I am aware that I am experiencing myself as increasingly bitter. Two evenings ago I vented my frustration and bitterness about Saskia’s parents. This I did in front of her cousins, Hilary and Jake, the latter someone who had been given great hospitality as a child, love and warmth, by Patrick and Diane, when his parents separated. My bitterness did not to go down well.
There was a funny side to this event – for me at least. The following day I was silent and humiliated by my own behaviour and Saskia’s pain. I even watched a film with the children, it was a moral tale, as ever, about not being bitter. One of life’s little conventions, synchronicity. The film was “Meet the Robinsons”, a story about a couple of orphans. One, Michael, is a potentially great (autistic style perhaps being modern) focussed inventor child who can find escape from loneliness in the orphanage through his inventions. Of course he needs recognition to do so, it is not an internal journey alone. The other child, Goob, rather slow witted, becomes embittered just as the inventor child gains freedom and (eventual) success.
This second child, Goob, the anti-hero, set in eternal bitterness and resentment by his failure to catch a baseball (due to the sleepless night as the inventor Michael works on his great plans) wreaks havoc on the happy lives of Michael and those who benefit from the inventor/hero’s work. I watched it like a child, seeing the basic message and almost in tears. Looking for an answer I watched to the end… How does one overcome bitterness and anger?
The bitter orphan Goob finds redemption (we assume) when his past is changed by Michael waking him up in order that he catch the missed ball. So the anti hero emerges free of bitterness but it required the hero to rescue him, to change the very course of the past to rectify the present – in other words exactly what the anti-hero wanted! The was no internal change of heart – it was always external circumstances requiring at the very least God (technology) to initiate change.
It was Goob’s bitterness that was the route to Goob’s redemption and the eventual redemption of Michael’s world.
Bitterness has reasons. The present is tainted and bloody.
That’s how Canada feels to me. Tainted and bloody. I’ll get over it soon but before I do and before I forget I’ll recall the information panel I saw on Prince Edward’s Island. We spent a few days there on at the start of our few weeks here and on the second day walked down to the beach at Cavendish where we were staying in Anne of Green Gables Bungalows. There’s an area of dune and a lagoon near the beach and we walked the boardwalk along side the lagoon back towards the cottage.
The book Anne of Green Gables was written by L. M. Montgomery and naturally enough, given the location of the dunes and lagoon near the fictional location of the book, an area known and frequented by the author, the inspirational landscape of the book, information panels told us of the history of the landscape and it’s connection to the author. I was horrified. The panel reads:
“For hundreds of years, people have treasured the natural and cultural landscape of Cavendish, a landscape that is shaped by many forces. Along this trail you will discover the rich history of the people who have lived or visited here and explore some of the area’s natural features.”
As a starting point: Where are the people who were already here in this landscape? Montgomery’s tale sits on the lap of their destruction. Where are they? Why are they not the starting point? Later a panel goes into the natural history:
“The forests here were once very different. Thick, towering stands of yellow and white birch, red and sugar maple, beech, red oak, red spruce, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine and balsam grew right to the water’s edge. These species make up what is called an Acadian Forest.”
Where are the people? What species were they? What were they called? In an unintended politeness, an unwillingness to treat the indigenous, first nation, aboriginal as a species, like an animal, they are actually allowed to disappear from the record. A tree species list acts as a safe cipher for a people and culture.
It sickened me this panel and has coloured my image of this land as it now is. Tainted and bloody.
Of course it is rude to bring it up. Pointless for some. Offensive to others. Uncomfortable for some. Misplaced and over for others. Yet there is a process that is taking place, one of forgetting, of naturalizing what has happened, what happens.
It’s not that anything is to be done, I know. Not my place to do it either. Or to feel it. Yet I do. It’s here that my energies lie. My sympathies. I’m on holiday in a giant graveyard while the burials are still going on.
A typical news item might read as follows:
Today in a town somewhere a man deliberately drove a vehicle into a crowd of bystanders. Two people were injured and the man was arrested. This event is not thought to be terrorism related.
There is a necessity to draw attention to the difference between an individual deliberately maiming someone because they have, for example, mental health problems, and somebody who is doing it for some formal ideological reason, namely a terrorist.
But of course what is it that is going on here? The vehicle moving forward at 60 miles an hour impacts on some individual or other and breaks the hip. The hip gets broken regardless of the fact of mental health, depression, anxiety or terror.
We don’t go around suggesting that all people with mental health problems should be put on watch lists. What is it that eventually drives someone to kill like that? What is happening at the moment and individual does that? Are you not already at the same point as the other person (the acceptably sick person) regardless of whether you carry with you some rationale?
So there are two important stories that I want to put down here. Maybe one day Jack and Lottie will read them and remember quite how many times I repeated these stories to them.
So for years and years now our family has struggled to carry an emotional cauldron. The source of heat has been shared amongst us but the Jack’s fardel has been the brightest burning. It’s been a long and difficult experience for everyone involved. Tempers fray. Voices are raised. Children shout and swear at adults whilst adults shout and swear at children. Everyone curses. Precious objects get smashed. They might be five people either in tears or beyond tears. And there in the centre of it, always, Jack. Ever since she was Ella. And then since he is Jack. Or Tom. I always liked the name Tom because it sounded like Tim.
Also most especially because the name Tom was a cipher name used by Rosie, my mother, when she used to tell stories to myself and Melissa. Tom and Miranda stories they were called. Now she was a storyteller.
So there’s been an ugly story going on in our house for over a decade. A very common gruesome tale of parents not being able to manage successfully the needs and behaviour of one of their children in particular. Jack has had many years of a sort of anxious insomnia. I doubt that Jack has gone to sleep independently more than one night in 100 over the past years. Every night since he was very very small myself or Saskia have needed to lie down with him, comfort him, tried to find some way to settle him down. We’ve not always been particularly good at that. Impatience comes through. Fatigue has built up. Jack became a cipher him self for things going wrong in our house. Jack can’t sleep. Jack keeps us up every evening. We are so tired.
It must be 10 years ago that we stopped inviting people over to eat in our house. Saskia and I are thought of as a sociable couple. We have a lot of friends. But we gave up bringing people to our house to eat dinner with us because we were so aware of the tinderbox that we lived with. We couldn’t trust ourselves to manage the circumstances and we certainly knew that until we could, Jack couldn’t. Tempers might fray, absurd demands for intention might arise at any moment and we couldn’t face the public humiliation of failing so openly. So we stopped asking people over. And we stopped going out anywhere with our children. Holidays were a horrible thought for me. Going over to somebody’s house to eat with the children became something that filled me with dread at any rate. It might not have filled Saskia with dread but certainly both of us avoided events like this as much as we could. Unable to go as a family, parents with children, into a situation where we just couldn’t manage to carry our boiling pot without it slopping onto the ground. It’s been really exhausting.
It’s been incredibly divisive between us all. Pressures between Saskia and I, between all of the children and the adults. And oddly enough. Sometimes there in the eye of the storm might sit Jack. Jack who would, so it felt, push and push at boundaries until the boundaries gave way. Always creating new territory admittedly. But the new territory strangely enough was densely wooded. Often it had very steep ravines into which one could easily fall. Especially as nighttime came on.
But none of this is the main story.
We’d thought about doing this before but about a year ago, perhaps a year and a half we finally went to children and adult mental health services. CAMHS. We were lucky enough to meet and work with a young woman called Helen Wood. She’s already left her post after having been given funding to progress to doctoral level and qualify as a consultant psychologist. She clearly deserves this because she managed to help us. She’s helped Jack. Right from the beginning, from the very first sessions Jack came out of them with some sort of weight taken off his shoulders. Just in a good mood. Somehow light-hearted. A sort of confidence that he gained. He didn’t talk about what was going on. Jack’s rarely talked about what goes on in his mind. Jack has rarely talked to us about what he does school. Or how he feels about things, about anything. We got a lot of angry words directed at us.
But seeing Helen, somehow the air began to clear. Only for brief periods. But they were there. Some difference was being made. It was reassuring. We’d gone there I seem to remember really because of real concerns about aggression. Because we simply couldn’t manage Jack’s moods. He was flying off the handle about such small things which were descending into such vast arguments and we were lost.
As the weeks moved on and more sessions with Helen took place, Saskia and I attended some of them. Both alone and with Jack. Gradually Helen started to introduce the idea that perhaps some of the behaviour patterns that we were seeing with Jack were elements of ASD, autistic Spectrum disorder.
Yes perhaps, we thought. Maybe. But at the same time what does that mean. We’re just bad parents. I’m just a bad parent. But then yes. Maybe there is something there. We’d thought about it seven or eight years ago. The idea came out in a particularly negative fashion when I might say cruelly to Saskia when Jack was not in hearing (hopefully): he’s fucking autistic.
The idea came up in more positive circumstances when we both wondered if there was something autistic about his behaviour. But those ideas were quashed when we discuss them with some close friends, who really suggested that Jack was just fine really and that we needed to be patient, or perhaps we needed to find a way of managing things better. However we never did. We never did find a way of managing it. We never did find a way of understanding it.
So there with Helen for Jack some difference was taking place some effect to the positive. The effects didn’t last very long. Perhaps on the way back in the car Jack might be chatty almost conversational. And then by the time we got back to the house things may have already started. Somebody needed to use the computer. Somebody else needed to use the phone. Somebody else wanted to watch the television. And there in the centre of it, in the eye of an oncoming storm, Jack absolutely full in certitude that he was going to do what he wanted to do. And really he didn’t give a fuck about anybody else.
I was really worried that when Jack heard mention of the word autism he’d flip. But no. He was quite calm about it. No discomfort. No outrage.
And so over the succeeding months we adults wondered what was happening, what all this meant. Jack actually started to act more autistically for want of a better expression.
Jack has always found it difficult to hug people. He has always put his arms against you rather than around you. He finds it uncomfortable to shake hands, he is someone whose fingers stay limp and he doesn’t easily hold on tight to things. This was accentuated. Something in the way he walked. And then something in his eyes. But it was a relaxing. I experienced it as him relaxing in to the way he was.
At the same time it also almost felt like he was putting it on. That was the potential crash which I do believe we’ve avoided. The sense that both Saskia and I had that Jack was acting autistic. Somehow, and this is so obvious, that he could use it as an excuse for his behaviour. The carrying on. For not changing.
We carried this round like a very dark and brutal secret. Knowing that it was a horrible thought. Yet looking at our now perhaps autistic son. Wondering if it was a cruel act.
But it wasn’t. It isn’t. Certain things aside from what remains of our good sense confirmed this.
In one of the sessions with Helen, or perhaps over several sessions, Jack developed a one-hour routine to help him go to sleep independently, something he had barely ever done. He is 15 or nearly 15 at this point. The routine started at 10 in the evening and involved going up to bed at 10, perhaps some light reading, stopping screens, sitting in the quiet, I can’t remember all of it but it ended at 11 with sleep. The first day after that session with Helen Jack asked us to tell him when it was 10 o’clock. He went up to bed on his own, got on with his routine, and by 11 was fast asleep. My god it was like heaven. The house was so calm. Everybody was able to manage that evening. Children went to bed quietly. Adults relaxed. This went on for two weeks. It felt like two weeks anyway. Every night at 10 o’clock Jack independently starting his routine and going to sleep. And then one day he noticed that actually it was 10:05 that evening. Oh no, I can’t do it, he said hugely anxiously. I can’t do it. I have to start at 10 it won’t work. And from that evening onwards the routine broke down and he’s been unable to re-establish it. Now if that’s not a behaviour within the spectrum of autism I don’t know what is.
And that for me was a great moving forwards.
So on we go struggling with all these doubts. Unable to find a way of navigating these stresses between all the three children and ourselves. Lottie constantly furious with this, unable to deal with the extra attention given to Jack, furious with the way we were unable to stop Jack doing what he wanted to do. Lottie sick of having to give way. Furious with this shouting at us, swearing at us. Spending as little time in the house as she could and furious furious when she was here.
Kaius somehow there in the background younger and also displaying really aggressive behaviour at times but still in a pattern that slightly separates him from the worst elements of the arguments. But at least once, possibly twice or even three times a week Kaius would be reduced to screaming fits of tears as everybody in the house was shouting at each other. Things flying.
And then two events took place over the past two weeks which have allowed me to see a way forwards.
Conversation with Jack.
So one evening I think a couple of days before Jack’s birthday there was a major meltdown and everyone was heartbroken and distressed. Saskia carried on talking to Jack. Saskia and I always have clashed appallingly over how we manage this situation. We both try to curb the worst aspects of the others behaviour and tend often to make things worse in doing so. Although not always. Sometimes the children have needed protection from the fury of one of the parents. This particular evening Saskia was really upset. Late nights leading up to it. Great fatigue. But Saskia was persistent and asking Jack questions – always hoping, like me, that suddenly would make a breakthrough with him. And Jack wasn’t just slamming his door and hiding in his room but was coming out of his room to try and answer the question. But the answers were shouted loud and aggressively and screamed. Saskia’s questions stayed the same. And I was at the bottom of the stairs not involved at this point. And for some fateful reason able to hear what Jack was saying.
A conversation something like this:
Saskia: but it’s just that we want to know what it is that makes you so angry like this, if only we could understand?
Jack: (always screaming) yes but that’s the whole problem I don’t know what makes me so angry.
Saskia: yes but if only we could understand what it was that made you so angry then we might be able to help?
Jack: (screaming) yes but that’s the problem I don’t know what makes me so angry. You just think I’m weird.
Saskia: no darling we don’t think you’re weird.
Jack: (screaming) yes you do. You think I’m weird but you just don’t want to admit it. You’ve got to just accept it and learn to deal with it.
This general tenor of conversation went round and round and round.
I repeated this conversation at the next meeting with Helen, in the presence of Saskia and Jack. For me it was a complete and very naive revelation. Jack gave an absolutely coherent response to what was being asked of him.:
Yes I am weird (yes I have autistic spectrum traits). You don’t want to admit it (you’re not accepting this). You’ve got to come to terms with this and find a way to manage it. The precise nature of autism is that the person with autism can’t manage certain circumstances.
It was a wonderful eye-opening conversation. Saskia hadn’t been able to hear what was being said because she was there in the middle of a fire desperately trying to not get burned.
Conversation with Lottie.
So a couple of days ago, two weeks after a conversation with Jack another meltdown took place in the house. This time, not unlike other times recently, the meltdown has actually come from Lottie. Incensed at the way we manage the situation when Jack becomes unwilling to change his behaviour (in this instance I can’t even remember, perhaps turn the television off or something like that). It was a horrible horrible shouting match that took place that evening. But it ended up, once again, with the ever and capable Saskia speaking to Lottie upstairs and me sitting on the stairs listening.
The conversation went even more viciously round and round:
Saskia: yes but Lottie I don’t know if you quite realise how angry you are with us all the time?
Lottie: (always screaming) yes I know that I’m angry all the time.
Saskia: yes but Lottie I don’t know if you quite realise that actually you’re angry with us all the time, every time you come home.
Lottie: (screaming) yes I know that I’m furious with you all the time absolutely furious.
Saskia: yes but I’m not sure if you quite realise that you’re angry all the time and I don’t understand why?
Lottie: (screaming) yes I know that stop telling me that I know I’m angry all the time but I don’t understand why that’s the problem.
Saskia: yes but you tell us all the time that we dealing with the situation with Jack so badly but what do you expect us to do whatever we do you’re just angry with this.
Lottie: (screaming) I don’t know what to do. I’ve no idea what to do all I know is that whatever you’re doing is it’s fucking useless all the time.
Saskia: but what do you expect us to do then? What do you think we should do?
Lottie: (screaming) I don’t know what you should do. I’m a child all I know is that what you’re doing right now is completely fucking useless. You’re the adults you’re supposed to know what to do. But whatever it is you’re doing it is useless.
So there it was. Answered in black-and-white. Well presented. Neatly spaced lines. Punctuation accurate. Lottie had hit the nail precisely on the head. Not just in a banal fashion (you are adults and I am a child and it’s up to you to find a way of managing the circumstance and not expect me to). It was much more profound than that. Lottie too was saying that we’ve really got to deal with the circumstances as they are.
Conversations with Saskia.
So I’ve listened to my son and my daughter. And they’ve taught me a really deep lesson. And shown me a way through.
And I’m really grateful to Lottie for everything she’s done to help the circumstance. For years when Jack was younger and was being aggressive and violent and nasty because we were trying to, I don’t know, stop him watching the television. Lottie once the argument started, even if she had been furious with Jack in the first place, would take Jack’s side. And get angry with us for the way we were treating him. She protected Jack for so many years in the face of our fury and failure to manage. Our lack of understanding. She’s always stood right by Jack’s side. When we would lose our tempers, me in particular and just say that we were useless parents. Lottie would always say but look at me and Kaius? We’ve got the same parents and we don’t behave like that why are you blaming yourself. And now still Lottie plays games, sometimes when she doesn’t want to, in order to humour Jack. She has tried so hard. And now it’s time for us to help her. Thank you Lottie.
We’re going to treat Jack differently. I’ve told him that. I’ve told Lottie that. I’ve told Jack that. I’ve told Saskia that. And I don’t even need to repeat it to myself. Yes we going to treat Jack differently because Jack actually is different. And is not offended by that. He’s actually comfortable with it not because he’s trying to get away with something but because he does react differently in certain circumstances. We can’t control him. We can’t always stop him doing things he wants to do. He is obsessive about certain things and can’t let go. He’s not being bloody-minded. He just can’t let go. So when we move towards areas of conflict with Jack we’ve all got to develop techniques and a willingness to sidestep the circumstances. Not to drive Jack into a humiliating rage that leaves everyone stressed and feeling like such profoundly failing human beings. Jack is different. We’ve got to work with that difference and recognise and love those aspects of Jack’s character which are lovable. And which are at times different. And which are behaviours which require those people around Jack to manage their needs and desires in order not to bring about a pointless conflict. It even gets to the point of thinking that children who are more obviously different, for example good friends of ours have a son the same age as Kaius who was born with Downes syndrome. Nobody gets cross with him because he can’t speak. Because he can’t communicate in any easy way. Because he can barely hear anything. Because he hits himself with a plastic bottle on his head as he walks around the room and moans to himself. Everybody sees the deeply lovable traits in this little boy. And they love him for how he is. And everybody’s behaviour around him is adapted. We need to do that. We need to allow Jack to be the way he is and not interrupt him with such great emotional disturbances purely and simply because we can’t manage.
And that really is this particular story. When I tell it it is so mundane. And so obvious. But it’s taken me 15 years to get to this point and I feel like there really is some chance of gaining the trust and respect of my children and Saskia. It’s been very hard the past years. I’m really hoping that over the next months and years we can manage to live a little better and perhaps even happier together. All because we just accept that one of our children just isn’t the same as other children.
I have always had a very straightforward attitude towards my oldest child Columbine. I’ve always trusted her to find a way through. I’d lost trust in Jack. I was losing faith. Starting to really question. And now it’s not that I’m thinking there’s an easy answer. But more that everything has to start from accepting Jack as he is.
Here endeth today’s lesson. Let us sing a Him.
So it appears that I tell stories. When my children ask me a question I say, if I’m in a good mood, do you want the short answer? The medium one or the proper one? And the good ones are always narratives. I get surprised when people point out to me that I’ve gone off track as I wander down some side narrative within the main one. Of course at times unfortunately I do get lost in those turnings. But they are stories I tell it appears.
It’s definitely got something to do with memory for me. One of the main reasons I enjoyed being a guide was that I got the opportunity to talk about things. And what I liked about speaking out loud was that it is an aide memoire, it fixes knowledge in my memory. So I repeat stories, or at least I tell stories try not to repeat them, as a way of not forgetting.
I told that to Dave V and Simon P yesterday evening and they both laughed, friendly like, saying that’s as good an excuse as any.
Well even walking right then to the supermarket
Just when you shouldn’t of called
but you have to and I don’t mind
it’s a brutal cessation
Stating the obvious is what non-academics claim about a completed-explained academic position – position that as a compliment for it is obvious that is the nature of the act that it looks that way afterwards.
What’s written above is the form in which I tried to remember this particular point. And the form of it reflects the content.
When I was writing my PhD thesis I soon came to understand what was the point I wished to make.
And when I explained that point to other people they agreed.
They certainly thought it was a very obvious point.
I think that’s a common event, that understandings appear self-evident.
If that is the case then they could be perhaps the most valuable ideas.
For Zizek an event is something that retrospectively re-arranges the conditions of its own emergence.
In a sense it comes from nowhere but appears, sensibly, somewhere.
So when ideas are dismissed as obvious it really might be a great compliment.
Thanks to Ian Wilson!
Living in the Dordogne through the 1980s and 1990s one of my close friends, now deceased, was Ian Wilson. I could of course fill pages speaking about him. Larger than life. Deserving of innumerable cliches besides that. However what springs to my mind today is something he said to me in about 1994 when I had one of the finest arrow heads I had found made into a pendant by my collector/jeweller/sculptor friend Chris Leandro.
Chris was someone I liked very much and we’d been close at times. Mainly through learning about Palaeolithic (and Neolithic/Mesolithic) flint collecting. A shared obsession. Or rather an obsession I picked up directly from him. But he was also someone whose attention was difficult to obtain unless there was some purpose. And there were a variety of purposes that brought us together.
Ian was a very astute, if at times cruel, man. And he was aware of dynamics, of insecurities, of distances. I must have said to him that it was really nice spending time with Chris in the context of the pendant being made.
“He who pays the fiddler calls the tune”
Thanks to Ian Wisdom!
In response to my request for something on the post-human Steve P sent this:
Harraways new book is causing a rumpus in the world of the post human – needs to be read in the context of her 80s cyborg manifesto – I’m reading Foucault archeology of knowledge in a greasy spoon in peterbourgh he really was the proper genious of the bunch – he explains post structuralism so well in terms of the enunciation of the texts in the context of its materiality without ever mentioning the communication of meaning – then he rips his argument apart in the third person in the conclusion – the assemblage thing is so important as asssemblade in the English lacks the agency it is a fixer collection of rather than a collective moving towards – it I think explains some very reductive readings within the analytical school and makes me think that we just don’t get some of the building blocks of the continental approach x
Interesting – thanks. Looking briefly, of course, at Haraway she’s writing in the new book about “sym” [together/linked] “poesis” [making/doing]. Sym-poesis defined as “collectively producing systems [which] do not have self-defined spatial or temporal boundaries, information and control are distributed among components, the systems are evolutionary, and have the potential for surprising change. Since they cannot be identified by boundaries, sympoetic systems must be identified by the self organising factors involved in their ongoing and layered palimpsestic generations.”
Taken from this talk around 21.00: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1uTVnhIHS8
This cross references well to assemblage/agencement from Phillips, 2015 that you sent through. The notion of agencement, not the static archaeological sense of an assemblage, is sympoetic. It’s describing the way that components are in combination to produce something, “an event, a becoming, a compositional unity” (Phillips, 2015, p.109), “the priority of neither the state of affairs nor the statement but of their connection, which implies the production of a sense that exceeds them and of which, transformed, they now form parts” (p.108).
She seems to be making this statement out of a pragmatic terror at the state of an unavoidable environmental catastrophe and the search for a rationale of hope. She writes about our need to make kin not babies, something a lot of us have been doing up in Pitsmoor!
And also moves away from the term Anthropocene and Capitalocene. I can quite recognise the discomfort with Anthropocene with its perpetual focus on the notion that we are creating this world rather than it being sympoetic, not in the sense exactly of actor network theory (that objects have an equivalent agency), but rather a dry recognition that as Phillips writes drawing on Deleuze:
“The unity, for instance, of a poison and the body poisoned can be regarded as a state of becoming and an event which is reducible to neither the body nor the poison. The body and the poison, rather, participate in the event (which is what they have in common).”
Philips, 2015, p.109.
It’s funny it took me years and years and years to even begin to get a grasp on why anyone even want to talk about the idea of “the event” or “an event”. It finally sunk into me over the past year of course through the mediation of my horrible friend Mr Zizek. I hold him responsible for so much good and bad in my thought (out) life.
Capitalocene – I’d not even heard of this term! A far more political science sense to it apparently. But Haraway opts for Chthulucene: from chthonic (“earthly powers and processes—human too, but much more than human”).
Anyway I agree that there are intensely reductive readings of the continental school from within our British analytical empiricist tradition. I think there’s quite simply also a desire not to engage at all. Something to do with the idea that, to echo Lenin’s appeal: What is to be done? In other words, the empiricist tradition suggests that there is some sort of pragmatic route which we can tread and the continental style meanders with no guarantee of an arrival point. That’s exactly where I situate myself with the work I’ve been doing over the past four years. I’ve been meandering with a very clear direction but one that keeps pointing back to itself. The pragmatic, social science inspired rationalism of council service providers doesn’t have the time for this or me.
I was looking in the Tate modern Gallery in St Ives yesterday with the kids. Happily Jack really wanted to go there. It carries very happy memories for him as does Cornwall in general. Anyway there were a few postcards think in the shop, postcards of French Impressionist and Post- Impressionist paintings probably. I was looking at them and wondering quite how the impression developed that there was something complex and romantic about French life when to all appearances there is also something horribly mundane about it. Sitting here now I’m wondering what the equivalent image of Britain might be? Certainly impressionist echoes in British art appear nothing other than derivative, a dressing up of something in somebody else’s clothes. And then my mind alighted on the idea of pragmatic social realism in some way. Pictures of factory workers? A brutal recognition of the injustices of the factory system, of rationalist approaches to town planning.
And then of course there is the other post human current I’m caught in: the transgender. You know the way that I understand, most pleasurably, with hope, the circumstances of my second child is that they are already in the strictest sense (ignoring the fact that we are always already) post human. I realise this isn’t what post human is supposed to refer to. This is something of trans-human, geneticly modificated whatevers.
But for me the situation of this transgender child is related to the symptom as discussed by uncle Zizek in the first things I read by him (1989 The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso.). In my ladybird version of Zizek and what really drew me in was the simple inversion of the symptom. Rather than, for example, there being something (in my mind an illness) of which an eruption on the skin was a symptom, I read the symptom as being something that takes place well before the real event emerges. I think Zizek also considers art as a symptom. I see the transgender positioning of children as a symptom. A symptom of something to come, that something to come being a post human in a more banal fashion. Interestingly I think Zizek draws an analogy between the symptom (as a Freudian term) and the commodity (as a Marxian term). While I’ve struggled to stay awake long enough to read through these sections and really understand them my ladybird mind also sees transgender positioning as commodification.
Right at the beginning of this experience of transgender, I, with my hope and pride, read it as a form of punk (the symptom and a commodity). Something properly revolutionary but unable to survive its own surgery. Now I don’t disagree with this or I still hold it dear but I see my transgender child as a sort of guinea pig I suppose. No more choosing who they are than I chose who I am. Built out of subtle messages and simple material and commercial practices. I can imagine a future where these children are seen as proto-somethings. It’s certainly not autopoesis, it’s definitely sympoetic.
So briefly before I get interrupted or distracted:
I’ve been working for over a year now in a job funded by the DCLG and organised from within the Council in Sheffield. The job Has the Title of “Learning Champion”. Much now to my own frustration (in retrospect – the worst of all points of view) I’ve failed to write down any sort of account of the process I’ve been going through. The processes I’ve been through. The processes I’ve put other people through. The structures I’ve encountered. The individuals, organisations, frustrations, successes. I’ve made notes of nothing and I’m left with nothing. It’s been overall a humiliating experience for me. I’ve come to this point with little pride in what I’ve been doing and an almost forgetful lack of ability to defend myself even to myself. I suppose I should at least have some sort of sidelong smile to myself at having become the bad boy of the situation. But it’s a very wry grimace if anything. In fact these are just mumbling words coming out because I’m so cross with myself for not having written things down. I learned during the year in France that in order to make sense of the way I do things they have to be accompanied by text. Text like some sort of scratching on the wall. If nothing else a very rough mnemonic for a set of emotions. It really makes me sigh to realise that I’ve not done this. I don’t allow myself to take the blame for it entirely. Actually what has happened is that I’ve entered into a system towards which I have an immense critique already existent before I started. Into which I entered with an open spirit and felt a certain freedom. Within which I was trapped. Within which I became the prisoner. And for which I have taken the blame and find it extraordinarily easy to blame myself. But I know that I’m not to blame. In fact, if I had “done the job well”, if I’d “done the job properly” then I might actually be more at fault than I am by not having done it particularly effectively at all from the perspective of my employers and colleagues.
It’s always a matter of finding the time to write. A matter of what to write as knowledge becomes increasingly personal. And here the obvious missing element of writing about myself. Anyway. Enough of this for now.
Paper pushing. Pen pushing. That’s what I found myself doing recently and that’s what I observe most of my colleagues doing. It really is quite astounding the extent to which this sort of work is about keeping pieces of paper in some sort of coherent order. In an order that is based purely on demonstrating the utility of paying someone to gather together the bits of paper to prove the utility of paying someone to gather together the bits of paper. Actual affect in the world outside – from which the money is drawn and where the supposed beneficiaries live – is so marginally consequent.
About a year ago it must’ve been, I was asked to take some photographs at a Learners Award Ceremony. My nasty internal cynicism expected somehow something false. But I experienced the event, on an emotional level at the time, with immense positivity. A number of learners were awarded for their involvement in a particular learning enterprise. They were moved and I was moved along with them. Yet at the same time I saw that the relationship between that staged a moment of “receiving an award”, and the process that has led up to this (the very learning enterprise within which I am being employed) was entirely invisible as nobody would tell the truth (such as it is).
Nobody would become a whistleblower.
Especially blowing a whistle on something that seems to have both been handknitted and practically be on the level of punishing small children.
I mean something that’s pointlessly innocent.
So it’s about pushing paper and pushing pens. Collecting statistics and refusing to think. About gathering central funding to maintain the life of an organisation and that being the priority.
Before starting this job one of my concerns (no longer a concern but a reality as I discovered at there is genuinely an anti-intellectualism a large) was that work with the Roma always depended on problematising the Roma. That money derived in order to deal with the perceived Roma problem required there to be a problem. And I found myself in precisely that circumstance. I am caught in that cycle. I live from the Roma problem. I’m expected to contribute to solving that problem. The fact that I don’t perceive a problem is not relevant. That I perceive the problem to be mine as much as it is anybody else’s is not relevant. Thought processes generated during this period of work for the council are only relevant where they might produce further funding. It’s a horrible nasty tunnel with the only light at the end being leaving the tunnel. Getting out at the next station. But then when I look back I’d have to go back through the tunnel to undo the work. I should have got out before the tunnel shouldn’t I. Anyhow confused metaphors aside I’m feeling horribly trapped.
So with all this on my mind (and thanks by the way to Dave V for also being rather a light in the dark to me these days) it was without any thought other than what is the point in books (!) that I went into a bookshop with Kaius in Penzance on Saturday last. It’s an independent bookshop and always a treat, of sorts, to look around and choose a book. Rather long winded explanations always ensue concerning the history of bookshops which are more or less entertaining depending on the child and their humour. Anyhow in this instance a peaceful selection of an overpriced spin-off from Harry Potter left Kaius content and I filled in the time looking at some shelves of books not expecting to wish to buy anything. It’s hard for me to ever buy a book anymore because I can’t stand buying things I don’t read any longer.
The days of enjoying a book for being a book are fortunately well spent and have left me in debt to literature and little else. But my eyes alighted on a book called “The Utopia of Rules” by David Graeber. Now I’d heard this name before and I had an old suspicion associated with it: namely I’d met someone with a similar name at an anthropology conference about 10 years ago and had not been taken with what they said and allowed myself to indulge in a jealous confusion between the two. That’s a very typical mean-spirited thought process with which I occupy my private hours. But I also knew that this was not the same person and so I picked the book up, having little else to do and flicked through the pages to find myself immediately interested. It has word Utopia. I’ve fiddled around with that have I not here and there. And then I quickly found a central theme of the book focused around bureaucracy. Max Weber shouted at me from the past: Oi you! Really you thought that bureaucracy was over just because I was dead you fool. So the book tickled my jealousy but also grabbed my interest. I thought about buying it even. I glanced around back page and flicked through the inner pages, I picked up that someone thought is work called to mind Zizek. That put me off even more. Who the hell. But I was there to buy a book. For my son. Why not for me so I did. And started to read it. I’m actually enjoying it. Can’t think of when I last enjoyed reading a book. Actually it saying something find interesting. And that’s a real great painful pity that I find so little that interests me. It’s purely a description of my own stupidity. My own increasing concrete brained daft thickness.
The point is however encapsulated in the following quote:
”Such institutions always create a culture of complicity. It’s not just that some people get to break the rules – it’s that loyalty to the organisation is to some degree measured by one’s willingness to pretend this isn’t happening. And insofar as bureaucratic logic is extended to the society as a whole, all of us start playing along.”
The Utopia of Rules
Graeber, 2016, p.26
And the book continues in the same vein much to my pleasure. I have problems with the thesis, the same sorts of issues that I had with Foucault: there is a certain self-serving imaginary that something new is taking place (or being observed) rather than a repetition. The notion that there is an immense bureaucratisation of daily life, and imposition of impersonal rules and regulations which only operate if backed up by the threat of force is beautifully described but it’s also a description of a similar control exerted by mediaeval Christianity, by the Papacy. By the bureaucratic (and militaristic with which Graeber would agree) controls exerted by the Kublai Khan as written about by Marco Polo (the other book I’m reading the moment-a lovely gift from my friend Ben Graves). My critique of Foucault was similar in the sense that I also saw Foucault as having discovered something beautiful that was already the case. Now from the perspective of Zizek’s notion of the event – it is precisely the ability of the event to redraw the circumstances of its own emergence that make it into an event. Therefore my criticism of Foucault: that disciplinary processes have always been enacted for example, only exist due to the event of Foucault’s realignment of the past. Zizek writes or says somewhere a phrase that’s really beautiful, something like the following:
“It’s impossible to change the future and perhaps the only possibility we have is to change the past.”
So that’s perhaps a lovely element of this piece of work and reading by Graeber, and a great compliment to the work, that it allows me to develop a criticism of itself in its own terms. So that’s one issue with the work (entirely justified by my enjoyment of the manner of expression), the essential idea that bureaucratisation has continually increased precisely through those processes which have vilified its progression. This in itself is a very Zizek derived conception from my perspective: the simple idea that the answer to a problem sits within the way the problem is asked. In this instance that the absolute denial of bureaucracy is the process through which it increases.
There are other delightful derivations from Zizek’s thinking. Graeber may well hate me for writing about his work in this way. I’ve picked up that there is some sort of spat between Zizek and Graeber through Twitter and other social media or more extended discursive formats.
“The “self-actualisation” philosophy from which most of this new bureaucratic language emerged insists that we live in a timeless present, that history means nothing, that we simply create the world around us through the power of the will. This is a kind of individualistic fascism.”
Graeber, 2016, p.36
This I obviously relate to the (from my perspective magnificent) critique of the emergence but the emergence of Buddhism, mindfulness, the final Conservative sedimentation of 1960s personal freedom liberalism that has been so refreshing in Zizek’s writing. Graeber takes it on really effectively.
As he does with all sorts of themes. Particularly in the context of this piece of writing by me he develops a picture of bureaucratisation -there is a danger which he has yet to address of vilification of the bureaucrat- as entirely self-serving as I rant a little about above. His theme is that there is a coincidence between the military, commercial, financial, state, Social Security all of which are bureaucratic processes topped with this thick and artificial cream of financial rationalism which suffocates everything else below. It is this eventual servility owed to proportional financial care which leads to a situation where:
“All rich countries now employ legions of functionaries whose primary function is to make poor people feel bad about themselves.”
Graeber, 2016, p.41
So that stops this piece of writing for now.