Wake Up!

Am I capitalist who dreams? Or is it capital that dreams in me?

I thought I saw you working in the Sales Team. It looked like you – looked like the one I remembered from school, the one who was obsessed with sex, who spoke of nothing else, but who also spoke of the Bible (you brought it on that fieldtrip and read it at night). It looked like you, but was it you in a suit and braces? Speaking with a salesman’s voice? Was it you?

I think it was you. Between the one I knew and the one I no longer knew I saw the difference on which identity always depends. I saw that difference, that virtuality which gave itself in you to be seized by the movement of capital.

Capitalism captures difference. How then to recapture it – or at least to draw anew on that difference, that virtuality, in order to stop capitalism from dreaming us?

November 24, 2004 in The Everyday | Permalink

The Everyday

The everyday: you can’t fight it, not if you’re unemployed or half-employed. Music of the everyday: Half Man Half Biscuit (first two albums: Back at the DHSS and Back at the DHSS Again), I Ludicrous, Felt. Music made by people like you. The skint, the invisible. Disappearing in and out of obscurity.

Compare The Fall: Mark E Smith does not inhabit the everyday. It doesn’t touch him. He doesn’t experience its corrosive force. He is too intransigent; this is admirable, I have always admired it. Andre Breton, too – and Bataille: these figures are too strong for the everyday. They barely need to struggle against it.

I have absolute awe for those writers and artists who endure the everyday. Imagine Giacometti, up all night, working, working, making sculptures and destroying them. And Bacon, hungover, but up every morning, painting, destroying paintings he didn’t like (I was amazed to see a poor Bacon at a gallery in Edinburgh over the summer, it was terrible, a picture of a hat, some gloves hanging in a stairwell from the 1950s ... almost as bad as those execrable portraits of Mick Jagger …)

Duras, however, she is different. I would like to write of her alcoholism, but sometimes I set myself this rule: quote only from memory, and if necessary, inaccurately. But I think of Duras as a woman who drank because of the too vast presence of the world. It was unbearable for her, and drink was a way of bearing it. Drink was another way of coping with the vastness of the everyday.

(Forgive these vague notes. I'll come back to this another day.)

November 18, 2004 in The Everyday | Permalink

Company Foyer

The area around the foyer on the ground floor of the company is open; you can sit wherever you like. This is not a space for work, but for meetings (names of the meeting rooms: Locke, Spinoza, Hegel ...). You come here to read. You sit on the leather couches near the receptionist and say to yourself: I look like a client. You pour yourself the coffee which is intended for waiting clients. You read the business pages in the Financial Times and then read Management Today. It’s delightful.

Then you go to the training suite and borrow self-motivating tapes. Who produces these tapes? They coalesce out of the air. They are born in the middle of the air. No one makes them, the motivational speakers do not exist. They arise, these tapes, in the same way as the ancients thought insects arose: from dirt and mud. Only the tapes arise from the pristine air-conditioned corridors of the company. From the dead space of the company foyer.

October 26, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

Management Trainee

Who is the one who works beside me? I am watching you, management trainee. Watching you who work beside me, you for whom I am nothing. But I am barely anything for myself, I can assure you. Soon I will disappear, but you will still be there.

You have entered the Castle, management trainee; you are a functionary. Others want your place, but it is your place. Looking at the new graduate trainees you think to yourself: they have a lot to learn. You’ve already forgotten you were one of them. One of them: how could it be? You fear them, you turn your gaze towards the boardroom. Yes, that is the source of your essence, what you are. You exist insofar as you aspire. Only you will not struggle openly to find a place in the upper echelons. You know a great training is required.

You know that your boss is like Plato’s Sun who radiates through everything in the company. That those close to him glow with a light that burns through him. But you also know that this Sun is your boss’s only because he has passed through a great movement of training. You can learn from him, you say to yourself. He is not a god. He is like me, and one day, I will be like him. Because you know that once upon a time he too was a management trainee like you. And just as you cannot bear to look at the new graduate trainees, because you fear to confront your own dissolution (the fact that you did not always occupy the lofty place that is yours’) he cannot bear to look at you. Only sometimes may he allow himself to think: this management trainee is like the young man I once was. A lion cub, but a lion nonetheless …

Meanwhile, work on yourself. Develop your skills. Develop your portfolio of skills, management trainee. Perhaps you will have to move from this company to another one. Perhaps you will have to insist on a pay rise. Perhaps you will have to move into another team. Work on yourself. Only the work has already begun. Before you knew it. Before you took yourself to the training suite. You are a part of the great machinery, and it works through you. At the level of the habits and rituals of the company life: breakfast (a sausage in a roll) in the canteen, the cigarette break, the trip up to Birmingham, the night out in Reading at Mulligans on whose barfront is written: drinking, dancing, cavorting ...

I am watching you, management trainee. I am watching you and wondering what it might be to be a management trainee. I watch and I think to myself: I would like to see him malfunction, this company robot. Would that he drank like Jed the robot on Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump. Would that one day he laughed so hard at his own imposture he is that he fell into his laughing mouth and disappeared.

October 26, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink


You are thinking again of the M.D. Of his softness. The great apparatus around him – the suite of rooms, personal assistants – and then: his softness. Rather like that of the Martians in The War of the Worlds who are soft inside the metal carapaces in which they stalk the Earth. Only the M.D.'s softness is benign; in place of the mask, there is only a kind of feebleness (the soft face of the creature from the Predator; the puffy Darth Vader beneath his mask). You say to yourself: but he is just like me. Only he is not like you. And as he looks at you does he think, too: he is just like me. Or: he is just like my son. Or: we are all like one another.

I am reading Gramsci in my lunch hour. And I note to myself the miraculous smoothness. World that functions without the strictures of external authority. The great functioning of the industrial estate, of the interactions of this or that company, and then the relationships which spread over out brave new world, in which company trainees come to us from Delhi or from Prague. In which a foreign name arouses no curiosity. In which everyone speaks perfect English.

Smoothness: it moves of itself; its mechanisms do not simply traverse us, we are those mechanisms – its robot arms, its mechanical pseudopodia. But what happens when we are denied a firm place in the industrial estate? When you only have the position of a temp? Your light step: you are barely there. Only you are there – you are not yet a proper worker – but you are hardly there. You have always usurped someone else’s place – replacing a worker on maternity leave, for example, or providing phone cover when staff are on holiday. You role is to disappear into the role of others. To do so with a minimum of fuss and training. To be unobtrusive.

'Is Helen there?' - 'She's away on maternity leave.' - 'Can I speak to Mark instead?' - 'He's on a company trip to Blackpool. Can I help you at all?' - 'Who are you?' - 'I'm temping here. Can I pass on a message?' - 'No, it's okay.'

You are an usurper. But what you are is also usurped; your existence is borrowed; you are a temporary fix, an item from a repair kit. You are not to obtrude; you are there but you are not there, a ghost. But this is what reveals itself in the temporary worker: identity itself is phantasmic; the working of the great benign system depends upon an identification of worker and role. This is how hegemony works: you become your job; you pass through a training scheme, and there you are. You say to yourself: I am a management trainee. And you say: this is just what I deserve. The world has opened to you and let you in.

October 26, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

The Last Judgement

Imagine this: the everyday, the great expanse of life, the unlimited but also stagnant without-end whose slow corriolis force undoes everything, grew aware of itself in one of the temporary workers who serviced the companies which spread themselves across the Thames Valley. In this worker, this temp who found work here and then there, who was driven (he couldn't drive (he still can't)) to this company and then to that, working for a week or two days or a month before disappearing back into the everyday, to unemployment, there was a great awareness of the everyday itself. As though he bore in himself the secret that could blow the everyday apart. Was he the saviour of the everyday? Was he its destroyer? Or was he its agent?

He told himself: the everyday wants to destroy because I have caught it out, I know what it is up to. It doesn’t want to know that I know. Because it barely knows itself. Because I am a part of the everyday that has turned against the everyday. Like a cancerous cell, the tumour which will spread the great disease by multiplying itself across the everyday’s expanse. Is this salvific? Death-dealing? Am I delivering the Last Judgement?

Bataille thinks history is over ‘except for the denouement’. It is 1937. He writes to Kojeve that he is the man of unemployed negativity. That his life is an open wound, an abortion of the System. Kojeve’s reply as I imagine it: this is your problem, Bataille. History doesn’t care about you.

A recurring dream: the infinite wise child, the child who knows everything like the mysterious androgyne Ismael in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. Who knows everything in advance. Isaac says: I am mad because the everyday cannot bear my sanity. Madness is the reward of the one who knows. To know is to plunge into madness. Bataille again: when Hegel completed the Phenomenology of Spirit he fell ill with depression. Madness touched him; knowledge plunged into non-knowledge, an abyss opened at his feet.

Think of Toru in Mishima’s The Decay of the Angel. He knew he was like the negative in a camera. He was the absolute opposite of the world. How old was he when Honda met him, this decaying angel? Sixteen, seventeen? Toru, the angel, decays; Mishima is merciless. In the end, Toru does not die but is blinded; he could not find his way to death and then to rebirth (the Sea of Fertility, of which this is the fourth volume, is about a series of reincarnations). Toru cannot die. Mishima took his life the day The Decay of the Angel was delivered to the publishers (the 25th of November 1970). But Toru is still alive.

Once you wrote a book called The Judgement. The judgement which came from the day itself, from the everyday, from the indifference of the world to you, from the vast servo-mechanisms of Capital, from temping agencies and telemarketing companies. The judgement which said: you are a bad machine. Then the judgement you delivered in turn: the day has gone on too long. Now it is time to call up the recruitment agencies and middle managers. To judge each and visit upon them an impersonal wrath. You are the good machine. Of course this is ludicrous: the same sleight of hand in those children’s books where the most ordinary child becomes the most extraordinary one (Cat in Charmed Life who appears to be without magic is really an Enchanter, Gair the giftless in The Power of Three has the greatest gift of all …)

Genet writes: ‘I wandered through that part of myself I called Spain’. I wandered through the everyday. Was it a part of me or I a part of it? Zhuang Zi: am I a butterfly who dreams of being Zhuang Zi? Now Zizek: ‘In the symbolic reality he was Zhuang Zi, but in the real of his desire he was a butterfly. Being a butterfly was the whole consistency of his positive being outside the symbolic network'. Are you a 'real' person dreaming of becoming a capitalist? Or a capitalist dreaming of becoming a real person?

October 21, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

Unable to Locate

Capitalism is dreaming in me. But of what does it dream?

You've found yourself in a warehouse job. They gave you free ‘toetectors’, there they are on your feet: black trainers with a hard tip. Sometimes at the weekend you come in for order picker training. You are learning to drive a forklift. Before the practical, the theory. A man pulls over the sheet of his flip chart. He's done this before, trained countless employees. The forklift, it says, with a diagram of the forklift truck. Your best friend – picture of a forklift truck unloading pallets – or your worst enemy – picture of a man beneath the forklift. You laugh, but you shouldn’t laugh. Everyone is looking serious. You stop laughing.

I was young then and introduced as ‘the lad’. I was an assistant to an older man, who liked to take things easy. I am replacing another ‘lad’ who has graduated from the warehouse to the office. I’ve inherited his workstation, his cartoons sellotaped to the cubicle wall. I think to myself: I’ll never live up to the example of my predecessor. I’m supposed to find packages lost in the warehouse: unable-to-locates, they’re called. UTLS. I get a list of them every morning, and off I go. Only I go nowhere; it is easier not to look. I wander from coffee machine to coffee machine. I take breaks sitting on the stairwell which goes up to the roof, where I can read in peace. What I am reading? Something trashy. Really, it’s a waste of time.

Meanwhile, there are forms to fill in. Time to wander through the warehouse again. Today it’s my birthday, my boss lets me off early. When he is away, I go up to the offices and sit in his cubicle. He has books about management and getting on with your employees. Every month we have a team meeting. There’s three in my team: a guy who dresses like a cowboy we call Cowboy Pete, some other guy, very skinny, and me. Then my boss, who likes The Stranglers. This is what we talk about, if we have nothing pressing on our minds: The Stranglers. My boss deigns to talk to me about Hugh Cornwell, Rattus Norvegicus etc.

It’s high farce. We’re playing at team meetings. Nothing depends on us; nothing we do matters. We search for UTLs and fill out forms saying we can’t find them. And when we do find them, we bury them more deeply. It’s not worth the bother of finding things. So we say: we can’t find them. And my boss arranges for a report to be sent out to customers and an insurance claim to be made. Job done.

Today, though, it’s my birthday, so I’m let out an hour early. I go towards the train station past the fields where new buildings will be constructed. I think to myself: how is that you haven’t dissolved into the air? By what force are you held together – what counter-force binds you to yourself in the midst of this absurdity? Is it possible to die of absurdity? Or would you simply evaporate into the air? Or is it possible that this is already the afterlife, that the disaster has happened and this is a form of punishment? You are a banal Prometheus having his insides pecked out every day. And this industrial estate (but where is the industry? It’s all multinational computer firms …) is a benign hell. But it is also a dream.

Capitalism turns in its sleep. When it wakes up, the whole world will vanish.

October 21, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

The M.D.

One lunchtime you see the Managing Director, who jogs every lunchtime. He had a heart attack and has become a jogger. Round the building he goes. I think to myself: he is more real than any of us. He may be a slim, small man, but he is also a planet and we all revolve around him. If we lose our jobs we will be spun off into the outer darkness and torn apart. He’s the one who keeps us safely in our orbits. The M.D.: a small man, but he has a whole suite of rooms with a special entrance of his own from the main foyer. He has a toilet in there. Once I was able to use it, I can’t remember why. But I thought: well, this is it, here I am in the M.D.’s suite, the engine room. It all happens here.

The M.D. is the minor deity who holds our world together. We should be grateful to him. We owe our existences to him. He is like Descartes’s God who sustains each of us in our existence. He is a benign father and we should break off our work now and again to sing his praises. In the end, none of us exist, we are finite substances and he alone is infinite: infinite substance. He alone is real and here you are in his personal toilet.

Then there are the senior managers who surround him. Important women, sleek and well-groomed. Important men, less sleek, less well-groomed. Reasonable people. You can call them by their first name. You can aspire to be like them: they are models, exemplars. The thirty something graduate trainee in my department says: I went to university to make something of myself. He is in his sandwich year. He recommends I take myself to the training facilities. Work on yourself, he says. And he is right, I'm not real enough, none of us are, there's a great deal of work to be done.

We know we’re not real enough; there’s a long way to go. Our desire to identify ourselves is phantasmic. We want reality, identity, want to hold on to something so the everyday won’t blow us away. Because there is a recession on and there are never enough jobs. But who are they, the deities? If I went to the boardroom in his private suite of rooms, spoke to him, he would be calm, reasonable. He might have a son my age and recognize in me a version of his son. And what would I see? If I expected to see a god in shining armour, I would be disappointed and confused like K. in The Castle when he discovers Klamm is a banal man, that there was nothing to him. A fat man behind a desk. But what about the M.D.? A man who is just like me?

The fact he is just like me allows you to measure yourself according to the measure which accords great status. He is an ordinary man, it is true, but he is also a minor deity. He is quietly spoken, pleasant, and you can call him by his first name. He has an open door policy. You have a problem? Then go and see him. He is benign, mild; there he is, he'll talk to you. He is just like me, born from the streaming body of Capital, coalesced from the everyday by working on himself (by allowing Capital to work on him ...) Beyond him, there is Capital. Capital is The Castle. But as K. discovers, it is also a motley collection of huts. Just as this industrial estate is a collection of prefabricated buildings ...

October 21, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

The Last Days

The question you ask yourself one morning as you are driven to Slough to work as a telemarketer: Am I dead or am I alive? Or is that everyone is alive and I am dead? Masochism: your disappearance will allow the world to complete itself, for history to end. So long as you are alive these are the Last Days.

And when you disappear? History will complete itself, the horizon will fall away and this civilisation will spread across the earth and across the skies. You are a point of absolute negativity. Everyone else is present to themselves and the day, replete. They admit light into their deepest recesses, they have no secret from the day. And each of them, the telemarketers, maintains an impressive balance of the inner and outer, like those peculiar creatures that live in the sea’s depths: they appear delicate, but their strength is such that they do not collapse under the immense pressure of miles of water.

And you? You have collapsed as a star collapses upon itself. Now you are the dark point which will draw everything into itself. The singularity across whose event horizon the world must crawl. Or is this delusion itself – some compensating ideology, some imaginary revenge on a world which has turned its face from you?

God, said Simone Weil, following Isaac Luria, has departed. As he left, the universe opened in his wake. We were born because of his absence and our lives are evidence of our abandonment. You are being driven through Slough. This is the anti-town, the seventh circle of Hell (Bracknell is the eighth circle). You ask yourself: is it that death is everywhere and only I am alive? But then you know that you are hardly alive and this is not life. You know you are the exception: it was your curse to have lifted yourself from this great living. Somehow you broke from it. Somehow it abandoned itself in you.

You are like the living wound across the everyday. Your immense boredom, your death-in-life is the wound wherein the everyday comes to know and despise itself. Now the everyday will seek revenge because it did not want to be known and to know itself. Your disappearance will allow the world to complete itself, for history to end. But you are Gracchus, the one who cannot die which means so long as you exist the world cannot bring itself to an end.

The Last Days: today, tomorrow, and all the days to come. You are Sisyphus, grinding everything into meaninglessness. It is easy to make unmeaning of meaning, says the phenomenologist, but the task is to make meaning of meaning. Yes, but your presence in the world turns everything into unmeaning, which is why the everyday will not tolerate your presence. Now it must set out to crush you and to crush itself in you. But how can it crush the one which allowed it to become self-aware?

You ask yourself: am I dead or am I alive? The answer comes: you are the wound which prevents dying from finding death. You are Parisfal’s wound. Today, like tomorrow and every day to come, you are telemarketing. 'Hello, I'm calling on behalf of Hewlett Packard ...'

October 21, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

Office Time

Escape from unemployment, from the corrosive force of the everyday. You are brought into the office, a temp among other temps; there’s work to be done, no one is quite sure what – sit there, await instructions. You wait, minutes pass, then an hour, two hours. You take out your book; you read - but this is objectionable. Soon the woman from the temping agency, doing the rounds, comes to tell you off: think what an impression this makes, she says. You say: but there’s nothing to do. She says: they wouldn’t employ you if there was nothing to do.

So you play on the computer instead – there’s Solitaire, but this was before the Internet, before the World Wide Web, so in the end the screen is without depth. You change the background to Windows. You reset the defaults. You can offer to collect tea and coffee for everyone, that’s easy enough, off you go carrying the little plastic cup holder and returning with six cups. Or you can listen to conversations. Hot air, business talk. ‘Touching base’; ‘blue sky thinking’; ‘x [name of a customer] is screaming for y [name of a product or service]’. It is easy to make nonsense of sense, but how do you make sense of sense?, asks a phenomenologist. But the office is the place where sense frays, where it is undone and torn apart.

Gradually, you discover there are other temps; over the next few days, you find out they are unemployed actors, who occasionally have bit parts on The Bill. Sometimes you’ll work alongside them, it’s a laugh, work becomes a great parody. How does anything get done here?, you ask yourself, but you know you are in a backwater, you are working in admin and the sales team are downstairs.

Sales: that’s where it’s happening. Go downstairs, wonder down, drink coffee at their machine, use their kitchen. Yes, it’s happening, there’s excitement in the air. They seem more virile than the rest of us. More self-assured. For myself, as I get to know my job, I feel apologetic. It involves badgering engineers to fill out this form or that, to observe procedure. It is an interruption of work, not work. You take their time, get in the way. You’re apologetic, they’re polite, but you’re the obstacle.

Outside the office there is a little garden in the concrete. A fishpond. There are fields where buildings for hire have not yet been constructed; it’s peaceful. Then there’s the great carpark, car after car. You can’t drive. Driving is impossible. These vast company cars remain mysterious. Above all this, the sky, serene, indifferent. You are irrelevant here, there’s no reason why you should be here rather than anywhere else. In the end, they let you go because you aren’t filling in enough of the spreadsheets.

Next week, where will you be? The same company? Another one? This is Bracknell, there are infinite number of companies, all interchangeable. You are perfectly interchangeable. There are always more of you, a great army of temporary workers. And really, you have little to offer. You wander through the corridors, from coffee machine to coffee machine. The absurdity of non-work. For what do you hope? To be noticed as a non-worker among the workers? To be told off? Sacked?

They will let you go, it’s clear enough. Today or tomorrow, or next week or the week after that. Meanwhile, office time, the great expanse of minutes and office life – you receive phonecalls all day asking for ‘Sinjun’. He’s not here, you say. There’s no one of that name here. You are sitting next to St. John, but you didn’t know how his name was pronounced.

Then, for dinner, you seek to let yourself out into the air. You think to yourself: I’d like some air. You push the doors and – alarms – the whole canteen turns to look. No matter. You are invisible, interchangeable. No one says a word. To be told off would mean you would be thought worthy of developing, educating. But you are not quite in their world, any of them. There are lots of you, like ghosts. You drift around the building and sometimes come into contact.

But you are less real than the real workers. Descartes was right: there are degrees of reality, and you, as a temp, are less real than the rest. Listen to them talk, the real workers; plans for the weekend, for Friday and Saturday nights. All of them, around you, are planning a trip out. They go off to the pub on the Friday, leaving you there to man the phones. Then the big boss comes across to address the workers, announcing the rise and fall in the share-price. It comes over the intercom: a rise. Everyone around you is happy. They’ve made a little more money. A rise …

I like it when the lads from the warehouse come up to complain about something or other. They are dressed in denim, they’re out of place. They’re more real than the office workers, and they know it. They get angry – they’re not being given enough time, they say. You have to treat them with respect; the office workers are worried. Great dramas ensue. Quarrels. Then they all calm down. Quarrel over.

One day you are promised money for some piecework and go unpaid. You tell the other temps. This is social activism. They don’t like the sound of it. You tell them your wage, they tell you theirs. They’re being paid less than you. So you stage a sit in. You are not going to leave, you and a co-worker, until you’ve been paid. The middle manager talks to us in his office. We threaten to take him to court. No dice. He’s stubborn, we’re up against it, we haven’t got a chance. We give up the sit in, leave the building. A warm afternoon … you find yourself back in the everyday, it’s over, back to the dole …

October 20, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

Life is Elsewhere

Peculiar cosmology: not the world born out of the great darkness, the separation of the elements, the face of the sky above the waters, but your emergence from the everyday. You’ve come in from the cold, gathered yourself together. Who are you now? A worker; you work; no need to fear the everyday, you have your place …

Your opposite, your nemesis – you see them from the windows of the bus or the train: the ones who inhabit the bright daylight; who pulse like the sea-anemones in the great currents which traverse the day. Who are open to the back and forth of everyday communication: to the television show, the radio that speaks only to itself until they are nothing but the necessity of this back and forth: relays in the great circuit of impersonal loquacity, the babble of gardening and makeover programmes, the movement of chatter about property prices and school league tables.

The everyday: what changes? In one sense, nothing at all; it is still, as Philip K Dick argued, AD 51: it was always the same, the circulation of rumour, the flux and reflux of a kind of indecision. No one is sure what they think; or if they are sure today, they will not be sure tomorrow. This is what fascinates the politicians, and makes them send out focus groups into the great unknown as they would scouts into an alien territory.

The step into a lifestyle politics – the division of the populace into groups (pools and patios, etc) is one response to the everyday, as are the new technologies in manufacturing which allow shops like Zara to recirculate their stock every couple of weeks. The ‘short run’ of products is supposed to be infinitely responsive to changes in the market; the turnover of stock is more rapid than ever. Everything turns over in the shops that line the everyday, everything is new. Novelty is the novelty of products. True, there is also the novelty of the news, the turnover of events, but these events happen elsewhere, life is elsewhere; meanwhile there is only the everyday, eternal and consoling in its eternullity.

Global warming doesn’t happen here; this is just an unusually warm summer or a wet spring; terrorism won’t touch us so long as a war is being fought on our behalf in the dusty countries of the Middle East; what matters is that asylum seekers are housed any place but here and certainly there is misery, you saw them on the television the other night: kids in the third world sewing footballs together, this is lamentable …: this is the voice of the everyday, a voice without subject, a kind of murmuring which is relayed from speaker to speaker. A drifting voice, which inhabits this person and then that. A voice which is never certain of itself, whose back and forth in its lightness is subject to sudden change. Once it was acceptable to say x, now it is no longer acceptable; times are changing, tastes are transformed – and it is this transformation which is the object of the new sciences of the everyday (the sciences of the marketer which transforms politics into a kind of marketing): but the mobility of the everyday change nothing of its form. It is the white hole of common sense the philosophers fear and despise because it draws everything into its indifferent light.

There are times, it is true, where everyday life becomes public, when every individual falls under the suspicion of the Law. Such was the French Revolution, which suspected everyone. And wasn’t it the attempt of the state-machines of the former Eastern bloc to survey every corner? Private life disappeared in Czechoslovakia, writes Kundera; this is why he swears he will never fictionalise his life or transform his friends into characters in his books: it would only complete that monstrous rendering-public which dominated that time. Some speculate that advances in communications technology, a certain density of the telephone network, defeat such state apparatuses: never again will it be possible to expose every secret to publicity. Perhaps; perhaps not.

Are we seeing something the perfection of the everyday in our time? Lefebvre is always equivocal: on the one hand, it is true, the everyday is the repository of old alienations and a dried up metaphysics; on the other, it is a utopia and an idea. At once it is amorphous and inexhaustible, painful and irrecusable, stagnant and rebellious, refusing the domination of the bureaucracy and political parties. Here is the hope: the everyday bears an immense potential even if it can never be marshalled in the name of a particular cause. For it sometimes allows itself to be discovered in the streets; men and women come onto the street, march, protest, and disappear again.

What is feared by the marketer and the politician (the politician as marketer) alike is the crowd in its impersonal multiplicity, the indefiniteness which sweeps each along and dissolves them in its flight. Dream of it: the crowd ruled by dispersal, disarrangement, which reduces to insignificance every organised power. It belongs to the middle, to the space between, the crowd moves too quickly, it multiplies itself and then disappears, awakening at another point. It is elsewhere. Beautiful, a beautiful dream, Lefebvre’s, and not only a dream. What will happen today? Will anything happen? In the slums and the shanty towns? In Bracknell? And if nothing happens (if it is perpetually AD 51)?

The everyday is a movement, a flux and a reflux. At one and the same time – in the instant which passes and at the same time stretches itself into an empty perpetuity, an unceasing disquiet – we are each engulfed and deprived of the everyday. This is its movement, its opening-withdrawal. Heidegger’s mistake: to assume the everyday could give birth to the authentically existing human being, that the ‘who’ of this or that person could become resolute Dasein. But if this is a mistake, then the everyday remains mysterious, perhaps the source of the revolution, perhaps nothing at all.

October 19, 2004 in The Everyday | Permalink

A Bracknell of the Mind

The fear: nothing is going to happen. Recall Philip K. Dick’s last trilogy and his idea that this is the still the age of the Roman Empire. It is still AD 51. Still the age in which Christians are persecuted. Everything that has happened since is illusion. My fear: there has only ever been the time of Bracknell, that ghastly new town close to where I grew up (Note: a new town is one of the purpose built concrete monstrosities from the 1960s).

There will only ever be the time of Bracknell, spreading to every corner of the world. And everyone will live everyone else’s life, and nothing will have happened. Bracknell: perpetually still eye of the hurricane which is spread across the globe: still centre of that great movement of suburbanisation, the takeover of countryside and village, of city and public space, the spread of the out-of-town retail park and the global firm, for they are all there: Microsoft, Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, great frightening names like those of Roman Emperors whom Philip K. Dick says will rule us from now until the end of time.

Recall Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man where your surname is given to you by the corporation for which you work. But even the time of the great corporation is ending, for they are broken up into spin-off companies and subcontractors. Even these companies will be destroyed by the corrosive force of the everyday, the great call to dispersal. Who do you work for? A subsiduary of X, a subcontractor of Y. Who do you work for? I don't know. Who are you? I don't know.

It is not the time of The Roman Empire, but a kind of Dark Ages – a time of the breakup, the dispersal. Only this is the age of Light – a half-bright, evenly dispersed light, which shines upon the workers driving to work and the trains carrying children to school. An invisible light, a light which dissimulates itself so that everything else can appear.

Who is aware of it, this light? Only the part-time worker, the contractor who goes home early at three o’clock or, who, because she has no friends among her colleagues, looks out of the vast windows across to the field out of which a new retail village has begun to appear. Or to the unemployed, only a few of them now, catching the infrequent buses to town. Or to that great army of 50- and 60 year olds laid off too young. But I dream, too, of the crises of company men and women, of those nervous breakdowns and depressions which snatch from the working world. Now they are exposed to the same even light, to the menace of an everyday anonymity which reduces everything to itself. What will they do all day? They take their medication and then ... a vast expanse of hours. It comforts me, the idea that the everyday, like fate, awaits us all. That we will all be reduced to uniformity below the bland white sky.

Picture me at 19, denizen of Bracknell, still hopeful, still capable of hope. Bracknell was spreading. I bought a map of the town and its surroundings, and cycled to every green patch I could find on the map. I passed through golf-courses and school playfields, through obscure parks and plantations of pine trees. I came to the edge of a firing range. What did I discover? There was only Bracknell, and Bracknell was everywhere.

But I was still capable of meeting the indeterminateness of the day with the indeterminateness of my future. I had the bravery of youth, I cycled through the open fields, empty spaces held no fear for me because I did not know yet what I was. The everyday said: you are as strong as I am. And then it said: but I am waiting for you.

More than ten years later, at the end of my contract at one university or another, I found myself in the same spaces, on the same bicycle. I fought the everyday as it rained great blows upon me. I gave myself a task: write the book, and a habit: follow a strict working day. But the everyday was waiting for me when I dropped below the level of my work. When tired, bored or melancholy I felt its laughter inside me. Until its laughter was the form of my pain.

It was then I knew for certain that there is only Bracknell, and Bracknell is the whole world. In the end, Bracknell is everywhere, it makes everywhere nowhere. Utopia: place without place; not this or that place but everyplace. And Bracknell, too, is everywhen. Who now can have a sense of what it was like to live in another age? Think of Guy Debord’s Baroque, which he invokes here and there in his most famous books. By what strength was he capable of punching a hole through our consensus reality? How did he leap out of our time? Futile effort. Besides, what can it mean to us who read him? The Baroque? It is as far away as the moon. Only the moon will become another suburb and so too will the Baroque. Everyplace and everytime: Bracknell is all there is and first of all there was Bracknell.

October 17, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

The Infinite Wearing Away

Stagnant lives, bored, caught in the great non-event of the everyday, that place where no one speaks and no one listens. The everyday! Politicians are scared by it. That’s why they have focus groups and phone surveys. But you will never plumb the depths of the everyday, I say to myself. Because it has no depths. It is superficiality, nullity, the eternal nullity politics cannot penetrate.

The politician shaking hands with ordinary folks, the Prince who starts foundations for the unemployed and hopeless: it is a mockery. You will never understand, you busy politicians, how the everyday revolves like a great hurricane, slowly absorbing into itself all meaningful action. You are too busy to be engulfed, to understand that great ennui so beautifully captured by Shane Meadows in 247 which stops you from trying anymore. I won’t fill in that application form, or that claim for benefit. I won’t come in to sign on. And soon, I will never leave the house at all. I will stay in, now and forever.

It happened to a schoolfriend … we visited our friends to see what had become of them, they were inside, living with their parents, watching Eastenders. A life inside. There was nothing of them left. Did they recognise us, their old friends? We weren’t sure. It was disturbing. Something had devoured them from the inside, our old friends. It took years to understand that it was the everyday that had eroded them. That infinite wearing away.

Some, it is true, found jobs and lived together. They passed the time (there was always too much time) with the help of marijuana. It helped them endure the evenings and weekends. That and consumer durables – the video recorder and the television, and later, when they’d made some money, the DVD player and the widescreen TV.

All this in a town where there was work – plentiful work, and some of it well paid for what it was. But a town infested with the everyday, in which only the money-makers existed in their big houses. Whose sons and daughters, we knew, would exist as they did.

Imagine our delight when those sons and daughters tumbled to our level! When they had crashed through drug abuse or depression to the level of the everyday! When they were cast out of their homes because they were touched by madness! We loved that madness – we marvelled to hear when one rich individual or another had joined the travellers.

We, however, we protected from it. We were steeled to the everyday. We understood it at its own level. Yes, it was nullity itself, it was the great whirlwind which turned inside us. It was the madness of the day which lasted forever, of one day after another in weeks which were mini-eternities. Belle and Sebastian sing about it: ‘A Summer Wasting’. And there are the Smiths too, of course: ‘Still Ill’.

But we paced ourselves. We were like the characters in 247: there were slow pursuits to undertake, analogous to fishing, which were counterforces to the infinite wearing away. We knew nothing happened in the everyday; that there was no ‘subject’ to its experience. But we knew, too, that there were ways of passing the time without allowing ourselves to be spun in all directions, spun apart and scattered across the world.

Always, though, that dispersal. Friendships ended for no particular reason. One person moved away, then another. Until only you were left, reading the papers in the town library, cycling to Tescos in the afternoon for bargain sushi. True, you saw others like you, other ghosts. But they worried you: did you want to spend time with those who mirrored you own dissolution? Did you want to see what you might become? Because there are casualties of the everyday: the mad, the depressed. What is Prozac but a cure for the infinite wearing away? No: you had to be careful.

One solution was television, which was always at a safe distance from the everyday. You became a spectator, especially with daytime television. Watch Oprah or Trisha, The Wright Stuff or This Morning: these are programmes for those who want to brace themselves against the centripedal force of the great whirlwind.

For myself, television has always been a great bulwark against formless time. Especially News 24, when I had it: there on the screen the time was always displayed. One minute, another, and then a news update after fifteen minutes. Beautiful! Calibrated time!

Heidegger, by the way, is wrong to claim that everydayness is characterised by the time of now-points. He didn’t know unemployment, for then he would know that it is infinite time, the instant which doesn’t pass which is the temporality of the everyday. The nonsense of the distinction between authentic and inauthentic life!

The great achievement is not to seize one’s project as one’s own, but to live time in a series of now-points. To hold onto time. To escape the infinite wearing away which turns the instant into an eternity. For nothing happens in the everyday – no event completes itself, which means there are no events.

For Lefebvre, it is still possible to speak of the everyday as a utopia, as an idea. He still has faith in the people of the streets, of those who gather in the places between other places, who find common cause in the demonstration. Ah, but did he know the poison of television? Did he know the extent to which it would withdraw us from the streets? No one speaks and no one listens.

As I type, Saturday morning television plays in my flat. It is true, I have switched sides, I have a job, this is a miracle, and barely experience the great scattering and dispersal, the infinite wearing away. When the revolution erupts from the street, I saw to myself, put me up against the world. For I am on the enemy’s side.

Proof: I visited, a few years ago, some friends who never found a foothold in the world of work. Who was adrift. We went out, there was trouble at the nightclub, a hospital visit. I should have phoned, visited, but I never did. Much later, an accusatory phonecall: he had been beaten up, he said, he was still scarred, and where had I been? Why hadn’t I phoned? It was my idea to go to the club where the squaddies went! We spoke until I thought: I need to escape him. He said: I’ll come and visit; I thought: no way. So it was that I never again sought the open spaces of the everyday from which, I dream idly, pathetically, derisorily, the revolution will come.

October 17, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

Stagnant Lives

The everyday … between jobs, and sometimes with no hope of ever getting a job at all, unemployed, perhaps unemployable, or finding employment only in those marginal jobs with no security and which seem to accomplish very little at all (data entry, telemarketing …) I have felt the great force of what Lefebvre calls the everyday.

1992-4: the recession hits the South, where I used to live. No jobs, no temporary jobs, just aimless drift, signing on fortnightly, applying for this training scheme or that. Cycling from home to town, no one around, friends long since moved away, here I was back in the home town I left, knowing no one. An invisible existence. Fortunately there was the university library, a long cycle ride away …

1998-9: trying to write, to finish this or that in order to have any kind of ‘career’ such as they call it … journal rejections (any number of these. W. envies my record), book proposal rejections, nothing published, living in an attic room freezing in the winter and baking in the summer, listening to Smog and Low, the absolute correlates to the mood. Never depression or defeat, just steady melancholy and steady determination. I thought to myself: for all this, your life has a shape, you are struggling for something …

Then 2000-2001, the same, punctuated by a few hours teaching here and there … once I struck gold in teaching Libyans to speak English, it was bliss. Then I taught Russians, happiness itself, we would read Tsvetayeva (they would read her to me) and they would speak of Pushkin. Then the Spaniards – pure delight – I loved these Europeans. All the while the City Council in a mix up over benefits, meaning no money, vast delays, endless queues at the Town Hall.

Through all of this (not to mention years of study): the vast presence of the everyday. It is true, it is only experienceable when you have no specific hope for the future. When you find strange allies in the workplace, readers of Genet and Burroughs, ufologists and part-time artists, depressives and trouble-makers whose magnificent sarcasm would transform mundane office tasks. Pure laughter.

But I always thought to myself: we barely exist. No one notices us, disposable labour, appearing at one end of the warehouse for a week, two weeks, then disappearing and reappearing somewhere else. No one knew us, we hardly knew one another. None of us had any money, no means of transport, we lived in the suburbs where everywhere seemed infinitely far from anything else.

Stagnant days, stagnant lives which did not merge with the great current of life which we knew was flowing somewhere. For there was money, great amounts of money somewhere … great houses and expensive cars. The virile workers, the office managers, full time employees of incredible power. Certain in themselves.

Recall Levinas’s word: embourgeoisment. Is that what we wanted? We felt equivocal. On the one hand: power, money, transport … on the other: we knew it wasn’t for us. That we were dispersed, and would disperse further, barely appearing, near invisible, scattered across the vast plain of the everyday.

I knew that the suburban world I inhabited would spread everywhere and consume the world. There would be nothing else. One day: there would be the workers, the powerful drivers of company cars whom we would scrutinise for depression and suicide attempts (bliss to hear of a nervous breakdown, of a depressive collapse: it fascinated us, for what did they, the full-time workers have to be miserable about: perhaps their lives were not as graced as they seemed) and then the others, casual workers, workers whose work counted for nothing.

On the one side, the great current of life, on the other stagnant waters, an inexhaustible supply of half-labour … There were government initatives, it is true, to get us back to work, or at least into employment, what no one understands is the amount of people on sickness benefit, who have exited before they began, young and old, capable and incapable. That’s where they go (it tempted me once): a life of sickness …

But now I have been allowed to switch sides which means I have no right to speak of the everyday. I barely experience boredom, my old friend, that mood which allows the everyday to become manifest. Nor frustration – the difficulty, say, of affording to travel to an interview, the labour of applying for this or that job.

Embourgoisment: I am one of them, a worker whose work contributes to the whole. In short, an enemy.

Once, between you and I, I delighted in wrecking what I thought as a bourgeois household: champagne socialists, a big house in the UK, a holiday home in the Canary Islands, I was happiest when I had caused absolute misery and watched, fascinated, as the husband had something like a nervous breakdown. All because of me: or so I thought. In the end, this is probably sheer illusion, self-flattery.

I wanted power – wanted to achieve something which refused to disappear from the world. I achieved it, or so I thought. A breakdown (his). Real misery (his - and he was a successful man). I was exultant. This was a long time ago, and unthinkable now: I would never do it. But it will be done to me, and rightly so. For nothing is more disgusting that embourgoisment, or at least so I tell myself today, miserable hypocrite that I have become ...

October 17, 2004 in Personal, The Everyday | Permalink

Sloane Disaster Stories

The everyday: you can’t fight it, not if you’re unemployed or half-employed. Music of the everyday: Half Man Half Biscuit (first two albums: Back at the DHSS and Back at the DHSS Again), I Ludicrous, Felt. Music made by people like you. The skint, the invisible. Disappearing in and out of obscurity.

Compare The Fall: Mark E Smith does not inhabit the everyday. It doesn’t touch him. He doesn’t experience its corrosive force. He is too intransigent; this is admirable, I have always admired it. Andre Breton, too – and Bataille: these figures are too strong for the everyday. They barely need to struggle against it.

I have absolute awe for those writers and artists who endure the everyday. Imagine Giacometti, up all night, working, working, making sculptures and destroying them. And Bacon, hungover, but up every morning, painting, destroying paintings he didn’t like (I was amazed to see a poor Bacon at a gallery in Edinburgh over the summer, it was terrible, a picture of a hat, some gloves hanging in a stairwell from the 1950s ... almost as bad as those execrable portraits of Mick Jagger …)

Duras, however, she is different. I would like to write of her alcoholism, but sometimes I set myself this rule: quote only from memory, and if necessary, inaccurately. But I think of Duras as a woman who drank because of the too vast presence of the world. It was unbearable for her, and drink was a way of bearing it. Drink was another way of coping with the vastness of the everyday.

October 16, 2004 in The Everyday | Permalink

A Primal Scene?

You who live later, close to a heart that beats no more, suppose, suppose this: the temporary worker – is he eighteen years old, or nineteen perhaps? – standing by the window, and, through the pain, looking. What he sees: the industrial estate, the prefabricated buildings, the fields in which new buildings will be built. Though he sees, no doubt in a temp’s way, the places in which he has worked and will work, he grows bored and slowly looks up toward the ordinary sky, with clouds, grey light – pallid daylight without depth.

What happens then: the sky, the same sky, suddenly open, absolute black and absolutely empty, revealing (as though the pane had broken) such an absence that all has since always and forevermore been lost therein – so lost that therein is affirmed and dissolved the vertiginous knowledge that straightaway submerges the worker, the ravaging joy to which he can bear witness only by laughter, an endless flow of laughter. He says nothing. He will live henceforth in the secret. He will laugh no more.

October 16, 2004 in The Everyday | Permalink


What did you do today? Took notes on automatic writing; saw students; wrote a scurrilous post about my university and then deleted it; wrote another about French thinkers who are like comets; pinged W. who was busy, wandered to Boots three times waiting for their Gourmet Salads to be discounted from £4.30 to 75p, thought of excuses to avoid the gym, got a new bookcase for my office and rearranged my books…. What did you do? Listing these details makes me wonder who did these things. Was it me? What do I remember? A day like any other; a day when everything happened and nothing, a day as insignificant as meaningful as any other when I disappeared, as we all do, into huan anonymity. I worked, I looked through the window at the city (the metro station, the church …), I rearranged my CDs along the length of my windowsill.

Where am I? Where my attention floats without direction or decision. In the office, on the streets, moving idly over everything. Perhaps I am thus interchangeable with anyone else; I know what everyone knows, I read the free newspapers, everything happens, but nothing is disturbed. Then I am aware (but is it me who is aware? Is it not, rather, an indefinable awareness floats not within but across me, exposing me, until I am only the site of its passing, an open wound?), until there is an awareness of the vast presence beyond the compartmentalised actions into which I thought the day was divided. Is this the everyday of which Lefebvre writes and of which Blanchot comments:

The everyday is our portion of eternity: the eternullity of which Laforgue speaks. The Lord’s prayer, in this way, would be secretly impious: give us our daily bread, give us to live according to the daily existence that leaves no place for a relation between Creator and creature. Everyday man is the most atheist of men. He is such that no God whatsoever could stand in relation to him. And thus one understands how the man in the street escapes all authority, be it political, moral, or religious.

I have always found these lines mysterious. Here are some more:

Day-to-day indifference is situated on a level at which the question of value is not posed: there is the everyday (without subject, without object) , and while there is, the everyday ‘he’ does not have to be of account; if value nonetheless claims to step in, then ‘he’ [il] is worth ‘nothing’ and ‘nothing’ is worth anything through contact with him. To experience everydayness is to undergo the radical nihilism that is something like its essence and which, in the void that animates it, everydayness does not ceases to hold the principle of its own critique.

You would think the everyday would be like Das Man of Heidegger, the mediocre ‘they’, gossiping and irresolute, or indeed like the anonymous public who are criticized by Kierkegaard – the great mass who are without decision or commitment, or even the hoi polloi of the Greeks – the innumerable masses, the barbarians at the gates, the ones whose common sense is to be despised because it is common, obvious and bland. No longer are the meek and the mild the ones who hold back the strong, as for Nietzsche; they are not the source of resentment.

In the utopia of the everyday, in space without determination and time without minutes, there is the presence of a great murmuring, an impersonal speech which passes from one to another which escapes the dictare, the imperious speech of our leaders. A great mediocrity? Or the multitude which dissolves the mediocrities of the politicians? One can write of nothingness, of a radical nihilism on the part of the innumerable masses. But do the same masses not bear in the movement which traverses them, the movement of contestation they also embody, the critique of authority and the values which issue from authority?

I don't know; I have no idea. But I remember some lines from Breton’s Nadja:

The offices and workshops were beginning to empty out, from the top to the bottom of buildings doors were closing, people on the sidewalk were shaking hands, already there were more people in the street. I observed without meaning the faces, clothes, ways of walking. No, it was not yet these who would be found ready to make the Revolution.

April 29, 2004 in The Everyday | Permalink