Here we publish a slection of tributes to Michel Prigent who kept the Situ flame burning over many decades. In later years Michel much admired the work of Robert Kurz (24 December 1943 – 18 July 2012) who was a German Marxist philosopher, social critic, journalist and editor of the journal Exit! I knew Michel for 40 or more years and we had a complicated relationship which I shall write about soon. Here is an appreciation of Michel from Len Bracken, the obituary in the Guardian from Nick Holliman followed by a poem for Michel by Sila Trevor. Sila runs a Situ reading group looking at the work of Debord, Vaneigem and others. And finally Dave Wise formerly of King Mob. Andrew Burgin
The Afternoon Man
By Len Bracken
It’s very important to be cool, Michel Prigent once told me in a calm voice—he drew out the last syllable a bit, softly, as if to add that one must have charm and style but certainly not try too hard.
Slanted rays of morning sunlight poured into his apartment through several rows of windows, illuminating the piles of books and papers that were so important to him. He certainly wasn’t trying too hard to be well-organized. If there was any room left for his thoughts, it seemed, it was above the windows, in the low-lit space under the high ceiling.
Never one to reject advice out of hand, I put the comment about being cool under my hat while trying to reconcile it with the striving for authenticity at the heart of the existential Marxism we—Michel and I as well as Sean Delaney—had been discussing during my 2003 stay in London.
“I’ve written a book,” he told us from the chair by his desk. “Did you know that? It’s called The Afternoon Man.”
“No, I had no idea.”
This was something I had always wondered about—that is whether Michel, the translator and publisher of others with his Chronos Publications, had ever written a book-length work himself. I scanned his bookshelf. He instructed me to give him a hardback book that only he would recognize given its spine-in position.
The dust jacket illustration of a man walking into the afternoon sun piqued my interest as it had the appearance of being a novel. Michel reached for the book as I took a step toward him across the room, and he immediately thumbed the pages to show me they were blank.
“The afternoon man only gets up from bed at noon, so he doesn’t have time to write books,” he said, laughing at the anti-art absurdity of his blank book.
I masked my disappointment at there not being any text on the pages while he told me the book was from a work training program he did with a print shop. Michel had been friends with many intellectual and literary figures, notably the theorist Guy Debord but also the author and novelist Elias Canetti, who had been the one to tell Michel about the importance of being cool.
It would’ve been too much to expect a novel, that I knew, but why hadn’t he written a memoir? At the behest of Sean, who at the time was still publishing Principia Dialectica, Michel pulled out some of his publications—the hand-typed A4 sheets that he copied and side-stapled with The Catalyst Times on the cover or, in the same format, his long essay on The Misery of Football.
The subject of sports had Michel up on feet to demonstrate for Sean and me his mighty karate chop, completed with the requisite short shout designed to startle and intimidate an opponent. I asked him about mastering fear of death in the practice of karate, or something like that.
“When you’re dead,” he said with an emphatic stomp on the hardwood floor, “you’re gone.”
Michel may be gone but he is not forgotten—he is remembered by those who knew him in large part for his brave and absolute pronouncements, notably those regarding a post-capitalist society where wage-slavery would be abolished on a worldwide basis and work would benefit the entire society.
“Capital is an automaton,” he wrote before noting the deaths of novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette and Guy Debord, adding: “But life goes on.”
The Guardian obituary – Nicolas Holliman
Michel Prigent, who has died aged 75, settled in the UK in 1966 after a peripatetic youth, and was soon drawn into London life and the ideas of the organisation of social revolutionaries known as the International Situationists. He worked as a translator for the international mineworkers’ union, published various agitprop-style materials and struck up a friendship with the theorist Guy Debord. For Michel, the Mouvement des Occupations of 1968, a general strike in which more than 10 million workers in France took part, was a watershed.
With Lucy Forsyth, who co-founded Chronos Publications in 1979, he disseminated to libertarians and anarchist book fairs a range of critical, irreverent publications that had been out of circulation, or had required an English translation from French or German.
An autodidact, he spotted writings that were lost to conformity and convention, and would put the cat among the pigeons. These included some of Debord’s writings. Michel welcomed any new critical theory that confronted the modern commodity economy and capitalism.
He was an incurable romantic and optimist, with little interest in money. He refused to use a mobile phone, to drive, or to be domesticated by consumerism. Instead, he enjoyed long conversations, strumming or jazzing it on the drums with local musicians in pubs or in the Archive Books shop in Bell Street. He drifted through the capital’s watering holes and its world of magazine and newspaper publishing, libraries and museum exhibitions.
Michel was the first child of Margaret (nee Newbiggin), from a family of Scottish miners and amateur footballers, and Pierre Prigent, an aircraft mechanic and Free French partisan. They met during wartime. Michel was born in Hereford, but grew up in France, Tunisia and Germany.
His interest in history and groundbreaking books was sparked by a teacher at a school for the children of French servicemen based in the French zone of occupied Germany. Having served an apprenticeship in the French merchant navy, he moved to London in the 1960s to work as a qualified chef in hotels such as the Savoy.
He is survived by Sappho, his daughter from a relationship with Karoline Deck, and by two grandchildren, Phoebe and Jacob, and his siblings, Alain, Jean and William.
Never Trust A Priest
(Dedicated to Michel Prigent 1943-2019
Soixante-huitard – May 68er)
“A spectre haunts Europe …”
the revolution of everyday life
on barricades that fed our imagination
with whiskey and Guy Debord
leaving the 20th century
we had our fill of punks and poetry
overflowing in bars
the king mob
radical heretics and libertaires
waifs and strays on the cusp
with nowhere else left to go
a new age dialectica
echoed in your jazz-blues courtyard
its history for our new earth generation
“let the dead bury the dead” you said
grief becomes the other
conditions of property
the usual denial of destiny
and Sappho writes
“I love the sensual
For me this and love of the sun
has a share in brilliance and beauty”
our last night out together
a singalong with Joan Baez
“imagine all the people sharing all the world”
brought us to tears
Christian – Muslim – Buddhist – Jew or Jain
never trust a priest – all the same –
Frantine says – “its revolution consecrates humanity”
and how many times can a man turn her head
to pretend she just doesn’t see
the society of the spectacle
everything once experienced
an alienated image of itself
the shadow zeitgeist – reincarnates
acute heartache for the compassionate
our collective unconscious undone
by contrite absolutism
the loss of certainty without religion
a painful passage of becoming another –
essence moves from its ground into existence –
then simple immediacy of being
no last rites as the light shifted
a gentle shuffling off
Sila Trevor Feb 2019
MICHEL’S LAST STAND…..UP!
Michel Prigent is dead. Long live Michel Prigent. So goes the blurb… and so sad he’s “gone, gone, gone” as the rock song went accompanied perhaps by Mich’s distant drumming in the background! And wasn’t he always gone in the head in one hilarious, often life-enhancing way or another? For sure Mich’ was impossible but in retrospect, wat the ‘eck! For sure we really respected the guy cos’ he never copped out in some shitehawk, careerist way or went in for slime-ball manipulation, remaining more or less penniless, ever ready to get in that fekking pub providing you had enough dosh to buy pints of beer. And then you‘d get your entertainment in over plus to pass on to all your mates…followed by grins all round. Michel was the incarnation of the situationist dictum “Never Work” par excellence after having been thrown out of the French Navy in the late 1960s when as a chef on a big ship, he one day detourned eating habits handing out ratings food to the officer class and vice versa. [He even wanted an addition to the iconic slogan carved on his gravestone which will be placed in a village churchyard in olde worlde rural Somerset where his beloved daughter Sappho lived saying, “I Never Ever Worked”] Brill, just hope it happens! Decades previously he’d asked, admittedly via Lucy Forsyth (his constant companion for many a year), if there was a place in our collective ‘everybody on the same wage building gang regardless of skill, race, or gender’ for “a wrecker” though you knew darned well he’d only last for an hour before jacking-in the hard physical stuff. I’d somewhat wearily suggest instead why he didn’t write up some of his many conversations with Guy Debord either in Paris or elsewhere in France, maybe communicated in some kinda free-wheelin’ style though knowing in my heart of hearts he’d never do so.
However, over the last few years Michel finally did email some ‘reminiscences’ (as we have here) especially jottings he scribbled down on Jean-Patrick Manchette, the somewhat nouvelle vague cum crime noir novelist and the very essence of baneful Mai ’68 recuperation whom Debord obsessed about somewhat in later life. When the Americanised French pop singer Johnny Hallyday died in December 2017 Michel emailed me some interesting, personally informed asides reflecting on the French Blouson Noir / Teddy Boy style riots which often accompanied Hallyday’s performances in the 1950s – all this in relation to Guy Debord’s growing fascination with contemporary vandalism and delinquency; in short the neo-Luddites which Debord later summed up in the Society of the Spectacle who destroy “the machines of permitted consumption”. [Unfortunately this little piece is now lost as Michel managed to get a helluva computer virus which finished off a lot of my emails –DW].
How did I meet the guy? He came up to me on a Notting Hill street in the late 1970s, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Didn’t you help translate and produce that new book, Wildcat Spain Encounters Democracy1976-8?”- a collection of translated texts mainly by Jaime Semprun and Miquel Amoros on the workers’ uprising in Spain after General Franco’s death. I nodded and then the long, long craic began which lasted for many a year. Subsequently of course Michel had an influence over the stuff we wrote (or more nearly what I initially scribbled down –DW) especially the 1978 The End of Music and A Summer with a Thousand Julys on the UK riots of 1981 A lot of this came about through conversation especially on music particularly jazz, be-bop and pop music in general – especially its ultra commoditisation – as Michel pointedly sprayed up on wall nearby where we lived that “Punk = Pound Notes” in response to Malcolm McLaren’s monetizing of subversive situationist slogans. This was added to via Michel’s contemporary The Catalyst Times, an A4 one-off mag peppered with terrific, memorable, polemical sentences amidst an almighty, chaotic splurge proclaiming that “the revolution has already begun”! (We wish!) But jeez did the guy get into trouble resulting in the Special Branch dropping by seeing he’d stated in his pamphlet that every 7th plane landing at Heathrow Airport was jam-packed with heroin sanctioned, or rather ‘teleguided’ by the then Labour party PM, Harold Wilson. Yep, it was an addition / version of the latter-day Debordist CTH – Conspiracy Theory of History – gone OTT, or was it via another CTH – Chuckling to Himself? More importantly we all got a great kick out of Michel’s colourful though unlikely exposé and it was grins all round yet again.
However, Michel didn’t stop with an attack on recuperators; as everything then that wasn’t inherently part of the Debordist shadow of a political party had also to be partially demolished including my efforts. It was the way with Michel when showing him a text you’d written and self-published that he’d always pick on one line making it ultra-salient implying everything else in the pamphlet was basically crap without actually saying so. This inevitably happened with A Summer with a Thousand Julys even though the guy wasn’t insultingly nasty about the pamphlet as basically he didn’t want to lose friendship. Later you came to realise it was in fact something of a house style of classic situationist faux-rejection (admittedly existing alongside real and necessary exclusions like artists, literary figures, academics and architects, etc) meaning in practise you must never be applauded for anything you did but please carry on without any encouragement! A few decades later and Michel found on a vinyl record stall in Chapel Market close by where he lived a recording by post punk group Billy Childish and the Buff Medways called I’m glad I’m not David Wise. Excitedly he emailed the news to me and to this day I’ve never bothered to listen to the recording. In any case there’s another David Wise who became a somewhat miscreant media-savvy photographer from West Hartlepool and an individual also belonging to the extended vaguely inter-connected Wises of South Durham and North Yorks.
Michel never really approved of the Revolt Against Plenty web. For starters [and enders]he disliked the title taking it literally. He couldn’t appreciate (on purpose?) the intentionally provocative, startlingly paradoxical, even oxymoronic subtleties implied in the description which originated with Jack Common, the uncompromising Tyneside wokker / spieler / ‘writer’ of the first four decades of the 20th century. All Common was doing was highlighting the contradictory appearance of modern day capitalism which gives the impression of consumer abundance for all whereas concrete reality denies the fact. Revolt against Plenty was merely a startling, eye-catching way of portraying such clever deception at the very core of capitalist exploitation. Moreover, it was, if you like, something of a pre situationist characterisation indicative of Common’s far greater grasp of modern art and its subversive trajectory than ever his friend and contemporary George Orwell ever possessed [i.e., the latter’s baneful assessment of Surrealism]. Michel simply couldn’t hone in on this nuance and once the web Principia Dialectica was closed down around 2014 suggested we should write and publish a book on Newcastle with fellow Tynesider, Dave Black though with Big Mich’ in charge and under the title Revolt Against Scarcity. Needless to say under such dictatorial supervision the project would have been impossible. Sadly Michel wasn’t so much a polymath as a mathpoly reading copiously on many varied subjects but in a fast and furious way which was over and done with almost in an instant. And that was that. Set in stone after three pages little was then followed up or even adequately researched. From then on there must be little discussion as that might possibly open up heretical paths with inconclusive outcomes. Enuff said! [For those who don’t know, Dave Black is a guy who has written some interesting academic books, most notably The Philosophical Roots of Anti-capitalism: Essays on History, Culture, and Dialectical Thought. If the book had come out in any other country than this “right little, tight little island” it would, most likely have gained quite a profile but alas, “the world cretinizing of the English” (Nietzsche) still remains behind the eternal white cliffs of Dover].
Ah and then there was /is Brexit! Michel throughout his life bestrode France and the UK and what’s more possessed a considerable understanding of the complexities of both countries. He was acutely aware of the often mind-boggling complexities of the UK’s mores; its trivialities, absurdities and often lethal, even unfathomable dumbo eccentricities, careering alongside misshapen memories of a long lost empire plus former medieval glories predicated on a damned monarchy that should have been abolished eons ago. Michel especially hated the latter. Like wor (Geordie) selves he desperately wanted more – much more – of the greater subversive rationale in say, France, Germany, Holland and Spain, never mind elsewhere in the world. Hence Michel was terrified about Brexit at the same time in one of his anti-Brexit tirades reproduced here; he clearly stated that both for and against Brexit were merely different choices within the framework of the capitalist mode of production having nothing to do with the essential negation and supercession of capitalism. Hence, “All that talk about pro or against Brexit is a load of waffle; we are against both positions which produce nothing but grief, division, confusion and misery. /We need a different society on a world-wide basis in order to tackle global warming, the present capitalist system cannot combat it, and in fact produces it.”
Nonetheless, even though critical of the RAP web, Michel never stopped emailing with one text/comment/detourned photo/etc., after another to put on the Revolt Against Plenty web and a fair number were put up. What we have here is a selection from the last few years which may, or may not be out there elsewhere, and perhaps some were done in collaboration with other individuals. Why weren’t they published previously? Amongst other things the problem was the one/two/three/four liners and you didn’t know where to put them as most were utterly spontaneous. Like the guy never blotted a line. And there’s the rub as old Bill Shakes’ said and, and, and, you couldn’t suggest a clean-up job on say a quick translation never mind merely dotting an ‘I’ and ‘T’ on much longer pieces – as from past experience in the late 1970s-80s that meant an instantaneous giant No No from Michel!! On the other hand – it must be said – you kinda liked the mess as there’s nothing worse than correct English and / or that hallowed worship of Oxbridge English so beloved of an academic, stuck-up teachery disposition and dare you say it, of the quintessentially English class system. (Remember, Michel increasingly rejected notions of class –“capitalism has no subject” despite the fact that what’s been described as the ‘social apartheid’ in the UK cuts cruelly deep)
And by way of a lengthy parentheses here, you still get a kick out of recent ex-miners’ webs who deliberately go out of the way to spell badly deploying as much anti PC swearing as poss’ without falling into any racism, etc. Finally, we couldn’t extricate ourselves from the collectively backwards as defined by academia and the well brought up even if we wanted to, so why not play to the gallery of their prejudices and put downs.…..? Moreover the crazy, stream of consciousness anti-English language wordplay of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake or the early 1950s French Lettrists intentionally incoherent grunts and sounds fulminations against Palme D’Or festival culture-bugs still retain their fascination re today’s Facebooks put out by subversive individuals who go in for excellent street interventions, (despite the fact the fact they know sweet FA about the fascinating history of Lettrism). However, there’s one big problem: you can hardly understand a word they saying as they later compile crazy historical records a la Dora Barnacle of Snapchat/ Instagram meme disruptions on local streets, especially regarding the wretched Blue Door in Hugh Grant’s even more wretched film Notting Hill. Take Kishy, for instance….. Is this a down with the English language forever breakthrough or permanent theoretical incoherence? Fine even if a HUGE problem remains meaning we must also put our ideas across as lucidly as possible….. But enuff of this parenthesis…..
Sadly, it was almost impossible – as others have related – to really do anything with Michel in a collective, egalitarian way as he kinda demanded that he was the unofficial leader hooked on the He who must finally be obeyed syndrome. It wasn’t just in relation to ‘work’ / wage labour, etc but because Mich’ always carried within himself a momentary absolute ably assisted by an all-powerful ego that couldn’t be questioned only to be followed, weeks or months later, by another thin line drawn in the sand that also mustn’t be crossed as the first such line was abandoned as if it never existed. Always, always (alas) it meant that all free flow / flowering collective drift where some idea / proposal / concept – call it what you will – was blocked as that momentary absolute endlessly imposed itself over all discussion and experiment. Talk would be abruptly halted in mid-stream. Inevitably much of this was about doctrine related to certain proclamations in a text or book by a ‘master’ Mich’ looked up to and the quote thus became a commandment triumphing over all empirical reality in worshipful respect of the word of the theoretical master in this instance Guy Debord though others followed such as Postone and Kurz as the following telling detail suggests.
For instance in the late 1970s Mich’ said it wasn’t necessary to update the critique of political economy as that was a path leading nowhere other than into leftist regression. Moreover, there would never be another economic crises related specifically, say, to the falling rate of profit. Yet two decades later such an update was enthusiastically embraced by Michel via the researches of the Krisis and Exit group in Germany especially the often profound insights and researches of one of their most prominent figures, Robert Kurz. To his eternal credit Michel managed to get some terrific stuff translated and published via his trademark Chronos Publications especially The Substance of Capital by Kurz which under Mich’s guidance was intelligently promoted on the RAP web.
Michel did not come from a privileged background. It was obvious there was no money lurking around to inherit so in that regard you felt really comfortable with the guy as it mirrored in many ways our own background among which, like Mich’, the miners figured big. Essentially too Mich’ was the off-spring of poor radicals – just like our own – where contempt for the toffs and the powers that be was paramount and where racism or nationalism of any kind was utterly frowned on inevitably combined with a fierce hatred of Fascism. His Dad in La Resistance was awarded the Croix de Guerre, our Dad awarded with what was called the “workers’ gong” – the British Empire Medal – for driving freight trains, etc, across Teesmouth salt marshes from Middlesboro’ to West Hartlepool packed with shells to gun batteries at the height of the Blitz dodging bombs and bullets from the Luftwaffe. Previously, during the early 1930s he’d also regularly deploy a bicycle chain on fascist marches in Middlesboro’ (Nevertheless, it must be emphasised here – like everybody else in this aforementioned “right little, tight little island” Dad had never experienced the full force of fascist occupation as Michel’s French family had – and that makes all the difference in the world).
Other everyday similarities were also fairly similar. For instance, as with everybody from a lowly background possessed with great yearnings usually muddied by educational aspirations, it was also an upbringing inseparable from the cornball and the down home; in Michel’s case footie figured big without getting conned by its increasingly pernicious role, i.e. during the late 1980s he wrote a small pamphlet, The Misery of Football condemning the overt capitalising of the game honing-in on the likes of Man U, PLC. On other levels he loved the smutty romp of say, the now PC condemned, Benny Hill’s, Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West (in the 1980s his favourite song performance now available on YouTube). This disposition is well illustrated in the following compilation with Michel’s two or three paragraphs glorifying the “freedom farter” Le Petomane.
Increasingly, that other shadowy figure, the alias became essential to Michel when putting up tracts on the RAP web especially with the further intensification of the counter revolution après the Occupy movement of 2011. Why so? There’s no clear answer. Was he worn down through constant attack knowing he was an utter misfit constantly alone, alone all, all alone /alone on a wide, wide, cruel sea? Was he paranoid, becoming fearful of everything especially afraid of a loony Brexit, screaming quietly inside just like Edvard Munch’s The Scream which he depicted as if it was himself days before falling with a brain blockage on a Paddington street in west London to be rushed off to nearby St Mary’s hospital with death following shortly on January 20th 2018? Just take a look at FAREWELL. Michel Prigent’s Last Good Night. Final emails…
On a more banal level it can be said aliases are merely part of a general subversive trajectory – so why make a big thing about it – deployed by the likes of say, Murray Bookchin (Lewis Herber) Cornelius Castoriadis (Paul Cardan) or Raoul Vaneigem (Ratgeb). And as we did too: aka, The Monstrous Bastards, and so on. Perhaps though, post the defeat of the Occupy movement, it reflects REAL FEAR of the nearness of complete breakdown, of the abyss and the end of all community where all support systems are lost where there is only the self-destruct of capitalism with no transcendence in sight. Also it’s necessary to consider personal misery. From his middle years onwards Michel was ever searching for a physical, loving relationship simply perhaps to replace those he’d lost as a young man but which he commendably never banged-on about. Maybe too this was an aspect of character armouring; a psychic defence. It was if Mich’ had to show no vulnerability as that would be a sign of weakness or lack of resolution….. and in relation to this, how often was he told to go and see the doctor and check things out as we aren’t supermen or women. Sure enough he did but essentials were ignored like regularly taking the daily dose of prescription pills related to heart problems as most likely he experienced a few minor warning mini strokes (TIAs -Transient Ischemic Attack) previously and which he didn’t mention to his companions, hence his increasing forgetfulness and disorientation. On the other hand Michel tended to somewhat feel that he was invincible and would live forever, or rather at least until at least his 100th birthday.
There again maybe it’s best not to mention the personal too much because on a more general level in respect to the dwindling quality of everyday existence – that open face-to–face essential human interweaving – life has never ever been so rock bottom generally. Indeed all of us are alone like never before on top of the on-going collapse of the family augmented by the loss of the comforting intimacy of newer formations of trusting personal relationships of a now sadly destroyed alternative so-called counter culture. Possibilities of real communication and breakthrough have been replaced with the hell of internet gadgetry stimulating augmented narcissisms within the context of a selfie-centered universe. Hope however springs eternally, etc., and there may be brighter prospects in the offing suggesting we are tangentially heading towards a fundamental break and an uprising of everyday life simply because we cannot, on the simplest of levels, carry on like this with everything daily getting ever direr. Like never before community must be radically re-invented a fresh from the bottom up but is it too late in the day what with the twin pincer movement of ultra commoditisation inseparable from ultra gentrification underpinning immense social exclusion on the precipice of climate collapse and species extinction?
It was / is a situation – especially the latter – which worried Michel intensely even though – and unlike us – he never got involved in any practical, getting your hands dirty eco-subversion where in no time he would have found out what vicious exterminators of nature official greenwash bodies are. Michel’s eco critique was in the process of maturation although he hadn’t finally made the real breakthrough unable to distinguish the yawning gap between greenwash makeover and real eco subversion. It was a factor he missed out on in his appraisal of Jaime Semprun’s death in 2010 which finally brought about the end of an era beginning with the excellent L’Encyclopedie des Nuisances. Most likely Michel was slowly but surely getting to grips with revolutionary eco critique as a small visual commentary on the 6th Extinction in this compilation hints at.……so please take a look. In any case Nuisances RIGHTLY refused to separate authentic eco critique from the need to subvert increasing domestication vis-à-vis our already brutally colonised consumer oriented lives. More than ever we are press-ganged into the role of the passive spectator, endlessly focussed on the image, never breaking out of suffocating comfort zones whereby all truly meaningful, sensual physical activity is in the process of being abolished.
Michel had yet to grasp the horrible truth behind the hypocritical, morally superior often serene greenwashers forever banging on about endangered species in faraway lands; species such as the White and Pink Elephant (aka Dumbo) or maybe, er, the Flying Pig or the Mountain Splash Fart whilst not giving a tuppenny fuk about what’s on the doorstep down the bottom of your/our street where endless destruction is taking place. And what’s there? Why a horrible, visually unappetizing dump; a complete eyesore which unbeknown to greenwash cretins really is often nature rich in the sense of possessing truly bio-diverse amazing spaces. Or if the Fuks have an inkling, yet again that horrific moral-cum-aesthetic pronouncement kicks in: nature has to be chocolate box nature or at the very least conform to the unsullied depictions of the Norwich School of Painting in the early 19th century because nature in such modern day disreputable surrounds can be nothing other than a diseased, degenerate growth demanding the Exterminating Angel, C/O of a neo-liberal, sub-ecological Dr. Mengele. And then what? Welcome to a newly mangled, instantly aestheticized garden, put together within 24 hours; a pop-up dead nature corner of nicely cut green lawns crowded with a fauvist displays of primulas and pansies fleshed out with a few exotics that have nothing to do with real bio-diversity. What a wonderful spectacle. Aggh, the future is with us fronted everywhere by official green rackets: “The spring has sprung / The grass is riss / I wonder where the birdies is?” “Hail to thee blithe spirit /bird thou neverwort” (Shelley’s Ode to a Skylark) ..but, but does anybody today ever see the Neverwort bird? Is it also extinct?
The above paragraph merely pinpoints an aspect of the total craziness we are experiencing daily and all at odds with official ideology proclaiming the exact opposite. Michel was inevitably susceptible to the present over-arching ambience of not knowing where we are all going, although he never admitted as such which is a great pity because who isn’t in a state of utter turmoil scared shitless by the future or rather the lack of it? [So in that sense the Sex Pistols No Future was right even if not specific enough] We have arrived at some kind of unbearable impasse; an historical moment where responses can also change rapidly yet relentlessly underpinned with a nihilistic sense of angry hopelessness that literally everything is in vain equally realizing that such a response is impossible to live with. From the days of the French Surrealists onwards the old mantra of Suicide or Revolution becomes ever more formidable. It’s getting more cutting-edge, more prescient than ever in an age when there are more and more suicide cults proliferating everywhere. There again, Mich’ would reserve much aggro against those who were at least somewhat clued-in about such a conundrum from groupuscules like Os Cangaceiros, the Invisible Committee, etc., up to knowledgeable French academics such as Anselm Jappe whose book The Autophagic Society deals not only with the fetishisms which are eating us up alive but contains a chapter On the Capitalist Death Drive dealing with school kid shootings as well as Jihad.
In practise it was also rather more difficult to fathom as Michel seemed to move in many directions at once and was I’m sure, unaware of his often blatant contradictions. Thus in the last few years or so he was down on anybody who took Anselm Jappe (Debord’s best biographer) or Alistair Hemmens seriously yet somewhat later would then recommend reading Hemmens’ biography on Vaneigem and by-the-by even translated a Jappe article onJean-Claude Michéa published by Le Monde in 2017 and included in this collection……. The basis for this soft break (if it can be described as such) had to do with an official type “Never Work” conference at theSchool of Modern Languages, Cardiff University, Wales in July 2015. At the time it was aptly summed up by Wayne Spencer: “It strikes me as a simple absurdity. The theme is “never work.” Yet the only people who will attend will be academics (as part of their work) and post-graduate students (as part of their efforts to find work). The divorce between theory and practice is total.” Michel’s take on the conference was more vituperative as shown in the following compilation.
It was also rather more than that. Michel would around the same time send me emails denouncing situationist experiments – basically from an abstract Value-ist perspective, then, two days later, apologising for such empty gestures, re-appraise the importance of psychogeography, etc. Once, the guy utterly worshipped Debord now Debord could do nothing right knocking him at every turn along with his former cohort, Sanguinetti (C/F in the following, The Disinformer, 15th of May 2014) etc. Then there was something like a backing off from The Death of Art as Mich’ proclaimed the words of some contemporary women poets, [best forgotten, etc as today doggerel is far better than pathetically self-conscious traditional poetry -DW], only then to give art another well deserved kicking. So it could be said, critique was flimflamming all over the gaff. Michel even tended to get much closer to the parliamentary, electoral circus, ever watching its daily manoeuvres on TV then making suggestions that leaders must be changed. Thus Ed Miliband had to go as leader of the Labour party perhaps to be replaced by the more middle-of-the-road ex postal worker union leader, Alan Johnson from Notting Hill. This was followed by musings and suggestions for new London mayoral elections when the Tory party’s, Boris Johnson was in power, etc, etc. He even voted for Macron in France in the general election of 2017 if only to keep a ‘post’ fascist Marine Le Pen out of the presidency and a tactic deployed by many other clued-in Froggies at the time.
Alongside this, or rather pre-dating this, it could be said Michel had an over-obsession with terrorism prior to the Jihadi outbursts thus describing occasionally incendiary, somewhat situ-influenced direct action by groupuscules such as Tarnac 9, the Invisible Committee, etc as ‘terrorist’ which simply weren’t accurate but then the He who must be obeyed syndrome kicked-in and there was nothing more to add or discuss. If anything the Invisible Committee, etc, were locked in dispute with the then post-modernist idols of French academia and were indeed better than that conformist lectern-oriented crew and only later perhaps through the experience of the ZADS did the aforementioned groupuscules become aware of much worthier figures such as Rene Riesel and Semprun.
On the other hand Mich’s reappraisal of contemporary Islam was indeed enlightening noting in passing that the so-called far right, anti-Islamic murderer of Labour party MP Jo Cox in West Yorks in 2016 was in fact committed by a guy whose good friend and half brother was an English Pakistani; ever ready to help other people, even a bookish misfit and more the act of a disoriented nut case symptomatic of the growing substitution of real life by diabolical websites signifying the collapse of human community.
On a more general level this could be a response to the changing nature of the times (previously outlined) with the general ambience around all of us becoming more and more ominous like as if everything was lost as a counter revolution within the counter revolution unfolded over the last few years. It was as if all of us started clutching at straws. Michel even emailed me a few poignant, desperate lines he found written by Moishe Postone just before the latter died in March 2018 suggesting that all could finally be lost regarding humanity’s long hoped for Drunken Boat voyage towards social emancipation, while at the same time offering some bleak glimmer that the present day monetizing of everything – which somehow – may intimate that money is so emphasised precisely because it is on the brink of its own demise. Ah, hope……
Further on a general level, the more liberating days of Occupy in 2011 (inseparable from the Arab Spring) had become merely a distance memory, a movement that was distantly influenced by the situationists via American Adbusters, itself a weakened off-spring of its progenitor. And today we have the triumph of Dumb and Dumber like never before; a loss of all relevant knowledge re the abandonment of the physical book – and worse still – as if the likes of the Situationists and the Value-ists never existed. It’s an ambience ably assisted by a more or less vacated internet second life whereby everyone is under 24/7 surveillance stuck in a mindset of “watchers, watching watched”. Inevitably Michel was acutely aware of this plus the growing menace of a new fascism, admittedly of a more modern disposition – more subtle and less crude but probably more deadly (e.g. the omnipotence of climate collapse deniers in their ranks) – as contradictory, unlikely political blocs emerge and flourish. He would email me in a kind of state of scared, bewildered horror as a frightening La Liga from the former workers ‘communist’ red belt in northern Italy coalesced with a previously subversive, comically inclined Five Star ‘performance’ movement. This unlikely duo had managed to conjoin at the level of the state apparatus attempting to run Italy in a less neo-liberal way trying to recreate the paradigms of a neo-Keynesianism (i.e. proposing a Universal Basic Income). Michel pointed out how individuals with situationist inclinations joined in always to be out flanked by the growing cunning power of La Liga’a new fascism. Michel’s understandable paranoia and ego danced in tandem the more the system utterly marginalised its potential gravediggers [like Mich’ and ourselves plus other friends]so much so that today it regards us as irrelevant having absolutely no influence whatsoever. It could even be said these (we!) former protagonists of the real negation of existing contradictions are utterly without importance. So perhaps as far as the state is concerned, there’s no point in keeping an eye on any of us? Yet Michel felt after 2015, (perhaps also affected yet again by his inflated ego), that he daily was on the brink of immanent arrest. He even said to me that The Guardian might arrest him for what he had to say on Heathcote Williams regarding his reappraisal when the guy died in 2017. OTT again? Most certainly but who can say what was going on inside Mich’s psyche? Maybe this was the bottom line and why he persistently looked for aliases. Simply the pain was too great (???) scared perhaps of the phantom, Orwell-inspired real knock on the door of a reconstructed, now somewhat global SS militia minus perhaps the militaristic uniform; arrested for nothing at all other than he existed?????
Just before Mich’ kicked the proverbial bucket; the gilet-jaune (yellow vest) movement erupted in France. There it suddenly WAS in October 2018 outdoors in nowhere land packed with nowhere people. Beyond the initial demand to get rid of PM Macron’s new fuel tax there was an immediate atmosphere with something like the lid off the id calling into question the existence of the super-ego, neither traditionally left, right nor centre. Rapidly over mere weeks the movement became more enlightened yet burdened with occasional hideous fringes fuelled by both hope and despair, so much so that it seemed to be bursting out onto a terrain of hopefully amazing horizons even if still throttled by something of the barbaric. Let’s face it; the untrammelled id is not a pretty place but this was more a situation of hardly containable frothing tourette’s-like amoral mouthings! What we are experiencing is a movement from below containing the echoes of a contemporary Lautreamont illustrated by a slogan on a nondescript French wall which said, “AS BEAUTIFUL AS AN IMPURE REVOLUTION” superseding those original words by Lautreamont evoking a strange and exciting displacement, “as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a operating table” that became a lynchpin of the Surrealist movement nigh on a century previously. True the latter insight was more or less initially press-ganged back over into art. However, for the last few decades such imaginings have increasingly broken free and with the gilet-jaune are again spreading out over into a possible radical upheaval of everyday life prelude perhaps to a ferment that might still precede the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and the fetishism of commodities, etc., slip-sliding horizontally across borders worldwide with no leaders and led. A grandiose project indeed but let’s not be over hasty as THESE ARE STILL EARLY DAYS.
Then came the statements from Commercy in the Meuse and shit, we were all knocked out.The French Gilets-Jaune and Direct Democracy Assemblies in Commercy It was a bit like Ratgeb in real life with the addition of Murray Bookchin’s social ecology (see Michel’s following texts and comments on Raoul Vaneigem). In short, a taste of authentic self-management in open on-going struggle and quite unlike the self-management of reified alienation, pointing to the true rebirth of the spirit of 1968 and of a higher order than those passive celebrations in Berkeley and elsewhere consequence of those amazing street barricades in Paris 50 years ago. There’s some suggestion (though it’s only a suggestion) that Michel was of the same disposition regarding the above flow, bewildered yet enthused, hesitant but also happily and somewhat inspirationally thrown……… just like we were and still remaining so.
Dave the Rave