Monday, 12 December 2011


From the very first time
I never forgot the instructions:
gently crack open the egg
with the back of a spoon, then
as evenly as possible
– "nice and regular", he said
cut the (stupidly named) round
of toast, or bread (that Daddy
always jokes that he
'puts on the table'
even though we can all see
that Mummy does),
into three,
"like soldiers in formation",
which you then
– (after saying Grace, the boring wait
while Mummy thanks
neither herself nor Daddy
"for what we are about to receive") –
dunk into the egg, making sure not to spill
the sticky goo
on the tablecloth.

At the same time the next week
(and the one after that,
and the one after that),
we marched into the kitchen,
at six on the dot,
took turns to kiss Daddy,
sat down in the proper places,
then quietly ate, just us,
waiting for Daddy's usual questions,
all of us happy,
a family,
doing something familiar,
where you know where you are...
And look! we're all here:
Daddy, Mummy, Matthew, me and Paul,
around the table,
quietly dipping our soldiers,
taking care not to spill our crumbs
on the tablecloth.

Ar first I didn't really like eggs much
but they said I had to finish them
and they were good for me
(like cough medicine)
and that if I ate them up
I'd grow up big and strong,
like Daddy,
who sometimes eats six or seven.
But even though it was good for me
to eat stuff that I didn't like,
I used to have secret wishes
(that I didn't even tell Paul),
wondering what it would be like
to have pizza one week for tea,
just for a change
but that would probably ruin everything.
Things just wouldn't be the same... when the toast gets burnt,
or when Mummy doesn't slice the bread right,
or when "these are fucking Paki eggs",
or when everything starts too late
(she must know by now that he's got to be
in the King's Head
by seven),
or when a stranger drops in
just as we're ready to eat
and sits in MY seat,
gabbling on and on and on and
not finishing everything on her plate and
spilling crumbs everywhere;
but worst of all,
nobody remembers to ask us
whether we got gold stars
or just silver
for our homework,
or how football went,
or anything,
which meant that none of us
got extra pocket money,
which meant that Paul
(who doesn't like football
but got full marks in the spelling test)
wouldn't be getting extra pocket money
for the fourth week running,
because Daddy doesn't have much money
on Sundays,
which means that instead of being happy
and proud
when we get him up on Sundays
to tell him about school and things
he says "well done"
but in a cracked voice that wants us
not to tell him about school and things,
a different voice
than Saturdays
when we're having our eggs
with soldiers
for tea.

So as she garbles on and on
I ask if I can leave the table
and go and watch TV
or play army with Paul,
but they say it's rude
to talk with your mouth full
so I chew and chew and say
"Can I leave now?"
"Not until you've finished".
"But I'm not hungry..."
"Well, I haven't finished yet
and nor has our guest. It's rude
to leave before everyone's finished".

And he slapped down his hand
as heavy as a Bible falling from the sky,
which made some of his tea
splash on to the tablecloth,
which was all OK because finally
Gabbler stopped talking
and then got up from MY seat
(before Daddy had finished his eggs!
Before she had finished her eggs)
and said "look at the time"
and that she had to be going somewhere
and then left in a bit of a hurry.

It all went quiet again.
I moved back to my seat and
carried on eating
the rest of my eggs
waiting for Daddy to say something,
but he just got up from the table
(without finishing his last two eggs)
then grabbed his coat
and left the house
in a bit of a hurry
before I could chew my soldier
and tell him...

...well, it didn't matter any more.

Friday, 2 December 2011


Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

The text immediately below is the first version of the abstract for my PhD thesis. My supervisor, Dr Adam Sharman, ever wise and infinitely patient, was quick to point out that I needed to write something sober and straightforward, as per the convention. His words were: “It’s not often I caution you against doing something, but I really wouldn’t advise this abstract. It’s far too indulgent and anecdotal, and clever. Gives the wrong impression and will put people off reading it once it’s lodged in a library. The how you came about it is for a conversation; it needs to be scholarly, descriptive of the thesis’s contents, and shorter (no more than one side of A4).

I was happy to oblige, but it didnt tell the story so well...


The emergence of the present text – its first discernible, manifest (co-)cause – was, as is the case with everything else, an encounter: a Master’s Degree candidate, splashing about – floundering – in Postmodernist Theory primers (texts that seemed to suggest that language caused everything, a pantextualism that one could not get outside or beyond…), one day stumbled across the passage from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (or a paraphrase thereof) that has been used as this work’s epigraph.* Desiring-repression, you say… Why is it that people rally to causes that are not in their objective interests, and invest with the last drops of their passion a system that crushes them – like royalty, say? (They cannot simply be deceived into acting this way, for Christ’s sake.) Further: what are the factors that group people together? How do you form an Us, and how does the Us relate to a Them, or its Thems? Politics. Desire.

A passional connection and a genesis, but an aperçu not yet fully formed. With this embryonic thought in mind, off I wandered, over the smooth space of the seas in search of an ‘object’; not yet so much of an Ahab pursuing his specific whale as a Columbus looking for the East Indies. Then a protean figure appeared – a fascist colonel, a prophet apparently leading his people to the socialist Promised Land – about whom neither historians nor Peronistas ‘themselves’ could agree. An uneasy, murky Us and Them. Are you the Judean People’s Front?

What follows, then, is not the Colón-izing attempt to provide a definitive answer to the enigmas of Perón and peronismo – it would take a whole network of texts to paint in the lines of enquiry excluded here: its virtual inter-textual rhizome – so much as a selective tracking through a forest of material, an attempt to search in the right places, and in the right ways, so as to aid the understanding of historical causal processes. Not to look for different objects, then, but to look differently at the same objects. A meta-historiography, if that’s not too immodest a claim to make…

Does history have a pattern, a logic? If not, is it, in its freewheeling ‘irrationality,’ its chance and indeterminacy, nevertheless intelligible, susceptible to analysis? The famous Japanese butterfly… If desire is the motor of history, locked in a permanent tango with a power that captures it, seemingly (or else switches roles, occasionally leading the dance), then why and how is it made to coincide with the diktats…no, the needs of the group or the social formation? (Gordon Gekko’s American Dream swirling over London Fields’ Lord Sugar, Ian Beale and Keith Talent: singing from the same hymn sheet, maybe, but not at all following a belief implanted from on high; rather, embodying an identical mode of desire: self-interest as the common good. Zeros and Heroes. Zeros and Ones. No need to persuade them – Them – of anything any longer…)

Where do words fit into all this? What is the relation of signs (“peronista”) to material bodies? Can you capture your own imagination?

[February 2011]

* Here is that epigraph:
Even the most repressive and the most deadly forms of social reproduction are produced by desire within the organization that is the consequence of such production under various conditions that we must analyze. That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?” How can people possibly reach the point of shouting “More taxes! Less bread!”? As Reich remarks, the astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, they actually want humiliation not only for others but for themselves? Reich is at his profoundest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation of fascism, and demands an explanation that will take their desires into account, an explanation formulated in terms of desire: no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Anti-Oedipus

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


A poem about proletarian drudgery that I wrote in the 1990s when working with some solid, dignified, funny folk in the Creda factory, Stoke, in order to earn some money for my gap year in Valencia one of the few poems of mine about which I'm not totally embarrassed today...


Taking items off jigs.
Putting items on jigs.
Eight minutes to smoke your cigs.
Taking items off jigs.
Putting items on jigs.
Learn to hate the white-collared pigs.

Taking items off jigs,
Taking items off jigs,
No slacking with the pace.
Putting items on jigs,
Putting items on jigs,
Start to hate the human race.

Quick cuppa, light snack
Brief upper, then back...

Taking items off jigs,
Taking items off jigs,
Taking items off jigs,
Worn down by the grind.
Putting items on jigs,
Putting items on jigs,
Putting items on jigs,
Starting to lose my mind.

Clock off. Unwind...

...pushing on home through congestion.

Watch TV,
Wolf some grub,
Roll a GV,
Then down the pub,
Flushed with indigestion.

Booze, moan;
Booze, home.

Token sleep.
A break, broken

Through the murk to work.

Clock on. Task assigned.

Taking items off jigs,
Putting items on jigs,
Six minutes to smoke your cigs.
Taking items off jigs,
Putting items on jigs,
Gonna fix the white-collared pigs.

Taking jigs off items,
Putting jigs on items,
Losing all our colour.
Taking items on jigs,
Putting items off jigs,
So growing ever duller.

Taking off,
Putting on
(Invisible cages).
Putting off,
Taking on,
(Risible wages).

On... off... on... off
Rumble across the shop floor
Of a surprise burst of discontent...
On... off... on... off
Mumbles behind the top door
of a pay rise: at worst ·2 per cent...

(Same rota, larger quota.)

Loading galvanised component parts
On to the automated overhead belt;
They promised to implement health measures...
Removing galvanised component parts
From the automated overhead belt;
...So long as we augment their wealth and pleasures

Taking items off jigs,
Taking items off jigs,
No slacking with the pace.
Putting items on jigs,
Putting items on jigs,
Is this the human race?

Clocked off. Resigned.

Factory days,
Unsatisfactory days.

Friday, 12 August 2011


“Doesn’t happen over here”: in the past, whenever news footage of rampaging mobs somewhere in the world flashed across the screen, this was the stock response with which ‘us Brits’ would content ourselves. It was believed – arrogantly, self-righteously – that Britain was too respectful of authority for protests to turn into riots (which is almost always true) and certainly too respectful of property for riots to turn into looting. The feeling was that there was some intrinsic cultural trait, deep within our ‘Britishness’, that made us impervious to such outrage, or outrages. Implicitly, we were saying “It’s a problem for ‘over there’, in those lawless, overheated, foreign places...” 

Not any more. The illusions have been shattered. It’s here on our doorstep – in fact, not even on our doorstep; it has crossed our threshold, grabbed whatever it wanted, and smashed the rest in a hysterical orgy of pillage not seen on these shores since Viking times (and that is no exaggeration). A threshold has been crossed. This was chaos, yes, but a paradoxical instance of organized chaos – Twitter and social media accelerating the communication between, and organization of, previously hostile gangs who set aside longstanding parochial squabbles to launch an assault on a society that had washed its hands of them. Or to grab some free trainers, depending on your point of view… 

My immediate, crushingly depressing feeling upon seeing these horrific scenes over four nights was that the social fabric that Margaret Thatcher, some 30 years ago, had already denied even existing seemed to have been definitively sundered – that any residual sense of commonality (hard to sustain, I know, in a culture long since addicted to the abstract accumulation of valuable stuff for its own sake) has been petrol-bombed and plundered into oblivion. If it wasn’t before, it was now every man for himself (and before people trot out something trite about evolution and “social Darwinism”, not even in nature is that the case)  


the politics of desire

For those familiar with the work, and idiom, of radical French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – a collaboration that emerged from another instance of the police in a major Western city losing control of the streets, albeit with an entirely different flavour: the May 1968 événements in Paris – they will perhaps have recognized that the fluid, rioting mobs – faced with an intolerable reality and with nothing left to lose – had abandoned the “revolutionary line of escape”, had forsaken the construction of a new order, which is to say creativity and imagination, and had substituted for invention a blizzard of destruction. Rage or opportunism? Rage and opportunism. Having stopped running and cowering and knowing their place (by which I mean, their place in the face of civil society, for their transhuman drive for status and recognition can always be nourished by local pecking orders, hierarchies every bit as brutalising and rigid as those of their antagonists, the Haves), the kids that made up the bulk of the looters had become what Deleuze and Guattari termed a “war machine”, albeit one that, having lost the ability to change and mutate (in ordinary language, being without opportunities) and thus with almost no latitude to improve their lot (none that was legal, anyway), funnelled their energy into a “cancerous” and “fascist” line of abolition: not a-political, strictly speaking, but un-political or anti-political (in the Greek sense), since it had no real constructive aims, no project – only projectiles. And obliteration… 

Later, when a sense of emotional detachment and philosophical engagement had settled in me, what these bewildering events seemed to have demonstrated most markedly is the extreme precariousness of the Law (and order), its inherent fragility at all times. (In many ways, as someone with more than a hint of Marxism colouring his political views, someone who therefore harbours a dream of an equitable society founded on a spirit of co-operation rather than exploitation and self-interest, I had hitherto taken this to be an unequivocal positive: if only we could all realize that the Law is paper-thin, this historical oppression of The Many by The Few could all be brought to an end. If only the police stopped defending the propertied elites; if only the pivot points in the balance of power shifted toward a sweating, smiling mass of decent people ever so slightly too content to put up with their “lot”…) 

In order to function, the Law requires passive or active consent on the part of a population. No police force that is itself subjected to the law can operate by force alone (and I realize there are several heated debates around this question of legitimate force and policing the police, emanating from a loss of trust in the IPCC, now seen to be serving the police rather than the public as a result of the number of deaths in custody without a single conviction). That is terror. 

Similarly, as much as the transactions of supra- or transnational financial institutions have increasingly eluded the control and legislation of States, and as much as monetary flows and markets have been capitalism’s de facto police, ensuring, through invisible yet tactile mechanisms of enforcement (credit lines), that we go to work, consume, fulfil our contractual obligations and pay our debts (lest we lose access to the means of life), these powerful “deterritorialized” entities, operating in an englobing manner without any fixed locale, cannot function without the actual physical force of the police, without States and governments. 

Anyway, this far from original conclusion as to the essential precariousness of the Law is also, plainly, a realization that had been reached by the rioters, evidently people with no longer any real constraints for their actions – neither the Law as deterrent, nor the more diffuse but no less effective community enforcement or inhibition mechanisms, such as reciprocity, responsibility, shame, and ostracism. Indeed, as the Iranian author and street-level London campaigner Camila Batmanghelidhj argued, the reason that many of the looters have no attachment to their front doorstep, which they are happy to raid, is because, cut adrift, they have long since enclaved themselves in “parallel anti-social communities” running on illicit economies and the rule of force, with any investment in the future collapsed into a perpetual, dog-eat-dog present.
An absence of morality can easily be found in the rioters and looters. How, we ask, could they attack their own community with such disregard? But the young people would reply “easily”, because they feel they don’t actually belong to the community. Community, they would say, has nothing to offer them. Instead, for years they have experienced themselves cut adrift from civil society's legitimate structures. Society relies on collaborative behaviour; individuals are held accountable because belonging brings personal benefit. Fear or shame of being alienated keeps most of us pro-social.
They (and, yes, I realize that some middle-class folk have been caught up in it all, but that doesn’t vitiate the point) may well have been the most acutely squeezed by the coalition’s swingeing cuts; they certainly won’t have been much more scandalised than were the majority of non-rioters by the MPs expenses disgrace and the banking crisis. As The Telegraph’s political editor, Peter Oborne, pointed out, the incrementally corrupt elites have long since lost (if indeed they ever had) any sense of communal responsibility (save to their cronies), with governments merely elaborate mechanisms for their continued subjugation of the great masses. (Wasn’t it ever thus?) Speaking of a recent, dinner party encounter with high society in Kensington (which would surely have made a more logical target for looters), he writes:
Most of the people in this very expensive street were every bit as deracinated and cut off from the rest of Britain as the young, unemployed men and women who have caused such terrible damage over the last few days. For them, the repellent Financial Times magazine How to Spend It is a bible. I’d guess that few of them bother to pay British tax if they can avoid it, and that fewer still feel the sense of obligation to society that only a few decades ago came naturally to the wealthy and better off.
Now, the incremental revulsion shared by the working classes and the middle class, the lumpenproletariat and the editor of The Telegraph toward our amoral elites invites, to my eyes, two closely related questions bearing upon the politics of desire with which Deleuze and Guattari famously concerned themselves in their first book, Anti-Oedipus – with “desire” understood, crucially, not at all as acquisition (which is a distortion), but simply as a mode of relation: to an environment, to members of your group (“us”), to outsiders (“them”), to yourself. These questions are, perhaps, different facets of one and the same dynamic, both intimately bound up with the effectiveness of the Law to encode or mediate our bodies’ access to resources (i.e. to act as a deterrent). First: why do the bereft kids plunge their desire into such an orgiastic black hole? How exactly do they reach the tipping point, the threshold whereby the internalized constraints burst open? Second: why don’t the middle classes kick up more of a stink, not only with corruption and abuse of power, but more generally with the pervasive values of our society? Or, to say much the same thing: Why the nihilism, if it is indeed that, and why the apathy? 

Being provocative, it could be argued that the cynicism of a life of self-interest (however this behaviour is justified to ourselves) is only marginally less reprehensible than feral looting. For, with deft denial of how we got to think and behave in this way – i.e. that our ‘rational’ self-interest is market-enforced – the middle classes simply repress the misgivings they might have had over, say, the dignity and worth of persuading more ‘consumers’ to drink your beverage, or any other careers into which our hopes are fixated (to pay the bills, not for any inherent worth), and we bury them deep. In so doing, we come to see the Law as natural rather than artificial, as brutely permanent as a plate of steel. We fail to see history as the accumulation of open struggles in which nothing is predetermined, everything is changeable, no direction is given, no outcome decided. We become resigned to our ‘fates’. We realize that it’s every man for himself. We play the game. Eventually, we embody – or personify – capitalist desire, albeit perhaps not in our beliefs or our conscious thoughts (because we all resent it, really, this slavery). Labouring for ourselves, we labour for the enrichment of the few, sustaining the “order” (politically established, precarious) that permits such a cosmic theft, gratefully or grudgingly accepting our compensation – buying stuff – and merely displacing the problem. And we displace it and displace it until the shit hits the fan… 

What Deleuze and Guattari mean by embodying a capitalist desire is very simple: where previous, pre-capitalist social machines – the “savage” or “primitive” machine, in which kinship structures was the principal social institution, and the “imperial” or “despotic” machine, in which it was the newly ‘invented’ State – had relied on meaning and codes to organize the qualitative relationships between ‘bodies’ (people, products, food, prestige, necklaces, cattle, fire, words, wenches), capitalism is in essence meaningless and quantitative. Numbers. A balance sheet. Thus, capitalism’s peculiar genius is that, in order to get us to behave in a manner that serves its imperatives (profit-making, regardless of what specifically is produced or provided in order to generate it: a production for production’s sake), it no longer has to tell us what, concretely, to believe or think (although it does do this, through advertising, to channel desire towards products where profit, still virtual at this stage, needs to be actualised, or realized). It is not concerned with ideology, or persuasion – not really (even though it may appear to us that way). In fact, it can absorb most forms of opposition since they are potential sources of new profit. All that matters is that people desire (and work and consume) in roughly the same way – i.e. through the abstract accumulation of stuff, as I said earlier. And so the wheels turn. Ever faster. 

The tumescent, braying Gordon Gekko and the passive-aggressive Willy Loman, with his hackneyed yet still compelling zero-to-hero imaginings, express differences in degree, not in nature. They desire in exactly the same way: acquisition. It just happens that one has a lot more capital than the other. This is the famous American Dream: a ‘democratic’, ‘individualist’ fantasy of the self-made man, abroad in penthouses and trailer parks alike, and that already animated the sort of anomie and atomization that eventuated in the British riots. It is what the Canadian philosopher (and translator of Deleuze and Guattari) Brian Massumi, glossing neoliberal values, such as they are, has called the ethics of greed:
Capitalism dispenses with the need for its subjects to accept ideological or moral justifications of its (or their) existence. But when it does produce precepts, one is heard with overwhelming regularity: the idea that a body can serve the interests of society (not only ‘can’: can only). ‘Self-interest’ is the basic capitalist expression of the common good.
Earlier in the same chapter, he writes of the neoconservatism promoted by Reaganomics and Thatcherism, claiming that it was:
[The] coming out of capital, a new golden age of greed that dares to say its name… The men who personify it…do not so much represent an ideological cause as embody a desire. An abstract desire, a mania for accumulating numerical quantities. Possessing things is understandable from the moral-molar point of view, as is accumulating capital for what it can buy in the way of time, things, and activities. But to accumulate more than anyone could ever spend? And then keep on accumulating greater and greater sums with no other aim in life? That is beyond good and evil. The neoconservative capitalist is defined less by what he possesses than by what possesses him. He is the personification of a mode of irrationality.
Anyway, it is this isolation of desire (or “desiring-production”) as being bound up with – both determining of (causally) and determined by (quasi-causally) – varying historical machines that serve to organize it distinctly (kinship; State; market) that formed the great insight of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, and its “universal history” of desire. In this view, all forms of society, of any scale (by forms we mean their degrees of authoritarianism or lawlessness, from totalitarianism to ‘anarchy’, and their consequent relationship to an ‘other’), are expressions or instantiations – temporary and provisional stabilizations – of the productive combinations (or indeed disjunctions) of desire. It is this desire that determines the way those bodies are held together, and the way those bodies relate to a perceived inside and outside (us/them): from revolutionary openness to “fascism-paranoia”. Again, this point cannot be emphasised enough: “desire” in this conception is simply this mode of connecting bodies (in a very, very broad sense), recording those connections as intensities, and consuming those sensations as degrees of pain or pleasure. We don’t guide those unconscious connections; “we” are their result (a foot fetishist is not so because of deliberate choice; unconscious desire and the habitual repetition of its connections are precisely what define the fetishist as such). 

Deleuze and Guattari’s insistent point about the primacy of desire in the form that a given society (or group activity) takes is especially clear when one compares the role played by social media in these riots with its eminently constructive role in the Arab uprisings this spring: the technology is entirely neutral, merely creating an amplified range of possibilities, but a tool that is nevertheless subtended by collective desires that can be taken in a revolutionary direction or else retreat into the segregated, segregative “microfascisms” that pervade the social field. 

Thus, as with the Law, so with a social machine – precarious both, their efficacy would vanish almost instantaneously if we stopped investing our desire in them in the way that we do; if our passional attachment to the world were to change; if we stopped accepting our fate as inevitable… Let me quote the passage of Anti-Oedipus that I used as the epigraph for my doctoral thesis, for it is now startlingly au courant:
Even the most repressive and the most deadly forms of social reproduction are produced by desire… That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?” How can people possibly reach the point of shouting “More taxes! Less bread!”? As Reich remarks, the astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, they actually want humiliation not only for others but for themselves? Reich is at his profoundest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation of fascism, and demands an explanation that will take their desires into account, an explanation formulated in terms of desire: no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for.
We have to recognise that our fear-driven desires to climb the social ladder, to be a winner, and thus implicitly to endorse a society in which this is promoted as an unambiguous virtue rather a panicked response to a failure of political imagination, makes us all complicit in that society’s continuation. We need to stop saying that the desocialization (dehumanization) that preceded riots is a problem for elsewhere, in ‘immature nations’ or the inner cities whose lives do not touch ‘ours’ – for the gated communities are ghettoes too. The reasons for the abandonment of this parallel society are inside us, in our own apathy, in the crushing obstacles that this ‘system’ – the profiteering machine – imparts to our more noble desires, our better wishes, our revolutionary dreams, in the little corners of sanity-seeking into which it pushes us, defeated. We need to such again on this repressed disgust. 


‘shopping riots’

There is a insidious sense of powerlessness shared by many in the face of an utterly irrational capitalist machine – one that functions by producing for profit (be that pornography, pizzas, plastic bags, pesticides, prostitutes, pens or pedalos) regardless of social utility – insane from top to bottom. Even so, it is surely stretching credulity to ascribe to these recent events any revolutionary tenor – despite the attempts of many well-meaning, left-leaning friends to do so – not even as a revolution “gone bad”. OK, it has grown from ocean-deep disaffection and alienation, but revolutions, even when initially destroying things, are fundamentally constructive. This was not. This was the ransacking of a society that the looters had unconsciously come to despise. As Zoe Williams in the Guardian has said, in a manner that could be seen as a reply to the long quote from Deleuze and Guattari above:
I think it’s just about possible that you could see your actions refashioned into a noble cause if you were stealing the staples: bread, milk. But it can’t be done while you're nicking trainers, let alone laptops. In Clapham Junction, the only shop left untouched was Waterstone’s [which] kept Twitter alive all night with tweets about how uneducated these people must be.
These were, she said, “shopping riots”. 

Returning briefly to the question of the ‘inhibition’ of desire (a task necessarily carried out by all societies, since, in the abstract, a society is nothing more than a division of labour and distribution of surplus) and the constraints obtaining on behaviour, there are perhaps some serious questions to be asked of the relevance and effectiveness of the criminal justice system – for, as Williams again perceptively highlights, the startling thing about the riots was not at all the uneasy images of masked, anonymous men who adorned the covers of the Daily Mail; it was not the stealth, but the sheer brazenness of it. It was daylight robbery: “On Sunday morning, apparently, people had been not just looting H&M, but trying things on first… [Left-wing activist, Claire] Fox said the riots seemed nihilistic, they didn’t seem to be politically motivated, nor did they have any sense of community or social solidarity.” 

Thus, the events seemed less a case of what, in relation to fascism’s delirious total war economy and expansion-unto-death, Deleuze and Guattari described as a “realized nihilism” than a grotesque mirror of consumerism – its roots squarely in the way in which our society, top-to-bottom, communicates status (a transcultural, evolutionary function) through objects: purchasing power. I shop, therefore I am… That is what our participation in the community means to our elites; credit rating is not so much the lowest common denominator for status in capitalist societies, as the sole denominator. 

Of course, there is a distinction between indignation and deprivation, and to argue that the great mass of people’s faith in authority has been eroded by the MP expenses scandals, by the Catholic paedophile rings, by the 333 deaths in police custody without a single conviction, by the banking crisis, the bail-outs and fat cat bonuses, is not in any way to condone the actions of the last week. When we are looking for the deeper causes that allowed the ostensible trigger to act as trigger, the conditions that provoked a riot, there are doubtless an ensemble of factors to weigh up: it might have something to do with the lack of moral guidance provided in an ever-increasing amount of broken homes (this would certainly be the thesis of Oliver James in They F*** You Up); it might have something to do with a culture of apathy and leeching (Daily Mail); it might have something to do with the lack of opportunity, of hope; its relative novelty may have something to do with secularization, too (the blackmail of a virtuous life guaranteeing entry into heaven fools very few; football and shopping having become the new opiates); it might have something to do with the strength of weed being smoked, the ‘dread’ (in the Rastafarian sense) it induces. 

But it overwhelmingly has to do with status, in the macho bling posturing of the bereft and the disenfranchised and in male hormones translated into hyper-aggressive modes of expression (gangster rap) – a miniaturized, local form of precisely the same status-seeking, prestige vicariously accrued by the Lamborghini driver, the superyacht owner, the man with villa on the Caps. Only now, on the London estates and Black Country ghettos, tough schools where the weak are swallowed, it is trainers, phones, and flatscreen TVs that provide the short-hand coded symbols of pecking-order – signs that enable you to get jiggy with Shaneesa or Chelsea, or to get yo-yo-yo-yo-bruv to back the fuck up. 

A slew of unattainable consumer fantasies bombarding them all day, every day; a society with its back turned – this pot had been left on the boil for a while now. And unless escape routes are provided – social mobility: an exit from the degenerate peer-group pressures that present so few options for status and recognition – then you get a great big festering landfill of unfulfilled lives, with no mollifying of passion. In fact, the opposite; its attenuation, until, taut as catgut, it snaps. As Deleuze and Guattari say of fascism (which proliferated virally in 1930s Europe, before resonating together in a State, and whose micro-to-macro emergence resides in a certain mode of relation to the world, in desire): “it is precisely when the war machine has reached the point that it has no other object but war, it is when it substitutes destruction for mutation, that it frees the most catastrophic charge”. When there is no longer any scope for changing their lives, when they are trapped, with no lines of escape from drudgery, then a catastrophic charge is built. And boy, has it ignited. 

In these circumstances, the Law is ideally supposed to act as a thermostat, sponsoring negative feedback (i.e. when the population get agitated and heats up, when sedition is brewing, equilibrium is restored). This was positive feedback, an explosion, a runaway dynamic akin to a prison riot, in which typically, according to the brilliant description of forensic psychologist Kay Nonney, “there will be some form of moral outrage that takes its expression in self-interested revenge. There is no higher purpose, you just have a high volume of people with a history of impulsive behaviour, having a giant adventure”. The shooting of Mark Duggan by police was the moral outrage, but the events long sailed from the shores of protest and rioting to become straight opportunism. A giant adventure. 


window of opportunity

The law is fundamentally precarious, then, as thin as the glass that separates a looter and his loot. For the consensus (literally, “feeling with”) that subtends the Law to be forthcoming, for power not to backtrack to brute force and terror, it is clear that a population has to believe that they form part of something real and worthwhile, no matter how intangible that thing is, no matter how much its precise contours and dimensions remain uncertain (and it is better that it is not too precise, too defined). This entity is not to be thought of as a totality community that subsumes its differences into an unreal image of unity (à la nationalisms, regionalisms, creeds, races, etc), but one that accentuates commonality all the while remaining accepting of difference. Thus, this feeling of being part of something does not mean slavishly belonging to pre-determined, transcendent identities (ideas that no body can embody) – belonging to which, in any case, usually means having been railroaded by local interactions and peer-group pressure – what Nietzsche had already called the “herd mentality”. It does not mean retreat into artificially segregative groups (and all the differences are artificial, really) based around religion, musical preference, football team, corporation, nationality, region, city, suburb, street, side of the street, side of the sofa – all the little groups from which we think we draw our personal intimate identity, our meaning, and which only really serve to block off our potential, to drive us to whimpering reactive veneration of an abstract identity category (“what should a Christian/Muslim do?”; “how does a Marxist think about this?”; “how does the concierge for Hilton hotels stand when talking to a powerful guest?”; “how does a Cripps/Blood walk across his ‘turf’?”; “how does an Orangeman bang his drum?”)… 

For Deleuze and Guattari, these “molar” identities are all based on fear (losing one’s meaning, the sense one makes of the world), even, and especially, when mobilizing that most dubious of virtues, pride. How preposterous to feel proud of a passport, or the colour of one’s skin! Mental ghettos! Let go, let go – it is all artifice! Follow the revolutionary line of flight and invent new (provisional, ephemeral) identities-in-common, based on dynamic action and changing goals rather than ossified, ‘immortal’ ideas (and the spontaneously self-organized clean-up is a good example of this potential, as well as an index of the ongoing will to community). A collective becoming over dutiful, fearful belonging

The logical end point of this argument about believing in something (and the concomitant softening and mutual openness of identities) is at the planetary level – for it is only at that scale – and not through our ever more powerless national governments – that we can tackle the most pressing issues that now face us: climate change and the social devastation caused by unpoliced, deregulated movement of capital, the smoke and mirrors of credit and debt

So, when the fires are out and enough of the thieves have been caught to placate the moral outrage, is there not a window of social and political opportunity? If so, starting right here where we are, from our present conditions, whatever their provenance, where next? As Deleuze and Guattari muse, apropos of an all-encompassing capitalist relation, “Which is the revolutionary path?” 

The answer is, we don’t know – in principle. History has to be improvised, invented, hence the importance of the realization that the Law is an artifice, and that things don’t have to be like this… But we need to ask whether we still want to condone a system that turns a weary, resigned, almost blind eye to bankers’ bonuses when unregulated, high-stakes financial speculation set in motion the financial crash? The law certainly has not operated as much of a constraint there. We could take a deep breath and belatedly confront the thoroughgoing insanity of a society in which we accept the ‘decisions’ of an anthropomorphised (and politically intervened, thus eminently un-free) Market, construed as some sort of ineffable consciousness, that deems it fine – to use a dog-eared, but palpably relevant example – to give wage packets of £200,000 per week for playing football, the new opium of the people. That is not the way of the world. That is apathy. We could all follow the example of Javi Poves

The disinvestment in the very idea of society or community that presaged this plunderous abomination of civility could also be taken in a positive direction, the riots functioning as a political bucket of cold water in the face, a break in the automatic stimulus-response circuitry of our social and political behaviour, all of which grow from the barren soil of identities that are all too sacred. Massumi sets out this ‘strategy’ of “Stopping the World”:
Becoming is about movement, but it begins with an inhibition. At least some of the automatic circuits between regularized stimuli and habitual responses must be disconnected, as if crowbar had been inserted into the interlocking network of standardized actions and trajectories constituting the World As We Know It. The resulting zone of indeterminacy is a tear in the fabric of good/common sense… Stopping the World As We Know it…is a prerequisite for setting up the kind of actual-virtual circuit crucial to the political imagination. Tactical sabotage of the existing order is a necessity of becoming, but for survival’s sake it is just as necessary to improve the existing order, to fight for integration into it on its own terms. These are two sides of the same coin and should be practised in such a way as to reinforce than mutually exclude one another. Neither is an end in itself. Their combined goal is a redefinition of the conditions of existence laid down by the molar order: their conversion into conditions of becoming.
To cite just a few general areas of a reformism to accompany revolutionary becomings, we could seek the end of ‘market fundamentalism’; the fostering of less consumptive lifestyles; investment in new green jobs; wealth redistribution; collaboration over competition. We could think global and act local about the food and energy supply. The possibilities are there, and have doubtless been imagined by the vast reserves of collective intelligence and goodwill shackled and silenced by our debt economy. Eventually, we could abandon waged labour and build sustainable collaborative communities, using the Internet to forge links every bit as transnational and deterritorialized as the mega-corporations and finance behemoths to which our governments are in thrall. Like a capitalist rocket returning to earth after running out of fuel, the insane rocket of whatever-profiteering, we could re-enter the atmosphere of genuine State sovereignty, demanding that our leaders stop pandering to the super-rich (whose offshore-whisked profits would vanish without our co-operation), that they tax corporations and cultivate conditions whereby a minimal state is not a neoliberal byword for the vice-like control of globalised elites, but the means for safeguarding the interests of grass-roots organizations... 

In temporarily disinvesting structures of power that would ultimately carry us to the abyss (not consciously, just through not taking their feet off the accelerator) and counteractualizing the World As We Know It, we have a chance to renovate the project of the Left. But we must also remain vigilant as to the traps and the dangers of disinvestment – what Deleuze and Guattari, recommending caution and dosages in the personal and political revolutions to be undertaken, call “the dangers of too-sudden a de-stratification”, dangers that can see the necessary undoing of group identities veer toward fascism – dangers that manifest themselves not as opportunity, but opportunism. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011


A couple of months back, I finally broke a long-held duck. Emerging from a metaphorical cork-lined room and real decade-long grapple with the recondite philosophy of Monsieurs Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, I actually went and did what an academic is supposed to do, and gave a conference paper. Mental, eh? This paper I gave bore the deliberately grandiose title of ‘The Text as “Desiring-machine”: Minoritarian History in Tomás Eloy Martínez’s La novela de Perón’, something I mention only to indicate what a colossal waste of time it all was (I mean, I could have been doing something useful, maybe even something ‘scientific’, like designing more efficient ways to murder people ‘legitimately’, or synthesizing medicines whose prohibitive costs further cement the deprivation of a health underclass – one to which I belong, incidentally).

Anyway, it was during the course of the Conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI) that I attended a plenary session on the topic of the Falklands-Malvinas Conflict in which Professor Bernard McGuirk, internal examiner of my (still-unmarked) doctoral thesis, held a ‘conversation’ with Major Mike Seear, commander of the troops that carried out the southern pincer movement that took Tumbledown in the advance on Port Stanley, which turned out to be the war’s final battle.

With Professor McGuirk having himself established, personally, a now well-respected research body within the University of Nottingham called The Centre for Post-Conflict Studies, he also undertook one of its major projects, spending five years researching the (surprisingly scanty) literature on the events. The result, Falklands-Malvinas: An Unfinished Business, combines McGuirk’s equally astute and delicate commentaries – sprinkled liberally with high theory, of course – with fragments of prose and poems, in part or in full. 

But Falklands-Malvinas (and yes, both McGuirk and Seear agree that this is the best name for it, signalling – appropriately for the Centre’s ethos – a desire for reconciliation and understanding, one that has been tenaciously sought by these two men and tentatively embarked upon by Seear’s one-time adversaries from Argentina) was not about literature, much less about theory. Not principally. Not then, anyway.

As with all wars, it was about blood and death; and it was about resources. (Very few wars are about principles, of course, even though they are invariably packaged that way; it is only when a belligerent’s “principles” are indicators of them denying future access to resources that our “principles” are invoked as jus ad bellum: a just cause for war.)

Much as I found it difficult – indeed, I squirmed in my seat, literally – to reconcile Seear’s starchy, almost cold-blooded professional militarism (essentially, his complete subjugation to the demands of the British State, a true cog in the machine) with his desire to orchestrate a reconciliation of the soldiers who fought on those wind-pummelled South Atlantic rocks, it was nevertheless fascinating to hear from this embodiment of apolitical military discipline about the political difficulties that both he and McGuirk had faced in trying to engineer a reunion between ex-combatants. 

Major Mike Seear meets Thatcher at the launch of Hors de Combat

Not only is El caso Malvinas still a very, very raw affair in Argentina, associated as it is, perhaps rightly, with colonial occupation, but the Falklanders themselves have stymied any attempts to organize a rapprochement on the islands. As for those unemployed working-class Brits whose restiveness the war was partially designed to pacify, the aggression-quelling effects of the triumph were compensated for – and then some – by Maradona’s goal in the Azteca Stadium. 

Why the need for – and resistance to – such a face-to-face reconciliation? Isn’t it all done and dusted, that war, and thus best left in the past? Haven’t the mental wounds long since healed over? It would seem not, whence the penultimate word in the title of McGuirk’s book: Unfinished… 

Forensic psychiatry recognizes the irreducible connection between trauma and locale: the intended ‘reunion’ on the Falklands/Malvinas was designed to exorcise demons that, in the post-traumatic stress complexes afflicting the veterans, are profoundly connected to the terrain, the territory. If you will forgive my own diversion into theoretical abstraction, they are what Monsieurs Deleuze and Guattari would call territorializations, a concept implying above all else a repeated site for the investment of desire, or fantasy (irrespective of how pleasurable or painful they may be…and in masochism, of course, the two are so deeply intertwined as to be indistinguishable). Honey traps; pleasure prisons.

By far the most shocking thing to these ears in Major Seear’s paper was the following fact: that the numbers of ex-combatants on both sides who had succumbed to their suicidal urges – still evidently strong so many years after the gunboats had left the Falklands beyond their visible horizon – had now surpassed the aggregate figure of those who had died in battle. A total of 906 soldiers perished in the seventy-four day long war: 649 Argentines and 257 from the British forces. One can easily understand this phenomenon afflicting the losing side; the ‘shame’ of defeat and tales of veterans being shunned by their country are familiar to us from dozens of Vietnam movies. But it is a major surprise – to me at least – that the same tendencies are also present on the victors’ side. The conclusion? That the result of war is insignificant as far as the psychological effect on the combatants is concerned. 

British soldiers' reunion at Tumbledown, 2007

Thus, the subject of the paper was the post-traumatic stress disorder felt keenly on both sides, a condition that united the soldiers in a profound way and one that is scarcely comprehensible to politicians. (As a perhaps indirect consequence of the war, Seear’s marriage and private life collapsed amidst nervous breakdown, and he moved to Norway to start up his life anew.) And it was this common experience that formed the basis of the reconciliation – their mutual suspicion and wariness melting away through a shared contempt of the politiqueros that had led them there: Galtieri, to shore up a brutal military dictatorship that was six years into a murderous Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (Process of National Reorganization), little more than a euphemism for State terror that continued long after the leftist urban guerrillas had been “disappeared” (i.e. kidnapped, drugged, and dropped in the Atlantic on the infamous ‘death flights’); Thatcher, to win a tricky election after two years of domestic ‘reorganization’ of her own.  

President Leopoldo Galtieri

Anyway, Professor McGuirk’s efforts at reconciliation – specifically, holding a conference at the University in November 2006 – were not straightforward. The demeanour of the British officers bore a certain unintentional authority that their Argentine counterparts, often drawn from the lower middle-classes, in large part lacked, the initially mute encounter thus doing little, albeit unconsciously, to smooth out any lingering friction. Nevertheless, amidst this awkwardness, a peculiar solidarity was crystallized as the two sides exchanged stories of that cold, unforgiving night of 13 June. 1982.

Offering particular succour, and ultimately leading to a breakthrough, a thawing of the tension, was the British officers’ detailed explanation of the meticulous preparation that the Ghurkhas and Scots Guardsmen had undergone for the battle, preparation borne of a deep respect they had for their opponent. Finally garnering respect for their courage and their efforts – something they had not adequately received from the political class that sent them, underprepared and under-resourced, to fight – meant the world to them. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to claim that such recognition was a matter of life and death…

Earlier, I said that the war was not about literature. Not then, it wasn’t. Then it was about oil and fish (whence the final word in McGuirk’s book’s title); it was also about ‘pride’ and perhaps about the tangible uneasiness that ‘one’ feels on one’s skin if, like Schopenhauer’s porcupines, an undesired other is getting just a little too close – in sum, it was about commerce and desire: political economy and libidinal economy.

We know that in the matter of war it is a universal rule that it is best not to listen to the exhortations of politicians. Perhaps, then, it is better to recollect, in quiet contemplation, the wisdom of a literature that reminds us again and again and again that international wars are always a game of chess between elites (Kings, Queens, Knights, Bishops and their modern analogues), elites who may or may not be identical with sovereign States, who may express transnational organizations and interests, and for whom patriotism is merely a vehicle for rabble-rousing and/or suppressing, as the situation dictates. And in this game, the pawns captured en passant will be the Joe Bloggs (the Juan Lópezes and John Wards) of the smart bomb-fodder masses.  

At the end of Seear and McGuirk’s conversation, the latter – having pointed up the fishing and oil interests that Thatcher’s government had there (Falklanders are the richest, per capita, in the sovereign British territories) – captured this oft-repeated but never hackneyed sentiment with a reading of one of the few works written by a major author that appeared in the immediate aftermath of the Falklands-Malvinas conflict: Jorge Luis Borges’s magnificent poem, ‘Juan López and John Ward’. 

Jorge Luis Borges

Juan López and John Ward

It was their fate to live in a strange time. 

The planet had been carved up among various countries, 
each one provided with loyalties, cherished memories,
with a past undoubtedly heroic, with rights, with grievances,
with its own mythology, with forebears in bronze, with anniversaries,
with demagogues and with symbols.
Such an arbitrary division was favourable to war.

López had been born in the city next to the motionless river;
Ward, in the outskirts of the city through which Father Brown had walked.
He had studied Spanish in order to read Quixote.
The other professed a love of Conrad, revealed
to him in a classroom in Viamonte Street
They might have been friends, but they saw each other just once 
face to face, on islands only too well known,
and each of them was Cain, and each one, Abel. 
They were buried together. Snow and corruption know them. 

The story I tell happened in a time we cannot understand. 

Jorge Luis Borges
Clarín, 26 August 1982 


Juan López y John Ward 

Les tocó en suerte una época extraña,
El planeta había sido parcelado en distintos países, cada uno provisto
de lealtades, de queridas memorias, de un pasado sin duda heroico,
de derechos, de agravios, de una mitología peculiar, de próceres de bronce,
de aniversarios, de demagogos y de símbolos.
Esa división, cara a los cartógrafos, auspiciaba las guerras. 

López había nacido en la ciudad junto al río inmóvil.
Ward, en las afueras de la ciudad por la que caminó Father Brown. 
Había estudiado castellano para leer el Quijote. 
El otro profesaba el amor de Conrad, que le había sido revelado
en un aula de la calle Viamonte.
Hubieran sido amigos, pero se vieron una sola vez cara a cara, en unas islas
demasiado famosas, y cada uno de los dos fue Caín, y cada uno, Abel.
Los enterraron juntos. La nieve y la corrupción los conocen. 

El hecho que refiero pasó en un tiempo que no podemos entender.