Thursday, 31 December 2009
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Thursday, 24 December 2009
After we have had our heads caved in by some very complicated theories about the origins of the universe, it's structure and its future (quantum cosmology, string theory, eternal inflation, etc) we have some answers to the Goldilocks Enigma set out for us. The most disorientating is that we live in a pocket or bubble universe which is only one amongst an infinite collection of pocket universes-the multiverse. This is why although the odds are completely against it we find ourselves in a universe with all the right parameters for life. There are an infinite amount of universes' without these conditions but of course we self-evidently find ourselves in a universe that does support life-in other words we are winners of a cosmic lottery. The philosophical implications of a multiverse are also analysed by Paul Davies; do we live in a fake universe, a computer simulation for instance? Or 'could it be that everything exists!'
But the author supports another theory which is finally revealed at the end of the book. It's beautifully optimistic, a positive and life-enhancing idea closer to philosophy then strict science, but still based on a scientific world view-an observer, participatory universe involving an evolution of information processing (a scientific definition of mind, that does not exclude emotion, feeling and creativity) to a limitless extent in the far, far future and loops in time. Here Humanity, Mind and Consciousness are central, bringing the universe in which we live into existence.
Sunday, 22 November 2009
From the first page of 1974, David Peace's debut novel, you're plunged head first into a sort of hell, Yorkshire in the 70's; narrated by a young and naive journalist, Eddie Dunford, who uncovers a labyrinth of corruption, (1974 is also a conspiracy thriller) while attempting to report on a series of grisly child killings. There are no good guys in this story; the police are the equivalent of a Central American death squad, torturing, ethnically cleansing gypsies and killing with impunity and Eddie's fellow journalists on the Yorkshire Post are alcohol drenched hacks with a penchant for misogyny. There is no hope for salvation either, only brutal vengeance. The writing is terse, dialogue driven (mostly obscenities) and moves at a frantic pace, but still manages to be darkly poetic. 1974 (and 1977) should be read as a master class on how to write using a minimum of words, but conveying a thick miasma of atmosphere, almost gothic in intensity.
1977 is more of the same. But David Peace is becoming more ambitious here, moving away slightly from genre conventions, sometimes using experimental syntax, almost 'stream of consciousness.' The gloomy religious references, drawing from the parable of Job from the Old Testament and religious themed horror movies from the 1970's (The Omen in 1974 and The Exorcist here) is more obvious. But the novel is as tightly paced as 1974, a page turning crime and conspiracy thriller based this time (although still fictional) on real events-The Yorkshire Ripper murders. Narrated by Detective Sergeant Bob Fraser and Jack Whitehead, crime correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, (both minor characters from 1974, both desperate and flawed men) there is no let up in the violence-most of it carried out by the police against West Indians and the prostitutes working in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. The novel finally ends in darkness and despair the only way it could, without even the savagely cathartic retribution of 1974.
Friday, 13 November 2009
Screening Sex is not about pornography (although Deep Throat, the 70's gay porno Boys in the Sand and the present day porn film-Pirates are discussed) but the depiction of sex both straight and gay, soft and hard, in art and mainstream cinema; from kissing in early silents and post Production Code Hollywood, through the 60's and 70's with Sexploitation, Blaxploitation and explicit art films such as 'Last Tango in Paris' and 'In the Realm of the Senses,' up to a new wave of hardcore art films, for instance Romance and Shortbus. Linda Williams shows how the screening of sex has changed over the decades but also how the divide between hardcore (explicit expressions of sex as in pornography and European arthouse) and American movies has remained in place. She brings in lots of psychological and sexual theory, Freud, Bataille and Foucault, into her analysis but keeps it personal with her own anecdotes about watching sex on the screen. As a fan of the erotic in cinema and in moving images generally Screening Sex was fascinating, but as the book has many very intimate black and white stills I was unable to read it on my commute to work or in public spaces.
Sunday, 1 November 2009
Right from the get-go I found myself sharing their sense of disengagement and anger at our political and economic culture as mapped out in the first seven chapters. (Dante's seven circles of hell) There are similarities with Guy Debord and the Situationist International of the 60's especially 'The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy' and 'On the Poverty of Student Life'-extreme but erudite attacks on our society like sneering punks with a PhD. The paragraph below is particular apt:
The sphere of political representation has come to a close. From left to right, it's the same nothingness striking the pose of an emperor or a savior, the same sales assistants adjusting their discourse according to the findings of the latest surveys. Those who still vote seem to have no other intention than to desecrate the ballot box by voting as a pure act of protest. We're beginning to suspect that it's only against voting itself that people continue to vote. Nothing we're being shown is adequate to the situation, not by far. In its very silence, the populace seems infinitely more mature than all these puppets bickering among themselves about how to govern it. The ramblings of any Belleville Chibani (arabic for old man) contain more wisdom than all the declarations of our so-called leaders. The lid on the social kettle is shut triple-tight, and the pressure inside continues to build. From out of Argentina, the specter of Que Se Vayan Todos (They All Must Go!-the chant of the 2001 Argentine rebellion) is beginning to seriously haunt the ruling class.
It's only when the anonymous authors of 'The Coming Insurrection' start to contemplate this social upheaval that I find myself getting seriously irritated. They savage all forms of organisation, even local community or citizen groups, as mimicking "the form, mores and language of miniature states." They rely on pure spontaneity and outbursts of dis-organised violence as in urban rioting (they talk a lot about the banlieues riots in France, 2005) as a method of contestation. Like the anti-civilization anarcho-primitives they embrace catastrophe and disaster, a form of left-wing survivalism, failing to realise that the breakdown of society and the frightening chaos ensuing, can lead to the victims embracing the police and the authorities or fascism and Stalinism, to bring some form of stability. The largest experiment in libertarian socialism or workers self-management was carried out in Catalonia, Spain in 1936, where anarcho-syndicalism, a form of directly democratic but highly organised, working class based anarchism held sway. Although spontaneity played a role as it always does, without the long organising period of the CNT-AIT union, the Spanish Revolution would not have survived as long as it did. There is no alternative either in the community or in the work place to organisation.
Friday, 23 October 2009
The first half of Endless Things is fiendishly complex as the dispirited historian Pierce Moffett travels to Europe following in the footsteps of Fellowes Kraft, who journeyed to the region in 1968. It's interspersed with the last section of Kraft's 'unfinished' historical novel concerning early 17th century philosopher and heretic Giordano Bruno and the origins of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood, an influential occult society. Dense with magical symbolism and Gnostic metaphysics as well as humour, this first part of the novel merges into the more realistic second half as the unexpected future of our forlorn hero is revealed. Pierce experiences a spiritual epiphany outside a roadhouse strip-club.
He stopped, in the cold spring air of the parking lot, with his car keys in his hand, in the chartreuse light of the Paradise Lounge girl.
And yet there is a realm outside.
There is a realm outside.
It wasn't a thought or a notion arising in his heart or head, it was as though presented to or inserted within him, something that wasn't of or from himself at all. He had never felt even the possibility of it before, and yet he knew it now with absolute plain certainty. It wasn't even a surprise.
There is an enveloping realm, beyond everything that is and everything that might be or can be imagined to be. It was so.
Not Heaven, where the Logus lives, where everything is made of meaning, or better say, where meanings are the only things. That realm, of any, is deep deep within. But beyond the realms of meaning; beyond even any possible author of all this, if there was one, which there was not; outside or beyond even Bruno's infinities, outside of which there could be nothing; outside all possibility, lay the realm in which all is contained.
It was so. He knew it, without any wonderment. he knew it by its total usefulness.
This is not the finale. The novel ends on the summit of a small mountain in the Faraway Hills over a decade after the events encountered in the previous books, with most of the main characters present. It's a wonderful ending, one of the best I've read. The Aegypt sequence as a whole is a masterpiece that you can read over and over again, enabling you to discover new resonances. All lovers of visionary literature should check out these novels as they celebrate the alchemy of the imagination itself; a sacred spring gushing between the covers of all great books.
Friday, 2 October 2009
There is a very good case to be made that the dystopian visions of science fiction are not waiting to happen in the future but exist in the here and now. Our present is not the austere Stalinist/Fascist nightmare of Orwell's 1984 but close to the gaudy hyper-capitalism and corporation dominated LA of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Franz Kafka's surreal faceless bureaucracies. Never before in the developed world have we been so inundated with consumer choice. There is no real limit to freedom of speech either; on the net we can read the obscure writings of the anarchists and the ultra left and at the same time the rantings of the extreme right and the insane ramblings of religious fanatics. We can vote once every four or five years for a government of our choice (the party that wins is always the one that most closely obeys the logic of capitalism) and we can say, write and get anything that money can buy. But at the most basic level no one has power or control over their lives or the real world outside the TV or computer screen.
Any form of dissent that's not the virtual, both political and cultural, peaceful or not, is safely controlled or hindered and if that fails legislated out of existence-see what happened to something as innocuous as the Big Green Gathering. Working class power residing in wildcat strikes, mass picketing and secondary action was the first to go, then the anarchic free festival and rave scene in the 80's and 90's. A burst of innovative anti-capitalist direct action in the mid and late 90's has faded after the police caught on to their tactics and began kettling demonstrators. As shopping malls and private corporate run spaces spread even the once ubiquitous left wing and single-issue campaigning stalls and leaflet drops are thinning out. Add on new anti-terrorist laws and health and safety regulations, and any semblance of popular participation or people power that does not have the approval of the authorities is made impossible without breaking some kind of law.
Clearly the idea of 'western democracy' cherished by so many is in crisis. You don't have to be an anarchist to see that voting does not work-go back to the euphoria of Tony Blair's victory in 97' and look around at the political and economic ruins surrounding us now. These days it does not take too much of a leap into the radical imagination to see that the concept of 'liberal western democracy' and the almost ritualised fetish for voting in parliamentary elections is an ideological construct keeping us chained to capitalism and neo-liberalism, making sure the complex machine ticks over nicely. Social Democracy (Old Labour, New Deals, green or otherwise) is as unrealistically Utopian as the most outrageous leftism in the brave new world of hyper-capitalism.
Rather naively I have always voted in general elections-I believed I was contributing to keeping the Tories out and just maybe as a result we would get some mild reforms in return. I had never grasped the anarchist insistence on non-voting-after all it does not take too much time or energy to put a cross on a piece of paper and scrawling some anarcho slogan on your ballet paper was to me mere gesture politics, to be read only by some bored counter of votes. At the end of the day voting did not stop you engaging in the real meaningful struggle taking place at the grass roots. But now due to the financial crisis and its fall-out, complete disillusionment even with this limited criteria for voting has set in.
Is there an alternative? I think so-the more non-voters , the more apathy there is, the clearer the message of disengagement and alienation. Negative most certainly, but all social movements and revolts start from the bed rock of disenchantment, even despair at political and economic realities. More positively we must be thinking about the coming resistance after the election as building blocks for a new left libertarian politics, one based on horizontal networks of struggle. If the cuts in the public sector (meaning also attacks on the working class in general, the unemployed and the poor, who rely on the public sector in some form to make life even marginally decent) are as bad as everyone says there going to be, resistance is guaranteed. What form or direction it will take of course cannot come with a guarantee.
But what about voting for left wing parties, Respect or Socialist Labour Party, etc or The Green Party? My views on Respect, et al can be read here. There might be a case to be made for voting for the Green Party as a protest vote, (this is academic in my case, I doubt if a Green Party candidate will be standing in my area) but for complex reasons concerning Parliamentary power and the forces of day to day conventional politics, reasons I have no time to go into in this posting, the Green Party are not a real solution purely on its own. One occupied work place or community action group are worth a thousand Green Party votes.