Monday, July 31, 2006


A post about Big Brother - now there's an idea. Should garner me a few extra hits, right? Especially if I also talk about (1) Mel Gibson, (2) Lebanon, (3) Qana, (4) Israel, (5) Ubuntu and (6) Postsecret. What do these things have in common? Yes, dear readers, you've guessed it. They are currently the top searches according to Technorati. I have turned into the whoreish self-publicist par excellence.

For those of you not in the know, (1) is a sometime alcoholic, once-upon-a-time Australian actor and film director who has turned his hand to making muito bizarro films about Christ. He is also prone to the odd anti-semitic outburst, but I am hardly an authority on the man, so let's leave it there.

(2) is a sovereign nation in the Middle East which has been recently been emasculated by American efforts to "spread democracy" in that benighted area of the world. It is currently being massacred by (4), who have used actual Palestinian democracy as a pretext to attacking the Gaza Strip and, over the weekend, (3), where it killed 60 civilians (more than half of whom were children). I shall be writing more about these three this week.

Call me an ignoramus, but I have no idea what (5) is. (6) is a popular blog which gives people the opportunity to share their deepest, darkest secrets with the cyber-world via the medium of the humble postcard.

Big Brother is a "reality TV show," which puts unreal people into an unreal situation (let's not get into Lacanian definitions of Reality and reality, or we'll be here all night). One of these unreal people has been described as Machiavellian, which appears to mean that she's not very nice. As one person said on the BBC website, "Could I have a Big Machiavelli and fries please?"

So what of this Machiavelli fellow? He is known, of course, for being the arch-cynic in political theory; and yet, here he gives an important lesson in doing the right thing, no matter what the contemporary political climate:

It is the duty of the good man to teach others the good that you could not work because of the malignity of the times or of fortune, so that when many are capable of it, someone of them more loved by heaven will be able to do it.

No matter how unrealistic your political vision may seem now, do not give up, says Machiavelli. You may have suffered defeats, your cause may seem all but lost, but time is no barometer of morality. Written 500 years ago, these lines resonate with the radical activist whose dreams of universal liberty are suffocated by contemporary capitalism.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Galileo, in the face of religious reaction, was powerless. Using rational argument he could demonstrate that the world was not flat, that it was not the centre of the universe. But for those dogmatists who refused to accept rational argument, preferring instead to believe myths they themselves had devised, Galileo's proofs meant nothing. It is, in other words, impossible to have a debate with someone who is unprepared or unable to accept the basic precepts of that debate. As a piece of rhetoric, it is usefully deployed by the person who is drowning in a sea of falsity and wants to save a draw from the jaws of defeat.

I say all this, because one frequently runs up against such a tactic when discussing the situation in the Middle East. Since Israel is a sovereign state surrounded by hostile forces, and since Hizbollah is a non-sovereign organisation whose military tactics are unconventional, the former can do no wrong, and the latter no right. However one tries to argue that Israel is massacring innocent civilians (thereby causing the deaths of its own civilians, who are frequently forgotten by both sides of the argument), one is told that Israel is merely defending itself. Even those who argue that the attack was disproportionate still imply that an attack of some sort was justified.

Similarly, if one suggests that Hizbollah are actually the ones acting in self-defence, or that their cause might be a legitimate one (based, one might add, on much more credible evidence than that of Israel), one is immediately denounced as being a sympathiser of terrorism. While the concept of the War on Terror has been largely been dismissed by liberals, the underlying message has seeped into the unconscious: there is a link between Islamic Arabs and terrorism.

An article from the Palestine Chronicle points out the obvious absurdity of this:

[The Israeli assault] is the epitome of terrorism: the incitement of terror in a civilian populace by unleashing massive violence and destruction against it in an attempt to compel the people's political leaders to act against the Lebanese resistance or to change their positions.


The people who unleashed the brutal war against Lebanon are neither intelligent nor courageous. Quite the opposite; they are mediocrities, cowards and opportunists, but they happen to have military superiority. And they possess the keys to the machinery of a state, a real state, one that is secure in its identity, that has clear national security goals and channels of national mobilization, as opposed to a long deferred project for statehood and a state built on the fragmentation of national identity. On the other side is a resistance movement operating in the context of a denominationally organized society, a Lebanese government neutralized to everything but sectarianism, and an Arab order parts of which are rooting for Israel to do what it is incapable, or too embarrassed, to do itself, which is to deal with the resistance as a militia because it foregrounds their own lack of national and popular legitimacy. Israel has nothing to show for ten days of barbaric vandalism and the deliberate targeting of civilians. It cannot claim a single military victory against the Lebanese resistance. It can, though, point proudly to whole residential quarters that have been reduced to rubble, to the burned out hulks and ruins of countless wharfs, factories, bridges, roads, tunnels, electricity generators and civil defense buildings. In terms of explosive and destructive power Israel has thrown an atom bomb on Lebanon, it is the Israeli Hiroshima.

The anti-war marches across the country were disspiriting in that they are unlikely to change anything, but they were encouraging in that a lot more people turned up than I anticipated. Such is the barbarism of Israel's attack, and the US and UK's support for it, that the protests attracted more than simply the usual Stop the War coalition crowd.


This is amazing. Post-Elvis, we have the two most influential, and perhaps the most popular white rock stars in a cab together at the height of their powers, chatting and riffing and generally being a bit dreadful.

One of them is visibly out of it: wired so that everything bleeds that isn't supposed to: eyeballs, gums, teeth, hair, etc.

The other may be wasted too. In comparison to the first guy he is comparatively straight. But he comes across as the classic insecure wise-guy, trying not seem in awe of his hero. He is the funnier of the two, but he knows he is the more quotidian talent. All he can do is wind the sick genius up.

This is the classic Hegelian master-slave scenario: it's fight-to-the-death stuff. Whether it is Dylan or Lennon who gets the upper hand is for you to decide.

Transcript here (the transcript divulges more than the video).

Sunday, July 23, 2006



Chapter IV of Drift is now available to read - just click here.

If you haven't looked at Drift yet, fear not: we are only four chapters in, and it is by no means too late to catch up.

Nevertheless, we have already suffered with the beatific Joanna as she gives birth to the Bubble on Christmas Day, and have seen how her friend, the local priest, has commandeered the Bubble and steered it down to the village. The people of this quiet Devon village have not seen anything of its like before, but the Bubble is in no mood for dawdling, and if that means swallowing the villagers up, well, so be it.

Meanwhile, in London we have been introduced to William Blackstock and his wife, Kate. In Chapter IV we see more of how they live - how, despite their poverty, they are not quite poor enough to be friends with the very poorest, yet not rich enough to aspire to anything better. We have seen how the Bubble is making its way towards London - will William and Kate also be swallowed up?

Saturday, July 22, 2006


“Nothing that is so, is so,” says Feste the clown in Twelfth Night, a play about disguise, deception and duplicity. Twelfth Night is evoked in two books I have read recently. One is Michael Rosen’s William Shakespeare, the other Darian Leader’s Why do Women Write More Letter than they Post? Rosen’s book is an attempt to resuscitate Shakespeare from the metaphysics, the academic emphases on theme, plot, character, imagery etc, and from the nostalgic slop which stifles and mortifies his plays. Shakespeare is thus reborn as a radical poet who, while exploring concrete socio-political issues in late sixteenth century Europe, comes alive when applied to ourselves and our own unfortunate world.

Leader’s book might be described as Lacan for Idiots, except that it is an intelligent book which explains psychoanalytic concepts with reference to literature, culture and actual case-studies. Both books, in other words, take two modernist giants, dust them off the shelves, and throw them into the real world.

Rosen’s book could loosely be described as Marxist and Leader’s is unequivocally Freudian, yet both seem fascinated by the ambiguity of reality which Feste so succinctly frames. Conventional wisdom says that while Marx and Freud agree that appearances are often deceptive, Marx locates the source of this deception in economic relations, and Freud in the structure of the psyche. Or to put it another way, Karl and Sigmund are the two great therapists of the modern age, each diagnosing mankind as fundamentally alienated – in Marx’s analysis we are alienated from our fellow humans, in Freud’s we are alienated from ourselves.

I missed the Marxism 2006 plenary which asked if Freud was a reactionary or a progressive, but it seems to be a question which vexes Marxists of the classical school. There appears to be much concern that Freud is not scientific, or is not a materialist, or has even (as Adam Curtis’s film The Century of the Self demonstrates) been a tool for capitalism. In fact, I would argue that Marx and Freud (and, why not, Shakespeare) are supreme dialecticians who recognise that “external” economic factors and “internal” psychical factors constantly reflect back on each other. They are natural bedfellows and Marxists who ignore or close their eyes to Freud put their own position in peril.

* * *

One might sum up Freudian psychoanalysis by asserting that adult life is a recovery period for the trauma of childhood. In infancy, it is established that our raison d’etre is to fall in love unconditionally with someone who reciprocates that love. The trauma occurs when we realise that the person for whom and to whom that love corresponds – our parents, or more specifically our mother – cannot possibly fulfil that role in real life. Already there is a dialectic between the psyche and the outside world: it is less the biological impossibility of a sexual or romantic union between parent and child than the social proscription (the incest taboo) that prohibits it.

The solution to this trauma lies in the postponement of the ideal love relationship. The proverbial letter-of-the-law, which is broadcast via the parental voice. should reassure us that while we cannot function as a love object for our parent (and vice-versa), an unconditional union will be possible with another person in the future. This guarantee in itself presents significant paradoxes, not least of which is the common but misguided notion that “there is somebody out there for all of us.”

The way that humans desire presents a dual conundrum. Firstly, satisfaction of a desire always lessens or even negates it. This is fundamental, and it implies that the common formula which explains why the forbidden fruit is supremely desirable is misleading. It is not the verboten nature of the fruit that makes it desirable, but rather that our desire of the fruit is what makes it forbidden. Desire, here, comes first.

The second conundrum of desire is that it is socially driven. Darian Leader neatly illustrates this via the example of the railway refreshment trolley. When one hears the rattle of the trolley coming down the aisle, one does not necessarily feel hungry or thirsty; but one is more likely to buy a coffee if one sees a fellow passenger buying one first. Desire, as Lacan says, is the desire of the other.

What this means is that the promised love-object can never absolutely materialise. For some, it does not even present itself. Not everybody finds a mate, and their desire must therefore be sublimated, or transferred onto something else: other social relationships, physical activities, intellectual pursuits, careers etc. But even for those who do find a partner, there will always be an aspect of desire which cannot be satisfied. Indeed, a surplus of desire is essential for any relationship to survive.

What we are saying here is that human desire always requires a partial dissatisfaction (which, as the word suggests, often entails considerable frustration and discomfort). Surfeit of desire is not represented by anything human, because no human is capable of representing it. Witness Truffaut’s Day for Night, where the female lead, having been the non-requiting love object throughout the film, finally says (I paraphrase), “Ok, ok, go ahead and fuck me,” only to find that the guy cannot bring himself to fuck her. We might see his inability as pathetic, but in fact it is simply an acknowledgement that (a) no sexual act could ever match the desire he has had for her, and (b) that she, in reality, does not represent that desire.

This desire, which has (and can have) no human representation, is what Lacan calls the Phallus. The Phallus is “worldless”, except that that is actually the description Ernesto Laclau gives to capital.

Any cogent person can easily discount new-age, self-help, here-is-your-route-to-happiness books. They are born of the pressure, created partially by the pseudo-psychotherapeutic industry, to live a life of harmony. It is completely inconsistent with the Freudian therapy (if we can call it that) for our innate alienation, which is to discard the illusory notion of harmony and accept discord and conflict for what they are – unavoidable features of human existence. This is not to say that we should reject happiness, but that we should recognise that is not a given, and cannot be forced. Now, if this is not dialectical materialism, I don’t know what is.

* * *

A number of questions lead on from this, none of which I shall attempt to answer in this post. How do we proceed from the psychological to the social / political? How might we use Freud to advance Marx? If the phallus – the Real object of desire – is analogous to the notion of capital – the Real object of capitalism – how might psychoanalysis help those of us who wish to see an end to capitalism achieve our objective? Or is it just too simplistic to associate Freud and Marx in this way?

Firstly, it might be helpful to explore briefly what reality and fiction actually mean. Let’s do this by comparing sex and cybersex (this is Homo Ludens after all). Physical sex usually requires some sort of suppression – one has to keep one’s darkest desires in check. One only has to read an issue of Cosmopolitan (I wouldn’t recommend it to be honest) to see the limits of sexual fantasy that are accepted by society. But during cybersex, one can talk as filthily as one likes – your inhibitions can be left at the door. So which of these situations is the more real?

Zizek notes a similarity in the phenomenon of placid young men who play violent computer games. Is the man in question a placid young man “playing” at shooting up as many enemies as he can find, or is he actually a latently violent young man who “plays” at being docile because that is what society expects him to be? Is it conventional intercourse or dirty fantasies that maketh the man?

Social and political life differ from introspective psychological experiences because the former contain meanings only insofar as they can be articulated via language. In one’s thoughts and dreams, signifieds buzz around chaotically, often with nothing to signify them, or turn them into values that we can order and make sense of. Social life is, in other words, filtered by language. Psychoanalysis accepts psychological difficulties because it recognises there is no alternative – must politics do the same, and if not, why not?

I am struggling here to be honest, but what I am trying to tease out is precisely how two diagnoses of human alienation (shared and psychological) might lead to some sort of shared treatment. I absolutely refute the kind of Villa Road, proto-Janovian collective primal scream deal, but actually let’s ask the question anyway: what might a socio-political therapy session look like?

Friday, July 21, 2006


Unparalled coverage of the war in Lebanon over at Lenin's Tomb. Analysis of the sort you will not read in the mainstream press sits side by side with reports from Beirut, often by Lebanese writers (something you also see little of in the mainstream press).

The post that got to me the most was this one. Until you see this, you will have no real idea what it might be like to lay in bed, while outside sirens ring and distant bombs explode, this one 20 miles away, that one 5 miles away, with nothing to make you think the next bomb might not hit you.

I am rather late in publicising the Stop the War march tomorrow at midday (meet at Embankment), but I rather assume most people who might read this blog will have been notified of it elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


For readers of Drift, the novel I am serialising in a blitzkrieg of shameless self-promotion, chapters II and III are now available. Interesting to read people's thoughts on what they have read so far - keep your comments coming, and please pull no punches!

Syd Barrett 1946-2006

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Summer reading - the Guardian can't stop talking about it, the Independent can't stop talking about it, for all I know Pravda has a bit of an obsession with it too.

Well, use those bourgeois supplements as the kindling for which they were intended (those who find the need to point out that kindling must, strictly speaking, be made of wood: kindly shut your kissers), for there is really only one book worth reading this summer.

That book is called Drift and, coincidence of coincidences, I wrote it. But even if you have never enjoyed a single phoneme I have written, please do hurry along to I will be serialising it over the next few months, and would be very grateful if you would do three things for me: (a) read it, (b) tell anyone and everyone you know about it, and (c) post a comment telling me what you think of it. Chapter I is available to read now, and Chapter II will be posted on 11 July.

Drift has never been anywhere near a publisher because frankly, I don't feel novels belong in the offices of big publishing houses. The humble blog seems tailor-made for the novel - everyone can read it, everyone can say what they think and - I hope - everyone can enjoy it. Ta very much in advance.


Does anyone still do shout outs? Or were they part of Fukuyama's whole "end of history" bollocks? Well, assuming that the shout out is still an formal part of bloggification, here goes...

Two of the highlights of my birthday last week were two splendid compilations from Minifig and Darling Vicarage. DV was showing worrying tendencies for a while of giving MissingDustJacket up entirely, though I am glad to see her own (may I say rather sexy) style of blogging has returned to the online fray. So that is, as they say in 1066 and all that, a good thing.

I should probably preface Minifig's blog with an anecdote (I am becoming rather Zizekian with my anecdotes, except that he is funny [I am not], he has a beard [I, despite my friends' suggestions, do not], and he is a Slovenian dissident [coincidentally, I am too]). Today I went to Big Ken's Rise festival in Finsbury Park. The toilets weren't bad at all, thank you for asking. One fellow toileteer, upon pointing his todger at a green plastic urinal, turned to me and said: "Oi mate - it's like pissing in Legoland innit!"

He was right - it was. Minifig might know a little about pissing in Legoland. After all, he knows about Lego (see here for proof) and one assumes, unless something is very wrong, that he knows a little about doing a wee. So - you do the math.

The point is: these two splendissimo people did me compilations, both of which were good to start with, and both of which are growers.


For your doubtless elephantine interest, I shall recount tracklistings for both:


1. DJ SHADOW, Walkie Talkie
3. SUPERGRASS, Kiss of Life
4. BECK, Epro
5. ROY MONTRELL, (Every time I hear that) Mellow Saxophone
6. STEVE EARLE, Snake Oil
7. GNARLS BARKLEY, Smiley Faces
8. DAVID BANNER feat. Magic and Lil Bossie, I Ain't Got Nothin'
9. THE ROOTS feat Cody, The Seed 2.0
10. HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT, A Country Practice
12. WILLY MASON, Live it up
14. MADELEINE PEYROUX, Between the Bars
15. MARK RONSON, Just [the sole shit track on the CD]
16. THE FLAMING LIPS, Race for the Prize
17. JOSE GONSALEZ, Hand on your Heart [the other sole shit track on the CD]


1. MC HONKY, Soft Velvety 'fer
2. CAPTAIN, Broke
3. KID CARPET, Special
4. NADA SURF, Popular
5. WHALE, Kickin'
7. BOY KILL BOY, Suzie
9. HEFNER, Painting and Kissing
10. TORI AMOS, I'm not in love
11. ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS, Fistful of Love [I can't abide this man]
12. THE CARPENTERS, Superstar
13. SOUL COUGHING, Disseminated
14. 4 HERO, Les Fleurs
15. JILL SOBULE, Supermodel
16. FIONA APPLE, Extraordinary Machine



A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a cafe in the South, a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a colour and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well though it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets of a certain canto.
He who strokes a certain animal.
He who justified, or wishes to, a wrong done to him.
He who is grateful for the existence of Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

I like Borges's attitude here, but I'm not sure I like his choices. I have never felt my world has been saved by a person tracing an etymology. In fact, I am exactly the sort of person who does delight in tracing an etymology, and I am forever (and, it has to be said, quite rightly) being referred to as a dullard. Plus, anybody who even dares to read a tercet in my vicinity is liable to receive a wallop in the smacker.

I much prefer this, from Remorse:

I have committed the worst sin a man can commit.
I have not been happy.