Of all the strategists, ideologues and ‘outriders’ involved in Labour’s 2017 UK General Election campaign, you could be forgiven for being unaware of the contribution of Steve Howell, who served as Jeremy Corbyn’s Deputy Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. Compared to the attention (and, inevitably, right-wing smears) given to the likes of Seamus Milne, Andrew Fisher and Jon Lansman, for example, Howell has been a hitherto relatively under appreciated contributor to Labour’s better-than-predicted performance at the polls. Yet he proved to be an invaluable asset to the Labour campaign, and his Game Changer: Eight Weeks That Transformed British Politics is an essential chronicle of the context, campaigning methods and outcomes of the 2017 UK General Election.
With the appetite for Welsh independence apparently gaining traction, there are growing calls to depoliticise the movement in an effort to broaden the discussion and ‘widen the debate’.
While the desire to foster a greater interest and enthusiasm for independence is commendable, this can’t come at the cost of neglecting the political, social, ethical problems that independence should be seeking to solve.
For the first time in living memory, the opportunity to build a mass socialist movement within the UK feels possible, and it could even be on the cusp of obtaining state power. Yet despite the leftward shift of the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, in Wales it’s hard to be filled with much enthusiasm. Here, any hope is met with the daily reality of what living under a Labour government is actually like when the centre-right of the party clings on to power.
There’s a curious passage towards the end of the first episode of The Dragon Has Two Tongues, an oddly-structured 1985 documentary that tells the history of Wales through the bickering of historian Gwyn Alf Williams and liberal broadcaster Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. Having spent the entire episode hitherto articulating their own (usually opposing) visions of a Welsh historiography, the two finally meet face-to-face (at a prehistoric hillside monument in Berkshire, England, of all places) to state their respective cases as to how the history – and consequently the future – of the people of Wales can be conceptualised.
The most pressing issue of alternative politics today is how to establish even the possibility of conceptualising (and later actualising) a different way of organising society. When neoliberal capitalism has successfully assimilated into itself all means of cultural production, it becomes almost futile to articulate an alternative. This is why futurist, utopian thinking becomes so necessary: it is a politics of desire, one that seeks to make a clean break between the current political climate and envisage one that is edifying for more than the very privileged few. What we do not have, currently, is the conceptual framework necessary to express, and then realise, that desire.
This is, we are told, a ‘post-factual age’. The EU referendum has seen myth collide with fact, and myth has won to devastating effect. It has been said that the UK has ‘had enough of experts’, and such a situation has proven to be fertile ground for a politics based on untruth.
On September 11th 2001, the composer William Basinski completed The Disintegration Loops, a work documenting the slow decay of recorded tape loops he had unsuccessfully attempted to salvage. That same day he witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Centre from the roof of his Brooklyn apartment, his new composition providing the soundtrack to this experience.
This link between the work and the events of September 11 has led to The Disintegration Loops being ‘canonised’ as a major artistic response to the disaster. However, the convoluted compositional process of the work, along with its inherent abstraction, raises questions regarding to what extent The Disintegration Loops can be said to be ‘about’ the events of September 11.
With this in mind, this work will use Basinski’s music to explore fundamental questions regarding the possibility of abstract art’s potential to comment upon real socio-political events. The work will explore the possibility that The Disintegration Loops’ aesthetic constitution posits itself as a far more pertinent artistic response to September 11 than perhaps more conventional representations of reality.
Numerous formal characteristics of the composition will be examined, including the work’s intertextuality, the nature of authorial intent, and the inherent abstraction of instrumental music, to affirm just how separate from the events of September 11 the work actually is. The consequences of these characteristics, compounded by the work’s abstraction, will expose the true functions of a work that dispenses with any mimetic subject matter in favour of giving prominence to its aesthetic content. As such, the possibility will be broached that it is the shared aesthetic cultural space that links the artwork to the real, rather than any semantic content tangible within the work itself.