Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Zizek :

Nazism was effectively a reaction to the Communist threat; it did effectively replace class struggle with the struggle between Aryans and Jews. What we are dealing with here is displacement in the Freudian sense of the term (Verschiebung): Nazism displaces class struggle onto racial struggle and in doing so obfuscates its true nature. What changes in the passage from Communism to Nazism is a matter of form, and it is in this that the Nazi ideological mystification resides: the political struggle is naturalised as racial conflict, the class antagonism inherent in the social structure reduced to the invasion of a foreign (Jewish) body which disturbs the harmony of the Aryan community. It is not, as Nolte claims, that there is in both cases the same formal antagonistic structure, but that the place of the enemy is filled by a different element (class, race). Class antagonism, unlike racial difference and conflict, is absolutely inherent to and constitutive of the social field; Fascism displaces this essential antagonism.

More here.


One sin that the Internet induces is a gluttony for information. All knowledge and written information is out there. As long as you have enough printer paper, you can download The Origin of Species or The Phenomenology of Spirit or The Old Testament and not pay a penny. And if you find these tough-going, there is an abundance of "a guide to..."s to help you on your way (just to assure you that specialities are the preserve of those who specialise in them).

This inevitably produces the sensation that it is possible to know and understand everything, if only one has the time (needless to say, nobody does or will). It is part of the injunction of the superego - compulsory jouissance - which seems to me to be Zizek's greatest insight. We have discussed it before : the command to have a nice day, to enjoy yourself, to be happy. If you are unhappy you can get therapy. If you have a disappointing sex-life you can get viagra. If you are ignorant, you can find information to enlighten you. You, as an unfulfilled human being, have no excuses.

Writing on the internet exacerbates the problem, partly because it adds to the glut, and partly because in adding to it there is the need to absorb more of it (and more of it) first. This endless absorption can make writing anything impossible (though, having used this excuse many times, I suspect the impossibility of writing comes first, and the mission of reading is a convenient by-product).

Anyone who keeps a blog seriously will feel the divine presence of the Big Other over his shoulder as he writes. There are blogs whose standards one aspires to, and whose authors one imagines - quite without foundation - read one's every word. When I explore further, often these authors are several years older than me and educated to a much higher level than I am in the subjects that I try to write about. (You see what I mean - even now I'm trying to justify myself to unknown readers against unknown writers...)

So in order not to disappoint them, my imaginary readers, those whose own blogs are my benchmarks, I will try to write a post on a given subject, leaving no stone unturned. I will begin reading and arrive at a choice : to explore other unknown paths, evoked by whatever I am reading, or to continue onwards. If I explore an unknown path, I will be back where I started, for each path has further unknown bifurcations, and so on and so on. The result is that I become so far removed from my original path, that the initial topic will be lost. It is rather like exploring South America, but at each turn having to return to Spain or Portugal, or dash to the nearest museum, to reach the cause, and the cause of the cause (and so on and so on).

Maybe others are less so, but I am terribly guilty of this, and I must stop it. No more seven-books-at-a-time for Paddington! No more terror at incomprehension!


On the subject of writing (and Zizek), I went to see Zizek! last night. Lots of great ironies : the first being that (a) the Director of the film, Astra Taylor, has an MA in Liberal Studies and (b) that the party Zizek associated himself with and campaigned for in the early 1990s was called "Liberalna Demokracija Slovenije". Two other highlights were his affectionate idea of Judith Butler struggling to describe a bottle of iced tea, and his comparison between the immanence of surplus value and the objet petit a (more of this in a later post, maybe).

But the most immediate thing I took from the film was his account of how he writes. Apparently resistant to the idea of writing, he simply writes notes, and more notes, and more notes - and then edits it all. This seems like the perfect strategy, for it softens the act of Writing. Writing (with an uppercase W) takes us back to where we started : it is an attempt to write everything. One knows it is thwarted because one knows one does not know everything ; but perhaps, one day, one will, and one will be able to write. Every writer loves taking notes, because notes are the encapsulation of something fresh and, well, noteworthy. Every writer loves editing, because it is the proof that one has finished the act of writing more educated than when one began. Most writers hate Writing because, if for no other reason, it is the most concrete form of the death-drive imaginable. It threatens to fossilise the notes and the education. It makes one feel stupid.

I am terribly guilty of this too, so ... No more writing for Paddington! Only notes and editing!

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Nice to see that the corporate soft drinks world, never knowingly under-ironic, has decided to advertise Old Jamaica Ginger Beer with the tagline - you'd better sit down for this one - "Jamaica? No, she went of her own accord." And, even funnier, England are playing the West Indies for the first half of this summer, so you can hear this excellent joke AT LEAST EVERY HALF AN HOUR ON SKY SPORTS!!! It's these little things that make life worth living.

One searches for meaning in this series - it feels somehow meaningful - but it's a fairly negative saga. English cricket has returned to its hinterland days of the mid 1990s. When Nasser Hussain became captain in 2000, there was a feeling that things were on the up. We started beating the Asian teams, and carried on getting thrashed by Australia. And then Vaughan took over in 2003, and the winning streak continued, and we beat the West Indies in the Caribbean for the first time since 1968, and crucially there was a collective feeling that the Ashes was within reach. From 2000 to the beginning of 2005, England had leaped from being pretty much the worst team in the world to being the second best. And in 2005, we won the Ashes.

The difference in styles between Nasser and Michael Vaughan is instructive here. Nasser was always moody, brooding, melancholic, gritty. He really was a batsman of considerable panache, but it never really felt like that. He was the man to get you out of a hole, grimacing as he did so. Vaughan, by contrast, is a man of the people, a swashbuckler. Under his captaincy, the team looked like they were having fun. Nicknames came back into vogue - Freddie, Harmy, Banger, King of Spain - and the team bonded over hours of quality Playstation time. They had become chirpy, almost annoyingly so. I remember during one of the luncheon intervals in the 2005 Ashes series when Michael Atherton did an interview with Graham Thorpe, who had just quit international cricket. It was like watching men from an entirely different cricketing era - Atherton and Thorpe were both thinkers, loners, self-absorbed types, just like Nasser. Vaughan had livened up the troops, done away with any lingering melancholy, and pumped them full of self-belief. Despite losing the first test at Lord's, this was first time I had ever seen an England team who knew they were capable of beating Australia.

But in the end, Vaughan's approach has been the undoing of England. Their record since the Ashes has been mixed at best, and in the last six months it has been abysmal. Chirpiness quickly morphed into complacency, and it continues to this day. England currently face a dilemma, brought on by an embarrassment of riches (of sorts). With Flintoff and Vaughan likely to return from injury soon, two players will have to make way for them. It is highly likely that Shah will give way to Vaughan, feasible that Bell may be dropped for Flintoff (given the options, and the positions in the order, I can't see an alternative), and quite possible that no further changes will be made to a team that goes into day 5 with a 33:33:33 chance of winning, drawing or losing the test.

The point is that neither Vaughan nor Flintoff need to prove their form, even though both have consistently failed to perform since 2005. Vaughan has played two test matches since the Ashes, the last of which was nearly 18 months ago. Flintoff has not scored a century in that time, and averages only 30. And as for Harmison who, like Trescothick, actually seems to be hewn from a similar substance to Atherton, Hussain and Thorpe - the celebrity, the success, the touring - whatever it is, Harmison seems to have tired of it. His bowling in this test has been dreadful. As one emailer to the Guardian's coverage today said,

Stroke his sulking head one last time, look into those big baleful eyes of his, wipe away that sentimental tear and hit him swiftly and smartly on the noggin with something large and blunt. Its ok now, he's going to a better place, Harmy heaven, where it's always 2004/5 and its always Northumberland and Fred still loves him.

It won't happen though. These three, more than any others, were the symbols of the Ashes win. England are terrified to drop them, lest the crown should fall. The point is, the crown fell quite a while ago.

As for the West Indies....

I am not old enough to have seen the likes of Garner, Holding, Marshall, Lloyd and Richards emasculate a generation of English cricketers by snapping their wickets in half or mullering them to all parts. I caught the end of Richards and Desmond Haynes, and of course saw Walsh and Ambrose in their prime. Oh, and my days as a cricket fanatic more or less coincided with the start of Brian Lara's test career, so if I don't view the West Indies with the same fear that someone, say, 15 years my senior might, there is certainly a crackle of excitement that fires up in me whenever England play them.

Or, at least, there should be, only this West Indian team is awful. They have been allowed to amass some runs in this Test because of England's Hoggardless (and, if not in body then certainly in soul, Harmyless) bowling attack, and only got wickets in the second innings because England players were deliberately and correctly throwing their wickets away. The Windies haven't been anything much to shout about for a decade or more - Lara is the greatest batsman I have ever watched (i.e. the best since around '92 - better than Tendulkar, Ponting, the Waughs, even John Crawley) because he won so many Tests singlehandedly. During the 131 Tests he played for the West Indies, he scored around 20% of their total runs, and nobody has scored more runs in losing Test matches. And - awesome statistic alert - his famous 501 not out for Warwickshire in 1995 came off only 427 balls.

But yes, this team is a travesty, and there is nothing as tragic as watching a ropey West Indian team. Gayle promises much, most of it brutal, but rarely delivers (7 centuries in 64 Tests is not good enough, even if one of them, a 317 against South Africa, temporarily wiped the smirk off Graeme Smith's face) ; Chanderpaul is good but never fearsome ; and there have been so many bowlers in the West Indian attack over the past four or five years, I struggle to remember who's who (a problem shared by England). One rather gets the feeling Ramnaresh Sarwan has been given the captaincy because, well, who else is there?

My prediction, for what it's worth, is that England will win the series 3 or 4 nil. The West Indies are horribly demoralised after the World Cup ; their morale will sink lower before it gets better, I'm afraid. And I really am afraid because this downward curve is self-perpetuating : as Clive Lloyd said in the Telegraph last week, Guyanan kids today are playing football, basketball, squash, running - anything except cricket. And at the moment, why should they do otherwise?

On the subject of cricket, excellent to hear Trevor Bailey back on the airwaves on Saturday. He wasn't commentating as such, but he popped into the TMS box for a chat with Henry Blofeld. Bailey used to add a very distinct timbre to the barbershop of dulcet tones that make up the TMS box - his accent is a little like Boycie out of Only Falls and Horses trying to be posh, but he speaks with a faintly unnerving growl. Anyway, Henry had been extolling the virtues of Panesar on Saturday, just before lunch.

"What do you think of him, Trevor?" Henry asked.

Long pause.

"Who?" replied Trevor.

"Panesar. You know, the left-handed spinner."

"Ah yes. Well, you see, he's a bowler. And he's very ... very ... good."

See, you don't get analysis like that these days. Neville Cardus described Bailey's style of methodical run accumulation thus :

Before he gathered together 20 runs, a newly-married couple could have left Heathrow and arrived in Lisbon, there to enjoy a honeymoon. By the time Bailey had congealed 50, this happily wedded pair could easily have settled down in a semi-detached house in Surbiton; and by the time his innings had gone to its close they conceivably might have been divorced.

Which reminds me - Geoffrey Boycott commentates on TMS these days too...


One more thing - a quote from CLR James's book Beyond the Boundary, generally reckoned to be the greatest book on cricket ever written :

I haven't the slightest doubt that the clash of race, caste and class did not retard but stimulated West Indian cricket. I am equally certain that in those years social and political passions, denied normal outlets, expressed themselves so fiercely in cricket (and other games) precisely because they were games. Here began my personal calvary. The British tradition soaked deep into me was that when you entered the sporting arena you left behind you the sordid compromises of everyday existence. Yet for us to do that we would have had to divest ourselves of our skins. From the moment I had to decide which club I would join the constrast between the ideal and the real fascinated me and tore at my insides. Nor could the local population see it otherwise. The class and racial rivalries were too intense. They could be fought out without violence or much lost except pride and honor. Thus the cricket field was a stage on which selected individuals played representative roles which were charged with social significance.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


So we have another month or so of Blair : another month of him and his supporters (and more sentimental critics) telling us that we'll miss him when he's gone, that we won't see his kind again for a generation, that "hand on my heart, I did what I thought was right."

Shunted to the inside of some of the papers by Blair's screaming grin was this story :

Two jailed for trying to leak details of Blair's talks with Bush

Tony Blair's ill-fated war with Iraq claimed two more victims yesterday when a civil servant and an MP's researcher were convicted of disclosing details of a secret conversation between the Prime Minister and President George Bush.

Last night, MPs, lawyers and civil rights groups described the prosecution as a "farce" and accused the Government of misusing the Official Secrets Act to cover up political embarrassment over the war.

David Keogh, 50, a Cabinet Office communications officer, was today jailed for six months. He passed on an "extremely sensitive memo" to Leo O'Connor, 44, a political researcher who worked for an anti-war Labour MP, Anthony Clarke. O'Connor was today sentenced to three months in jail after an Old Bailey jury found them guilty yesterday of breaching Britain's secrecy laws.

The memo in question was a record of a meeting held by Tony Blair and George Bush in the White House in April 2004. The meeting included a debate between the two Presidents (sic) about bombing the headquarters of Al-Jazeera. Bush allegedly recommended the bombing (this was in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and the coverage of the Fallujah massacre), but Blair warned him against it. Although there had been some early press coverage of the 2004 memo in the press, it is clear that its content would be extremely damaging to President Bush if it were to get widespread coverage. So Lord Goldsmith, the British Attorney General, slapped a retroactive order of secrecy over the whole thing, a measure echoed by the judge in the case, who ordered "that allegations already in the public domain could not be repeated if there was any suggestion they related to the contents of the document."

Let's just be clear about this : if you and I were to repeat these allegations in public, we would be in contempt of the judge's order, and contempt of the order is, in theory at least, punishable by a jail sentence. The likelihood of such a sentence would, presumably, depend in large part on who you are. I am not a Muslim, so I would probably be ok.

The Atlantic Free Press sums this case up admirably :

It is entirely typical of our strange days that the arbitrary, draconian power that now characterizes the Anglo-American "democracies" would be used here in an attempt to suppress a political embarrassment – the revelation of a barbaric idea that never came to fruition – while the actual physical slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people is openly and unashamedly embraced – even championed as an act of moral courage.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Missing a night's sleep wrecks one's equilibrium, but if it involves all-night drinking and listening to records and chatting and then deciding at 4.30am that a crepuscular walk would be in order, it’s something one really should do every once in a while. No more mind, it really does wreck your equilibrium…


Dawn hovers over a variety of oppositions : it is neither-both day-night, light-dark, awake-asleep, beginning-end. It’s when the day begins ; everybody would agree this, even if the clocks state that the new day begins at midnight. But when exactly does it begin? There is no moment when one can say, Ah now the day begins. As one walks, one can say “the day is about to begin” or “the day has just begun” but not “now it begins.”

What is really going on in things, what is really happening, is always “to come”. Every time you try to stabilise the meaning of things, try to fix it in its missionary position, the thing itself, if there is anything at all, slips away.

- Jacques Derrida, “Speech and Phenomena”


But one cannot deny the process : however Moebian its course, night becomes day, and at great speed. The sun rises over a chimney as we look back down a country-lane. Nature rustles as its first rays are felt. The animals in the hedges take breath in, readying themselves for the daily leap of faith. The sun is orange, a big tangerine, and it ascends over the roof. It screams its welcome to the new day.

Soon a couple of engines rev up, for now it is safe to come outside. The day has begun. Will anybody look up and see that sun has underlit a huge swathe of cloud above a pool of blue sky, giving the impression of a Pacific coast road? Or is that just me?

Yes, the day has begun, but where did it come from? What’s there now that wasn’t there before? Night is now day, dark has become light, the asleep are awake (we were awake all along, of course), the end of yesterday has become the beginning of today. But when did it happen? We can’t say ; to walk at dawn is to live a little in the realm of the unfeasible.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


A brief respite has been necessary in the last couple of weeks, as I return to the UK and try to get my shit together. I have already found a flat, but a job is proving more elusive. Bear with me ; normal service will resume shortly.

Meanwhile, Pagina 12 reports today that the Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transexuals are today presenting a proposal to the Argentinian Parliament to make gay marriage legal. The proposals have been welcomed by the government, and are supported by much of the political sector. The major obstacle to the proposals being passed is (sit down, steady yourself with a stiff drink, cos this is going to shock you) the Catholic Church.