DID THE FOLLOWING POLEMICAL TRACT EVER EXIST???
The following (useful or useless) tract comprising a tooing and froing of two “I’s” becoming arbitrarily enmeshed was haphazardly put together roughly starting around 2008, petering out around 2012-3. These bits & pieces – more accurately classic drifts – were used in other now forgotten tracts as Wayward Thoughts got lost in various folders possibly because of nervousness in releasing its full-on content inspired by reflections on the writings of the latter day Surrealist, Annie Le Brun regarding the rebellion of modern art in its heyday from the last decades of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th century. In short a tract, reflecting on a historical momentum often brilliantly fumbling towards the glorious widening perspectives of total social revolution - hardly PC in inclination - embracing sensual hope and liberation in all its complexities. The backdrop was broadly the world-wide Occupy movements beginning (perhaps?) with the radical student actions in the UK in 2010, followed by the Arab Spring and Occupy in America, through to Los Indignados in Spain and elsewhere. Events indeed were beginning to look just-to-say promising.
Alas what was to follow throughout the world since has been more or less horrendous: this brief glimpse of hope within a nonetheless gloomy landscape to be followed by seemingly ever darkening suffocating night as reasonably theoretically clued-in direct activism gave away in no time to renewed leftist party-isms and paralysis from Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain to Corbynism in the UK to name merely a few of the more prominent examples. ALAS, IF IT WAS ONLY THAT! Worse, the true subversive thought of history got lost in trivia as everyday life became more and more an insufferable straitjacket of moralist mores of identity politics devoid of potentially life-enhancing in-depth critique and direct action. A background of general depression has deepened inexorably with literally every single individual afraid to reach out towards another human being as psychosis increases daily with garrulous passivity occupying an existence absent of life. And there we remain and fall situated in the middle of nowhere in a hostile environment….. All this is the backdrop of Montreal’s post situ-oriented Le Conspiracion Depressioniste (The Depression Conspiracy) just prior to this counter revolution within the counter revolution; a depression instigated as a means of initiating permanent resignation among the masses.
Crowning it all everything – meaning literally everything – has retreated into visual mis-representation with price tags endlessly attached. It’s a depression impinging on our sight every waking second as distraction intensifies whether via Iphone/5G or via the leftovers of an increasingly superseded TV audience. Overarching everything aesthetics has became the Command Prompt and the be all and end all as action morphs everywhere into an extension of loathsome performance art, immersive cinema the banal democratisation of toxic celebrity. Recently Extinction Rebellion has partially made its entrance as endless street theatre alongside occasional worthwhile, though not very inventive interventions thrown in for good measure.
Worse too is the utter mind numbing shock of it all –these weapons of mass distraction - as if everybody was/is suffering PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Details /incidences are shut-out even forgotten and did we even write this stuff??? Not so sure (are we sure?) that Annie Le Brun even exists! With us our PTSD tipping point was the hideous realisation that the Nature Bureaucracy was more-or-less on the side of the destruction of Planet Earth plus the horrid realisation that almost no-one believed us as site after site of nature-rich “landscapes of contempt” we were involved with were/are destroyed without murmur of protest. Indeed completely hidden from view. IN FACT THEY NEVER EXISTED as XR keeps telling us and all you can do is shake your head endlessly at their mind-boggling stupidity regarding subversive history and hideously laugh, laugh and laugh again!!!!
But wait! Let’s not get too gloomy. Thankfully – and recently – there is a growing convulsive, raw backdrop to all this seemingly visually reinforced disorientation cum passivity usually accompanied by orchestrated publicity. Sudden violent outbursts - fairly confused but liberatory and socially oriented - are springing-up across the globe with most pointing towards some kind of truly emancipatory future coherence. All are leaderless. Many are about raw bread and butter needs and all the better for that as class rears its head again. It’s a journey as yet inevitably ill-informed as you can’t throw of the nexus of the previous dumb and dumberdom decades just like that even though we do have reason to hope that real subversive history will be rediscovered and then ESSENTIALLY added-to with far greater coherence. Admittedly it’s a tall order though we cannot over-emphasize enough how late in the day such a practical breakthrough is. No need to mention examples here as any cursory glance today at so-called social media or MSM (mainstream media) is aware of the phenomena. WHAT IT MEANS FOR US, the subject of history is what’s important. Is it time again to attack all the dreary latter-day replicas of politicians and statist organisations of all hues including the trade unions, economists, bankers and hedge funders of the neo-liberal agenda and all their plethora of hangers-on from artists, musicians, architects, official ecos, psychiatrists, journalists, scientists with no perspective, academics, etc, etc. Can we hope that that this trajectory is on the distant horizon???
Above: The impoverished reality of virtual reality
Above: True words of wisdom from Zadista John Jordan
Wayward Notes on Feminism: A little bit of backwardness
We will begin with Rimbaud's famous letter of May 15th 1871, to Paul Demeny:
"When the infinite servitude of woman is broken, when she lives for and by herself because man – hitherto abominable – has given woman her release, she, too will be a poet! Woman will discover the unknown! Is her world of ideas different from our own? She will find strange unfathomable, repellent, delicious things; we will take them, we will understand them."
Annie Le Brun seems to be much struck by this letter because she quotes the same passage in at least two of her books: De Sade, The Sudden Abyss, written in 1986 and the The Reality Overload, written in 2000. In the earlier book Le Brun suggests Rimbaud – along with other deservedly renowned males with one foot in literature the other outside it - disliked women. Though she does not explicitly say so, Annie intimates there were real reasons for this and that simplistic accusations of sexism wont do and in fact merely reinforce the multiple alienations women, then as now, have been unable to throw off and which hobbles them from coming into their own as a world historical force. Le Brun then goes on to make the wholly overlooked point: "Again, one cannot help wondering why Rimbaud and De Sade – both despising women trapped in feminine roles, if not women altogether – have both given female forms to their images of freedom? One thinks too of Jarry, announcing without preamble that "We don't like women at all, but if we ever loved one, we would want her to be our equal, which is no minor thing!" Yet the most liberated character Jarry ever created is young Ellen in the Supermale."
However 14 years later, quoting the same passage in The Reality Overload, she gives it an edifying twist which perhaps reflects the profound change feminism underwent in these unspeakable years of 'risk free' credit and financial desublimation/destabilisation, those "strange, unfathomable, repellent, delicious things" drummed into the service of a runaway commoditised sexual overload in which women having become the prime targets of advertised liberation, are also the pawns as well as the progenitors, neither sex being able to escape the deadly embrace of this alienated uni-hypersexualisation. "Alas, nothing strange, unfathomable, delicious, or even repellent has resulted from this brisk unveiling. It has only provided a kind of sexual version of the standard banal novelistic impoverishment, but its intensive reproduction – to each his truism – seems beyond anyone's capability to stop.....Paradoxically, this is the consequence of a reality overload of fluids, stickiness, tumescence, swellings and discharges that cover with one glutinous layer the most dismal unisex eroticism.
And even while language watered down top infantile levels coexists with a rhetorical vulgarity taken to scatological extremes – yet another example of the rationality of inconsistency – this unisex eroticism still displays both hedonistic and Miserabililist colours. These hues manifest in both the ritzy neighborhoods and the slums, and this eroticism nonetheless always obeys the same sex-realism that nobody seems to consider abandoning."
Le Brun also tellingly notes that in addition to underwriting a spurious sexual liberation in which all (in fact nothing of consequence) is permitted, Rimbaud at the same moment had also been conscripted into military service, serving time in the French army in the province of Kosovo during the early 1990's war against Serbia and Milosevic: "It was no surprise that none of them mentioned the names Baudelaire and Rimbaud, which had been given at the beginning of the summer of 1999 to two French army units sent to help restore order in the region. It is as if the cultural box closes once the political box is opened, and vice versa". Such facts seem scarcely credible and more incommensurate than contradictory, the latter implying a clash of opposites and not something that has flown off on an impossible tangent lacking any parity: as Rimbaud wrote in one of the Illuminations called Democracy -"we shall massacre all logical revolts".
Though these observations by Le Brun above are unquestionably pretty bloody good, they do lack certain directness as though Annie cannot bring herself to speak too bluntly and really ram her points home. For anyone with the slightest knowledge of the only history that matters that of the workers' movement- the date of Rimbaud's letter to Paul Demeny instantly resounds, 1871 being the date of the Paris Commune. Yet Annie says nothing on this score and can Rimbaud's great comment – he also condemns men (in terms that equal the most shouty feminist) as well as women in this passage – be separated from one of the most profound peoples' uprisings in history, the Grisettes of Belleville proving to be some of the most determined fighters?
Though Annie rightly pours scorn on those who write to procure honours, medals; professorships, status, etc., she also cannot escape the role of writer herself and which is inescapably compounded by her being a worshipful adherent of Surrealism. (Indeed her excellent late 1970s anti-feminist book, "Lachez Tout"- Abandon Everything - now available in French on the RAP web, a book that is not anti women, even though critics declared she was a traitor to her sex, pirates the title of a famous early Andre Breton tract). Sadly, she remains stuck on Surrealist artefacts and surely some comment needed to be made on what Rimbaud may have meant when he looked forward, in almost Hegelian terms, to women "living for and by herself" and becoming 'poets' - an unfortunate choice of term and one too irremediably weighed down by the past. Despite its mystical overtones, 'seer' would have been better, though not as good as the former, basically intuitive, Hegelianism.
(And lest we forget it was the 'failing' poets in search of a new identity, particularly Mallarme, who fist put Hegel on the French map half a century after Compte's 'refutation' of Hegel and negative dialectics in the name of positive science. Likewise Lautremont's declaration in favour of a "poetry made by all" can be seen as similar in spirit to The Phenomenology of Mind, a mind that comes to maturity through the activity of the whole of humanity. Just as Hegel half grasped that labour is the driver of this process; Lautremont was able to invest the products of serial mass production with a new meaning by bringing them to the point of insurrection. All that is lacking is the explicit presence of mass action, the meeting of the typewriter and umbrella on a dissecting table as beautiful as the cement mixer truck that was crashed through the gates of the Irish parliament in November 2010 in protest against the peoples 'democratic' underwriting of debt crippled banks and impenitent property magnates, laughing all the way to the recently nationalized banks.)
We need to be reminded, for the sake of accuracy, that the increasingly italicized 'poet' was for Rimbaud also an enlightened arsonist, "the thief of fire", a job description that obviously reflected the revolutionary fires of the Commune, even as he vainly struggled to instill metaphorical fire into the traditional role of poet. But for sure Rimbaud did not mean by this a revolutionary army of Sylvia Plath's. Le Brun's failings on this crucial point inevitably leads to her writing a biography on the life and paintings of the Lancashire surrealist, Leonora Carrington which was published in 2007. And yet, when all is said and done, had we been lucky enough to have Annie Le Brun in UK PLC a fruitful, life long and passionate friendship would have inevitably ensued. But maybe not as most likely 'the art thing' would have gotten in the way plus our much greater proletarianisation.
For Le Brun 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. She calls for a passion-based existence. The "disappearance of dream is one of the greatest deficiencies of the end of the millennium – and to our eyes falls just short of the catastrophic." Too true. And as for the failure of love, inevitably bound up with the disappearance of the dream, and which unfortunately for the ideologists of feminism has long become unthinkable and not even a taboo subject (because that would be tantamount to confessing to an inner absence, lack of desire and its corollary a far reaching imagination), she has the following to say: "We can recall how, not so long ago, those who had suddenly discovered "the deserts of love" turned to Baudelaire, Rimbaud, or Sade to mention but a few of those who stand like fortresses against the ludicrous illusion of fair weather." (Le Brun)
Some of this drift on feminism, imagination, love here - call it what you will – has been prompted by two books published fairly recently: Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs that came out in America in 2006 and Nina Power's One Dimensional Woman that appeared in England in 2009. Both books, particularly Levy's, are notable for their forthright honesty and revelatory disclosures on the issue of raunch capitalism, its mind boggling effect upon feminism, and the spread of a cyber / media pornography that daily becomes more ubiquitous, entrenched and impossible to wholly cut loose from. Ariel Levy's up close and personal insights and accompanying raunch journalese that almost borders on critique unfortunately mirrors, and sums up, the failure of all American radical sociology from the late 1950s onwards to get to grips with the contemporary capitalist mode of production, in particular its hyper inflationary aspect manifest in ludicrous fictive valuations and recurrent bubbles, mediated through images, that appear to have no anchoring in any underlying economic reality.
This well could be the mask behind which the final crises of capitalism is unfolding, one that could extend for many, many years and which far from delivering freedom could simply turn into universal ruin and the destruction of the meanest hope. Indeed Levy's general summing up in the concluding chapter of Female Chauvinist Pigs is a lame anticlimax, her career as a hip New York journalist stymieing what promised to be the conclusion of all conclusions in terms of analytical depth. Instead we are limply exhorted to make one mighty effort of will and at the flick of a switch simply stop "the crazy feeling in our heads" by adopting a more imaginative, all-rounded sexuality which pits itself against the "raunch script", despite the fact we have no choice, short of revolution, but try and get by in a day to day world gone crazy in all but name. Ms Levy notes that federal funding in America has been cut back for things like sensible school sex education programmes. Meanwhile, in its place, there has been an exponential growth of a hypocritical Puritanism that is contradictorily parasitic on the tendency towards hyper-sexualisation and that is even a factor in its expanded reproduction. Some of the most revealing passages in Levy's book are those detailing her 'porn' experiences in New York's Methodist University. Only in America! But leave it at that and it's an analysis going nowhere. What is not within Levy's frame of reference is an uprising against all this shit: it is the sexualized superstructure that's wrong not the infrastructure of wage labour and capital which she never once seriously interrogates.
The same cannot be said of Nina Power's One Dimensional Woman. Given the latter's more comprehensive theoretical framework, it came as something of a welcome relief to read One Dimensional Woman, a title that Nina Power admits is a free adaptation of Marcuse's One Dimensional Man written 50 years previously and in many ways similar in conceptual drift. Marcuse in his book suggests that in highly developed capitalism a "smooth, democratic unfreedom" has become the norm, the post war social democratic consensus, and consumer boom that accompanied it, permitting the repressive release of an unhappy utopia of desire. This neutralized its hitherto explosive force, firmly battening down Eros as an oppressive sexuality became an ever more essential driver of capitalist reproduction. At the same time it had proved capable of integrating its former historical negation – the working class of the advanced industrial world. Though the working class, despite the de-industrialisation sweeping the west, has not passed from the scene, the social democratic consensus is a pale shadow of its former self, the ideology of last resort, namely that the masses are somehow still 'in control', now unrecognizable. But what has not changed but, on the contrary, become ever more pervasive and entrenched, is the flow of sexual imagery that gets more explicit and less nuanced by the day, the suggestive, 'symbolist' phase of popular capitalism documented in Packard's The Hidden Persuaders now become more of a shade, inhabiting the margins, rather like Mallarme's faun.
The world of One Dimensional Man is innocent when compared with that of One Dimensional Woman, the sexuality darker, uglier and more brutal as gender undergoes the beginnings of a reversal and women are propelled into becoming like men formerly were. The earlier phase of the colonization of everyday life took place in an era of unprecedented capitalist stabilization. All that ended with the collapse of the post war consensus from the late 1960s onwards, as an unsustainable, though socially pacificatory, leveraged buy out economy substituted for the once preferred option, not that long ago, of police / military rule. In this unprecedented state of affairs, semen plus the female orgasm became the glue of social cohesion, spunk baths a futile, pleasure-seeking proxy for the effluence once used to choke the opponents of oppressive regimes. Inevitably Nina Power is constrained by her respectable role as a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Roehampton University in south London, a role that always operates behind a person's back (however determined one is not to let it happen) and it won't do to let rip, as Annie le Brun does, when struggling to give verbal expression to the miasma of an inflationary, tumescent capitalism. Notwithstanding Power's choice prose when describing the repellant mélange of so-called eroticism on display and in play, her real failings arise from her thin grasp of the revolutionary negative which, had she ever possessed it, would have well and truly scotched her academic career from the outset. As it is, she drifts between a failing leftism and an insurgent perspective more typical of the late 1960s and to a lesser extent the 1970s.
Thus in an article in The Guardian (30th July 2010) Nina Power tries to get to grips with the 'revolt against work' lamely citing the American Selma James's 1972 International Wages for Housework campaign. What sparked the article was a renewed UK "right to work" campaign launched by the UCW, (Union of Communication Workers) NUJ (National Union of Journalists), NUT (National Union of Teachers) etc, all white collar, professional unions with the exception of the RMT (Rail Maritime Transport union). All but passed over in silence by the press and media, she rightly emphasizes that in Britain work has long been thought of as a "purgatorial moral obligation" signposting the path to salvation rather than damnation, which is where most work today is leading to. The key difference this time is that work has ceased to be "the mark of a man", the shame of being without a job also hitting women to an unprecedented degree. Reflecting what she calls the "feminization of the labour force", this is in reality a notion that transcends gender because the former can be subsumed under the increased casualization of the workforce and the loss of rights that invariably goes with it, irrespective of gender. When the "right to work" campaigns last figured big in the UK back in the early 1980s, there was still enough talent around to point out the obvious that the right to work also signified the right to be exploited. Even the occasional dissident CP member would be tempted to push it that stage further, citing Marx's son in law, Edward Aveling's 'notorious' pamphlet Le Droit de la Paresse ('The Right to Idleness') because the madness of the 9 to 5, five day week was then far more open to question than it is now. Incredibly this matter nowadays never receives an airing, the 8 day week and retirement at 100 judged somewhat less insane. Power argues that to think of a world with less but better work in the midst of an economic crisis "is impractical of course". But to insist on its immanent practicality as the last hope for humanity in the long term, could well instill struggle with an inspirational breadth it has long lacked. An example of struggle that she says "seems quite mad today", the autoriduzione campaigns in Italy in the 1970s, we took in our stride as inevitable, preeminently reasonable and not before time, going a step further and attempting to do away with exchange altogether when we went shopping, as did millions of others! The fact that it is no longer possible to raise the question of the massive reduction of the working week has, at bottom, to do with capitalism facing a valorization barrier it can only temporarily resolve by extending working hours, undermining benefits and pensions and increasing the rate of exploitation. As the percentage of women in the work force worldwide climbs past 50%, at the very least it means getting to grips with political economy in a way the feminist movement has previously eschewed, an unacknowledged middle class prejudice, to put it crudely but also accurately, curtailing any in depth analysis of movers and shakers like Rosa Luxembourg, Sylvia Pankhurst, Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai and so on. In fact Luxembourg's writings on the Russian Revolution of 1917 inaugurate a line of inquiry arising from actual events that culminates in the German / Dutch ultra left and Sylvia Pankhurst's Workers Dreadnought. Their basic insights regarding the counter revolutionary role of trade unions and political parties are, though narrow in scope, as relevant as ever, and what now needs to be emphasized again, again and yet again is that this infinitely rich seam of analysis was first given one almighty push forward by a woman. It is to the shame of the feminist movement that Luxembourg has never been given the recognition due to her as a woman. Power's appraisal of the purpose of trade unions is breathtakingly naïve. "The unions" she says "campaign on behalf of their members who in turn exhibit solidarity with others and strike when necessary". A formula for defeat if ever there was one, it merely reinforces traditional stereotypes concerning trade union that extends across the political spectrum from the right to the so called left. However the fact that woman now constitute the majority of the work force is bound to trigger, sooner or later, a fundamental revaluation that reconnects with the lessons learnt at such cost in the first decades of the 20th century and then brushed to one side as the feminist movement got into its stride from the late 1960s onwards.
However to get back to Selma James's 1972 International Wages for Housework which prompted this parenthesis; we were transported back to a bar in New York in the late 1970s and fond memories of sharing a beer with Ruth Elwell (wife of American situationist Bruce Elwell) who in warm and wan mood shook her head saying James hadn't a clue about the critique of political economy. Money to her (Selma James) was a utilitarian necessity, a means of regulation fixed for all time: an understanding of the capitalist mode of production would, on the contrary, have forced on her the realization that money was the commodity of all commodities. (Well that was the underlying gist of what was said. However as it was still wacky New York it was peppered with witty asides and drifts that sparked: rest breaks for truckers and coach drivers had just been made compulsory and, anticipating the spread of CCTV, Ruth wondered if the "spy in the cab" would be extended to the home and wages calculated accordingly, with deductions for domestic sabotage, sneaking a cigarette or illicit spliff on the side and, horror of horrors, wild catting and bunking-off house work altogether! And what about wage differentials? On the sliding scale of liberated wages would the highest paid be the most domesticated and dutiful with the lowest damned beyond perdition? It was easy to see how "wages for housework" could turn into a grotesque reflection of the status quo, the bourgeoisie, as always, ready to exploit any loophole. And so it went-------- as far removed from drear academic speak as could be).
Nina Power, as for most feminist ideologists lost sight (if they had the sight in the first place) of the fact that the real emancipation of women must inevitably involve the abolition of the state that "is a product of society at a particular stage of development – and is cleft into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to exorcise" (Engels). The route to women's emancipation, according to Engels, lay through large scale industry which he believed was turning the sexual division of labour inside out, man becoming the carer, woman the provider. We in the west today can barely recognise Engels paean to "modern large scale industry, which does not merely permit the employment of female labour over a wide range, but positively demands it, while it also tends toward ending private domestic labour by changing it more and more into a public industry" (eh?). "The man now being actually supreme in the house, the last barrier to his absolute supremacy has fallen" (eh?). Though truer of the 19th century than the 20th century in the west except during both world wars, Engels characterisation is increasingly applicable to China, Vietnam, Indonesia etc. At some point the bourgeoisie from the 1880s onwards, must have found that restoring traditional gender roles was to their advantage and that industry's heedless androgyny was creating a socially subversive intersex that gave a new, sexually generic, meaning to the call to 'unite'. The sexually undifferentiated organisms of Lautremont and Mallarme that combine male and female characteristics in the same person distantly echoed this androgynous proletarian.
Despite the fact Engels daring speculations were deeply offensive to the Victorian bourgeoisie, they are still morally reputable, and, from the less repressive perspective of the late sixties when the young Shulamith Firestone commenced her critique, unlikely to raise an eyebrow. (See the RAP web: The Fire, The Fury, The Madness: The Inspirational Magnanimous Despair of Shulamith Firestone). To capture Firestone's imagination and help guide her into the unexplored territory beyond the state, an 'outrageous' interpretation of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience may have been what was needed. Etched in the year of the French Revolution (1789) the Songs of Innocence are about child sexuality, the child seducing the parents to rid them of a corrupting experience and guide them back to an innocence that recovers experience enabling them to start again from scratch, just as the revolution promised to do. Blake must have had some direct 'experience' of this, having observed how the nascent industrial revolution in this country, still way in advance of any other nation, was beginning to tear the traditional family apart, seeing in the first sexual probings of the infant reserve army of labour about to be carted off into the mills the potential for a transformed, natural love. This infant sexploration was beyond the capacity of the state to control, the pursuit of profit coming well before the moralisation of children set 'at liberty' that would have required the setting up of expensive institutions and which, in many cases, would hand them over to molestation rather than free them from it, and ultimately severely inhibit and damage their sexuality. To date no one has dared explore this thorniest of subjects further for fear of the harshest reprisals. And, my, could Blake push it. "Not 'arf" as this greatest of cockneys might have said. Ololan is a mere girl of 12 who bathes in Milton's spunk as she / he progresses toward the apocalyptic overcoming of division between the sexes. Blake lived the industrial revolution bitterly in the gradual decay of his engraving craft, having undergone a seven year apprenticeship in a manual profession that was no more of an artistic choice than choosing to be carpenter today rather than a sculptor. Unlike the other romantics, he was a worker facing deskilling and redundancy just as surely as the wool combers and weavers were and who would shortly rise up in the androgynous personage of Ned and Lady Ludd.
But there is no doubt that Shulamith Firestone would have been open to these suggestive paths in the innocent days of the late 1960s, just as the baiter of the bourgeoisie, Fred Engels, would have found them, if not morally repugnant, then injurious to the cause of a righteous 'proletarian revolution' clamouring to make itself respectable through the creation of self defeating parliamentary parties.
But it has to be said of The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State that it did help rehabilitate Charles Fourier who is cited several times, Engels apologising that he did not have time to complete a more thorough investigation into Fourier's "brilliant criticism of civilisation" and who has been accredited with having originated the term feminisme in 1837, the year of his death. How complete would that investigation have been? There is criticism and reconstruction, theory and practise in Fourier, the criticism, in point of fact, launching Balzac on his career as an historical novelist where, for Balzac, it all ended. Would that have been sufficient cause for Engels to typify the novel as effectively a product of social inertia, arising from the unresolved contradictions of capitalism? But we are straying. A part of Fourier's utopian program necessarily deals with the sexuality of children and, because he is drawing up a blue print, one can't help feel he is ordering children to become 'little fuckers' and pleasure elderly adults. Compared to Blake it is a coercive vision, Blake happy to stand back and construe what was concealed from view, and far from easy to accept, in the everyday events of his time. It is a worker's response, the travelling salesman and beneficiary of inherited wealth, Fourier, saved from the upheavals and torments of penury that beset Blake.
Faced with industrial dilution, Blake pulverises his craft, turning it inside out. Deconstructing serial production, he invents relief etching, each inked proof unique in its own right. He is also a frame breaker of literary convention. Taking a hammer to poetry, Blake assembles his prophetic books from scraps of raw material to hand in the junk yard of mythology, philosophy and corroding literary forms. More of a self taught man than even Fourier, he intuitively grasps the most advanced ideas of his days, arriving at dialectics by way of the shop floor. Blake is one of the first born of this very British story, Jack Common another closer to our times, the bottom replacing the top, feet and hands, the brain. It is a major reason why manual workers are so feared in the UK and why Mrs Thatcher moved to get rid of them once and for all, the shopping mall for retards and illiterates taking the place of the university of the street and workshop.
Breaking away from the traditional apprenticeship system, Blake taught his wife the tricks of a trade nearing the end of its day. However it is a landmark example of what can happen when trades are opened up and all manner of things become possible. Its repercussions are felt in the 1970s when, largely in response to housing need, droves of women took their turn on the tools, challenging trade orthodoxy. Though promising far more than it was able to deliver, this aftermath of a revolutionary crisis still contained enough charge, given the opportunity, to reinvent building and the urban landscape. But just as Mrs Blake did not leave an account of her years bent over a printing press, so there are no accounts written by women of these formative years, almost as if they are best forgotten about. This left the field wide open to professional feminists, power feminism, pouring maximum scorn on manual trades people irrespective of gender, imparting a new lease of life to traditional snobbery. Devaluing the achievement and courage of these women, the only way they will be acknowledged by their false feminist, rather than female friends, is if a film is made on them. And then it will be the actresses that, in the last analysis, receive the acclaim not the workers themselves.
The Vision of the Daughters of Albion (1793), composed four years after the Songs of Innocence and influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft, centres on a female character whose rape initiates a protest against exploitation and servitude. In Blake, the redirection of production into something deeply personal that wins the world for love cannot be separated from parricide and the murder of the factory owner, the young assassin, "fleeing over the mountains" and defiling the comforting landscapes of romanticism. The very precariety of his trade meant Blake's anger was close to that of de-gendered workers newly conscripted into industry. Adam's curse was factory labour and for Blake "work was eternal death with mills and ovens and cauldrons". Machines become an infinitely replicating metal virus of "wheel without wheel to perplex youth", and how Blake would have welcomed a world free of work Shulamith Firestone thought was at hand in the late 1960s.
Nurtured within capitalisms' long post war boom, and the social democratic consensus that accompanied it, even some stalwarts of the system, particularly individuals belonging to the IT sector, wondered if it was possible, confetti money replacing 'real' money sometime in the future. However capitalisms repeated valorisation problems, possibly now grown chronic, has meant that even the reduction of the working week and the lowering of the retirement age no longer figures in the 'progressive' discourse of capitalism. In fact quite the reverse: the extending of the working week and the putting back of the age at which people retire are now seen as the only option, making a utopian nonsense of calls to abolish labour. However, in a modified form, it survives as a powerful undercurrent which, though never publicly spoken of, won't go away. Most work, especially in highly developed capitalism, remains quiet unnecessary and ecologically destructive and which only serves to bring on mankind's untimely end.
Speaking of the 'here and now', in the two page 'Conclusion' of One Dimensional Woman, Nina Power expresses a desire to return to the early days of 1970s feminism saying..."feminism was at one time a great generator of new thoughts and new modes of existence." But was it?
Mike Peters of another Here and Now - the now sadly defunct collective based in Leeds - around the turn of the Millennia gave a talk in Bradford on the rapid eclipse of the revolutionary outbursts of the late 1960s. In his opinion it was recuperation, more than savage repression that led to the suppression of this exemplary, revolutionary moment. He then went on to say that feminism was one of the first of these recuperative, extremely effective, counter-revolutionary strategies to be thrown at the perspective of total revolution. Much more has to be said on this issue than is possible here but broadly speaking it must be stressed that post 1960s feminism has notoriously lacked a relevant critique of capitalism. Today women are more than ever the subject of capital, feminism, of all shades, particularly raunch feminism, actively colluding in this process of subjugation, underlined by the massive proliferation of women's magazines marketing a phoney brand of slap, empowerment and femme celebrity. Lads mags like Nuts are simply too obvious, nuts, and downmarket to be taken seriously. Appropriating female aspirations by stealth and clever image making, femme capitalism has done wonders as regards disorientating women by making them responsible for their unhappiness. Fulfilment is there for the taking rather than asking, the pressure on women to take possession of their own lives in a world of ever increasing alienation, infinitely greater than it is on men - despite the gender neutral, overpowering rise of positive thinking in the form of cognitive behaviour therapy. Henri Lefebvre's prescient words, written sometime in the 1960s, that "everyday life weighs heaviest on women" are truer today than they have ever been.
What Lefebvre did not, and could not, chart was the change from victim hood to 'girls on top', a trajectory which is closely related to capitalisms response to the crises of the late sixties, namely by puffing up one fictive bubble after another, house price inflation in particular drawing career women, rather than just the man-of-the-house, into its mad embrace. As builders, we were often driven to distraction by our failure to give body to the house beautiful dreams of our property conscious femme clients demanding the impossible from us, just as they did capitalism. Today "Feminism is the perfect accompaniment to femme-capital" says Nina Power.
But what of yesteryear? And how far is Nina Power prepared to go as regards a genuinely autonomous critique of capitalism? Is it not still hobbled, in the last analysis, by that most horrible of bastard progenies, "state socialism"? Early feminism (post the late 1960s) in these islands never ventured beyond the perspective of left social democracy and Bolshevism. When Annie Le Brun came to write Lachez Tout in France with its key emphasis on Eros, imagination and desire it was the pared down Anglo-American 'contributions' of the likes of Sheila Rowbotham that dominated the field.
Although there was historical research done in these islands regarding earlier feminists of Anglo-American origin (C/f Sheila Rowbotham's recent book Women who made the 20th Century), how come only one trad-style Brit feminist, Mary Davis has ever written a book on Sylvia Pankhurst, and that only recently? Has this everything to do with the fact that Sylvia joined forces with the growing subversive, and rich ultra-left seam opposing what rapidly became the Bolshevikh counter-revolution once they had seized absolute power? Go to any library in any major British city and you'll find book upon book on various members of the Pankhurst family but nothing on Sylvia?
Silence thus reigns and the silence regarding Sylvia Pankhurst also parallels something perhaps greater than the crushing weight of English moralism: an almost absolute silence on the womens' question related to an anti-statist critique. Sad to say Annie Le Brun also tends to skirt this thorny and difficult question though the impulse is almost there. Thus we still have to fall back on a man for this essential concept to be placed within its proper perspective and, yet again, via Fred Engels The Origin of Private Property, the Family and the State. This classic text by Engels discussing the family and women's subjugation within the family, which never for a moment in its subtlety and wide factual knowledge loses sight of the withering away of the state and yet, in one of the greatest ironies of history, this is the very man who in practise throughout the rest of his life worked opportunistically within the possibilities presented by the bourgeois state and towards the end of his life was over the illusory moon that socialist deputies were getting elected to the Reichstag.
Also let's not forget some of the very distressing moments – those "new thoughts" – of early 1970s feminism and not completely unrelated to the womens' suppression of Sylvia Pankhurst's radicalism, the moment in fact (horrible to recall) when former women partners etc deploying the now thankfully discredited "recovered memory syndrome" said that meetings of the Castoriadis oriented anarcho/ultra left Solidarity organisation were sometimes mere fronts for paedophiliac activity which resulted in some former male partners legally banned from contacting their children. In the case of George Williamson this resulted in years of subsequent misery and obviously contributed to an early death. Now and again George used to phone us completely distraught. To be sure at this time there was general talk of children's eroticism and admittedly it is a thorny problem but to step from thoughts to accusation of practise is a heavy thing to do. (Nina Power to her credit does not flinch from this in her discussion of this moment re an incident with Daniel Cohn-Bendit in One Dimensional Woman. Interestingly she treats the incidence with some caution and intelligence).
In Britain it wasn't just the potency of single issue politics that clouded the blue skies of a total revolutionary perspective but something far more insidious: stifling wider debate and resuscitating the ghosts of Mr Bowdler and Mrs Grundy, English moralism was resurrected, the feminist movement sanctifying motherhood and child rearing all over again, though within an altered domestic framework where men had to take their fair share of the burden, thus allowing women, for the most part, to pursue the types of careers the most advanced critiques of capitalism had mercilessly condemned. In fact, by then, many women were in revolt against the notion that the prime purpose of women was to procreate, arguing that giving birth was a betrayal of the new woman, of her hitherto blocked up primal creativity.
Annie Le Brun is right to stress that the influence of Anglo-American apologies for critique (though in point of fact the post modernism that came in after, sweeping the board here and in America, was ultimately derived from France) was responsible for the worst examples of a form of parcelisation involving other enforced categorisations like ethnicity that swept away hopes of a general emancipation. Annie fulminates against "...the worst Marxist-Leninist or Zhadanovian interpretations in which the working class held the role now assumed by women, the ex-colonised, the half-caste, or the Black. What is novel here is the possibility for an unlimited number of postulants to exercise this theoretical terror". The effect was stifling, the dread of political incorrectness and its pious coercive apparatus (which could lead to sackings and, at the very least, a killing ostracism) substituting for the power of negative thinking that had fled the field.
Gone also were concepts related to Eros, the imagination, the dream, and the realisation of poetic imagination - all expressly forbidden as a form of democratically sanctioned, inquisitorial censorship began to hold sway, far worse than anything experienced in the 19th century. Then, for instance, De Sade was read quite extensively in France though far less so in Britain (e.g. Swinburne). However, post the 1960s, De Sade, all most over night, would be judged as worse than execrable and any man caught reading him deemed a fit subject for castration and banned from the company of 'emancipated' women. (We now shake our heads in disbelief at the thought of situationist Ralph Rumney sitting in a library in Halifax, West Yorks in the mid 1950s with a vicar by his side; because that was the only way he would ever be allowed to read De Sade. We don't however hang our heads in shame at today's moral rather than legal strictures, democratic methods of coercion being by far the more effective).
Ironically this democratic censorship has remained more or less intact, despite the massive exponential growth in media / cyber pornography invading everyone's mind in a brutally banal way. As the hour ticks toward the midnight mass of commodity sexuality and the death of Eros, it is unthinkable that a woman in the UK would dare even contemplate reappraising De Sade as, for instance, pushing the materialism of La Mettrie or D'Holbach over the edge when he was obviously nothing more than an odious wife beater and woman hater. And as for the sudden shock we experience opening De Sade (Annie le Brun calls it "a sudden abyss"),well, it is like a nature shock, extremes of sexual 'misconduct' corresponding to violent weather events and every bit in the order of things. In a sense he foresees the novel vaporised by the storms of imaginative experiment before Stendhal puts pen to paper, his parodies of deranged neologisms an eerie, almost exact copy of Lautremont - with the proviso he ends by asking for an altogether greater intelligibility. He writes to his wife "does there exist anywhere an amphibology or a logogriph resembling this one, and if so have you sufficiently warmed it in the forges of the infernal demon who gave you this inspiration----Will this never end here, then? And will it always be the same thing! To put it briefly, what do you mean to say in this sentence?"
What we are left with instead is a miserable slew of journalistic feminists headed by Germaine Greer who has taken upon herself the compliant task of promoting the wretched corpse of installation art and sculptural gigantism in the name of a subversive creativity followed by epigones like Natasha Walter (hand-clapping Mrs Thatcher's brutality as a way forward for women) and Kira Cochrane who simply wants a re-run of early 1970s feminism. There seems little doubt the resuscitation of the latter is in response to the increasingly desperate, on–going economic crises just as raunch feminism was a product of easy credit which came to a shuddering halt in 2008. This dramatic shift from victim hood to girl power then back again, uncannily parallels the changes that took place in the neo con revolution as it went from boom to bust.
This contradictory development was crystallised in the androgynous figure of Mrs Thatcher and the multiple genders residing within her. She was both a 'man', more than a mere man and a man's woman, fascinated by the likes of roués like Geoffrey Archer and Cecil Parkinson (who gave her their undivided attention), wrapped in the body of a woman that then divided into two, one the good housekeeper, the other, the out of control, free spending inner bimbo she vainly tried to keep under lock and key. Her historical legacy is far greater than that of Ronald Reagan in America and but for her example, the reckless privatisations programs of the former state capitalist countries of the east would have remained grounded. After defeating the miners, she ushers in the big bang that eventually would make the City of London the centre of world finance, America responding by tearing up the Glass Steagall act that, since the thirties depression, had separated High St from investment banking. And with what calamitous results. Without a doubt she is the most influential woman in all history, and also the most hated, not least by women. How many times did I hear women, of all ages, say she made them ashamed of their sex, as if confirming what from the start they feared feminism would turn into, they felt so little represented by it. For all of them were in low status jobs, unemployed or in receipt of a state pension. None would have been remotely tempted to say as did Natasha Walter in Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism that Thatcher "allowed British women to celebrate their ability not just to be nurturing or caring and life affirming but also to be deeply unpleasant, to be cruel, to be death dealing, to be egotistic. It was cathartic to us to acknowledge these possibilities. She normalised success." And nothing succeeds like success even though it is a colossal failure, "there is no other way" still the guiding mantra of a ruined world that has lost its way unable to see beyond bubble economics and in which two wrongs will make a right this time.
What is so stark about today's situation is the enormous, even cavernous gap between women of different social classes, of the contrast between drudge, assembly line work and the contemporary pro-capitalised, Sex in the City, the gal's gotta have it, feminism which brutally looks down on the vast majority of other women where precarity, part time, low paid, multi-tasking work is rapidly becoming the lot of most women workers, and as a result imposing similar conditions on their male counterparts because that's what suits the bosses in the pursuit of profits in a parlous market place where making any kind of buck is becoming increasingly difficult. (More abstractly perhaps we could point to the falling rate of profit as the bottom line in this increasing marginality of workers world wide regardless finally of gender). Moreover, it seems women have now become over 50% of the world's work force and something is beginning to stir. How can we forget the determined, angry faces of Chinese women car workers recently on strike in Guangdong Province or the huge strikes of garment workers in Bangladesh? It could be said that here women are actually becoming more like men, but in a good way though at the same time they are beginning to suffer the same industrial injuries and dying younger than once was their lot. It also means they are reacting through very forthright rebellions as for sure women must have played a major part in the factory burnings and other mayhem like the burning tyres, the overturning of vehicles and smashed-up stores in Dhaka on the 30th July 2010. Also take a look at Loren Goldner's on-line mag on these almost non-stop strikes and how Islamic influence among the women is breaking down part regarding the developing process of insurrectionary violence.
Something terrible has happened over the last few years with Internet pornography as its central theme. It means we have arrived at the moment of the ultimate visual draining and loss of Eros where Debord's profound comment from 1966, "Sexualisation of the spectacle means loss of Eros in reality" merely points to an even greater ruin than he could have imagined. In contrast most previous pornography initially at any rate had subversive aura and, for instance, Newcastle's William Benbow during the 1830s created the liberated notion of the Grand National Holiday (i.e. forerunner of the general strike) could also within the same continuum illustrate risque pictures which Here & How in Leeds during the early 1990s was going to publish, perhaps to remind people of this subversive overlap. A couple of decades earlier, Phil Meyler perceptively had said "pornography has moved from the left to the right" and that was broadly true not withstanding the attitudes of some right wing, Born Again Christians that Andrea Dworkin – the virulently anti-pornography feminist - allied herself with. A few years ago, Nina Power (of One Dimensional Woman) studied with an understanding, even kind-hearted emancipatory glee, the light-hearted frolics of French early 20th century grainy black and white films around erotic slapstick saying "...many of the short films from the earlier twentieth century involve the inability of men to achieve erection and the increasingly comical attempts of their remarkably understanding lovers to try to amend the situation. The humanist promise of early cinema seems to have been betrayed by a combination of artificial and destructive antagonisms between men and women and unnecessary anxieties about 'performance' and desirability".
We have sadly now 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. The buzz words of 'empowerment' and 'strong women' dressed in soft-porn style became nothing more than a lucrative fantasy around acquisition as "the ultimate ad of independence", something that was unapologetically selfish with sex thrown in as just another commodity, with one person as the conqueror and the other 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. It means that someone like Christine 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 else try to "change society so that woman can do whatever men do" (Ariel Levy). What we have in its place so often is 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, "even representatives of the third, fourth, and fifth sex".
Annie Le Brun discusses pornography too but in a highly ambivalent way – 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 - though also noting how S/M has become a form of contemporary anodyne therapy perfectly at ease with other forms of acceptable therapy; in short, like almost everything in ultra-commodified form, benign and non-passionate. About twenty years previously she had written 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 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. Thus De Sade in his endless prisons reworked lines over ten year periods that re-appeared time and again acquiring ever greater cutting edge. 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 nature expressed in slogans like "Beauty must be convulsive or not be at all".
And I almost forgot I must not leave out my own rather un-worked out, often jargon-filled contribution during the late 1970s, which was then published, unbeknown to myself as The End of Music, a publication seemingly now in many languages. This text coincided with the birth of the "sex-positive feminism" of the late 1970s that at the time seemed liberatory enough and heading in a good direction but which, throughout the following decades also became the basis of raunch culture where "the only sign of sexuality we seem able to recognise is a direct allusion to red-light entertainment" (Ariel Levy) a sexuality inseparable from ultra consumption and the era of the disposable commodity as each sex partner becomes part of planned obsolescence, a mere object to be thrown away as the new comes on stream.
And perhaps the saner women who are still with us - the vast majority who are now over 50% of the world's still poorly paid workforce - will probably say the same about cadre men – maybe the sixth, seventh, eighth sex - largely having lost it too though it is up to individual women to also write down their personal experiences please with the lid-off! Perhaps then we will arrive at a more balanced assessment.
..........Wise Bros - many moons ago...........