More Work Out

Here’s a roundup of things of mine that have come out in 2021:

A Shaken Bible came out:

The launch is here:

I also got Proceedings out:

Also this paper on Engels and the 200th etc with Mark Rainey:

We’re also about to put out the seventh broadsheet edition of Manchester Review of Books:

The paranoiac putsch!

Currently in the news is the Nashville bomb and speculation about whether the bomber was a paranoid anti-5G conspiracy theorist or not. It is, I think, too easy to cast this kind of phenomena aside as ‘fringe’ at the moment. Also in the Guardian is news of a Lib Dem attempt to side with equally paranoid Bath residents over the siting of a new 5G mast.

‘Paranoid delusions enter the mainstream’ Nick Cohen explains, ‘when the mainstream opens the gates and welcomes them in.’ But perhaps any account of the history of this ‘movement’ should start with those who armed themselves to resist the installation of the telephone in Saint-Etienne des Gres in 1903, believing it Satanic:

‘It has been found impossible to establish the telephone at Saint-Etienne des Gres, in the Tarascon district, says the Paris correspondent of the “Telegraph.” Under the odd impression that the invention was the work of the Evil One, the inhabitants determined to oppose its entry and resolved to arm themselves with agricultural implements and to make a fight for it. The carter conveying the apparatus thereupon said he would not risk his life in the adventure and the cart has been left at Tarascon.’

Nick Cohen insists that the stakes are now higher, as people are rejecting vaccinations against the COVID-19 virus, in extreme cases believing that people are really dying from 5G mast output and not COVID-19 at all. He calls this ‘bullshit’, as the electromagnetic output has been measured and is safe.

‘The best reply to anyone who passes off cowardice as open-mindedness’ Cohen states – aiming at the Lib Dem councillor making political small change out of the 5G madness – ‘is the old advice not to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.’

If, he continues ‘you are in search of a new year’s resolution’, I will ‘offer the follow-up that, if you are with a political movement, employer, social network or partner that insists you let your brains fall out for the sake of a quiet life, run as fast as you can.’


From the anthology 1900 eds. Mike Jay and Michael Neve. See also Nick Cohen (2020) ‘Lib Dems hook up with 5G cranks and give a boost to wild conspiracy’ in the Guardian Dec 26 2020.

Look to the future now, it’s only just begun

It’s Christmas Eve. I prepare the dinner for tomorrow. Par-boiling potatoes, preparing roasting tins. I open up a folder on my hard drive and load up the Christmas playlist.

I forget these songs exist, let alone what they are like, for 51 weeks, then for a few days I remember, before forgetting all over again.

It seems too obvious to comment that much of the material is fluff. This year I’m particularly struck by the fundamental pointlessness of 2000 Miles by the Pretenders. Some of it is pure sugar. Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney must be the most simplistically safe song ever made.

But the further we get out of the 1950s the more political they can be (Macca and Chrissie aside). Of course, after the late-60s, the conservative crooner culture of Sinatra et al was eclipsed, and that included Christmas songs – now there’s a cultural studies essay that someone has probably already written.

Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John and Yoko has the power to make me sob every time I hear it, a good thing, it probably doesn’t happen enough. Likewise Do They Know It’s Christmas by Band Aid. The protest song and the charity single seem to mesh in these. It doesn’t matter how naff they are, their power to move me seems unrelated. I listen to the Christmas EP by Low and like it, but it could never make me cry.

The domestic violence of Kirsty and Shane flared up in the culture wars again this year, an old text moving into new attitudes. The tension is right up front with this one. But even when there’s no trouble on the surface, you can find it just under the skin. Little Drummer Boy by Bowie and Crosby will always manage to carry the afterimage of Cold War Berlin and rehab. An old text viewed via hindsight and what we know about the artists’ lives. The song carries with it Bowie’s attempt to shift into another realm, personally and culturally, and the fact that it was only partially successful leers out. His recent past seems to shadow it.

Or is it me? Perhaps I can’t help but over-read everything through stories about pop stars that have become the equivalent of middlebrow books on Mozart and Beethoven in the late 19th century. By which I mean quite particular examples tediously over-circulated.

Or… what does it say about me that I can’t listen to Little Saint Nick by The Beach Boys (1964) without thinking of Old Nick Manson a few years later (peaking 1969). Sometimes I wish I could just flush it away.

But still, every year I’m struck by how dark many Christmas records are. Not just one or two of them. This year I wanted to write that down. This year, with many people unable to be with the family (not that one) for Christmas they re-signify again. ‘Through the years we will all be together if the fates allow’ – from Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Sinatra – it has a topical spike to it now, but it also feels like a warning about the kind of future we are moving into. You can’t have Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas without the atmosphere-shredding tailbacks.

Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie – also wishing he was ‘home’ at Christmas but isn’t – begins in the romanticised break in fighting during WW1, but strays into ‘a nuclear fallout zone’. There’s a leaden heaviness to some of the songs. The repeat instances of anti-war messages seem pathological. As though half way through the song the singers start to blurt coldwar paranoia through the spindly music.

Sometimes I see how the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives, in the ashes of our lives
Man is a fool, and he thinks he’ll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay, never knowing he’s astray
Keeps on going anyway…

Jim Morrison half-remembering his Huxley and Nietzsche? No, Happy New Year by ABBA.

I could write a full Mark Fisheresque essay on this moment, and this material, but I don’t have the energy. And who could be arsed to read it?

I feel properly damaged at the end of this year, and apologies to anyone who copped the state of me during it.

‘Look to the future now, it’s only just begun.’ No thanks Noddy, it isn’t 1973 anymore.

Delete playlist. Load up Eno drifts.

Smoke for the hive mind

I invigilated exams at University of Manchester in summer 2019. I noticed a student wearing a pair of trainers with what looked like a bee on them. I searched for them on my phone in a break. They were £400 Gucci trainers. But the bee was not intentionally related to Manchester’s symbol. I think to myself that if someone hasn’t made Manchester trainers yet they probably will.

Just over a year later I spot a tweet in which Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Tommy Judge, holds up a pair of Nike Air Force 1 trainers with a Manchester Bee on them. Judge calls this a ‘fantastic initiative’, which ‘unites Manchester’s iconic Worker Bee’ with ‘a world-class product.’

It is, he said ‘our greatest brand collaboration so far.’ I go to Google and search for a pair of trainers again, for the first time since looking up the Guccis last year.

‘The Nike Air Force 1 Manchester Bee’ is ‘dedicated to the British city of Manchester’ I find, with the ‘bee motif that honours the city’s hard-working ethic and hive of activity.’ £90.

For me the Manchester Bee pushes the idea of a hard working class that is little different to punitive Victorian laissez-faire ideology, get out and graft to buy a new shirt, to graft some more or die in poverty under a bridge. But the Bee has since become conflated with memories of the hideous Arena bombing of May 2017.

I go straight into Marxist mode. I tweet a few local lefties asking if any of them know where the trainers are made. If they are made in a Chinese sweatshop, the worker bee resignifies. The bee becomes those workers.

But if they were made locally it would be just as interesting. Because as an exception they would point at overseas 21st century sweatshops all the more, as well as those in Manchester’s 19th century past. Apparently, Air Force 1s are usually made in China or Vietnam.

I read further. The We Heart Manchester charity is tied up with the whole thing. They get 10% of the sales. Then I feel a twinge of guilt. Maybe I should just shut my mouth. The I Heart Manchester slogan, like the Manchester Bee, was once only to be found on tourist t-shirts. It too has become conflated with city togetherness after the Arena bomb.

The silence of those who don’t want to criticise because of charity involvement could be read as kindness perhaps, or sentimentality. But it could also be read as a kind of moral gagging by stealth.

I think on. Let’s push aside the hawkish American connotations of ‘Airforce 1’. Our culture is badly Americanised, but the name of the shoe is only a tenuous connection. It has connotations, yes, but I don’t think that’s the real story here.

The charitable aspect is only one part of this too. Luke of the Unabombers and rising hip hop and soul star KSR advertise the product. So they have stakes in this too, and the ‘brand’ of The City of Manchester has stakes in this as well. Status stakes. They are all suddenly draped, in my head, in the robes of Roman rhetoricians.

But musicians have all been hit with a year’s pandemic layoff. They have to keep putting themselves out there and making it where they can. Again, I feel a twinge of guilt.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about all of this is the tangle of it. Exploitation, hard labour and swindling cannot be separated from ordinary sentimentalism or good deeds. It is all thrown together in the mix. This is of course an Orwellian way to look at it, but it’s also the start of a dialectic.

Can a charity be separated from the processes that make it necessary in the first place? Maybe not. We are all complicit by degrees – only some are much guiltier than others.

But in all honesty, the account of internal turmoil I am giving you here is amplified for the purposes of writing: Theodor W. Adorno usually wins any internal struggle I go through. ‘World Class’ I mutter, then I do some swearing.

I feel like I want to brush my teeth. There’s a corpse in the mouth of Manchester as the eternal city-of-culture. At the same time, I feel my enthusiasm for what KSR and Unabombers do. The excitement hits the stomach area, just below the chest area which registered the guilt a few minutes ago. I love KSR’s music.

But the idea that there is a quality called ‘world classness’, that this concept of world has an essence that can also be a scale against which the quality of shoes can be measured. Really?

I bristle at academics who over-use what I call the itty words. The itty words tend to suggest that things which do not have an essence do. Globality, intentionality, territoriality. But ‘World Class’ is a linguistic swindle on a bigger scale, because it’s a much more everyday phrase than academic language.

Barthes wrote of how there was no essence to Paris and so a road sign with Paris on it will stand in fine. Trouble is, a picture of the road sign then becomes a new, spiritually thin essence.

And of course this whole stew of Nike, Manchester, and the eh up our kid heart-tugging charity in bad times, is becoming a road sign too. A thin haze of concocted essence. And it is only ever becoming, it never finally solidifies, although it does reify.

Will Davies wrote something recently about all that is solid melting having its otherside in evaporated substances coming together again as new solids. But there isn’t much that is novel about the new forms.

Here, pride in city and region is pulled into a texture, a fabric. Or does that fabric now produce the pride in city and region? I can’t answer that. Maybe the process is an endless loop.

The ordinary is sexed up, infantilised. We’re simple but hardworking and honest, maybe a bit edgy, although we love our mams. This has become a trope black hole in Manchester, sucking in all the light, via which we might see differently.

A black hole made of Corrie, Shameless and the ubiquitous Maxine Peake. This infinitely dense material pulls in all the light, but the same stuff is being pumped back out the other side as a befuddling gas, reforming the cultural atmosphere all over again.

Manchester is a collapsed star.

Put more simply, Manchester has been running on empty for decades, but the cultural myths seem to be so strong, so mesmerising, that nobody has noticed.

And yet there it is. An actual charity for people in the city, based in an actual bit of the city, so that people like me will be rendered subjectively intoxicated, to the extent that they won’t be able to write articles like this one. Not stupified, but sentimentified.

You can’t criticise I Heart MCR tee shirts because The Bomber and The Bomb, 2017 and 1996. You can’t criticise The Bee because it’s the same as dissing dead kiddies. But the You Can’t Criticise Embargo – policed by some hardnut locals – is part of a bigger cultural lobotomy which produces a Citybrain with only a short-term memory.

We saw it on the BBC miniseries Manctopia. Simplistic salt of the earth types seeing the what of regeneration while ignoring the how and for whom were pushed to the fore. The editing, in places, was scandalous.

Communities are being eroded by global money here as real estate is bought up and built, pushing workers out. And then this promotion for charity Nikes arrives, fleet of foot, and seems to be saying ‘now here is globalism to save the ailing local’. We don’t need a strong, very different sort of state to replace all of this mess, it says, when capital creates froth to skim.

I write it all up. I read it through a couple of times. Then I spot the line about ‘localism being eroded by globalism’. It maps onto the xenophobic and outright fascist swell of 2016-19. And then I wonder if I should leave it out of the article.

Then the fact that liberalism is a dead truth regime leers out at me from that insight. I have caught myself trying to operate inside a linguistic and philosophical ruin.

Because just as you start to worry that claiming localism being eroded by globalism might be bad, that it might throw you in with the dusty folk by the cenotaph – and not on poppy day – you realise… that actually their sense of things is yours too. Even though you don’t speak each other’s language. Both camps are standing looking at the same ruined object, but from opposite sides.

And we’re all tripping. Nobody has got the scale of it, or the full mess of it. We are all turned inwards, unable to face what is on the way. As unable to face it as we are unable to see it fully.

Here, a fog hangs over the place where ‘remembering’ the fight against fascism after 1939 merges with a misjudged pride in WW1. Deeper into this fog, excitement over sexed-up accounts of allied actions in WW2 blend into apologies for fascist ideology. The left hammer those people, at the same time as some among them toss bad Soviet memes into the social media flood.

Out in the street – in the linguistic and philosophical ruin – the people who look at the same object from opposite sides walk through each other like ghosts.

Some try to remain centrist, claiming that to be patriotic and remember wars isn’t ever a gammony act, as though the social world operates via logic. It does not. These people prove the old cliché that if you remain in the middle of it, you end up roadkill.

Of course you can remember wars in good ways, many do, but only a fool would see the current resurgence of patriotic nationalism as innocent or neutral.

Look to the extremes, don’t invent a comfortable centre: Isn’t the whole anti-vaxxer, anti-Europe thing like Southcottianism? E.P. Thompson claimed that irrational religious Christian sects like the cult of Joanna Southcott absorbed energies in the early nineteenth century that might have targeted the real problem. He was right. And here are the new forms of it.

There are a couple of local old-timey trolls who will have your hide for saying that on social media. To them even the delusions of the working classes are to be championed, and only middle class champagne socialists would say otherwise. I’m working class, as were my ancestors, as far down the census as I can get. I feel comfortable with criticising because I am one. So do your worst.

On the one side here is me, irritated, with a raised voice saying that the charity becomes, in this process, a massive alibi for pecisely the things which make the charity necessary: mass consumerism, aspiration to branded goods and a ‘Manc culture’ that symbolically clears the ground for investment by Deloitte and others, and worse.

The trainer itself becomes a sick artwork. In fact it is a better piece of critical art than anything produced in Manchester since Victor Burgin’s retrospective at Cornerhouse around the turn of the millenium. The Manchester bee trainer is meant to signify hard work, innovation and cool, but it simultaneously signifies its opposite: the deliberate, strategic running down and offshoring of industry in the mid to late 20th century; the resulting lack of lucrative or meaningful work for many; the last New Labour neoliberal council, handing it all to the Players forever.

The trainer is meant to say ‘The Future’, but exactly that message carries its opposite, ‘NO FUTURE’, along with it at all times.

The presence of the Lord Mayor of Manchester signifies the players of Manchester City Council, for whom he fronts. They represent the deliberate breaking apart of older communities in the interests of global capital. The phrase ‘World Class’ is bent over and the fact of global capital buying up real estate that no ordinary citizen will ever live in is rammed painfully into its anus.

The trainer hype comes just after Andy Burnham’s speech on the Central Library steps and outside Bridgewater Hall and I suspect this is not a coincidence. It’s an attempt to make the media attention go further, but spreading it out makes a thin gruel.

Burnham is the ‘real’ Mayor of Manchester, the one with the full powers. Burnham spiked in the media in mid-October for refusing the amount of pandemic recovery money offered by central government. A Vogue article has since been run under the title of ‘Suddenly, Inexplicably, We All Fancy Andy Burnham’.

But Burnham is often viewed through the lenses of celebrity, and Britpop. ‘Everyone knows that Manc frontmen like to rock a waterproof whatever the weather’ pouts Helen Pidd, in a ghastly piece of Guardian hagiography. All over Twitter, people commented that he looked like a member of New Order.

Why view a Manchester politician through a pop music scene thirty years dead? This is a phenomena which never goes away. Who views politicians in Birmingham through the lenses of Napalm Death? Or in Canterbury through The Soft Machine? No-one. It is peculiar to this city, in which plain idiocy is covered over with a sugar crust of preening narcissism and then served to paying punters.

If the fact that someone wears a cagoule in Manchester can be become cultural capital, then thin air can be sold here and it often is. In Pidd’s article the fact that Burnham happens to be standing not too far away from the Peterloo memorial suddenly seems to make his press conference on pandemic money a reading of Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy.

I’d like to see a journalist notice that the place where Burnham stood for his first speech used to hold the Peace Garden – where the world’s first Occupy began – and where a Nuclear Free City sign stood. All of that has been scrapped and the bee symbols have been pushed to the fore.

Pidd’s article ends with the empty phrase ‘the north remembers’. It is delivered with an inflated flourish as romantic as Friedrich’s Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog. But isn’t the problem with Manchester that for most of the time everyone manages to very successfully forget? In this state they continue to hand it all over to carpet baggers. Culture and cool – which here often means celebrating long defunct things – are the main components of our state of amnesia.

In 2006 Hackney council successfully litigated against Nike for using their logo without permission on a range of sportswear.* In much of my writing on Manchester I argue that if this is a radical city then it is a radicalism of the right, as described in Stuart Hall’s essay ‘The Great Moving Right Show’. That a London council went at Nike, yet Manchester deliberately courts them, says everything about the situation.

Yet if you read the papers it’s clear that the rest of the country is humping this dead leg of a city all over again like a dog on heat, while muttering ‘radical’. If a city mayor – and Carcetti at that – complaining over bailout money creates such waves, that’s an indication of how weak the left is, not how strong it is. It is broken and spent.

There is one rule to remember in Manchester, to truly know the city: invert everything you hear, turn it upside-down. The more you hear the city is radical and cool, the more emptied out behind those words it has just become.

Notes and References

* Thanks to Alex Rhys-Taylor for tipping me off about the Hackney case.

Davies, W. (2020) This is Not Normal. Verso.

Hall, S. (1979) The Great Moving Right Show. Marxism Today.

Mahler (1904) Kindertotenlieder.

Pidd, H. (2020) Andy Burnham: ‘The real me comes out when I’m angry’ in the Guardian, Nov 14.

Tran, M. (2006) ‘Hackney wins logo case against Nike’ in the Guardian, Sep 11.

Slaloms of city and self

This is going in a Manchester publication called Shock City. The theme we were asked to write to was ‘fauxthenticity’. Here is an easier to consume PDF. 


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.

Thoughts on the Social Science Centres

I started the Manchester branch of Social Science Centre (SSC) in 2016.

The Social Science Centre offered opportunities to engage in a co-operative experience of higher education. Run as a not-for-profit co-operative, the SSC was organised on the basis of democratic principles, with all members having equal involvement in the life and work of the SSC. We studied themes that drew on the core subjects in social science: sociology, politics and philosophy.

In 2016, SSC gained members and scholars alongside funds to get off the ground. Run as a co-operative that was owned by its members, the hope was that SSC Manchester would eventually be self-sustaining.

The Manchester branch of SSC was not the first: The first Social Science Centre, in Lincoln, had successfully offered free, co-operative higher education since 2011.

This original Lincoln branch granted its approval for the new Manchester branch at its AGM in May, 2016. SSC Manchester began with exactly the same model and constitution as SSC Lincoln. Everything else was put into place after that inaugural AGM.

A key aspect of both SSC branches was that the ‘teaching’ sessions were co-produced: we built knowledge through the discussion of texts rather than having an academic coming in to tell you things; although there were academics who know a lot of things at SSC, and everyone involved had access to them.

The hard student-teacher dichotomy was made fuzzy. There were members and scholars, members ran things to whatever extent they wished to, and scholars came in and engaged with what we did for free, but there wasn’t much of a barrier between the two.

Crucially, the teaching was politicised: We ran two courses beyond our core Sociological Imagination programme; one on Donald Trump and another on Brexit. People from the political left and right attended both those courses in Manchester.

SSC Manchester temporarily wound down its activities in late 2017 and did not re-start. Since SSC Manchester halted, SSC Lincoln has also closed.

But my conversations with the SSC Lincoln academics back in 2016 often turned to a speculative future in which universities had to shed big numbers of staff and even went into administration. With such a large amount of talent jettisoned by a broken economic model – we hypothesised – the SSCs might gain an autonomous groundswell. New ones might begin.

In 2016, that had not happened. In 2020, with Hard Brexit on the way, after the coronavirus crisis, with a government in power which actively wants to shut down humanities teaching – in favour of instrumentalised business universities – the circumstances we discussed have now arrived.

Universities are shedding contract staff fast. Their existence in expanded form is today completely questionable. Their ethics even before the crisis were often in doubt.

I started a second branch of SSC, rather than an idiosyncratic personal version of it, because I wanted to take the SSC from an anomaly to a phenomena. Put more plainly, I wanted there to be two of them, not just one. It was a simple but important aspect of the project.

Unfortunately, the gravity and inertia of things brought both down. But I always maintained that whatever happened in the future, the two branches would be an existing example and model for possibilities that others could take up.

I am now asking that others consider those possibilities: The Manchester SSC branch could easily be restarted. It was never formally closed.


The SSC Manchester WordPress:

SSC Lincoln:

A critical essay I wrote for JCEPS on the future of alternative HE under ordinary funded models:


Recent-ish work

Here’s a list of things I have put out recently.

Over the last couple of years I have switched very consciously away from academic and political writing to ‘literary’ forms, poetry, fiction and experimental writing.

I have put out two volumes of poetry, SING volumes one and two:

Volume 1 is here:

Volume 2 is here:

These books collect the material from a year-long project in which I read in public, on the streets of Manchester.

I have also put out four chapbooks of work in progress for SING. A booklet of additional materials was typeset but never made it to print for lack of funds. That is here in PDF form.

I have since pitched a single-volume new work to the excellent Knives, Forks and Spoons press. Scott Thurston is involved and I am hoping he will write the preface for that.

I have published two books with poet Richard Barrett:

The Acts (published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe)

The Wake (published by Nowt Press)

I have been working up until very recently on a book called Last Days of Pompeii. This began as an experimental campus novel. It was meant to take in how it felt to pass through the long interregnum of Brexit Britain and ended in the first waves of the coronavirus crisis.

Available via Amazon for a while have been Vols. 1, 2 and 3 as separate editions.

But now here is the collected book with all three volumes in it, Vols. 1, 2 and 3 collected:

I had a London agent interested in that work, but who knows where I am with it now.

What started as A Book of the Broken Middle – already published by Fold Press (ISBN 978-0-9932600-4-9) – is due to come out with Boiler House Press as A Shaken Bible. This will be part of the Beyond Criticism series, BC Editions. The first run of books includes a republished Macbeth, Macbeth by Ewan Fernie and Simon Palfrey:

Related to that work is an article on Andrew Shanks’ translations of Nelly Sachs’ work for Blackbox Manifold at the University of Sheffield:

Although my main output has been more literary recently, I put out my essay E is for Enlightenment (2019) as a book-form piece. You can order that here:

This book really follows up my paper on postmodernism for JCEPS:

A chapter on the Concrete Abstract (with Dr Mark Rainey) came out in The Routledge Handbook of Henri Lefebvre, The City and Urban Society, Edited by Michael E. Leary-Owhin, John P. McCarthy. ISBN 978- 1138290051.

Dystopia, Chile, also put out a chapter online, with visual work, that I did for them, City of Blades – for a projected print book that never got off the ground:

I also set up Manchester Review of Books with Joe Darlington and Some Roast Poet with Adrian Slatcher.

Some Roast Poet has put out three poetry journals under the name of ‘Some Roast Poet’ (1, 2 and 3) and has published monographs by Steven Waling and John G. Hall:

Of course this flurry of record-keeping is prompted by the COVID-19 crisis. With this in mind, here is my collected poetry as a PDF, A4, printable. My older blog is also now open and is here:

The entries below also tell you where a lot of my other work is. My other blog before it kept a good record of everything that came out during that time, too. Use them as guides.

The Thommys

My partner Natalie Bradbury has been contributing to an end of year culture roundup for some time. It’s called ‘The Thommys’ (not the Oscars, and Thommy started it, see?) This is my first. It’s probably the most banal thing I have ever written. There’s an end of year roundup, 2019 and as I joined at the end of a decade there’s also a (patchy) ten year review, 2010-2020.

New paper on the end of postmodernism

I have a new paper out on the end of postmodernism for JCEPS. It’s really just a flag planted in some big territory in order to start some more work on the subject.

It just dropped with the new issue of JCEPS this week, but they forgot to include the page of graphs and left in some peer review feedback, which makes the end of the paper seem garbled.

I’m hoping that will be solved soon but with a shrewd bit of Photoshop and Acrobat faff I have solved its issues and you can read it here here.

Report on urban identity, belonging and citizenship

This report for the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths has just come out.

It emerged from work undertaken for the Foresight Future of Cities programme, as a member of a team put together by COMPAS at the University of Oxford. The brief of that research project, to risk being reductive, was to examine the last fifty years of urban patterns of identity, belonging and citizenship, before trying to project those patterns forward across the next fifty years.

The Foresight Future of Cities programme focused on urban renewal, but specifically on the risk factors these processes may face, from flooding to riots.

However, after the project was completed, it struck the authors that their work on identity, belonging and citizenship – undertaken before the general election of 2015, before the referendum on UK European Union membership went to ‘leave’ and the whole subject became a white hot cipher in ‘Brexit’, and before the general election of June, 2017 – had a much wider use on a changing British landscape.

It strikes us that precisely because of what came after the Foresight Future of Cities programme, identity, belonging and citizenship is going to be one of the key intellectual sites for British researchers of all kinds in the next five to ten years. The work on Englishness now seems almost prophetic.

We have therefore taken steps to have this work updated and then to have it published in the hope that it might inaugurate necessary ongoing debates about identity, belonging and citizenship in Britain, as the island morphs into new subjective shapes.

There is no better place for this work to emerge at the start of 2018 than the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) at Goldsmiths. To connect this work to their roots, emerging somewhere between the Chicago and Frankfurt School, via crucial figures such as Paul Gilroy and Michael Keith, is to give the research a much needed politics.

Many thanks are due to Les Back, Director of the CUCR, for considering the report and providing a home for it.