Mornington Crescent moments

There is no overarching rule that determines or predicts how rules can be broken, but it is possible to notice, after the event, how a certain sequence of interactions has given rise to a moment when something new could happen. One way of capturing this moment is provided by a game on the BBC radio programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue called ‘Mornington Crescent’. However, the fact that it is a game also draws attention to the automatic repetitive aspect of the process, so that while ‘Mornington Crescent’ names an ‘event’ of some kind that could not be predicted at the outset, it can also permit the voicing of formulaic ‘interventions’ that simply succeeded because they arrived on time instead of providing some new content. The Mornington Crescent moment can be exhilarating when it marks an eruption of the unexpected, even when it functions as the sign of an act, and it can be deadening when arrives at its appointed hour, an old train en route to the same old station. It is a moment when something psychological happens that is not inside subjects but between them.

How does it work? Mornington Crescent is a subway station in London. In the game participants produce an unscripted series of names of other London subway stations, a list that could include names of streets or landmarks. There is no prescribed sequence of speakers, and one simply says the next name to produce the series when there is space to do so. This means that the rhythm of the series can sometimes lag a bit, feel a bit flat, and at other times the pace can be rapid with a strange energy to the interchange. But there comes a moment when the participants arrive at Mornington Crescent, when one will produce this signifier which will punctuate the series, will end it. To say ‘Morning Crescent’ too early will be crass, inopportune and to wait too late will be to fall prey to the sense that there has been degeneration into dull routine. There is a hesitant and sometimes tense intersubjective aspect to the game.

One can notice this moment in traditional left political meetings, particularly committee meetings when someone finds exactly the right moment to point out that, say, no women have spoken yet. Usually they are right, but that’s not the point in terms of the game. The point is to seize the right moment to make the point. This moment, which sometimes provokes exasperation or guilty recognition, can be extended ad infinitum to draw attention to lack of speakers from this or that identity category or member of a group that is subject of the discussion or, in some variants, an ‘ordinary’ member of the public who should be included. To point it out too early will lead to it being easily dismissed, and to wait too long will have enabled some other member of the group to anticipate the point in another contribution and inoculate the group against it. You need to strike at the right moment. Such moments are necessary, but often merely indicate that one speaker has seized a moment rather than introduced something radically new to the discussion.

And, with a different more radical valence, Mornington Crescent moments appear in the wider political field, exemplifying a space of freedom for things to be said that could not be said before, to be said now before it is too late. When is the right moment to break from the government narrative that ‘we are all in it together’, for example, and to do that in a way that strikes a chord? It was always right to say that, just as it is always right to argue that, in principle, a general strike is needed, but most times to simply repeat the demand for a general strike sounds stupid. We need to say it just at the right moment. Maybe the moment appears at another break in politics, another break that shakes things and makes it possible to speak in a different way about things. Maybe now? Then there is a possibility that another world is possible has appeared within the frame of everyday life. Then a London subway station has appeared in political discourse.

 

This is one part of the FIIMG project to put psychopolitics on the agenda for liberation movements