The New Commons of Urban & Industrial Dereliction
(A Freewheeling Interpretation of Classic Derive, Grand Projects, Subtopian Pornography, Workers' Councils, Nature Reserves versus Wilding)
What was later to be defined as derive and psychogeography has a long history and as an experiment it didn't appear out of nowhere suddenly miraculously practised one day in Paris by Gil Wolman and Guy Debord during the 1950s. It was prepared in and through the often desperate but creatively unfilled lifestyles of Baudelaire, Poe and especially De Quincey in the 19th century. During the 20th century, evolving into a more worked out subversive strategy it was practised by the likes of Walter Benjamin who had some awareness of contemporaneous haphazard surrealist walks, which often in themselves unintentionally became a prelude to psychic breakdown precisely because they were so un-worked out, so feral, so like automatic writing that Debord even inferred at their worst could be decsribed as "weird". No matter what, the die had been cast but a direction was needed and a purpose established. Becoming ever more conscious and finding the need of an organic theory it was stepped-up a notch through the pre-derive experiences of the latter day Belgian surrealists of Les Levres Nues (The Bare Lips) in the period after the end of the Second World War which had such an impact on the Lettrist International (c/f The Extraordinary Mr Yves Le Manach on the Revolt Against Plenty web). Even conservative England had a distinctive inflection in Jack Common's enlightening Newcastle pub-crawls portrayed in The Freedom of the Streets and Earnshaw's and Thacker's random train-stop and walking West Yorkshire journeys in the late 1950s.
As psychogeography evolved largely within the parameters of Paris, the derive became a research into ambience and its subversive possibilities. It was about establishing ambience no matter how fleeting, a research receptive to the feel of an area, its inhabitants, its bars and what might explosively happen especially in those more conducive areas historically associated with rebellion - how you then could make connections between simpatico neighbourhoods - searching out vectors of communications, sympathetic inbetween streets and the like. These were places also of possible significant encounters and chance meetings, not only of people but also things, mind-blowing juxtapositions; examples perhaps of a Duchampian canned chance, that Chtcheglov in post Second World War Paris so excelled at discovering. A way for on the lam artists and poets to feel sufficiently free or sufficiently inspired to finally overthrow their dependence on an aesthetic production more and more tied up with growing trivial commoditisation, arenas through which they could finally realise their feelings in an open-minded three dimensional space, where increasing transparency with other people could become a possibility, a communication which could perhaps stimulate the beginnings of general insurrection. This outcome was most likely only vaguely present in the minds of these first questing explorers who were leaving behind the falsity, the sublimation inherent in the artistic product. Merely beginners themselves, they were on the threshold of revelation, perceiving there was a greater creative authentic potentiality out there, one superceding the book, the poem, the art gallery product, the museum, the cinema and the one way imprisoned monologue of the lecture theatre, etc. The list indeed seemed endless. Underpinning it all however was a firm, a very firm "down with aesthetics", an exhilarating way of offing yourself followed by an experience of re-birth: a no going back situation, a tabula rasa helping open up the creative juncture of mass social invention which could perhaps lead onto unprecedented revolutionary breakthroughs of awe-inspiring proportions.
The bottom line in this was however much cruder than such fine sounding aims: these amazing quarters were threatened with redevelopment, horrendous in scope and of manic proportions, far worse than anything that Louis Aragon had outlined in Paysan de Paris in the 1920s. Nevertheless, from today's point of view, we cannot help but view psychogeography historically, a creative moment that was quickly superceded – not because it was wrong or meaningless – but because it was only an evolving tendency. If you like the first tentative steps down the unknown path that had to be found – an updated De Quincey's North West Passage – which would finally bring about the definitive exit from capitalism, that exit, beset with false trails that has proved so elusive over the last century and a half. What beckoned was a more lucid intervention on the urban terrain, which broadly became a critique of modern everyday life set within present day urbanism. Pace Henri Lefebvre statements, urbanism had become the be all and end all of capitalism, which previously had been little more than a rapacious system without a conscious end in sight, one that had now found its raison d'etre in the city inseparable from a lifestyle of democratic consumption. However, this conscious end product had in practise become a very narrowed down objective, which through the application of limited avant-gardism and modernist experimentation had produced little more than soulless survival, an endless, dull conformity devoid of all real desires; the outcome of what became known as The International Style; a project that above all wanted to abolish the living reality of vibrant street life in the city.
In opposition to this form of programmed survival, this excuse for living, a Unitary Urbanism was born more or less initially spear-headed by Constant Niewhenhaus, the clued-in anti-architectural architect and former painter who kind of substituting for god proclaimed the alternative master-plan to the dominant status quo of slash and burn butchery of most existing pre war living spaces. This hideous momentum was to be hi-jacked, diverted by Constant for other ends proposing instead a new urban quarter made up of a light assemblage of modern, processed design parts - anti the nuclear family and four-walled home – based on a revolutionary society underpinned by a 'new' leisure / anti work oriented anti capitalism inhabited by liberated human beings living in flexible covered-in spaces which they could adapt at will according to their own personal / communal desires. Well that was the laudatory intention though Constant a little later was to rather banefully describe this as a new urbanism, a new triumphal domination over nature, master-minded by artists, or rather "professional situationists". Starting out as "A New Babylon" of unprecedented mass creative fulfilment, this concept quickly became little more than another "ideology of urbanism", an alternative grande projet, which in turn, had to be rejected and superceded. Thus those individuals who were still hankering to be architects, writers, artists, etc by other means were necessarily thrown out of a Situationist International getting more and more hard edged. As we know Constant unhappy at this state of affairs quickly began to make uneasy compromises with sci-fi overtly technocratic urban schemes even designing model factories (after all you couldn't design their abolition) more and more withdrawing into the passé world of sketches, improvised architectural plans and paintings envisaging endless museums dedicated to what became vainglorious endeavours.
The evolution from psychogeography to a subversive reinvigorating of largely urban spaces via new technology (a la Constant) or an Imaginist Bauhaus (a la Jorn and more inclined to imaginative dwellings built by equally imaginative workers like Cheval the postman and a tendency which was altogether was far more interesting) gave way to a more on the spot recognition of what was actually out there in the here and now – a growing momentum of delinquent youth revolt in the cities tearing apart all the new décor, "a new General Ludd smashing the machines of permitted consumption" which was also pregnant with a new subversive lifestyle one which didn't fit in neatly with traditional class based ideologies.As a rider to this we must never forget that the SI in its heyday wanted to liberate the workers' innate revolutionary "instinct for construction" inseparable from their innate revolutionary instinct for destruction.
Vandals: "as beautiful as a bailiff's face"
Graffiti at Camp Constant, Dale Farm, South Essex, Autumn 2011
The Dale Farm battle between travellers and their allies versus a brutalised local state in the shape of Basildon Council was covered in the media's usually grotesque manner and resonated worldwide. The heavy mob bailiff company responsible for the subsequent evictions went under the name of Constant & Co and, in response, the allies' makeshift support abode quickly became known as Camp Constant. However there's a double attendre here something more meaningful if only coincidentally. One of Constant Niewhenhaus first significant liberatory urban gestures back in 1958 was an illustrated proposal - one that never got beyond the marquette phase - for a light structural construct to house a gypsy encampment on some land owned by local town councillor, Pinot Gallizio in Alba, Italy and one of the first members of the SI. Some of the feisty Dale Farm's allies obviously knew this obscure fact and played with it; or if you like, allowing historical fact to become an instance of "objective chance" a concept acclaimed especially by the surrealists, occasionally acknowledged by the situationists and much farther back, given serious consideration by Hegel and Classical German philosophy as a whole. Although the above photo on the right Our Home makes a devastating emotional point, the photo on the left alludes to Lautremont's constant subversive refrain "as beautiful as" ... "the tremble of an alcoholic's hand" etc, "as beautiful as" ... "the chance meeting" etc, morphing here into "Vandals: beautiful as a bailiff's face".
Beyond delinquency lay the insurrection of the masses creating the real means and reorganisation which would bring about the total transformation of all the bleak and arid spaces of the dead life capitalism imperiously and increasingly relentlessly forced upon us. Such a revolutionary transformation would be imposed through rejuvenated workers' councils taking on board a total critique of all alienations prominent among which was urbanism and everything it entails. Through these freshly created bodies a new, total praxis of the base, of the commons, was to be brought to life....In short workers' councils the like of which had never been experienced in the fairly desultory modern history of workers' councils. Post the social explosions of 1968-9 in no time a born again leftism, especially in Italy immediately tried to channel this exhilaratingly destructive phenomena and newly reinvigorated, creative council form into traditional notions of 'red bases' whether in the environs of university quarters or certain easy going working class quarters whose inhabitants hadn't as yet been decanted into high rise dwellings. It was an experiment that didn't last too long though there were some very interesting moments particularly the explosion of the marginals throughout Italy in 1977 which directly attacked such false realities (e.g. a phantom "Red Bologna") and revealing personal accounts from this time can be found on the Revolt Against Plenty web. Memories of a Metropolitan Indian, Critique of Italy 1977, Puzz in mid-1970s Italy, Italy in 1977.
A World Devoured
A long distance had therefore been traversed from the first modern urban projects maturing into grand projects in the 19th century through 20th century modernism to the necessity of a new world initially, at any rate, to be governed through democratic revolutionary councils.
The real, the first initiator of the grande projet however goes back to mid 19th century Paris and was the brainchild of the Emperor Louis Bonaparte victor of (and over) the crushed hopes of the insurrection of 1848. According to David Harvey, Bonaparte "had to deal with the capital surplus absorption problem, and this he did by announcing a vast program of investment both home and abroad" - railroads, the Suez Canal, building ports and harbours –"But above all it entailed the reconfiguration of the urban infrastructure of Paris" under the auspices of Baron Hausmann who even drew upon the utopian plans of Fourier and Saint Simon (e.g. Simon's Credit Mobilier) in order to create the grand boulevards which hopefully would stop barricades ever been erected in Paris again. He failed but not before Paris became the first centre of modern consumption and ersatz pleasure facilitated by an early form of modern tourism and the basis of Walter Banjamin's perambulations in the 1930s. By 1868 the overextended and increasingly speculative financial system and credit structure on which this was based crashed, giving way to the glorious days of the insurrectionary Paris Commune of 1871.
The next important phase vis-à-vis the channelling of the capitalist surplus came about after the Second World War though there were glimpses of what this pump-priming would be like in the depression era of the 1930s especially around London in and through a speculative mock Tudor, mini housing boom. Enter Robert Moses who "did to the whole New York metropolitan region what Haussmann had done to Paris." (David Harvey) Thus were built debt financed highways leading to the nowhere land of what became American "exurbia" characterised by emptiness and boredom, in short a "total re-engineering" on a bigger scale than ever as suburbanisation also involved a radical transformation of lifestyles, giving way to the mass consumer so beautifully pilloried by the aforementioned Chtcheglov (the lifestyle of fridges and benign, masked prostitution plus car culture based on the enormous consumption of oil) hollowing out ever more drastically the living, breathing ambience of huge cities.
Even before the advent of mass suburbia, the first limited suburban experiments were all about revolution or rather counter-revolution. The shock waves from the Paris Commune of 1871 galvanised the powers that be in London who quickly constructed new areas like Golders Green and Hampstead where the aspirational middle classes imagined they could flee the immanently threatening, insurgent multitudes. Like Fourier and Saint Simon before him, William Morris's Arts and Crafts housing was similarly quickly press ganged into repulsive service corrupted into becoming the very opposite of what Morris initially intended. Some of Morris's influence was also present in the much vaunted garden cities movement proposed by Ebenezer Howard around the same time though in practise these schemes possessed little notion of what a vibrant community life could become and in this respect fell far short of the unrepressed good times Constant in the mid 20th century desired. In no time fumbling critiques of these late 19th century forays were outlined and some even contained an apocalyptic edge. It was no accident that HG Wells, War of the Worlds begins with the wiping out of the Home Counties town of Woking something that Wells probably ardently wanted and who today still in their right mind wouldn't welcome a more passionately creative wiping-out, one though with the aim of re-awakening the very masked potential for humanity which presumably still clings on in all similar goddamed awful places? It will inevitably involve some rough stuff. During the French Revolution, Lyon home of reaction was ransacked crowned later by the famous comment "Lyon, n' existe pas." We must do the same with our own mass suburbia but with the difference that we will try spare as many lives as possible, altering them through our higher wisdom and passion imposing huge shindigs in and among their vile closes, avenues and drives ..... Shindigs – and not commodified cultural performances or variations of stadia rock - in which the peoples of the world will be welcome to attend.
In real life however things got far worse than ever Wells could have imagined. Any account of post Second World War suburbia must also be fleshed out as grim reality was far removed from its projected enlightened beginnings, especially those of Ebenezer Howard's: After the horrors of Auschwitz and the H bomb suburbia also became the base of an ever-increasing lethal mental derangement, one which was now comfortably furnished. "Anxiety and aimless neuroses is rather the mass production of standardized minds believing in every sound bite thrown at them. Beckett had understood that the disaster was behind us ..." say Riesel and Semprun. Dispositions like the above quickly became part and parcel of the maimed expression of the new urbanism, which a budding urban critic, Ian Nairn in late 1950s Britain called 'subtopia" to describe that mixture of dream and emptiness that anybody with aspirations and the willingness to work hard could buy into. The phrase caught on like wildfire, even quoted by top politicians. What Nairn had first critically summed up in excellent sentences like "where the end of Southampton looks like the beginning of Carlisle" as all regional differences that once characterised our buildings were extinguished by the invasion of an assembly-line manufactured subtopia. Alas this was as far as it was to go with Nairn who very quickly got recuperated as a more left wing John Betjeman endlessly spieling out TV programmes on buildings and urban complexes, his initially pointed critique quickly losing its edge. In his heart of hearts this decent guy must have known he'd sold out, a guy who'd been a skilled manual worker, a former aircraft engineer, ended up drinking 20 pints of beer daily, dying at the age of 52. Dishevelled and rather pathetic Nairn just couldn't make it to the concept of the derive or simply relate the emptiness of modern urbanism to the outcome of an over-developed capitalist mode of production – no longer a blind force of over accumulation – but one which had found its raison d'etre in urbanism, constantly updated and re-invigorated through add-ons like the development of exterior/interior IKEA like modules morphing as the decades elapsed equipped with wall to wall hi-tech gadgetry as foil to submissive, hip but conformist, designer lifestyles.
Although suburbia exponentially increased there were also even more significant counter tendencies heading in the opposite direction. That one-way traffic, that flight from cities to an ever-extending periphery only existed briefly as evacuated cities in the highly developed world bit by bit became the nexus of revolt. The ferment of the late 1960s followed and it really did look at the time as if the groundwork for mass revolutionary total democracy was being prepared clearly pointing to the withering away of the state, classes and money and it wouldn't be long before these elementary fundamentals of a new society would be realised. Alas it didn't happen and very quickly this possible, even immanent breathtaking breakthrough stuttered and faltered, quickly and cunningly whittled away as the worst counter revolution in history got underway as grinning, innocent faces metamorphosed into the skulls of vampires, bared fangs dripping with the blood of myriad Dracula's as the dominant grande projet of consumerism inherited from post Second World War reconstruction carried on remorselessly. Apart from there were no skulls, no Dracula's, no real blood as everything was done coldly, manipulatively, more or less saccharine and politely icy. The cities were alas re-colonised by the sons and daughters of the new suburbanites desperate to escape from the stifling atmosphere their parents had neurotically sunk into and, more importantly, often bringing with them dollops of the new found wealth of their parents - quickly accrued in new suburbia – allowing scope to eventually embrace a Saatchi & Saatchi inspired, neo-cultural, neo-liberal phase of ultimate consumerism based on the rape of the planet.
The promising uprisings of the late 1960s were quickly suppressed more through cultural means than naked police violence as rebellion was press-ganged into reasonably well-heeled bohemianism – cutting away from an increasingly marginalised and poor, clued-in alternative scene centered around minimalist working, bed-sits and squatting - becoming the base line of a new inner city gentrification, ironically deploying and realising in a distorted manner the arguments of a small is beautiful Jane Jacobs, the arch nemesis of the crassly modernist, concrete obsessed banalisation lauded by the previously acclaimed, Robert Moses. Slowly but surely in a very deadly way this involved "the post modernist penchant for encouraging the formation of market niches in urban lifestyle choices and choices of consumer habits, especially cultural ones" or .... "the cultural transformations in urban life that subsequently occurred, as naked capital masked itself in commodity fetishism, niche marketing and urban cultural consumerism, played a far from innocent part in the post '68 pacification." (Both quotes are from Harvey) Meaning these well-heeled bohemians bit by bit viciously turned on their former alternative brethren helping evict their neighbourly presence from their new parking spaces....
What has followed since in Europe / America is history as neo-liberalism encountered a great ongoing crisis with the collapse of much of its complex financial instruments especially the collateralised debt obligations (CDO's). Apart from as we know, it never took place; a slight mishap perhaps but nothing that cannot be put right as humpty dumpy proclaimed the rude health of bubble capitalism all over again. And no more so than the present urbanisation of China, where a state sponsored neo-liberalism has manufactured the largest and riskiest grande projet ever, dwarfing the post Second World War construction of mass suburbia in America and to a lesser extent Europe. However, when does the over accumulation of capital in China heir to the Chinese state's massive foreign exchange reserves become an over accumulation of investment possibly to be followed by the biggest crash ever recorded in the history of capitalism as speculative, shady sub-contracting outfits nominated through the auspices of the so-called Chinese Communist party gets completely out of hand? Already this urban project of Chinese real estate consumes up to 50% of the planet key commodities and raw materials....a rape which could end up with the extinction of both perpetrator and victim.
What we have today on a planetary scale is an obscene coming together of traditional suburbia, private malling and inner city gated communities joined together in an uneasy alliance and for the future applying as much to China, some emerging BRICS as to the West. It also necessarily involves a closed down ambient environment. There is to be no thinking outside the box of the nuclear/unclear family, even though this nice, cosy scene has for sometime been beset with catastrophic difficulties as the nuclear family is in fatal, unstoppable decline. Unfortunately so it seems are all healthier alternative tendencies whether intelligent or not so clued-in which may have lessened the pain of family implosion. Thus we have something like an almost total impasse because the rich possibilities of living differently inherent in the alternative have been destroyed by a highly capitalised housing market closing down most movement from town or village to city or even vice versa, preventing escape from crushing family influence and diktat. Indeed we cannot separate the alternative from all the great variety of squatting activities which made so many of our cities especially in the West not that long ago so rich, welcome, strange but creative. This creativity by hook or by crook must now be rediscovered all over again, though hopefully this time with the prospect of a happier future.
In the meantime a substitute for the quest of finding a genuine subversive utopia has been manufactured involving the concept of finding consumer perfection in the here and now of hideous alienation via the creation of total urban dreams involving ersatz Gulliver's Travels, Laputa-like fantasy islands floating through the ether which courtesy of a few well chosen tweaks it's possible to climb onto. From then on eternal bliss can follow.... or so the adverts say.
Ongoing Nightmare on Elm Street
Coining the term subtopia was certainly apposite in the late 1950s though post the crises of the mid noughties the term no longer measures up the more suburbia has slipped into a psychotic, fevered, obsessional mishmash, something which is hard to accurately get your head around. Today one consistent common denominator stands out: they are staffed with ex-Thatcherites, or maybe in the inner cities, ex-Blairites or rather not so ex, even taking things one step further in more brutish and incommensurate ways than even their famed horrible predecessors and role models had ever dared go. Moreover, suburbia today is far worse than its Peyton Place sleaze bag presentation of decades ago. Collectively the cloned individuals who live in this nowhere land don't any longer read newspapers apart from the local rag and even then only dwell on the property prices section towards the back of these dying tabloids, hoping, ever hoping the big property / share bubbles will be back. Added to this, they no longer watch or listen to the news except the occasional Murdoch oriented Sky News sound bite which also means they don't and can't react to thinking or argument. These hideous clowns only respond to messages and commands coursing through the atmosphere, messages with subliminal intent like the quick-fire adverts they are ultimately based on, plucking them from a new etherised cyber-space unknowingly digesting them in the process. They are therefore consistently able to keep out any external reality or information that could give them a better understanding of the world preferring endless addictive gossip occasionally gleaning an interesting story about something, which unable to place into any relevant perspective implies no disintegration of the status quo can be remotely conceptualised. They call these gossip sessions a meeting of 'friends' when by en large they are nothing but contained explosions of psychobabble with a tendency towards a "suburban touretz syndrome" a kind of stream of suburban trivialising consciousness quite unlike the levels of profundity experienced in James Joyce's Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, which marked the end of the novel. It is in fact a pastiche of genuine stream of consciousness. What maybe can be said is suburban touretz expresses something of the truth now welling up in subtopia stemming from a maimed, highly repressed subconscious, escaping, as it were, through the side of mouth, almost in absentia. Two minutes later and these suburbanites have no recollection of what they've said; they are that gone in the head!
Surviving in this dead arena means you cannot be allowed any independence or autonomy. Basically the neo-people who consume this space can't let you be, a space where you cannot even search for a possible lost self as you have to behave in the manner of the clones, reflecting the Thatcher dictum, "There's no other way." It reality it means a full stop must be placed on the search for individual identity. There must be no lifestyle experiment beyond wife swapping and pornography meaning even on a minimum level, any serious reading thinking, writing or practical experiment is strictly forbidden. Truly here ignorance is bliss but in a quasi-religious sense, underpinned by temples of consumption Orwell could hardly have imagined in his condemnation of Stalinist terror in Animal Farm. Yet this horrifically suburban crew are exercising in Annie Le Brun's phrase an "optimism-based terror from which it is difficult to escape"; a form of democratic, imperceptible censorship where it's important to maintain the loss of the ability to decide for oneself, where individuals and things are increasingly forced to remain identical to each other, a manic terrorised, mimicked happiness in submission, which is well on the way to imposing itself as an art of screwed-up living increasingly necessary for a now psychotically inclined circulation of commodities.
The mass of suburbanites cannot understand that there's anything fundamentally wrong with this society. OK there are bad things, glitches here and there but that's about it and these can always be straightened out deploying some deft usually manipulative moves via a longed for ultra right government they desperately want. They cannot relate their increasing panic and neurosis to the insupportable character of capitalist society on just about every level. They have no conceptions, no intuitive sixth sense, or simple insight that there's something terribly wrong and sadly therefore they must be bracketed with the growing army of 'end-of-the-world' people and this devil lies in the subconscious details on levels they don't know exist within themselves.
So let's look at some of these seemingly ever so boring, even trivial details but which tell us so much.....
The mass of suburbanites really does identify with all those new, pristine neo-housing estates. There's no question they dislike relatively old houses, those terraces that were built towards the end of the 19th century for essential workers or lowly artisans and half way between local vernacular and the modern movement by way of William Morris's Arts & Crafts possessing something of a charming ambience. A brand new spanking mansion with pre-cast ornamentation on hard standing now that's what's needed for managerial types, or those who aspire to be so. Moreover, everything has to be ultra modern in kitsch design. The same goes for horticulture, for predilections like hanging baskets set in gardens where all weeds and wildflowers have been eliminated, for isn't the wildlife garden an eco version of "the enemy within" – with Yorkshire miners as green as the weeds and all to be laid low by Round Up, defoliated and exterminated! There's absolutely no feeling for "the city whose air emancipates" and, for certain, these people don't want emancipation rather they yearn for all those unnecessary chains which they can then rail against frothing at the mouth.
Most people on these private suburban estates when it comes to general appraisals of the countryside and towns in general make clear distinctions between good and bad. Stately homes owned by the National Trust mean a good tick box, wild sand dunes, quarries, chalk pits, shingle beaches and broken down industry mean a bad tick box. Moreover never forget the totality of what passes for their lives revolve around computer generated tick box choices.
Yet they have some kind of sensitivities though even here squeezed into the archetypal conservative where the once revolutionary Rights of Man"(Tom Paine) or the equally revolutionary Rights of Women (Mary Wollstencraft) in Britain were subsumed into "the rights of animals" post the French revolution, which on the surface looks so humane but is in effect its opposite. Moreover there is an anti-ecological disposition to "the rights of animals" mainly centred on dog or horse grooming, for in truth these neo-people also hate nature, that nature aptly described by Gerard Manley Hopkins in a great one-liner, "Oh for the weeds and wilderness yet" because this wilderness has to be pulled-up, lawn-mowered or acaricided out of existence by chemical spray if necessary until it's acceptable to their vacant, un-seeing eyes. They typically cannot eat wild mushrooms like wood blewitt, crumble tuft, chanterelle etc, only nervously prepared to eat wild horse mushrooms, but only because they are the regular fare of super-markets. Ingrained into their very being everything for them has to be ersatz or substitute even finally to kill in the name of substitution for "our entire society has taken on the splendid project of a widespread elimination of the erotic, offering myriad substitutes for desire" (Le Brun) or maybe too they are the precursor of Rene Riesel's "sterile living organism" a trans-gene to the post human?
If there could be a law enacted against wild nature they would vote for it. They also hate the wind (many of them still having recurring nightmares of the great storm of 1987) and all the windows in their neo-houses especially bedroom windows generally remain closed – as that wind of 1987 really was an evil thing! Yet ironically most of them have a high carbon footprint; a lifestyle so irresponsible it truly anticipates the age of the great howling jovian storm that will rage endlessly around the planet when uncontrolled global warming takes over. Yet in mock humility they characterise themselves as "small people" meaning anything they could do about global warming would be so insignificant it isn't worth worrying yourself about unaware they are killing their own children or grandchildren. They are so alienated they are truly lost to themselves. Yet because of this almost total denial they are – also unbeknown to themselves – preparing their heads to take on board the necessity of not only human deaths in holocaust numbers of six million but two or three billion and to do so with equanimity whilst concentrating on the next card game or holding a quiz night in the quaint local pub with its quirky thatched roof or rather more likely, the latest designer-shite wine and dine eatery. The essential factor in this is to cultivate something like a digital TV screen inside their heads flickering through vacant eyes whereby the psychotic episode can almost be conjured up at will; to develop forms of psychotic autism towards those who would disturb their contemporary dance of death having gone much farther down the road to realisation than the beckoning "pastel psychosis" a phrase which Howard Fraser once deftly described 1970s Los Angeles.
Not too long ago – 15 or 20 years - suburbia engaged in manual tasks, a simple making of things connected with an emptying everyday life even if channelled in entrepreneurial directions. All that is now rapidly vanishing replaced with an ever-intensifying passive consumption based on sitting, looking and venueing. As a consequence of minimal activity both with the hands and the mind, a state of social Alzheimer's, an escalating near persistent vegetative state is rapidly taking over. The senses are beginning to rot on a mammoth scale, a situation pointing towards complete mental and physical impotence whereby sentences will be replaced with electronic hieroglyphics with texting giving way eventually to simple xxxx's or aaaa's or tttt's as communication in any acceptable sense becomes meaningless; a reactionary form of mass lettrism amounting finally to complete absurdity with no possible transcendence in sight; craziness without creativity.
"The pornogrification of contemporary life has often been noted, but too often the discussion takes place in moral terms. It is much more interesting and relevant to think of pornography as a particular kind of work, indeed, as a paradigmatic mode of work" Nina Power, One Dimensional Woman
Largely a form of media exaggeration, the 1960s sexual revolution – notwithstanding some genuinely liberatory aspects - has come to an end, marking that moment from the mid 1960s onwards when sex replaced religion only to morph into a grotesque raunch capitalism representing the death of sex; the moment when stripped of all ambient eroticism sex no longer biological or genuinely erotic becomes an aspect of manufacture, an item to be consumed in a world in its entirety colonised by alienation as much in leisure as in traditional waged labour.
Like Nina Power, even in texts conceived in the 1970s we've never criticised pornography in a moralistic, judgemental way especially when it is so ubiquitous. Today you cannot avoid pornography better instead to try and understand noting especially how it is escaping a previous gender – largely male based – orientation. Rather pornography points to an almost complete collapse of meaningful Eros (remembering as Debord said "sexualisation of the spectacle means loss of eros in reality"), an almost total sexual fragmentation built-in to our fabricated, inauthentic, designer urbanism inseparable from massively alienated lifestyles impinging centrally on all our ridiculous attempts at creating relationships, relationships which are crippled from the word go, no longer durable and ongoing, empty of essential referentials. Pornography is the reality of suicide capitalism invading and colonising us to the point of extinction and eviction as human beings, prelude also to the post-human.
In this programmed suburbia lives the programmed clone, this passable imitation of a Stepford husband / wife who regularly says "I love you" knowing the phrase has no meaning as real feelings are proved in everyday life over a lengthy period of time; – "the friend neither judgemental nor needy, the friend." (Rimbaud) In these free-market leisure addicted scenarios however, the word 'love' and 'love you' again has to be repeated endlessly like a mantra, perhaps a hoped for prayer which could conjure love up like a genie from a mystic's bottle if repeated often enough. But the phrase 'I love you' was / is always turning into empty incantation like asking for another cup of tea or a whisky with ice, a request endlessly on hand ready to be served up by a flunkey in special localities where everything is to be played out to the tune of a service sector economy - its lingo and behaviour- and where work and workers (often on wages below the legal minimum) are there to be dismissed at the drop of a hat so no distant ocean gaze is sullied by their presence. You have to say love knowing deep down the word has no meaning, never forgetting that when Rimbaud first wrote these profound lines about friendship quoted above.... he then added, "And the dream is growing cold."
These neo-people don't grieve any longer about a partner's death rather they grieve about the death of a time-honoured formula of how relationships should be conducted according to the fatuous models of time honoured, dead customs. In reality they are much fonder of their favourite dog than their partners. What they must confront and for the first time is the unpredictable patina, the real void of an increasingly impossible everyday life; that empty desert; that vast loss; the growing nothingness of modern relationships having been forcible ejected from traditional, suffocating patterns. Are we really supposed to relate to each other according to the endless images on TVs, images which really aren't meant to be questioned because to question the authenticity of the never-ending show amounts to heresy.
When this maimed crew do read it is as avid consumers of the bodice ripping novels of the Jackie Collins, Lynda La Plante, Joanna Coles, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Daniella Steele, Silly Cooper, Alan Titchmark etc genre which have gotten ever more bizarre and kinky as the years have rolled by. Their essential raison d'etre is little more than jived up marketable offers for the tourist trade which are obligatory taken away to foreign tourist resorts where they are mulled over by their self-reflections, the other voidists they venue with. What they then do is take this phantasm, novelistic construct more or less as the truth unable to simply categorise it as escapist trash that bears little relation to reality. Rather these fantasies - well at least for the most crazed among them - become possible scenarios demanding to be realised in everyday life; a model they, the reader, must also aspire to in order to land on the savage, free-market utopian fantasy island they yearn for so much. Now however, the bodice ripper is fading from the scene as juicer products hold out more immediate gratification. In the meantime super fast broadband has appeared and with it the moment when literary suggestion can be dispensed with for actual visual and pornographic videos and what were once mere words can now be dispensed with. Today it is visual action that matters; the action of sex with huge dicks and huge cunts; the action that could realise unfilled desires in everyday life and the possibility of that massive cock stuck in that equally massive cunt forever, especially if over 60. No growing old graciously here. The possibilities are indeed endless aren't they? The moving image imperiously demands to become reality for aging human bodies becoming permanent fuck machines, mangling and maiming facilitating endless cumming just to dull increasing pain. It is a truly Maldorean situation beginning to endlessly replicate itself especially among huge swathes of suburbia.
A 24/7 "performance principle" now means this everyday life theatre has to be acted-out to the hilt. It truly is the hard grind somewhat factory assembly line of leisure. Included in this is a kind of stage play of porn, an art into life aiming for an acted out perfection, albeit deploying the darker arts of the sexual psyche and when these neo-people aren't working hard they're on jet planes cruising to tourist holiday resorts.
Is this basically inseparable holiday addiction cum sex addiction slowly becoming one of the worst addictions of all precisely because it isn't perceived as such though attempts at a kind of permanent holidaying – a permanent leisure economy - is rapidly becoming one of the main factors in rapid global warming? Yet the nightmares simply will not go away – indeed tend to increase - and the neuroses get worse and worse. For sure all this is symptomatic of an alienation being pushed to the point of breakdown. This supposition is about a trend; an abstract occurring perhaps on a large scale amongst couples, single men, women and loose friendship groupings that are, or have been, and definitely still want to be socially mobile.
Suburbanites still fall for the ideology of the "relationship made in heaven", the archetype of early 1980s Thatcherism re Princess Di's and Prince Charles wedding cementing the equally ideological notion of the nuclear family forever as against society in general. The reality was Princess Di quickly ended up a virtual suicide and under Thatcher the nuclear family actually fell apart at an even quicker pace than previously. Moreover, hyper-sexualisation of women was kicking in and the woman-at-home doing her duty was giving away to the open-ended brothel of the woman-at-home, woman-as-careerist; woman-as-sex-shopper, the underlying rhythm of a revitalised, consumer travel life style of song, laughter, sex, sex and sex for everybody even for 70 year olds. In reality this isn't liberation but a contemporary dance of death embracing psychosis which is this underlying theme of much of this text in general.
Psychosis sublimated becomes a means of wiping out a person as a human being qua human being. Behind vacant, big blue eyes lie-in-wait murderous dispositions. Looking into these eyes – these bland, lifeless imitations of tourist swimming pools – it's obvious no intelligence functions, no seeing, no divining, no nothing – only the flicker that responds to light entertainment, reality shows or Fox / Sky TV. Once that programming is over with and perhaps a current affairs hour follows - usually even a useless current affairs programme - their eye glaze over quickly closing even though they seem to find restful sleep no easy matter. They only respond to glitzy things without substance – stargazing or celebrity in the simplest sense of the words meaning they became dumber and dumber to the point where they begin to exist almost as single cell life, or "polyps" gleaning a phrase from Sartre's description of the café owner in La Nausee.
Bouts of psychosis in order to be tolerable to their own psyche means they are developing the capacity to turn off from their own appalling brutality, a brutality meted out to somebody as if psychosis was something really quite ordinary like dropping your rubbish in next door's dustbin and therefore nothing more than a quirk of character embedded in an otherwise ordinary everyday life. Hannah Arendt in relation to Adolf Eichmann once described this syndrome as "the banality of evil." The essential difference between 1930s fascism and today's whatever it is, is so vast as to deny similarity and here we are not talking about fringe parties like the English Defence League but something far more common. There is no party politicking here as such as today's whatever it is, revolves around a consumer oriented here and now daily life-ism, which imperiously has to be embraced. It's about service on a plate in tourist hotels, a permanent holidaying presented in essential packaged bundles endlessly repeated so the drug becomes perfect. It's pro-movement, pro a form of seemingly restless 'activity' yet it is also anti-travel in the classical description of travel because it is not about finding out about how other people live or meeting them, or what their environment is like, or the nuance of a different language. It is in fact nothing more than an extension of the horticulturised suburban garden with the same bunch of oafs sitting around a table in the open air except they have been deposited somewhere on the world's continents thousands of miles away from Wisteria Avenue. Essentially this form of movement is about going to the same (though geographically different) place every time and doing exactly the same thing after jetting to the same destination with similar clones; truly as closed-down automatons they are genuflecting to the same impulses and images as others of their ilk.
We must also remember that this new form of fascism, this avante garde fascism is – in one particular – extremely different to its predecessors in that women are playing a much greater role in preliminary preparations in comparison to 1930s style classical economically statist fascism; a fascism no longer restricted to child rearing, the kitchen and prop to a maniacal husband but with women themselves commanding something of a totality where blatant raunch plays a powerful part and with such display, the promise of instance fulfilment in the most rancid of rancid hearts.
A Modest Proposal
"We are the creators of wrecks. We run hither thither making certain everything is lost" (Andre Breton)
Inevitably our lives cross every now and again with suburbanites; indeed we cannot avoid them. Moreover at times they can seduce us by way of a certain charming spontaneity, a certain emotional flowing that can be very touching; one we respond to gladly and honestly. Yet this un-doing only really happens on an individual level. It's not a mass contact and rapport and we who've written this have fallen for this seductive presentation only to massively suffer from such artless gullibility much later. Yet even in tragic circumstances this can be turned around, transformed into the point of enter whereby we can begin to disorient the very mores of this appalling exurbia beast on a general level.
At all costs these people locked into suburban mores need to be neutralised, made useless as any durable force for reaction. To be realistic most cannot be won to the social revolution; most are too late (age and what have you) for a critique of alienation to get anywhere in the fullness in which the concept needs to be grasped having spent most of their lives performing and genuflecting to the false needs of mass consumerism. Minimally something can seep in but that's all. Maybe too, some of their off-spring could grasp essentials but only after putting their parents into utter disarray and it seems you can only do this by stopping them in the spirit of the Motherfuckers "fight foul life is real", traumatising and undermining them where it really hurts and...... only then, utterly disoriented will the dominant images, which compulsively they are always genuflecting to begin to lose control over their sensory met tags binding them to the ultra-commodified lifestyle they desperately cling to.
Today the emphasis in suburbia on pristine appearances covers up the reality of fake existence teetering on the brink of economic and emotional bankruptcy. Conning each other and themselves at one and the same time, the inhabitants of suburbia still look the part, still look as though they've got money to burn when the reality is they are worrying over their last pennies hearing instead the sound of a hollow tin box bank account. Historically, the prospect of mass pauperisation of the petite bourgeoisie is a dangerous moment one that foretells something extremely ugly indeed. That prospect is again looming though we will most likely need the grim reality of a huge failed revolutionary uprising for it to become an omnipotent force.
That skin deep analysis that pinpoints contemporary movements like the American proto-fascist Tea Party as made up of obviously conned people (i.e. mugs) acting unbeknown to themselves at the hidden behest of big business, the stock exchange and banks maybe true enough but let's be realistically hard-edged here. Though this Astroturf campaign (as opposed to a genuine grass roots movement) is chaotic, even supremely illogical it is also very dangerous and must be crushed in one way or another. If not dramatically challenged and attacked it will not peter out of its own accord and nicey nice appeals based on logic and fine ideals, as we've previously indicated, are useless. These neo-people cannot hear. Heavier tactics are required cutting through to the heart of the beast. We know from history that poor but friendly communities like in late 1920s Germany often split between those opting for ultra left organisations like the AAUD-E (General Union of German Workers - Unitary Organisation) and those who became fascised brownshirts. In a way we've got and try work out what are these subtle differences causing individuals / families to tip one way or the other? What indeed. We require sensitivity plus aggression against them at one and the same time.
Today in the highly developed countries it's not political, programmatic explanations that create such splits but responses versus non-responses to background noise and the hidden persuaders' gone apeshit. For some, the majority, a change in lifestyle must never be contemplated; the immanent loss of leisure opportunities and the great tourist escape through a permanent realisation of the advertisers dream must go on forever. Others among them, a minority fortunately are beginning to look for more genuine encounters. The backdrop reality of the majority is that of potential neo-brownshirt or rather the couple on a sun-bathed beach sporting shorts and bikinis, happy, happy, happy or at least donning that rictus smile necessary for the endlessly boring holiday video. In England geographically this dire ambience is rooted in the warped mentality of Home Counties suburbia with many people in this neck of the woods viewing themselves as the elect (formerly God's chosen people) as indeed they have every reason to see themselves as the state's political parties regard them as their number one constituency which must be kept on board. Nay, it's more than that; every party is scared of them which nonetheless when in power doesn't deter them from further raids on that empty tin drum box account. Our relentless task is to derail this runaway four-wheel drive crew.
Moreover, we must never forget we are also dealing with neo-people here and they always fuck things up. They are, as is well known, notoriously unreliable and unstable and they "lackey the varying tide" as if the sea was running out of fashion and fascism slips into straight-laced, neo-liberal nuanced social democracy and back again. Or so it seems but be afraid be very afraid. These excuses for humanity are beginning to experiment with the post human future but as yet they're not succeeding still thankfully human all too human. But, these types of projected neo-people will try and try again and we must make sure they never get back on their feet ever again.
At the very least these neo-people must go through immense personal crises most likely experiencing a profound breakdown that shatters all their referentials whereby they will hopefully re-find that natural intelligence they've massively lost. On a broader level and with a sufficiently similar praxis this is also the process we must try to encourage and ferment throughout the length and breadth of suburbia. Somehow these people at the very least must learn how to read again, they must learn to become 'children' again reacquainting themselves with a basic abacus in order to clear their heads of all received electronic images thus hopefully preparing the ground whereby they just might begin to find genuine thought and feelings before it is too late. For us the problem becomes what cataclysm can we instigate to bring about a change of lifestyle? Fuck 'em in. Fuck 'em out....until they completely change their ways.
But how do we, so few in number, shatter this psychosis – what shock tactics can we deploy creating in the subsequent maelstrom that systematic derangement of their senses where real creativity can take off. First though there are layers upon layers of alienation to tear off before any simple logic or thought can even begin to exist. For these people 2 plus 2 no longer makes 4. Goethe suggested mankind had to be devastated in order to be re-born – the dialectical essence as it were. By this he didn't mean these people be killed off, shot to bits, nuked out of existence etc though perhaps the more contemporary breakdown / breakthrough syndrome noted by anti-psychiatrist RD Laing is getting closer to this notion of movement we so desire today and which also is fast becoming a necessity if human kind is to have any viable future. Goethe the great intuitive dialectician and the poetic equivalent of Hegel – said, "Man" (meaning human-kind regardless of gender) "must be ruined" in order (we suggest) to be re-created afresh so finally the former ruined become capable of cultivating a new revolutionary society's green shoots. Indeed, the one ruin the neo-psychogeographers haven't written about.
For starters with suburban sociopaths the only way to deal with them is to up the anti by throwing their psychosis right back into their faces in ways they find devastating. In any case they are so stuffed full of hypocrisy its easy to find their Achilles Heels usually around family, sex, property, holidaying, the fucking souped-up car and above all, their fundamental and very blatant hypocrisy which is easy to expose - so they in turn become maimed obsessives never able to get the assault they initially provoked off their mind, wondering around in a daze, bewildered as if they are actors in a movie – it all seems so unreal - with a pain locked inside which they find incapacitating.
What we need is no longer the blood-curdling Nechaeyev-like Catechism of a Revolutionary calling for the knife, the rope and murder but something like a Cataclysm of a Revolutionary – a clever psychological war, a guerrilla of the mind/body location - a 'soft bomb' dropped among these neo-people, a psy-war strategy of decoys, personas, trails, dummies in and among real enlightened intent, one which explodes internally in their soma so deeply they cannot dislodge its 'alien' presence.
Remember too, suburbia is very gullible to suggestion and we can invent armies out of nothing, as these people believe in the veracity of the advertisement, which we deploy against their addled perceptions. We must snowflake their teapots deploying Lictenberg's "knife without a blade and with its handle missing"; in short fighting absurdity through our more lethal absurdity that must find some rational objective in and through the cataclysm we are creating. Perhaps at this point too it is worth remembering Salvador Dali's concept of "paranoiac critical activity" as a form of praxis that could effectively be developed in original directions alongside more traditional concepts of praxis.
By enlarge, you cannot as yet argue reasonably with suburban clones; rational explanation is of no consequence in this moment of extreme social retrogression simply because they are presently incapable of much beyond an infinitesimal amount of understanding when in any practical, face-to-face encounter. You have to shock them into recognition by getting inside their heads through something like an implant they cannot for the life of them remove; the implant then morphing into a trauma forever impeding the skewed way they look at the world; to find a way into their interiors, into the way they tick, diving into their very beings where there isn't even a chink of light, never mind sign of welcome daybreak. More than 80 years ago, a surrealist flyer exhorted, "You who do not see think of those who see!" Put so neatly that is how we sow subversion among the massed suburban ranks of "the polyps" and which keeps resonating rather like De Sade's comment: "I should like....to find a crime with perpetual repercussions, which would continue even after I had ceased to act, so there would not be a single instant of my life, not even when I was asleep, when I would not be causing some sort of disorder, a disorder so extensive as to involve a general corrupting detournement, or so absolute a disturbance that its effect would be prolonged even when my life had ceased."
Exit becomes imperative but how?
Put like this in such a stark, ugly way, recognising that enclosure is taking place on every emotional, mental and physical level imaginable we are among a growing dishevelled army of the disenchanted seeking a relief so urgent some kind of an escape becomes necessary, escape, escape, escape but where? Escape into the badlands; an a priori and in this we are like many another, though whether we find the door marked "EXIT" is quite another matter. No wonder that a form of mass neo-psychogeography, a form of mass alternative tourism has taken off. We cannot though identify with them, their literary approach, their general conduct, their passivity and the old phrase "we are necessarily on the same path as our enemies" comes to mind as we have no interest in any kind of aesthetic cum monetary valorisation but seek out angry practical subversion even at this late date.
The emerging new Commons of urban and industrial dereliction are changing the perception of our times; a moment of the transvaluation of values as a world is turned upside down: ugliness becomes beauty and beauty ugliness as shadowed in Lautreamont's "the tremour of an alcoholics hand", "the road as exciting as a woman's cunt" intersecting today with a nether world of utter loss; the moment of the degree zero of personal relationships, the moment of the loss of all meaningful sexuality when Minerva's owl morphs into an ambient Eros connecting with lost, empty, devastated places now suddenly offering a promise, foretelling perhaps the beginnings of total transformation. Eros reborn in an abandoned environment; the down and dirty becoming life enhancing suggesting a richer seam of life, a way of future living; a possible bedrock and the goal of love, now that all other forms of emotional togetherness have become emptied of meaning The beginning of such identification slowly but surely experienced as a way out, perhaps point to an exit from the reified modern consumer oriented human species en route to extinguishing the concept of human being-ness on the cusp of embracing robotisation via a baneful genetic engineering getting ever more advanced and alienating. Empty, semi-decommodified spaces suggesting a way out.
At this point we can ask ourselves why the exploratory, innovating theories of Gunther Anders haven't been published in English. Anders ground breaking works of the 1940s-50s, The Outdatedness of Human Beings and The World as Phantom and Matrix revolve around a record of his maturing thoughts when from the early 1940s onwards he had begun to outline his theory of the image based on the observation that though the image had always been part of the history of human civilization, the world had now become an image. Anders divined this with such clarity because after fleeing to America victim of Nazi persecution he found work for many years as a cleaner in the prop rooms of Hollywood – the manufacturing centre of dream images - unable like his fellow compatriots from the Frankfurt School of Marxists of pragmatically securing an academic position in a university. At the sharp end of survival his insights acquired that razor edge brilliance because his everyday life was so very, very real. He was also there to be took, big time!
Inevitably because he was a worker with no professional profile he was typically treated with a certain disdain by the more cushioned paid-up intellectuals who casually ripped-off his theories without acknowledgement. Surprisingly even people like Herbert Marcuse got in on the act plus the up and coming Vance Packard's of American sociology, and even back in Europe, Jean Paul Sartre took some of his central concepts as his own. This rubbishing plus recuperation – even after his death - hasn't stopped and recently a professor from the University of Vienna disdainfully referred to Anders "ludicrous job" – as if a professor's job isn't more ludicrous! Upset by this relentless underhand treatment, Anders replied as best as he could and in the case of Herbert Marcuse proudly breaking-off friendship. All we can say is how well we know this underhand behaviour and how it hurts! There is though a strange twist to this tale. Marcuse's stepson Harold in the late 1960s became part of the New York Motherfuckers only to fall back a little later into a tepid conformity making sure the words of his academic stepfather would never be forgotten and by the by through the auspices of another of Marcuse's relatives, facilitated a shake hands between his dad and the relatively unknown Anders. Later in retirement Gunther Anders finally did become a penniless honourary prof in his native Germany where even in 1973 he wrote excellent things like the Pastness of Love, the title saying it all, meaning, it seems, love has today been destroyed through intense commodification.
Anders survived as a marginal unskilled worker his hands on the sweeping brush with his brain in the land of genius, the one activity perfectly complimenting the other; a functioning and enlightening extreme dichotomy which is part of the dilemma experienced by that growing mass of misfits we have with us in the world today, that merry band of brothers and sisters without any profile whatsoever, the people we belong to. However, the future for us if things go terribly wrong will not be a pretty sight and the misfit on a vast level could easily become a mass of obsolescent human beings destined for the final concentration / extermination camps, unintended victims of automation put to death under the slogan not of Arbiet Macht Frei (Work is Freedom) but something equally sinister though more in harmony with our age, slogans such as, There Is No Work, or, Surplus to Requirements. A premonition that this could be our future must make no difference, must not force us to give up our quest. Thus we intentionally re-orient in an anti-future way, something like, "the cry of the mind turning back on itself" though more consciously trying to re-find and embrace something of the lost reality of the pre-consumer human being, trying as best as we can to find some equality and harmony with an increasingly misfit nature or as Mabey preferred, an "unofficial nature" which we can perhaps build upon, accompanied by a communising and a levelling of all species beginning on a subconscious level to respect each others species being but with the best of genuine science at our command. However this is just a vague goal for it's also a path fraught with difficulties.....
Such a sea change perhaps mirrors the change the romantic perception brought about well over two centuries ago, that love of wild, untamed nature, the splendour of mountain ranges previously regarded as desolate, ugly and monstrous – those vistas where the terrible dragons of ancient lore lived. Places to be avoided that within the short time of 50 years or more became localities to be embraced post Rousseau and Wordsworth. Nay more than that, even worse, venues to be colonised by the nouveau riche, regions like the Lake District in Britain and, more spectacularly, Switzerland. It was no accident that the latter country then became the financial capital of Europe, as such colonisation is an early example of recuperation (assimilation into the status quo) post the fully-fledged bourgeois revolution inaugurated by the revolution of 1789 in France. Initially individuals like Wordsworth embraced the Lake District because it was something like a moneyless society based on barter; a form of hard working, human community untainted by growing commodification but as he got older, Wordsworth became fearful the great unwashed, the Lancashire factory workers, would drown its fairyland-like, surreal vistas into a fairground banality when, in reality it would be the industrial capitalists, the Manchester cotton owners etc who would make crude attempts to alter the semblance of the Lake District's enticing primitive character (c/f Unorthodox Nature Notes on the Dialectical Butterflies / RAP web).
Even so in the late 18th century the mountain escaped even romantic definitions of beauty a la Rousseau's restorative, wondrous calm becoming also the place of wild, untrammeled drives, a place of no morality, especially sexual morality, expressed through the precipice and lonely heights on which stood the Chateau de Silling of De Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, or John Wilkes (of "Wilkes and Liberty" and the 1780 Gordon Riots in London) and his libertines Hell Fire Club, cobbled together from the stone hovels of the ancient tribe of Brigantes on the top of Ingleborough Mountain in Yorkshire or, much later the forbidding desolate retreat of Dracula's Castle.
During the 1980s Annie Le Brun wrote the best quasi-academic book on De Sade making fascinating comparisons between de Sade & Rimbaud, De Sade & Nietzsche, De Sade & Machiavelli and perhaps most interestingly De Sade & Jean Jacques Rousseau. She makes the excellent point that for De Sade, nature is something convulsive; an active primal amoral force that also expresses itself through powerful drives in human beings, which freed from constraint is an uncontrollable, libidinal force "an enigma reabsorbed into the enigma of universal change" capable of making the human species become something else entirely; nature as cataclysm, violent abysses / precipices / volcanoes / whirlwinds, and stark lightning flashes. De Sade in his endless prisons reworked lines over ten year periods, lines that re-appeared time and again acquiring ever-greater cutting edge; a slow, tortured process. Thus in the final version of The Misfortune of Virtue of 1797 and nine years after the French Revolution, Justin's body is convulsed with "The lightning having entered through the mouth, had emerged through the cunt". It is this violently evolving nature that seems to have influenced so much of the surrealists' concept of life in its entirety expressed in slogans like "Beauty must be convulsive or not be at all".
Today this convulsive beauty has disappeared, asphyxiated by simulacra and spectacular capitalism. The content and main argument running through Annie Le Brun's The Reality Overload written just after the Millennium is centrally about the death of love wrapped around the failure of Eros and the imagination knowing full well this is one of the most frightening facts about our contemporary situation that will have unimaginable consequences. If Eros and individual revolt cannot be restored to their full sovereignty, then all our efforts to solve the problems facing us are doomed to failure, the "disappearance of dream is one of the greatest deficiencies of the end of the millennium – and to my eyes falls just short of the catastrophic."
Ever since the early 1970s Annie Le Brun has tried to wrestle with the shape of pornography, chopping and changing, even highly ambivalent – from celebration to dissidence – resonating significant changes over the years though in pre-Internet days she tended not to separate pornography from the erotic. With the advent of cyberspace Annie begins to take on a distinctly wan view emphasising a growing detachment within S/M demonstrating fear of the body – a fear also affecting all other sexual forms - noting how S/M has become a form of contemporary anodyne therapy perfectly at ease with other forms of acceptable therapy; in short, like everything else press-ganged into an ultra-commodified form, benign and non-passionate. Now more than ever she wants a passion-based existence.
We have sadly arrived at a situation where feminism has become as void and imprecise a term as socialism, both having lost all meaning and veracity. "Many of the conflicts between the women's liberation movement and the sexual revolution and within the women's movement itself were left unresolved thirty years ago......what had been clear and beautiful was now messy and contentious" so says Ariel Levy in Female Chauvinist Pigs. The buzz words of 'empowerment' and 'strong women' dressed in soft-porn style have become nothing more than a lucrative fantasy around acquisition as "the ultimate ad of independence", something that is unapologetically selfish with sex thrown in as just another commodity, with one person as the conqueror and the other at the receiving end, wiped-out. Feminism, especially as experienced through what was once characterised as the cadre or managerial strata has fucked up so completely that it has finally resulted in putting together a bizarre ganglion of craziness that once was woman in tandem with the craziness that once was man. It means that someone like Christine Hefner (daughter of Playboy boss Hugh Hefner) can say that women now have an "attitude about sex and sexiness that is more in line with where guys were a couple of generations before" or, if you want to change society "change society so that woman can do whatever men do" (quoted by Ariel Levy). What we have now in this nowhere land of intensified alienation is so often an unpredictable, ultra-consumer inter-being neither one thing nor another but which it is impossible to relate to or as Annie Le Brun puts it, "representatives of the third, fourth, and fifth sex". In contradistinction to Shulamith Firestone's liberatory beatific-like androgony, the male-woman trajectory as first given a despairing presence in Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs based on the regressive male stereotype of two generations ago is definitely not the way to realise the possibility of a transcendent, post gender human being.
Dereliction,Desolation Row, Renewal?
In response to nowhere land, it's as though a real nowhere land has come in search of us. Our total colonisation by an ultra commodified economy of which alienated sex is only the most obvious has meant real desire has had to go elsewhere in search of fulfilment in desperate flight from this intolerable nexus – to find even some immediate relief, some response elsewhere seeing that alternative lifestyle spaces, places where money didn't hold absolute sway have been vanquished. It's as though we've been ineluctably drawn towards faceless, seemingly desolate vacant lots to slowly find some surprises there, so much so that creating an ambient morphing environment has become part of a revolutionary project, one that can only really come alive in a genuine uprising only pre-existing today in the strange delights abandoned landscapes of industrial dereliction can inspire.
All these neo-people whether "male-woman" or "woman-male" locked into the society of spectacular consumption now collapsing all about cannot see the potential for wonder and drift in these abandoned areas, these edgelands near to where they live – though they don't try very hard as too arrogant for that – for if they had, perhaps slowly they might have acquired the humility to seek out maybe an essential environmental ambient Eros that surely will help in the re-birth of love melding one day we hope with a spontaneous peoples' uprising. Having no sense of such palpable possibilities a lifetime of lifeless pornography is all that's sexually possible and pointing out the dogging lay-bys on motorways is far more exciting isn't it? Dialectical interlinks with the neo-people of suburbia are subconsciously verboten and Orwell's withering comments on suburbia in Coming up for Air are still apposite. For sure this latter-day novel was the first perhaps to sustain anything like a coherent attack on suburbia way back in the mid 1940s when it was just to say taking off on a mass scale especially remembering that caustic line that seemed to sum it all up, "the dialectic within the dialectic doesn't cut much ice here."
These 'new' found still desolate spaces mirror in some ways Jean Jacques Rousseau's rapture when discovering a natural paradise in the The New Heloise. "Imagine...how pleasant it is to perceive oneself in nothing but objects that are utterly new: strange birds, unusual, unknown plants; to observe a kind of other Nature, to find oneself in a new world...this spectacle has something magical and supernatural about it, which delights the mind and senses; one forgets everything, one even forgets oneself, one no longer knows where one is." Then add to this the following historical period - the industrial revolution - followed 200 hundred years later by decay as we witnessed in 2007 on the abandoned Occidental site, Canvey Island in the Essex Thames reaches... "The Occidental site in Canvey was like an artless sculpture park rich in strange forms and like dead trees, animals and plants left to rot down. A change, a rust change, a metamorphous of rust and decay, an encrypted landscape of dereliction, of concrete hieroglyphs whose original purpose escapes us like after a riot. Three curved streetlights spring from a hedgerow, there is no road just a grassed over area in the middle of which is growing a tree-size shrub of sea broom. Up the new road with the streetlights seeming to illumine nature rather than a busy road, there is a modern cemetery. Incongruity is the essence of this site. The concrete bridges across the dyke like metal railings rusting away, others twisted and mangled like in a war zone, virtual shells exposed industrial installations for it is an industrially devastated landscape, the aftermath of a war 40 years later and now returned to nature and for nature. This is the landscape of a non-destructive war, a necessarily peaceful war in which destruction is left to find its own way". (From Unorthodox Nature Notes on the RAP web)
This beauty that is initially passively contemplated here - and rightly to be criticised on that score - is also the start of a healing process yet a process which almost ineluctably seems to demand more activity, more conscious evolution, more reinvented human beings, more enrichment with the injection of other dimensions. Perhaps a morphing Eros sympathetically encountering an anti-Oedipus "polymorphous perversity" of undifferentiated libidinal impulses with sexual connotations encountering erotically charged objects and subjects as the "oceanic feelings" ebb and flow combined with the transformation and rediscovery of, according to Rimbaud, a love "reinvented afresh" as the capitalist mode of production here lying wrecked and abandoned suggests also its disappearance on a much wider terrain ending up invading the hub of enterprise and business gone insane.
All the former enticing spaces - with few exceptions - utilised by classical psychogeography as imaginative but serious playgrounds have been torn apart by the 'new' advancing neo- liberal urbanism, uprooted by a technocratic post-modernism which recuperated (neutered) all aspects of rebellion replicating subversion through surface appearances. All life has been almost drained away as young men and women have became decrepit overnight. It is an existence without hope with all space truly occupied by the enemy as all nooks and crannies giving marginal sustenance have been increasingly weeded out and obliterated. No longer is there a neighbourhood, a community meaning any latter-day derive or any psychogeography on the simplest of levels can be nothing more than a fatuous endeavour. Ambience has became the disappearing shadow of a really lived past going, going, gone, something to be mentioned in a real estate pitch upping property prices. The higgledy-piggledy has gone along with unofficial nature replaced by dead estates mixed in with huge swathes of new, windowless warehousing surrounded with dead horticulture, a pastiche of nature. We have lost everything; everything is anti eco promoted as its exact opposite. Greenwash triumphal. Everything is 'sustainable' when nothing is sustainable. 90% of lowland wilderness has been destroyed since the end of World War Two together with the destruction of over 50% of the hedgerows giving way not to a renewed unenclosed Commons but giant private ranches run by technocrats on the brink of taking over entire counties.
The situationists had ignored eco critique right up to the last minute, only to take on board at the moment of collapse quickly noting all the palpable contradictions in greenwash makeover, (e.g. Debord's A Sick Planet) It was also an indeterminate moment – whither capital goest - an end or a beginning; if a beginning, one to blend in with the growing momentum of de-industrialisation with its galvanic effects on the surrounding landscape. Huge areas of land were pulled out of new neo-liberal time and space, areas of mostly polluted land, a land that time forgot, free to evolve in their own way. Areas devoid of most human life and activity quickly colonised by a rampant, careless nature as these areas contradictorily acquired the formal status of land banks or, possible land banks primed for future development, though also areas to be eyed up by misfits as future venues.
In the meantime they stand empty beckoning those of us wanting momentary relief from ever-intensifying commodification. This blasted heath has become a place of release, a place where your body can to some degree be freed from the psychosomatic pains of intensifying alienation, an unimaginable alienation far worse than ever outlined in the best critiques of the late 1960s; localities of potential fulfilment even though largely bereft of human life though as stranger to stranger, once you do meet up here, it usually really sparks. An encounter. Memorable.
These are potentially free spaces left to evolve in their own complex and profound way, transforming themselves without hindrance or help of even a benevolent human hand; places also – and most importantly – of an often remarkably intensifying biodiversity. Unofficial nature set free from Mabey's narrowness initially prized open by a once combative Buglife meant the UK's freshly designated down and dirty rainforests have overlapped with a post artistic Kantian unmediated nature, places also pointing towards relative de-commodification, places with an immediate added feel good factor.
But the beginnings of this general recognition no matter how poorly put together in the perspective of a totality - which it hints at - has meant these areas here and there have begun to acquire forms of semi-official status as half way nature reserves, SEGIs and SSSIs or for the future even perhaps National Trust enclaves. We have to break with such antediluvian perspectives, as they don't allow for the creative intervention of the new commons. From its inception a century and a half ago the nature reserve was a recognition that capitalism was out to destroy the planet without specifically saying so out loud giving space for much manipulative, devious manoeuvring. The Scottish-American John Muir was fundamental to this process in the Sierra Nevada of the 1850s which later, via subsequent federal legislation, became the Yosemite National Park though the area had been given federal state protection as long ago as the 1820s. The great age of planetary exploration moreover was drawing to a close as an innovative form of internal exploration was beginning to kick-in. Muir with Burn's poems and Milton's Paradise Lost in his satchel walked from Indianapolis to the jungles of South America hardly speaking to anybody. Muir, a latter day pantheist, came to regard human beings as no more important than insects – and in this respect had something in common with Gunther Anders - though it was up to human beings to do something about these inequalities. Muir had been a skilled factory worker and later running a sawmill he built his cabin of a home with the millstream running through it. Later, under his guidance Muir managed to get sympathetic Senators on his side, indeed all the way up to President Teddy Roosevelt himself. As a result the future national park – along with all subsequent parks elsewhere throughout the world – have become vectors of state control, reservations policed by rangers whose main job is to prevent urban development and capitalisation though in the process stopping more radical intervention.
A parking lot for nature implies real, unbounded nature can only be saved at the margins thus avoiding the central dilemma – how to forge practically a new relationship with nature in our own everyday lives - a new communality and not a colonisation - a new eco building among new people with a new vision, one having superceded the past age of architects, technocrats, builders, town and country planners etc. We don't want our collective interventions on the cusp of the direst of times for the planet's future to be taken over by the limited concepts of any officialdom even though skilled trades and hi-tech democratically opened up will be essential to this process. These areas must remain open spaces for contribution and free form occupation of abandoned industrial buildings and what have you where fuck-ups can happen too – but fuck ups, which can easily be put right. A space of total democracy set against any and every bureaucracy. An updated critique of nature and its reservations has now become essential replacing a recuperative half concept with a general mass wilding in whatever forms it may take. The mass of people must become central to a vision still set aside in loneliness.
The Monstrous Bastards: 2012