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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hegel and heat engines

Just before I started writing up some local place names research, I had been reading a history of thermodynamics from Watt to Clausius. As I was reading it I made mental cross-references to a book which covered the same period of history - Philosophy and Revolution from Kant to Marx.

In the first book, the dynamic interplay was between British engineers and French scientists (although Rudolph Clausius was German) and the second between German and French philosophers. Cutting across both was the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. Hegel is in the second book but not the first.

One theme from the first book is that before the theories of thermodynamics could be established, older theories on the nature of heat and of mechanical systems (including Newton’s) had to be worked through and overcome. It was a messy process, full of confusion and error. To begin with, theory followed practice as more and more ‘efficient’ steam engines were built but eventually theory caught up and led to the replacement of steam engines with the first internal combustion engines.

With second, the practice which drove the (philosophical) theory was the French Revolution and the outcome was Hegel’s equivalent of the heat engine - the flow of reason through society. But then the analogy breaks down since Karl Marx’s equivalent of the internal combustion engine has yet to be turned into a working model...

The problem was that the instabilities and contradictions of nineteenth century society have so far been sustained by ever increasing inputs of energy from fossil fuels. It is as if rather than try and improve the thermodynamic efficiency (as it later turned out he was doing) of Newcomen’s atmospheric heat engine, James Watt found a way to make cheap oil from Scottish shale to run it on. [There was a Scottish shale oil industry based at Broxburn near Edinburgh in later nineteenth century.]

This has allowed the ‘capture’ of human societies by the irrationality of industrial capitalist development. So long as the flow of fossilised energy can be maintained, the evolution of reason can be denied/thwarted. Thus the movement towards social self-consciousness, towards the actualisation of rationality; has been thwarted and so Hegel has become a footnote to history.

At the same time, and reading the history of thermodynamics book (written 40 years ago), the physical consequences of using fossilised energy to maintain an unstable system have moved from the social to the global. The gradual accumulation of carbon dioxide is altering the thermodynamics of the earth’s climate. This is an extra-ordinary development. It confounds the separation of the ‘natural’ from the ‘social’, or rather reverses the direction of the assumed motion of development from the natural to the social. The notion of industrial society is that technological and scientific progress through rationality has created a culture which is distinct and independent from nature. It is the image of a heat engine in which only the expansive part of the cycle exists.

But heat engines require a temperature difference to function. Once the heat difference is lost, no work can be done. The machine stops. Culture ends and we are returned to a state of nature, but, due to the period of irrationality which has prevailed until now, the state of nature which we return to is not that from which we began. It is a more unstable and chaotic state of nature, one probably inimicable to rational society.

Did Hegel get it wrong then? Not necessarily. He drew his conclusions from a world only just beginning its irrational turn towards fossilised energy. Therefore a society based around non-fossilised sources of energy could become actual - so long as it is rational.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

ATV live in Southend 1978

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A film by Guy Debord

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Ripped and Torn vs Style Wars

Peter, who wrote about punk in 1977 for Harpers and Queen and some of these pieces are in his book Style Wars, gave a picture of punk as middle class kids posturing as a form of art. Even worse his version of punk was that the first wave was the only wave and that soon these kids found another fad, which was New Romanticism, which allowed them to dress up and be pretty.

I gave the continuing story, that 1977 and the emergence of bands such as The Lurkers, 999 and The Ants was when punk really began to mean something; how 1978 was the year of the Ant and the beginning of mass punk squatting; then the galvanisation of Crass and the evolution of anarcho punk through the eighties.

If I hadn’t been there it would have been the Peter York vision that was propounded, as Toby and the Haunch of Venison MC – Mark ? – were from that side of society and comfortable with that revisionist history. Indeed, toward the end the three of them eagerly supported the proposition put to the panel that Thatcher was a punk rocker as she supported the entrepreneur and the ‘little guy’!

If this site/blog hadn’t existed I would have instigated it at that moment.

Made me realise why Puppy is more important than R&T, because what we did at the time – and are doing now – is to show in a positive manner that punk didn’t neatly ‘die’ when New Romantics came along. And no matter how people like Toby Mott show the wider picture – vis a vis the fascist/RAR stuff and materials up to and including Crass covers – punk is still too easily compartmentalized and stored away in Sex Pistol shaped boxes.

The discussion was filmed and it is hoped to have it available on either Youtube or Vimeo in the near future.

At the end a smartly dressed lady came over and introduced herself. It turned out she’d been to gigs at St John’s Church on Pentonville Road at the beginnings of anarcho. Which just goes to show something, she was of the Mayfair set and pally with the Tobys and the Peters yet she knew exactly where I was coming from and congratulated me on saying what I did. She too felt that this part of punk history was unfairly swept under the carpet. Goes to show something, but what I still can’t express.

The story continues. Houseman’s bookshop have been given an evening at the ICA on October 21st and have asked me to do a bit of a talk there about punk and all that. Penguin should be there too. The acclaimed writer Stewart Home will also be on the stage, whether at the same time it’s hard to say. But it should be good.