Walker - Landfall in melancholy territory
. . is the persona that crystallised for this activist in his mid-50s, around the trouble he had, year on year, just getting through ordinary, libertarian-socialist, working- and social-and-family life . . in the ordinary research-professional occupation of an ordinary university graduate . . in an ordinary loving parenting life partnership across more than three decades: in an entire wage-working life in the thinking-and-making heart of Kapital.
Walker has an inescapable concern, it is this concern that defines Walker. He must assemble the capability to find a place in #melancholyterritory that feels like home. There have been decades of resigned and often grim and debilitating vagrancy, distressing for self and close others, passing through ‘breakdowns’; and nagging beneath these, the question of whether these might eventually resolve into homecoming or some kind of ease, whatever those terms might mean. At a late point in his life, Walker fell off the speeding train of wage-work and career, family and politics; found himself spread-eagled and bleeding in the dust, in the foothills of his own damaged heart and irrevocably broken career and life-partnership; and set out on foot to find paths, means of subsistence and, eventually (this was his reckless hope), homecoming at his own front door and settling in the landscape of his own emotions.
This thread is named for him. he’s the founder of this FoP RoP website’s present-day adventure. Dear man. Much hangs on what Walker set out to find. It’s work he has to do - he does not know how to bear life among people without it - and it’s fundamental in the FoP RoP frame. I don’t mean that what Walker has found is ‘the answer’. I mean that the intention to find whatever ‘it’ may be - the limitless place of abode, the spring and flow of insight, the in-the-body sense of the how land lies in here and out there, the capacity to choreograph the hours and years of feeling that remain - is the intention of liberation from suffering, unease, want, striving (dukkha). This melancholy man’s need to find, abide, cultivate, is not personal or peculiar. It is for every person, intrinsically common, a commons. In this activist's life, it is Walker that keeps him searching for the liberation from suffering of every person.
Walker - the one who must find an end to suffering - is where the politics really start and really rest. They are the one who leaves the straight and narrow of incipient corporate career. It is they who resolve to get clear, somehow, of what is deeply disgusting about the world of Fordist consumer capitalism (without the first clue that this is what its name is - just with disgust as his guide). It is Walker who says, time and again in the activist’s life: Help! This won’t do. It is ugly. It hurts. This is a danger to life, to the wellspring. Something else - something really very else - is called for. Until he can be given rest, the work is unfinished, the journey un-ended. Desparate, endangered Walker is the canary in the coalmine.
The story starts here . . . Melancholy territory - Walker’s long march through the emotional institutions
It is 1969 and he is twenty-two, living ‘Over-Wyre’, working shifts troubleshooting at the Hillhouse factory of ICI (ICI = Imperial Chemical Industries, dominant British multinational of the post-war period). Small tedious daytime roads weave across the flat land between the brine fields that brought the factory here . . sour grey grass and, scattered 360 degrees, dozens of seemingly abandoned squat and ugly just-get-the-job-done rusting well-heads. Next to the caravan site, the brick bungalow on Sower Carr Lane with four cars parked outside is home, shared with two other graduate-apprentice engineers. Hendrix through headphones very loud in the dark after the caravan-site bar has shut, driven eventually by cold to bed and a dozen blankets in a damp bedroom. Better though, than the previous winter: an empty block of holiday flatlets, lashing salt spray, packet curries and shift-work induced sensory deprivation . . ‘the sun on wet roofs says more to me than most people will in the course of the day . . .’
Am I going to sit at a sticky little desk in a two-man rabbit hutch atop a concrete blast wall, and design a tinpot little still[ distillation column: equipment to separate one liquid substance from another ] to discover whether cleaner alpha pinene can help ICI shift more plastic and make more money? Am I shit! Disgusted at the Company’s expectations. Disgusted at the ugliness of the business goal: double the amount of plastic in the average British car in five years. Disgusted at the ugliness of consumer capitalism, way uglier than the dark Satanic mills: dark Satanic soul-eaters. The market equals violence. The ‘glamorous’ model draped over the hood of the slinky hard metal car equals violence, the car equals phallus equals violation, penetration, subjugation. Psychology equals violence (he does not understand that there is any other kind of psychology than that which underlies Madison Avenue’s cynical calculations of possession, desire, quote-unquote loyalty). The manipulation of desires equals life-and-death of a person: authentic, insightful, balanced. The advertising and marketing sector, and the force of commerce itself, the locus of a profound sense of violence amounting to rape: that this man should be treated as if he were that man, the man of greed whose desire is so unbounded that he can be controlled by it. The young man is violated by the very idea that an expense-account advertising executive might think he might be open to manipulation in this way. Am I going to sit at a sticky little desk in a two-man rabbit hutch atop a concrete blast wall, and design a tinpot little still to find out whether cleaner alpha pinene can help ICI shift more plastic and amass more cancerous money in this shameful conspiracy of experts? Am I shit! I am a person who knows stuff, and you will not count me among your number.
Walker sees that his northern friend from undergraduate days is doing a Master’s in history and philosophy of science in the South. He resigns his job and goes back to school. This is where the socialism comes from - being violated by Madison Avenue and expected by The Company to settle down, sign up for the goals of ‘the team’ and take home the packet of dirty pay. Walker leaves the North and arrives in 1969 on a green campus on the edge of an arty town on the south coast, and doesn’t know it but he is starting properly becoming a vagrant. Long journeyings in store, across the entire globe - to the beach under a grey sky at Bombo twenty-five thousand miles from anyone who cares; the exquisite Viking Skips Huset in what was then small, modest Oslo; humming birds and a hot tub on Route #1 south of Mendocino as the sun goes down: seeking home, believing that it must be somewhere because sure as dammit, it’s not here.
As a young man he feels . . the ugliness of cynical manipulation of affect through psychological expertise, by consumerist capital, is so much darker than the dark Satanic mills of his childhood and his labouring-poor family’s journeying-and-arriving there. Affect swings both ways; so . . exploit both swings: devastating negative affect, addictive positive affect. You bastards. Walker knows this machinery so well as it catapults him into the legs of his journey; but it takes him a working lifetime to see it. And even after setting out on a deliberate journey to find it, fifty years old already, it’s ten years before he gets to the start of the trail in the foothills, and ten years further to the time of writing, on foot in that landscape, coming circuitously home. The long march through the emotional institutions. Let the man rest! Let him wake to a day free from labour, one foot in front of the other!
This trope of landscape is barely a trope, it is near-as-dammit literal. It is the in-here proprioceptive territory, and the connectivity between the in-here here and the in-here of others there and then; and the cultivatability and resource-richness and navigability and complexity of the mind and the heart and the gut. It is the totality of hearts and minds out-there, and their dispositions in physical landscape and modules of physical flesh; and their dispositions to action. It is the ocean of emotions, the out-of-depth tides of feeling; the flash-flood roaring down the canyon. Even, the buzz of a crowd: is it wild, that buzz is the noise of a wild animal, what can it be trusted with? Rather, shut down. Rather, be safe. Feel little.
This 'negativity bias’: yes, the species has it. But we travellers in melancholy territory have the hardest time shifting it aside, harvesting - even remembering - positivity; even alongside the ones we love: delight, connection, repleteness, ease, recognition. Every day, a waking journey to rediscover that these sectors do indeed exist, can indeed be walked in, are in fact lovely; can in fact be brought into presence, will in fact arise again. Everybody has epiphanies. But not everybody has to husband them as someone of Walker's kind does, with every fibre of mind: because he lives in melancholy territory, and the rushing flow of life here washes and sifts the silt of memory, and it’s mostly grim stuff that settles in the stream bed. The bodies of we who inhabit this territory are furnished in this way, our minds are connected with our hearts and guts in this way.
It gives us privileges and insights: we see - perhaps very well - the bubbles that all lives are lived in, because so many of them press in on ours. We travel, seeking something that may turn out to be home. We map and make provision and cover supplies with cairns, because we do not know when we may find ourselves in this place again, resourceless. We engage for dear life in the delicate neuroplastic gardening of putting different balances of things into memory (uppekkha, kamma, sankhara) and the dharma dancework of assembling and mobilising resources out of memory. It is Walker who handles this brief; he has no choice, being a man of melancholy means, intending - in the end - to make landfall in melancholy territory. Walker’s is a long march through the #emotional_institutions. Walker’s need for the end of suffering is the engine that moves FoP RoP. This need is not only Walker's, though. Walker is a canary in the coalmine.
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