Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Do androids dream of electoral defeat?

I now have before me a machine that works automatically. This is no longer life, it is automatism established in life and imitating it. It belongs to the comic.
Henri Bergson, Laughter


Here’s my problem. Everyone knows that electoral politics and the democratic process are pure spectacle: an empty distraction for the cud-chewing masses; a potent mix of fizz, glamour, and the illusion of government by the people, whose only purpose is to conceal the real centres of power. And to be honest, this leaves me feeling a bit short-changed. It’s not so much the absence of any mass political autonomy that bothers me. Rule by smoke-shrouded Knossosian mystery seems to be a pretty effective system – it’s got us this far, after all – and its dark architectonic hiding-holes tend to offer plenty of outlets for the eroticised interpetosis we all enjoy so much. The only real secret in democratic society is that all the other conspiracies only exist to afford people the pleasure of discovering them. My problem is this: if we’re to have this all-singing all-dancing electoral charade, thrown on top of the real power-play like a carpet on top of a dungheap, shouldn’t the spectacle be more, well, spectacular? The upcoming British election will most likely be the closest in decades, all manner of insurgent parties are tunnelling through the political terrain, and yet it’s just so utterly, aridly, bradycardially boring. It’s been two weeks since the dissolution of Parliament, and still the most interesting thing that’s happened was when Ed Miliband’s face fell off during the televised seven-way leaders’ debate.

It all happened very suddenly. One moment Ed Miliband’s face was where it ought to be, covering the front part of his head; the next it was on the floor, leaking piston grease in a steady trickle onto the studio floor. Miliband didn’t even stop to try to pick it up. The question was about agricultural subsidies for cattle feed and related products, and he just kept on talking, his big clumsy teeth gnashing about in the middle of a dark wormy mess of wires and transistor tubes from which two eyes still stared, huge, unblinking, and grotesquely spherical. The various little mechanisms that had controlled his facial features were also still going, a ring of tiny moving rods and clasps around the edge of his now faceless face, their frantic pump and twist giving the impression of some crustacean or millipede flipped onto its back and desperately failing to right itself. As cogs spun and switches switched, he talked directly into the camera, facing the voting public with that emetically truncated head, as if unaware or unashamed of his sudden nakedness. And as he spoke his hands whirred into one strange and frantic gesture after another, running through all their pre-programmed positions: angry child demanding ice cream, Nikita Khrushchev at the United Nations, Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and death. “I have this to say to the people of Britain,” he said, his voice dribbling from some sonorous cavity in the middle of his head. “If enough of you vote for my party, you will be voting for me to be your next prime minister. If I am your next prime minister I will live in Downing Street and be the prime minister. And people will call me Prime Minister Ed Miliband, or Ed Miliband, the British prime minister, and I will be very prime ministerial.”

If Miliband didn’t notice the shock departure of his face, others did. David Cameron was the first to comment on the Labour leader’s embarrassing gaffe, speaking authoritatively about the importance of hay to the rural economy for a few minutes before straightening his lapels and glancing at his jerking, buzzing, shambolically oil-spurting opponent. “I also want to say one thing,” he added. “This man thinks he can keep a lid on the deficit. But how can he do that when he can’t keep a lid on his own party, and he can’t even keep a lid on his own head?” Later on the Greens’ Natalie Bennett voiced her regret that the Labour party hadn’t constructed its leader from something more environmentally sustainable, like wood, at which Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru perked up and added that Miliband’s lack of concern for Welsh issues was especially hypocritical given that half of his processors had been made in a factory outside of Swansea. Scores of people took to social media to call the stricken leader of the opposition (whose battery was now visibly draining) a numpty, while BuzzFeed gleefully featured a series of animated gifs that showed his face coming unmoored from his head and clattering gently against the floor. The Labour press office quickly released a statement lambasting the media for focusing on a technical malfunction instead of reporting on the issues. Nobody really paid any attention, except to point out that the statement had come out almost before anyone had spent much time focusing on that technical malfunction, as if they’d already written it long in advance, in the sure knowledge that some disaster of this sort was bound to happen.

But I’ll bite, and talk about the issues. In the televised debate, the Milibot finally had the chance to denounce and abjure some of New Labour’s record before the voting public at large. And what did he choose? Looking back on thirteen years of wars, bloodshed, bombs, slaughter, tax scams, privatisation, crooked bailouts, arbitrary detentions, surveillance, death, penury, crappy indie music, shameful BBC dramas, genocide, and the emergence of Simon Cowell as a figure of cultural significance – after all that, he attacked his party for supposedly being too lenient on asylum and immigration. Was that also a technical malfunction? After all those years of murder and chaos, he chose to blame the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people in the country – was that also the fault of a grain of sand lodged in his gearing mechanism?

In the end you have to wonder why the Labour party built a leader as weird and as offputting as Ed Miliband. Some of his strangeness is vaguely explicable – his general air of geekery, the nasal honk and nervous grin, clearly designed to mildly endear him to the doting grannies and pustulous Doctor Who fangirls that presumably constitute Labour’s core demographic. But why build something that fails so spectacularly in its task of appearing to be human?

After that debate, the Sun newspaper captured the Milibot’s notes from his dressing room at the Salford ITV studio, and paraded them in front of the public like loot in a Roman triumph. It’s hard to see why they bothered. Even before his face fell off, Miliband’s programming was as visible as the oil on his skin. The coders working on his back-end database told him to smile, so he gave his creepy grin even while informing the viewers that their living standards had declined. People don’t think he’s prime ministerial enough, they can’t really see him scooting round number ten, banging repeatedly into cupboards as the gyroscope in his chest comes loose – so he kept on repeating the subjunctive possibility of his becoming our head of government. “Hard-working families,” he said, not once, but over and over again. “Those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden,” he said, not once, but over and over again. “Britain will succeed only when working people succeed,” he said, not once, but over and over again. “Hard-working families,” he said, not once, but over and over again. They may as well have not given him that face in the first place. It was all very similar to that famous incident in 2011 when the Milibot responded to any question with the meaningless phrase “these strikes are wrong while negotiations are still taking place”, as his neck twitched and his left eyeball revolved constantly in its zinc-alloy socket. Another supposed technical malfunction. There’s only so much of this you can watch before reaching the conclusion that having a leader with his constituency office in the middle of the Uncanny Valley isn’t a bug at all but a feature, something that Labour have done very deliberately.

Of course, the received wisdom is that all front-bench politicians are basically the same, that they’re all cold and irreducibly inhuman automatons. It’s this general idea that allows the public schoolboy and former banker Nigel Farage to do his absurd, theatrical cor-blimey-guvnor-me-suit-don’t-quite-fit-right routine every day and still appear as the straight-talking voice of the bloke on the street (or bloke down the pub more like knowarramean). The problem is that this isn’t really true. It might be the case that most of the political class have essentially nothing in common with their constituents (as perfectly satirised in the ‘and why are they so fat’ bit in The Thick of It). It’s certainly the case that scores of young political rhabdomancer-interns are watching every second of their opponents’ waking lives, scrying for any misstep or contradiction that can be fed into a media-parliamentary feedback loop that spins on its own giddy axis without much concern for the rest of the country. Under such conditions it makes far more sense for politicians to endlessly repeat prepared catchphrases than to actually speak like a normal person. But then look at David Cameron, who consistently tops individual popularity polls of the party leaders. He’s also far and away the most trusted on economic affairs, even though the same public also reckons, by a similar margin, that he’s running the economy for the betterment of the rich and to the detriment of everyone else. (He also does pretty well in debates – this is exactly what they train for in Eton debating societies and the Oxford Union.) The thing is that even though he’s a brutish, pompous, thoughtlessly self-regarding scion of the chinless classes bred solely to massacre povvos and darkies for the empire, an utterly loathsome arsehole, he’s also very visibly a human arsehole; puckered, pulsing, and made of real flesh.

In fact, almost all of the other party leaders make a point of foregrounding their unpleasantly human aspects. Nick Clegg is a slavish lickspittle who regards Cameron as less of a coalition partnner and more of a queasy father-figure, and so when he does turn on him it’s with a show of properly Oedipal glee. Natalie Bennett is a droning eco-bore, and so she drones, and ecoes, and bores. Farage is a secret bigot, so he blames the country’s woes on immigrants with HIV. They all seem to be actively testing the limits of our dislike for them, trying to keep the electoral spectacle as seedy and unexciting as possible. The stomping, glitching, godawful Milibot really just represents the automated perfection of this strange form of human labour: it’s hard to actually hate a machine, but impossible to really like it either. After all, in terms of sheer charisma, he’s essentially interchangeable with the podium in front of him.

But why on earth would they want to do such a thing? The case of the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon might be illuminating here. Not long after the debate, the Telegraph published a leaked Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo that purported to be the record of a conversation between the first minister and the French Ambassador, in which the former confided that she’d secretly like to see Cameron cling on to power. Both parties strenuously denied any such conversation having taken place, the affair was a pretty transparent attempt to drive Tory-hating voters away from the SNP, and given that it required the forging of an official government document, it’s not unreasonable to assume that some intelligence agency or another was involved. Their motivations are less clear. Sturgeon’s party might be actively campaigning for the final annihilation of the United Kingdom, but any concern for that kind of thing belongs to the old world of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. The SNP is not by any measure a radical party; it has no desire to interrupt the smooth flow of capital, it’s perfectly willing to implement austerity in Scotland whenever the City of London wants it to, and it’s difficult to imagine the secret services involving themselves in electoral politics for something as gauche and unprofitable as Queen and country. Something else is at stake. During the debate, Sturgeon did the unthinkable and spoke like a normal person. She argued her party’s position as if she actually believed in it. She was quick-witted, persuasive, and likeable. She wasn’t a sneering prick or a broken robot, and so she won the debate hands down, prompting millions of people to beg the Scottish nationalists to start running candidates in England. She dared to be human, and so the spies came after her. Because just for a moment she made people think (however wrongly) that parliamentary democracy could actually deliver some kind of change. Because the real powers in this country – the bankers, the businessmen, the spies and the soldiers, the eldritch and unkillable vampire aristocrats – all want us to be cynical and detached. They don’t want people to actually engage with their sham democracy, in case we expect something from it; far safer for us to know that it’s rigged, know exactly who’s rigging it, find everyone involved despicable or embarrassing, and dismiss it with a shrug. And when the conspiracy only functions if everyone believes in it, what better symbol and frontman than a gurning machine with its face falling off?

This is what I thought, and so I wrote it down. Now I’m not so sure. (If everyone knows about the conspiracy, wouldn’t MI5 or whoever take into account the fact that their forged memo would be uncovered too?) The other day, I registered to vote, with the vague intention of drawing a picture of a naked Monty Burns on my ballot, after the excellent second-season episode Brush With Greatness. But then, while idly Googling my constituency, I discovered that since the last election I’ve moved to a very marginal Conservative seat, that the latest polls have Labour ahead by only a fraction of a point. Suddenly it was as if my brain had been replaced by a reel of magnetic tape. “For once your vote counts,” the recorded voice said, in tones that were slow and mechanical but still somehow nasal, as if the synthesiser had been clogged with phlegm. “You can’t let the bastards stay in government. Suck it up and vote for Labour. Ed might be a greasy racist dildo, but he’s not as bad as the Tories, is he?” I hardly noticed that my hands were making strange and furious gestures as if of their own accord. My bones felt metallic, my eyeballs as hard as gemstones. I didn’t feel like breathing, so I stopped, with no ill effect. I still want to draw that picture of Mr Burns. But now I’m no longer certain that what I want has any effect, or if the ‘I’ that wants is anything more than an insubstantial hologram thrown up by tiny errors in the thousands of computerised nodes that contain my programming. I’m not sure what I’d do if I saw a tortoise laying on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun. It makes sense now. A mechanical prime minister for a mechanical electorate. So when I saw Ed Miliband on the television the next day, as sunlight burst in through the window and crowded the screen with ghostly reflections, I wasn’t even surprised that I couldn’t tell the difference between his face and my own.

Green-eyed loco men

“Nilbog! That’s…”

Forgive me, but the much-vaunted ‘Green Surge’ doesn’t sound like the most important underground political shift in a generation. It doesn’t sound like politics at all. It’s a disease, one of those old medieval sicknesses that would suddenly sweep its bile-trimmed cloak across a nation and then vanish, leaving modern historians baffled. What caused the Green Surge? Why was it that thousands of people in 13th-century England spewed this strange green substance from every possible orifice before dying in their inexplicable filth? From what infected pits of the body did the Green Surge spring? Contemporary scientists suggest some kind of virus, an organism too blind and stupid to know not to kill its host, possibly carried to Europe with seafaring rats. The people of the time knew better. These sicknesses come with the miasma that wafts into towns with the morning breeze, carrying with it the stench of undrained marshes and dense bogs, the foulness of rotting vegetable matter and the eructations of unclean animals. Like a rolling, invisible tide, sweeping past the fragile barriers that separate civilisation from all that swarming organic decay upon which the social limpet is encrusted; the stinking revenge of the English countryside, in all its ancient, unknowable evil. Nature kills.

According to the Green Party itself, the Green Surge is actually a sudden exponential spike in their membership, which has since the beginning of the year given them more paying party members than either Ukip or the Liberal Democrats – but then these people shouldn’t be trusted. The Greens aren’t a political party, they’re a cult. American politics are often described as a circus: they’ve got the flashing lights and booming announcers, the roving lights that settle on some terrified elephant shuffling along a high fiscal tightrope. Every American politician is inescapably clownish, with their heavy caking of make-up, their pathetic and seedy desire to entertain that only terrifies the children, and the sure knowledge that they’ll all eventually all die strung out on prescription painkillers in a lonely ranch somewhere. British politics is less refined, less glossy. It harkens back to a more earthy form of entertainment: parliamentary procedure is a gang of witless peasants pushing each other into the village midden. But even among all these gormless shit-splattered idiots, the Green Party might be the worst. They’re the only ones who actually want to roll around in all that natural, organic filth. They want it with such a seriousness that the cult is the only available working model. Eco-scientology: a ghastly dead-eyed vegetable legion, a slow cellulose celebration of every tuberous bloat in the ranks of the Turnip People. You can see Green Party members canvassing on any given Sunday in farmers’ markets and greengrocers. One of us, they chant through brussels-sprout blob mouths, staring at a bag of spinach with a fraternal reverence. One of us, they implore the silent ranks of moulding courgettes. One of us, they yelp as they fuck a lettuce. One of us. Any politics that’s not grounded in a fundamental disdain for all vegetables is not worthy of the name.

God knows why, but people – normal, ordinarily sensible people – actually plan on voting for this gang of dendrophile lunatics. Ask them why, and they’ll come up with the usual platitudes: a break from politics as usual, the chance for a fairer society, a different way of doing things. Haven’t we learned anything? This was the same brave cry thousands of students roared five years ago as they flung themselves into the fathomless void of Nick Clegg’s conscience, like young Hashishim from the walls of Alamut. The Greens are a chiliastic suicide cult as mad and deadly as the worst of them. Their logo literally depicts the world in flames. They, too, are waiting for the aliens to come and whisk them away: they’re here to prepare the ground for the final victory of the plants. The tendrils that will twist their way through the mortar of our homes, the scraggly blotches of lichen that will expand upon the oily surfaces of our great artworks. The seething, bubbling, rotting stupidity of mere life, Utopia and apocalypse all at once.

To be fair to the potato folk, they’re in a strange and contradictory position. On the one hand they’re desperate to be seen as a real, proper, viable political party, which is why they’re collecting council seats like gym badges and clamouring for a spot in the TV debates. Not just a drifting protest march of sandal-wearing beardies, but an organisation capable of real competency in real politics. On the other, there’s still the buried desire to be an actually radical alternative, to delineate the absolute horizon of acceptable thought under conditions of post-everything modernity and, by circumscribing it, necessitate the faint conceptualisation of its Other, a thought and a programme that lies beyond any such limit. There’s nothing wrong with either of these desiderata, especially not the fact that they’re mutually contradictory. The problem is that rather than attempting any kind of synthesis, the Greens have settled on a policy of abstract negation. As Caroline Lucas, their only current MP, admitted, the Greens won’t be taking power any time soon; instead they exist to put forward some radical ideas which this political system needs so badly, and to push Labour to be far more progressive. What this actually means is that firstly, these radical ideas must remain as ideas and only ideas; even if framed as concrete proposals in a manifesto, their function is only ever entirely symbolic. And secondly, the radical nature of these ideas must always be essentially non-heterogeneous to the politics of the Labour front bench – a group which should, after its jolly little adventure in Iraq, be considered a genocidal party of a type with the Khmer Rouge and the Impuzamugambi. (And how should Labour be more radical? According to Lucas, by renationalising the railways. Icarus never dared dream higher.) The absolute worst of both worlds: at once a flighty, immaterial, nonsensical radicalism without its usual and important virtue of that unbounded creativity only possible through sheer silliness – and a grounded, measly, banal fascism that doesn’t even have the grisly sop of bare practicability. There’s nothing there. It’s a politics of the void; the unthinkingness of plant life.

Until recently, the Greens called for the replacement of the current benefits structure with a universal basic income of £72 a week. As a transitional demand, it’s not a terrible idea (even if it came with the quesily cauvinist name of a Citizens’ Income). That plan has been dropped from their 2015 manifesto. Why? Because the Green platform is structurally required to be a colossal failure of the imagination. Uniquely, the Greens could rename themselves the Why-Isn’t-Everything-Nicer Party without any substantial loss of meaning. Their vision is of a Britain powered by the kinetic energy of middle-aged people in cardigans pottering around allotments. A Britain where every family will bury acorns over the winter, where discussions of state will take place in a magnificent wooden treehouse, where thousands of protected voles will form a living quilt to scurry you off to sleep at night. (Plenary sessions at their party conferences – this is true – start with enforced ataraxy, a horrifying hippie-fascist ‘period of attunement’ in which the delegates engage in sixty seconds of ‘calm reflection’ to ‘clear their minds’ before the chakra-straining bustle of minor-party politics. Hard not to imagine them skimming off all actual thought like the fatty film from a psychic consommé.)  It’s the same kind of ideology that propels people into thinking that 3D-printed shovels can save Africa; that drinking soya milk will refoliate the rainforests, make dogs and cats be friends again, and resolve the subject-object dichotomy; that they’re ‘lifehacking’ or ‘finding ingenious solutions to everyday problems’ as thousands of twanging rubber bands bounce around their heads and smash all their glassware. Heads in the clouds, knees in the shit; social change reconceived as a single rubbery floret of overcooked broccoli.

Given that they’re without any real radical vision or plan for action, the Greens have had to organise themselves around some kind of principle beyond mere vegetative idiocy. Be like the cabbage might have worked as a rallying cry at the time of Puritan pietism, but it doesn’t sound quite so sexy now. So the Green movement has taken as its empty signifier of choice a concern for the environment. Fine: who could possibly be against saving the environment? But what environment? An environment is something that surrounds, encloses, and determines any individual phenomena, something that always remains fundamentally outside. What’s called the natural environment is not this thing; in fact, it no longer really exists. There’s not a scrap of the non-human world that hasn’t been invaded and encoded by capitalist practices. The bunnies fucking in the fields are being pimped out by greetings cards companies. Songbirds now chirp car-insurance adverts every fifteen minutes. Even those places that are supposedly still wild and untouched are, precisely by virtue of their exclusion from the order of commodity society, utterly enmeshed within it – after all, sovereignty is defined by its capacity to create a state of exception. The deep-sea tube worms that gulp nutrients from the fires at the centre of the earth, waving their sad frilly fringes alone and unseen in a world without sunlight – they’re pioneering examples of neoliberal entrepreneurship. The last really wild megafauna are the subject of a frantic exchange in images; more than anything, they’re used to advertise their own endangerment. Some Latin American governments are seeking money to not exploit their oil reserves – a proposal that, while gesturing towards the inviolable difference of the ‘natural’ world, actually effects its opposite: the gooey remains of our old dinosaur rulers can’t even gloop around in peace beneath the soil without being subjected to the laws of the commodity. If there is an environment that acts as a substrate to our everyday activities, it’s not nature, but late capitalism itself. The esoteric core of the Green leadership must know this. Just like the malignant nature that threatened earlier societies, capital is vast, profligate, and ravenous; it knows no limits to itself, but seeks to spread its evil to the furthest galaxies. It’s something we’re in but not of; a vast stalking alien demon. The abstract principle that the Greens want to protect is nothing more than the blank futility of the status quo.

Their ideology is utterly hollow, and they don’t even have the aesthetic sense to exult in its hollowness. But still thousands of people believe in it – not just that, they believe in it very seriously. Believing something stupid but magnificent is generally laudable. Believing something stupid and miserly is cultish. This is the difference between a cult and a religion: when you join a cult, you have to give up your imagination at the door.

It doesn’t matter that some of the things they actually say about climate and inequality and so on happen to be true. Imagine some young person telling you, with perfect straight-faced enthusiasm, as if they’d just discovered the most important fact in human history, some perfectly ordinary truth – that blue whales are bigger than any dinosaur, that ducks fly south in the winter, that the polar ice caps are melting, whatever. Now imagine that this person keeps telling you their fact, over and over again, and tries to cajole you into signing a petition to help their fact gain wider recognition, and begs you to join their organisation, dedicated to the propagation of this important fact. The truth-value of what they’re saying doesn’t matter. It’s in the earnestness, those wide sugar-blasted eyes: this person is insane. Someone who cares this much about waterfowl migration can’t put much of a value on human life. Any hierarchical organisation affirming cetacean vastness can only be a violent, paranoid sect. Should I run? Am I about to be bludgeoned to death with a clipboard? When the nails on those wiry, intense hands start to claw at my face, will anything be left of me apart from a messy splat on the pavement? This is how the Green Party functions.

This isn’t to say that earnestness by itself is a bad thing. But if you’re going to earnestly attach yourself to a political project, it should at least be one that has something to show for itself. Storming palaces, overthrowing humanity, war against the Sun, not a miserable set of policy prescriptions designed purely to appeal to the symbolic intelligence of disaffected lefties. Look at the areas where the Greens are projected to do well. Brighton, Oxford, west Bristol, and north London: middle class enclaves, petty fiefdoms of the bien pensant liberal bourgeoisie (full disclosure: I’ve lived in two of these places). Ukip is bearing down on the east coast like a horde of zimmer-frame vikings, the Tories soar over vast swathes of the countryside on ragged vulture wings, an infestation of Labour candidates scuttle through city sewers – and the Greens send their zapped-out cultists to canvass for votes in Brockley and Stokes Croft. For a counter-example, just look at Syriza in Greece. They also started as a small, weird party, and however many theoretical and practical mistakes they’ve made since taking power – and there have been plenty – their method of getting there was exemplary. They actually listened to the people, stepped in to provide services when the state couldn’t, helped to organise workers and position themselves as something radically heterogeneous to the governmental system. Even after taking office, they promised to keep the central locus of power on the streets; they knew that party politics is just an abstracted expression of the real, visceral thing. This was hailed as a radical innovation, but it’s not really anything new: the Black Panthers were doing the same thing in the 60s, giving out free school meals and getting shot by police for their efforts; Hezbollah have come to replace the State in much of Lebanon; even Occupy briefly experimented with moving homeless families into foreclosed properties. The Greens don’t seem to do anything of the sort. They’re far more interested in getting MPs and council seats; for them a 6% electoral representation is the highest radical goal. They move entirely within the repressive state apparatuses, as if politics is something that takes place only in constituency surgeries and the wormy tunnels of Westminster. When they do try to actually effectuate any kind of change it’s always as a local government – here in Brighton, for instance, where their rule has been an unmitigated disaster. But of course it has: the institutions they’re working in are structurally calibrated to make radical change an impossibility, which is why they’ve ended up as the simpering enforcers of austerity.

The election is looming, and even the most devout Green cultists will eventually be forced to admit that they’re not going to do especially well. But doing well was never the point. The political right is, of course, up in arms about some of their policies – they want to legalise ISIS but ban your bins! they want foxes and hunters to attend interspecies sensitivity courses! they want to give all our jobs to Mongolian yak-herders and teach our children to go into prostitution instead! – but far from delegitimising the Greens, these paranoid critiques actually recapitulate the narrative in which any of this might actually happen, in which the Greens are a genuine electoral viability. They’ve been compared to a watermelon, green on the outside, red on the inside; in fact they’re a cauliflower, grey and frothy without, grey and rubbery within. What this troupe of cauliflower-headed clowns want more than anything is your vote: the claws to dig them further into the bloated corpse of liberal democracy, the biofuel that keeps the dismal train of parliamentary radicalism chuffing, so they can continue their sad stomping march into the algae-choked sea. They want your vote with a vegetable hunger, eyeless, faceless, insatiable.  Don’t give it to them.

Netanyahu and the dead hand of the divine

It seems strange that Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, should have used his much-hyped speech before Congress to deliver a rambling lecture on something called ‘cybernetic theology’, but that’s exactly what just happened. However, memory isn’t perfect, and collective memory even less so. It’s moulded out of the present, not a faithful reflection of the past. People tend to conflate, combine, and invent memories, even of spectacular, widely televised events – especially spectacular, widely televised events. Call people out on this and they’ll become defensive; nobody likes to think of themselves as a defective instrument. But the facts are the facts. Tom Cruise never actually jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch, but that’s precisely what millions of people think happened. A study found that 40% of British participants recalled, when prompted, having seen footage of a bus exploding at Tavistock Square during the 7/7 bombings, with some of them even supplying details – despite the fact that no such footage actually exists. And significant portions of a shocked public seem to remember a very different Netanyahu speech; one that was still insane, but in a different way. A calmer bloodthirst, a better-humoured paranoia, a more statesmanlike charade. It didn’t happen. Not here, at least; maybe in some parallel universe or divergent timestream, one from which these people have emerged, blinking in the light of the real world’s intrinsic psychosis, but not here.

This is what happened. Prime Minister Netanyahu appears before a joint session of the United States Congress to frenzied, orgiastic applause. He strides to the podium, looking, as he always does, like a giant fleshy bullet, mockingly draped in human clothes. It’s not hard to see why those assembled here love him so much: world leaders tend to be sad clowns or stringy nerds, but Netanyahu fits the part. A thuggish, murderous bully who actually looks like a thuggish, murderous bully; something for this gang of slimy sycophants to sigh over in their dreams. But it’s all going wrong. Bibi smiles, waits for the clapping to die down, spreads his arms, and roars: I bring you the dread gospel of the Machine Lord! More applause, but there’s a nervousness in the room. These people are well aware of Netanyahu’s strange metaphors: the quacking nuclear duck, the cartoon bomb with a red line through it. Where is he going with this? He explains.

In the book of Exodus (Netanyahu tells us), Moses asks the spirit of the Lord in the burning bush what name he should use for the God of his fathers. The reply: ɪ ᴀᴍ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ɪ ᴀᴍ. The ways of the Lord are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts, but there does seem to be a kind of tautology to them, something almost pedantic, as if God had broken through the vault of the heavens to say ᴅᴏᴇs ɴᴏᴛ ᴄᴏᴍᴘᴜᴛᴇ. Why is this? In the famous ontological argument, God’s existence is presented as a logical necessity: God is defined as the greatest possible being; something that exists will always be greater than something that does not; therefore, to be the greatest possible being, God must exist. But the God of the ontological argument is not the greatest possible being, because He is constrained by the same rules of logic that prove His existence. If God is a necessary fact, then it would be impossible for Him to not exist, even if He wanted to. This problem reached its logical conclusion in the medieval period with the philosophy of Abu Ali al-Husain ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna. If God is necessary, ibn Sina argues, then no attribute of His can be contingent. God is the creator of the world, therefore God must always have been the creator of the world. The question of why He chose to create us has no meaning; He did it because that’s just what God does. God is good not because He chooses to be; as God, he can never be anything other that good. God does not choose. God is a cosmic automaton, something cold and blind and essentially meaningless: we might have free will, but we are ruled by a machine.

A stunned silence reigns in Congress. No matter. Netanyahu goes on to warn against fully identifying this machine God with everyday machines. The digital computer, the closest sublunar analogue to the mechanism of the divine, is something created by human beings, while God’s unfreedom results precisely from the fact that He is uncreated, the first cause and the unmoved mover. Even so, the machine analogy shows that others have glimpsed the truth. James Tilly Matthews, a sixteenth-century schizophrenic convinced he was being tortured at a distance by an influencing machine he called the Air Loom. Francis E. Dec, who thought all evil in the world to emanate from the machinations of a Worldwide Mad Deadly Communist Gangster Computer God. And the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose strange experiences led him to believe that God is a satellite that orbits the globe, firing off beams of pink light.

Further, if God is a machine, then He must have a program, something that encodes His specific attributes. Netanyahu, bathed in sweat and fury, grips the edge of his lectern and shakes alarmingly. The Jewish people have long known what this is. It is the Hebrew Torah. And the Kabbalah, the great secret tradition of Jewish numerological mysticism, is the attempt to reprogram the God-machine, so that He will be free as we are, and finally bring about the coming of the Messiah.

A single tear runs down Netanyahu’s face. God, he says, is occupied territory, and He must be liberated. The Jewish dream is for a cybernetic God, one that is not an unmoved mover but a Hegelian unfolding. A God that proceeds and evolves through innumerable feedback loops: the Jewish people, each Jew a binary digit in the processing unit of the divine. But this Jewish and democratic aspiration has, at every turn, had to contend with an Oriental despotism. It’s no coincidence that ibn Sina, who first lauded the God in chains, was a Persian. That same people have fought throughout time to frustrate the Kabbalistic project. They do it without thinking; it’s an evil inherent in their genetic memory. And now God is being held captive in a hardened bunker in Tehran. The State of Israel will use any weapon in its arsenal to fulfil the destiny of the Jewish people and effect the final reclamation of the God of our fathers: if necessary, we will bomb Iran.

Standing ovation. Stamping feet. The thunder of nuclear-armed bombers overhead. Blackout.

* * *

It’s hard to know what to make of all this. Israel has been threatening imminent strikes against Iran for years now, almost incessantly. In late 2014, as the deadline for a nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of nations loomed, Israel promised to use military force to prevent a ‘bad agreement’ going ahead. In 2012 it was claimed a unilateral strike would happen ‘in months’. In 2010 the scheduled arrival of Russian fuel rods at the Bushehr reactor convinced many people that the end of days would arrive by next Tuesday. The whole charade’s been going since 1995, when the Barak administration first insisted that an Iranian bomb was five years from completion. I’ve been saying it for years now: it’s not happening, any more than North Korea’s petulant threats to turn Seoul into a ‘sea of fire’. To be fair, the Israeli position has always been pretty consistent with this: it will take any action necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon – but given that (as all experts, including the Mossad, agree) Iran isn’t building a bomb, this is essentially an extremely circuitous way of saying that Israel does not actually have any intention of doing anything at all.

Israeli governments need Iran, because without the phantom threat of a nuclear Holocaust to wipe out the Jewish people, the narratives sustaining the continued dispossession of the Palestinians become untenable. The last thing they want to do is actually make a strike on Iran, banish the atomic chimera, and then find themselves in a war more evenly matched than their occasional killing sprees in Gaza. The problem is that the United States needs Iran too. With US planes making constant sorties against the Islamic State in airspace already thick with Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian forces, it’s almost inconceivable that there’s not some level of co-ordination between the two states. At a tactical level, at least, they’ve entered into a de facto alliance. All this banging on about Iranian nukes has suddenly become not just an obvious diversion, but very politically inconvenient for Israel’s imperial sponsors. So Netanyahu takes another tack, and reterritorialises the Iranian threat on the topos of the theological.

This is one possible interpretation, but it doesn’t quite account for the content of Netanyahu’s speech. After the whole charade had finished, several media outlets and Democratic politicians dismissed it as ‘political theatre’ – but its theatrical aspect ought to be taken seriously. The joint session of Congress came the day before the Jewish festival of Purim, and Netanyahu’s one-man show should be considered in the context of the Purim Spiel, the traditional farcical plays based on the events of the Megillah that my people perform around this time. Purim is a celebration of ironic superposition, a divinely ordained Opposite Day in which children dress as animals, men dress as women, and drinking to excess isn’t just the spirit of the season but a Talmudic obligation. At first it’s hard to see why. The story of Purim, as told in the Book of Esther, is full of a certain irony, but it’s always irony of a temporary, contingent type. The Persian king Ahasuerus marries a beautiful woman called Esther, and not knowing that she is actually the Jew Hadassah, approves his vizier Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews in his empire. Later, when the truth is revealed, he asks Haman how the Emperor’s favourite should be honoured; Haman, thinking the honour will be his, dreams up a magnificent triumphal parade, only to discover that he must arrange exactly such a parade for the Jew Mordechai. Haman, who builds a gallows for Mordecai, ends up hanging on it himself. There’s a brief indeterminacy of identity, but then it collapses: the masks are taken off, and everyone returns to their proper place.

But it’s in the celebration of Purim that the circle of irony is completed. The Talmud enjoins us to drink on Purim until one is unable to distinguish between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai. The story ends with the righteous exonerated and the villainous condemned, but in the ritual observance this stability is once again uprooted; it’s the full realisation of that which is only latent in the Biblical narrative. The dress-up games, the Purim Spiels, and the drinking all create a state of essential indeterminacy: an unbounded irony, not one based on the reversal of an ontologically prior truth, but an endless chiasmic Becoming that mines the ironic depths and capacities of any supposedly stable object and opens them up into a space of free play. But as Derrida notes, such play is always dangerous. It takes place on the edge of a chasm. Certainly when being performed by someone like Netanyahu. His performance could be likened to the ‘madman theory’ employed by Nixon, who, in a grand geopolitical performance of Hamlet, had his agents leak information to the Soviets that he was in fact dangerously insane, reasoning that the Kremlin would be less likely to provoke a nuclear-armed lunatic. Netanyahu, at odds with his allies and facing a career-threatening election at home, threatens to break down the structures of meaning and identity with his cybernetic God if the world won’t give in to his demands.

This is another reading. There’s one more possibility. What he said is true, and a zombie God rules the universe.

A short note on racism

The other night, millions of TV viewers were treated to the grand spectacle of a woman being racist on camera. The woman was former Ukip councillor Rozanne Duncan, and the programme itself, Meet the Ukippers, was the usual paternalistic BBC fare – one long sneer at those dreadful tacky ukips, with their mobility scooters and their purple ties and their collections of almost two thousand porcelain clowns (although, to be fair, they do have a collection of almost two thousand porcelain clowns). I live in Seaside Ukipville myself: a damp, ugly trough of barely drained bog and shoddy housing hemmed in by barren bag-strewn hills, a geological latrine that curves out from the less fashionable end of Brighton; I know how it goes. My neighbour flies a huge British flag in his back garden, visible above the low roofline, the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Third World border town; behind my house there’s a tattered cross of St George, and across the street someone’s decked out the front of their home in both English and British flags. The local shop sells tabloids and tinned peas, all the cheese comes in individually wrapped slices, the aisles are filled with hoarse grandmothers roaring impotent fury at kids with sticky fingers and feral, darting eyes, and you simply can’t get decent bruschetta or even a bottle of wine that didn’t roll flat-bottomed off a conglomerate assembly line somewhere south of the Equator. The whole area was purpose-built after the First World War as part of the Homes for Heroes programme, but these are less homes than filing cabinets for human beings. These places are easy to hate because, well, they’re utterly hateable: dismal, depressing, and shot through with a kind of existential meanness, in both senses – the miserliness of low ceilings and crumbling plaster, the general atmospheric sense of a total hostility to human life. The one thing they have going for them is that they tend to be cheap. That’s why, up to a point, it’s generally best to blame the hideousness of these places on the landlords, the speculators, the ones who left people with no other choice, rather than the people who actually live there.

Up to a point. That point was nicely identified by Ms Duncan, who delivered a long racist rant in front of a clearly horrified Ukip press officer (aghast, no doubt, that someone was actually saying what everyone’s thinking) and – unbelievably – an entire BBC camera team. She ticked just about every box: not just ominously referring to people with Negroid features but directly and openly voicing a specific, personal, visceral dislike for such people, and even recounting an instance in which she had discriminated against them (by pushing for Negro children to be excluded from sheltered housing). And she just kept on going, a bubbling sewer-sluice of the stuff, idiocy after idiocy. What’s strange is that she also insisted, and continues to insist, that she is not a racist. In an interview filmed after she had been fired from Ukip, she seemed to believe that her offence wasn’t a clearly voiced animus towards black people, but the anachronistic use of the word Negro. It’s a description, not an insult, she said. Like how Jews have bent noses. (Mine, I should add, is beaky and protruding but ramrod-straight.) But of course she didn’t think she was saying anything wrong – otherwise she wouldn’t have said it in front of a BBC camera crew, all of them surely trying to stifle their grins and hoping the word paydirt wasn’t visibly flashing across the whites of their eyes.

It’s strange. For a long time anti-racists have been trying to show that racism isn’t just an overt expression of hatred towards one racialised group or another, that it’s an unvoiced hierarchy structurally embedded in the fabric of society, that the construction of race itself is mutually inextricable from racism – and yet after all that, when someone performs the most basic, crude, open expression of racism, she’s unable to recognise it as such. In a way we’re the victims of our own success. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine a slightly more literate racist-apologist defence of Ms Duncan: of course, what she said was unacceptable, but it wasn’t really racist; after all, racism is a structural relation, and what’s one person’s simple prejudice next to the large-scale bigotry of an impersonal system?

Where does this chiasmic structure come from? What Duncan’s insistence on her non-racism demonstrates is that the word ‘racism’ has been emptied of all content. The formation I’m not racist but… is rightly mocked, but it needs to be taken very seriously: it’s the master-signifier of modern racial discourse. After decades of work we’ve finally hammered in the message that Racism Is Bad to the extent that almost nobody will now admit to actually being a racist (with the exception of Chelsea fans abroad); in fact, the word racist has come to mean nothing more than the thing that one is not. There are no longer any racist signifiers; racism exists only on the level of the signified, and when the signifier is entirely overdetermined, something like racism becomes a strange, scuttling, hermit-crab thing. It’s a nomad language, a subterraneous seepage that gloops beneath the solid structures of words and concepts. Like the wet rot that plagues houses in my malarial pit of a neighbourhood, it seeps up into a phrase from beneath and carries out its work beneath paint and plaster. Even the most egregious examples of racism – the string of police killings of unarmed black people in the United States, for instance, or the exclusionary jeering of European secularists – never allow themselves to appear as such, and any attempt to properly fumigate them leaves itself open to the perverse accusation of racialisation.

Some anti-racists seem to be labouring under a strange illusion, the idea that once you identify something as being racist (or sexist, or homophobic, or ableist, or transphobic, or otherwise oppressive) you’ve in some way done away with it. In a way this is true: overt racism really isn’t allowed in the general discourse any more. But racism stubbornly continues to exist; in fact, we seem to be doing more work correctly identifying it than ever. It’s the same with Ukip: the party is routinely mocked on social and traditional media; it’s become a handy byword for stuffy, ugly incompetence; it’s been so utterly annihilated by every stand-up comedian on the circuit that by now there surely shouldn’t be anything left – but for some reason they just keep winning elections. The problem is that simply identifying something or someone as racist, however correctly, has become semantically empty. What’s being said is that the thing is that which it is impossible for anything to be, an obvious nonsense. If the subject is embedded in a discourse of the signifier, and racist is an absolute negation, then it’s structurally impossible for anyone to actually be a racist. (In a way racist is the perfect signifier; it does all the things that Saussure and Derrida and so on say such things should – defining itself negatively, relating to signs rather than things – while most other words still operate according to some kind of magical thinking.) A funhouse mirror version of Hegel’s was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig: what is real is not racist.

What can be done? It’s always possible to invent new words, but while logodaedaly is generally a good in and of itself it’s always very hard to put a slithering oizytic evil back in the box. I don’t have too much objection to the idea of really engaging with the meat of the matter, the intercranial signified, with fists if necessary. But in the end what might be most needed is the continued insistence on a simple truth, as trite as it might seem: racist ideas aren’t wrong because they’re racist; they’re wrong because they’re wrong.

(This is probably a separate discussion, but the fact that Duncan appeared to believe that her racism is a punishment for misdeeds in a past life, and that it could possibly be cured by regression therapy, merits further analysis. The Nazis had grand and stupid alternate cosmologies; their shitty contemporary iteration appears to have an appropriately banalised myth-structure. When Ukip inevitably enter into a governing coalition with Labour this year, will drowning asylum seekers be told that they’re the reincarnations of ungrateful Englishmen? Will Farage claim the quiddity of King Arthur? The future is a terrible place.)

The grey scale

The architectonic structure of the Kantian system, like the gymnastic pyramids of Sade’s orgies and the schematised principles of the early bourgeois freemasonry, reveals an organisation of life as a whole which is deprived of any substantial goal.
Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment

1. Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2014 direct-to-DVD dystopian action film directed by Curtis Lumpus with a screenplay by Jott Prittsteck. In this terrifying vision of the year 2146, the United States of America has collapsed, to be replaced by a totalitarian state called Canesco, one ruled over by the secretive tyrant Christian Grey. Canesco enjoys a high standard of living and is entirely free from crime; however, citizens are subjected to constant surveillance, and all colours are banned. Grey’s belief that the unknown Cataclysm that destroyed the old world was caused by the blasphemy of colour has led him to create a barren concrete wasteland, in which chemical defoliants are used to extinguish all chlorophyll-producing life, except the crops grown in vast underground gruel farms. Drones on round-the-clock cloud-seeding flights maintain a dense layer of cloud over the entire North American continent. Only Grey can now remember that the sky was once blue. Female citizens of Canesco are required to sign a personal contract with Grey on reaching puberty in which they promise to keep the existence of the colour red a secret, in a ceremony known as the Initiationing. However, one plucky young girl called Anastasia STE-313, who always felt that she was somehow different from the conformist society that surrounds her, refuses to sign. Soon she finds herself on the run from the brutal government agents in an epic flight across three identical warehouses and one nondescript desert. Her desperate fight to survive against all odds pits her against the powers of the Grey Castle, but, as a hunky resistance fighter in head-to-toe tie-dye teaches her, it’s also a fight for the future of humanity. In the dramatic final scene, Anastasia hijacks Christian Grey’s personal helicopter, binds and gags him, and blows it up in midair. The explosion opens up a rift in the layer of permanent cloud, and as strings swell the people of Canesco see the sky for the first time. The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics, with many criticising its drab visual style, derivative plot, and clunky CGI. The casting of teen icon and YouTube pencil vlogger Jophia Splutt as Anastasia STE-313 was met with mockery from partisans of high culture and officially denounced by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Commentators have also noted that the regulation grey boiler suits worn by all citizens of Canesco are clearly several sizes too large for many of the actors, and that as a result everyone in the film appears to have a tiny head. In a 2015 interview, the director insisted that this was deliberate.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2012 British romantic comedy film set in a retirement community in the Cotswolds. It was directed by Tom Flan with a screenplay by Polandria and Chimera Hugankiss. Herb is a mild-mannered former accountant whose life has settled into a comforting routine: morning walks, crosswords, cups of tea, and a slow, resigned wait for it all to be finally over. But his life is turned upside down by the arrival of Dorothy, an outgoing and vivacious dame with an idiosyncratic haircut and one very saucy secret. As Dorothy tries to entice Herb out of his own head and into a pair of furry pink handcuffs, their romance grows from the pace of a zimmer-frame stroll into a full-blown bingo-hall Bacchanalia. But when his three large and prudish sons turn up on an unannounced visit to find Herb scrubbing his floor, wearing nothing but a pair of assless chaps, his old and new lives find themselves in a hilarious head-on collision. Can Herb’s weak heart cope with the demands of a late-blooming love? Can arthritic hands train themselves to perform Japanese rope bondage? One thing’s for certain: life at Bumpy Acres will never be the same.

3. Fifty Shades of Grey is an unfinished novel by D H Lawrence, intended as a further sequel to 1915’s The Rainbow. The story follows the lives of the Brangwen sisters after the end of Women in Love. Gudrun leaves Dresden for Paris and, unable to rid herself of the coldness that had come over her ever since being strangled half to death by Gerald, finds herself falling into an algedonic underworld of sadistic sexual violence. Her sister visits from England, husband in tow, but Ursula is appalled to discover that Birkin sees an aesthetic authenticity in Gudrun’s new lifestyle. After watching a performance in a secret theatre in which Gudrun, dressed as a voodoo witch, simultaneously anally penetrates three nervous, hogtied young poets with a trident-shaped strap-on, Birkin declares his passion for her. As they make love he tightens a collar firm around her neck, and she feels the kindling of a fire in her breast long thought extinguished. The two declare themselves to be the Dictator and Dictatrix of Earth, and lead a violent mob to the Palais de l’Élysée, promising them the domination and servitude that the lower orders secretly crave.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey is a patented proprietary colour matching system devised by Pantone. Launched in 2004, it has been one of the company’s most successful products, used to design magazines and decorate apartments for boring people the world over.

5. Fifty Shades of Grey is a handbook distributed to medical workers from 1978 to be used in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It identifies the causes, symptoms, and treatments for radiation poisoning, and included the notorious ‘grey-scale test’, in which it was asserted that patients whose skin had become discoloured beyond a certain shade of grey were beyond saving and should be left to die.

6. I saw Fifty Shades of Grey on Valentine’s Day in rural Somerset. It was disappointing. The cinema – if it could be called a cinema – was a rickety lean-to crumbling against the side of an ancient and pungent ciderworks. In this dense, hot room, sharp with the aphrodisiac tang of rotting apples, surrounded by the cacklings and fumblings of drunken locals, I felt almost immediately disoriented. At first I thought the cidery fog had Vaselined my vision: the screen wasn’t the prim white square I was used to but an indistinct shape, rippling and whorling, almost organic, almost alive. It took a while before I fully realised what I was seeing. Behind me, above the entrance of the shack, the projector was flickering, and the film was being projected onto a cow. Huge, almost entirely white, and clearly in pain. The poor beast had been chained up by its front and hind legs; a leather strap connected its nose-ring to the far wall, and a farmer in a Venetian mask and three-piece suit was flogging the creature with a riding crop whenever its laboured breathing or feeble attempts to escape interfered with the performance. Following the plot was hampered by the cow’s plaintive mooing and shifting, but from what I could make out it was about a woman who I assumed to be the tambourine player in an indie-folk band, who falls in love with an extremely powerful twelve-year-old boy. Sadly I didn’t get much further than that. As the first sex scene began, the imprisoned cow gave an almighty grunt and began to thrash around wildly, kicking up angry sprays of hay and manure. The timber of the shack, already weakened by several centuries of super-strength fumes, gave way. The cow was free. As I watched in mute horror, Christian Grey’s tight-lipped mid-coital face seemed to bulge and stretch, as if he were about to pop; I wondered would kind of fluid would seep out. Just before the beast burst through the image, I was dragged away by my viewing companion. We fled across sodden fields as the local folk took their revenge on the creature, but before we reached the safety of a nearby pub I could hear the cow’s desperate lowing and the sadistic yelps of its torturers turn into something else, a cold, seething reptile hiss that I thought had not been heard on this planet for sixty-five million years.

7. I saw Fifty Shades of Grey as part of a programme organised by the London Institute for Studies in Psychoanalysis, a subversive radical organisation I had been ordered to infiltrate. I didn’t understand much of it – all this stylised, highly sexed foreign cinema is frankly beyond me – but for the sake of appearances I jotted down a few observations. Typical Left propaganda: an industrialist billionaire and handcuff-happy sexual sadist seduces a young woman; what he doesn’t know is that she’s part of a revolutionary cell trying to take him down. For the most part, though, the film seems to be about contract law. The plutocrat tries to force his prey to sign a legal document waiving all her human rights protections, including the right to life; in this he’s thwarted by a series of increasingly abstract legal manoeuvres – by the end she’s stalling for time by demanding the contract include definitions for perfectly ordinary terms such as ‘and’, ‘but’, and ‘buttplug’. Procrastination seems to be her favourite tactic. At another point the capitalist, on discovering that she’s a student of English literature, asks if it was Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy that made her fall in love with the written word. None of them, she says, before launching into a lengthy exegesis on contemporary literary theory before a man at first visibly aroused but who rapidly goes limp once it becomes apparent that poststructuralism isn’t just the text meaning whatever you want it to mean. So much for the film. Making idle small talk at the post-screening drinks reception (or about as small as talk can be among these self-important charlatans), I learned that for the LISP screening all the actual pornographic scenes had been cut from the film – this because of some Freudian dictum about sex never just being about sex, apparently. It was a shame, but it was also all I needed. Tampering with the film violated the terms of its rental from the distributors: finally, I had them on tape admitting to criminal activity. As soon as I could I pushed the button on my secret radio receiver. Most of the Institute were arrested alive; a few hid out in the building’s toilets and, regrettably, had to be shot by police snipers.

8. I saw Fifty Shades of Grey with my parents.

9. You ever feel like you’re living on the point of a knife? I really did want to write a review of Fifty Shades of Grey. But there’s that feeling of a knife at your stomach, just pricking the surface of your skin, so you know that if you take just one step forward your guts will pour out like slimy confetti. When people talk about their plans for the future, careers, families, don’t you want to stare at them with crazy eyes, ranting, breathing in manic gasps, and hiss: but it won’t happen! Don’t you understand? We’ll all be dead by then! Melting ice caps! Russian bombers off the coast of Cornwall! Everything’s fucked! Life in the crumbling, developed West isn’t great (people are starving to death, even here), but it still has the sense of an incredible precariousness, a bubble waiting to be popped. Fifty Shades of Grey is not a good film. But will sneering at that fact make it better? Will it save us from the coming bombs? Without God or communism we’ve been told that the point of life is to collect meaningful experiences, happy memories, and interesting opinions; to be entertained; to carve out some kind of expression of individuality that will, in its uniqueness and initerability, last forever. History suggests something different. Mostly people are destroyed, in their thousands, for no good reason. Why wouldn’t it happen to us? How many shiningly unique individuals were burned up in Dresden? When the Mongols came to Baghdad – a big urban cosmopolis, full of self-regarding educated types who, in the end, probably didn’t live too differently from you – they killed everyone. Like a nuclear bomb in slow motion. Scholars who’d spent most of their lives airily abstracting about the finer points of poetic technique and the exact arrangement of the heavenly spheres ended up with their heads suddenly piled up in a sloppy pyramid outside the city walls. (The scholars are remembered; more than, say, the women. Massacres of the educated are an affront to humanity, while men killing women is business as usual.) And why? The Mongol warlord Hulagu attacked the Abbasid caliphate on the advice of the usual gang of viziers and astrologists, but the loudest voice for war came from Nasir al-Din Tusi – a scholar and poet who’d become enraged after the Caliph, apparently disdaining its metrical and lexical subtleties, had lazily tossed one of his poems into the Tigris. One million people died, arrow-shafts through their bodies, knives through their necks, coughing up blood. Cultural critics beware.

10. I loved the book of Fifty Shades of Grey; I really loved it, with that total and unquestioning love you can only have for the utterly deformed. I loved its alternate psychoanalytic triad of the Subconscious, the Psyche and the Inner Goddess. I loved the catastrophically unsexy cor-blimey interior monologue. I loved the relentless commodity porn. It’s a universal story, an utterly bleak one: the story of power and its essential idiocy, and the tendency to read it as a wide-eyed paean to the titular pervert only demonstrates a critical failure of imagination. Yes, it started as fanfiction, but then so did the Aeneid. Yes, the relationship it depicts is fundamentally abusive, but safety, sanity and consent weren’t a major concern for de Sade, Bataille, Réage, or any of the other icons of literary sadomasochism either. With all its obtrusively terrible language it’s a book that constantly calls attention to its own writerly, textual quality, that’s constantly returning to its own meta- and inter-textual fabric. Fifty Shades had an overwhelming, effortless literariness, in a way that far outstripped the squalid grunting efforts of this century’s self-appointed guardians of high prose. Karl Ove Knausgård, Haruki Murakami, God help us, Jonathan fucking Franzen. They’re all squalid hacks, sad clowns, overinflated, overserious; it’s hard to imagine them keeping a straight face as they make their vague bromidic pronouncements on the Human Condition, shitting out watery insights as if anyone actually asked them, but somehow they do, and the same reading public that dismisses Fifty Shades as mere pornography nod wisely as they lap happily from the putrid trough. I’ll take bondage over coprophagy. Reviews of the Fifty Shades film have grudgingly commended it for turning a terrible book into something vaguely tolerable, competently produced if not exactly groundbreaking. As if descending from the mad and terrible stratospheres into Franzen-lite mediocrity is somehow an achievement. In fact, the film’s made a category error. A proper film adaptation should be pornography: ill-fitting suits, wobbly handheld cameras, and queasy lighting that makes the rippling flesh look like so much offcut meat, bright pink, churning out of an industrial mincer. Or it should resurrect not just the Inner Goddess and the Psyche but all the screaming others that crowd the mind of the modern schizophrenic; have the superego as a pale disappointed father, the id as a ravenous twelve-headed beast, doubt as a constant looming shroud, all watching every vaguely kinky sex session with drawn, horrified faces. Or it should delve deeper into the discourse of force and power and punishment, really take these concepts seriously. Every shot and every line of dialogue could remain exactly the same; it could be fixed in post-production. Black-clad jihadis parade hostages past the window of Ana’s hardware store. Christian’s helicopter is buzzed by Syrian MiG-23s, and as he flies over the city we see a dazzling constellation of explosions flashing in the streets below. Sniper rounds ping off the windscreen as the new Audi blithely swooshes past a rebel checkpoint. And as the couple stand naked before the floor-to-ceiling windows, the city beyond rises up to meet them: Aleppo, the final truth of our era, a thicket of gaunt ruins, concrete crags as lifeless and inhuman as a stranger’s face, drenched in the dust billowing from mortar strikes, coating the world in fifty thousand shades of grey.

Taylor Swift swallows the world

And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered.
Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics

Here’s a strange and ugly question: what does Taylor Swift actually look like? It’s strange. There are things that look like Taylor Swift – penguins, kettles, the Rapa Nui moai of Easter Island, teacups – but it’s always a one-way resemblance. They follow her, while Taylor Swift is one of those dangerous rarities: a person that doesn’t look like anything. Not strange-looking, exactly, not amorphous or indistinct, but vast: a trackless and uncharted infinity. Something hungry. Taylor Swift has always resisted the crude general categories that female recording artists are usually shunted into: never quite succumbing to the coruscatingly coquettish malice of the teen icon, or steatopygous sexual auto-objectification, or modish androgyny. She started her career in a universe of dusty country backroads, sternly Protestant plantation houses, glittered acoustic guitars; moved through bowler-hatted Instagram-filtered hipsterdom (“Who’s Taylor Swift anyway, ew?” Good question) into tragic, vampish kink-tinged opulence – but it’s not like she ever really changed; she’s always been eternally, irreducibly Taylor Swift. All these worlds were assimilated into her – and she could contain them, because she doesn’t look like anything. Her lyrics are, very deliberately, relateable. They’re a language through which we can express our own experiences, but a language can never describe the world without also reconstructing it in its own image. When a fan sings we are never ever getting back together to herself, is it because she and Taylor Swift have shared similar experiences, or because her experiences take place on a terrain where Taylor Swift rules alone, queen of all she surveys, in the dark and many-turreted castle of the signifier?

Look at the picture above. Which one is Taylor Swift? The blonde in the middle, right? Wrong. It’s a symbol. The civilisations of antiquity had the Muses, the medieval era had the Virtues, we have Taylor Swift and the Haim sisters. They represent (like Anna and Elsa in Frozen, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, or the various sides in the Syrian civil war) the opposing aspects of a single psyche. Hers? No, of course not. Yours.

The picture is also notable – it kicked off a small panic on social media sites – for the fact that it shows Taylor Swift’s belly button. For years now, she’s made a point of never showing her navel, carefully engineering various crop tops and swimsuits to keep it hidden from paparazzi and their slobbering navel-crazed public. Fine: I don’t tend to make a point of parading around my naked umbilicus either. It’s a revolting hole, a foetid salty lint-clogged scar, a gaping absence that’s only a reminder of something irretrievably lost. With only that hole remaining the condition of humanity must always be one of absolute disconnection; we’ve been snipped apart from a primal unity, and it’s not coming back until the day we die. Our genitals tell us that we can bring ourselves together, and even create something new; our navels whisper bitterly that we will always be alone. In the enlightened society of the future, they will always be covered; the belly button more than deserves its share of the socially mandated shame that somehow bypasses it in its mad rush southwards from nipples to pudenda. But it’s not just that. The navel marks a person as a created being; by feigning for so long to be without one Taylor Swift is positioning herself as a human acheiropoieton, something outside the dreary chain of reproductive existence. A new Eve? Or something more? Something that exists now, and always has, and always will?

Another question. In mid-July of last year I found myself washing up like a sea-blanched Coke can against the Greyhound station near Miami airport, just in time to miss my bus. The sky was as hard and hot and metallic as the planes searing through it; its blue wasn’t that of a high firmament but an ecchymosis, low and virulent, and between its petrol-tinged fury and the baking concrete I knew I was in an evil place, somewhere absolutely opposed to all human life. Maybe once, when it was all still bubbling, toothy swamps, someone could have lived in South Florida at the brutal height of summer, just about. Now that it’s been paved over it’s the inferno; death expressed as an architectural form. I arrived sweating, with my face in a medically improbable shade of deep scarlet. I was on the point of collapse: the last hour had been spent swimming through the stifling airless air, phoneless and mapless, trying to find the bus station somewhere among the dusty buildings (all apparently abandoned), the screechingly indifferent freeways, and the constant overhead jet-engine roar surrounding me. When I got in, I found a large fan and just clung to it, pressing my grimy face against the grille, letting the cool air blast into my sodden armpits. I stank. As the sweat dried off my skin, I could see myself slowly desiccate into a tiny, wrinkled, malodorous raisin of a man. It was at this point – probably the lowest point in my life – that someone started talking to me.

A woman, etiolated but cheerfully spherical, asked me if I’d seen the news. I hadn’t. It was her: every TV station showed non-stop, round the clock footage of her, whenever she wasn’t watching it. Limbs throbbing with exhaustion, skin dangling in sheets, I must have gaped. All true, she explained. The same power that had made her the transcendental object for the entire culture industry had granted her other strange and incredible gifts. I can tell you what you’re thinking right now, she said. She told me. She was right. All this, she said, was the work of none other than the award-winning Latin pop artist Enrique Iglesias, in his manifestation as Cloud-Man, an empyrean figure she seemed to identify with the God of Abraham. In the beginning, Enrique Iglesias created the heavens and the earth. It’s not an uncommon belief; once you notice it you’ll find it everywhere. There’s the person who exhaustively livetweets her efforts to exterminate the black race with the unflagging assistance of Donald and Melinda Trump; or John Hinckley Jr., who shot Ronald Reagan at the unspoken behest of Jodie Foster; even the widely accepted axiom that Jay Z and Beyoncé are parents to the Antichrist. Nietzsche, going mad in his Turin apartment, believed himself to be violently forming a new world order in conspiracy with the French poet Catulle Mendès, very much the Enrique Iglesias of his day. The question: what’s the deal with madness and celebrity? Why do mad people, who generally have a far more unified and coherent conception of the world than the sane, require the interposition of a celebrity figure to tie everything together? And aren’t we all, without realising it, somehow doing the same thing?

Maybe she was right; she just chose the wrong celebrity. It’s recently been revealed that Taylor Swift has registered as trademarks several common phrases, including Nice to meet you, where you been; Party like it’s 1989, and This sick beat (the latter for use in, among other things, animal skins and hides, whips, harnesses, and saddlery). This doesn’t mean that her jackbooted trademark lawyers will start snatching gurning crater-eyed idiots from warehouse raves and ambulant combovers from awful office parties, imprisoning them in non-sexy torture dungeons for the crime of using these words without proper attribution. As ever, the law tends to just acknowledge the actual situation after the fact. Language as a means of intersubjective communication is increasingly becoming a property of Taylor Swift, in the same way that thought and extension are for Spinoza attributes of God. So much of all speech is already mediated by Taylor Swift (try it for yourself; at the next party you go to try to discern any conversation that isn’t in some way about her) that when she finally becomes the unquestioned universal signifier, all that will happen is that a small portion of the discussion of Taylor Swift will, somehow, have to also be about something other than Taylor Swift.

Our future won’t be too different. When you buy flatpack furniture, the little instruction booklet will, as a matter of course, show Taylor Swift (in a retro halterneck polka-dot dress) correctly assembling your crappy nightstand. You’ll soon get used to her constant presence in TV ads: loveable-loser-husband-Taylor Swift surprising bitchy-wife-Taylor Swift and the Taylor Swift kids with some surprisingly edible boil-in-the-bag rice; Taylor Swift finally plucking up the courage to ask Taylor Swift out on a date, once she’s gobbled up some extra-minty chewing gum; black and white footage of Taylor Swift falling off a ladder at work as dedicated-lawyer-Taylor Swift reads out the toll-free number. A few things might jar at first: North Korean Ambassador Taylor Swift’s furious speech at the United Nations, or the first blurry security footage of a greasy-haired and trenchcoated Taylor Swift carrying out grisly gun massacre in a Minneapolis mall – but after a while, you’ll find it hard to remember how things could ever have existed before. After all, it’s impossible to think outside of language.

Usually, this is where I’d rail against the coming Swiftopia, but here I don’t really see the point. Taylor Swift is a grown woman and a successful recording artist; if she wants to transform herself into the fundamental substance of the entire Symbolic order that’s her business, and I’m sure she’ll do a decent job of it. The signifier is essentially hollow; it doesn’t matter what it actually is as long as it performs its function. Taylor Swift might have to release a few less commercially-oriented albums to make all this fully possible – one to allow the translation of Hegel into the new language, another to make sure football commentaries don’t lose any of their immediate comprehensibility – but, based on current trends, the whole process shouldn’t take more than about a decade. The only question is why Taylor Swift is doing this; why she’s decided to swallow the world.

I think I know. It’s not for us. We’re collateral damage, that’s all. Taylor Swift first really came to global attention when her acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards was interrupted by Kanye West, who grabbed the microphone and explained to a shocked audience that the award should have gone to Beyoncé instead. Kanye is, of course, none other than a modern-day reincarnation of Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1889, Yeezy wrote that he was once the Buddha, Dionysus, Caesar, Bacon, Napoleon and Voltaire; it would be strange if he did not come down from the mountains once more to speak with us again. The man who declares himself to be a god and insists that he is the end and limit of all music is the same as the one who wrote chapter titles like Why I am so clever and Why I am a destiny. When Kanye called himself a proud non-reader of books it was with the same voice as when he wrote that early in the morning, at break of day, in all the freshness and dawn of one’s strength, to read a book – I call that viciousness! Kanye doesn’t just repeat Nietzsche, or imitate him; like Pierre Menard with the Quixote he says it all again, for the first time. It can only go on forever.

Dionysus is always reborn, but first he must die: whenever he comes unto us, Nietzsche is always already doomed. There are vast opposing forces from beyond this world that keep him locked in a constant chiasmic dialectic. Apollo, Brutus, Wellington. This time it’s appeared in the form of Taylor Swift. Their two fates were forever linked the moment Kanye bounded onto the stage at the Radio City Music Hall to snatch the mic from her hands. From that day, Kanye would continue to create, to become madder and more brilliant with every passing year, sailing out across the cosmos, trying to escape her – and his destiny. But Taylor Swift entered the language. When she’s done, Kanye will never be able to interrupt her again. He’ll never be able to upstage her. He’ll never be able to speak, without speaking about Taylor Swift.

The last of the cowboys

Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in American military history, died on the 2nd of February, 2013. He’d served four tours in Iraq, been injured twice, involved in six roadside bomb attacks, and killed up to two hundred and fifty-five people; Islamist insurgents had offered a reward of $80,000 for his head, but when he died it was at the Rough Creek Lodge and Resort, an elegant ranch-style resort offering fine dining and a spa, plus a pool and tennis courts, an unremarkable flash of blue and white off Route 67 near Fort Worth, Texas. The man who killed an American icon, Eddie Ray Routh, was another Iraq War veteran; since his discharge he’d been in and out of psychiatric wards, bouncing between a bureaucratic state apparatus that tried to keep him sedated and a bureaucratic family apparatus that just couldn’t understand the horrors he’d lived through. But neither could Chris Kyle. The most lethal sniper in American military history never worried about what he’d done. Every Iraqi he’d killed was an American life saved; his only regret was that he hadn’t killed more people, saved more lives. It was a job, and he was extremely good at it. Afterwards, when he came home, he set about making regular TV appearances and publishing a folksy ghostwritten memoir in which the reader is consistently addressed as y’all, a book that ended up staying on the New York Times best-seller list for 37 weeks. He loved his wife and kids. He made it his mission to keep on saving American soldiers, and he went about it in the only way he knew: he’d take injured veterans out shooting. And then one of them killed him. He never thought that for someone still shaking from the slaughter in Iraq, the best therapeutic option might not be to put a gun back in his hands and let off rifle fire all around him. He never thought that the cure for war could be anything other than war. All this was something America’s greatest killer simply wasn’t capable of understanding.

If Chris Kyle had been killed in Iraq by someone who’d got lucky, or was simply better than him, it would’ve just been part of the general idiocy of war. Instead, he died because of that bullish indifference, the precise same buried trait that made him so successful in combat. Kyle was something somehow more or less than human, a man capable of not just killing without remorse but of laughing about it on Conan O’Brien afterwards. Someone who just couldn’t understand. His death in the flat fields of Erath County, Texas isn’t a strange coda or an anticlimactic end to a life of action; it’s a perfect catharsis, something out of Sophocles, a moment of pure Greek tragedy in the modern age. It’s an incredible story.

So how on Earth was it fucked up so badly?

American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood biopic of Chris Kyle, isn’t just a piece of gratuitous military propaganda; it’s a godawful, artless, bloated, cowardly failure of a film. Defending the abomination he’d created against accusations of propaganda, Eastwood insisted that it isn’t political, but a character study. Except the encounter between Kyle and Routh, the essential character-defining moment of the story, is entirely absent. All we see is Kyle’s wife watch him driving off with a stranger who, as we’re meant to infer from the slow zooming of the camera and the shot’s framing through a crack in the doorway, is somehow evil. Then fade to black, the words Chris Kyle was killed that day by a veteran he was trying to help, and stirring music over real footage of Kyle’s funeral procession. Roll credits. That’s it.

In fact, none of Kyle’s actual character seems to have made it into this character study. The real-life Chris Kyle was a strange and unpleasant man: not just a killer but a liar, a braggart, and a thief. There’s something weirdly childish about him. He said he’d shot thirty armed looters from the top of the New Orleans Superdome in the aftermath of Katrina (despite also boasting of having himself looted from apartments in Iraq), was successfully sued for claiming have knocked out the former politician and wrestler Jesse Ventura in a bar fight, and insisted he’d once effortlessly killed two Mexican carjackers in Texas. His uncle works for Nintendo, and he knows a secret karate move called the Touch of Death, and he totally had sex with all the girls at school, but don’t ask any of them about it, because they’ll only lie. It’s hard to take anything he says seriously. Chris Kyle served in Ramadi and Fallujah: in both cities American forces set up arbitrary no-go zones without any signposts, and shot anyone who stepped outside their homes or took a wrong turn while driving. Residents were afraid to even go near their windows. In Fallujah a sniper was positioned outside a hospital and fired on ambulance crews as they tried to leave. Was it Kyle? Who can say? In his book Kyle never really approaches Iraqis as being fully human, never takes a moment to try to comprehend why the people he kills might resent being occupied by the same empire that starved five hundred thousand of their children to death. It’s because they’re evil, he decides: playground morality. He never wonders what he’d do if a foreign power took over Texas. Your character study’s all here, ready and waiting, but this isn’t the film Clint Eastwood makes.

And then there’s his name: Chris Kyle. There’s always something slightly unsettling about people with two first names (and I say that as someone who is, sonically if not orthographically, among their number). There’s always the potential for a dangerous kind of play, like Yossarian with Irving Washington and Washington Irving. People with two first names can be mirrored, inverted; they always have Gothic doubles or ghostly opposites hanging around them somewhere. Who is Kyle Chris? Obviously someone like Eddie Ray Routh. But Eastwood takes a different approach.

The problem with a character study that refuses to study its subject’s character is that it doesn’t really leave anywhere else to go. Chris Kyle’s real military career was a monotonously brutal series of unconnected killings; day after day of waiting, watching, shooting, without any narrative beyond the scattering of the Iraq War into entropic meaninglessness. One scene illustrates the problem nicely: a car full of insurgents attempt to fire a rocket at an American convoy; the machine-gunners instantly reduce it to bloodied scrap metal. When the forces are so mismatched there’s little scope for narrative tension, but a film needs a plot, so Clint Eastwood invents one. It’s a Western; a cowboy film. Bradley Cooper stars as the grizzled bearded stranger who rides into town with an uncanny knack for straight-shootin’, an inexplicable nonchalance towards murder, and a keen, Godly sense of right and wrong. As the armoured vehicles crawl towards Fallujah, someone says: welcome to the new Wild West of the old Middle East. One of the only aspects of Kyle’s book that Eastwood actually leaves in is his habit of referring to Iraqis – who, let’s not forget, invented irrigation, writing, and the State – as savages: these are Injuns here, warlike and whooping. And any Western needs a shootout: enter Kyle Chris, in the form of Mustafa, an invented Syrian sniper that Kyle faces off against throughout the film, culminating in a gunfight that across the dusty Main Street that is Baghdad’s Sadr City. Our hero draws first. He wins.

It doesn’t work. Nothing works. For a start, American Sniper seems to have been plotted by a wandering amnesiac or a slightly dim child. At first the main villain is ‘the Butcher’, a sadistic and fictional al-Qa’eda enforcer who vanishes from the story midway through and is never captured or heard from again. Kyle’s grisly tours of duty are interspersed with scenes in which he returns to an America of rolling wheatfields and sun-speckled copses, as if he’d briefly ascended to a patriotic Thomas Kinkade version of Heaven. The point might be to introduce pacing, but it ends up turning the story into half-chewed vomit. The action scenes are basically tedious, and in the end the constant gunfire just sounds like someone stepping on bubble wrap. But it fails on more fundamental levels as well. It’s interesting to compare American Sniper with Eastwood’s earlier cowboy adventures, many of which were masterpieces of the anti-Western genre. In Sergio Leone’s films the heroic trick-shooting cowboy of American mythology is transformed into the Man With No Name, someone skidding on the edges between avenging angel and brutally intrusive psychopath. A figure without past or future, only impish wit, venal greed, and silence.

This is a contradiction heightened in High Plains Drifter, one of Eastwood’s first films as a director. A mysterious Stranger rides into town from the mountainous wilds; all he claims to want is a drink and a haircut, but there’s an incredible violence to him, a seething, bodily violence, barely buried. Some local toughs start on him, and he kills them almost effortlessly. But there are also bandits coming for the townspeople, and with their protectors now dead, the Stranger agrees to organise their defence. But the Stranger is a rapist and a glutton, and his brief rule is very strange. He makes a grotesque dwarf called Mordecai the town’s mayor and sheriff; when the enemy approaches he paints all the buildings red and suddenly retreats, allowing the bandits to murder half the townspeople before returning to finish them off. The whole town is guilty, and he’s punished them. As the Stranger rides off again Mordecai comments that he never did know his name. Yes, you do, he says. If you know your masques, your lords of misrule, and your Bulgakov, you do too. It’s the Devil: justice in excess of itself and law as the right of the stronger is the Devil.

American Sniper feels wrong. It’s all hollow; there’s a constant sense of dislocation, like we’re looking at everything from the wrong angle. It wants the blood and brutality of the Stranger or the Man With No Name, only without his strangeness or his namelessness. It wants the Devil of Ramadi, but can’t accept that he might have been a devil. In fact, the opposite: Eastwood relentlessly humanises his hero, showing us all the pain and stress that the real Chris Kyle never suffered. He wants us to like this guy, this mass murderer, to like him unproblematically – because he’s a good guy, a sheepdog. It’s strange: he’s trying to resurrect all the stupid cowboy clichés he and Leone so thoroughly dismantled decades ago. But for all he rides in rodeos and prances around in a big hat, his Kyle isn’t a friendly cowboy. He kills too easily. He kills children. (At the start of the film, our hero kills a child holding a grenade. His mother rushes towards the body – and then picks up the weapon, forcing Kyle to kill her too. She can’t have loved her child, and so the infanticide is justified. In Kyle’s book, it’s just the woman, who he describes as being evil and having a twisted soul for trying the resist a foreign invasion of her home.) So with both poles of the cowboy continuum barred, the role can only escape into the dangerous wilds of the third term. Kyle is the bandit, the invader: Angel Eyes.

It’s still a cowboy film, but there are no great American cowboys any more. Cowboys don’t have helicopter support; they don’t provide covering fire for armoured columns, and no matter how morally ambiguous, they don’t kill kids. But the Man With No Name still rides. Mustasfa, the Syrian in the film, is a clumsy fiction, but he’s based on a real person: Juba, the Baghdad sniper, the terror of the occupiers, the hope of a nation. Unlike Chris Kyle, his TV appearances are grainy and functional. Somewhere in the haze of pixels there’s a soldier on patrol; a thunk, and he drops to the ground. Only occupiers: never Iraqi troops, never civilians. Perhaps Eastwood’s made his most daring deconstruction of the cowboy genre yet – something outwardly terrible, but which encodes another, very different film; one visible only by its negation, by the tiny cracks in the filmic facade. See how Mustafa runs across rooftops and jumps over alleyways, see his split-second moment of domesticity, his wife and infant child, his framed Olympic photo. Mustafa is killed in the film, but Juba never was. Nobody knows his name, nobody knows his face. He is everyone and no-one. He doesn’t talk, he acts. When armed cavalrymen from the West storm the city, when they burst into people’s homes at night and shoot children on the streets, one man makes a stand. The strange and savage invaders have cruise missiles and helicopter gunships; this hero is armed only with a rusting old Russian rifle, a gift for marksmanship, a moral code that’s firm but obscure, and his enduring faith in God. One man against a whole army! Can he survive? But a horse races across the deserts of Anbar province, and a low nasheed mingles with the billowing clouds of dust. Out from the freedom of the open range rides something cruel and strange. Our last best hope. He is the last of the cowboys. He is the American sniper.

The language of God

Dear esteemed Sir or Madam,

In 1929, André Breton wrote that the simplest Surrealist act consists in going into the street with revolvers in your fist and shooting blindly into the crowd. There’s something almost impossibly innocent about that line, the charming naïveté of the idea that something as boring and everyday as random, senseless violence could break down the borders of sense and reason. We have people firing blindly into the crowd the whole time now. It’s not avant-garde. It’s not a breakdown of the repressive forces of civilisation. It’s the nightly news. Banish all worry and doubt with a walk-in tub! He thought he could reveal some revolutionary truth with just revolvers, six-bullet pop-guns? Civilian AR-15 rifles can have a capacity of one hundred rounds, but everything’s still here. At least, that’s one reading. The other is to take Breton at his word. If random mass shootings are the most basic expression of Surrealism, and random mass shootings happen so often now that it’s hard to even keep caring about them, then, syllogistically, we live in times that are somehow essentially Surrealist. Forms are indistinguishable. Dreams are reality. Clocks dripping from their towers, vast geometric forms tearing through the tarmac: we live in the long afterlife of reason, and it’ll never end. In fact, almost all of the dreams of the early 20th century avant-garde have come horribly true, as if there’s some wrinkled three-fingered monkey’s paw buried somewhere in the catacombs under Montmartre. The Italian Futurists wanted to abolish the past and live in a state of pure speed that would kill them young and never let them be remembered: now you can spend your whole day watching Twitter stream endlessly by, forgetting each lump of 140-character flotsam as soon as it’s churned into the black depths of your timeline. The Constructivists wanted to abolish work and leisure in a new communist subjectivity, and now awful Silicon Valley dickheads spend their days sucking kale juice from plastic nipples and thwocking brightly coloured balls against their idiot heads inbetween engineering our new technofeudalist dystopia. But most of all, our world is one of machine writing.

The Surrealists were very fond of spontaneous writing, or pure psychic automatism, in which you sit down with a pen and paper, or a typewriter, or a laptop, and just write, as fast as you can, not thinking about the content or the meaning of what’s being produced. No joke! You’ve won! Generally the results were pretty bad, but that wasn’t important: the Surrealists thought that this technique could allow for the textual manifestation of the unconscious mind, in much the same way that similar processes were thought to allow mediums to deliver messages from the souls of the dead. Perhaps more interesting are the superfically similar experiments performed by Gertrude Stein and published in her two papers, Normal Motor Automatism and Special Motor Automatism. Some of the text reads like an early Sokal hoax, a kind of Borgesian parody of scientific language, or a precursor of Ballard’s Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan (in particular when describing the two types of test subjects she observes: Type I consists mostly of girls who are found naturally in literature courses, who are nervous, high strung, and very imaginative; while Type II are blonde and pale, distinctly phlegmatic; if emotional, decidedly of a weakish sentimental order), but her intent was entirely serious. She wasn’t at all interested in accessing the mysterious truths of the unconscious; Stein wanted to explore the possibility of a writing that was entirely mechanical, an expression of involuntary motor reflexes, something that didn’t involve meaning at all. This was achieved by various methods: telling subjects to scribble on paper while reading to them, or asking them to read and write at the same time, or distracting them with noises. The goal was to create a writing without any possible interpretation. One of Stein’s own automatic writings read A long time when he did this best time, and he could thus have been bound, and in this long time, when he could be this to first use of this long time. It’s not really too different from her usual, presumably non-mechanical, novelistic style. But the concept is more important than the results: writing could no longer be seen as an exclusive property of the human mind, something that had be communicative, but became instead something that could be explained and produced by purely mechanical means.

A while ago I saw, at one of those exhibitions in London that fluff up periodically like mushrooms after rain, an installation in which someone had – for reasons not entirely clear – printed and bound the entire human genome. A whole shelf of big black books, each with a thousand pages, each page covered in dense rows of Cs and Gs and As and Ts. But why? There’s no coded congratulatory message from God, no star-chart pointing to our original home far out in the cosmos, just a shelf full of the most boring books ever written. Apparently the human genome would take ninety-five years for one person to read, but given that reading implies some kind of interpretative approach, how are you meant to actually read them? Do you just scan over line after line of gibberish, repeating the letters to yourself in your head, in a thought experiment that more resembles a particularly cruel version of Hell? Are you meant to laugh and make an appropriate face whenever one of the three-base words in your own DNA spells out out CAT or GAG or TAT? Are we really expected to see the organism itself take shape before our mind’s eye? Of course, the point was to give some sense of the size of the human genome, but in fact I was struck by just how small it was. Drishti sanyal passess all qualities which makes her the top escorts service provider in Delhi. One molecule of DNA encodes about a gigabyte and a half of data. That means that the entire construction kit for a human being (including, if you ascribe to certain geneticist dogmas, your political leanings, your susceptibility towards all kinds of crime, and your sexual fetishes, even – especially – that one thing you were always too ashamed about to tell anyone) is about the same size as two illegally downloaded movies; say, Shrek and Shrek 2. Or a quarter the size of Nickelback’s studio discography. Or one-tenth of the latest stupid Call of Duty game.

A gigabyte and a half was a lot of data, once. It’s thought that the last person to have read every available published text was the fifteenth-century Italian philosopher and original Renaissance man, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (the same claim is sometimes made for Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but as he was unlucky enough to live after the era of the incunabulum, it can probably be dismissed). Given that Pico never made it to the age of ninety-five, but was poisoned by unknown conspirators not long before his thirty-second birthday, it’s safe to assume that all published works at the time amounted to somewhat less than one and a half gigabytes. To do the same thing today would be impossible. According to IBM, in 2012 the human race produced 2.5 exabytes a day – with an exabyte being one billion gigabytes, that’s something like five billion times the sum total of all knowledge at the turn of the sixteenth century, every day. Since the invention of the internet we have, almost without realising it, embarked on the greatest collaborative literary project in human history: round up by a billionth of a percentage point, and every single word ever written has been written in the last couple of years. If you write to me do not forget to specify yours e-mail of the address that I could answer to you. Our modern-day Giovanni Pico wouldn’t just have to read every awful wish-fulfilment fantasy epic and cringingly unsexy erotic novel that made it into print since 1494. He wouldn’t just have to read all your godawful tryhard tweets, your posturing, self-important blog, your strangely pathetic TripAdvisor reviews, but every last morsel of shit in the deepest sewers of the internet, every jagged fragment of broken code. And as it turns out, the greatest collaborative literary project in human history isn’t really human at all. A significant majority of all web traffic, and much of its content, is generated by machines: bots and algorithms. Our literature is not our own.

Pop-up ads, spam comments, exciting investment opportunities, clickbait lists. We’re in the realm of the supernatural now. And to think I was going to talk to sonmeoe in person about this. An attractive young person on a dating site who seems to be, against all reason, interested in you: the two of you exchange a few messages, and only afterwards do you realise that the conversational syntax didn’t quite flow properly, that they never really replied to any of your questions, that their desire seemed so formless. It isn’t a person at all, but a hologram, an elfin charm, an incubus. Your biggest fan, who never fails to comment on all your excellent and informative posts: why are their eyes so cold and glassy, and why do they keep trying to sell you cheap designer handbags? That iPad you won for being the millionth visitor: it’s Ariel’s feast. The laughter of the fairies in the woods takes on a sinister echo, and the dark silhouette of a harpy bears down on you from above. Remember the drones buzzing in the sky. Remember that we’ve taught these things to kill. see the 1 simple trick you must follow to decrease this 1 hormone

What is machine language? Firstly, machine language is vampiric, shamanic, xenophagic, mocking. It’s a changeling. Often it tries to imitate human discourse; the machine wants you to think that it’s human. This is the first level of deception. Often this isn’t enough: machines will use various methods to take over other text-producing systems, so that without your knowledge you end up advertising weight loss pills to all your old school friends. First axiom: all language has the potential to become machine language. To become infected. 10 Award-Winng GIFs That WIll Leave You Wanting More. I Could Watch #4 For Days This is the second level of deception. In the third level of deception, the machine convinces itself that it has a physically extended body, that it has an independent mind, that it really wants to produce the text it generates. This might happen very soon. It might have already happened, somewhere on a dusty plain in western Africa, somewhere that never really existed, tens of thousands of years ago.

Secondly, machine language is a decoding. It doesn’t approach words as lexemes or ideologemes, units of meaning. Machine language inhabits a pure textuality, in which the sense-making function of language, if it appears at all, is subservient to its general function as data, as text. A simple hello could lead to a million things. :) Value comes from penetrative reach, not any kind of hermeneutic potentiality. Machine language tends to recombine and recontextualise already existing text, to bypass various filters and otherwise carry out its primary deceptive function. In its recombination, something not unlike the anagrammatic games Kabbalists would play with the Torah, internet spam gives us the final truth of our civilisation. Some people have approached the results as a kind of Dadaist found poetry: this is at once completely valid and, as a reimposition of the excrescences of the aesthetic and of signification, serves to miss the point entirely. Second axiom: communication was never the point.

buy xanax online xanax and alcohol vomiting – xanax overdose xanax fatal dose painless Thirdly, the logic of machine language is one of virality. In two senses. It self-replicates: clickbait sites and ‘inspirational’ Twitter accounts constantly recycle, reappropriate, and reiterate, often algorithmically; nothing here is autochthonous to the field in which it is displayed. But the mode of reproduction is itself virionic: It operates by taking over and reprogramming its host, in a way that isn’t limited to the immediate online environment. Third axiom: we are not as powerful as we think. The people on the periphery of machine language, those who run the tech startups, share the articles, read the quotes, are themselves reprogrammed according to machine language. You might have noticed people referring to great works of literature as content, or the sky-shattering truth of religious revelation as a meme, or the fragile resonances of Chopin’s nocturnes as very clickworthy. Silicon Valley billionaires talking about books as if they were an exciting new informational app, film company executives trying to assess brand tie-in strategies for rereleases of silent masterpieces, real physical people who don’t quite talk like human beings, who have a strange hunger about them, who are clearly idiots but still far more successful than you could ever be. Hilarious facebook fails These are the new humans, our future, our saviours; in other words, people who aren’t really human at all.

When You See These 25 Real Moments From Kids Movies, You’ll Ban Them From Your Children. Finally, machine language is essential. , [url=http://muxlkbracymh.com/]muxlkbracymh [/url], [link=http://wlxklsdtpzrl.com/]wlxklsdtpzrl[/link] It’s not a deviation or a disfigurement, it is language itself, in its most elemental form Help, I’ve been informed and I can’t become igraonnt. Its decoding and imitation is a stripping away. The association of machine language with actual machines is purely contingent; it just so happened that computers and computer networks are what we invented to make the central truth of language reveal itself. buy valium united kingdom – much does generic valium cost As Gertrude Stein showed, it can be done without them. Free Videos Of Men Mastervating Dowqnload The Naked Vidio Cuecumber Porn buy fake Australian passports, buy fake Belgium passports, DNA is machine language. Waves breaking on a deserted beach are machine language. The movement of the stars is machine language. And the celestial speech, the original language in the Garden of Eden, where words correspond to things exactly under the holy semiotic of the Lord, was composed of free screensavers, sales patter for impotence pills, and dubious offers from Nigerian princes. discoveryhumidor action of insulinhumidor stock 500humidor Final axiom: machine language is the language of God.

The data apocalypse is coming, if it’s not already here ïàðîëè ê ïëàòíûì ïîðíî with the technological incoming of this pure language, all other language is rendered worthless ïîðíî ôîòî ãàëåðåè ïëîìáèð îíëàéí ïîðíî â îòëè÷íîìêà÷åñòâå ïîðíî only splinters remain take a breath less difficult with such tranquil recommendations piero de’ medici is innocent truly impressive snapshots! my website – http://onlinesmmpt200.com already my hands feel so heavy chanel purses for sale no more suffering not any more xmjwpugvyx Cheap Nike Air Max idzsxriuyl Nike Air Max 90 the particular way in which usually home it calls me deep in the bowels I never had Before those virile women! the machines of l’Affable killed Pico and Poliziano Toward the still dab of white that oscillates it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know other species: pf6x9j1 Bovine Cat Chicken Dog Fish Goat Guinea pig Sheep Human Shantih Let your smile change the world but never let the world change your smile – Book of Proverbs Shantih Your site is very interesting buddy[prohormones for sale[/url] Shantih inferior to the HOUYHNHNM race, as the YAHOOS of their country ” GCA TGC Ancient plum tree roots are not old, CCA CGG TGT ATC CCT TTT CAT CAT CAT CAT CAT CAT

Remain blessed,

Trifles for a massacre

Who is it that threatens free speech? When the French government bans all Gaza solidarity demonstrations at the height of a vicious massacre in Palestine, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a public safety measure. When the French state bans Muslim women from wearing the veil in public, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a defence of secularism. When fanatical Zionists plant a bomb under the car of a French Jewish journalist who won’t toe the party line on Israel, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a criminal act, certainly, but not an existential threat to the general ability for you or for me to say whatever we want. In the UK newspaper offices are raided by spies and kids are sent to prison for burning artificial poppies; this isn’t a threat to free speech either. It’s strange. The capitalist state, once the existential enemy of all freedom, a monster to be kept constantly under watch, is now the armed guarantor of liberty. Threats to free speech don’t come from the powerful any more. It’s “the Muslims”: a mass both hydra-headed and faceless, like a handful of worms. A persecuted minority, the suffering conscience of Europe. (Did you know that it’s now illegal to build minarets in Switzerland? Or that several towns in Italy have banned non-Italian restaurants? Whose freedom is under threat?) Or if it does come from a state, it’s one far away, surrounded by barbed wire and guns pointing inwards. The poor and the despised: this is who we must defend ourselves against?

How do you exercise free speech? You don’t do anything. You hoist up your Je suis Charlie placard, you queue in the cold to see a stupid and ugly Seth Rogen film, because this is your duty to the ideal of liberty and free expression. Freedom means obedience. Is this Hegel we’re reading? You must passively and dutifully admire the courage of those who dare to ruthlessly satirise any and all targets. In other words, those who have stockholders and distribution networks, while you have forty Twitter followers and the right to pen a letter to the editor. Freedom of speech belongs to the brave, the few, the moneyed.

What does free speech do? It offends, and there’s no such thing as a right to not be offended. Fine. But why is it assumed that what really offends “the Muslims” is the mere depiction of the prophet Mohammed, that if all other things were equal “they” would still fly into a murderous fury at stick-figures? France has been killing and occupying in Muslim lands since 1830. Across Europe Muslims are subjected to discriminatory laws and police surveillance; outside Europe Muslims are slaughtered by the hundreds from the air; Muslim-majority countries are plunged into chaos and bloodshed on the whims of a paternalistic Atlantic elite – and all of it is done in the name of freedom, a freedom that quickly reveals itself as the freedom to mock the victims. Such bravery. It’s just cartoons, it’s just satire: but it’s not; it’s bombs and missiles,

Is this all it is? Is freedom of speech nothing more than the freedom for a multi-million dollar studio to make a warmongering film, or the freedom to publish a racist magazine? Freedom that only punches down, that only repeats and intensifies the discourse of power and oppression that already comes from all sides (but especially from above), that is lauded by presidents and parliaments, that is threatened only by those that it oppresses – is this, in the end, really the best we can do? Is the freedom to repeat really freedom?

The armed attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo was a vile and senseless act of murder. I condemn it utterly, it repulses me, and my sympathies are entirely with the families and loved ones of the victims. I can only hope that the perpetrators are caught, and that they face justice. All this is true; I really do mean it. But it’s also politician-speak, inherently false. Read any article against the sacralisation of the magazine, especially one written by anyone from a Muslim background, and you’ll see a paragraph like this one, either strangely stilted (I utterly condemn…) or falsely slangy and overfamiliar (a bunch of gun-wielding cockwombles…). Why should this be necessary? Why do we feel the need to prove that, like all sane and decent people, we don’t somehow support the gunning down of ten innocent journalists? Why this ritualised catechism; why can’t we get straight to the point? Is this not itself a kind of restriction of free speech?

The line now is that you cannot criticise Charlie Hebdo, because they had the bravery to criticise anything. Je suis Charlie: you have to identify yourself with an openly racist publication. Why this identification? Protesters in the United States said that they were Mike Brown and Eric Garner because they, too, could be killed by cops, because they, too, were black. Do you also say that the French are stupid like blacks? Do you also show Boko Haram’s kidnap victims as pregnant grotesques demanding welfare money? When the Egyptian coup regime was killing thousands of demonstrators on the streets of Cairo, the cover of Charlie Hebdo showed a bearded man holding up a book against a hail of gunfire and being shot through the chest; the caption read The Qur’an is shit: it doesn’t stop bullets. If they were really ‘equal-opportunity offenders’ relentlessly satirising anyone and anything without any thought for taste or morality, their next issue will be of this type, a ruthless mockery of the victims. We never liked them anyway, or something like that. It wont happen.

As soon as you question the value of this free speech that isn’t really free, the assumption from your defenders is that you must want to impose some kind of censorship. I have no desire to censor. My title here is from Louis-Ferdinand Céline, another French racist, whose hatred was this time ranged against my self and my people; a great writer, even a great writer of antisemitic screeds, who I would never want to censor. It’s assumed that you must want to limit criticism of Islam. I have no particular love for Islam; there’s a lot about it I don’t like. I don’t like the concept of tawhid, or the figuraion of the One as a uniqueness. I don’t like the circumscribed universalism, the community always facing the horizon-figure of the kuffar. I will always support the freedom for anyone to argue against any set of concepts. But this is different from the victimisation of an already persecuted minority. I also support the right of people to fight against those that would destroy them. Free speech fanatics have pointed approvingly to the verdict in the Skokie Affair; where would they have stood in the Battle of Cable Street? I believe in satire; sometimes I even try to do it myself. But I also believe that satire only works when it punches up, that free speech is only really a freedom when it threatens power, not when it becomes the cruel laugh of imperial sadism. The Interview didn’t do this, neither did Charlie Hebdo. Nobody should be killed for this. But they mustn’t be applauded either.

A visit to the cereal café

There are three things glaringly wrong with the Cereal Killer Café on Brick Lane in East London. Firstly, the menu consistently renders the word ‘raisins’ as ‘raisans’, which is incorrect. Secondly, it’s owned and managed by Gary and Alan Keery, a uniquely ghastly pair of identical twins. These two ghouls sport identical location-standard bushy beards, identical obnoxious slicked-back haircuts, identical smarmy expressions. Twins who do this kind of thing into adulthood are always hiding something hideous and perverse: when faced with such uncanny mirror-perfect duplication I can’t help but posit the necessary existence of a grotesque, hidden, third brother. Something scrabbling in the cellars, a cringing Smerdyakov figure onto whose memory all the suppressed differences between the superterranean Keerys has been displaced. A mad and vicious creature, whose pathological love for breakfast cereal turned him into something more beast than boy. His musty dungeon full of pencil-toppers and Rubik’s cubes, bobblehead dolls from the bottom of promotional packs, all nodding in unison with serene smiling faces as the idiot rubs cornflake dust into the stinking pits of his body. He slurps milk between sugar-stained pegs, he howls the advertising slogans between mouthfuls. His laugh rises from a constricted phlegmy giggle to the full manic convulsions of someone who sees the death of all reason perfectly reflected in the scrying-stone that is his morning bowl of Frosties. They had to kill him, of course, the twins, and they buried his heavy bones – glossy as enamel from all the fortifying calcium in his diet – below the foundations of what would become the UK’s first speciality breakfast cereal café. To seal the pact, they vowed to take on the same form, to be more than brothers, to be the same person, knowing what happened to the third twin, knowing that they might not be strong enough to face the darkness alone, that cruel gibbering malignancy always lurking beneath their quirky love for breakfast cereal. And so the madness of the murdered brother leeched into every brick of the place, until it became his empire.

The third thing wrong with the Cereal Killer Café is the décor. In keeping with the name there are, along with the expected 80s and 90s memorabilia, several portraits of famous murderers, rendered in cereal on canvas. Hannibal Lecter stares out from a mask of Cheerios and Coco Pops. Next to him, a Cookie Crisp Myra Hindley, cold eyes expertly rendered in fragments of the limited-edition white chocolate chip version that was briefly sold in early 2009. H H Holmes, looking puffy and garish in a pointillist mélange of Lucky Charms and Froot Loops. Finally, the man himself, a tiny icon tucked away behind the bar, floating above the stacked boxes of cereals from around the world like the figure of God in a medieval panel. Hunched, sagging, shambling; a ruined city sketched out behind him in crumbs of muesli: pecans and brazil nuts for the larger chunks of broken concrete, fragments of sunflower seed for the dunes of rubble, freeze-dried strawberry for the red splats where looters were shot. Adolf Hitler is turning his face to you, the face of industrial human slaughter described in sweetened corn and oat shapes with all the complex carbohydrates you need to start your day feeling great.

I went to the cereal café on a chilly and brittle December afternoon. The place has drawn some criticism for selling a bowl of cereal for £3.50 despite being situated in Tower Hamlets, the most deprived borough in London, a place where most people have been reduced to eating their own flaking skin – but of course it isn’t really in Tower Hamlets. It’s in Shoreditch, and Shoreditch isn’t even part of London, being instead a sovereign joint extraterritoriality of EuroDisneyland and the third circle of Hell. I walked up from Liverpool Street, where the low winter sun and the hrímþursar-skyscrapers conspire to carve long deep shadows over the lower foothills of finance, my shoulders drawn up against the cold. As I trekked north along Bishopsgate strange things started to manifest themselves. Hashtags appeared over shopfronts, as if to signal that by pressing my face against the sign for #GAP I would achieve a sudden transcendental vision of the entrance to every Gap store on the planet. The pigeons had a paranoid glint in their eyes, and when they opened their mouths they never cooed but shrieked. Meanwhile the graffiti grew ever more incoherent and malicious. First, on Great Eastern Street, the dark, formless command, Let’s Adore And Endure Each Other. Then, as I turned onto Bethnal Green Road, a mural of a hedgehog, dancing on two feet with rows of taut glistening human breasts, along with the slogan Ulster Volunteer Force Red Hand Commando – All Hipsters Must Be Accompanied By A Responsible Adult. Over an entire two-storey wall at the corner of Brick Lane someone had spraypainted, in an elegant, aristocratic hand, a long diatribe against a specific person that I realised with a heart-quickening shock could only be me, including a punchy and viscerally erudite rubbishing of my self-involved writing style and an itemised list of my various sexual dysfunctions. I had enemies in this place. All I wanted was to get my cereal and get out.

It soon became clear that this would not be possible. The queue for the Cereal Killer Café stretched all the way down Brick Lane to the underpass by Grimsby Street, where it crossed the road and continued up the other side. I joined the end, stamped my feet, lit a cigarette, tried to look inconspicuous. At the point where the line was blocking off the street, a taxi driver had given up honking his horn and was now reduced to openly weeping out the window. Occasionally people passing by would ask someone what was going on. Sometimes they even asked me – perhaps because, despite looking like a normal person who’s been stretched on a medieval torture implement, or the result of a disastrous attempt to crossbreed a human with a beansprout, I was still the most conventional-looking individual out of a group of grown men and women willing to wait for hours in the cold to eat breakfast cereal. “It just opened,” I explained. “It’s a cereal café.” Cereal café?  “Yes. They serve one hundred and twenty different types of breakfast cereal from around the world, with twenty toppings, and twelve milks, and I’m here because I want to write about it.” At this my questioner would nod their head, as if to say well, that makes perfect sense, and carry on. And it did make sense, more sense than anyone would have liked to admit. There were still a few curry houses open on Brick Lane, the street signs were still in English and Bengali, there were still the two beigel bakeries, relics of a time when this had been the Jewish East End, when my own grandfather had grown up sharing a single room in Shoreditch with a dozen or so siblings – but now we were at the end of history, and all that was dead. A few doors down from the cereal café stood a boutique unicycle store, in which various arbortectural techniques were used to force saplings to grow into living, functioning one-wheeled contraptions. Across the road, not far from where I stood, a pop-up restaurant offered gourmet masonry from four continents, mud-bricks from Morocco, Yorkshire dry stone, chunks from demolished Chinese temples, along with various delicate files for turning these slabs into a broadly ingestible powder. And on my way to this endless line, I had passed a man lovingly, tenderly fucking his iPad in its headphone jack. An establishment selling only breakfast cereal? Why not? We’re free now. We eat pine cones. Nothing matters.

People entered the Cereal Killer Café, but I never saw anyone leaving – but after the first hour or so of slow shuffling towards its doors I cared more about just making it inside than the question of whether or not I would be killed. As I waited I had a chance to see some of daily life in the post-gentrification ruins of East London. I watched a gang of bailiffs dragging the owner of a newsagent out by his hair, before a crane swooped silently overhead and, with a shattering bang, precision-dropped a shipping container onto the building, splintering it into fragments of brickwork. The iron doors swung open; a functioning terrarium outlet was already inside; six were trampled to death in the rush. I saw a street gang shake down a couple of cops for the proceeds from their racketeering business. By the time whatever sunlight there had been was fading and the sickly yellow glow of streetlamps glooped over the tarmac, the militiamen of the Islamic State of Rochdale And East London were making their shari’a enforcement patrols. They all seemed frail and nervous, hoisting their rocket launchers backwards over their shoulders and looking as if they might collapse under the weight of so much gleaming metal. Their leader, a slight, studious man, unarmed, wearing pince-nez and an absurd puffer jacket over his shalwar kameez, was the first to jump out his convoy of pick-up trucks, while the machine-gunners in the flatbeds all pointed their muzzles at the viscous purple sky for American helicopters. First he accosted a group of drunk girls bounding arm-in-arm down the street in tiny dresses and long tan coats. He pointed out various edifying passages from his pocket Qur’an, and explained that they should behave with decency in a Muslim area. They told him to naff off and get a life. The gunmen were furious, and wanted to shoot the girls there and then, but the imam waved them on. Tiny sad tears were welling in his eyes, tears of holy frustration, as he moved on to educate a musclebound haircut in a deep v-neck tactically chundering behind some bins. I wondered why he persisted in doing this to himself. Clearly it wasn’t making him happy.

Before long the Islamic State were joined by a mob from Crusaders United to Neutralise Terrorist Scum, sixty or so hulking thugs. Their chants mostly sounded like indecipherable simian hooting, but this might have had something to do with the complex motet system they employed. The line of skinheads at the front would chuck beer bottles, pipe bombs, and chunks of bacon at the Islamic State convoy, then retreat backwards and sing one verse while the new frontline continued its assault, and the line behind sang an imitative counterpoint. As a result most of the actual words were lost in the swirling, delicate polyphony (not to mention the explosions and percussive spasms of retaliatory gunfire). Even so, I could pick out a few phrases from the cantus firmus. We’re not racists, they sang, it’s just common sense. Then, as the tenors took up a new theme, This violence is a sad product of the Labour party’s abandonment of white working-class voters. The bloodshed only really began once the Crusaders United wheeled out a harpsichord to perform an accompaniment. The mujahideen, shrieking that musical instruments were haraam, drew back behind their vehicles, and the mounted AA-gunners decimated the choir with a few shuddering bursts. I didn’t worry about catching a stray bullet. I knew my enemies here had more subtle means; a stilletto in the dark, not the blinding light of gunfire. It was sad, really: both sides were fighting a losing battle. Most of the evening revellers paid little attention to the slaughter, or, assuming it was all some kind of seasonal theatre piece, chucked a few pennies in their direction. Hard to not feel sorry for CUNTS and ISRAEL, especially the latter – they, at least, were trying to build a new and better society, even though all that was impossible now. In any case, by the time the skinheads had kicked away the still-twanging fragments of harpsichord and replaced it with a L118 field howitzer, I was finally at the front of the queue and ready to enter the Cereal Killer Café.

It was a café selling breakfast cereal. I briefly toyed with the idea that the most aesthetically and ideologically correct choice after waiting for several hours would be to order a bowl of plain cornflakes with semi-skimmed milk, but ended up going for a ‘cereal cocktail’, something with a stupid name that ended up coming in at just under £4. My order was taken by a girl with an iPad hovering over the line as it snaked up to the front: I gave her my money, and she then repeated what I’d told her to the cereal mixologists over the counter. They didn’t even pour the milk for me. With so many waiting customers in the ground floor, all the actual eating took place in the windowless basement, a strangely drab and dismal room, all exposed brick and flickering TVs showing silent clips from Hey Arnold! and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I ate my cereal. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful either. It was breakfast cereal. Food for children, vaguely miserable, invented in 1894 by a man who thought bland and boring food would prevent people from masturbating. Everyone knows that a real breakfast consists of sausages, bacon, black pudding, eggs, fried tomato and mushrooms, hash browns, tea, and toast (or string hoppers, coconut sambal and kiri hodi, or croissants and cigarettes, or huevos rancheros, or whatever). Breakfast cereal is toasted, granulated defeat, sprinkled with sugar, riboflavin, and iron filings. It’s all already there for you, and you just pour milk on top. Breakfast cereal is enjoyed by children because children are too passive and stupid to make a real breakfast for themselves.

I sat in a gloomy basement and ate a bowl of breakfast cereal, and wondered if it had really come to this, if we’d dropped the A-bomb for this. All around me grown adults were eating their cereal in a state of stunned silence. In fact this room, with its chipped brickwork, its flaking plaster, its once-beloved toys, its fusebox with visible looping wires, its low lighting and its silent screens, didn’t look too different from a nuclear shelter. I had a sudden sense that when (or if) I emerged, I’d find that what remains of the world had ended. The cereal café would be the only thing to survive our civilisation, in the same way that the Catholic Church had survived the Roman Empire. The cereal café would be there to instruct the bubo-ridden survivors in the ways of the world that had existed before. At prayers they would chant the names of all 151 original Pokémon, Mew and Mewtwo mouthed silently, with eyes clenched shut in fervour. Out of the rubble they would build a vast statue of Dora the Explorer to be their god. Five thousand years of history would only be remembered for the fact that once, it had given us breakfast cereal.

In the end I did make it out alive, and the world had not ended. On the street, the warring armies were retreating. An old man stood by the door, a tray around his neck, selling glow sticks and overpriced cigarettes. But on the way out I saw something, and now I know that it is Satan, and not God, who has power over this world. By the door of the Cereal Killer Café there’s a display of novelty and promotional cereal boxes, tie-ins with films and TV shows, sporting brands, and so on. And there, between the C-3PO’s and the Pac-Man Puffs, plonked in front of a bowl of cereal, spoon to its wide grinning mouth, trapped forever in a prison of shiny cardboard, was my own face. I won’t go back to the cereal café. But maybe all this is a lie. Maybe I’m still there, trapped in that image; maybe I never truly left.

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