Tuesday, May 12, 2015

past shock versus future rush

I was just about to post some old ardkore clips, on the grounds that the general election echoed '92's sickening-surprise, Shy-Tory-caused Tory triumph (talk about "past shock").

Then I saw Mark Fisher comin' on strong with another great K-punk post whose opening gambit is that 2015 turned out to be:

"a re-run of 1992... except, this time, it is 1992 without Jungle. It’s Ed Sheeran and Rudimental rather than Rufige Kru"

(Meanwhile, there's the news that Chuka Umunna, who's just announced his back-to-Blair candidacy as the next leader of Labour, used to be a jungle fan and a UK garage DJ. Not so much New Labour as Nuum Labour).

So many ideas in the K-punk post....

The bit about "everything seen through a downer haze… “Mostly you self-medicate” … comfort eating and bitter drinking …. What’s your poison?" and the quote from Lara Oldfield Ford ("valium scored for a few quid in the pub... the pharmaceuticals industry is one of UK Plc’s biggest success stories... as prescriptions for anti depressants are kept on repeat") made me flash on something else from the Nineties:

"I'm thinking, what can I do, really do for the emancipation of working people in this country, shat on by the rich, tied into political inaction by servile reliance on a reactionary, moribund and yet still unelectable Labour Party?," muses Brian. "The answer is a resounding fuck all. Getting up early to sell a couple of [political pamphlets] in a shopping centre is not my idea of the best way to chill out.... I think I'll stick to drugs to get me through the long, dark night of late capitalism."

That's from "A Smart Cunt", the novella included in Irvine Welsh's The Acid House, published in 1994. The scene in question sees Brian, Welsh's most autobiographical protagonist, encountering a left-wing militant who tries to recruit him.  Brian observes in passing that his politicized acquaintance looks bright and bushy-tailed and for a moment he toys with the idea of getting politically involved, not in the hopes of actually achieving change, but purely for the short-term benefits to morale, outlook and physiological well-being. Joining the movement as just another, better, mood-elevating drug.

The anti-depressive effects of belief, solidarity, and a sense of going somewhere, are what K-punk sees at work in the surge for the SNP:

"That popular enthusiasm – an enthusiasm that capitalist realism is set up to prevent emerging – is the rushing in of something that, for a long time, there hasn’t seemed to be any glimmer of in England: the future."

Mark makes another intriguing argument when talking about the role of culture in fostering and fomenting a sense of change and possibility, which he frames as a vital form of indirect action, through the generation of "new narratives, figures and conceptual frames".

"By first of all imposing a particular set of narratives, figures and frames which it then naturalised, capitalist realism hobbled what Jason Read identifies as... 'our faculty to reorder differently the images, the thoughts, the affects, the desires and the beliefs that are associated in our mind, the phrases that come out of our mouths, and the movements that emanate from our bodies.'... The reordering of images, thoughts, affects, desires, beliefs and languages plainly cannot be achieved by “politics” alone – it is a matter for culture, in the widest sense. Seen from this point of view, the locking of popular culture into repetition...  is therefore a very serious problem. Popular culture’s incapacity to produce innovation is a persistent ambient signal that nothing can ever change."

Then again, thinking back to when "the persistent ambient signal" of UK pop culture was all about change and the future - i.e. the rave late 80s/ first-two-thirds-90s  - it's not clear how these affects translated into political energy.

Unless we see it as vaguely contributing to the confident sense of expectation and the time-for-modernity mood that led to the New Labour landslide. After all, despite their Britpop alliance, NuLab opted for the non-retro uplift of this pop house anthem as their campaign theme song in '97.

Of course, 2015 is different from 1992 in one huge way - which is that Major's surprise victory was the fourth Conservative win in a row (1979, 1983, 1987...). Whereas 2015 is only the second, and that's if we even count the hung parliament of 2010 as a win... So really the despair ought not to be as profound as it was in '92 (I remember the stunned disbelief as the results came in like it was only yesterday)...

Then again, many on the Left don't count New Labour as real Labour, so there is a sense of an unbroken post-socialist consensus for 36 years. Electorally, at any rate, and as regards England.

As Mark notes, maybe there's such a thing as political retromania too.

The same battle lines as in the '90s, the '80s, the '70s...

Same underlying intractably pitted interest groups and inertial attitudes and divisive issues - public spending, devolution and Scottish nationalism, Europe - In or Out?, immigration.

Pundits irresistibly comparing the results to 1992, or 1983, or...

Not the Future, but the Past "rushing in", like a gust of stale wind.