I decided last year that I was no longer accepting public speaking gigs. It’s on my identity site’s contact page. I still get the occasional request, and, sometimes, a query as to why I’ve decided that.
Well, it’s a big time sink for me, and right now I have to calculate everything I do against production schedules and writing time. And, frankly, there’s not enough money in public speaking to make me want to adjust my career balance. More often than not, there’s literally no money. Unless you’re famous, with a non-fiction book on the shelves, with a speaker’s agency behind you — and I ain’t none of those — public speaking is a thing you do for your own interest.
For me, that was meeting people, sometimes helping out (I’m never going to be anyone’s first choice, but sometimes events and festivals get stuck, so it’s nice to be able to get them out of a stressful bind), learning how to work to an audience and listening to new things.
It, however, ended up much like my experience of comics conventions, which I no longer attend. You show up, do your bit, and then everybody leaves and you sit on your own. Public speaking, for me, is mostly about losing three days of work and undertaking yet another adventure in room service food.
The audiences are very kind, and generally laugh at the bits that are supposed to be funny. But I increasingly found myself just sitting on my own somewhere, looking at my watch and counting down the time until I had to leave for the airport. It stopped being edifying or fun, and, honestly, if I’m just going to sit around alone for hours and days on end, I can do that much more comfortably at home.
And now I have a FAQ post to point to for the next time someone asks.
Last night I laid in bed and listened to the foghorns sounding over the estuary. I haven’t heard them that loud and clear in years. The sound reminded me of the brief period I lived in America. There, I would lay and listen to the trains lowing as they came into the yard down by the river. American train horns are sad, haunted sounds. Especially compared to the triumphant fanfares of British trains. The Thames Delta’s foghorn is an old beast rearing up and letting you know it’s still there and still watching, ancient and tired as it may be. It’s here, it sees you, and it’s reaching its arms out to guide you.
The fog is rolling back in, laying a white veil over the treetops. I look forward to going to sleep to the note of the river tonight.
Just arrived today, SPECTRES, from Shelter Press. Essays on composing and listening from, among many others, Félicia Atkinson, Stephen O’Malley, Jim O’Rourke, Eliane Radigue and Chris Watson. All essays presented in English and French. Details and ordering at this link here. Really looking forward to spending some time with this.
THE WORST IS YET TO COME by Peter Fleming does what it says on the tin. It’s a set of thoughts and survival tips on… well, it all starts when Fleming goes, as many people do, to view a cupboard that someone’s offering for rent as an apartment in London:
That awful apartment told me something. Neoliberal capitalism had probably run its course, spawning progeny it could no longer protect itself from. The constellation of possibilities that once flourished in cities like London had vanished. There were no antibodies left. Capitalism was undoing itself at nearly every turn. A kind of neo-Feudalism was on the march. Perhaps we were witnessing the birth of post-capitalism after all, not a clean and better alternative to the system, but (rather paradoxically) a much worse version of it, one that will make the “Trump Years” look like a tiptoe through the tulips.
My theory is this. Most advanced industrial societies have actually outlived the principles of capitalism and are busy transitioning into something else. It is still too early to say what that “something else” might be. But we do know the break won’t be clean. So the post-capitalist future we should prepare for will be no classless utopia. The worst features of capitalism will be amplified and applied reductio ad absurdum, coalescing around the return of preindustrial norms of authority and an incredible polarisation of wealth.
Donald Trump, Brexit, the impending environmental eco-blitz (or what NASA calls a “Type-L” collapse given the role played by elites) and the prospect of another Radiohead album give the appearance that things couldn’t possibly get worse. And yet, I disagree. They probably will.
It’s cheerful, yes. It’s also great fun to read, free of jargon, and very clear about where it’s coming from and where it’s going. It is, in some ways, a collation and re-statement of a lot of themes that have emerged over the last while, but it has new ideas too. I am very grateful for a book of this kind that does not also do one all over itself about the genius of Karl Marx. Also, goddamn, any work of political economics that talks about WG Sebald has my immediate vote.
(And makes me need to re-read Sebald’s magisterial THE RINGS OF SATURN for the umpteenth time.)
Fleming suggests speculative negativity and revolutionary pessimism as tools for surviving the shitstorm to come. The latter out of Sebald, the former out of object-oriented ontology.
Speculative negativity helps us divine the ghosts from the future that are now wandering among us. For example, look at Lethal Automated Weapons (or LAWs) and AI-equipped military technologies. If there is any innovation in the economy today, then it’s happening here.
Revolutionary pessimism anticipates the nastiest surprises that a derailed civilisation has to offer, yet refuses the cult of futility… Collective misery and individual optimism are just different sides of the same coin. Revolutionary pessimism inverts the formula (i.e., generalised optimism and individual unease) to forge a radical hopelessness.
He appends this to one section, possibly just for the hell of it:
Society needs to be de-Twitterised and experience a Twitter-winter.
I have to note that it is a perhaps surprisingly funny book. Which is just as well, given that it lays out how things are not likely to improve economically or politically in the short term. Think of it as a book-long “get your own oxygen mask on first and remember your training.” Except maybe a little grimmer than the tone I like to strike in the sign-off. Under the chapter about capitalism as cult, for example:
Cults will use anything to control their members, from the greatest pleasures to the most acute anxieties. Sometimes it’s best to feel nothing and go numb. Political wisdom is knowing when.
It’s a passionate, furious, self-aware and oddly funny book about the darkness ahead – and, as in James Bridle’s recent NEW DARK AGE, about the dawn after the dark.
And, as you may have noticed, insanely quotable:
The only way to retain your integrity when using a mobile app is to follow Joseph Conrad’s advice to the letter: “I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice”.
I’m trying to remember to list the blogs I read regularly, as new posts pop up, in order to be able to map my end of the scattered archipelago that is the Isles Of Blogging.
The term “Isles Of Blogging” comes from Nabil Maynard (nadreck.me), who most recently has been talking about social media diets.
Paul Graham Raven writes at Velcro City Tourist Board, and he’s got a new note up today about a piece at the LRB, himself noting that bailing out of Twitter ” continues, years afterwards, to ache and itch like a botched self-amputation.”
Sign of life from old lag Matt Jones at Magical Nihilism, currently a roaming Google director (recursive).