Thursday, 11 February 2010

Review: Nina Power, One Dimensional Woman

(From the forthcoming launch issue of Queer Minds. Should it ever actually come out, that is.)

Nina Power, One Dimensional Woman (London: Zero Books, 2009)

Where have all the interesting women gone? That’s the question Nina Power’s book sets out to explore, and does so admirably. It’s an important, wide-ranging question, and Power packs quite a lot into a short book – from pornography to Sarah Palin – and does so with angry verve.

As one might expect from a title that plays on Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Human, central to the broadside is the idea that a feminism constructed under the framework of neoliberal, capitalist democracy, speaking a language of ‘rights’ and ‘equality’, founders when it capitulates to the hedonistic rhetoric of contemporary culture. In other words, the change for which earlier generations of feminists fought has been construed simply as freedom – and generally the illusory freedom of choice between products, or the freedom to run for political office, or the freedom to fuck as one chooses. Many American reformulations of feminism sell it (and ‘sell’ is instructive) as a lifestyle choice that will improve the rewards that you’ll derive from your job and your love-life. That, I think, is inarguable, but the problem with that rhetoric is that it is driven so exclusively towards the rewards for the individual that the wider structural implications of feminist critique – which questions both the ‘individual’ and ‘reward’ as sound bases for an ideal state – go unmentioned.

This shouldn’t be news for queers. One of the strengths of contemporary queer culture is the strong current of radical social thinking and work that runs through it, which insists on seeing queer oppression as sitting at the centre of a nexus of wider, global structural problems. And that isn’t surprising, since to identify as ‘queer’ presupposes radical thinking about what sexuality might mean – a closer analogue would perhaps be the contemporary LGBT rights movement, which seeks for accommodation and assimilation. But to say that the queer movement is generally committed to political action would be mendacious: if that’s so, then it’s also committed to revolution under the banner of pleasure, and a pleasure often referred to as ‘authentic’.

We also have to acknowledge that there’s a nihilistic or at least apolitical component to a significant portion of current queer discourse, which wants to dance in the wreckage and fuck in the ruins. Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive is probably the strongest intrusion of the decidedly antipolitical formulation of queerness into academic literature, and his argument conceives of politics as universally driven by ‘reproductive futurism’, the spectre of the child for whom society must build a safe, sustainable future. and ‘we are no more able to conceive of a politics without a fantasy of the future than we are able to conceive of a future without the figure of the Child.’ Instead, Edelman argues that queerness is a negating, troubling drive that must refuse these forms of political order, and thus queerness in its strongest form demands a withdrawal from politics. It is a strong and brilliant argument, but for all its force and clarity, it strikes me as reliant on a faith in his axiom that politics must have at its centre the image of the human child. Power’s book is useful in pointing out that such a turn away from politics is both politically complicit and based on tendentious empirical grounds: in large measure, our dominant history is constructed as a tale of begetting and engendering – reproductive futurity! But this elides the alternative histories that one hears less about: Power’s final pages touch on other modes of communal political organisation that operated on other principles – the early radical kibbutzim are the chief example – one might also touch on the writings of early 20th century queer Fabians, or reach back to the radical sectaries of early modern Europe.

Yet the dream of living an alternative is not dead, as Power notes, but assimilated into the narrative of the liberal lifestyle as precisely that – a dream. Squatting and sharing housing are almost exclusively the domain of the young, and as such are linked into a process of maturing away from communal ideals and developing the sphere of the private as the unique preserve of ‘maturity’, and especially as a domain outside the political. Power’s message – and it is a message we need to hear – is that feminism establishes that the household is fully politicised, and needs to remain visible; part of that message for us might involve thinking how a nomadic, anarchic sexual-political identity is accommodated and neutralised by the institutions and structures is seeks to challenge.

The strongest chapters of the book, to my mind, are those dealing with the thorny question of pleasure: either with the repressive desublimation of pleasure in the vibrator-laden new feminism, or with the history of the pornographic image, or with the ‘revolutionary’ potential of sex as taken up by 20th century radicals. The examination of early pornography is a gem: revealing the ways in which the pornographic image encodes and structures desire, rendering sex a form of work. The argument here is less about the commodification of the body – and hence less to do with the plucked and enhanced bodies of porn workers, and the fiscal compulsion towards a faked, cold ‘enjoyment’ – and more concerned with the economy of the image itself. That is to say, reading the pornographic image is revealing because its dominant narrative (vulcanised, alienated, shaven and labour-intensive, obsessed with private, orgasmic teleology) obscures the story of pornography before the rise of the sex toy and the porn industry, which severs the link between the comical, communal, and imperfect body and sexuality itself. Contemporary porn is deeply, worryingly serious (in part a symptom of its alienation), and this exploration shows that it needn’t necessarily bear so pathological and taxonomic a relationship to actual human sexuality.

Power uses this to tackle the rhetoric surrounding sexuality that permeates much radical thought (‘sexoleftism’, as she calls it). As such, she echoes queer thinkers like Jonathan Dollimore and Leo Bersani (in Sex, Literature and Censorship and Homos respectively) in calling to account the notion that sex must always be necessarily subversive, liberating and radicalising. This is, I think, where her debt to Marcuse as a thinker is most apparent: a recognition that apparently subversive events are rapidly accommodated by existing political structures and prone to retain an air of danger (enough for political catharsis, at least) without having any significant impact either on subjective politics or structural political problems. No revolution ever started in a fetish club. The analysis of Otto Mühl’s famous sexual-communal experiment, which banded together under the sign of absolute promiscuity, thus severing the link between sex and the political structures of monogamy is telling in this regard: political hierarchies translated into the workings of pleasure and desire rendered it a particularly noxious failure (the attractiveness of social capital and position are part of the reason, but part of it, too, is simply that desire doesn’t arise equally towards all bodies, all people.) One does wonder whether Mühl’s commune – which was explicitly authoritarian in its structure – is the best community to use as a paradigmatic example; it strikes me that the resistance of desire to programmatic ideology is as strong even where that ideology is egalitarian and anti-hierarchical. This is where the parallel to Dollimore is notable – an explicit rejection of the idea that sex can ever be enough for a progressive politics, that to represent it as the central tool of a radical feminist or queer politics misses the fact that as often as sex is subversive, it is also abject, or boring, or diversionary. It is also historically located: what would have been subversively queer 30 years ago simply isn’t now.

The strongest response to this is to recognise – as Power does through her invocation of Shulamith Firestone – that feminism (and for us, the queer movement) has a far wider remit than simply claiming a place at the capitalist gentlemens’ club. Instead it has arisen out of a utopian impulse, which demands not simply equal rights in order to work merrily away, but to reorder the sicknesses and inadequacies of the neoliberal capitalist model which give rise to the problem in the first place. When we say that all politics is identity politics, perhaps it’s time to start remembering what that really means: that we have a etiolated, ineffectual and introverted politics of identity unless we recognise our sexuality and gender identity are the stage on which global and structural political problems are played out. Time to get three-dimensional again.

James Butler is a postgraduate student at Oxford University, a writer and an activist. He may be reached at

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Poetry enlarges life

In the preface to his excellent book on the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Simon Critchley writes:

If I have a general cultural complaint it is that, first and most importantly, there are too few readers of poetry and, second but relatedly, too many of those readers are writers of poetry. It is the general conviction of this book that poetry elevates, liberates and ennobles human life and that the experience of poetry should be extended to as many people as possible. Poetry enlarges life with a range of observation, a depth of sentiment, a power of expression and an attention to language that simply eclipses any other medium. As I say below, poetry is life with the ray of imagination's power shot through it. It is my belief that a life without poetry is a life diminished, needlessly stunted.

Little there to disagree with, I think. There's a comic apologetic dance that readers and writers of poetry alike go through when talking about poetry, some kind of intuition that it's an antiquated or bourgeois pastime, that it is inconsequential or a harmless eccentricity, or that its sphere of effectiveness is diminished to a few thoughtful but impotent aesthetes.

This is partly so because one thinks of poetry as being either the rhythmic tapping-out of the banal or inaccessible and recondite shards wrung out of infinite complexity; and this is why John Betjeman and Geoffrey Hill are the twin inspirational spirits of contemporary dullness. One could be forgiven for navigating the poetry section at Foyles and thinking that Critchley's plea for poetry is the admirable formulation of an ideal cruelly flattened by reality.

Most readers not instinctively given to the vice of poetry would accord with Auden when he says, famously, 'Poetry makes nothing happen.' But that stanza, in a eulogy of W.B. Yeats, is as much a testament to Auden's own struggle with Yeats' ineffable music and barbarism as a dictum on poetry in general. What is not often recognised about that poem is simply how cruel it is – in eulogising Yeats, even imitating his distinctive meter, Auden belittles and negates much that Yeats believed about poetry, its ability to engender and capture worlds. It is a peculiarly English vice to be captured by the music but disown its sublimity.

(One of my favourite of Stevens' poems: To an Old Philosopher in Rome)

Sunday, 9 August 2009


I've been listening to the Kronos Quartet's latest album, Floodplain, a great deal of late. It's a nice concept - music taken from the floodplains of the world, because in the floodplains are the roots of civilisation - and particularly interesting because it blends the music of various other cultures into the framework of western classical music. The piece above, 'Oh Mother, The Handsome Man Tortures Me', is one of my favourites, unafraid to bring in electronic percussion to augment the performance (no surprise from a quartet I know best for playing Stockhausen.) Similarly, the collaboration with Palestinian collective Ramallah Underground on 'Tashweesh' ('Interference') is a genuinely interesting collaboration by artists from profoundly different traditions. But the quartet come into their own with the virtuoso playing on the Raga and, particularly, the twenty minute 'Hold me, Neighbor, In This Storm', which conjures all the tension and catharsis and terror of the storm - it's worth taking the time to genuinely listen to, rather than letting it slip off as background music. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, 2 August 2009


I was supposed to be at Brighton Pride this weekend. Instead, I was kept at home, stricken with a sinus infection. I was sad to have missed the opportunity to see friends I haven't seen in a while, but secretly relieved to avoid the ritual meeting dance of the homosexual: the air kiss, the hair flick, the head tilt, and the inevitable exchange of gossip. It's not that I don't enjoy it - a little hate is excellent refreshment on a hot day - but I prefer it done with freshness and scandalous delight, instead of the prurient laundry list of peccadilloes and profanations relayed with an outrage which would be more convincing had I not seen most of my friends' livers crawl out their mouths for a rest from boozy embarrassment. There's also the additional benefit of not having to step over the twitching, drooling pile of jaw-grinding teenagers on the beach this morning, or trying to find a tolerable Bloody Mary in a town where there is neither any vodka left nor a single sober barman. The small things.

I put up bookcases, instead. This would not normally be a cause for alarm, but the history of DIY in my family is far from illustrious. My grandfather once constructed a shelf so uniquely non-euclidean that objects placed on it gradually slid off either end; the genius of this arrangement was precisely the slowness of its defeat by gravity (or the whims of some darker tutelary spirit which attended all his attempts at architecture) so one would be sitting reading quietly when suddenly a tasteless sub-Lalique figure would fling itself to its well-deserved doom. This, too, is the man who once managed to give five sides to a four-walled greenhouse. So, genetically, my construction of a straight-shelfed bookcase is a cause for rejoicing at the marvel of the human animal overcoming its wonky-eyed programming. I had thought two cases would support all those books of mine hitherto unshelved and leave space for new acquisitions, but no. Those books I had lying around in piles and hidden in cupboards have filled them 'til creaking.

I am not the strictest shelver in the world, but I generally try to follow the system laid down by Aby Warburg in the construction of his library, 'the law of the good neighbour' - that is, the shelf exists as a continuum of conversation, where a line of thought taken up in one book is continued, deflected or refracted in its neighbours. Thus one section contains an Italian edition of Warburg's never-completed Mnemosyne project, alongside Mary Carruthers' work on the medieval memory, Frances Yates' on the same subject, Anne Carson on Simonides of Keos, and two of Umberto Eco's fictions (The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum respectively, for both deal with the laws of analogy and connection, delirious or otherwise) alongside some John Crowley; to the other side of Warburg's book lie E.H. Gombrich, Leonard Barkan and Ernst Cassirer. I might think, then, where did I put that other book of Eco's? Baudolino? Alongside Borges' Book of Imaginary Creatures, Pliny, Swedenborg, de Quincey, unreliable narrators all.

This system, like all other systems serves only to conceal that as the library becomes larger, more connections uncover themselves. That is why Warburg never finished Mnemosyne; all arrangements are finite and conceal as much as they reveal. I could draw a line of Damned Popes from Dante (Boniface VIII), to Aleister Crowley (a fascination with Borgia), to Frazer's fascination with the trial of Pope Formosus, to Milton's sulphur-ridden archbishops in his pamphlets, to Austen's punctured country vicars. All this reveals is that the English have never been fond of prelates (and that, as a corollary, Dante was English.) With enough books, I may one day, eventually, trace in the welter of connections, the lines of my own face.

Things currently lying on my bedside table (a category interesting in itself):

- Leland de la Durantaye: Giorgio Agamben, A Critical Introduction, which began auspiciously by quoting my favourite section of Calvino's Invisible Cities (the inferno dei viventi), mentions Warburg and goes one to provide one of the most sensitive introductions to Agamben's thought I've seen.

- Gillian Rose: Hegel and Sociology, great but hard going, and does some very interesting things toward the end.

- Jane Hirshfield: After, good poetry which for some reason reminds me of the clear water of the river Exe.

- The Tempest, on which I am currently writing.

- Joscelyn Godwin's translation of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which makes me want to seek out a copy of the original text, which, in turn, seems impossible.

I wonder if I'm the only person who feels like exposing the contents of one's library is always *surprisingly* intimate and personal?

Sunday, 31 May 2009


What if I were to begin to speak about loss in a way that, really, doesn't seem to speak about loss at all? In the fourth Canto of the Inferno, Dante discovers four great shades who died before the Christian faith was established - Homer, Horace, Ovid and Lucan - who lead him to a great castle with seven walls, their perpetual dweeling place. The castle's courtyard - a green meadow, its greenness incongruous and mysterious in hell - is filled with the great and authoritative persons of antiquity, not only falcon-eyed Caesar, but the Muslim philosopher Averroes and Saladin brooding and apart. They speak but rarely, slowly, with great solemnity.

The passage is famous, perhaps most famous for the four great poets' recognition of Dante as their equal, or the incongruous Islamic sage; but prior to the entry to this castle, Virgil pales. Dante assumes that he pales from fear, but instead, Virgil says, he blanches from pity for the damned, 'e di questi cotai son io medesmo'. ['... and I myself am one of these.'] One might expect Dante to flinch or shy from the damned, even from Virgil, but instead he replies with affection, pouring out titles: 'dimmi, maestro mio, dimmi segnore.' ['... tell me my master, tell me sir...'] Such a moment, so early in the dream that is the comedy ('so full of sleep'), tells us much about Dante, the architect and chiosatore of the last judgement, who can both consign a pope to hell and listen with such stirring empathy to the story of Paolo and Francesca:

.... sì che di pietade

io venni men così com’ io morisse.

E caddi come corpo morto cade.

[... that for pity / I swooned as one dying / and fell down as a dead body falls.]

Paolo and Francesca's love is a whirlwind; the noble castle of the ancients is as static as a picture, suspended and motionless It is, as Dante says a place of neither sorrow nor joy (but the air is broken with sighing.) The castle, which is in some measure a place of exaltation for Dante, is also a place of privation. Tomorrow is the same as the tomorrow after that, and after that (eternity is very long, especially towards the end.) Augustine wrote that evil lacked an ontological status, that is, it was simply a privation or absence of good. That is the Limbo in which the greats of antiquity find themselves; in the lower parts of hell, evil is very much concrete, the torments precisely observed, here it is simply lack. 

The castle is a monument to loss, and full of figures who have written or been written, alone in their washed-out histories, the catalogue of names that constitutes the end of the canto. At the other end of Christian history, closer to us, W.B. Yeats wrote a poem that seems, to me, to hear the same lack, 'News for the Delphic Oracle.'  The poem runs:


There all the golden codgers lay,

There the silver dew,

And the great water sighed for love,

And the wind sighed too.

Man-picker Niamh leant and sighed

By Oisin on the grass;

There sighed amid his choir of love

Tall Pythagoras.

Plotinus came and looked about,

The salt-flakes on his breast,

And having stretched and yawned awhile

Lay sighing like the rest.


Straddling each a dolphin's back

And steadied by a fin,

Those Innocents re-live their death,

Their wounds open again.

The ecstatic waters laugh because

Their cries are sweet and strange,

Through their ancestral patterns dance,

And the brute dolphins plunge

Until, in some cliff-sheltered bay

Where wades the choir of love

Proffering its sacred laurel crowns,

They pitch their burdens off.


Slim adolescence that a nymph has stripped,

Peleus on Thetis stares.

Her limbs are delicate as an eyelid,

Love has blinded him with tears;

But Thetis' belly listens.

Down the mountain walls

From where pan's cavern is

Intolerable music falls.

Foul goat-head, brutal arm appear,

Belly, shoulder, bum,

Flash fishlike; nymphs and satyrs

Copulate in the foam.

The poem is in part a response to Yeats' own earlier poem ('The Delphic Oracle upon Plotinus') and partly a sickle-grinned parody to Milton and Spenser. Yet I think it is impossible not to also hear echoes of Dante here: in the first stanza, Yeats' paradise is barely disturbed by motion, save for that of his sighing philosophers and heroes. It is not too far a push, I think, to see these sighs as echoing the sighing around Dante's castle - but it's also the sighing of an exhausted race of statues and images. Like Dante's miscellany of authorities, these figures are also Yeats' philosophical and mythic forebears, now in a shimmering, bedewed and failing paradise.

The language has all the hallmarks of late Yeats - the vulgar codgers, the cynicism about the mystic images that sustained his earlier poetic vision, the cruel copulation that mocks a lofty tone. His heroes stretch, lie, yawn, but never speak, bounded by their own fading stories, they repeat and laze in post-coital exhaustion. Yet it's also a poem of animation: what reinvigorates the poem is Pan's intolerable, falling music, until the refined images slide headlong into polymorphous fucking, a host of (importantly) nameless nymphs and satyrs in foam. 

Taken as a whole, the poem doubtless calls for a number of readings: the repudiation of the symboliste tradition and oneiric celticism of early Yeats, the renascent language of the vulgar and somatic, the violence that was Yeats' stock-in-trade and which made Auden and Eliot fear and admire him. But it is also a poem about history and loss. Yeats never really loses sight of the loss of love that constituted the basis for much of his earlier work: Yeats' paradise does sigh for love, which moves the sun and other stars, and this poem has to be read in concert with that driving obsession. This is a poem that opposes the long swathe of history to the ecstatic moment, taken out of history - thus the second stanza, where strangeness, violence and ecstasy merge and unify in a dance of repeated, reanimated passions that point to a dissolving moment which cannot be entirely contained within the structure of the poem itself. The 'laurel crowns' of the choir of love, the symbol par excellence of poetry as an achieved, formal effort are cast off as burdens before the ecstatic moment itself.

The poem is the reproof of Pan against Plutarch's narration (in the Moralia) that Great Pan is dead, but its violence, the slide of its sighing heroes into the foam, obscures its status as a poem. Any written pastoral, as Yeats knew, is subject to fraily, to the pathos of loss and distance; the Arcady here is one into which that distance and frailty already intrudes, and which is in the last moments of its dissolution. In Yeats, plenitude always gives way nightmare, and the torpor of his subjects falls back into the generative throng of Pan's music. I have said that its status as poem is what is most interesting to me here, and that is because it is a created object, a machine for memorialising loss: we its readers can forget that it is a textual mediation, lost in its vision and music; to Yeats, its author its status as object could never be fully occluded. The loss is endemic to the poem - nature's ecstatic victory over the painted figures of art, history and philosophy (sighing because they lack the tragic joy Yeats sees in the fluctuating ocean) is mediated, ironised, not quite fully captured, through a carefully-wrought piece of art.

In Borges' short story Ragnarök, the narration of a dream, the gods of Olympus, Egypt and Scandinavia return to life among human civilisation in the present day. The story is not long -- no more than a page - at first they receive homage and honour from the assembled crowds, but gradually the details of the bodies of the gods start to seem out of place, savage, and from their mouths emerges unintelligible speech, clicking, whistling, clucking, gargling. With the realisation that the gods are predators, the story ends with this line: 

Sacamos los pesados revolveres (de pronto hubo revolveres en el sueno) y alegremente dimos muerte a los Dioses.

Hurley, in one of the better translations of the story, renders the lines thus:

We drew our heavy revolvers (suddenly in the dream there were revolvers) and exultantly killed the gods.

The line admits only the logic of dreams, and the parenthetical statement both notes and normalises that logic: 'suddenly', according to the logic of dreams, we were possessed of revolvers, the iconic statement of a violent humanity which has transcended the violence of our savage, old gods; 'suddenly', a connective form beloved of Dante, as Auerbach notes; 'suddenly' the dream turns to concretion as the heavy revolvers fall through the texture of nightmare, solid, sudden, real and violent. 

This story has come a long way from Dante, and even, one might think, from Yeats. But what I see here is a trace of pathos, a way of thinking about literature as allowing an imaginative encounter with a desired object, but also tracing its fall, its failure - the space between dream and reality that literature fills. Dante: tant' era pien di sonno a quel punto - so full of sleep at the point where his journey begins. It is hard not to see the threads of dream running through it.

But Dante's dream of Beatrice - and I do not want to say that the Comedy is simply a dream for Beatrice, a monument to Dante's loss, but say that the poem is the dream, and the monument, and the vision and maybe infinite things otherwise - is an imaginative encounter, a dream of retention that is not a dream of retention because it is a poem and an artefact. Dante: 'lo non Enea, io non Paulo sono,' as neither Aeneas nor Paul, and yet both and more, through the underworld and above the third heaven. 

If Dante engineered the comedy as, among its other infinite purposes, a form of imaginative recuperation, an all-encompassing dream and memorial in which he could author a meeting with her, then such a meeting is imperfect. At first humiliating, penitent, confessional for him, later, his last glance at Beatrice in the Empyrean is riddled with loss:

Così orai; e quella, sì lontana

come parea, sorrise e riguardommi;

poi si tornò all'etterna fontana.

[So did I pray; and she, so distant / as she seemed, smiled and looked on me, / then turned again to the eternal fountain.]

Borges called these 'the most moving lines literature has achieved', and I do not wish to fuddle them with clumsy explanation. Dante, looking at the immeasurable rose of the just, in the Empyrean with Beatrice at his side, turns, suddenly, to find her gone and an Elder standing where she stood. He cries 'Ov'è ella?' - where is she? And she, in a halo of glory, in the rose, is Beatrice, lost to him, and he prays to her, saying 'per la mia salute / in inferno lasciar le tue vestige.'   She who, in hell, left footprints for his salvation. But that is what Beatrice is, through the dream of the Comedy: footprints. 

The commentators on this passage say that this is Dante's movement from reason into faith, that he does not utter a word after she withdraws because all earthly residue in him is destroyed. I think, yes, this is true in one sense, in that the story of spiritual transformation does reach its end, the wheeling love of the Empyrean does transform our poet -- and yet, and yet, there is something in those lines that tells us about the failure of the other story, the story of Beatrice and Dante, that in his dream, even in his imagination she seemed so distant, so imperfectly captured, and she turns, and turns away forever. She is always only footprints.

It is trite to say that the poems of dreams and paradises are always distant memories of what is lost to us, trite because it is only partly true: because they are not only memories but monuments, and like the architecture of monuments, trace out that loss, memorialise loss and what was lost, make it alive to be lost again. What if I were to end this from a text that is not a poem at all, but another essay on loss? 

Charles Lamb, in 'Dream-Children: A Reverie', writing under the name of 'Elia', tells the story of his brother, James Elia, who has recently died, to his children. As he wends his way through the story of a family, of his brother's kindnesses and harshnesses, the children respond with joy or sorrow, sometimes up on their knees with excitement or crying with despair, until he looks into the eyes of his daughter and sees in her the vivid and total representation of her mother, Alice. Yet Alice, like Beatrice for Dante, was the love that Lamb never attained, and gazing into the eyes of his never-to-be child, their faces fade until they become only a voice, only a speaking loss:

....“We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all. The children of Alice call Bartrum father. We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence, and a name”—and immediately awaking, I found myself quietly seated in my bachelor armchair, where I had fallen asleep, with the faithful Bridget unchanged by my side—but John L. (or James Elia) was gone forever.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Tarnac Nine

I often look to France as a model for populist unrest, as well as insane demagoguery - it's the only country where I've seen met hard Marxists who can sit around a dinner table and spout the most jaw-droppingly racist drivel with perfect equanimity - so if you haven't heard about the Tarnac Nine, you probably should. Nine 'ultra-left' individuals, part of a 'mouvance anarcho-autonome' were arrested for their alleged connection to the sabotage of some TGV lines. After being detained for some months, most have been released; their leader, Julien Coupat, former editor of the anarchist journal Tiqqun, remains in custody. To be clear, the arrests didn't even take as their predicate that the nine were directly involved in the action, and Coupat's particular significance to the police is directly with the book that he wrote, The Coming Insurrection.

There's a horrible grotesque at work here: the French government's declaration that the 'ultra-gauche' is dangerous and should be weeded out has introduced a new term to public discourse, 'pre-terrorism'. This is particularly terrifying because it allows a certain reshaping of facts: an act of vandalism (recognised as having no possible threat to human life by the police) becomes an act of terrorism because its perpetrator holds beliefs that are displeasing to the state. 

Here's the French minister of the interior, Michèle Alliot-Marie on the horrors of the situation: "They have adopted underground methods. They never use mobile telephones, and they live in areas where it is very difficult for the police to gather information without being spotted. They have managed to have, in Tarnac, friendly relations with people who can warn them of the presence of strangers."

Terrible crimes, I'm sure we all agree. I feel any analysis on my part would be superfluous, since there are a couple of nice pieces of work online about the case, from eminent political philosophers Giorgio Agamben and Alberto Toscano:

'she likes her face in all the papers; everyone knows her by name'

Flipping through some local homo rag, none could be more surprised than me to find my image - a particularly serious one at that - being used to promote Oxford Pride. Surprised or joyous-looking expression on boy to my right courtesy of innumerable gin & tonics in easily breakable plastic cups at preceding LGBT gathering. Said gin always served with a tangible air of bitterness and recrimination, in a striplit dungeon deep in the bowels of one of Oxford's more illustrious colleges.

Please notice this season's fashionable pale skin ('Oxbridge tan') accessorised with exclusive under-eye bags courtesy of computer-squinting and terrible, headache-inducing non-lights in the Bodleian library.

Poseurish reaction to camera notwithstanding, it's always nice to find one's image in the local rag, and I will spend a couple of hours at Oxford Pride this year, largely on the principle that visibility is a good thing.