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notes on violence and justice

with 20 comments

1) Rewatching the first season of the Sopranos (can it really have been a decade since?) and amongst all of the wonderful (and wonderfully woven) thematic threads is one that I’d forgotten. In S01E09, which is best remembered for the Uncle Junior “South of the Border” sequences, Tony and the boys decide to punish their daughter’s soccer coach when it’s discovered that he was sleeping with one of his charges. What follows is a sequence in which the males are frustrated in their plans through the reasonable intervention of several women, especially Artie Bucco’s wife (who identifies the egotism inherent in the planned action – the fact that the coach would die more than anything else for the collective satisfaction of the mobster fathers) and Jennifer Melfi, Tony’s shrink, who asks the critical question: Why is it that Tony feels that it’s his job to exact justice in every case?

2) The stage is set for the anti-climactic ending by playing the potential climax out in advance, only in small scale and in a banal setting. Artie Bucco and Tony are out for dinner, and they see a young guy wearing a baseball cap in this relatively swish restaurant. After a conversation-that-aging-white-guys-like-to-have about declining social standards and the like, Tony gets up from the table, walks over to the becapped diner, and tells him to take off the fucking hat. The kid does so, embarrassing himself in front of his girlfriend in the process.

3) I’ll admit, I have a little bit of a problem with this sort of thing myself. It’s important, I think, to draw an immediate distinction between calls-to-action that really are yours (your wife / your daughter / your son / your husband is in trouble and its up to you, and only you, to respond) and this other category of events that the Sopranos episode is highlighting.

I’ve ended up in problem after problem in life by throwing myself into frays that were not mine – always, always, on the side of “justice,” or at least what seemed just to me at the moment – it ways that might seem absolutely baffling to someone wired otherwise. They would ask me, just as I am now asking myself, “Why is it your business, business that you actually have to bring to some sort of conclusion, if for instance some young kid hits on a girl in a bar over-aggressively? Why is that your fight to fight?”

4) I don’t like spitting on the street. The other day I was walking down the road when the kid in front of me hocked up a huge one and sprayed in on the pavement. I was just about to tap him on the shoulder to ask why the fuck London seemed like him the right place to blow his brown sputum around when I realized it was one of my tutorial students from last year, one of my favorite ones. I ducked away without him seeing that I was behind him.

5) What exactly is my problem with protest? I’ve been trying to sort it out this week, obviously in the wake of the big demonstration in London on Wednesday. I hate going to them, though often have. Obviously they have to happen, but for some reason (just being honest here – perhaps in the tradition of Orwell on the sense that he could never quite overcome that poor people smelled – and hopefully in service of some larger claim) I can’t help but walk around incredibly fucked off at everyone around me. Whether self-satisfied later-day liberals or kids who don’t seem to know what they’re actually protesting, whether anarcho-thugs bent on violence for its own sake or annoying academics taking a break from skimming the New Left Review – I am an equal opportunity hater, even if – as is generally the case – I am fully on-board with the cause in question.

6) When I was in grad school, I attended one of the anti-WTO protests in New York. After I proudly reported this fact to one of my smarter and more pragmatic friends, he asked me – quite simply – what it was exactly I was protesting. I could not coherently answer.

For whatever reason of bearing or position, people don’t often ask me questions like that, questions based on an assumption that I simply am too ignorant to answer. It was an awkward 30 second exchange whose import I’ve never quite shaken.

7) I was in my office meeting with students during the early stages of the protest this Wednesday. I’d check the BBC News video feed on my computer and as things heated up at the Millbank Centre I decided that I really wanted to go down there. I mean like viscerally.

8 You really learn what it means to live in a country without a revolutionary tradition when you watch the news media – and even various student representatives – go into an absolute fucking flutter over the destruction of a rather incidental amount of property. America gets panicked about a lot of things, but christ, I can’t imagine the response to some equivalent act of group vandalism taking quite this tone and intensity. Sure, the building housing the Conservative Party HQ isn’t some random Starbucks or Gap outlet, but still….

9) The left response to the seizure of the building has been incredibly incoherent, incoherent in the guise of semi-reasonableness but really wearing the hairshirt of fear and irresolution. For instance:

Why couldn’t Solomon explain her actions? One assumes that she and the other who participated in this event actually did have reasons for doing what they did. One further assumes that she here on Newsnight she wanted to avoid falling into a trap that she presumed Paxman (and the British media in general) was laying for her, but ended up blundering into a far worse situation in the end. In refusing to answer directly, what ends up filling the gap where the reason should be is not the presumption of violent intent. It’s the presumption of stupidity, collective stupidity.

Even worse, some sort of on-message conspiratorial stupidity – which becomes the global effect when one considers many of the articles and documents written in support of the occupation. Again and again, the occupation is explained as an effect of amorphous “student frustration” – which only again begs the question of what, exactly, this act would do to assuage or ameliorate this frustration. It doesn’t get much better in things like the now infamous “Goldsmiths Lecturers Letter” (full text here):

We also wish to condemn and distance ourselves from the divisive and, in our view, counterproductive statements issued by the UCU and NUS leadership concerning the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ. The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased and if massive reductions in HE funding are implemented.

Well OK. That’s pretty carefully worded, but ultimately says not much more than “look over there not here!,” which doesn’t really amount to a serious appraisal of the actual event that the letter is ostensibly focused on but which it ultimately skirts. As such, it opens itself even more flagrantly to the exact sort of co-optation that it ultimately and quickly suffered from. Co-optation without side-effect, as there was nothing in the statement to poison with reason those who would use it irrationally.

Again, assuredly there were reasons, even if uncomfortable ones, for entering the building. It’s my hunch that they would in fact play better than this sort of thing that we’re seeing from the left on television, in the papers, and in a series of petitions and collective letters. If occupations and the like are going to be conducted, if windows are, yes, going to break (as Solomon vaguely promises during the programme), mightn’t it be a good thing to be able to describe why in fact they are happening? The collapse of the London Eye is nothing compared to the wholesale destruction of Higher Education in the UK. The collapse of the London Eye is a deeply-felt expression of student frustration. I don’t want to talk about the collapse of the London Eye, even though I planted the charges. I want to talk about student fees. I’m afraid it didn’t play well this time, and will play even worse next time.

10) At the end of the Sopranos episode that I mentioned above, Tony actually bows to the reasonable arguments advanced and decides to call off the hit. He ends up rolling on the floor of his house, in a drink-n-valium fueled stupor, only able to say to his wife “I didn’t hurt nobody.” He’s restrained his impulses for once, thought something through for once, let the “system work” for once, and ends up an incoherently frustrated mess, basically a very large child in a semi-coherent state.

While most of us are able to step back comfortably from an endorsement of mafia-style vigilante violence of the sort dealt with there, I still think that the episode serves as a very vivid and ambiguously wired political or ethical allegory. That is to say, the crossing of ethical demand and psychological need, the complex relationship between instantaneity and process, and in particular the very complex question of impersonal involvement, even violent involvement, in the pursuit of justice of one stripe or another, are persistent ones, insoluble but worth seeing (I hope, I hope) presented vividly.

11) Why did I want so badly to go down to Millbank? Was it simply because there was the possibility of violence? Why didn’t I go down to Millbank? Well that, my friends, is a longer story than I can possibly tell here.

It’s bad form in even a vulgarly dialectical essay like this one, but I hope that you can see the aporia that’s looming over this piece.

12) Of course some of the impulse to violence in the service of justice is hardwired, written into our basic codes and structures. Interesting to think so, though. Seems an animalian holdover, something quite primitive, but on the other hand: do animals commit vigilante violence?

I suppose the question of vigilantism comes down to an issues of numbers, sets. Family – herd – neighborhood – any random victim on the street.

13) Of course it’s hardwired, but it’s also an impulse I clearly learned from my father. Such vivid memories from my childhood – the time at the baseball game when teenagers were carrying on behind us, using foul language and generally being loud, and my father…. turned around on them. A scene that I’ve been repeating my entire life, along with many others of the same, my entire life: in thought and dream and often enough action. When one is a child, a boy child enamored with his father, these scenes seemed like living allegories of bravery and abstract justice, arbitrary interventions on behalf of justice for its own sake.

Now, while some of the sheen of those moments has been retained, I increasingly want to ask – him, the him in myself – the very question that Melfi asks Tony:  Why was this sort of thing his job? Why is it our job?

14) Under-interrogated psycho-social issue: What is the effect of having a father who went to war when you yourself did not? A grandfather who did while your father did not? I suppose I could ask some of my friends whose fathers served in Vietnam…. Mine was Canadian so (fortunately) missed the show. I suppose I could ask some of these friends, but would risk wandering them into the high traumas of parental alcoholism and violence that I know understand were going on behind the scenes, at night when I generally wasn’t there.

15) The numbered, thetical form that these personal-cum-political blogessays that I write often take allows for a certain halting stream of consciousness, not unlike that which is supposed to obtain during psychoanalysis, to take place. Just write what comes next, from whichever frame of reference it comes.

Of course, this tactic (tactic?) inevitably results in a document useful only as a clearing house for further thought – it is not thought itself. It is a smooth, empty concrete floor where one spills out all of the contents in the hopes that once out one might put them back together again with coherent form.

16) The hidden non-sequitur incoherence of Benjamin’s “Work of Art” essay… The madness of the ending – as an ending to that piece – despite the brilliance of the observations arriving at cinematic pace throughout…

“Fiat ars – pereat mundus”, says Fascism, and, as Marinetti admits, expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology. This is evidently the consummation of “l’art pour l’art.” Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.

17) Theory and what it excuses: if I were to put myself back in the frame of mind that I once briefly held – during the coursework time, I suppose, of my PhD – I could allow myself to wrap this up in a theoretical aporia, a full-empty question or request for further thought that allows me to step away without solving anything out. We must interrogate the complex entanglements of personal desire and public good, personal perversity and rational action, that informs each and every act of political violence, in this context potentially liberatory political violence. I could glibly ignore the performative contradictions inherent in my piece, expecting that mystified readers would leave off the contradiction inherent in everything that they exuberantly label performativity.

Identifying knots of over-determination but doing so in a tone that seems to indicate that you are announcing a political program is something like treading water while selling slickly-packaged books to the passing tourist boats.

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November 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm

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  1. Thinking back to the Sopranaos episode, I remember they took the guy’s SUV instead of whacking him (unless I’m mixing it up with another episode; Googling it could ruin my point, so I won’t). Tony’s daughter got the SUV and all was forgotten.

    Recently I heard about a case of a banker or broker who ran over a cyclist from behind in his car, leaving the cyclist with permanent serious injuries. The broker left the scene of the incident without staying to help. The victim wants the broker charged with a felony, but the judge decided against it, since it could mean that the broker wouldn’t be able to pay damages because he would lose his job. The victim doesn’t care about receiving damages – he wants the driver charged with the felony, but it isn’t going to happen.


    November 13, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    • I think that might happen in the next episode, which I haven’t yet watched. Delightfully good that it’s been so long that I can’t remember the plot details!

      That’s a v good anecdote, yes….


      November 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm

  2. Oops, sorry for the accidental spoiler. Haven’t seen them since around 2000 or 2001. Channel 4 had them on for month after month. I was much happier in those days.


    November 13, 2010 at 3:52 pm

  3. Apparently you believe we don’t know what us students were protesting for.
    Here is why I am protesting:

    It was the financial sector that failed miserably. They risked everyone’s savings to enrich themselves further. But it isn’t just the banks that messed up. Since the early 1980s wages for workers have stagnated. They have hardly risen at all on average. Yet, the wages of the very wealthy; the owners, have increased ten fold. Take Sir Philip Green, the new Tory Party investigator of Civil Service pay; he owns a company called Taveta investments, which is registered in his wife’s name who happens to live in a tax haven. He has successfully avoided paying tax worth up to £285mn. At the same time, he awarded himself £1.2bn in a single year personally, whilst telling his work force (the people who actually make that money for him) that they must now increase contributions to their final pension scheme by half and work up to five years longer to receive it. He also uses sweatshops in India. BUT WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. Now, you can only sustain unjustifiably large wages, like that of Mr Green if profit remains high. If your workers are being squeezed as much as possible, and have less disposable income to spend consuming and so enriching the very few, how do you do that? The solution was easy. You offer them easy credit, like a Topman Store Card. They then pay more than they usually would but over a longer period of time. Thus, the little man is squeezed further, but the guy at the top makes more. But apparently this is perfectly fine. The Public Sector, the sector that bailed out the Financial sector, is apparently entirely to blame.

    Whilst David Cameron likes to suggest that National debt is like household debt; he’s wrong. Not only is household debt nothing like National debt (I can’t suddenly raise taxes, if i go into the red, nor can I print my own money), but this neoliberal experiment, that the Tories kick started in the 1980s, actively encouraged us all to get into debt. This is why the banking sector collapsed. Because debt was encouraged. Secondly, personal debt is not always a bad thing if it helps improve the future. I am in debt, to pay for my education, which I hope will allow me to get a better job and be able to provide a better life for my future family, than I would had I gone straight into a job I did not want to do. This debt is an investment. Public debt is also an investment, especially if it keeps as many people in their homes and jobs as possible; which Labour understood (bare in mind, I am not a Labour voter), and which the Lib Dems understood before they were offered a bit of power. Public debt is not always a bad thing. It is often needed. It provides investment and a safety net.

    The Tories, with help from their friends in the Media (Conservative Director of Communications: Andy Coulson, used to be editor of News of the World) have shaped political discourse in this country to an apathetic and largely moronic population, beautifully. The Sun (owned by Murdoch, who also owns News of the World) ran a double page spread last Monday entitled “Britain’s benefit blackspots”. A guide to the worst areas of Britain for benefit fraud. Altogether, they noted that Benefit cheating costs the UK taxpayer £900mn. You may think that is a lot. But according to research by the TUC and Tax Research UK, Corporate Tax avoidance, and personal tax evasion (i.e – Lord Ashcroft and his non-dom status) costs the UK taxpayer close to £25bn. That’s about 30 times more in lost revenue. Enough to wipe out the deficit in about eight years, without the need for a mass of public service cuts.

    It is also suggested that public service workers are over paid. Now, given that wages have stagnated for most workers in the Private sector, i’d suggest that this is the fault of the Private sector. These bastards should pay more, not attack the public sector.

    The Tories ran the 2010 campaign on the idea that a rise in National Insurance was an evil ‘tax on jobs’. Today, they just killed off 50,000 jobs in 20 seconds. But, it’s the public sector, so apparently it’s okay. The massive consequences on communities and small private businesses, will become apparent very soon. The Tories will try to claim it is all Labour’s fault. It isn’t.

    The current debt in the UK stands at 64% of GDP. After World War II, it was 180%. More than double now. Japan has a debt of 194%. The USA has a debt close to 73% of GDP. In fact, between 1920 and 1960, for that forty or so year period, UK government debt did not fall below 100%.

    The public sector, furthermore, is not inflated. Public spending during the 1960s was far higher than at any time during the 00s. Wages were rising beautifully during the 1960s too.

    George Osbourne yesterday listed the people who agreed with him. We’ll take them one by one now. Firstly, he listed the IMF. The IMF is a neoliberal organisation that only ever proscribes harsh economic treatment to solve problems. They destroyed Ghana beyond recognition. Malaysia refused to accept anything the IMF demanded, and now Malaysia is doing just great. The IMF can also be blamed for half fucking up Ireland. Last week the IMF said that bank regulations were failing – We all fucking knew that two years ago. Nice of them to join us. Great source George. Secondly, he mentioned the CBI – the Confederation of British Industry. The business owners union. The same people who told us all that introducing minimum wage would destroy business in Britain. The same people who suggested that students are a drain on society, and yet they all went to university when it was free. They are businesses, looking to enrich themselves further, they have no sense of social responsibility, nor do they care if you cannot afford to eat. They would like to see no Welfare State and the NHS privatised. The CBI attempted to justify a huge amount of Corporate tax avoidance (discussed earlier) with….

    “Legitimate tax planning – undertaken by companies that operate globally – should not be confused with so-called tax avoidance”

    Thirdly, he mentioned the Bank of England. The institution responsible for the welfare of the economy. The institution that failed to see the biggest financial crises ever from taking place, even though that is its specific job. The same institution whose Deputy Governor Sir John Gieve admitted that they knew that the financial sector was out of control, and had no idea what to do about it. Another great choice for a source.
    And lastly, he mentioned the 35 businessmen who signed a letter and sent it to the press advocating everything they are doing. These businessmen are not economists. They do not know how to run an economy. They are under the impression that a business haven is ideal for all of us. Contrary to that opinion, i’d say otherwise. Nevertheless, they signed the letter. Who are these businesses? Well, one of them is Paul Walsh of Diageo, who I shall mention shortly. He has been given a role as an advisor to David Cameron. Vested interest number 1. Another is Nick Prest, Chairman of AVEVA. AVEVA has just been awarded a contract to supply Babcocks, who are to build the two new aircraft carriers unveiled by the Tories. Vested interest 2. Another, is John Nelson of Hammerson Investors. Massive tax avoiders, and are quite happy to even tell us that’s what they do, on their website. Perhaps I will refuse to pay any tax ever again and refer to it as ‘tax efficient’. Vested interest 3. Another is Moni Varma, Chairman of Veetee who admitted that Conservative HQ asked him to sign the letter. Not a vested interest, but an idiot nonetheless. Another is Philip Dilley, Chairman of Arup, who has just been given a place as an advisor to David Cameron. Vested interest 4
    The letter itself was drawn up by Next Chief Exec. Lord Wolfson. Wolfson has donated close to £300,000 to the Tory Party and is now a Tory Lord. Vested interest 5. Another is Sir Christopher Gent, non-executive chairman of GlaxoSmithKline. Gent has donated around £113,000 to the Tory Party. Vested interest 5. Isn’t it amazing? Why are we taking them seriously? Why aren’t their vested interests mentioned? I think I will email my logic Tory MP and let you know what his response is.
    Next, David Cameron has created a sort of business council. This includes Paul Walsh; the CEO of Diageo PLC, who has moved ownership of British alcohol brands offshore to avoid tax. Martin Sorrell, whose company WPP has moved entirely offshore to avoid tax. And CEO of Glaxosmithkline, Andrew Witty who avoids paying million in tax due to offshore accounting.
    None of these sources are credible. None have the Country’s best interest at heart. None care if a few hundred thousand lose their jobs, and their homes. This is Tory bullshit.

    When the Chancellor announced the spending review in Parliament three weeks ago, he specifically made the point that Britain was the ‘brink of bankruptcy’, and that it was all Labour’s fault. One week later (6 days actually), it was announced that the British economy is growing faster than expected. Obviously George Osborne claimed all the credit for this, essentially missing out the fact that none of his economic policies have actually been implemented or had any time to settle in whatsoever. We went from the brink of bankruptcy, to growing pretty well, in the space of 6 days. Impressive. Osborne claimed it was all due to confidence in the proposals by the government. Which is an absolutely ludicrous claim to make. I cannot imagine in the space of three months, markets have decided to suddenly start growing in unison, whilst banks start lending, all because there’s a new Chancellor in town. That just doesn’t happen. I hope though, it will make the Tories step back from the rather amusing claim that we are about to become the next Greece. What the rise actually shows, is the strong construction sector, due to public sector contracts, has provided much of the growth. This is likely to slow right down, after the axe actually hits its target. Improvement and maintenance to schools for instance, which was part of Labour’s stimulus package, is set to fall by 40% because of the cuts.

    That is why I am protesting. But what do I know, i’m just a silly student.


    November 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    • Ack! Buddy! I agree with all of this! That wasn’t what I was asking…. The issue that I’m after in section 9 above isn’t why one would protest (that’s utterly clear) or even, really, why one would enter Millbank (I’m not opposed to the action) but why those representatives of the left in the press and at the head of organizations are having such a hard time describing their motives for specifically doing that. I.e. what was the rationale behind the so-called “violent” but at least certainly illegal actions.

      Do you see the difference between what I’m saying and what you seem to have presumed that I was saying? My (admitted strange) piece above was trying to figure out (broadly) the Whys of violent action in the service of a just cause. It certainly does not begin with the presumption that violent action is inherently wrong….

      So, here’s your chance. If you did enter the building, why did you do so? Please don’t list stuff like the above. That’s why you were there at the demonstration in the first place. But why, in particular, did you choose to cross the property line?


      November 13, 2010 at 6:39 pm

  4. I’ve ended up in problem after problem in life by throwing myself into frays that were not mine – always, always, on the side of “justice,” or at least what seemed just to me at the moment – it ways that might seem absolutely baffling to someone wired otherwise. They would ask me, just as I am now asking myself, “Why is it your business, business that you actually have to bring to some sort of conclusion, if for instance some young kid hits on a girl in a bar over-aggressively? Why is that your fight to fight?”

    It feels like I’m looking in a mirror! (But seriously, this is a question to be answered as I’m coming back to England in July.)


    November 13, 2010 at 5:09 pm

  5. Yes, I suspected that you’d see the bro-mirror-moment there. Same place in question in both cases too….


    November 13, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    • SEK,

      I’ve been actually thinking about putting my story about all that (I mean my interaction in the place not yours) into a Pinter-esque play. It wouldn’t work except for the brilliant resumption of tension vis a vis the IRA (American funding vs. dads in prison for committing acts of terror). A real ooops, shit, I’m about to die just when I thought I was making friends for life (and about to die at the hands of RC Irish because I once pissed next to Gerry Adams in a NY Irish bar) moment if there ever was one.

      Funny to be elliptical in the comments. Ha.


      November 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    • Yes, I suspected that you’d see the bro-mirror-moment there. Same place in question in both cases too…

      I’m a bad influence. (But then again, you knew that.)

      I’ve been actually thinking about putting my story about all that (I mean my interaction in the place not yours) into a Pinter-esque play.

      Leave the play-writing to me. I have so few talents, and need to make the best of what I’ve got … that said, I don’t think I could replicate accurately what happened to you in that place whilst I was outside, because I’m terrible at telling other people’s stories. So, have at it! I’ll be in the first row opening night.

      (Sorry. Bit under the weather today and am feeling loopy. Will correct course soon.)


      November 13, 2010 at 7:20 pm

      • No I mean the other time, the time before. I told you about this, but, you know… Hard to remember given… Nothing happened to me that night, except a very gradually emergent anxiety about where exactly you were and what you were doing, while I was inside that night. All was soon revealed, which ended the anxiety. Ended it as it had translated into raw panic.


        November 13, 2010 at 7:22 pm

  6. All was soon revealed, which ended the anxiety. Ended it as it had translated into raw panic.

    Dude, you were with a superhero, there was no need to panic … wait, what’s that? I’m not a superhero? Christ, what kind of host were you, letting me do that! I should be …

    … but yes, being elliptical in the comments, it’s addictive.

    No I mean the other time, the time before. I told you about this […]

    I do actually remember that story, I was just being coy in the comments. (Plus, yours doesn’t end with someone yelling “I’M BATMAN!” which may well be the single greatest moment of someone’s life. Or not. I’m just saying … )


    November 13, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    • (Christ, the wordpress reply organization annoys me. Let’s all reply to the furthest thing down rather than stacking the replies weirdly above.)


      Headed out so in a bit of a hurry – but thanks for your message. A good one I think. Some provisional answers.

      Does it matter that Clare Solomon is the president of one students’ union, and so is in no way a “representative of the left”?

      Ah come on. You know what I’m getting at. No one, in that case, is a “representative of the left.” I’m writing about representatively left responses to this action. I’m not going to go into the details about this (which would start to sound like party-baiting and the like – not interested), but Clare is a woman of the left.

      The first time I met her we were at a table in an Italian restaurant seated next to Toni Negri. I’ll stop there.

      Remember that the action at Millbank wasn’t decided on or endorsed by any body or group, it was a spontaneous act of frustration and anger.

      Right. That’s of course true. But reasons why can still be offered, as of course they exist. And to be honest, I’m pretty sure that in this environment it would be better to have reasons apres le fait than not. This, I think, you tacitly admit when you say discuss the coming “wave of occupations. These will be planned. Some of them will have demands and all will make it clear to the press why they are protesting.”

      a tactic that exists on a continuum with marching in the streets.

      Fully agreed. This is what remains to be directly explained. Forget media canniness about this sort of thing – one only (as we see in the video) gets schooled when one does that.

      (Why are you so committed to the distinction between marching in the street and occupying a building?)

      Well, there we go. I do and don’t. I’m learning England, and there seems to be a great amount of stake placed in this distinction, so I guess I’m playing a when-in-Rome game with this to a certain extent. But on the other hand, and probably more importantly, I’m not sure why Solomon and others were so frightened to simply describe the line of continuity and speak directly on behalf of illegal actions. That’s what set me on this case. I see a) dodging the issue b) a vague sense that it has something to do with student frustration without really taking up the cause of illegality and c) that “look there not here” stuff that again seems to duck the issue at hand, despite the fact that the documents / articles in question seem staked on taking up the issue.

      On the other articles. I haven’t (yet) had a chance to read them all, and of course I’d seen some of them already. I think the Gopal CiF piece is on distinctly the right track. Laurie Penny’s piece for the NS I’m of two minds about. It avoids the hypocrisy of BBC-ready diplomacy so characteristic of the response that I had in mind (and sometimes mentioned), but it on the other hand feels a lot like slightly over-steamed romantic impressionism, a bit over-laden with that fucking generationalist nostalgia bent on getting us back to what we missed in ’68, etc…


      November 13, 2010 at 9:34 pm

  7. Daniel,

    From the end of Laurie Penny’s piece:

    Suddenly there’s a cheer. The boys and girls who have made it to the roof have dropped a banner to announce their presence. The sunshine glints off their faces; we squint as we peer up to where they’re punching the air, shouting in triumph, dropping more banners and leaflets fluttering like ticker-tape in the sharp winter light. A young couple lean over the edge and begin to kiss and cuddle each other, and for a moment it’s beautiful, we are beautiful, we can do anything.

    Then behind the crowd, I hear another sound, coming closer. It’s the sound of an ambulance.

    If a former student of mine ever wrote a paragraph like that first one, I’d turn in my teaching badge and go back to stocking supermarket shelves for good. Sorry, but it matters.


    November 13, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    • I agree with you about that paragraph of Laurie Penny’s piece. What’s more important though is that in that piece you have a lot of different reasons for going up on the roof of Millbank, not all of which are over-steamed romantic nostalgia. For example:

      They spent their childhoods working hard and doing what they were told with the promise that one day, far in the future, if they wished very hard and followed their star, their dreams might come true. They spent their young lives being polite and articulate whilst the government lied and lied and lied to them again. They are not prepared to be polite and articulate any more. They just want to scream until something changes. Perhaps that’s what it takes to be heard.

      “Look, we all saw what happened at the big anti-war protest back in 2003,” says Tom, a postgraduate student from London. “Bugger all, that’s what happened. Everyone turned up, listened to some speeches and then went home. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but…” he gestures behind him to the bonfires burning in front of the shattered windows of Tory HQ. “What else can we do?”

      My broader point about Clare Solomon not being a “representative of the left” was that there were a wide variety of reasons for entering Millbank, that no single person could adequately represent. Those reasons would be different depending if you were a 6th-former, a graduate student, the first in your family (and possibly the last) to go to university, a student studying a subject about to be cut (e.g. Human Rights at Roehampton), not to mention lecturers and schoolteachers. In addition to that variety, there were also anarchists, and socialists, and furious Lib Dem voters. In talking about a continuum on which peaceful protest and breaking windows both lie, I think we’re talking about: what does it take for you to go beyond legal means of protest and to fuck shit up to make your point? And of course that’s different for different people, and it depends both on your politics and on your specific situation.

      Also, I think there might be something beyond nostalgia in “what we missed in ’68.” I had some conversations in the wake of the France uprisings last month along the lines of, Could uprising that extends to law-breaking happen here? And if the cuts are as bad as they seem (this before the CSR), shouldn’t this happen here? I think that the excessive hemming and hawing by the British press and the careerists in the NUS about the “violent fringe” is precisely because the actions Wednesday opened space on the continuum of protest that had been closed in this country.


      November 13, 2010 at 10:23 pm

      • Also, I think there might be something beyond nostalgia in “what we missed in ’68.” I had some conversations in the wake of the France uprisings last month along the lines of, Could uprising that extends to law-breaking happen here? And if the cuts are as bad as they seem (this before the CSR), shouldn’t this happen here? I think that the excessive hemming and hawing by the British press and the careerists in the NUS about the “violent fringe” is precisely because the actions Wednesday opened space on the continuum of protest that had been closed in this country.

        I think that that is exactly the sort of conversation I’m implicitly urging people to take up here and now. My worry – based on a limited yet I still think representative set of responses – was that people were ducking exactly the issue that you’re conversing about in this paragraph.

        And agreed that there were different reasons in play…. But that doesn’t absolve one of the occasional duty to attempt to speak broadly about what happened…. Otherwise, even the paragraph of yours I clipped in above – the answers that it seeks – would necessarily devolve into a kind of impossibly complex set of discrete instances. The good questions that you were asking – “And if the cuts are as bad as they seem (this before the CSR), shouldn’t this happen here?” – require a certain amount of what we used to call “strategic essentialism” in order to answer them.


        November 15, 2010 at 10:35 am

  8. 5) What exactly is my problem with protest?

    To continue with this conundrum: I’m against protesting, but I don’t know how to show it…


    November 14, 2010 at 12:24 am

  9. This is a good post, because it contains both what is attractive about you and why you are a pain in the ass (that’s a good quality sometimes, too, you know, but then, sometimes we’re all just ‘really aw-foooll’.) There. I said so, so it must be true.

    I am annoyed at only a few things, mainly about whether it was that ’cause you wouldn’t’ or ’cause you couldn’t’ that you didn’t actually GO to Milbank. Going there for the violence and mayhem is plenty good reason. I went down to the WTC as soon as possible, even though the first time I came close to fainting from the smoke, say, 10 days after the attack I got up close to the site. I still go down there all the time, though, to see how the site is progressing, and it thrills me to fucking death to see it going up at last.

    Also take serious issue with your problem of public spitting. I used to be like that, but as someone who has spat on Village Chelsea streets some 4-8 times this week alone, and just to comfort myself, I now find that the secret is doing it sharply and coolly. Of course, I once saw a cool guy spit publicly with a lot of style once, and perhaps 20 years after that, I began to realize that I could publicly spit with great aplomb; it’s not like those people on the streets in the garment district, esp. on 8th in the 50s, who blow their noses directly into the air. Remember! You may now be identified as someone who withheld phlegm in an unhealthful and possibly unaesthetic way because you would not go on and carry out your Baseball Player Attitude!

    I like your musings on the student protest though. If it weren’t for the bleugers, none of us here would be paying any attention to it at all, as it’s a small story. And Americans have long had fewer public services and easy laziness than Brits, I don’t give a fuck what they say. I paid some of my tuition every year, and only 3 years got partial scholarships. Not that they don’t have a point, or that I think that welfare should have been dismantled, etc., or that Social security should be privatized to please Miss Palin, etc.,

    No, I think I can follow your rhythms a bit better than I used to be. I haven’t read any of the comments yet, so I may yet have an opportunity to be more thoroughly obnoxious. What comes across is the desire to be a gentleman sometimes, and that may then seem unsatisfying even if you can do it. But you covered most of the bulging love-handles of your contradictory thought, and by the time you are 74yo (which I think you once told me I was, but I’m not), you will have synthesized it, esp. since you will be working for the most famous writer of the 20th century, who of course is Maurice Blanchot.

    Lady Teazle

    November 14, 2010 at 2:09 am

    • “Under-interrogated psycho-social issue: What is the effect of having a father who went to war when you yourself did not? A grandfather who did while your father did not?”

      Good point, and definitely ‘under-interrogated’, I meant to mention this one last night. You and I are a generation apart (I guess, about, anyway I think 22 years suffices), so the aversion to public spitting (btw, this should never be done directly on the pavement, but on the street past the curb) is partly generational if you were brought up genteel and decided that wasn’t really going to capture the best things. So this one, with the father who went to war, would also be the same, although interesting you’d ask it, since yours didn’t. I never even thought to mention it before, but I had an image for some 20 years after I moved to NYC that nothing I did was of comparable value to my father’s Air Force service in the Pacific War. It was always in my thoughts, that what I was doing was necessarily decadent, but I’d forgotten it completely for many years till now. It slipped away by seeing my father’s many human flaws as outweighing his war hero status, at least compared to what I now thought my successes and failings were (part of this was not caring very much what anybody else thought–not that I didn’t care at all, but I didn’t care very much any more and care less all the time: That’s part of ripening and then emperishment; you give up the guilt, esp. about your parents.) I was also interested in your mentioning how your father tended to police the foul-talking baseball kids, my father would go to the principal’s office and report vicious teachers–now that was pretty hot. But this ‘boy child enamoured with his father’ was something that makes sense; I had innumerable versions of that. But he was very strict, very puritanical and severe in many ways, over time I rejected all of it, including his fetishizing of 100% honesty about every single thing–to the letter. These were all worth being exposed to, but then they weren’t doing me any good. I ended up much preferring myself, and even while he was still alive, didn’t care if I disappointed him anymore.

      But the ‘war father’ thing, yes, that’s interesting, it seems strange I forgot about it, because it always weighed heavily on my mind till, say, 1985 or 1986, or even a bit longer. Playing concerts or clubs seemed so paltry by comparision. On the other hand, I had 4 older siblings who were left in the U.S. while my father was in the Pacific 4 years, and I wasn’t born till some years after the war (my age is not very hard to google…) What was peculiar was that I was the only one of the children who wanted to hear all the stories about the Pacific–but even that disappointed him, because I was interested in the PLACES, the islands (the wrong ones! some which saw no significant battle), and that was irresponsible, he thought. Finally, years after he was dead, I just said fuck it, and skipped all the guilt which I thought was not just inevitably lifelong but even necessary, and stopped ‘hearing his voice’ in what I did. Not that anybody else should necessarily do that, but I did, and it’s been better. I now never think of his ‘war hero’ status except when defending him against people I consider idiots (9/11 conspiracy assholes, for example), but your use of the word ‘aporia’ does make me think of some of the definitions Derrida once used, in talking about ‘permeable’ ones and ‘impermeable’ ones. The ‘impermeable aporia’ seems to dissolve with a certain amount of extreme discomfort, but that’s going to be the one with a ‘father thing’, at least in most cases, I’d say. Once you are looking back at it from the other side, you see how much danger you put yourself in to prevent ever walking through that, even if it was negative, was causing various symptoms of self-destructiveness. Which doesn’t mean ‘throwing caution to the wind’ will always work either, there’s still always the likelihood that we won’t ‘be conscious of the eternal black’ to quote another world-famous author.

      Thank you.

      Lady Teazle

      November 14, 2010 at 5:37 pm

      • Your story is exactly the sort of thing that I was thinking about. If I ever have time enough and am sufficiently OK with being a bit Franzeny, I wanna write a three generational novel about how this situation worked in my case…. RAF (later RCAF) grandpa pilots Lancaster bombers, busts dams, returns home to janitorial work, booze, and lots and lots of catholic children. And then dad, and then me – all riffing on the same issues, but translated from the sublime to the banal etc etc etc. Who knows….

        I’ll try to loosen up about the spitting though…. And thanks for your helpful comments….


        November 15, 2010 at 10:40 am

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