Here’s a collection of shorter writings (well, shorter than 10,000 word journal articles) and other bits and pieces.
In 2021 Sage Published the monumental Sage Handbook of Marxism, to which I contributed the chapter titled ‘Culture’. This is an extended version of my original draft of that chapter. It is basically a history of Marxist cultural theory, but it sticks to the brief I was given when drafting that chapter, to focus on thinkers who are widely influential on recent and contemporary work in the English-speaking ‘cultural’ humanities and social sciences. This is a couple of thousand words longer than the version that was finally published.
I don’t make any claim for this being exhaustive – for that to be achieved, the document could’ve been over 100,000 words. But I think it should be useful to some people.
If you want to cite this document then its copyright / publication date is 2022, and you can use the URL of whatever site you pulled it from.
Here it is on Academiat.edu: https://www.academia.edu/83657799/A_Brief_History_of_Marxist_Cultural_Theory
Here it is for direct download:
There has been an unprecedented interest in the subject of loneliness over the past decade, an interest that has been intensified by the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic. As collective states of isolation have led everyone to experience states of loneliness, and exacerbated the conditions of the lonely, questions have arisen about how to talk about this difficult emotional state, the social and labour forces that exacerbate it and the public and cultural resources that might help counteract it. Loneliness, ‘as Fay Bound Alberti argues, is an extraordinary contemporary phenomenon that is also ‘one of the most neglected aspects of emotions history’. The history of emotions can be hard to trace archivally and the history of loneliness – unlike the history of solitude – is often seen as a shameful state: a state that reveals the failure of social structures is often experienced as an individual failure. It is also intimately related to how we think not only of public forces, social structures and welfare, but also about gendered, sexual and racial communities – about who belongs in the community of the nation state.
Structures of living, working and relating that were emergency measures of isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic have increasingly been adopted as permanent forms of distanced contact and communication. How might we think and navigate the challenges that these distancing technologies pose? What technologies might mitigate loneliness and what technologies might exacerbate it? What is the role of culture in the production of loneliness? And to what archives do we turn to write a history of loneliness? This special issue aims to draw together exciting new ways of thinking about this subject – as it relates to technological, national and cultural structures. How do we distinguish between collective and individual experiences of loneliness? And what is the relationship between gender, loneliness and contemporary politics? What contributions can cultural theory, history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, political theory, media studies, and the wider critical and social sciences make to our understanding of this emotional state, and its possible remediation? In answering these questions, the issue seeks to address what social structures and political forms are most responsive to the central place that loneliness occupies in contemporary life.
For this special issue of the journal we invite contributions addressing this question from any perspective.
Possible topics might include but are not limited to:
- Technology, loneliness and living with new digital forms
- Loneliness and the history of labour
- Economic and social precarity and loneliness
- The representation of loneliness in contemporary politics
- The gendered structures of loneliness
- Loneliness and migration
- Loneliness and race
- Trauma and loneliness
- New sexual communities and technologies of communication
- Geographies, spaces and architectures of loneliness
- Social projects directed towards mitigating the effects of loneliness
- Responses to loneliness in the Covid-19 pandemic
- The distinction between loneliness, solitude and isolation
- Queering loneliness and forms of isolation in LGBTQ communities
- The medicalisation and pathologisation of loneliness
We invite proposals in the form of a title, 300 word abstract and biographical note. The deadline for submission of proposals is May 10th Proposals will be selected by the end of May, and the deadline for the delivery of full articles (7,000-9,000 words) will be November 30th 2022. Please entitle the email subject as “Abstract Submission: New Formations Special Issue on Loneliness.”
Please submit proposals to Jess Cotton (CottonJ1@cardiff.ac.uk)
For more information on New Formations, including the journal’s style guide, can be found at https://journals.lwbooks.co.uk/newformations/page/submissions-guidelines/
 Fay Bound Alberti, ‘This “Modern Epidemic”: Loneliness as an Emotional Cluster and a Neglected Subject in the History of the Emotions’, Emotion Review 10.3 (2018), 242-254.
I’m going to try to collate some (most, hopefully) of the substantial political analysis I published in 2020. This is just stuff relating directly to the general political situation in the UK and (to a lesser extent) the US. If you want more theory, music, culture or whatever oriented content, well…it’s easy enough to find.
Labour’s Defeat and the Triumph of Johnsonism
(My Massive Post-Mortem of Corbynism)
This is from January 2020. This, and the long follow-up article published the following September, basically amounts to a shortish book. In fact, the inestimable Dan Hind wanted to publish it as an e-book, but the the pandemic happened, and I had to spend a year teaching my kids maths and helping them not go insane, and I never had time to engage with that idea.
This is published in 6 parts on that wonderful web-site open Democracy. Because they have better things to do, they’ve never got around to updating the set links on the pages for the first 5 parts, so most people have thought it was a 5-part series. Which is a shame because the final part is the longest and widest in scope.
Anyway here are the links:
And this is the long follow-up from September 2020, which pays a lot of attention to the US situation, after the end of the Bernie campaign:
Here are the shorter pieces I published in the Guardian in 2020:
This is an article arguing that the defeat of Corbynism represents yet another defeat for Labourism
This is an article written just after the 2020 US Presidential election arguing that the UK has an even worse electoral system than the US and that this is one reason why factions that hate each other so much are forced to constantly fight it out with each other inside the Labour Party
Politics Theory Other Interview
Here’s an interview I did with the excellent Politics Theory Other podcast. There is a part two to this which was only available to patrons of the show. I also did a much more recent interview about the current situation for Labour (like, just a few days ago at the time when I’m posting this), but that’s easy enough to find if you want it.
The Aftermath of Defeat: A Conversation with Anna Minton and Richard Seymour
A couple of years ago I was asked by the Portuguese magazine Electra to write a very short response to this quote from Nietzsche – ‘I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance‘. I’ve been meaning to post it for a while, but it seemed in pretty poor taste while the pandemic was going on and none of us could go out and dance. But I’ve been inspired by the simply extraordinary tele-cinematic event which has been the broadcast of Steve McQueen’s film Lover’s Rock: surely the greatest screen representation of social dance that’s been produced to date, and a powerful tribute to the radical creativity of black British culture.
Anyway, here’s the Nietzsche dancing God thing…
I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance.
The dancing god features in many mythologies. In the ‘Western’ tradition, Pan dances at the border between shamanic prehistory and classical paganism; and is said to have died with the advent of Christianity. But even Christ can take a dancing form, in the modern imagination. Sydney Carter’s 1963 song ‘Lord of the Dance’ – sung by generations of British schoolchildren – imagines Jesus as Nataraja: the dancing form of the Hindu god Shiva, whose dancing generates the energy that both creates and destroys the universe. Carter borrowed his melody from a Shaker song: the Shakers being a charismatic Christian sect that included ecstatic dances in their worship practices, when they believed themselves moved by the Holy Spirit. In the Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit is the manifestation of God’s immanence to the material universe.
It’s no surprise then, that Nietzsche – the great philosopher of immanence, the enemy of body-hating dualism and Christian transcendentalism – should be prepared to believe in a dancing God. Nietzsche loved dance and described his love of it in explicitly spiritual terms. Of course ‘dance’ for Nietzsche would not have conjured the kind of images that it might for us today. But all dancing -from the Waltz to the ballet to the rave – exists somewhere along the same continuum, between individual, gravity-defying gymnastics and the irreducibly collective physicality of a rhythmic, mobile crowd.
Dance as mystical practice – from shamanic rites to Sufism – erases two boundaries at the same time. It suspends or erases the distinction between matter and spirit: an elevated mental state induced by corporeal practice. It breaks down the boundary between self and other, between individual and group. The dancing crowd is unified and differentiated at the same time. It is in motion but in formation. It is one and many. The god who dances is an immanent force, a force of multiplicity and inherent creativity.
This is surely what makes the image such a potent one for Nietzsche – who is always a philosopher of multiplicity – and for other thinkers trying to express a reality that cannot be adequately defined by categories of enumeration and individuation, or by ordinary understandings of space and time. In his new age classic, The Tao of Physics, Fritoj Capra refers to the inherently mobile and creative nature of matter as ‘the cosmic dance’. He points out that the the entire thrust of theoretical physics since the end of the nineteenth century has been to develop an understanding of matter as dynamic, energetic, processual and strangely unpredictable (an understanding that traditions like Taoism have always shared). This stands in direct opposition to the classical theistic and dualistic assumption that inert matter can only be animated by an immaterial force that is always distinct from it: God, spirit, mind or soul.
In the culture of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, all of these elements – secular spirituality, the erasure of dualism, the suspension of individualism – can be found where bodies congregate to dance. The late 60s / early 70s saw the birth of the rock concert and the disco as the key socio-cultural expressions of the counterculture: democratic and utopian spaces that would only be captured and colonised by capitalism with great difficulty, whose radical spirit has been carried into the twenty-first centuries by raves and festivals of many kinds.
The psychedelic godfather of Disco (and so of all modern dance cultures), David Mancuso, once said to me that he often felt that all parties are just local expression of the ‘one big party’ taking place everywhere, all the time, that occasionally we manage to tune into or express through our own bodies and gatherings. The profundity of this remark has stayed with me ever since. What David seemed to sum up in this single image was the fact that the joy of dancing in groups is an intense expression of the inherently creative capacity of the social relations that always constitute all of our being: what I call the ‘infinite relationality’ of existence. The cosmic dance of matter, the multiplicity of the multitude, the creative power of complex groups: to acknowledge the god who dances is to acknowledge them all.
Here’s the latest long, long analytical essay for open Democracy. It’s basically trying to look at the whole conjunctural situation of the left in the UK and the US, after the defeats of Corbyn and Sanders and under the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The title might seem like a tautology, but my editor Adam, who’s a very good judge of these things, liked the phrase and pulled it out from the main text to use, and it certainly captures something at the heart of what this is about.
You should definitely read it all or else you’re lazy and a bad comrade. But if you must have a very short summary…
•The left in the US and the UK has been through a very similar process over the past yew years. We built a significant democratic movement for the first time in decades, we tried to take control of the main party of the ‘left’, we had limited success and eventually were denied any chance to form a government.
•We got beaten by two forces….
•On the one hand, the centrist neoliberal technocrats who have run the Democratic and Labour parties for decades ultimately succeeded in blocking us, because the threat posed to their own jobs and status by the rising Left was of more immediate concern to them than, for example, the threat of planetary destruction if the Left’s programme is not implemented soon.
• This opened the door to the electoral success of a right-wing nationalist project (and kept it open), in each case headed by a figure who is popular basically because they used to be on TV a lot and precisely because they present themselves as fundamentally unserious politicians.
•This leaves two major tasks ahead of us: building class consciousness amongst workers to challenge conservative nativism; disaggregating the social bloc that is led by the (neo)liberal technocratic political class. It’s a serious mistake to see these tasks as mutually exclusive or to prioritise either at the expense of the other.
•The big challenge that we’re likely to face in the coming years will be the attempt by the Right to de-legitimate demands for a Green New Deal (or comparable programme),with working-class citizens (especially white working-class citizens). They’re likely to do this both by pursuing culture-war tactics which will seek to associate any Green project with metropolitan ‘elite’ culture and with liberal cosmopolitanism, and by offering some material concessions (safe jobs, relatively affordable homes etc.) to key constituencies of workers.
There’s also stuff about, like, how to theorise racism. But that’s mostly in passing.
In terms of what all this means pragmatically…err….well, one thing is I think people who make viral videos and those kinds of media should really be thinking about how to persuade financially comfortable gen-x voters that the kind of politicians that they habitually like to vote for (eg. Keir Starmer, Kamala Harris) are NOT going to do anything to fix climate change, pointing out again and again that their predecessors (Blair, Clinton, Obama) had every opportunity to do so and failed, because they were ultimately in hock to capitalist interests. Of course we also need to revive the labour movements and organise workers in the rust belts. But that’s not really my area of expertise.
One thing I will say is that I think a particular problem right at this moment is that to some extent, in both the UK and the US, we’re in a holding pattern, waiting to see if Biden can win and if Starmer can ever actually build up a significant poll leads (as Blair already was doing by this point in his leadership). The resolution of either of these issues doesn’t have any overriding effects on our strategies, but it will make a difference to where some people focus their energies and attention. If these figures can consolidate their positions, then we’ll have to do almost all of work outside the party structures, trying to shift actual public opinion among key constituencies. If they don’t, well, we will still have to do that; but the opportunity to once more make a play for power inside the party structures will be too significant – and the temptation too great – for this not to become a preoccupation for at least large numbers of us, once again.
FWIW, while we will know whether Biden has won or not on one day in November (presumably…maybe not though…), the question of when we will ‘know’ if Starmer has managed to stabilise his position or not is more open. But, all other things being equal, I would expect the Labour membership to start getting very restless if he is still pursuing a totally uninspiring strategy of trying to win back centrist and socially-conservative voters, but hasn’t secured Blair-style massive poll leads, by some time next year.
Anyway, that’s enough…I got really useful feedback on this essay from Alex Williams, Anthony Barnett, Adam Ramsay, Neal Lawson and Clive Lewis. Thanks for that!
Some other recent contributions on left strategy, in the UK at at least, that are definitely worth checking out:
In the immediate aftermath of the 2019 election, my friend Christian did a statistical analysis of the best available information on where Labour’s lost votes all went. It’s excellent and it’s here. Basically this is a contribution to the debate over whether all of Labour’s lost votes were leave-voters who felt betrayed by Labour embracing a second-referendum position and so either voted Tory or didn’t vote. The answer, as is pretty well-established by now, is that this is not true at all – Labour lost a huge number of votes to more Remain-oriented parties as well: probably more than it lost to Leave and abstentions put together. Here it is: 191215 Exit poll numbers for Jeremy 2
Here’s the article I wrote for IPPR about ‘collective joy’ as a potential operative concept in public services administration. Oh yeah!
So everyone’s talking about how stupid Zizek seems after that debate with Jordan Peterson. Back in 2007, years before Zizekmania had even peaked, I contributed a highly critical essay to this highly sceptical collection on Zizek edited by Paul Bowman & Richard Stamp. The whole pdf of the book is here: The_Truth_of_Zizek