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.
Who walks alone in the streets at night? The sad, the mad, the bad. The lost, the lonely. The hypomanic, the catatonic. The sleepless, the homeless. All the city's internal exiles.
“Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night,” wrote the poet Rupert Brooke. If nightwalking is a matter of “going astray” in the streets of the metropolis after dark, then nightwalkers represent some of the most suggestive and revealing guides to the neglected and forgotten aspects of the city.
Out this month by Matthew Beaumont, Nightwalking - a nocturnal history of walking in London - shines a light on the shadowy perambulations of poets, novelists and thinkers: Chaucer and Shakespeare; William Blake, the supreme nightwalker Charles Dickens; and many more. Walking in the city is revealed as a place divided between work and pleasure, the affluent and the indigent, where the entitled and the desperate jostle in the streets.
Now out in paperback is one of our bestsellers - A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros. In this book he charts the many different ways we get from A to B — the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble — and reveals what they say about us.
Also out in paperback this month is The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International by McKenzie Wark. “If I read a more entertaining and thought-provoking work on cultural phenomena this year, I will be, frankly, astonished” said Nick Lezard in his Guardian review of the book. We agree. Re-reading the group’s history in the light of our contemporary experience of communications, architecture, and everyday life, shaping situationist psychology among urban explorers for the eventuality of the situationist city.
Inspired by these brilliant, newly published books, we present Verso's updated guide to political walking - after all, there's no such thing as a good walk unless your nose is firmly stuck in a book.