AND DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION: Dylan Thomas, Friedrich Nietzsche and Tragic Joy

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It is typical of the physically weak to emphasise the strength of life (Nietzsche); of the apprehensive and complex-ridden to emphasise its naiveté and dark wholesomeness (D.H. Lawrence); of the naked-nerved and blood timid to emphasise its brutality and horror (Me!)[1]

Dylan Thomas, “Letter to Pamela Hansford Johnson”, 1933.

For the God he praised is a pagan deity. Pagan is the “raging moon,” pagan is the worship of the trees, the night, the sun, and the sea; pagan are the visions of rebirth from fire and the burning stars; pagan are the images drawn from the deep well of the unconscious self and mingled with Welsh myth, folklore, and ancient rites; pagan is the animistic infusion of nature with these private visions; pagan is the celebration of this world and its joys and sorrows, and the refusal to be comforted by the blessings of another; pagan is the absence of symbols of guilt and sin to account for human failure and suffering; and pagan is the transubstantiation of religious symbols into the natural order of things.[2]

Hans Meyerhoff, “The Violence of Dylan Thomas,” 1955.

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under.[3]

           Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

 

Dylan Thomas in Exile

Dylan Thomas’ path toward modernist English poetry was laid bare when he was a child. He was not taught the Welsh language deliberately – a decision taken by his father David John Thomas, a head teacher of English literature and an un-forked poet.[4] David, who was himself bi-lingual and taught Welsh lessons in his own home, inundated his son Dylan with sounds and books of English words, introducing him to the great works of English literature, including modernist poetry, psychology and philosophy. Thomas began to write poetry as a child, – the “Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive”[5] – and quickly began to edit his high school’s literary journal. Already involved in advanced intellectual, artistic and poetological questions and endeavours, Thomas, before the age of twenty, filled up notebooks with works which would, all in all, constitute around half of his poetic output – not counting his prose, screenplays, radio plays and short stories. Indeed, he showed no interest in other subjects, recognising very early that he would be a poet and writer.

Dylan Thomas left school at sixteen and began to work as a reporter. He fashioned journals and wrote poetry, and, after three years, published his first collection, Eighteen Poems, in 1933. This event paradoxically assured his exile from an “easy” life in quasi-traditionalist Wales. With his success, he began to roam the streets, pubs and salons of London, coming into contact with the state of the art of modernist poetics. Of course, just as quickly, he would return to Wales, for as he said in a letter, “Cities are death.”[6]  His nomadic, uneasy existence as a poet – and one in the English language – continued throughout his life, as he was caught in a web between Wales, London and later America. It was the utter lack of employment opportunities in Wales – especially as a poet – and his refusal to even consider another vocation – that gave birth to his permanent exile.  If one wished to be a Modern poet, one had to be in London or America – surely not in Wales (unless one could make one’s lucre elsewhere). Landing work with the BBC was later a great boon for Dylan Thomas, who contributed an English speaking Welsh perspective to the public corporation’s offerings. Under the neo-colonial thumb of British culture, the Welsh public and cultural spheres were and still are dominated by England and its media corporations, publishing houses and academic institutions.

It is not clear if this was David Johnson’s intention, but he is known to have been proud that his son had produced lyrical poetry and work of international significance. Nevertheless, he merely opened the door for Thomas, who went through willingly, single-mindedly working to create his own mytho-poetic world through the articulation of his lyrical, psychological and philosophical orientations and sensibilities. But, while his orientations were often centred around the tragic and brutal character of existence, of mortality, it was his longing for the Welsh landscape and its intimacy with nature which provided him with a sense of tragic joy, of the power of life (the concern of the physically weak), of the force of the “green fuse.”[7]  Indeed, Dylan Thomas acted as the Welsh druidic bard in his artistic channelling of the voices of his people[8], his wife, children and lifeworld, of the wind, the raging moon and the sea.  His father may have sought to make it “easy” for his son by giving him the language of the hegemonic power, but he could take away neither the accent of his voice, nor his perennial feelings of homelessness from Wales, necessitated by his extravagant exile.

Though his own life ended in the contradiction of his tragic existence, dead in New York in 1953, Dylan Thomas has been welcomed home in contemporary Wales, his legacy evidenced by the 2014 celebration of the Centenary of his birth. He is a celebrated son of a Wales that has enshrined bi-lingualism in its National Parliament. “Too English for the Welsh, Too Welsh for the English,”[9] Dylan Thomas died trying to escape the double bind of his predicament, though, as tragic, and intentionally so, he burned himself out through the ecstatic character of his lifestyle, his bohemian ethos – his own festival of tragic joy. Some would wish, as we will see, to bring sobriety to our view of Dylan Thomas, to pick his bones clean of any flesh, and to put to sleep or expunge his most riotous effects upon the youth (and patronisingly insulting adolescence in the process). On the contrary, however, it is precisely his eccentric rebellion that matters most about him as a tragic poet – especially one who also produced great works. That he is human, flawed, suffering, but also joyful and ecstatic, a creature of flesh and intoxication – and dying untimely – this makes him tragic in a way that allows people to empathise with him – in the first instance. The rebellion of youth may be “embarrassing” for those who have acquiesced to the nihilism of otherworldly hopes, but such denial of the tragic character of existence and fleeting possibility of joy is only a regretful revenge against the force of life, one provoked by the imminence of the night.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit And Death Shall Have No Dominion.

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Van Gogh Among the Philosophers: Painting, Thinking, Being

My “Prometheus Dismembered: Bataille on Van Gogh” has been published in Van Gogh among the Philosophers: Painting, Thinking, Being, edited by David Nichols, 2017.

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The Tennis Commune

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We play tennis differently.

We give little heed to traditional rules.

Of course, there are limits, otherwise

It would cease to be a game called tennis.

But, our game is not just another mask

Of regimented & belligerent anarchy.

The rackets & balls are for instance “ours.”

We choose the racket that suits us best.

At the outset of play, the ball must stay within

The green space & go over the net –

Unless, of course, we decide to

Play with the net down.

Another rule is that the ball is in play

As long as it can be hit – no matter

How many times it has bounced.

We do not keep score.

Our tennis is not about the

Wrath of gladiatorial combat,

With one warrior subduing another.

In our game, there are only winners.

Our tennis is about our enjoyment of motion,

Kinetics – not who can defeat the other,

But how long the ball can be

Kept in play by the players.

Instead of aggressive combat,

Our game more resembles a dance.

As the motion of the dance unfolds,

Even the green space & its rigid

Dividing lines cease to be limits.

All that is left is the dance in its

Choreography of cooperative action.

Our game eschews the boundaries &

Protocols of the gladiators for the

Dionysian joy of the dance.

We play tennis differently.

 

(September 2017)

Written for Ethics and Reconciliation in Poetry and Writing.

To Here Knows When: Poetry from the Abyss

To Here Knows When: Poetry from the Abyss, by James Aire, is the latest release from my publishing platform Fire and Ice Publishing.  I intend to accelerate our activity and begin publishing many more texts over the next few years and am open to queries from authors.  We are seeking radical and experimental literature.

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To Here Know When: Poetry From the Abyss is a work of radical poetic catastrophe. In the sublime event of loss, it deconstructs the fabric of space and time amidst its impossible longing for the absent beloved. As with Novalis and Coleridge, Aire seeks to conjure the beloved from oblivion through ecstasy.

To Here Knows When is pure deconstruction: mind-boggling, hilarious, highly political, and is fully engaged in the so-called “culture war”.  Perhaps one of the most free works written for decades, To Here Knows When calls everything into question and seeks, in Bataille’s sense, the utterly impossible amidst a fatal recognition of the tragic irony of every hope.  It calls to mind Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, Ginsberg’s Howl & Borrough’s Naked Lunch, among others.

 

 

 

After Brexit: Toward a Multipolar United Kingdom

This article was published in Nation.Cymru on 18 June 2017 as “We should aim for Home Rule, not independence.”

The Crisis is upon us

No one can argue in good faith that Brexit will be good for Wales.

The fact, moreover, that this historical catastrophe will be orchestrated by a deluded Tory-DUP regressive alliance only adds insult to injury. The breathing room won by Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the EU will be no more.

Indeed, Wales will be one of the biggest losers in the implementation of the “will of the people” – hundreds of millions in EU funding and a withdrawal from the single market which constitutes 67% of our exports.

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Let me be clear: we are being locked in the cage of the British single market, one dominated by London, during a period moreover in which there will be disruption of international trade.  Over the next decade, over 750 trade agreements will have to be negotiated by the Westminster establishment through the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

In this extreme terrain, the Welsh economy is clearly under tangible threat.

Agriculture may undergo massive dislocation due to increased international competition and the removal of EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies. These pressures – in the absence of any UK commitment to support agriculture beyond 2020 – would lead to mass foreclosures of farming properties and disruption of local communities. Wales will become a vassal of the impersonal power of the WTO.

Indeed, the WTO frowns upon agricultural subsidies as undermining competition – and, like the failed TTIP treaty, will penalise and allow law suits by multi-national corporations against countries which violate competition rules. The EU CAP subsidies remain only due the fact that it is the world’s largest market and therefore has quite considerable clout in international trade negotiations. Without the protection of the EU, Wales truly faces an existential crisis.

What is to be done?

In that the crisis is upon us, we can ask, with Dr Huw Williams, “What is to be done?” (27 March 2017, Nation) Since the general election, many have offered their thoughts on the situation for Wales and what our response as a nation should be to the threat.  Williams, for his part, remarks on a recent poll which indicated a rise in support for independence among Welsh voters, his focus being upon Labour Party members.  Nevertheless, his real intention, while celebrating open debate in our nascent public sphere, is to position Labour at the “centre” of the debate on the future of Welsh democracy.  Williams defines the centre through his reference to FM Carwyn Jones’ alleged “radical vision for devolution.”

Iwan Morgan and Jason Morgan, on the contrary, are among those in recent Nation articles calling for an intensification of focus upon Welsh independence – and specifically by Plaid Cyrmu – the Party of Wales. While the former outlines the positive case for independence in regards to enhanced powers of self-government, the latter has called for Leanne Wood to resign for failing to achieve an electoral breakthrough and not adequately promoting the cause of independence.

I would like to argue that Williams and the two Morgan’s represent two sides of the same coin, neither willing to confront a simple fact: Welsh devolution is incomplete, it is a construction site in which we are building Welsh democracy. For his part, Williams is hardly forthright when he speaks of Carwyn Jones’ (or the Labour Party’s) commitment to a “radical vision of devolution” for Wales.  Indeed, Jones and his Westminster Welsh Labour MPs have utterly failed to enact a robust devolutionary settlement either by blocking Plaid Cymru initiatives or simply abstaining on key legislation which would have given additional powers to Wales. Indeed, it can be argued that every advance of Welsh democracy – including devolution itself – has been pushed primarily by Plaid Cymru. The One Wales coalition, for instance, gave us the 2011 referendum, and the competency to enact primary legislation. The first piece of legislation was the Welsh Language Act.

Neither have the advocates of instant independence confronted the fact that devolution is the process by which we are literally building the Welsh state. Iwan Morgan speaks of all the positive aspects of independence – but all the powers he mentions would already be possible through an expansion of powers and competencies of the National Assembly.  The idea of independence (one with which does not sit well with most Welsh people) is no substitute for the hard work of building Welsh democracy in the form of Home Rule.

In the wake of the recent election results, I would like to play the role of devil’s advocate.

First of all, no one was expecting a big surge for Plaid Cymru in the general election.  Most people were hoping for one or two seats. Indeed, Jason Morgan demanded in “The bottom line: Plaid Cymru must make gains” (1 June 2017, Nation) that one additional seat was necessary. It is strange therefore that he would call for Leanne Wood’s resignation when she fulfilled his basic requirement.  He also complains in “It is time for Leanne to go” (15 June 2017, Nation) about the progressive politics of Plaid Cymru, feminism and the lack of focus on independence.  He seems not to grasp where he is and who the voters are: Wales is a progressive country – otherwise Labour would not gain 75% of the parliamentary seats. Jeremy Corbyn, moreover, would not even have been possible without the anti-austerity alliance of Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Lucas in the 2015 general election.

While it is interesting moreover that Labour would be ready (if necessary) to colonise the independence movement, it is clear that they will not go that route any time soon.  In this light, would a party which does emphasise independence do any better, as Iwan Morgan suggests in “It’s time for Plaid to make the case for independence?” (16 June 2017, Nation)  I would argue, against both Morgan’s, that independence clearly harms Plaid Cymru’s voting share at the polls. Indeed, while a solid case can be made for independence in abstracto, the pathway to independence is rarely discussed in detail.  That is because it relies upon the hard work of building Welsh democracy in the form of Home Rule.

Home rule has long been the goal of Plaid Cymru – although its precise meaning has not been clearly and consistently conveyed to the voters.  What is important here is that Home Rule or Devo-max seeks to build Welsh democracy initially within the context of the United Kingdom, our beloved “Family of Nations.” This has yet to be fully attempted. Moreover, building Home Rule creates the conditions of possibility for independence through a process of political, economic, social and cultural development.

My argument surrounding independence is based upon the simple principle:

If the constitutional design and political economy of the United Kingdom cannot accommodate our aspirations for a robust Welsh democracy, then the question of independence becomes inescapable.

At this point in a long history, there is much reason to doubt that the British state would ever allow Welsh democracy to come to fruition.  Yet, what is the British state – or better, who is the British state?  Much is possible in the context of Parliamentary sovereignty and Labour did in fact deliver devolution in 1999.  Yet, since this time, it has only been Plaid Cymru which has pushed the process further: and this has been Plaid Cymru’s longstanding policy.

The Tories and Labour have maintained Wales in a state of arrested development.  Only a Plaid Cymru government in the National Assembly can begin to liberate Welsh democracy.

After Brexit, in order to avoid the homogeneity of a London-dominated unipolar UK, it will be necessary to create a multipolar UK. Home rule in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will allow the emergence of countervailing poles to re-balance the UK political economy.  This is possible in the context of current devolutionary tendencies: much has been achieved by Scotland, for instance.  It is important to remember that devolution is a constitutional project to ameliorate democratic deficiencies with regards to minority nations.  The same project can be harnessed to transform the political economic structure of the UK after Brexit.

This is why, for the next elections to what will then be called the Welsh Parliament, Plaid Cymru must emphasise a renewed and consistent focus on building Home Rule. In this context, independence would be the stick to the carrot of authentic devolution. Plaid Cymru, over the next few years, must educate the Welsh populace on how devolution can allow us to “take back control.”  Indeed, home rule is a much more tangible offering for a population where the vast majority are still wary of the spectre of independence.

I feel that proponents of independence, in their enthusiasm, often forget that we still need to build the Welsh state – and that much of this work can be done prior to independence.  This work is done by building home rule and the establishment of a true Welsh social democracy.  Home rule is something people can grasp and understand, and thankfully, it is 90% of the way to independence (if that is the path Welsh citizens decide to travel.)

 

Putin’s Ears Must Be Burning – A Report on the Banality of Propaganda

Putin ears

I sometimes wonder what Путин must make of the Western media obsession with him.

Do his ears burn each day with all the new articles, broadcasts, social media mentions – the myriad voices, guided by the Western political and media establishments, speculating, characterizing, creating – “Putin”?

It is unlikely that Путин is indifferent to the “Putin” spectacle as there are often statements by his proxies or himself that deny or contest reports in the Western press – or, request never-forthcoming evidence to back up incessant and unsubstantiated allegations.

Путин has been meticulously translated into the lifeworld of Western alphabets as caricature, a larger than life, Hollywood nemesis, woven out of an echo chamber of narrative clichés.

As with other mythological creatures, the poets elaborate the “Putin” tapestry by which we interpret the world.  This mythos, distinct from the disinterested integrity of knowledge, operates unconsciously, at the level of mass psychology, amidst the zeitgeist.  In this context, “Putin” becomes a trigger word for a nexus of prescribed, automatic feeling.

In the end, the conjuration of “Putin” is orchestrated according to the desires of the prevailing configuration of Western political power – and not by evidentiary truth.  It is not meant to reveal Путин, but to disseminate “words that kill” that will erase him and his lifeworld.

To read the rest of the article, please visit Putin’s ears must be burning.

 

Trump vs the National Security Establishment–Will there be a revolution in US foreign policy?

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(excerpt)

Trump has however won the election and he is on a direct collision course with the National Security establishment.  Of course, Trump is an unlikely revolutionary.  He has never said he would defy the National Security Act of 1947 (no president has), which means that he will accept its shadowy apparatus and its bureaucratic methodologies. Indeed, he supports increased NSA surveillance, expanded military spending, CIA activism, FBI phone hacking, etcetera. He is simply suggesting a different target for business-as-usual, by reminding us of our last propaganda cycle, the “War on Terror”.

Yet, Trump has thus far failed to articulate the “big picture” of a Russian rapprochement in the context of the necessity of a US glasnost – of a deconstruction of the National Security state.  During a campaign characterised by serial violations of longstanding taboos (Sanders’ opposition to the CIA, his support of the Sandinistas and Cuba) and Wikileaks’ disclosure of sensitive and damaging government and campaign documents, Trump squandered his opportunity to lay out a credible vision for either radical reform or revolution.  Indeed, he has been happy to simultaneously endorse the NSA surveillance state and Wikileaks – and without irony.

Trump’s has thus far failed to articulate a coherent vision of a cooperative, multi-polar world – in other words, to invite ordinary citizens to demand a radical change in the concept of national security and of the place of the US in the world.  If he does not challenge the NSC, Trump’s insurgency will expose itself as a distraction to the urgent task of finding a pathway out of the labyrinth of empire.  In its naivety, Trump’s “revolution” would then serve to further merely consolidate the unquestioned impunity of the National Security state.

To read the complete essay, please visit Trump vs. the National Security Establishment.

Squat to own – Sadiq Khan must think bigger to solve the housing crisis

In his campaign for London mayor, Sadiq Khan stated repeatedly that his greatest challenge would be the housing crisis. What we have experienced instead is a disappointing dearth in the mix of tactics to confront property speculation and skyrocketing rents.

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Previous generations responded to their own housing crises with massive social housing projects, housing benefit, rent control, cooperatives – and squatting. Already back-tracking on slightly more radical policies such as rent control, Khan’s central initiative has been Homes for Londoners, a private-public partnership to encourage investment in additional housing capacity. But, while Khan has criticised investors for regarding residential assets in London as “gold bricks for investment,” his own policies in fact capitulate to the speculative property market by offering “affordable homes” as just another investment brand.

Khan recently stated that he would be friendly with business as mayor of London.  Yet, as a public official, his remit extends beyond the narrow interests of business toward those of the wider community.  If his rapport with the market is to surrender to its logic, Khan will merely perpetuate the root cause of the housing crisis.  In line with the neo-liberal mantra, the “free market” is not meant to efficiently allocate housing as a social need, but to generate revenues and maintain property values.

The housing crisis, in this way, would seem to be a matter of perspective.  For landlords and investors, there is in fact no crisis at all, but record profits and expanding opportunities for investment.  The crisis exists only for end-users, housing consumers in a seller’s market – where supply is maintained in artificial scarcity.  Bound by this logic, Khan’s Homes for Londoners will provide little incentive for a shift in investment behaviour – and will therefore not solve the housing crisis.

A credible housing strategy – indeed, a housing revolution – must deploy a mix of tactics and must transform the logic of housing provision through public investment, regulation, and cooperatives.  Yet, as we have seen, Khan has not challenged the pre-eminence of the market – even though in housing allocation, it has so clearly failed. In the face of the contradiction between property as a residential asset and housing as a social necessity, Khan must challenge the market by expanding his range of options to deliver on his promises to London.

To read the rest of the article, please visit: Squat to own – Sadiq Khan must think bigger to solve the housing crisis.

After Brexit: The Corporate Countryside

It is emblematic that on the day after the EU referendum, Donald Trump (perhaps the next president of the United States) was in Scotland, inaugurating his controversial new golf resort.  Oblivious to the country around him which had just voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, Trump congratulated his audience on their new independence.

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Yet, he was not speaking to the common people of Britain (much less to Scotland, trapped, along with Wales, in the Brexit scenario), but those in his audience, the new placeholders of aristocracy – wealthy investors, media moguls, business leaders and others set free from EU barriers to land ownership, property development, tourism and speculation.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been the greatest barrier to a collapse in the UK property market.  The CAP is concerned with market stability, tariff-free trade in the EU and farmer livelihoods.  It consists primarily in a subsidisation of farmer incomes through direct payments.  It is well-known that most farmers make a loss on their operations and would not otherwise be able to continue without the subsidy.  As the tendency toward losses is primarily due to the downward pressure on prices from supermarket competition and its monopoly on distribution, the farmer’s subsidy is in many ways a backdoor subsidy for the retail and food processing industries.

With the elimination of the CAP, these subsidies will disappear and it is possible that they will either not be replaced or will be phased out in the near term.  The CAP has tended to maintain the status quo, not only protecting member states within the single market and in international trade deals, but also preserving the operations of loss-making farms.  The IMF, which Angela Merkel brought in to manage the Eurozone, has been pushing its 188 international members to quickly reduce or eliminate farming subsidies, a policy shift at odds with the pace of EU policy. The UK could decide to weather the storm of a radical re-adjustment in the structure of land ownership, especially in agriculture where it would become a corporate affair.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit The Corporate Countryside.

After Brexit – Envisioning New British Landscapes

Among its myriad effects, Brexit threatens a radical shakeup of UK agriculture with the withdrawal of billions of pounds of EU subsidies. There is considerable anxiety in the agricultural community as most farmers rely on some form of income support from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Without a policy of smooth transition, the transformation of agriculture will lead to a radical shift in land values as many farmers lose their holdings to the international market.

The fall of the CAP opens up the ominous possibility of the corporate countryside, the brave new world of high intensity agribusiness, accelerated road building, suburban residential and retail commercial developments, airports and tourist facilities. In an era of cheap land and perhaps negative interest rates – not to mention the housing crisis – development will proceed apace as the integrity of the countryside is forever altered.

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Contrary to this nightmare scenario, the current CAP policy favoured stability, and in recent decades, environmental criteria and objectives, linked through cross-compliance to farming subsidies. Activities such as crop diversification, pesticide control, wildlife corridors have been central to the Pillar I requirements for EU subsidies. Such activities are still in place across the UK and indicate an alternative path for the British countryside, other than the corporate takeover of rural Britain.

It is ironic that British scholars and scientists have been central to the articulation of EU environmental law and policy, the most developed body of such law in the world. Indeed, given the high level of public education in the UK on environmental issues, especially of such issues as climate change, it would be difficult, and in fact, counter-productive, to walk away from such a longstanding commitment to the environment.

Confronted however by the forced choice between economic development and the environment, many may tolerate the incremental destruction of the rural landscape. But, we must be clear that this is a false choice and that a better approach to the countryside is possible than a passive drift toward the wasteland. To get a glimpse of the nightmare scenario, we need only consider the American (formerly rural) landscape of suburbs, retail malls, theme parks, landfills and industrial farms.

Nevertheless, Britain differs from the Americans since they have already created their wasteland. The UK still stands at the crossroads, not having taken the plunge toward overdevelopment and corporate agriculture.  Indeed, while the UK will leave the EU, there is no good reason to simply surrender the countryside to the vast corporate monolith. Yet, such surrender will occur in the absence of political clarity, imagination and investment.

To read the rest of the article, please visit “After Brexit – New British Landscapes”.

 

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