The above quote is lifted from a brilliant talk by Brian Jones (no, not that one…), subsequently reprinted in Jacobin magazine. Demolishing the ‘common-sense’ view of race, he dates its invention as a category to the 17th century: “If human history were a two hundred page book, ‘race’ begins on the last line of the last sentence of the last page.” It’s a really useful perspective for wading through the fallout over Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith. And it’s probably a good tool for thinking through the various debates around identitarian politics. But I think its relevance is even wider. When Jones talks about Wednesday – something that is horribly real and at the same time utterly fictive – he could just as easily be talking about the way that money works.
I’ve been meaning to follow up on Keir’s post about the “explosion of sincerity” for weeks now, so here are some threads I’m trying to pull together…
In Déjà Vu and the End of History Virno talks about how we appear to be living through an era of hyper-historicity, trapped in a pattern of permanently recycling and reworking everything. On a superficial level we can point to the ceaseless cultural regurgitation that’s symptomatic of postmodernism: from Mad Max to TFI Friday to this bollocks, there’s no end to retromania (and if I tried harder, I could probably think of something that’s actually a re-make of a re-make). But Virno also makes reference to the Society of the Spectacle, the idea that we collect our own lives while they are passing: the present is duplicated as the spectacle of the present and we end up watching ourselves live. This has real consequences. As Virno puts it:
While not all the Free Association are currently members of Plan C it’s fair to say that involvement in that organisation has re-directed at least some of the energies that would otherwise have gone here. To illustrate that I thought I’d share a ‘position paper’ I wrote for Plan C which has just been published on their website: On Social Strikes and Directional Demands.
I was planning to post this along with the notes from our recent talk on comedy, but Keir beat me to it. Timing is everything, apparently…
It’s the third section of that talk – the one on the hyper-ironisation of contemporary culture – that’s been nagging away at me. In one sense it feels self-evidently true: the hollow laughter of the cynic has largely taken the place of meaningful political action. Bantz, trolling, 4chan, doing it for the lulz… And it’s not hard to understand why when the times we live in are beyond satire.
So last Saturday three communists walked into Duffy’s bar in Leicester and started talking about economic crisis, pop music and comedy. Let me give you a summary.
The talk was in three sections. The first set the scene of pervasive crisis. Arguing that in this context we should expect the rise of characters who seem to signify the spirit of the times and that people identify with politically. In the crisis of the 1930s these figures tended to be political leaders but in the 1960s and 70s, after the birth of pop culture, such figures were equally likely to be pop stars. In the current crisis this seems to have changed. By raising the examples of Russell Brand, Beppe Grillo and Dieudonné we suggest that figures of political identification (on both the Left and the Right) are now more likely to be comedians than pop stars.
This Saturday, February 21st 1-2pm, The Free Association will be making one of our rare public appearance.
We”ll be at Duffy’s Bar in Leicester expanding on this article we published on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site last year: Why are Comedians, not musicians, talking ’bout a revolution?
I’m at a bike shop in central London. I’m being fitted for a new frame. I’ve had some serious problems with my back and my best bike, its pro geometry never really suitable for me even when I did race, is now definitely inappropriate. Julian, who’s sorting me out, asks me about racing and I mention my club Ferryhill Wheelers. Ah, he’s seen that name when he’s looked at results for over-50s races. I do a double-take and look at Julian more closely. This guy’s in his fifties? I would’ve put him at around my age. Turns out he’s 56. Must be something keeping him looking young. Perhaps it’s cycling. Or maybe love of life. He’s just returned from a holiday celebrating his first wedding anniversary. Congratulations. He tells me that he and his partner, now wife, have been together for decades, they’ve got a couple of teenage kids, but last year decideded to get married. That’s interesting, I think, getting married only once your kids have almost left home isn’t normal. I’m drawn to him.
I’ve been catching up with Mark Fisher’s latest collection and have been really struck by what he says about loss – or rather the loss of loss. I’m tempted to start banging on about Pogle’s Wood (a prime example of ‘fugitive evanescence’, in my life at least), but this sense of loss goes a lot further than TV programmes.
There’s a great interview here with Mark Stewart of early post-punks the Pop Group — by Diane Kamikaze on wfmu.
Can’t capture it all here, but the conversation ranges seamlessly across music, politics, culture, innovation, DIY, group dynamics, magic, ethics and the repetition of history. He even mentions zombies. As punk as fuck.
“Why aren’t the British middle classes staging a revolution?”, asks Telegraph columnist Alex Pound.
Why aren’t the middle classes revolting? Words you probably never thought you’d read in the Telegraph. Words which, as a Gladstonian Liberal, I never thought I’d write. But seriously, why aren’t we seeing scenes reminiscent of Paris in 1968? Moscow in 1917? Boston in 1773?