A Manifesto for Artistic Pessimism

By Julian Langer


Romanian nihilist and pessimist philosopher Emil Cioran once wrote “only optimists commit suicide, optimists who no longer succeed at being optimists” and that “it is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late”.


In these short collection of words, this tragic thinker – who wrote books such as On The Heights of Despair and A Short History of Decay – speaks to something at the very core of life, especially within this culture – the need for sincere, honest and authentic pessimism. He wrote that “Chaos is rejecting all you have learned, chaos is being yourself” and, following from this, it is your-self I wish to appeal to in the words I present here.


“One must have chaos within to give birth to a dancing star” Nietzsche


The fact that the vast majority of films present a near totalising fatalistic optimism is abundantly obvious. Most films end with the desired conclusion to the narrative: with the hero surviving by the skin of their teeth; or the two beautiful people find love in a beautifully romantic setting; or the rebels narrowly avoiding Darth Vader’s clutches and obtaining the Death Star plans, whatever other example you care for.


And of course they do! Happy endings sell. When it is all said and done, people want things to “go right” and for things to fit within the desires of this cultures ideological narratives.


Situationist philosopher Guy Debord asked about film:

Do we simply watch the images rolling past, become happy or sad at the whim of the filmmakers, only to return to our regular lives without any effect on how we view the world and how we could possibly change it?”

In this question Debord raises the issue of the film watcher being a passive observer, absorbing the narratives of filmmakers, in such a way that it maintains everyday normality.


Through the medium of film, in most cases, the viewer passively consumes the notion that things do not need to change, because things will work out happily in the end. Batman, Frodo Baggins or Neo will come and defeat the Big-Bad, or the T-Rex and Raptors will kill the Indominus Rex.


Two questions come to mind though.


First, are things inevitably going to turn out for the best, or is that just an idea that enables individuals to participate in this culture without any thoughts regarding consequences?


Second, what is the purpose of art/film and are they supposed to affect the viewer in any particular way?


Starting with the second question, Oscar Wilde, in response to moral critics of his age, promoted “art for arts sake” and criticised the “monstrous worship of facts” within art movements. Perhaps Wilde is right and that art need not serve any moral purpose and should be done for its own sake.


This doesn’t mean art cannot hold egoistic instrumental value. In the philosophy of art, aesthetic cognitivists argue that art, particularly painful art, is valuable as a means of empowering individuals.


Perhaps, amorally, mediums such as film can serve as an instrumental means of empowering individuals around painful matters, like the idea that things will not turn out for the best: pessimism.


Antonin Artaud developed an approach to theatre called theatre of cruelty, through which theatre “wakes us up. Nerves and heart,” and through which we experience, “immediate violent action,” that “inspires us with the fiery magnetism of its images and acts upon us like a spiritual therapeutics whose touch can never be forgotten”. Perhaps film can serve as an immediate violent action which inspires a fiery magnetism, effecting the viewer spiritually and therapeutically.


Regarding the question of whether or not things are inevitably going to turn out for the best – whether optimism holds true – we should consider this in multiple senses. Existentialist, nihilist and absurdist philosophers, like Nietzsche or Camus, argue that ultimately everything ends in death and that all action is ultimately futile: a pessimist’s conclusion, though they all generally argue that there is personal/subjective/egoistic value in actions and the pursuit of meaning.


We could also look at the question from a non-philosophical gaze, looking at the environmental and socio-political situation where all paths seemingly lead to ruin: when the sixth mass extinction event and climate chaos pose significant existential threats to humanity and this culture, as well as the biosphere; where nuclear war and World War 3 become ever more possible situations. All of which paints a particularly bleak future, whether you value this culture or the biosphere.


I don’t know about you reading this, but pessimism feels like the more honest, sincere and authentic outlook.


Perhaps, in an egoistic aesthetic cognitivist sense, a pessimist cinema of cruelty would be valuable, as a means of empowering individuals to respond to, what postmodernist philosopher Baudrillard called the desert of the real – a real that is becoming increasingly bleak with every passing day.


Disaster and apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic films (such as The Matrix, Book of Eli, Elysium, 2012, Day After Tomorrow, Children of Men, War of the Worlds, I Am Legend, Armageddon, the Terminator series and other similar popular titles) all end on a hopeful optimistic note, where ruin is averted.


Films like V for Vendetta and the Hunger Games series, which take a generally leftist-revolutionary narrative, generally conclude with mass people’s movements being able to overpower the Big-Bad and winning out – perpetuating the idea that hopeful optimistic endings are really viable at this point in time.


Even films like Avatar and Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, which take somewhat of an anti-humanist, anti-civ, radical-environmentalist narrative, end with things “working out”.


Perhaps radical film projects should draw from films like Apocalypto, The Road, Escape From L.A., 12 Monkeys, Knowing, The Time Machine, Survivalist, Into The Forest and TV series like Black Mirror, and adopt a pessimist cinema of cruelty approach. Maybe this can serve as a means of empowerment through discomfort, as the desert of the real becomes bleaker and bleaker.


I missed the opportunity to see the latest edition to the new Planet of the Apes saga, but look forward to being able to watch it on DVD or stream it online, as it is an interesting series. I am also personally looking forward to seeing the new Bladerunner film (and hoping it isn’t going to be another nostalgia porn let down). Both of these films hold the potential to be honest reflections of this culture and our current situation.


We’ll wait and see.


Images courtesy of: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/09/v-vendetta-graphic-novel-best.html and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15819.Guy_Debord and http://www.learnliberty.org/blog/was-nietzsche-libertarian/ and http://planetoftheapes.wikia.com/wiki/Planet_of_the_Apes_Wiki


What do we do in the Middle East? An alternative view

Let me paint a very simple picture of recent history. In the Middle East, the West backed the wrong horse, and has paid the price ever since.



Backing this particular Arabian stallion has, however had its advantages. The House of Saud have been providing petroleum for our cars, central heating systems and aeroplanes since the 1930s.

The price for this has been our reticence – to the point of complicity – regarding the regime’s human rights abuses, a silence which, through decades of ever-increasing dependency on oil, has only grown louder.

A few more churns on this sickening cycle have been notched in recent days. First, a High Court ruling that arms sales to the Saudis – arms which are pouring over hospitals, water plants and schools in Yemen – are lawful (useful, as BAE finalises the transferral of the last of 27 cruise fighter jets to the Arabian Peninsula).

Days later, Home Sec Amber Rudd withheld the classification of a document detailing where funding for domestic terrorism was coming from. Last year, another secret report was leaked, highlighting the link between the Saudis and the instigators of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, the provocation for a ‘War on Terror’ which shows no sign of ending.


More still, in her revealing new book Oil and the Western Economic Crisis, Helen Thompson reveals how a drastic change in the price of ‘black gold’ precipitated the fall of the Global Economy in 2008. This completes the outline of the world’s principle power relation: one in which Western powers, drunk on the tantalising fumes of petroleum, sacrificed their liberty for one more hit from a dodgy dealer.

Now, like any addict, we have reached breaking point. Our continual financial and military aid for the Kingdom must now be explained to a Western populace with increasingly hostile views towards ‘Islamism’.  This caricature of Islamic culture – conservative, sandy and intolerant of democracy – appears in part to stem from our legitimisation of the Saudis.

We must find another horse in this increasingly bloody and complex race. The question is: which?

This is a question which Mark Levine’s 2008 book Heavy Metal Islam attempts to answer.

Heavy Metal Islam. Seems like an oxymoron, right? Yet there is something inherently radical about an oxymoron. It burns through your imagination, producing a sense of something unsettlingly new. For an instant, an image pierces your retina; collapses on to your psyche, fades in to familiarity. The light becomes dark; the dead are enlivened; what was false now appears as true.


Levine’s book rebukes the kind of cultural myopia which leads Westerners like me to view Heavy Metal Islam as contradictory. Iraqi guerrilla filmmaker Oday Rasheed politely illuminates this ignorance, telling Levine ‘I know all your artists and cultural figures – Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, F Scott Fitzgerald. But I also know my culture – Oum Kalthoum, Farid al-Atrash, and Adonis. How many (Westerners) even want to know my culture, let alone take the time to do so?’

It isn’t simply the traditional culture of Middle Eastern society which fails to register in Western minds, however; Heavy Metal Islam is an account of Levine’s five year exploration of music genres with indelible roots in Western culture: Islamic rap, metal and rock.

Journeying across six different Islamic nations, Levine finds a musical movement of staggering diversity. Yet a common thread unites the book’s protagonists: fear of persecution from the authorities.

In Egypt, we find a scene still smarting in paranoia from the arrests of 100 metal heads in 1997 on charges of Satanism. To conservative regimes, metal’s aesthetic is provocative enough to warrant surveillance and repression, even if no explicit political message comes with it. The Egyptian chapter ends with one of the scenes leading musicians – known to the reader as ‘Marz’ – demanding his full name be printed: an act, in context, of defiant heroism.

Yet it highlights how limited the scope is for these musicians to resist authority. Readers searching for a perfect X Factor ending will find Levine’s book disarmingly inconclusive. Many musicians offer only veiled critiques of their leaders. Many have given up even trying.

Existence, however, can often be politically potent in and of itself. For Levine these scenes matter beyond their artistic output, because they symbolise an interpretation of Islam that is ‘far more radical than (that of) the supposed radicals of al-Qa’eda, Hamas, or Hezbollah, who are distinctly reactionary in their reliance on violence and conservatively grounded religious and political imaginations’.

These are the cultural terrorists, hidden in the recesses of their society, and evoking the kind of latent fear which only those in the shadows truly can. When considering who to throw our lot in with, we can often look with immediacy to the conventional corridors of power. In doing so, we fail to spot the dark horse in the outside lane.

The music scene in Palestine is perhaps the most chaotic, restricted yet fascinating that Levine explores. Rap groups like Ramallah Underground and Palestine Rapperz, unable to develop internally, rely on the support of foreign fans to survive and flourish.

What if those of us who lament Western cultural hegemony consciously attempted to undermine it? What if we gave the money we (typically) aren’t giving our local musicians to those in countries such as Egypt and Palestine? What if we began seeking political solutions not through parliaments and commissions, but through people, through art?

Heavy Metal Islam is an eye-opening book. For it to hold power, however, it should only be our introduction.

Pictures from: 





For more, check out this article on the metal scene from this year…


And Mark Levine’s companion playlist to the book, ‘Flowers in the Desert’.



The act of modern viewing: Love Island Reviewed

Is Love Island Art? Is Reality a Dream? Will robots overthrow us and become our never ending slave masters? Some questions may forever be left to the mysterious ethers of time.

Averaging 2.8 million viewers, ITV’s cultural tour de force has swung in to the jungle of our collective consciousness like a waxed baboon. The appeal for many -behind the bleached teeth, chromatic tan lines and Victoria’s Secret bikinis – lies in the show’s naked humanity.

Love Island explores love – that prickly vein-bound substance – in an uncompromising, sadistic fashion. Islanders must couple up, successfully navigating lie-detector tests and spontaneous couple-splitting, or face eviction from the show. The more sincere; heart-struck; complete their love appears, the better the chance to remain.

That this is all filmed on a zillion peering cameras, or the prize for winning is fifty thousand pounds, or prolonging your stay on the Island can guarantee an Instagram following worth potentially far more, are trivialities of little consequence. In fact, it only adds to the theatricality. Did he write that poem from the heart or for his wallet?  Did she say I love you to his eyes or for the camera?

The show’s seduction transcends the televised, however. Social media allows us to scan the online archives of each Islander,  plunging to greater depths of love, hatred or sympathy with each character than a one hour show can typically afford.

Perversely, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook etc. endow these narcissistic castaways with relatable authenticity.

What Love Island encourages is the act of modern viewing: to passively consume from our Japanese flat-screens, while actively engaging with the show from our palms. Harmonious, horrifying synchronicity.

The show’s success has only added to the baffling and undecipherable times in which we live. A generation has become enamoured to a show about hyper-real sex chimps fumbling beautifully around an island; yet this is the generation who, mere months ago, had supposedly sworn allegiance to a 68-year old allotment dwelling socialist.

So are we all now Corbynistas, or are we all Islanders? Can you be both? Perhaps the only way to find out would be to place the Labour leader on the next series of the show and see how his renationalisation programmes and anti-austerity message go down poolside.

Latent fantasies aside, however; the ascension of Corbyn does mirror Love Island in each’s wrestling with the authentic. Amidst the bullshit circus of parliamentary politics, the Labour leader – like his transatlantic counterpart Bernie Sanders – appears as a man of unquestionable principle.

Social media has, once more, been foundational in this (Will Davies’ piece here is worth a read). It has allowed populist politicians a chance to bypass the mainstream’s caricatures, forging out new identities from the limitless archives of the World Wide Web.

If our age is to be defined, it is one of a click-addled populace baiting themselves in to a technological trap. Where this trap leads – and what its effect on us may be – remains to be seen. Our present moment, however, is defined by it: from the political tempest which has given us a tweeting tantrum of a President, to the idealised island-dwellers who we choose to spend our evenings, virtually speaking, with.

Perhaps now would be a good time to close your laptops.

Cyst and Disease: Zommunism part 2

Part 1: https://radicalartreview.com/2017/06/29/the-deceased-of-living/

By Matthew Higgins
Slower than it took the actual zombies to walk, a compromised version of Zommunism in its coopted, sell-out neo-liberal attire began to take form.

First, politically correct laws made zombified access to shops and train carriages a part of every day life. This posed a significant threat to the elderly and depressed, who in apathy and decrepitude could barely outrun the deluge of lagging, mundane corpses.
Some saw the economic sense of turning themselves into zombies and just went along with the ride after university had ended. Nightmare became nuisance, convictions were relegated to the tedium of anxious concerns, as zombified bailiffs worked to evict jobless tenants resigned to the fait accompli of economic progress under the arbitrary dress code of zombification.
The Zombie dilemma had been yet another slow-paced existential threat to middle class life, far less substantial than anything as real or immediate as hand-to-mouth shotgun survivalism. Ray Mears continued to be televised.
The media-industrial complex would accumulate even greater amounts of wealth from this, as ‘incense schticks’ saturated the propoganda market on people’s blood spattered doorsteps from the latest Amazon delivery agents.

Tabloids capitalised on their front pages with the clownish ineptitude, of ‘useless’ politicians flailing under the beauracratic arms of corrupt corporate lobbyists, who failed to prevent – and seemed almost intent on evoking – the gradual zombification of the working unemployed.

Messages that could be relayed in basic sound bites, were simple enough for zombies accustomed to repeating the word ‘brains’ over and over again to memorise.

Subsequently, they appeared increasingly electable against the so-called “muppets in charge” who seemed powerless to prevent these zombies taking people’s jobs and limbs away.

In addition, morticians had done great work to maximise the presentability of these undead. Zombies did not age since they were already deceased, they only needed to be manicured once and that was all. They had the waxy appearance of photo-shopped skin that made them appear magazine-like, more human, more relatable, to the diminishing hordes of the traditional unemployed.

Perhaps these were the Zommunist revolutionaries afterall! Just more modest and pleasing to the eye than previously envisioned, with sound bites exchanged for flesh bites and so on.
Besides, the term zombie was now decidedly offensive and incorrect; these were the ‘deceased of living’.

The deceased of living would provide great arm gestures during their speeches, somewhat similar to a kind of double Nazi salute, but without the historical baggage. And they were always themselves: soulless creatures compelled beyond the grave to devour every ounce of living flesh in search of no end – offering them an honest outsider appeal above the standard of ordinary politicians.
But the Zombies were so well-groomed, that no one could quite tell who was a politician and who was a zombie anymore; this did not much matter, since society was past that.
The deceased of living continued to draw significant gains in politics, media, and feasting on undesirable specimen; such as the elderly, the unemployed, those who attended marches, homeless people, mad people, and youths who risked surpassing the limits of their curfew.
Soon, with huge swathes of the electorate demanding more brains, the first Zombie minister was elected to the house of commons, and soon after, several more MPs had been infected, until enough seats were evacuated to give a ruling majority to the Zommunist Centrist Right-Left party.
‘Right. Left. Right. Left.’
The tidal wave of progress seemed ineluctable for the eyes of industrialists, closer than ever before to the prospect of humans visiting Mars – to hide in terror – which had fuelled the capitalist
imagination since its very inception.
To this day, Mars remains a lifeless little red orb, caked in the scorched blood of desert dwelling cadavers, who shuffle aimlessly forth without intention or logic, other than for ‘brains’, which they
devour fully in their grasp with their incapacity to find better means for them.
‘More. Brains. Brains. More!’
And no one can determine whether these are real astronauts at all, or zombie pioneers. Not one individual has the power, or the belief, to assume their Hollywood birth rights and claim the zombie apocalypse as their own.
There is an idle decay, shuffling along in a twitching pandemic without cause or enthusiasm.
Businessmen are anxiously observed on rare summer days off work by those who fear the spread
of infection.
Proverbial shotguns (art, music, theatre) are seated behind special permits;
As the rights of human beings are overlooked and ignored, to squat wherever they please, to find a place where the zombies can never reach them…
There seems to be a hidden truth appeal in these Hollywood zom-coms.
Like unconscious documentaries, for truths rendered significantly more bareable under a curtain of fiction, something to perversely aspire to in a mood of alienation and despair, to view the world as it
has been for some time.
A zombieland to either fight or succumb to in our ignorance.
A utopia that hovers just beyond reach, beyond the present way of seeing things, beyond the graves we dig for ourselves.
Pictures from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-31040301 and https://marcelopellegrini.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/hundreds-of-zombies-take-control-of-london/

The ‘Deceased of Living’: Zombies in Utopia

By Matthew Higgins

The utopian fantasy of today’s people in the West, is to live in a zombie apocalypse like those from the golden age of Hollywood remakes.

Here, they can riteously battle the undead with acquired arms and looted ammo, drive quad bikes through abandoned showrooms and squat atop famous monuments.

They can drain countless car batteries, gorge on left over snacks and ride the amusement parks without having to wait in line.

Everything is in a state of transience, a warm shower can be enjoyed without the cost of environmental concern, and the primal needs for exercise and hunting things violently are nicely intwined with the intellectual wants for civility and order – by hijacking large armoured vehicles and spraying double fisted uzi rounds into hordes of the undead.

Duty has become a fact of life freed from existential turmoil, and no one is for want of anything, not even walker’s crisps.

Sadly, these soft-headed delusions of zombie apocalypse reflect a grim contrast to the society which stands in place of them…

Following the months of the first zombie outbreak, the sensationalism in the media seemed hard to justify, given the lack of casualities involved, and the swift efficiency by which the military-industrial complex came to dispatch the threat within a matter of hours.

The same level of ineffective disorder might have transpired had a pride of giraffes escaped from a wildlife enclosure during rush hour.

But below the surface of crowds, could be sensed a lurking frustration;

A sinister disenchantment masquerading under the phony sentimental relief, for those who had kept relatively safe during the ‘disaster’

“Thank goodness so few people got hurt.”

“It’s a good job they weren’t fast running one’s like the one’s you see in them films.”

These were the sorts of things one might typically overhear whilst sweeping cigarette butts off club balconies under the nautical twilight of ongoing civilised despair…
Shaun of The Dead Simon Pegg store

‘Zommunism’ became a homely internet punching bag, for keyboard commentators to pour their derision and self-doubt into, to distinguish themselves from older generations who foolishly abided the false promise of Zombie utopia on their flat screen dopamine devices.

Others claimed the suspicion of a false flag.

The wahhabis had since weaponised zombies as recyclable fodder for their suicide bombing campaigns; launching a novel pretext upon which the Eurasian heartland could be raped of natural resources and plagued by civilian deaths.

There were comments about those who had been supplying the zombies, and accusations about who the true zombies were, to bully those who could not identify such obvious facts as –

“Nowhere in the Qu’aran does it provide any instructions on how to raise members of the unliving…”

And as conflicts reigned absurd across hotspots of geostrategic interest on the world map, things began to grow increasingly strange at home.

There was no denying that zombies were great for the economy, manipulated to perform tasks that were unlikely to meet the standards of the native unemployed.

But protests aiming to thwart the spread of the undead had been rejected by the courts, who insisted that ‘subhuman legislation’ should primarily protect the sovereign rights of private ownership.

The doctrinal thesis of the mainstream media held that, without zombified labour, the economy would simply tank. There would be too much competition from other industrialised nations harnessing the effects of a zombified workforce to maximise their GZP (gross zombie produce).

You can imagine the disappointment of this ‘strong and stable’ apocalypse.

The threat of pandemic loomed not from the savagery of overnight carnage, quietly longed for in the dreams of ordinary citizens; but due instead, to the bumbling inertia of beauracratic injustice.

What had happened to good ol’ fashioned ‘shooting zombies’ in the face and gorging on snickers in the hands of these lawyers and politicians?

Where was the comaradery to ease all this suffering and pain?

But there was none.

No one with an ounce of civilised belonging in their hearts would ever personally identify with these perverse suicidal longings, of tearing the economy to shreds and violently purging the undead with valiant sex appeal; not unless they were joking among friends, ironically – if insincerely – to flatter such inconceivable thoughts.

To be continued… here: https://radicalartreview.com/2017/07/06/cyst-and-disease-zommunism-part-2/

Photos by http://patjacksonpodium.blogspot.co.uk/2013_08_01_archive.html and http://pinstake.com/shaun-of-the-dead/http:%7C%7Cwww%5Etasteofcinema%5Ecom%7Cwp-content%7Cuploads%7C2013%7C08%7Cshaun-of-the-dea%5Ejpg<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-141″