Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound (including The Great Humbling)
The Great Humbling S5E4: 'The Forever Project'

The Great Humbling S5E4: 'The Forever Project'

Our final episode of 2023 finds Dougald already in his Christmas jumper, as the tiredness of a busy year catches up with the pair of us. 

Ed opens a window on Sophie Howarth’s Lighting the Dark: An Advent Calendar.

We share the Benjamin Zephaniah poems that have been going round in our heads, since the news of his death was announced, ‘To Do Wid Me’ and ‘Rong Radio Station’ and ‘Luv Song’.

Ed’s been reading a doorstop of a novel, The Deluge by Stephen Markley.

Dougald has been revisiting the work of Pam Warhurst and Incredible Edible Todmorden, including something he heard her say about finding ‘a forever project’, something that you’ll be working on for the rest of your life.

We pick up the story from last episode about the KLF, inspired by John Higgs’s book, The KLF: Chaos, Magic & the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds.

Uncannily, it turns out that the KLF released a new single the day before we recorded our previous episode – here is KLF KARE & Harry Nilsson ft. Ricardo Da Force, Everybody’s Talking At Me. Possibly not going to make Christmas Number One.

This takes us back to the zenith of the original KLF era, the video to Justified & Ancient ft. Tammy Wynette. And then there’s KLF vs Extreme Noise Terror at the Brit Awards.

One of the striking thoughts from Higgs’s book is about the timing of the KLF moment, coming in the early 1990s, after the events that marked the end of what historian Eric Hobsbawm called ‘The Short Twentieth Century’ (1914-91). Higgs writes about the ‘liminal’ moment of 1991-94 – apparently these are the only years in Wikipedia where the list of things that ‘happened in this year’ gets shorter rather than longer over time.

Anyone writing about the cultural history of the early 1990s tends to reference Douglas Coupland’s Generation X – and Dougald points out that the novel ends with three pages of statistics about a generation growing up poorer than their parents. So in its origins, this wasn’t just about a cultural moment or a ‘slacker’ trend, but the beginning of a reckoning with the unravelling of the rising and broadly shared prosperity of post-war America – which then got swept under the carpet in the second half of the 1990s by the take off of the internet. (Coupland himself shifted focus, writing Microserfs – about tech employees – and jPod, which ‘updates Microserfs for the age of Google’.)

As Higgs says in his book, it’s one thing to start burning a million quid, it’s another thing to finish it – it takes a long time and it’s pretty tedious – and if you don’t believe this, then you too can Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid.

Dougald remembers something that Slavoj Zizek writes about in Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?, the Lacanian idea of ‘ritual value’ and sacrifice as what tears the net of the total logic of ‘use’ and ‘exchange’ value.

Meanwhile, Tammy Wynette singing ‘They’re justified and their ancient and they’ve still no masterplan’ prompts a connection to the anonymous Substack, Philosophy in Hell, and a post (brought to our attention by Liz Slade of the Unitarians) called ‘Instead of Your Life’s Purpose’, where the author advocates for a ‘non-linear approach to meaning’:

Instead of imagining yourself as the hero of a Hollywood movie, imagine yourself as a particularly hearty ancestor that you might brag about when drunk:  the one who rode bareback, founded a town, fought a grizzly bear, raised 10 kids, saved her son’s life by drinking the governor under the table, and went to the frontier to stay one step ahead of the hangman and her gambling debtors.

Ed brings us into land with Higgs’s theory about the ultimate significance of the K Foundation burning a million quid – what if this is an intervention in idea-space that makes it thinkable that money can be stopped? Did they plant a seed for the economic chaos of the decades that followed, but also the kind of ‘liberation loophole’ that might be called for? Or was this just a meaningless act by ‘a pair of attention-seeking arseholes’?

And somewhere in the mix of all this, Ed thinks he may have caught sight of his own ‘forever project’.

On which note, we say farewell for 2023, with thanks for all your support over the past twelve months. We’re taking a few weeks break – and then we’ll be back for the second half of series five, starting in late January.

Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound (including The Great Humbling)
How will they look in hindsight, these strange times we are living through? Is this a midlife crisis on humanity's road to the Star Trek future – or the point at which that story of the future unravelled and we came to see how much it had left out? What if our current crises are neither an obstacle to be overcome, nor the end of the world, but a necessary humbling?
These are the kind of questions which we set out to explore in The Great Humbling. We hope you'll join us and let us know what you think.
Ed Gillespie & Dougald Hine