I was there at the birth,
Out of the cloudburst,
The head of the tempest.
Murder of calm.
– Kate Bush, ‘Little Earth’
Let’s, for now, posit a classical Hegelian dialectical triad. And let’s take the pig as the first point of our triad: the thesis. And let’s – as per Phil’s suggestion – take cancer as another point of the same triad: the antithesis. What would be the synthesis?
It’s worth making a short digression actually, on the issue of whether or not cancer and pigs are antithetical. In one sense, obviously not. Pigs get cancer. Pigs are used in cancer research. Eating bacon – even a tiny bit, once – will definitely give you cancer, as research has recently proved.
David Cameron is a cancer eating away at the heart of our society, and he once had intimate relations with a pig… and yet it’s hard to say that those relations, for all their intimacy, were not antithetical. After all, the pig in question was dead, and had presumably been killed and decapitated so that it could be brought to table for the members (ahem) of the Piers Gaveston society. There can hardly be any more antithetical relationship between any two subjects than that between diner and dish… and yet they are also inextricably unified. Diner and dish, and thence stomach and contents, cells and nutrition, and – ultimately – rectum and faeces. Did Cameron and his fellow Gavestonians consume the pigs they debauched? Pigs, moreover, that had previously satiated their other appetites – be they sexual, socio-cultural, or some combination thereof? If so, they entered into a relationship far more complex than the antithetical one between subject and object. And yet the antithesis remains. In the dancing fluctuation of the dialectic, the opposites are unified and the negation is negated. Just as pigs can suffer cancer – thus unifying themselves with cancer – they are also negated by cancer (as ultimately are we all) and negate cancer in return by dying and thus killing the very cancer cells which have killed them. In the end, cancer is self-negating – as, it is to be hoped, David Cameron will be – and the pig is as good a vehicle – or delivery system, or host – for this self-negation, as any creature.
We have established two important principles:
1. That cancer and the pig are antithetical, and
2. That cancer and the pig exist in an inseparable unity of opposites.
We arrive at the point of the synthesis without even trying. The synthesis is that most Marxist of insights: the fundamental, dialectical interconnectedness, and mutual reproduction, of the exploiter and the exploited. But how can this synthesis take form? So far we seem to have been heading to the obvious point of, say, selecting faeces as the synthesis. The faeces of the pig-eater… and yet, if we are to continue to subvert our original classically Hegelian dialectic (an essentially idealist formulation) into a historical materialist dialectic, we must take note of the fact that David Cameron’s crap doesn’t lead us anywhere. It was hurried away through the sewer system of Oxford. If the pig had eaten David Cameron (à la Mason Verger), not only would the world have been an infinitely better place (for all but the unfortunate pig) but we would have seen our way clear to a nice, neatly rounded and symmetrical triad, with the synthesis of the pig’s crap (i.e. the digested remains of the young, callow David Cameron) being shat out into the natural world as fertiliser, itself helping to foster new growth (in a manner singularly opposed to David Cameron’s actual effect on the British economy) which would in turn have led to fresh rounds of consumption, excretion and fertilisation. And thus would the cycle of life and the beauty of nature been continued, in a dance as old as time. But there’s a sting in the tale, because that kind of pat and ahistorical ending would have been highly open to incorporation within idealist dialectics – and we’d have found ourselves ejected from history back into the realms of the very idealist logic we started with. In any case, the pig did not (alas) eat David Cameron; David Cameron (Black Widow-like) ate the pig, and fertilised nothing with the resulting excrement. We we must look elsewhere for the synthesis.
We might look for some poetic resonance, some rhyme, in the idea that he ‘talks crap’ – which he certainly does. Or we might delve deeper and imagine the nutrition, donated to his cells by the pig, which gave him the energy to forge his career and meritocratically earn his place at the top… with only royal blood, cultural capital, inherited wealth, and powerful connections, to help him. None of these really satisfy. A far more attractive option would be to follow the thread of the symbiotic yet contradictory relationship between the pig and capital.
Recently, the hack novelist and extreme reactionary Frederick Forsyth wrote in the Daily Express that “Napoleon [he means Jeremy Corbyn] has just appointed his Snowball in the form of ultra-ultra-Left squeaker Seumas Milne“. Now, setting aside the fact that ‘ultra-Left’ has a specific meaning that doesn’t apply to Milne, Snowball in Animal Farm is Napoleon’s enemy. Napoleon’s propagandist – presumably the character Forsyth means to invoke – is called Squealer… which Forsyth seems to half remember when he blitheringly adds the epithet ‘squeaker’ later in the sentence. Forsyth is trying to be clever (as if invoking Animal Farm to snipe at left-wingers is still a devastatingly smart and original thing to do rather than, say, the most hackneyed and unimaginative old dickmove in the post-war reactionary’s playbook) but he’s only half remembered the story, and hasn’t bothered to check. And this howler got past the paper’s sub-editors – despite the fact that Animal Farm is one of the best known novels in the world. It’s almost as if they think the mere invocation of Animal Farm is enough to do the job. The elderly Forsyth is of that generation and milieu for whom all one had to do was say “Animal Farm!” or “Big Brother!” in a sufficiently truculent tone and any respectable Left-winger would instantly soil themselves in terror and embarrassment, and leave the stage mumbling humble apologies for having been so silly. Doesn’t really work like that anymore. These days, Big Brother is a notional entity bossing around successive bundles of co-habiting TV contestants, and any mention of Animal Farm would probably be mistaken for a reference to a show of the same kind in which celebrities have to win votes from the public by mucking out donkeys or milking goats or something… Actually, if I may engage briefly in some amateur media-futurology, such a show might well one day exist, and will probably involve skull-fucking porkers prior to eating their anuses or something. One can easily imagine Ant and Dec forcing members of the cast of TOWIE to consume raw body parts of farmyard sows that they had previously sexually violated. Well I can anyway. Real TV understands well that it is engaged in an insanity arms race with Charlie Brooker’s TV Go Home.
What was I saying?
Oh yes, I remember. Turning back to the far less pleasant subject of Frederick Forsyth and his recent semi-coherent witterings, we find the deep and still-lingering memory of the Orwellian connection between pigs and revolution in the capitalist class and their lackeys. Just as the pig is central to capitalist praxis in other realms, so it has insinuated itself into a prime and lasting position in the bourgeois culture industries and means of ideological production. For the bourgeois commentators, the key phrase at the end of Animal Farm – “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which” – means that the communist pigs are evil, and that the new boss is the same as the old boss, that some will always lead and some will always follow, and that revolution gets you nowhere – at best… and all that stuff they like. Now, there’s something to that reading. T.S. Eliot is often ridiculed for saying that what was needed was “more public spirited pigs” but he was actually right. That is what the novel seems to say. Orwell traps himself by turning the story of the Russian revolution into allegory, thus stripping it of real material history, and thus also of context. This is precisely what bourgeois ideology always does with it, presenting the degeneration of the revolution as the fruition of the original sin of Bolshevik authoritarianism, rather than a result of historical contingencies. All the same, there is more to the book than that. What the bourgeois chatterers like Forsyth, in their bumbling philistinism, fail to understand is that that last line also means that the men, the human farmers (i.e. the capitalists) are just like the pigs (i.e. the communist overlords). The last line has the assembled creatures of the farm see as much. They are not necessarily confused about which is which so much as suddenly aware of the fact that it doesn’t matter. Ironically enough, it’s the CIA-sponsored animated version from 1954 which captures this the best. It ends with the animals staging a second revolution and booting out both men and pigs. The CIA intended this as incitement to the people living under communist rule to oust their leaders… a pleasing instance of the CIA accidentally making common cause with Trotskyists.
Again, notice the dialectical contradictions built into the interdependent relationship between the pig and capital. To go one further, let’s not forget that the very capitalist farming practices which have seen the pig – and the pig’s meat – spread across the globe, and integrate itself into Western consumer industry (from the Bacon McWhatever to the dining table of the Piers Gaveston society), are also a key part of the environmental chaos which is probably going to be one of the key agents of the destruction of the capitalist system. Marx saw the proletariat as the system’s gravediggers, created by the system and heralding its destruction. The very real probability exists that, having repeatedly missed or muffed their chance to dig the grave of capital, the proletariat (with pork-delivered carcinogenic sodium nitrate clogging up their veins) will be pipped to the post by the horseman of ecological apocalypse, an apocalypse heavily indebted to the havoc wrought by the runaway capitalist farming methods of the global meat and dairy industry.
In both cases, you could easily say that we have encountered the pig playing the role of a cancer inside capital. Part of it, yet negating it – often with the negation taking an unnoticed form, or at least a form that no one can figure out how to cure without killing the patient (the patient being capital). So, in searching for some way in which we can see the opposed unity of the pig and cancer, we have merely increased our awareness of the opposedness of their unity… or, if you prefer, the unity of their opposition. We’re back where we started. We are still searching for the synthesis.
We arrive at the solution by taking a detour through the unity within which cancer and the pig form an opposition (capital). And our route through is made even more direct by using David Cameron – that ham-faced, pig-fiddling, bourgeois cancer of a man – as our vector.
The Independent recently reported on previously unreleased records of compensation payments made to wealthy British investors in slavery after their lost their ‘property’ in the aftermath of abolition:
Dr Nick Draper from University College London… says as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.
As a result, there are now wealthy families all around the UK still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery where it has been passed on to them.
Mr Cameron… is revealed to have slave owners in his family background on his father’s side. The compensation records show that General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire in Scotland during the late 1700s, was Mr Cameron’s first cousin six times removed. Sir James, who was the son of one of Mr Cameron’s great-grand-uncle’s, the second Earl of Fife, was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica.
If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that there were rats on the slave ships which ferried those chained people to Jamaica to be worked to death so that one day a wealthy young David Cameron could sit around a highly-polished table with the Piers Gaveston society, enjoying dead pigs in various ways, and doubtless stiffening himself for the task by fantasising about the very punishment of the plebs he is currently enacting. Rats scurrying between the chained feet of the slaves. Rats chewing on them when they died. Rats living better, running freer, getting fatter, than the manacled human beings packed into the holds like crates.
And, of course, even today, rats live higher on the hog (if you’ll pardon me) than a great many people – and enjoy greater status and indulgence too. Pizza Rat recently won the hearts of millions all around the globe as he pulled a slice of pizza down some steps in New York. Probably a great many people in NY (arguably the birthplace of neoliberalism) went without sufficient nutrition that day, while Pizza Rat chowed down on his slice. Pizza Rat – scavenger that he was – was praised by many for his pluck and determination. He became the rodent John Galt, ruthlessly doing what had to be done to bring home the bacon (if you’ll continue to pardon me). Replace him in that video with a homeless man and suddenly it becomes unfunny, a downer, something to disapprove of, evidence of societal collapse, proof that ‘we have to do something about these people’… or, at best, something to sentimentally tut about with piteous revulsion. Nobody praises the poor, the homeless and/or destitute, for the kind of hardscrabble, no-holds-barred, unashamed pinching-and-scurrying-away-with that is considered charming and admirable in the rat, the Randian, or the neoliberal primitive accumulator.
The rat is every bit as capitalist an animal as the pig. The rat is the constant companion of capital. From the first, the two were in a symbiotic relationship. The rat was there at the birth. The black rats brought the Black Death. Commercial travellers, merchants of death, they came on the ships which made trade possible. The spread of the Bubonic Plague across Europe was one of the historical contingencies which helped bring about the fall of European feudalism and thus the rise of capitalism. The vast decrease in population meant that labourers were in short supply and were desperately required. Peasants who realised they could get better deals elsewhere suddenly left their manors. It was a real and important factor in the decline of fixed manorialism and the growth of wage labour, which would one day grow into the modern dialectical unity of labour and capital. Indeed, it’s the factor in the dawn of capitalism that capitalism itself loves to talk about, because it’s arbitrary, an accident of history, something that seems to bolster the ‘stuff happens’ model of change. Overstressed, it simultaneously suggests that people have no agency in historical progress and that the modern world was built by certain people seizing opportunity, taking risks, being rugged individualists, etc etc. The rat is the secret model here: simultaneously an unwitting carrier of accidental drastic change, a victim of it (the plague killed the rats too), and the kind of ruthlessly self-interested constant-growth engine that capital loves to love.
Because the rat is every bit as much a fatal and ruthless constant-growth machine as cancer. And trade and the rat go together, piggybacking on each other, spreading alongside each other in exponential progression until they bump up against natural barriers… and then overcoming them if they can. As with cancer, capital recognises itself in the rat – it’s mirror and eternal partner – but is leery of embracing the rat as an avatar. It doesn’t look good.
Having said that, the rat has advantages over cancer. In a strange way, as with Pizza Rat, the rat is a preferable signifier for capital to use for itself. It is not itself a signifier of inevitable destruction. Cancer is the unavoidable ultimate terminus of everything, even capital. The body can no longer labour and produce surplus value, or idly collect surplus value, if it is riddled with cancer. Even capitalism, that unparallelled generator of death, fundamentally relies on life. The rat, for all that it heralds death, is not itself death. There are always more rats. They keep on coming, the way capital wants and hopes to. And the constant presence of the rat, parasitic upon capital, can be used by capital. Every so often the tabloid papers like to run essentially the same story about the imminent arrival of a new breed of super rat, as big as labradors, immune to poison, able to claim benefits and do PR for Jeremy Corbyn, etc. Simultaneous scaremongering and boasting. And they love their rat-analogies too… even if these days they generally have to tacitly hint at them. Asylum seekers, immigrants, etc. The rat-faced Tivolians are more of the same: the victims blamed for their own oppression – but also cutely fit for exploitation – via their pathetic rodental qualities. The Nazis liked the analogy of the rat for the Jews in their propaganda films. Yet who ever helped the rats more than the Nazis? Belsen was Rat Heaven… just as much as the holds of the slave ships must’ve been, or the trenches of the First World War. Ultimately, the rat has capital to thank for all of these. Capital has payed its old debt to the rat in full, and continues to use it.
The rat is the third point of the triad: the synthesis. It is as much an animal spirit of capitalism as is the pig. It is as much a signfier of death for capital as is cancer. Indeed, it imbues each category with something of the other. It is the animal of death and the death of the animal. And yet, even here, we find the negation of the negation. The synthesis becomes a new thesis, itself giving birth – in true dialectical fashion – to its own antithesis. The rat, you see, can also be a leveller.
In his remake of Nosferatu (1979), Werner Herzog added a scene where the arrival of Count Orlok in Wismar also brings a plague of rats. “Nosferatu is not a monster,” said Herzog, “but an ambivalent, masterful force for change. His visit… almost brings Paradise, for when the plague threatens, the people throw their furniture and their property into the streets – they discard their bourgeois trappings. A new, terrifying kind of freedom comes to them.” Indeed, Herzog shows them engaging in something like a bonfire of the vanities… itself a practice from the anti-Medici revolution in Florence… with Orlok standing in for the equally revolutionary/authoritarian figure of Savonarola. The gothic re-eruption of the past, of a threat from the dawn of bourgeois civilisation, a threat that started to destabilise feudalism, now threatens 19th century bourgeois Europe with the meaninglessness of private property in the face of death. (Interestingly, Herzog scores this scene with the Georgian folk song ‘Tsintskaro’, which Kate Bush also uses in ‘Hello Earth’, a track on The Ninth Wave, the more conceptual second part of Hounds of Love. Not the only reference to gothic horror on an album which samples Maurice Denham’s terrified exclamations in Night of the Demon.)
We like to use rat metaphors for selfish people, even for capitalists sometimes. Rats were said to have left the sinking ship of the global economy after bringing it to the point of implosion in 2007/8. Maybe, paradoxically, we prefer the metaphor of the rat for the same reason that capital does: it seems less final, less terminal, than cancer. And it can bring change. It has before.
But the rat can’t be contained. Herzog promised local people that none of his rats would escape during filming. Of course, they did. In Lovecraft’s ‘The Rats in the Walls’, it’s a cacophony of ratty scrabbling sounds, coming from the fabric of his old ancestral manorial pile, which leads the narrator to discover another world hidden under this one… a hidden, subterranean world in which his slave-driver ancestors raised and kept generations of humans as food animals, some of whom devolved to become quadrupeds. David Cameron is that insane, cannibalistic, aristocratic Lovecraftian narrator. The descendant of an ancient line who harbour madness and violence in their blue blood through their connection with enslaving, farming, eating… and, of course, fucking and breeding.