th century, is now almost playful with its giant modern pyramids and flying cars. Charlie Brooker (who, with Black Mirror, has proven he has the intelligence many always thought he had) has written stories that understand where our postmodern society, one that stopped believing in a future and is now socially regressing, is heading. A near future world where everything looks the same, yet is just slightly more severe (slightly more fucked up). Because the driver of change, technology, is no longer visible to us, it is everywhere (in our hands, ears, fingertips) but nowhere because we can’t really see it, and in fact visually we start to look more to the past as the speed of technology further muffles our experience of the present; we descend.
The step forwards into the future (and the step backwards into terms of civilisation) in the second episode of the second series deals with something that society is usually too scared to confront: Black Mirror has subtly commented here on an issue sex criminals/child murderers (the most horrific crimes in a society). That, regardless of the acts, the societal hatred of them is a modern day witch-hunt, something that people wish back the death penalty for.
I’ve always thought that these horrifying acts are buried deep into our the dark heart of our society, which emerge in certain people who have perhaps been more damaged by society’s institutions along the way to adulthood. The witch-hunt is much more a fear of what one dare not confront in themselves rather than of the offender in question; the evils of society that are buried surface deep, but every time they emerge, we just hack off the heads rather than trying to pull up the roots to stop it growing back. These evils are-short-circuited, corrupted within certain individuals into horrifying acts, but destroying that individual won’t stop the act recurring; less tolerance actually stokes the fires of repression that feed social evils.
After the show was aired I saw a Facebook comment about it saying “she got what she deserved; child-mudering bitch” and it just seemed obvious that their comment was a symptom of what was being warned against: the horrors of witch-hunts, no matter what the crime and in what historical period they happen to occur. Although the crime on the episode wasn’t one specifically of pedophilia; it was a crime that synchronises with pedophilia as crimes that society is less and less willing to understand the causations of, and increasingly more likely to make causes for witch-hunts that are far more likely as tolerance retreats as civilization descends. If you haven’t seen it all ready, it is still available on 4OD. It is traumatic viewing, but most certainly essential viewing.
That my life doesn’t seem to grow and change is because time itself doesn’t seem to move things on anymore.
Oh yes, things change, but it’s as if the entire world is speeding up its exchanging and obtaining of things already bygone. And when all that happens is that things are circulated faster and faster, little of it seems to have any substance. When one thinks of our present time and what could be seen as new, one thinks of applications, social-media sites; they don’t bring anything new into the world they just stretch out and speed up the circulation of everything that’s already happened in our civilisation (recent technological advances merely turn the world into one giant tin of old photo’s, and all we do as a culture now is constantly browse that tin).
I have never found myself able to allow myself to leave my teenage physique and demeanor behind. Reality would show that I have left it behind, but it doesn’t stop the need to maintain what has already gone.I cling to a past that retroactively becomes more and more massive, as a future never seems conceivable. The more I speak to others (although it is played out in different ways) the more I realised it wasn’t specific to myself.
That I make sure that I can still fit into (some) size 30 waist jeans is merely reflective of a culture that continuously makes sure it can still riff on the past. According to The independent newspaper, the United Kingdom, in terms of soft power (or cultural capital) is ranked as the most influential nation in the world, and if there was ever a nation that has continuously managed to riff on its past (whether the royal spectacles or re-hashes of the same British rock group formula every 5 or so years) it’s the United Kingdom.
+We are trapped in a cultural logic that believes nothing can be done to shape and make a new world. Because of this we are held to ransom by the logic of a system that told us its world is the only world. Our culture has nowhere to turn, and as this systemic logic brings the world into farce, we look further and further backwards, in order to grasp something that we feel we can control, in order to stay sane.
I would speculate that with every crisis the capitalist system has produced this side of the year 2000 that it further entrenches this immersion in things of the past (albeit with modern devices that we rarely try to rationalise). The legitimacy of the system has been smashed by farce after farce; we know we it is failing us, but we cannot perceive away around it, so our world is built out of a past that we can control and predict.
Because we can’t face up to the present, or even acknowledge it, time feels out of joint. This disjunction between time and our experience can be unnervingly evident in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Dotted around every urban settlement up and down the U.K are, what I call, ‘Mary Celeste‘ Developments; never completed housing estates, barred off by metal barriers, and skeletal structures which are frozen in their foetal position. Precisely because we are culturally unable to face up to the present, we usually walk past these spaces and instantly forget about them. But if we make a conscious effort to observe them we are confronted with the disconcerting fact the the financial crisis began half a decade ago, when it doesn’t feel long ago at all. It only feels like it happened a few weeks back, and everything at these construction sites stands, waiting to resume business, as if it were only a temporary blip.
Because we have found ourselves at our cultural dead end (or at least at a blockage in the pipelines of time) the world hasn’t been able to come to terms with the truth that the world has been irreversibly changed from that day on. We can’t really picture the world as it actually is, now, because it gives us the sensation of already being dead, and having an after-death experience. So we wait for things to return to as they were; we wait and wait, and only rarely realise just how much time we have spent waiting.
It’s like we are the new Pompeii, but haven’t realised that we’ve been turned to stone and burried by the normal functioning of time. At times when we can passively flow through this world, without observing or experiencing the world-wide suffering that confirms that the world is still alive, one can be forgiven for at least imagining that the end of the world has already occurred, that we are literally spectres going through the motions unaware of being so, like the fate of the Characters in the film The Others, who do not realise that they are the ghosts haunting the living.
More people now dress like people from the past than the people who lived in them time-periods did. People in the 1960’s thought we’d be walking around in space-suits, but we actually walk around looking more like them than they did. More 1960’s than the 1960’s; more 1980’s than the 1980’s; we are more or less living in a simulation of the past, which helps keep us blind to ‘the desert of the Real’. This is the world of simulcra/hyperreality, understood well by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet he makes it somewhat fantastical/exciting to read; it doesn’t feel like the bleak haunted house our post-recession culture occupies. The ghosts of the past are running out of energy just as we crave them the most; the music/pub/night-out scene which embalmed our culture with cheap drink is now often the arena where you feel most like you’re in spaces haunted by their past (empty pubs).
On a personal level, my predicament could be clumsily described by the previous generation as that of somebody who is “30 going on 18”, but the situation is far more serious. Much of the previous generation often refuse to acknowledge the reasons for this cultural inertia, because they grew up in a time when culture burst forward faster than anything before, only to exhaust itself in the form of tragic endings for many young pop icons. I have to ask myself whether I will be still heading to the “indie music” bars, not knowing where else to go, when I’m pushing 40. Experience of my past ten years, living in a culture that turned up the volume on its IPod every time news arrived of another crisis/catastrophe, is that doing so may be a necessary coping-method.
The landscape being constructed from the genealogy of our culture is of course intended to be the world we have now. As much as we see the brutality of the social gradient, from the private houses, and finance skyscrapers to the corpses of the global poor as they are the first to reap the harvest of climate breakdown, and those who are cultivated to sell their bodies in whatever means as the only means to earn a living, it is still clear that nobody is safe from these destructive dynamics. The lyrics of the late Richie Edwards in the Manic Street Preachers song Motorcycle Emptiness claim that “every where’s death row, everyone’s a victim”; this is the case under a truly global capitalism. Whilst this doesn’t excuse the vast injustices, where more and more millions are being dumped on the waste pile, whilst a minority enjoy the luxuries of kings, it certainly makes the case that we all have an investment in a different the future to the bleak one the logic of capitalism has in store for us and the planet
A short story of my last 10 years.Returning to the hills I roamed in my early 20’s for a sense of resonance with my own mental landscape..
(an image took within January/February period of 2005, when I was 21)
And not enough to stay alive
I’m sitting in the middle waiting”
(4st. 7lbs, The Manic Street Preachers)
The intensity of routine and control that made me anorexic followed on from this summer. But I would be returning to these hill tops at the other side of Anorexia, and returning to the music that had freaked me out just before I went through anorexia, because it offered no illusions and cosiness from this bleak nihilism thrown my way, music I could only return to once there was no going back into the denial-base of anorexia: the music of Joy Division, in particular.
Your life is shelved when anorexic, mainly because to live it seems unbearably hard. Everything that us human is controlled. Food, drink, relaxation and socialising are controlled as if they are visitors making prison visits to your human self. The inward-looking watch tower makes sure there’s no indulgence, that nobody gets too close – for that would be to sin in the eyes of that which is scared of being human due to being scared of having to try to live in a world that could cause irredeemable unhappiness. This inward looking watchtower also states that nothing is as important as maintaining a very active lifestyle and that all things should be sidelined in order for this to be maintained; standing when you could be sitting; walking fast when you could be strolling; running instead of walking fast; doing sit ups when you could be waking up. Looking healthy is never the objective: looking hard-worked and thin, looking the opposite of lazy, because it seems to suggest an exemption from the guilt of living in this world; you are constantly telling yourself “I am winning/I am getting better” – getting better at slipping between the cracks of the world; not touching anything. “My life is under control and I am exempt the this bleak world around me”.
Anorexia isn’t despair or hopelessness; it’s an illusion of jubilantly flying over these seemingly bottomless pits; but it can’t last, you’ve got to crash at some point(the only despair during this spell came when external convention demanded celebration/enjoyment from you, only for you to find that this is when such pain reemerges). Of course, the terror of being overweight also owes much to the advertising industry and the image world of late-capitalist ideology itself, but these causation’s aren’t separate to the other causation’s; the images of horror (buildings collapsing/people jumping to their death from buildings) and the images of glamour (which may make you feel anxiety about your own body) double-up and are part of the same visual language which we are (force)fed.
(4st. 7lbs, The Manic Street Preachers)
Once I began on the road away from anorexia, I knew that I’d have to find a way of facing this world I had once tried to escape from; I had to face what I’d ran away from 2 years previous. I quickly learned, as my body began to re-establish itself as a 20 year old male (as I regained weight) that I could no longer completely hide myself from the world, no matter how much I struggled to cope with what I saw and what that made me think of. And I began living the life that I have lived ever since.
My first steps out into society, after coming through the other side of anorexia, were in (re)finding old friends and venturing out to where society informed me everything that is meaningful could be found within: pubs, bars and nightclubs (drinking culture in general); places where the people convene, and where we are told lovers meet.
Before this, the underlying inability to cope with living was safely tame and massaged into my artworks and with my solitary Walkman moments with the music of Joy Division; a band I heard in 2002, but struggled to listen to at the time because of a bleak nihilism (that remains unchallenged in it’s potency to my ears), were now resonating strongly with my experience of life. I knew that when I was getting hooked on the dark euphoria of the track ‘Digital’ that it was because I was relating closely to the lyrics “feel it closing in…..day in, day out, day in, day out”, knowing that my own walls were still closing in on me and I’d have to face them at some point.
(Novelty by Joy Division)
Housebound, and with what had sustained my optimism out of reach, I fell into the depression that the ‘honeymoon period’ with the real world had made ‘out of mind out of sight’. In 2001/2002 the fundamental environmental worries/worries about our species’ future (a previously unlocked door for my eyes to see now via the ‘atrocity exhibitions” I saw on television and in newspapers) seemed far away; voices I respected scoffed at such ideas, and information proving things like climate change didn’t seem to be there. In 2004, these concerns, far from going away, felt like they were still slowly closing in. I’d found out that climate change was a real and big threat, and, although it couldn’t recreate the shock of my introduction to the bleakest of thoughts, it certainly reinforced the story that they told me.
As I mentioned above, the battle with my inability to cope did come back for some time between exiting anorexia but before my honeymoon with the real world period began. When I fell into depressed spells my eating habits kind of performed what my previously anorexic self has always warned me of whilst I became slowly obsessed with food as my body needed it more: I ate and ate way too much. This came back to haunt me again now I was immobile and stuck in the house with only my own thoughts to keep me company. Eating way too much, when the fear of being overweight for all the previously mentioned reasons clung on, magnified the depression.When I finally managed to get out and attempt to restart where I’d left off, I was already in an uphill struggle; the aspects of me I had foolishly thought had been left behind had returned, and I felt that it was now a rush to get something meaningful from these nights out/and other socialising situations before these aspects caught up with me. I thought I had to get a girlfriend because I believed that this would ‘eventually’ be the anchor to secure me. I was still relatively happy with the way I looked – that gave me, even if not inner confidence, at least a belief that “something would surely come along sooner or later…” – but I was terrified of the depression chasing my tail, because if it debilitated me and I started overeating permanently then I would truly be left to rot in a pit of all my worst nightmares. The level of my naivety was well and truly put to test by the fear of losing to my depression.Thus, with more expectation and desperation placed on nights out in a provincial town, uncontrollable disappointment was always on the cards. Every pub/club I went into, I would ask for Joy Division (preferably the track Digital) and dance endearingly but awfully to their tracks (which, on a side note, has made me concerned that the ‘let’s all dance to Joy Division’ song by the terrible indie-pop act The Wombats may have been written about me; although, to save me the crippling embarrassment, this is highly unlikely, as I think the ultimate death disco feel of Joy Division’s tracks has an almost universal appeal within our anti-depressant-dependent generation, mainly because it resonates with our general complete lack of optimism for the future; “get pissed and dance now, because there’s no point in saving it for the future”). In almost one out of every two nights out, I would end up getting on a massive downer, and running away from my friends and out of the club to head home.
The days after would be low days. I would feel stuck for reasons to do anything, whilst eager for something to do be done, for better or for worse, either to get me out of it or to at least allow the depression unconditional confirmation. This probably explains why I would then proceed over eat, which would exacerbate the unhappiness to dangerously low levels. That’s when I started walking up to these hill tops. Cycling up there wouldn’t have been enough; I needed to feel like I could keep walking further and further up onto those hills as if I wasn’t coming back. I couldn’t cope with the world I saw around me, so when bad things happened in my newly found social circles (girls fighting, friends getting their head stamped on, people saying things to me that hurt) it made everything unbearable and I it felt like it was all was closing in on me faster and faster.
During this period right at the beginning of being 21, suicide wasn’t just a passing thought that strangely comforted when you’d just like the ground to swallow you up, it was much closer and much more pressing. I had no coping methods, no thick skin against the world, but I was no longer in a place to avoid life like I was when I was anorexic, I was now well in deep like everybody else. The walks up onto these bleak hillsides seemed like the only route available to me.
Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
(Disorder, Joy Division)
If I wasn’t struggling so much to cope with living I am sure that the events around me wouldn’t have made the impact they did. I’d left a massive gap in my growing up years 17-20, when I did almost zero socialising, which didn’t help things when situations did start to go awry. This vague idea that if I found a girlfriend that it would somehow create a safety net preventing me from free fall, a safety net against all my biggest fears about humanity within the 21st century, got more desperate. More desperate in general, than desperate for love itself, I found walking up on these hill tops and listening to Joy Division (more than any other band) the only safe mental environment whilst either escaping from the state a bad night out had put me in or waiting for the next one, with the hope that something ‘great’ may happen within it. The grueling-ness of these walks, which I tried to push further and further onto the moors each time, also tamed my despair over eating to much (linked to the despair of becoming undesirable thus unable to find this ‘safety net’, as the walking felt like I was “keeping the weight off”), as my mind was in a trance-like muteness-to-scattering-fears once I was well and truly within the middle of one of these walks.
The landscape up there is beautiful, but it is also a bleak and minimal landscape, a landscape that offers no niceties, no signs that would point to false hopes, nothing that could find soul and and prise out this inability to cope with life. On the long, quiet roads, where I couldn’t see where they ended, it felt as if I was walking up to the moon/never coming back down to the town below, and that was some sort of comfort I suppose.
(Giant, by The The)
(This Is Day by The The)
That point me to another day
………They keep calling me”
The music seemed to create a euphoria of despair, which made all the trouble in ones life to be darkly savioured, as documentation on why one ought to feel this way.
A couple of years later, one further flirtation with the possibility of having a partner, seemed to set in the stone the truth about my inability to deal with life and relax into the world, as the chance vanished the more my desperation and neediness of a safety net shone through. A safety set for my life, in the face of a more informed and growing expectation of life getting bleaker and bleaker as the 21st century dragged on, is what drove the hopes of ‘being saved’ from it ( I was still being fooled by an instilled consumer-mindset day dream; knowing otherwise but believing that these good things will certainly come to me).
The crash didn’t just coincide with the end of my university course, and a helping-handed feeling of “going somewhere” (which university provides), but I had just finally found what I’d been looking for, regarding my artwork: what I had been wanting to do/say had finally been pieced together. A tutor, who seemed to have an eerily good knack of envisaging what one was trying to say before they had even realised what it was they were trying to say, suggested to make climate change the main thing my work dealt with from now on; as opposed to what it was at that point; a stop-start-try-again jumble about my own mental state, worries about society, and climate change.
But the interesting thing was that by turning to focus on climate change, the large landscapes of ecological nightmares I began to make simply absorbed the entirety of these issues, embodying the whole. He (the tutor) seemed to get what was burning away at me which, by helping me focus on the large scale (the environmental), was shown to be the entirety, big and small. I was now at where I was always trying to get to: making a case against life as I saw it as a whole. (a realisation that came to me years later after reading an essay called Nihil Rebound: Joy Division from the K-Punk Blog, where the blog’s writer Mark Fisher says how Ian Curtis’s’, seemingly naive lyrics from earlier Joy Division/Warsaw tracks about the atrocities of war, despotic leaders of men, were parts of the case he was making against life itself, as the horrors of the 20th century, and the slow tragedy of the defeat of the working class, washed us up on the nihilistic shoreline of the so-called ‘end of history’. Indeed, I’d say that this essay possibly provided me the open doorway to realise that my early 20’s obsession with this band wasn’t something that can be signed off as immature morbidity – the way that many people refer to the adored music from their so called ‘angst years’ – but is music that appeals very much to the way, not just me, but many of us experience the world, existing whilst the amoral brutally of industrialised forces takes everything away from us, and gives us a uncomfortable meaningless back in return – hence their rising popularity as the industrial capitalist machine drags us further and further into hopelessness).
This breakthrough, felt like it should have been permanent, like I could have been in in forever, because nothing could really come afterwards. And other things I hoped for were vanishing, in a normal course of things that I just couldn’t deal with. I was in free-fall again. But I couldn’t dabble with suicide again, as the desublimination of stomach pains the next day were a warning that you cannot escape so easily and so purely. It doesn’t end easy, it lingers on. Just as the horrors of the 20th century didn’t end so easily at the dawn of the so called ‘end of history’, at beginning of the 1990’s – they are still happening; history didn’t peacefully end and fold itself nicely into an holiday package; we are fooled by the images we are shown of truth, forgetting that reality isn’t quite as streamline as this.
The emotionally exhaustive summer of vanishing (what I foolishly thought could be) certainties, a summer metaphorically and literally clinging onto bottles, had weakened my sense of who I was and what I was capable/incapable of, to the extent that I was accepting any guides’ directions on how to live my life; forgetting the mental minefields of mistakes, caused by a void when it came to the task of enjoying. I agreed to do something I would never have felt such nessecity to do if my routine had been ruining smoothly on the inside my mental barriers: I went to a music festival.
For starters, I struggle spending time in other peoples’ company for full days, especially when the people stretches far beyond ones vision – I get paranoid, exhausted, wanting to walk off for a good while, then paranoid about what people think of me for attempting to do this. Then there’s the fact that I have a very low tolerance for noise when I’m tired; I need a muteness to, and a dimming of the world when I’m too tired for my barriers to protect my wellbeing as they do in the day. When tired, after a while the sound begins to feel like violence. But it was the paranoia about things that made this event what it became.
Leeds Festival is notoriously not one of the most laid-back festivals; as well as the entire event sometimes seeming more like a Topshop fashion parade (losing sight of friends within a sea of unfestival-like manicured girls, wearing hot pants and shades, and guys wearing leather jackets and Pete Doherty-inspired straw hats; so many people, at once, looked advert-friendly-perfect, aloof and identical) it also seems to have a feeling that something could kick off at any moment, due to there being a football hooligan-like tribalism.
Then there’s the drugs. It’s not the pressure to take them in itself, it’s the sense of complete alienation from groups of people, when they are on them. “And you’ve got 4 days of this alienation mate – that Strongbow won’t suffice, that’s for sure”. Low on sense of self, I got convinced that legal highs would be a OK alternative for someone who doesn’t take drugs. Again, due to being low on sense of self, I felt a much more acute need to fit in to the group I would be spending 4 days with. I’d be lying if I denied that the first herbal high I took felt very good, but, due to this, and the relentless noises outside, I had no sleep. Got up next day having had no sleep, and paranoia started to kick in. Only slightly, but everything seemed a little more tinder-sticks to me, like it would take just one false step for everything to blow its top off.
Nobody is to blame for the general deterioration of things from this point, my inability to cope with a life lived eclipses any claims that people who knew me should have discouraged me to do things, and taken into account that their own free choice may have alienated me: like with the young lady mentioned above, this was young people doing what young people come to believe they ought to be doing; trying to have a good time, thus wanting everybody else to be joining in in the good time that they are having, by doing the same things to confirm the legitimacy of the reason for having this good time – but music festivals are a staple of the mass design of how to enjoy life, which not everyone can assign themselves to. Over the course of the next day it was becoming clear that sleep wasn’t coming, and this fact itself caused me further anxiety and worry. After spending a very uncomfortable time around a camp fire, I made my way back to the tent. I was becoming more paranoid. I can never relax (caused by a perpetual unease instilled into us by capitalism’s constant rebuilding, reshuffling, re-demanding that creates a society based on precarity, where your foremost desire to inhale oxygen and then exhale carbon dioxide is nagged to death by the reminder not to “get too comfy there, mate”) so how I expected to enjoy an event that demands relaxation or a right old mess is completely down to my loss of sense of self during the summer of 2007.
Walking back to the tent there was these human-shaped sleeping backs on a banking. Security was hovering around with torches, talking on radios. It looked bad. I got back to the tent. Couldn’t sleep. I was getting stupidly paranoid by this point. I thought the friends I’d gone with to the festival were about to run into the tent and beat me up. Why did I think this? Because they had been ever-ever-so slightly off with me in conversations earlier. My paranoia expanded this to an illogical extreme. I thought drugs had sent them violent. They’d done nothing of the sort. Every sound I heard sounded like them coming to get me; the noises I heard were being twisted by my mind into other noises to do with me.
When I went back towards where I have left off in the early hours, the place where the bodies in the sleeping bags had been was now a spot of grass surrounded by police barrier tape (something which was seen by other eyes as well as mine, but, for some reason, was never mentioned in the local news). This was the most awful feeling, and I couldn’t forget the shape of the sleeping bags the night before – a shape that was in between that of a butterfly pupa and a body of someone who perished in Pompeii. It sent my current state of mind into overdrive. Something felt damaged in my brain. The words ‘dead bodies’ were being repeated over and over again in my head, like a film real of words taking my mind into canyon inside itself that it never should enter. My anxiety grew and grew.
I was hearing all sorts now. Every time I heard a reveler at the festival speak, my mind altered what they’d said so that they were talking about me. I Kept on walking trying to shake it off. Didn’t want to find my friends, because my mind was convinced that they were after me. Kept on walking. It kept on getting worse. This was, what I could only describe later as hyper paranoia. Everybody in the festival was saying “John Ledger, John Ledger” in my ears. The more worried I became, the more I panicked the worse it became, until it started to feel like I was in the middle of my own real-life version of the trippy Disney film Fantasia.
I eventually ran out of the festival. And after being scared out of wits by noises in a local village that came from no rational source, I finally found a bus back to central Leeds, and then a train to Barnsley. That night was spent at a friends because I thought I was going permanently mad, and didn’t dare go home for that reason. I thought this was finally some kind of end. It felt like everything that I’d tried to wall myself up against was bursting through all at once. The day after when I went to the hospital after several days without sleep, I wasn’t looking for help back to a sort of normality as much as I was handing myself in, as if I was saying to them “look, I’m a walking disaster, Ive failed to live a life – give me a break” as if the hospital was an arm of an all-controlling authority, and being at breaking point I no longer wanted to be my own person, I wanted them to make me from now on, to make me do what they tell me to do without having to question (which is why this memory of walking into the hospital reminds me of the fate of Winston Smith, towards the end of George Orwell’s 1984, when, in the middle of having the humanity smashed out of him in room 101 by Big Brother, he eventually found himself in the arms of his torturer, O’Brien, as if he was his paternal guardian, weeping for it to end, whilst O’Brien momentarily cuddled and consolidated him – I felt my character couldn’t withstand the way of the world anymore). But after sleeping pills and a Valium, this time issued by the doctor, I was yet again reminded that it doesn’t end so easily.
In retrospect, many knowing voices have told me “you were just having a bad trip man” (which I hated to start with, as if I’d have had sense of self at the time I wouldn’t have gone near pills, legal or illegal), but this doesn’t take into account all the other factors at play, which culminated in this complete mess.
I was a permanently bruised atom in a rotten whole, which exacerbates its illness by refusing to accept its own mortality – this is my predicament within the capitalist system’s predicament. Something I couldn’t quite describe in words at this point, was now making itself clear within my large scale drawings. The tracks towards the politisisation of myself and obsessive dissection of the governing system were originally laid by the breakthrough that my large-scale drawings gave me, but the events of these years made it the only way I could go.
Experience has left me with no choice but to be anti-capitalist. Its offer of no future, save weekly piss ups, is because it offers humanity no future worth living in, which has crippled any vision I would possibly have had for my own atomised future. This was being played out in my walking disaster of a life I was having whenever I tried to live it. Yet I didn’t know this at 21 or 23.
It was only when I luckily stumbled upon a job working as a gallery attendant, just 1 week after the mess I got in at the festival, when I was confronted with an array other peoples’ career goals (which is in no way a criticism or to claim that their goals are futile) that I was aggressively confronted with my relative aimlessness/no-space-to-move-forward-into reality, making it much more pressing, as I began to watch workers come and go as I stood still, that I felt it an urgency to sensibly home in on what I felt were the causes of this entrapment. This feeling was coupled with a expanding inferiority complex about my general lack of knowledge, in comparison with most other people I worked with. But this I began to feel positive about. Whether I was pushed or jumped, I needed to take this plunge into the world of books.
I knew what I didn’t like in much clearer terms than before. But, whilst further hardening my inability to think long-term/think career plan due to a now growing cynicism to the whole language of aspiration within capitalism (knowing how all consuming of even the arts it is) it did nothing to help my sense of self whilst within social situations. Thus the career goals of those around me, continued to remind me of being left stranded; “no chance of that safety net of a partner now – nobody wants a person who is going nowhere”. And it isn’t that I think all careers are bad or destined to be doomed, it’s just that I have come to realise that I cannot see a future past my next artwork/next exhibition, of which is intended to be the aforementioned case I have been building (which is why since I things changed when I started working I now have most of my lowest moments after an exhibition is over, when life caries on and still nothing feels “confirmed”). Any thoughts that try to go further than this hit a grey screen in my mind.
Nevertheless, for a short time, working for a wage and then making my own work in the evening was, although forming a event-less splodge of time, OK – not too bad. A small resignation to nihilism I suppose, but not too much. The lyrics from the first Strokes album, which embodied a quintessential “yeah, but it’s not that bad” kind of nihilism, seemed perfectly fitting (as they did for me before my ‘sigh’ turned into ‘gasp’ between the 9/11 terror attacks and the 2002 world worries)
I suppose that I am back in (or never left) the existential situation I was in during anorexia. The situation that is explained so brilliantly by the sample at the beginning of 4st.1b by the Manic Street preachers (if one makes the subject wider than that of food)
My mental rooting system is too entrenched in ground that, although is slowly killing it, is stopping it from instantly toppling over. Which one is the worst is debatable, but ones natural instinct is to side with the former rather than the latter. As well as not even knowing how to, I’m pretty sure that this is the force which is preventing me breaking free of my now barred-up, passive (going nowhere) existence: an instinctive awareness that doing so could be fatal; making a big mistake, such as putting my utter trust in something or someone, giving myself to them only for it to leave me where it left me before, but with less naivety/optimism to pick me back up each time it happens, which is why I now don’t dream of finding a partner, and actually wall myself up away from the possibility, consciously now denying the one thing I thought would ‘save me’ and revving up the motor of my routine again, industrialising discontent as a force to keep going.
This is why I sometimes think that my only possible place within life is – due to being unable to deal with the world as it is, but also unable detach myself from it in order to help to think of something better – to be a maker of works that highlight the hell we have made, not as someone to help create the better but to warn and inform those who may be able to go forth and do just this. And I think that, due to the feelings of alienation and messing up whenever I do try to be alive and live for the moment (as the ‘able’ anti-capitalisters would advise to me) always (as yet) winning over, this is my only way.
But the reason for explaining this whole inability to deal with life, isn’t to leave it just as my own inability, because this inability is caused by capitalism’s saturation of our lives, it’s relentless erasing of anything not subject to direct/or indirect commodification, whilst simultaneously entrenching itself within all paths of thought so that any unsaturated spaces we find we instantly tarnish with it so that what was once an alternative is now using capitalist reality to make itself look appealing. The claim by many modern philosophers that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” is so much more cutting once one becomes aware of the sheer scale of the environmental issues that now face us.
We have a mass inability to picture a future worth living in. Some of us are better at denying it, and hoping for that cosy domestic life the system promised to us, but can very doubtfully give to us. But I think the inability plays itself out in the actions of so many of us; the weekly piss-ups instead of saving for the future; the general obsession with that pursuit of hedonism; the obsession with retro; the rising popularity of Joy Division with a generation of young people born years after the death of Ian Curtis. I couldn’t explain this when I was 21. I couldn’t explain this when I was 23. I still can’t explain it as I would like to here and now.
Just as the reaction that it is wrong to put this quite personal account on the net is missing the point, one is also missing the point here, if the reaction to this writing is to tell me how everybody has got problems, and one just needs to learn how to cope. The example used of my own depression/inability to cope is referred to here as an example of the co-ordinates of a certain depression/inability to cope which is specific to our late 20th century/early 21st century era, and is not just an age-old tale of how the young find their way in the world.
Whilst growing up, one also learned to believe that if you aren’t willing/or unable to play the (capitalism) game, then there isn’t much choice of a life left over for you, except one of loneliness and destitution, and that “it was your own fault” if this was the life you found yourself living. If you don’t aspire to strive up the career ladder; if you don’t attempt to immerse yourself in a consumerist fashion niche; if you don’t strive to be beautiful, clean and lean; if you don’t smile and say pleasantries to people when you feel like shite inside, “well, it’s your own fault” if the world feels like it has left you behind to fester in a no-new-messages-for-you-matey misery pit. All of these ‘learnings’ doubtlessly have a major role in the creeping mental illness epidemic of our times.
After each mini-breakdown period my artistic endeavours still drag me along, but more is demanded of me now than it used to be, both from myself and from others who are aware of the despair at capitalism which runs through everything I make or write. But I don’t think I can give what’s needed. The undercurrent motive for writing the events of my past 10 years is to explain why the demands of me now to participate more in activism against capitalism and for something else seem to be reviving the intensity of the feeling of everything closing in, and this inability to act seems to be precisely because cannot end up in back in the place where these events put me, as I have less reserves than I used to in order to get back out again. This is why the more awareness I have, thus the more the demand to act now I know much more, followed by the inability to act is making me revisit the experience of life I had when I didn’t know what I know now, but felt it: it is returning the need for the feeling of a suspension of time, in the landscape that seems to resonate with this feeling of having nowhere to go, whilst things are closing in fast; the hill tops west of where I live, and the need to listen to Joy Division (in particular).
But of course I agree with the collective beliefs of all those who are trying their hardest to take action to try to make a world not ruled by money, a world which is no longer in peril from the relentless attack on the ecosystem that sustains us (and there is truth, regarding the undercurrent motive for the writing of all of this, that I’m trying to explain this to those who know me and are perplexed and sometimes frustrated by my inactivity in the face of things I know full-well are destructive). If there’s one good that may arise from writing all of this, it is that by explaining all of this I might actually be able to let the last 10 years of my life now rest in peace, so I can move on; a hope that understanding it all will help me break through the grey-screen which covers all images of my future, a grey screen the events of the last 10 years helped to create. And, with this, I hope that with – what seems to be – a hell of a large amount of thinkers racking their brains on how we can move away from capitalism, now that the need is crucial, that this is also a point of letting our past rest in peace; let it rest so that our species can get over the false dreams capitalism gave to us and move on to something else, something better.
Globalsapiens: an introduction to Parallel Paranoia, Humans In Cages and Silently Chained – the respective alternate names for artistic collective Mikk Murray, John Ledger and Jade Morris. Each artist has, at some point in life, stumbled across these titles and found them poetically fitting descriptions of their own predicament as young adults in the 21st century: tied to lifestyles that they know are destructive to the planet and most often self-destructive; struggling forwards from this, trying to find cracks in a hegemonic social landscape that drags humans toward an ultimate battle with nature that we are certain to lose.
Thus this show cannot be a means to an end for Globalsapiens: it has to be the start not the end; one of many ‘atoms for peace’, clustering together, always growing never standing still, until their shout is big enough to make one final stand against a world ruled by money. This exhibition aims to resonate with all those who care but feel trapped and helpless to make a change, and possibly then inspire them to believe that they need not feel trapped and helpless.
As a society, our actions, our expressions, our reactions, all show signs that we are aware of living in end times. Make no bones about it; no matter how much we talk about getting married, getting a house, settling down, we reek of a dying civilisation.
This exhaustion of everything in our merry-go-round swap between being the exploiter to the exploited has to end. Nobody can predict what ‘end’ we can expect, but we can guess what the prolongation of this current manmade nightmare will lead to. But we can also guess and hope; to hope that “surely this can’t be the end of the human story just yet…!” Grim resignation is dangerous; hope generates possibilities – but hope is sometimes hard for one to maintain.
Globalsapiens are artist’s who are desperately trying to find a way forward into a future worth living in. Our instinct is to express – we may not be the most pragmatic/practical people, but our contribution is a desperate attempt to realise a new way of living for the sake of the human race (sound self righteous? No: all species battle to maintain their existence). The time is right. Artists have no future in this old world, they must end their post idealist malaise/capitulation to the business mentality and join the cause to act now to make a future worth living in.
We felt aligned by a feeling that our artwork seems too driven, and too realmerely to be for exhibitions only – which often seem to just castrate it and make it nothing but mere consumer spectacle. This is a pressing concern that is played out within the show: we know that this is all our works may be, but we are still often driven by a powerful dream-boat of blind optimism that refers to the opposite, and seems to be generated by the ideological coding of the very system we are trying to help unwire. We want to help pave a way out of this bleak place our species (and the planet it has dragged down with it) has stumbled into, but we too often get too trapped in our minds to be/or do anything but what the system would happily have us be/doing – what keeps it thriving off human day-dreams and desires.
Nobody is in any place to preach. To resonate with others to generate in others. To alienate is to disintegrate. Let’s take the No Them, Only Us belief seriously again.
Human beings offer fundamentally special qualities to life on planet earth, and wherever else life may flourish. However, we are not better than the rest of life; if we were better we wouldn’t need it; but strip the life away from under our feet and we’d be dead before you could say the words ‘Easter Island’. Nevertheless, this is what out species is currently doing. But to say that we are a species of existential contradictions is to give up without even trying, and to let the idea of perpetual profiteering drag our eyes to the grey floor, where we watch our feet take one step at a time, in a potentially lethal small-world view. This exhibition wishes to contribute to the voices of reason in this time of collective insanity.
Inside Humans In Cages’ isolated cell
“Humans In Cages is feeling a little trapped, and without a vision of the future at present.”“The weekly ASDA shop likes this”
“The capitalist system still advances across the face of the planet, destroying the world that we depend on to survive, and pressing the boot further and further into our faces, as freedom/democracy become obstacles stood in the way which must also be destroyed. But here I languish; informed but passive; not knowing which foot to put in front of the other; so letting faint hopes of something better do the walking for me.
Here in my cell there will constantly remain the doubt that my artworks/artist shows may end up as nothing more than self-profiling within the capitalist dictatorship of individualism; the fetishisation of the self in the forced-competition of status advancement, based on the ultimatum of prosperity and a terror of failure. Thus, everything I have done within my isolated little world sometimes feels so counterproductive: that the truth may be that I am simply bolstering the realism of a system my work fundamentally opposes in its messages, by seeking recognition, and respect from it, for my individual endeavours.
I’ll do my best, but it’s hard trying to stop an exhibition become a means to an end from whereworking towards one final goal, (as anyone who as put on a major show will resonate with) leads to anti-climax, depression and a defeated-slump straight back into the realism of capitalism – to start right back at the beginning, but with less time than before.”
Achieving And Getting Things Done (installation)
Inside Silently Chained’s isolated cell
They all smiled gingerly and meekly.
Had they simply forgotten, or had they never known anyway? I guess it is neither.
They’re neither alive nor gone.
Not until the hour of the moon crosses the path of the sun.
Then they will know, and they will realise, what they had known all along.
But for now, it is too late. Too late. Too late?
Inside Parallel Paranoia’s isolated cell
This painting (above) is from a series of works called Where have all the bees gone? Where a parallel universe was created to highlight the importance of bees to the ecosystem and our food supply. Without the bees that pollinate roughly a third of our food crops there would be less food around. The chain reaction could be devastating to the human race and all life on Earth. The disappearance and death of bees or Colony Collapse Dissorder (CCD) as it is somethimes known is puzzling scientists and researchers still with mites and pesticides being the main concerns.
In the parallel universe the bees have been lured into a lab by a mad scientist and experiments have taken place. For some reason the scientist becomes psychically connect to the bees and finds they will do as he wishes. The scientist sets about creating his own Utopian vision. Using the soldier bees to hold the planet under siege and turn things around. Food, shelter and equality for all. Harmony with all living creatures and the landscape the ultimate goal. Organic produce, waste reduction, ocean cleanups, knowledge and wisdom passed on to all. The trouble was the scientist did such a great job that he became some sort of a celebrity. A leader and ultimately was devoured by power and greed. Alan is a dog and he spends most of his time walking around in his horse suit. Alan is the mad scientist’s best friend. The horse suit is an extension of Alan and his status/power and also the scientist’s eccentricity. The portrait of Alan was painted by Mikk for the Scientist in 2027. “I didn’t have a choice!” he said.
Many of our endeavours are maintained by reliance on oil. Many of our endeavours are purely narcissistic – taught by the system to be so. Reflecting on this can sometimes make one see their own ‘achievements’ in a very different light. And is it really that precious? (this piece was once used in a Seawhite Of Brighton arts suppliers brochure, not black gooey paint, with a look of oil about it, drips down it).
Parallel Paranioa is in the process of filling up a paddling pool with needless consumer plastic waste. In another water filled area (The Pacific Ocean) a floating island of plastic trash twice the size of Texas is currently existing.
Pandemic-Sheffield! Plague breaks out!!!
Note from self outside the cell to self inside the cell…
In the summer of 1944 delegates from 44 countries met in the midst of World War 2 to reshape the world’s financial system. The location of the meeting – in rural Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA – was designed to ensure that the delegates would have no distractions, and no pressure from lobbyists or congressmen, as they worked on their plans for post-war reconstruction. The New Hampshire Bretton Woods is part of a land grant made in 1772 by royal governor John Wentworth, which he named after his ancestral home (West) Bretton, in Yorkshire, England.
In the summer of 2011, Globalsapiens met in the midst of a global meltdown (financially, environmentally and socially) to throw around their own ideas of making a better world, with changes being needed now more than ever – A HUGE ALTERATION IS NEEDED. The location of the meeting – In rural Bretton woods in West Bretton, Yorkshire, England – is a symbolic gesture: the USA Bretton woods conference reshaped the world after the war, to prevent the problems (financial crisis’s for example) which led to the war; shaping the world for the past 60+ years, and beginning global capitalism as we know it today.
We need a Bretton woods conference now! Not to reinstate capitalism but to figure out how we can move beyond it. The sources of power whom we would usually assign these tasks to have gone insane; a systemic press-ganging on anything which tries to halt the forces of big business – which leaves this conference to people assumed-powerless like us (Globalsapiens). In this mock-version of an all-important conference, we will speak about, and demand a better world; suggesting, through the thoughts and words they never speak, both what these all-important meetings should really be about, and also emphasising what is more important; assigning the decision making to the assumed-powerless.
Global Ghetto, 2045, marks centenary of defeat of Fascism, (Biro on paper, 140x100cm, 2010/2011)
My expectations of a future under global capitalism are bleak. Whilst imagining a future, the date 2045 seemed to stick with me. This is because it would be 100 years since the defeat of fascism, a date which we all look back at where good won over evil, and we were told that such human suffering must never be allowed to happen again.
With the defeat of fascism and the end of war, despite the threats of the nuclear age, people alive in 1945 had a belief in a future that would continue to bring them a better life. At present we see the future in the opposite sense: things are only going to get worse if we carry on like this.
In my darkest moments I fear that there will not be any of our “great cities” left in order for the global ghetto, predicted in this drawing, to be actualised. But the future date of 2045 was very important to the idea of progress; 100 years since the widely assumed end of the Second World War, it stands as an historical landmark from which ‘evil’ was defeated and ‘good’ would now make the world a better place. But this idea, which still rests solidly in the hearts of all those indoctrinated by western ideas, has turned horribly sour.
This piece intends to be seen as an extrapolation of the present; my grim expectation of the fate of most of the people as the world continues to be driven by capitalism. It also just solemnly looks backwards and bluntly asks “What went so horribly wrong (in order for our future to end up looking so bleak)?”
Fascism was like a tragic car crash, from which the ruling powers of the time were never really held to account for their reckless driving, and, thus, have continued to drive recklessly. It isn’t alien to our own ruling system; they share the same roots, like cousins. Likewise, our system has the ability to fall into dictatorship, if put under severe stress. I have intentionally tried to put elements that we are currently familiar with into a landscape which is terrifyingly worse than what we know now. But such a world may be actualised, as deterioration is all we can now expect under global capitalism; its welfare state period is dying, the planet’s resources are becoming more and more expensive as they dry up; the future for humanity can only get worse on this route. The system can now only deliver a slow erosion of democracy and a dystopia which the prophetic writers of the 20th century would have struggled to imagine. The future we may once have expected has taken a horrific u-turn.