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 →]

Dancing with Death: The Excremental, the Sacred & Ecstatic Community in Free Party Culture

death dance 2_72

Image by Darkam

‘The slaughterhouse is linked to religion in so far as the temples of bygone eras … served two purposes: they were used both for prayer and for killing. The result … was certainly a disturbing convergence of the mysteries of myth and the ominous grandeur typical of those places in which blood flows. … In our time, the slaughterhouse is cursed and quarantined like a plague-ridden ship. Now, the victims of this curse are neither butchers nor beasts, but those same good folk who countenance, … only their own unseemliness, an unseemliness commensurate with an unhealthy need of cleanliness, with irascible meanness, and boredom.’
Georges Bataille (1)

In 1999, in the shadow of the approaching millennium, a disused abattoir on Waterden Road in Hackney Wick was squatted and used over an extended period as a venue for free parties. The adjacent property was a large warehouse, which had been converted to an Evangelist Church. The area, which has now been demolished to make way for the London 2012 Olympic development, was a crumbling industrial wasteland contained by motorways, railways and waterways; there was little through traffic. Waterden road was made up of various warehouses, a nightclub, a bus depot, and a site which had been home to a community of travellers for over thirty years. Next to the Church stood the former Hackney Wick dog/speedway stadium, falling into dereliction. Every Sunday, the stadium car park came alive as an ad hoc market, where people came to trade all manner of goods, many rumoured to be of dubiously legal origins. The area had a liminal feel, as if thrown together, with premises that were in decline being put to unexpected uses. Hackney psychogeographer Iain Sinclair describes this lost street as ‘the very essence of edgelands’ (2).

This juxtaposition of church and abattoir falls short of the convergence of prayer and killing that Bataille identifies in archaic temples. But together these accidental neighbours form a disjointed figure through which to explore relations to death in contemporary society. I visit this landscape to set the scene for a short detour through and beyond Bataille’s thinking on ecstasy and the sacred in order to approach another matter: the experience of community. I argue that those free parties created an environment in which the experience of being-with-others had a particular intensity which can be understood as religious, but that this religiosity differs from that of the church. As I explore the edgelands, I will show that to think community is to inhabit a space of limits: the limits of the subject, of representation, and of the city. As such, the spatiality of social relations is connected to architecture. [Read more →]