Friday, June 29, 2007


Spot the difference :


GLASTONBURY (they call themselves revellers, you know)

Answer : there is none (except that, as far as I know, Ascot is not organised by a fiercely right-wing organisation whose board members promote blowing up brown people).

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Saturday, June 23, 2007


I was taught a new game the other evening. All you have to do is name something - absolutely anything - and say whether it is communist or fascist. For example, lager is fascist, wine is communist, ale is very communist. Snow is communist, but sun is fascist. Cricket is communist, football is fascist. Europe is fascist, South America communist. Etc etc.

One you get a feel for it, it is a very easy game to play. At first, you have to give each item some thought. An overland train journey, for instance. Communist or fascist? I would say fascist. But the Tube is communist, and the bus is even more communist. All air travel is, of course, deeply fascist. After a while, however, you get a feel for it, and you find that you can't stop.

The cinema = communist.

A gig = quite fascist.

Glastonbury = once communist, now very fascist.

In this game, not everything fascist is bad (though of course Glastonbury is), but there must be something immanently evil about it to make it fascist. I like wine, I like the sun, I travelled to South America by plane. But they are all still fascist.

Coincidentally, the day after I learnt this game, I read Umberto Eco's essay Ur-Fascism, which sets out fourteen essential criteria of fascism. A fascist state may not contain all of these, but if even one is present, "a Fascist nebula will begin to coagulate".

1. The cult of tradition ... "it suffices to take a look at the syllabus of every Fascist movement and you will find the principal traditionalist thinkers. If you browse through the New Age section in American bookshops, you will even find Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a Fascist. But putting together Saint Augustine and Stonehenge, now that is a sympton of Ur-Fascism."

2. The rejection of the modern world ... "[In Nazism] the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason were seen as the beginnin of modern depravity. In this sense, Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism."

3. Action for action's sake ... "Action is beautiful in itself, and therefore must be implemented before any form of reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation."

4. Rejection of criticism ... "The critical spirit makes distinctions, and distinguishing is a sign of modernity. For Ur-Fascism, dissent is betrayal.

5. Rejection of diversity ... "Ur-Fascism grows and seeks a consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a Fascist or prematurely Fascist movement is a call against intruders. Ur-Fascism is therefore racist by definition."

6. The appeal to the frustrated middle classes ... "In our day, in which the old "proletarians" are becoming petits bourgeouis (and the lumpen proletariat has excluded itself from the political arena), Fascism will find its audience in this new majority."

7. The nationalist obsession with conspiracies ... "The easiest way to construct a conspiracy is to appeal to xenophobia. But conspiracies must also come from the inside : the Jews are usually the best target, because they offer the advantage of being at once both inside and outside."

8. An enemy which is at once too strong and too weak ... "Fascist regimes are doomed to lose their wars, because they are constitutionally incapable of making an objective assessment of the enemy's strength."

9. Life as permanent war ... "This however brings with it an Armageddon complex : since the enemy can and must be defeated, there must be a last battle, after which the movement will rule the world. Such a final solution implies a subsequent era of peace, a Golden Age that contradicts the principle of permanent war."

10. Popular elitism ... "The leader, who is well aware that his power has not been obtained by delegation but was taken by force, also knows that his power is based on the weakness of the masses, who are so weak as to need and deserve a "dominator."

11. The cult of death ... "The Ur-Fascist hero aspires to death, hailed as the finest reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, it should be noted, he usually manages to make others die in his place."

12. Machismo ... Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power onto sexual questions. Since sex is also a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero plays with weapons, which are his ersatz penis : his war games are due to a permanent state of penis envy."

13. Qualitative populism ... "For Ur-Fascists individuals have no rights, and the 'people' is conceived of as a monolithic entity that expresses the 'common will.' Since no quantity of human beings can possess a common will, the leader claims to be their interpreter. In our future there looms qualitative TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the 'voice of the people.'"

14. The use of newspeak ... "All the Nazi and Fascist scholastic texts were based on poor vocabulary and elementary syntax, the aim being to limit the instruments available to complex and critical reasoning. But we must be prepared to identify other types of newspeak, even when they take the innocent form of a popular talk show."

Actually, many parliamentary democracies contain some of these elements, and in fact Eco only looses links fascism with totalitarianism. The idea of an persistent state of emergency promoted after September 11 adds permanent warfare to capitalism's canon. Newspeak was there before, and is implicit in the age of advertising, but has grown in stature this century. Not so much in Northern Europe, but in parts of Southern Europe and most of South America, machismo is a part of daily life. So, many of these themes are familiar to us, if not necessarily in an advanced form.

I'm not at all sure that the presence of one or more of these elements means that fascism is just around the corner. They merely indicate the repressive nature of certain liberal democracies. But there seem to be two elements which are not present in any modern-day democracies that I can think of. The first is the rejection of the modern world (anathema to any capitalist state), and the second is the cult of death. When the latter is combined with a state of permanent warfare, there can be only one final solution : auto-annihilation.


Does our perception of history, our obsession with the recent past, compare with attitudes towards the past 50, 100 or 500 years ago? The answer must be no. Not only the conception of history, but also the impression of time itself differs according to the economic model predominant in a given society. The stage of capitalism, the social relations of the labour process, the ideas people have of demography and the world, all undergo continual change. Accordingly, our perceptions depend on our experiences of the world, right here, right now.

How can something as metaphysical as time change according to our concrete circumstances?

With the commodification of labour comes an estrangement of man from his work. In the first half of the twentieth century, there was a trend (in capitalist countries of course, but also the Soviet Union) of increasing rationalisation, with standard methods for each job, specialisation of labour, a complex and official hierarchy of power and a more scientific approach to business planning. Productivity is assessed according to ratings, outcomes, performance targets etc.

Essentially, the worker becomes depersonified, a mere unit of labour. Individual personality is only sanctioned outside of the workplace. At work, the worker must relinquish his humanity and become a piece within the whole, a cog in the wheel, and his work must comprise, in Lukacs’s words, “the mechanical repetition of a specialised set of actions”. Idiosyncracies become errors because they do not function according to rational predictions. Workers and consumers (among whose number are now included people in receipt of health or social care) are reduced to performance indicators. The market operates independently of human intervention, and the worker must conform to its codes whether he likes it or not.

At the heart of this rationalist, calculable way of working is the endeavour towards maximum efficiency. Time, therefore, becomes the means by which productivity is measured. “Time,” says Marx, “is everything ; man is nothing, he is at most the incarnation of time.” Lukacs, in History and Class Consciousness, goes one further :

Time thus sheds its qualitative, variable, flowing nature ; it freezes into an exactly delimited, quantifiable continuum filled with quantifiable ‘things’ (the reified, mechanically objectified ‘performance’ of the worker, wholly separated from his total human personality) : in short, it becomes space.

Of course, the role of the citizen in capitalist society is twofold : to produce and to consume. This dual demand succeeds in splitting the identity of the subject. Cowed by ideology, the worker believes that the exchange of his labour power for a salary is fair, even “natural”. He does not stop to consider why the flat-rate that he receives is for a 35-hour week as opposed to 30 hours or 20 hours, nor that it may not stay that way forever. Like everything else in life, this arrangement seems entirely normal and historic. So too does the time allocated him for social life, which is considerably less than for his working life.

Outside of work, time provides people with the space to consume. When we see an advertisement, it will often hint at something unsatisfactory about the present from which we will be redeemed so long as we buy the product being advertised. Any advert containing sexual suggestions will always be aimed towards the person worried at their sexually inactivity. Consumption allows us a brighter future, and the process of publicity means that any pleasure to be found in the present is eternally deferred. The present becomes a place of anxiety and discontent, ensnared between the possibilities of the past and the future. John Berger, in Ways of Seeing, describes the effect of publicity thus :

Publicity is, in essence, nostalgic. It has to sell the past to the future. It cannot itself supply the standards of its own claims. And so all its references to quality are bound to be retrospective and traditional.

The German philosopher Schopenhauer stated that “time never lets us so much as draw breath but pursues us like a taskmaster with a whip.” This idea of time as being an outside force, one which harangues us as we pass it (or does it pass us?), is apposite. What it boils down to is that the present never exists for its own sake. This is in part, of course, a consequence of human subjectivity. We, unlike other animals, possess the capacity to reflect and the inclination to desire. Both necessarily defer the present. We cannot quite grasp the potential of the present – it is there for the taking yet … no, we cannot quite absorb what it offers. But we are convinced that whatever it is, it is obtainable – and so our search continues. But this search, for the bit of future concealed in the present, comes at a price. "The publicity image," writes John Beger, "steals the love of the spectator-buyer as s/he is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product."

Modern history performs precisely the same role.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Capitalism has not served women well. It does not matter much whether you are a feminist or not. You may believe that the prime opposition is one fundamentally of gender (and that all further opposition emerge from that), or one of economics and class, or whatever ; one merely has to face facts. There remins a dramatic inequality of income between the sexes, and nothing essential changes about the expectations of a woman's role in the family.

It is more than 50 years since Simone de Beauvoir wrote this:

We are told that femininity is in danger ; we are exhorted to be women, remain women, become women. It would appear then that every female human being is not necessarily a woman ; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination? Is a rustling petticoat enough to bring it down to earth?

This could have been written yesterday. The glamour model captures woman's divided subjectivity perfectly. It is not what she looks like which gives her an allure, but how she looks, and specifically how her look makes the male observer feel. The reader of Zoo Magazine can have his ego massaged by the doe-eyed teen who, having been objectified, in turn objectifies him. He gazes at the model who gazes back at him. This is not new : images of naked women, from the high-art nude through to the girly-mag pin-up, show woman being submissive, yet quite inaccessible.

The objectification of women by men (however much the image of a woman might sometimes emasculate the male viewer, the relationship is nonetheless always that of male-viewer and female-viewed) will manifest itself in all areas of life. Most men nowadays don't object to women working, but many will disparage the career woman. There is something about the idea of women as direct competitors which deeply unsettles men. On the face of it, much has been accomplished for "women's right" since de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex. Women have entered the workplace, have achieved economic independence and, according to the law, they are the equals of their male colleagues. There is flexibility which might allow a woman to fulfil the dual role of breadwinner and mother successfully : there are female role models to prove it.

Yet, according to a new report from the Equal Opportunities Commission, "more than 30 years after the Equal Pay Act made it illegal to pay women less for doing the same job, a 17% gender pay gap in full-time hourly earnings still exists. For part-time workers the full-time hourly pay-gap is 38%." It is significant that the gap is most marked for part-time work : what remains decidedly unchanged since The Second Sex is the expectation that women will raise families, and women who do so will be more likely to seek part-time work. This expectation is driven by economic reality : if women stopped having children, our exponential populations and economies would collapse. But there is another economic reality by which women must abide : if they do not work, our economies will also be unsustainable.

Traditionally, women's work has been thought of as the five C's : cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical work. These are considered the natural preserve of women, jobs which, while they may not pay as well as "men's work," fit nicely into women's lives and offer them "a bit of independence." In the past, progressive policy-makers have attempted to move women out of these kinds of jobs and into other areas of work, as though the low rates of pay in the five C's are inherent rather than generated by the predominance of women. But this has resulted in the rates of pay in those other areas of work which women have entered and come to dominate decreasing too :

The entry of women into occupations such as banking and teaching - both once male preserves - has been associated with a lowering over time of their pay and status.


Between 1991 and 2000 the average pay of male bank managers declined relative to the overall median pay by 50% at the same time as the proportion of bank managers who were women increased from 1 in 5 to more than 1 in 3.


Working in a female-dominated occupation is more detrimental to your pay level than being a woman per se.

A care assistance, for instance, will earn, on average, £7.61 per hour, whereas a car mechanic will earn £9.72. A nurse will earn £13.44, whereas a police officer will earn £15.91. It does not matter if the care assistant or the nurse is male or female, merely that s/he is in an occupation dominated by women.

Because of the inconsistent work patterns which inevitably follow from the double task of child-rearing and bread-winning, women are only entitled to, on average, 70% of the state pension. In fact, the economic inequity between men and women presents itself later on in the form of pensioner poverty on two fronts : firstly because many women are receiving their full pension, and secondly because one of those C's - caring - which we referred to above as being such a neglected profession is required by something like 15% of the elderly population. And as our society ages, that figure will increase. It is as if older people are being punished for not being productive - but in fact, via paid work, volunteering and caring, the economic contribution of older people in London is such that without them, the capital would sink to its knees.

Inequality in pay is an exemplar of the myth that legislation and policy alone will change things. To change assumptions about the role of men and women, one first needs to alter the economic systems which bolster those assumptions. Undoubtedly, the disparity between the sexes predates our current economic system, but the rights of women had never really been considered before the twentieth century. Now that women have achieved political independence, it is time to reach for economic independence as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


When we remember, we do not recall a scene “as it was at the time.” We filter it through what has happened since. The same applies in reverse. When we look forward, whether with brightness or not, we know our visions will not materialise. They are filtered through what is happening now, and what has preceded it.

Reading the Guardian’s “Retro special” edition a couple of weekends ago, in which each decade from the 1950s to the 1990s was analysed by a person who lived through it, I was struck by the fact that the only article which rang false was the one about the decade I remember : the 90s. I was in the world during the 80s and remember bits, but I have no recollection of how time passed. I see its events only on a timeline. The 50s, 60s, and 70s passed without me ; I simply did not exist.

Yet I could paint a picture of each of these decades, a picture which would be recognisable to all, better than I could of the 90s or the 00s. A large chunk of my record collection predates 1980, the year in which I was born. Of course, I like a lot of music produced since, but honestly, anything produced after 1983ish (i.e. when my memories begin) lacks a certain mystique.

Our history has been posthumously generated, mainly by the culture industry. Some events are remembered, some forgotten. “Every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns,” warns Benjamin, “threatens to disappear irretrievably.” This careful production of history is a subjective process, undertaken by the ruling class and subscribed to by us, its subjects, but it turns into objective reality without anybody noticing.

Walter Benjamin’s description of the dialectic between past and present – “every epoch dreams its successor” – recalls Borges’ contention that Kafka created his own predecessors. But Borges’ seems the more satisfying. Theodor Adorno suggested to Benjamin that his statement implied three fallacies : that the epoch contains a collective conscious (in much the same way that some neurologists believe our consciousness emerges from neural processes) ; that it directly and diachronically relates to a Utopian future ; and that there can be a precisely delineated notion of “the epoch”. There is nothing of the social movement implicit in a dialectical view of history, no indication of shifting sands within socio-economic relations. In fact, it suggests that the thing which drives us from one epoch to the next is merely time.

Borges’s formula is better because it reverses the commonly held notion that, temporally, events and processes are created by their precedents, and suggests that it is precedents which are created by the present. We all know what we mean by “the 50s” or “the 60s,” even those of us who weren’t there to see them, because we have created them. This reversal corrects the second of Benjamin’s fallacies.

As for the first, we must distinguish between a collective consciousness and any notion of unity or (worse) solidarity. The former is a cover, reared by the ruling class, for the latter, which it wishes to divide. Unity is not a given, but can be achieved only through struggle. We could go further and say that the spoils won by the victors in the class struggle is the struggle itself. The dissipation of the working class as a unified group is one of the great victories of recent capitalism. Once, the notion of “collective consciousness” was class-driven : it was the proletarian revolutionary consciousness. Now, it is a blanket, thrown over each and every one of us while we sleep.


Benjamin became transfixed by Paul Klee’s 1920 painting Angelus Novus. It represented for him the angel of history, watching the past, trying to resurrect it, but propelled forward on a storm blowing from Paradise. “This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

We should like to do the same with our life stories. Pick out the good ones and discard the bad. Change the way we treated this person, or got treated by by that person. Turn pertinent details of a story into its main plot. Resurrect stories, re-build them, destroy them again. But we cannot, for we, like the angel, are pushed into the never-receding future, whether we want to or not.

Saturday, June 09, 2007



Don Letts, interviewed in MOJO :

I'd never DJ'd in my life nor considered it. There weren't any superstar DJs. obviously because of my reggae background I knew about DJ culture. There were no punk records so I played reggae. People make a big deal out of me turning the white kids onto reggae but there is a tradition in this country of white working-class kids gravitating to black music. People like Strummer, Lydon and Simonon already knew about reggae and didn't need Don Letts to turn them on. But a large number of white kids in the suburbs didn't grow up around black people I really turned on. I did play Velvets, Dolls, Stooges, MC5 and the Saints but people told me to keep playing the fucking reggae, even when the bands started bringing things out.

I never played requests. I would always say, "Why hear something twice when you can hear something you've never heard once?" People like the Slits and the Clash took it on board and reinterpreted it. That was kind of empowering for me to see how my culture had a direct effect on my white contemporaries. We both had something to bring to the party. I went back to Forest Hill and told my brethren that I had got the gig at the Roxy. They couldn't stop taking the piss. Andrew was looking for staff, so I asked them if they were interested and they said, "Get the fuck out of here." I got them to come down to the Roxy and they saw un untapped herb market. A week later they were working there.


From the 4 June FT, via Lenin's Tomb :

A new map of the West Bank (see below), 40 years after its conquest by Israel in the Six Day War, gives the most definitive picture so far of a territory in which 2.5m Palestinians are confined to dozens of enclaves separated by Israeli roads, settlements, fences and military zones.

Produced by the United Nations’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, it is based on extensive monitoring in the field combined with analysis of satellite imagery. It provides an overall picture officials say is even more comprehensive than charts drawn up by the Israeli military.

The impact of Israeli civilian and military infrastructure is to render 40 per cent of the territory, which is roughly the size of the US state of Delaware or the English county of Norfolk, off-limits to Palestinians.

Friday, June 08, 2007


An addition to the previous post on Kate Bush's "Get out of my House" :

The song is called "Get Out of My House," and it's all about the human as a house. The idea is that as more experiences actually get to you, you start learning how to defend yourself from them. The human can be seen as a house where you start putting up shutters at the windows and locking the doors not letting in certain things. I think a lot of people are like this they don't hear what they don't want to hear, don't see what they don't want to see. It is like a house, where the windows are the eyes and the ears, and you don't let people in. That's sad because as they grow older people should open up more. But they do the opposite because, I suppose, they do get bruised and cluttered. Which brings me back to myself; yes, I have had to decide what I will let in and what I'll have to exclude.

(Kate Bush in Company, 1982)

The idea with that song is that the house is actually a human being who's been hurt and he's just locking all the doors and not letting anyone in. The person is so determined not to let anyone in that one of his personalities is a concierge who sits in the door, and says "you're not coming in here" like real mamma.

(Kate Bush in Melody Maker, 1982 - note the "his personalities")

"No stranger's feet" on the level of the metaphor for the house, presumably means the person other walking into the house. On a more literal level, a" foot" is a measurement in poetry, and this could be saying that "your words will not enter me".

(from Gabbaweb, the website for all things Kate Bush)

I think the mule is that kind of... the stupid confrontation... I mean, there's not really that much to read into it. It was the idea of playing around with changing shape, and the mule imagery was something I liked inordinately. The whole thing of this wild, stupid, mad creature just turning around and going, you know, "Eeyore! Eeyore!" [Kate makes convincing Eeyore sounds]. I don't know if you saw Pinocchio, but there's an incredibly heavy scene in there, where one of the little boys turns into a donkey a mule. And it's very heavy stuff.

(Kate Bush in Love-Hounds, 1985)


When she was interviewed in 2005 about her album Aerial, Kate Bush said of the oft-derided "Mrs Bartolozzi," with its fixations on cleaning and laundry and its celebration of the washing-machine, "Actually, I think it's the most serious song."

The narrator, Mrs Bartolozzi, now an old woman, recalls with fresh panic how one Wednesday a group of men came into her house in their muddy clothes, and how she had to spend hours and hours cleaning and mopping. There is a conspicuous fear in her recollection ; the soiling of her upholstery reveals itself as a symbol for something else :

"I watched them going round and round / My blouse wrapping itself around your trousers / Oh the waves are going out / My skirt floating up around my waist."

The house as a unified body, vulnerable to intrusion, features in "Get out of my House," the brutal, blasted last song from Bush's The Dreaming album. It was apparently inspired by Stephen King's novel The Shining, about a hotel with a ghostly life-force which possesses its inhabitants. The idea of a building being sentient and conscious had been explored before, but Kate Bush turns the theme back on itself. Her song is about consciousness (and especially sexual consciousness) itself.

Like "Mrs Bartolozzi," it is not good enough to say that "Get out of my House" is about rape. The former appears to be about a traumatic intrusion of some kind ; the latter is so wretchedly aggrieved, one suspects that this intrusion is of a sexual or violent nature. But what makes "Get out of my House" so sinuous, its meaning so perplexing, is the sheer array of voices we hear in it. I hear at least six :

The first bookends the song, enveloping it malevolently. It is a licentious, primal and male hee-haw, which Kate herself outbrays to terrifying effect at the end of the song.

The second voice, the one which sings the verses and chorus (minus the bits in between), is ostensible the narrative ego, with all its screams, slips and tics ("This house is full of m-m-madness, this house is full of, full of, full of fight").

The third is a primeval scream which completes each of the ego's utterances ("slamming", "lock it").

The fourth is an androgynous French concierge who warns the intruder, "My home, my joy, I'm barred and bolted and I won't letcha in...". The voice is teasing, yet aggressive ; protective, yet prohibitive. It acts as the gatekeeper, but it is no surer about the acceptability of the intrusion (whatever form that intrusion might take) that "Kate" herself.

And that "letcha" feels significant too. If the concierge had uttered it, it might sound flirtatious, but this is where a fifth voice enters, a heavily treated voice, flat and cold, yet magnetic and ravishing as well. It anaesthetises you, clasps you to itself, simultaneously reassuring you and giving you the fear.

The sixth voice is the most difficult to place. It is a male voice (actually that of Kate's brother Paddy). It could be the man in the first verse ("I watched the world pull you away" ... "I turn into the wind"). Or it could be the sadistic trespasser, its demand to "let me in" addressed not to the "I" from whom we have heard during the rest of the song, but to Woman as a category. He exists beyond the realm of the Law and exists only in, and as part of, Nature. The combination of his mellifluous voice and his promise of "a cold kiss" and "Devil Dreams" leaves one suspended, circumspectly staring into the ecstacy of the Real.

One can (for I have) produce analyses about what or who each of these voices represent – psychoanalytically, the voices of the id, superego and ego might be heard ; or those of the Mother and the Father – but in fact the voices overlap with such ambiguity, such nightmarish horror, that it is better to let the effect of the whole wash over you. It fits into that category of pop music where you wonder how on earth such a thing could have been written. Kate Bush has only made four albums since, two of which (Hounds of Love and Aerial) are played and recorded with something like a painter's palette. "Get out of my House" is in searing monochrome, perhaps the most desolate, disgusted track she has recorded, and as desperate as any punk song.

[Very many thanks to Alex btw, for helping me write this, and thereby end my 3-week hiatus]