The Red Years: Theory, Politics and Aesthetics in the Japanese ’68. A live discussion with Gavin Walker (Online Group Video Session – 6th October 2020)September 9, 2020
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?
My name is James Riley, I’m a writer and academic. I’m Muriel Bradbrook Official Fellow in English Literature at Girton College, University of Cambridge where I work on modern and contemporary literature, popular cinema and post-1960s culture.
I write, make films and regularly perform spoken word shows in various venues (or, I did in the pre-lockdown world). Two recent publications include The Bad Trip: New Worlds, Dark Omens and the End of the Sixties (2019) and Territories (2020), a collection of experimental texts co-authored with the artist Evie Salmon.
2. What are your biggest influences in art, literature, music and cinema?
Art: Evie Salmon, Steve Quenell, Luke Insect, Francis Bacon, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Niki de St. Phalle, Stephen Pearson, Penny Slinger, Jim Steranko, Robert Smithson, Blackpool.
Literature: The Beats, Joan Didion, J.G. Ballard, Iain Sinclair, Chris Petit, William Hope Hodgson, M. John Harrison, Georges Bataille, Philip K. Dick, John Keel.
Music: Nuggets, Julie Driscoll, The Kinks, Merry Clayton, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Black Angels, English Heretic, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Hanson Records.
Cinema: Richard Stanley, Panos Cosmatos, Kenneth Anger, Donald Cammell, Ed Wood, David Cronenberg, Ngozi Onwurah, Craig Baldwin, Noel Lawrence, Patrick Keiller, John Eyres, Antonio Margehretti.
3. What, for you, is the purpose of art and culture?
They are, in simultaneity: 1) essential dream-fuel, 2) society’s magic mirror – the polished surface in which the real face is revealed and 3) our chronicle: the stuff, if we’re lucky, that might live on after us (for a short time, at least).
Doing art and engaging in cultural production are also the only, sure fire ways of keeping the Langoliers at bay.
4. What makes something subversive?
Subversion is turning something upside down for a purpose. Videodrome (the ‘actual’ film and the fictional TV station) was subversive because it had “a philosophy”.
I once had the pleasure of meeting the San Franciscan assemblage film-maker Craig Baldwin. In his film-archive we spent an afternoon talking about the subversive art of ‘culture-jamming’. Re-purposing found films, re-painting billboards, re-editing present-time, was for him not merely a matter for distortion; of blocking, interrupting or erasing the original message, but of re-purposing. The idea was to get the original to say something else, something more and to comment on itself at the same time.
For something to be subversive, then, at least three things need be clear: the ‘original’ undergoing the subversion, the means of subversion and the outcome of the subversion. Taken together, these three layers make up the message communicated by the act of subversion.
5. How would you approach the task of winning friends and influencing people?
One could start a cult, but they tend not to last very long. A much better idea is to be kind, to be respectful and to pass it on.
6. What does individual freedom mean to you?
Having the time.
7. Is there, for you, a relationship between the personal and the political?
Yes. Politics continually trades upon the personal for hegemonic purposes and for critical traction.
Politics is always already a matter of biopolitics: interpellation and subjectification impinge upon and constitute the self, the body and the psyche in overt and covert ways all the time.
Trying to separate the personal from the political is like trying to separate the person from their shadow.
8. What is the root of society’s problems?
The normalisation of capitalism’s systemic inhumanity and, by extension, the lack of a universal basic income.
9. Will technology liberate humankind?
If and only if it generates the resources and the infrastructure to support human development rather than to exploit it.
10. Do you have a vision for utopia?
I have a vision of a utopia: an anonymous hotel room. Or: an airport; in the 1960s, quietly empty save for occasional Ballardian announcements, all concourses leading to the same panoramic runway.
These dream spaces aside, my utopia would be a socialist utopia: one which had as its first, unquestionable, principle the provision of food, resources and housing for all.
11. Finally, where can people find more of your work?
My book, The Bad Trip is out now from Icon Books.