Each time I go on holiday I take along some of the books I’ve bought in recent years but not read, and this year two of the items in the bag spoke of the current British predicament.
On the one hand I have the first three volumes of The Forsyte Saga telling me something about how we got into the mess we are now in (English entitlement, financial chicanery, war and property bubbles), while on the other, Futures and Fictions (a mix of essays and conversations published around the time of Mark Fisher’s death in 2017) offers some pointers of where we may need to go next.
Futures and Fictions contains seventeen contributions, and five stand out in my reading.
In Stages, Plots and Traumas by Robin Mackay, plot is a many headed term.
It is immediately obvious that “plot” is a semantically rich word. Perhaps uppermost for us is plot in the sense of narrative, but not far behind it would come the conspiratorial sense of the word – the manipulation of affairs by some shady agent or agents behind the scenes. Also current, if less prominent, we find the senses of “plot” as territorial (a plot of land), graphic (plotting a graph), and geometric or projective (plotting one space into another).
The essay talks about how plotting devices (specifically the visual threading of various pictorial and topographical evidence in many TV and movie detective dramas) do not always provide the proof they pretend to, and Mackay stresses the way in which unexpected interventions are often necessary to ‘solve’ various mysteries, either in fictions, dramas or in a psychoanalytic examination. What is shown in any graphic plotting rarely reveals the actual ‘plot’. It is what happens behind the scenes that is often more vital in the investigation.
The dice are always loaded; continual navigation and reorientation is inevitable. The essential tool of the detective and the therapist alike are the scalpel and the compass.
This seems like good advice to someone trying, at a distance, to make sense of the world today.
The second of the pieces to catch my attention is a conversation between Judy Thorne and Mark Fisher about his ideas on ‘Luxury Communism’, the idea that it is already possible for everyone to have enough to lead a fulfilling life if only capitalism didn’t stand in the way.
‘Positing something like luxury communism as a positive goal means that we can start to see capitalism a force of resistance and obstruction,’ says Fisher. ‘It is only unrealistic from the point of view of a system which cannot be sustained, and which is prepared to risk everything in order to preserve its own fantasies.’
The politics that stresses austerity for some while promoting deregulated wealth for the others is a block to human wellbeing. We all know this, but are not sure what to do about it.
A later essay may help. In Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation – Labioria Cuboniks tells us that ‘XF rejects illusion and melancholy as political inhibitors’.
The illusion that XF rejects is ‘the blind presumption that the weak can prevail over the strong with no strategic coordination,’ while ‘the malady of melancholia only compounds political inertia, and – under the guise of being realistic – relinquishes all hope of calibrating the world otherwise.
The message might be ‘don’t get mad, organise,’ and do this by a ‘transformation of deliberate construction, seeking to submerge the white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy in a sea of procedures that soften its shell and dismantle its defences, so as to build a new world from the scraps.’
Things – politically, socially, environmentally – are now at the stage where everything has to change if we are to hope for survival.
Theo Reeves-Evison’s Surface Fictions points to a world where the meaning of artefacts and artworks may ‘no longer hinge on a straightforward opposition between interior Truth and exterior fiction. In fact, they may not conceal an interior at all. They allow us to see that the surface itself has depth, and that it is only through fiction, understood as an additive process of layering, that we can understand and shape deception’s deception.’
Alternate facts and fake news are textured, and if we know how to look we can betray the architecture of their construction. We need to learn new ways of looking to ‘see through’ the deceptions.
Which brings us to the only actual fiction of the collection, a story by Ursula K. Le Guin entitled The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
Omelas is a utopia of sorts – ‘like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time.’
There is only one dark spot, and this dark spot makes all the rest possible for the happy people of Omelas whose ‘tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it.’ Some, however, when they see this reality, leave Omelas.
They leave Omelas, they walk ahead in the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
Who stays? Who walks away? Where can they (we) go? Is there another destination, another outcome to our local, international and global conundrum of political disruption and climate chaos?
When they leave Omelas, some people ‘seem to know where they are going’.
Relaxing with my holiday reading, trying to take a break in the sun, do I?