Unparaphraseable Life – Notes on Third Cinema

“Cinema is magic in the service of dreams”
– Djibril Diop Mambéty

When, back in the 1990s, Félix Guattari coined the phrase Post-Media Era, this was of interest to me in that it seemed to imply a kind of bypassing of the mainstream mass media, or as filmmaker Peter Watkins calls it, the Monoform – a generalized communications format.1
In some ways my musings upon Guattari’s phrase were nothing other than a re-articulation, during the winter years of the mid ‘90s, of the spirit of the underground culture that had arisen in the ‘60s and, to some degree, petered out as the post-punk moment (that had educated many people into a ‘desire to know’) reached a kind of apogee in pop: ‘selling out’ as an ironic pose. This was, in some ways, concomitant to the rise of cultural studies through which even the infiltrative intents of pop subversion were rendered into abstract signs of cultural kudos rather than into propellants of a cultural combativeness. In these depoliticized years of the ‘90s, then, there was, amidst the wider movement of the rave and techno culture, an opening towards a rearticulation of counter culture and, for me, post-media signaled once more the benefits of an independent approach that could not simply become a vehicle for the usual forms of politicization but, as a shared practice and as a mode of relation, could make ‘labour in culture’ the meeting ground for a re-imagining of a politics based upon the reappropriation of both the means of production and the means of expression.
[Read more →]

‘Comrade Doctor’ – On David Cooper and ‘Anti-Psychiatry’

“Madness haunts the working and sleeping hours of even the most ‘healthy’ and ‘normal’ as society loses even the appearance of rationality.”

– Russell Jacoby 1

Picking up on Christoph Fringeli’s review of a reissue of Peter Sedgwick’s Psycho-Politics in Datacide 15, it struck me as to why my experience of reading Sedgwick’s book had been both curiously deflating and – in the chapters covering R.D. Laing – unsettling in the way it often has the tone of a personalised vendetta. Only on reading the review did this become a little clearer. Perhaps it was Sedgwick’s position as a lecturer in politics proper, as an upholder, when pushed by some of Laing’s poetic and mystical flights, of the “scientific-rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment”. Piqued by the memory of these little digs, I consulted a long essay by Sedgwick entitled ‘R.D. Laing: Self, Symptom and Society’ which was published ten years before Psycho-Politics 2. Here, from the opening line, it is announced that Sedgwick is going to survey Laing’s ‘intellectual history’ and whilst pointing to the difficulty in this (e.g. Laing collaborated with others so, it is maybe implied, a ‘pure’ Laing may be hard to isolate), he still maintains, with a kind of individuating moralism, that Laing must “bear responsibility” for his writings. Throughout this essay, which seems like a pre-run for Psycho-Politics, this kind of judgment, a judgment based on a readerly reading of written texts and in only very minimally exploring the responsibilities of Laing’s therapeutic praxis, seems above all to be about bringing a counter-cultural ‘guru’ down a peg or too, writing-off existential psychotherapy and uncritically defending the NHS. So, in his review of Ken Loach’s film Family Life which is loosely based on ‘anti-psychiatric’ themes as these effect a distressed young woman, we are subject to a kind of pawky sarcasm from Sedgwick: “At first the poor girl gets some sympathetic psychiatric help in a ward run by a Laingian doctor, who is called Mike by his subordinates and conducts therapy-sessions through earnest discussion about relationships.”3 [Read more →]

Demented Idioms – Schizo-Culture: The Event (1975) & The Book (1978)

“The problem is not really defining a political position […] but
to imagine and to bring about new schemas of politicization.”

– Michel Foucault

Back in the late 1980s, a series of pocket books appeared introducing English speakers to several writers who would become lumped together as post-modernist or post-structuralist philosophers. At the time, though, the names of Baudrillard, Lyotard, Virilio and Deleuze & Guattari were a lot less well known and these pocket books (dubbed the Foreign Agent Series) had the aura of underground publications. More aptly, perhaps, they seemed extra-academic; they didn’t seem to be coming from an institution and least of all from a British institution. The origins of these books, however, lay in a series of Journals and Conferences organized and edited under the name of Semiotext(e) and which came out of a specific department of Columbia University (an institutional vacuole?). One such Conference and accompanying Journal was the Schizo Culture gathering of November 1975, which brought (mainly untranslated) French theorists into collision and collaboration with elements of the SoHo Art Scene and with anti-psychiatry and prison activists like Howie Harp (Insane Liberation Front) and Judy Clark (Midnight Special). Ever mobile and shape-shifting and apposite to Semiotext(e)’s birth in a critique of linguistics1 we would find that William Burroughs (he of the ‘word virus’) was present, as was his fleetingly one-time Project Sigma collaborant, Ronald Laing. [Read more →]

Sincere Genesis – On Félix Guattari & Groups

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“Sooner or later the Situationist International must
define itself as a therapy: we are ready to defend the
poetry made by all against the false poetry
rigged up by power”
– Raoul Vaneigem

As a psychoanalyst and militant, Félix Guattari seems to have engaged with the problem of groups for all his life. Across his writing we see him putting forth, as part of a collaborative process, various conceptualisations of group life which are to a larger or lesser degree operational concepts which he had experienced and worked with. These are: institutional analysis, the subject and subjugated group and the collective assemblage of enunciation. Several themes, gathering points for his later more pronounced interest in the production of subjectivity, appear to flow through all of these concepts: transversalism, a mixed semiotic and the subject as ‘supra-personal’. [Read more →]

LAST SURVIVORS OR FIRST MUTANTS? – Notes on Surplus Population

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LAST SURVIVORS OR FIRST MUTANTS? [1]
Notes on Surplus Population

“For all I was the thing
in history –
the barbaric; the semi-barbaric; the savage
that was me”

– John La Rose

Writing in April 1975 the Race Today Collective reiterated to a bemused leftist, who accused them of touting the same views on unemployment as the then home secretary Keith Joseph, that they, on the contrary, were of the view that “capital seeks to create a reserve army of mobile labour in the whole world, and that the young black wageless are part of such a reserve army.”[2] This theme of the ‘black wageless’ had also been taken up by publisher and activist John la Rose who, in an earlier issue of Race Today, offered that the “wageless black youth, by withholding their labor, are challenging the rule of capital in a fundamentally revolutionary way”[3]. They were, La Rose contends, withdrawing from the work ethic and crucially, refusing to compete with their fellows and making a break with “mundane social conceptions”. The Race Today Collective may well have offered that amongst such ‘mundane’ social ideas were those often voiced by the mainstream left whom it contended was treacherous to the ‘wageless black youth’ demoting them from working class to lumpen status and unsuccessfully tempting them into ‘Right To Work’ marches. [Read more →]

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