19 Jun 2024

Reflections on a Plastic Penis

Plastic Penis Silhouette 
(SA 2024)
It's an amusing irony of the world we live in today that just as silicone sex dolls become ever-more life-like with their synthetic skins and other technosexual advances, actual flesh-and-blood human beings are becoming-plastic [1].
So, it was no great surprise to read this morning [2] that microplastics have been discovered in the male member for the first time - having already been found in the testes and semen - effectively turning the penis into an organic dildo. 
Now, you might have thought that would have certain advantages; perhaps enabling harder and longer-lasting erections, for example. But, as a matter of fact, the opposite is true and questions are now being raised (no pun intended) about the role of these tiny pollutants in erectile dysfunction and falling fertility rates.

The penis, as a vascular, spongy organ with high blood flow, is particularly vulnerable to contamination with microplastics, which we are continually breathing in and swallowing in our food and drink. First they get into the blood; then they lodge themselves in the smooth muscle tissue of the penis. 
Maybe they do or maybe they don't cause damage and lead to problems in the bedroom. But the fact is they shouldn't be there; although how we might remove them from the environment - and from our bodies - is a question no one knows the answer to.

Of course, D. H. Lawrence foresaw all this a hundred years ago: we should've listened, but we didn't.
One is reminded, for example, of a passage in Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) in which Oliver Mellors protests against the becoming-machine of the human being - 'with India rubber tubing for guts' - and the manner in which technocapitalism is emasculating men and destroying both their virility and fertility; 'making mincemeat of the old Adam' and sucking the spunk out of each and every individual [3].


[1] I have written on this in earlier posts: see, for example, the post on RealDolls (17 July 2017); or this one on Living Dolls (10 Jan 2013).

[2] See Damian Carrington's report in The Guardian entitled 'Microplastic discovery in penises raises erectile dysfunction questions' (19 June 2024): click here
      The multi-authored scientific report that Carrington based his article on was published in the International Journal of Impotence Research (June 2024): click here for online access provided by Springer Nature.   

[3] See D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover, ed. Michael Squires (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 217. 

18 Jun 2024

In Praise of Interspecies Friendships

My new horse friend coming over to say hello 
(17 June 2024)
Whilst I'm alert to the danger of anthropomorphism and the denial of an animal's otherness, one of the things I very much encourage is the forming of interspecies friendships
Such friendships are mutually beneficial and I would suggest that human beings who have never bonded with an animal of some description have not only missed out on something, but lack something, that leaves them poorer in world than they would otherwise be. 
Those who maintain that we are entirely distinct from all other animals - closer to angels than we are to apes - are profoundly mistaken; standing in the presence of my new horse friend and communicating through the silent language of shared affection, reminds me that humans and animals cannot be essentially separated and form a continuous chain of being. 
It's not only because they can suffer as we suffer, but because they know joy and experience a wide range of other emotions, that they should be accorded the same kindness and respect that we like to be shown.   

14 Jun 2024


Statue of Pál Pató in Svodín, Slovakia [1]
You know when your procrastination is becoming serious when you choose to write a post on procrastination rather than work on the 8000-word essay you should be writing ... 
Procrastination is an ugly word for an ugly thing; the act of unnecessarily delaying or postponing something that needs to be done, despite knowing that there could be negative consequences for doing so. 
Apparently, it's quite a common thing, although until now I've never experienced it. Someone suggested that it's sign of an underlying mental health issue, such as depression, or possibly related to old age - which didn't really help. 
I tend to suspect that in my case, however, it's more due to the fact that after 13 years of writing nothing but fragments and short posts in a cheerful manner, the thought of composing a long and serious piece of scholarly research in a formal academic style no longer comes naturally and no longer appeals. 
Also, because the essay is on the Sex Pistols I can't help hearing the mocking words of Johnny Rotten at the beginning of 'No Fun' - A sociology lecture, with a bit of psychology ... etc. [2]
Having said that, I do want to write the essay - and I will write the essay! 
Just not today ...
[1] Pál Pató is a popular pipe-smoking character who appears in a poem by the 19th-century Hungarian poet (and liberal revolutionary) Sándor Petőfi and personifies procrastination. His catchphrase is: We've got time for that ...
[2] 'No Fun' is the B-side of 'Pretty Vacant', the third single released by the Sex Pistols (Virgin Records, 1977): click here to play the remastered version as it appears on the 35th anniversary edition of Never Mind the Bollocks (Universal Music, 2012). Although not strictly relevant to the subject of this post, being left in a void of indecision and unable to act by procrastination is certainly no fun.    

13 Jun 2024

In Memory of Cat

Cat (June 2024)
Mon chat est mort aujourd'hui
Unlike Nellie McKay, however, I didn't pour myself some gin; nor ponder whether she died from natural causes or, like Jesus, for my sins [1]
For whilst I loved her oh so much - and will miss her little kitty touch - such a question seems irrelevant (and a little inappropriate) in this case; her death was very much due to a combination of old age and illness and had nothing to do with substitutionary atonement. 

Cat had been displaying many of the common signs of feline senescence - loss of appetite, restricted mobility, behavioural changes, etc. - for some time. I'm sure she knew she was getting older, although whether she had a concept of death and could instinctively sense that her own days were numbered, I don't know (and the science isn't certain on this point either).
But I think so: and believe she even made an effort to say goodbye. 
Her final hours were spent - contentedly I hope - in her favourite corner of the garden, in the sunshine, surrounded by the flowers ...
[1] I'm referring here to the Nellie McKay track 'Ding Dong' found on her brilliant debut album Get Away From Me (Columbia Records, 2004): click here to play.  

12 Jun 2024

A Thousand Kisses Say Goodbye (In Memory of Françoise Hardy)

Françoise Hardy (1944 - 2024)
Photo: Vittoriano Rastelli (1966)
The French singer-songwriter Françoise Hardy has died and all over the world fans like me are feeling a pain in their heart. 
Loved by everyone, she was a muse to many - including Serge Gainsbourg [1] and Malcolm McLaren [2] - and yet remained an intensely private person (by which I mean shy and unaffected by fame, rather than aloof and withdrawn). 
She will be remembered as an iconic and influential figure in the worlds of music and fashion; as someone who embodied the look of the former and the sound of the latter. 
[1] In 1968, Hardy recorded a track entitled 'Comment te dire adieu', an adaptation of the song 'It Hurts to Say Goodbye' written by Arnold Globe and Jack Gold, with new lyrics by Serge Gainsbourg. It was released as a single from an album of the same name (Disques Vogue, 1968). To play, click here.   
[2] In 1994, Hardy was (eventually) persuaded to participate by Malcolm McLaren on his album Paris. The track she performed on - 'Revenge of the Flowers' - was released as a single the following year (Vogue, 1995). To play, click here
Bonus: perhaps my favourite track by Hardy - and one that was written by her - 'Voilà', is taken from her seventh studio album Ma jeunesse fout le camp... (Disques Vogue, 1967): click here for a 2016 remastered version.   

10 Jun 2024

And I Wanna Live Yesterday Tomorrow

Malcolm McLaren Paris (1994)
'The only artist capable of rekindling the spark of hope in the past is the one who is 
firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe if the enemy is victorious.'
Retrofuturism - born of the fact that capitalist realism makes tomorrow inconceivable - doesn't imagine future worlds that are projections from the present; it imagines future worlds that are reclaimed from the past. 
At first, this seems like fun. But there's a certain melancholic pessimism in concluding that since one can no longer look forward and dream of what might be, one is obliged to look back and (wistfully) recall what might have been. 
No wonder that the cultural theorist most often associated with this idea, Mark Fisher, topped himself.
However, for those who can bear it, retrofuturism's exploration of the tension between past and future - and between the alienating and empowering effects of technology - is a philosophically fascinating topic; one that, surprisingly, has quite a long history - certainly pre-dating Fisher's analysis - although its import as a concept has grown in recent years, perhaps as the present becomes ever-more unbearably dystopian. 
Funny enough, although the word retrofuturism wasn't then part of my philosophical vocabulary, I first came across the idea in a song recorded by Malcolm McLaren in 1994, the last line of which is: And I wanna live yesterday tomorrow [1].
I remember thinking at the time that it was a nice, rather clever line - probably borrowed, I assumed, from one of those writers, like Walter Benjamin [2], who meant a great deal to McLaren, but I didn't reflect any further on it. 
However, thirty years later, and here we are ... The line has come back to haunt me and this paragraph from McLaren on reclaiming history (rather than just pissing on it) now seem to me of crucial importance: 
"The question I find most interesting is how you reclaim history. This is a very different thing from repackaging it. It's not about nostalgia, which is basically dead tissue. Living yesterday tomorrow should be about reclaiming history then reversing it into the future. If you can discover how to do that, you are probably doing everything an artist genuinely wishes to be involved in. One must aim to use certain disruptive practices to challenge the dominant cultural forms and relax the grip of authority." [3]
[1] The song I refer to is entitled 'Mon Dié Sénié' and can be found on McLaren's album Paris (1994): click here to play.
[2] See what Benjamin writes, for example, in the well-known essay 'On the Concept of History', in Selected Writings, Vol. 4., (Harvard University Press, 2003), pp. 389-400. Composed of twenty numbered paragraphs, this short work by Benjamin is essentialy a critique of historicism.
[3] Malcolm McLaren, quoted by Paul Gorman, in The Life and Times of Malcolm McLaren (Constable, 2002), pp. 718-19. 

8 Jun 2024

Rats Are Us

A happy rat seen celebrating on April 4th
Apparently, one of the things that neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp discovered in the late 1990s was that rats laugh and enjoy being tickled. Their laughter may not be what we would recognise as such - consisting as it does of ultrasonic chirps undetectable by the human ear - but laughter is what it is. 
We already knew that these intelligent and social animals liked to play, but we didn't know just how much they enjoyed it - literally squealing with joy and giggling with delight.    
Apparently, rats also have a sense of time; possessing memories of past experiences and the ability to think ahead. This enables them to learn cognitively complex skills and, despite having brains much smaller than ours, there are some tasks in which they can outperform humans. 
Perhaps most surprising, however, is the fact that rats seem to feel empathy: "Since the 1950s and '60s, behavioural studies have consistently shown that rats are far from the egoistic, self-centred creatures that their popular image suggests." [1] 
In fact, rats do not wish to harm one another, feel distress when they witness other rats suffering, and will actively try to help rats that are trapped. In short: rats know what it is to care. But many people - including many scientists - simply don't want to face up to this fact, despite there having been a lot of (cruel) research since 2011 into rodent empathy [2].
Why? Because rats "are seen as cheap and disposable research tools" which are conveniently not covered by any pesky animal welfare legislation; "scientsts can legally do whatever they want to them" and hundreds of millions of rats are exploited and killed in labs around the world each year (so many in fact, that there is no official statistic). 
The justification is always the same: we wish to advance human knowledge and alleviate human suffering by discovering new drugs and therapies. 
But, of course, this ends justify the means defence is questionable from an ethical perspective when it comes to animal experimentation. Unless we are Nazis, we don't carry out horrific and deadly experiments on other human beings. And nor do we now inflict pain and suffering on fellow primates, such as chimps, having recently (and somewhat reluctantly) recognised them as thinking, feeling agents - just like us. 
But then, so are rats, it turns out; they too are sentient beings that love and laugh: "It is only our moral short-sightedness and relentless anthropocentrism that have prevented us from taking them into account."
[1] Kristin Andrews and Susana Monsó, 'Rats Are Us', Aeon (2 March 2020), ed. Sam Dresser. Click here. All quotes in the above post (and in note 2 below) are from this essay by Andrews and Monsó. 

[2] As Andrews and Monsó write:
"Scientists are now tinkering with rats' empathy in order to find ways of treating human psychopathologies. In some cases, rats are given treatments that temporarily disable their empathic capabilities, such as anxiolytics, paracetamol, heroin or electric shocks. In other cases, the harm is permanent. Rats are separated from their mothers at birth and raised in social isolation. In some studies, their amygdalae (the brain area responsible for emotion and affiliation) are permanently damaged. The explicit goal of this research is to create populations of mentally ill, traumatised, emotionally suffering rats." 


6 Jun 2024

On the Philosophical Comeback


In philosophy, as in comedy, there have been many great comebacks, ranging from the retort courteous and the quip modest to the reply churlish and countercheck quarrelsome, to borrow, if I may, some of the seven categories humorously established by Shakesepeare in As You Like It [1].
Personally, I've always liked Karl Popper's response when challenged by a poker-wielding Wittgenstein to produce an example of a moral rule: Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers [2]. It's an amusing and (a quite literally) disarming response; Wittgenstein threw down the poker and stormed out the room after Popper delivered this zinger.
But I think my favourite debate-ending comeback involving philosophers is one reported on by Nicholas Blincoe and involves Nick Land leaving a fellow member of the faculty at the University of Warwick speechless when confronted by his inhumanism:
"Every month staff would give readings from work-in-progress. Nick's first talk was entitled: 'Putting the Rat back Into Rationality,' in which he argued that, rather than seeing death as an event that happened at a particular time to an individual, we should look at it from the perspectives of the rats carrying the Black Death into Europe; that is, as a world-encircling swarm, without any specific coordinates, or any sense of individuation. An older professor tried to get his head round this idea: 'How might we locate this description within human experience?' he asked. Nick told him that human experience was, of course, worthy of study, but only as much as, say, the experience of sea slugs: 'I don’t see why it should receive any special priority.'" [3]

You can't argue with that. 
Nor can you come to any kind of agreement with a thinker like Land, who, of course, gave up on that idea a long time ago. Like Deleuze and Guattari - and to his credit - Land is more concerned with the creation of provocative concepts rather than entering into interminable discussion [4].    

[1] See Act V, scene IV.  

[2] See David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers (HarperCollins, 2001). 

[3] Nicholas Blincoe, 'Nick Land: the Alt-writer', in Prospect (18 May 2017): click here.

[4] See what Deleuze and Guattari say about genuine philosophers having a horror of discussion in What Is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 28-29. 

4 Jun 2024

Welcome to the Desert of the Real

Welcome to the Desert of the Real  
(SA 2024)
This photo, taken yesterday whilst approaching Liverpool Street Station by train, is an interesting study of old and new London; one in which, as the Irish poet and playwright Síomón Solomon pointed out, the recently erected skyscrapers look like a mirage [1], or as if superimposed upon the reality of an older landscape. 
I suppose we might refer to this as capitalist unrealism; or perhaps say after Morpheus: Welcome to the desert of the real ... [2]
[1] A mirage is a naturally-occurring optical phenomenon in which light rays bend via refraction to produce a displaced image of actual objects. Unlike a hallucination - and conveniently for the purposes of this post - a mirage can thus be captured on camera.
[2] This line, delivered by the character Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) in the 1999 film The Matrix (dir. the Wachowskis), is a paraphrase of Jean Baudrillard writing in Simulacra and Simulation (1983). It is also the title of a book by Slavoj Žižek (2002).

3 Jun 2024

In Defence of Fun

Stephen Bayley says that fun is facsimilie amusement ...
By which he means that fun is a false form of pleasure: "And you don’t have to be a pious old-school Modernist-moralist to find any kind of fakery not amusing at all." [1]
No, that's true: but it probably helps. Not that Bayley is, you understand, a Puritan: "gaiety and laughter are all very good" [2], he says.
It's simply that, on the one hand, he values authenticity and takes his pleasure seriously, whilst, on the other hand, he feels "both cheated and threatened by the prospect of 'fun'" [3].
Bayley's position is actually quite common amongst an intellectual class whose language, as Barthes would say, submits too easily to moralising imperatives that characterise fun as a vulgar notion [4]
I must confess, like Bayley, I also used to sneer at the idea of fun and would speak of the superior Greek notion of leventeia - a zest for life and life's pleasures, such as fine wine, expensive meals, and great art. The sort of pleasures, that is to say, enjoyed by those who believe themselves high-spirited and quick-witted; not those dullards who like to play a round of crazy golf and celebrate Christmas [5].
Lately, however, in reaction to this intellectual snobbery, I have reintroduced the word fun into both my personal and political vocabulary in an attempt to counter the negative connotations it has acquired and lift its censorship.  
If you make a revolution, says Lawrence, make it for fun ... [6]
[1] Stephen Bayley, 'Why I Hate Fun', Idler Magazine (29 Dec 2023): click here to read online. This article can also be found in the Jan/Feb 2024 print edition of the Idler.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid.
[4] As Alan McKee has argued, whilst fun is a vital part of popular culture, certain writers in the aesthetic tradition have tended to value it negatively and excluded it from "their consideration of cultural value or even demonised it as a dangerous distraction from what is truly worthwhile in life". 
      See the chapter entitled 'In Defence of Fun', in FUN! What Entertainment Tells Us About Living a Good Life (Palgrave, 2016), pp.41-59. 
[5] According to Bayley: "Christmas is a snare and a delusion: a resonantly empty hoax." 

[6] D. H. Lawrence, 'A Sane Revolution', in The Poems, Vol. I, ed. Christopher Pollnitz (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 449.