Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The first time one watches Mulholland Drive, one initially sees the efforts of a young, cute-as-pie actress named Betty and her mysterious new friend Rita, who is amnesiac as a result of a car crash, try and discover Rita's true identity. Betty goes to an audition for a minor picture and carries off an extraordinary performance, transforming herself from a saccharine all-American kid into a mistress of seduction. An agent, who happens to be sitting in on the audition, is so impressed that she takes Betty to another audition, this time with a major director, Adam Kesher. Their eyes meet across the studio, but Betty is gazumped : the mob have terrorised Adam into casting a vacuous bombshell called Camilla Rhodes.

After the Club Silencio scene, where various acts lip-synch to music, each act becoming more intensely "real" than the last, the film turns into what seems like a nightmare. Betty has turned into Diane (the name they had previously assumed was Rita's, and whose dead body they believe they have just found) and is now depressed and out of work ; and Rita has turned into Camilla, a successful actress who is about to marry Adam. Diane and Camilla are having a sexual affair, though it appears that Diane loves Camilla, whereas Camilla wants to call the affair off. Finally, fizzing with jealousy, Diane arranges to have Camilla killed and, racked by guilt and lost innocence, kills herself.

One's immediate impression might be that Diane and Betty are aspects of each other, and that Rita and Camilla are aspects of each other ; but one will probably be unable to resolve how this can be, how what one has just seen "fits". One will go to bed extremely confused. The next morning, one will look Mulholland Drive up on Wikipedia, follow the links to various reviews and explanations, and discover that the Betty-Rita section of the film is a dream, a wish-fulfilling prequel to the frightening reality of the last third. It will be explained that minor events in the "real" final section (such as the man who glares at Diane at Rita and Adam's party on Mulholland Drive, or the cowboy) take on a mythical significance in the "fantasy" element (as the espresso-spitting mafioso, and the criminal Big Other respectively), just as happens in regular dreams. All the bits that didn't make sense at first suddenly fall into place. You may watch Mulholland Drive again, but only to say "Ah, of course!" at all the bits you missed first time round.

But isn't all this a bit straightforward? Couldn't we just as easily say that the first two thirds is "reality" and the last third a death-driven "fantasy"? A different "message" would emerge of course : rather than people who live complicated lives retroactively trying to clarify their actions, we would have a person who lived a superficially great life, but lived a horrible, haunted, nightmarish life outside the metaphorical view of others. To claim that one part is "dream" and one part "real life" is to assume that fantasy and reality are two mutually separate areas of the psychical domain.

We might recall (for we probably all know such people) the macho man who finds sex difficult ; or the quiet, mousy guy who creates and performs fantastic sexual acts. Which one is the macho man? Which is the shrinking violet? We cannot be so crude as to say. We swing like a pendulum between different shades of fantasy and reality from one minute to the next. Or, as Lacan put it, "truth has the structure of a fiction." And what is more, we cannot even be so precise as to say : "Ah, well I adopt a certain identity in the office, and another in the bedroom." For "me" to be able to choose between them would assume that actually "I" am neither, and instead occupy a quasi-divine position whereby, having created these masks, I can choose which one to put on. In fact, these personas have created you. And this, my friends, is called dialectical materialism.

Anyway, with this in mind, I have been re-listening to Bryan Ferry's These Foolish Things, the debut solo album released in 1973. Like Bowie's Diamond Dogs from the same year, it is entirely covers of (unlike DD, mostly American) standards. You can see the link here, however tortuous : in living out our daily lives, we constantly "cover" ourselves, think of ways to reinterpret ourselves.

The track listing of These Foolish Things is as follows :

"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (Bob Dylan)
"River of Salt" (Kitty Lester)
"Don't Ever Change" (The Crickets)
"Piece of My Heart" (Erma Franklin)
"Baby I Don't Care" (Elvis Presley)
"It's My Party" (Lesley Gore)
"Don't Worry Baby" (The Beach Boys)
"Sympathy for the Devil" (The Rolling Stones)
"The Track of My Tears" (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles)
"You Won't See Me" (The Beatles)
"I Love How You Love Me" (Paris Sisters)
"Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" (Four Tops)
"These Foolish Things" (Dorothy Dickson)

(with the artists who made those songs their own in brackets, of course)

You can find the video for "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" on Youtube : it is just devastating. It turns an organic song written specifically about the threat of nuclear war in 1963 - a song absolutely set in time and place, and therefore virtually uncoverable - into a five-minute-plus glam rock song with coked-lined backing vocals. There is something almost Showaddywaddy about it : all that butch posturing and leather jackets and Elvis covers. And then there is the third verse where he even supplies sound effects to literalise Dylan's metaphors :

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin' (rumble of thunder)
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world (wave crashes onto a beach)
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin' (fearsome snare drum fill)
Heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin' (vampy backing singers gossip amongst themselves)
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin' ("ha ha ha ha!")
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter ("aaah!")
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley

And then comes the strapline, Ferry doing his best to imitate some calmly railing, ranting Nazi general, but always stamped over by his dominatrix backing singers:

And it's a hard ("hard!"),
and it's a hard ("hard!"),
and it's a hard
And it's a ... hard rain's a-gonna fall.

And on that last "fall", the coked-up vamps suddenly turn into angels : angels who shower you with pure AOR shimmer.

The whole effect is somehow one of extraneity : one can see why Dylan wrote "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" : it has a message which the US government needed to hear. But why would Ferry have covered it? And why in this way? Well : if you're in the wrong mood, Bob Dylan can be foully irritating, especially his early stuff. It is not so much that he is didactic - his visions are usually baroque enough to avoid preachiness - but his songs are so ascetic, so grey. They appear to sacrifice essence for all-out substance, and as such feel rather forced. Ferry does the opposite. He comes across as pure surface, and comes up with a version far more imbued with meaning than the original.

Aside from "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "These Foolish Things" itself - a cover version so utterly transcendent, that it would need a separate post to examine its delights sufficiently : suffice it to say, it is the definitive version of the song - the most interesting tracks are the ones written or originally sung by women.

On "River of Salt" Ferry quivers like an abandoned child. On "Don't Ever Change" (by Goffin and King, notorious for their songs of sado-masochism), he starts to take on the Diane-Betty role : his girlfriend doesn't know the latest dance, but knows the time to make romance. Life is sweet, though only (in Ferry's version, though certainly not in Buddy Holly's) because no other guy can fuck her quite as heartily as he might imagine he does. And on the truly absurd version of Lesley Gore's "It's My Party," Ferry becomes jealous of Judy because Johnny's supposed to be his. Nobody, on listening to the whole album, would suspect Ferry of simply forgetting to alter the gender pronouns of Gore's original - not because of any latent homosexuality, but because there is a vein of sexual competition-cum-repulsion to women. He wants Johnny so that Johnny can't have Judy.

This is masochism par excellence : each of the three mother figures which Deleuze suggest variously make up the female masochist ideal are present. The destructive haetera is ever-present : impulsive in love, equal to men only insofar as she can destroy them. The pure sadist is Judy : she enjoys hurting others, but only with the aid of another, obscene male figure. And the intermediate "ideal" is there in "You Won't See Me," labelled by one of McCartney's greatest lines : "I wouldn't mind if I knew what I was missing."

In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's The Divorced Woman, Julian feels an urgent need to see his mistress naked for the first time ; but this is quickly followed by an almost religious feeling of veneration, without any sexual urge. This is how fetishism works, and These Foolish Things, for those that like that sort of thing, could well function as the ultimate fetish object. That aside, it is a materpiece of post-modernism - perhaps the best that pop has produced.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Those natures which, when they meet, quickly lay hold on and mutually affect one another we call affined. This affinity is sufficiently striking in the case of alkalis and acids which, although they are mutually antithetical, and perhaps precisely because they are so, must decidedly seek and embrace one another, modify one another, and together form a new substance.

- The Captain in Goethe's Die Wahlverwandtschaften

Friday, October 27, 2006



Chrissie Hynde was a very early member of the Damned, and wanted to call them "Mike Hunt's Honourable Discharge".

I watched Don Letts's film Punk : Attitude last night, and I'm afraid that's the best I can come up with tonight. You want crude jokes, you've come to the right place. You want analysis of the most important movement in pop culture, well you'll have to wait.

Actually, I'm having a wee bit of a crisis of confidence vis a vis Homo Ludens. This happened a while ago and so I stopped blogging for a while. I don't think I'll do that this time, but one can create a pressure on oneself to write something original and/or perceptive and/or humorous at least once a week (with a bit of filler in between) which it can be difficult to fulfil. Actually, it is not the pressure of workload as such, but the pressure caused by a half-knowledge of your audience. The Big Other looms over you when you write a blog, or does for me anyway. Who am I writing for? What do they wish me to write? In writing my latest piece, will I please them? Will I become the person they wish me to be? Che vuoi? (This is made considerably worse by the fact that the bloggers I aspire to are usually a good 15 years older than me and full-time academics.)

But besides this, my ideas about the world are all up in the air at the moment. When I discovered Marx, a world of chaotic appearances suddenly began to make sense ; this year, Freud and Lacan (and a small host of pomos) have dissolved all of that. Which is absolutely not to say that Marx has been disproved in my mind : I still believe that the accusation that his weltenshaung is overly determinist / essentialist is misleading. I'm just a little, y'know, confused.

The things I really want to write about at the moment are :

  • The illogicality (not to mention misjudged morality) of neoconservatism - I may well combine this with a look at punk and post-punk. That may not appear to make too much sense, but given a bit of work, I think it might.

  • Something on the ethics of religion, with reference to Three Colours : Blue and (if I can pluck up the courage) Mulholland Drive. This post, should it come to fruition, will also include lots of disses towards Richard Dawkins, surely the worst "public intellectual" this country has ever boasted.

  • A magnum opus on architecture, and how - on the smallest of scales - we might build our way to a revolution.

  • A review of Bryan Ferry's These Foolish Things, and a comment on why Jerry Hall might have dumped Ferry in favour of Mick Jagger. How might Ferry have viewed Hall? How might he have viewed Jagger? Would he really have seen them at all?

Sorry - I shall cease my slightly piteous whinging, for tomorrow my final month in the UK will commence - and about that I am, despite myself, more than a little excited.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Theodor Adorno:

Nothing is more unfitting for an intellectual resolved on practising what was earlier called philosophy, than to wish, in discussion, and one might almost say in argumentation, to be right.

The very wish to be right, down to its subtlest form of logical reflection, is an expression of that spirit of self-preservation which philosophy is precisely concerned to break down.

I knew someone who invited all the celebrities in epistemology, science and the humanities one after the other, discussed his own system with each of them from first to last, and when none of them dared raise any further arguments against its formalism, believed his position totally impregnable.

Such naivety is at work wherever philosophy has even a distant resemblance to the gestures of persuasion.

These are founded on the presupposition of a universitas literarum, an a priori agreement between minds able to communicate with each other, and thus on complete conformism.

When philosophers, who are well known to have difficulty in keeping silent, engage in conversation, they should always try to lose the argument, but in such a way as to convict their opponent of untruth.

The point should not be to have absolutely correct, irrefutable, watertight cognitions - for they inevitably boil down to tautologies, but insights which cause the question of their justness to judge itself.

To say this is not, however, to advocate irrationalism, the postulation of arbitrary these justified by an intuitive faith in revelation, but the abolition of the distinction between thesis and argument.

Dialectical thinking, from this point of view, means that an argument should take on the pungency of a thesis and a thesis contain within itself the fullness of its reasoning.

All bridging concepts, all links and logical auxiliary operations that are not a part of the matter itself, all secondary developments not saturated with the experience of the object, should be discarded.

In a philosophical text all the propositions ought to be equally close to the centre.

Without Hegel's ever having said so explicitly, his whole procedure bears witness to such an intention.

Because it acknowledges no first principle, it ought, strictly speaking, to know of nothing secondary or deduced; and it transfers the concept of mediation from formal connections to the substance of the object itself, thereby attempting to overcome the difference between the latter and an external thought that mediates it.

The limits to the success of such an intention in Hegelian philosophy are also those of its truth, that is to say, the remnants of prima philosophia, the supposition of the subject as something which is, in spite of everything, 'primary'.

One of the tasks of dialectical logic is to eliminate the last traces of a deductive system, together with the last advocatory gestures of thought.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


So many words have been written about the Rolling Stones that there is little more one can say. Still, I have listened to little else but the Stones for the last week or so, so here are a few more words to eat tomorrow’s fish and chips from.

First, if you don’t own every Stones album from the 60s, plus 1971’s Sticky Fingers and 1972’s Exile on Main Street, you are implying a curious aesthetic judgment whereby you have prioritised other music above these dozen or so records. This is really akin to saying you don’t like rock and roll. Maybe this is something one only realises after the event.

With the exception of Their Satanic Majesties Request, a record whose mainstream oddness is matched only by The Beatles, they are all, on the face of it, relatively straightforward rock ‘n’ roll records – musically far less tricksy than the Beatles, lyrically analogous to the Kinks, poppier and whiter and Britisher than the r’n’b cuts they sung their praises to. And yet, this is difficult, complicated, dense music: far more challenging than any of their pop contemporaries, including Dylan. After 12 years and countless plays, I still don’t think I get Exile on Main Street. What could be so Byzantine about three chords?

We all know by now that the Beatles were working class boys – they aspired to be working class boys made good, especially Lennon, whose art school dropout status was tempered by his Aunt Mimi’s work ethic. The Beatles got into playing guitars partly because it was a way of getting somewhere in the world : they were careerists through and through. Their music, at least until The White Album, was designed not to offend. Sure, it was sometimes raunchy (their version of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” is positively incendiary), but for the Beatles sex and drugs and music are all implicitly adolescent : innocent, playful, fun. Just how capital likes it (I should point out, by the way, that I am a Beatles fan).

For the Stones, whose vocalist had a prominent member of the Conservative Party for a mother, music was not so much a way to achieve money or fame (though the Stones were certainly not shy of either), but of escaping the compromises and defeats and drudgeries of Middle England. Jagger was brought up in Dartford – this is Ballardian territory in the extreme : its outward calm belies a pent-up aggression, a desire for danger. The Stones articulated the deeply repressed death-wish of the middle classes.

1965 was Mick Jagger’s year of dissatisfaction. He said so in so many words in their first world-conquering song, but no less in “The Last Time,” where he accuses his girl: “You don’t try very hard to please me / With what you know it should be easy”. In that song, he nevertheless wants to hang on to the girl, but in “It’s All Over Now” he’s glad to see the back of her: “Table’s turning now / Her turn to cry.” And in “Get off of my Cloud,” he wouldn’t mind seeing the back of everyone else too.

By 1966, existential rot had set in. “Something happened to me yesterday” might be a drug-song, but the lyrics – “He don’t know just where it’s gone / He don’t really care at all / No one’s sure just what it was / Or the meaning and the cause” – are pure nihilism. 1967 was something of a wash-out – all that peace and love stuff was hardly the Stones’s bag, except on “We Love You,” one of their most loveless, and best, singles – but by 1968 he was back with us again : and further away than ever, as he twists and curls his lips in defiance. On hearing Jagger step into Lucifer’s shoes on “Sympathy for the Devil,” one rather feels for the devil for having his reputation besmirched by the comparison.

It is ingenuous to say that the soul of the Stones lies in Keith Richards’s heart. In fact, it misses the point: the Stones don’t really have a soul. They are cold and calculating and mocking and cruel, and this is down to Mick Jagger, one of the great ironists of rock music:

Jagger is obsessed with distance. He forces the Stones' music to gaze across (and down) the generation gap and the money gap and the feeling gap and the meaning gap. But then, powered by the other Stones – all of them, like most of the Stones' fans, somewhat more simple-minded than Jagger – the music leaps, so that as a totality it challenges that frustrating, ubiquitous, perhaps metaphysical margin between reach and grasp that presents itself so sharply to human beings with the leisure to think about it. This dual commitment to irony and ecstasy makes the Stones exemplary modernists.

- Robert Christgau

1969 was the year of Altamont, where a young black fan was killed by Hell’s Angels whom the Stones had employed as bouncers, as the Stones themselves played “Sympathy for the Devil” in the background. (Though it should be pointed out that, as myth always follows legend, the Stones were actually playing “Under my Thumb,” and it is usually suggested now that the Angels were actually hired by the Grateful Dead, who were the support act.)

1971 saw the release of Sticky Fingers, their sleaziest, most bombed-out record up to that point. It contains “Brown Sugar,” perhaps their greatest single from an embarrassment of riches. It begins with a classic Richards riff, choppy and staccatoid, before Wyman and Watts enter with a rhythm that almost plods. It is a warm and ingratiating sound, despite the death rattle percussion which undercuts it. A hint of disturbance arrives a few bars later in a middle-eighty chord sequence (a little like “Gimme Shelter”), but then we return to the main riff, friendly again. Mick comes in a little later. Such is the feel of the song, that I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics for years.

Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields,
Sold in a market down in New Orleans.
Scarred old slaver know he’s doin’ alright.
Hear him whip the women just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
Brown sugar, just like a young girl should

Drums beating, cold English blood runs hot,
Lady of the house wondering where it’s gonna stop.
House boy knows that he’s doin’ alright.
You should a heard him just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
Brown sugar, just like a black girl should

I bet your mama was a tent show queen,
And all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen.

I’m no schoolboy but I know what I like,
You should have heard me just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
Brown sugar, just like a young girl should.

Maybe I’m a missing a few, but I count slavery, sado-masochism, prostitution, cunnilingus, colonial exploitation, rape, possibly gang-rape, and paedophilia in there – all set against a background of racism. Can he be serious? Is it a complete joke? It is clearly exploitative, both racially and sexually – the lubricious music implies that – but does that mean it’s bad?

After Sticky Fingers came Exile on Main Street : if you want an analysis of that, you will have to go elsewhere : I don’t pretend to understand it. It is a bit like Ulysses or Proust: it is something to which one aspires. I listen to it less regularly than, say, Aftermath or Let it Bleed, but it fizzes with mystery and filth whenever I do give it a spin.

Unlike their major contemporaries (the Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix, Redding), who make more sense if explored chronologically, there is no suggested entry-point to getting into the Stones. I would not suggest starting with Exile on Main Street (which is rather like getting into Joyce via Finnegans Wake) or Their Satanic Majesties Request (which I recommend only for the sake of completeness – the Stones made very unconvincing hippies). Let it Bleed is probably my favourite, followed by The Rolling Stones, Aftermath and Sticky Fingers. But this is mere personal choice. As Christgau concludes, “When the guitars and the drums and the voice come together in those elementary patters that no one else has ever quite managed to simulate, the most undeniable excitement is a virtually automatic result. To insist that this excitement doesn't reach you is not to articulate an aesthetic judgment but to assert a rather uninteresting crotchet of taste. It is to boast that you don't like rock and roll itself.”

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Of course it hasn't been reported much, but anti-Muslim attacks have shot up in the last few weeks, ever since Jack Straw suggested that women who wear a veil while attending one of his surgeries should take it off.

A student in Wolverhampton was surrounded by five people who shouted abuse at her and told her to take off her veil. "Jack Straw has made it illegal so you have to take it off," they told her.

Meanwhile, in Dundee there are allegations that the police are hounding Muslims in their attempts to root out terrorism.

And in Glasgow, a 53 year old imam was punched and kicked as he entered his mosque.

The Daily Express has, in typical paranoid fashion, been whipping up hysteria around the case of the teaching assistant who is trying to retain her job. It told us that Aishah Azmi's legal case is costing money to the taxpayer (I believe Muslim women who wear veils also pay tax, though this appears to elude the Express), and today its headline screams out:

Since the veil is banned in many Arab countries including Turkey and Tunisia, the Express asks, "why must we put up with it here?" Put up with what, exactly? Are the 99% of Express readers who apparently wish to see the veil banned in Britain really incapable of allowing law-abiding citizens wear whatever they wish? Will the ban on veils also apply to weddings? Or, as Dig rather cleverly asked on his blog, will it also apply to surgeons? I assume that the Daily Express's Saturday competition, advertised above as an opportunity to "win a cottage in Provence for a year", will only be open to people who can speak fluent French, otherwise how will they be able to integrate and communicate with the native community?

This is the great myth of multiculturalism - that everybody of every creed and religion can live together in harmony in an open and liberal society. What is at stake here is not communication - it is a seething resentment which exists in Britain at the moment, whose volume is rapidly rising. Under successive governments, the gap between rich and poor has not stopped growing since 1979. In real terms, the poor are getting poorer every day. People need someone to blame for this, and the fetishistic fascination / hatred of the Muslim Other is the perfect candidate.

The government is keen to stoke this inflammatory situation to deflect the claims that its own foreign policy is the reason that Britain is under threat of further terrorism. It has alienated many Muslims by invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and by betraying the people of Lebanon by giving uncritical support to Israel in the summer. In doing so, it sowed the seeds of the London bombings last year. It responded, in the most cynical way imaginable, by implying that extremism was inherent in the Muslim community, and that Muslim leaders must root it out. It has exaggerated the terrorist threat so as to scare people.

This is the politics of fear writ large, and its most pernicious effect is turning good people into bad. Everybody, even people who never really gave the veil a second glance, is looking at veiled women in a different way. Some will be looking distrustfully, while others (and I have caught myself doing this) will simply look away in case their look is perceived as being malicious or threatening. This second point of view is pure paranoia on my part, of course, but the fact remains: my ability to communicate with a women wearing a veil has been weakened, and this is because an anti-veil narrative is pervading the country, rather than because the woman's face is partially covered.

I don't know how this will end, but I have a really bad feeling about it. There really are parallels with the treatment of Jews in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are no pogroms, of course, but there is oppression and prejudice and racism in abundance. If Muslims become (as the Jews were, and the Palestinians have been for sixty years) a people without a home - well, what then?

The Stop the War Coalition has written an open letter about the attack on Muslims by the media and by politicians:

There has been a recent increase in racist hysteria directed against Muslims. We deplore Jack Straw’s remarks concerning the veil worn in public by some Muslim women. His intervention, the bullying attacks of John Reid and other Ministers, and stories in some sections of the media, are designed to isolate and demonise British Muslims. The result has been violence against, and intimidation of, Muslim people.

We express our solidarity with all people in Britain of the Muslim faith, affirm their right to dress as they please and live their lives in peace and security.

The current attacks on Muslims are rooted in the disastrous 'war on terror', of which this government has been such a prominent supporter. This war has made Britain more vulnerable, not less, to terrorist attack.

If the government is concerned about improving the cohesion of our communities, let it first abandon its support for the foreign policy of the US administration, including the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

To add your name to the letter, email office@stopwar.org.uk

Meanwhile, here's more evidence of how the coalition forces are out of their depth in occupied Iraq.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Gilles Deleuze, "Spoilers of Peace"

How could the Palestinians be "genuine partners" in peace talks when they have no country? But how could they have a country when it was taken from them? The Palestinians were never given any choice other than unconditional surrender. All they were offered was death. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the actions of the Israelis are considered legitimate retaliation (even if their attacks do seem disproportionate), whereas the actions of the Palestinians are without fail treated as terrorist crimes. And the death of a Palestinian has neither the same interest nor the same impact as the death of an Israeli.

Since 1969, Israel has unrelentingly bombed and strafed Southern Lebanon. Israel has explicitly said that its recent invasion of Lebanon was not in retaliation for the terrorist attack on Tel-Aviv (eleven terrorists against thirty thousand soldiers); on the contrary, it represents the culmination of a plan, one in a whole series of operations to be initiated at Israel's discretion. For a "final solution" to the Palestinian question, Israel can count on the almost unanimous complicity of other States (with various nuances and restrictions). A people without land, and without a State, the Palestinians are the spoilers of peace for everyone involved. If they have received economic and military aid from certain countries, it has been in vain. The Palestinians know what they are talking about when they say they are alone.

Palestinian militants are also saying that they have managed to pull off a kind of victory. Left behind in souther Lebanon were only resistance groups, which seem to have held up quite will under attack. the Israeli invasion, on the other hand, struck blindly at Palestinian refugees and Lebanese farmers, a poor population that lives off the land. Destruction of villiages and cities, and the massacre of innocent civilians have been confirmed. several sources indicate that cluster bombs were used. This population of Southern Lebanon, in perpetual exile, keeps leaving and coming back under Israeli military strikes that one is hard-pressed to distinguish from acts of terrorism. The latest hostilities have ousted more than 200,000 from their homes, now refugees wanderin the roads. The State of Israel is using in southern Lebanon the method which proved so effective in Galilee and elsewhere in 1948: it is "Palestinizing" Southern Lebanon.
Palestinian militants for the most part come from this population of refugees. Israel thinks it will defeat the militants by creating more refugees, thereby surely creating more terrorists.

It is not merely because we have a relationship with Lebanon that we say: Israel is massacring a fragile and complex country. There is something else. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a model that will determine how problems of terrorism will be dealth with elsewhere, even in Europe. the worldwide cooperation of States, and the worldwide organization of police and criminal proceedings, will necessarily lead to a classification extending to more and more people who will be considered virtual "terrorists." This situation os analogous to the Spanish Civil War, when Spain sereved as an experimental laboratory for a far more terrible future.

Today Israel is conducitng an experiment. It has invented a model of repression that, once adapted, will profit other countries. There is great continuity in Israeli politics. israel believes that the U.N. resolutions verbally condemning Israel in fact put it in the right. Israel has transformed the invitation to leave the occupied territories into the right to establish colonies there. It thinks sending an international peace-keeping force into Southern Lebanon is an excellent idea... provided that this force, in the place of Israeli forces, transforms the region into a police zone, a desert of security. This conflict is a curious kind of blackmail, from which the whole world will never escape unless we lobby for the Palestinians to be recognized for what they are: "genuine partners" in peace talks. They are indeed at war, in a war they did not choose.

Le Monde, April 7, 1978

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


This week it has become clear that there are really only two people left in the world who still labour under the delusion that invading Iraq was a good idea. Only George Bush and Tony Blair (and their coteries of advisors) believe that imperial adventures can be executed via the same formula as 80 years ago : invade on a pretence of democratisation, quietly subdue any resisters, and reap the rewards.

The pretence of democratisation has not changed, but the nature of the resistance has. Just as markets have been globalised, just as the sovereignty of the nation state is waning, so the resistance to empire has been globalised. By invading Iraq , Britain and the US have stoked fires well beyond that country’s borders. Britain , in particular, has been slow to grasp this point. Even General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of Britain ’s armed forces and the most prominent of Blair’s recent critics, misses the point. His objection to the situation in Iraq is that it is a distraction to sorting out Afghanistan : we need troops to sort out the terrorist problem there, not in Iraq , he says. But as the BBC’s programme on Suez the other evening demonstrated, occupying a sovereign country is the most foolproof way of creating terrorism. This is why neoconservatism is logically, as well as morally, deeply flawed. I will talk about this in more detail soon in a separate post.

Perhaps the reason that Britain has been slow to grasp the link between empire and terror is that it has hoodwinked itself over the nature of its imperial past. The idea that empire was a force for good still prevails in this country because we perceive that the British Empire introduced civilisation to backward countries, and exited at the right time and in the right manner. France had its Algeria , but we had nothing similar to blot the imperial landscape.

In the week that Gillo Pontecorvo has died, we should look at this perception more closely. 50 years ago, British troops were trying to quell an uprising of Kenyan Mau Mau rebels who were bitter about having their land appropriated by European settlers, and by a situation of poverty, starvation, unemployment and overpopulation which had resulted from imperial rule. Mau Mau rebels killed 32 people, and Britain responded with brutality. The most authoritative study of the uprising, by Dr Caroline Elkins, suggests that at least 50,000 Mau Mau were killed by 1960.

Those rebels who were not killed immediately were placed in detention camps, which were openly compared by British authorities at the time as akin to Nazi slave labour camps and Stalinist gulags. A recent Guardian report about Kenyan detainees who, 50 years on, are suing the British government, tells the story of Jane Muthoni Mara:

Jane was 15 when she was arrested for supplying Mau Mau fighters with food and taken to Gatithi screening camp. There she says she and two friends, including a young boy, were beaten with the butts of guns. Her interrogators demanded to know the whereabouts of her brother, who was a member of the Mau Mau. Mara says she was ordered into a tent by a white army officer. There was a black soldier from her area she knew as Edward. He ordered her to lie down and asked her where her brother was. When she did not answer, he picked up a bottle. "He filled the bottle with hot water and then pushed it into my private parts with his foot. I screamed and screamed," she says.

Mara says other women were also tortured by having bottles thrust into their vaginas. "For older women, Edward would use bigger beer bottles, but for us younger girls it was smaller soda bottles," she says. "The next day we were forced to sit with our legs in front of us, and the African guards marched over them in their army boots. We were often beaten." … She says she never recovered from the sexual violence and for years was frightened of sex with her husband.

Beatings and sexual molestation were only a small part of Britain ’s torturous armoury. Other “punishments” included being thrown in a pit of disinfectant, being forced to carry a bucket of overflowing excrement on your head, castration and blinding, and rape.

Indeed, papers which became open to investigation earlier this decade revealed a sinister similarity with the abuses meted out to prisoners at Abu Ghraib : mauling by Alsatians, indignity featuring human faeces, forced sodomy, sand being forced into prisoners’ anuses, genital mutilation etc. Women were routinely gang-raped, had their nipples squeezed with pliers, and had vermin thrust into their vaginas.

Contrary to the “few bad apples” claim which always follows revelations of torture, these abuses were carried out largely with the consent of the British government. An 11-page memo sent in 1957 by the Governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, to the Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, states:

“The detainees... are particularly ugly customers and there is no doubt that the use of orthodox methods of non violent persuasion and normal camp punishments for disobedience would be, and indeed have proved to be, useless and ineffective. With possibly a few exceptions they are of the type which understands and reacts to violence."

There is no doubt that the Mau Mau were themselves guilty of perpetrating abuses, but the idea that they were a bunch of savages who only understood the language of violence, is a myth driven largely by respective government propaganda machines. Voyeuristic rumours of “cannibalism, ritual zoophilia with goats, sexual orgies” etc, remain utterly unsubstantiated. They were lies invented by the British Foreign Office to justify their own crimes. In fact, many of those who joined the Mau Mau had fought for the Allies during World War II and had been rewarded by white settlers turning tenant farmers into agricultural labourers.

Colonialism produces all sorts of material consequences – exploitation, poverty and terror are three obvious ones. But what colonialists hold dearest is its symbolic power : any attempt to erode this power is crushed with a sadistic brutality seen in few other situations. Psychotic individuals see the Law as a charade and assume there must be another, even bigger Other which really pulls the strings (often God). Likewise, psychotic groups, movements or administrations (the British in the 1950s, the Americans in the 2000s) do not see the Law as the profound guiding influence that non-psychotic groups do. The language of brutal violence which these psychotic groups employ becomes especially acute the more isolated they become : just like the sadist, America ’s solitude and omnipotence means its sole aim is absolute domination.

Britain, the absolute sadist during its own heyday of Empire, is now the junior partner to America . One suspects that there is a feeling in Whitehall that Britain is also the more intellectual partner : the brains of the outfit. Because of its military inferiority, it does not have to get its hands dirty with as much overt violence as its stronger, more powerful ally does. It can oversee the violence, defend it, and privately delight in it. One could claim that this makes Britain far more psychotic than the US .

Njero Mugo, a veteran detainee of the Mau Mau camps, has the following to say about British occupation:

“The British see themselves as good. But from the day the first missionaries arrived we never believed that the British stood for the rule of law. They stole our land. They treated us as though they had more right to be in our country than we did. Did you know that if you were walking down the street and you met a white person you had to remove your hat?"

Monday, October 16, 2006


Friedrich von Raumer, Professor of History in Breslau, on G.W.F. Hegel, 1816:

"His conversation is fluent and sensible, so I cannot believe that his lectures would lack these qualities. To be sure, there is false pathos, shouting, and roaring, little jokes, digressions, half-true comparisons, one-sided comparisons with the present, arrogant sef-praise ... and this attracts masses of students."

Rex Butler on Slavoj Zizek, 2005:

"It really is the most extraordinary spectacle, seeing Zizek lecture. There he stands, this wildly gesticulating, bear-like man, tugging his beard and shirt, dark circles of sweat growing beneath his armpits, his neatly combed hair growing lank and dishevelled, his eyes staring blindly around the room. He speaks rapidly through a strong Central European accent and a lisp, constantly circling back upon himself to try to make himself clearer, threatening never to stop. We feel he is making the same point over and over, but we cannot quite grasp it ... it is only the activity of theorizing that saves him, saves him from the very thing his theorizing brings about."


Simon Tisdall is my unsung hero of the Guardian. He is the antithesis of the armchair commentator - posted all over the world, reporting what he sees and injecting judgments with subtlety. He is the one Guardian writer I always make sure I read. Here is Tisdall on North Korea:

Twelve months ago it seemed the west's nuclear confrontation with North Korea had reached an unexpectedly happy ending. Then the US treasury department stuck its oar in. In a deal brokered by China on September 19 2005, Kim Jong-il's regime pledged to give up its atomic weapons, abandon existing nuclear programmes and rejoin the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that it had repudiated in 2003.

In return the US agreed to recognise North Korea's territorial integrity and eschew all hostile actions. The Bush administration thereby effectively withdrew its earlier threats of forcible regime change levelled against a founder member of President George Bush's "axis of evil".

The US also promised to move towards normalised relations if Pyongyang kept its side of the bargain. It even revived the idea of helping North Korea build a light-water nuclear reactor for civilian power generation, a scheme promoted by the Clinton administration in the 1990s but later dropped by Mr Bush.

The September deal brought sighs of relief across Asia and in Washington, where rightwing newspaper editorials hailed a "triumph of US policy". It spawned talk of a new era of strategic cooperation between the US and China, a denuclearised Korean peninsula, and the peaceful reunification of North and South Korea.

But the celebrations were premature. For reasons that remain unclear, the US treasury department chose almost the exact moment the deal was struck to move against a Macau-based bank called Banco Delta Asia.

US officials announced the bank could face punitive action under US banking rules and Patriot Act anti-terrorism laws over suspicions that it was being used by North Korea for money laundering and counterfeiting. They described the bank as a "willing pawn" facilitating North Korea's "criminal activities". The full implications of the treasury's allegations, publicised on September 15 last year, took time to sink in. But the effects were dramatic.

Worried that they too could become targets for US penalties and be cut adrift from the international banking system, other regional banks took fright. One by one they halted dealings with North Korea.

Macau's government took control of Banco Delta Asia to conduct its own investigation and shut down all North Korea-related accounts. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, led by reporter Gordon Fairclough, accounts belonging to 20 North Korean banks as well as those of 11 trading companies and nine North Korean individuals were shut. Millions of dollars were frozen. Within weeks much of North Korea's legitimate international trade had ground to a halt and the country was scrambling to secure foreign credit and loans, the newspaper disclosed. US treasury investigators were meanwhile touring Asia warning banks and financial institutions about the dangers of being associated with North Korea's suspect activities.

Intentionally or not, the US had dealt the Pyongyang regime a major blow that years of bilateral aid, trade and export sanctions had failed to achieve. "We knew there was a lot going on but we didn't expect to hit a major artery like we did," a US official told Fairclough.

Apparently facing financial strangulation, Pyongyang's leadership resorted to the only diplomatic weapon it had. The foreign ministry said North Korea would boycott further talks on relinquishing its nuclear activities until the threat of US financial sanctions was lifted.

North Korea has reiterated the same demand on numerous occasions since and repeated it this week following its underground weapons test. But it also said it was ready to resume dialogue if Washington eased financial pressures.

There has been no response. US officials maintain that the steps taken against Banco Delta Asia last autumn were unconnected to the nuclear talks. On Wednesday Mr Bush accused North Korea of "walking away" from the September 19 disarmament deal. Pyongyang and Pyongyang alone was to blame for recreating the crisis, he said.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I met a lady today whose mother travelled up to Manchester last month, marched against the war and occupation in Iraq, the UK's bullish support of Israel's attack on Lebanon, its policies towards asylums, its privatisations etc, and told Tony Blair it was time for him to go. Nothing particularly remarkable about that, you might think, except that this lady is 101 years old.

In fact, her birthday was last week. She had told her daughter that, given she was now over 100, perhaps she might stop demonstrating and put her feet up. I think she enjoyed her week of putting her feet up, but after yesterday's nuke test in Pyongyang, and the US's aggressive response to it, she has been ringing round her friends, relatives and fellow activists to see if there is anything she can do to help the anti-war cause.

I don't do "Person of the Week" on Homo Ludens, but for one week only this lady is Person of the Week. In fact, today reminded me exactly why I like working with older people - if I ever live to 101 and have a fraction of this lady's tenacity and (dare I say it) balls, I think I'll be pretty happy.

Monday, October 09, 2006


The pop album is very quickly becoming an outdated concept because music is outgrowing it, both artistically and commercially. The most ambitious music aims for something beyond the album, as well it should : this is, after all, a form which evolved forty years ago, when pop outgrew the 7 inch and wanted to do something more grown-up, something more like what jazz musicians were doing. For a long while, the rock album became an event, both in the expectation that greeted its arrival, and the ritualist way by which it was carefully taken out of its wrapping, played on headphones, its gatefold sleeve pored over and examined for coded drug references or speculation that the bassist might in fact be dead etc etc.

I would be interested to hear what readers think was the last rock album qua event. The sheer quantity of bands and albums and record labels (and, more to the point, the sheer quantity of music on a CD) means that a release doesn’t feel special, however much you love the band or artist or opening single. Even if you ignored all music released before 8 October 2006 and spent 24 hours a day listening to new releases, it would still be impossible to hear everything – impossible, even, to hear most of the stuff you are interested in. The release of the third Baby Bird, Fatherhood, was as close as it got for me, but that was a completely personal thing – he only released a thousand copies of it.

The 45 survived long after the birth and consolidation of the album, of course, but one wonders whether it would have if MTV hadn’t come along. And one wonders whether the album will survive the age of the download, and the desire for something other than 45 minutes of well-crafted, thematically linked pop music.

The result of the slow death of the album is that the few shining examples of really great post-millennial albums tend to be very traditional. An innovative musician will shy away from the album, trying to play around with form, exploit the potential for randomness in hearing music that computers create etc. They will (hopefully) create something shocking, scary, provocative. They will tell you something about the world in a form, or in a way you have never before encountered. But anybody sticking with the album had better bear its limits in mind.

The Go-Betweens were always the classic albums band : each of their albums are short, concise, song-and-narrative-based, conversational, humble, beautiful. Their final album, Oceans Apart, which was released last year but which I have only just heard, is quite, quite beautiful. Clocking in at 39 minutes, it does not experiment with form at all. It barely rocks out, but gathers itself at a subtle pace which casually grabs and stops you mid-breath. Mark Wallis and David Ruffy’s production is bathed in echoey baritone guitars, washes of woodwind and bass thrum like a cuddle.

It reveals, as the Go-Betweens always do, a bold romanticism for relationships and for the Australia in which they so rarely recorded. But the revelation is Robert Forster, whose wiredness I must admit always jarred a little for me against Grant McLennan’s swooning tenderness. Forster’s “Darlinghurst Nights” is the track of his career, its lyric recalling a bittersweet and unresolved period of youth, and its roll-call of characters – “Marjorie and Kim, Andy and Clint, Debbie, Bertie, people came and went. And then there was Suzie who we never ever saw again” – truly evocative. And his singing on “Lavender” is incredible – completely guileless, like McCartney’s singing on “She’s Leaving Home.” As for McLennan, well his best song, “This Night’s for you,” is positively Forsteresque.

The Go-Betweens are an easy band to get dewy-eyed over, not least because McLennan’s death in the spring means that we know this is their last album. They exude innocence and humility, and more importantly their creativity was given fruition by genuine relationships : McLennan and fellow Go-Between Amanda Brown (the oboeist who, on Tallulah’s “Bye Bye Pride,” contributes the band’s killer 20 seconds) were partners during the 80s, and the adoration that Forster and McLennan shared is palpable.

Shortly after his death, Amanda Brown said of McLennan:

"Grant's songs captured an Australia that was influenced by his love for contemporary American writers like Cormac McCarthy, Richard Ford and Raymond Carver and songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. These writers inform his images of Australia, which range from the landscapes tinged with nostalgia and loss, suburban life, epic narratives and, of course, exquisite love songs."

The album is really very much like the novel : unsatisfactory for much of what we want to say, but perfect for these kind of Big Themes. Postmodernism has barely eroded the conservatism of rock music, and it certainly had no noticeable influence on the Go-Betweens. Maybe that’s because postmodernism is a regrettable by-product of a voracious world. The Go-Betweens were not of that world, which is why they never made a bad record. And in Oceans Apart, they made their best.

[If you have never heard the Go-Betweens, this is a video of “Streets of your Town”. Listen to it. Now. You’ll be hooked, I promise].


Excellent post here from Infinite Thought: "Adolescence is the revelation that the world is wrong, corrupt and probably not made for us."

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Last Monday, a terrorist plot was uncovered in Lancashire. Police officers found a cache of chemicals and equipment for making chemical weapons, apparently the largest such cache discovered in this equipment. As Lenin stated,

You'd have thought this would be national front page news, wouldn't you? After all the hype, at last we have solid evidence of terrorists attempting to perpetrate a murderous outrage on the population - prosecutors say the pair had "some kind of master plan".


Except, of course, that the men charged are not Asian Islamists, but white fascists. Robert Cottage, who has been charged for the explosives haul, stood for the BNP in Colne at the last elections.

Last month, 17 alleged neo-Nazis were arrested in Belgium for preparing terrorist attacks in Flanders. These people, described by prosecutors as "people with an extreme right ideology who clearly express themselves through racism, xenophobia, Holocaust denial, anti-semitism and neo-Nazism" were also involved in making bombs and other chemical weapons. Again, this story barely made the news at all, even though today Belgians go the polls in local elections where it is expected that the far-right Vlaams Belang party will make gains.

Yet, compare the media blackout that accompanies fascist violence with the hysteria that surrounds this (Muslims write "FUCK OFF" on the driveway of one of our boys) and this (Muslim taxi-driver refuses to take blind woman and her guide-dog). It is now open season for any hack to write whatever racist horseshit he can come up with about Muslims. So far, British Muslims have been astonishingly restrained and undemonstrative about the treatment that is meted out to them by British journalists and newspapers. But this sort of scapegoating can only end badly.

The media in Europe has forgotten what fascism really looks like. The only websites that really covered the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street - where 300,000 East Enders fought to stop Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists marching through Whitechapel and Bethnal Green - were left-wing blogs and two newspapers (the Guardian and the Mirror).

So let us remind ourselves what real fascism looks like:

Alec McFadden was dozing in his armchair when a loud bang on his front door brought him to his senses with a jolt. Looking out of the window of his Wallasey home, he saw a young man half slumped in the driveway. "I couldn't see his face but he looked like he was in some sort of trouble, like he needed help," says McFadden. "I opened the door just a bit to ask if he was OK and he threw himself at me and started hitting me around the head."

What McFadden did not realise at the time was that he was not being punched but stabbed. "I think it went on for a couple of minutes before I managed to get the door closed. I turned round and my daughter was screaming. It was only then, as I put my hand to my face and felt the blood, that I realised what had happened."

McFadden was attacked because he was a lifelong Union man, and had demonstrated against the rise of the BNP. Similarly, as Matthew Taylor's Guardian investigation reveals, two Leeds teachers who have spent their lives campaigning against the BNP and other fascist groups suffered a fire bomb attack. And a Yorkshire Evening Post journalist who has exposed far-right activities in West Yorkshire for 30 years has also been targeted for a beating. Each of these people were targeted because their pictures appeared on Redwatch, a website which openly advocates violence against opponents of Nazism.

These are not threats of terror and violence. These are not baseless allegations, of the kind we read about Muslims every day in our papers. This is reality, and yet apparently nothing can be done to close the site down. Imagine if it were an Islamic website - the Sun would have launched a vigilante campaign by now and politicians would have been pressurised into taking action.

The rise of anti-Muslim press coverage and the rise of neo-Nazi violence are two sides of the same coin. We must all stand up to both - I know this quote has become a bit of a cliche, but nevertheless Edmund Burke was right in saying "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Saturday, October 07, 2006



Guilt is always closely followed by disgust: disgust at oneself, of course, but also at the other person for being your victim. And if they have not discovered the heinous crime you have committed against them, well then they are all the more pitiful for remaining in ignorance.

Disgust towards the object of your betrayal does not arise from the act, but from the thought of betrayal. If one seriously considers adultery and then backs out at the last minute, one will still be unable to look one's partner in the eye. From the point of view of guilt, therefore, it does not matter much whether you go through with the liaison or not: it is the thought that counts.

The Lacanian theory of guilt is complex, but it seems to revolve around the desire to get caught, the desire for punishment. This is both conscious and unconscious. A person who has considered adultery might call out the name of "the other woman" during sex with his partner. Another person might choose to go on an illicit date to a place where she subconsciously knows she will get caught. Either way, s/he will get found out and be subjected to the punishment which is the only thing that will absolve her/is guilt.

Sometimes - in fact, very often - guilt is present only at an unconscious level, and might be evident only through symptoms. So a man who desires a female friend might start reading authors favoured by her, or to take a more common example, might start dreaming about her. Whether it is conscious or unconscious, guilt is ubiquitous.


If we are talking about conscious and unconscious guilt being correspondent, we must refine our ideas of moral agency. For while the adulterer and the person tempted by adultery might be culpable, surely the person who merely thinks lustful thoughts about his colleague in his sleep cannot be at fault?

This would appear to be our first lesson: guilt is not about apportioning blame. Sinthome comes up with an excellent Lacanian formulation for guilt here:

An examination of actual actions seems to do little good in alleviating the feelings of guilt, as these events and situations in the present are only occasions for satisfying one's guilt, they are not the cause of one's guilt.

What causes guilt, says Lacan, is “giving ground relative to one’s desire.” In other words, guilt is inextricably linked to desire : they are like sister drives, inseparable from one another. To make any sense of this, we must remember how desire works.


Put simply, desire is what is left over when a demand is unfulfilled. If I want to be admired at work, but find my efforts disregarded and ignored by my boss and my colleagues, this will set off a desire : either for self-betterment, or to be more assertive, or to wreak revenge on my inattentive colleagues.

Likewise, if I demand sex from my partner (by this I mean if my body demands sexual fulfilment) and my partner does not wish to have sex, this will set off a series of possible desires. One of these might be to find sexual fulfilment elsewhere. If I “give ground to this desire,” guilt will surely follow.

So what are we to do?

We can try to forget about our desires, pretend they do not exist, carry on as normal. But, by definition, you cannot snuff out a desire. You can try out all sorts of tricks to “put it to the back of your mind,” but it will always return to haunt you. It may not return as an overt desire (wanting to fuck your colleague), but rather disguised as something else. We can see how this could be far more dangerous than the original, unrepressed desire.


Better, Lacan says, not to “give ground to one’s desire.” It is important here not to confuse desire with need. If you want to fuck a particular person other than your partner, this is not a desire, but a need, or even a demand. Desire does not work on this conscious level. It is formulated through a network of inter-subjective influences, but actually it is simply a gap.

You may create an object which you think will fulfil your desire (the “other woman”), and you will choose an object on the basis of fantasies. You may work yourself into a frenzy chasing this person, trying to second-guess them, working out what you mean to them, how your fill their own gap of desire. You may think that in fulfilling your fantasies, you will fulfil your desire. But you are fooling yourself. There is no object to desire; it is ephemeral; it is nothingness made flesh.

In order not to give ground to our unconscious desires, Lacan says we must engage with them. We must jump into the abyss of our unconscious and become master of it, rather than the other way round.


One would expect the superego to be at the heart of desire and guilt. It is usually seen as the part of the psyche which commands us not to follow our basest instincts, but to obey those laws and principles to which we, as decent members of society, are expected to adhere. It is, in other words, our browbeating moral compass.

Not so, says Lacan. The message of the superego is not “Do your duty!”, but “Enjoy your duty!” Zizek uses the example of a parent coercing his child to go and see his grandmother. The repressive parent will say, “I don’t care if you want to, just do it!” Whereas the superego figure will say, “You should only go and see grandma if you wish to; though you know how much she would like to see you.” As Zizek explains,

The trick performed by the superego is to seem to offer the child a free choice, when, as every child knows, he is not being given any choice at all. Worse than that, he is being given an order and told to smile at the same time. Not only: 'You must visit your grandma, whatever you feel,' but: 'You must visit your grandma, and you must be glad to do it!' The superego orders you to enjoy doing what you have to do. What happens, after all, if the child takes it that he has a genuinely free choice and says 'no'? The parent will make him feel terrible. 'How can you say that!' his mother will say: 'How can you be so cruel! What did your poor grandma do to make you not want to see her?'

There is something deeply totalitarian in this message. Think back to Nazism or Stalinism, or the image we have of North Korea today. The message which these regimes give to their people is: “This is your duty – if you do not enjoy carrying it out, you are guilty.”


The postmodern superego thus increases the risk of our carrying out an immoral act, and increases the likelihood of our feeling guilty. We are awash with mixed messages: the Decalogue may tell us that adultery is forbidden, but our media tells us we should be fucking regularly, preferably with a selection of different people.

Similarly, the American soldier who has today been jailed for killing an Iraqi, claimed that “I knew that we were doing something wrong. I wanted to be part of the team. I wanted to be loyal.” All the time we hear two conflicting symbolic voices. One is the voice of traditional morality (something like the Kantian voice, or the Christian “do as you would be done by”). The other is the voice of liberal subjectivity (“you are a free human being – you decide what’s right”). Only, as Zizek explains above, there really is no choice.

Lacan’s solution – to take responsibility for our unconscious desire – is especially difficult, partly because desires struggle against each other, bend and shape each other. But also because the symptoms which expose our hidden desires – our dreams, our temptations, our feelings of paranoia and neurosis and guilt – are themselves repetitions of other events, long since repressed. The object of the exercise must be to reject the duties which the superego imposes, and to wrest from it control of one’s responsibilities. This all sounds rather weasel-worded - but Sinthome’s concluding questions might be a better place to start:

- What is this mysterious desire?

- How do we discover this mysterious desire?

- How is this mysterious desire to be distinguished from jouissance or enjoyment?

- If jouissance is the guilt-producing command of the superego in which I give way on my desire, what does it mean to avow my desire (if not to enjoy)?

Thursday, October 05, 2006


A couple of months ago, Simon Hattenstone wrote an article in the Guardian about his admiration for Graeme Hick. For those of you not au fait with cricket, Hick was almost universally acknowledged as the most talented batsman of his generation. He played his first match for Worcestershire in 1984, but because he was born in Zimbabwe he had to wait seven years until he could play for England. He scored masses of runs for his county in those seven years, setting all sorts of records in the process, and in 1991 he finally got to play for his adopted country.

After 65 Test matches, he had an average of just 31, the lowest of any England batsman to play so many Tests. In 114 innings he scored just only six centuries, and scored less than fifty on ninety occasions. It is a conundrum that any cricket fan will have mused over in each of those 114 innings: how could such a talented player fail so miserably on the international stage?

I rather share the feelings of Hattenstone, a self-confessed Hick stalker, when he writes:

I waited seven years for him to qualify for England and for the inevitable torrent of runs. They didn't come. He was dropped and dropped and dropped again. By the end he was broken, edging to the crease like a man who knew he would be back in the pavilion a few balls later with "FAILURE" tattooed on his forehead. Astonishingly, the man who had looked invincible in his early days, who carried his bat like a scythe, turned out to have a fatal psychological flaw. He couldn't do it for England. It only made me love him more.

Hattenstone even invented a fantasy cricket game in which his hero could succeed:

I used to play a step-counting game when I was walking home from the bus stop - one run for every step. I was batting for England and every time a car came the other way I lost a wicket. Of course, I manipulated it, so the likes of Athers and Nasser were batting when I was on the main road (they were frequently out for ducks), and Hicky came in when I was on the quiet side streets so there was no chance of him getting out cheaply.

At the end of this summer, there was much criticism of Marcus Trescothick's paucity of runs, and some commentators opined that Tres should be dropped for the Ashes. This is ludicrous: the man is our most dependable batsman of the last three or four years. But I must admit, he did have a pretty woeful summer. So, walking home from Caledonian Road tube this evening, I decided to play Hattenstone's game. Trescothick opened the batting as usual, and I started counting from the bus-stop.

It took only a few seconds for Banger to make his fifty (no cars passed); a few seconds later he made 100 (no cars passed); and by the time I reached the next bus-stop he had made his second double-century in a Test match to a rapturous Lords crowd (still no cars). In fact, he was fast approaching Brian Lara's Test record of 400 before I realised that Hillmarton Road is a one-way street.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006


From here:

"As the twig is bent, so grows the tree." The turn-of-the-century "scientific" drawings of Camper and others show (diagramatically, convincingly) a logical biological progression in skull and brain sizes, arranged in a hierarchical (inferior to superior) fashion, from ape to negro to mongolian to caucasian. Later researchers continued by creating further sub-categories, based on constructed standards of societal adequacy. The type of world view comfortable with and dependent upon categorization and quantification, averse to change and a mirror of the status quo, will lead us to the fate of the old gods.

Taking an early 20th century "Evolution of the Face" diagram, I have substituted my own face as an example of Modern Man and placed the marble visage of Apollo as the ideal at which the branch terminates. The Sun God is cold, lifeless, a white dwarf. A static ideal, meaningless, petrified stone.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


There's no hope in Clinton. It's just a handful of people that run everything, and that's provable.... I have this feeling that whoever's elected president, like Clinton was, no matter what promises you make on the campaign trail - blah, blah, blah - when you win, you go into this smoky room with the twelve industrialist, capitalist scumfucks that got you in there, and this little screen comes down... and it's a shot of the Kennedy assassination from an angle you've never seen before, which looks suspiciously off the grassy knoll.... And then the screen comes up, the lights come on, and they say to the new president, 'Any questions?' "Er, just what my agenda is..." - Bill Hicks, "The Elite"

So let's hear no more about what a great guy Clinton is or was. Perhaps he did start off as a decent guy. Maybe he really did want to make the world a better place. But as soon as he stepped into the White House, every policy which aimed to help the poor or make America a more equal society was untenable with the interests that every President of the United States of America is really there to defend: those of American capital.

When Clinton left the White House, America was a significantly less equal country than when he first became President, and that was after 12 years of Republican Presidency. It had subjected some of the weakest parts of the world to its military campaigns, killing civilians in Baghdad and Belgrade and destroying its infrastructure. It had destroyed a generation of Iraqi children as a result of sanctions. Soon after becoming President, back in 1992, Clinton said: "We're Eisenhower Republicans here. We stand for lower deficits, free trade, and the bond market. Isn't that great?" And just in case you're still getting all loved up about the guy, here's what he privately said a year later when his interventionist strategy in Somalia was starting to hit the rails:

"When people kill us, they should be killed in greater numbers. I believe in killing people who try to hurt you, and I can't believe we're being pushed around by these two-bit pricks."

Not really so different to what John Bolton said during the bombing of Lebanon, is it?

The sycophancy which surrounds Clinton is borne, I guess, out of nostalgia for something that never existed, or out of a barely concealed glee that a country of imbeciles has in Bush got the President it deserves. The only arguments I have heard in favour of Clinton have been (a) that he was more competent that Bush Jr and (b) that, since no genuinely left-wing President could ever survive in office for long without compromising his ideals, a guy like Clinton is the best we can hope for.

Let's deal with (b) first, as it is by far the most stupid of the two. Its implication - that it is capitalism which prevents an ethical Presidency from becoming a real possibility - is a perfectly sensible one. It is true that a left-wing President would not get into office in America, though this is because of the all-powerful media, rather than people's instincitive political persuasions. But almost none of the people who defend / worship Clinton (and there are plenty of them) are anti-capitalists. Which means that if you are someone who likes Clinton for this reason, and yet does not oppose capitalism, you are contradicting yourself. You are blithely pretending that capitalism is acceptable when it is fronted by an intelligent, articulate, downhome guy like Clinton. Take some time to think this through properly, and get back to me when you have something sensible to say. OK?


Opinion (a) - that Clinton was merely competent where Bush has been incompetent - is not wholly untrue, though I do think this impression was created as a result of the Clinton administration's consumate political propaganda. This opinion is the one voiced by the dying breed (intellectually dying, as well as numerically) of American liberals. They argue that the problem with Bush is not his rabid imperialism, his war on terror, his merciless greed, his flagrant disregard for anyone outside his immediate political and spiritual circles. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were not wrong per se, they argue, it is just that the Republicans have executed these policies so badly. These interventionist liberals are not hacked off with Bush's ideology (which they explicitly support), but with the calamitous discharge of his duties.

Hence why the Democrats (including Clinton) have failed to oppose Bush's Middle East policies, including the support for Israel's assault on Lebanon. They can't oppose them, because they cannot think outside of the US hegemonic mindset. Again, you can support opinion (a) if you wish, but if you do, please don't pretend to be anything other than an apologist for imperialism, exploitation and war.