So we were worried really and we really worried: we wanted to leave but we had to stay, we wanted to remain faithful to mass but we wanted to explore how the 'distribution of the sensible' had formed our subjectivities, how capital had moved into us to find something fertile for itself there. Affect. We were worried about the social in our psyche and the spyche in the social. We didn't feel emancipated by knowledge of our condition: workers enquiries and empirical litanies of oppression made us more worried; a worried that made us depressed. We wanted to do more with our nights than restore ourselves for tomorrow, tomorrow; the next day and the day after becomes pathological when the weekend is felt as being over on Friday at five.
Howard Slater Anomie/Bonhomie
I have worked the jobs, but I could not do the time my father did. I could not locate the necessity, I could not blend my anti-work sensibility with a life centred on the factory – I could not articulate at that time, and with the others then present, what it was that should be fought for. In fact, it seemed to me that the struggle had occurred previously, that there was nothing now to win, or indeed that we could not win. It was time, or so it seemed, to change relations at a location, so to speak, before or upstream from the factory, that might cause a circumvention of it, a mass migration from it. But that is the voodoo of politics, a basic inversion of how reality works. We, or I, didn’t see that then, the possibilities seemed better outside.
With few exceptions I have tended to separate my family ties, my person, from my ‘politics’ – and in this I was probably mistaken. Pressures that restricted growth along one plane caused unrestricted inflation at another. On one level my ideas streaked forwards but in terms of flesh and blood, the relations of, and with, human beings which my ideas supposed would transport them into reality, only atrophied. In fact, my ideas seemed to actively inhibit relations with others and in response I addressed and readdressed the eyes glazing, the incredulity, the futile degenerating arguments, and in theorising these I produced yet more of the same – a classic vicious circle. Instead of reining in my ideals I vainly decided to discount the blocks, ie other people, that fatally impeded their realisation.
I had no analysis of the pressures that forced me from one place and landed me in another – I had no theory of why I was corralled into theory; no political insight into why I became politicised. I had no grasp of the perpetual migration of outsiders and those individuals inappropriate for production, or how such pressures distributed those like me within a particularly defined social scene that existed on some reservation far away from the factory floor where it would have had real effect. There’s a club if you’d like to go/you could meet somebody who really loves you...
That place, the place I was heading towards, was not this place – the place I was coming from. The struggle to fit in was no struggle at all, only a pseudo-identity politics that benefited culturally because it was not situated where it would have been most effective. The fear I experienced was the fear everyone experiences – the difference was that I transformed that fear into both the motor and the destination of my life.
All the others, those who also felt fear (I did not know that then) but who did not flee into it but denied it so that they might not live like me, that they could still function as work-units, and therefore as life-units. Only now do I perceive their living with it, and then their coping because they had no option but to cope. And then their making a virtue of coping. Their achievement of a condition in which they were surviving in excess; their inhabiting that place at the left wall of production, which is only to be maintained, subjectively, through a diet of cigarettes and alcohol and antidepressants and indigestion pills, and holidays, and small personal sporting achievements. And family ties. They coped because, on their analysis, the benefit was worth the cost. I hadn’t seen before that they were living through it all, they were living but I wasn’t.
From the start, my wished-for escape was mere escapism, a flight into the abstraction of elective communities. I'd unravel ev'ry riddle/ For any individ'le/ In trouble or in pain. What I was pursuing was incomprehensible to those around me precisely because it involved a refusal of them. What did it mean to arrive in London and ‘participate’ in demonstrations? To wish to inhabit squats? To convey my ‘ideas’? To make judgements on the ‘conformity’ of others? It is now difficult for me to locate any meaning in my pursuit of a different way of life which, in almost all respects, was already recuperated and which, without doubt, indicated a retreat from the real antagonism (and the fear grown from that antagonism) of the situation in which I lived.
I cannot help thinking that if I had not become politicised I would have contested the world as it is much more directly, and truly by attempting to pursue what was allocated to me: a mass-distributed private life. It seems to me now that the refusal of the wage relation is more closely bound to the pursuit of life despite conditions than it is to deliberate attempts to change the conditions of life, which is not living at all
What an insult to those around me, that I should feel indifferent to, and not recognise myself in, that which had been gained both through work and accelerated by the shopfloor evasion of work, that I should refuse the place in which the conditions for my existence had been carved out, that I should discount those people who I knew had sought to improve their lives in the place in which they lived. How weak I was. Drifting, directionless, and so easily blown off course.
That to this concrete set of relations I should flee to some other abstract place – a designated voluntary reservation where all the radicals congregated, that I should attach myself to and attempt to realise my ambitions at a scale and in a location that was by definition not real, that is not belonging to the place where I belonged – now seems an extraordinarily bad decision. There's a place for us,/A time and place for us/Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
And in effect because of the miserable games I played, I rejected the actual process of the world, even as I deluded myself that I was connecting with process but more intensely, more profoundly than did others. I had the cheek to call the game ‘revolution’ and to claim that what I discovered, and what I experienced had a higher reality. I did not know that I insulted them. How weak I was then. And how driven by that of which I was not cognizant.
And what is worse, I pursued this game and I lost. If, after all these years I could have demonstrated some success, an impact made, a group of trusted friends, a tangible gain defined by any terms at all, then that would be something. But there have been no such gains. I have moved from one failure to the next, from one city to the next, estranged from the one place I actually had a place.
By contrast, the material advances won collectively because of/in spite of factory production, solidified and became in Stephen Jay Gould’s term, a ‘left wall’, an absolute limit on one side of reality forbidding all further development beyond it. The advances made in terms of wages and conditions were transformed into a wall against further advances of a different category. The left wall imposed a circumstance where the only direction for future increment existed was towards greater complexity on the right side, that is in the drift from the struggle as it is constituted by the productive relation.
In Oedipal terms, a distribution of ‘other’ roles was produced by the incontestable constancy and stability of the father’s role – father-worker/arbiter-provider (my experience of the individuated mass-worker/mass-patriarch). The harsh father occupies the hard man’s space, and thus produces the condition for assigning the role of effeminate son who does not directly confront him; his silence, my speech; his constancy, my drifting; his skilled competence, my maladroitism; his necessity, my superfluity; his contestation, my relinquishment; his advances, my falling back; his utility, my pretension; his practicality, my ‘creativity’.
Again and again, I ran up against a strictly demarcated terrain of relations intolerable to me – and therefore, in response, I moved on, I went elsewhere. The urge for movement towards a space of lessened tension is the first law of migration. All my future defeats were predicated on this law, my movement away was my first defeat because I acquiesced to the pressure that denied me presence – I embraced non-presence because I did not have the power to take that place.
Of course, there are other relations. There are other means of distributing roles – but that which first occurs to the displaced son, the idea of the band of brothers, an elective bond held in place by adherence to mere Aims and Principles is fundamentally a refusal of true determinate factors, it is organisation in denial of the Father. For that reason, even as I am drawn to them, I have always sought to destroy these ‘horizontal’ organisations and their anti-father pretensions. For me, they lack the real irrationality that the true, generational, or vertical bond constitutes. What is passed on, what is inherited, the conditions imposed on the present by what has gone before, is always more determining of subjective formations in general terms, than the forward looking agreements based on temporary coincidence of ideas.
... we need only suppose that the tumultuous mob of brothers were filled with the same contradictory feelings which we can see at work in the ambivalent father-complexes of our children and our neurotic patients. They hated their father, who presented such a formidable obstacle to their craving for power and their sexual desires; but they loved and admired him too.
— Ô douleur! ô douleur! Le Temps mange la vie,Et l'obscur Ennemi qui nous ronge le coeurDu sang que nous perdons croît et se fortifie!
The most average length suicide note in history (2008) (extract)