Mark Fisher's Introduction to Savage Messiah by Laura Oldfield Ford captured a vision of London paved over by neoliberalism, but where glimmers of a different world were visible through its cracks. We share the text in memory of his life and work – his brilliant, expansive writing. ‘Savage Messiah is written for those who could not be regenerated, even if they wanted to be. They are the unregenerated, a lost generation, ‘always yearning for the time that just eluded us’... So many dreams of collectivity have died in neoliberal London.’
‘I regard my work as diaristic; the city can be read as a palimpsest, of layers of erasure and overwriting,’ Laura Oldfield Ford has said. ‘The need to document the transient and ephemeral nature of the city is becoming increasingly urgent as the process of enclosure and privatisation continues apace.’ The city in question is of course London, and Savage Messiah offers a samizdat counter-history of the capital during the period of neoliberal domination. If Savage Messiah is ‘diaristic’, it is also much more than a memoir. The stories of Ford’s own life necessarily bleed into the stories of others, and it is impossible to see the joins. ‘This decaying fabric, this unknowable terrain has become my biography, the euphoria then the anguish, layers of memories colliding, splintering and reconfiguring.’ The perspective Ford adopts, the voices she speaks in – and which speak through her – are those of the officially defeated: the punks, squatters, ravers, football hooligans and militants left behind by a history which has ruthlessly Photoshopped them out of its finance-friendly SimCity. Savage Messiah uncovers another city, a city in the process of being buried, and takes us on a tour of its landmarks: The Isle of Dogs... The Elephant... Westway... Lea Bridge ... North Acton... Canary Wharf ... Dalston... King’s Cross... Hackney Wick...
In one of many echoes of punk culture, Ford calls Savage Messiah a ‘zine’. She began producing it in 2005, eight years into a New Labour government that had consolidated rather than overturned Thatcherism. The context is bleak. London is a conquered city; it belongs to the enemy. ‘The translucent edifices of Starbucks and Costa Coffee line these shimmering promenades, “young professionals” sit outside gently conversing in sympathetic tones.’ The dominant mood is one of restoration and reaction, but it calls itself modernisation, and it calls its divisive and exclusionary work – making London safe for the super-rich – regeneration. The struggle over space is also a struggle over time and who controls it. Resist neoliberal modernisation and (so we are told) you consign yourself to the past.
With news breaking today that the offices of the building contractor responsible for construction of one of the main competition venues for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games have been raided by police, amidst charges that it has skimmed-off millions of dollars of public funds, we revisit Jules Boykoff's essay from NLR 67 on anti-Olympic resistance.
Jules Boykoff's new book, Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, a timely, no-holds barred, critical political history of the modern Olympic Games, is out now.
With the Rio Games mired in a series of corruption scandals, and with the looming threat of the Zika Virus, the question of who the Olympic spectacle actually benefits has been raised once again. In Rio the favelas, typically sites for state repression, have been subject to eviction and displacement and protests against the Games have been subject to militarised policing and massive human rights abuses in order to clear the city for the arrival of athletes and tourists with their entourage of corporate sponsors and media executives. What power do ordinary people have to stop the great sporting spectacles from destroying communities and wasting billions in public funds? And, could the Olympics ever be democratised?
Extract from Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London by Matthew Beaumont
In the dead of night, in spite of the electric lights and the remnants of nightlife, London is an alien city, especially if you are strolling through its lanes and thoroughfares alone.
In the more sequestered streets, once the pubs are closed, and at a distance from the twenty-four-hour convenience stores, the sodium gleam of the street lamps, or the flickering strip-light from a soporific minicab stand, offers little consolation. There are alleys and street corners and shop entrances where the darkness appears to collect in a solid, faintly palpitating mass. There are secluded squares where, to appropriate a haunting line from a poem by Shelley, night makes ‘a weird sound of its own stillness’. There are buildings, monuments and statues that, at a distance, and in the absence of people, pulsate mysteriously in the sepulchral light. There are foxes that slope and trot across the road, in a single motion, as you interrupt their half-shameful, half-defiant attempts to pillage scraps from upended bins. And, from time to time, there are the faintly sinister silhouettes of other solitary, perhaps homeless, individuals – as threatened by your presence, no doubt, as you are by theirs. ‘However efficiently artificial light annihilates the difference between night and day’, Al Alvarez has commented, ‘it never wholly eliminates the primitive suspicion that night people are up to no good.’