A Giddy Lurch into Chaos: China Mieville on Brexit, Writing Books as Video Games, and Lachrymose Europhilia

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China Mieville reflects on Brexit and Boris Johnson in 2019, three years after a conversation with Joshua Miller on science fiction, sadistic social spite, naive pleasures, and the sublime, in October 2016.

This conversation was hosted and recorded by the Helen Zell Writing Program at the University of Michigan, and is reproduced in video form with permission.

The print version of this conversation was edited for clarity and is featured in Michigan Quarterly Review’s Fall 2019 Europe Issue.

The video below includes some discussion not reproduced in the condensed version appearing in the journal. This explanatory note is written in late July 2019 (shortly before the all-but-inevitable ascension of the odious Boris Johnson to Prime Minister in the UK) which is, in terms of the recent giddyingly lurches of British politics into chaos, crisis and viciousness, an epoch ago. All transcriptions of extemporised discussion risk ossifying the inevitable – and, ideally, productive – real-time processing and auditioning of ideas. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Brexit, on which the discussion touched, particularly given that for me and my comrades in the editorial collective of Salvage, all options on the table have always been bad, and have grown worse.

As we touch on in the video, much of the mainstream discussion insinuating that this is a simple clash between ‘liberal’ or even ‘progressive’ Remainers versus ‘reactionary’ (and/or ’stupid’) Exiters, has always been grossly misleading and simplistic. Conversely, and pace the arguments of a small number of ‘lexiters’ – left-wing Exiters – I am unpersuaded of the prospects for a ‘progressive exit’ in the current conjuncture. This, it should be stressed, despite the fact that their political/historical analyses of the EU project as one of ruthless neoliberalism are entirely convincing – it does not necessarily follow from this, as too many lexiters seem to think, that Brexit is therefore the best, or even the east-bad, option in any given circumstances – that depends on an analysis of particular balances of forces. And even with the political shift occasioned by the Corbyn project, the prospect for a left hegemonising of the Brexit project remains faint. This is particularly the case given that the pro-Brexit discussions in the UK have always been inflected by a hard-right racist discourse, and this only strengthened since the referendum. At the time of the discussion, the tenor of the mainstream pro-Remain discourse – with honourable and important exceptions, most of which were and are clear-sightedly and with a heavy heart more anti-anti-Remain than pro–was to my mind at a particularly politically and tactically dunderheaded pitch, and this is reflected in my remarks. I stand by this critique.

Since then, however, after many months of technocratic incompetence, political deadlock, and existential schisms in both the main British political parties on this issue, the always-racist, jingoist and/or boosterist neo-Atlanticist tenor of the dominant Leave discourse has become even nastier and more dangerous, more divorced from reality – and more dominant. Were I asked the same question about Brexit now, in this new context, reflecting my growing political horror, I would make the same criticisms of the dominant voice of the Remain campaign, but would be more splenetic in denunciation of the dominant pro-Brexit narrative currently slouching towards Westminster.

–China Mieville, July 2019

Read the more about this conversation in Michigan Quarterly Review’s Fall 2019 Europe Issue, available here.