I can't get no sleep...
Thank you ‘silent punk’ for a very sleepless night. I was just about to shut down the computer when I spotted that ‘silent punk’ had left a comment on the ‘can you pass the acid test ‘ (blogged below) - which was a link to a piece on punk and autonomia / Italy 1977.
The article looked familiar so checked - it is also on the punk pages of John Eden’s website. But using Silent Punk’s link I found a whole wodge of other stuff - with a more contemporary slant, reports and discussions of anti-globalisation and other direct actions.
What took me beyond the wall of sleep was reading bits like this:
In our lives we’ve all experienced moments of excess during which we feel that total connection with our fellow human beings, when everything becomes possible, when absolutely anything could happen. They might be small, almost personal moments like weddings or falling in love. They might take place around counter-summit mobilisations (like Gleneagles or Evian or Genoa). Or they might rise up over a few months (like the anti-war movement of 2003, the anti-roads movement of the late 1990s or the Argentina uprising of December 2001, or, from another time and space, punk). They are moments when our energy threatens – or rather promises – to spark a cascade of changes, which sweep through society, opening up a whole new range of possibilities. When we rupture capital’s fabric of domination: breaking time. Rapture!
But these events – these moments of excess – can’t last forever, at least not in that form. It’s simply not possible for our bodies and minds to survive that level of intensity indefinitely. Part of the dream-like unreality of those moments is that we are cut loose from our normal day-to-day life (home, kids, work). At Gleneagles, for example, we could really act fast and be open to all possibilities because we were stripped bare. That’s why counter-summit mobilisations are so attractive: they have the potential to catapult us into a different way of being far quicker than would be possible if we had to take all our ‘baggage’ with us. But it’s also why the high wears off: because (all other things being equal) it’s unsustainable in the face of ‘normality’. When we take part in these events we often leave behind lovers and/or loved-ones behind – whether physically or mentally. We feel the tug of our allotment or garden, or maybe there’s a favourite bike ride or view we need to enjoy again. ‘There is a rose that I want to live for… There is a town unlike any other.’
Or this :
In these events we feel a real rush of energy, a coming-together. But afterwards how can we sustain this movement in our ‘habitual lives’, and avoid recriminations and a general falling-apart? After the high point of autonomia in Italy in 1977, thousands turned to drugs or cracked up. Not just because of State repression, but because the forms of life they had been living were no longer sustainable. The expansive experiments broke down and the collective body was dismantled, and so attempts to live this life reverted to the level of the individual where contradictions were, for many, too intense to handle. How do we avoid this? How can we ‘do politics’ in the ‘real world’? How can we ‘live a life’? Not as a question of survival – hanging on in there until the next event, or our fortnight’s holiday in the sun, or our Friday-night bender, or our Sunday-afternoon walk in the park, or our ‘adventure weekend’ – none of which are any real escape from capitalism at all. How do we live a life despite, and against, capitalism?
There are no universal answers to these questions. But we believe that thinking about them can help us understand the potential of various issues and struggles – urban development and ‘regeneration’, climate change, precarity and so on – perhaps help us recognise our own power in a productive way, that is, in a way which allows it to resonate and become amplified. It can help us understand what we do in social centres, for example, and the way we conceive the borders between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, between what is ‘pure’ and what is not. And it involves recognising that we always live in the real world, that there are no ‘pure spaces’, there is no ‘pure politics’, and that we should welcome this. Because purity is also sterility. It’s the messiness of our ‘habitual’ lives which gives them their potential. This messiness, this ‘impurity’, the contaminations of different ideas, values and modes of being (and becoming) are the conditions which allow mutations, some of which will be productive. It’s from this primordial soup of the ‘real world’ that new life will spring. ‘Only in the real world do things happen like they do in my dreams.’
This great stuff… but rather than just quote more I need to try and cross-connect it with the ‘notes to self’ I jotted down in the middle of the night.
States of ecstasy - set me free
Its chaos magic, innit? Well, kind of. It’s the kind of anarcho-goth-punk - free festival-acid-trance energy which I thought chaos magic was all about. I was misinformed. Yet it is still a possibility which haunts me, there is a space , a place at the centre of the city where all roads meet, a crossroads between different ways of making sense of the world. A place (or places) where the potential for change exists - and from which it can and has happened.
The difficulty, as I think the above quotes are getting it, is that the intensity of such moments is at once liberating and frightening - they cannot be sustained , they are too ‘chaotic’-at least when viewed from the perspective of everyday life. Such revolutionary moments - which I reckon are timeless and eternal in so far as they exist outside of ‘everyday’ time- can inspire and enthuse, can change lives, but if prolonged lead to individual / collective psychosis , to the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution , to civil war and then to counter-revolution and the restoration of ‘order’.
In less dramatic terms, you can see the process as it unfolded with punk and other countercultural movements. However the world that is restored is never quite the same one. Change does happen, the 1984 Orwellian re-writing of history is never fully achieved. Joe Hill never really died….
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.
"The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
they shot you Joe" says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man"
Says Joe "I didn't die"
Says Joe "I didn't die"
And standing there as big as life
and smiling with his eyes.
Says Joe "What they can never kill
went on to organize,
went on to organize"
All that is solid melts to air
The one possible exception to this persistence of old world features in the new world is the change created by industrial capitalism, by the globalisation of ‘the mechanical philosophy’. This revolution seems to have changed both our person to person social relationships and our collective relationship with nature/ the environment. This revolution seems to have changed us so profoundly that we take the new selves and the new world thus created to be ‘reality’, such that any and all alternative ways of being human people in the non-human world are fantasies.
This is closer to what Orwell described as ‘newspeak’, where the situation has moved beyond the need to suppress dissent (which is an inefficient use of resources) to making dissent unthinkable by making it unsayable. The Society of the Spectacle in its full extension would be like that. Every attempt to struggle against its bonds would simply tighten their constraints until only passivity remained.
And no one will know we lost, when the system becomes perfect, only enemy entropy it will continue until the sun slows and the nights last all day and the ice forms on the concrete and the power goes off and we just die gently. Don’t be told what you want. But who listens when you say “NO”? Silent commands run Euston station and the tubes and so many people - what do they all do, how do they live, what do they dream?
No one will remember what they were, not yet, not for awhile.
[Back page Kill Your Pet Puppy 2 Jan 1980]
Not thinking global warming back then, just despairing, doubting that punk’s refusal - don’t be told what you want - would be enough to halt the mechanical perfection of the system. I think they were my words - the ‘silent commands run Euston station’ from Cabaret Voltaire song ‘Silent Commands’ and so written before or just after I had met the KYPP crew and discovered that punk was not yet dead. That indeed there was a whole lot more yet to come - the anarchy centres and Stop the City for example- and that the process of refusal would continue beyond 1984 on through the eighties, into the nineties. That people not even born back then would in time find their own ways to say NO…
No is not enough. To repeat the theme:
we always live in the real world, that there are no ‘pure spaces’, there is no ‘pure politics’, and that we should welcome this. Because purity is also sterility. It’s the messiness of our ‘habitual’ lives which gives them their potential. This messiness, this ‘impurity’, the contaminations of different ideas, values and modes of being (and becoming) are the conditions which allow mutations, some of which will be productive. It’s from this primordial soup of the ‘real world’ that new life will spring. ‘Only in the real world do things happen like they do in my dreams.’
The intensity of the ecstasy ( however and where ever it is found) alone is not enough . We have to move down through the long dark night and still remember in the dawn and in the dayside. Have to find ways to realise the visions when the music, when the protest, when the ritual is over. Find ways to create other ‘social relationships’ , ones which are not those of ‘fetishised commodities’. And at the same time find other ways to experience and live our relationship with nature/ the environment.
I see this as an evolutionary imperative. Despite Marx, the tensions and contradictions which exist within industrial capitalism have not yet forced it to jump to a post-capitalist level of social structure. Every attempt to do so has been recuperated/ suppressed by the society of the spectacle. But what such a ‘perfected system’ cannot do is control its external ( ‘natural’) environment. Faced with an actual ecological crisis -global climate change- it fails to adapt. Indeed, it cannot adapt without embracing revolutionary structural changes. The logic fails. I am thinking Heathrow here, where ecological survival logic would dictate no third runway, but economic logic insists it must be built.
But to admit, to give in to, that demand would necessarily set in train a cascade of potentially revolutionary social changes.
Nearly up to 2000 words which is enough for now. Just hope I have jotted enough ideas down here to give me a good night’s sleep.