Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy of Language (Online Group Video Session)May 22, 2020
Acid Communism: A Live interview with Jeremy Gilbert (Online Group Video Session)June 6, 2020
Juliet Jacques, You Will Be Free, (2017, 10 mins 15’)
The Exploding Appendix Questionnaire is an ongoing data collecting exercise that, drawing upon divergent public figures from different intellectual disciplines and artistic practices, seeks to create an ongoing and ever-expanding map of ideas. Through this ever-expanding map of divergent views, we seek a kind of dialogue that, in both its overlaps and contradictions, creates a kind of hive-mind, which, in turn, helps contribute to the intellectual unfoldings of Exploding Appendix’s overall mission.
For the Exploding Appendix Questionnaire, we have asked some of our favourite intellectuals, activists, artists, creatives and commentators to contribute to a series of 11 generic questions. The same generic questions have been sent to everyone, and what you read below is one response to this.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
Primarily, I am a writer and filmmaker. I write short fiction – last year I just finished a PhD in Creative & Critical Writing at the University of Sussex – as well as essays, journalism and criticism. I have made three short films – two 16mm essay films, and a documentary about radical art and politics in Ukraine. I also host a podcast called Suite (212), an explicitly left-wing arts programme that began in summer 2017. I have also worked in numerous NHS and other admin jobs, but have been writing full-time for the last six years.
2. What are your biggest influences in art, literature, music and cinema?
There are so many! Plenty of the most important are from the modernist period – my literary idol is Vladimir Mayakovsky, for his determination to blow away the past through the development of new forms, his passionate engagement with the October revolution, and his fearlessness in calling out the horrors of Stalinism. Creative artists should be operating at high stakes and few aimed higher than Mayakovsky. I feel the same about the German Jewish playwright Ernst Toller, who was arrested for his involvement in the Bavarian Soviet Republic and began writing in prison. I’ve also long been inspired by how the Situationists combined aesthetics, activism and theory, critiquing the present and proposing a liberated future, and the Surrealist efforts at a politicised, psychoanalytically engaged avant-garde.
The existentialists – and Camus – had a huge influence on my worldview as a teenager, as did Marx and Engels. The 1990s trans theorists such as Sandy Stone, Kate Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg were crucial for me – my writing wouldn’t exist in the same way without them. Formally, I took a lot from post-war modernist writers in the UK and France – BS Johnson, Rayner Heppenstall and Ann Quin here, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute and Marguerite Duras there.
Film and visual culture are important – authors like Sembène Ousmane who also made films, directors like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov who did with moving images what Mayakovsky did with words, queer filmmakers who put trans and non-binary people on screen and let them express themselves, and groups such as the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative who relentlessly experimented with the properties and possibilities of film.
3. What, for you, is the purpose of art and culture?
I think art and culture should have aesthetic and/or political ambitions – to make formal innovations, or strive in their content to change people’s minds and lead in turn to positive changes in wider society. The best works, in my opinion, effectively achieve these two aims.
4. What makes something subversive?
Struggling to challenge or overturn existing power relations, be they social, moral or economic, in a way that feels honest, and being done in good faith. (I say this to differentiate truly subversive work, that lasts the test of time, from privileged cis-het white men who think their free speech is under attack from whatever threat they’ve trumped up at that point.)
5. How would you approach the task of winning friends and influencing people?
For a long time, I tried to be civil to my enemies – in particular, to centrist journalists who didn’t think trans people had the right to exist. I knew, but hadn’t learned enough from the tale of the frog and the scorpion, and of course I got bitten. These days, I maintain a base audience of people ideologically aligned with me, and those closest to me are not just friends but also comrades. So, most public work I do starts with a dialogue with them, and then aims to expand outwards. Engaging in more liberal (rather than leftist) discourses can be effective, but now I prefer to make an occasional, targeted intervention when it feels essential, rather than to engage on other people’s, often unfavourable terms.
6. What does individual freedom mean to you?
Freedom from censorship and prejudice, certainly, but also the political and economic means to create, to live wherever one wishes, to love whoever one loves, to work doing what one is passionate about, and to relax at will.
7. Is there, for you, a relationship between the personal and the political?
Of course! Everything one thinks, says and does is political – all the choices we make have political ramifications, and we as subjects are inescapably moulded by political forces.
8. What is the root of society’s problems?
9. Will technology liberate humankind?
To me, this feels like the most important question of our times. Technology could very possibly destroy us, through its facilitation of climate change, and the development of surveillance techniques that will make the revolutionary action needed to overthrow big corporations (or even the political reformism needed to rein them in) impossible. But …
10. Do you have a vision for utopia?
Yes, and (by now you won’t be surprised to hear that) it’s a broadly communist one. We have the technological means to house and feed everyone, to address the climate crisis, to create a media that informs people rather than deliberately makes them ignorant, to allow everyone to create and to reach their full potential as human beings. We just have to find a way around the forces that stand in our way, which historically hasn’t proved easy.
11. Finally, where can people find more of your work?