Lost futures

Sitting in a cheap B&B in Kenton, a previously unknown suburb of London between Wembley and Harrow, preparing for a week of music exams, but an ideal area for reflecting on the book I’ve read today – Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life – reflections on “hauntology” and other stuff, mostly magazine articles, reviews and blogs, and thus surprisingly easy to plough through on the train. His basic thesis – we are in an age haunted by the ghosts of lost futures, the liberals have lost their myth of effortless historical progress towards liberty, the socialists have lost their belief in the possibility of an actually-existing alternative, a communist future – we are haunted by the absence of the modernist futures we used to believe were imminent, and dulled by the over-stimulation of incessant cyberspace, ceaseless self-invention in the virtual world, signifying nothing. And always negating any wider public sense of responsibility, or improvement, or even the existence of a real public space.
Is that at all clear?
Part of it relates to music, eg Burial, Joy Division; part of it to films eg Inception, Memento, The Shining; the books of David Peace; and JG Ballard hanging over everything.
– The triumph of capitalist reaction and neo-con liberalism since 1979 = the slow cancellation of the future.
– Regeneration = modernisation = making London safe for the super-rich. To resist modernisation is to consign yourself to the past.
– London – a city of pinched-face drones plugged into ipods.
– Capital demands that we always look busy, even if there’s no work to do – any time not spent hustling or hassling is time wasted.
(some quotes lifted from the book)
So how do we build a collective resistance? Dream a new future? Fight capitalism?
Good questions!
Published by Zero Books, who publish some fine books on contemporary philosophy and popular culture in an oppositional way – Owen Hatherley, Nina Power, Richard Seymour. The traces of opposition were so much clearer back in the 80s – finding them now feels like a more obscure project, let alone finding a practical movement as well.
Viva agitprop.


Those were the days?

Continuing my travels courtesy of the ABRSM – last week I visited Letchworth Garden City – I was expecting dull commuter suburbia, but found a remarkably spacious 1930s planned town, with space, greenery, a suggestion of art deco, public spaces – surprisingly idyllic. And then this week I’m in Birkenhead – not promising material, but this evening I’ve experienced Port Sunlight, an even more idyllic village planned out by the founder of Unilever for his workers 120 years ago – stunningly beautiful in a kitsch kind of way, mock tudor estates, lawns, fountains, bowling greens, trees wrapped in knitting – all very paternalistic, reminiscent of Trumpton, if not “The Prisoner”. Part of me wanted to live there. Or to work for a company that wanted to provide a complete lifestyle and environment for their workforce (in an idealistic 20th century almost totalitarian way). No such planning today on any area of the political spectrum, no benevolent conservatism, no wishful socialism. So many steps backwards.

And, like Saltaire in Bradford, Port Sunlight is probably now prime property speculation territory, for the bourgeoisie, not the workers.

Musically, this week I am mostly looking forwards to hearing Steve Lehman’s new octet album next week.


Tra la Tralee

Fresh from a daytrip to Tralee for music exams this week and a Saturday morning stomp up the hill behind Ruscombe with the dog, listening to electric Miles Davis at Fillmore 1970 – this week we welcomed Gilad Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble to Stroud, he promised a talk on his own individual “Road to Bop” before the gig, but naturally was keener to discuss geopolitical issues, the dominance of the cognitive elite, the oppression of political correctness, illustrated with diagrams of a Freudian bell curve (also reminiscent of Dopey’s hat in Snow White). He was disappointed that the audience were not more provoked or offended by his diagnoses – the freethinking jazzlovers of Stroud were probably rather more disturbed when he began the gig by strapping on an accordion. I expected his diatribe to be more focussed – it felt somewhat woolly, confused, from the top down, rather than building an argument that would draw people in, on the nature of early-C21st capitalism and global inequality. I watched the film Elysium the other day and that was at least as thought-provoking. Could we make an argument for universal global democracy, one person one vote, no borders? 

The band was impressively tight, the drummer Chris Higginbotham standing out – Gilad’s saxophone playing is very traditional, nostalgic, rhapsodic, joyous, a populist stream of expression (channelling Coltrane on the soprano, Charlie Parker on the alto). The encore was Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World – as also featured by Andy Sheppard’s Pushy Doctors just before Xmas. These sax players are such romantics.

Reading matter for my trip to Ireland – Don Paterson’s Rain (that’ll be poetry, then). He’s very dry and Scottish (and occasionally a bit romantic too), and a guitarist on the side – one of my favourites is his Song for Natalie ‘Tusja’ Beridze, in praise of an obscure Georgian musician, shoehorning in all sorts of abstruse references beloved by readers and writers of The Wire magazine. And rhyming too (but not scanning). I heard him read in Cheltenham last year – you can get away with anything with a dry Scots accent.


Three weeks.

Good intentions, but it’s taken me three weeks to renew the weekly blog. There has been much travelling, and much music, listening and playing. I’ve been carrying three books with me. Event by Slavoj Zizek – he is always provocative, if not always comprehensible. Apparently Margaret Thatcher, when asked what was her greatest success/legacy was, replied “Tony Blair”. Over the last thirty years, everything that in my youth was provided publicly, by nominally democratic bodies, has been privatised – and we now eagerly privatise ourselves, our work, our lives – this blog is an example of that, promoting brand Pete. If fifty of my friends/acquaintances/colleagues were writing a weekly blog, would I be reading them all? Unlikely.

Second book – Stephen Grosz An Examined Life – psychoanalyst writing up little case studies – I found much of it quite shallow, bite-sized chunks in a Readers Digest style, leaving me wanting more depth – but towards the end there were a few more interesting ones (and I’ve read it twice so it must have hooked me somehow). Not only might we be aware of how the past lives on unpredictably into the present, but also of how the future (imagined, projected) affects the present, our plans and fantasies of what might be next, where we are going and who with – and whether those around us are carrying the same future projections, spoken or unspoken.

Third book – John Gray The Silence Of Animals – he’s not a cheerful writer (Zizek feels cheerful even when deeply pessimistic or offensive) – humans are animals, flawed, progress is a myth, we are damaged by the unrealistic expectation that things will eventually get better. Reading him is quite masochistic.

Next time I’ll write about music.



Here’s a quick note – I may not have much to say, but it’s time to get on with it. Once a week is my plan. Right now it’s quite difficult to concentrate, as three young women are singing loudly across the table from me, excerpts from Sondheim’s Into The Woods – occasionally with some unpredictable harmonyIt has been a beautiful sunny day in Stroud, and also down near Bath, rehearsing with Will Gregory’s Moog Ensemble for some forthcoming gigs, attempting to control the infinite knob-twiddling possibilities of the Korg MS-20. I shall be cured of my technophobia. However the days to come involve much cultural excitement, a birthday trip to London featuring a night out at The Lion King (not entirely by choice – not my birthday!), perhaps some jazz in Cheltenham (preferably Iain Ballamy on Sunday) and then a studious few days of musical research in Paris. Plus hopefully sitting in cafes by the Seine reading pretentious books and drinking intellectual coffee. Last Sunday Truffleshack played in Bristol, busking at the waterfront, sheltering from icy winds and torrential rain, and then at the Canteen on Stokes Croft, to a west country late sunday lunch crowd of beards. Hot work, particularly in my new hat.