WAYPOINTS : Towards an Ecology of Political Mindfulness

A NEW BOOK BY PHIL COHEN

Published by eyeglass books  June  2019 280 pp 

We are living through disturbed and disturbing times, a conjuncture in which  the maps drawn by political scientists no longer make sense of what is happening on the ground, and  where identity politics are taking an increasingly toxic and chaotic turn. Against this background the propagandists of neo-liberal individualism urge us to cultivate ‘resilience’ and ‘mindfulness’ as a way of seizing and surviving the present moment.  Mindfulness in particular has been popularised as a way of promoting well being  by enabling  people suffering from anxiety or depression to become more aware of internal mental states and their relation to external circumstances.  But what if this concept is applied not just to the adaptive strategies of an individual psyche but to the articulation of public and the private matters of concern through common structures of feeling?  It might then help us focus more precisely on  stresses and strains within the body politic and how these disturbances affect our everyday lives. It might, for example, help us understand more concretely  how bio-political issues, of race, gender, generation and class shape the most intimate registers of our being in the world.  

From this starting point. the book charts a journey, at once intellectual and existential, across the fault lines of our conflicted society and divided selves. It brings together writings occasioned by recent  political and personal events in an  attempt to  grasp the sense of what is flashing past before it disappears into a fog of reminiscence or rhetoric . Many of the pieces collected here are this kind of auto-ethnographic reportage. Others, more essayistic in form, step back to think  more strategically about some of the deeper processes at work in our increasingly uncivil society . 

  The first part of the book traces  the seismic shifts  taking place in the landscape of British politics, culminating in the Brexit vote,  focussing on  their cultural and ideological underpinnings. This is followed by a series  of engagements with actual, mostly urban, landscapes, as they change underfoot,  and  suggests some possible ways of notating that encounter both at home and away.   The next section explores personal memoryscapes of love and  loss and their implications  for understanding the dislocated times we are living through. The book concludes with  a series of essays about the contemporary  conditions of  cultural  production as these inform  the poesis of singular arts practices. 

Across these topics , Phil Cohen  begins to map out an ecology of critical awareness  as  a timely antidote to the mindlessness currently being  promoted through  our political culture with its knee jerk responses  to the multiple crises we face.

CONTENTS

Introduction: The Occasions of Writing 

Part One – Changing Political Cultures

  1. Brexit and the Island Story – a fatal attraction 
  2. To Vote, Perchance to Dream: Moments in the Great Moving Left (or is it Right?) Show 
  3. Mad Dogs and Englishmen: The EU Referendum and Its Other Scene
  4. On Translating Politics: The Legacy of French Situationism 

Part Two – Thinking Places, Travelling Stories

  1. Crossing the Borderlands: The Dialectics of Trespass
  2. There Goes the Labourhood: An Urban Triptych 
  3. A Twisted Thread: Imagining the Working-Class City from Settlement Sociology to Community Studies 
  4. Glass Ceilings: In Memory of a Pioneering Urbanist
  5. Living the Dream: A Letter from Paris 
  6. Pictures from a Not Quite Gone City: A Field Tripper’s Rambling Guide To San Francisco
  7. In search of the Antipodean 

Part Three – Counter Finalities 

  1. To Seek Within the Inferno That Which Is Not: On Writing a Memoir
  2. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Threnody for Stuart Hall
  3. Our Dear Icarus 
  4. In Place of Kaddish: A Letter for Ste
  5. Two Funerals and a Strange Wedding
  6. For Those Orphaned Late 
  7. Santa with Claws: Or, Socialism Is Not Just for Christmas
  8. Atishoo, Atishoo, We All Fall Down: Some Reflections on Body Politics 
  9. Waiting Games People Play

Part Four – Cultural Formations and Their Other Scene

  1. Living with Painting
  2. Are We That Name?: An Essay on Pseudonyms
  3. Black Atlas: The Poetics of Counter-Mapping
  4. The Occasions of Poetry