by Richard Seymour Women, children, and revolutionaries hate irony. —Joseph Conrad I. Gramsci is supposed to have claimed, in one of his recondite quips, that Marxism is ‘organised sarcasm’. There is something terribly appealing about the idea of sarcasm, red in tooth and claw, being marshalled into the proletarian side of battle. It is ludic and yet hugely suggestive. And Gramsci certainly withered his opponents nicely when duty demanded it. What would the claim be like if it were true?
by Richard Seymour. “As long as you think you’re white,” James Baldwin said, “there’s no hope for you.” And if this seems counterintuitive — as though one might think white people are the only people with hope — he went on to say: “Insofar as you think you’re white, you’re irrelevant. We can no longer afford that particular, romance.” There’s something odd, and challenging here. It’s a strange way to put it: whiteness is supposed to be a privilege, something those interpellated as ‘white’ are getting something out of, not — as Baldwin seemed to believe — doom. At
by Richard Seymour I. Nothing is forever, except absence. And if the bromides of the British pundit class seem timeless, that is because the political centre registers as an absence. Credibility, they’re saying. What Corbyn needs now, and sorely lacks, is credibility. How does one get credibility? A sharp swerve to the centre. The capitals of the European centre are collapsing around their ears, from London to Madrid to Athens to Amsterdam. Only Paris has averted the complete collapse of the centre through, as Perry Anderson put, a yuppie simulacrum of populist breakthrough. And even there, it followed
by Richard Seymour. ‘Wanting’ has an obvious double meaning. To want something in the ordinary sense is to wish for it. But want is also lack. The two meanings are not necessarily separable. To want for nothing is not necessarily to have everything, but to be without nothing that one could wish for. Therefore if someone says, “I want a sex change,” they are both describing a wish and naming a lack. Paradoxically, naming is also a way of forgetting. As soon as we give a name to whatever it is that we are wanting, we can forget the
Alex Nunns interviewed by Richard Seymour. Richard Seymour: Reading your book on Corbyn [The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path to Power, O/R Books, 2016], one is immediately struck by the fact that you have opted for an incredibly detailed, textured history and analysis. There’s a sense in which a relatively minute but powerful historical moment, when you unpack it, seems to illuminate almost every dimension of British politics. It’s almost as if you’re painstakingly assembling the telling details, the moments, the testimonies, which otherwise might be lost. So the first question is what does this tell us about the
by Richard Seymour I. On both sides of the Atlantic, there is one group of people who terrify and enrage the punditocracy. The legend that is the ‘white working class’, a trope long in gestation throughout the noughties, has finally struck back with a vengeance. Conservatives in government, Brexit, and now President Trump. The ‘white working class’ used to provoke mainly a form of sentimental nostalgia and patronising endearment. It was a tea towel memory, a commodity, not something that had real influence. But the terror arising from this wave of global reaction is producing an interesting anti-democratic backlash amongst
By Richard Seymour All the wrong people are cheering. Farage, bulbous eyes swivelling and moist, lauded a victory for “the real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people”. The citrine-tinged Trump, with customary intuition, praises the Scots (who overwhelmingly voted for Remain) for taking their country back. Marine Le Pen, hailing a “victory for freedom,” demands a similar referendum in France. Certainly, George Galloway, having joined Farage in demonising ‘mass immigration,’ is also pleased, and there are a few saps who think that Tony Benn’s democratic socialist dream is on the brink of fruition. But the serried
by Richard Seymour The Talmud tells a story of how Eleazar (2 Macc. 6) was tortured to death for refusing to swallow pork that was forced into his mouth by the Greek authorities. The forces of King Antiochus, determined to force the Jews to abandon their barbaric ancestral customs, were instructed to put to death every Jew who refused to assimilate to Greek culture. In the perverse logic of antisemitism, however, this came to mean that Jews were porcine, an idea which became the basis for folklore, stereotypes and proverbs. It was held simultaneously that Jews, by refusing pork,
by Richard Seymour Corbyn’s first nationwide electoral test was always going to be an anticlimax. Judging from the spate of news articles, psephological analyses and briefings from Labour sources in the run up to the local elections, the party was supposed to be on course to lose around 200 council seats, and score the worst result for a Labour opposition in thirty-four years. As in Oldham West, the media and punditry worked themselves up into a wholly unjustified lather. It was unlikely, given Labour’s incremental improvement in the polls nationally, that it would go into meltdown (outside of Scotland).
by Richard Seymour If a theory of populism could be inferred from the media’s coverage of the subject, it would go roughly like this. The majority of people outside the political class, which is the reasoning executive of the body politic, are essentially vulgar, corporeal beings, pushed around by basic needs and desires, and unable to engage in authentic political reflection. Sometimes, in difficult situations, the people turn their inchoate, mobbish, tendentially violent rage against their benefactors, and are led astray by false masters (‘demagogues’) promising false solutions. ‘Populism’, then, is what happens when the people no longer recognise