Hostile Formations

Hostile Formations

This essay is one of the more coherent parts that I’ve written for my undergraduate course. It has already been graded and I’ve edited it slightly to get rid of the obscure referencing because I won’t be including a bibliography.

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The past decades have seen an epoch of border fetishism, where they are invoked, chiefly, to designate difference (and therefore, weariness and hostility). Consequentially, the status of ‘illegal’ migrant has been readily used to strip citizens of political rights and divest a person of their humanity. The morality of this becomes muddied for many in the context of a post-colonial and expansive neoliberal moment. As Koshravi describes in his book, ‘Illegal’ Traveller: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders, “just as rivers, mountain ranges and deserts, borders are presented as primordial parts of nature” and thus helping to construct a collective defensiveness toward a ‘nation’s story’. Based around shared ideals, histories, attitudes and myth, borders serve as an essential reference for a communal sense of identity. Many modern academics would argue that these ideas–and the role of notions of nation sovereignty in sustaining them­–are intrinsically tied to our own desires for individual autonomy and self-determination, but at a national level.

However, challenging these narratives–and the ‘othering’ which they encourage–should ultimately be the primary aim of any anthropologist in their work.  In paraphrasing Marx’s vivid image of money’s relation to capital and the markets which it services, I would draw an immediate comparison to the inherent violent roles that modern nation-state borders play: “If the border-crosser arrives into a world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek, then the border-transgressor arrives dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt”. I would use this to pose the question of what defines an illegal (border-transgressor) and what defines a legal (border-crosser) traveller and how, if at all, are these definitions reconfigured through refugee status, citizenship rights or shockwave events such as wars or conflicts. In an attempt to give an answer to some of these questions, I will be drawing from three ethnographies which all detail an anthropologist’s fieldwork on borders, identity and what those experiences can tell us about how they are navigated and militarised in a contemporary political climate.

Nowhere in these texts is the question of citizenship and (il)legal status so evocatively put as when Koshravi describes his experience of being detained in a border prison cell whilst attempting to flee Iran (and forced conscription) during the war with Iraq in the 1980s. He would witness countless landings and departures of international airlines, filled with people that he refers to as having ‘surplus mobility rights’ because of the accessibility of crossing nation-state borders for those passengers, while he himself was fixed in immobility. As I have mentioned, borders represent an essential reference for a nation’s sense of collective identity and therefore, violating border regimes is also seen to violate ethical and aesthetical norms. In Koshravi’s earlier essay, and precursor to ‘Illegal’ Traveller, he highlights why this act is such a contentious one, in noting that “’Illegal’ border crossing challenges the sacred feature of the border rituals and symbols. It is seen as a criminal act deserving of punishment. A ‘transgression’ based on a capitalist-oriented and racial discriminating way of thinking, borders regulate movements of people”.

With these attitudes so ingrained, crossing borders for many can feel like a transgression, a disruption to a respected political order and an internalising of shame on these bases is quite often part of the punishment. That being said, borders can also be sites of defiance and resistance. As mentioned, Koshravi had just come out of high school when military service would come knocking at his door and those of all able young men. During the Iraq-Iran war, as with many other conflicts, it was seen as a duty to become martyrs for your country, to jump onto a live grenade with pride. To come back from the front lines alive was a chance that Koshravi did not want to take and so he crossed borders to escape martyrdom. Not only are borders contentious sites symbolically for those who cross them without whichever documentation and credential is acceptable for the time, but they are also–in contrast to common perception–opportunities for border patrols themselves to act above the law (a ‘whatever is necessary’ approach) and the spaces can even become beneficial for them, as “border crossers without papers are robbed by the guards before being taken into custody”. These are sites of an occupation of sorts; vulnerable migrants are blinded by rubber bullets, humiliated in front of border guards and soldiers, their possessions damaged, their water supplies spilled, their bodies beaten and urinated on and there are even large numbers of shootings and fatalities.

While Koshravi’s experience in fleeing the conflict is perhaps one that we can recognise in part, as the cruelty of border regimes is relatively well-known (though, not necessarily opposed), there are also auto-ethnographies and retellings of border-crossing to Western nations where migrants arrive from across seas and are met with a different kind of hostility. In De Genova’s ethnography, he describes the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks and the United States’ proclamation of their “War on Terror” and how this impacted global border sanctions, including with the heightened demands on citizenship and the eroding of civil liberties. The real result of this is that the regular juridical status of citizenship itself is made more exclusive through policy, while political debate and mass media coverage will identify migrant ‘illegality’ as a self-evident ‘problem’. The divide here comes from the presupposition “that there is something inherently suspect about the human beings who migrate”. Typically, the legal status of a migrant ever since the events of September 11th has been defined by the ‘terrorism effect’ and through one of (or all) three things: i) the previous place of residence ii) legal history iii) whether or not the migrant is able to ‘offer’ the state which they are trying to enter capital gains (e.g. a member of a workforce). This system inherently discriminates against those who, as we’ve highlighted, are forced to transgress border regimes or who are unfit for work and/or do not have a work placement which they will be entering into soon upon arrival into the country.

When we look at the totality of the structural function of borders (as a means ‘protect’ against the class and/or race-based conflicts which are their foundation), these paradigmatic scenes manifest on a micro level too. As we see during the apartheid regime in South Africa, where borders were felt in all but name with the separating of the township and white urban centre from the rural homelands. Exercising sovereignty in these ways­ mentioned–where borders are designated and emphasised as means to protect a populous from ‘the threats’ that lie outside them–is to, as described by Mbembe in Necropolitics, “exercise control over mortality and to define life as the deployment and manifestation of power” and signifies a strong social relation to the state. Through reordering politics, the sovereign power does not merely exclude the undesirable persons but penalises and regulates them by petrifying them into immobility in detention centres, by ignominious and terrifying forms of deportation, or by racialised internal border control – that turns the citizen into a quasi-citizen. As Balibar puts it ‘some borders are no longer situated at the borders at all’ in geographical or political senses of the terms. Borders have become invisible borders, situated everywhere and nowhere. Hence the undesirable persons are not expelled by the border, they are forced to be borders.

It seems that the way to interrogate the nature of borders should not necessarily begin from an epistemological standpoint of the state and its function, either historically or in the present day, but rather from the starting point of seeing freedom of movement as something like a basic human entitlement. Though, as discussed, borders are not arbitrary by design or something to raise awareness of for them to go away – they serve a primary function. Migrant illegality and more specifically, the exclusivity of citizenship “is a crucial form for operationalizing the more general separation and abstraction of the political from the immediate processes of exploitation, which manifests itself ubiquitously in the reification of “the” state as a greater or lesser monopoly of “legitimate” coercive violence, exercised spatially over a delimited territory”. Perhaps, then, any intellectual enquiry into the careful negotiation of freedoms and death which borders operate should begin and end with the function of capitalism itself.

In defence of postmodern furries

In defence of postmodern furries

Please don’t imagine that I am criticising Jordan Peterson when I say that he has abandoned the real world. Because he’s absolutely right: we should have never left the oceans.

At the Oxford Union, in his latest book and on Twitter, the Psychology professor, now YouTube sensation and bestselling author, has been busy tendering to his group of predominantly male, frenzied conservative crusaders. Actively feeding them more antiquated, half-chewed thoughts on individualism, personhood and gender & class hierarchies: in part through the medium of some hilarious Tumblr-esque dissections of biblical stories and myths to demystify these concepts and how they are relevant to the human condition.

To explain his success as he might, picture David and Goliath: the triumphant small man facing down a much stronger, giant adversary. In his version of events, he and his followers represent David, while postmodernism and its architects and beneficiaries, “social justice warriors” (SJWs), represent Goliath, or some shit.  The classic underdog story that everybody loves. Except his underdog story and the dramatic rise in his popularity can largely be attributed to a video that was widely shared featuring Peterson disparaging trans students on campus.

I suppose it’s easy to understand his appeal, his words can read like political ramblings from H.P. Lovecraft on bath salts even when looking at a fairly placid profile featured in the NYT. Reactionary white men will be thrilled with his loathing for the SJWs and his deranged machismo diet of eating nothing but salted meat. Those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse Peterson’s claim that “there are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men.” Islamophobes will take heart from his speculation that “feminists avoid criticising Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance.” Libertarians will cheer Peterson’s glorification of the individual striver, and his stern message to the left-behinds of “Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark.”. The demagogues of our age don’t read much; but, as they ruthlessly crack down on refugees and immigrants, they can derive much philosophical backup from Peterson’s sub-chapter headings: “Compassion as a vice” and “Toughen up, you weasel.” One thing that is common across these demographics of his base is their ineptitude in talking to—and overt hostility toward—women. Of course to address this, he applies the melodramatic rhetoric of mythical struggle between chaos (women) and order (men) to explain their fuckless everyday situation.

“Culture,” one of his typical arguments goes, “is symbolically, archetypally, mythically male”—and this is why resistance to male dominance is unnatural. Men represent order, and “Chaos—the unknown—is symbolically associated with the feminine.” Keeping with this and his many soliloquies about modernity that he attributes, in part, to ‘cultural Marxism’, Peterson imbues life with a sense of lurking danger: the world is liberally peopled with sociopaths and psychopaths and even the dullest of conservative academics are actually ideological shock troops in a cosmic battle. He styles himself as a culture warrior against the forces of postmodernism, a worldview which, he says, is “an assault on everything that’s been established since the Enlightenment : rationality: empiricism : science.” He lambasts academia and casts off ‘postmodernists’, a catch-all he uses for any modern thought that questions the superiority of dominant Western political and scientific institutions—from Marxism, to French post-structuralism, to contemporary gender and race theory—again as “an assault on the metaphysical substrate of our culture”. Yet nowhere in his published writings does Peterson seem bothered by the fact that thinking of human relations in such terms as dominance and hierarchy—that were essential to maintain Enlightenment ideals—connects too easily with such nascent viciousness as misogyny, anti-semitism and Islamophobia. He might argue that his ‘maps of meaning‘ aim at helping lost individuals rather than racists, ultra-nationalists, or imperialists.

Like Peterson, many Enlightenment and hyper-masculinist thinkers saw compassion as a vice and urged insecure men to harden their hearts against the weak on the grounds that the latter were biologically and culturally inferior. Hailing myth and dreams as the repository of fundamental human truths, they became popular because they addressed a widely felt spiritual hunger: of men looking desperately for maps of meaning in a world they found opaque and uncontrollable. It was against this (eerily familiar) background—a “revolt against the modern world,” as the title of Evola’s 1934 book put it—that demagogues emerged so quickly in twentieth-century Europe and managed to exalt national and racial myths as the true source of individual and collective health. The drastic individual makeover demanded by the visionaries turned out to require a mass, coerced retreat from failed liberal modernity into an idealised traditional realm of myth and ritual. And this is how, for his admirers searching for some kind of spiritual nourishment, he invokes the Shaman.

Peterson considers himself to function akin to the shaman: a sorcerer and an orator of ancient knowledge (he himself maintaining a clinical practice, which draws influence from shamanic ritual – and this is actually the most consistent commitment of his). But, he and his influencers are no more a Shaman than I would be if I started yelling intellectual aggro on top of the Fjords. He frightens his enthusiasts and patients, in order to be better able to soothe.

In sharp contrast, the extract below is from an ethnography by Barbora Půtová describing the etymology of the shaman:

The Upper Palaeolithic gave rise to many works of art including paintings and engravings depicting these unearthly beings integrating anthropomorphous features, often taking the form of sorcerers. Shamans are usually interpreted to be Upper Palaeolithic sorcerers who can be seen as Earth deities, Great Spirit or the Lord of the Animals. The anthropomorphous potential of sorcerers is often depicted with anatomic features of animals such as a bison or deer.

Their animal sexual activity, fertility, vitality and strength are in some cases demonstrated with an erect phallus which is complemented with an animal tail. The images of sorcerers can be also regarded as a shaman during a magical ritual that was significant for the community which used the cave. Religious rituals played a prominent role in the society as they consist of the “ability to enter into ecstatic states via a number of techniques and to create strong, emotionally binding relationships with other people”.

Many aspects of Upper Palaeolithic art document that caves were used for shamanism and illustrate the ability to project introspective images on the surface. Furthermore, elements of cave art reflect the structure of the mind derived from internal feelings, dreams, memories, visions or altered states of consciousness. Prehistoric sites with cave art include shaman equipment, including percussion instruments, flutes made of bird bones and heel imprints indicating to ritual dances. The structure of the cave symbolises a journey into unconsciousness and a lower (under)world, representing the shaman’s inner journey. The use of deep caves was taken to be a symptom of magical intent. Shamanismus could have played a crucial role in cognitive and social evolution as altered states of consciousness facilitated adaptation to ecologic and social changes in the Upper Palaeolithic.

Further examination of shamanistic mythology and practice would evoke a more accurate comparison, one which doesn’t look like a right-wing fantasist slowly degenerating into Christopher Lee’s Dracula. And one that is actually characterised by postmodernity.

In the 30,000 years it has been since people first started depicting strange beings whose bodies symbolised the duality of the man and the animal, these beings integrating animal and human elements acquired a new dimension. Postmodern relativism and the desire to seize the human substance with alternative resources gave rise to a new type of a sorcerer — half human and half animal, known as a furry.

The oldest example of one of these [Shaman] can be found in Chauvet Cave in Ardèche (ca. 30 000 BC), it depicts a figure part human and part bison. At the end of the leg of the bison there are parallel lines hanging down. The body of the bison with a horned head is directed towards a vulva, a pubic triangle and two tapering legs of Venus that is being transformed in the back part of a feline, suggesting some sort of chase involving human and animal coitus.

Where a Shaman’s ecstasy is perceived as an altered state of consciousness, setting on a journey to other worlds—to achieve for e.g. successful hunting, good weather, healing—a furry acquires extraordinary abilities when entering the virtual reality in the form of a personal furry. The virtual space creates possibilities for constructing new identities that may provide more perceptual experiences, fantasies and illusions. Furries can change their own representation in cyberspace. Cyberspace opens to furries according to their needs and provides them ecstatic freedom, discovering new worlds. Shamans and furries thus trespass the threshold of the profane world, though in different times, in order to modify their original personality and find new existential horizons of human feelings and cognition.

Furries—in-part, defined by postmodernity (in that they are procedural identities, based on constant choice, search, configuration and representation)—are a liminal being in this sense, just as Shamans are, functioning to achieve a form of spiritual liberation. While closer interrogation of Peterson’s claims reveal his ‘ageless insights’ as a typical and painfully confined, if not archetypal, product of our own times: right-wing pieties seductively mythologized for our current lost generations. But it’s important for his followers to consider that it is not the duty of intellectuals to be reassuring and edifying, to create a serious world for adult children to wrap themselves up in. Intellectuals are supposed to be critics not clerics. If they do have a role, it is to provide tools to weather the sometimes enervating, painful, and confusing path of reflection and thought, not to allow for its easy interruption with images of glory and government-mandated girlfriends.

In his war with postmodernism, as elsewhere, Peterson wants to somehow keep the Enlightenment intact as a positive value, without realising its actual stakes or costs. In his work, he never really identifies the evils caused by belief in profit, slavery, genocide, and imperialism but he will surmise that a belief in egalitarianism, in this postmodern age of ‘cultural Marxism’ (he uses these interchangeably), leads straight to the guillotine or Gulag.

With his reactionary views and avuncular displays, Peterson functions far more as a huckster than the shaman, handing out quick fixes and vague sentiment, using his semi-related field to prey on college-aged males. Little of his work can be classed as ‘philosophy’. I’m not sure that he’s ever acknowledged—or read—any studies and findings that would still be credible in either the sociology or anthropology disciplines today. And it isn’t really politics or science either. Instead, his work is a kind of grappling with the excesses of what human beings have done or believed in the past, in the hope that it clarifies something about the present. If Peterson has a particular skill, beyond his undoubted eloquence, it’s the ability to move so seamlessly back and forth between scientific research and metaphysics, the primordial and the modern, that his audience scarcely notices the joins. And that’s the crux. That’s how Peterson is effectively able to sell his brand of intellectual and political fearlessness to them: imposing a world of mysticism upon the world that already exists, which is one of complexities that he doesn’t have the ability to grasp.

Disclaimer: This was a good idea I thought I had which ended up becoming a Frankenstein’s monster of an essay. I got the extremely cool illness of depression and was unable to finish, so it’s a conglomerate of my own writing/research and some excerpts pulled directly from articles by Pankaj Mishra and Will DaviesI’ve written a kind of supporting blog piece for this essay on my Patreon. 

Melancholia after the election

Melancholia after the election

Throughout Jeremy Corbyn’s run as leader of the Labour Party, his politics have been embattled and scorned by the powerful. The beginning of his rising popularity throughout the summer of 2015 had a symbolic value. Corbyn became the catalyst for an articulation of the disillusionment felt by many concerning parliamentary democracy. Elites and liberals looked on with mysticism as it seemed that power within the party could be taken away from where they felt it belonged. Once it became the reality that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader with a huge mandate, his competitors being 3 forgettable ‘Labour moderates’ with bile softly cushioning their nerve endings, the media and the Conservative Party immediately took the opportunity to encroach on this dissent which they were now being forced to pay attention to. They felt that Corbynism represented a heterodoxy against the fatalism of neoliberalism, and they were terrified.

This has continued pretty much consistently throughout his tenure as leader, his fortitude delineating from a significant grassroots base which always remained loyal to his ideals and worked to push his policies into public discourse. I have not been uncritical of Corbyn. His politics are not quite the same as mine. Not only this but I think the Labour Party is probably the least inspiring vehicle for a socialist project that we have in the country. Just as consistently as his base were trying to authenticate him, the mediocrities of the Parliamentary Labour Party were always pissing themselves for attention, attempting to undermine him. I was nervous that, amidst all of this, the party would damage the chances of left-wing politics being taken seriously (not to say that I blamed Corbyn himself).

The snap election however, called in April 2017 by Theresa May, was a time for the left to rally behind the Labour leader unequivocally. The campaign that Jeremy Corbyn fought signified a lurch from the configuration of the post-Thatcherite politics, which has been febrile and panting as it has thrusted and fucked a generation over the past two decades. Throughout this election, it is not surprising that there had been a huge speculation about turnout. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership pitch was, from the start, that he would bring back lost voters, people who have given up and felt alienated from the system. Therefore, with the enthusiasm for the manifesto, the success on Corbyn’s part depended on the youth turnout, discontented swing voters in Conservative held safe seats and sweeping up a significant portion of the UKIP, Green and Liberal Democrat votes. He needed to confound expectations.

The platform that the Labour leadership ran their election campaign on was fundamentally one of change. Upon it’s unveiling to the public, the programme which Corbyn and his close team had set out in his manifesto was received incredibly well across all of the different categorisations of the electorate. The minimalist case to vote for Labour which we had seen in previous elections had now been shattered. This was a truly transformational set of policies and an exciting pitch to get behind to begin galvanising support for across Britain. Within the manifesto we saw considerable possibilities for the reversal of devastating Tory politics, such as the scrapping of tuition fees, ending the freeze on welfare benefits and free childcare with an extension of maternity pay. There were also pledges to bring back the rail, energy and water companies into public ownership, a potential here to save millions and run efficient services. This would largely be paid for by the raising of corporation tax from 20% to 26% and increasing the income tax for the very wealthiest in our society.

The line which the Tories kept peddling throughout the campaign was that “Labour is taking us back to the 1970s”, not only is this facile and something which ideologically indiscriminate losers would lap up exclusively, it’s also a dire misrepresentation of what the leadership of Labour were proposing. It goes beyond nostalgia and presents a plausible practicality as outlined in their comprehensive ‘Alternative Models of Ownership‘ report:

“Nothing other than the creation of an economy which is fairer, more democratic, and more sustainable; that would overturn the hierarchies of power in our economy, placing those who create the real wealth in charge; that would end decades of under-investment and wasted potential by tearing down the vested interests that hold this country back (p. 32).”

With this ethos firmly rooted in his politics, Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign slogan was, “For the many, not the few”. Although it’s ultimately a slogan, a profound radicalism, evident in his programme, bolstered its meaning. There is no questioning, in any corner of our media, on Corbyn’s exceptional ability for campaigning effectively any more. His palpable fury toward the elite and the way that our country is run is consolidated in the resounding speeches which he gives on how things need to change. This is where he excels. He travelled across the country – to Tory marginals, to Labour marginals, to Tory strongholds, attracting crowds in their thousands to deliver his message for a progressive politics.

Polling day for the election was June 8th and an increased turnout from the disenfranchised voter groups was Labour’s priority. The Conservatives don’t need to consider this, their messaging on polling day is significantly different. Theirs is one of fear for the calamity they feel a Labour government would cause to their blessed order of things. They know that the elderly people close to death will turn out in swathes and do anything to stop the tide from taking their pension, or something. It’s just common sense to vote for the Conservatives, and the common sense in the UK is always from the point of view of warfare. They will vote for whichever candidate would seem more threatening to the world if their face were to be projected onto the White Cliffs of Dover. The electorate would largely be more comfortable to see the destruction of millions of people and the beginning of the apocalypse rather than see society change before them by just 1% for the better. They cast their vote to prevent what they see as an inevitable decline in their way of life.

Needless to say for anybody who had the curiosity to find out what was going on, when the exit poll was revealed and the results began to come in, the Labour leadership and the mobilisation behind Corbyn had proven to be a phenomenal success. They gained seats in places which had been Conservative ever since the Anglo-Saxon settlers dragged a great beast ashore which burrowed its way underground and poisoned the dirt beneath us. Canterbury and Kensington were won, key marginal seats swung to Labour and Tory safe seats across the country had their majorities drastically reduced by party candidates and campaigners. The final count had the Conservatives at 318 seats (8 short of a majority government) and Labour at 262. The pedants and intellectually dishonest clods will insist that this is a parliamentary defeat. The reality is that the Tories were the largest party and it is likely that Theresa May will form a coalition government with the DUP. However, the resounding victory of hope in this election is clearly inexplicable to them.

Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign had brought a new kind of power into possibility. A shift towards workers’ rights and a reversal of the undercutting of wages. Emancipatory rights for women, with maternity support and investment in other vital services for POC and disabled people. A move towards national self-determination. Public ownership of our industries. Free higher education, leading to the expansion of literacy. An unlocking of opportunity for each and every one of us. These were our incantations, and they landed. We saw an unprecedented surge, unseen in British political history, in support for a progressive programme. It was a dissolving of the neoliberal certainties imposed on us.

What we are seeing is Theresa May’s party in disarray. She called a self-serving general election to wipe out the opposition and she lost her gambit emphatically. For weeks we were warned of a “coalition of chaos” by the Conservative Party. In the best way possible, ironically, this is exactly what has instead now transpired with the Tories and the DUP. She remains as leader of a weak party, a minority political force. The course of the next parliament and the next general election are ours. Irrespective of the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is not yet our Prime Minister, this is a project which is necessary to emulate for the left across the world, a blueprint for reform and then to socialism. It’s worth pursuing—to goad what is considered human nature and necessary in this neoliberal moment—because caught in the seam of our ruinous world leaders, it’s the only thing that can save us. But don’t mourn, comrades: melancholise.

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Theresa May, the dread of the mollusc

Theresa May, the dread of the mollusc

“The many … whom one chooses to call the people, are indeed a collection, but only as a multitude, a formless mass, whose movement and action would be elemental, irrational, savage, and terrible. […] Public opinion deserves to be esteemed as much as to be despised; to be despised for its concrete consciousness and expression, to be esteemed for its essential fundamental principle, which only shines, more or less dimly, through its concrete expression.”
― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

What Theresa May represents is the final meaninglessness of parliamentary democracy. Destitution in the UK is prevalent with many relying on food banks to stay alive, services are being sold off to exploitative companies, housing is unaffordable and mental illness spreads like a malignance. Change is sought by the people. Media institutions and politicians largely have no solutions – they’re disarticulate, phatic and reactionary. Stare too long into our Prime Minister’s ghoulish face and it’s hard to tell what the point of all of this is. It’s a constant reminder that this world is not a sane or a rational place.


None of this was supposed to happen. Corbyn’s poor polling was alleged to remain static throughout the campaign and the Tory’s were going to win a significant, consolidating majority. This general election had been called precisely because Theresa May thought that she would appeal to the British public as a symbolic eclecticism of imperialism. She’d sit in cabinet meetings and boast of how she would be a proud mummy to this great empire. The UK under her leadership would subduct large areas of Europe and she’d spank the botty of anybody who questioned her authority and ‘difficult woman’ reputation which she’d assimilated for herself among colleagues. This is still how May presents herself and she still believes it. Now that she has to campaign in public, the factor which has changed is that the electorate are beginning to see the horrifying grimace on her face as the bile glugs back down her throat when she stops talking for a moment. They’re seeing how much she despises them, how utterly discomposed she is to be in their presence. To combat the Labour surge in the opinion polls, the Tories are relaunching their campaign, they need to transform her.

The Conservative Party’s campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, steps into a chamber filled with senior Tory officials. After some dull greetings and discussion, a member of the group stands up and says “Mr Crosby, the IRA terrorist sympathiser smear against Corbyn has largely been ineffectual – we’re losing ground, the poll gap is nowhere near as sizeable as it was when we called the election”. Crosby’s lips curl and he turns a shade of pink but this swiftly transitions into a glazed smile. “You’re right, this is a disaster” he says, “It’s different to how I imagined. Her reputation has superseded her abilities. She looks distinctly uncomfortable around the general public and she’s turning this campaign into a vanity project”. He paces toward the other side of the room, “Gentlemen, I know that you are all thinking ‘how do we turn this around?’ Well…” Crosby turns from the group and violently kicks an odd looking instrument, a great humanoid hunk of steampunk machinery with children coiled and sprawled into the mechanisms to operate the gears. The machine speaks, it’s sentient and it has an answer for them. As its creator, Lynton Crosby is the only one who understands it, only he can translate the dialect. The other men in the room, looking nervous, patiently await a solution for their campaign woes. “We’ve got it!” Crosby suddenly exclaims. He begins to sermonise, mostly-incomprehensible babble spews from his now foaming mouth “[…] We’re going to be focussing on Brexit and we’re now going to adopt the Labour campaign strategy of convincing video messages outlining our position, posted online for the public’s viewing”, he excitedly announces. “That’s how we will gain the assurances of our voters once again and the Prime Minister avoids the agonising contact with them!” The men in the room nod in unison and one by one begin to stand and applaud. Crosby signals at the door to the chamber and gleefully beckons “Come on in, girls!”, swim suit models hurriedly enter with champagne bottles and glasses. He presses a button on an old stereo system, pop music plays and the room breaks out into awkward flailing and celebratory handshaking.

Theresa May was next to appear on the Sky News programme, The Battle for Number 10. Throughout the campaign, she’d rejected one-on-one debate proposals with Jeremy Corbyn because her record in government is emphatically indefensible. Service cuts, big business favoured policy and a poorly handled Brexit process so far would all be easy targets for Corbyn. However, this programme was the Tory voter’s consolation prize, this was an opportunity to see their herald shine while being questioned and interviewed – who would believe it – in the same building as the Labour leader.

She arrived in the studio and took to the stage, her voice tremulous as she exchanged greetings with the show’s presenter, Faisal Islam. As she looks out into the audience, her smile gradually fades and the mollusc-like similarity in her skin tone and eye colour is more pronounced. One after the other, she is asked questions by members and she responds to them in turn. “What Jeremy Corbyn is proposing is nationalisation and higher taxes for the wealthy. This is simply impractical!”. Her face shifts into showing a sort of crinkled exuberance. “Now this…” as she gestures toward a toothless child freezing to death “this is real politics”. Murmuring and heavy sighs can be heard from the viewers, they’ve known her to use this rhetoric before. Halfway through the questioning, she insists on going backstage briefly and is granted permission. After a momentary pause in the studio, she returns, hastily cramming tadpoles into her mouth and then indicates to Faisal that she’s ready for another question. After answering more, attempting to reassure the public with promises of strength and stability, Theresa May makes one final appeal to the audience: “Many of my colleagues have called me a ‘bloody difficult woman’, this is because when I have a principle, nobody will stop me in my determination to deliver what’s best for the people of Britain”. During her statement, she begins to twitch nervously and coughs from the spiders stuck in her throat, haplessly trying to recall what the next part to her culminating speech is. She creaks into a crotchety smile once again, “We make absolutely clear, no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal.”, the crowd erupts into frenzies of cheers, clapping and sobbing. The camera pans to them, they have arisen from their seats. Tiny bow ties are visible in the audience, along with dripping brows and a woman holding out her hands as though they are akimbo pistols and mouths “Boom!”. The camera operator reverts back to May’s face, “Subsume yourselves”, she utters under her breath, “You will all be eating dog food”. They have just applauded the abyss.

Saturn and melancholy

Saturn and melancholy

“And since of all the Gods he was hated,
Verily o’er the Aleian plain alone he would wander,
Eating his own heart out,
avoiding the pathway of mortals.”

In Ancient Greece, when the events of the world of man were linked to the stars, Saturn occupied the retarding of all undertakings, the related adjective to melancholia being saturnine. It was a sluggish portent burdening the minds of wavering souls. For Plato, melancholy meant primarily, if not actual madness, at least moral insanity, clouding and weakening will and reason; for he regarded it as a symptom of what he describes in the Phaedrus as the worst soul of all – that of the tyrant. No doubt the ancients would see ample evidence of Saturn’s influence in contemporary life, such as with the frequency a sentence beginning “this is like in Harry Potter when […]” occurs in political discourse.

Throughout the Middle Ages and much of the Renaissance, a melancholic disposition was seen to be caused by an excess of black bile within the body that needed to be expelled. The black bile represents one of the four humours (the other three being yellow bile, blood and phlegm) and these humours corresponded to the cosmic elements and to the divisions of time; they controlled the whole existence and behaviour of mankind, and, according to the manner in which they were combined, determined the character of an individual. These four humours were always present in the human body and determined its nature but according to the season, sometimes one and sometimes another gained the ascendancy. The black bile, for instance, in the autumn, whereas the winter was unfavourable to it and the spring inimical, so that autumn-engendered pains would be relieved by the spring. The four humours caused both illness and health, since their right combination was health, but the predominance or defect of one was to be an illness. When a subject could not be rid of melancholia, fears and despondencies, this was the influence of a harrowing demonic possession, now occupying the consciousness.

Picturing the physical quality of the melancholy humour, St Hildegard von Bingen describes how the humour originated in Adam’s body as the result of the Fall. After the devouring of the apple, melancholy was born in the first fruit of Adam’s seed out of the breath of the serpent which had consumed him. Men became sad, timid and inconstant in mind. As though a high wind which is good for neither herbs nor fruit. Adam had sinned, melancholy curdled in his blood, it shone in him like the dawn and contaminated the wisdom and perfection of good works. Adam broke the law, the sparkle of innocence was dulled in him, and his eyes, which had formerly beheld heaven, were blinded, and his gall was changed to bitterness, and his melancholy to blackness.

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For artists, the drawing of a melancholic delineated a ‘child of Saturn’.

Of Saturn, Arab writers of the ninth century said:

The spleen occupies the same position in the body as Saturn in the world: For Saturn with its rays sends forth transcendent powers which penetrate into every part of the world. Through these, forms adhere to and remain in, matter. Even so goes forth from the spleen the power of the black bile, which is cold and dry and it flows with the blood through the veins into every part of the body, and through it the blood coagulates and the parts adhere to one another.”

As phlegm and yellow bile were not included, we can assume their system of correlation with the planetary alignments and the four humours had not been completed. It is clear that they considered the character of the planets to be linked to physique and emotions; Saturn is dark and black, therefore it must be cold and dry by nature, melancholic.

With the melancholic condition, as though a viscous black gunk discharges and begins to pour from the nostrils, filling the locus and leaving no survivors; there is Saturn, his nature is cold, dry, bitter, black, violent and harsh. Sometimes too it is cold, moist, heavy and of stinking wind. He wishes his causes of death to be in solitude by poison, cruelty, difficulties and guile. He presides over old age and trades such as farming, grave-digging and bath attendants, over every deed of wickedness, force, tyranny and rage. Evil journeys are choreographed by him, journeys of corruption, blindness and hatred. To him belongs black snakes, goats, bullocks, waterfowl and mountains. For every dark occasion of self-destruction and matters of boredom, Saturn is present.

This text is influenced by the fantastically lyrical book, “Saturne et la mélancolie” by Erwin Panofsky, Fritz Saxl, and Raymond Klibansky.

A manifesto for the end of the world

A manifesto for the end of the world

A foreword by a zealous ideologue for the doctrines of smallness, insipidness and absolute hatred 

We are a great country. With great people. In the last five years I have heard your stories, your hopes and your aspirations. And I have heard too your frustrations.

The countless people working as hard as they possibly can and still struggling to pay the bills. The young people with great ambitions but great anxieties about the future. The dedicated staff of our NHS, who are deeply concerned about its funding. And all those who have served our country, are now retired, and ask where our country is going.

This manifesto is inspired by you.

National renewal

A simple truth known by many Brits is that we’ve had our chance, the world is dying. Climate change will ensure a great death for us all but remaining ahead of the world’s evil is all we can do in the meantime. In order to become a nation subsumed by this reality, we as a party are renewing our traditions of striving for fundamental change for the good people. Our pledges to you are as follows:

–  As a party of eugenicists, of antinatalists and ungulate herbivores with an appetite for blood: the weak, the homeless and their dogs should be harvested for soup to help reduce the scale of the agricultural crisis.

– The economy may seem fine but it is simply not good enough. All currency should now serve as a symbol for an individual’s eternal damnation. Spending will increase and the rapid expansion of our economy means that Europe will be entirely subducted by the British Isles in just a few years time. In order for this model to be sustainable, all material would be built in obsolescence: housing, clothing, technology and so on. Upstanding citizens would be actively encouraged to commit horrendous atrocities to keep the pound strong.

– Out of boredom, we’ve built and conceived of the towers high enough to reach the heavens. Made of glass, wiring and steel, we will demolish each and every one and gather the materials to be broken and smelted down for the assembling of magnificent drones, to eradicate boredom forever.

– As Earth’s climate warms, once-dormant bacteria and viruses trapped in ice and permafrost are reviving. This process is too incremental and it should happen now whilst widely-available antibiotics are powerless. We will send orphans over to the tundras in Siberia where the released infectious anthrax will taint their tiny bodies, to then bring the illness back to our own shores.

– Due to failures in conservation efforts, there are not enough terrifying birds in Britain. We want to introduce the Shoebill into our swamps and grasslands, there to feed on dreams, fairies and foxes alike.

In this election the country has a choice

Either we can carry on as we are, with an economy that might actually work for too many disposable losers. A country in which snowflakes are being sucked into our airwaves and making us horny and caustic. Or we can change direction together.

That’s what this manifesto offers. It is the kind of country we know ourselves to be. Let’s truly build it together.


Material culture and empire

Material culture and empire

I recently had an interesting interview with an anthropologist about museums, decolonisation and materialism. It’s me asking the questions. For the purpose of anonymity and because I am transcribing this through notes and my own dubious memory, some parts may be edited. I’m presenting this without comment because it’s a period of looming deadlines for my course at university, I’m also an idiot and I’ve never read anything in my life.  

Can you tell me a bit about your background in the field?

My masters was the Anthropology of Art which had a component focussing on the study of museums, so I chose to do that. I then worked at [museum in London] in the late 90s during a trend, among exhibition spaces, of changing national museums to reflect a bicultural narrative. This was a curatorial process of talking to and bringing in consultants from various ethnic and indigenous groups to assist with presenting this narrative. Before this, museums were seldom self-reflective and would often display objects as a means to convey a kind of ‘evolutionary’ process from Primitive – Enlightenment and Science.

In the early 2000s, I began studying art, museum heritage, souvenirs and looked at the content of collections to analyse how these all related to the ‘Market of Empire’ for my PhD. This is where I encountered valid critiques and scepticism towards referring to objects as “stolen” as a catch-all, which is so often ascribed to items from colonised societies, or vaguely presenting them as the product of theft and disempowerment. The problem with this rhetoric is that firstly, the objects are not usually stolen. In my field research, I traced the markets of empire by interviewing curators and archivists at local levels, the acquisition of the objects was largely by early industrialists and ‘tourists’. Through navigating oral history, visual material and social impacts, you learn that colonised people were involved in that process of acquisition often. When the tourists would come in search of art and such, the spokesperson for the group had agency. What would tend to happen would be that the item would be presented as a gift or exchanged for a small sum. By calling it “theft” (in many cases) you effectively disempower the indigenous group twice. These items of specific cultural significance were already acquired on unequal terrain of a colonised people but to then often write the group’s agency and participation in the process out of history is to disempower them again.

As I mentioned, a big part of my fieldwork was to study the oral history and the discourse of science and ethnology when these objects were acquired. I wanted to tell the story of a (hypothetical) “woman’s grandmother who had given this cloak to a figure of empire, who could trace where the item had been sold and how it was made”. I then proceeded to frame the object within its cultural relativism, rather than presenting something which was perhaps used for ritual, religion or even eating as something which is purely aesthetic (as was often the case). I would identify this to curators of museums and a timeless representation would be put back into its imperialist and religious (etc.) historical context.

You mentioned the modernisation of museums to reflect a bicultural narrative, can you elaborate on the rationale behind this and talk about your experience with the process?

For example, the Horniman Museum used to look much like what the Pitt Rivers Museum still looks like now. Both were amassed collections by scientific industrialists who presented the objects using racist science (the aforementioned tendency in the C19th to fetishise the items and also present them as primitive). In the 90s, the Pitt Rivers Museum designated that the display shouldn’t change and I agree to an extent, it was naive of the Horniman Museum (and others) to think that the display could ever have its ‘impurity’ removed through decolonising in this way. There have been attempts to un-modernise and they are largely met with resistance. [Museum in Vancouver] want to put the context back into the cultural items rather than presented as an aesthetic. The indigenous people would be the curators of the spaces, it was an idea to break down hierarchies between the qualified and the public. So, they would have storerooms with glass doors so that the public could see the objects in them for example. This changes the role of the curator as well to an extent. Before, the public would only see what the curator had chosen to be on display. There’s a good book about this process called Museums and Source Communities by Laura Peers.

Following on from that point: In your experience, to what extent do you feel the perspectives of archivists, historians and curators influences the final exhibition of the objects? How significant would you say their impact is in general terms?

Historians define object selection and text while the conservation group can absolutely put a “no” on something. The role of the architects of the space is also understated because they have a stake in how the exhibition is built. However, the criticism of the museums tends to fall entirely on the curators.

The biggest change since the 90s has been the inclusion of source communities within the museums, which is basically naming people. It’s ‘rehumanising’ and ‘de-ethnologising’ from when indigenous and colonised groups would be classified as ‘types’. Artist interventions have also been great in this too, artists become a somewhat heroic voice in deconstructing ‘the racist voice’ and were seemingly beyond critique. They would start doing consultation with indigenous groups and once you start this, they will appropriate you for their own means, as a way of validating indigenous culture. Take textiles for example, take something that the West values and use that as a lever for something that has been devalued in your culture. Get white people to value your culture and that way, they might listen to your political demands because we always denigrate something, art was a way of reorienting a negative discourse to a more positive one. Although the spaces were never going to be as subversive as [the artists] wanted, museums are so entangled with commissioners and bureaucracy in a way that largely prohibits radical change.

What do you think the future looks like for curation? 

The funding is in crisis, particularly for university museums in the UK, they are losing their economic base and having to look to philanthropists and new funding models. An important role for museums in the future is to show the cultural exchanges that have taken place, through the movement of people and objects. You could have a much less hegemonic history. By eliminating these simple binaries and narratives about “stolen objects”, the divisiveness of the museum space is tackled effectively. Historically, the argument for decolonisation of exhibitions has been used by right-wing governments and authorities to shut museums down, they will say “you’re right, these objects are stolen and this is not true to history” but they aren’t thinking about repatriation, they don’t give a shit about returning the objects, they just want to whitewash history entirely. This is where it becomes dangerous, decolonisation is then used to defend a white purist narrative and the double disempowerment that I mentioned becomes more violent.

Moving back to your question about the future, they should also project collections outwardly into schools for example, using digital imagery as a vehicle for education and it’d be much more socially inclusive. For a more cohesive view on society, this would be a very useful way to disseminate. Similar projects could be deployed using the digital imagery from storerooms and exhibition spaces too. This doesn’t seem to be happening widely though and how do you engage with people that don’t want to know?

Against everything

Against everything

The United Kingdom is segmented, more than at any time in recent history. The SNP are planning another independence referendum, with the decision for Brexit being at its crux. This time, it looks likely that Scotland will decide ‘Yes’ for independence and with it, the English will plummet towards a Loch Ness-sized vat filled with boiling fluid to turn us into chips.

On the defensive from this and the European Union, Theresa May has recently called a general election and the country’s fracturing is even more pertinent. A frankly terrifying headline appeared in the Daily Mail on the day after the Prime Minister’s snap general election announcement: “CRUSH THE SABOTEURS” – this means ‘remoaners’, the majority of young people, the Labour Party, the SNP and anybody else who doesn’t have wet dreams about Theresa May spanking their botty with a wooden paddle. This isn’t being framed as a general election by those in government and the right-wing press, this is a culture war. A culture war, pitting the generations against each other and a grotesque Us vs The Other rhetoric is rife in UK political discourse. The response to the Tory’s ghoulish political playground of authoritarianism and right-wing nationalism must be cultural too.

Being ‘a millennial’ in these turbulent and testing times requires tenacity. My generation is branded lazy and entitled because we collectively show resistance to internalising a neoliberal work ethic which doesn’t provide us with security. We are labelled complacent and whiney and all the while, the British ruling class think that we “thin-skinned millennials need a spanking”. I think they just mean “smooth skin” but that wouldn’t be published on the grounds that it would be too perverted.

This generation are the first in nearly a century to be worse off than our parents due to a lack of job availability and stability. Disillusionment upon leaving education is very common and finding a space to think above the noise is difficult. More and more young people are seeking help for mental health problems due to these strains and their efforts are often ricocheted by under-funded service providers. With the consequences of the Conservative cuts to health (and education) budgets, as well as the problems caused by the political decisions such as the removal of housing benefits for 18-21 year olds, it’s no surprise that the UK ranked second from the bottom in a survey conducted to measure the wellbeing of young people.

The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has a vision for socialism (albeit a disarticulated one) in the UK. Corbynism represents the summation of a left movement, an alternative to the thirst for kill the young policies. Mark Greif writes that “to be against everything is to want the world to be bigger than all of it, disposed to dissolve rules and compromises in a gallon or a drop, while an ocean of possibility rolls around us. No matter what you are supposed to do, you can prove the supposition wrong, just by doing something else”. A vote for the Labour Party with even a vague amount of confidence in the leader for the forthcoming election is to be ‘against everything’ and while Corbynism is there, I’m voting for Labour.