Wednesday, May 31, 2006


“I’m a believer!” we all sang as we left Alexandra Palace last Thursday lunchtime. We are not always this cheerful, but on this occasion we had reason. For we had just been treated to the Gospel According to the Chief Executive. This Gospel comes from the Book of Local Government, and I don’t doubt it reads pretty similarly to the Book of Higher Education, as recounted by K-Punk recently. We do not live in the most perspicacious of times, it is true, but neoliberalism has managed to come up with its own theological shtick – and it was this Word that was doled out for the benefit of us, the unsuspecting workforce.

I have been to these sort of staff shindigs before, whereby staff are “invited” (on threat of disciplinary action) to meet senior managers, who give us the “opportunity” (in order that they can tick the boxes by which auditors demand that they consult with staff) to “contribute” ideas as to how the Council can move forward (as long as they do not involve harmonisation of pay, lead to greater staff control, or jar with the government’s centralist agenda). Such events are always nauseating and one tends to feel embarrassed on behalf of managers who genuinely appear to believe that they are empowering staff. But this event, billed as a “Smart Listening Forum”or somesuch, was especially dreadful, mainly because, in its exhortation that we enjoy carrying out our duty of kow-towing to our betters (via the usual array of management bullshit “activities” and patting each other on the back), I felt like I was regressing through several stages of human evolution.

Zizek has described how the superego – that part of the psyche which decides the moral obligations of the ego, and which is thus an intrinsic partner of the Big Other – has altered as a result of society’s increased permissiveness. Once upon a time, received morality dictated that people refrained from doing certain things which would be considered indecent. One did not have homosexual relationships, or extra-marital affairs, or abortions, or talk to your boss as an equal – or rather, one did not do these things openly. (This “one,” by the way, is perhaps the simplest way of thinking about the Big Other – it does not relate to anybody in particular, but it assumes that everybody knows what is and what is not “the done thing.”)

In these postmodern times, there is nothing that we are not allowed to do. Everything is permissible, whether by rules of law or morality. So what happens to the psychical agency of the Law when nothing is illegal? It insists that we must be happy fulfilling our duty.

Now that Viagra can take care of the erection, there is no excuse: you should have sex whenever you can; and if you don’t you should feel guilty. New Ageism, on the other hand, offers a way out of the superego predicament by claiming to recover the spontaneity of our ‘true’ selves. But New Age wisdom, too, relies on the superego imperative: ‘It is your duty to achieve full self-realisation and self-fulfilment, because you can.’ Isn’t this why we often feel that we are being terrorised by the New Age language of liberation?

The Big Other emerges through the Name of the Father, the introduction of language and culture, the imposition of social rules and conventions, the acceptance of the Law. This Lacanian version of the castration complex maintains the possibility of reaching the phallus by deferring its availability, but for both sexes this entails a disclosure of deficiency. An innate lack is thus at the core of the adult subject. In accepting the Law, one must deny one’s most primordial needs lest they be deemed inappropriate, but because it is always “something else” that decides decorum, the ego becomes an empty signifier within a field of language and culture determined by an other. As we will see, capitalism has expertly located this unrealisable lack (which Lacan calls the “objet petit a”) as the source of human desire. It is like a pendulum swinging between the cause of desire and desire itself. The actual concrete object of this desire is somewhat irrelevant, since its attainment could not plug the gap of desire anyway. Paradoxically, capitalism, with all its unfulfilled promises of a better life ahead, is the ideal environment for the perverse human psyche; but it also fuels our appetite for unhappiness.


Bill Hicks used to imagine a scene where a newly elected American President would meet the major US industrialist capitalist scumfucks (I think that was the description). The capitalists would show him an old crackly film of the Kennedy assassination taken from a position no-one had ever seen, but which looked to be taken from somewhere off the grassy knoll. The screen would then go black, the lights would come up, the capitalists would puff on their fat cigars and ask the President: “Any questions?”

Clearly the President is not the Big Other: his strings are pulled by the capitalists. So what about the capitalists? Do they create the Law? Clearly not: however tempting (and ethical) it is to despise individual capitalists for their exploitation of the planet, they are merely following the demands of capitalist logic. This is why the post-Socialist left is unable to erode capital’s framework: it is amorphous, impersonal, “worldless.”

Lacan located desire as being the demand for attention or love minus its immediate satisfaction; it is “the ephemeral, unlocalisable property of an object that makes it especially desirable.” As I hinted above, capitalism works on this principle too: its inexorable progress is the sum of its demand for profit minus the actual profit made. In other words, no amount of profit will ever prevent a capitalist from demanding more.

And we can see how the lack that creates desire might have created capitalism in the first place. In order to fill his immanent shortcomings, man felt the need to explore the world, to gain greater knowledge, to become master of the world. The Enlightenment manifested this desire in science, the arts, philosophy, religion etc, but it also entailed the discovery and mastery of other lands. Imperialism and capitalism were, therefore, inevitable results of the Enlightenment, of which the human “ache of desire” is the source.

This leaves the Big Other in something of a pretty pass. As Zizek notes in the article I link to above, the social regulations of the Ten Commandments – thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not lie – have been replaced by the primacy of the self (the right to bear arms, the right to private property, freedom of expression). The Big Other has acted upon itself by subverting its own laws, yet the centrality of these new so-called “human rights” (and their economic equivalent, the primacy of individual entrepreneurialism instead of public ownership) require even greater central control. This is why K-Punk is having a probe stuck into every orifice of his Department, why there is a CCTV camera on every street, and why the World Bank must constantly intervene in order to maintain its preferred “laissez-faire” economic model. One can see how the Big Other, far from being stable, is like the pendulum Lacan uses to describe the objet petit a.

So how might we stop the pendulum mid-swing? If the Big Other has become increasingly reflexive in our post-modern, might we use this reflexivity for our own ends? During his Birkbeck lecture last week, Zizek told a story about his student magazine in Slovenia during the early 1980s. It was election time, and the Communists were obviously going to win again. Instead of pointing out that the election would be rigged, the magazine went along with charade. In a late edition, the headline read: “LATEST: COMMUNISTS EXPECTED TO WIN AGAIN.” When challenged, Zizek and his colleagues pleaded ignorance, but the authorities knew their Achilles heel had been exposed. Capitalism is subtler in its tricks than Communism was; our trick is to expose its Achilles heel by following its logic to its most absurd conclusion.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


A farmer finds himself stranded on a desert island with only Jessica Simpson for company. They start talking, get to know each other, and eventually the farmer succeeds in getting Jessica into bed. They make love in every position imaginable, and Jessica caters for the farmer’s every sexual whim.

When they have finished, the farmer turns to Jessica and says: “I have one more request. I would like you to cut your hair short, draw a fake moustache on your face, wear a man’s suit, and talk with a deep voice.”

“But why?” Jessica asks. “Is this how you get your kicks? Are you really into transvestites?”

“No no, it’s nothing like that,” says the farmer. “But please, just do this for me.” So while the farmer walks away to give her some space, Jessica shaves her head, draws a bushy moustache on her upper lip and puts on a suit as the farmer requested. When she is done, the farmer returns and says, “Listen mate, you’ll never guess what I’ve just done – I’ve just shagged Jessica Simpson!”


In the first of his Lacanian masterclasses today, Slavoj Zizek used this joke to illustrate what Lacan means by the Big Other. It is a paradox we have all experienced in real life: after having sex with someone very attractive, we are often less satisfied than after having sex with someone less attractive. We have satisfied our explicit sexual urges, but there is still something left over. In other words, sex – like any human interaction – is never just about the two people involved. There is a third entity which also hovers over us, which monitors us, and which we wish to satisfy.

This third entity is part of what is meant by the Big Other, and Zizek, ever the master exemplifier, also mentions the phenomenon immediately after elections in which the government retains power, but with a much reduced majority, whereby political pundits say that “the electorate has sent a message to the government.” Well, how have they done this exactly? Which particular members of the electorate have sent this message? And, indeed, what is the message? The reality is that this is media bullshit: some people have stuck with the government, while many others have diverted their vote elsewhere. But again, it assumes the existence of an amorphous collective being which speaks for and represents us. Of course, the logical question which proceeds this is: do we (collectively) make up the Big Other, or does the Big Other determine us?

I would suggest the latter is true. This should not be controversial; it follows logically from the position of the superego. But whereas Freud’s structure of the psyche insinuates an idealism, whereby something non-material and instrinsic precedes the reality of a person’s moral codes, Lacan’s structure of the psyche – where the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary imbricate each other in a Borromean knot – is rooted in materialism. The Big Other does not arise out of nothing; it is not a mere idea. Over the next couple of posts, I will try to explore where it arises from.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


It says here that the unions will never learn
It says here that the economy is on the upturn
And it says here we should be proud that we are free
And our free press reflects our democracy

Those braying voices on the right of the house
Are echoed down the street of shame
Where politics mix with bingo and tits
In a strictly money and numbers game

Where they offer you a feature
On stockings and suspenders
Next to a call for stiffer penalties for sex offenders
It says here that this year’s prince is born
It says here do you ever wish
That you were better informed
And it says here that we can only stop the rot
With a large dose of law and order
And a touch of the short sharp shock

If this does not reflect you view you should understand
That those who own the papers also own this land
And they’d rather you believe
In coronation street capers
In the war of circulation, it sells newspapers
Could it be an infringement
Of the freedom of the press
To print pictures of women in states of undress

When you wake up to the fact
That your paper is Tory
Just remember, there are two sides to every story

W.Bragg, 1985 (and, no doubt, 2006 too)

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Zizek's Lacanian master class begins this Thursday. The first lecture will provide a Lacanian reading of philosophy and theology, with talks on science, ideology and art to follow in the coming weeks.

The classes run on Thursday afternoons and are repeated on Tuesdays. The organisers stress that the classes should be attended as a series rather than as one-offs. It is at Birkbeck, it is free, and ... I think that's about all you need to know. But in case you do want more information, click here.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


A variant of the diffusion algorithm of Gastner and Newman: that, apparently, is how this map of the world's GDP was produced. I'm not quite sure what that means, but I do know that the US, Europe and Japan are obese with wealth, where South America, much of Asia and (especially) Africa are drawn and pinched. Plus ca change.

Click here for more.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Picton is Butters (a short story)

June was nearing its end and Picton sat in the potting shed, deciding what he should do next. Since June is a month of continuing growth, there was nothing to do in the garden that could be finished. Nothing slows, nothing withers, nothing dies; Picton couldn't hack any dead roots to the ground, or lop heads off daffodils. So Picton made a decision to do nothing at all. He would let nature take its course, bide his time a little.

He reached over to the boiling kettle, whose limey interior gave off a sluggish and fusty smell, and poured a little water into a cup of instant coffee. The coffee-powder was cheap, the water was stale, and the resulting mixture tasted of corrosion, but Picton was merely drinking to stall time. Farrah would be back after the weekend, and Picton did not intend to carry out any of the tasks that the permanent gardener, writing a list on a scrap of paper with a stub of pencil, had assigned him.

He did not know how to sow carrot seeds or tomato plants: nobody had ever told him. Nobody had even told him which seeds were which. They sat there in old baked-bean cans whose labels had been soaked off, and on each of them was scrawled its Latin name in black marker pen. All looked the same to a layman's eye, all trying to peer upwards towards the light. Picton had decided on a plan to steal all the seeds on his last day at the manor and replace them with slug pellets.

Farrah had also told him to watch out for any suckers on the roses and to pull them off, or even de-root them. Picton had no idea what this meant. He had a feeling that a sucker might be some sort of grub, perhaps a large caterpillar, but he certainly wasn't going to spend a summer's day peeling them off Madame's roses.

He drank his coffee. Rain began to fall outside. Picton poked his head out of the shed-door and looked up to the sky with his mouth gaping open, letting the raindrops hit the back of his throat. Beads of rain filtered over his unshaven, childish face, and slid through his matted, oily hair. He shut his eyes and dreamed.


Madame was indoors. A rainbow was developing outside, but all Madame could see was hoarfrost through the opaque bay window. A boy was dreaming by the potting shed, but Madame did not see him at first, as she peered past the shed to the conifers at the back of the garden. Madame sat in silence all day and every day in her upright chair, all angles and bones. Her cheeks were carved deeply with age and her shoulders had sunk like disused pools. All Madame's staff, her cooks and servants, tailors and florists, carers and befrienders, were under strict orders never to talk to her. For years she had lived under the pretence that she spoke no English. The only French she could speak or read was pidgin, yet she sat all day and all night in her upright chair, reading Moliere and the older masters in their original language. All day, servants dashed in and out with tea and coffee and biscuits and finger sandwiches, handing these refreshments to Madame before retiring quickly. And all day Madame sat and ate and drank, looking out the window at the world outside, speaking to no one. As she sipped at her morning tea, her eyes turned to the dreaming boy.

It's not Farrah, the usual gardening man. His wife had died recently, Madame had heard one of the girls telling another in hushed tones. But Madame had heard. She had said nothing to Farrah, she did not know the man. He must have got another man in to help out. Not so much a man either, more of a boy. Eighteen, perhaps. I don't think he wants to be here. Rather a pretty chap, holds himself well, awkward like a young man should be. And looking up at the sky - what's he doing that for? I suppose I might too if I could see it. But strange for this gangly youth to be peering up at the sky when it's raining. Perhaps one of his folks has died too. His mother or his girlfriend. My, what a beautiful chap he is.


It is eight pm, and Picton is running through strands of traffic, over sleeping policemen, through an artificial fog of cool, frigid air to where the top of The Building peeps through the cloud. Communication lines wind round and round over Picton's head, their fizzing fibres powering the city and its bright lights.

There had been a disaster in the outskirts of the city. A riot had got out of control, and a mob of construction men had conspired to blow up a building. The construction men were all dead, but the exercise had not been in vain. The authorities, said their spokesman, were reeling from the shock of the tragedy. Reforms would have to be made. The evening news was dedicated to the story; cameramen danced around each other, all trying to get the best shot of the crumbled breeze-blocks and mangled limbs. Reporters searched for ever more inflated adjectives to describe the situation.

Picton kept running; he wanted no part of it. But as he reached The Building he felt a bell chime against his heart. It struck twice and Picton stopped still, looked at the madness around him and turned to the entrance.

On the seventh floor of The Building was a glass walkway that crossed the main street. Picton walked across the glass floor, hovering over the traffic. Between his feet he saw rescue services adding to the chaos and the lights. Two men in orange plastic jackets hurried to take another victim onto a stretcher. The mother of a victim's friend grimaced into a camera, telling her exclusive story of how the tragedy had unfolded, to a journalist whose heart-rate multiplied at the thought of such a marvellous scoop.

All was commotion below him, but encased in his glass capsule Picton heard only silence. The darkness of early evening had set in and the occasional swarm of dust buzzed towards him, and was dispersed by the tunnel. He felt himself becoming elevated; the scene below him became more distant.

As the dark became darker and Picton became higher, his attention turned from the bustle below him on the street towards the horizon where he saw plains and fields and highways outside of the city. The scene appeared computer-generated: each field was surrounded by a square of highway, each of which was lined by an avenue of neon lights on each side. Hundreds upon hundreds of light-enclosed fields stretching and multiplying across and over the horizon. He focused in on one car about thirty miles away, cruising towards the coast, the driver nodding his head to an old chart hit. Picton watched the streams of lights, the continual straightness of the roads and tracks and houses, and saw it all lit up by a nearby moon. The moon seemed to smile upon the world, and upon the scene of method and mayhem over which he was suspended, and Picton knew he had to walk towards that beam of light and smile down with it.


The rain poured down. From inside of the house Madame looked out of the window through the blur and confusion of the rain at the boy, his head pointing up at the sky, his eyes shut. The water poured through his hair, and over his face. His shirt was clinging to his thin body and the wet loosened his trousers from his tiny waist. Madame watched him, thinking of a young dreamer she had once loved. He too had been an outdoors type; his mind looked upwards to the sky too. But he had died in a war, so no more thought of him.

Shedding no tears, she sipped her tea.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Courtesy of ...


Some links for those of you who are not watching the FA Cup and are not willing to line Rupert Murdoch's pockets to watch the cricket:

1. Those who have read my bits and pieces on Latin America with interest will want to flick to Whatever Happened to Leon Trotsky. LT has two advantages over me: (a) he has been to Bolivia, and (b) he knows what he's talking about.

2. A piece on polemicism over at Charlotte Street. His case study in polemics is hang-'em-all-let-God-decide diatribist Peter Hitchins, though the article could just as well apply to his brother Christopher.

3. A new discovery for the weekend: Balkan Beat Box. You can hear some tracks for free here, including one called "Adir Adirim," which is very reminiscent of some of the stuff Tjinder Singh was doing with Bubbley Kaur a year or so ago.


Thursday, May 11, 2006


“Beware, I might grow to enjoy it,” says Wanda to Severin in Masoch’s Venus in Furs.

This is the paradox within masochism. The recipient of violence in a masochistic situation is also its instigator; he sets its parameters and directs its action. Its conditions are set out in a contract to which both masochist and torturer agree: the masochist will educate his mistress, and will stage-direct the relationship. But the torturer will inevitably fail in her role; she cannot learn by the masochist’s rules. She will either be insufficiently cruel, or she will be too cruel and turn sadistic. Hence Wanda’s warning to Severin.

I get a thrill from punishment – I’ve always been that way

It seems de trop to state that power structures dictate the course of the sadistic or masochistic relationship, but it is prescient to describe how language distorts and refracts power.

Violence does not speak and sexuality is not spoken about. Since neither is verbalised, they must necessarily belong in the realm of the Real. Here lies a further paradox: how do we speak of the sort of sex whose rapture is beyond words? James Joyce uses a vocabulary of 30,000 words in Ulysses, yet even he cannot find the words to describe his sexuality. In his letters to his wife Nora, he suggests that she insert the letters inside her. Not knowing how to make his love and desire for her speak, he literally wants his erotic words to enter Nora’s body.

Letters are all important in Masoch’s fiction. The masochist’s situation is essentially a lonely one: it is his words that do the talking in his relationship, but he needs to hear them from the mouth of another human being, a surrogate mother figure.

But, as Gilles Deleuze states in his essay Coldness and Cruelty, the sadist wishes to demonstrate “that reasoning itself is a form of violence, and that he is on the side of violence, however calm and logical he may be.” His violence is impersonal, yet requires a person or persons to receive it. The imperative and descriptive elements of his language express his individual tastes, but there are also obsessive aspects to his language which appeal to this idea – repetition, accumulation, acceleration.

This is why sadism and masochism are incompatible, despite their intersections. Whereas the masochistic relationship is based on a pact, for the sadist, total possession is the essential component – accord is the last thing he wants. The masochist would not tolerate the sadist (because the masochistic theatre must always be directed by the masochist himself), and the sadist would not tolerate the masochist (because he is a willing recipient of punishment); the sadist wants a non-compliant victim.

Cut the stallion at his mount – and stuff it in his mouth

Lacan’s theory of the structure of psychosis suggests that the psychotic patient is one who has not passed through the Oedipal channel from Imaginary to Symbolic: he has not acknowledged the Name of the Father. Indeed, he sees the Law as a charade, and supposes there must be an Other of the Big Other which actually pulls the strings.

The sadist is trapped in the Real, and is working within aberrant registers of nature and negation. Indeed, for the sadist the application of negativity is almost arbitrary since in the symbolic realm the negative can only be defined in relation to accepted positives; it is precisely these positives to which the psychotic cannot submit himself.

Absolute negativity is impossible, “hence the rage and despair of the sadistic hero when he realises how paltry his own crimes are in relation to the idea which he can only reach through the omnipotence of reasoning.” Though aspects of it will pervade reality, primary nature can only exist in the Real. Pure negation is absolute – it has no benchmarks. “But in point of fact this original nature cannot be given: secondary nature alone makes up the world of experience, and negation is only ever given in the partial processes of the negative. Therefore, original nature is necessarily the object of an idea, and pure negation is a delusion.”

The sadist is essentially a loner whose frustration is that he needs people on which to commit his violence. His particular brand of evil is determined by laws and dictates, and is thus immoral rather than amoral. He cannot act in cold blood.

Spit upon his face and scream – there is no Oedipus today

The masochist’s preference also arises from an interruption in the Oedipal process. But whereas the sadist wishes to vanquish the symbolic Father, Deleuze suggests that the masochist does not aim for absolute negation or destruction. Instead he works through a capricious cycle of denial – distortion – disavowal (Freud’s verneinung – verwerfung – verleugnung). Rather than wiping out reality, the masochist disavows it so that he can create an alternative ideal. Zizek notes that “masochism confronts us with the paradox of the symbolic order qua the order of ‘fictions’: there is more truth in the mask we wear, in the game we play, in the ‘fiction’ we obey and follow, that in what is concealed beneath the mask.”

The masochist’s flexible, playful dialectic contrasts with the sadist’s brutality as he oscillates between actual and idealised reality. Postponement and suspension of sexual pleasure is thus a key component of masochism – it is, in short, a waiting game. In Masoch, repetition is dramatic and “frozen”; in Sade it is accelerating and mechanical. This – repeated, fruitless negation on the one hand, suspension and disavowal on the other – is the key distinction between the two forms.
Masoch’s ideal woman is, Deleuze says, a synthesis of the sensual (uterine) and the sadistic (Oedipal) woman. Her qualities are a combination of both: “cold / maternal – severe – icy – sentimental – cruel.” Deleuze argues with Lacan that entry into the symbolic world is not necessarily dependent on the Name of the Father. In a masochistic situation, the Name of the Mother is the determining factor. Secondary, rather than primary, nature wins. The Oedipal complex thus works in an entirely different way to normal – the oral mother, having contained everything else, becomes a Spinozistic single matter.

In masochism, if the beater is the father, the beaten is the self-as-father – therefore, there is somehow a desire to humiliate the father through oneself. The properties of the father in both functions is thus transferred to the self and the mother figure; the father is no longer necessary.

Make the sacrifice – mutilate my face

Sado-masochism is, therefore, an empty umbrella term for violent sexual behaviour.
Sadism and masochism may cross over, but only at the end of each act. At the end of Venus in Furs, Wanda turns, at the behest of her somewhat absurd male lover, into a genuine sadist (as opposed to a torturer in the masochistic context). Severin is unable to maintain control, and loses her. To regain command, he also turns sadistic. So the masochist has, through the penance of pain, purged himself of the masochistic instinct so that he may become sadistic; the sadist, as an ultimate sign of power, performs his sadism against himself. But this latter conversion is not the same as masochism: it is more like the tough guy who demands that others punch him as hard as possible in the stomach to prove his resilience, or like the violence-directed-towards-the-self by Edward Norton in the film Fight Club. In either case, a conversion is not an inevitable part of the process: it is a “paradoxical by-product.”

As a coda, it is worth asking what the significance is of ‘sado-masochism’ in its softest form whereby, for example, a couple will spice up their sex life by exploring light bondage, uniforms etc. This form of ‘sado-masochism,’ being neither sadistic nor masochistic, adds further levels of fiction and reality to the game. Its uncomfortable archness and forced sniggering is like a repressed repression, but it nevertheless hints at a space which modern, raunch-culture sexuality (where sex is de-sexed, where even naked flesh is a cover-up, where the gap between what is desired and what can actually be given yawns ever wider) cannot reach: a suspension within the Real. Or, in short, a glimpse of ecstacy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The thwack of leather upon willow is almost upon us. This summer will tell us whether England's Ashes win last year was a fluke, or whether our failure (abysmal in Pakistan, disappointing in India) during the winter was the one-off.

Unfortunately, corporate interests have ensured that the Luddites among us cannot watch any test cricket anymore. The small mercy of this is that Test Match Special on Radio 4, always the best way to consume cricket, remains invulnerable to commerce and profit margins.

Read this, get angry, go protest. Or I'll send Freddie round.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Today in National Masturbation Day in America. I kid you not.

But why should the Yanks have all the fun? The official website for this great day recommends that you should "spend quality time with yourself throughout the day-call in late to work or extend your lunch break and spend it masturbating!" I am not one for superfluous exclamation marks, but I think that suggestion richly deserves one. Why? Let me count the reasons:

1. Because masturbation is immensely pleasurable, invigorating, rejuvenating and fun.
2. Because masturbation proclaims that sex is good in, by, and for itself.
3. Because masturbation makes you a better lover.
4. Because you can have more sex more often.
5. Because sexual pleasure is each person's birthright.
6. Because masturbation is the ultimate safe sex.
7. Because masturbation is a joyous expression of self love.
8. Because masturbation offers numerous health benefits including menstrual cramp relief, stress reduction, endorphin release, stronger pelvic muscles, reduction of prostate gland infection for men and resistance to yeast overgrowths for women.
9. Because masturbation is an excellent cardiovascular workout.
10. Because each person is their own best lover.
11. Because masturbation with a partner can be educational and hot.
12. Because masturbation increases sexual awareness.

So girls, use that washing-machine for the purpose it was intended; and boys, use it or lose it, as they say. I'm off for a joyous expression of self love. Catch you later...


Grant McLennan, co-founder of the Go-Betweens, has died in his sleep aged 48.

The critic Robert Christgau once described the Go-Betweens' music as "chamber pop," and "Bye Bye Pride" from Tallulah, their best album, does indeed contain the greatest oboe solo ever recorded (you can quote me on that). This could sound precious were it not for McLennan and Robert Forster's discernment and taste - nothing is overdone on a Go-Betweens record; everything is just as it should be.

McLennan was the McCartney to Forster's angstier Lennon but, despite my antipathy towards Macca, McLennan is my favourite songwriter of the two. "Bye Bye Pride", "Cattle and Cane" and "Born to a Family" (which you can listen to here) are three of the most perfect pop songs you will ever hear. I have written before about the difficulty of accepting the absence of a person when they die; for a pop fan, and especially one who has followed a cult band throughout their career, the loss of a great voice is just as hard to take. Grant McLennan's voice and his songs will be sadly missed.

GRANT MCLENNAN - 1958-2006

On a merrier note, many happy returns to poet and socialist Michael Rosen, a homo ludens if ever there was one. When one starts a blog, it takes a while to work out whether anybody is reading, and if what you're writing is of interest to anybody but yourself. So when Michael left a couple of perspicaceous comments on here a couple of weeks ago I was, as Pinter would say, chuffed to my bollocks. I am far too much of a gentleman to disclose Michael's age, but I can tell you that the matron's announcement "it's a boy, Mrs Rosen" coincided more or less exactly with the setting up of Sony.

If any other Homo Ludens readers would like a birthday shout-out, please do let me know. But you have to write a poem as good as "I Love Chocolate Cake" first.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Occasional offering from the Daily Telegraph:

If I was a better blogger, I would have posted this on Thursday, rather than two day's after the election. But I am a very bad blogger, who is more interested in making soup than reflecting electoral trends. Soup, you see: I said everyone was talking about it...


Soup. It's what everybody's talking about this summer. Soup, soup, soup. The World Cup will pale into insignificance once the soup craze really takes off. And, being the hep cats you all are, you will want to be armed with recipes when someone really cool (such people are regularly to be found in the Pineapple pub in Kentish Town; they are uniformly dreadful, of course) asks you how you prepare your favourite soup.

Here goes:


Peel, halve and finely a large onion. Pour oil into a medium-sized saucepan and add the onion. Cook briskly, stirring every so often, for about six minutes until the onion is slippery and beginning to colour.

Meanwhile, peel and finely chop two cloves of garlic. Peel and chop a large potato into small dice, rinse and shake dry.

Stir the garlic into the onion and a couple of minutes later, increase the heat slightly and add the potato. Season with salt and plenty of pepper. Add a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme and half a teaspoon of curry powder, stir well then add 600ml of chicken stock.

Tip a can of butter beans into a colander to drain and rinse with cold water. Shake dry and add to the pan. Bring the soup to the boil, then turn it down so it simmers, half-cover the pan and cook for about 15 minutes until the potato is tender.

Pour the soup a bit at a time into a blender and blitz until smooth. Pour back into the saucepan, stir in a dollop of mustard and a squeeze of lemon juice. Melt a smallish piece of butter in and season again.

Serve straight away with garlic bread, plenty of chilled rose, and (if you're a real greedyguts) follow with a toasted bacon sandwich.

Taken from Lindsey Bareham's wunnerful "A Wolf in the Kitchen" recipe book.


"In the beginning was the deed," says Trotsky, in response to the Russian Formalists. "The word followed, as its phonetic shadow."

Trotsky's essay makes a distinction between form and content which is useful to the ongoing discussion on the subject:

The methods of formal analysis are necessary, but insufficient. You may count up the alliterations in popular proverbs, classify metaphors, count up the number of vowels and consonants in a wedding song. It will undoubtedly enrich our knowledge of folk art, in one way or another; but if you don't know the peasant system of sowing, and the life that is based on it, if you don't know the part the scythe plays, and if you have not mastered the meaning of the church calendar to the peasant, of the time when the peasant marries, or when the peasant women give birth, you will have only understood the outer shell of folk art, but the kernel will not have been reached.

The architectural scheme of the Cologne cathedral can be established by measuring the base and the height of its arches, by determining the three dimensions of its naves, the dimensions and the placement of the columns, etc. But without knowing what a medieval city was like, what a guild was, or what was the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, the Cologne cathedral will never be understood. The effort to set art free from life, to declare it a craft sufficient unto itself, devitalises and kills art.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


And they say politicians these days don't keep to their word.

When Evo Morales ran for the Presidency of Bolivia last year, he promised to nationalise all his country's subsoil hydrocarbons. On May Day 2006, he has done just that:

This is a patriotic and heroic decision that takes back our soul and dignity. But it will be a measure attacked by dinosaurs, conservatives, and traitors of the country.

said Mr Morales. He forgot to mention two of his closest allies in Latin America: Presidents Kirchner (Argentina) and Lula (Brazil). Both are pretty peeved that industries in which their own countries invest will no longer be theirs to appropriate. And both seemed to be surprised that the man who they thought was their friend has left their governments (in Lula's words) "caught with their pants down."

They shouldn't be surprised though. Despite his shortcomings, Morales has always aligned himself with Bolivarian socialists such as Chavez and Castro, rather than with Peronists or social democrats (i.e. Kirchner and Lula). At first, Kirchner and Lula seemed to view Morales (and, for that matter, Chavez) as rather useful allies in South America. When they wanted some anti-American rhetoric, Hugo and Evo would come up with a juicy soundbite with which they could laugh along, without actually saying anything themselves which might alienate the US. In other words, Lula and Kirchner could flit between Latin American solidarity and US kow-towing as and when necessary.

These are interesting times for the Left in South America. If Morales was on his own, one might be tempted to point out the dangers of pissing off one's biggest customer (Bolivian oilfields provide Brazil with 50% of its supply). But Bolivia and Venezuela are the two largest sources of oil in Latin America. The fact that both are in an advanced state of re-nationalisation means that the oil market could well increasingly favour the seller. Good news for Venezuelans and Bolivians, whose staggering natural resources have always provided income for anyone but themselves. Bad news for Lula and his chances for re-election in October.

See here for more on oil, capitalism and climate change.

Monday, May 01, 2006


The desire to have the Phallus (or, in Derridean terms, to enter the Centre) is caused by a fundamental lack at the heart of adult human life. The Phallus (which, as all dictionaries of psychoanalysis will tell you, really has nothing to do with the penis) is the symbolic place where there is no lack. It is what we all strive for, and what we can never attain.

The source of this idea of a perfect, complete, unified symbolic realm can be found in Lacan's Mirror Stage. When the child sees an image of itself in the mirror, it sees a representation of itself as a whole which is at odds with the chaotic, uncoordinated sense it previously had of itself and the outside world. But this is something of a mixed blessing.

First, because it is the stage when the child first perceives 'itself' and 'others'. Up to this point, Lacan says, the child is the world: there is no separation between itself, its mother, and the rest of the world: the child lives in the unstructured, but nevertheless unified, realm of the Real.

And second, because the idealised image of the self-as-other in the mirror becomes a kind of imaginary role-model to which one can never quite compare. Hence the terrible pangs of inadequacy and alienation which afflict the person who cannot live up to the expectations placed on him by himself and (he perceives) by others.

Thus, in many ways the Phallus and the Real are very similar. Leaving Nature and entering the world of Culture (the Symbolic realm, the world of language, the world of the social etc) involves Lack: a loss of unity from the mother's body, a loss of unity of self and other, the paralysis of meaning caused by the need for language. In order to deal with this traumatic transition, we misperceive ourselves as being (or, at least, capable of being) complete. Paradoxically then, the entry into Culture is caused by and reverts back to a situation where the self is all, and where there is no O/other. Perhaps this is not so paradoxical after all: the desire for the Phallus is merely a search for a self which is not alienated, complete unto itself.

One Homo Ludens regular has questioned how and whether the Lacanian approach is dialectical or materialist or both. The strength of Lacan over ego-psychoanalysis is that he explains how the self and the rest of the world are in constant tension with each other, how the self is inseparable from the O/other (meaning everything outside of itself), how the primary of the ego is impossible. In other words, self=other=self=other etc etc. The opposing tensions of Nature and Culture interconnect everything, and are the cause of the constant change. As Adam Phillips has stated, "Our nightmare of total transparency conflicts with our dream of being entirely known. So we do our best to have it both ways. Hugging our right to silence close to us, we sally forth into the world in search of friends, lovers, therapists"...

Materialism is also ever present in psychoanalysis. Matter - the severing of the link with the mother, the introduction of the social, the identification with the self/other as something more than a nebulous blob - is the source of the inevitable alienation of the individual. Of course, Marx stresses alienation as the cause of the misery of modern man, but he sees it as being caused by the separation between exploited worker and product, and between exploited consumer and product. Following on from Freud, Lacan sees alienation embedding itself far earlier in life. But Lacan's stress on the ping-pong relationship between the self and other (or between the individual and society) allows his analysis to sit comfortably alongside that of Marx. Both identify the constancy of change, and both know that this change means that ideologies must be investigated in the light of their history (and their future).

If there is a difference, perhaps it is how Lacan and Marx perceive objective reality. Marx sees objective reality as existing as an absolute truth: this reality is, of course, rooted in history. The truth may be elusive, it may be hidden from view, and it may need a person or persons to reveal it and use it, but it is there all the same. For Marx, there is a perfectly objective reality to reflect, even if the reflection is never perfect. For Lacan, the reflection of reality is the cause of (rather than a potential solution to) alienation.