Lyndon Davies: Junction Box 12 Editorial

This edition of Junction Box comes to you from storm-battered Crickhowell. As I write, the trees are thrashing about outside the window, rain hitting the roofs at all manner of unlikely angles. February in Crickhowell has been a riot, the river swelling and falling like a demented bellows; houses wrecked, their innards scattered over the mud and twig spattered streets; the old bridge with a huge bite taken out of it. Storm after storm, this winter, flood after flood. All over the world, floods, fires, landslides, pollution-smogs, aeroplane-borne pandemics. If one was religious you might be thinking of last days, but eschatological anxiety is no longer the preserve of the religious. Now every undeluded being is their own John of Patmos; you only have to stick your nose out the door to see that the really big storm’s not only coming, it’s here: the weather convulsing, the forests torn up, the glaciers melting, the seas choked with plastic, whole species of animals and plants dying out, population rates exploding, water supplies running out, while we humans go on wasting and fighting and hating and dreaming of stardom. This is apocalypse as everyday cliché, but none the less tragic for all that. We even have our own idiotic antechrist, of course, in the shape of no less a figure than the president of the United States. Yes, just when we needed the great leader. It’s almost funny.

Last days. Already February of this weirdly dazed hung-over year. In the UK 2019 was a year of political passion, and for many a year of nerve-shredding hope, when it seemed that there was a genuine quarter-chance that the status-quo could be overturned and some meaningful form of social, ecological and economic justice put in its place. We learned just how far away from achieving that we still are, and many of us entered 2020 feeling like something left behind in the grass when the flood drops. Waterlogged and exhausted. I think of 2019 as the year of rhetorics, a battlefield of highly tuned discursive modalities. Forgetting for a moment the usual mediocre static, beloved of all-day news channels, who could fail to have been stirred at times by the intensity of the verbal struggle between government and parliament, the drama of those last-minute legal pronouncements, the occasionally almost Ciceronian efforts to persuade? I won’t forget Dominic Grieve’s sturdily rational attempts to stem the lemming-rush to a no-deal Brexit; nor the astonishingly brutal tirade of the then solictor-general in response to the Supreme Court’s repudiation of the proroguing of Parliament. I won’t forget (though I’d like to) Johnson’s diversionary swerving between repellent playground bully and affable stand-up comedian, and neither will I forget some of Corbyn’s blisteringly accurate skewerings of prime-minsterial bad-faith (both usually passed over by the media). I won’t forget Greta Thunberg’s magnificent address to the United Nations, or the weirdly sinister infantilism of Trump’s attack on her, or actually of anything that comes out of his mouth at any point, any more than I’ll forget the imbecilic viciousness of the tabloid newspapers, who could always be relied upon to sink to the occasion, or the more insidious truth-manipulations of the plutocratic broadsheets. A veritable storm of rhetorics, sometimes genuinely awesome in its intensity, even thrilling, but which in the end just draggled out in a long smear of debris. One simple fact only appears to remain standing: we’re stuffed and we always were stuffed even when there seemed a glimpse of hope, because underneath all the rhetorics the great poison-toad of privileged self-interest squats in silence, immovable, giving off its debilitating  gases of fear, hatred and prejudice. As ever.

In other words, for all the words, nothing has changed. Except that perhaps everything has changed, who knows? Amidst the despair and inertia there is a feeling that people, more and more, are at least starting to pay attention. Amazing to think that, if that’s true, to a considerable extent it’s probably words that have done that, mere speech-acts carefully carved and distributed in digestible lozenges. Language, public language, explication and persuasion: scary to think how very much depends on this. And under the public language the other, masked by a silence beloved of tyrants and toadies of tyrants through the ages (hard not to think here of ‘Mum’s the Word’ Cummings). For silence is also a rhetoric if you can read it, and history has taught us that more often than not it means trouble, it means getting away with whatever’s necessary in the pursuit of one’s own ends. It means nasty. It means damaged.

Words, then, and images, too, of course, so powerful, always images, but 2019 seemed to me, personally, to be more than anything the year of words. The struggle in language,  always there, of course, but sometimes you get this really shocking sense of the potent immediacy of that reality. But the struggle is everywhere, and here we are, writers, poets, musicians, visual artists, all faced with the pressing necessity to create work that matters, that has some kind of bearing within an almost overwhelming situation of planetary-scaled direness, but also to find means to carry our vision forward into the polis. Something big, something really wild, grandiose, exorbitant and yet intricately accurate seems required of us, but what on earth might that look like? Or should we, perhaps, nineteen-thirties style, temporarily bracket art and throw our creative energies into politics?  It feels odd, faced with ecological melt-down and the politics of the post-social, just to carry on as we are, writing, painting, producing our celebratory or anguished or disruptive aesthetic gestures, on what feels sometimes an almost microscopically insignificant scale. But life must go on while it’s going on, and even this feels heroic enough in the circumstances, some kind of antidote, perhaps, to the creeping plague of instrumentalism and neo-liberal cultural and psychological vandalism. Many fine writers and artists are grappling with such conundrums, and some of them are published here in Junction Box 12. Big thanks to all our contributors and good wishes to the flooded and overwhelmed everywhere.

February 2020

(Cover art for this edition by Penny Hallas)






  • Christopher Twigg

    And this is how it is. A very just editorial. We can’t go on so we’ll go on.


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