1. No Farting in the Torture Chamber: OTL Reports #1
Seminar class. This is the bit I can't stand. Where they unload their theoretical freight, their miserable `reasonable' excuses for ignoring Art, for ignoring Politics, for blithering along in their unutterably boring self-serving middle-class way. Wendy Fishbait is a bit too much the practical artist to do more than hesitate at the rim; but Misha Nanatux simply adores the stuff. It suits her bureaucratized, compartmentalised psyche. Everything's a cross-cutting distinction that `problematizes' and `complexifies'; in a seminar like this, she's like a pig in shit - as they say up north.
She doesn't look like a pig in shit, though. Misha is Marianne-Faithfull vintage, aged but sexy - high cheekbones, shoulderpads, hint of drug experience, the glamorous arrogance of an upper middle-class girl who tried it all - back in the 60s. Now she's financing her lifestyle retrenchments - Le Creuset saucepans, virgin olive oil, tomatoes-ripened-on-the-vine, Chablis and Pouillet Fum‚e - by regurgitating other people's concepts. It's all old rope as far as she's concerned, but so what? Her son's in advertising and he proves that creativity has to `go' with the commercial `flow' in the '90s. Anyway, he employs young black women for his promos, so Nanatux's very own offspring are `cutting across boundaries of race and gender'. On top of that, he's mastered the lingo: where he's involved, everything's a `cultural hybrid', it's all superbly `post-cyber' and absolutely `empowering' and continually `deconstructing oppressive stereotypes', darling.
I gritted my teeth and doodled cubist violins in the margin of my writing pad. `What's the use of getting sober, if you're going to get drunk again?' Louis Jordan's song returned like a headache, a mild eructation at the back of the throat: memory of something told from experience, something stated directly, not mediated via all this second-guessing of everyone else's point of view. This seminar is the realm of spirit death where no-one may speak from the heart because everyone is guilty. If Louis Jordan saw something he spoke it. Like Ice T. Absurd juxtaposition (if, that is, you're an ignoramus).
Nanatux was going round the class. Soon it would be my turn to speak. Students bring up their hard-won gobbets of intellectualese and puke them neatly on the table, personal observations drained and enervated by the consensual politeness. It was like surveying scorpion skeletons pressed from rice paper: horrors reproduced in edible condiment, experience virtualised into middle-class vapidity. But Out To Lunch had his manifesto! Written in capitals across a photograph of Lenin. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin! The one bogeyman with the power to offend them all. Some crabbed-face twerp finished his drivel about cyberspace potential. Now it was time for Out To Lunch to get on line.
I was going to grind her face in it. I was privy to the fact that Misha had been part of the Robert Graves/Soft Machine/`alternative' Majorca set. I knew her radical-feminist bestseller of the late '70s, Mystic/Ogyny, was straight out of his mythico-poetic universe - debts to the patriarch that Radical Feminism's `literary' wing was never honest enough to acknowledge. I also knew that some younger participants in the seminar had dallied with the anarcho-rave scene in Majorca; and that their `radicalism' all went straight back to Graves and his bourgeois neo-romantic obfuscations. I was going to raise up ghosts, remember some facts about property and privilege - all the stuff these new-age cowboys of afro-celtic entrepreneurism believed their cosmic `vibe' had gone beyond. Hypocritical fuckers, I was going to burn their playhouse down!
I brought out my text. Lenin's face was totally obscured by my screed. No matter. I began.
Robert Graves was the British gentleman who fought in the first world war trenches, yet never broke with the British Army - his poetico-mythic system found political justification in fantasies about his regiment's logo. For Graves, farts had a spiritual meaning. In The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, first published in 1961, he wrote: `The Pythagorean mystics ... were bound by a strong taboo against the eating of beans and quoted a verse attributed to Orpheus, to the effect that to eat beans was to eat one's parents' heads.' His footnote to this assertion runs: `The Platonists excused their abstention from beans on the rationalistic ground that they caused flatulence; but this came to much the same thing. Life was breath, and to break wind after eating beans was a proof that one had eaten a living soul - in Greek and Latin the same words, anima and pneuma, stand equally for gust of wind, breath and soul or spirit.' Today, claims to know something about aesthetics are an affront to people who claim to know things. Resentment at institutional bullying of subjectivity has itself become institutionalised: `Thou shalt not judge' is written over the door of the cultural studies department. But such scholarly `objectivity' just lip-syncs the golden rule of those involved in the art business: never mention aesthetics. Making an aesthetic judgment is tantamount to breaking the contract that undergirds the dialogue. Who farted in the torture chamber? But this is precisely the contribution Out To Lunch's Materialist Esthetix wishes to make!
The class exploded like lit methane. United by indignation against aestheticism, scatology, Robert Graves, farting, judgment, they just couldn't stand it! Dr Fishbait and Nanatux were on their feet, flushed and growling. Time for the `pinch-me-it's-a-dream' routine - or a beam-me-up - or at least a fade-out. I'd settle for a Roman Polanski cut, suddenly to be sipping Dry Martinis on a Caribbean lilo, the devil coiled around me, His webbed bat's claws scratching my pneumatic, virgin breast ...
`How can you say that?' Nanatux's voice cut through the others. The hubbub subsided a little. `Aesthetic judgment is an assertion of privilege, a hierarchical imposition of values from above! The very basis of our discussion of cultural value at this seminar is that we understand relativism as the matrix we're all enmeshed in, in which the different, cross-cutting aspects of gender, race, sexual-orientation, physical ableness, religious-orientation, size, susceptibility to viruses and so on all play a part!'
I quickly inhaled a quote I'd written on my arm in readiness for just such crises (`Thinking is always the negation of what we have immediately before us', Hegel) and shot back:
`Aesthetics is extra-personal, and that's why I assert it! It's as material and objective as the stars. It's more critical than any campaign against size or looks or other discriminations, because it taps the very roots of attractions, the inevitability of which Charles Fourier theorised ...'
`Charles Fourier?' said a grey-green bundle at the back of the room. Urquhart Temple hadn't spoken to anyone since 1972. `I remember him, he dreamed of oceans turning to lemonade and the planet rutting in unison ...'.
The liberal relativists weren't going to have it all their own way. Winston Savage got up on a chair. He'd seized a loud-hailer and wasn't shy about using it.
`The whiteman's hatred of the intellect is expressed in the wish to flounder in positive paeans. But fault-finding - locating the crack in the stern cliff-face - speaks a Cleavacious joy whose energies are wild and sexual!'
It was like trying to film a movie - or an Adam Ant video - in a telephone kiosk. Everyone was shouting at once. The place had gone berserk. Esther Punnck had hauled herself up onto the mantelpiece, her cry a violent, contradictory miscegenation of Shirley Bassey and Bela Lugosi:
`To the yay-sayers of the media circus,' she screamed, `indicting the pleasures of the mass is not an honourable pastime. The practice is quickly ascribed to a partial psycho-social formation, the war page of critical militancy dismissed as the warpage of a sick mind!'
Though wide-eyed at the violence I'd unleashed, I nevertheless registered the elegance of Esther's `warpage/war page' pun. I suspected she'd worked on it. What the hell - if it was prepared, it showed a commitment to the written word commendable in one so young (and fond of scarlet hi-heels). Her grating tones carried over the general hubbub, her vowels becoming more and more distended as she shook off seminar gentility for the whining tones of an extra from Derek Jarman's appalling `punk' film Jubilee. Her satirical gold handbag shook with righteous fury.
`But the defenders of popular taste actually harbour a still more pernicious attitude! They view the working class as infant children, to be mollycoddled with soft toys. They are the first to argue that a video needs banning!'
Esther had a vested interest in the censorship issue; she operated a pirate-video franchise, and was frequently to be seen peddling lurid, colour-bleed nth-generation masterpieces by Theodore J. Flicker, Peter Carpenter, Mario Bava and Jorg Buttgereit around the campus. Urquhart was one of her less likely customers.
`The transcendent, statist liberalism of Nanatux and Fishbait views the working classes as less than human: to be pleasured, manipulated or punished, but not through reason or invective - since these channels are only available to those who have mastered the "educated" patter. The mass audience must be "managed". Who by? The managers. We call for a driller-killer cannibal holocaust on the managerial mentality!!'
Esther paused, but she wasn't flagging. Her eyes burned with revolutionary rage. She switched on her Walkman. A tape of Martin Barker's "From Stallone to Socialism: Why You Should Like Violent Films" from Marxism '97 played confrontational concepts in her ears as she continued:
`As Karl Marx said, "In order to combat freedom, the bourgeoisie defend the thesis of the permanent immaturity of the human race." It's sick! We're grown up! And if we're not grown up - it's because we don't wanna be!!'.
You could take this job and shove it! Who was this nightmare-for-the-bourgeoisie wetdream wish-fulfillment fairy tale? She must be a projection. The whole seminar tension syndrome had driven me into giving my masturbatory fantasies realtime flesh ... but Esther Punnk didn't stop just because I was thinking about her. Her razor-cuts-a-crab-apple voice continued its righteous diatribe:
`The pop-studies consensus that decries any critique of mass culture "elitist" could only arrive from Nana-Face's top-down perspective. Down here in the cheap seats, we never stop scrapping!! The avantgarde insistence on innovation, the refusal to admire art manoeuvres that depend on the ignorance of the punter, is condemned as "elitism" by these retrogrades! They adopt the patrician model of culture - civilisation as a beleaguered set of values that need to be gradually disseminated to the barbarians without. This "percolation" theory pretends to be in favour of "improvement", but is actually a last-ditch defence of privilege!!'
Esther went into a mind-blowing disquisition on the failings of S.T. Coleridge, Matthew Arnold, R.G. Collingwood and the Bloomsbury Group. She exposed Cult-Studs - with all its PC trappings and genuflections towards `the oppressed' - as conservative to the core. As the general tumult died down, her voice relaxed, becoming more reasonable-sounding and persuasive, though still retaining its punkoid, Barnet edge.
`The "percolation" theory of culture plumbed the depths with Clive Bell's 1928 Pelican Civilisation. Syphillization, more like! According to this effete jack-off, a leisured class of connoisseurs should be be paid by the state to "civilise" the nation by their choice in pictures and furnishings! Since this was what the Bells and Woolfs were doing with their private incomes anyway, this amounted to a blatant puff for the most overrated set of bourgeois-bohemian ruling-class dilettantes in cultural history: the useless "Bloomsbury Group". Across the bloodsoaked Euston Road, the Materialist Esthetix of Somers Town declares war on all Bloomsburyites - wherever they may live! Culture conceived in terms of an individual's taste in articles of consumption leaves relations of production intact. You don't need to read Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme to know this is reformist codswallop! In the last resort, those who call for cultural transformation without challenging ownership of capital can only be serviced by fascism.'
Esther curtsied - an impudent, urchin-like gesture directed at Misha Nanatux - and jumped from the mantelpiece. I imagined her crossing the room perched on a satirical candelabra, spitting out British B-movie vulgarities at her colleagues. There was a shocked silence. I started clapping. There was a tense second where I feared we were completely isolated, then I heard other claps. Soon she was in the midst of a stand-up ovation! I checked my trousers. The stand-up was general. What a woman! Who was she? Why'd I never seen her before? Out To Lunch could forget the masturbatory Cleavage rituals - he was in lurve, and I mean l-u-r-v-e!
2. Semen Froth, Popsicle Godfather
Sprawled in front of the gas fire, Professor Semen Froth felt pleased with himself. True, he was living in a small terrace house in Hull rented by students. True, his marriage of twenty-years had broken down. However, the student he'd been fucking - Trish - had said she wanted his baby! Wow. If she wanted to go to a rave tonight, that was okay. Enjoy your youth while you can, he'd said to her, knowing she had no inkling what that meant. She probably thought him eccentric, wanting to stay in, but then again, it was quite eccentric to decide to have the professor's baby ...
Froth moved his slippered feet away from the heat of the fire and poured himself another glass of claret. The sounds of the Pet Shop Boys - his favourite - rose from the diminutive cassette-machine propped against the window sill. For the last two weeks, he'd been writing all his reviews from tape cassettes. Some of the press departments were surprised he was no longer wanted CD review-copies, but most of them complied.
The phone rang. It was his wife, wanting to know where she could find the key to the garden shed. She sounded all right, totally unemotional. They hadn't had a fuck in years. As she rattled on about the mountain of mail waiting for him, he absently-minded doodled on a `While You Were Out' pad of Post-Its that someone in the house had filched from work. Work? Must have been some temporary office job over the summer. As Froth listened, he scribbled out a mini-Piranesi of chains and weights and stone-clas archways. The domestic prison of a middle-aged marriage! Also on the hall table was a get-well card for a member of the household who'd had glandular fever. Froth could see Trish's girlish signature among the others, complete with loopy `y' and a circle over the `i'. He tore off the top sheet with his doodle and crumpled it up. On the fresh sheet he copied her signature, lovingly tracing every naive, sexually-charged curve. In a sentimental gesture, he stuck it on the front of his shirt, like marking a piece of property. When Trish got back, he'd explain that he truly belonged to her. His wife finally rang off. He replaced the handset and returned to his glass of wine.
As he stared at the rumpled, threadbare carpet in front of the fire, Froth's mind wandered over the events of the last two weeks. Announcing to his wife that he was in love with a student, the sudden elopment, the strange looks he received from his girlfriend's house-mates when he'd arrived with his suitcase - the famous professor parachuted in amongst the `youth', the object of his tremulous `study' (as Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee had also discovered, it was always difficult to draw the line when you're, hey, part of the `pop scene'!).
In the midst of these ruminations, Semen noticed a fanzine lying beneath the other armchair. He could just make out its title: Juvenile Delinquent. He'd never heard of it! His youth-sociology pride piqued, he decided to have a look. Listening carefully, he could hear no sign of the students' arrival - this was a chance to do some genuine field-research! Ribald colleagues had called his affair with Trish `field research', but he'd actually found fucking peculiarly lacking in research data - the sexual seemed so primal and lacking in fads. Of course, he'd been intrigued that Trish didn't tell him to use condoms, but other than that, the sexual writhings of her gorgeous, youthful body all seemed somewhat predictable, like stroking an especially responsive cat. Whenenever he'd ask her about music, she'd clam up - she said she didn't like being `studied', that she wanted to be `loved'. A difficult distinction for Professor Froth.
A copy of a local Hull fanzine! He could feel his dick stiffen in expectation of subcultural gratifications as he - somewhat creakily - got himself out of his armchair and retrieved it. He was on tenterhooks. He couldn't sit back in an armchair to read it - that would be far too middle-aged, too bourgeois, too professorial. Instead, collecting up his glass and the bottle, he went to the kitchen. He laid the fanzine on the table, solemnly poured himself another full measure of wine, and started to read.
The first page seemed to be text, but when he examined it, he found that it consisted of columns and columns of the word `fuck' repeated again and again. Even the sub-headings just said `FUCK FUCK FUCK'. A little disconcerted by this nihilism - after all, they'd wasted space where they could have discussed the gender-positioning of the new Pet Shop Boys single, or something worthwhile like that - he turned the page. Phew! A tipped-in holgram, every colour in the rainbow, popping into three-dimensions as he looked into it. He even thought he saw some of the images move in sequence. Have the Japanese got animated Manga into newsprint yet? he wondered. The proliferation of colour and the speed of the graphic transformations made him squint, it was giddying.
In the left-hand corner, there was a small black-and-white photograph of the Beatles from the early 60s, onstage with their pudding-basin haircuts and collarless suits. As he stared at it, the figures appeared to move - small jerky `rockin'' movements, like a Japanese computer-artist's impression of `groovy beat action'. The words scrolled by on a ticker-tape caption: `You know I love you/I'll always be true/So please please me ...'. Semen took off his glasses. This was truly weird. Had they put some acid in his wine? But he'd pulled the cork himself (actually, he'd pushed it in - of course these bloody students didn't have a corkscrew in the house).
At the centre of the page of the fanzine, printed in stark headlines and surrounded by writhing foliage pastiched from a some medieval illumination, was a brief, manifesto-like statement. As he read it, he had the distinct impression he could hear it being recited aloud: an angry, hard, upper-middle-class voice - all righteous indignation, no populist mollification of the accent, all hard unbending accusations. High-brow viciousness? Froth frowned and read on.
Claims to have isolated the `essence of great pop' - like references to the business `community' - are fraudulent ab ovo. Pop writers must make a virtue of their ignorance of provenance and process. Too great concern for anything in particular would render them eccentric to the spot of normalcy they crave with a slavering salver and an idiot smile.
An attack on pop writers like himself! Semen smiled, then stopped himself. Did his smile look idiotic? What the hell was a `slavering salver' anyway? Was that a shiny CD, or perhaps the silver tray on which he proffered the Peter Pan Awards to recipients year after year? How could anyone hate him so much? And where did these Hull fanzine people find this diabolical 3D-animation print technology? Leaving the fanzine on the kitchen table, he returned to the living room and the comforting hiss of the gas fire. Neil Tennant was still warbling his insider-friendly, knowing lyrics about alienation and the pop industry. He sat back in the armchair, not caring that he'd left wine bottle in the kitchen. He needed to think, to clear his head.
`Well, they're against "pop expertise"', he thought. `But then again, they would be. They're jealous, they're the young-bloods, they're youth, they're what I study [a strange, nasty voice in his head, a chili-con-carne-flavour `you're going mad, Semen', diabolical rasp: `they're what you fuck you mean'] ... why do I study "pop" ... because it's what I like. Just look at those creeps who end up writing about the Balinese Gamelan or Twelve-Tone or Free Improvisation or something equally unpopular and arcane - there's no safety in retreat to specialism either!'
That sounded right. At this time of night, he thought, already turning his ruminations into a paragraph in a book he planned on the paradoxes of growing old and loving pop, that formulation sounded `right' - with the gas fire hissing and the Pet Shop Boys playing on a cheap cassette player ... Froth's gaze fell to the spot beneath the chair where he'd found Juvenile Delinquent. There was another magazine there, though this was called - he peered at the upside-down title - Materialist Esthetix. What? How had it got there? It must have been lying under the other one all the time. He heaved himself out of his armchair - his back was killing him after several nights sharing the single, bust-spring bed with his new lover - and retrieved it. This time he didn't bother with going to the kitchen. He sat back in the armchair and opened it out. This time there were no holographics or hi-tech tricks - it was printed like a newspaper. The central pages consisted of a single, dense, unfriendly, monolithic text. The headline read:
POP EXPERTISE: OXYMORON FOR OXBRIDGE MORONS
Although `pop expertise' is an oxymoron, to turn away and cultivate an `alternative' is to commit a worse crime: to neglect to negate pop's fraud, to pop its pseudo-opulence. The very untaintedness of insider discourse fosters an illusion: the possibility of a discourse without taint. Materialist Esthetix requires a sadistic vigilance for the in-folding that can rip the weasel sales-figures from beneath the starlet's boob-tube. The problem being, the critique can only truly reach its target in the very place where it's not wanted: anything else is just solidarity mousse for the invertebrate. You don't like reading this.
That is the idea.
Professor Froth pulled out a grey-green handkerchief and wiped his forehead. He had the idea that someone was trying to get at him. Two red spots started to burn, one in each cheek. He read on:
Capitalism reduces everything to competition. Critique itself is reduced to another brand of entertainment. However, by drawing attention to the allure of the repugnant, analytical Cleavage separates out the elements. When the shit hits the fan, enlightenment smiles. This is of course a truism for Critical Philosophy (`Art is the social antithesis of society etc', Theodor Adorno), but there the acknowledgment becomes another ideology of reflection, a version of the world held in a prism that can only be examined at the professor's desk. The intelligence of the real begs for attention, break-outs of quotidian vulgarity spotting the fine-spun tissue of rarefied abstraction. O T L
What did it mean? The rhetoric was punk, situationist ... but unpleasant, more menacing, more professional. There was something scarily high-brow mixed up in it, this wasn't the commendable `street' anarchism of Sniffin' Glue, the jolly punk literature lent to him by Jon Tame. No. This was horrid! Like Michael Heseltine deciding to write a fanzine, he decided. Or form an activist party that went around dosing their enemies with cod-liver oil. Oswald Mosley, perhaps? Fascist? And the stuff about the weasels and the starlet's boob tube? Froth started daydreaming about Baby Spice and the way her little breasts fitted into that retro-70s boob thingie she wore, her special vulgar homescale cleavagette, so different from Lady Di's haughty Chasm. But ... `sales figures'? What did that mean?
He heard a voice. Not the diabolical one which had just whispered harsh obscenities in his ear, Beavis & Butthead-style, but one that sounded hoarse and fulminating, a strange mixture of accents ... German, Turkish, Palestinian? He looked up. The cartoon poster of Karl Marx on the wall - it showed him naked, sitting on a toilet - had started to address him. Not at all abashed, Marx's eyes burned out of the picture with the absolute conviction of a rationalist and materialist (like the song said, `don't try to look behind my eyes, you don't wanna know what they have seen' - who said that? this was all getting too strange). The lips moved beneath the dark walrus moustache, the salt-and-pepper bib of beard trembled as the arch-critic of bourgeois political economy asked Britain's foremost pop critic a question:
Why does the Critic sell the products of his mind, for thereby he makes the worst law of presentday society his own law?
Froth leapt from his chair. He felt chastised by this stern reprimand, yet also - strangely enough - sexually aroused. He pulled a photograph of Boyzone from his wallet. Those smart young men spanking the plank, the way their brand-new guitars gleamed as if dripping with Clearosil! So much cooler than a middle-aged wannabe like himself. Oh, he'd love to be chained by the nipples to Boyzone's binful of crushed-ice and Hooch backstage, one of the rider `excesses' insisted on by the pop-star rascals. A pop critic to abuse! He'd suck their proffered dicks, he'd rim their arseholes, he'd drool on their little repro-Beatles bootees! Semen Froth quickly stripped off his clothes. Some kind of masturbation ritual was required.
Going into the kitchen, Froth rummaged under the sink until he found the jamjar of of clothes-pegs (he knew they were there because when Trish had washed his Portishead T-shirt after he'd split strawberry icecream on it, she'd pegged it out in the backyard to dry). He took out two pegs and attached one to each nipple. Ouch and ouch again, but for some strange reason, appropriate. On a night like this the pegs felt, somehow, `right'. Is that why they called her Peggy Lee? Whatever happened to her guitar-playing husband, Dave Barber wasn't he called, the one who dropped out because the couple `were earning too much money to find happiness' and opened an art gallery in Sausolito? The pain subsided into a dull, erotic ache. Froth picked up the bottle of wine and attempted to neck the rest, but the liquor caught in his throat, and he had a coughing fit.
When he'd recovered, Froth drank the rest of the wine, sipping rather more slowly (`I can always say "he necked the rest" when I write this up' he thought). He returned to the living room. He looked through the tapes the students had acquired. Obscure rave compilations called FX456 and Um'@pshaw and yacht@home, some Klaus Wunderlich, presumably bought second-hand as `irony' paraphernalia ... he turned the Pet Shop Boys cassette over and pressed play. However, if he was going to reach a climax, he needed a bit more abuse and humiliation from the Karl Marx poster. He knelt down before it and raised his eyes (`his Damon Albarn-like eyes rolled heavenward, a Perugino saint-in-the-making ...' went the ghost-writer in his head).
Karl Marx fixed the flatulent, nipple-tweaked critic with his punishing gaze, and said:
The writer, of course, must earn in order to be able to live and write, but he must by no means live and write to earn! The writer should not look at his work as a means. It is an end in itself. It is so little a means for him himself and for others that, if need be, he sacrifices his existence to its existence. Do you hear that, Professor Froth? Is the press free which degrades itself to the level of a trade? No! The primary freedom of the press lies in its not being a trade!!
It wasn't working. Froth's willie had shrunk to the dimension of Neil Tennant's soul, a wizzened spring onion ... `Survival under capitalism entails a problematic ontic,' he whispered to himself - `Shit, our very selves are products of an exchange economy!'
`Do you think that's a mitigating circumstance, you craven poltroon?'
Froth looked up abruptly. Was that Marx? The voice had lost its bizarre accent. It was young and clear. Stewpot Hauser - for it was he! - had found the door open and wandered in to see if there was anything worth nicking. The sight of the middle-aged man, stark-naked, with clothes-pegged nipples, grovelling before a Karl Marx poster didn't faze Hauser in the slightest. Like Cynthia Payne, he completely lacked the squeamishness that `normal' (or, looked at another way, criminally psychotic) folk feel about other people's sexual activities.
Froth glanced over, then nonchalantly removed the pegs, got himself up from his prone position and seated himself in the armchair. Ignoring his state of undress, he switched into seminar mode.
`Well, no, as it happens, but I think it questions the humanism some see as an integral part of the socialist project. Don't you?'
`Your socialist "project" is looking a bit the worse for wear, old man!'
Froth snorted and crossed his legs. This young hoodlum was punching below the belt. `Who the fuck are you anyway?' he returned.
`My name's Stewpot Hauser, but you can call me Stu.'
`Well, Stu, what makes you think you are qualified to engage me in a conversation about Karl Marx's concept of monetary exchange and its relation to humanism?'
`I was going to ask you the same question.' Hauser said this from the kitchen. He'd gone to the fridge to help himself to a beer. Finding only cans of Skol, he'd checked out Froth's wine bottle but found it empty. Then he alighted on the bottle of Teachers on the window sill. He took a swig and winced. He was a Bourbon man really, but in dire straits any alcohol could fuel his discourse. `Raya Dunayevskaya ascribes the Stalinist attack on Marx's "humanism" to Russian reaction to unrest in Eastern Europe in the early 50s. The battle to separate the "young Marx" tainted by "Hegelianism" from the "mature economist" has always been part of the Stalinist anti-revolutionary armoury. Istv n M‚sz ros, the pupil of Gy"rgy Luk cs who fled Hungary after the clampdown in 1956, traced the libel back to the first publication of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Ever since the 1930s, the Stalinists have tried to break the organic connections between Marxism and Hegel's dialectic: attempting to snuff the revolutionary spark that connects Marxism to Jakob B"hme, John of Leiden, Giordano Bruno and Heraclitus. Look at Lucio Colletti - he denied Hegel, and now he's Berlusconi's poodle. I could go into all this, but I haven't time. The most deleterious purveyor of the argument was of course Louis Althusser, French Communist Party theorist from 1948 to 1989; despite the fact that he endorsed the PCF's reactionary role in May '68, Althusser's structuralist travesty of Marxism and his warmed-over assertion of an "epistemological break" (he derived the term - the French is "coupure" - from the surrealist Gaston Bachelard) between the young Marx and the "scientific" Marx dominated the intellectual Left in England in the 70s. And, Professor Froth, despite your opportunist turn to gender-bending postmodernism and cultural relativism in the 90s - you are moulded by the very same ideological formation!'
No way was he the simple proletarian promised by his apparel, thought Froth. Had to be some Frankfurt School clever-dick. `Hang on, though,' he parried, `didn't Adorno argue much the same thing - in Negative Dialectics he dissed the way early Marx was taken up by theologians didn't he?'. Someone had told him this in a seminar last week (despite being a professor, reading books was not Froth's strong suit).
`Yeah - "no dialectics without the element of solid things" - but he was gunning from somewhere else. And besides ...'
As multitasking as a unix operating system, Stewpot was leafing through the copy of Materialist Esthetix that Froth had left on a side-table - whilst also swigging on the bottle of Teachers, wincing, and debating with this toady of the Popsicle Academy.
`... you shouldn't confuse me with the SWP-apologist Out To Lunch. He's seeking to infiltrate my pure proletarian subversion with an eclectic compromise between Leninism and Frankfurt School high-brow aestheticism ...'
`I've been reading someone who calls themselves Out To Lunch??'
`Indeed. Some say it's written by a Committe Enrag‚ of pissed-off SWP members. Others, that it's a Cambridge poet who dabbles in politics in order to inflate the sales of his sub-dadaist word-salad. Drew Milke called Out To Lunch `The Hellman's Mayonnaise of Social Criticism', the Woolworths John Wiklinson. I've an idea it's the pen-name of the jazz critic on Yorkshire Evening Post, or some cabal of superannuated hacks for top-end audiophile magazines. Hmm. Judging from this, he certainly doesn't like you, that's pretty clear!'
`Does he think I'm a crypto-Stalinist too?'
`Trotskyists are pretty good at sniffing out Stalinism - in other people, that is.' Hauser laughed uproariously at his own Bordigist joke, then stopped because he thought Froth might misconstrue him an just another anarchist.
Froth decided to seek some advice from this strangely articulate housebreaker. Hauser's short-hair made him nervous, but there was something twinkly and speculative about his squodgy features that attracted him: `Why this need to defend the Young Marx, to slander the epistemological break as Stalinist libel? I mean, you don't look like a humanist. In fact,' Froth adopted a look of high-falutin' sociological augury, though since he was naked and flushed with wine, it failed to give him the edge he needed, `you look more ex-skinhead to me - say, suedehead circa 1972?'
Hauser brushed aside this smarmy ploy. To sociologise your adversary is the lowest trick in the book - patronism disguised as flattery. Purest Platonic dialogue was to win the day in this exchange.
`Castigating early Marx as "idealist" discourages proletarian youth from encountering some of his most immediate and inspiring prose. Although his first writings are certainly "idealist" - written in the philosophical jargon then current among the German bourgeoisie - Marx's philosophical idealism is shot through with the common-or-garden sense of "idealist": his position is heroic, fiercely opposed to oppression or duplicity in any form, full of fire and hope. The abstract philosophical position is irrelevant compared to the political thrust of his argument (one which eventually led to critical reappraisal of Hegelian philosophy anyway). Only a bureaucrat or academic could argue otherwise! Take Althusser. The poor sod found quotidian discourse so "unscientific" he had to put every other word in quote-marks. He actually wrote somewhere that "The critique of Stalinist `dogmatism' was generally `lived' [yes, he actually put the word lived in quote-marks - can you believe that? c'est incroyable!] by Communist intellectuals as a `liberation'"!'. Hauser ranted on, unheeding the inevitable pile-up of punctuation his discourse was creating for the documentary-realist. `According to Althusser, it was always petty bourgeois intellectuals - his term of abuse for anyone who questioned the authority of the Communist Party, whatever their actual class position - who looked for theoretical justification to Marx's early works. These issues are not finished with just because Communism has collapsed. Althusser's servile justification for Stalinism in Russia and China formed the intellectual background for most of those who now embrace Postmodernism and dismiss Marx! Such as yourself, for example!'
Hauser finished on a triumphant note and glugged some more Teachers. Semen blinked. His intercolutor's sub-clauses were too involved to be real. He suddenly felt that he was part of some ludicrous piss-take. Who was pulling the strings here? The walls of the house took on the appearance of a stupid stage-set. Hauser regarded the professor with a beady eye.
`By the way, why are you wearing no clothes - and why did you have clothes-pegs on your nipples when I entered? Just because your brother used to think he could play guitar like Derek Bailey by putting clamps on the neck of his guitar seems no reason for you to abuse your body in a similar way. Or is it some kind of tribute to that band he's in, what's it called - Bare-Ass Metropolis?'
Froth was both politically- and musically-challenged by Hauser's tirade. His abrupt questions hit like whip-cracks. Froth had a dim inkling that quoting Marx second-hand out of articles he proof-read for his Popular Musick journal was not quite adequate, but he found the stuff impossible to read. Everytime he came on the term `working class' he gagged. It was everything he wanted to get away from.
It was a shame that Froth was such an intellectual inadequate. Hauser was being allowed to range scot-free, stoking his natural tendency towards megalomania and trumphalism. As a professed anti-Leninist, it would have brought him short to have been shown how close his disgust with Althusser was to the Lenin's critique of Avenarius in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism:
Avenarius and his school put ordinary words in quotation marks in order to show that they, the true philosophers, discern the essentially `metaphysical character' of a use of words which is so vulgar and unrefined by `epistemological analysis'.
However, there was no opportunity for the Karl Marx poster to start informing Hauser of the whereabouts his mental flight from the sloughs of Anarchism had landed him. There was a crashing of dustbins in the backyard. The tenants of the house were returning from their student rave. Hauser looked at his watch. It was 2:20am.
`Hang on, I'm a housebreaker, I'd better make myself scarce. And you'd better put some clothes on. What's this?' Hauser stooped down and picked up Froth's T-shirt. `A Pet Shop Boys t-shirt!? That's priceless. Are you real?'
`I like the band a great deal actually. Don't you?'
Hauser roared with laughter, then stripped off his own shirt. It had the word Descension stencilled across the chest in shiny metallic lettering. He put on the professor's gear and, clutching the bottle of scotch, made for the front door. He hadn't noticed the Post-it note with Froth's emulation of Trish's signature. It had slipped down and was now attached to the T-shirt's hem.
`What do you call that exchange of vestments?' the sociologist of pop shouted after him, `and is your wearing a Pet Shop Boys T-shirt ironic?'
`Potlatch!' Hauser shouted at him from the street, then disappeared into the night. With a sigh, Semen Froth picked up the Descension shirt - some band he'd never even heard of! - scooped up the rest of his clothes, and made for Trish's bedroom. He couldn't face the gibbering inanities of a crew of E-brained kids. Trish was okay giving head when out of her brain, but to listen to her talk was simply too much. He also picked up the copy of Materialist Esthetix from the sidetable, holding the fanzine awkwardly between his shoes. Hauser's glib exposition of the dubious roots of his current intellectual pretensions had disturbed him. Maybe this mysterious Out To Lunch had the key to the problem. Froth managed to get up the stairs and into Trish's bedroom before the revellers made it to the back door - they'd been playing some cacophonous game with the dustbin lids until a neighbouring window flew up and they got a barracking. However, by the time Froth got into Trish's bed - slightly malodorous, but nonetheless comforting - the copy of Materialist Esthetix clutched in his hand had somehow reverted to a copy of yesterday's Daily Sport. Ah well, at least he could read Gary Oikle's pop page while he waited for his teenage lover.
As he heard her footsteps on the stairs, Froth put away the newspaper and lay very still, the bedclothes pulled up to his chin. He trembled with anticipation. His cock was stiff. His toes protruded from the bedclothes. The door swung open, and there stood Trish, an androgynous blonde about five foot tall, wearing an elegantly-cut T-shirt that revealed slim shoulders. Clean, stone-washed levis, a brown leather belt and plimsolls - not trainers - completed a cool, understatedly `alternative' outfit. An ironic Bay City Rollers badge twinkled on a shapely ... chest. But wasn't Trish pregnant? Oh, honestly, thought Froth sleepily, I'm believing my own stories, letting my own rumours impinge on reality. How could Trish be pregnant? Trish ... Trish ... Trish is a boy! Trained in the musico-sexual ethics instilled in him by his guru Mark Sprinkle, Trish was keen to take his post-gendered sexuality into every possible crevice, especially if he could get next to Britain's most illustrious Pet Shop Boys fan and Peter Pan Award manager. Trish quickly threw off his clothes and got into bed with his sugar-daddy. Who cares which gender is giving the blow-job? Trish swallowed it, and that's all that mattered to Semen Froth!
On to Chapter Three
Get You Back Home