Six years since Searching

Living

https://searchingforalbion.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/albion-day-1-london-to-canvey-033.jpg

It is six years this week since I first set out on the journey that would become Island Story. I captured those long sunny days from a bike-seat on a blog, Searching for Albion. I’d update it each day while out on the road. Experiences, stories, observations, odd banter. Usually in the pub, while charging up my phone and drying out my jacket on a radiator. I did a lot of drinking that summer.

That blog now stands as a vast, rambling, multi-sensory primary source anthology of lives in 2014. Looking back, I set out to be like the eye in Virginia Woolf’s writing, that takes in the whole scene and ‘licks it all up instantaneously’. (Ok, enough pub references).

It was tough graft too. A bike that rode like it was set in concrete, two cheap panniers full of dirty laundry and whisky, and a camera that looked like it had a flying saucer trapped inside it. But it stands as my best work, even up til today.

(The picture above is a textbook example of the bad, near-death roadside photography on there, yet still carrying a disquieting air of a moment).

But. What would be different now?

Well, there’d be nowhere to drink.

But I picked up a suspicion of strangers, of my strangeness, of a much greater degree when I was doing some drifting last summer. I put that down to Brexit and the cultural/class markers that have risen around it. I was in the North-east then, around Gateshead and Sunderland. In that case, so my thinking went, there could be a wariness of being judged or labelled by a middle class liberal outsider. A justified wariness. But while I set out to question and to test, I couldn’t sense anything coherent responding. I was just drifting in and out of pubs, hospitals, supermarkets and residential areas, trying to restart or make new contacts, but …

Fading out.

Ahead to now. Three things stand out, where Searching for Albion was on the money, and where it was not.

Security and insecurity. The UN Rapporteur’s visit and the Marmot Review flag up rising real poverty, the kind the writing about gleaned, but usually indirectly. Insecurity around current or future employment, or around housing, was everywhere. This insecurity links the poorer and middle classes more than would at first seem – for the middle classes, it often relates to their children. It might seem more obviously generational – I met and spent more time talking to young people then, but I met plenty of middle-aged and near retirement people with the same real uncertainty about whether they could ensure their basic needs could be indefinitely provided for. A society that no longer offers a liveable life (being one, I would say, free of regular anxiety), and a Tory state that’s since given up a pretence of a social contract.

The journey caught some of that. But it takes deeper, much more embedded reporting. Making contacts and then developing conversations over a time, developing in slower and more responsive fashion a more substantial impression, like a painter’s brushstrokes on a canvas.

Collective life. Some used nationalism as a way of articulating a shared vision of a more progressive, democratic politics. That was in Scotland for the main. Others talked about Britishness as something multicultural, or about the working class, or about the English and their history, or a cosmopolitan human race. For me, they were webs of ideas that served a more important, human end – that we identify with others beyond just our immediate friends and family, and we draw strength from these identifications.

Where collective life is either in a neglected or derelict state, as it is in most places, then isolation and mental ill health prevails. ‘Mandatory individualism’, Mark Fisher called it later. Hannah Arendt writes about the political dangers of loneliness. Fatalism about human nature, or that others should be trusted, leads to a political conservatism and justification of a cruel, aggressive, status quo. For all his learning, the philosopher John Gray’s work always returns to this same over-familiar destination. The need for a collective life, and the need to participate and have some role in the lives of others, is something my earlier work listened to without fully understanding back then.

The environment – because what does not flood will burn. And most of us will live to reckon with the effects of inaction of the last forty years, it will slowly take hold our breath. Back then, it was a concern for some. The best work was taking place in Machynlleth, but I wonder how many of those young people (or their small energy firms) survived the years of swingeing cuts that came even after.

All are linked, particularly one and two. From that we could spin a web that takes in social class, the 2014 European Parliament results with Ukip’s strong showing, or Brexit… The last two elections have more to do with Corbyn than some now accept. But really, this is Westminster talk. The relatively non-party political tone of many back then said much more about a more decentred, untethered way of viewing the world.

But you tell me. What was left out back then, and through what would a more reliable narrator need to think (or drink) in nowadays? Send me a quick email. I’m thinking about this.

Cosmic dancer

Living

This has been a time of unprecedently intense dreaming. And little wonder, when dreams are one of the few places in which we are free to roam.

Evidence (anecdotal and otherwise) seems to suggest that many of us have been dreaming much more intensely since this lockdown. With the old world either paused or at an end, it’s fitting that our experiences are more coloured by dwelling in places neither future nor past, but in a blurry space between. The mind-worlds of a younger self, or the shape of things never to come.

When we come to look back on it, I wonder if we’ll forget that sense of fear and disorientation that marked the period right before the lockdown began. Terror, about the safety of our more vulnerable loved ones. The panic-buying of bog roll and pasta. Experiences of those days and weeks all differ. In my house, we did all get coronavirus we think, just after the lockdown began. Fevers, temperatures, loss of taste, conjunctivitis, a cough that dragged on for weeks. Mercifully, all recovering after a couple of weeks.

I didn’t set out to write a coronavirus post, but to update you on some thoughts on where we’re going (and that I’ve tidied this blog up), but it looks like discussion doesn’t head any other way. So, maybe it is a coronavirus post. But this isn’t about learning to appreciate the free time, or about making bread, or reading clever books. A lot depends not just on your economic position, but your social one too. But I don’t think I’ve learned anything. I haven’t grown.

Our situation is different of course. Me and my partner have been working over full-time, as is usual, but balancing looking after a toddler with that has been hard. I now do childcare most of the week. That’s been nice most of the time. I have a close bond with my son, we have a lot of fun, but it’s hard at others too. This won’t be a time of productivity then, nor should it. And our situation is better than most – we’ve got seemingly secure jobs, food, a roof over our heads, family around to help.

 

Responses to how friends and family are faring are always going to be anecdotal, and that’ll always be limited by my social circles. But I do gain a wider perspective through the students I teach, most aged about 19 or 20, but a significant number between 50 and 70.

Compared to previous years, contact with my students has been less frequent, once the remote teaching is out the way. But whereas students would often relay ideas for essays and dissertations back and forth, now that work has in lots of cases slowed significantly. Some have gotten ill, but relayed more often are feelings of anxiety and paralysis as their loved ones have either gotten ill or have seemed worryingly vulnerable to doing so.

I often hear them more listless than before, unable to focus. ‘TL;DR’ is a new one to me (I hope you’re not reaching this conclusion already…)

In the background are negotiations around space, time and who they are, as many are sent back to crowded family homes that university was in part an escape from. In part, that struggle to concentrate reflects the not-knowing where it all stands. Vague, shifting rules of the lockdown; vague, shifting dates of assessments. This respiratory pandemic has thrown everything in the air.

But it comes down to something more basic – fear.

Fear so deep, fear so debilitating. Powerful and urgent feelings of fear, which reactivate deeper and older fears within us. Fears whose origin or nature is intangible, and comes out in different ways.

One of the most useful things I got from teaching a course on Martha Nussbaum’s philosophy this term (I will write about this course here soon) was her emphasis on how fear and helplessness are at the root of what makes us human, particularly in our earliest formative months and years. Out of the infant’s fear emerges a tyrannical narcissism (I see this first-hand!). ‘His majesty the baby’, said Freud wryly.

But while the infant’s helplessness and dependency is overcome through their development and away from their mothers, certainly no scientist yet has found a vaccination against our helplessness. If so, human beings would become gods.

Anger is a child of fear, Martha Nussbaum argues in The Monarchy of Fear, and it is hard to see how, out of the grave social and economic uncertainties around each of us right now – and not just here, but even more so in the developing world – that powerful forces of anger can be easily checked. There is already a hint of this in the editorial line of publications like The Economist hinting at a shift away from unregulated free markets and austerity as politically unpalatable (let alone irresponsible and counterproductive) in reconstructing western economies after Covid-19.

But this macro perspective drifts away from what’s right under our noses. Back in the mid-19th century, Benjamin Disraeli wrote of Two Englands that existed side-by-side without ever really being understood by the other. With the current pandemic, this has happened in two ways.

First, social class has had a vastly disproportionate effect on sickness and deaths. These have been highest in parts of England associated with greatest concentrations of poverty: Newham in East London as well as the North-East of England, around Gateshead and Sunderland. Both, unexpectedly, were places I have been researching before all this began. Death have also tended to be higher among older in generally poorer BAME communities. That’s not to say being poor alone is the cause: health, diet, genetics, cultural norms about family life and cultural engagement with public health all count too. But it’s significant.

Second is the lockdown and work. The middle classes have largely been protected by furlough schemes and the ability to work from home safely (doctors an obvious exception). But with many working class jobs, it’s not merely about difficulties accessing furlough schemes for self-employed or zero hour workers; it’s about the expectation that work can and will continue. Delivery drivers and shop staff, care-workers, local government services, builders and tradesmen. The Deliveroo rider, once the image of the gig economy, is doing a brisk trade around the streets of Leyton and Stratford – I see them skip the lights when I take my son out on the bike. For many middle class people, the lockdown is inconvenient, boring, but an opportunity for engaging in homely or learned pursuits – sourdough and podcasts. For much of working class England, it seems to be quite different – continued work, deeper financial uncertainty, greater likelihood of loved ones or oneself falling ill (it would seem).

No-one’s being told off here, there’s enough moralising as it is. It’s just worth reminding ourselves to be more sceptical of the images of solidarity being blasted out by Tory rags alongside an NHS tea-towel and a message from the Queen.

Consider this, below, from Saturday’s Mail. I can imagine Year 10 students analysing this in 50 years time for some school History coursework on how the ideology of Johnsonism contributed to the UK’s inept handling of the pandemic.

This front-page is the key to understanding the present and near future…

 

 

There are three things we should keep in mind here.

1) This is less the start of a new era, more an acceleration of problems of the old…

The powerful always appeal for solidarity in a crisis, we saw the same in 2008 and after. There’s no reason to think that one mid-term effect of all this huge state support for the private sector won’t result in the same levels of wealth inequality being preserved, if not even worsened.

But it shows what many of us had argued or at least suspected. In Boris Johnson’s magic money forest, the Keynesian lumberjack would be at a loss at where to begin. The state always had the ability to draw and use its vast resources to eliminate homelessness or better fund the NHS. What it doesn’t show yet is that a universal basic income is possible – western economies are able to borrow relatively cheaply compared to the developing world to finance short-term support, but something longer would involve a complete restructuring not just of the economy, but in people’s relationship and identification with work (and that is a longer way off).

But it’s interesting to begin thinking about a “great pause” or a post-2020 world in which universal well-being and power replace the competitive individualism and cynicism about human nature of the last 40 years. In the immense reconstruction and regeneration that lies ahead, there is an opportunity to rebuild politics and the economy with different ideas and values. And if hope or love does not motivate some, then we always will have fear – fear of the same mistakes, the countless dear ones lost because of inadequate personal protection, the callousness behind the policy of ‘herd immunity’, or bungled state responses.

But fear of something else that will come back every year for this decade, and for every decade thereafter – climate. The climate crisis, and what will become the increasingly urgent need to act nationally and internationally in response to a series of natural and humanitarian emergencies.

Then there is the continued problem of general inequality across the world (even if absolute poverty has been significantly reduced). And just as natural environments are collapsing, so networks of social care have too – long underfunded, undervalued, and now collapsing too. All require an immense programme of regeneration.

2) We should start to orientate our thinking

I said earlier that I hadn’t learned anything. And perhaps all that dream talk can also be explained by a lack of stimulation with genuine difference and new experiences. But that’s not quite true.

I’ve been following how people have been responding to all this in terms of their thinking. For about half a moment I had a hare-brained idea of calling everyone I have known over the past few years and asking them a question. Then I remembered I was holding a crying kiddie whose nappy had exploded and I hadn’t slept properly for two weeks.

But the question is still worth mulling: What have you learned from the past six weeks? And what’s one way in which you’d like things to change after this?

Well, really that’s two questions. And the second is too vague to answer. Yes, but it’s deliberately so, because things mean many things to each of us. In thinking about my answer, part of the conversation has been how the middle classes and upper should contribute much more to a reconstruction that has so far been better at protecting them. I mean in part the kinds of corporate and wealth taxes associated with Thomas Piketty’s latest book. But it’s more than that. It’s about thinking seriously about things that indirectly over-benefit these groups, like the housing market, or the investment of much of our pension funds in often ethically questionable businesses.

But that also means getting beyond blame or praise. It’s not about moralising or pointing out the bad people, about scapegoating some or cancelling others. It’s about living up to Spinoza’s maxim: ‘not to laugh at human actions, or mourn them, or curse them, but only to understand them’.

Cartoon from The Economist, 25th April 2020

 

3) This is still about politics

When those Year 10 students in the year 2070 yawn and look over their screens at the list of sources and questions about our response right now, let’s hope they keep the facts at the forefront. As Professor Sarah Harper, founding director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing said in the Observer today:

“To be blunt, it was a lack of testing, a failure to shut down society in time, and a lack of care equipment that are to blame for current high Covid-19 death rates.”

Elsewhere in the same piece, a consultant cardiologist adds:

“We were arrogant … We thought we had nothing to learn from other countries and thought we were an exceptional case. In fact, we had a lot to learn but didn’t take the opportunity.”

Those are matters of politics – they reflect government decisions or lack thereof.

But it involves a wider shift, leaving behind narcissistic exceptionalism and a self-centred mentality that premises personal success as inevitably at another’s expense. Towards something that recognises that our capacity to think, act and live well is entirely reliant on powerful institutions that nurture, care and support each of us to develop these faculties. That this development is a lifelong project. That the ability to think and deliberate even-handedly and with regard to the well-being of others is democracy’s living strength.

And that when we talk about something like collective well-being and power, we’re talking about taking a path completely out of the political and economic order of the last forty years. Tearing a hole through the fabric of that ‘capitalist realism’ like that mysterious 19th century engraving of the Flammarion, venturing through to the other side. All the environmental and social problems of 2019 are still there, if also concealed by their lockdown: the environment, care, housing, secure jobs. As those listless young folk go into a post-covid job market even worse than the one I graduated in 2008, that anger will not go away.

We’re going somewhere, whether we choose to try to try and steer that or not.  As a woman in the homeless hostel I used to work in once told me, cryptically: ‘change doesn’t happen, change is’.

Back to school

Living

This week has had that short-breathed, edgy feeling, as all my teaching gigs fall into place. So many new faces and names, so many different things to try and remember. Each year my teaching load expands. I’m learning how to spin more plates simultaneously, and find myself learning more widely as I go. It’s thrilling; it’s tiring too.

At Goldsmiths’ History Department this year, I’m convening London’s History Through Literature, as well as the first year introductory behemoth Concepts and Methods in History. I’m also supervising some fascinating MA/MRes work on Georgian pugilism and the early Quakers and Islam.

At Mary Ward, I’m teaching two classes on the Anthropocene (as per last post – still some places left on the second 4pm class). In the spring I’ll teach a 12-week intermediate course on Martha Nussbaum, which I think is the first time her thought has been taught at such length and depth.

I also work at Lawrence University’s London Centre now. I’ve been designing and teaching a ten-week, twenty-class course on the impact of the British Empire. It’s been eye-opening, even for someone already on the Left. In Spring I’m back to teach the history of the Stuarts, and life and politics in 17th century England.

I’m also teaching on the annual IF Project’s class series in East London. Last week I lectured on Hannah Arendt on truth and politics, a topical one for sure, and will be doing seminars with them on left populism and political theory the next few weeks.

Some good news too with writing. I worked over the summer on a new Spinoza manuscript, completely reworking my old PhD into an accessible book. The result, Spinoza and the Politics of Freedom, will be forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press’s Spinoza Studies series (at some point).

I also got some journal articles published:

  • Bataille and Blanchot on death and friendship in Angelaki (forthcoming next year)
  • A piece on Spinoza’s Political Treatise in History of European Ideas
  • The ‘affects of resistance’ – indignation, emulation and fellowship in Pli.

I hope to have some news about other articles and chapters in due course.

Lastly, I spent a few days in Gateshead over the late summer working out my next book. I want to say much more about that project, and hope to get the chance to do so (and start real work on it) next year.

Sending love and thanks to my family and friends for their support over these busy and sometimes hard few months.

Update (October 2018)

Living

Just an update on my goings-on, which on a professional level haven’t changed much. Since September I’ve been back teaching at Goldsmiths and the Mary Ward. At Goldsmiths I’m teaching a couple of first year History modules; at Mary Ward I’m halfway through a course on Hannah Arendt as well as the introductory classes, with a new course on political philosophy in the new year. The teaching has been a joy; it always is.

Over the late spring I finished my third book on Spinoza. I’ve got some minor changes to make on that, and then I’ll be able to share more news.

With Laura Grace Ford, I’ve been running a Mark Fisher Acid Communism reading group at Somerset House. This has been a wonderful thing and may well continue next year, where it may change form again.

I’m speaking at a few events:

  • Baroque Sunbursts: k-punk remembered on Sat 17th November at Somerset House. I’ll be co-hosting the night with Laura, and it comes alongside the launch of Repeater’s edition of Mark’s collected work.
  • “Mandatory Individualism and Post-Capitalist Desire”, for a series of talks on Capitalism and Mental Health by The Culture Capital Exchange, Ravensbourne University, 6th December
  • “Do we still not know what a body can do? Beaking down the productive body”, for The Body Productive , Birkbeck on 8th December – looks ace.
  • “Are some more equal than others? Hannah Arendt on human rights” – SLT Philosophy Forum, March next year…
  • The PSA annual conference next April on the A13 and Brexit.

Over the summer I finished a couple of papers in some new areas – Bataille and Blanchot and death, and the early 20th century British socialist weekly The New Age. A load of Spinoza work is sitting in the pipeline at various stages of completion/publication.

I’m not sure yet what next year holds, it depends on some applications I’ve made. Where are we going, Island Story’s future-focused and more philosophical sequel, remains at an embryonic stage – structured, thought-out, but no more. And one day I’ll finish the London novel, when the time’s there and it feels right.

One day… When it’s all done… One more push, get that bit of work done and then life will be so much easier, then you can relax… Yeah we all know how that goes.

‘Neoliberalism’s victory, of course, depended upon a co-option of the concept of freedom’, wrote Mark in his late, unfinished Acid Communism. ‘Neoliberal freedom, evidently, is not a freedom from work, but freedom through work.’

To everyone working much less…!

Four Conversations

Living

I’m speaking this Sunday afternoon in London at Conway Hall, ‘Four Conversations: A United Kingdom?’, at the Bloomsbury Festival. The theme is nationalism and identity, explored from four different perspectives within the UK. I’ll be joined by Ewen Cameron, Jennifer Thomson, Daryl Leeworthy, and the audience. It’s free, and has been brought together with the intention of avoiding cliche and generating reflective, critical and open-hearted discussion. Read more here.

Conversation is an interesting thing to note in passing. For most of my adult life I’ve lived in words, picked from the printed page and chewed over. Then, for about a year, that changed, and I threw myself out into the world, and hardly wrote or read. But towards the end of the summer, while recovering from a broken collarbone, I decided to step back from that.

I came across something by Simone Weil recently that verbalised something I’d had in mind: ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’. I’d stopped being able to focus without distraction. I wanted to step back, disappear underground, start to tune into and observe what was around me, without worrying about my own place within that. Switching off social media, the news, alcohol, no longer being constantly connected, and inhabiting myself, has brought about peace. But it seems against my collectivist ideals, and I wonder what to do about that.

In its space, another kind of wonder creeps in. I am lecturing around twelve-fifteen hours a week, most of it on courses I am designing (at lightning speed), and more work than I can remember. But it’s good work, the sort that doesn’t feel like work at all, a dangerously pleasurable work. In a week of constant conversation and communication, the spaces between classes and lectures and emails are pleasant. I find myself often wondering about the different worlds and futures of all these bright people I meet, who I have the pleasure of talking about ideas or events with, and of watching the sophistication of their thinking develop and grow over a short period of time. It’s hard to put it concisely, but I often wonder and daydream about the futures of people I meet. What will life do to them, or what will they do with life? It inspires much more than it saddens.

The book I hope to write, which hasn’t been written for a while – there has not been enough time, there is never enough time – will explore some side of this, politically, I suppose. But writing and classifying an idea is also a way of processing it to expurge it, get it out of your system. And I’ve enjoyed not writing, not finishing. And, instead, imagining and reflecting on the many mental worlds actually around me. I’ve come to think that finished words or polished concepts are not the final story of our minds, but a continual flux of emotions, memories and half-worked ideas. Maybe that is what makes conversation most illuminating of human thinking, concerned not with full stops but ellipses…, with stumbles, mumbles, disagreements and misunderstandings, where words might be shared but rarely do we have precisely the same things in mind.

But my word, I miss reading all the blogs and short essays of friends who no longer write! So many indeed, I wonder if it is over-work or fatigue or just having interesting lives or something else entirely which has taken the words away, like it has mine, or made us escape their confinement.

K Blundell Award

Living

Some wonderful news: I have received one of the K Blundell Trust’s awards to help complete my next book.

The Trust gives grants to British authors aged below 40 whose works aim to increase social awareness, and are awarded twice a year. Crucially, these are awards for works in progress. If one has neither a large publisher’s advance or steady tsunamis of royalty payments, grants like this one are crucial for making it possible to pay for time to write, travel and think.

I recommend fellow writers look into this scheme and other similar grants by the Society of Authors here. (My thanks to Bob, a student in my Hegel class, for lending me a copy of the LRB which contained an advert for the scheme).

So what is the award for? Titled Where Are We Going?, the next book takes the form of eleven narratives about a specific place and the people I meet, through which I document the effects of forces shaping British politics, from health and social care to deindustrialisation, the ‘gig economy’, farming and rural poverty, to immigration, class, identity and housing. I’ve begun preparing the book this year, and with the grant I’ll be able to reduce my work hours and finish the main research (by which I mean cycle, visit, question, listen and observe) in early 2018.

Dr Taylor

Living

 

I am now a fully-fledged doctor, after I passed my PhD viva exam without corrections last week. I was examined by Étienne Balibar and Beth Lord who both put forward rigorous and stimulating questions.

The title of my PhD is ‘Freedom, Power and Collective Desire in Spinoza’. Its overarching claim is that freedom in Spinoza is a necessarily political endeavour, realised by individuals acting cooperatively, requiring the development of socio-political institutions that can administer the common good, in accordance with reason.

I will be working on getting parts of it published over the next few months. It goes without saying that some of the concepts I identify or create in that thesis like commonality and collective desire completely suffuse my political writings, past and present. There’s more about my academic work on my academia.edu page.

The work would not have been possible without the help and support of my friends, family and loved ones, to which I am infinitely grateful.

A million different yous

Living

research questions

I’ve recently begun asking friends and family variants of these questions, as part of a new project. Everything in conversation, face to face, to avoid the problems of ego-projection or self-restraint that can sometimes debilitate written correspondence. The answers have so far varied from the inspirational to the disappointed.

I begun asking myself these questions a little while ago. I wondered what a life that prioritised love and generosity above all other things would amount to. A more intense form of commitment, one that is general and at best indiscriminate. One that involves an assertive line of questioning, and a sensitive ear, in seeking to determine what makes a life resilient, capable of change. One that would necessitate difficult decisions, gambling everything for something uncertain and, to some, a non-existent dreamland.

Some seismic things have also shifted in my life recently, necessitating going through old papers and books to get rid of as much as I can. Among old essays and scrapbooks, I found a curious piece of writing which seems to answer some of my questions. It was written on a sheet of A4 in October 2007 when I was 20, and I have no memory of ever thinking (let alone writing) its contents. Its discovery suggests something else of its title. It reminds me of a line from the Isa Upanishad that has been a heartening discovery. ‘Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.’

Notes toward “A million different yous” (06.10.07)

Looking into the mirror – the image, Narcissus, my image. Sometimes you can look at the image and the reflection is not the same as that character called ‘me myself’ with his/her (most properly androgynous) interior dialogues streaming inside our heads. This is getting ‘lost inside our heads’, perhaps the most accurate description for what we usually call our migraines, depressions, blanks, fugues…

A million different yous. There is, it’s true. A million different persons we could’ve been, and could be. It’s an observation that’s probably been made before, with the revolutionary potential of such a bold – and constant, as constant as living and breathing can be – project of personal self-fashioning, or continual becoming. ‘Man is condemned to be free’, Sartre says, and elsewhere, ‘Man simply is’. But these bloodily-earnt facts are not convincing enough to us, those of us who live their lives and their thoughts in complete non-rationality, spontaneity and impulse, or habit and repetition – both the same. We can’t finish, let alone begin, the project of creating happy brand new lives. One is never free to make a choice if one is unaware of its possibility, or conditioned not to ask.

We’re stuck at home, happily; we go around, and complain about our shit jobs or how shit life is when you’re skint on the dole, contentedly; we come to our confidantes for advice about the latest heartache caused by a negligent boyfriend or an insensitive girlfriend, and – of course – we disregard their warnings with satisfaction. We even have late night conversations with old friends, in candlelit intimacy, hands running through greasy hair, whispering our secret woes, drug dependencies, thoughts of self-murder, lovelorn desire, unloveableness. Then, with their hands and their consolations, live lives of brief normalcy before falling into a reassuringly familiar despair that gives up all possibilities and calls it age. In its obliteration, the self is brought to the fore.

But these are just notes of a number of things. I like the way that when we’re young, our dissatisfaction takes its peak, boils over, and we fly the nest not to return, except when we’re accepted as mothers and fathers, with bouncing grandchildren. We fly the nest precisely because happiness is where home no longer is: we want to go out, make exciting friends, get laid, find lovers, adorn ourselves in ways individual and shocking but retrospectively are not. Later we find our friendships to not be the permanent loves our ciderdrunk 16 y old selves declared, in those staring at clouds conversations, but transitory, sometimes forgotten, sometimes betrayed, rarely reaching a comfortable and open proximity. And then we see how the persons that always did truly know us, and our million selves cascading from out us like sparks from a catherine wheel, were the folks at home – mum, dad, brothers, sisters. Or even a neglected spouse who, though maybe resented or even disliked, might remain the sole person one could emotionally and sexually connect with, in a total way. At least I think so – no I don’t. A large amount of marriages might lack that sexual co-awareness. The clitoris and multiple orgasms are still apparently only recent discoveries for heterosexual masculinity.

But is this even true? No – it may be true – but do I actually believe that shit? A million ones? The flipside of a collective agape is an attention seeking or denying despair that bla bla bla sod it…!

Have I even lived? Or just thought ? ‘Don’t be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life’ writes Brecht. Maybe I did a deal with the devil: school success, done without any thought or desire about why. Not a life itself, just a stringalong in order for old family to keep the love and reassurance coming (so the feeling goes). Where’s been the independence? I am not interested at all by history – I write, maybe that is what I am good at. I don’t want to be a historian or academic, and to be fair there’s not much chance I’d be good enough for it.

An ending: ‘A million different yous. He slugged the can back.’

No, another: ‘Enforced silence. He sat quiet while they babbled away. The company was too intelligent for him. He stared at the floor, glancing occasionally upwards when someone walked past him.’

One more try: ‘Scene at Greenwich Park. Place where things might happen, but never do. Her: “It never goes away.” Him: looking down at a text message. “What?” Her: “Nothing.”’

Island Story

Living

Island Story - cover (2)

The write-up of my epic ride around the country will soon be available in print. Island Story: Journeying through Unfamiliar Britain will be published with Repeater Books in June 2016.

Pre-order your copy here.

To celebrate the launch of the book, I am raising as much money as I can for Headway East London. Please visit my profile and find out more about this ace organisation: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DanTaylor13

There will be a joint book launch at Housmans on 22nd June 7pm with Jeremy Seabrook, whose Cut Out is a brilliant parallel exploration of some of Island Story’s themes – the event will involve talks, a conversation between us and questions.

If you’d like a review copy of the book, email jdt@riseup.net. If you’d like me to come to your community centre, working men’s club etc. and talk about my cyclo-philosophical findings around Britain, please message me. I’m interested in visiting the Midlands and North of England around mid-August.

Thanks again to everyone who helped me on this trip, a very large number of you. Don’t worry, I have given you a very flattering description in the book. If some think that we islanders are not as courageous, generous or wise as I have described in Searching for Albion and Island Story, then I encourage them to go out there and find out for themselves. I’m also planning a similar trip around Ireland in mid-2017. I’ll post about that when the time comes.

Lastly, let me treat you to a map of that insane journey, which I have had the leisure of finally working out since finishing my PhD last week…

the wrong map

Paradoxes of a Spinozist

Living

whurl

The more one lives by reason, the less one prioritises reason in others.

A mind is only as active as its body. A body is only as active as its mind. Both are one, yet irreducible to the other.

God? Nature. Nature? God. Infinity? Now. Now? Infinity.

The more selfless one becomes, the more forgiving one is of other people’s selfishness and one’s own.

Everything could be any other way. There is no other way things could be.

Every difficulty presents an opportunity for self-mastery.

Never relying on a true friend.

Freedom: living by desire, without free will. Living by reason, without any moral imperative to do so. Living as if infinite, without regard for tomorrow.

Before opening one’s mouth to mock, curse or moan, check: why.

As dangerous as empty fear: empty hope.

The problem of evil is that evil is not a problem.

Love’s reward is loving, its outward animation. Lovers harbour secrets, but there are no secrets to love.

Love is blind, and cautious like the blind.

Reality is perfection, and our perfection in this realisation.

A pebble tumbling from a roof; a drunk issuing home truths; a philosopher who reads the world as lines, planes and bodies: the first two know free will, though the latter alone is free.

Power is never over, only with. Power against is no power at all.

Express one’s contempt for misers, moralisers and killjoys by laughing with them gently and shaking their hands.

To recognise the impossibility of ever reaching the ideal one strives toward, and be reaffirmed by this difficulty.

Interrogate all superfluous punctuation.