Living in the Time(s) of Brexit

How long does a crisis take? The inhabitants of the United Kingdom, as well as international witnesses following the events (or lack thereof) of the past three years with a mix of Schadenfreude, bemusement or anxiety, may well be forgiven for asking themselves this question. Irrespective of sober quantitative forecasts of economic doom attendant on a ‘no deal’ exit from the European Union a growing number of people seem inclined to opt for the fanciful but compelling idea of a clean break, if nothing else to ‘get it over with’. When it’s not just the time of policy or planning, of budgets and bureaucracies, but of your everyday life and psyche that comes to be occupied by a political issue, the attractions of finality are considerable. A sense of this public mood, not to mention of the animal spirits of revanchist nationalism that often accompany it, lies behind Boris Johnson’s sub-Machiavellian strategy, hatched with his volatile advisor Dominic Cummings, to “move fast and break things” – things here meaning parliamentary sovereignty and constitutional customs. As that strategy falters – faced with legal challenges, parliamentary resistance and the transparency of its own bluff and bluster – life in the United Kingdom oscillates between a grinding, powerless sense of stasis and stagnation (Brexit never-ending) and the anxiety that protracted crisis will segue into catastrophe, on October 31 (what the more delirious irredentists fantasise as ‘independence day’) or sometime thereafter. Between the ongoing grind and the oncoming crash, one can also find excitement and distraction in the small events and pseudo-events that populate the time of Brexit: parliamentary rebellions, legal opinions, ministerial leaks, Tory expulsions, Labour resignations, or Johnson’s gaffes.

Read the whole post here. Many thanks to Mike Ma and the Social Justice Blog.

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The threadbare cloth of realism (interview)

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This is the transcript of an interview from the weekend edition of Efimerida ton Syntakton (The Editors’ Newspaper), on the relative fortunes of the far right and the radical left, and the fate of SYRIZA.

The far right, unlike the left, has managed to win millions of fans all over the world, mostly around reactionary ideas. How do you interpret this difference and how do you explain the shrinking of the left?

I think that four elements play to the comparative favour of the contemporary far right when it comes to its capacity for electoral mobilisation and influence over public discourse. First, it shares with the history of ‘conservative revolutionaries’ a particularly effective combination of systemic continuity and anti-systemic rhetoric. Widespread discontent with the status quo can be channelled into policies or slogans that do not demand any substantive transformations in relations of power or production. This leads to its second ‘comparative advantage’, namely that unlike the anti-systemic politics of the Left, and notwithstanding some opposition from fractions of capital uneasy with protectionist and ‘anti-globalist’ gestures, it will always find considerable support (and funding) among the moneyed classes. Third, it is able very effectively to organize resentment and identify enemies (along ethnic, racial, gendered and other lines) which it can paint as standing in the way of a restoration of affluence or order. Fourth, it has no compunction about deploying an incoherent variety of discourses aimed at separate and even incompatible constituencies – combining the acceleration of neoliberalism with claims to defend ‘national’ working-classes, devastating welfare while depicting itself as the champion of pensioners, etc. Continue reading

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Brexit, or, ersatz cognitive mapping

“In Grimsby, it was very clear there was a huge disconnect between people’s idea of what power was in the town, and the reality of it. To me, the reality was that power had left the town but had not gone to Europe. It had gone to various unaccountable organizations headquartered elsewhere, many of them commercial companies. But in the way the port had been privatized once and then privatized again, it had become this sort of private barrier standing between the town and the sea, which was once its lifeline. What I found fascinating was that people’s imaginative representation of the situation in that town hadn’t really caught up with this; they didn’t really seem to have found a myth to articulate it. It seemed to me that the myth that would have been much more helpful for them would have been the Robin Hood story, rather than the St. George story, in the sense that they were captives of absentee landlords who extracted rents from them, rather than them being simply under the power of some simple tyranny that could be slain with a single sword.”

James Meek, LARB

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On re-reading Fish Story

This is the text of a talk delivered at the ICA launch of the new edition of Allan Sekula’s 1995 book Fish Story. It was a pleasure to share the stage with Laleh Khalili (author of the excellent new preface), Gail Day, Jeroen Verbeek and Ina Steiner.

I want to begin at the very end of Fish Story, and end that is anything but a conclusion, with its final photograph, its final image and its final text. The photograph depicts a somewhat decrepit pier, extending across almost the entirety of the frame, behind which are docked two ships, and which is dominated by an elevated bridge on high white pylons.

The caption reads: “The guided missile destroyer Chandler and an impounded ship used to unsuccessfully attempt to smuggle undocumented immigrants from southern provinces of China to the United States, San Diego harbour. July 1994.” Continue reading

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For a Left with No Exit (Night and Fog in Japan)

This brief essay was published in 2013 in the third print issue of the great online film journal La Furia Umana.

In Oshima’s critical writings from the period around Night and Fog in Japan (1960), two related terms stand out, tension and instability. The ‘history of bad faith’ which, according to Harry Harootunian, constitutes the human material of the film saturates the physiognomy of the actors. But it is also, primarily even, borne by the camera, in sequence shots that linger on the wracked faces of the militant students, or their later, drained selves. Continue reading

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The Mirror of Circulation: Allan Sekula and the Logistical Image

http://societyandspace.org/2018/07/30/the-mirror-of-circulation-allan-sekula-and-the-logistical-image/

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Populism, or, the Impossibility of Political Economy

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A recent talk on one of the more pernicious manifestations of the “poor man’s cognitive mapping” in the political field.

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