Sunday, 6 March 2011

The apotheosis of Lindsayism

lovely to see it right down, in so many words (scroll down to the last two paragraphs, if the start makes you lose the will to live)

I fell for fogeyism partially out of sheer desperation with neoliberalism, and partially out of the natural aftereffects of my condition - the desire for certainty and rules and norms, embraced and required all the more precisely because people on the spectrum can never fit in with them, and mostly spent their lives undiagnosed and locked in homes for the "subnormal" in the world where they did apply. The condition brings on a desire to romanticise whatever you don't personally know and never personally experienced, all the more so because you know you could never be part of it; the more naturally isolated you are, the more you will fantasise how life would be if you were a natural conformist. It's the cultural politics of unrequited love, or of being unable to love at all in the standard human sense. It's why I can recall the weather and even what I was eating when I heard, at the age of 13, that Donald Swann had died, and why - after I'd turned 14 - I was reduced to tears by the music from The First of the Few. It's also why I fell in love with The Owl's Map and We Are All Pan's People (not that the Ghost Box aesthetic represents a strict and straightforward delineation of the actual past - it would have been almost unthinkable in your actual Butskellite era for anyone to be both ruralist and in favour of modernist architecture - but the point still holds). It's why I genuinely felt sympathy, for a while, for the nativist interpretation of socialism, the Daily Mail with its support for global capitalism removed - it chimed with my romantic streak, my feeling for a few lost years that all modern culture was worthless, that the only way to go was back. And in all its forms, it's invariably a mistake I regret sooner rather than later.

For time and context have changed and, if anything, I've become more radical (in the genuine sense of that term, not simply the smash-the-market-but-only-to-restore-what-once-was Lindsay sense) as my fourth decade on earth has begun. Welcome to Godalming wasn't even on the And Then There Were Three level, it was on a Camel or Barclay James Harvest level of inconsequentiality, and the Aphex Twin's "Goon Gumpas" got that schools interval sound back in the '90s far better without even trying than anyone who's ever tried to make a cultural point of it, back when it was still the day before yesterday and wasn't a hopeless dream of a cul de sac, long past crying for. I almost invented this stuff, and now I don't want to talk or think about it.

The thing is that I wouldn't keep going back to Clark/Lindsay, usually despite myself and against my own will, if part of me didn't wonder - thinking, for example, of Reynolds' description of Sarah Palin as the ultimate rock'n'roll politician - whether they may be, at least in part, correct, whether the logical conclusion of the conflict between most of what I love in terms of mass culture and most of what I believe politically is this impasse. But this denies the complexity of human life, human experiences and human responses to both culture and politics; it is possible, in the minds of most people if not in the strictly-defined autistic mind, to disconnect forms of mass entertainment from their theoretical destructive effects on tradition (odious as it is, the widespread English tendency to say, effectively, "send the foreigners home" while knowing no culture beyond that effectively owned by Murdoch is an example of this), and the neoconservative mistake of assuming that simply because Iraqis wore jeans, they would automatically support the US military uncritically, is - like almost everything else about neoconservatism - merely an inversion of the worst aspects of Marxism, and specifically of the Marxist supposition that public taste for music rooted in socialism and radicalism would equate to actual active belief in those ideologies.

In many ways, Philip Cross's suspicion that Lindsay may have the same condition that he and I both have seems the most credible response; Lindsay's politics are born of the same streak which may sometimes lead me to suggest that if you are going to oppose Tesco in a place like this then you must also oppose Cee-Lo on local radio, or that the campaign to retain public libraries in a place like this is meaningless and pointless because they may stock the odd book by Katie Price, and if you had to define my condition in two rhetorical arguments which fall down when exposed to the nature of humanity itself, those would be the ones. Lindsay's greatest achievement may, in fact, be to make the market - and the assumptions and norms of the modern world generally - seem, by comparison, far more progressive than they can really ever be.


  1. I think there is something in "left-wing fogeyism", as defined by David McKie, that appeals and is worthy of being defended (whilst not going back on any social liberal advances).

    Something like the Battle of Kinder Scout, 1932, represents this - largely unemployed men fighting against a prescriptive authority. Working-class people who desired betterment through education, as well as personal fitness and activity. The brethern of these were obviously the likes of Mark E. Smith, Nigel Blackwell and other auto-didacts; this has been entirely lost with Thatcherism and Blairism and it is a real shame. You see this ethos in Alan Bennett's "A Day Out" or in that melancholy film of John Krish "I Think They Call Him John" (1964).

    Yet it can be difficult to apply LWF to Britain in 2011, as the habit has been lost for so long. Tony Judt advocates the railways and they are well used, but I don't sense the public will to pay more overall to improve them. Real ale and cricket will tend to mean very little to the majority of modern consumers (however strong a niche they may have in some areas, they will not be something to unite around).

    This tendency held most sway with the generation born in the 1930s - Harold Pinter and John Peel bookending that decade; and they were hardly dyed-in-the-wool 'puritan socialists', though certainly had a romantic attachment to cricket and football. Liberal-socialism will generally be more attractive to middle-class people than a puritanism that will seem a pennance.

    I do know some of the 1950s/60s born generation of north-easterners who unconsciously relate to LWF through opposition to the cuts and some relative social conservatism (though that always differ in extent and type, from person to person). Natural Labour voters but not Guardian readers, who may even vote UKIP or even Tory as a protest vote at how liberal Labour has became. Obviously these people are disliking the (neo)-liberal coalition even more than New Labour.

    Perhaps the problem is that modern consumer capitalism is so diverse and amorphous that there is no galvanising flashpoint like Kinder Scout, as well as a more passive population. There is discontent, but it is diffused in a way impossible in the context of the more obviously apparent class divisions of the 1930s.

    We have to engage with things as they are rather than evoke a past that will not be tangible for many people; there is need to communicate on people's terms and try and persuade them subtly and gradually.

    Having said that, many younger people are interested in British history and this territory should be not simply be left for the right to dominate.

  2. Indeed there are some interesting ideas (learning outside the official methods and means, a healthy suspicion both of national and global elites) which are worth keeping which are unfairly hidden within all this stuff - it's just Lindsay's belief that a perversion of these ideas should be used to keep anything modern out that offended me.

    I think it would be profoundly wrong to regard the Battle of Kinder Scout as in any way "fogeyish": in the context of its time, it was a radical statement against an elite who wanted to keep the mass of the population out of the bulk of their own country, which had a positive and progressive impact on the new consensus after the war. The fogeyish position at that time would have been to say, as indeed many of the working class did, that it's "not for God-fearing folk like us" to question "our elders and betters". I think we can say without fear of contradiction that had David Lindsay been around in 1932 this would have been his stance, because his whole politics is based around the assumption that there is, or can be, a quasi-feudal communion of interest between the working class and the aristocracy; he only supports Butskellism because it was the ideology of the recent past (and thus automatically better), not because he really understands its benefits.

    It would be very wrong to allow the legacy of the Battle of Kinder Scout to be used as an excuse for keeping "outsiders" out (I'm not saying *you* would, but Lindsay clearly would), just as it is wrong when the Beatles' legacy is used either to justify Thatcher/Blair/Cameron greed and selfishness or nativist fear of current black American music. The legacy should be equated to comparable movements in the present tense; maybe to Wretch 32 invading the Top 5, taking a territory that the global capitalist / internal neo-feudal alliance usually guard with their lives. We should be honest about what is most meaningful and dynamic to us; the whole dictum that "proletarians have no country" (the absolute antithesis of Lindsayism) is becoming more and more meaningful to me.

    All that being said, your last point is wholly correct. Dizzee Rascal, at his best, has dramatised the cultural battles of the present in historically resonant terms - the hunting imagery in the "Sirens" video, for a start - and Devlin's "Community Outcast" video seemed to set the current underclass in the context of the poor of the pre-welfare state age, a continuum of social isolation and ghettoisation only fleetingly interrupted by social democracy, or so it seems now. It's just a shame that so many people like that seem content to be *used by* capitalism, rather than simply to *use* it (though I do think Devlin's biggest hit, "Runaway", is a powerful statement on living within capitalism to have got into the Top 20 ... 'Break in the Sun' 30 years and several generations of social separation on).

  3. 'Runaway' is excellent (such stately strings underpinning it), as is much of his most recent album; compassionate and evocative urban music - 'Yesterday's News', 'Days and Nights' get me particularly.

    I had not meant that the Battle of Kinder Scout was fogeyish at the time at all, but rather that it might have came to be seen as such by the 1970s by a complacent youth. That "Look, Stranger" with Ewan MacColl is a brilliant programme, engagingly put together. I was meaning that people like MacColl informed the David McKie generation of "Guardian" writers.

  4. Oh absolutely. I agree with you on all counts (especially re. MacColl's influence on the generation of Guardian writers who grew up when it was still based in Manchester, and had yet to become the metropolitan-liberal-left paper we know today). As I said, I would never imagine *you* thinking the Battle of Kinder Scout was fogeyish in 1932, just that David Lindsay, knowing him, might well try to find a means of making out that it was, such is his tendency to appropriate socialist actions for conservative ends.

    Oddly I can't remember seeing that edition of Look, Stranger during the late 80s/early 90s repeats, when the BBC probably got through most of the series at some point. I wonder whether it was seen as too political, not applicable enough to the lost world of daytime nostalgia when it was simply a means of finding whatever was on the shelf to fill time?