The Anti-Canon series is a collection of short essays focusing on writers less well known, positioned outside of the literary mainstream or simply deserving more attention. An alternative (but by no means definitive) list of works that have influenced the writers at Influx Press, offering a different perspective to what is, and what is not, considered ‘important’, and hopefully giving you some new books to read into the bargain…
Situationism meets Facebook – the 1960s Left Bank meets Dalston. These are the first things that come to my mind when I start thinking about The Meeting of Failures, attributed to Francis, member of a collective by the name of Everyone Agrees. I bumped into it by chance, after reading Michèle Bernstein’s The Night. (Bernstein, in case you don’t know her, is one of the founding members of the Situationist International; she was also Guy Debord’s first wife. This relationship would feed directly into her work as a writer, particularly into her novels All The King’s Horses and The Night.) Everyone Agrees contributed to the first English version of The Night (2013), and after this collaboration it is hardly surprising that their book is deeply influenced by Situationism, rehashing many of its clichés, from derivé to aborted revolution. I don’t mean this in a pejorative way, for in the age of solipsistic psychogeographic literature a la Sinclair any quirky re-appropriation of Situationist tropes is nothing short of a blessing.
The Meeting of Failures – the Act One of a three-part still ongoing project – narrates the misadventures of Francis, a Londoner in his mid-20s, one of the myriad lost souls released into the void once a year by London’s art colleges. He is in love with Savannah Palace, a strange nocturnal creature somewhere in between performance artist, hipster queen, and Vice mag cover girl. We follow Francis as he staggers from event to event after Savannah, both fascinated and somehow put off by what he sees, fully immersed in a scene he never completely embraces nor is able to reject. This basic and potentially smug narrative provides the background to what the book does best: capturing the zeitgeist of contemporary London, the grey megalopolis where bohemianism has been streamlined and turned into yet another mass-produced spectacle available for consumption. This is also the London of the Olympic apocalypse, of Boris Johnson the tactical idiot, a city that for years has been promoting its own decay through its glorification of real-estate speculation and Square Mile fetishism.
Now this has been the subject of much reflection lately, generally delivered with a pathetic denunciatory tone (exactly as I have done above) – this is something The Meeting of Failures completely avoids. And here’s exactly where this book’s critical powers reside, in it being able to provide a piercing account of all these processes without taking an external position to what it sets out to depict. The characters who populate its pages, these failures acquainted to anyone who has ever set foot in East London, are much part of the city’s contemporary plights as the plainest and unapologetic of Liverpool Street yuppies.
The Meeting of Failures must have been written somewhere within spitting distance from a bicycle shop attended by a bearded guy, for in its pages we read about performances that end up with the audience eating sushi from naked Savannah Palace (the practice known as nyotaimori), about collective artistic derivés through Hackney, where hipsters take over the streets fake texting on their iPhones, whilst an estate agent recalls the mythical history of the East End. We read about the contained despair of Generation Tuition Fees, their inability to come up with any political idea that doesn’t end up in the most abject nihilism, their inescapable journey from aborted rebellion to 9 to 5 adulthood lived through social media. Everyone Agrees claim their project deals with “extended adolescence, misdirected ambition, authenticity, hipster politics and the politics of hipsters.” This seems an accurate description of what goes on in the book. That “hipster politics and the politics of hipsters” are almost nowhere to be found in the book – beyond some drunken talk about radical politics – is revealing.
These are days of irony, not of trying to change the world. If you don’t get what I’m hinting at spend some time on social media and get drunk on its toxic mix of opinionated diarrhoea, pessimism, self-righteousness and misread Nietzsche. And then tweet something ironic about it.
The Meeting of Failures is illustrated with photographs by the London-based Lebanese photographer Rasha Kahil. The artwork greatly contributes to the book defeatist aura, showing us fragments of Dalstonian nightlife and soon to be gentrified urban space. And yet it is always refreshing to come across London as seen by someone other than the usual suspects (very likely male and British). We’ve all seen the human subjects of Kahil’s photographs, we’ve both hated them and perhaps even been them: the young pretentious drunks puking on the pavement, annexing this or that shitty area of Hackney, desperately seeking a cheap rent as close as possible to any place serving a decent coffee. Or not at all. Perhaps we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But is it even possible to remain outside? It might be important to start questioning our own role in the foxtonisation of everyday life. Let s/he who is free from gentrification throw the first brick.
Situationism has long been pacified by academia and the (generally) naif cult of peripatetic bloggers, its political critique derided or bastardised. It is perhaps true that Situationism as a political radical avant-garde failed, that it was eaten away by the same monsters it sought to conquer (think of Daniel Cohn-Bendit). Yet I would argue that there are still areas to explore, radical dreams to be had, event if they come crashing to the ground with a loud bang. I celebrate these failures and whoever decided to come up with them. For it is precisely through this type of performative criticism that the truly emancipating possibilities of Situationism can be properly engaged.
Fernando Sdrigotti writes. He was born in Rosario, Argentina, but is based in London. He is a contributing editor at 3:AM Magazine, and editor in chief of Minor Literature[s]. He lives @f_sd.