A citizen of London could develop an identity, through knowledge of their home city and its inhabitants, like a mirror, reminding them of their origins and recognising features as they recognise their own in the mirror. Through the 1980s the mirror of London changed in an inorganic fashion. Inorganic change in this context, is change that does not adhere to previous rules of nature. London’s nature changed.
The 1980 Housing Act launched the privatisation of council housing. Through the 1980s over one million council houses (approximately 20 percent of all council houses) were sold. Martin Amis articulates the discombobulating effect of this policy: “If a landlord or developer comes across a decent-sized room he turns it into a labyrinth, a Chinese puzzle.”
The architects of this new design are individuals, symptoms of a policy that allows certain individuals to realise their full economic potential, through the unlimited acquisition of property as commodities.
Nam Kook Kim argues that Thatcher viewed, or justified, this policy as maximising personal freedom because citizens owning homes reduces coercion. State coercion may be reduced, but bewilderment means a new psychological experience for citizens of London: perpetual alertness to a changing landscape. London changing is indicative of a crisis in identity but it is significant with regards to self-knowledge too. It threatens the inferential observations required for self-knowledge, in the Fruedian sense. Bela Szabados emphasises the importance of considering setting during moments of introspection:
If they are to be successful, they must proceed with due attention to the context: to features of the situation one is in, to one’s behaviour, utterances and responses, to unfocused mental ingredients that have not been so far placed in a proper perspective.
The language ‘unfocused mental ingredients’ allude to the city, experienced on a preconscious or subconscious level. This is essential to how changing urban landscapes make self-knowledge ephemeral. It allows us to think of the city in terms of an ideal that is latent.
The feeling that nothing is permanent in London and everything that gestured to a collective experience is no longer possible, results in a quasi-nihilism, expressed in Money and Infected. In Twilight Of A Champion, Johnson mourns a place that no longer exists, describing it as being all he wants and all he misses, before feelings of loss give way to what seems like total nihilism: “I sold my soul, to pay for my dinner. My stomach grew fatter, but my heart grew thinner.”
The thinning of the heart connotes feelings of indifference, especially in pop music where reference to the heart suggests unabashed sincerity. However, this is not nihilism in its purest sense. It is nihilism interwoven with a polemic and sadness.
In the next line Johnson continues “I wasn’t wicked, just weak, I ain’t lyin’ I’m dyin’, crippled by deceit”. The pinto vocal delivery gestures to Johnson’s helplessness and anger, whilst his accusation of deceit assures that this is a critique of injustice.
The nature of this deceit was articulated by Johnson in an interview; “Entrepreneurial Spirit’ really means self-serving guilt-free greed.”
The tension between the self-serving, nihilistic ideology and Johnson’s polemical lyricism, within one song, shows he does not yet know himself. It is not to say that one must remain in one mood at all times, but to express nihilism whilst gesturing towards a desire for political change, indicates that Johnson has not cemented an ideal for which he will refer for self-evaluation.
The alliteration of wicked and weak and the rhyme of lying and dying, leads the listener to consider these concepts in close proximity. These moralistic concepts are important in this discussion because self- knowledge has a practical dimension, it is not merely a theoretical or epistemic matter, but an ideal.
Johnson’s London encompasses existential dilemmas: lies, death, wickedness and weakness. Exemplified in the verse of Heartland:
Beneath the old iron bridges, across the Victorian parks
And all the frightened people running home before dark
Past the Saturday morning cinema
That lies crumbling to the ground
And the piss stinking shopping centre in the new side of town
I’ve come to smell the seasons change, & watch the city
As the sun goes down again
The slow death of the cinema, the wickedness that has frightened the people home before dark and the weakness of those running away: not strong enough to offer resistance. Finally it is the monuments to neglect – “stains on the heartland” – that constitutes a lie. The lie is that by pursuing policies that proclaim to maximise personal freedom,the risk of coercion is reduced. However, what is left is a frightened populace – a signifier of coercion or a similar threat.
The city functions as a locus for Johsnon’s political expression, where Soul Mining used the personal as the political. Infected is concerned with ‘the people as a whole’.
For Johnson and Amis the city is a variable; changeable under the forces of Thatcherism, which Stuart Hall understands as having ...no other compelling force or motive in the definition of civilisation than the forces of the ‘free market…
Money’s condemnation of Landlords and Heartland’s description of London as a site of intense inequality and degradation, suggest that through the 1980s, London was no longer a reliable site to achieve self-knowledge.
Money captures the city as a puzzling environment, in its intensely malleable nature: as if the home, the sanctuary for contemplation is to be reordered and restructured as a component in a developer’s imagination.
In Heartland London is a city conflicted: Let the bums count their blessings, while they count their money. This underscores the problem that to achieve self-knowledge it is imperative to regard one’s own mental life as one would the mental life of another. But it is impossible to select a subject that develops an honest and positively transformative path to self-knowledge within severe economic inequality.
Nam Kook Kim outlines why individualism is incompatible with the notion of regarding one’s mental life the same as one would of another’s
All the politicians and thinkers of the New Right were strong antagonists of socialism and the welfare state. They believed that citizenship was being undermined by a misplaced search for equality through the development of social rights. The worst thing in the Consensus era, in the view of the New Right, was the undermining of the virtues of choice and independent thought of individuals.
There is more at play than an intensification of inequality brought about through free market ideology; individualism requires a total psychological restructuring. It insists that those who are dependent or even supportive of the welfare state, seek to undermine independent thinking. This is why Hall critiques the left as often having a: …reductionist conception of politics and ideology where, ‘in the last instance’ (whenever that is), both are determined by, and so can be ‘read off’ against, some (often ill-defined) notion of ‘economic’ or ‘class’ determination.
When Jonhson sings the hearts are being cut, from the welfare state, we must consider this a dual severing; the real demise of the welfare state, as a funded initiative and the denaturalising of certain peoples’ rights to citizenship
This has two significant implications for self-knowledge; firstly we must question our own citizenship, question our ideals, concepts that are essential to the function and character of our self-evaluation.
Secondly, we are forced to question our nature; the insistence that equality as an ideal is a method of coercion dictates that we assume our own nature is unique.
By doing this we undo the functionality of introspection and psychoanalysis. They require us to explicate our own thoughts, in the same way we would an external other. Individualism stresses that we should be uniquely self-referential in our explication.
Johnson’s London functions as a locus for real structural change and for an ideological and psychological transformation.
As well as tension between the the wealthy and the poor: there is a tension between the city as a site for the individual to achieve personal gratification and a place that is shaped by its inhabitants. This point is exemplified by the protagonist of Money who believes he becomes more compelling in different cities: You’ve seen me in New York and you know what I’m like there but in LA, man, I tell you, I’m even more of a high-achiever – all fizz and push, a fixer, a bustler, a real new-dealer.
The use of LA and New York for inspiration appears particularly selfish because of his new-dealer pun: he appropriates the language of the Franklin D Roosevelt government, which is recognised as restoring some level of prosperity to the American people. He registers cities as atmospheric centres for individualistic ventures, absorbing attributes without any trace of local human source.
Seeing himself as interchangeable is hubris: he is lured to America as part of a scam. The city serves as a site for self-deception rather than self-knowledge. He is practising individualism without sufficient self-knowledge.
He is so consumed by individualistic ideology that he cannot practice a method of inference whereby we come to know about the mental states of others – one of the core ideas of psychoanalysis being that we turn this style of analysis inwards on ourselves.
Johnson uses America as a venue for recreating himself, it is particularly telling in Angels Of Deception:
Well it’s high noon at the U.K. corral
And it’s high time I got myself back on the rails
I’m the lonesome cowboy, riding across the range
With just a handheld radio–to keep me sane
Ridin through the f.m. stations, the tumbleweed
And the petrol stations
Will all on board this Yankee station
Prepare themselves for battle stations–
It is significant here that the song starts in the U.K, before using typical American cinematography – cowboys, tumbleweeds and the range – to create a feeling of dislocation. Johnson is trying to escape from England, to grow – the corral suggesting that he feels trapped in the U.K.
The costume is demonstrative of escapism, which could be construed as a repression of identity. Describing himself as a cowboy is a form of cultural appropriation: assimilating a classically American aesthetic.
The title of the song suggests the main theme is deception. Johnson sings I can’t see for the tear gas, and the dollar signs in my eyes. Johnson’s Americana costume is inauthentic in this instance: he describes himself as blinded by American currency and cannot look inwards to make inferences. The use of costume is not only inauthentic, it is individualistic without sufficient self-knowledge. It is appropriated with a disregard for geographical, historical and communal origin.
Johnson reveals real psychological consequences to postmodern appropriation in Out Of The Blue (Into The Fire): I was trying so hard to please myself I was turning into somebody else.
It is worth noting that Johnson himself had emigrated to live in America, for the release of Infected. The album gives a less anxious and self-conscious account of Johnson; the desire to grow out of his English setting and identity, establishes a more extroverted character.
Johnson is comfortable being objectified – I’m a man without a soul honey, yeah I lost it while parading it, in a town full of thieves – but despite maturing in a way that sees him less self-conscious, self-knowledge has not been achieved. The Discontinuity of self-feeling, dissociation from the self-image, that is inherent in both Infected and Soul Mining alludes to a central motif of both albums, that is that the practising of individualism does not yield self-knowledge.
Caught in traffic due to the royal wedding in an overheated car, Money’s protagonist reflects, London has jetlag. London has culture-shock. It’s doing everything the wrong way round at the wrong time.
The Londoners transfixed on royal ceremonies appear foolish to him because they have not realised the full potential of their own epoch, the potential for personal gain through rampant individualism. In truth it is him who has been fooled; he believes he has eudaimonically transcended London and become more that the English citizens stuck in traffic. By pursuing all human pleasures selfishly surely he is in touch with an authentic self? This does not take addiction and addictive behaviour into consideration.
The conclusion that London is doing everything wrong because of the timing of the traffic and how it affects him is parochial and hyperbolic. His individualistic mantra narrows his contextual grasp of reality
His addictions are many: alcohol, sex, pornography, but most revealing in its nurturing of inauthentic behaviours is his addiction to his partner. She brings me pain. She relieves it. Am I happy? I’m not sure. I’m certainly relieved now she’s back.
He does not comprehend that he is transfixed as those stuck in traffic are by the royal wedding. He does not consider how his perspective, indicates a proximity and symbiosis.
He repents his individualistic framing later in the novel …we don’t really go that far into other people, even when we think we do. We hardly ever go in and bring them out. We just stand at the jaws of the cave, and strike a match, and quickly ask if anybody’s there.
He no longer believes that London and the people of London can be culturally and temporally assessed in so disregarding a manner. He recognises inquisitive time must be invested, inquisitive time that is made difficult by the self-serving demands of individualism. An extended period of time inquiring into the nature of another would be a betrayal to the ideology of individualism.
If he had spent time considering those caught in traffic alongside him he may have seen similarities. Similarities through which he would better know himself, his nature and his position. The metaphorical cave suggests that there is personal danger involved in the knowing of another, the potential to become lost, but it is the rejection of the cave entirely that sees him manipulated and swindled.
The prior belief that London has become jetlagged is partly through an intensified cultural relationship with America: London feels like the resting point before returning to the effervescence of New York and LA. He fails to recognise he his symptomatic of London’s fatigue, again exemplifying the tension between the city as a site for the individual to achieve personal gratification and a place that is shaped by its inhabitants.
Johnson too considers people in cars and traffic as a significant image in considering the mood of the masses:
The little drunken lives, —
Driven’ through the traffic lights
& away from who they are!
But I’ve been thinking of you–
In this great city of great solitude.
Crossin’ the central reservation, of my imagination,
Searchin’ for the world I…left behind.
A shadow hunting shadows of childhood life.
It’s all I want–& all I miss–
But how can I return, to a place that don’t exist!
Unlike Heartland, Twilight Of A Champion paints a city with no distinguishing features. In the song he has flown from Mombosa to Miami, Beiruit to Bangladesh. The car in traffic exposes the obsolescence of the automobile in conjunction with high speed international air travel.
The drivers driving away from who they are indicates two important points with regard to self-knowledge. Firstly, they are driving the car as a form of escapism, the act of driving ensures there is an act of departure and it is this sensation that helps them believe they are leaving problems behind. The plurality and the lives described as little indicates there is a mass of people. They do not exist harmoniously; their cars are ideology materialised, a self-reliance and self-serving attitude assured through metal, glass, rubber, petrol etc.
The second significant point is that their vehicle for escapism serves the very reality Johnson wants to escape from. The car as individualism materialised demonstrates how individualism makes self knowledge – through the understanding of others and our context – problematic. Cars as a form of transport possess isolating qualities regardless of ideology, but Johnson captures within them urban fatigue, As metaphors they indicate that to achieve any level of self-knowledge we must step outside of ourselves and make sincere inferences regarding others.
Both Johnson and Amis acknowledge the crisis of self-knowledge through correspondence within the city, as exemplified through the rioting in London through the 80s. Money and Infected capture the riots as running parallel with a royal wedding and newly unabashed displays of wealth This parallelism insists that we consider the dualism necessary to the function of individualism.
Through alliteration Amis draws sardonically on the juxtaposition in the streets of London: London is covered in barricades and bunting. The talk is all of royalty and riots. The barricades as material symptom of the riots fail to register as an absurd contradiction to the display of a royal wedding. Both are entwined as one through public conversation, under the blanket ideology of individualism. Hall calls it a theatre of ideological struggle.
Individualism is so encompassing in its apparent adherence to all personal freedoms that it houses impossible contradictions; symbols of celebration and oppression run parallel. Hall would note here that it would be reductionist for one to simply claim that Amis’s vision of London encapsulates the class and economic contradictions. We must consider the ideology for such juxtapositions to be taken for anything other than absurd.
Money’s protagonist could be located either side of this divide; his wealth and status in a patriarchal advertising firm assure him a place under the bunting, but his crude behaviour and violent tendencies should expel him behind the barricades. The obfuscation of cultural territories can be read as a feature of Thatcherism. He is able to reject of the socially conservative and respectable elements of Thatcher’s Conservatism because of the influence of capital in all aspects of cultural existence. This is significant when considering self-knowledge because Hall argues when ideology become organic to historical development and to the life of society, they acquire a validity which is psychological.
Neither Johnson or Amis are affirming reputable modus operandi for self-discovery, they are establishing a connection between knowing about other people’s desires and being influenced by other people’s desires, coupled with cultural appropriation.