The Gothic Secession of Patchwork Yorkshire

To understand the events of the next fifty years, then, one must understand environmental scarcity, cultural and racial clash, geographical density, and the transformation of warfare. The order in which I have named these is not accidental. Each concept except the first relies partly on the one or ones before it, meaning that the last two – new approaches to mapmaking and to warfare — are the most important. They are also the least understood. [via]

Following my previous post on patchwork, ‘State Decay, which tentatively introduced the idea and explored why it is something that the Left should take more seriously, I was repeatedly challenged over the legitimacy of patchwork being anything more than “science fiction”.

The difficulty in addressing this is, of course, that theories of patchwork are inherently speculative, but if we are to jettison the use of our imaginations when addressing the future, what point is there to thinking (about it) at all?

To me, this line of criticism felt like a blatant instantiation of the Left’s consistent inability to dig itself out of the “capitalist realist” fallacy that Mark Fisher so famously described in his book of (roughly) the same name.

Capitalist Realism presents us with myriad ways in which we (quite literally) psyche ourselves out of thinking for the future — or, as Fisher would later recalibrate his focus, alluding to the templexity of our present, “the new”. Surely the one thing the book (and much of Fisher’s thought) asks of its readers is that they realise their melancholy and their defeatism are not, despite appearances, their own.

In this way, the book’s subtitle, “Is there no alternative?”, is not a rhetorical question. It asks to be internalised so that we might root out bad faith wherever it manifests. If we can manage this, maybe we can succeed in answering Fisher’s question confidently in the affirmative.

Does that mean we, you, have to take patchwork seriously? Of course not. It’s my belief, nonetheless, that we should, as one of a multitude of seemingly disparate theories that have the potential to shape the contours of the path ahead.

Patchwork is, in this way, just one alternative — or, rather, one approach which allows for alternatives to naturally proliferate. Only a few proliferations have been considered. If they aren’t to your tastes, we can come up with others.

These theories become increasingly more prescient when we recognise that the odds on something resembling patchwork being instantiated get better every year.

Saying that is all well and good, of course, but the blogosphere and Twitter like stats (and graphs) if you’ve got them. References, please!As such, the repeated critique of ‘State Decay’ went something like this: “If patchwork was worthy of being taken seriously, surely we’d have seen something of the path that will lead us there already?”

Had this been a few years ago, I might have agreed with this. However, I have found, much to my surprise, that my own home county of Yorkshire has been discussed semi-regularly in the press as potentially heading towards something resembling patchwork in the future.

Admittedly, descriptions of contemporary Yorkshire politics are not often worded in this way… But Yorkshire is, at the very least, known for being fragmented.

Most recently, Simon Jenkins detailed Yorkshire’s growing dissatisfaction with its present system of local government in an article for The Guardian in which he considered what direction the county might now be heading in after a relatively exciting few months of regional politics. (Truly, these are unprecedented times.)

Prior to this, in late 2017, when The Guardian first reported on a rejuvenated ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution campaign, the idea was still dismissed by most as a pipe dream.

The paper interviewed “Londoner Stewart Arnold” about his involvement with the Yorkshire Party and his renewed calls for a devolution process to begin:

Yorkshire, says Arnold, has a distinctive history, with its Viking influences, and a unique culture. With a population of 5.4 million people – bigger than Scotland’s – and eight cities of more than 100,000 people, the region, he argues, is more than capable of standing on its own feet. “Whether people are from Whitby or Hull or Halifax, they will all say they’re from Yorkshire, and are proud of it,” he says. But the region is not being given the opportunity to punch its weight.

Yorkshire’s sense of itself has certainly grown over the last decade. This seemed to start, at least in my memory, with the 2012 London Olympics when it was revealed that “if Yorkshire was a country, it would be higher in the Olympic medal table than South Africa, Japan and Australia”. Since then, Yorkshire has become more and more aware of its own strengths and, most notably, it has begun to think of itself as a potential nation in its own right.

However, perhaps it’s because he’s a Londoner that Arnold fails to grasp the one resounding sentiment that Yorkshire’s people have been expressing for as long as I can remember: they are happiest together apart.

As a result of Arnold’s shortsightedness, the Yorkshire Party has taken that most mind-numbing of secessionist positions: centrist regionalism.

It has no chance in Hell.

Yorkshire is already, in spatio-cultural terms at least, a patchwork — its system of government just doesn’t reflect this. A regionalised and even more bland version of government than the one we already have (at a national and local level) is the most pointless proposition for political “change” imaginable.

Simon Jenkins, to his credit, recognises this and infers how inappropriate such a manifesto is to the county. This is made clear to him by the failure of so-called “Shexit” — that’s ‘Sheffield Exit rather than (the just as interesting) ‘Shetland Exit — which demonstrates Yorkshire’s present conflict over both its internal “borders” and its self-image more generally.

Sheffield’s attempt to consolidate its zone of governance, seen as the first step towards devolution, was rejected at a vote by its neighbouring towns, suggesting they are in favour of something that encapsulates the whole region, not just its south.

Despite its glaring flaws, a ‘One Yorkshire’ campaign is a better option for retaining the sovereignty of each “patch” rather than a more gradual breaking-apart into an uneven, bottom-weighted hierarchy (echoing Cardiff’s prosperity at the expense of its surroundings following Wales’ devolution). As Jenkins rightfully observes: “Yorkshire [in comparison to Manchester and its satellite towns] is more like Renaissance Italy (with town halls to match): a patchwork of rival statelets, proudly discordant.”

Because of this, there is a distinct sense that, if Yorkshire were to separate from the UK and, in turn, its cities became autonomous city-state patches within it, very little would actually change.

If anything, some parts may thrive whereas before they had stuttered, forgotten, seldom in control of their own destinies, their possible futures routinely extinguished by an indifferent Westminster.

Devolution, as it has been pursued elsewhere, is not enough. The rest of Yorkshire seems wise to this and more recent developments, as reported by Jenkins, have shown that the tried-and-tested devolution process is not wanted. That is not to say that secession in a broader sense is not desired.

Much has already been done to divide up England’s largest county into more easily governable chunks and this continued process of division is antithetical to a ‘One Yorkshire’ secession. No such Yorkshire exists and it is naive to assume one could be created now.

The county deserves a fittingly discordant secession. It should be allowed to experiment with alternative exit strategies. It should pursue an exit together apart.

Perhaps, despite all this, the question still remains: given the (perhaps surprisingly) lengthy list of active secessionist movements in Europe, what’s so special about Yorkshire? What exactly is it about Yorkshire, aside from my own native bias, that makes it worthy of consideration at the expense of all other movements? What is it that makes Yorkshire an already existing patchwork aside from a preexisting sense of discord?

The answer, I believe, lies in the Gothic.

As I hope to demonstrate, in the posts exploring the Yorkshire Gothic that are to follow, it is necessary that we take an abstract and meandering line of thought here.

The posts to follow will consider elements of Yorkshire’s culture, politics and history against burgeoning theories of patchwork and experimental politics. Yorkshire’s innate Gothic sensibilities are already present in someone of them and remain relevant with regards to others. All these posts will share this Gothic theme whilst remaining (appropriately) discordantly related.

Some readers might be aware that I have already been building towards a consideration of this Gothic sensibility over a number of posts now, particularly in relation to my home patch of Hull in East Yorkshire.

(Hull, it should be noted, is only a part of East Yorkshire in geographic terms. From its local authority to its telecommunications network, Hull is more explicitly separate from the rest of Yorkshire in terms of its infrastructure than the county’s other towns and cities.)

I opened the final part of my series on COUM Transmissions with a note on the psychogeography of Hull, out on a limb in East Yorkshire; its “unfenced existence: facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach”.

Later, I wrote about the conspiratorial and paranormal sentiments that this stoked in the fantastical minds of its inner outsiders.

I also wrote about the deep resentment within the city for the ways that its seafaring industries have been curtailed by outside forces and left to rot, leading to (with dark irony) the building of a bridge connecting it to another county, Lincolnshire, which has done little more than give Hull’s residents something high to jump off, into the waters they had previously worked for centuries.

However, it was remembering the late Mark E Smith, and particularly Mark Fisher’s numerous writings on how Smith evoked the North of England’s inherent Outsideness, that I felt I could finally bring all my thoughts from the first few months of 2018 together.

Fisher wrote:

More than a matter of regional railing against the capital, in Smith’s vision the North comes to stand for everything suppressed by urbane good taste: the esoteric, the anomalous, the vulgar sublime, that is to say, the weird and the grotesque itself.

What attracted Mark to his weird fictions (The Fall’s, et al.), so many of them Gothic in nature, was his desire to inject the “grotesque” into our present politics, just as Smith did: infecting them with an Outsideness that would rupture the illusion of capitalist realism, unearthing a politics to come at the limits of the politics we naively think we know.

This is very much the subtext of Mark’s last book, The Weird and the Eerie: a mysteriously unearthed and Frankensteinian ur-text, part-constructed from decade-old blog posts, resurrecting a delirious line of thought that began with Flatline Constructs, his PhD thesis, possessed by an uncanny desire that was to later mutate, through his ever-developing political philosophy, to become the corrosive Acid Communism.

Elsewhere on his k-punk blog, Mark tried to articulate the affective experience of discovering a band like The Fall which speaks to this political sentiment explicitly:

Let’s call it an Event, and at the same time note that all Events have a dimension of the uncanny. If something is too alien, it will fail to register; if it is too easily recognized, too easily cognizable, it will never be more than a reiteration of the already known.

This is similar to how I have begun to feel about the Event of my own discovery of the politics of patchwork, compounded by Cave Twitter’s still percolating modulations of the idea. These politics are bizarre, unruly and alien but, also, just recognisable enough to have drawn me in without losing their disjunctive nature.

Patchwork is, in this way, for me, an eerie politic.

As Fisher would late write: “the perspective of the eerie can give us access to the forces which govern mundane reality but which are ordinarily obscured, just as it can give us access to spaces beyond mundane reality altogether.” [1]

It is this vector that I want to follow here in this series, continuing the Lovecraftian thread explored in ‘State Decay’. However, for Yorkshire, the Lovecraftian vector of the Weird and the Fisherian vector of the Eerie are not so applicable (though they are most definitely, even closely, related). To speak of Yorkshire and to Yorkshire, you need to speak in terms of the Gothic that it is most well-known for.

To be continued…

[1] Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie (London: Repeater Books, 2016), 13.