Friday, 19 March 2010

Book Review: Cold World: The Aesthetics of Dejection & the Politics of Militant Dysphoria by Dominic Fox

Although I had great hopes for Dominic Fox's (see his blog, Poetix, here) pamphlet I was disappointed. All those who call themselves radicals of the left are estranged from mainstream society; they do not fit in, they are alienated. This is a given and does not need much explanation. Alienation can be enforced through circumstance or temperament but all 'militants' are displaced or dispossessed materially or mentally from the everyday environment of capitalist work and leisure. Displacement is their motivation to become politically active, to struggle against society so as to change it, rather then wallowing in gloomy 'existentialism' or a trendy type of middle-class adolescent angst. I include myself in this description of general alienation of course; furthermore I'm a solitary, shy, sometimes melancholy person, with a deep suspicion of 'happy-clappy' positivism and hippy New Ageism. A book like this should appeal to me.

But Cold World: The Aesthetics of Dejection & the Politics of Militant Dysphoria, deals not with alienation as such or the importance of negativity, withdrawal or refusal in political action, but extreme states of depression or despair; a terrifying mental illness that precludes all hope in the mind of the sufferer, without any allevation through political action, merely suicide, a rejection of life. For those who do not suffer from deep depression, an embracing of an aestheticism of despair is merely a privileged life style choice for western teenagers, easily co-opted by consumerism. Also there is very little politics in Cold World and is mainly a close reading of dark aesthetics: the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Coleridge and the extreme misanthropy and bleakness of Black Metal. This in itself is interesting, especially the chapter on extreme Black Metal, a musical genre I'm getting into at the moment, but how this relates to leftist social struggle is so tenuous and obscure as to only create frustration in the average reader. When we do get to some 'political analysis' in the last chapter on Ulrike Meinhof and the Red Army Faction what we actually get is something even more obscure. Maybe I'm lacking understanding here, but is this chapter a critique of the 70's left wing terrorist group or an intellectual defence of Meinhof's Marxist-Leninist vanguardism and her disregard of 'ordinary' people as mere 'collateral damage'? Dominic Fox was too busy being clever to give a clear answer.

I fail to see what the concept of a 'cold world' has to offer the radical left. Negative emotions such as alienation, anger or boredom, even clear-headed hatred can lead to worldly engagement through resistance, but a freezing up in despair leads only in one direction, to misanthropy and nihilism and the logic of that is suicide, ultimately to the extinction of humanity, which is really the unconscious path of capitalism. Hope for a better world is the positive side of the dialectic of struggle and is as vital as negativity ; so is seeing the potential in technologies such as the Internet which have directly arisen out of capitalism. The message of the so-called urban guerrillas of the 70's was that the defeat or co-option of the popular movements of the 60's lead to the despair (the cold world) of some of its participants, resulting in pointless violence and utter contempt for the working class and eventually their own organisational collapse into lengthy prison sentences, or for some such as Ulrike Meinhof, suicide itself.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Book Review: 1980 & 1983 by David Peace

Them and the depressing music and the grating jingles on the radio, the constant rain and the tepid wind, the mongrel dogs that bark all night and shit all day, the half-cooked food and the luke-warm teas, the shops full of things you don't want on terms you can't meet, the houses that are prisons and the prisons that are houses, the smell of paint to mask the smell of fear, the trains that never run on time to places that are all the same, the buses you are scared to catch and your car they always nick, the rubbish that blows in circles up and down the streets, the films in the dark and the walks in the park for a fumble and a fuck , a finger or a dick, the taste of beer to numb the fear, the television and the government, Sue Lawley and Maggie Thatcher, the Argies and the Falklands, the UDA and LUFC sprayed on your mother's walls, the swastika and noose they hung above her door, the shit through her letterbox and the brick through her window, the anonymous calls and the dirty calls, the heavy breathing and the dial tone, the taunts of the children and the curses of their parents, the eyes filled with tears that sting not from the cold but the hurt, the lies they tell and the pain they bring, the loneliness and the ugliness, the stupidity and brutality, the endless and basal unkindness of every single person every single minute of every single hour of every single day of every single month of every single year of every single life-

The above from David Peace's 1983, similar to 80's punk poetry, encapsulates the grim atmosphere of his Red Riding Quartet (see my review of 1974 & 1977 here) Yorkshire in the early 1980's is depicted as a cold, grey corrupt hell, with its criminal police, murdered children and prostitutes, framed and tortured innocents and deeply flawed protagonists; where the only way out seems to be through religious redemption or suicide. It's a completely male world where the women are merely victims of violence and abuse; but there are no heroes, male or female in 1980 and 1983, only those with some ethics like top police man Peter Hunter from 1980, sent to investigate the incompetence of the West Yorkshire police dealing with the Ripper murders, or Big John Piggott from 1983, the fat and lonely solicitor, (the narrator of the above quote) who is representing the man framed by the Yorkshire cops for the child killings from 1974. The style of writing of both novels is terse and darkly poetic, first person narration with random inter-cuttings of images, thoughts, and snippets of songs, but runs at a breakneck speed, ending with the devastating denouement of 1983. Peace's style can be very confusing and I'm still not clear about parts of the plot, but 1980 and 1983 like the previous novels are page turning thrillers at heart, dark crime fiction at its best. But if you are looking for uplifting, cosy, escapist fiction, do not touch!

For a fascinating 'spiritual' interpretation of the Red Riding Quartet read Mark Fisher's (K-Punk) blog post: 'Can the World be as Sad as it Seems': David Peace and Negative Theodicy.