Academic journal article New Formations

Love's Unlimited Orchestra: Overcoming Left Melancholy Via Dubstep and Microhouse

Academic journal article New Formations

Love's Unlimited Orchestra: Overcoming Left Melancholy Via Dubstep and Microhouse

Article excerpt

Anyone considering the contemporary state of left-wing thought in the Western world will have run across the trope of melancholia. Having seen perhaps its finest moments in the anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War, the post-war European left quickly found itself marginalised in the reconstruction phase and increasingly vilified as cultural consensus and American oversight replaced the Axis with the Soviet Union in the role of grand enemy. Faced with the unappealing choice between liberal, Western capitalist democracy and what was, by then, the undeniable totalitarianism of the nominally communist Eastern Bloc, the utopian impulse at the centre of the left-wing project found itself increasingly unsustainable over the course of the post-war era. The effects of this historical turn are wide-ranging, and not easily assimilated into a straightforward narrative of doleful resignation. Indeed, this erosion has been strongly contested both intellectually, as left-wing theorists have struggled to come to terms with the failures of these events to effect radical political change, and physically, in events such as the May 1968 student revolts in Paris, the resurgence of leftist terrorism in their aftermath and the protests, strikes and activist projects that continue to broadly define the left today. Nevertheless, the waning of consensus and direction accompanying this loss of utopian impulse, previously provided through a teleologically-oriented Marxist economic critique, looms large in post-war conceptions of the Western left.

More recently, such utopian considerations have arisen again, ironically alongside the very collapse of capitalist democracy's Soviet enemy, albeit in a quite different form: the promise of a tolerant, cosmopolitan multiculture where differences predicated on identity are accommodated without recourse to economic transformation. Yet here, too, a certain kind of 'post-ideological' utopianism has foundered, its celebration of the heterogeneity engendered by the global expansion of capitalism seemingly no match for the homogenizing global flow of capital itself. Diagnosing this conjuncture in the British context, cultural theorist Paul Gilroy relates the impasse to both previous left-wing losses and a nascent really existing globalism:

 That lapse is closely associated with the defeat of the Left and
 the retreat of the dissenting social movements with which its fate
 was intertwined. Those movements pursued forms of internationalism
 that went beyond any simple commitment to the interlocking system
 of national states and markets ... That hope has faded away in the
 era of actually existing internationalism which has perversely
 created a political environment where cosmopolitan and translocal
 affiliations become suspect and are now virtually unthinkable
 outside of the limited codes of human-rights talk, medical
 emergency, and environmental catastrophe. (1)

When considered in relation to earlier internationally-minded left-wing movements, particularly socialism and first-wave feminism, we can thus discern a trajectory, albeit one that, if still dialectical, is so only negatively, tracing the progressive defeat and loss of successive left-utopian visions. Gilroy does not align these failures with 'left-wing melancholy,' the formation first identified by Walter Benjamin in his review of Erich Kastner's poetry, (2) preferring instead to argue that the failures of cosmopolitanism in Britain lie in its inability to fully come to terms with both the loss of its imperial status and the implications of its colonial past. Nevertheless, for him too, the effects of this most recent lapse on the possibility of a new international left-wing movement are both wide-ranging and, as the title of his book, Postcolonial Melancholia, suggests, understandable through the trope of melancholy.

Gilroy locates the effects of this melancholia not only in a thwarted heterotopia that still bears the effects of institutionalised racism, but in the aggressively compensatory recourse taken by the white working class to the language of nationalism and xenophobia. …

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