Sean Bonney | Letters Against the Firmament

Francisco de Goya | A Way of Flying


I haven’t written for a while, I know. There’s not been much to write about, or maybe, if there has been I haven’t seen it. That’s leaving aside, of course, the royal birth, the jubilee pageants and the olympics, that inbred panegyric. Christ, I’ve really felt the wings of imbecility passing over me lately, over all of us. Its as if the ruling class, sheer power, whatever you want to call it, whatever it’s local franchise likes to call itself, had, via some kind of sadistic alchemy, taken the moment (around 2 in the afternoon) on 27th March 2011 when the Black Bloc had gone running up Oxford Street, and had basically erased that moment, replaced it with a long and uninteresting parade of babies, flags, cupcakes, brooms, victims, mummifications, the UKBA on every street corner, their guns, their illegal warrants, their racial profiles and problem families, and their scabs. I thought this morning that I might be able to pull it together for you, this immense shift in the immediate social atmosphere, this peculiar tectonic whitewash – I thought I might be able to pull it together as some kind of wondrous mathematics, a monumental calculus, but I can’t get it to fit. Because, for example, if you take the forced removal of the homeless from all commercial zones within the city, multiply that by the statistical weight of the key dates of any given revolutionary narrative, each of which is then to be inserted, almost like an experimental flu virus, into the generalised chronology of whatever century this is supposed to be, if you take that and divide it by the approximate half-life of all occupied buildings and street-fires recorded over the last, I don’t know, half  century, and from that extrapolate the given name of every person suicided since the new welfare regulations were introduced, extrapolate those names and place them inside a small box built of absolute plutonium, i.e. the sheer terror all of us have started to feel at every unexpected knock at the door, if you do all of this you may be able to get at least some kind of sense of what has actually been done to all of us over the past couple of years, because after a while, say for example a month, those names will have been, via some kind of corporate alchemy, transformed into the manufacture, sale and distribution of third degree burns, multiple organ failure and tiny droplets of phosphoric acid, mostly for overseas distribution, obviously, but the same ingredients can also be boiled down for the home market, boiled down and transformed into an infinitely dense, attractively coloured pill which, upon ingestion, makes the whole city seem like a golden swarm of dragonflies and pretty moths, in which the latest royal baby can somehow pretend not to be an injection of homeopathic rabies into the speaking abilities of each and every one of us, and in which the street value of each of these pills can be taken to equal the external force of the ancient city walls considered as a rudimentary and absolutely incomprehensible incendiary device, and those walls are made of silver, which is cut with sulphur and arsenic, and those walls are of gold, which is made from sand and dust, and those walls are of mercury, which is unsuitable for making coins, and those coins are of piss and phosphor, each in compliance with international law. It would, of course, be a very partial calculation. So much for maths as an algebraic counterforce to capital’s tedious little multiplication tables, it keeps coming out more like an oracular scattering of starling bones, of meat and shrieking larks. The place and the formula, as Rimbaud called it. 16th July 2013, for example. Or June 6th 1780. Or 6th October 1985. All the constellations of the royal bastard. London, the city of Mark Duggan. We, the servants of dogs. And you ask me why I don’t write poetry. As if a metaphor could actually be a working hypothesis, and not just a cluster of more-or-less decorative alibis. I can’t do it. I haven’t slept since Thatcher. Curses on the midnight hag.




I think I’m becoming slightly unwell. I’ve developed a real fear of the upstairs neighbours. Every morning they emit a foul stench of bitumen and bitter, moral superiority as they stomp through the corridor on their way to work. A while ago I told you I rarely leave the house, now I can’t, they’ve spun a web of 9 to 5 self-worth across the door, a claim on the law, moebus claws. I’m trapped. I keep the curtains closed. Don’t answer the phone. Panic when the mail’s delivered. I don’t know if this is normal behaviour, if anyone else feels the city as a network of claws and teeth, an idiot’s hospital, a system of closed cameras and traffic. I’m probably beginning to smell. In fact I know I am: a thick cloud of inaudible noises from upstairs, dank growlings from somewhere outside the ring of the city. I feel I’m being menaced by judges. Who the hell are they. What are they doing inside me. I can’t hear their voices, but each chain of wordforms solidifies inside my throat, inside my mouth, inside my own voice. It is no articulate sound. It is as if every verb had coagulated into a noun, and the nouns themselves transformed into something subterranean, blind and telescopic. I don’t know if I can even see. I think I injected my eyes with gold one night, or at least the idea of gold, some kind of abstraction, and ever since then I’ve only sensed the city, as a wave of obsolete vibrations and omens. The gold itself some kind of anachronism, a dull rock rolling backwards into whatever remains of historic time. Each time-unit manufactured by a sweatshop suicide somewhere on the other side of the planet. The entire history of London, from its origins as an occultist trading post right up to some point in the not so distant future when it will be inevitably sucked into the spinning guts of Kronos and, well. All of that manufactured by sweatshop suicides, the kind of people my upstairs neighbours will insist over and again simply do not exist. But what do they know? Each evening I hear them, walking around, stomp-stomp-stomping, tap-tap-tapping out their version of social reality on their floor, on my ceiling. It’s terrible. And since I can’t even leave the flat anymore, the ceiling might as well be the whole of the sky, and they’re tapping out new and brutal constellations. Here’s the sign of the surveillance camera. Here’s the medusa. Here’s the spear of Hades. Here’s the austerity smirk. Here’s the budget. A whole new set of stars. Astrology completely rewritten. Its like they’re the sun and the moon, or the entire firmament, a whole set of modernized, streamlined firmaments. What fucking asswipes.




I know. I’d been hoping to spare you any further musings I might have had on the nature of Iain Duncan-Smith, that talking claw. But perhaps we’re at a point now where we need to define him, to recite and describe, occupy his constellations. Because to recite the stations of the being of Iain Duncan-Smith, as if they were a string of joy-beads, and they are, would be to recite the history of the law, if we take that law to be something as simple as a mouth is, and each noise, each syllable that emits from that mouth is only ever and never more than the sound of animals eating each other, a gap in the senses where the invisible universe goes to die, and we become like ghosts or insomniacs stumbling through the city, we become the music of Iain Duncan-Smith, his origin in the chaos of animals and plants, of rocks and metals and the countless earths, where over and again he breaks children’s teeth with gravel-stones, covers them with ashes. Because to classify those stations, the cancer-ladder of the dreams of Iain Duncan-Smith might, at a push, be to  consume him, and to define those stations, those marks on the hide of Iain-Duncan Smith, might be to trap him, to press granite to the roof of his mouth, the stations of the law. And at this point, obviously, I really wish I could think of something to say that was hopeful, that was useful, that was not simply a net of rats blocking the force of the sun, till it crawls on its fists and knees, screaming like a motherfucker, sarcastic and wrathful, boiling the mountains as if they were scars, laughing, laughing like a crucifixion, modular and bleached. Bleached with the guts of Iain Duncan-Smith, of each of the modest number of words he actually understands, such as grovel and stingray and throat, chlamydia, wart. And those five words are the entirety of the senses of Iain Duncan-Smith, the gates to his city, his recitation of the germs of the law, a clock that never strikes and never stops, where we are not counted, wiped from the knots of statistics, comparable to fine gold, receptacles of song, shrieking gulls. Its all I can bear to listen to, that shrieking. It blocks out the stars, the malevolent alphabet he’s been proposing.




Thanks for your letter. You think I spend too much time going after ‘easy targets’, do you? Got to admit I chuckled over that one. A while ago, you recall, I admitted to you I make a fetish of the riot form, and in that admission implied I was fully aware of the risks involved, that any plausible poetics would be shattered, like a shop window, flickering and jagged, all of the wire exposed and sending sharp twists and reversible jolts into whatever it was I was trying to explain or talk about. Think about it this way. Imagine that you had a favourite riot, one that you loved. Tottenham. Millbank. Chingford. Walthamstow. I like the last one, but only for sentimental reasons. It’s a stupid question, but maybe will help you to see what I mean when I use the word “poetics”, or “poetry”. What was Marx referring to when he was talking about the “poetry of the future”, for example? And what use is that in thinking about prosody? Anyway. Loads of people have made maps of clusters of riots, trying to come up with some kind of exegesis based on location and frequency. And quite right too. Think of the micro-vectors sketched out within the actions of any individual rioter, of how those vectors and actions relate to those shared among her or his immediate physical group, and thus the spatio-physical being of that group in relation to their particular town / city, and finally, the superimposition of all of those relations in all of their directions and implications onto an equally detailed charting of the entire landmass understood as chronology and interpretation. Christ, you could include data about the weather-systems on Neptune if you wanted to. What would happen to this map, I’ve been asking myself, if we went on to superimpose the positions of riots of the past, the future too if you want to be facetious, onto the complexities we’re already faced with. Sudden appearance of the Baltimore Riots of 1968, to take a random example. Or the Copper Riots of 1662. The Opera Riot, Belgium, 1830. The 1850 Squatters Riot, California. Personally, I like the Moscow Plague Riots of 1771, both for their measures of poetry and analogy, and for the thought of them as an element of the extraordinarily minor Walthamstow Riot of 7th August 2011. Plague is a bad metaphor, thats it accuracy, it refers to both sides, all sides, in quantitively different ways. Hegelian “aspects” and all that, yeh? But primarily, its dirt simple: It runs in both directions. Means both us and them. Is a jagged rip through all pronouns. The thunder of the world, a trembling, a turbine. Cyclical desperation, clusters of walls. The first signs of plague hit Moscow in late 1770, as in a sudden system of forced quarantine and destruction of contaminated houses. Within a few months, a clock of vast scratching, fear and anger. September 15th they invaded the Kremlin, smashed up the monastery there. The following day they murdered the Archbishop, that wormfucker, Ambrosius, they killed him, and then torched the quarantined zones. Much burning, yeh, much gunshot and vacuum. And no antidote, no serum. Around 200,000 people died, not including those who were executed. Its a grisly map. Disease as interpretation and anonymity. The plague itself as injection into certain subsets of opinion, those predominantly generated within hegemonic diagrams of running water and digital electricity. Plague sores, each basilica split open to various popular songs, calendars folded within them, recorded crackles through the forcibly locked houses, code etc., LEDs and meth. Basic surrealism. Aimé Césaire wrote years ago that “poetic knowledge is born in the great silence of scientific knowledge”. And science itself the great silence at the centre of corporate knowledge, its dialectical warp and synaptic negation. As in a single node of extraction made up, for example, of the precise percentage of the world’s population who will never again be called by name, except by cops and executioners. Each one of those names – and we know none of them – is the predominant running metaphor of the entire culture, a net of symptom splinters producing abdominal pain and difficulty breathing, which in turn leads to a sharp increase in arrest numbers throughout the more opaque boroughs of selected major cities. OK? Now write a “poem”. Directly after the August Riots I went to one of the big public meetings, don’t know why, guess I was feeling a bit confused. Or maybe just bored. The speakers were awful, patronising, professional counterrevolutionaries, you know the type. But there was one woman who spoke, she had nothing to do with the organisation, they’d got her up there for obvious reasons, yeh, and she lived on an estate somewhere and her son had leapt 16 floors from a tower block window. He’d been on curfew and the cops had turned up, without warning, at his flat. To check up or something. Anyway, he leapt 16 floors down, and they told her he’d killed himself, “and I know my boy”, his mother said from top table, “and he wouldn’t have jumped, he wouldn’t have killed himself, not for them,  not for anyone, not for the cops”, and her voice cracked a little and then she said “and as for the riots, I thought they were fair enough, and I think there should be more of them, and more, and more”, and then she stopped and there was some applause, but it was a little shaken and a little nervous. Understand? Here’s a statistic for you, an elegant little metric foot: not one police officer in the UK has been convicted for a death in police custody since 1969. Get that? A lifetime. I think that’s what she was getting at, at the meeting: every cop, living or dead, is a walking plague-pit. And that includes the nice ones with their bicycles and nasty little apples. Like some kind of particle mould. They are all Simon Harwood. They are all Kevin Hutchinson-Foster. And are running, with crowbars and wheels, year by year, strata by strata, backwards into, well, what they used to call the deep abyss, or perhaps the metamorphosis of commodities. The unity of opposites, anti-constellations cutting through chronology, an injection of three droplets of the weather on Neptune into each malevolently flashing unit of time tumbling backwards through all of written history, all 16 spirals of it. “Poetry”, remember, “is born in the great silence of scientific knowledge”. What do you think that means, “the great silence”. I ask because I’m not quite sure. Hölderlin, in his “Notes on Oedipus”, talks about the moment of “fate”, which, he says, “tragically removes us from our orbit of life, the very-mid point of inner life, to another world, tears us off into the eccentric orbit of the dead”. But he’s not talking about “fate” as in myth, or the number of fatalities taking place every year in police cells and occupied territories worldwide, or indeed the home of every benefit claimant in this town. He’s talking about prosody, about the fault-line that runs through the centre of that prosody, and how that fault-line is where the “poetic” will be found, if its going to be found anywhere. The moment of interruption, a “counter rhythmic interruption”, he calls it, where the language folds and stumbles for a second, like a cardiac splinter or a tectonic shake. Again, just as with the plague, this is a cracked metaphor, an abstraction or a counter-earth. Actually its an entire cluster of metaphors, and each one of those metaphors twist in any number of directions, so that “counter-rhythmic interruption” refers, at the same time, to a band of masked-up rioters ripping up Oxford St., and to the sudden interruption inflicted by a cop’s baton, a police cell and the malevolent syntax of a judge’s sentence. We live in these cracks, these fault-lines. Who was it, maybe Raoul Vaneigem, who wrote something about how we are trapped between two worlds, one that we do not accept, and one that does not exist. Its exactly right. One way I’ve been thinking about it is this: the calendar, as map, has been split down the middle, into two chronologies, two orbits, and they are locked in an endless spinning antagonism, where the dead are what tend to come to life, and the living are, well you get the picture. Obviously, only one of these orbits is visible at any one time and, equally obviously, the opposite is also true. Its as if there were two parallel time tracks, or maybe not so much parallel as actually superimposed on each other. You’ve got one track, call it antagonistic time, revolutionary time, the time of the dead, whatever, and its packed with unfinished events: the Paris Commune, Orgreave, the Mau Mau rebellion. There are any number of examples, counter-earths, clusters of ideas and energies and metaphors that refuse to die, but are alive precisely nowhere.  And then there is standard time, normative time, a chain of completed triumphs, a net of monuments, dead labour, capital. The TV schedules, basically. And when a sub-rhythmic jolt, call it anything, misalignment of the planets, radioactive catastrophe, even a particularly brutal piece of legislation, brings about a sudden alignment of revolutionary and normative time, as in the brute emergence of unfinished time into their world, it creates a buckling in its grounding metaphor, wherein that metaphor, to again misuse Hölderlin, becomes a network of forces, places of intersection, places of divergence, moments when everything is up for grabs. Well, that’s the theory. Riot, plague, any number of un-used potentialities we can’t even begin to list. The names of everyone who has died in police custody since 1969, for example. The name of every civilian who has died in Iraq since 2003. Plague. The opposite of solidarity. Or rather, solidarity itself: the solidarity of isolation and quarantine, of the bomb-zone or the ghetto. The great silence is full of noises. And thats what I mean when I talk about poetics. A map, a counter-map, actually, a chart of the spatio-temporal rhythm of the riot-form, its prosody and signal-frequency. A map that could show the paths not taken. And where to find them, those paths, those antidotes, those counter-plagues. Anyway, I hope that answers your question. It’s a very partial account, for sure. There are hundred of other points of access to the metaphor cluster engaged within the riot form: think about the Portland Rum Riots of 1855, for example. Or the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. Their trajectories through the varying intensities of official and unofficial chronology, the music of the past re-emerging as a sheet of blazing gin flowing through Chingford. Like that time we marched on Parliament, burned it to the ground. Remember that? It was fantastic.




Well, I dunno, it feels like we all just lost our minds. I mean, if you remember, not so long ago I tried to convince you that plague is the only solidarity we might have left, as if that plague might lead to some kind of new force of collectivity, on both molecular and social levels, wherein a new utopia might open up before our eyes, a rose-garden of strange harmony, new forms of human and inhuman love. Perhaps I got it wrong. I mean, I’ve been ill for quite a while now, and if I feel solidarity with anything at all, its simply with the forces of namelessness and invisibility, as if my body was less an ordered system of molecules and more a negative community of shattered, cannibalistic and stupid sub-atomic particles, and some of those particles are mine and some of them are not, as if my body had become an anti-linear intersection point where hail and domestic locusts had somehow mingled with the original recitation of Thomas Müntzer’s “Protest About the Condition of the Bohemians” – that would be 1521, something like that – and those two only coincidentally anti-capitalist forces have manifested themselves as a red, black and slightly painful rash that’s made it even more difficult than usual to leave the house. And if you can’t see just how politically inconvenient that is, its probably only because you’ve still got some kind of job, and your wage-slip still has the ability to stitch you together into some kind of utopian facsimile of, what, maturity, satisfaction, calm and good health. Like you’re a walking vaccine, or something. Don’t get me wrong, its not like I blame you or anything. There’s plenty of people, plenty of us, who have just carried on as if nothing was happening, as if the grievous black wind beating through our minds and our skies and our homes was either totally invisible, or simply something that didn’t apply, as if we had conjured up some kind of immunity to the swarms of metallic tumours that have for decades now replaced whatever it was used to pass for reasoned discourse in this, or any, country. Yes, it is of course more than reasonable to wander through all of this wreckage, this peevish radioactivity as if it was just another landscape ripe for gentrification, as if all of this was just the normal way of things, as if it was the way of the world, as if everything had always been like this, and it has, because as everybody knows, the projectile vomit of the present moment – in whatever “historical era” –  has always spattered and poisoned the entirety of written and unwritten history, all the kings and queens of England simply tiny worms wriggling about all over it, that vomit, that history. And all of those tiny little worms have by now been re-interpreted as a golden and glowing currency, the basis of our tradition, a word which rhymes oh so neatly, well almost, with radiation and rendition. Oh beautiful stinking England. And other blah blah blahs. I thought about making a copy of this letter, sending it to the Daily Mail. I’m serious. Because, and I don’t really need to tell you, I’m sure you’ve noticed, over the past few years, since the current administration “took power” or whatever it is you call it, I’ve become a monster, absolutely intolerant, psychopathic in my hatred for every cop and tory on this entire planet, and that would be fine if it wasn’t so clear just what a comfortable place in which to live that hatred has become. And I wonder how close that comfort is to whatever warm, titillated bliss your average Daily Mail reader feels as their own suburban hatred is tickled into being by, for example, the way they so fondly believe their taxes are being made to subsidise huge masses of starving people, the way their hard earned xenophobic cash goes to pay for all those unsavoury Victorian diseases the poor seem to feel so entitled to. That’s right, it must be very cozy in there, inside that glowing, subsidised hatred. There are, of course, some very serious differences. Because, for one thing, they actually own the hatred they live inside, they put a deposit down, they pay their mortgage, they ring it around with flowers, with birds and other things, the immense screeching of starlings, the avenues of devastated cities, all of it transformed by who knows what magic into a neatly mowed lawn, gadgets, polite chat about interior design. Not me. I have to rent mine. And every day I have to worry about the landlord, about how one day the rent will be too much too afford, because the landlord will have worked out that even embittered, quasi-principled political hatred can be converted into a slab of real-estate. That’s right, a slab. A slab composed of tungsten and dense micro-shrapnel, which explodes in deep, fabular silence somewhere on the other side of the planet, a dense micro-nebulae in which all of us – Daily Mail readers or not – are either vaporised or transformed into a dense organisation of molecular bullshit, a ring of roses, rigid and ossified, a foul-smelling network of bones, and all of those bones played upon like holy trumpets, because what is bone is also teeth, and when those teeth are scattered across the soil, the floodplains and the scorched tory desert, they start speaking, and the noise is tremendous, at frequencies no living creature can hear, but the dead do, and they crawl out from underneath their shattered houses, and the music is intolerable, because the time for tolerance is long past, and at this point I collapse, all of the creatures from which I’m made, all the constellations, they implode, they divide themselves, tear themselves to tatters, as if the heretics of Saturn and Venus and whatever remains of Hackney had been compressed into some kind of bacteria and preserved for years in a secret laboratory located several miles below the magnetic gulfs of the Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, London EC2R 8AH and, when released with great triumphalist fanfare by a gang of fearless anarchists, when those bacteria are released into the atmosphere like a huge trumpet-blast of invisible comets they achieve absolutely nothing, people breathe them in and sneeze and that’s about it, and that’s the type of solidarity I’m feeling right now, its like a vacuum, a microscopic black hole, an occupied territory, a supermarket, a net of protons passing through matter with no effect whatsoever, a hospital crackling and burning in the heat of the midnight sun. That’s right. Hatred is a very comfortable place. I’ve been living on speed and whisky for weeks. Come over if you fancy some. I’ll try not to puke.


November 12, 2013  – September, 2014

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