Peter Sedgwick

pseud left review

(Summer 1966)

Peter Sedgwick, pseud left review, International Socialism (1st series), No.25, Summer 1966, pp.18-19.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Thirty-year old P.A. recently graduated to the profession described below after many years of travelling, studying and moving from one position to another.

The Attendant

Nowhere has the archaic insularity and parochialism of the British intelligentsia been more suffocating than in its failure to render a totalising synthesis of the means of excretion in our society. Only the pioneering approximations of Brandstein, Cohen; Levy and Mandelzweig – an Austrian, a Pole, a Frenchman and an Hungarian – have begun the gigantic task of recovering such a synthesis. The remarks that follow undoubtedly form no more than a nexus of brusque and inchoate lucubrations, an initial deconstitution of the material which, it is hoped, will provide bases for extended debate.

A structural determination of the present crisis must begin above all with a concrete cumulative syntaxis of its major moments. These, in the field under review, comprise:

1. The hegemonic status of the private sector. Of the thirty-three million water closets in Great Britain, no more than 157,000 are municipally owned – a puny enclave of socialism in its minimal-ideal sense – inhabiting the sclerosed superstructures of civil society. The gross majority of the remainder are dispersed in single household dwelling units. Only in certain areas of Glasgow, Liverpool and the North are communal excretory facilities maximally available in private dwellings – a tribute to the massive, homogenous corporate posteriority of the older working class. For the rest, the global privatisation of the means of excretion radically destructures and factually granulates the ascendant historical bloc. No more subtle and pervasive generation of ‘bad faith’ could be envisaged than this perpetual serialisation, in which living individuals periodically retire from the world of pulsating intersubjectivity into a solitary absence.

2. This abbreviated public sector is marked in its total morphology by the dominance of the aristocratic statute, which annuls and confiscates the solidary values of instrumental collectivism mediated in the ‘public convenience.’ Rigorous segregation of the sexes; ossified feudal insignia (‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’); collective, horizontally integrated urinals with discrete, compartmentalised cubicles – these are the complex filiations of an ancestrally hegemonic order whose ideology is diffused and percolated in a thousand modalities through the stuporose, miasmal bog of corporative consciousness. (The matrix of popular culture still faithfully reproduces the impress of this immense deference, in its famous adages of ‘the House of Lords,’ ‘Liberal peers,’ etc). In contrast, the relative net ‘aperity’ (to use the apt expression of Ernst Bloch) of the Continental vespasienne stems from the egalitarian patrimony of Jacobinism – a living museum of the fraternal transparency of relations installed by the Enlightenment. In the closed, hermetic universe of the English jakes, a sedentary bourgeoisie has congealed in symbiosis with its aristocratic pedestal.

What forces, what anterior choices must condition the praxis of the Left in this enigmatic conjuncture? Among the variegated prestations and motifs which have come to the forefront of debate in recent years, the successful abolition of female turnstiles (cf. Barbara Castle, The Lessons of French Planning, NLR 24) can be seen as a structural reform meriting the most attentive study. However, these demands will remain at a purely categorical and corporative level unless they are inserted as mobilising mediations in a vertical synthesis which embraces an entire arc of action. Such a trajectory can terminate only in an authentic existential vision of man whose crucial vector is the implosion of the human interspace, the radical deprivatisation of relationships. A modest but positive step in this direction could be made by the inauguration of a Socialist Association of Public Convenience Consumers, which would be integrally incorporated within the Labour Party.

Forty pages later on ...

After the first score or so repetitions of this routine, my bearings on outside reality were lost. The gleaming white porcelain of the urinal stalls was projected before me, mirroring a recurrent series of futile individual episodes. Men came, men went, without exchanging a word or a glance with one another; a terrifying image of the maniac isolation of bourgeois society. The inhuman silence was broken only by the intermittent swishing and flushing of conduits, transformations of the merely inert, an exterior, hydraulic movement in a world where actual intentions were systematically denied and masked. Conversation with any human being was impossible. I made several informal approaches to the customers – a friendly greeting (‘What did you think of the piece on Levi-Strauss?’) or a fraternal sally (‘Of course, it is quite clear that the moral structure of Boetticher’s world is utterly different from the simple moralism of Ince and Bart’). Such terse openings – flung forward into a void of simultaneously deranged and derailed significances – were not once reciprocated. Even my look was never returned upon me. The myxomatosis of social existence had become total.

I confined myself henceforth to the menial, minuscule tasks that the job required. The scrubbing, the sluicing, the re-stocking of liquid soap, this endless, sorry play with the viscous, in its turn revealed the existential contours of my world. I was engaged, without surcease, in the toil of sequentially undoing what had been done – in a word, the refecation of what had been defecated. The exegesis of this global category of refecation (anticipated in J.-P. de Sade’s emmerdement, as well as Herbert Konmann’s Verscheissung – see his monumental Anus and Alienation) remains a fundamental area for future discussion to open up. The pages of our journal will, as in the past, be expended at length in this work of urgent and absorbing exploration ...


Last updated on 19.10.2006