I go to an event. One speaker starts to really stick the politics in.
He uses ‘the pigs’ as a two-word cipher for the police, as though it were 1968. He reads a poem about a contemporary institution as a ‘pig farm’.
I turn this stuff over in my mind, like I’m handling a broken clock someone is trying to sell me. The linguistic halitosis keeps coming.
I lose the thread. I think.
If ‘the pig’ is in the constituency surgery deciding which mask to put on – as his poem suggests – then the new Piccadilly Ward Labour councillors in Manchester – the first Corbynistas ‘in’ – are ‘fucking pigs’ too. They backed up Sir Richard Leese, ten seconds after they got in, by trying to claim housing in Manchester is affordable, against very solid research that proved the exact opposite.
In fact it could be said that they’re worse than Tory ‘pigs’, because at least Tory Pigs are honest about believing in laissez faire and capital as the answer. These fucking pigs are trying to claim they’re radical, then they back up the biggest pig in the local pen.
Perhaps they are the ones who put a mask on for the constituency surgery. But they actually believe they are good people.
He’s not from Manchester, this guy, London I think. He’s still at it. All I hear now is the word ‘pig’, studding a black blanket of naive anarchist mumming.
I am grouchy today. I catch myself. I am recovering from a bike smash. My ribs are cracked, my knee swollen, my head aches and I am surrounded by disingenuous posturing people spouting nonsense to other people with bits of their brains missing.
Then I look at this guy with his bomber jacket and Dexy’s bobhat and DM shoes and ragged trousers. It’s all so very just-so. I have no obligation whatsoever to pretend I like this.
I’d say there are around 100 of him in the city. I listen to his nice voice and I don’t believe in him at all. He runs a discussion on antifa and poetry and cites dub, punk and hip hop as ‘popular forms’ of working class resistance.
Leftwing fetish as dream of revolution. I want to ask a question.
Working class popular forms? Strictly. Strictly can shut a city down like a plague. Why aren’t you claiming Strictly?
Because it isn’t cool, because it isn’t bracketed off from the mainstream and yet is safely recuperated just enough to put you right where the cross hairs of future middle class taste are coming together.
I don’t ask the question.
In any case, who says that hip hop is leftist? Hip Hop often displays a distorted mirror image of aggressive young male entrepreneurialism. Says liberal right to me.
Of course, the history of the music is full of exceptions to this statement too, but the rule is far from disproven.
I shift in my chair. I’ve been sat here too long.
The narcissistic introjection offends me. It reminds me of Dan Hancox comparing his (very good) work on grime to his thoughts on Spanish leftism. Now where did I read that?
And if you just push the comparison a little further, he was saying, the London east end boroughs are like Spain before the civil war.
There’s a very thin line between good research and sheer idealism. As the mind drifts into a romance, it feels good. So you push on, not thinking.
And the left’s exemplars practice the pareidolie too. Agamben, finding the seeds of revolution in the unlikeliest places. Monasticism, for instance, under which we find…
Karl Marx, always Karl Marx.
But the Karl Marx they all find, really, is the Marx of the inevitability of class struggle turning existing structures inside-out.
And that particular Marx was really seeing Jesus in turnips. Jesus. Vaneigem called him the ‘poor schlemiel of Nazareth’. And Jesus probably saw Isaiah in dried figs.
I leave. I get on my bicycle. I am nearly killed by an NHS van blindly turning left and straight into me. Cycled after him and caught him up at the lights. He refused to even look to his right as I tapped on the window. Screeched off when the lights changed. Massive arsehole. If he had hit me I expect the van was full of rubber gloves, knowing my luck, rather than, you know, morphine and bandages.
I become, for a brief moment, that guy screaming obscenities in the middle of the road. There is probably a fixed quantity of that person at any one time in the city too.
I go for a coffee. I encounter the third person this week reeking of patchouli oil. Someone’s obviously taking advantage of a blind spot in cultural memory to flog a massive batch.
If there is a smell I associate with having a terrible time in the 1980s, it is patchouli oil. It reminds me of 1985 and schoolfriends living on nothing but cider. Some of whom will later become heroin addicts. And their sisters die.
And they listen to that one middling Cure record over and over.
I take a sip of coffee. Then suddenly, I’m somewhere else.
I’m in the 1990s. I remember a shirt I had with blue flowers on it. I loved that shirt.
I went from being a sort of Acid Jazzer to a consumer of jungle and drum and bass records. I had a jacket with big fake fur collars. But I got rid of that and bought a Diesel puffa. My look got more and more ‘street’ the more into jungle I got.
The lineage of my ‘authentic’ selves parade before me. That lineage is also a map of the microtrends that were to be found in white consumers of black dance music, at a particular time, in a certain region.
I remember one day. I arrived by train for work in Halifax. I was singled out by the ticket inspector – chased through the crowd would be a more accurate description – because I had a number one shave haircut and this massive Diesel puffa on.
She thought I was a schemie trying to get away without a ticket. She caught up with me. I showed her my ticket, ‘I buy one every day’ I said. She stared hate into me.
But within a week I had ditched that look entirely. And suddenly, I am inside the guy with the bomber jacket, Dexy’s bobhat, DM shoes and ragged trousers. I am inhabiting his clothes – in fact his whole self – like I have just pulled on overalls.
‘But I never talked shit like that’ I catch myself thinking, from inside his body, before realising that my exceptionalism is his exceptionalism too.
I look at my phone, Twitter. The fallout from some local leftist barney.
Another local bigshot leftist was getting an emotional high on Twitter last night – and on an even higher horse – about an Iraq tweet.
Yet the same guy is always perfectly happy with communist tropes and imagery that the oppressed Soviets would find disgusting – were they still alive to be disgusted.
His shamelessness is completely immune from shame. Because he has no shame.
But really, because he’s the exception, just because it’s him. Because he inhabits his own body. And of course, I do that too. In fact I have just caught myself doing it. Why did I ever imagine that I didn’t?
‘But at least I know I do that’ I think, yet again seeking refuge in the exception of nothing more than being myself.
Except now I’m not, I’m in this other guy who an hour ago I hated, and therefore inside all of us shape-shifting early 21st century humans.
In 1998, I’d say there were also around 100 of me in the city, when I actually went to the city. And now that guy who was me is someone else. Him. I listen to his nice voice from inside this other guy – who I just heard reading poems an hour ago – and suddenly I don’t believe in me at all. Or him, or the other guy.
He talked all the same talk and he still believes in Karl Marx. But only Karl Marx this way, not Karl Marx your way.
The exception, always, the minor difference as a chasm.
What we do is put down territorial scent, undetectable to many, but a massive deterrent. In the final reckoning, it is just a territorial scent, but it isn’t only a territorial scent.
Why was I symbolically inhabiting a suit of clothes, back in 1998, which fetishised black and underclass resistance? And an urban one at that, living in a place which incomers were then trying to redesignate as ‘rural’ – and still are – decades after its semi-urban state as an industrial intensity had waned.
Why? Well your answer is right there.
Territorial scent. I was bracketing myself off from what and where I no longer wanted to be. But underneath my inauthenticity – and perhaps only under it – there was a hard core of truth. There always is. It is just that this truth was a truth about my fundamental inauthenticity. About how I was bracketing myself off from what and where I no longer wanted to be.
Bobhat and bomber jacket is doing the same now, ‘in the pub, after the talk.’ I used to do that as well. Go to the pub, after the talk.
That guy was both me and not-me at the same time. And don’t get me wrong here, I’m not arguing for a positive philosophy of identities-in-flux and liberal fluidness or any of that confused doxa.
I’m arguing that we are constantly, historically reconstructed. And nobody is more historically reconstructed than those who claim to have stepped into endless ‘free’ fluidity. The perversity of their particular prison is that the place they claim to have arrived at, the end point, is a stage on a route that is disguised as a terminal.
In this, it is perhaps unique. In this, it is authentic, only an authenticity of the sheerest facade. Sheer means thin, as well as ‘totally’. The solid core of truth is that history constructs us.
When capital is fast people ‘can’t keep up with themselves’. Ooh young people, they can’t keep up with themselves. I remember people saying that, back in the 1980s.
That guy, in 1998, who was both me and not-me at the same time – and with no contradiction, in this new world, in which the usual logic is suspended, because it was always far too crude – that guy symbolically inhabited black and underclass resistance right up to the point at which he was targeted as one of them.
Right up to the point at which – as Baudrillard once explained – the faked bank heist and the real bank heist began to come dangerously close together, as they always will.
And it wasn’t even real heat, just a prejudiced ticket inspector.
That guy. He thought he had bracketed himself off from the mainstream, but he was really placing himself where the crosshairs of future middle class taste were coming together. But when he got too close to the real bandits he bounced right off their surface.
He bounced back faster than a pinball after the tiniest of flips. Bounced back into historical position. The place he had been allotted.
And his narcissistic introjection offends me now.
As the mind drifts into this romance, it feels good.
But what is this? This ‘realisation’, is it not just another opportunity to do some more exceptionalism?
I look at my coffee. I drink some more. I finish it. I leave the café. I get on my bicycle.
Cycling on the edges of Rusholme. By Victorian parks. The light is going. The red lights of the cranes over the centre of the city. Like a Star Wars Imperial Cruiser is being built, just over there.
The chat can be heard waiting for shawarma wraps, about the Egyptian guys, the Syrian guys. Who-knows-who and the kids on the street hustling like the Young Lords in mid-1970s New York.
Their English is a new language and their brand new language is also a fresh identity.
Their clothes are just one part of that. Fur collars and fly trainers and scars. With a mean propinquity. Staring as you blade yourself sideways to slip through them, and yet indicate that you are not to be fed on.
Then out into the street and look back towards the city. The red lights glow in the night now, anticipating the dronewelt to come. Constellations of the future not to be found in the developer rationale. In the digital illustrations. All future tense, in which cafés that still serve are already wiped out, longstanding pubs obliterated by glittering pixels. A fourth stage simulational liquidation, Jean.
The city changes in a way that is very similar to the processes of subject formation.
The tension between the future perfect and the real tightens over short weeks. It always snaps soundlessly and flies one way or the other. But the outcome of this snapping’s either-wayness is not fully random.
Whiplash grease from backhanders. The fires are real enough. To wipe out the real with the infantile goop of the aesthetic, or relegate the vision to dead hard drives for years. Future fodder for postgraduate kudos quests. The new grail knights are all over the city.
In some ways we are no different. Me, that guy who irritated me this evening. That guy on Twitter last night. I stash my takeaway in my panniers and get back on my bike.
In many ways we are different. Many different ways.
But there are also many identical ways in which we are different. They are called pounds in this country. Range Rovers glide toward their gateds like Vader helmets, older money now tucked away. They move in a sideways, American mode, crablike. They’ve also got a ‘get me, at the MOBOs’ vibe to them. Symbolic tokens to the slaves from the Romans.
The new environments that are coming will wipe the relevance of my words away, but not the hard core they are fixed to. It is a hard core about how the hard core is unstable.
But the truth is there too. When bobhat talked about inequality, that inequality is solid as concrete. It’s just that we can’t help picking the subject up like peacocks and strutting it about. Then all that colour and feather becomes part of it and people say hey! Who the hell do you think you are?
Everything is being redone always. Paint cans and decorator junk, an entire abandoned bath under a bridge. The surrealism is as permanent as the blasé, a constant physics of the city.
All of this all of this… is how it is to be me… to be in my head. You wouldn’t want it.
The Real is the Rational. The inauthentic and truth are one.
How to inhabit that constantly, now there’s the real trick.