Thou shalt not offer to take another person’s place, or help out unless you’re not paid to do it ... blood transfusions aren’t paid for.

What kind of strength is it you mean?  

Well, where people don’t know how to say what they think or even think what they think but think it somehow. They live through it and take risks and make choices for it and learn to cope with what they feel but can’t think. It’s very powerful and very inarticulate. 

You mean this strength is more genuine because it’s not just intellectual?  

I wouldn’t say the intellect is non-genuine, except that rationality offers merely theoretical possibilities, so many slick outs and slick ways of manipulating people. And English working class culture is very non-manipulative. Rough, but not so manipulative. 

In what sense?  

In the sense that it was traditionally based on loyalty and bloody-mindedness. There wasn’t a sense of intricacy. Even solidarity was erratic. But there was a kind of non-performance principle. Never work too hard because that would be dropping your fellow workers in shit. The Working Class Goes to Heaven [1971] has it. It’s what Ealing comedies should have been, if they’d had more sense of the man in the cloth cap. The British cinema got it briefly — Saturday Night and Sunday Morning [1960], a few others — then lost it again. The Man in the White Suit [1951] discovered it, from a middle-class angle. One could summarise a proletarian Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not strive too hard, or jump through more hoops than you have to. Thou shalt not offer to take another person’s place, or help out unless you’re not paid to do it ... blood transfusions aren’t paid for. Thou shalt not expect good treatment. Thou shalt always look for the catch, for what the other person gets out of it. Thou shalt contemplate defeat, but not change yourself to avoid it. Thou must become accustomed to always being outtalked and made to look a fool and put in the wrong ... but Thou shall not be moved ... Oh, and don’t be downhearted. Something like that.

- Raymond Durgnat, 1977

[A strange stumbling onto a previous mention of a rather particular lineage I've been drawing forth between Ealing and Petri, between Teflon white suits and the bestial mutter of a busted worker.  Namely, that of a) anti-Stakhanovism and refusal of work, b) stubborn inarticulacy, c) the problem beween class as relation and as status, d) sabotage, willed and unwilled, and e) the repetition of what can't help but go on, and what will, at best, wind up naked, without a finger, contemplative, or all three, while meanwhile the blood keeps getting let and no one is getting a transfusion.]


Mr. W. Kasper said...

"The British cinema got it briefly — Saturday Night and Sunday Morning [1960], a few others — then lost it again."

True - the lineage of refusal in British cinema warped into the go-getting chancer, the sociopath, the parasitical hustler: Tom Jones, Alfie (basically a petty bougie remake of SNSM), That'll Be The Day/Stardust, sex comedies. All the way to Hanif Kureshi, Leigh's Naked and endless Brit gangsters.

British cinema's lost the language for refusal now, and in British fiction it's become more about what's been brutally removed than refused (be it morality, health, vocation or community). Not so much sabotage, as adjusting to circumstances with maximum cynicism.

Greyhoos said...


socialism and/or barbarism said...


your knowledge of this is deeper than mine, but indeed, Durgnat seems fully on target here, particularly when you sketch the lineage further toward now. What came to mind when reading your comment was The Knack... And How To Get It, which has a singularly mean-spirited "refusal of refusal", a sort of cynical camouflaging in the guise of a sex romp. Perhaps not surprising, where I find the best articulation of both this shit trajectory and also its undoing is in the generic collapse of British horror in the early to mid 70s [that is, both internal to a lot of the films and the British horror genre as a whole, which suffers rather viciously]. I have in mind particularly Scream and Scream Again, with its voracious acid bath, in which the adjusting to circumstances shows that such an act is not conservative (in the literal, not to mention political sense) but annihilative. "Keeping on" involves the throwing to the wolves - or acid - of an enormous set of potential agents, all capped off with a twinkling smile and a gurgle.

[On another front, that of fiction, it might also be worth considering the "quotidian" shift of Ballard's fiction in the mid-70s: from worlds that were unmistakably after the fall to those in which only certain zones (highway underpasses, luxury condos, and, as always, Florida) had gone to pot. One no longer adjusts as a mass populace but as a single man - who, it turns out, would benefit from being a bit more of a gangster, hustler, etc - trying to break the tops of bottles of warm white wine.]

Mr. W. Kasper said...

It is funny how, of all writers, Ballard ended his career with stories of wide-boy gurus, petty-bouge yobs run amok, feral avant-consumers, and sunshine-resort bad lads - the cheeziest, most stillborn pop-culture motifs of Tony Blair's Britain. From Oasis, to Irvine Welsh, to Guy Ritchie, to the numbingly formulaic thug autobios that litter our service stations and supermarkets. This, when he'd already been honoured as an adjective.

Like much late 90s/00s cultural production, it's like Ballard was so focussed on that angle between two walls, he was blind/silent to where the real annihilative action was (and society struggles to fill that gap now, rebuild that 'lost language' that culture took away).

Call it the atrophy exhibition...

Mr. W. Kasper said...

Then there's Dennis Potter and Harold Pinter - 60s w-class boys made good. Dramatists of negation, inarticulacy and refusal.

They ended their careers on the oldest literary genre of all - the political rant, raging monologues quoted and celebrated across the media, a final 'fuck you' from visibly dying men. Literally 'gallows humour' - traditional for they where they grew up, but so un-manipulative and unbecoming of their status it felt refreshingly awkward and stubborn.