Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Month: July, 2015

Why zionism is antisemitism

Nearly one year ago, the Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin was captured by Hamas fighters in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, in the middle of Operation Protective Edge. He was taken a few minutes into a ceasefire declared unilaterally by Israel, without any participation from any Palestinian groups: under the terms Israel had negotiated with itself, its soldiers were still permitted to search for so-called ‘terror tunnels’ during the ceasefire, and this is what Goldin had been doing. His capture triggered something called the ‘Hannibal Directive’: a secret policy that requires Israeli forces to do anything possible to prevent its soldiers being captured (and then becoming the object of a media crusade, to be released in a costly prisoner swap), even if it means putting the soldier’s life at risk. The IDF insists that this does not mean it will intentionally try to kill captured soldiers, but the world learned exactly what the Hannibal Directive looks like in Rafah. Almost immediately, the town was blanketed in indiscriminate air and artillery strikes. A brigade commander on the ground was recorded yelling into his field radio: ‘Stop the shooting! You’re shooting like retards! You’ll kill one another!’ He didn’t seem to understand that that was the point. Hadar Goldin’s body was never found, but it’s assumed that he died in the bombardment. So did 190 Palestinians.

The Israeli army claims that it operates on a principle of the utmost respect for human life, and does everything possible to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. If, for the sake of argument, we take them at their word here, the picture it reveals is horrifying: Israel loves and cherishes the Palestinians, it will do anything to protect them, but at the same time it’s willing to sacrifice hundreds of Palestinian lives in the hopes of killing just one Jew.

Imagine if any other country operated like this. There’s a word for this kind of behaviour: it’s antisemitism.

This isn’t a facetious point: there’s something very strange about the way the official mouthpieces of the zionist project behave towards the figure of the Jew as such. There’s a constantly repeated line, that anti-zionism is just a veiled form of antisemitism – but if you look at it closely, it becomes something highly unpleasant: if an insult to Israel is an insult to all Jews, then it follows that we’re all united, borg-like, behind the Jewish state, and that we’re all complicit in whatever it does. If this position were articulated by a Gentile, we’d rightfully accuse them of antisemitism. But this is how Israel expects us to behave. Why do they get away with it? Netanyahu describes himself as the leader of the Jewish people, empowered to speak on my behalf. The Jewish people have been around far longer than Benjamin Netanyahu, or the State of Israel for that matter. I never asked for him. Whenever Jews are attacked somewhere else in the world, some Israeli minister commands us all to flee to historic Palestine and shelter under his nuclear umbrella: the dream of state zionism is of a Europe without any Jews. Did they dream it themselves?

What does it mean to be a Jew? Over the centuries, Jews in every corner of the world have led any number of different modes of life; there’s very little to unite the Jewish experience beyond the Tanakh (some Jewish communities split before the composition of the Talmud) and the fact of being in exile. From Sinai to Babylon to Persia to Brooklyn, we’ve spent far more of our history pining after the Land of Israel than actually living in it. Throughout, this loss has been felt as a critical gap between how things are and how things ought to be, a recognition that things have gone wrong; this is why Jewish thought has always tended towards the Utopian. This is why Jews practice circumcision: there’s something missing. This is why the Torah begins with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beit, a square missing one of its sides. This is why Kabbalah envisages a God that isn’t almighty and all-powerful, but fractured, broken and weak, a God that must be repaired. This is why Jews are commanded to dedicate themselves to tikkum olam, the healing of the earth. Throughout Jewish history, there’s been the vision of a better world, a Messianic return to Zion: it’s what animated Jesus Christ, Baruch Spinoza, and Karl Marx. For almost all of this period, the idea that the Messianic gap could be closed by simply sending thousands of armed men to the Levant to boot out the existing inhabitants and set up a Jewish state would have not just been premature, but ridiculous.

At the same time, Jewish thought – in Europe at least – has consistently veered towards universalism: the resolution of differences and the global confraternity of all humankind. (Again, see Christ, Spinoza, and Marx.) In the Tanakh, the Jews are forever backsliding; they’re perversely eager to worship any old object as long as it’s not the God of their forefathers. The idea of a separate Jewish identity in Europe has always been more of a European fixation than a Jewish one. For Europe, its Jews were a constitutive other; Christendom could define itself (and unite itself) as that which was not Saracen, not Indian, and not Jewish. (The situation was slightly different in the United States, in which the role of the internal other was largely imposed on the Black population.) European Jews served an important sacrificial function, acting as a collective pharmakos: in times of crisis, they would be exiled or massacred, a mass catharsis restoring the metaphysical separation between within and without. This is why, despite the fervent Christian hope for a grand conversion of the Jews, actual Jewish converts were treated with such suspicion: Conversos and their descendants were a primary target of the Spanish Inquisition; secular, integrated Jews were often the first to be slaughtered in the Nazi genocides. Behind the violence there’s a desperate thirst for identity: the antisemite needs to Jew to constitute himself; Europe is not Europe without its Jews.

Jews have lived on every continent, for hundreds of years, but zionism arose in 19th-century Europe. This is because zionism is not, in terms of its ideological content, a particularly Jewish project, but a European one. This was a period when national groups within the great multi-ethnic empires – Russia, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman caliphate – were increasingly agitating for self-determination along strict ethnic lines, while at the same time other European states were brutally capturing and colonising areas of land elsewhere on the globe. Early zionism, with its demand for a Jewish national homeland outside of Europe, wasn’t much more than a combination of these two tendencies. Zionism was simultaneously a hypostatisation of Jewish difference, and assimilation by other means. The Jews would finally become just like any other respectable European people: we would colonise like them, ethnically cleanse like them, and set up a perfect imitation of the despotic European ethnic state in the Middle East. This is how we got to where we are today, with Jews messing around with tank battalions, repressive state infrastructures, the systematic dispossession of a colonised population, and other such fundamentally goyische inventions.

This dangerous shift in Jewish identity would not be possible without some kind of violence. Early zionism was fixated on the idea of a ‘New Jew’: while Jews in the diaspora were sedentary, spiritual, intellectual, and the objects of state violence, the New Jew would be an active, tanned, muscular agricultural fascist, the subject of state violence, a creature virtually indistinguishable from the porcine Gentile peasants who had so brutally suppressed the Jews over the centuries. The birth of this figure required the erasure of all Jewish history up until its creation. The past would be prologue, a brief coda between the Kingdom and the State of Israel, expressible only as that period in which the Jews allowed themselves to suffer. Diaspora could only ever mean suffering; the Jew in exile – in other words, the Jew as such – became an object of near-pathological loathing. Every antisemitic slander was repeated: the Jews really were weak, ugly, etiolated, usurious; the goal of zionism was to put a spade in one hand, a rifle in the other, and turn them into something else. With bullets and bloodshed they would get rid of the cringing Jews of the past:  it was an article of faith among those zionist pioneers that, before long, all Jews would become the New Jew.

Of course, this was impossible. The problem was that, alone among the European settler-colonial projects, the Jewish state was a colony without a metropole. Unlike any other imperialist outpost of the 19th century, it didn’t have any mother country to support its wars against the natives. And when the zionist project first emerged, the attitude of a great many Jewish populations – especially those Jews already living in Palestine – was one of total hostility. Zionism had to effect a dual colonialism: it had to seize, with violence, the land of Palestine, while also seizing the Jewish diaspora. It goes without saying that there can be no equivalence between the two: the Palestinians have suffered immensely, from bombs and missiles to house demolitions to the everyday indignities of living under occupation, while the diaspora Jews have been given free holidays. But the colonisation of the diaspora Jews has been total. Despite the fact that many Jews outside Israel are deeply ambivalent about the entire project, every major mainstream Jewish body is explicitly zionist. In Britain, every Jewish youth movement tries to instil zionist values, every Jewish newspaper assumes a zionist readership, every university Jsoc agitates against the boycott movement. The Board of Deputies of British Jews coughs up the Israeli line on any given issue, the synagogues plant JNF pine trees to poison the soil of Palestinian farmers to mark barmitzvahs. The idea that any facet of organised Jewish life might be entirely indifferent to the State of Israel is now absurd. Israel spends millions providing young Jews from around the world with subsidised Birthright tours of the country, to emphasise the deep and organic connection between the Jewish people and the Holy Land. But if this connection really were so deep and so organic, why would this vast ideological operation even be necessary?

The Israeli state doesn’t regard diaspora Jewry as its progenitor, or as a community in which it is embedded; it sees us as a colonised population under its command. Our leaders are its hostages. Our institutions are its instruments. It imposes its taxes: we have to give to the JNF, volunteer in its army or on its kibbutzim, sign its petitions, share its propaganda. We have to dive gleefully into the supermarkets and fill our trolleys with houmous to break the boycott. We have to suffer, out here in the desert, trapped with a strange people, so that it can have its reason to exist. We are unable to speak, and so the state of Israel will speak for us: it knows what we want better than we do ourselves, and what we want is war. Jews in the English-speaking world are commanded to buy holiday homes in Eilat; Jews in Continental Europe are commanded to pack up their belongings, abandon their homes and identities, and become Israelis. (The Hebrew word for migration to Israel, aliyah, has echoes of the German Aufheben: to go up, but also to cancel out.) When Jews refuse to submit, when we break ranks to speak out against Israeli atrocities or the mad, antiquated idea of zionism, there’s the terror of a slave revolt; the fury that rises against an anti-zionist Jew is far more terrible than that which faces any ordinary Gentile antisemite. Israel barfs the history and diversity of the Jewish people in the face of the world, all sparkles and tapestries, but when we’re alone together it grabs us close by the lapels and hisses through bloodstained teeth: know your place.

If being a Jew isn’t just about kvetching and chicken soup, if it means living with the ambivalence of otherness and the hope for Utopian justice, then Israel is not a Jewish state. The idea of a Jewish state is, once stated, already contradictory and meaningless. In practice, it’s a monster. A state that tries to erase Jewish history, Jewish subjectivity, and Jewish life is not something that has anything to do with any Judaism I recognise. There’s a word for this kind of behaviour. It’s antisemitism.

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Fragments against the ruin

1. Syriza are an anti-austerity party, and they have an excellent record when it comes to opposing austerity. They opposed the measures put forward by Greece’s creditors in February. They opposed the plan of agreement drawn up in June, and put it to a referendum. They opposed the harsh and punitive measures suggested by Germany over the weekend. Wherever the threat of austerity emerges in Greece, Syriza are on hand to heroically oppose it. They’ll oppose the sunset, they’ll oppose the locusts as they come in their chattering thousands to strip green islands to naked rock, and when they wheeze their dying breaths, cold and emaciated on soggy mattresses, they’ll oppose that too. Despite their pleas for an alternative, they’ve never approached austerity as anything other than a deterministic inevitability. It might be time to question how much value there actually is in ‘anti-austerity’ politics: it’s a formation in which opposing something has come to function as an effective substitute for actually doing anything about it. Anti-austerity movements scream their refusal to participate in the grand, stupid mechanism of austerity – and then do so anyway. These things are not opposed to each other.

2. In this context, the strange farce of the referendum starts to make a twisted sort of sense. The population of Greece overwhelmingly voted against austerity measures demanded by the Troika, only for the government of Greece to then almost immediately submit a set of proposals that mirrored them in every detail. In fact, Prime Minister Tsipras wrote to his creditors conceding to almost all of their demands before the referendum had even taken place. But the referendum was never intended to actually decide anything; after all, the plan of agreement to be accepted or rejected was no longer even on the table. It was always, explicitly, to be a gesture of rejection, something purely performative, which for some reason Syriza thought might help them negotiate a fairer deal.

3. Its ‘no’ was a pure ‘no’; there was no indication what the result of this rejection would be, because there was never to be a result. This isn’t far from what Hegel describes as ‘abstract negation’. Abstract negation is the form of negation based on an eternal and static binary of true and false or being and nothingness: under abstract negation what is negated is cast into pure nothingness. The act of negation, rather than producing a new state of affairs, instead simply cancels out everything; in the end, it doesn’t really matter what is being negated. Hegel’s complaint isn’t that abstract negation is too destructive, but that it isn’t destructive enough: abstract negation always fails. It sees the nothingness into which it condemns that which is negated as an absence that precedes any particular negation, while the dialectic recognises that any particular negation will continue to express the content of that which is negated, as ‘the nothingness of that from which it results. A negation built on stasis will remain static; without any process of sublation, the negated object will slowly achieve a kind of zombie rebirth, crawling on skeletal hands out the abyss of its own cancellation. This is how 61% of Greek voters managed to reject austerity, only for their government to then triumphantly impose it as the culmination of their democratic will.

4. Most journalists don’t know much about Greece, but they have been to Oxbridge, which is why it’s hard to read anything on the situation without some reference to Sophocles or Aeschylus. What would Thucydides make of the European bond market? Isn’t Tsipras a modern Priam of Troy? This is nonsense. There is a text that can help us understand what’s happening in Greece, but it’s not from some cartoon antiquity. In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs we meet Severin, a sick and sensitive young man, exhausted by Northern civilisation, an admirer of the free sensuality of Greece. He seemingly wills a portrait of the goddess Venus into life as Wanda, an impish and imperious woman; the two draw up a contract in which Severin agrees to be her slave, and enter into a relationship. Theirs is not, as it’s been described, a sado-masochistic relationship, but one between masochists: Wanda, too, wants to be dominated and humiliated, and because Severin is unable to do this for her, she soon begins to lose her love for him. The identification of masochism as an inverse of sadism is troubled from the start: Fifty Shades aside, sadists don’t tend to write contracts with their victims. Sadism is mechanical and automatic, from the distant burning cruelty of the stars to the bloodstained fury of all wild animals; de Sade’s grotesques don’t draw up contracts, they just do whatever they want. Laws and agreements are functions of a willed, deliberate masochism. (As Deleuze writes, the masochist ‘aims not to mitigate the law but on the contrary to emphasise its extreme severity.’) In the end Wanda, now disgusted by her slave, falls for a brutish, Byronic, ‘barbarian’ Greek. First she rejects Severin, then she declares her love for him, makes him agree to put aside his masochism and enter into a ‘normal’, sadistic relationship – and then ties him to a bed, whereupon the Greek suddenly appears, to ‘whip all poetry from him.’ This Greek is a walking dildo; he dies before long, and for all his displays of dominance he only really existed to satisfy Wanda’s masochistic desires. Freud, with whom the idea of masochism as an inverted sadism originates, was still troubled throughout his career by the idea of a ‘primary masochism’. By the time of Beyond the Pleasure Principle he was ready to admit its existence, but his death drive is still fundamentally ambiguous: on the one hand it’s a desire to return to an inorganic stillness, on the other it’s just a redirection of the universal sadistic impulses against the self. In fact, this ambiguity goes back to his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905; at the same time as he describes masochism as an inverted sadism, he also connects sadism with cannibalism. The Bemächtigungsapparatus, or structure of domination, exists only to serve the desires of another, ‘ontogenetically prior’ impulse – but, syntactically, it’s never clear whether this prior impulse is cannibalism or masochism. (After all, in actually existing BDSM relationships, the real power always belongs to the submissive partner: theirs is the limit that must not be crossed.) In the end, it’s far easier for Freud to imagine that we want to eat each other than to think that, when surrounded by a universal and impersonal sadism without subject, the immediate human response is to want to give in to it. The German response to Syriza’s desperate, humiliated proposals – to reject them, and insist on something even harsher, even though it may well end up harming them – has been strongly criticised, but in a way Greece’s creditors are only following the blank and impersonal laws of capital. Their sadism is the sadism of the unliving. Solidarity with Greece shouldn’t imply sympathy for Syriza: they could have got out of this dually-masochistic contract if they wanted (throughout the referendum period it was assumed that Greece was drawing up secret plans for an exit from the Euro; now it’s been revealed that beyond a few tiny committees, they really weren’t); instead they’re bringing in austerity as the fulfilment of their own desires.

5. Among a few of Syriza’s defenders, there’s a complaint that left-wing critics seem to want Greece to fling itself into uncertainty for the sake of a few old Marxist orthodoxies. From our armchairs in the insulated north, we leftier-than-thou dilettantes demand that an entire country ruin itself, just so that we can get the vicarious thrill of resistance. But the ruin is already here. We’re living in it. The deal that Greece has agreed to will enforce mandatory privatisations, automatic spending cuts, and a mechanism to ensure that all these measures are locked outside the realm of politics. The anti-austerity party has delivered the forces of austerity a far more total victory than the old ND-Pasok coalition ever could – they, at least, had to deal with a strong domestic opposition. This ruin is all of Europe’s. In his pre-referendum speech, Tsipras made constant, fawning references to ‘European ideals’ betrayed by the EU, but of course Europe has never really existed. It’s a spur of Asia with unwarranted pretensions, and because it has no geographical reality, it’s had to invent a cultural one. In the years after the collapse of the Mediterranean world, Europe and Christendom were almost identical concepts; after that, Europe was defined by white skin and a habit of imperial massacre elsewhere in the world. Now, Europe is best defined as the place where they implement austerity. Any movement that tries to change this will have to start by abolishing Europe altogether.

6. After the fall of the Roman empire, locals plundered its grand ruins for stones to build homes and churches. For some reason this is generally treated as a terrible philistinism, but in fact it’s determinate negation in action: the cancellation of something already cancelled in order to build something new. It’s better to have a house than a ruin. In Greece, there are still factions willing to oppose the destruction of the country, including the KKE, the Greek Communist Party, and PAME, the All-Workers Militant Front. These groups have consistently warned against Syriza’s brand of capital-friendly anti-austerity politics; there are plans for strikes and demonstrations; the resistance continues. Of course, it’s not enough to simply negate the disaster, and expect it to then be done with. Against the blank and useless negationism of Syriza, it might now be necessary to turn the ruins into a proper structure: to be not against austerity, but for communism.

A Rihanna ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ video roundtable

The following is the transcript of a roundtable discussion held at the offices of Damply Media in Brooklyn, to discuss the cultural importance of Rihanna’s new single ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’. The discussion brought together some of the leading thinkers in their fields for a unique evening of lively debate. PANTOPHAGIA PULPH is a digital sibyl, feminist scholar, literal goddess, and visiting professor at the Jersey Turnpike School of Media and Dentistry, and it’s not her job to educate you. ALAN GORKENBLUM is a respected economist noted for his work in developing nations, his occasional columns in the New York Times, and his influential 1994 paper ‘Could Death Squads Be Good For Freedom?’. PENCIL GLEASE is a radical leftist philosopher and the author of over fifty books, including ‘Why Breakfast Cereal Is Communism’, ‘Why Boy Bands Are Communism’, ‘Why Disneyland Is Communism,’ and ‘Why Capitalism Is Communism’. THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES, moderating the discussion, is a sad, tattered, howling spectre, barely capable of speech, his vague form clammy with sadness and regret. HELENA BIBBS is, despite all appearances, an adult woman.

ALAN GORKENBLUM: First of all, I’d like to thank Moist Media for inviting me to-

JENNIFER BIBBS: Damply.

ALAN GORKENBLUM: I’d like to very damply thank Moist Media for inviting me here to speak. Now, from what I can gather, the video under discussion today concerns Ms Rihanna’s personal experiences with an unscrupulous accountant, who squandered her money on wasteful programmes and led to her credit rating being downgraded. In the video, this fictionalised accountant is subjected to various punishments – his wife is kidnapped and murdered, and he is then murdered himself – which of course as a liberal I don’t condone. But it seems to me that the central dynamic here is the relation between debtor and creditor, and frankly it’s extremely encouraging to see youth culture finally expressing the important message that debts must be paid. For too long we’ve allowed the culture to become infested by socialistic ideals. But as Ms Rihanna says, you need to ‘pay me what you owe me’ – and this is a message that the current leadership in Greece, for instance, would do well to heed. In order for rational, sustainable relations to exist between human individuals in a free market, it is absolutely necessary that the consequences of debt non-payment be as, uh, cutting as possible. You know, the last time I was in Athens I spoke with a very well-educated taxi driver, who told me that the only way his country could ever get itself out of its current situation is if they remove the ridiculous restrictions preventing student agitators from being hacked apart with axes. So it’s a very positive sign that this kind of sensible message is being broadcast to young consumers.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: Art is a cold wound. We will consume you.

HELENA BIBBS: ok so, i agree with everything you said and whatever, but can we just talk about how great RhiRhi is in the face of aaaallllll those haters? just look at her, you’ve got Maxine Fulgerswitch in Good Crockery Magazine saying that her video was sexist pornography worse than slavery and she’s just like, bitch idgaf, cactus emoji, i’m out here jus’ doin’ me while you get like two likes on your insta pics of some totally basic doilies? and this is so important, if your feminism doesn’t include a true luxury bitch murder aesthetic then don’t nobody give no shits about your backwards-ass praxis. but that hair! such an inspiration, it’s like, yaaasssss, slay, slay queen, slay me, i want you to tie me to a chair and, heart emoji, take a knife and draw it across my throat so the blood comes pouring out all wave emoji over my shitty basic-ass frock from H&M. can you imagine if rihanna actually ended your worthless life? it’d be everything. i think i’m actually in love with her. omg we need to die together. i’m coming for you. i’m coming.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: Suffering.

PANTOPHAGIA PULPH: So first up, I’m not here to educate a bunch of crybaby white het cis binary ablebodied men about Black women, and about how this is the only worthwhile artwork ever produced because it shows a Black woman killing white people. If you want to learn about this video, you need to pay me.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: They did pay us.

PANTOPHAGIA PULPH: Nobody asked you to speak. How is this helping me? Stay dead.

PENCIL GLEASE: Before I start, if this is a start, if it is possible to ‘start’ under the condition of a discourse already dependent on the structural possibility of its having-been-started, I would like to say a few words on the enigmatic nature of this verb, ‘to start’. For how can I speak of a video, of something which ‘to start’ appears as pure blackness, pure void on the screen, unless I can start the video, set in motion the chain of inscriptions and reinscriptions on the graphical substrate of pure absence? As in Joyce, the church is founded immovably upon the void. Now, the word ‘start’, as we all know, derives from the German stürzen, to fall, to fling, but into what? Into precisely that absence. So to start to speak about ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ means not to institute a relation on the level of tangibility, to find a reference to any determinate object, but the very opposite. Before I started, if I have indeed started, I had a metaphysical relation to the object, to that void of meaning into which I am about to leap, but in the condition of having-started-ness I find myself permeated by that object in my discourse’s necessary condition of permeability, a permeability that defies definition or direction, that obliterates itself and in which I am obliterated. To start something is to institute a primordial lack, which is why in all metaphysics the creation of the Universe is experienced as a hollowing-out of the spectral univocity of absolute uncreated Being. In this way the universal dialectic can only be read as a progressive dismantling of the ontic, as the slow degradation already present in this verb ‘to start’. As such, in its possibility of being started, this video embodies a truly transcendent revolutionary hope.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: Suffering.

PENCIL GLEASE: Yes, precisely.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: Any final comments?

PENCIL GLEASE: I think one thing that we can all agree on is that this video is extremely important to politics. We are all serious intellectuals, we enjoyed watching it, and things can only be good if they reinforce our categories. Certainly at this point we’ve exhausted anything that can meaningfully be said about this film.

ALAN GORKENBLUM: I can only echo the title of the song under discussion: It’s Good To Have My Money. Uh, smiley face emoji.

PANTOPHAGIA PULPH: Yeah. Give your money to women. Greece needs to give its money to Angela Merkel.

HELENA BIBBS: i dont fear death. ive seen the face of god

Please join us for our next roundtable discussion, in which we’ll be talking about snails.

Why you’re not leaving London

So you’ve decided to leave London. You’re leaving because the millionaires are being priced out by billionaires. You’re leaving because every high street is boxy, bland, and identical. You’re leaving because the Tories are in charge. You’re leaving because the weather is shit. You’re leaving because it’s the enemy of all human life. You’re leaving because those two dull syllables, Lun and Dun, rattle like bones in the hollow where your heart used to be. You’re leaving because you want a walled garden and a ten-minute drive to the countryside and the space to really express yourself creatively. You’re leaving because people live in shoeboxes. You’re leaving because the cops murder people (not people like you, of course) and get away with it. You’re leaving because the culture’s been dead for a decade. You’re leaving because you have the beautiful soul – and before you go, you’ll write a short essay on London, so you can tell a city of millions why you’ve grown beyond it, why you’ve elected to flee while everyone else sinks flailing into the ooze. Who do you think you are? In the face of all this heaped stone and misery, a tattered arabesque plunging death-heavy through the centuries, are you really a free person who can choose where to go? Did you really think London was just a place, like any other place? This city’s stuck to the inside of your lungs. Waxy London plasters your veins and dribbles viscous from your nostrils; its fumes take root in your hair and the pigeon shit will never go from under your fingernails. Did you really think you could just leave?

You’ve been chewed up for too long, head-first in the cold shit; finally, like the lukewarm thing you are, you can feel yourself about to be spat out. But before you leave, you’ll plunge one last time into the centre of London, down to the Embankment, to hear the music of white vans screeching along the A3211. In Gordon’s Wine Bar, a long rocky trench off Villiers Street, bodies push and writhe in their untold masses. Like a newly dug grave, filled with earthworms. Pale and clammy people push against each other, steal lighters, slop Fat Bastard Pinot Noir on their ginghams and chinos, and roar their bewilderment into the darkening sky. There are tables and chairs and patio heaters here, somewhere, but all you can see are sweat-stained shoulders and haircuts floppy on top and buzzed at the back. Somewhere in the general mêlée a fight breaks out: three pink-shirted men are rounding on a blue-shirted man, smashing bottles over his head, but nobody’s paying much attention; elsewhere Mark from Lloyd’s can’t decide whether to remodel his bathroom or divorce his wife, Cressida at Moody’s thinks the coke’s starting to hit, and tiny blameless creatures are trampled underfoot.

You’re not like these people: you’re a writer, journalist and/or creative, and they disgust you. Out to the choking Phlegethonic churn of the river, where Cleopatra’s needle, dense with slave-scrawled hoeroglyphs, reminds you that this city has always been in league with ancient and pagan evils. Its blasphemous point finds echoes all around you; the sky bristles with cranes. In a thousand building sites from horizon to horizon, bloated men swing giant slabs of concrete in diminishing circles, building homes for nobody to live in, vanity chasing greed. It’s all too much: you duck underground. On the Tube the lustful are fixed rigid at fifty miles an hour; this is where the anonymous and the unloved go to stare at a spot just above each other’s heads. You take your seat and watch your hairline recede in the opposite window, knowing that millions of other arses have been planted in this same fold of scratchy fabric, that the people around you look out on exactly the same sights as you do every day, and that none of them will ever know your name. There’s a form for these things. You write in to the ‘Rush Hour Crush’ section of the free morning papers. Silver fox weeping openly on the 10:22 to Euston – fancy a drink? Pale, harried redhead beauty chewing her nails on the District line: I want to add myself to your list of miseries, buy you a drink? Dead pigeon with gleamingly exposed ribcage sprawled on the tracks at Canada Water. Coffee some time?

It doesn’t end. Beyond the crumbling walls of old London, in the outer circles of the Underground zoning system, the suburbs plod, miles of limp terracotta and chicken-shop spleen. Nothing has ever happened here, and nothing ever will. Further yet the sodden bog of greenbelt. You crossed it once: the train companies took their gold, and you arrived broken and penniless in front of King’s Cross station. It was all a stupid mistake. Fuck London. You’re right to leave.

But where will you go? You decamp to Brighton, wander too far on the wrong side of Old Steine, and realise: my God, this place has no architectural idiom whatsoever; it’s nothing, it’s just London by the sea. You flee to Vienna, and the rent starts rising steadily around you, the ground rushing up to meet the sky, and you’re buried in it, your mouth stopped with dirt and cement. You can fuck off to San Francisco, and as you’re drinking overpriced cocktails in a Mission bar, you’ll hear some tech twat wheeze down his phone to meet him on the roundabout by the Old Street BART station. But surely that can’t be right? You left London because it lost all character, because London had become nothing more than a vast buildup of global capital. A trading floor in one skyscraper has more to do with Shanghai and Singapore than with another in the building across the road; London is where the globe-girdling flows of finance coagulate and disperse again. But if this city is no longer anywhere in particular, if its geography is defined more by money and its infinite gradations than anything as crude as ordinary space, then how could you possibly achieve anything by leaving? London isn’t the name of a place that exists within strictly defined limits. London is the entire planetary order.

Remember your sins, as you turn the wrong way down Friedrichstraße to find yourself staring, shellshocked, at the Charing Cross Road. As you heave yourself panting up to the Griffith Observatory, pause to take in the view, and stagger backwards as the Shard drives itself like a dagger into your eyeball, and the hollow round banshee’s mouth of the London Eye howls you home. As you come out the Metro at Saint-Germain-des-Près, and someone thrusts the Evening Standard in your face. Think on your sins. The homeless people you ignored. The change you pretended not to have. The friends you betrayed. The enemies you cursed. Your careless fucking, summer sweat and strange skin, holding each other close so the eyes aren’t in focus, slick sliding nails and over too soon. The banknote clenched hard as you snort up £50’s worth of rat poison and laundry detergent. You have lied, cheated, lusted. blasphemed. You have killed. Did you really think we would ever let you leave? Don’t you understand? You’ll never get out of London, not for all eternity. Don’t you know where you are? This is where you belong. You’re in Hell.

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