SOME UNSEASONAL THOUGHTS ON  TIMES OF UNCERTAINTY This year I am giving a  Brexit Advent Calendar to those of my friends who voted to Leave because they thought it would de-stabilise the political class, liberate us from the bureaucratic toils of Brussels and open up the road to socialism in our  small island state. The online calendar depicts the Houses of Parliament as a gothic ruin, and each day as you prise open one its  shuttered windows  you are told to expect one of the Brexiteers  suitably dressed for the occasion. So far I have met  Boris Johnson as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Jacob Rees Mogg as Scrooge and  Theresa Maybot as Goldilocks.  Unlike the traditional advent calendar this one does not stop on December 25th, but is so constructed that it can continue almost indefinitely, by the simple device of  updating its entries.  Yet this  very  iteration  undermines [Read More…]


Some reflections on the Dissident Academy Text of a Talk given to the Social Sciences faculty of Melbourne University  November 2018 INTRODUCTION : WHERE WE ARE NOW AND HOW WE GOT HERE The recent decision by the Federal minister for education to block a number of major grants for research in the arts and humanities has been greeted with howls of outrage  from what remains of the Dissident Academy in Australia   and a smug silence by those   university authorities who  are grateful to the politicians for doing their dirty work for them. But how have we got to a situation where it is possible for the media to plausibly construct  the Dissident Academy as the home of a privileged cultural and intellectual elite  whose contempt for  people  less highly educated than themselves is thinly disguised by their Leftist rhetorics and who pursue a self indulgent quest  for knowledge which is [Read More…]

Pictures from a not quite gone city: A field  trippers rambling guide to San Francisco

Near Views  from Afar Schoolboys of my generation learnt one thing  that stuck in our minds about San Francisco : earthquakes. The frequent earthquakes which devastated large parts of the city  had something to do with the San Andreas fault and meant  inhabitants  went about in daily dread of the world collapsing about their ears. Later, watching the eponymous  Hollywood  movie featuring  the great 1906  quake  plus Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald  and Spencer Tracy, confirmed this impression of a city living dangerously, on borrowed time, yet with a magical capacity to renew itself : at the end of the film the ruins  dissolve into a modern rebuilt urban landscape. Fast forward to the 1960’s and San Francisco is again the epicentre of an upheaval, only this time a cultural one.  To those of us who grew our hair long, went on CND marches, and hit the road with a copy [Read More…]


Note: This is the text of a keynote address to  the ‘Rethinking 1968’ Conference on September 21st 2018. There is a video of this presentation  and a linked powerpoint elsewhere on my website. The party spirit Googling Festschrift ( as one does) I discovered  that it is a relatively recent practice, inaugurated by intellectual emigres from Germany  to the USA , after the rise of Hitler.  Dating from the 1940s, the festschrift became  a way of  celebrating  their achievement in assimilating into  American culture. It evolved within the Academy as a form of  institutionalised peer recognition which had  less to do with  vocation,  than with career.  That last bit is me not Wikipedia! However  a festschrift literally translates as a party script . So the question is what kind of party? What kind of script? Certainly not  a vanguard party  where  everything is  pre-scribed , that notion went out of [Read More…]


Note : This piece of writing, in which real events in my family  history  are interwoven with  those fictions of  self  invention  which Freud called the family romance, is in part a response to  the current  furore in the UK about antisemitism on the Left  and the problematic nature of Jewish identity politics. 1.Genealogy This much I was told: by night you slept soundly, framed between pictures of Lenin and Kropotkin as if guarding still untroubled dreams of Power and Freedom joining hands in  Zion’s promised land. By day you sold blankets  and Socialism  door to door to  miners wives  who bought them both on tick and left you broke but rich in expectations. Your papers  said Place of Birth Vitebsk, by trade a tailor. It was enough   to allow me, years later, to picture you flying like Chagall’s bridegroom ,leap frogging over Tsarist police, making landfall in Glasgow,in time [Read More…]


left fields and the quest for common ground  A day of discussions and debates  bringing together different generations of   writers,  researchers and activists to consider the political and cultural legacies of  1968, their bearing on the  future prospects for a more democratic, equal  and participatory society and for modes of research in the arts, humanities and social sciences  that can underpin it. We aim to rekindle the intellectual ferment of that time but focussed around contemporary issues. Date: September 22nd 2018  Venue: One University Square, Stratford E 15 1NF Tickets:  Early Bird  £10/£5.  After July 30  £15/£7.50. Booking:  bit.ly/RETHINKING-1968  Rationale ‘Left field’ is originally a baseball term, but one which was taken up by commentators and critics in the 1980’s at the high point of post modernism to promote the originality of artists and thinkers whose work was not otherwise on the cultural map. In this context the term took [Read More…]

After 1968 :Left legacies and the politics of remembrance

There is an old saw about the so-called swinging sixties: if you can remember it you weren’t there. This  has the rather interesting corollary that if you were’nt there, if you have to consult the archive  or rely on second hand accounts rather than your own experience, then you are more likely  to grasp  the events  in more detail, depth and  accuracy  than someone whose hippocampus and neural pathways have been irreversibly damaged by taking too much acid while ‘on the scene’ . We are living in a culture whose collective memory is no longer primarily conveyed  through to face to face story telling ,  but  is stored, retrieved and disseminated through  the prosthetic devices of digital technology and social media. Whatever we remember or don’t about 1968, whether we were there and actively involved or not, our sense of  this conjuncture and  what it represented,  is massively mediated  in [Read More…]

 LONDON AFTERSHOCK:    Museum of London Salon Script

  This is the full script for a  salon organised by LivingMaps at the Museum of London in December 2017, as part of their City Now, City Future programme. THE GREAT DEBATE The chair and two speakers seated on platform , with lectern and mikes.   Introduction In Town Tonite sound/music sequence with accompanying visuals , freeze on STOP Announcers Voice :We halt the mighty roar of London’s traffic  to bring you : Welcome to our salon. I am Phil Cohen , Research director of Living Maps and we have put together an  evening of live performance, multimedia, debate and play  in which we will be exploring  different visions of life in London in 2049 when it has become a city of perpetual commotion, officially dedicated to those who like living life in the fast lane. Meanwhile, in a parallel universe,  some Londoners have chosen to defend themselves against future [Read More…]


In the age of Instagram and Facebook, when people are constantly  ‘updating their status’,  and keeping family and friends ‘in the loop’ about the smallest detail of their everyday lives, a Xmas  blog  looking back and reflecting on the year’s events, both personal and political, must seem  either redundant or an act of self indulgence, along with too many mince pies. Yet annual stock taking is still  perhaps too necessary  a business to be left to the professional commentariat  or to  business people with  their overwhelming interest in seeing a return on their  investment of time and energy  in the form of  ‘quick hits’ or ‘results’.  Once we take  financial accountancy out of the moral equation  we discover that ‘benchmarks’, ‘gauges’, ‘ litmus tests’, ‘yard sticks’, ‘barometers’, ’milestones’   and all the other pseudo- material tropes for conjuring  measures of progress  out of  an increasingly de-materialised economy, are  indeed hollow  metaphors [Read More…]

Finding uncommon ground: working-class identity politics after Labourism

Finding uncommon ground: working-class identity politics after Labourism[1] Don’t talk to me of fucking representing the class yer were born into any more. Yer going to get ’urt and start resenting it’s not poetry we need in this class war. Yer’ve given yerself toffee, cunt. Who needs yer fucking poufy words. Ah write mi own. Ah’ve got mi work on show all ovver Leeds like this UNITED ’ere on some sod’s stone. Tony Harrison, V You don’t choose the family or the circumstances you are born into but you can choose your tribe Katy Perry Between tribe and multitude: the shape-shifters of class For many on the British left, ‘identity politics’ emerged out of the radical student and youth cultures of the late 1960s, at a time when the onward march of Labour was beginning to grind to a halt in the face of the first wave of de-industrialisation. Identity [Read More…]