Friday, 31 May 2019

A new saga begins in White Fragility

As we approach a new trial on July 4th we must examine the phenomena of Tommy Robinson and the insecurity of the white male.. The Tommy Robinson saga reveals itself as the litmus test of ontological insecurity. .The conspiracy theorists raved and spat. They were male yet insecure in that They screamed and shouted ...they claimed they were exposing paedophiles yet they were only interested if the paedophile had a darker skin. They conveniently forgot about the EDL man charged with the same crime. They forgot that Tommy's actions would simply risk freeing a paedophile..
They wanted their country back but knew nothing of legal process and of law They threatened gay journalists, politicians and the police, they treated social war on the liberal left..

Even getting the softer right to admit that anything was wrong with the Robinson approach was like trying to get the essence of liberalism out of the bricks of the Hitler bunker. When you did they screamed ad hominems like it was projectile vomit. It was an external locus of awareness not an internal ontological one. It was the Left that was to blame, they hated the expert, the historian and the social scientists. The Left were the cause not the bankers; the system and the market. To them Tommy was in Calvary be was their messiah the distilled essence of hate. The fear of the other the different was clear.. they were white males; insecure projecting, displacing; afraid the inner Tommy Robinson that has possessed so many will not go away till we know ourselves, know our insecurities and fears. Till then he will not go away.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Plaid plays Byzantium in Powys and stories of the coming by election

Plaid plays Byzantium in Powys and stories of the coming by election in Brecon and Radnor.. you may remember that a some weeks ago I told you of the battle for the budget in Powys. Had it not been for the magnificent Seven Labour Councillors amongst we could have found that all the libraries within the County would have been closed. As it was on the first vote the budget was defeated and the Labour Group were delighted to see the two Plaid Councillors back them in their opposition. The Labour Group was fascinated to note that in a seconf vote for the budget proposed by the Tory Independent cialirion was passed. It was interesting to note that in that second vote the two Plaid Councillors abstained. It was further noticed that when Powys Council choose it's roles and positions in the Annual Meeting of the Council these two Plaid Councillors were given "promotion" . I am not suggesting causation or back room deals of course., however a degree of correlation might be spotted by some. I of course could not comment but you might want to....

I also here that some tectonic plates may be shifting amongst this hybrid monstrosity that rules Powys. As I write my little birds and dire wolves tell me of a healthy flow of electors signing the recall petition. There is still three weeks to go and I think that we might nearly be at the magic total of 5303 that will trigger a by election. I wonder if Chris Davies will be selected by the local Tory Party . I am told that if the percentage of electors suppirting reaches 20% then he will be challenged by at least two others. As it is it looks as if a by election will occur either in the last week of July or the first week of August. It's been 32 years since the Brecon and Radnor by election of 1987. I smile as i wonder what the 29 year old Martyn John Shrewsbury would have said had a time traveller from 2019 gone back to tell him that 32 years into the future he would be Branch Secreatary of Ystradgynlais Labour Party and Executive Member of the CLP. I love the irony and mysteries of space and time...oh well sliding doors and alternative futures...

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Victorian Underworld



Just as disease spread unseen, so the gaslit streets of Victorian cities hid their own dark truths. Crime was commonplace, from pickpocketing (as practised by Fagin’s boys in Oliver Twist) and house-breaking to violent affray and calculated murder. Vice was easily available from child prostitution to opium dens. Drunkenness was widespread.

In an attempt to tackle prostitution in garrison and dockyard towns, the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864-69) licensed prostitutes, imposing medical examinations. The measures were vigourously opposed by reformers such as Josephine Butler, who argued that they put innocent women’s reputations at risk, and the Acts were repealed in 1886.
Reputation meant a great deal to the average Victorian. Double-standards of morality, though not unique to their age, appeared stark when private promiscuities took place behind a curtain of prim public rectitude. Officially, sex was confined to the marital bed, and until 1857 divorce was obtainable only through a Church court and Act of Parliament. On marriage, a wife’s property became that of her husband until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 at last gave women control of what was their own.
While countrymen waged war on poachers, townspeople bolted doors and windows against urban crime. Sir Robert Peel’s police force, instituted in London in 1829, became a model for other forces in the country. Harsh punishments faced wrongdoers; forced labour, flogging, the treadmill, transportation, hanging for a range of crimes – though seldom, in practice, for any crime but murder after 1837 (the last public hanging took place on 1868). These had little effect on simmering backstreet violence, or, if fiction is to be believed, on criminal activity behind seemingly respectable household doors.
Murder was the ultimate crime. Its means were many and various – poisoning was a favourite method, and thwarted love, or a tempting legacy, two common motives. Victorians invented the detective story, reflecting their interest in criminal creativity and in the new ‘scientific’ methods of forensic investigation, as used by the greatest of all fictional sleuths, Sherlock Holmes, who made his first appearance in 1887 in Conan Doyle’s story A Study in Scarlet. They also relished the gory contrivances of such melodramas as Sweeney Todd,  the ‘Demon Barber’ who turned his victims into meat pies and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Jack the Ripper

The most notorious Victorian murders were bloody slayings in the backstreets of London’s Whitechapel, ascribed to Jack the Ripper. These attacks typically involved female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End of London, whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations. The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer had some anatomical or surgical knowledge. Rumours that the murders were connected intensified in September and October 1888, and letters were received by media outlets and Scotland Yard from a writer or writers purporting to be the murderer. The ‘From Hell’ letter received by George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee included half of a preserved human kidney, purportedly taken from one of the victims. The public came increasingly to believe in a single serial killer known as ‘Jack the Ripper’, mainly because of the extraordinarily brutal character of the murders, and because of media treatment of the events.
Extensive newspaper coverage bestowed widespread and enduring international notoriety on the Ripper, and his legend solidified. A police investigation into a series of eleven brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888. Five victims – Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – are known as the ‘canonical five’, and their murders between 31 August and 9 November 1888 are often considered the most likely to be linked. The murders were never solved, and the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory. The term ‘ripperology’ was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases. There are now over one hundred theories about the Ripper’s identity, and the murders have inspired many works of fiction.
Unquestionably the most infamous serial killer of all time, Jack the Ripper holds a special place in British history. His identity has been the subject of endless debate, and his victims have long been profiled in the press and in books. The suspects, the murders and the motives have also long been scrutinised. Was Jack a member of the royal family, a butcher, a Freemason, a Polish emigrant, or someone else entirely?

Initially the term ‘tabloid’ was used to describe a small, easily digestible tablet produced by the London pharmaceutical manufacturer Buroughs Wellcome & Company, who would later become GlaxoSmithKline. The first record of it being attributed to the easily digestible form of journalism was in the early twentieth century.

However, before tabloids became commonplace journalism still played a vital role in Victorian society, in particular when it came to dealing with murders and other gruesome crimes. The plethora of newspapers, ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ and other cheaply produced publications meant that each story had to scream at a passer-by in order to be sold. For the first time publications such as The Illustrated Police News were created for the sole purpose of reporting on heinous crimes, ruthless criminals and tragic victims. This lurid period of history is often cited as the true beginning of press sensationalism.
The tabloids would often print horrendous images of mutilated bodies and crime scenes alongside equally graphic accounts of the event that had taken place. Shots of murder victims lying brutally disfigured in a morgue became common place and the stories would regularly grip the nation as they developed. If the perpetrator was caught and sentenced to execution then thousands would often turn out to see the dramatic finale to their favourite story.
Sensational murder reports were not something new to the Victorian age.But with a rise in readership rates, particularly in the late 1800s, these reports became more focussed on entertaining readers rather than just informing them. This interest spread to a global level at the time of the Whitechapel Murders, with the stories being printed around the world in countries such as Jamaica, Australia and the United States.
Crooked journalists would often fake evidence, create witness accounts and mislead the police to create racy and sensational stories. As they did this the panic that was sweeping through the streets heightened; for example, on the 20 October 1888, Mrs Mary Burridge apparently dropped dead after reading a lurid Ripper account. Whether or not this was true adds to the enigmatic nature of truth in tabloid journalism in the Victorian period.
The press played a pivotal role in creating the public image of the Whitechapel murderer. Armed with his horrifying nickname, ‘Jack the Ripper’, journalists quickly fashioned a terrifying figure to cast blame on. Without a clear target, the press were forced to label the killer with haunting titles such as ‘monster’ and ‘fiend’, adding an almost supernatural element to the killer’s reputation. Through these fleeting descriptions racial and social tensions were heightened. The few eyewitness reports to be printed often labelled the man as having a ‘dark complexion, black-beard, black coat and foreign-looking’ – a description of a typical Jewish man living in the East End at the time.

Eleven separate murders, stretching from 3 April 1888 to 13 February 1891, were included in a London Metropolitan Police Service investigation and known collectively as the ‘Whitechapel murders’. Opinions vary as to whether these murders should all be linked to the same culprit, but the five of the eleven listed below, known as the ‘canonical five’, are widely believed to be the work of Jack the Ripper.

Mary Ann Nichols

Conventionally understood to be the first of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Mary Ann Nichols was a native of London who had spent a good deal of the 1880s on the drift. Her marriage, to a man named William Nichols, had apparently foundered after the birth of their sixth child: William’s head had been irreversibly turned by a neighbour called Rosetta; Mary Ann was laying the roots of an inescapable addiction to alcohol. She embarked on a dismal tour of the capital’s workhouses and infirmaries; she surrendered herself to the elements, sleeping rough in Trafalgar Square; and, finally, when she had squandered her last shot at rehabilitation, she gravitated, as so many unanchored people would, to the East End. Prostitution was her last recourse.
By 31 August 1888, she was homeless and without the money to pay for a bed in a lodging house – indeed, she claimed to have earned and then drunk away the fourpence fee several times over that day. At 2.30a.m., an acquaintance encountered her, drunk and staggering in the darkness at the junction of Osborn Street and Whitechapel Road. This would be the last time that Mary Ann was knowingly seen alive by anyone other than her killer.
At 3:45 am, two men, walking west along Buck’s Row, saw what they thought might have been an abandoned tarpaulin lying on the footpath. Closer inspection showed that it was the body of a woman, her throat cut, pooled in blood. Only when her body was stripped in the primitive local mortuary were the horrible incisions to Mary Ann’s abdomen discovered. Her intestines, uncontained by the abdominal wall, threatened to push through the gaps. This unusual degree of brutality rendered her murder notable, an abstract alternative to the city’s run-of-the-mill domestic homicides. But, in a pattern which would be repeated with unhappy frequency over the following two and a half months, no sign of the killer was to be found.

Annie Chapman

It was true to say that things had been better for Annie Chapman. Far from the rookeries of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, she had spent part of her adolescence – and, later, part of her married life – in Windsor, in the shadow of the royal castle. This may not have betokened real wealth, but it probably did go hand-in-hand with a certain level of economic comfort. Annie and her husband, John, even had their photograph taken in about 1869 – the image, originally identified by the researcher Neal Stubbings Shelden in 2001, is the only one we have of any of Jack the Ripper’s canonical victims in life. A photograph was not a typically working-class accoutrement; clearly, the Chapmans were destined for better things – or, at least, little luxuries along the way.
Annie, however, soon embarked on a familiar path, becoming estranged from her family and increasingly intimate with drink as the 1880s wore on. By 1888, she was isolated, malnourished, suffering from chronic illnesses. She was also to be found, on 5 September 1888, brawling with another woman, Eliza Cooper, over a disputed piece of soap. Annie’s face was marked in the fight; perhaps this was a sign that her ability to defend herself was diminishing.
And then, on 8 September, in the early dawn, Annie’s body was discovered in the unsecured yard behind 29 Hanbury Street and, as before, no sign of the perpetrator.

Elizabeth Stride

The boat sank rapidly, gurgling into the filthy Thames, and Elizabeth struggled madly for safety; and, in the crush, she stumbled, and fell, and the heel of the person in front of her brought the taste of iron to her mouth.
Or so she said. The Princess Alice disaster, in 1878, was genuine enough; but Elizabeth Stride’s presence on board was a figment of her imagination. Sympathy? Perhaps. She claimed to have lost a husband and an indeterminate number of children to the dark river. The truth was less dramatic, but no more happy.
Elizabeth Stride had graduated from Gothenburg’s streets to their less-regulated equivalents in London, leaving behind a rather unfortunate early background, and exchanging it for an uncertain future. After marriage in the West End, she arrived, inevitably, in the less-salubrious east. Early attempts to prosper in its hostile commercial environment as the proprietor of a coffee shop gradually lapsed, and, following her husband’s death, Elizabeth was thrown back on her resourcefulness, and her untrustworthy recall.
So it was that she found herself in Berner Street in the first minutes of 30 September 1888, spotted here and there by a clutch of generally well-meaning witnesses, dodging the autumn showers. But then she vanished into the shadows of Dutfield’s Yard, later to be detected there by a hawker whose horse had shied away from something lying perfectly still before it, and to the right. He descended from his cart to investigate. By matchlight, the face appeared; by lantern-light, the wound to the throat. Then the familiar hue and cry: the police; the doctor. The madman remained invisible, nowhere to be found.
Elizabeth’s abdomen had not been defiled in the manner of her predecessors, and immediately minds began to turn on the significance of this rapid de-escalation. They turn, too, to this day, and Elizabeth’s position within the canon of Ripper victims is, some feel, an insecure one. But there is one version of the story which says that the implications of the Ripper’s failure to mutilate Elizabeth had very particular consequences; and, in this version, those consequences would become known an hour later, and less than a mile away.

Catherine Eddowes

If you had been in Aldgate High Street at half past eight on the evening of 29 September 1888, you would have seen PC Louis Robinson peering down at the figure in the shadows, lying at his feet. A crowd had gathered, but nobody knew her. He took her up, and propped her against the shutters of a shop. She slipped, drunkenly, sideways.
After a few hours in the cells at Bishopsgate police station, Catherine Eddowes was slightly recovered from her binge and ready to be released. She had studiously avoided telling the police her real name; she took the moralisms of the duty officer in good spirit; she pulled the door to the police station almost to; and she turned left, heading away from Whitechapel. It was one in the morning, on 30 September 1888. A short distance away to the east, Dutfield’s Yard had filled with people.
Within forty-five minutes, Catherine too would be found dead. Her injuries were a record of somebody’s brutality – again, there was no sign of the perpetrator.
A cadre of detectives fanned out from Mitre Square – the scene of Catherine’s demise - and, back in the direction of Whitechapel, two clues were found. A piece of Catherine’s apron had been cut, and the missing portion, stained with blood, was discovered in a doorway. Above it, anti-Semitic graffiti had appeared, unseen by the beat policeman on his previous rotation. Had the killer stopped to chalk his prejudices neatly into his bizarre criminal narrative? Did it seem possible, with the police already out in great numbers after Stride’s murder earlier that morning?
Perhaps hubris was taking over – but, if so, there followed an unlikely intermission of more than a month. The trail went cold. Was the killer in retirement? Or would he return?

Mary Jane Kelly

Of all the Ripper’s victims, Mary Jane Kelly is the most enigmatic. Her death brought her to the notice of posterity, but her backstory remains shadowy and largely out-of-reach. She herself, having fallen into a relationship with a fishmarket porter named Joseph Barnett, provided a detailed history, full of adventure and sadness. Some aspects of her self-described past now appear to check out, but still a comprehensive and verifiable overview of her background continues to elude researchers.
The photograph of Mary Jane’s corpse, on her bed, divested of practically everything which made her human, is the last, hideous memento of Jack the Ripper’s murderous fugue. In a break with his previous habits, the Ripper ventured inside to kill, and apparently satisfied himself that he was unlikely to be interrupted that night. Barnett had, indeed, moved out of the squalid room in Millers Court which he had shared with Mary Jane a few weeks earlier, insulted by her return to regular prostitution, leaving her alone. Living upstairs, Elizabeth Prater heard a cry of murder at about four in the morning of 9 November 1888 – but she did nothing about it. Mary Jane’s lifeless body was discovered shortly before eleven.
One senior policeman, reviewing the case later on, concluded that the abattoir scene in Millers Court had tipped the mind of its creator. Perhaps. It is certainly true to say that nothing on a comparable scale happened again.
Jack the Ripper’s true identity died on the blanched lips of Mary Jane Kelly.

Crime in Great Expectations

Crime in Great Expectations

Crime exists as a powerful psychological force throughout Dickens’s Great Expectations. Professor John Mullan examines the complicated criminal web in which the novel’s protagonist, Pip, finds himself caught.
Charles Dickens was certainly interested in crime and punishment in his own society. In his observational Sketches by Boz and his journals like Household Words he explored the parts of London where criminals lurked, and he reported on the doubtful workings of the criminal justice system. Yet in Great Expectations, crime is not so much a social issue as a psychological threat – a powerful influence that the novel’s hero, with all his ambitions to be a ‘gentleman’, cannot escape. Indeed, Great Expectations is not about Victorian England at all. It is set several decades back from the time of its publication in 1860–61. In the opening chapters Dickens takes his readers back to the 1810s, when prisoners were kept in the ‘hulks’ – prison ships moored in the Thames and the Medway rivers. These criminals are treated as utterly alien and separate. The escaped convict who unforgettably rises from amongst the graves in the opening chapter, the battered, ravenous man with his leg iron, is like a spirit come to claim Pip. The narrator becomes aware that there is no getting away from crime, but this is a reflection of his own guilty conscience rather than social fact.
At the end of that extraordinary opening chapter the narrator describes himself as a child, looking out across the marshes and seeing ‘the only two black things in all the prospect that seemed to be standing upright’: one of these is a sailors’ beacon, the other, ‘a gibbet with some chains hanging to it which had once held a pirate’. It is at once an emblem of childhood fears and a sign of Pip’s entanglement with crime. He watches the convict limp off towards it, ‘as if he were the pirate come to life, and come down, and going back to hook himself up again’ (ch. 1). The disconcerting blend of comedy and terror is characteristically Dickensian. Here, childhood fantasy catches the novel’s disturbing truth: that its protagonist is shadowed by crime and criminals. It is, after all, the story of a young man of high pretensions and ‘great expectations’ who believes that his fortune comes to him from an heiress – when in fact it is bequeathed him by a former criminal. Pip thinks he can be better than his background – better than Jo and Biddy, the two people who love him. He is doomed to find himself worse than he thought.

An intimacy with crime

Pip keeps being forced into a kind of intimacy with crime. As a young man, travelling back to his childhood home from London, he finds himself on the same coach as two convicts. One of them he recognises as the same ‘secret-looking man’ who accosted him the local inn, the Three Jolly Bargeman, many years before. Then he showed him the very file that he had once given the convict. Now he finds the unrecognising convict sitting just behind him. ‘It is impossible to express with what acuteness I felt the convict’s breathing, not only in the back of my head, but all along my spine’ (ch. 28). He is connected with crime; he feels its breath on his neck.

Crime as entertainment

Every character in the novel seems interested in crime. Mr Wopsle entertains his fellow drinkers by reading aloud a newspaper account of ‘a highly popular murder’ (chapter 18). Perhaps he is rather like Dickens himself, who in his early essay ‘Criminal Courts’ admitted to ‘the indescribable feeling of curiosity’ excited by true crime.[1] Wopsle and his audience are ‘delightfully comfortable’ with the performance of testimonies at an inquest, until a stranger interrupts with a forensic demolition of their assumptions about the facts of the case. It is, of course, the lawyer Jaggers, who punctures the complacency of those who treat crime stories as entertainment (ch. 18). Jaggers knows crime to its heart and draws his knowledge of human nature from criminals.

‘This taint of prison and crime’

Pip’s agent amongst the criminal clients is Wemmick, who in Chapter 32 takes him on a short tour of Newgate Prison, where he meets a coiner who is due to be executed a few days later. Afterwards, waiting to meet Estella, Pip thinks ‘how strange it was that I should be encompassed by all this taint of prison and crime’ – that, since his childhood, it has reappeared ‘starting out like a stain that was faded but not gone’. Thinking of the celestial Estella’s imminent arrival, he considers ‘with absolute abhorrence … the contrast between the jail and her’ – yet she too is tangled in crime, the daughter of the very convict Pip encounters at the beginning of his tale. But then so many are tainted. Compeyson, the man Miss Havisham was to marry, becomes another convict. He will later recruit Orlick, who works with Jo in his forge, and will haunt and threaten Pip. When Orlick strikes with murderous intent his weapon will be the leg-iron that Pip helped Magwitch saw off his leg many years earlier. Jaggers, who presides over the narrative, is a forbidding analyst of human nature who rules the lives of criminals. His maid, Molly, with her scarred arms, has been saved from the gallows by his advocacy and is another with a criminal past.

Pip is appalled and revolted when Magwitch returns to claim him as his ‘dear boy’, ‘the gentleman what I made’ (ch. 40). Yet, unwillingly, he learns a lesson in compassion. The criminal is a man reduced, but a man still.
I've been done everything to, pretty well – except hanged. I've been locked up as much as silver tea-kittle. I've been carted here and carted there, and put out of this town and put out of that town, and stuck in the stocks, and whipped and worried and drove. I've no notion where I was born than you have – if so much. I first became aware of myself down in Essex, a thieving turnips for my living. Summun had run away from me – a man – a tinker – and he'd took the fire with him and left me very cold. (ch. 42)
The rueful, self-condemning Pip, with his aspirations to be a ‘gentleman’, is to be taught a lesson. In his preface to the Third Edition of Oliver Twist (1841), Dickens retorted to those who had condemned him for stooping too low in his choice of characters. ‘... if I look for examples, and for precedents, I find them in the noblest range of English literature. Fielding, Defoe, Goldsmith, Smollett, Richardson, Mackenzie – all these for wise purposes, and especially the two first, brought upon the scene the very scum and refuse of the land’. In this early novel, Dickens exhibited an underworld into which his young hero was dragged, but from which he was ultimately redeemed. In Great Expectations he showed his readers that crime was not something distant. Pip’s awareness of its closeness to him dramatises his guilt at his own selfishness and disloyalty.


[1] Charles Dickens, ‘Criminal Courts’ from Sketches by Boz (London: Chapman & Hall, 1903), chapter 24.

'The Animal That Therefore I Am' Weil on Derrida, Reviewed by Kari Weil

The Animal That Therefore I Am is the complete text of Jacques Derrida’s ten-hour address to the 1997 Cerisy conference entitled “The Autobiographical Animal.” H-Animal readers probably are familiar with portions of the book: the first of the four sections and title essay appeared in Critical Inquiry in 2002 and was reprinted in an abridged form in Peter Atterton and Matthew Calarco’s Animal Philosophy (2004). The third section, “And Say the Animal Responded,” appeared in Cary Wolfe’s edited volume, Zoontologies in 2003. This edition presents updated translations of these essays and adds two new sections, now published posthumously. “But As For Me, Who Am I Following,” focuses on an often unacknowledged or even disavowed animal question in Descartes, Kant, and Levinas, and “I don’t know why we are doing this” offers a further reading of “the animal” in Heidegger, coming back to points that Derrida raised earlier in the conference and in earlier texts such as On Spirit (1987). This last section, as editor Marie-Louise Mallet explains in her introduction, posed some specific problems since, unlike the previous lectures, which were written “in toto,” this one was fully improvised. It was published from a sound recording and thus reopens questions of difference between speech and writing that Derrida wrote about early in his career.

With this complete text, readers will gain greater clarity on the significance and stakes for Derrida of what it might mean to be or to follow an animal. (The title in French, L’Animal que donc je suis, plays on the double meaning of je suis: “I am” and “I follow”). I say “might mean” because the word “animal” is always, for Derrida, a stand-in for something that cannot be seized or contained. “Animal” is a word, more importantly, that misidentifies often with violent consequences, a word that, if we cannot get away from (and that seems difficult), should be “under erasure.” Readers will also find that certain themes, which were only briefly alluded to in the single essays, grow in emphasis as they reappear, almost symptomatically, throughout the lectures. These include issues regarding sexual difference, regarding time (especially time the philosopher may not have), and, especially, issues about tracking. Tracking recalls the early Derridean theory of the trace--that unconscious logic which haunts the path of argument, and here reaffirms the seeking of knowledge or information as a habit that human and nonhuman animals of different species share: we follow signs, scents, clues, not always knowing where or to what or whom they may lead us, indeed, not knowing also how they may become part of us.

Reading these lectures successively one gets a sense of Derrida’s own method as a kind of tracking. He picks up a word or sign, follows it a while, lets it drop as another scent overpowers it, then follows that one, only to have it return him to the former, now rediscovered in a slightly changed context. This can be a frustrating journey at times, but in its almost impulsive ferreting, it enacts the idea of following as both an evolutionary and an intellectual activity. As the philosopher tracks the animal question in a tradition leading from Descartes to Heidegger, we sense neither the anxiety of influence nor the anxiety of descent, but a gracious indebtedness to those he follows for what he has learned from them, and for the tools he now turns against them.

Derrida’s intellectual tracking, that is to say, takes him to very different ends from those of his predecessors, if not to, in his estimation, new beginnings. Neither Descartes, Kant, Heidegger, Levinas, nor Lacan, he claims, has given such sustained attention to the question of the animal. In particular, neither has questioned the singularity of that term, “the animal”--“a name [men] have given themselves the right and the authority to give to the living other” (p. 23). And yet, the very history of who we think we are as humans is tied up in distinguishing ourselves from this other we have named and subjected--subjected for the sake of claiming subjectivity as our exclusive property. This history, this autobiography of the human, has nevertheless reached an unprecedented moment that makes such questioning imperative. It is not the fact of subjection that has changed, he emphasizes, it is the means, and volume of this subjection in modernity. Derrida’s “following,” thus entails both historical hindsight and a sense of urgency: “No one today can deny this event--that is the unprecedented proportions of this subjection of the animal.... Neither can one seriously deny the disavowal that this involves” (p. 25). Derrida will not participate in the same disavowal and is not afraid to use the words that others may have shied away from--holocaust, genocide--to describe in detail the kinds of violence done to animals through industrial farming or biological experimentation and manipulation, all for the “putative human well-being of man” (p. 25). As Matthew Callarco explains, Derrida’s work is aimed at undercutting the kinds of humanist hierarchies that oppose such analogies as scandalous simply because they compare human and nonhuman life.[1]

While Derrida thus emphasizes the way in which “zoe” or animal life has come to mean a life of suffering, his first concern as philosopher is the result this has on “bios”--the biography or meaning that humans give to themselves. In tracking and deconstructing the subject from Descartes through Lacan, he attempts to uncover the fraudulent grounds on which the human has been defined in opposition to the animal and thereby claimed superiority over it. If thinking is, as Descartes posits, the essence of what or who I am as human, that is the cause of my being as human, Derrida asks how we know that thinking is so different from sniffing or scenting and “why this zone of sensibility is so neglected or reduced to a secondary position in philosophy and the arts?” (p. 55). Following a similar path in Kant, he contends that insofar as the thoughts of those I follow become my thoughts, I must accept, even “welcome,” an “irreducible heteroaffection” at my core. In other words, I am moved not of my own volition but by an other within me. My “autonomy,” to take the term that is essential for Kant’s delineation of the human and reprisal of the Cartesian cogito, is in no way assured. To the extent that I may be moved by and moved in my thinking by an animal, as Derrida appears to have been moved to write these lectures by the look of his cat, I demonstrate that the self is not autonomous, and its heteronomous “other” is not necessarily human.

So where does this leave Derrida’s now famous cat, we might ask? Those readers looking for an ethology that tells us more of how the world or the philosopher/human looks from the viewpoint of a cat or other animal will be disappointed. Donna Haraway has written of this disappointment and criticized Derrida for missing an opportunity to “seriously consider an alternative form of engagement ... one that risked knowing something more about cats and how to look back, perhaps even scientifically, biologically, and therefore also philosophically and intimately.”[2] Similarly, those looking for an ethics or a guide for how to live or be with nonhuman animals will also be disappointed. But that is not to say that the deconstruction of the subject is without ethical value. Derrida addresses the question of ethics directly in the second section in a number of pages devoted to Emmanuel Levinas whose deeply thoughtful writings on ethics and alterity had great influence on Derrida and concludes that he has put “the animal outside of the ethical circuit”(p. 106). He finds this “disavowal” of the animal/other surprising, given the “great intangible Judaic principle” of life that underlies much of Levinasian ethics. But this principle of life remains unthought, covered over by his notions of death and the face, which remain grounded in a stubborn humanism: only humans properly die (and thus must not be killed); only a human has a naked face that reveals "his" vulnerability and calls me to respond to it, to be responsible to or for it. Levinas thus must be included in the tradition of those whose understanding of the subject, even as it is deeply grounded in otherness because moved by and responsive to it, is exclusive of “the animal.”

Derrida’s discussion of Levinas uncovers a parallel between this exclusion of consideration of the animal and that of sexual difference, especially in relation to the theme of nudity that runs through Levinas, and as a result, in relation to who/what has ethical standing. Despite what some might want to find in Levinas’s discussion of Bobby, the dog who befriended him in a concentration camp, dogs and women are denied an opening to ethics. Could it be that the “sacrificial war” against the animal,” which Derrida says is as old as Genesis (p. 101), is also linked to the war against “the feminine”--a term that has been similarly essentialized with often violent effects? Derrida briefly addresses sexual difference earlier in a comparison of two narratives of Genesis. In the first version Ish, or Adam, is described as male and female and the couple is given authority over the animals in obedience to God.Naming of the animals, however, only takes place in the second version where Adam is described as male alone, before woman. Responding to the names Adam gives them, moreover, the animals come after or follow him (rather than vice versa), as does woman. Such naming, Derrida suggests through a compelling reading of a passage from Walter Benjamin, is necessarily linked to death and is what renders the animals mortal. The name of “the animal,” delineating the ultimate ethical difference from the human, is also what renders them capable of being sacrificed.

Derrida does not pursue the potential consequences of the first narrative, in which women are present and naming does not take place, preferring to track the disavowals in philosophy and religion that are linked to the “phallogocentrism” of the second. Disavowal is a term repeated frequently in the lectures and with the full psychoanalytic meaning of denying a reality that has potentially traumatic implications. Whether that trauma be the Darwinian one of descent or the Freudian one of sexual difference, Derrida’s experience with his cat seems to bring him face to face with what his philosophical predecessors would not or could not see (hence the exclusions)--that an animal, like a woman, has a point of view--an “other” point of view on me and on the world. As David Wills suggests, Derrida recasts the scene of Genesis in such a way that consciousness of nudity and hence vulnerable subjectivity is awakened by this animal gaze and is strengthened by the gaze of a woman imagined to be witnessing the scene, perhaps in a mirror. If Derrida’s readings of his predecessors’ disavowals are masterful in their insights, this scene of avowal reveals a “malaise” of identity and shame that cannot be mastered but only exacerbated into a shame of shame. Here are the beginnings of autobiography, the moment when this mirroring of gazes and multiplying selves brings Derrida to posit his “I,” a human and male “I,” as “a living creature of the masculine sex, even if he does so with all the complexity that he thinks he has to recall and lay claim to at every occasion, even suspecting that an autobiography of any consequence cannot not touch on this assurance of saying “I am a man,” I am a woman,” I am a man who is also a woman” (p. 58). Ecce animot, it would be easier to say--Derrida’s invented word for that which cannot be separated easily into species or sex, and whose identity is only maintained by a word, a mot.

The scene with the cat thus evokes something of that fluidity of identity (where otherness is explicitly the other--animal or animot) that branches of feminism acknowledged and embraced at least since the 70s. While not referencing feminism, Derrida seems to demonstrate what many feminists theorized: that fear of such fluidity is a masculine fear, and the need to guard against it (to disavow) is productive of specifically masculine forms of hiding or dissimulation. The term animot, should not be read as a term to stave off or overcome this fear whether through the denial of difference or the acceptance of a transspecies or transgendered appellation. Difference is not to be overcome, but rather as the plural heard in animot (animaux) suggests, it is to be pluralized, calling attention to the many differences that may or may not distinguish sexes and species. These are also differences that we harbor in ourselves, differences from the names we give ourselves, differences from the human-animal we think we are. “We no longer know how many we are then, all males and females of us. And I maintain that autobiography has begun there” (p. 58).

This recognition of my indebtedness to the animot or to the animal others I follow and whose look calls me and my certainties about the world into question forms the base of what Matthew Callarco has called the “proto-ethical” in Derrida.[3] This look prepares me, if it does not compel me, to address the vulnerabilities we share as living, mortal beings, as they also bring me to acknowledge the qualities and talents of an other I may know little of and may not know despite my efforts to name him or her. Derrida’s final lecture on Heidegger suggests that a more ethical mitsein or living with our animal/others may, in fact, depend on giving up the knowledge of world that is associated with Dasein. Do we, he asks, really know the world “as such” and in such a different manner from animals who, Heidegger argues, know the world only in a relation of utility, guided by drives or desires (p. 159)? Might not our language be proof of our own inability to know the world outside of our own projects, outside of our own autobiographical efforts, and not the proof of our true apprehension of the world?

Letting animals be in their being, outside our projects and outside our will for knowledge, would, Derrida seems to suggest, constitute the ultimate ethical stance. As autobiographical animals, however, we may have difficulty, as does Derrida, thinking a principle of life outside of our own projects. What we can do is to track and scrutinize those projects, paying particular attention to how and for what purposes we construct difference. In this way we may turn away from those tracks that trample upon or claim to leave others behind in the assertion of our difference. This is the proto-ethical project that Derrida’s work on the animal undertakes. It is unfortunate that there will not be more to follow.

[1]. Matthew Callarco, Zoographies:The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 110-111.
[2]. Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 20.
[3]. Callarco, Zoographies.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The real hopeless victims of mental illness

The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. "Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does." They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.” Aldous Huxley Brave New World Revisited The characters are lonely, broken, psychotic , ambitious, deluded, hopeful , scared, looking for love, caring, innocent and brutal. Erm that rings a bell.....who are these in this situation....perhaps they are in all of us or in none of us... are they our collective shadow.? or the bogeyman at the end of the polling station?. I just dont know...did I ever know? who are they lurking beyond and behind conventional existence..

Watching the Existential graphic novel

Watching the Existential graphic novel

The graphic novel genre is still in most places perceived as being far from the realm of serious literature. In a way graphic novels such as More and Gibbons “Watchmen” have allowed people like myself who read serious literature but also grew up with the American Comic book to reach a compromise and acceptance of both. I have always believed that a graphic novel is a serious art form that is capable of dealing with ideas that are as challenging and illustrative of serious ideas as literature or as film.Watchman is a sequential art in a graphic book form. And covers autobiography, art, journalism and history its also of considerable length and it has to be read in order and not the way we might read a series of comic strips..

The story deals with the costumed heroes of our childhood. The sort of superhero I can remember from seeing at my Grandfathers knee. Moore and gibbons created a new set of Comic book Heroes based on the characters we know and at the same time allowing a rich and varied form of difference.
Nite Owl has many of Batman characteristics, including a fascination with gadgets and devices and almost a prototype Bat Cave. The Comedian, who is killed in the first chapter but whose story is told in the remembrances of other characters as the story unfolds. He is a sort of dark Captain America. Silk SpecterI and II are a mother and daughter from different generations of costumed heroes are more or less Wonder Women even down to the costumes.

Brilliant Ozymandius is a self made hero-brilliant, beautiful and strong a sort of perceived Neitzchian Superman. He has developed his powers in such way that he is now almost not human. He is roughly based on the DC Comics version of Marvel-man, an adapt ion of the earlier British Miracle-man.. Then we have Rorschach the Vigilante who preys on the fears of criminals but who operates almost completely outside the bounds of society that he is pledged to protect.. His name comes from the shifting shapes on the mask he wears. He is probably based on the Charlton hero the ”he Question” Finally there is Dr Manhattan who was damaged in a Nuclear accident he is a kind of mutation. He I is the only hero with superpowers and he is very loosely based on the traditional Superman of the films and comics .

Despite their descent form these superheroes we see their charterers in a unique way. They are darker and as troubled as we are, more human and dysfunctional both psychologically and sexually, they experience problems of intimacy and search for an existential meaning outside of their superhero selves. They are all at least middle aged and they are all flawed in some way as we all are. To make them more interesting these characters are place din a realistic world that resembles our own and yet is different in a number of ways.

The year of the watchman story is 1985. Richard Nixon is President and there was no Watergate. Nixon has changed the Constitution to allow himself to stay in power. Henry Kissinger is still Secretary of State and because of Dr Manhattan his powers tipped the Cold War into an American victory, largely because the Russians had nothing to challenge him with.
In 1977 in this alternative world world the Police and Criminal enforcement Agencies had grown frustrated with the costumed heroes interference in their work and lives and went on strike. This caused Congress to pass law against vigilantism. So most of these costumed heroes have been retired some eight years.

The Soviets and the Americans are in a massive arms race in this alternative world. The expensive arms race has led to a declining support for society's infrastructure, toads, buildings, transport and services are constantly being curt back. Each side s are stockpiling Nuclear war heads and the presence of Dr Manhattan has increased the tension and there is a great fear that the Russians might try a pre-emptive strike,

The main plot of the novel concerns the the consequences of the murder of the costumed hero the Comedian. The murder awakens in Rorschach the suspicion that someone is trying to kill off the heroes and the ides gains credence from other events, including a smear campaign against Dr Manhattan that drives him into exile.. it becomes clear that there is a conspiracy to eliminate the heroes and in particular Dr Manhattan They suspect that the Soviets are behind it and this in turn leads to a paranoia so frequent in such historical situations. This paranoia has effect both collectively on society and the individual psyches of the many players in the novel.
Most of the sub-plots in the novel are based around ordinary people going about their everyday lives experiencing the fear that a war is coming that will wipe out all human life on Earth.. The real virtue of the book is the detailed description of the lives of these minor characters are overshadowed by the events of the larger plot.
There is for example a graphic novel within the graphic novel.. it is called “Marooned” that serves a variety of functions within watchmen-allowing the news vendor and the boy who buys the graphic novel to comment on the whole situation of the plot. This parallel structure works throughout the novel. There are multiple plots, and they are skilfully interweaves drawing our attention to contrast and parallels in the main plot.

The design and art in the book tie the many strands together. One of the books unifying symbol;s is a smiley face, which appears in the cover of the first issue. It turns out to be a button the Comedian wore when he was thrown out of the high rise apartment window, and when the body is taken away , the button remains in a pool of blood just by a drain entrance. The button itself has one little drop of blood across the right eye and this visage interweaves throughout the rest of the book.
Another feature of the book is the intercalary material. Between each chapter is four pages of an essay or a collage of text material relating to the them and background of the chapter or developing the storyline as a whole. This material provides much of the texture for the book, that provides information that enriches and deepens the book itself. This material explores the motivation to become a superhero and explores them in detail. It looks at reason far beyond the need to create a just society and uses many ideas from the Jungian concept of the shadow to even more complex psychoanalytical defence mechanisms.

The book asks how far should we trust our guardians whether they are middle aged superheroes coping with mid life crises or our own government “protecting” us from external threats. It asks about inter state and asks much about the nature of globalisation and capitalism. We may also see within in questions about the nature of bullying and power over others.. The point is that a society can see itself as so invulnerable that it can do anything such as stockpile nuclear weapons and gloss over the reality of the true situation by choosing to do what it wants.

The book asks “Who watches the watchmen?” and provides no ultimate answers. They watch each other watch themselves, anf the rest of the world watches them and we as readers watch them too. The book reminds us that the whole issue of superhero comics asks questions about power and the way that power effects and changes us. The graphic novel it provides is a worthy existential classic and reminds us of Sartre claim that hell is other people.

Friday, 24 May 2019

The coming political hangover...Friday political thoughts thoughts.....

Friday political reflections...Two recent opinion polls show the Brexit Party getting between 27% and 31% in yesterday's polls with Labour a clear second at around 25%. Two Westminster polls show Labour with a leads of 5% and 10%. I have no news from the Resolven Council by election in Neath Port Talbot I suspect votes need sorting . As the May government totters on the edge of collapse the queues in the recall petition booths throughout Brecon and Radnor grows. We all glance to Sunday night and the Peterborough by election on June 6th. I begin to plan for leaflet distribution in Ystradgynlais. A general election looms as well.. it becomes the only solution to a binary choice of a no deal Brexit or that of No Brexit. Tempers fray and we quickly realise that simple solutions to complex problems are no longer possible. Brexit perceptions approach the beliefs of strange cults. Conspiracy theories are everywhere and of all types. The promised land beckons and we are revealed to live in a political discourse where the ability to think critically is sadly lacking. The fracturing of truth gives way to abuse. I have never seen so many Facebook groups move from open to closed or from closed to secret. And I have never seen so much arrogance, ignorance and lack of knowledge on view. The old men at the Zoo crackle and burn out as the Brexit ring hits the lava flow.. chaos flows as we ask is this goat song or tragedy? 

The education system reveals itself to be insufficient for such a time. A workforce educated for work rather than for critical thinking does not serve us well at a time like this. This is the time of reductionism and a time when centrist politics is bland and vanilla. Polarisation dominates and only Socialism offers us a hope.

The Brexit Party victory will lead to an awful realisation of being had. The hangover on its toxic and addictive ways will leave the worst bitterness yet seen. These are the days of illusion, displacement and projection. The UK is "an unweeded garden on which things rank and gross in nature possess it merely." It's Friday and the bus heads towards Swansea..yet time is curiously distorted and we are here in Swansea in record time.. thank God for the long weekend...

Thursday, 23 May 2019

“Stochastic Terrorism”

In the aftermath of the Christchurch murders, the term “stochastic terrorism” has returned to the scene. It appeared around 2010, and has experienced some meaning drift. Back then it referred to “the use of mass communications to stir up random lone wolves to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” The outcome, that is to say, is certain, even if the specifics of time, place, and manner are not. Over time the definition has come to rely less, at least in some usages, on the particulars of mass media and sometimes just to suggest the broader “public demonization of a person or group” as its basic condition.
The terrorist, significantly, is not the lone wolf but rather the person or persons setting loose the infostorm that is in its generality designed to catch some individual in its net and set them in motion; can’t say who, can’t say when, but given enough people with enough fucked-up frameworks for interpreting the world, someone is bound to act.

The Columbia Journalism Review makes reference to the term in its essay reflecting on the media’s role and obligation in the wake of a mass killing fueled by memetic conspiracy theories, in this case the hyperracist and particularly Islamophobic fantasy that white people are being demographically “replaced” in the nations where they have previously enjoyed the privilege of fucking everyone else over for fun and profit. (The “white genocide” delusion, interestingly, shares with some more progressive analyses the idea that race is an autonomous and sufficient explanation, ignoring the ways that the rich fuck over the poor across and within racial groupings; delusional murderers and critical theorists alike need theories of class or gtfo.)

The essay begins by explaining that the internet is like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon because, like the jailer at the center of the prison-house, the media can see everything (a new spin on an old misunderstanding; the point of a panopticon is that you don’t need to have the observer there as long as everyone is aware they can be seen; moreover, this is designed to stop people from doing things rather than to cause them to do things, so this part was confusing).
In the panopticon, where information is readily available to journalists and nonjournalists alike, there are other concerns that journalists should be routinely aware of. The new term is stochastic terrorism, which describes an unanticipated act of terror committed by a seemingly random individual. Where there is a saturation of inflammatory rhetoric about ideology or particular groups, the theory goes, it becomes statistically likely that some lone wolf will take the bait. The terrible events in Christchurch bear the hallmarks of stochastic terrorism prompted by far-right influence and endless Islamophobic themes repeated by prominent politicians and elements of the media.
Given this, media must leap into “the loop of self-examination in terms of how to report about acts of terrorism and on those who commit them.” In short, the media must wonder whether it is the stochastic terrorist, and consider self-modulation—often with the encouragement or example of public actors like New Zealand’s prime minister—e.g., not using the murderer’s name, not linking to his video or manifesto, and so on. Rather than offering another tedious opinion on whether this is a good idea or a bad idea, or the even more tedious ‘splaining about how the info will spread regardless, I just want to note a few ideas that flow from this framework.
One, it is interesting how much this vision of terrorism accords with the shift toward leaderless movements more broadly, both on the left as in the case of something like Occupy with its horizontalist organizing, and on the right with its turn to the concept of “leaderless resistance” authored by Aryan Nations crackpot Louis Beam. I do not mean to suggest some specious equivalence between two “sides” but rather to notice the decline in commitment to rigidly formalized and stratified political organizations. If the media is supposed to reflect on its role, it is obligated to wonder how this transformation in the form of politics has come to pass. An initial intuition is that there might be some relationship between political forms and, for example, contemporary organizations of work, which now celebrate self-management and the flat workplace. Leaderlessness is not particular to ultraright racists or left social movements but to the present.
Two, so, it’s important to deter the spread of “far-right influence and endless Islamophobic themes repeated by prominent politicians and elements of the media.” Finally! I am glad we can all agree that the decision to deplatform fashy dudes like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer (himself a proponent of the white genocide thesis) by whatever means necessary is pure and good, and that antifa are just fighting stochastic terrorism. Please refer all future questions to Columbia Journalism Review.
Three, while we’re on the topic, the hand-wringing self-inspection by the media is premised on the idea that ideas cause ideas cause ideas and then eventually at some point for unspecified reasons someone rises into action. One can see why people in the media (and in the academy tbh) like this story, as it vests extraordinary power in their craft, in the production and dissemination of ideas. On the other hand, one can also see why media people would like the opposite story, that ideas make nothing happen, as that leaves everyone blameless. Both of these positions are exaggerations, obviously. Nonetheless, they work together to obscure what should be a fairly obvious set of questions that are not about how the media shapes behavior but about how it is shaped. Why do the various parts of the media, meaning both individuals and the industry as a whole, act in the way they do, what are the determinations that shape what journalists can and cannot think, do and do not say, what are the forces that preexist these moments of self-scrutiny?
Four, I have been having a go at “the media” of which I am after all a tiny part. But this account of “stochastic terrorism” gets very close to a useful theory of human action. Without worrying too much about the magic of the internet, or the specifics of the media, this theory suggests that when some dramatic and singular act happens, it will look like an individual killer obeying their own disturbance, their own nature or character or conscious beliefs—but their actions will nonetheless be an effect of the larger structure, an assured product of the mesh that holds us all, the ruling ideas, the compulsions of power to reproduce itself, the forces that push us this way or that whether we know it or not. Stochastic terrorism doesn’t mean there is no free will; it means that, given enough people and enough loud or quiet nudges, free will is bound to choose to terrorize, often enough. Give enough guys guns and tactical wear and the impression that they need to keep the world safe for rich white folks and people are going to get shot.

So, for example, if  a policeman  guns down another black youth sleeping in his car, people can murmur “bad apple” all they want, but it’s a stochastic bad apple, right? I mean, “bad apple” is just polite speech for “lone wolf.” That cop is both a single person and the trigger finger of a broadly entrenched and disseminated worldview, an individual expression of structural force.
But that leaves us with the task of understanding where that structural force comes from. We can’t simply trace things to some other bad apple, some demagogue spouting racist bullshit; that just leaves us adrift in the endless chain of ideas, dealing with one apple (or not) as another rolls into place. White supremacy, because that is what we are really talking about in Christchurch, New Zealand, and in Vallejo, California, is itself not simply an idea but a self-replicating power structure, the ongoing dispossession and domination of some by others, a dispossession and domination preserved through implicit and overt violence: a practice which always has enough triggermen at its disposal to assure that some lives matter less than others. That is the stochastic terrorism we are talking about.