writing from another someone not from where they are

post-human and sympoesis

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:



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.



frustration of rules…

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.










​A friend asked me today about engaging in supportive activity in the context of a transgender group here in Sheffield. Firstly, I said, my son  doesn’t  attend anymore. And then somewhat secondly, I said that I don’t engage with those issues in an understanding, Softly Softly manner.  I understand it as rather like a wart or Beauty Spot,  something that expresses a deep feature of the social body. It’s something violent and expressive but not deliberate. it’s also not real. It doesn’t exist outside it’s generation. It is I suppose rather a Deleuzian type feature. A node. I’m not really a pacifist at heart. I respect transgender positioning but it’s something violent. It induces disgust or lust. But it’s not cuddly. The eventual moment, the anaesthetic, that is no piece of soft music. The idea the idea that it might be or could be is a profoundly fascist expression. The reason why we might eventually sterilise has the same rationale. Turn the music low, dim the lights, a sort of state organised never to be natural childbirth.


So, when in the past I asked some of my friends to let me record them telling stories I had in mind what we might call fairy stories, nursery stories. Something perhaps suitably rustic. When I went to sleep with them to record the stories comma because they were really keen on the idea. I explained that I wanted to has something to listen to, to help learn the language what’s the real name of it. Families were prepared and they started telling their stories. Understanding of the language was more limited at the time but even then I realised very quickly that’s what I was being told about was extremities of property back home. Some really almost obscene stories. I learnt the word football very quickly. I learnt the word for starving. I saw people mine acts with Knives.

Then another x I hear more stories of being back home. Of Sunshine. Of Greenfields. Of being able to be yourself.

So I’m going to use that as the theme if I can. I’m going to speak to my friends over the weekend and I’ll get back to you full stop I think this could tell a complex story.

Anthropology of Arrogance

At the risk of being hoist by my own petard

One of my closest friends when I was at school was a boy called Fabio Leopardi. His father was an Italian ice cream maker of some small renown eventually supplying ice cream to Harrods. His mother the daughter of a Senegalese “Princess” and a French Colon.  He was a handsome boy who had been brought up knowing how to do things. He knew how to play the drums. He knew how to speak French and speak Italian. He knew how to cook food, how to eat. How to prepare ice cream. What to wear. How to dance. How to fight. Somehow he had a view of the way that everything should be done. And he’d express his views about the way things should be done regardless, within limits, of whether it was appropriate at the time not. He had a certain arrogance. A sense of certitude that he knew how things should be done.

Later in my life when I travelled extensively around Italy I encountered this arrogance again. In its more charming contexts I found it related to food. Very specific ways that particular recipes should be prepared in order for them to taste right, this sense that in order to reproduce precisely the way that a particular pasta sauce was prepared it had to be done in a strict fashion. Travelling in Italy from the late 1970s onwards, coming from England, it was surprising to me to discover that there were very few foreign food outlets. The Italians always wanted to eat their own food. I saw this later across France as well.  I traced it back to a sort of culinary chauvinism, a belief that the way food had been prepared by a persons mother or grandmother or father and grandfather was the way to make this food. Thus a nation anchored in its own culinary traditions to the exclusion of foods that didn’t taste quite right. A tendency to judge other foods precisely by an inherited set of tastes and traditions within which small details would make a dish acceptable or unacceptable. Culinary arrogance.

Spending time over the past five years with Roma families in the United Kingdom I’ve encountered a very similar set of attitudes. The sorts of food prepared by Roma families are comparatively limited, the same recipes are encountered across a variety of different households yet each time they are prepared in a very deliberate and specific way so that the dishes taste slightly different and each household recognises the validity of their own way of preparing what is in the end a single recipe in a sense. Roma people, like Italians, find food which is not prepared in the way they like it to be unpalatable. At the very least a certain sort of critical view is implicit in their judgement.

This extends to other fields as well. For example I’m 56 and accompanying a group of Roma people to Doncaster airport a couple of weeks ago the young man who sat in the passenger seat with me was continually giving me directions on a route which I knew well as well as giving me a running commentary on which gear I should be in and so on. This particular event struck me as an arrogance towards driving reminding them of culinary arrogance.

Remember think that arrogance works as an anthropological category. I mean this in the sense that by a study of arrogance you can reveal a mechanism through which specific cultural traditions are reinforced and reiterated across generations. Arrogance allows for particular practices to survive within very universalising environments. The belief that “there is a way that things should be done” becomes a way of reinforcing “the way things are done”.



A young Roma man has appeared on a Czech/Slovak Got Talent programme and was very popular, cavorting on the table itself in front of the judges and getting through.  

He sung in English I was told by people in Sheffield who saw it on cable TV.  Roma singers often go on but usually the judges say: You are good but it only really appeals to Roma people. 

So this young man sung in English.  I heard a little of it and it was sort of Reggae English, Jamaican English.  

I know him.  I met him only once properly in a fairly formal setting of a network meeting in which he and I were, to some extent, in separate camps.  Not a very nice circumstance. I tried speaking to him and I got the tone wrong.  

I listened to him speaking but later tried to say some phrase in Romani.  I think I confused the verb ‘to see/look’ (te dihkel) and ‘to say/talk’ (te penel).  It was a confusion that I was making often at the time.  After I said a phrase he looked at me and asked in English of course which he speaks beautifully: Do you know what you are saying?

Yes, I replied.  Blustering.  I felt ashamed since that moment and run back and forth over it wishing I’d not blundered. 

So much that I do that is liked and then something small in a way that weighs heavily on my mind.  Shame.  The Italians say Shamo!  Idiot!  Fool!

Fool!  I’ll accept that thank you.  

Olympic Mirrors

A classical education even when only exhibited through an appreciation of Greek and Roman architecture is a powerful thing. That is it most elemental form . We experience it frequently in consumption of many artifacts of European heritage in both state and secular buildings. The English public school brought this into play through I suspect a particular fashion related to the learning of ancient Latin and Greek.
There is doubtless a very clear link to the rebirth of an Olympic games in the late 19th and early 20th century . The Olympic Games were born of British social will , a class based activity with particular ways of demonstrating prowess becoming institutionalized . The British chose the format of the games and to an extent also the conceptual field that recognizes such an event as having value.


it’s all those tools!

So. Looking at what appears to be quite a comprehensive graph on Wikipedia of demographic history over the last 12,000 years. Estimates stay stable of 4 up to 7 million until about 4000 BC and then start to move up plateauing somewhere around 170 million by 1000 A.D.

It’s all those tools that are doing it – keeping us at the 4 – 7 as well. Allowing us to embellish a sense of control. And making practically an impossibility of countering the power those tools give. So once they grow there’s no going back.

That’s been one of the historiographical inclusions: that the dark ages in Europe were not a going back or a losing but rather an intense period of reflection. We were returned to perhaps at times more unfettered and local power. But the great tools of classical civilisation continued to be forged. And what emerges out of it is not a period of stasis, not a dark age but one of massive intellectual light. Great feasting and drinking.

So there’s no going back except that with population there is a limit. It does require extraordinary organisation. The manipulation of all tools at our disposal.

I asked Kaius what he considered not to be human about himself. What of his actions could he identify that did not involve the use of tools. I’m afraid I remember my answer more than his but we agreed. Laughter. Tears. Eventually we moved towards the idea that levels of cognition which we associate with animals find their parity in the human animal behaviour by things that did not involve or apparently involve words. And if you strip away all the things that involve words and understanding them – at least to comply with an instruction or to do something you have conceptually required of yourself?

You look for balance in things while assuming there is always a constant balance in everything.

A balance that puts you entirely out of control but no more so than anybody else.

Thought like this doesn’t emerge just from luxury. It also emerges from its opposite.


By Waldir – Own work, based on the data of File:Population curve.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Well,  yesterday with KA canoeing along the Dordogne I was reminded of an event from our years in the Perigord.   We’d bought a house,  a little house that we called ‘Le Tournesol’  on the Rue du Calvaire in Le Bugue.   We’d loved the little cottage,  I’ll write about it another time.   Staying there until our darling Coco was born and then leaving to another place in St Cirq –  we’d managed to sell Le Tournesol to my sister and brother in law who had a daughter,  KA.   There was a cast iron bath with lion’s feet in the house that we had stolen from a unoccupied house in the village a few years before.   KA reminded me (as an element in an evidently ‘funny’  family story that I’d forgotten)  that when Melissa,  Mark and KA had come to take possession of the house –  the bath was gone.   We’d taken it up to our new house.   God this story has affected me.   It carries with it all the bitter sweet tastes of my time in the Dordogne.   Many rich and in some ways noble memories but such a sense of shame at many of them.   H and I were not,  I am afraid to say,  very mature nor considerate in our behaviour towards other people.   This is not a ‘culpa mea’  but quite simply shameful to recall.   Also confusing to think that I behaved in such a manner.   I’ll write it out in longer form –  best to recall the truth –  even bitter –  might let something else emerge.   

So I think it’s time for me to learn the rudiments of Arabic and Urdu