[A version of this text was published in Socialist Register 2018 ed. Leo Panitch and Greg Albo]
We stand on the cusp of enormous change, both politically and technologically, and the two can hardly be separated at this point. To speak from the situation in the United Kingdom at the moment is to recognize a series of sea changes and tendencies that will, and have already, changed much about contemporary life for millions. We need to be wary of both political and technological determinism here – the recent surprising hung parliament in Britain which saw the Conservative government drop more than twenty points in the polls on the back of a terrible election campaign and massive Labour activism shows that politics remains unpredictable, even when austerity and despair have become internalized. Technology’s future too remains uncertain, even as it is integrated more and more into the everyday lives of millions to greater or lesser degrees. We cannot begin to discuss the relationship between technology and politics, however, without acknowledging from the outset the fundamental asymmetries in its distribution in the modern world, or without a series of major caveats. As many feminist writers have pointed out, technology cannot be considered as neutrally or inevitably ‘progressive’. Cynthia Cockburn put it like this more than thirty years ago:
What you really just want to say is – you cannot be friends with this person.
Why can you not be friends with this person?
Because ‘we’ have cancelled them already – didn’t you get the memo! – because we – this fragile cobweb called something like ‘the left’ or ‘the artworld’ or ‘antifa’ or just ‘people we know and like… and not these other people we either don’t know and don’t like, or do know and don’t like, or once knew and liked and now don’t like’. The ‘we’ that has decided in favour of rumours and anonymous accusations and allegations, that has decided a lie is easier to believe than than truth, which is always more complicated.
[A version of this text appeared in No Regrets: Writings on Scott Walker, edited by Rob Young, London: The Wire, 2012]
Black Sheep Boy
Scott 2 (1968)
What is the opposite of love? Cowardice? Loneliness? Hate? Should music ‘about’ love and its opposite (whatever that is) be lush, excessive, all-consuming, or should it be restrained, hurt, withdrawn? The romantic fascination, or rather the fascination with romance, that reached its zenith in the 1960s with pop’s fixation on the boy band, was effervescent, uncontrollable. Female fandom, although not exactly without historical precursors, revealed the short circuit that exists between culture and desire, visual pleasure and ecstatic forms of identification. The boy band became the focus of myriad modes of projection, bolstered by the groups’ identikit outfits and assumed unities. The Walker Brothers were comprised neither of anyone originally named Walker, nor were they related to one another, but these facts are not important: what mattered was whether the assumed unity could hold, whether there was enough at stake in the game to want to continue playing it.
[Warning: epically long, includes discussions of mental health and addiction issues, discussion of harmful behaviour, discussion of sex/gender]
I had decided not to respond to the ‘Open Letter’ addressed to me following the youtube stream I participated in with Justin Murphy and DC Miller on 28th Feb (which you can watch here if you want to see 1hr 30 of three people sitting in my office late at night drinking coffee and talking about feminism, free speech and paganism/Catholicism etc.), but I’m still getting messages asking me about it and people are expressing concern for me, both politically and personally, so here goes.
It is tempting in these sorts of situations to opt for a ‘never explain, never apologise’ tactic, to trust that people will make up their own minds, that they will investigate claims, especially anonymous, outlandish and extreme claims, about a person, that they will check the sources, trust their instincts and even if they decide that something has gone wrong, or a mistake has been made, or that a line has been crossed, they will do so on the basis of their own thinking.
A piece on themes of sickness in contemporary art and theory for ArtReview.
[Note: this story was written for and read out at the launch event of Objects of Feminism, South London Gallery, Wednesday, 8 November 2017]
In 1983, Patricia Highsmith wrote a text called Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. I decided to take up Highsmith’s guidelines from this text and very loosely apply them to the text I wrote for Objects of Feminism entitled ‘Towards a Feminism of the Void’ in order to write a very short story. In my contribution to the collection, I tried to defend a certain idea of ‘strategic nothingness’, and expand upon an idea of a feminism of the void, so I wrote things like: ‘[We need] a revaluation of void-values, in which void-reason (the standpoint of the nothing) trumps … stuff-reason, where a cock is merely a cigar, and where a cold, empty place is instead a place of great comfort (if the rectum is a grave, is the womb a tomb)?’ and I also wrote: ‘[a feminism of the void] could be a renunciation of all the contracts we never signed but nevertheless find ourselves party to – compulsory heterosexuality, the regime of the visible, being treated poorly on the basis of resentment and anger that we have no ability to stop’.