I recently stumbled upon this clip of Paul Thomas Anderson explaining why he didn’t go to film school. PTA was part of the so-called ‘video store’ generation of filmmakers, which also includes such luminaries as Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and Steven Soderburgh, who learnt their craft by, well, watching lots and lots of VCR films. He attended NYU’s film programme for two days before dropping out, using the reimbursed tuition to make his short feature, Cigarettes and Coffee (1993). “The mentality of film school”, he laments to Charlie Rose, “is we’ll start out with Potemkin. First day in class: Here’s…


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I’m always struck by the strangeness of appeals to ‘aspirational’ voters in electoral politics. It is axiomatic that this particular group is vehemently opposed to any muscular redistributive programmes. The risk, of course, is these policies penalise people for daring to ‘make something of themselves.’ Quite apart from the nonsensicalness of much of its invocation (there is really no way John Doe is ever going to hit the tax bracket of Jeff Bezos, in part because Bezos’ wealth depends precisely on that fact) I’ve found it telling that, if we take aspirational to mean what it is, a desire to…


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Hierarchies are not necessarily bad. There are indeed times whereby the imposition of strict equality seems to undercut the actual aim of the interaction. It’s hard to imagine a world where you and your doctor are on exactly equal footing; part of the reason why we have doctors is the recognition of the importance of that specialized knowledge for effective healthcare, which necessarily creates some sort of asymmetrical power relation. We would hope there wouldn’t be random patients arguing with the neuroscientist over how one repairs severe damage to the amygdala. …


Leviathan, an immersive, experimental documentary from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, and the hyperrealist photography of Andreas Gursky, are linked in their addressing of the same question: how should we think of the relation between society and nature?

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Immersion is quite a buzzword in cinema presently. IMAX spectacles promise to make you part of the movie. But curvature of the screen is no replacement for a palpable visceral connection. Save for a few exceptions (Nolan seems to remain head and shoulders above the rest as a blockbuster auteur: Dunkirk’s beach scene, with the thudding of bombs and it’s temporarily expulsions of sand, which come down to land over the soldiers head, hands suffocating the ears, is one of the finest flourishes of the Big Screen in recent memory) enlarged does not necessarily mean engrossing.


How coronavirus unmasks our social illusions

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One could argue we live under two central social illusions. Their specific historical origins are more or less indeterminate, but it is hard to deny their present weight. The first is what Marx calls capitalism’s unsocial sociality. The second is the category-mistake of what we may call the Machine. Coronavirus, in turning state-capitalism upside down in a world-historical inversion, unravels the threads of their falsity.

‘There is no such thing as society’, Thatcher once notoriously declared, ‘there are only individuals and their families.’ A crystal-clear reflection of her ideological atomism, it was also a statement of intent. For the structural…


The counter-revolutionary myth of meritocracy

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Corey Robin, in his magisterial study of conservatism, The Reactionary Mind, defines its theoretical essence as counter-revolution. It bursts into life at the point where existing social hierarchies are threatened. But this impetus is not an unthinking reflex, and not necessarily defensive. Burke castigates the ancien regime almost as much as the Jacobins. And it’s tough to argue Friedman and Hayek did not possess a radical, constructive vision. It’s restorativism is concerned primarily with the transhistorical dynamic between the rulers and the ruled, a relation that transcends social categories and institutional modalities. If it is seen fit to dispense with…


On Political Impossibility

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There’s a clip doing the rounds of Clinton discussing her campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2016 on the Howard Stern show. They jovially lambast Bernie for overpromising in a manner akin to a candidate for 5th grade class president. For the adult in the room, Stern notes, it’s hard to counter someone who just says ‘I’ll give you free everything!’. ‘Free chocolate milk for everyone!’ Clinton quips back approvingly. Aside from the contemptuous of denigrating basic citizenship rights like healthcare and education as puerile indulgences, there’s something more revealing going on here.

A common cause of popular scepticism toward…


Labour’s conference commitment to abolish fee-paying schools has opened up a controversial debate. What should we think of it?

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The case for private school abolition is premised upon two central ideas. First, a notion of equality and social collaboration that states citizens, during their most formative years, should not be segregated according to their parents incomes. That society does better when its constituent elements understand, mix and identify with one another is eminently reasonable. Education, being a compulsory institution that all citizens must interact with, holds dramatic power in this regard. Our young years are when our ideas and characters are formed. Private schools, though, by dividing up the rich from the rest of us at the root, unconsciously…


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In her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It), Professor Elizabeth Anderson attempts to provide a conceptual framework for the anti-democratic core of the capitalist firm, foregrounding the class relation as one of subjection to unaccountable, arbitrary private government. She contends that the distinction between public and private and their relation to government — and indeed, how such divisions and processes augment or diminish freedom — has been misunderstood, both in political philosophy and everyday discourse. What is public and what is private, she insists, is relative: if something is private from…


How Labour can win with an offer to radicalise democracy

‘To win hegemony’, Terry Eagleton notes, is to diffuse ‘one’s own ‘world-view’ throughout the fabric of society as a whole, thus equating one’s own interests with the interests of society at large.’ The ideology of the dominant bloc sinks down into the bedrock of reality, appearing ‘as indossiciable as a sleeve and its lining,’; achieving an omnipresence without conspicuousness, an indispensable foundation of normality. Indeed, the currently hegemonic neoliberalism is particularly adept at achieving this denial of the political. Conceived as the ‘disenchantment of Politics by economics’, whereby the state is levered to impose market modalities (price, competition, etc) across…

Trey Taylor

21, studying Political Theory and Sociology at Cambridge University

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