A Jeremy Hunt Story

There is — already — a very weird tone emanating from the mouths of all those wankers who are putting themselves up for the Conservative Party leadership, not least because they’re not mixing words about what the job means to them and us. This tweet, for example, from Jeremy Hunt, is jumping straight on the Prime Ministerial ticket over the party leader one. This is strange not least because only a fraction of the people who see it will actually have the opportunity to vote for him.

What a video though. Hunt’s mouth hole drones: “I’m here in Edinburgh in front of the Adam Smith monument, that great Scottish genius who discovered the fundamentals of prosperity, not just for the United Kingdom but principles that have been used all over the world.”

The “fundamentals of prosperity” is an incredible euphemism, isn’t it? What a loaded way to describe the legacy of the so-called “Father of Capitalism”.

Hunt invokes Smith here, however, in order to draw attention to the fact that, apparently, he is a product of and shining example of our “precious” United Kingdom and the inter-state relations that it depends upon… I’m not really sure why… Was Smith’s body of work the result of international cooperation? Or was he just observant of his neighbours? We might safely assume the reality is closest to the latter, and there’s a lovely irony to that.

I’m writing this on the fly so excuse the lazy Wikipedia referencing but I like how Smith’s other well-known (non-economic) work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is summarised as follows:

Smith proposes a theory of sympathy, in which the act of observing others and seeing the judgements they form of both others and oneself makes people aware of themselves and how others perceive their behaviour. The feedback we receive from perceiving (or imagining) others’ judgements creates an incentive to achieve “mutual sympathy of sentiments” with them and leads people to develop habits, and then principles, of behaviour, which come to constitute one’s conscience.

If Hunt wants to hold Smith up as a beacon for the future success of the Great British union, he’d do well to note how ironic his statement appears in light of England’s (and the Conservative’s, more specifically) utter lack of self-awareness has led us to this point of geopolitical near-fragmentation. And, for what it’s worth, there is little evidence of “moral sentiment” existing between London and the rest of the UK, never mind England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Who is he kidding!?

I’m not jumping in on this just because of some nerdish pet peeve over Hunt’s ahistorical tweets. His renewed presence on the political horizon is troubling just in general — especially the story this morning that he was the one to welcome Trump on the tarmac at Stansted airport and immediately suck his dick — but the issue with that for me is that Hunt is as big a cunt as anyone going, whilst appearing to be one of the more innocuous of the headline-grabbing leadership contenders. And that’s a danger, I think, because he starts to look like a preferable candidate when placed next the buffoonery of the likes of Johnson and Gove.

In the spirit of this, I remember that every time Hunt used to appear in the national news The Quietus editor Luke Turner used to repeatedly share this article about when he used to work for him at his company Hotcourses. It’s a good read:

It was quite a shock when, at one of the interminable Monday Morning Meetings, we were informed that Jeremy Hunt would be standing as a Conservative MP. We were surprised, not only because we were amazed that anyone would vote for this affable lummox, but also that he’d never really displayed much in the way of political enthusiasm in the past. As a former colleague relates, “He once said to me during the fledgling stages of his political career, ‘Well, both my parents are conservative so it’s a pretty much a foregone conclusion I would be too’.” The holy hand of patronage had plucked him out to replace Virginia Bottomley in the kind of safe Surrey seat that the Tories wouldn’t even [be] able to lose if their candidate was caught, pants down, discussing Uganda with the gardener.

We of course followed Hunt’s progress with interest. To his credit, he seemed to be doing some decent work on disability issues in various debates in the House. But his appointment as Shadow Culture Secretary could not help but raise eyebrows. This was a man who, whenever he tried to engage with you and discuss your interests in music, art, literature or film, would glaze over and stare at a point somewhere in the middle of your forehead. Hunt’s interests seemed more to lie in Latin dancing, and especially Salsa, or in his fascination with China and Japan. In interviews, Hunt seemed like a lightweight, unsure of himself in front of the camera. You only have to tune in to the Leveson live stream to see just how inept Hunt is. This was one of the new Conservative Party of ‘Dave’ Cameron’s great white hopes? When the phone hacking scandal began to break, it seemed more than likely that he would become unstuck. As today’s revelations at Leveson of worried texts back and forth seems to show, this was a man who was keen to please everyone as he floundered around waiting for blessing from the big boy in the playground, George Osbourne.

Those three years working alongside Hunt give me an idea of the kind of government we currently have, run by these former public school boys who have barged their way through life not through merit or ability, but by birth. You would not have picked out Jeremy Hunt as a brilliant intellect, a powerful speaker, a man with any convictions other than those he was born with. This is the impression one also gets from the rest of his colleagues in the Conservative party. It was bad enough having him as a boss — the fact that he and his chums are running the country is far, far worse.

And it became something that I would likewise retweet with great enthusiasm after I had my own run in with the man himself.

Now, I’ve never worked for Jeremy Hunt but I have seen his flappable lummox get flapped right before my eyes — and by my girlfriend no less — so, here’s a story about when I crossed paths with Jeremy Hunt…

Four years ago, living between Hull and the outskirts of Stockport, my girlfriend and I were regular televisual masochists who never missed an episode of BBC Question Time, a show where a panel of politicians and commentators and the odd celebrity get asked topical questions by a regional audience and we all have a nice democratic televised fight about the state of things.

It’s produced some very memorable moments of political discussion in this country over the years but, at the end of the day, it’s nothing more than a middle class version of the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Nevertheless, masochists that we were, when we heard that the show was coming to Salford we decided to sign up to be in the audience. To do that, you basically have to give some information about yourself and the demographic you fit into and then you also have to send them a question you’d like to ask and be discussed.

After a strangely aggressive phone call from a producer, we got selected for the episode that was to broadly explore our country’s generation gap. The audience was split between those over 60 and under 30 (and it’s still on YouTube much to my surprise!)

On a cold night in November, we got the train to Salford and immediately found ourselves entertained by a very strange atmosphere. It was a bit like going to a gig. You can tell just by looking at the people on the tram around you who is going to the same place you are and when we got to the venue — a sports hall in some Salford sixth form college — we had our pick of tea and biscuits and got warmed up by that somewhat charming ol’ coot David Dimbleby (before he retired recently anyway).

On the panel that night was then health secretary Jeremy Hunt, future Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn and some Lib Dem woman who I didn’t know then and have even less memory of now. Two other panellists were kept away by transport troubles. It felt like an oddly intimate affair — like when one of the band comes down with flu so you get an acoustic version of what you actually came to see, except even more cringe and boring.

Anyway, the way the show works is that before they record what is broadcast — roughly three or four audience questions discussed for 15-20 minutes each — they do a warmup question to get everyone in the swing of things, loosened up and ready to chat. My girlfriend was selected to ask the warm-up question and it ended up being a doozy…

Such a doozy I still consider it a tragedy it wasn’t broadcast. It would have made for some very good TV. I only hope they recorded it anyway and I’ll get the chance to see it again at some point. (If anyone reading this has access to the BBCQT archive, do us a favour, yeah?)

At the time, the (later successful) #NoMorePage3 campaign was in full swing — a campaign to stop the printing of topless girls on the third page of various tabloid newspapers, specifically The Sun. Many in politics, aware of the growing protest movement, had made comments on the campaign, with many in the Tory government being nonplussed by the whole thing, including then-prime minister David Cameron who openly said he didn’t support it.

However, at the same time, Cameron was attempting to implement some draconian digital media laws that were being set up to ban or block access to internet porn. The question asked by my girlfriend, taking this strange situation as its context, was simple: “Is this not a contradiction?”

This was four years ago so forgive me for forgetting the details but, as I recall, Sadiq Khan’s response was clear: “Yes it is.” Hunt, on the other hand, seemed to want to stick to this odd party line and go on about protecting our children and whatever else. He droned on and on and left the question itself behind. As Dimbleby clamoured to ask a follow-up question that allowed Hunt to continue off piste, the reaction from next to me was clear. My girlfriend kept repeatedly asking her question: “Is it not a contradiction? Is it not a contradiction?” At which point, Dimbleby himself had to concede that, yes, Hunt hadn’t really answer what had been conveniently framed for him as a simple yes-or-no question.

He didn’t like that, and it is at this point in the story that I really wish this question had been broadcast because Hunt’s face was a picture. He glared at her with a face I’ve only ever seen right before a bar fight. He was livid, and he seemed to remain livid for much of the programme, glaring in our direction on various occasion — which wasn’t hard because we were in a little pocket in front and to the left of the front row of the main audience. (See below, a photo taken of our TV at the time: us far left, Hunt top right.)

There was a (short) discussion had last week about Theresa May crying in front of No. 10 when resigning as PM that reminded me of all this.

Owen Jones did not mince words on Sky News in declaring his complete lack of sympathy for May and I later heard a comment made by some Tory Goldsmiths student about how it’s fine she didn’t cry for Grenfell because you can’t go around crying all the time when on the job because it’s a sign of weakness — ignoring the overarching tension of Tory austerity ideology which is the cognitive dissonance of “professional” (policy-driven) coldness and “personal” (media-friendly) humanity.

@fitchett_adam responded:

Don’t agree that crying is a sign of weakness, but personally it makes complete sense to me for a person to cry about losing their job but not to cry about strangers dying in a fire. People just care a lot more about their own life. And that’s fine.

@Natalan introduced the obvious contention: “What if you were partly responsible for the fire?”

What does this have to do with Jeremy Hunt? Well, it’s interesting to me — and I’m trying to avoid being the embodiment of the Camusian emotions-police here — that Conservatives (whether in terms of the party or our present media personalities) so often position themselves as being the lot who are in control of their emotions, rational, productively detached from feelings and more in tuned with reality. And whilst that’s an obvious result of our deeply repressive mode of neoliberal professionalism, it is very interesting to me at what points it becomes okay and human to let emotions slip.

The moments at which these people do and don’t slip are very telling.

In May’s case, that is apparently when you decide to leave your job, whilst awkward stoicism is the professional response to nearly 80 people dead in a fire in sub-standard housing. In Hunt’s case, well, it remains to be seen… But the way I saw that man in his mid-40s can glower with such hatred at a woman in her early-20s who has asked him a very simple question — never mind someone from the press or in parliament — does not bode well in the slightest.

In fact, it’s the sort of attitude you come to expect more from the man he greeted on an airport runway this morning. And I’m left thinking just because Trump’s got a big enough mouth to shout out his opinions, doesn’t mean he is brown-nosed by countless others who think the same way he does.

Hunt has that same vibe. You know he thinks he’s got the art of the deal. Luke Turner’s Quietus article makes that clear enough. But inside, he’s little more than a Poundshop Trump.

Plans for Patreon #1

So I soft-launched a Patreon a few weeks ago and after posting about it on Twitter, I’ve been really grateful to the first 12 people who have signed up. Your support means the world to me.

Now that things are on the move, I wanted to update the blog with a post about how things have been going and what I’ve got planned for it in the future.

First things first, the Patreon currently has two main tiers:

A $2.50 ‘Supporter’ tier which doesn’t currently get you anything but my gratitude. If you’re willing to part with this amount on a monthly basis, it can help me carve out more time for writing and updating the blog with more and more stuff. Every little helps and it means the world.

At $5 things get a little more interesting. For this amount you can join my dedicated Discord server where we’re currently planning events, reading groups, sharing resources and also having a lot of great discussions. Whilst it’s currently a small group, the more people join the more time I can dedicate to do more private events and things in that space.

At present, it’s acting as a private discussion forum and also as a private comments section where I am always on call and happy to answer any questions or give any advice. Also, with an RSS bot that updates the Discord with a link to every new post, it makes for a really natural and fluid private comments section of the kind that the blog and Twitter has never really managed to establish before.

We have other plans in there also. Starting in June, we’re going to start a monthly reading group for Gilles Deleuze’s Difference & Repetition. This was a book requested to be read by Patrons and this is something I intend to facilitate and chair going forwards. I’m also going to start doing Open Posts on the blog, where once a month I write something on a topic requested by Patrons and conversations had in the chat may also help towards feeding the output — I’m already thinking about writing something on Land’s Thirst for Annihilation after it generated a really interesting discussion last week.

If this sounds interesting to you and you’d like to help grow this space, which in turn I hope will help me improve the blog, you can click through here and subscribe.

More updates in future.

[As a side note, it’s been brought to my attention that Patreon has been fucking up autogenerating Discord access codes, so if you choose to sign up or have already but haven’t been able to get into the Discord, please email me or DM me on Twitter, and I can sort this out for you ASAP.]

Last Thursday

I took a tumble last week and managed not to blog about it. Well done, me. It was probably in part due to shock, embarrassment but also I was just reeling from an insane week.

I’d been working 12-hour days (on average — a few days were closer to 18 over the weekend) for 7 days straight as a freelancer at a design festival being held in London, managing the exhibition space where they were showing work that had been shortlisted for an awards show that ends the festivities every year.

Thursday, my last contracted day, loomed like this beacon on the horizon where I didn’t have to go straight up to bed and then wake up again at 07.00 the next day. I could finish at a normal time and let my hair down. I really couldn’t wait to blow off some steam.

I’d started smoking again, just casually during the day, mostly as an easily accessible respite during the long hours. It was exhausting and stressful work. (This line of work only comes in short bursts, thankfully. The thought of doing this full time makes me understand why all chefs seem to smoke — I would too under the circumstances.)

When Thursday arrived I was told I could clock off at 17.00 and I didn’t need telling twice. They needed to get the space ready for the awards ceremony so the exhibition came down and other members of the team took over. With my job done, I decided to tag along with some of the production crew, all a lot younger than me and mostly all fresh out of university. I tried to hang out without coming across as the older dude they had to behave around. I wasn’t the boss anymore and managed to chat to them all in turn, letting them know I’d worked at this place for a fraction of their contracts, and so once some barriers got broken down we grabbed a load of tinnies from the shop and went to find a park to sit in.

It was a really lovely evening. Hilarious, too. They were a really lovely bunch of people and I even tweeted about it, feeling all sentimental. It was the sort of night that was reminiscent of my first weeks living in this city, about to start a Masters degree and with no other responsibilities, just enjoying the last of the summer sun whilst making new friends. It was blissful.

But the good feelings didn’t last.

We’d been given wristbands for an after party being held in this bar in Shoreditch. It was mostly for awards ceremony attendees but it had a free bar so we rocked up as a little clique without suits on and continued drinking.

There was a DJ in one room who was amazing, playing jungle, mixed impeccably, to this huge crowd of design and advertising industry heads. It was quite a sight. A very strange and, let’s say “mixed”, vibe.

We carved out our space within the crowd and had a blast.

Later on we moved out into the smoking area and spent a few hours chatting together but there was a turning point, I can’t say for certain when, probably around 01.00, when it suddenly became very, very clear to me that I was way over my limit.

It’s very rare I get black out drunk. In fact, I usually struggle to get drunk at all, but these are usually the nights that it happens, dead on my feet from overwork, not thinking, just wanting to celebrate a job well done and ending up celebrating a little too much. I blame the free bar and the atmosphere. I definitely overdid it.

The next few hours are a blur.

I staggered out of the bar without saying goodbye to anyone, terrified I was about to make a fool of myself and not wanting to do so in front of people I barely knew. I made my way to the station off Shoreditch High Street but, obviously, it was closed by that time. My phone was dead too but I remembered that I’d gotten a bus from round the corner a few days earlier at around this time after work so I staggered there instead and waited for about 40 minutes but nothing came.

Anyway, I already knew, somewhere inside where there was still a few embers of reason, that I was far too drunk to make it home on the bus without passing out or making a mess so I said to myself, fuck it, I’ll walk home.

I found a Tesco that was miraculously open at that time and bought two sandwiches. I needed to sober up. I paid and turned a corner only to walk into a pair of paramedics trying to resuscitate a homeless man who looked quite obviously dead, lying on the floor. Whatever they were doing wasn’t working. I was sort of stunned. I didn’t mean to gawp but I felt immediately sober and clear-headed and didn’t know where else to look, aware I wasn’t fully in control of all my faculties, and I felt like I needed to sit down.

There was a man nearby who looked terrified. He approached me asking for some change and after all that we’d just seen I felt awful when I told him I didn’t have any. I asked if he was alright, if there was anything else I could do, he said he was okay but he was hungry so I gave him the spare sandwich I had in my bag.

I asked what had happened and he said he didn’t know but that he knew the guy and he seemed to be in shock himself. I felt awful for him and very quickly found myself sober enough to hold a conversation and find out where he was going for the night. He had a hostel nearby, he said, but needed £20 to get in the door. I walked him to a cash point and I gave it to him.

He hugged me and we parted ways but it didn’t feel good. I wasn’t really thinking about it. I felt like I’d seen something otherwise unseen and, feeling so impotent and helpless, it was all I could do in the moment to make that moment, in itself, feel acknowledged. But it wasn’t enough.

This moment has stayed with me all week. I like to think that I’m the sort of person who is good in a crisis, and that’s certainly what I think I do well at in my job. But there I am, drunk out my mind, having just spent seven days managing something so relatively inconsequential as an exhibition of adverts and packaging design, and now here I am rendered impotent before the death of another human being.

I didn’t think this was something I could — or even should — write about but then I found myself flicking through some more Blanchot — because what is theory if not a life jacket for these sorts of moments that escape all comprehension. His fragmentary and aphoristic Writing on the Disaster feels perfectly rendered for moments like this. Unreadable from front to back, necessarily read through chance.

I open a page: “Calm, always calmer, the undesirable calm.” That’s what I feel. That’s what lingers over the past week; over the seed of the idea of this post (and it remains having finished it).

I pick up another book from my Blanchot pile and thumb Derrida’s essay on his short story The Instance of My Death. Derrida writes on Blanchot’s sense of testimony, this exploratory fiction on what may or may not have occurred:

As a promise to make truth, according to Augustine’s expression, where the witness must be irreplaceably alone, where the witness alone is capable of dying his own death, testimony always goes hand in hand with at least the possibility of fiction, perjury, and lie.

This is a challenge laid at the feet of a story heard or a scene witnessed, but what becomes of a story of a death witnessed through eyes obliterated and inebriated? Doesn’t that man’s death deserve a better witness than me? I know nothing about him but still I want to acknowledge him somehow but doesn’t even that acknowledgement cheapen the instance of his death? Derrida:

Allow me to call to mind an essential kind of generality: is the witness not always a survivor? This belongs to the structure of testimony. One testifies only when one has lived longer than what has come to pass.

I remember feeling like I didn’t deserve to bear witness to this, to survive it, simply because I couldn’t absorb its gravity. It bounced off me in my haze.

I felt grateful that the other man’s night was looking up for him but I felt awful, especially having thought earlier about how great this city could be. I’d jinxed it and walked right into the most brutal London night I’ve ever experienced. There was part of me, starting to feel the utterly depressive nature of the alcohol flowing through my system, mixed with the shock of what we’d seen, that didn’t want to make it home.

Still, I kept walking, with the Shard in my line of sight. I meandered around backstreets trying to get to London Bridge, thinking I could get a bus from there and be sober enough for it.

I came across another man lying in a sleeping bag underneath a cash point and gave him £20 too without really thinking about it. He’d been stabbed in the leg and, when he showed me, it looked really infected. I told him he needed to get in looked at and he said hopefully the hostel could sort him out. I asked where it was, if he needed help getting there, he showed me his crutch and said he’d manage alright.

I wished him well and kept going again, bouncing from disaster to disaster, wishing more than anything I wasn’t drunk in the midst of this hour.

I started to feel a bit sick at this point. Not so much from the alcohol but sick from the night. The streets were empty and the few passersby who I encountered seemed like mirrors to me. We were all alone and all hoping to get out, staggering in that same way, repelled by dark corners like London’s streets made up a giant pinball machine.

Everyone seemed to look haunted but I couldn’t be sure if all I was seeing in their faces was what I felt.

I started to fixate on the thought of the number that presently constituted my bank account. I realised I’d given away £40 that I didn’t technically have to give. I didn’t regret giving it away but the shock of how I’d buy myself food over the next week started to float around near the top of the night’s ever-growing stack of concerns. It felt like something else to worry about, something else to lean into that wasn’t the sight of that man on the ground and the paramedic’s utter dejection looming over him. Better the hole in my wallet than the hole in that man’s leg.

I started to feel quite drunk again and lost all my bearings. I headed down a few back streets and caught sight of the Shard again, directly in front of me, but the Thames was in the way and there were bridges to my right and left, both a fair distance apart. I thought the quickest route might be to walk down some steps and along the beach. There was bound to be another flight of steps a little further along and that way I wouldn’t need to meander blindly through more backstreets and waste more time and energy. Plus it looked nice down there in the moonlight.

I made my way towards the steps and reached the pebbles below before I even knew what had happened.

I was in agony. I landed in the foetal position and decided just to stay there but I couldn’t stop myself crying out. I had no idea what I’d done but, whatever it was, it did not feel good. I tried to stand but couldn’t. I stayed right where I was for what felt like thirty minutes but could have been seconds. After the initial shock of the impact subsided, I managed to hobble back up the steps I’d previously been at the top of.

Now I definitely had another concern to focus on. Everything else fell away. A strange analogy, I know, but it was like the world when Frodo puts on the One Ring in the movies. All wind and darkness, no form to anything, just an abstract desire and a goal and the momentum to reach it. People passed me and cars drove by but no one seemed to stop and ask if I was okay. I felt invisible. I felt empty. The pain basically emptied out my brain and I felt like I was on auto-pilot, just trying to get back to familiarity and my own bed.

I found myself on the bridge I’d seen from the steps and crossed it. It was then that I found myself in somewhat familiar territory. I was in London Bridge where I’d been just two weeks before, having some drinks with friends, but still I couldn’t find a bus stop that could take me where I needed to go.

I suppose I could have asked someone but I felt like a zombie, with the innate sense that if I opened my mouth to talk to anyone all that would come out would be “aaaaaarrrgh”.

I hobbled alone, bracing (what I thought) was my good leg and limping on. I started to make my way towards what I thought was Elephant & Castle when I saw a couple get out of a taxi on the opposite side of the street. I hobbled over and asked the driver if he was free and if he could take me home. He said yes and he did. Another £20 I didn’t have. There was a reason the free bar had been so attractive. With the weight off my feet the other worries reemerged. What had happened to that man?

I made it home and up to my flat and took my shoes off. My right foot, which I’d experienced no pain in at all, was covered in blood and it seemed obvious that I’d broken a toe. I think about that for minute, surprised that I didn’t notice. I text my girlfriend a drunken apology for coming in stinking and looking like I’d been run over and I tell her I’ll see her in the morning before passing out on the sofa.

In the morning, she wakes me up and says, come on, you big mess, I’m off to work, let’s just put you to bed. I can’t even stand up. We call the non-emergency NHS helpline and they say to go to A&E. She drives and waits with me. I was the fourth ankle injury in that morning but I’m the only one making use of the hand rails along the walls. I nearly pull one off as I hobble from bench to bathroom to bench, to consultation to x-ray to consultation. They give me crutches which I’ve never used before but moving about still isn’t so easy.

Miraculously, the x-ray of my foot showed no broken bones at all and the doctor’s best guess for a tear in my ATL. Not a complete tear but a nasty one all the same. It’s a bit unusual for a sprain to leave you this immobile, she says. I have a feeling in the back of my mind that the x-ray isn’t even mine. No foot that feels this bad looks that normal.

The reason for my immobility became much clearer over the coming days, as the swelling went down. What hurt so much was no doubt the bruise the size of my palm covering the entire inside of my foot. I’d never seen a bruise so big on such a relatively small area of skin. It looked like I’d crushed it.

They send me home. As lucky as I am with my escape, I’ve still got an injury to each foot, making both useless for putting any weight on. I’m in bed for two days before I can hop around the flat.

Much of the past week has been spent feeling a bit sorry for myself as a result but, more than anything, I’m not yet over seeing that man die. Just like the fall itself, everything happened so fast and in a blur, but it was clear immediately that something wasn’t right. I remember the downhearted look on the paramedic’s face when he gave up on the chest compressions and then the next thing I’m doing is talking to this other man. I witnessed something but now I can barely recall it. I want to focus my memory on it for his sake but nothing emerges with any clarity. I’m not sure if it’s the alcohol or an auto-defence mechanism.

I’ll be back on my feet unaided in a couple more days but it all seems unimportant compared to that part I can barely remember.

A few days after my fall, the “cliff wife” meme starts going around. I make a joke about it, of course, but there’s something oddly resonant in the video that I feel slightly nauseous about wanting to dig out.

“Life has its own way of throwing trials and challenges and frustrations and kinda ruining your day,” says Shaun McBride in the notoriously overdramatic video. His wife calls their day “life-changing”; “it really changes your perspective… life can change in a split second.”

She’s not wrong, of course, and so there couldn’t be a more relatable meme right now. Some things really do change your perspective, but I can tell you now, Mrs. McBride, that a bumpy ride down to the beach ain’t it.

Being the London cliff wife was resoundingly the least awful thing to come out of last Thursday.

Will Nationalists Bury The Nation State?

Although willing to eat my some of my words from the previous post, having now read this follow-up from Jehu, it feels only sensible to further clarify what we’re actually seeing here in the aftermath of the recent European elections, because Jehu’s viewpoint still feels like a strangely detached and reductive commentary, uncharacteristic of Jehu’s otherwise on-point Brexit analysis. He writes:

Don’t make the mistake of trying to make sense of the EU parliament election results. Remember, in Britain a party that didn’t exist a month ago managed to come from nowhere and capture the plurality. You can’t make sense of the complete collapse of the nation-state, because the nation-state was how you made sense of everything up until this point.

Again, there’s a trajectory here that it would be a mistake to ignore. The Brexit Party may not have existed a month ago but it’s hardly new. It was founded by the former leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, and that party’s economic spokesperson, Catherine Blaiklock.

The “new” Brexit Party’s sizeable vote share can be seen as coming straight from UKIP’s own and the party was openly formed as an attempt at a do-over following UKIP’s fall into irrelevance; as an attempt at rescuing its own image following its failure to define a space for itself post-referendum.

Many commentators have long predicted the fall of UKIP as a party given that it had campaigned doggedly on holding a referendum as its only policy and had failed to find a new direction after achieving that goal, with attempts at formulating a broader manifesto ridiculed in all corners. And so, in comes the Brexit Party to move the conversation along a bit and give the party-political wing of our nation’s Brexiteers a new single-policy party to throw their weight behind — that policy now being to leave the EU and set up trade deals with the WTO.

Even though the party definitely did not come from nowhere, it is nonetheless an astounding achievement that it now has 29 seats in the European parliament, making it the biggest party in the whole of the EU… But those 29 seats are only an extra 5 in addition to UKIP’s 24 seats, won in the last European election in 2014, which then made that party the biggest in the EU parliament.

UKIP now has no seats there… Mostly because all of its previous seat-holders defected to the Brexit Party…

So, whilst I agree with the sentiment that you can’t “make sense of the complete collapse of the nation-state”, there is nonetheless a clear evolution here. The Brexit Party’s “nowhere” is quite obviously UKIP. This is not to deny the party its success but it is nonetheless a continued one which has been growing for many years. To deny that trajectory is to give the party even more credit than even it wants to claim for itself.

This previous success is worthy of being further acknowledged, not least because I completely ignored it in the last post. It was wrong to suggest that these EU elections are of no consequence to domestic policy, but those consequences nonetheless remain indirect. Granted, that’s still not something anyone should ignore. It was arguably UKIP’s previous success in 2014 that led to Prime Minister David Cameron reading the pre-general electoral tea leaves and agreeing to hold a referendum in the first place in order to save his own party’s skin, but that’s not to say that UKIP has had any say in negotiations since then.

This has been the party’s consistent humiliation. They persuaded the in-crowd to throw a party but then weren’t invited to attend it. They have nonetheless put on a great deal of outside pressure — mostly relying on the press’s obsession with their hopeless antics — but outside Farage’s bloody-minded EU parliamentary performances and their favour with an international rightist movement, they have achieved very little outside of blowing the political weathervane a few degrees to the right. (Notably not as far as they themselves would have liked.)

Farage has been repeatedly humiliated in other ways too, of course. His strong EU election performances have never been repeated in general elections and, at every turn, his other business successes have been resoundingly ignored by the UK’s political establishment. (Lest we forget that, despite Theresa May’s many sycophantic gestures of support to Donald Trump, Trump’s suggestion that Farage would make a great US ambassador was laughed at by all.)

As said last time, all that remains to be seen before any real comment can be made is whether the Brexit Party manages to buck its own trend and repeat its success in a general election. It is not known when the UK will go through this process again — it’s only two years since the last one — but most commentators expect it will be very soon.

Success at a general election is the only way in which the Brexit Party will be able to influence the Brexit process directly and, with everyone already expecting the two main parties to get a hefty beating in the EU elections, it is unlikely the parties’ EU success this year will influence the seated government as much as they have previously . Labour and the Tories will no doubt be reconsidering their position on Brexit now as a result but so far this has only meant the Labour party suggesting they will finally agree to a second referendum. And if Labour is softening, it’s likely we’ll see the Conversatives, under a new (Boris Johnson?) leadership, hardening its own stance in response.

However, things don’t end here. As Jehu continues:

But there is a pattern if you are cunning enough to catch it. We have been here before. In 2015, SYRIZA, just three years old, swept aside the major parties in Greece and became the ruling party. It had all the appearance of a party in power. The reality turned out to be otherwise, of course. What SYRIZA actually had was the opportunity to bury the state — an opportunity it squandered foolishly in a vain attempt to hang on to state power.

I said at the time that SYRIZA’s failure would be to the benefit of the fascists and let me just emphasize that I was absolutely correct. The radical Left refuses to admit its mistakes, refuses to correct its errors. It paves a path for its political enemies. Even now radicals want us to believe that the results of the European election have no domestic political consequences, that business as usual, in the most literal sense of a continuation of wage slavery, can continue unhindered.

Suit yourselves, the nation-state is dead; stick a fork in it … and the radical Left.

This is an interesting comparison, not least because Syriza emerged onto the national and international stage on a similarly Eurosceptic ticket. They, too, troubled the waters by winning big in the EU elections before — most importantly — going on to succeed in repeating this feat at a general election — an election triggered by Syriza’s EU success indicating a complete lack of confidence in the ruling parties.

Syriza were, in some ways, a nationalist party and one which hoped to exit EU neoliberalism in order to implement a newly socialist form of government. In this sense, Syriza was a symbol of hope in a Greece that was wracked by an EU-enforced austerity and the new party had promised to take the fight straight to the EU’s doorstep.

Their success on a national as well as international level sent a shockwave around Europe and an international Left watched closely to see what might happen next. Unfortunately, not a lot did happen. Syriza failed, knocked back by the EU’s governing body, which proceeded to make an example of Greece’s dissenting political sovereignty.

It was largely this defeat that stoked a new wave of Euroscepticism on the Left abroad around Europe, and particularly in the UK where the conversation was already bubbling up from the right. Corbyn was elected as leader to a dead-in-the-water Labour Party after this fact but he has continued to struggle against the traditionalists in his own party and the conservatism of his own fanbase.

And so, the UK Left’s failure has been its inability to contend with this austerity issue. Whilst Corbyn was championed for his strong stance against austerity at home, little has been said about austerity abroad. The right falls into the opposite position — austerity (and other kinds of economic limitation) abroad take precedence over those implemented by the government at home.

For the middle-class left, this dynamic isn’t even acknowledged in any part of the conversation. Yes, we all love being a part of the big European family and all the freedoms that provides us — particularly our freedom to travel between states with ease. However, the hard lesson, reverberating down the years and landing on deaf ears, is that “Syriza is paying the price for promising the impossible: abolishing austerity while remaining in the EU.”

Despite this failure, this is the same plan the British left has held up for itself. Defeat the Tories, defeat austerity, and continue living in the EU happily ever after. Whilst the situation in the UK is not as dire as in Greece, little has happened to suggest a Corbyn government that remained in the EU could achieve radical change where Syriza couldn’t. (Although the growing dissent amongst various other countries could potentially lead to internal reform — and this is a dissenting bloc which was not so present prior to the UK’s Brexit debacle.)

It is obvious that this is a lesson the Left elsewhere — and especially in the UK — has not learned. And this is something that I think Corbyn instinctively knows but has utterly failed to publicly articulate, perhaps because he knows that middle-class internationalism will always trump working-class austerity. And, furthermore, it is the inability to link these two things together that has also been his downfall. It seems that the people he is fighting for have swayed to the right, whilst the hollow words of a middle-class left are all that is keeping him in charge.

This has to be acknowledged because this is precisely the promise that the right successfully made to the general public, even if dishonestly. The left’s argument has been that the Brexit divorce bill will make austerity worse, not to mention the fact that the EU has given many of our country’s poorest regions a great deal of funding to alleviate issues of socioeconomic depression already. The right argues that, freed from EU limitations, we’ll be able to rake in more money and fund that back into our own services without any bureacratic hand-holding. We’d be worse off, says the left, whilst the right says the opposite.

So which is it? The misinformation and lack of imagination in government makes it hard to tell. I’m still somewhat of the opinion that a right-wing Brexit is in favour of neoliberalism at home over neoliberalism abroad, and we can easily swap “neoliberalism” out for austerity. Outside of the EU, with the Tories in charge, I doubt anything would improve within the communities that are resoundingly voting for change. It is in this sense that I’m personally sympathetic to Jehu’s claim that the radical left has been woefully inept at countering the narrative of “business as usual, in the most literal sense of a continuation of wage slavery” — and I’m left wondering if his follow-up post might be silently including my own previous post in its judgment — but it seems that even Jehu is not only glossing over leftist’s failures but also rightist successes here.

This blog has repeatedly echoed the claim that we are simply living on the slowly decaying corpse of the nation-state but still, there’s something egregiously lacking here.

I’m reminded, as ever, of Tom Nairn’s book The Break-Up of Britain — the book I have turned to again and again throughout this Brexit process, in hoping to understand how we got here and what was lost along the way.

Nairn’s book was published in 1977, only 8 years after Britain first joined the EU, and in that book he too predicts the death of the nation-state and sees the EU as an opportunity for its accelerated demise, potentially allowing the introduction of alternative political and economic strategies for various newly established regions that may result from a post-EU fragmenting.

(This certainly happened elsewhere but not in the UK, and the EU was cunning enough to legislate a straitjacket for those newly-formed countries if they wanted to join the club, which they had to accept in trying to recover not just from civil war but — in many cases — post-Soviet poverty more generally.)

Nairn also notes, for instance, how this rapid decay of internal British relations is not simply the result of EU consensus but rather a dissensus amongst the states that make up the British isles most specifically. He goes on to predict that, if Great Britain remains in the EU, it will inevitably fragment soon afterwards — and this is very good news for the radical left.

This didn’t happen, of course, but the threat has nonetheless persisted, and it seems more likely today that Nairn’s predictions — that Scotland will lead the charge and challenge not just how we view class struggle but also national struggle in this multi-nation-state — may still come true, albeit after a considerable delay. (Neoliberalism is, of course, very good at those.)

One of the primary arguments made by Nairn, in his Marxist appraisal of the state of Europe in 1977, is that the dynamics we currently see warring with each other are already familiar to us. It is a old tension between Luxemburgist and Leninist revolution.

For Rosa Luxembourg, Nairn writes, “workers or intellectuals might have to make a choice between a nationalist struggle and a class struggle” and it was her view that “the former should never be given priority” over the latter. As far as she was concerned, “national struggle was a distraction, if not a positively hostile barrier, to what really mattered: the imminent break-through of the class-struggle.”

Lenin, however, disagreed with Luxembourg:

[H]e argued that the nationalist revolts had a more positive meaning. The social forces and passions they harnessed were too great to be genuinely ‘renounced’; and in any case they worked to unseat the old dynasties, and so foster conditions generally favourable to social revolution. The break-up of these old states was necessary (thought admittedly far from a sufficient) condition of the kind of change marxists were working towards. In this pragmatic spirit the nationalism of liberation struggles ought to be encouraged, at least up to the moment of their seizure of state power. After that, it would of course become the task of the revolutionaries to disassociate themselves from the nationalists: national liberation would then turn into ‘bourgeois nationalism’, and a force hostile to the broader revolutionary cause.

This is relevant to our present situation if only due to its complete absence from political discussions today, and that is due to the history of European Marxism in itself and a more recently British political dementia.

Both Luxembourg and Lenin were refuted, of course, and their strategic advice turned out to be impotent in the face of capitalism’s continued and cunning development. Nevertheless, Nairn’s appraisal of the legacy of these arguments remains strangely resonant today:

Lenin argued that nationalist upheavals could contribute to socialist revolution where it counted, in the great centres. With appropriate modifications, one can surely make roughly the same case here. The fact is that neo-nationalism has become the grave-digger of the old state in Britain, and as such the principal factor making for a political revolution of some sort — in England as well as the small countries. Yet, because this process assumes an unexpected form, many on the metropolitan left solemnly write it down as betrayal of the revolution. […]

[However,] the marxist left which totally spurns Westminster and (on paper at least) wants nothing more than its overthrow, also criticizes the separatists. Their reason is that proletarian socialism is supposed to be the grave-digger, and no one else will do.

Nairn’s argument here is inseparable from what were then newly revived independence movements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but the analysis nonetheless holds strong. We can look, of course, to the huge gains made by the SNP in recent years — a party which dominates in Scotland and swept the board in the 2019 EU elections, winning every single seat; their continued successes making a second (and this time no doubt successful) independence referendum all the more likely.

In this sense, Scottish nationalists are continuing to do their part to bury the British state, but the same can be said of the English nationalists too — albeit perhaps unwittingly. We can look to Tommy Robinson and Carl Benjamin’s woeful MEP campaigns, on English nationalist tickets, which seemed to show them as ringers of their own death-knells, having largely fuelled this antagonism against the establishment but lacking any real support beyond being political saboteurs. Neither would attract the audiences that they do without the rise of a popular nationalism but it seems that their domineering presence is paradoxically indicative of their own irrelevance, and the election results proved as much, with working class communities in the north-west of England resoundingly rejecting them.

What does this mean? I have no idea. Jehu is certainly right that trying to make any coherent sense of this collapse is a loser’s game, but still we can at least accurately identify the paradoxes fuelling this dissent and the national struggle / class struggle divide remains, quite obviously, the front line of the culture war.

I am happy to take any embarrassment that might emerge from this — I write the above tentatively, knowing Jehu is far more knowledge about the history of Marxism than I am — but it does seem to me that, if we’re going to be honest about the position the UK currently finds itself in, as cathartic as laughing at the scrambling political classes is, there is surely more we can say that might reveal something about the opportunities that lie ahead.

That — along with everything else — is where the left continues to fail and fail again, stuttering over the enunciation of its own role in a crisis that the movement’s intellectuals predicted 50 years before the movement suffered a great amnesia. It is perhaps because of the left’s insistence on teaching its own global successes that it fails to account for its local failures in the minds of its future generations.

In that sense, I suppose I agree with Jehu wholeheartedly, but since I’m living in it, I’m still left wanting to trace the elusive boundaries of this moment in the UK so that we might articulate something worth hearing before it’s too late.

Too late for what? Perhaps before neoliberalism entrenches itself to such a degree it actually survives the downfall of the nation-state.

Maybe that’s an impossibility and a dumb note to end on but, to be honest, nothing surprises me anymore. That certainly wouldn’t.

I suppose the point is this: the “radicals want us to believe that the results of the European election have no domestic political consequences” precisely because nothing seems to be of any consequence anymore. Pointing and laughing at the frenzied stasis is as impotent a response as pathetically accepting it, surely?

There is always more to be said, and it needs to be said because no one else is saying it.

European Elections

What to think about these last 24 hours?

Watching the results of the EU elections come in on the BBC last night was a peculiar experience. Frankly, I don’t remember a time when anyone paid such close attention to these elections. It felt like a general election night, not an EU one.

But thank God it wasn’t. It was like living in an alternate reality watching the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party overtake Labour and the Conservatives — truly a swimming pool of dogshit relative to what we’ve already stepped in — but it remains to be seen what impact — if any — this will actually have on our day-to-day politics.

It’s perhaps worth saying that things might not be as bad as they seem. Jehu wrote a short blog, for instance, which contained only the following declaration:

A party that didn’t exist a month ago, now leads in Britain and will determine the UK’s relations with the European Union.

But I think it is worth emphasising that I don’t think anyone has ever paid so much attention to these elections before now. The main reason they have been all over the news is perhaps that no one even expect to still be voting in them and so, in England at least, it seems to be something of a protest election. (Not in Scotland, though, which seems to be seriously preparing itself for the possibility of a continuing relationship with the EU and a separatist relationship with the rest of the UK.)

With Brexit supposedly meant to have happened by now, it seems that many have used these elections as an opportunity to dissent from their usual party loyalties. And so, seemingly using the EU elections as a proxy referendum, we see the Brexit Party on top with the Lib Dems, who have taken a harder “remain” position than Labour, generally coming in second in many constituencies.

We can’t be too surprised that a single issue party has swept the floor in what is, for this country at least, a single issue election, however the Lib Dems’ success is very bizarre. It’s exactly 10 years since they last started talking themselves up as the alternative to the mainstream, particularly on the issue of university tuition fees, before they then rolled over on to let their Conservative coalition chums tickle their tummies. Again: thank fuck this isn’t a general.

The results of the EU elections have always painted a very different picture of the UK than the results of its general elections. (Nigel Farage has long been an MEP, for instance — since 1999 — but has never led a successful campaign to become a member of the UK’s own parliament, much to his embarrassment.) So to say the Brexit Party now leads Britain and will determine its relationship to the EU isn’t very accurate, I’m afraid. These elections are unlikely to be of any real consequence for the UK’s politics in itself but that’s not to say that this hasn’t been a complete embarrassment for the political mainstream in this country.

We’ll have to wait for the (probably imminent) general election to see if this sentiment carries over…

If it does, we’ll be in for a very interesting four years…

Night of the Black Heart

I went to my first black metal show in April… I know, I know… I’ve been to a lot of metal shows and festivals over the years and seen some heroes but never before had I been to a dedicated black metal show. And it didn’t disappoint.

@Femme_Fhtagn and I went to Camden’s aptly-named Black Heart to see Barshasketh, Vanum, Vacivus and Ultha. She only knew Barshasketh and I knew no one but every band was incredible.

So incredible I’m still insisting on posting about it a month later as I trawl through my post drafts.

Some pics below.

The Political Trajectory of Maurice Blanchot (Part One): Thoughts on Ethics and Patchwork

I haven’t written on patchwork in a while now but not because I’ve stopped thinking about it. It’s just less and less central to my research interests. I nonetheless believe that we must think through a fragmentary geopolitics and contend with new ways of organising that are beyond the tired format of the state. These things are increasingly necessary but there are other things that need fleshing out in the meantime. Central to this is the ethical implications of this kind of geopolitical newness and the rethinking of community required to make it functional.

This is particularly relevant to us today, I think, because this fragmentary nature of the world used to be the norm until very recently. Particularly in Europe, there were violent wars over forms of governance and state borders as recently as the 1990s. These wars were horrendous things but there is a sense — in many recalling the politics of 1930s Europe when attempting to think through our current sociocultural upheavals, as is particularly common when processing the recent rise in fascism across the globe — that our world is far less flexible than it was then, and I wonder why that is. Is it simply the threat of war alone that stops the redrawing of our maps? Or is there something else at play?

I don’t have the answers to these questions but they linger in the background of a lot of this previous patchwork writing, and my previous readings of political philosophers from the 1930s (in France in particular) likewise inform these questions. In my own mind, the questions I ask and put forward on this blog are largely the same questions that an unruly and outsider left — broadly speaking — was trying to deal with at that time. Mourning the mainstream left’s complicity and impotence, these questions of community and praxis were discussed fervently until they were further arrested and made banal in the face of the atrocities of World War II, and yet they later emerged again as the post-Soviet world began to settle into the form as we know it today. (In this sense, it feels telling to me that so many of those who call me out for a lack of Marxist rigour and fascist sympathies are so often American. These questions are far more immediate over here perhaps. America went another way. It doesn’t know the stakes or the history.)

Following the final decline of the Soviet communist project in the 1980s to 2000s, the conversation that would take place between Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy is the most interesting enunciation of these questions left behind so long ago, and it is their rethinking of “community” which stoked my own interest in patchwork thinking as a technologically viable geo-OS for instantiating the collective subjectivities we have long sought out but never found.

So, that being said, as political paranoia continues in its feverishness on the left, I’m left wanting to chart a few influences that are of great importance to my own approach to politics of community and friendship, of comradeship, which are somewhat ill-fitting when we consider the dominant political moralism of today — and necessarily so.

I’ve written on this previously here and here but I suppose I could summarise this more concisely as a form of communism, influenced explicitly by my three favourite troubadours of moral philosophy: Levinas, Bataille and Blanchot.

Jean-Luc Nancy would write on Blanchot and Bataille’s sense of community in particular as a kind of “community that gives itself as a goal” and this is where I see a communism emerging from. There is knotted and irrational sense of interpersonal relation which is increasingly alien to our capitalist world and it is an “unavowable” work which becomes more and more important to me as “communicative capitalism” takes a firmer hold of us. (I wrote a bit about this the other day.) Interestingly, the further away from this we move, the more necessarily I feel it becoming. What is described by Blanchot as an elusive relation at the very limits of human language and articulation becomes all the more recognisable as this unspoken connection is strained more and more.

It is a form of collective identification which is not essentialist — not defined by race, nation or tradition — and which is grounded by its own “will to power”. At the most personal level, this is something that resonates with me as an adopted child and which also grounds previous articulations of an “ethics of exit“. My family is hugely dysfunctional and advice given by others has so often been: “Well, why don’t you can choose your own family?” This is something so often said, in my experience, by those who either haven’t experienced the innate trauma of losing that kind of fundamental connection to other people — read: weekend hippies — or who tell it to themselves as a self-directed platitude, like a mantra you tell yourself to cover over that which hurts you most deeply.

When living in Hull as a teenager, this sort of community was ostensibly queer. Our friendship group was made up of gay and straight men, trans women and, for the most part, lesbians. We were a surprising collection of people from disparate socioeconomic backgrounds but we all shared — whether due to our sexualities or another kind of interpersonal trauma — the sense that we were all part of a nomadic tribe of the socially dispossessed. We felt — each to a different extent — like we had been ejected from those families that we were told we could wholly depend on and so we went out into the world to try and find our own.

It is this experience which grounds my politics, for better and for worse.

This lost connection is, in a word, a “genetic” relation but it is not scientific in this sense. I will always remember the day that I was given a picture of my birth mother aged 18 and the feeling of recognition that came with that. The sensation of seeing yourself in the face of another, is completely beyond expression for me. It opened up a door that I did not know could open. It wasn’t an immediate egress but a gradual one and what struck me about this experience was that so many people simply take this for granted, to the extent that perhaps they don’t even think about it, but for me it was so utterly alien. It was like drinking water for the first time as an adult.

It is precisely this innate sense of rupture and the neuroses which come with it, in striving for connection and friendship and a sense of familial intimacy far too readily, whilst likewise being somewhat private in fearing rejection, which places the ethical formulation of “community” giving itself as a goal so firmly in my mind. It is a life-long sensation given a radically resonant phrase. Suffice it to say, I feel like I am all too aware, in my day to day life, of the unruliness of our politics of belonging.

This is why I have always liked Maurice Blanchot’s writings, for his apparent synthesis of the ethical thinking of Levinas and Bataille as two seemingly disparate figures whose ontologies start at the limits of subjectivity. Traumas of death and illness and violence loom large as things to account for with the process of philosophy but, here, with these thinkers, they are made immanent to an everyday existence. The quotidian, for them, is as difficult to grasp in thought as the nature of death itself. Indeed, they are one and the same, and it is from this point that their ethics could be said to emerge — at the limit between subjects, between borders, between peoples, where connections exist and persevere but beyond the articulations and frameworks that the sociopolitical language of our neoliberal world typically allows.

This extended preamble is an attempt to lay the groundwork for what might be another series of posts where I collate my notes on the works of Maurice Blanchot and, in particular, Christophe Bidet’s excellent critical biography I picked up the other week.

The reason for starting with a mention of patchwork is that, funnily enough, I went for dinner a few weeks ago with someone who knows Mencius Moldbug IRL and I was very surprised to hear them say the phrase: “Curtis is #YangGang now”…

The trajectory from neo-monarchist to UBI-supporting democratic socialist(?) might seem like an odd one but actually it’s somewhat analogous to Blanchot’s own trajectory… And, indeed, in placing myself as someone interested in post-Moldbuggian communities, I find myself thinking through his monarchism in much the same way as I think through Blanchot’s. It contains within it the seeds of a community that is far beyond itself and perhaps that is what has happened since. Monarchism emerges as a suitably paradoxical neo-reactionary politic in that it presents us with a radical subjectivity — a grounded subject-hood; a being-subject that is both radically literal and radically other to our present. However, faced with reality, this thought requires a shift, an adaptability — here a neoreactionary neocameralism loosens up, shaking off its rigid exterior, and leaving behind the striving for communality that lies buried at its centre.

Many of the biographical snippets that circulate about Blanchot’s early life tell a similar story. Levinas would describe his high levels of intelligence, perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as “aristocratic”. Blanchot loved French high culture, to the extent that his love of literature became a ground for his French nationalism.

It is no secret that, as a young man, Blanchot used to write for far-right publications, and yet Bidet’s biography lays this out in ways that make clear the ideas which he would nonetheless carry with him from this point until his death. It is this sense of carrying a philosophy — an ontology — of belonging from the right to the left that I’m interested in exploring in more detail, especially considering our present paranoia which seems to repeatedly result in people moving in the other direction, pushed away by the moralism of a left which denounces any and all inconsistencies. Most of the reasons for this are, undoubtedly, related to the left’s presently flawed conceptions of community and comradeship but perhaps Blanchot’s own shift offers some inspiration on how to reverse the present trend and our collective politics with it.

What may be surprising for many, in reading a gloss of Blanchot’s intellectual trajectory is that, despite the sort of far-right rhetoric he would engage in for many years, he struck up a friendship with Emmanuel Levinas very early on.

When the pair met as students at the University of Strasbourg, Blanchot was already settled in his right-leaning views and it was only after he graduated that Blanchot would begin his career by editing and contributing to a wide-range of Parisian nationalist newspapers. However, his encounter with Levinas nonetheless opened a door which it would take him some years to step through into the beyond of his nationalism.

Bidet summarises his trajectory as follows:

As a lead editor of the Journal des Débats and Aux Ècoutes, a writer of editorals specializing in foreign policy, someone with nationalist ideals, a staunch spiritualist, in the 1930s Maurice Blanchot seems to have had a single goal: restoring the glory of French culture, which in his eyes had grown corrupt, had perhaps even disappeared. He joined the young dissident milieaus of the Maurrassian far right, becoming one of its most prominent and influential members. Having initially been motivated by Catholic, traditionalist reasons directly related to his family upbringing, he adopted positions that were more and more radical, privileging antidemocratic, antiparliamentary, and anticapitalist rhetoric, occasionally of limitless violence, under the tutelage and influence of Thierry Maulnier. But he was also the friend of Emmanuel Levinas, and he lived in close relation to nationalist Jews like Paul Lévy. He shared their struggle against the resistable rise of Hitler, denouncing at a very early stage the first work camps, state totalitarianism, anti-intellectualism, warlike morality, and the mythology of organic community, all of which were prevailing across the Rhine. He quickly grasped Hitler’s threat to the Europe of nations, but his fervent anticommunism forced him to adopt strategically dubious and even — as he would later recognise — irresponsible positions in diplomatic and military terms. He sought out all ways of preserving peace and deplored the successive climb-downs by international organizations and national governments, inviting a humanity “always driven by the candid and boastful nobility of a better future” not to forget “the laws governing its difficult condition.” Over the Over the years, the increasing speed and pressure of events exploded the fragile cohesion of activism on the far right. This made Blanchot choose between the two groups that he frequented. He refused to spent further time in the company of certain anti-Semitic, fascist, radicalized, and protocollaborationist circles…

As Blanchot moved away from his nationalism, he nonetheless retained his love for that which was evoked by literature, that unground which brought him close to Levinas. Bidet notes how Levinas recognised with admiration, despite their political differences, the way that Blanchot “carried out a ‘double gesture'” that would resonate with Levinas’ own approach to being if not politics. He embodied “a questioning carried out from within literary thought or writing, a place inaccessible to philosophy itself; and an absolute affirmation, a rallying cry for the necessity of philosophy, in a context in which it was threatened institutionally and epistemologically.”

There is perhaps a clear thread from this internal quest for outsideness to the sort of comradeship the two young thinkers were to strike up. Bidet writes of their “immediate desire for friendship, in spite of and in place of political opinions (which is to say: the positions adopted regarding cultural belonging and the space it required, the community it made possible).” If Blanchot already contained this striving within him, Levinas is no doubt responsible for triggering his slow radicalisation since it is Levinas who “demands that ‘the transformation of convictions’ be thought of without any reference to compromise. Friendship alone can justify this absolute, can force us to glimpse the permanency that lies beyond change.”

This sense of friendship is no doubt unpopular today, at a time when the stakes are seen as too high to have patience for those we see as threatening our own existence. We might view Levinas the Jewish ethicist as a bit of an idiot, then, for being such close friends with Blanchot the occasional anti-Semite (caught up, in some of his later newspaper columns, with the overall feeling of the age). And yet, as Bidet continues, it seems that Levinas already saw in his friend the potential for what was to come:

Levinas sets up a paradoxical portrait of a Blanchot who was already wholly self-present in 1926, while also being completely still to come. Everything was indeed there already: the aristocracy, the loftiness, the gaze, the demand, the excess and the excellence, the ability to surprise (via little-trod paths, surprises, paradoxes). Levinas describes a Blanchot ignorant of himself, learning about himself, who would learn to recognise his aristocracy in forms different from the — imaginary — ones he inherited. The Blanchot of 1926 was a Blanchot without oeuvre, but able to impress, elevate, agitate, be insubordinate: everything was already there, everything would find its ways, but slowly, with difficulty, erratically. This slowness would respond to the demand not to judge, not to judge immediately, to know how not to be satisfied with immediate judgment, and to know how to move beyond one’s everyday life, one’s automatic opinion, one’s agitated blindness, to move beyond these by way of an unending quest which, confronting the real (thanks to the demand of friendship and the hard work of writing), would also eventually come into being. This quest allows one to approach being by way of thought, by way of a harsh apprenticeship in the most sovereign worldviews and their endless assimilations. When this apprenticeship is complete, when these worldviews have been fully absorbed and invested with a decisive experience, they can finally be critiqued and filtered by a now indefatigable personal approach, strengthened by this long faux pas, more assured due to its past mistakes and in turn with the events of current History.

This patience, that investment in a friendship which seeks no return, would influence the pair’s philosophies in other ways. It seemed predicated on an eerie relation — this solidarity without similarity functioning as an eerie politic, as a failure of presence and a failure of absence. Bidet writes:

The dialogue between the two friends is woven together by the fact that, in place of the assurance of Heidegger’s es gibt Levinas places the ubiquity of the there is and Blanchot hears the presence of the neuter. They would quote each other on this point, this “destiny of the void”, this “murmur of silence”; “something resembling what one hears when one puts an empty shell close to one’s ear, as if the emptiness were full, as if the silence were a noise.” As early as 1947, in From Existence to Existents, Levinas refers readers to the first pages of [Blanchot’s] Thomas the Obscure and their pure description of the there is: “the presence of absence, the night, the dissolution of the subject in the night, the horror of being, the return of being to the heart of every negative moment, the reality of unreality are admirably expressed there.”

This bridge between the two thinkers would eventually come to bear on Blanchot’s politics explicitly. At first, as a result, he saw little redeemable in Marxism. For him, the “revolution had to impose itself as the ‘sudden passage from the impossible to the necessary,’ breaking its way through and imposing it ‘inalienable and incoercible presence,’ even and especially if the revolution always appeared to be anything but possible and necessary…”

Bidet writes of a Blanchot who condemned “the abandonment of revolution as a clear utopia”, condemned “Marxism for providing a counterimage of revolution”. For Blanchot, “revolution is the sustained refusal, in all its demands and excesses, of any form of spiritual disorder” but the reality of Stalinism arrested “the ‘sudden move from the impossible to the necessary’ [and] allowed refusal to be caught in the trap of its own condemnations.” A sentiment that is familiar again today.

It was precisely this impotent cycle of condemnations and inaction that led to Blanchot’s eventual withdrawal from politics — at least for a time, as the night of an encroaching war made the writing of columns an embarrassment.

Bidet discusses the content and context of Blanchot’s last article for the journal Combat:

The article discusses dissidence, a weapon in the service of purity, but a double-edged sword. […] Perhaps Blanchot was a dissident among dissidents […] Perhaps he was already abandoning nationalism, having criticized the nation too much, and thus illustrating the law of dissidence that he had just formulated: “The true dissident nationalist is someone who foregoes the traditional formulae of nationalism, not in order to move toward internationalism, but in order to combat internationalism in all its forms, amongst which feature economics and the nation itself.” The latter two entities would later become the frequent object of his critiques. The anti-internationalist and antinationalist nationalist, the anticapitalist and anticommunist communist. Such were the types of dissident to whom Blanchot was appealing in December 1937. The factors that would establish the revolutionary demand for movement and for friendship in the 1960s could serve, at this stage, only as a way of thinking clearly about a personal dead end. This inertia was also the beginning of withdrawal, the crisis that would set his thinking to work.

It is here that we might hear echoes of patchwork writings from around the blogosphere but present positions have far more in common with the later Blanchot. My personal favourite patchwork post, “Lover’s Flight“, features this version of his thought heavily. It is not simply an anti-internationalist and antinationalist nationalism or an anticapitalist and anticommunist communism — as if there were anything simple as those positions. It instead speaks to something far more fundamental which state apparatuses cannot capture.

Nonetheless, the persistent fear and accusation amongst so many interlocutors seems to be that this is indicative of a swing in the wrong direction — from left to right — or that an attempt to salvage a new leftism from rightist grounds is a naive and futile gesture.

It’s not. As far as I am concerned, and which Blanchot’s intellectual history (which we’ll return to) demonstrates so clearly, post-war Europe demanded an engagement with a variety of questions and demands that we later dropped, related to how a collective subjectivity could be rethought in a way that wasn’t simply dictated by the winners: the capitalist states that made up the Allied forces. Moldbug’s NRx thinking may have invigorated this far-right thought for a new era but to take it to its own conclusions, just as Blanchot did, is to find oneself in a radical leftism that is as alien to our world today as it was then — and that is its strength.

Too many point to the 1930s today as an antecedent to our present moment in order to inflame sensationalist readings of our culture wars, but few pick up those ethical questions again here anew. This blog has consistently attempted to do this and will continue to. Pointing to ideological complexities and impurities does nothing if we cannot carry these observations forward to new ground, beyond the questions that were formulated and carried with great difficulty throughout the decades that we continuously reference but with an ignorance to the aims that so many carried with them, buried under the neoliberalism of our present moment, which infects the thought of our radicals — on both sides of the political divide — more frequently than they themselves are ready to admit.

To be continued…