I am closely studying maps. Maps of a small area of London. Tudor Street in particular. From Tudor Street I walk along John Carpenter Street. The security guards at JP Morgan are suspicious. They are not in any sense an enemy. They are low paid and daily told what to do. I am waiting for the light to change to take a photograph of the building which used to be the City of London school.
The security guard is standing inside the JP Morgan building watching me through the plate glass window. I want to go and talk to him and explain that this is nothing to do with security.
Or it might be. It depends on how security is defined and what security means. JP Morgan is part of the tangle of financial institutions which sweep all the pennies in the world up into a heap and turn them into capital. There is a quantitative and qualitative change. A few pence makes no difference. But billions of pennies, assembled by the capitalists, becomes an immense power. And what after all is capital but an accumulation of small coins?
There is no one in the street. But there is a presence and it is not clear what it is. It isn’t something ghostly. It is as if their are voices trapped in the air and they cannot find a way to make the words they wish to speak be heard. What might these voices be, and whose voices are these?
There are corners where the rubbish accumulates. Space which is not clearly defined. Cardboard boxes behind iron railings. Flatten cardboard boxes in a forgotten doorway. This is where someone sleeps each night.
The buildings feel as if an imposition from an earlier time. There is something in the atmosphere that is not easily explained. Along Bridewell Place; a cheap hotel. A group of men in identi-kit suits and haircuts smoke cigarettes. It is a uniform, but this is not who they really are. This is not their actual materiality, this is how they are formed in the work of exploitation. This is the persona they adopt in the world of toil.
The relations of production split us into fragments, make it impossible for our identities to be whole, prevent a true alignment of our consciousness, corporeal being and senses. There is a new trope from the management class which invites us to ‘be ourselves at work’. The process of the working class becoming themselves at work would be an act of immense revolution. In fact it would be the revolution.
The atmosphere is unclear here too. An office block from the 1960s or 1970s. It is coming to the end of its term of use. It looks tired and shabby, a leftover at the end of a party where no one had a chance to shine. An overweight man comes out of the door. I want to ask him what goes on in there but he looks exhausted and his face is covered with cold damp clouds. He looks like a fish washed up onto the beach which is losing its sea-shine and becoming green, ghoulish, sick. He’s washed up too; but into the sharp edges of a company struggling with the mystery of productivity.
It is a relief to turn into Bride Lane. The red brick of the St Bride’s Institute suggest another age. Fragments of that age survive but are like torn pages from a book. They blow across the cobble stones and as we tried to reach down to pick them up, the wind comes again and pushes them from our grasp.
St Bride’s Church burned during the blitz, the roof collapsing, the sound of the fire fighters shouting warnings to their comrades, the spit and crack of fire the hiss and splashing of water. Bombs can be heard crumping in the distant. The ground shakes; that one was too near. A wall collapses. Fire fighters running over the hoses that lie all across Fleet Street. The sky is red, the windows burst with exploding noises, the street glows with fire, yellow, orange, dark red sparks and embers falling, a cascade of fire.
The whole of London is now shaped by the structures of tax, VAT, profit. The origins of the shape of the city are in a spreadsheet, a finance system database. This determines function, the money shape determines the form.
Fleet Street is desolate, a landscape with few people. No one stops. Empty shop after empty shop, letters piled up behind dirty glass doors. That’s old news, no longer important. The invasion of Ukraine happened months ago, the massacres in Syria now forgotten, the missile strikes on Yemen by Saudi Arabia were never even known.
Here under these streets, new title deeds, the autocrats and despots are buying up the town. They sanction the murder of old people and children. They are hardly likely to care for buildings.
The few people are moving too fast, heads down, as if walking through a no-man’s land. That’s it, that’s what Fleet Street feels like now, a non-place. It’s a left-over from another age. The nostalgia industry cannot find a way to package this. Not enough places to fly flags, not enough right-wing media bleach to sanitise what really happened.
Into the medieval street pattern of Wine Office Court, Gunpowder Square, Gough Square and New Street Square. This is a confrontation with the capitalist opposition. This is another strong point, part of the fortress they are building in each and every city in the world. It’s a leisure-office-retail-hotel development.
The website of New Street Square shows a large photograph of abundant and lush green plants. It could be assumed that this is a garden or a natural forest. The site is owned and managed by Landsec, a company with a £12 bn portfolio.
‘We create places that make a lasting positive contribution to our communities and our planet. We bring people together, forming connections with each other and the spaces we create. And we provide our customers, partners and people with a platform to realise their full potential’
Deloitte have offices in New Street Square. It is one of the biggest management consultancies in the world. It has been awarded millions and millions of pounds of public money through government contracts. It has offices in the Cayman Islands and all those other wretched places where public money is turned into private gold.
It advises local authorities how to cut services and large businesses how to avoid paying taxes. Local authorities which cannot afford to give each school child a bowl of cornflakes and glass of milk each morning somehow have the money to spend £2,000 or £3,000 a day listening to such people.
Here capital is melding together, but only for a micro second. For each piece of capital, each node of capital accumulation must fight every other while trying to prevent the competitive tension from exploding into yet more war. There is a constant oscillation of capital; coming together, blowing apart. It is never still, never in harmony, never peaceful, always in conflict.
The lights are too bright in New Street Square. The atmosphere is choking, the sound of hysterical laughing, foul gestures, blood and vomit in the streets, the planting in the planting boxes is dying, a layer of car-exhaust soot, invisible particles of brake pads and motorism, cariogenic additives in the food, the water is unsafe, the world is burning, best to create a sense of safety, or permanence, of sustainability, of endless economic growth or never ending consumerism. How could the world die while the topography of capitalism shines so bright? An impossibility, a negativity invented by the communists; just like the dream of communal luxury.
The lights flicker, and expire.
I walk across Fleet Street again, through the traffic which never stops. Into the gap of Pleydell Court and into Lombard Lane. The street is empty and quiet. If the bricks have secrets they’re not telling them today, not this evening, possibly never.
Temple Lane is defiant. But perhaps the buildings know their time has past, that capitalism must destroy everything, will destroy everything if not stopped, and that it may be best to retreat, withdraw, concentrate on the secret books, look for the paths and hidden footways where the Humanists once trod, search for clues left by the Family of Love, alive and vibrant in Antwerp in the 1550s and beyond. Jan Massys left a message in his painting Flora, but we’ve lost the dictionary which holds the words which would let us read it.
I’m back in Tudor Street, at the western end, near the inner temple. A van slowly emerges from Carmelite Street. Some late nineteenth century offices. They were built to a house-pattern, individual rooms reflecting domesticity rather than industry and commerce.
There were printing presses here and small publishing companies. At number 3, the offices of C.W.Daniel – CWD as he was known. He wrote and published an anti-war pamphlet during the First World War and was jailed for two months.
In May 1918 he published Despised and Rejected by A.T.Fitzroy (the pen name of Rose Allatini). By September it had been banned. Of the print run of 1,000 the last 200 were scooped up by the authorities and presumably destroyed. Or are there secret libraries just like the Stalinists once had?
In this brief window of three months, a few hundred people bought that novel. What must they have thought? There are complex multiple-faceted themes of sexuality, homosexuality, pacifism, love, loss, pain and death. Some of the most powerful parts of the book are seemingly tiny events; a look which conveys a whole life, a gesture, a word, a second or two of silence.
The author has created a small time-machine which we discover when the covers are opened and we become absorbed in reading so intently that this mess of our contemporary world fades and is silenced and we are back in the London of a hundred years ago.
Someone is walking along Tudor Street, having just read the book, their mind whirling with what they have discovered in the pages.
Read it. You’ll realise what I mean.
It is a written record of the hidden transcripts. But the true archeology of the hidden transcripts will require much more digging yet, smashing through the concrete floors, drilling into the subterranean basements, digging up the damp London earth, clawing at the wet clay with bare hands, bailing out the ice-cold water that forms in dark pools beneath the mass of concrete, glass and stone.
And still we cannot properly hear those voices, a word or two half noticed as if in a gale, but blown beyond us far too quickly. There is something else that needs to break before we can hear the past. But it is not clear what that is. The archeology must continue.