notes for a hebdo talk (more links, questions, angles welcome)

  • What is it to give offence? To insult with intent? To use insults as a mode of revenge? Are these only insults or always also weapons of mass destruction?
  • What is humour in a time of war? Humour and culture – from the Keep Calm slogans to the Je Suis Charlie and ‘pardon’ image. The aesthetics and context of cartoons, and what can be said inside a box and not elsewhere.
  • On cartoonists, translators, books, mosques, persons, countries, faith.
  • Irony and contradiction. Freedom fighters opposing freedom of speech, and vice versa. The recoding of events as freedom of speech versus terror (Spivak 2002). Binary thinking that opposes civilisation and barbarism, liberalism and fundamentalism, occident and orient (Kay 2015) or medieval and modern, uneducated or sophisticated, religious and secular (Miller 2015).
  • What is revenge? Militarily and culturally? Can anyone win in this sphere? Or are we dealing with perpetual war? – as distraction for other more fundamentally economic interests? Taking sides (Kumar 2015) and anti-racism, anti-imperialism, justice and the creation of Death Squads as traps for alienated youth (Chandan 2015).

[pic is of the collaborationist newspaper of the French Nazi’s edited for several years ’43-44 by Antoine Cousteau (yep, Jacques’ brother)]

BBC Magazine trinketizing


A bit of pointless commentary that would have had more impact had it come out at the time:

What would you take from your desk?

Leaving with just a box

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

If you were told to clear your desk of personal belongings and leave the building, like staff at the UK headquarters of Lehman Brothers, what would you take?
Photos of the kids, spare ties, trainers, mugs – a cuddly toy? What was in the cardboard boxes being clutched by stunned staff as they left the London offices of the bankrupt US investment bank Lehman Brothers?.


Email:, subject DESK

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The bank’s 5,000-strong workforce turned up on Monday only to be told they were to clear their desks of personal items and go home. Images of the newly out-of-work carrying their possessions were beamed around the world
But if you got the same instructions from an employer, what would go into your box?
“I’d take a piece of card with my name written in Arabic on it, a 30-year-old photo of my school football team, a Barcelona football club mug, a copy of my friend’s novel, a two-year-old thank you card from a student, some spare contact lenses, an iPod charger and two pairs of shoes,” says teacher Chris Baxter.
“Mainly they’re little things, but most of them are very personal. A lot of the time I don’t really focus on them, but other times they trigger good memories. I wouldn’t want to leave them behind.”
For some it’s a case of accumulation by stealth, rather than a conscious decision to personalise a drab little corner of corporate space.

Cats pics go in Mag reader Siria’s box
“Generally, I have a problem with what I call the ‘trinketisation’ of one’s workstation, so I don’t have things like pictures or figurines to take away with me,” says fellow teacher Sian Allen.
“But I would take my draw full of shoes for various social occasions after work, including one pair of Manolos.
“Also a broken iPod, six Tupperware pots in various sizes, a M&S bra with broken under wiring, a selection of unread classics, half-used packets of Ibuprofen and a small selection of thank you cards with obsequious messages from students, to remind me that I am loved and appreciated.”
When people personalise their desk they are marking their territory, says workplace behavioural expert Judi James.
“It’s something humans are hardwired to do. We’re basically animals and need to mark out what is our space. We’re also nesting and making ourselves comfortable.”
But it’s also about opening ourselves up to others and that can be very good for business.
“Personalising your work space is also about giving other people the opportunity to ask questions, it’s about socialising,” says workplace psychologist Gary Fitzgibbon.

A few little friend would go with reader Thomas Cogley
“If someone sees a photo on your desk, or picture, it is easier for them to strike up a conversation and for communication to flow. Generally, if someone shows an interest in you, then you are more likely to help them when they ask.”
But the evolution of the modern office environment, with its hot desking, can make stamping some personality on your workspace a bit harder. Modern technology has also had an impact.
“There probably wasn’t many family pictures in those boxes being carried out from Lehman Brothers because the screensaver has replaced them,” says Ms James.
“Nowadays, personal possessions at work quite often come down to a pair of trainers and tracksuit for the gym.”
Here is a selection of items that you would take from your desks.
I think I’d be content with my Alfa Romeo mouse mat and the rather dog-eared pictures of Joyce Grenfell and Margaret Rutherford that are currently adorning the casing of my monitor.
Jonathan, London
If only Faust had heard of hot desking.
John, Tower Hamlets, London, England
In front of me I have a model house, a toy TARDIS, two sea shells, a model of a 17th Century English pikeman and a picture of Kate Blanchett. Me, a geek? How very dare you sir …
Mike Molcher, Leeds
On my desk I have: A jar of honey (for my morning porridge); the Statue of Liberty (obviously a copy – a souvenir of a trip to NY); hand cream; tea bags; a stapler (a battery-operated one I brought with me); my mug, bowl, plate, spoon, knife and fork; a container full of porridge oats; a packet of dried apricots; a packet of chopped nuts; several notebooks full of information; vitamin C tablets; and a packet of instant pasta – red wine and mushroom flavour! Also a few other bits and pieces scattered on the shelved behind me, including a coat, pair of shoes, items to do with my motorcycle club (newsletters etc.) and my hole punch.
Anne Boyce, Halifax, England
I have a longboard, rock from mountain, pic of my two-year-old old daughter, pic of Johnny Cash, rear view glasses.
Ste Mc, Leeds, UK
I have a picture of my dog to remind me of her, pencil with funny tops on them from places I’ve been around the world, a little cartoon character figurine (Chucky from The Rugrats) a stone that’s supposed to be good luck.. bright coloured tabs on each side of my monitor with phone extensions just to brighten my desk area up. My drawers are filled with food for breakfast and lunch!
Emma Hamilton, Lisburn, NI
What would I take? Everything that wasn’t nailed down!
Paul, Stoke, UK
10 weeks ago on my redundancy I took: 1. All my personal bits & pieces. 2. As much of the stationary cupboard as I could pour into my large cardboard box. 3. Several DVD’s of data & client info. 4. As many of the data wall-charts (£1200 each) as I could fold up and put in my cardboard box. 5. My company laptop that I just happened to have left at home the previous week. 5. Anything else that wasn’t bolted down in my office. 6. Oh, and a smug smile on my face.

Citizen Marx/Kane

My text on reading Capital in the cinema- with Orson Welles (forthcoming in ‘Marx at the Movies’ – edited collection [email me for details if needed]).


The cinema hall as a place to sell Eskimo Pie.


‘No matter how many customers there are, it’s still an empty building’ (Orson Welles in Welles and Bogdanovich 1998: 8)


This chapter addresses the question of how, today, to start reading that rich book that is Marx’s Capital:– of which an immense, even monstrous, accumulation of commentary on the Marxist mode of literary production appears to have already shaped its elementary forms. In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it is usual to say it is good to start at the beginning – not always of course, but usually to start with what is immediately at hand. Commentaries, primers, prefaces, intros, first sentences, first chapters: start at the beginning and continue on from there. This is itself debated, but my argument is that we can only approach Capital through the already existing commentary, even as we would like to start as if the book were new. And the commentary that exists is not only that which is explicitly marked as such, but also includes all the ideas we have already received about so many things – about Marx, capitalism, communism, exchange, commodities, and so much more. A vast accumulation of things that filter reading, so that it would be naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, even if it makes sense to start with commodities, the objects that are the souvenirs or detritus of our lives.


The key to the beginning of volume one is where Marx starts with ‘a monstrous accumulation of commodities’ [‘ungeheure Waarensammlung’ – translation modified by author], but there are many possible starts and many people don’t get much further than chapter one, or they take chapter one as the ‘proper’ beginning. I want to suggest that there is something more here and so want to begin with something else, or even someone else, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of the commodity system. A monstrous figure to expose the workings of monstrosity all the more (the monstrous will be explained). My reading is angular, so I choose a character from a parallel history of commerce, although glossed through a film. I have in mind William Randolph Hearst – moneybags – portrayed by Orson Welles in the classic film Citizen Kane. In this chapter, I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through its incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and to begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerise Kane, and us all.

Read the whole thing here: Citizen Marx-kane.

Suicide Without Fame, without Responsibility

I have mentioned before the Joy Devotion picture book out by Jennifer Otter (launched last week) – It is a study of the things left by Joy Division/Ian Curtis fans at Curtis’s graveside in Macclesfield. A year of trinkets:×240

Makes me think of the media frenzy over a the Batman deaths in Texas, and about having watched footage on Syria and Libya back to back with documentaries on Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain recently… What would the various Death devotions around Curtis and Cobain be if not the industrial remnants – turned trinket commodity detritus – of people spat out by the individualization machine, in which there are no longer actual individuals, only icon figurines of abjection that come to stand in their place – ie, stand in for actual expressive individuality. All the while mass death at the hands of the weapon system barely raises a murmur. This is trinketization, expressive if dysfunctional personality and creativity is turned into a mass produced semblance of a false individuality – and it must be embodied in a fallen idol who is then unable to remain alive inside this brutalizing system. The myopic fans (we?) cling on to this brutal departure because as fans/we are unable to find a way out ourselves – somehow both caught wanting to leave, but with no-where to actually go, because suicide without fame is nothing. This, sadly, also gives a hint as to why someone might style themselves the Joker and shoot a dozen people at a movie screening. Think Brievik in Norway too – these are also the people that the Curtis and Cobain cults create. Along the way distracting from NATO’s more gruesome wars, which are barely opposed by STW or anyone.