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This is why I hate intellectuals

Month: February, 2017

Writing and identity

There are also others, an infinite number of them, the innumerable generality of others to whom I should be bound by the same responsibility, a general and universal responsibility. I cannot respond to the call, the request, the obligation, or even the love of another without sacrificing the other other, the other others… As a result, the concepts of responsibility, of decision, or of duty are condemned a priori to paradox, scandal, and aporia.
Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death

schiele1915

0. To write feels like violence. All of us are mortal, but the text can survive long after its author: who are you, fleshy and contingent thing, who wants to live forever? To write is to stain clean paper, press sticks in smooth clay; in some sense always, to deform the world. To write something down is to turn the limitless possibility of what could be into the dead presence of what turned out to have been. A line in Beckett’s Molloy which I always find myself returning to, because it speaks what it isn’t: ‘You would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till everything is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what it is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery.’ Writing obscures the ghastliness of what is, which is speechlessness; it weaves a flimsy veil of presence around the eternal nothing. Writing is a lack, but the lack is not in words but the world that surrounds them.

1. One form of the discourse in question, an instance: Don’t write thinkpieces about Beyoncé (or whatever) if you’re not a black woman. You will not understand the subject-matter, not properly, it will be a waste. It isn’t for you. (As if the commodified culture-object is ever really for anyone.) The really notable thing here is where the demand is placed. What’s needed – and what’s generally articulated – is a critique of the journalistic economy and its deeply unequal hiring and commissioning practices, the thorny nexus of social practices that create a class of profession writers that generally looks like the class of the bourgeoisie from which it is mostly drawn. But what can often occur with it is a metaphysics of the text: illegitimate writing is not even itself, but an absence, the absence of everything else that could have been there instead. Any one person writing means another who can’t; the sin is in its having been written, the fault belongs to the writer as such. But while most writing really is inexcusably bad, the one mark in its favour is that the possibility of writing is limitless. It’s the industrial complex of writing that is restricted, along with the number of people who can sustain themselves in this fairly shabby trade: here, as everywhere, the task is to reproduce in the economy at large the infinity that already exists in the economy of language, to abolish the distinction between the professional writer and the public they serve or negate, to make sure that nobody will ever go hungry again.

2. Instead, a general trend within those discourses that claim to have justice as their aim is the selective and demographic apportioning out of the field of human understanding: black writers may and must write about black celebrities, music, and their own experiences; women writers may and must must write about lifestyle trends, feminism, and their own experiences; trans writers about their own experiences; Muslim writers about their own experiences; disabled writers about their own experiences. In one avowedly intersectional-feminist online publication, female writers are given an ‘Identity Survey,’ a monstrous questionnaire in which they’re asked to list every horrifying experience they had ever survived, and are then told to turn it all into short, shareable, fungible articles for $90-a-day wages. I was raped, I was in an abusive relationship, I had an abortion, I suffered; a strip-mining of saleable identities, a kind of primitive accumulation across the terrain of trauma. Meanwhile the universal subject, the one that need not suffer to be heard, remains white and male. The right of black women to write about Beyoncé is important. But they must also be able to write about deep-sea ecology, Kantian philosophy, writing itself, and what they do not know – and while there are many who do precisely this, the under-representation of writers of colour, queer and trans writers, and other marginalised people on the topics of oceanography, German idealism, deconstruction, and ignorance is significantly more marked. Overwhelmingly it is white men who are afforded the privilege of being other than themselves, of not having to continuously say ‘I’ – not least because the validity of their self-identity is already assured, because the world is already in their image. And while the ability to declare oneself in the face of a world that would prefer you not to to is essential, the dogma that writing must and can only be a self-declaration resigns marginalised people to this condition. My critique here is very limited: within this discourse it has become the case that it is the presence and particularity of the ‘I’ that legitimises writing, that makes it appropriate or inappropriate, that makes it either it either presence itself or the lack of something else. And this is not helpful.

3. If there must be a rule, then it should be that we must not only write what we know. If we don’t write an ignorance other than ourselves, in the end all that remains is a mute, gnashing, helpless, final I. There is no writing that is only legible to and can only be created by people occupying a particular subject-position; there are experiences that are unique and incommensurable, even incommunicable, but if this were the case here there would be no possibility of writing: everyone who could understand would already know.

4. Derrida notes in Plato’s Pharmacy that ‘the speaking subject is the father of his speech […] Logos is a son, then, a son that would be destroyed in his very presence without the present attendance of his father. His father who speaks for him and answers for him. Without his father he would be nothing but, in fact, writing.’ There is no speech without its anchor in the person that speaks and her physical presence, but in writing – the ‘breathless sign’ – the author is always simply not there, even if she has an active Twitter account. It persists without its creator; what faces you is the text, something entirely different. I speak and say ‘I’ and you know who says the word, but the written ‘I’ is always indeterminate, a tangle of lies and fantasies and ironies and pretences, a person just like you half a world away, the person that you are yourself, an immortal and changing thing. If you speak and someone interprets what you say in a way you didn’t intend, what’s taken place is a misunderstanding. If you write and someone interprets what you’ve written in a way you didn’t intend, what’s taken place is literature. The demand that any text be legitimised by the self-identity of its author is the demand for a text that behaves more like speech. And not just any speech. The writing that responds to this demand is ‘testimonial’ or ‘confessional’ writing, and the place in which one testifies or confesses is in a court. In a courtroom logocentrism holds sway; the preference is for a speaking person, whose truth is guaranteed by a spoken oath, who is present to speak for and answer for their own speech. The discourse here is not one of justice, strictly speaking, but the law. It is the law that, first of all, demands to know who a person is before deciding what to do with them. These are not opposing concepts, necessarily, but they are not the same. The law can be deconstructed. Justice cannot.

5. Whose voice is allowed to speak? Only yours. In Beckett’s novels the reader is lost and confused, stranded in a mire of words that seem designed to be inhospitable and to exclude, accompanying something that speaks its unquestioning I-say-I while forbidding any identification – until you realise that the strange tormenting voice that is mentioned sometimes, the one that tells people what to do, the one that is constantly trying to bring itself to an end but is never able to stop speaking itself, is the same voice that’s been in your head the entire time as you read. It’s shocking, but there’s a sense of joy at the same time. What distinguishes real writing from a legal deposition or a laundry list is its occasional capacity to provoke a kind of joy, even in evocations of sadness, loneliness, misery, loss, repression, and horror, the sheer pleasure of something entirely alien and entirely intimate, of a voice that is nobody’s and everyone’s and yours, there with you in your solitude, of language in the infinity of its play and substitutions, a moment of the freedom that’s still to come.

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Voyage to the prison planet

jaulwosephpatson

Paul Joseph Watson stares through the tiny weeping mole-eyes half-buried in his face, and is afraid. You would be too. He lives on the prison planet, encased in a thick concrete shield twenty miles above sea level: you think it’s night and it’s always been night, but those stars are just a fluorescent buzz through the gaps in the barbed wire, each constellation has its tangled wiring and a strange cloudy liquid that slowly drips from one corner, and you’ve confused the moon with a searchlight your entire life. You think the clouds are gathering, but tear gas is leaking through the mildewed firmament to disperse the population. You think it’s God you’re praying to, but the guards have their snitches everywhere.

Holed up in Battersea, Paul Joseph Watson sees the prison planet slowly crumbling under its concrete shell. The rioters outside, for instance; they’re everywhere now, crowds of pinch-faced foreigners sweeping over Europe like starlings in its dusk. They burn everything in sight. The prisoners crisp in their cells, body fat dripping liquid through the fissures in their scoriated skin, because the media told them that none of it was real. Those are the living dead, trundling inauthentically from the prison canteen to the commissary to the rec room, they are the rubble that is torn up and rearranged into new cells for the rubble that follows them, more prisons of stretched-out flesh and fingernails linked in rippling fish-scale walls, still hair, still bleeding. They do strange experiments here; human beings are turned into something else, their hair brutishly thick, their balls mournfully gone. And above it all, suspended between the fires and the concrete shell that some unknown species placed around the Earth some time in the last century: the cultural Marxists, the feminazis, the SJWs, the thugs, the false flags, the weather-control stations, the mind rays, all arranged in some great chain of power that leads up from the fanatical mob outside and its flaming bottles that smash against the shutters of the Battersea swank pad all the way through the concrete shell and out the other side. Paul Joseph Watson is afraid, but he knows that this prison was only really built to contain one person. He stands between the camera and his map of the world and stares out terrified through his half-closed eyes and says: Gary Linker is the absolute epitome of the virtue-signalling social justice warrior cunt, and he needs to put up, or shut dah fuck up.

I hate Paul Joseph Watson.

I used to enjoy the Alex Jones show, back before Donald Trump’s victory – before it turned into just another piece of glib boosterism for political power, as neutered as any other eunuch in the bureaucracy. Jones would puff out his head into a greasy sphere and yell, or detail the Satanic imagery in cereal boxes and the patterns in the clouds, or bare his nipples at the New World Order, and it was fun. A sadistic sort of fun, watching an adult human maddening himself with conspiracies that don’t really exist, but fun. The only problem is that you could never tell when they would cut to Paul Joseph Watson – oh god, not this tiresome prick again, the gimpy Yorkshireman with his suit slightly too large, standing in front of his big important map, with his tiny eyes, and his awful moist red lips, and his unbearable rants of a thirteen-year-old sagely informing the YouTube community that while most people his age listen to crap he prefers good music, and his oppressive pedantic pompous droning hectoring honking plodding nasal clammy mucous flattened choked-up gurgle dipshit arsehole nightmare of a voice.

English speech tends to resolve into iambs, but when Paul Joseph Watson speaks the banal rhythm of it all becomes unbearable; he talks like a teacher demonstrating the concept to a class of bored GCSE students, the deathly tick-tock of her tapping pencil, ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM. He talks with the rushing dismal clarity of those mid-morning TV adverts: if you’ve SUFfered an INjury that WASn’t your FAULT, come to LAWyers 4 YOU. He talks like an automated call informing you that you’ve been missold PPI and could stand to receive a substantial cash settlement. He talks in stops and starts, water dripping from a rusted old tap, a fractured desert in quartz and sand, a late capitalism so exhausted by its own failure to imagine that it’s reduced to openly announcing each new shabby con as it arrives by the tortured mendacity of its speech. He doesn’t talk at all. He yaps.

All the usual tedium of the right-wing fringe is present in Watson’s work. There’s the racism and sexism and transmisogyny and anticommunism and other assorted foundational isms, of course, the conspiracy theories about white genocide and the globalist master-plan, the scattershot insults, ‘virtue-signalling’ and ‘politically correct’ blanketed about until they lose all meaning beyond that of a sourceless, careless sneer. But there’s also what really distinguishes the whole project: the idiot’s joy in being smugly wrong about stuff, complete with triumphantly feeble Twitter putdowns and the absolute assurance that everyone who makes fun of him is actually a snowflake who’s just been triggered.

In between it all, though, there are flashes of an almost mournful, almost sympathetic idiocy. Take his New Year’s video, about how you’ve achieved nothing in the past year and don’t deserve to celebrate at its end, about how it’s only ‘the most twattish insufferable losers’ who get wasted in preparation to snog some other nobody come midnight; you can hear, buried in his hectoring, the echoes of the precocious but shy teenager who didn’t get invited to any parties and decided that it made him a better person. Take his interview with the dyslogical student rag The Tab, marketed to all those same twattish insufferable losers, in which he says that the thing he misses most about living in Sheffield – a thriving and multicultural university city home to over sixty-five thousand fun loving students – is ‘the ability to isolate yourself and truly be alone.’ You can see how it started, how a lonely boy ended up flying far off across the galaxies to isolate himself on a prison planet built especially for him, where a strange cloudy liquid drips from the stars, where the Islamic mob spreads from his door to the furthest reaches of the world, where the human being in its cage slowly shrinks into something sleeker and stupider and more absurd.

Paul Joseph Watson believes that conservatism is the new counterculture and the new punk rock. Years of puritan liberal censoriousness have exhausted a population that just wants to be able to say ‘gay’ pejoratively, and all the gleeful busting of self-serious taboos is coming from the right – but it’s hard to square this pose with the fact that Watson thinks having fun is insufferable and sex is best avoided. It’s impossible to see the fearless discursive titan Paul Joseph Watson wants to be, because Paul Joseph Watson sentenced himself to life on the prison planet, where he stares through the tiny weeping mole-eyes half-buried in his face, and is afraid.

The punk rock countercultural hero lives in fear of absolutely everything under the heavy concrete shell where the sky used to be. In particular, he’s afraid of the Swedish city of Malmö, a quiet and faintly boring town whose struggling economy has been revitalised by an influx in migrants from Africa and the Middle East. After Donald Trump – pointlessly filtering the previous night’s TV through the loose sieve of his brain before barfing it all back onto TV again – declared in shock that something terrible had happened in Sweden the previous night, Paul Joseph Watson undertook a personal mission to prove that Sweden really was that bad. The place is a warzone: constant riots, killings on the streets, brutality in the homes, a bubbling hive of miniature Islamic emirates, cultural genocide erupting in thousands of maggots from the heart of old Scandinavia. His challenge to the journalists – who had gone through the usual smug liberal chuckling, tragedy in Ikea, the great fika massacre, as if terrible things aren’t happening in Sweden and everywhere else every second of the day – was this: if you think Sweden is so safe, I’ll pay for you to go there and see. And some journalists, who sometimes happen to go to actual warzones, took him up on it. (Myself included.) His wording was clear: any journalist who disagrees with him gets a free ride on the PJW Öresund Express. Needless to say, he wimped out.

Whether Sweden is a good place to be or not (it’s not, but where is?) isn’t really the issue; what was strange was exactly why Watson thought we should all reconsider our nice Northern jolly. Frantically trying to stem the tide of bankruptcy-inducing holidays he’d had to pay for, Watson showed us why everyone should be scared of Malmö, posting pictures of an apartment building, some punks, and a group of well-dressed teenagers wearing Christian crosses around their necks, and then a video of some other teenagers letting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve. (That last one, incidentally, was not an immigrant riot but a celebration that takes place in cities across the region; that year saw no injuries and no arrests. In his terror of foreign violence, Watson ended up condemning exactly the kind of cherished local European traditions the right claims to want to protect.) Paul Joseph Watson isn’t just constantly afraid, hidden away from everything in a Battersea apartment whose walls grow thicker and denser and arc out from his little hollow of a home until they sweep over the sky and encase the entire planet in a concrete shell dotted with fake stars that thrum with a weak failing electric glow. His fears aren’t even human fears; he lives in terror of big scary buildings, people he doesn’t know, crowds of drunk people, and fireworks – in other words, the things that are frightening to a dog.

They do strange experiments here on the prison planet; human beings are turned into something else, their hair brutishly thick, their balls mournfully gone. The chimera Paul Joseph Watson yaps and whines in front of a camera and behind his map of the world, all of it perfectly positioned to hide his disgrace, the shuddering dog’s body with its fur and its claws and its endlessly shitting arsehole that trails off behind the suit just slightly too big for it. He howls at the searchlight that was his moon; he barks at the strangers outside his door; he has lost all interest in any part of a human woman except her leg; he is ashamed of what he’s become. He kennelled himself in Battersea, because where else do lost dogs go? The reactionary right scream for a rugged and manly authenticity because they are the most domesticated people in existence. They wilt in horror at a few kids in hoodies or a few students who don’t approve of what they have to say because a lifetime of bourgeois morality and the comforts of a life built on imperial superprofits have made them biddable, tail-wagging, snarling but tamed. The lonely boy from South Yorkshire has travelled a long way in search of something, and he’s not found it yet: a scratch behind his ears, and a few comforting words. Good boy. Good boy. Goodnight.

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