Get You Back Home
NO PARTICULAR PLACE TO GO
Andrew "Angelface" Lawsuit ordered another round of toast from the waitress and turned another page. Whereas the other fellows were reading The Times, or at least attempting the crossword, he was scanning a contribution to his poetry magazine. `Out To Lunch'! Who the bloody hell used pseudonyms any more? The contribution was far too long, and he objected to the slick, transparent cover and the spring-binding. Made the bloody thing look like a finished book.
He turned to page six and began reading a poem called `POSED':
I adjust her position: for me,
posture is very important. her
slave, so posed ...
He felt an incipient erection: reading poems with S&M motifs always affected him like that in the morning. Andrew felt soiled. Still more annoying, the next lines seemed to mock his reaction.
my post hardens at
news of girl-to-girl conversion of
the entire frame to flaming phallus,
cro-magnon man crocheted on
her vest: a palpable symbol of an
analogue tree wanting digital
stimulation - your stim on my
stem, slept lightly, for your sip
at my clit didn't exhaust the
febrile ribs of my overarching
cadaverous dinosaur desire.
Lesbian eroticism or neanderthal sexism? The latter. He knew Out To Lunch was a bloke. The guy couldn't stop talking about sex. He was reinterpreting the whole of Hegel to justify his obsession: he claimed that Zwiespalting, Hegel's concept of Cleavage, was a manifestation of fascination for the female breast! He was the Benny Hill of Critical Philosophy and needed a spanking - though he'd probably enjoy it.
wet through, plunged in the liquid
arena: what a stupid circus. the
dolphin eyes the hoop and goes
for it, nose first. a film of moisture
clings the rubber integument to
the mammalian body. enzymes
drift through the cell wall as the
warder turns the big shiny cock
on the hose. ritual soaking as parts
stand for the whole, the thing
spills droplets salty to the taste. my,
what drivel, the saliva hangs in
festoons across the western set. tell
it to the horse marines. splashed
cowboy soaps his jeans and jokes
in the muddy puddle. Jos‚ is daring
where he oughtn't, howling in the
Ozark Mountain air, desolated.
Cling as a transitive verb? The poem was preposterous: Andrew felt as if a hand had seized him by the neck and pushed his face into a pornographic description of some woman's `hot steaming vulva'. Intimations of golden showers in punishment closets. There was no room to breathe, no distance, no shades of feeling. The immersion offended him. He felt as if he'd been spat on, abused, ridiculed. Indignation on a spit, he read on.
it's all heavily amplified, grandiose
bluster these days: great big
sounds around the country, heaving
ampoules, spliffs, fido-biscuits - gives
me a blister on the wrist-array. I
sussed her, my sister, lustrous with
blisters, girl get yourself a schooling,
hula-hoop ampouling won't bleed
the flushed blissful busshelters
of idiot cock graffitti. no poll tax
until he's wiped the file. the
turgid treacle pours down my
back, the writing gleams gold
after retinal dazzle. creep away
and flup the little brown book.
he takes everything everywhichway,
doesn't want particular approbation,
that's plain. my bliss or her bust.
`My bliss or her bust?' What was this, a rapist's charter? Or is the guy just talking breasts? Cleavage continuity was getting out of hand! He put down the manuscript and buttered a piece of toast, spread it with lemon-and-lime marmalade. Cut off a corner and popped it in his mouth. Angelface was as dapper at his breakfast as in everything he did.
Then he saw a card protruding from the volume. He plucked it out. It contained a brief text, set in a strange loopy font he hadn't seen before. Funnily enough - for an enclosure in what looked like a hopeful contribution - it contained an attack on the title he'd chosen for his magazine.
The hallowed status of the `fragment' today is indicated by the title of the Oxford poetry magazine: fragmente. Note the use of lower case. At the Bauhaus, Herbert Bayer's sans-serif Universal Type infuriated the Nazis. Not only did it discard the Teutonic archaism of Gothic, but it used lower case (Kleinschreibung) throughout a text. For a language in which every noun was capitalized, this was a slap in the face to nationalism. However, for posters, hoardings and the titles of magazines and books, Bauhaus did use capitals: the objective was not tasteful reticence, but `clear communication in its most penetrating form'. For the tender souls of Oxford poetry, though, usage of lower case proclaims fragrant gentility, squeamishness about shouting and a distaste for penetrative communication that might reach beyond the university precinct. Dispersal, fragment and drift have been endorsed by a gentlemanly liberalism that wishes to `relinquish Power'. This is not Cleavage, but the secret slurping of tainted cream from Totality's teats!
Lawsuit laughed and and threw the card among his pieces of rejected toast. How could someone issue political denunciations of the case used in setting the title of a poetry magazine? The man was nutty as a fruitcake. He'd return the manuscript and denounce it as sexist. The thing was a closed book.
_2. OTL's Virtual World
Harsh North African sunlight. A section of Ottoman fortifications, ancient stones crumbling to dust. Edge of the city, no tourists. An old petrol pump, unattended, and a rusted sign reading `Mobil'. Hangover, blood pulsing in the head like tambours and ouds thumping delirious beats, out of time. My vision is shaky, a hand-held camera zigzagging across the dusty road. I'm a wreck, but the empty street is indifferent, a portion of the world transfixed by noon-day sun. My state of mind has hardened into unbrookable bricks, the literary metaphor has become a virtual scenario.
Then, in an impossible outline against the sheer blue sky, a blue-tiled mosque winking in the sun. I can't face the size and splendour of the thing, my vision shifts to the ground. Some tumble-down ruins, cracked, cream-yellow stone, parched weeds. There are some traces of tiling here, in the characteristic Islamic grid of eight-pointed stars and bevelled crosses. In one section, tiles have fallen away as the bricks behind crumbled into dust.
`The holy temple of the individual and its gleaming dome of lustre tiles,' I find myself muttering, `but we prefer the broken biscuit of the actual ...'
The stones shimmer in the heat. My temples throb with pain. Where did I wake up to this from? With a great effort I raise my hand to my head. There seems to be some kind of apparatus fixed there, trailing wires, rubber and metal. I feel a wave of negative energy, a distant voice telling me `no', memories of childhood scoldings. Then something unblocks, my vision improves. I'm looking at the mosque down the wrong end of a telescope, it floats in the minuscus of the lens, a cooled-down composite, intricately detailed as a jigsaw puzzle. It's an embossed cameo in a lavishly illuminated book. I started reading the text on the opposite page.
Once we define a limit we're already beyond it. Take the glazed hypostasis of pitching the self versus society. `Stay sister and honey-glaze the pitch.' We're laughing at you, Ben. There is no mosque and your head ain't sore.
I look up. The text is lying. The mosque is still there. Now I can see that there are patches of tiles missing from the main wall, from the dome, even from the minaret. I wish I had a pen so that I could record the shapes created by the contrast between the blue of the tiles and the yellow-brown khaki of the underlying brick. They remind me of something familiar. Trees, clouds, stalks of broccoli? Something incongruous for this sun-baked, Saharan scene, anyway. My headache gets worse, I feel a fever coming on. I can hear two voices arguing, arguing, answering back, refusing to concede a point. A deep, patient voice laying down the law. Then a querulous, higher-pitched voice picking holes in his argument, nagging on and on. Then the deeper voice again, perhaps a little exasperated. Every time a voice starts up, it begins with some objection like `But just a minute ago you were arguing something completely different, you said the opposite, you said ...', then my attention drifts. Punch & Judy? Infantile memories of parental rows? The ceaseless shunting push-me-pull-you of synaptic nerve-ends, the on-off blinks of binary polarity magnified into consciousness?
I sit down on a section of the wall. It's warm from the sun. The air is dusty, there's a faint odour of diesel fumes. I try to decipher these quarrelsome voices.
`Few moves are as depressing as calcifying the self's perimeter; every dialectical impulse is an enzyme pushing stuff through that sorry membrane - the Honourable Member's brain is, after all, only a raddled walnut longing for the pickle-jar.'
`But you said earlier that peanuts are the only fruit, never look back at the subterranean bypass ...'
`You never listen to the drift, you only pick up the sea-wrack and make dreadful sculptures. I think they're awful, I find your address grotesque.'
`There's nothing wrong with my dress, it's just your obsession with straps and ties and dicky-bows. You just repeat the crap you read in magazines. It's all a mental construct in your universe. No matter.'
`Nowhere does bourgeois ideology hypostatize a more poisonous substrate than when sentimentalizing an "inner" life in opposition to the social whirl: the mistaken pangs of adolescence, or, Prison Existentialism.'
Were they on a high-adrenalin free-association trip, or was that just the way I was interpreting the chitter of their voices? Maybe I'd OD'd on bad acid and these were the voices of people trying to talk me down. Or I'd been in a car crash, and they were my doctor and nurse, arguing about the quantities of glucose and caffeine in the drip. I whipped round to check that the mosque was still there. There was a slight pause, as if the scene had been caught unawares, then it filled out the sky, blue tiles, shining dome, blue sky. A flush of blue pixels.
`The so-called "protest" of individual expression confirms the placement of the suffering subject,' I said, `which is why Dada trashed Expressionism and read off innerness from bus tickets and torn envelopes. My hurt is written in the advertisements that stretch along a London bus.'
London bus? Was I in North Africa - or in casualty at a Kings Cross hospital? Then a deep, authoritative voice broke in, confident and middleaged, a slight West Indian lilt to it.
`Bit by bit we go a bit further, like an experienced man bringing along a virgin who has willingly consented.'
Was this the surgeon flirting with the nurse as he slit open my chest with a scalpel? If I was on the operating table, maybe I should let them get on with it. No point in trying to wake myself up and wreck the show. Might get the shock of my life, die of a heart attack. Text itself is such a dream, the spindle line of illusion on which to smuggle in ideas. The silver trout struggling on the fishing line is the baby-salmon of wisdom, a livid nerve of viscid life caught between air and water, a slice of consciousness you need to gut and fry in butter.
I pressed the replay button and let the sequence run. On the screen, a photograph of the mosque, blue tiles against blue sky again. Then it starts to move: it's a strip of film made by a hand-held camera. The frame moves downwards, down to some ruined walls at the foot of the building. It focuses in on some broken tiles, showing the crumbling brick the building is made of. Then you see a shoe. The camera-man is filming his own foot! The picture whirls, then settles. He's propped the camera on the wall. You see a man's waist, canvas khaki trousers and a white shirt. He comes in closer. He's fumbling with his fly buttons. He fishes out his cock, semi-tumescent, and starts wanking it. He's going to come into the lens of the camera. The tip of his cock looks monstrous, a purple onion-bulb crossed with a rodent's nose. You can hear his breath coming in hot, quick pants.
Out To Lunch was attempting to punctuate his argument with an arresting image, but it occurred to him he'd probably just get himself arrested by the Internet Thought Police. He wanted to actualize, to create an immediacy, emphasize the wetware meatflesh physically plumbed into the fictional dream scenario. Esther is probably tearing her hair at the vulgarity of my imagery. But it's better than the perpetual water turning into steam which every Marxist borrows from Engels. Just as there are some wants of the body which every one can and must personally satisfy, so everyone must encounter certain issues which are not the prerogative of any special science. Sexual materialism adheres to a radical egalitarianism unknown to bourgeois rights, which are always a right to inequality.
Marx, for example, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, argued that Ferdinand Lassalle's `right' to the equal distribution of the proceeds of labour was `a right of inequality, in its content, like every right'. Sexuality - in all its devious manifestations, including onanism, pornography, satirical degradation, speculative daydreaming, mental fixation on graphic images - is a model for the recognition of the non-self at the centre of self-motivation. It is the most telling experience of the inner as outer.
OTL looked up Vladimir Voloshinov's sexual-materialist formulation from 1929: `Psychic Experience is something inner that becomes outer. The Ideological Sign is something outer that becomes inner. The psyche enjoys extraterritorial status in the organism.' He typed the words at the keyboard and inserted the text into a thought-bubble audio-bite. He added the footnote: `Psychic Experience=Sex; Ideological Sign=Icon.' It would be replayed if the user hit the help button while sitting on the virtual mosque wall. Out To Lunch was pleased. The distributors might not like it, but this CD-ROM would do their fucking heads in!
_3. Soulboy Takes It Right Out
Soulboy Williams was on his way home after the drink with Out To Lunch and his musician friends. The debate about music had been a bit too muso-oriented to engage him - his thing was really songs and singers - though he'd been amused by the absurd amount of passion on display. The problem with improvisors was that they over-rated their subjective squint at musical form, they were incapable of the overview required for a genuine assessment of how society used music. Immersed in the well-springs of abstract musical creativity, they couldn't appreciate Soul Music in the Grand Style - the socio-political project of a Ray Charles or a Mark Morrison.
OTL had been warped by too much association with them, he thought. It explained his partiality for the rantings of that religious nutter. When he got home, he looked up Marx's famous words on religion from the essay on Hegel's Philosophy of Right:
The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chains, not in order that man shall continue to bear those chains without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off those chains and pluck the living flower.
Well, maybe Lunchie was on the right lines ... He'd been defending the halo versus his positivist sneers - pointing out that the synoptic vision might have drive him mad, but it packed a certain truth.
The conversation about musical genre echoed in his brain. `Coherence through transgression' had been OTL's summary of the exchange. `Just go out and see what's out there.' To conceive a limit is already to have passed it. That's a difficult thought to think. Lunch maintains that's because we're living through a deeply reactionary period; Hegel's arguments aren't `bourgeois' - that's the Stalinist, stageist view of history - actually they're infused with the spirit of the French Revolution, they're permanently revolutionary, to put it in Trotsky's language. Going out, going outside, being an `out-cat' - `an outcast and a far-out cat combined', as pianist Paul Knopf put it to the jazz critic Francis Davis. Nearly all the albums Out To Lunch had taped for him had `out' in the title. Was this just a narcissistic whim based on his stupid name and raincoat, or was there some logic there?
Quite apart from Eric Dolphy's masterpiece itself. Soulboy went over to the shelf where he kept his jazz tapes. There, in OTL's neat, fountain-pen capitals he read:
Sun Ra - Outer Space Ways Incorporated
Eric Dolphy - Outward Bound
Anthony Braxton - Steps Out
Sun Ra & his Arkestra - Love In Outer Space
Eric Dolphy - Out There
The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out
Booker Little - Out Front
Totally Out Compilation
Sonny Rollins - Way Out West
Eric Dolphy - Out To Lunch
He flipped open the last one. Inside, OTL had written `this brings the celestial voyager back to the munching animal body of the 9-to-5 worker, when food goes in and the mind goes out. Music and sex both invade the seat of the feelings, and suggest to the suggestible listener that instead of constituting a resistant nub of privatized nougat, the soul might be a twang tuned to external structures.' Hmm. Very Frank O'Hara. However, despite these gnomic promises, Soulboy didn't put Out To Lunch in the cassette machine. Instead, he slipped the Totally Out Compilation from its box, popped it into the cassette deck and pressed play.
Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs blasted forth with `I'm In (With the Out Crowd)', their garage-band answer to Dobie Gray's '65 hit `I'm In (With the In Crowd)'. The song had figured in an early confrontation between OTL's punk-rock aesthetic and Soulboy's love of Southern Soul (and Ramsey Lewis); it was while listening to a pirate-radio show hosted by the singer from Glasgow's Primevals that they realised that there was a whole seam of badly-recorded 60s raucousness where the distinction between punk and soul was academic - if not downright racist. Their relationship had never looked back - or not so as it would matter.
Drinking at lunchtime was not really Soulboy's style, he felt knackered. Another Saturday blown to the winds, might as well go the whole hog. He went to the fridge and fetched out two large plastic supermarket bottles of lager and cider. He rinsed a pint glass, then poured into it from both containers simultaneously. As the drink curdled into his favourite potion, he caste some mysterious holy gestures over it and muttered `vile foamy liquids'. With a smile, he remembered the Leeds barman who had refused to serve him a Snakebite `because only headbangers drink that!'. The tape had now got to Zappa's `Outside Now' from Joe's Garage, with the words about being plooked by the record-industry executives. He got Male Sexual Fantasies Under the Nazis down from a shelf and flipped through it, hoping to find some dodgy bits.
Fantasy alone, today consigned to the realm of the unconscious and proscribed from knowledge as a childish, injudicious rudiment, can establish that relation between objects which is the irrevocable source of all judgment: should fantasy be driven out, judgment too, the real act of knowledge, is exorcised.
The optometric abandon of Vinnie Colaiuta's drumming - presciently recorded in early-80s pop-soul ambience - was the ideal soundtrack for this mental hot-dog, as the imprisoned, existential Joe dreamt anal-sadistic vengeance guitar notes that were all too evidently social - or asocial ... or even asshole-oriented. Soulboy's mind was drifting into distant crevices of fantasy, a place where distaste and disapproval disappear into images of flushed cheeks and rampant strawberries ...
Then the phone rang. Probably a wrong number or someone selling rubbish, but he'd better answer it. You never could tell when luck might spring a bonanza. Animated telesales patter rattled from the receiver: `Did it ever occur to you that your philosophy of viewing is becoming unduly terrestrial, that it lacks "with-it" data novelty? All such failings spring from self-importance, and are best corrected by a little astronomy. How's about a satellite dish! Did you know that there is a channel dedicated to infotainment about the stars, constellations, black holes and red dwarves - all the latest discoveries about the destiny of the universe?'
Soulboy woke up, his critical faculties suddenly alert.
`Your insistence on "correction",' he shot back with a sneer, `"six of the best for the self-important little nuisance!" evinces the submissive erotics of the Victorian nursery. Your anti-humanism worships sheer scale, actually an astral projection of the power of capital. Fuck off! But before you do, listen to this.' He pressed the mouthpiece to the speaker, whch was now playing `In 'n' Out' by Rick James and the Stone City Band. The wet-lipped slurch of Oscar Alston's processed bass seemed just the reply needed. `Turn the culture industry back on itself!' He exalted down the telephone, `Inkjet retroviri throughout the knock-kneed culture! The ideology of being "with it" - ie disciplining one's tastes according to the mass market - injects your discourse with a gelid unctuousness that is instantly recognisable. The rough edge of the cut-glass personality is lost in Transatlantic slime!' As Xero Slingsby & the Works piled into `Out of the Wok', Soulboy slammed the phone down and return to his book.
When Lenin quoted Hegel - `Language in essence expresses only the universal; what is meant, however, is the special, the particular' - his gloss ran: `To call by name? - but the name is an abstract symbol and does not express the Sache selbst. How can the particular be expressed?' Lenin was describing the task facing both poets and revolutionaries ...
By now, the soundtrack was Devo's `Time Out For Fun': the Booji Boys' plastic beats spanked from Soulboy's speakers like a nivid eruption of Wilhelm Reich's Emotional Plague. He kicked off his shoes, and reseated himself with his feet up on the arm of the sofa, shut his eyes and let the parody production-line pop - postmodern before its time - wash over him. Then, in the midst of these lonely fantasy-games, a yellow square of paper caught his eye. It was fixed to the back of the sofa, the paper slightly crinkled at the edges. Printed along the upper edge, in capitals, were the words
While You Were Out
Beneath this suggestive rubric was the single word: Trish. Instead of a dot, a circle hovered above the `i', that surrepticious halo indulged in by sexually precocious nubiles. Soulboy's heart skipped a beat. Who was Trish? How had she got in? What had she done? Where was she now? He was not to know that the Post-it note had ended up there by chance, a message from OTL that had transferred itself from his own back to the sofa. Soulboy's aim was set. His search for Trish had begun.
_4. Dialectical Controversy among the Leninists
Conway Hall was chockful of Leninists. Not a journalist in sight as the conspirators quoted and counter-quoted their favourite theorist at each other. The political tradition that had supposedly `died' with the collapse of `Communist' state-capitalism in Russia had seen its rebirth among the proletarian avantgarde. Alexei Saleable wasn't there - he had sold his soul to British Telecom, making lame advertisements in which he posed in phone boxes in garish suits and made bug-eyes at the camera. Billy Burgg wasn't there - his Labour Party reformism had trapped him in a rightist clinch since the 80s. The hardcore Leninists who collected in this noble hall kept a low media-profile. They didn't pine for the cheap rewards of media celebrity; they wanted kudos among people who knew what they were talking about.
Lunch was particularly interested in hearing Alexander Snodgrass on the Dialectic. He suspected he'd have a lot to criticise. Unlike Stony Clifface, who walked and talked the dialectic in its living, poetical, polemical guise - mainly old Jewish parables reminiscent of Benjamin or Kafka - Snodgrass was Professor of Philosophy at the New University of Bourneville (sponsored by Yorkie bars). Eminently suitable for a lifetime celibate and chocoholic. A semi-successful academic, his fashion-bucking commitment to Leninism had impacted his career. It certainly reduced the number of American Philosophy Conferences willing to invite Snodgrass to fly out and address them. Nevertheless, despite these worthy sacrifices, Lunch still considered Snodgrass's pre-eminence among the Leninists an outbreak of Anglo-Saxon philistinism tainting the workers' movement.
Snodgrass's disquisition was an attempt to `explain' the Dialectic using procedures derived from Analytical Philosophy. Though a hardened foe of the notorious Hegelian triad - the instant application of `thesis, antithesis and synthesis' to everything under the sun - Snodgrass nevertheless had a trick of dividing every complex topic into three. Lacking any sense of the joys of negation, the ins-and-outs of contradiction and the startling interpenetration of opposites, what emerged from Snodgrass were a series of lists. Lists of lists. Whole talks that were really a list of lists of lists! They were custom-made for the `bullet-points' used by managers when presenting their strategies to sales-staffs. All he lacked was an OHP (Overhead Projector).
Even when he was describing something as inimical to categorical treatment as the Dialectic, Snodgrass came out with his blessed list of three! The predictability of his mental structures was stunning. The auditor had to put thought on autohold until the Professor had finished his promised agenda and got to his `third' point. This was strategic. You could picture him in a science class or council meeting, a ruler pointing at the `three essential points' he'd listed on the blackboard before the meeting had begun. Was Snodgrass unaware that his rhetorical procedures derived from the most elementary - and most stifling - tricks of authoritarian bureaucracy?
We will not trouble the reader by reproducing Snodgrass's talk. The thing is easily summarised:
1. The Whole, or `Totality'
3. Irreversible Transformation
Snodgrass was dividing the living organism of the Dialectic between the impermeable bulkheads of his analytical categories! This wasn't Dialectical Cleavage, it was Being Sectioned. A onetime victim of analytical psychiatry himself, Out To Lunch was horrified. Not being entirely robust emotionally - particularly in front of hordes of baying Leninists - he felt an attack of Trotskyist apoplexy looming. He drew out his notebook and wrote a therapeutic sentence: `He opened the long-awaited can of Special Bew and necked it.'
Despite the prestige of Snodgrass in these circles - the editor of Paralysis magazine had called him `the Leninists' only bourgeois intellectual' - Lunch had to voice his objections. Though he'd defend Totality to the death versus the calumny of those molecular free-basers from Warwick Univerity - with their Delude & Gut-theory and `either ... or ... or' (not to mention their pink-pound economics and `intelligent' Techno) - here he felt a surge of affection for negation and fragment. There were something second-internationalist and anti-revolutionary - Kautskyite, even - about Snodgrass's love for the Whole Picture bequeathed by science. It was the Jam Tomorrow syndrome, always a downer. Out To Lunch wanted to become the unregimented thought in the dialectical process, the nigger in this woodpile of political correctness!
OTL wrote his name on one of the speaker's slips being handed out by the young comrades who wandered up and down the central aisle, shy smiles on their faces. To his surprise, he was summoned to the microphone almost at once. Perhaps they wanted to give him enough rope to hang himself. This colloquium was a sharp contrast to both the repressive middle-class gentility of Nanatux's seminar and the lunchtime fracas with the Kantians. These Leninists were the hard guys of the Left, used to expelling fascist disrupters and quelling anarchist sabotage. In short, this was serious. OTL's voice trembled slightly as he ummed his way into his doubts about Snodgrass's line of argument. The devastating rhetoric of OTL's fantasy horangs evaporated beneath the harsh glare of political reality. He felt massed political scrutiny burn holes in his eye-sockets.
`Um ... er ... it was the order in which Alex put the dialectic which I'd like to try telling the other way round, because I found he left it with an emphasis that I don't find quite as inspiring as reading Lenin on dialectics ...'
OTL was unsettled by the gale of laughter that greeted this comment. Was it his hair-do - or something he'd said? Had he spilled Special Brew on his mack, provided understain ribaldry for comrades to laugh at? No, he'd only written about that; the can remained unopened in his pocket.
`No doubt this will collapse, but I'm going to have a go. Alex started with Totality, he made a kind of list of aspects of the dialectic - he started with Totality, he said there's Contradiction and there's Transformation. He said it's a good thing that scientists are using dialectical ideas - or things that sound like dialectical ideas - at the moment to describe the physical world. Also, of course, we've got to change society - it's like a list of things within dialectics. I think it's more interesting to look at the first sentence of Lenin's essay on dialectics because he doesn't start with Totality. He says the essence of dialectics is "splitting the whole and seeing the contradictions". Therefore, Lenin starts off with putting human action at the centre of dialectics, so that it is by splitting things in two that you find out what the contradictions are. I think this has a message for comrades in the party and how they think of knowledge. Because I think there's a tendency in presenting the dialectic as something that's simply about Totality in which one confuses Totality - which I think should be reserved for the Totality of Things in the Universe - with science. I don't think science can ever represent a Totality - it uses it as a concept, we have the concept of Totality, but science can never tie evrything up. I thought that it was significant that in the quote from Luk cs Alex used, he said `the principle of Totality is the prime mover of revolution in science' and I think that Luk cs was very involved with the concept of developing a total philosophical system and I think that was a remnant of Second International Marxism, where the idea was that experts would work out a total philosophy. That was why Lenin felt that that road was wrong, because it betrayed the working class and did not stop the first world war. The idea of experts and scientists developing a Totality of ideas kind of leads to a split between knowledge and action, where the experts study everything, they know it all, they're up there and then they tell us what to do. The problem is that they may tell us to do the wrong thing. I think we need to understand that it's actually in action, in being part of a party, in intervening in the world, that you learn. It's by acting that you learn. Now I'm not arguing anything against reading books, but I'm saying - Where do you start from, and I'd like to revive a forgotten philosopher of Marxism called Josef Dietzgen, he wrote a book called A Handyman's Approach To Philosophy, he was a tanner by trade. In his book he says we should reserve the idea of Totality for all the things in the universe because our knowledge is always partial. I think, as a popular philosophical book, we should think about reissuing it, because I think Josef Dietzgen was an excellent philosopher, he's very clear, he's very funny - and he has a non-academic approach that is required and would be good to revive!'
The comradely applause that traditionally greets each contribution sounded disconcerted. Who the fuck was Josef Dietzgen anyway? They were not to know that in the 1930s Dietzgen's works had been printed in tens of thousands for working-class self-education classes. Postwar mass culture had rubbed him from the map, replaced him with a televised diet of Trollope and Galsworthy and game-shows. Lunch noted one bout of furious clapping near the back. Was it perhaps Esther Punnck? OTL scanned the audience greedily, but failed to spot her. Perhaps, despite the intelligence she'd displayed on previous occasions, she was actually an anarchist, or something equally depressing.
John Mogg, a well known speaker at these events and editor of Leninist Journal, rose to his feet: `It's always a little naughty to misquote Lenin, but it's also a little silly to misquote Lenin in a room full of people who may know something about it. The actual quote from Lenin runs like this: "the comprehension of a single whole and its splitting into contradictory parts is the essence - one of the essentials - of the dialectic", and he puts the two things together like that - actually he puts the question of the whole first - he puts the two things together like that, because it would make absolutely a ruination of the dialectical method to separate them. The idea of contradiction and the idea of Totality are completely bound together, you couldn't have a sensible notion of contradiction without a notion of Totality - and to split the two leads directly to political errors!'
Out To Lunch blushed crimson. How could he have made such an elementary error? Misquoting Lenin on the Dialectic! He wanted to drown in oceans of Special Brew, be consumed in torrents of smegma, disappear down a Cleavage in the earth's crust, be swallowed up in Fishbait's arse. However, as a good Leninist, he sat on his hands and listened attentively to the rest of the speakers. There were further contributions from the floor about Contradiction, the Working Class and Totality. Everyone ignored Lunch's contribution. After all, Mogg had successfully branded it as the drivel of an ill-informed untouchable.
In his summing up, Snodgrass talked about Hegel's dialectic as an echo of the French Revolution, and emphasised its importance for Marx. He stressed the way empiricists like Freud and Darwin were forced to think dialectically in order to make their scientific discoveries. He thanked OTL for pointing out he wasn't Lenin, `in case one hadn't noticed it when shaving in the morning'. That got a laugh. He `defended' the concept of Totality - as if, Lunch thought indignantly, he'd called on everyone to dump it, rather than simply pointing out that starting from it is impossible. He accused OTL of Bradleyite intuitionism and mysticism. He said Josef Dietzgen was doubtless a `fine bloke', but objected to OTL's use of `class passports' in praising him for being a handyman. Luk cs was the son of a banker, yet his History & Class Consciousness was a crucial `translation of the Russian Revolution into philosophical categories'. Snodgrass's description actually put a finger on the problems Lunch-the-Dadaist had with Luk cs' writing: its sodding sense of ornamental after-the-event supplementarity, its relaxed patrician tone, its willingness to talk to the bourgeoisie in words they could understand, man! Luk cs perpetuated the bourgeois division of labour, he didn't speak to the oik in the street. However, here in this room of vanguard proletarians, Out To Lunch's punk concept of the sources of Truth - concrete human action - had also fallen on stony ground.
On returning home, OTL was unprepared for the shock when he looked up Lenin's essay in volume 28 of the Collected Works. There the sentence that starts his essay on dialectics stood, in stark black and white:
The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts (see the quotation from Philo on Heraclitus at the beginning of Section III, `On Cognition,' in Lassalle's book on Heraclitus) is the essence (one of the `essentials,' one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics.
Where was Mogg's `the comprehension of a single whole and its splitting into contradictory parts is the essence - one of the essentials - of the dialectic'?? The rascal had improvised an amendment to make OTL look a complete berk! He'd remembered the quibble in brackets but sabotaged the gist. If anything, OTL had underplayed the radical, anti-molar negativity of Lenin's statement - it was merely a single whole that dialectics split, not the whole at all! Lunch was aware that to carry such fine-detailed exegesis to its conclusion would require a crash course in Russian ...
The next morning, at the second day of the conference, Lunch thrust a photocopy of the page under Mogg's nose, demanding an apology. Unruffled, Mogg merely pointed at the word `whole' on the first line and said, `Totality's there, it's what Lenin starts with!'.
It was object lesson in political strategy: never try on the methods of conscientious literary criticism. Power is about convincing people that you're right, not finicking about with phrases - or anything so paltry as the actual word order. Lunch was suffering from a poetical delusion if he thought these Leninists wanted to bury their noses in mere texts! OTL's political understanding went up a notch. On the phone later in the week, Nellie told him that he'd never win a political argument with Mogg, the wily old rogue. Suggest an article for his journal about something safe, like literature, maybe an essay on Iain Sinkle - or just put the whole debacle in a novel.
`I might just do that,' Lunch replied.
On To Chapter Six
Get You Back Home