New era action painting


The streets will run red.  And mauve and puce and viridian, feldfrau and urbolin, fulvous and ceil... 

[A reminder that not all "aesthetic protest" roads end in sea turtle costumes...

Thoughts with Chile in the last days.  That is what a protest about free education looks like.  In all its messiness and difficulty.  As Pinera himself said, however for different reasons:  "A protest march is one thing, it is quite another thing to attempt to paralyse the country."  Yes.  Yes, it sure is.]


His shoes are shining and they are black, the tuxedo is black. And yet he is not a man, despite those hands. He is a bird, he is turning. Near him there has been a dead bird already.



Follow-up to a previous proposal that was not forgotten:

See above for source material.  Text in progress.

[Brief note: the specific prose of cinema, or at least its time signature, must turn on the has been.  At least insofar as we are talking of cameras that can track or pan, and especially of the moves that came to be called decoupage: the dissection and plotting of spaces already present and not constructed from scratch, not a montage of disparate elements.  That white bird has been there.  It turns out to be still.

Where cinema hits us bodily, uneases the guts, is the fact that it was here in front of us, triangulated somewhere between where we look and the eyes of the bird mask, and we could not see it.  Even if one were to protest and say, yes, but we didn't see the full field first, that close framing on those shoes means that the appearance of both the mask and then the white bird are of the order of different shots, such that camera movement performs the same work of splicing, one would protest back: who ever said that any shot could ever establish the full field?  As if there weren't always things off to the side, waiting in the wings, or, lest we forget, directly behind us.

And what's wrong is to think this has much of anything to do with realism.]

Recapitation (On beheading, Hammer, match cuts, and the surprising voracity of an acid bath)


“Take off the head, it's no use to me...”

            The Hammer Frankenstein films – seven of them, stretching from '57 to '74 – constitute cinema's most committed body of work on adding and subtracting heads.  Not because they have the “best beheadings”: even restricted to the small galaxy of Hammer, something like the lopping pop of the worse/sexier of the titular Twins of Evil takes that prize.  Not because any of them “thinks well” about headlessness.  Yes, there are guillotines, of a properly counter-revolutionary stripe, and there are hack and saw doctors, of a indeterminately revolutionary bent.  Above all, there are heads: heads that get themselves removed, scythed, heads that go missing, heads that house the wrong brain, heads in picnic baskets, heads that are trepanned, heads that square off against bone drills, heads that disapprove, heads that get stuck on top of white armoires and command others to murder, heads to be held aloft in the springtime air while you speak to them in the throaty neckless voice of the body from which it came.  


“It's the head that's the problem.”

No.  These films are films of – not about – decapitation because they are only such as a sequence.  Even taken one by one, they hang like multiples, able to be ordered only by the degree to which the  boredom and fatigue of those involved can be detected or ignored. Taken as a series, then, the films work out the act of decapitation as 1) belonging to a set of many, always plural 2) an injunction to make that set grow, 3) the production of a left-over with which to be dealt, an unwanted that belongs to the set but is never the right one, and 4) the insistence that removing the head is not a subtraction but the founding additive gesture, the freeing up to be worked on.  That is, the first move of montage. 

(They work decapitation out, they do not “think” it.  For such  a thought is not, like some philosophy that  dreams fitfully of being corrosive, an acid bath of clarity.  It has been dropped entire into the acid, and what remains is just the compulsion to keep going and the fizzing grey-pink froth of past matter.)
Let us begin from the beginning, the origin that doesn't take correctly, from The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

Unlike the Universal films, this strain cares not a whit about generation.  Father – the one who is supposed to express the hope for a “son for the house of Frankenstein,” thereby disowning the naughty necroparthogenic son he already has – is nowhere to be seen.  He's a blurry mark at best, such that the young Baron (already the imperious asshole he will blossom into) is the one to make the hiring decision on the tutor his father had selected for him.  When a woman does emerge on the scene, it is not with the weighty doom and avoidance of an encounter fated to end in an infant.  No one is much concerned whether or not the Frankenstein name will live on, even before it comes to mean something suspect.  No, Elizabeth comes to live with Victor for reasons we are not given to discern: maybe a lingering hold-out of social propriety, perhaps the abstract sadism of not being a proper sadist to one who, for all intents and purposes, seems to be asking for that recognition.  

 Rather, she simply stays on the scene, as do women throughout the series, until Frankenstein Created Woman gives a woman real agency (read: ability to cut off a head).  Not pushed to the side, merely unregistered and occasionally pushing into the screen with increasingly baroque productions of cleavage in a failed attempt to get the Baron to break that hawkish coldness.  To impel him to see her as more than just another spray of pattern and ornament, albeit one that does not, like his whirring tubes, spinning flywheels, and clicking hydraulics, serve a putative purpose in the project to separate and put back together.


For the problem, from the start, is not creation, bringing forth, growing, or production as such.  Rather, it is management, allocation, distribution, organization, combination, selection.  It is economics, in its proper rooted sense.  What to do with what is, not how to make what could be.  It is of how to make wholes from parts, not how to create from scratch, seed, or homunculus. 

“People just aren't dying off as quick as they used to...  It's the welfare state.”

            However, it's a world with too few spare parts.  The ones that can be found are reeking and inadequate, scarce or still attached to other bodies attached to being whole and alive.  Such that you must pull parts.  The prospect of a fully demystified science disdainful of the human animal will depend on salvage operations.  Such operations are not difficult.  The protestations of those from whom you will borrow or who find such work to fly in the face of God's labors aren't particularly loud or resistant.  What is insistently, perniciously hard to handle is all these leftovers.  It is an endless problem of disposing of scrapped bodies, of swapping brains around, of tossing into the fire, and, above all, of dropping into that  acid bath which punctuates the series like a guillotine.  That's the full auto-consumptive fantasy, matter chasing its own tail into naught, such that you can have negation with no trace.  But the only time it works, it works against the Baron, against the project of construction out of negation.  Evidently an acid bath – the consumer of evidence – is not the best place to hide the sapient trace of your experiments from meddling authorities and clumsy children.  As in the voracious swallowing of plot, character, and sense that ends Hammer's Scream and Scream Again and the very sequence of British Horror from which these films can't be untangled, once you introduce a corrosive into your work, it will not go away.   Things will go missing.

“Forget the whole.  No, we must take the part.”


In the first instance, it is the body of a thief hung high, any crucifix echoes wrecked in the potato sack thud of the corpse hitting the wagon bed when the Baron and Paul cut its tether.  And the plan is not, initially, to use it partially or even to take it as a stripped frame on which to build, substitute, or add.  It is to be taken entire, laced through with tubes and hydraulic pressures til its dull heart slurs back into motion. 

“Well, the birds didn't waste much time, did they?  The eyes...  Half the head is eaten away.”

Indeed, there are holes in this head.  And so begins the first decapitation, sawed through slow.  From a hole to a line.  The Baron removes the head, diligently, and bears it to the acid bath.  With a plop and fizz, the entire apparatus of the sequence – not the narrative arc but the structure that wrenches the narratives in and out of place – begins.


[The head, coming apart, is not shown: at the moment of its immersion, the camera cuts to Paul, the shot's frame cutting his head loose as well, and his sick shock is a pathetic registration of the pecked head.  A sympathy of decapitation, from one head busy turning to foam and one that is turning to sludge in its attempt to make sense of that.]

For when the head, removed after death, hits the acid, there begins the fundamental miseconomy of the enterprise: we have a body without a head, but we don't need another body, we just need another head.  But to get another head, we will need to sever it from a whole body, thereby producing another body without head.  (Herein lies the similarity of these films to their French counterpart, Georges Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage.)  This cannot be made right, other than by a proliferation of decapitations.  After all, every prospect of recapitation requires an act of decapitation.

The axiomatic refrain then, is: one head too few, one body too many...
In this way, these films become a sequence. A severing – and a dissolving – of a head  inaugurates a circuit of repetition, a repeated circulation of rotten corpses, corpses to be, and money, all predicated upon the fact that the head that was not severed to start was not adequate.

“No, it simply won't do.”

The first cut therefore removes what was not enough of a head.  Decapitation is just the pruning of the inessential.  Yet it produces the driving force – the drive to sever, saw, swap, and stitch – on which the arc is composed.  


And from there out, the bent of the sequence will be to not solve this lop-sided economy, for it cannot be solved, and to not leave it alone or stop reproving its absent thesis.  (The severing isn't just instrumental: it is a requisite act to be repeated again and again, until the cut goes wrong and decimates either the body or the head, until there is finally an equivalence.  But such is not to be the case in this series)  Insofar as it has a task, it will be: how to get rid of those pesky remainder bodies, those buried in your flower bed and brought to fetid light when the water main bursts, those which may be burned but which bear their traces in the brains planted elsewhere, those which interfere, nag, misbehave, and do not rot fast enough?  How is it all to be done away with?

And how to produce by subtraction.

Because there is a making, and it is in the name of the production of one whole body.  To thereby restore a unity never there to start and to  assemble, via montage and binding, a mocking, shambling refraction of a body not originally carved up, not badly glued together after the fact.  It is in the name of the production of this whole, this composition that sneers at the very project of being whole, that coherent wholes will be taken to pieces.

“And yes, you should expect some scarring.”

And think here of how it took a guillotine and thousands of heads rolling, lopped off and staring still, to finish paring the head off the king’s body.  To take off that thing which, of course, was diffuse, cloudy, and which, of course, smoothed over its joints and declared itself both One (the manifest will of the people) and the One and Only (the untouchable, the pinnacle above the stinking hoi polloi).  Gilding doesn't just make it shine: it makes flat. Such that it takes a whole lot of cuts to peel back that surface and find the seams, the junctures.  Until a guillotine is designed to deal with a hydra in disguise, things do take a while.

Here, it is a guillotine that ends the first film, that begins the second, that dominates the fourth, and that looms over them all.

[Spoken drunkenly]”We are going to make a people – I mean a person...”

Because the problem is not, as it might seem, the inversion of regicide: take apart a person (the king) in order to make a people.  Rather, it's that slippage – we are going to take apart a people (including the king) to make a “person.”  Like a non-culinary Modest Proposal, this is a demotic, mass severing, all under the banner of a new, built from scrap First Man: the subject of capital.

In other words, the collective singular, not ended at 21 feet per second, but born of it.

“I’ll get another… and another… and another...”

Which is of course to say, we’ll chop another and another and... And it is to say, there can be no end to this “getting,” because consumption and possession here only serve the accelerated decomposition of a body, via a very particular application of force.  The sooner you own, the sooner you will ruin.

In this way, so too the logic of these films, which emplpys a general logic of seriality as a counter-measure to that initial act of making incoherent (the head is no use to me).  If you can't make sense, you can at least make more, repeat the moves until they pass from a boredom of the same to a strangeness of that same.  We've seen it all before, and that's why it's so wrong.

More importantly, these guillotines, this attempt to go forward from a first cut in the medium, points up the fact that if the series is “about” cinema in any way, it is about editing.  And not because Frankenstein's creature is a facile analogue for “putting together pieces into a work,” but because it understands that once you inaugurate the logic of editing  at all, once you make film not just an unbroken, unreeling registration of what pours out of the factory at the end of the day, once you break the position of vision and relocate sight elsewhere, once you cut, all wholes are tattooed with dotted lines, just waiting for the axe to fall.  The viewer's head, in speculation, floats off and occupies an infinity of positions, plans, POVs, cranes, and pans, and with the decisive sshhhhiikkt! of a guillotine larger or small finds itself tossed, in sight, into those positions.

The head was and is the problem.  But only because there will be a body without one: the reels of film, the field of all that might be seen and won't, not dark or impossible, but simply unwatched.  That's a wet topped mass that cannot go unadorned and unregarded.  It  has not learned to make sense of or from itself, and so cries out for another head (the head that doesn't exist until it is cut).  It demands a cleaving to bring about that stitching back together, no matter how ugly such an affair may – must –  turn out to be.

And that is the story that follows, the plot that eclipses any particularities of who is threatening whom, which assistant is in love with which woman, who is deformed and will take on another body.

(How right the Tribune's scathing review of the film in '56: "Character and story have faded into the background, suspense and surprise simply do not exist, plot has become a perfunctory filling-in of time between each macabre set-piece.”  How wrong that this was written as a condemnation.)

What, though, of the modulations of this bare bones plot, its dressing up into different names, faces, and actions?

Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) opens onto a guillotine, hanging behind neon crimson text, the same color as that which announced the title and credits:

In the year 1860, Baron Frankenstein was condemned to death for the brutal murders committed by the monster he had created...
The whole continent breathed a sigh of relief when the guillotine was called upon to end his life of infamy.

The guillotine is figured as explicit answer to the monster (both the editor-artist Baron and his creation).  Beheading here is already displaced from the private labor of the Baron, who stood unbesmirched by labor and state intervention until thrown into jail.  Now decapitation is institution, a law-bound regulation of the order of what should and shouldn't be made, ready to take off the head of the arch-decapitator, because he goes so far as to recapitate.  The technocratic invention of death alone can deal with the not-quite dead and interrupt this disrupted economy by taking it down at the source.

Or that's how it's supposed to go.  Further bolstering his role as Robespierre echo in dress, conviction, tone, and indissociable linkage to the guillotine, the Baron manages to get himself out from under the blade and put a priest in his place.

When he resurfaces, he is established in society – rather than aristocratically outside/above – as a doctor to the rich and to the poor, tending gratis to the latter in a filthy, crowded hospital in which an elevated frequency of amputations won't be especially noticed.  Or more accurately, this salvage from the rabble will be noticed, but the protestations will not be heard by any with the power to intervene, until the “unwashed” band together and give him a long-overdue and vicious beating with arms, legs, stumps, and canes.

The major shifts borne out across the series are present here already.  

It will come to be about life: living tissue and still-warm limbs, scrapped while the donor's heart still pumps, or swapped between two bodies such that one of those two will be discarded at end.  (In this case, the contorted, disfigured body of Karl, who helps the Baron in exchange for the promise of a new body, is burned by Karl himself, if the transfer of the brain counts as continuity of subjectivity, in a new hunky body built from the scraps of the poor.)

The Baron will get older, more tired, and poorer. (The Baron is no longer an “independent researcher” using his estate to hit up the black market or his social standing to commit unnoticed murders.  He is now a practicing doctor, forced to work for that bit of respectability and required to find loopholes – i.e. general deafness to the protests of the poor – to get his materials.)

It will introduce a practical primacy of spirit, even in the pseudo-material form of “the brain,” over the matter of the body.  Although it is partially blamed on a stiff beating he receives, Karl's transformation is a revenge of the intellect against the success of manipulating matter, his new body deforming into an approximation of his previous twisted shape, with the addition of murderous appetite to boot.  Yet it comes in the defense of the body.  The conservative impulse therefore tries to have it both ways:

No, we're not just piles of meat, we have unique essences – we have distinct content – that allows us to “be us” even in different form!

No, that content cannot be dissociated from its original form: it will insist on remaking its perverse new frame in the lost image of the spirit's rightful home!

The film ends by laughing it off, transposing it onto a profound gag, as the brain of the Baron, rescued from his red mess of a body after the attack, is moved to a new body, one itself built from the parts harvested from those very attackers.  (One of the more sublime iterations of the endless capacity of the master to recuperate and incorporate the antagonism of its underclass opponents.)  The operation is a success, insofar as the film ends not just with the Baron setting up shop elsewhere with a new name and an old commitment to keep doing this, but impossibly, with the Baron still played Peter Cushing, distinct only in having picked up a rakish mustache and a prison tattoo.  As if, given enough time, the brain will rearrange the body in full to accord with what it remembered to be the case.

(There is Evil of Frankenstein in '64, but for a number of reasons, it willfully places itself outside the general drift of the series.  I leave it there, to shuttle around in its own awkward orbit.)

“Do it now!  Come on, it’s my head, you’re going to have it off anyway.”

'67 is Frankenstein Created Woman, a scrappy, kinky, savage film of broke characters and broken lineages.  The guillotine is back where it belongs, right at the start, removing the head of Han's belligerent, joking father who badgers the priest, harangues the executioner, and only loses his blowhard cool when he realizes his son is about to watch the whole thing (bringing out those questions of fathering previously absent and pointing them out as all the more incapable of explaining what is to follow).  Like Karl of Revenge, the signs of a damaged spirit are externalized and worn on the body in the scarred and bent Christine: her head declared, by the social world, to be also “not enough of a head” but without those pecking birds.  Rather, she has a clot inside the brain: a scar without surgery, without even a cut. 

Like everyone in this world (including Christine herself) other than Hans, her lover /witness to his father’s execution, the Baron neither wishes to acknowledge this nor ignore it.  He swerves instead to new heights of immateriality, plus a defense of both vital urge and particular arrangement of subject buried within but independent of its charnal bonds.  (Some of his experiments, we see, consist of freezing himself to death for lengthening periods of time to see how it is that he is still himself after being revived.)  His burned hands unfit for surgery and dependent on the nervous blustering fingers of his assistant, he's not content just severing the spirit from the body.  He wants to sever it from the head, to unhouse the intellect.  In this instance, to parse it into floating balls of energy that bear the essence of an individual, through the capacity to make the transfer with the head already missing.  The body as such, give or take a head, is the new seat of the soul, and it can be unsettled.

But there are those who remember the fact of beheading and who keep an eye on those missing heads.  Those who won't let it go so easy.  The film tells of their revenge, their insistence on not letting the miseconomy of one head too few, one body too many be settled so cleanly or with so little blood.  The children of the guillotine and their lovers hence continue the abandoned project.

(Which is to say, they pick up the scene of that intermittent anti-political project: something along the lines of an acephalic insurrectionary modernism, which demands of the foundational act – the severing, that barbaric technocracy and destroyer of kings! – that it remain no certain foundation.  For what it brings about is the bad simultaneity of the too few, too many.  It inaugurates a broken set which is, however, the only way to actually count masses, crowds, and hordes, to take stock of that which is neither a people nor a person, not even a persons (as the sloshed Baron slurs in a later film)Just a collection of material, a collection of wills, perhaps gathered together under one or more abstractions, and the potential operations that may follow.  This project insists that nothing is ever settled without the constant vigilant work of recounting, rekilling the king, recalibrating, revolting.)

So after the decapitation of Hans at the guillotine (just like Daddy), and the consequent suicide of Christine, after the transference of Han's soul/anima into the body of his lover, after they fix Christine’s limp and hunch and face scars (and inexplicably, make her bottle blonde for good measure), after she kills the first two aristocratic fops responsible for the death of her ex-lover who is now also incorporated into her, we find just where that head has gone, and just where it can go.

Namely, impaled on the decorative top spike of a white armoire, commanding her to kill the last murderer.  (Therein a different historical echo of the beheaded, less Francophile and more homegrown Brit: Cromwell's head impaled on a spike 20 ft above Westminister Abbey.  Vengefully severed after his posthumous exhumation, dragged through the streets in an open coffin, and hanged at the injunction of Charles II, it was stuck on high and remained there, weather-beaten, for a full 24 years until a storm tossed it to the ground.)

Yet this head, literally stuck where it does not belong, jammed into an absurd man-furniture hybrid, is not a singular shot.  It is the second half of a match cut, the gasping conclusion – the recapitation – of the first cut.  From the exhumation of Hans' body and the voiced question “Where has the head gone?” to the purely answer to that question: well, there it is.  This is a red thread between locations that do not line up, and it’s a tremendous whiplash.  It produces the sympathetic wrenching of our necks as we pass smoothly between what matches up indeed (the missing head in speech, the found head in sight) and what indeed does not stop being a cut (the space between the expectation and the shock of finding it).

If there is a formal hallmark to the entire series of these films, it is the match cut.  Fisher is consistently demeaned as being not much of an auteur, too “workman-like”.  What is actually meant by this is that he is a skillful editor.  His films are consummately put together, and they tend not to draw attention to the medium.  He is one who matches cuts together, who knows how to enjamb and enjoin, such that we both keep the beat and gain a shudder, a laugh, and a twist in the process.  Such that when Christine swings the axe down on the writhing body of an aristocrat, it will not touch him.  It will make contact only on a log, the wood splitting like meat, hours away, in another house where she and we alone recall the starting point of that falling swipe. 






And then there is the cephalophoric moment, perhaps the most striking of its kind in horror, when she stabs the last of Han’s murderers and raised her lover’s head from of a basket.  (At which point we realize she’s been carrying it around for a while…)  At which point she speaks to the severed head in the voice of that head, when she speaks as Hans, in the body of his lover (after she has gone about seducing and murdering men in his name), to Hans.  The film, understandably, pulls back from this: it is at that moment when Christine has most vanished, that the Baron calls to her and brings her back to herself.  She drops the voice, the head, and, in a few moments, herself off a cliff edge.

Still, at the end of the film, she – the one who has never been an acephale even as she has been a cephalophore, carrying the head that became her own but which was never lopped off her body – claims that she knew what she was doing all along.  That this was not fugue but project.  With her decapitational picnic basket and all the loneliness of the one who knows she has been lied to, so she speaks to a head with no throat, in the hissing calm tones of the falling blade.


By the time we hit Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (69), that basket is now a special head-shaped bucket and the blade – a sickle – is right for the task.  It is heads we sever,  that is what we do, and it’s no longer of the exception or breakthrough, but the mundane, the chore.  Brain transplants into bodies living or dead is no surprise, with few kinks to be ironed out.  And that collapse of surprise, there’s little remaining desire for vindication or to become a celebrity in the field.  At most, just the old habit of a low-level fuck you to the doubters.  And so it is here, in the film that sees the Baron most conclusively terminated (carried into a burning house by the one whose brain he swapped), that series as such spells out, with a rather bemused plainness, its basic logic:

“I must therefore transfer it to a healthy body to keep it alive.  When the recipient is fully recovered, I shall operate again to cure the insanity.”
“You can’t mean any of that.  You can’t!”
“I mean every word of it.”
“But that would mean you’d have to remove someone else’s brain to do it.”
“Of course, Karl.  How else?”
“But that would be murder!”
“You’re used to that by now.”

Indeed, he is, they are, and we are too.  Frankenstein must be destroyed, perhaps, but the only way to save a head is to give it another body.  And, in its weary matter-of-factness, this film returns a base materiality to it all, cutting back against Revenge’s and Woman’s version of a damaged brain that produces a damaged body yet which leaves the subject intact. In Destroyed, a brain isn’t just trapped in a body.  It is strangled by it, slowly choked out such that the I becomes imbecilic.  The head was never a single unit in the series, but here the gap between form (skull) and content (brain) becomes a toxic one.  The brain must be saved from head, and so, late in the game, we get a destroying that saves, as the Baron and Karl turn to trephination, slowly grind a bone drill through the skull to “let the brain breathe.”  The brain in question is that of Professor Richter, an old colleague of the Baron’s who still has the knowledge necessary to work out those last kinks in the transplant process.  At the very start of the series, they couldn’t find a head in decent shape to save them.  Now, saving their project requires putting holes in another head and leaving it unusable.

Nothing much changes in the last film of the series, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, other than the Baron’s very weird coiffure.  We cycle back through the options and permutations of living dead, poor, following the lead of Destroyed and taking the bodies of the insane, particularly ones that are very large and hairy.  The creature will look more like a werewolf, and he, rather than the Baron (himself a patient, merely with some special privileges), will be taken to pieces by the patients.  But for the most part, he wasn’t made of their parts: he simply was a hulking brute, with a key additions to retrofit him to the purpose of idiotic rage.  The only labor of the many lies in that tearing to bits, not in the significant, albeit unwilled, contribution of the unwashed collective in Revenge.  It’s fitting, as cutting and repairing here can no longer be a solitary enterprise.  Frankenstein's hands, burned earlier in the series, are inoperative.  As such, for his surgical operations, our cutting and splicing editor becomes merely a director, here in the last film that Fisher directed.  As the Baron puts it when reviewing what went wrong, “Too much reliance on surgery and too little on biochemistry.”  And isn’t this a renunciation of cinema itself, of montage, of the way that decapitating and recapitating never really meant to reproduce a whole? And so we get the familiar gag at the end of the film, when the Baron brushes off the death of the creature.

 “Oh, that's of no importance.  The best thing that could have happened to him.  He was of no use to us or to himself.  But... next time.”
“Next time?”
“Why, of course!  We'll discuss the details later.  For the moment, we must get this place tidied up so we can start afresh.  Now we shall need new material, naturally.”

But for once, there may be actually something new here in the stated declaration to have done with surgery, although it is a line that won’t be followed past the end of the series.  It won’t be answered here, and not by Hammer, busy falling to pieces in the years of this film, but it gestures further ahead toward different processes of the production of images and wholes, closer to biochemistry and that which does not need to cut, which won’t have to start with chunks of what already exists.  That is, if the primary special effects of the Hammer Frankenstein was not the squirt of blood or the caked make-up but the basic logic of the match cut, taken to its extreme, made into a principle that resonates from micro to macro, to leave behind surgery is to point toward a world of CGI run amok, of things cooked up in laboratories that require no cuts because they don’t exist outside of this genesis.  Of combinations with other footage that involves no montage but merely intertwining, green screens, and overlays.  There may be cuts, but they will often be simulated, just a weightless shift from one weightless field of pixels to another.  There’s not a scar in sight.
            That, though, is another story, and this one ended more properly in the film between Destroyed and Hell, where the burning of the Baron was answered by a black comedy reload of sorts, The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), where we have neither Fisher nor Cushing.  Instead, a return to origins and, fittingly, painting them as joke all along.  It slots in the absent sex, it declares as comedic what was already funny, and, above all, it ratchets up the frequency of those match cuts until they provide nearly every transition between sequence.  Almost no question is left hanging without a wrenching shift to a new locale and a verbal or visual answer to it.  Nothing, of course, is new, and the attempt to remake what had already been a remake and about remaking means that it can only collapse under its own weight.   

Or, in this case, dissolve in whole at the site in which this whole miseconomy began, in the acid bath that first abolished the head we’ve been chasing since then.  Trying to hide his creature from the investigation of Lieutenant Henry, the Baron convinces him to climb into giant empty acid bath in his work-shop, vats of acid poised precariously above.  And despite the questioning, there’s no evidence to be seen of his labor.  He’ll get away with it all, and he’ll continue his work, keep buying cut-rate dead bodies, keep cutting them up, keep making cut-rate wholes.   


But the young daughter of Henry, bored with being ignored  by the adults, pulls the rope tied to the acid and “accidentally” floods the bath.  There is a sound that rushes and hisses.  Only the Baron knows what it means, and he is alone when he climbs to the side of the bath and watches two shoes bob up from the gurgling brown froth.  He makes a face to the camera that is supposed to be meaningful but which remains inscrutable.  Yes, he will go on after all.  No, he’s had enough.  Yes, there is still cutting to be done.  No, cinema has not had enough.  For there’s no bath big enough to dissolve all those stitches.

Present for (Italian reading) comrades: Contropiano, '68


There is too much compelling Italian commie writing from the long 70s that is not widely available online, both in Italian and, especially, translated into English.  I'll do my part to remedy some of this from Napoli and share what I find.  In the meantime, for those who read Italian: PDFs of the complete '68 run of Contropiano.  There is seriously remarkable stuff here.  I'll put up '69 in a day or two, and I'm planning to translate Abruzzese (one of the lesser read of that generation, at least in English) on "Cinema e politica."

We insist on your self-determination


Libya...

It is utterly true, then and now, that the mode of the NATO intervention was abhorrent.  Or more accurately, the non-intervention, as it intervened only to the point of "letting" things hobble forward, a dragging out without commitment.  Bomb enough to maintain a status quo of civil war, but never enough to be consequently blamed for actually deposing/exploding a head of state.  The point was to be able to claim, as they surely will now, that they acted in the name of freedom but not against sovereignty.  To claim that it was the will of the people (for it is not NATO's business to question the legitimacy of states, at least until conveniently questioned by those people) and that such a will depended on the aid from afar (for it is not NATO's business to question the capacity of people to win a civil war, at least until that war goes against what seems "worth" aiding).  

[For example, Juppe:

“It’s up to the Libyans and the Libyans alone to choose their future and to build a new Libya, which will be a democratic Libya.”  That is, the choice is totally up to them.  Of course, with the guarantee that it will be a democratic Libya.

Or Cameron: “Our task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people, which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya. This will be and must be and should be Libyan-led and a Libyan-owned process with broad international support coordinated by the United Nations.”  It will, must, and should be a Libyan-led process, with the UN coordination that demands that it be Libyan-led in the way the UN wants and in such a mode of free self-determination (read: not particularly Muslim, open to trade and opening up markets) that will accord with the "broad international support."  Support, which, it should be obvious, pre-dats that self-determination in that it only becomes support when and if the process lines up with the template.  And if not, a bit of hand-wringing and justification that next time around, you just can't leave it up to those people...]

That was and will be the double claim.

That aside, it's not every day you see rebels take a capital.  And that's still something that exceeds that will, must, or should.

I am, after all


"Pardon the melodrama, Alfred, but I am, after all, in a rather melodramatic business."

- Batman

[From Joe R. Lansdale's Batman: Captured by the Engines , which, by the way, reads like McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? fused with Carpenter's Christine.  With a Native American reservation.  And werecars.  As in "werewolves" but with cars.] 

Coda to an open letter

Three follow-up comments on the London riots, drawn in part from astute comments from friends and strangers.


He was similarly untouched about looting: "How do I feel about it? Honestly. Nothing. It comes with the rioting. I feel nothing about it."


One.

Something that should have been stressed more, and which went nearly unremarked, was that for all the shocked awe of alleged and real chaotic spontaneity, far more striking is how much cannot be understood as that.  Instead, how much can only be understood as emerging from concrete, committed organization.  No, it does not look like a party, coalition, or association.  No, it isn't "about Facebook" or BB Messenger, although those things sure help, anymore than it is about some new networked subject, other than the velocity of transmission.  And no, Cameron et al, as convenient as it would be to drag in LAPD-style practices, it does not look like a gang, regardless of the presence of gangs.

It is not "an" organization, but it is organization, insofar as it involved particular calls (i.e. those sent out over BB, etc) for masses of people to come to a particular place, "demonstrate" against an entire current order of law and property, and to hold strong against police that try to stop such a thing.  A long distant echo of what rallies are supposed to be might be heard ere.  As such, the accusations of irrational disorder, moral decay, or "getting carried away" miss the point that this is the creation of orders, that grouped together for specific purposes and disbanded.  Of a mode of attack (remember, there was a lot of smashing and burning that was not a means to the ends of looting), that involves commitment and, yes, the discipline of following through in full, beyond fear of retribution.

Even those who want to denounce it as barbarous, cowardly, misdirected ("if only they just took blankets or smashed up banks, then I could understand and support it!"), and pointless nevertheless must - and, I suspect, do - grasp that thousands of people coming to a predetermined location and acting in concert is not haphazard.  It is organization that takes as its common membership not votes, cards, or shared "principles," invariant or revised.  It isn't founded on being a set of subjects in common.  Rather, it temporarily forms on an ongoing basis, on the ground of those who are consistently denied any status whatsoever as "valid political subjects" and who have no interest in being incorporated into that order that has hated them from the start.  One doesn't have to join such "an" organization, because it does not exist.  It is a line, a gravitational fact, an axiom nearly, to which one either is or is not bound.  And in certain moments, it becomes much harder to ignore.

The question at hand, the real one, is simply what one does from that starting point, from being tied to it or not.  Those already recognized as political subjects either betray their position (treason against one's given position and class is, after all, the fundamental move in any real turn against the social order, the definition of the proletariat as what abolishes itself) or hug it close.  Those already excluded either wait and struggle to get recognized or wait and get busy doing regardless, against, and in spite of that exclusion.   And in this case, such a doing is a doing together, with a full awareness that whatever benefits may be gained individually (something looted, personal revenge taken against police), they are made possible  only by action in concert and their consequences will bear generally beyond anyone in particular.  (Including, for example, the way in which the sentencing to follow will be based on the entire situation, not whatsoever on the scale - taking a few pounds worth of bottled water - of one's crime.)


In brief, we should add: it's an equally unsatisfactory move to explain away by a simple recurrence to an account of economic-social determination, Marxist or otherwise.  To recognize the concrete historical impasse which can indeed only result in these moments is not, or definitely should not be, to reduce distinct decisions that were made to the simple adherence to what is predetermined.  Yes, historical thought aggregates choices and trends.  It does so in order to point up the basic strictures in which they are made and to think why, even in cases where someone feels she is making a "free choice," the very range of what's considered freely is restricted in a very specific way.  But the better question, the one that has serious consequences for how we orient ourselves, is not why didn't they choose this way, why didn't they go to Buckingham or Downing Street, why didn't they "make a revolution", but why do we choose what we do, what kind of life is that forging, however messily, however much it does not seem "constructive".

To return to the question of negation, a project of negation does not begin with the pseudo-negative of counterfactual questions.  It starts with knowing that those strange torsions and winds that get called will are not merely a subjective tinting of forced hands and sheer desperation.  They are a project, however unplanned.  And like all projects, they develop projections out of small, concrete, often obscure decisions.  The shadows of those small decisions loom tremendously over decades to come, far more than any hand-wringing over what could have been otherwise.

 To be sure, classical or contemporary notions of will, agency, and decision will have a damn hard time thinking such a moment.  That is perhaps a sign that such terms should be discarded.  But the time of their utility, at least in helping to note what has genuinely shifted, doesn't seem up.  Rather, their especially slippery purchase on these days is due to how very little these riots have to do with being seen, counted, represented, registered, or having one's dissent duly noted, all those actions which have tended to restrict and contain what is understood popular will as an expression or  burst limit of them.  More simply, being seen and counted is not the point.  It is a secondary consequence, the moment where something spills over into unmistakable visibility.

(See here the way in which politicians and commentators of all stripes, who previously had denounced what happened, nevertheless had to speak of "having our eyes opened", or, as Cameron put it in a rather startlingly splatterpunk turn of phrase, "social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face", such that revelation is analogous to an infectious spray of pus.  Not surprisingly, riots bring out the Cliver Barker in us all.)

When something becomes visible in that way, when it fully comes to light, it has a very brief window in which it can spread, during which it is catalogued, identified, labeled, and quelled.

What shouldn't escape us in this flurry of trying to pin individual faces, names, and carceral bodies on it all, is how regardless of the tallies of property wrecked or looted, cops injured or windows shattered, numbers arrested and charged, two things remain, and remain unquantifiable.  One, a genuine rage against law and the order it defends.  Two, a coming together, largely for the purpose of that rage, but which moves beyond it.  It doesn't take a communist to see that what so horrified much of Britain was a flickering, but incontrovertible, image of what the collective, willful action of the very poor can actually look like and how far from heartwarming, humanist, democratic, or "progressive" it actually is.


Two.

Perhaps the most succinct explanation I've read of "why people riot", one that gets to that difficult double condition  (on one hand, the willful and committed work of antagonism following both a concrete flash point and many, many years of being treated like shit, and, on the other, the sense of something that does comes unbidden and of its own accord):

"People are rioting because the riot is finally here."

This may seem a tautology, but it is not meaningless in the least.   It means that a lot of people both knew it would happen sometime and were ready for it. It means that a riot is something that is not just reducible to individuals rioting (i.e. it is a noun that doesn't just describe of something that people do).  It also means that it does not "come all at once."  Fast as it catches, it isn't an instantaneous acceleration from zero to stealing police horses.  Something starts, people make the choice to throw themselves at and into it, and at some point, it becomes clear that the riot arrived.  Those who have been waiting for it - as an opening - do or don't act, do or don't "copycat."  It is an opportunity to be taken, and it was.


Three.

The present "stage" of this, and the current debate, is the judicial fall-out and the seemingly disproportionate charges: six months for some bottled water, two months for some shorts, four years for Facebook events and comments, 1,000 charged so far, and proposed evictions for rioter.  (The truly nasty last of which has the rather strange structure of: you who went out into the streets en masse, we'll take away your housing, and you'll have to go back to the streets, if you like them so much!  What are you going to do, riot about it?  Wait a minute...)

But of course, without feigning any jaded bent, who can really be surprised?  Yes, it is a "bad calculation" (given the costs of jailing and the overcrowding of prisons), yes, their "math is off," and yes, it is vengeful.  Why would we act surprised at this?  Was there anything whatsoever in the prior behavior of those in power that indicated it would have been otherwise?  Did they make correct economic decisions prior, or at least those concerned with the well-being of the poor?  Playing up shock can have some rhetorical effect, but it's a fool's game of acting naive so as to augment the supposed new.  And in this case, very little is new.  There is just a bit more, as Cameron would note, in and on your face and eyes.

Nevertheless, there is something worth noting here, something that feels new, less because it is previously unseen and more because the severity of it has the scent of a sequence starting now and likely to last for many years.  That sense of horror is not accidental, as horror - the affect, not the genre - designates the blow to thought that emerges when cause and effect decouple.

(To take a fictional example, the horror of Freddy Kreuger isn't an index of what he does or does not do with his tongue or fingerknives.  It is the flimsiness of the revenge narrative, made all the thinner by its ceaseless repetition across films. In this way, any coherent causality, or calculation of how and why effects are distributed as they are, is lost in a muddy, gory storm of sheer effects without sources or terminus.  Because the horror at hand isn't just that he comes back, over and over again.  Springtime does that as well.  Rather, it lies in how that coming back maintains a cover story - for those who need a quick refresher, he's "taking revenge" against the children of town whose parents burned him to death as vigilante revenge for child murder after he was acquitted by the courts on a technicality regarding a search warrant - that it simultaneously blows.  Yes, they went "outside" the law, but yes, Freddy, you were killing their children.  Any semblance of moral, or symbolic, equilibrium should be roughly squared out here.  But instead, the effect of Freddy comes unmoored from the initial cause, and it is for that reason that it can neither be stopped nor reasoned with.)

In this case, the ridiculous, vengeful sentencing does two things.  First, it marks the riot as that something other than just individual decisions (as an event, as what arrives), such that you're charged not on the scale of what you did or took, but on the scale of something that is not a legal subject.  You are charged for having acted in a time in which the law couldn't do its job, and in retaliation, it makes itself something enormous, vicious, unjustifiable and unjustifying. 

Second, it declares not just the hours of that looting but the era of riots, as more than a few have called our years, as one in which measured causality has broken down and will continue to, along with a calculus of retribution and getting even.  It indicates a period in which effects beget effects, and in which the total incapacity to address the "root causes" (read: long economic downturn coupled with population growth) means that the blood-feud between state and population can, and will, have no natural terminus.  We're stepping into a long saturnalia of judgment, and judges, all too aware of this, will only lash out in the dark.

Many of us are convinced, with no joy in this fact, that this indicates one of the key structures of repetition on which the next decade, if not longer, is going to turn.  This seems especially so in countries that are used to a high standard of living (and hence are all the more caught off guard when that standard starts to seriously drop), which will continue to be so for a large portion of the population despite of a general worsening, and that have increasingly large populations who have never been folded into that standard or portion.  That is, in parts of the U.S., the UK, and throughout southern Europe.

In brief:

1. Riots without discernible direction (riots due in part to ceaseless policing of populations with particular flash points of murder and sentencing, due in part to the general unemployable status of those populations)
 
2. Attempts to retroactively place them in a causal sequence (which will read in them modulations of those two conditions, with conservatives saying "yes, we just didn't have enough policing, and they just don't want to work", liberals saying, "there will be policing, but it shouldn't be like this, and we need to find ways to create employment opportunities" and those with a head on their shoulders saying "there will only be policing like this because, structurally, employment of these populations is impossible")

3. Increasingly severe policing (see the potential replacements for head of the Met for indication of the desire to move toward "American-style", which indicates that perhaps general gun-toting may not be as far future as one might think),

4. Vengeful sentencing which a) demonstrates that disjunction of cause and effect and b) is symptomatic, and guaranteed to bring about a whole lot more, of the incapacity to properly draw any coherent linkage between policing and employment.

5.  To be taken up again from the beginning, but scrappier, meaner, sloppier, more exhausted, hungrier, and harder this time around.

Un porc andalou






At a funeral for a policeman, the police mob through the halls and chant like those they police

video

One of the rarer sights in the long 70s: state repression swallows its own tail on its own terrain, if only as far as to knock a wreath to the ground.  From Damiani's Io Ho Paura,  1977.

An open letter to those who condemn looting (Part two)

[Part one here]




3.  They are just being "materialistic," stealing things they can't afford


Do you really expect people to riot immaterially?  You expect them to loot only what they could afford?

But as before, we agree in the letter of your condemnation: people are taking this material situation as an opportunity to steal things they cannot afford - or can only with real difficult - to purchase.  That is entirely true.

But in saying so, there are two separate issues, twin intertwined strands of bullshit.

First, this recurrent accusation of "materialistic" signals a broader refusal not of consumerism - with which you are well familiar and for which you cheerlead full-throated - but of the material fact of social disruption. To speak, with disdain, at the materialistic nature of these days is to speak, beneath your tongue, of a desire that people should go back to "protesting" in ways that remain representational: be counted, be seen, be ignored, go back to the places they live, remain there.  It marks your horror at what it looks like for "protest" to become material, and, at that point, no longer protest.

To recognize this is not to give up any degree of judgment: one can of course - and should - think hard about the inflections of this shift, about what it means for this material critique of the city to hit indiscriminately, to not differentiate between corporate chains and "local business."  And to think hard about this means to act in such a way as to contribute to that inflection, to throw oneself into or in the way of it, as one wishes.  But buried beneath the attack on the "crass materialism" of the looting is a nastier worm, that of distance and sheen, that supports critique and dissent precisely to the degree it remains irrelevant and immaterial, that it is to be seen and heard and not ever felt.

More particularly, though, this condemnation of being "materialistic" marks both a startling absence of self-reflexivity and an insistence on pathologizing, racializing, and dehistoricizing the poor and angry.

Because let us be very honest.  You who work, who have the opportunity to do so, who perhaps had it handed to you or who fought tooth and nail to get that opportunity, you who "earn an honest living": do you truly work only to cover the bare necessities?  Do you work just enough to pull off a base level of caloric intake, a hair shirt, an empty room, an indulgent pint at the end of the week, and bus fare to get you to your job?  Do you disdain desire beyond that?

No.  You don't.  We don't.  Even if you are among those who can rarely afford them, you want, and you work and scrape and cheat and borrow to get, expensive trainers, big screen TVs, sport utility vehicles, prams that resemble sport utility vehicles, expensive vodka, pants with the name of a certain brand on the ass and that make your ass look good, earrings, cologne, cigarettes that don't taste like cardboard, video games, diamonds, good quality beef.

(Or worse, you play at being above that.  And so you want a brand new hybrid, soap made from hemp, something locally farmed, a flat with bamboo floors, the complete works of Matthew Arnold.)

And so, even before the question of criminality emerges (how those goods get gotten), you are condemning the looters for something else: for wanting the very objects you want.

You are condemning them for your desire.

You are declaring that desire to be abject and unacceptable, as soon as it is untethered from the legitimation of labor. You think, then, that they are supposed to desire and be refused its payoff.  That such is the fundamental condition of the poor: to want and to go wanting.  That want is supposed to be identical to access.

Such that when you bend the stick toward counterfactuals (as many of the condemners slightly left of center do) and say, well, it would be different if they were just taking food, nappies, medicine, you know, the things you need to get by, what is being said is that they should steal only goods of a quality equivalent to their social standing.  The poor, whose standard of life is not very high, should have goods whose standard is not very high.  They should not be taking pre-rolled cigarettes.  They should not be taking champagne, or at least not the good stuff and only for special occasions.  They should not be taking large televisions.  For they do not deserve these things.  And  they should know better.

And you are misunderstanding this, fundamentally, if you reduce it to simply a desire for goods. An act of taking is not a neutral redistribution of commodities on the market.

For what is it to loot?  To loot is not to shoplift.  It is not to steal, which implies the coherence of a relationship between potential property owners, from the one who owned it to the one who takes it, such that the latter comes to own it, as property, however "ill-gotten."  This is not looting.  Looting is not consumerism by other means.  Looting is going for broke and, in so doing, breaking down the consistency of property as a title and a transfer between particular subjects.

Looting is necessarily collective: fantasies of a proletarian Rambo aside, it is not a solo endeavor.  It is a horde of people taking everything, for it implies also the total nature of the theft.  Not tactical, nor careful, not sly.  It is a moment of total abandon, defined by the fact that it treats all it comes into contact with as within reach.  The verb is just a version of the noun loot, which means "booty" or "stolen property."  And so too the relation it has to the stores, streets, city, and world in which it takes place: it sees all as already booty, property already theft, gathered, hoarded behind glass and steel.

It is, therefore, a genuine collapse of this very logic you trumpet and with which you scold, of deserving, of being adequate to your cash flow, of being and wanting nothing more, of having the realism of frustration that the poor alone are asked to accept.  It is an attack.

Your nervous, pacing anxiety at this is entirely understandable, given that it has very little to do with "them."  Rather, it points up the way you understand your own property, your own lusts, your own taste.  Namely, that you have no particular interest in a nice pair of trainers because they are comfortable/look good/help you run fast.  That is incidental.  The specificity of your desire is negative.  It is that you don't want other people to have them.  That what you crave is not plenitude as such, especially not for the many, but the condition of general scarcity over which your meager holdings rise like a tower.  All the more so because you will deny and denounce it, play it down (after all, displaying wealth on the surface is supposed to be the province and practice of the poor and tasteless), not even have the decency to flaunt it.  Well, times are tough, but I'm getting along OK.  We all have to tighten our belts a bit sometimes.

You condemn, then, those too hungry, pissed off, bored, sick and tired, and desperate for not having in practice the self-denial you ape.  With one exception.  There is one thing they are supposed to want and are supposed to do whatever possible to get them: jobs.  And so...


4. They don't work, they are criminals


Yes.  To not work under capital is criminal.  It is structurally so: a fault, an offense, that which calls out for punishment - hunger, jail, coercion.  Now that we have left behind the era of general wars, home ownership, and the cross-class production of children, full-time work is the guarantor of adult status, of citizenship, of being a proper subject.  The absence of work - that is, labor recognized as such - is a general criminalization of populations, before any legal transgression technically occurs.

It is locally so, because insofar as work means sanctioned labor, then to not work means that one must labor in modes that are technically criminal: steal, sell stolen goods, sell drugs, sell your body, con, beg, squat, loot.

And in a time when there aren't enough jobs to be had, or, God forbid, when people don't want to labor, don't want to throw their lives into hours of toil and boredom from which they, their families, their friends, their parts of town will only reap only the smallest portion of reward, in such a time, to keep telling people that this isn't the right way to go about things is literally, and precisely, to say to them: you will not be able to work, and you will not be able to not work.  You should scrape by, and you should be quiet about it.

However, it would behoove you, and us all, to clarify just what is meant by work.

In brief, it is the exchange of one's time and exertion - a portion of a life - for a certain quantity of commodities, money being the most common and infamous one.  The specificity of such labor under capital is that the value of commodities returned to the worker is not equivalent to the value generated by her labor: that's what Marxists mean by surplus-value.  That's what capitalists mean by making a killing.


Work does not have a constant rate of return for the worker.  Wages are not identical, and an adequate portrait of the world economy makes it clear that barring certain overall correlations for highly trained work (surgeons, assassins, jazz pianists) and excluding our fantasy that it must be the case that wages and worth are commensurate, the amount earned bears very little relation to the quality or quantity of labor performed.  Some work is unskilled and paid very little.  Some work is unskilled and paid a lot.  Some work is highly skilled and paid a lot.  Some work is highly skilled and paid very little.

I'm sure we can all agree on this, even if you don't particularly enjoy doing so.  After all, it is true.

It is also true, then, that this looting is a form of labor, even as it ruins the category of labor.  It is, like credit, an inflection of the crisis of full employment.  It is high-risk, precarious, informal potentially high-yield activity.  Those who loot are trading a portion of their time - a few brief minutes or hours, but with the potential for years in jail or with death, such that the hourly wage is highly uncertain - and intellectual and physical skill and energy in exchange for access to a set of goods which they are not alone in wanting.

They are working, in a time in which work is hard to come by.  They are working together, which, we all know, is really what scares you all.  We know we told them to band together and work as a community to improve their lives, but we didn't mean it like this...

And to give an adequate account of what is happening, we can't reduce it to ransacking consumables or goods for home use.  (Besides, having a huge flat-screen TV doesn't make it any easier to pay the cable bill.)  For immediately after the looting of an electronics store, people were immediately trying to hock laptops for 20 pounds, something close to 2.5% of their original retail value, if not less.  Meaning not only that one sees the much-fêted entrepreneurial spirit that the working, and non-working, poor are supposed to combine with their bootstraps to pull themselves out of poverty.

It means also that your claim that it is somehow morally reprehensible, or tactically misguided, for people to take these items instead of the "bare necessities" is, strictly speaking, an idiotic one.  Are we to insist that along with restricting the scope of their desires, the poor are not supposed to understand the fundamentals of exchange-value?  That they should have been loading shopping carts with flour and beans, rather than with computers which could, in theory, be sold for a larger quantity of flour and beans?  Or kept and used, because access to the internet, the ability to write friends or stories, to listen to music, to look at photos of those you love or might like to: last time we checked, poverty doesn't abolish the desire to try and enjoy the existence one has and to share that with others, however blighted this era may be.

So indeed, they are being opportunistic.  They are taking the excuse of a "legitimate cause for concern" (the murder of a young man), and they are using it to produce a situation in which one can access material goods and wealth which they are otherwise banned from touching.

To blame anyone for this is to share in a profound and inane mystification of the world.  As though the basic workings of capital were not fundamentally oriented around the seizing of opportunities.  (Such as, for example, taking the opportunity of excess populations of the poor and the global character of labor to keep wages down.)  As though only the poor took opportunities.  As if one should be restrained from taking a risky chance to better one's life.

As if fighting, in however "loathsome" and violent a manner, against a loathsome and violent social order was supposed to remain political and therefore ignorable.  As if, after all, the stakes of all this was not material, not about how one does or does not live a life, not the very disaster of the social.


5. They have no right to do thisThis isn't how you protest.


Of course they have no right to do this.  It is for that reason that it is not a protest.

A protest is that which one has the right to do.  It is that which you recognize the minute you see it and forget as soon as it passes from your immediate field of vision.

Perhaps the worst article of your faith, the thickest bile on your tongue, is to now dare to suggest that 1) there are some legitimate concerns behind this, 2) that, as Tim Godwin (Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police) put it, "they are conversations we need to have, but they don't excuse what is happening", 3) the riots are not going to make those conversations happen, and 4) people should return home to start having those conversations, assured (and scolded) that if they just made use of the proper channels of voicing their opinion - voting, community forums, pre-sanctioned marches, letter writing campaigns - then those with the power to materially better these situations will happily consider doing so.

To simultaneously assert that this havoc is not the way to be heard and to encourage people to return to the modes of giving voice to rage which you have concretely proven for the last decades to be utterly uninterested in hearing is to directly and unequivocally tell them that they are heretofore mute.  That there is no possible manner of articulating a position that will be registered or taken into account.

(To say, as some of you do, that these unfortunate events show that we all should need to listen more closely now is to admit - gasp! - that violent disorder actually gets attention.  But you couldn't possibly be saying that...)

Unfortunately for you, though, a riot is not a mode of language.  Especially not a persuasive one.  It is not trying to prove a point or win you over.  It comes out of the frustration of mouths that may as well be without tongues for how much they are heard.  But it is not a speaking.  It knows damn well where that gets us all.


6. This is indiscriminate violence, it isn't being targeted


Another point of clarity is crucial here.  Despite what you think, class status and human decency are not identical.  (Barring the rich, who are almost universally rapacious assemblages of fecal matter and ego.)  It's a shame, as it would make class war so much easier, divisions of allegiance so much cleaner.  But from the extremely poor through the middle class and back again, there are those who are stellar, those who are mediocre, and those who are vile.

The difference is solely in how these tendencies get expressed.  Those atrocious humans with enough money to stay within the law express it by beating their wives in private and cheating their workers out of fair wages.  Some of those without the money to do so are those, in recent days, who are indeed acting horrifically, savagely.  Anyone who justifies this is a moron, and we have as little interest in fetishizing all violence as such as we do in condemning all those who riot because some people are nasty pieces of work and see a good chance to fully act as such.

But it is entirely unacceptable to extrapolate a general case from this.  As it is to imagine that you could clearly sort out a few very nasty people from a situation in which many people have lived through some very nasty situations and, frankly, don't care a whit about offending the propriety or ruining the property of those who have had an easier time of it.  Who know very well what they are doing.

Those who speak of looters as "mindless" are saying, in essence, that they literally cannot fathom a state of mind in which it would make perfect sense to loot.  That it might be a very conscious decision. That they have no interest in grasping why some people may not find these distinctions - between local and corporate, for example - to matter much.

We understand why such a desperate rescue measure of condemnation is necessary, though.  For what is at stake is less the prospect that people will support what happens than the very real fact that what is happening is a rupture of the enclosures of rent, privilege, and race, that are supposed to keep the poor in their part of town, where they can be left to "prey" on one another, in zones from which all social services are abandoned other than the police.

Therein the common refrain ringing out all over now: I can't believe this is happening in X.  I've been following the news, and it seemed far away.  I never expected it to happen in X too.

One can never expect this, the passage from a designated zone of poverty to a partially generalized impoverishment of the city as a whole.  It necessarily comes as a moment of horror, even without a moral condemnation, for it is the coming apart of clear lines of demarcation and restriction.  It is an unbinding.  It leaves buildings and cars as black skeletons, and it does not have a general hovering over the battlefield map.  It spreads.

But we will say that there is a basic ethical injunction of the present, and it is closely connected to this.  It is the structuring condition of the real movement of what has long been called communism.

It is not the redistribution of wealth.  It is the redistribution of poverty, which occurs in the process of those who have nothing finally starting to get and take theirs.

From this, the only ethical grounding we can have, and the only one we need, is to understand that there are two options, and they are mutually exclusive.

There is that which more evenly shares across us all the staggering violence and contradictions of our present.

And there is that which continues to demand that those most brutalized and left to fend for themselves should continue to bear the brunt of the trainwreck of contemporary life.

You insist on the latter, and you find plenty of ways to justify and reinforce this.  We insist on the former.  It is messy.  It is harder going.   It's been so for a very long time.  And it will only continue to be so, more and more, the worse things get, the more you continue to parrot your skipping record of key phrases, while behind your words, jails crouch and swell, armies bristle.


7. There is no excuse for this.  It is just destructive


All the more because there is no excuse.  There is no order or structure that excuses those who insist on the latter.  Not in theory or concept (which may be easy enough, to put these words in our mouths and hands), but in doing what they need to get by and to not accept that they should just get by.  That they may want, that they see everything that there is to offer that they can't have.  That they are pissed about this.  And now, they aren't having it.

There is no excuse for this, but this is a time in which one either makes excuses or takes them.

You make them.  We stand both with those who take them and with those whose lives are disrupted by a situation in which such a taking is necessary.  The very language of victims is wrong.  But nevertheless, we can say that it is not true that you are on the side of those who are losing small businesses.   It is the way in which you have left some to rot and allowed others to exhaust themselves in trying to go on that means that they will pitch themselves, and whatever rubble is found in the street, at one another.  And you've long welcomed this state of affairs.

It was this that Hegel meant when he wrote of cunning, of the way in which the general idea - here, the ceaseless preservation of capital and its relations - doesn't pay its own penalty.  As he put it well, "It is not the general idea that is implicated in opposition and combat, and that is exposed to danger.  It remains in the background, untouched and uninjured."  And it allows the particular - the passions, desires, needs, days of those who live within and beneath it - to contend with one another, to hurl themselves against property and bodies.  Sometimes, rarely, the passions exceed the idea and threaten to derail it, if only for a while.  This may be one of those rare times, in all its bloody confusion and urgency, in which cunning stalls and slips.

Because people are going to get theirs, one way or another.  Too bad if it doesn't sit well with you.  Too bad for all of us that it comes to this, as there's no doubt that this will come to nothing, insofar as one might imagine coming to something as the construction of forms of collective action, development of infrastructure, and capacity to make otherwise.  That clearly is not what is currently at stake.

But here we speak to ourselves, not to you, because for all your cruel inanity, we are far from innocent in the failures of thinking.  And we - this amorphous we, but not "the left", however that may be defined - have slipped on at least three fronts.

1. We cannot allow the severity of what happens to occasion or excuse a call for the police to reinstate order.  This is not because of social disorder being good or bad, those childish words tossed around.  It is because it is not for us to call.  It is what will happen, regardless of our opinion.  As such, if we have anything to say about it, it can only be a critique of a) the way in which that kind of response is precisely what brings about situations like this in the first place and b) the way in which this situation will be used to retroactively justify the ongoing treatment of the poor as criminals, the very treatment that engenders such an explosion.

We utterly reject any such auto-verifying realism, anything which will confirm your condemnation.  We do not consider it coherent to think that the solution to this "problem" is the further and more relentless application of that problem, the criminalization of the poor.  We do not think that the confusion of the time justifies such a perversion of reason or its outcomes.

2. We cannot allow our critique to remain critique at a distance.  We cannot remain afar and venture claims as to what "they" should or should not do, anymore than we should call on the state to do what it will or won't do regardless of our urging.  To do so is to fall back onto the logic of condemnation, to appraise and judge a situation in which one takes no part.  If one thinks that the rioters should attack large corporate stores instead of local businesses, one should encourage, actively, on the ground, with an armful of bricks, the former rather than merely denouncing the latter.  If one thinks that there should be a formal organization and structuring to what is happening, one should start doing that, rather than bemoan their lack of classical political form.  If one thinks that what matters is to defend, with force, homes and businesses, then one should do that, together with others who think that, rather than wait for the police.

(This is not to say that the only thing for people to do is to put themselves in violent situations in which they could be hurt or killed.  It is only to say that condemnations or suggestions of this order are irrelevant if they are not a material practice.  Those who, understandably, want no part of this should take no part in it.  They also should not condemn it or purport to give it advice.)

For if we insist on thinking the insurrectionary aspect - that is, what makes of this more than just "criminality" and consumerism run amok, as it has been claimed - of what is happening, we see that it does not lie just in the severity of the violence or the degree to which it rattles the state.  Alongside from the fact that many of those rioting are getting themselves organized in a very serious way (even though it does not look like what people recognize as political organization), the insurrectionary character is also, strangely, in the fact that shopkeepers and others are taking care of themselves, with baseball bats, that they are acting against an insurrectionary situation.  Because it is here that there is a falling apart of previous lines of assumed allegiance, that there is a massive rupture in the consistency of every day life.  A rising up not of all against the state in a clear division, but a rising up on many fronts.  A boiling over of contradiction that indexes the full delegitimation of the state's capacity to manage its population in the eyes of that population.  A taking action without waiting for the mediation of the police.  Is such a thing pretty?  No.  Not in the least.  But it is part and parcel of the negation of the given.

3.  From this is perhaps the key distinction, albeit one that appears initially a flight into the overly abstract.  That is, we have to insist on the difference between destruction and negation, for it is this difference that constitutes the particularity of communist thought and the elision of that difference that constitutes the most common attack on the thought and practice of those who aim to extend it: you only know how to negate and critique, you just want to destroy, you cannot offer anything constructive.

What is happening in London of late has been a lot of destruction.  Buildings and cars have been smashed and burned.  Nothing is being constructed.  There is not a blueprint, plan, or program.  One speaks of social negativity, and it shows itself in the destruction of a portion of what exists.  It indexes a hatred: a hatred of police, of a city that keeps them shunted off to the side, of windows that guard things that cost too much to own, of being told you need to make your own way and getting arrested when you try to do so, of all those who look suspiciously at them when they pass because they wear hoods and have dark faces.

But this is not negation as such, even as it is part of the process of it.  Negation, rather, is the removal of the relations that sustain a given order as it stands.  Relations like property, law, and value.  It is not obliteration, not a razing to the ground, but the placing of all under doubt and critique, often of a very material order.  (Property shows itself highly resistant to arguments, no matter how well-worded.)  It is an acid bath: privileging nothing, it removes the consistency that excuses the existence of things to see them as they are, see what stands, what falls, what has long been poisoning many.

It is that very difference, that slim one, between destruction and negation that makes up the we that has been speaking throughout here.  Destruction happens.  Not unbidden, not automatically (there are individuals who make real decisions to do so), but it is a constant fact.  What is rare is to seize - yes, "opportunistically" - its visible emergences as the necessary occasion to extend that anger and disturbance beyond its flare-ups into a real, lived, sustaining thought of negation.  A negation that is, indeed, built, built of the bonds that come hastily into shape when the previous relations that kept things afloat - commerce, policing, transportation, labor - find themselves tottering.

In this particular instance, what needs to be negated, which require analysis and development beyond what comes from material disorder alone, are, above all, two things.  First, the designation of political as a way to disavow what happens as apolitical and hence wrong.  Second, the clarity of fully opposed positions, even as they are fully necessary at times.  (That is, the difference between you who condemn and us will not be going away anytime soon.)  Yes, we recognize real material separations between populations and their class background (one should be very clear in recognizing when a struggle is not one where one is welcome).  Yet we strive  to entirely abolish those separations.  That is, to stop speaking of the looting they as if a different species.  To stop imagining that what happens to "them" does not profoundly, utterly resonate, determine, and deform what life is like for those who may not feel a part of them.  To do so is the crassest form of thinking class as caste, of making of the mass a sub-mass to which we do not belong, a trend and direction that does not exceed itself.

But for all these critiques of ourselves, all our slipping into distanced forms of condemnation and wishful thinking, still, yours is far, far worse.

Because you are not condemning those who loot because they loot.  You have condemned them long before, condemned them to irrelevance and death.  The fact that they loot just gives you some ammo in your long war of exclusion and denigration.

It is for this reason that we want nothing to do with you.

Because you, you who cry foul at any social programs that might exist to the side of labor, programs that might act as another circuit through which housing, food, clothing, medicine could pass to those who need it, you should not dare to let your thick tongues cluck at what follows from such an abjuration of care.

Instead, you just want to get to the cleaning up.  In a sick parody of the viral spread of riot information through digital technologies, "mobs" are organized to sweep up.  "Keep Calm and Clear Up"  posters are made - oh, how clever.   You urge all  to keep a straight face, pull together, feel "beautifully British" after the defeat of those you do not consider British, and get on with it.

But it was you who pleaded simpering for both the anarchy of the market and its martial defense.  Now, when it shows its full consequences, you might have the rare decency to remember your words and stay quiet.

You cried out for this bed to be made.  Now you cry when you find it to be hard, when you find it too loud outside to sleep peacefully.


May you have neither rest nor peace til the heavens fall,
ECW