Saturday, January 31, 2009


I promise there will be some real posts relatively soon (we can't have this place turning into a court of the dead). In the meantime, I've set up a sister blog, Static Disposal, as an archive or repository of pieces that have appeared in print, or been written for my university course (one stipulation is that we students share our work with each other and the 'public' through blogs (these can be found under 'The House Of Lords' to the right), and I felt uncomfortable posting it here.) Not that anyone for whom the gesture is intended will give a shit, mind.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009


"Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealisable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realisation of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite. Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance hope, and in the other, uncertainty of the following day. The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief. The inevitable material cares oppose it: for they poison every lasting happiness, they equally assiduously distract us from our misfortunes and make our consciousness of them intermittent and hence supportable."
--Primo Levi, If This Is A Man

Friday, January 23, 2009

Die, Spectacle-Commodity Economy!

I was rather amused by John Lanchester's piece on the decline of Woolworth's in the new LRB. Like many, during my last holiday back home, I had a trawl through my local Woolie's, just before it's closure. The shelves had almost been entirely picked over already; everything I used to go in there for (shoe polish, mostly) had already been made off with; very little remained of their confectionery save the pick-and-mix (the main bounty of my childhood). What was strangest was the bareness of the shelves: it was one of those chains which seemed to pride itself on being as claustrophobically full of stuff as possible (cf. Primark). It was rather like seeing a half-picked over carcass, an exposed skeleton yielding at times to substantial patches of skin and flesh; many items - primary schoolgirls' dresses, sellotape, paper - had hardly been bought at all, and spilled from cardboard boxes evidently hauled out from the backroom where the staff had kept them for years, assuming they would always have a home there. I'm reminded why I stop shopping there after the age of 10:

"The problem was more that the shops were so chaotic, so prone to not having the stuff you’d expect them to have, to selling out of precisely the things everybody wanted, and above all to having chronically demotivated, deskilled staff. The staff were hard to find in the first place, and if you did find someone, they never knew anything – where it was, what it was, who might want it, where it might be if it wasn’t right on the shelf where it was supposed to be, and why any of this was supposed to be of interest to them.... There’s a lot of this on the high street. Many of Britain’s biggest retail companies treat employees as a commodity. They are paid as little as possible, trained as little as possible, and employed in the lowest possible numbers. It sometimes seems as if managements employ a formula: work out the minimum levels of staffing for the shop to function, then subtract 20 per cent."

It's true: I felt positively evil, when shopping there, for perpetuating the situation in which these kids (and the floor staff almost always were under-18) found themselves. I'm glad to say this wasn't the case in the last retail job I worked in (training was always sufficient, and the managers usually knocking about if you came across something you really didn't understand; management constantly tried to keep staff numbers as strong as they could, more often than not constrained by miserly budgets from head office), but the same sense of hopelessness, of repeatedly having to deal with endless obstacles, is exactly the same. It's perhaps not surprising that so few retail workplaces are unionised: in late capitalism, the consumer interface has become so naturalised as to make the cylical daily grind seem ontological. Perhaps it's a bit much to hope that the current shaking of capital's edifice will precipitate a shift in this - but what the hell else do we hope for?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Comparing Notes

Intriguing stuff from Aloof From Inspiration. With regards to the question "how does pop music shape our own erotic understandings, the kind of desires that we find desirable?", the answer would be that it's difficult for me to say I've ever had anything else. Pop music was, and perhaps still is, the extent of sexuality for me. Which is, undoubtedly, a disappointing state of affairs, but at least means I'm never been required to put up with the messy business of having actual relationships, and the fallout that results from the whole debacle of desire.

I can, in fact, more or less trace my entire (short and thin-to-the-point-of-non-existence) history in this field through pop music. The British pop industry, perhaps more than any other except America, pushes sexuality to the forefront in its marketing strategies; thus, many teenagers discover their first objects of desire through MTV. So it was with myself. Being horrifically emotionally immature (ah, nothing ever changes), and hence entirely apart from my peers who were discovering this particular part of life with the help of the inhabitants of the girl's secondary school down the road, there was no transference of these impulses onto real-life people. The entire business remained a carefully-cultivated illusion projected onto the figures of the mediascape that would have made Ballard proud. The objectifying eye of the music-video camera, tracing the curve of a body, the interlocking of limbs, the whisper of full lips, the drop of sweat, became my own. The music stayed, strangely, secondary, almost negligible, to the visuals.

Then, there was the 'difficult phase'. My holy triumvirate would be something like a_'s, except replacing The Cure with Manic Street Preachers circa The Holy Bible, and the addition of Nirvana circa In Utero. My rejection of my past self was violent. Sex, after that, meant brutality, the corrupting influence of the spectacle, death (this years before I ever heard the phrase petit mort - I was prescient.) My hatred of the entire world went doubly for sex, with its squishy materiality and need for vulnerability; my hatred of bodies bordered on the misogynistic. There's an MSP interview Simon Reynolds did around the time of Generation Terrorists where he muses about the Manics being unable to break out of their own well-developed sense of ego (an ego, like mine, built from books, punk music, and obsessive, defensive self-reliance) and merging with the Other in the act of love. Reading it a couple of years after this 'phase' helped me realise what exactly had been - and still is - wrong with me. In a certain sense, I've probably never recovered, and never will recover, from this period, despite every positive step since. I still think, much of the time, of the physical act without enthusiasm, if not with a shudder.

The thaw: alongside the (very) late discovery of myself as a social being (something I'm still working on) came, um, others. These were, appropriately, accompanied by a change in my music tastes, which opened out to a bizarre degree. A couple of weeks after I bought my first copy of Plan B, with CSS, Slayer and a feature on outsider music on the cover, I kissed for the first time. We met at a Halloween party; we were both Smiths fans. I sang a verse or two from 'I Know It's Over' in her ear before she (rightly) told me to shut the fuck up. Sexuality was, after that, a kind of disembodied promised redemption, a force which would "make everything OK", finally. The concept was, of course, vastly out of proportion to sensation, and quickly became disconnected from it. My response to that first contact was though, I suppose, trained by Morrissey's despair, the perverse distortion that hopeless isolation had imposed on his feelings (remember from 'Nowhere Fast': "And if the day came when I felt a natural emotion/I'd get such a shock I'd probably jump in the ocean"). The very physical fact of contact, the sense of a connection with something living, was the important point for me. Looking back, the architecture in The Smiths (the Victorian cast-iron gates and bridges, the claustrophobic brick terraces, the empty concrete shopping precincts) was so much about preventing contact (there's a line in Larkin about people being separated "by acres of housing"), and so mirrored the environment I spent my adolescence in, that it's no wonder I had such a reaction. In the months-long depression that followed (don't ask), the thought of my physical death was always associated with the dying away of the sense of touch, the feeling of animal warmth I'd found in those scant minutes. It remains the case to this day that touch, no matter how fleeting, is the central fact of, ahem, intimacy to me (it should be noted I mean this in an interpersonal sense; I've never been particularly given to, ahem, autoerotic activity).

This is the point at which I contradict myself. The music I've felt most engaged with over the last couple of years, during the slow process of recovery and growing-up, has had its own strange impact, in both very abstract and very concrete ways. It could boil down to 3 things: externality, electronics and gender. Not merely listening to music oriented away from mere interiority, but coming to participate in what might be called a community embroiled in this music, has made of me a vehement externalist. If this would appear to have nothing to do with sex, keep in mind that coming to accept and appreciate the outside world also involves coming to terms with the human body, and all that pertains to it. The latter two require some explaining. The latter pertains partly to feminism: my concern with the way in which patriarchy operates in everyday life came about first through knowledge of the feminist punk and post-punk bands (The Slits, Delta 5, The Au-Pairs, X-Ray Spex, The Adverts) chronicled in England's Dreaming and Rip It Up And Start Again, and the activist pages of Plan B. Listening to Riot Grrrl and so on, the question of what a sexuality which did not involve male oppression, without settling into pre-adolescent preciosity, would be like, became a guiding idea. It is also partially a matter of queerdom. It becomes impossible, listening to glam (Bowie, Roxy), disco, house or electro - not to mention the likes of Xiu Xiu or Antony Hegarty - not to consider the actions of liberation created by such music. In enacting a space in which cultural barriers (black/white, male/female, gay/straight) become suddenly permeable, they construct a radically different model of sexuality, one no longer merely tied to bodies (cf. Irigaray), or culturally imposed divisions between ideas of gender and sexuality. And it becomes, thus, impossible not to consider what questions this poses for oneself. I know that my support for queer politics is not merely sympathy for the culturally oppressed; I seem to have some vested interest, but even I'm not sure what it might be. All I suppose I can say is that I find it impossible to positively identify myself as heterosexual. Things aren't that simple. No doubt the majority of people I know think me rather twee and dickless because of these considerations, but better that than the alternative. It is thus, perhaps, because of music that sexuality, to me, remains something only ever potential, something permanently in-becoming. Owen has written very eloquently of the difficulty of imagining a socialist sexuality which isn't unbearably arid; the critique is necessary, but what actually-existing-sexuality does it leave us with? Very little. And yet, love (in a certain sense), it seems, is necessary too. I've only come up with a minor compromise: Marxists, feminists and synth-arrays also get me rather hot under the collar.

UPDATE: Owen puts it better than I could - "listening to Jay-Z was an experiment with not being tied to an identity as a pale, thin socially inept indie boy (although the music made it's own case, I never had to force myself to like it). Which is of course an identity-formation all of its own, and as an irksomely argumentative student I would end up making a moral case for Ginuwine over the Gentle Waves (i.e, if you listen to the latter you are a luddite/nostalgic/racist etc)." Except for Ginuwine insert New Order/Mr. Fingers/Donna Summer/Roxy Music/Xiu Xiu/Public Enemy. In every case, they seem tied to a different way of organising identity based around the liberatory possibilities of the electronic, a future to set against the past I had to haul around with me. They were a way of leaving The Smiths and all associated with them behind (though I doubt I'll ever leave them completely.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Names On Paper

I am, for a variety of reasons, rather impressed by the expressions of condemnation for the Israeli assault on Gaza published in the Guardian on Friday. This is not least because of no less than 13 academics currently working at Warwick (including China Mieville) on the list, mostly from the English department, and including one currently teaching the major section of my course. In addition, I can think of about 4 or 5 people in the department off the top of my head who no doubt condemn the violence, even if they would not subscribe to the exact wording of the petition. It almost makes me happy I chose the place.

Friday, January 16, 2009


A month late on this, but the December issue of the Warwick Review, featuring student editorial help from yours truly among many others, is out now, and it's a corker. Some fascinating fiction from Rob McClure Smith, poetry by C.K. Stead, Philip Gross, Peter Larkin and John Levitt, and some excellent criticism on Geoffrey and Selima Hill, John Kinsella and Alison Brackenbury, amongst other exciting things. You can get them from the Warwick University bookshop, or from m.w.hulse (at), for the respectable price of £6.95 (or £25 for a one-year subscription.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

R.I.P. Mick Imlah, 1956-2009. All the more galling because of his relatively tiny output, and the vast success of his last collection, The Lost Leader, released last year. His motor neurone disease was apparently kept from the public and critics who acclaimed it.

Friday, January 09, 2009


"Why is it that people who are absorbed by somthing are seen as sad? I can't explain it, but for me it reverses the true state of affairs. To be engaged is to be a part, to be absorbed and fulfilled. To be cool, to be detached from things and to have no passionate feeling is the real sadness. At the heart of depression, that quintessentially modern malaise, is a deep sense of separation from the rest of life." --- Mark Cocker, Crow Country.

"...Melanie had spied on them through a keyhole, and would never get closer than the keyhole in the door behind which they lived. Watching a film was like being a voyeur, living vicariously. They were an entity, the Jowles, warm as wool. She envied them bitterly. 'Make yourself at home.' How could she? It all fell apart, her detachment. Suddenly, she yearned above all things to break into their home movie." --- Angela Carter, The Magic Toyshop.