I talk a bit about how I got to this point in my life, trying to be a photographer for a bit and why I stopped. I talk about how that connects to my new book Egress and about the context from which the book emerged. Elsewhere in the newsletter, I recommend some stuff I’ve been reading and listening to recently and I also offer up a tip for would-be music writers (which is probably a bit rich coming from me because I’d hardly describe myself as a music writer — I’m a writer who likes music and other people’s writing about music — but I hope it’s of interest nonetheless.)
If music journalism is your passion — whether you love reading about the latest stuff or you want to get involved or you’re already involved but want to feel connected to a wider community — I really recommend signing up for the full version of Todd’s newsletter. It is a weekly inbox highlight for me and a truly formidable one-man magazine — the sort of thing this blog tries to be and which is, frankly, a dying breed.
The curse of other people’s poor research strikes again.
I had one of those weird Twitter moments the other day, when I discovered, seemingly by chance, that someone I’d never heard of had blocked me.
And that’s fine. I’m sure there are many more people out there who would rather not see my blog rambles pop up in their wider social networks. But that doesn’t mean that when you find yourself blocked by someone you don’t know, you don’t poke around a bit and try to figure out why…
This is what happened to me earlier this week when I found myself unable to view half of a conversation about accelerationism that popped up on my timeline. It was Dominic Fox whose responses I could see, popping up to defend some random person’s sweeping generalisations about accelerationism, it seemed, but I couldn’t actually see who he was responding to.
When I went to try and see Dominic’s responses in context, I discovered the block, and I discovered a whole lot more besides too.
With this happening in a conversation about accelerationism, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised by what I found next, but it was the circles this other person ran in that amused me so much. It was someone called Lulu Nunn, tweeting about the rise of accelerationism and denouncing anyone “in the art world” who followed Nick Land on Twitter because he is the inspiration behind alt-right mass shootings and wants to start a race war, don’t you know.
I didn’t know who Lulu Nunn was, of course, but a cursory Google revealed that she is the Communications Manager for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The complete lack of self-awareness that must allow someone to hurl repeated rocks from that glass house is surely on another level! Only someone who works for a charity named after the wife of a Blue Labour war criminal could have the tenacity to criticise other people’s choice in Twitter follows.
What’s illuminating about this isn’t the fact that someone on Twitter is a hypocrite, however. That isn’t shocking in the slightest. It’s rather that it is symptomatic of something more insidious that lingers just below the surface…
Coming from the art world, this article predictably goes back to the defining moment of 2017 art world paranoia — the shutdown of the LD50 gallery — and attempts to describe the present emergence of “taboo” art and the artists behind it who keep questionable company. (There is no more to be said on LD50 on this blog, although, in many ways, having read this old post back to myself for the first time in a long time, what is to follow here is an inadvertent kind of sequel, developing and deepening that old argument for now.)
Right from the off, there’s a really weird dichotomy emerging here — an unnamed progressive side of art (conflating “progressive” in the arbitrary sense of pushing forwards into the new with an indeterminate but supposedly predetermined “correct” direction, whatever that is) and the dark side of “taboo”. As Batycka writes, “the paradox of the internet is that while it has given marginalized voices a space in which to secure access to speech and community, disobedience and nonconformity, it has also given platform to taboo ideas, fascist and far-right literature and memes, cannibalizing extremist views into a cornucopia of half-truths and anti-establishment conspiracy theories.”
Is this really a paradox? Or is this just how all forms of media are used in the real world? I can’t think of any technology that hasn’t been used to both liberate and oppress… (Have you read the history of the printing press? It’s a riot!)
Unfortunately, this seemingly innocuous point demonstrates a popular leftist fallacy of assuming something has gone wrong when technology isn’t being used exclusively in your favour. It’s a shadow of the sort of malignant techno-utopianism that led to Trump — and, yes, that’s right, it is techno-utopianism that the article later goes on to critique, through the deployment of a bunch of half-truths — now that’s a paradox — but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here…
There’s a more important question we need to ask first: How are we separating “disobedience and nonconformity” from “taboo” here? Taboo is a fitting word to use, in many respects. It is an all-too-Freudian Freudian slip. As Freud once wrote:
Taboo restrictions are distinct from religious or moral prohibitions. They are not based upon any divine ordinance, but may be said to impose themselves on their own account. They differ from moral prohibitions in that they fall into no system that declares quite generally that certain abstinences must be observed and gives reasons for that necessity. Taboo prohibitions have no grounds and are of unknown origin. Though they are unintelligible to us, to those who are dominated by them they are taken as a matter of course.
How fitting that the latest critique of accelerationism — that, as someone astutely put it, belongs to the “read Vox once” school of critique — should invoke taboo in such a way that epitomises the shadowboxing of “denouncing something I don’t understand.”
Philosophical accelerationism is, in many ways, a school of thought that purposefully rejects the pop-left’s penchant for secular-Protestantism and moralism in this regard, engaging critically with the “taboo” in this original sense and how it continues to define our worldview under capitalism, and so it makes total sense that this be lumped in with the “Outside” category of Batycka’s diffuse worldview.
There is a great many ironies here. For example — and, believe me, there are many to choose from — the mode of critique being generically deployed here without any self-awareness is also the one Nick Land first skewers in Fanged Noumena with his essay “Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest.”
To turn to Robin Mackay’s summary for the sake of brevity, in this essay Land maps out
the capitalist need to keep the proletariat at a distance while actively compelling it into the labour market […] Land sees in capitalism a suspension, a compromise: at the same time as it liberates a frustrated tendency towards synthesis […] it reinstates ‘a priori’ control by sequestering kinship from this general tendency and containing it within familialism and the nation-state.
Translation: capitalism cannot help producing its own enemies; to counteract this, it compartmentalises disruptive “deterritorialising” tendencies into instances of stasis but such pressure cookers eventually go off and with explosive consequences for life and thought.
As Robin continues, Land explains how “Kant’s thinking of synthesis” — the generalised relationship between self and other — is of particular use to us here because it “symptomatizes modernity, formally distilling its predicament, the ‘profound but uneasy relation’ in which European modernity seeks to stabilise and codify a relation (with its proletarian or third-world ‘material’) whose instability or difference is the very source of its perpetual expansion.” (It’s a argument made, drawing similarly on an analogous Orientalism, in this recent article from The Philosophical Salonon academic philosophy.)
This is a tension encapsulated — by Lévi-Strauss in an epigraph to Land’s essay — by the incest taboo. Lévi-Strauss observes that “incest proper … even combines in some countries with its direct opposite, inter-racial sexual relations.” For Land, in his reading of Kant and the patrilineal development of capitalism’s logics of continual growth, this reflexive problematic of incest being equated with exogamy defines the contradictions of capitalist modernity in the form of the “taboo”. Reproductively speaking, facing inwards is to die, but facing outwards must be done with violence and suspicion. In an imperial and capitalistic sense, “an enlightenment society wants both to learn and to legislate for all time, to open itself to the other and to consolidate itself from within, to expand indefinitely whilst reproducing itself as the same.”
This is precisely the contradictory logic of capitalist modernity being deployed in this anti-accelerationist essay, where the “progressive nature” of the art world is tied arbitrarily to a superficial faith in its righteousness whilst a different “progressive” form — a just as arbitrary misreading of accelerationism — is taken up as the enemy and given a show trial to reassure others just how powerfully and self-assuredly we are progressing in the right direction.
It’s performative bullshit, in which cheap shots are taken at an xenomorphic scapegoat to cover over the incestuous logic that rots the art world from within.
It is also a bullshit compounded by the only passage in the article that actually engages with accelerationism.
In essence, what Batycka thinks accelerationism is is a kind of “techno-futurism”:
… a slick blending of cyber-utopian thinking [with] an impulse to think that humanity’s problems will magically be solved through technology, science and engineering. Indissoluble from deliberately nihilistic meltdowns, technological determinism has exacerbated the vertiginous speeds of capitalism gone amock. [sic]
There’s a strange conflation going on here that we haven’t seen for a few years — not since Jon Cruddas MP wrote this weird thing for the New Statesmen, demonstrating all the flustered, fear-mongered hand-waving that many have come to associate with the UK centre-left. It ironically conflates a STEM progressivism with Blade Runner’s neo-fascist aesthetics of futurity but without paying any heed to the documented benefits of the former (which we can surely recognise without falling into STEM supremacy) and the baked-in Oedipal critique of the latter.
It is, basically, an outdated art world critique of “left-accelerationism” — a vague offshoot of accelerationism that was both born from and died with Srnicek and Williams’ Inventing the Future. This was because no-one interested in accelerationism beyond that point picked up the torch they fashioned and so it eventually went out.
Nevertheless, ever since, we have seen these same critiques make appearances in various magazines and news websites where this wildly divergent and fragmented intellectual history is consolidated into some popular Thing — a truly monstrous amalgamation of the few scraps of thought that some have managed to pick up on, producing something that maybe looks like a sick dog or human or an alien from certain angles if you don’t know what you’re looking at, but to everyone who has actually kept abreast of these things, they just see a mutated mess.
Case in point: in his article, Batycka half-truthfully says that accelerationism was born out of the Ccru at the University of Warwick in the 1990s — so far so good — which “began looking at how global varieties of technology and capitalism should be sped up and intensified, if only to ensure their (and our) demise. According to Land, in order to move past the disastrous effects of capitalist accumulation, we must instead accelerate past it towards its own eventual destruction.”
It’s worth noting that this “According to Land,…” sentence comes with a footnote, but the footnote isn’t actually quoting anything Nick Land has written — just Andy Beckett’s write-up on accelerationism for the Guardian. This article has a lot to answer for and is deceptively authoritative because, whilst Beckett has obviously interviewed a bunch of people who were there and brought accelerationism to the light for the mainstream — specifically Robin Mackay — the understanding of accelerationism that Beckett attributes to them is a misreading that this “fringe philosophy” has been trying to shed almost since its conception.
Because accelerationism isn’t about making things worse, and because Land — or anyone else for that matter — has fundamentally never argued for this. To quote Pete Wolfendale again: Nick Land “likes capitalism. He wants to accelerate it, but not because it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.”
However, what Land arguably does believe will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, at least in a political effective sense, is “the Cathedral” — a concept borrowed from Mencius Moldbug to describe what Land calls “the truly dominant instance of the democratic polity”; an otherwise broadly leftist (or generically “progressivist”) hegemony populated by people who are, “despite their avowed secularism and faux egalitarianism, in effect a theocratic priestly class” (as Moldbug once wrote). (There’s an argument to be made that Mark Fisher called this same tactless cabal the Vampire Castle.)
Whether anyone likes the term or whoever coined it is largely irrelevant at this point. The Cathedral is a term that carries a certain valence by describing the conditions of contemporary politics far more astutely than anyone on the left has thus far been capable of, precisely because it views popular leftism from outside itself.
Whilst Land has his own further nuanced definitions of what exactly the Cathedral is, to my mind the Cathedral remains a useful term because it skewers a kind of political religiosity that broadly affects the popular left in particular, beyond the infamous ties that bind the Church with the far-right in the mind of your average leftist. More specifically, it points to a brand of progressivism that adheres to a downright Protestant logic of always being without political sin based on nothing more than the fact you have an unshakeable faith in the leftist cause. (This is why there is much anxiety that comes from critiquing the left from within — to betray a lack of faith is to betray the left most fundamentally.)
It should go without saying — you’d hope — that using this term does not, by default, place one on the right. Personally, I recognise my politics as being far to the left but that doesn’t mean I’m not repulsed by the pop-left’s “universal priesthood of believers” that is constituted by a highly recognisable cross-section of the media commentariat. It is, in essence, a continuation of the “Christ to the bourgeoisie” argument of the twentieth century. Just as Fukuyama’s “end of history” reveals itself to be wishful thinking, not to mention premature, the left’s self-assurance that we live in a world after the “death of God” finds itself disturbed by an acknowledgement of the absorption of religiosity into secular politics.
If anything — and Mark Fisher acknowledged this repeatedly and explicitly — this is why Nick Land needs to be read. Reading someone does not constitute agreeing with them, but reading Land (beyond his tweets, at least) does confront you with some of the most incisive critiques of leftism that are in present circulation.
It is interesting to note here that Land’s suggested praxis when facing down the Cathedral is: “Do nothing.” Such is his horrorist approach. “Rather than resisting the desperation of the progressive ideal by terrorizing its enemies, [the horrorist task] directs itself to the culmination of progressive despair in the abandonment of reality compensation.” My reading of this is that Land believes the left will die by its own melancholy; by its own impotent and internal logics. It’s melancholic state is its true form — the rest of the time it is exercising a kind of “reality compensation”. That is an argument that has certainly been vindicated — to an extent at least — considering the last five years of leftist political failures, and has been an internal critique of the left since Walter Benjamin if not before, but Land goes further than this. Once the world is revealed to be as truly unforgiving as it is, and elusive to human control, he seems to argue, the left will drink the Kool-aid and end its own despair by giving up the ghost of Marx once and for all.
Horrorism, then, is the rightist anti-praxis of “accelerationism” proper, understood as an analysis of this very sensation and the noumenal mechanisms that show just how out of our control things are. (Might we say that this is where Z/Acc comes in?)
The leftist anti-praxis, as I see it, doubles down on the Deleuzianism of accelerationism and advocates an ethics of “making oneself worthy of the process.” Both viewpoints makes value-judgements and recommend responses, but neither does that ahead of an attentive vigilance regarding the shape-shifting and accelerative nature of the system itself.
It is only by becoming attuned to this system and how it impacts us that we can even begin to answer the question “What is to be done?” Therefore, the argument from the left is that we must respond better, and less reactively. So far, the left is abjectly failing to do this and the fallacies and poor research that pepper Batycka’s text — along with just about every other popular reading of accelerationism — demonstrate this fact abysmally, as their paranoia remains focused on shadow-boxing and straw man arguments that they don’t even realise they’re making.
All of this is important because Batycka’s critique essentially doubles down on the worst aspects of Cathedralism in this regard. It reminds me of my Mum’s old aesthetic squeamishness regarding the music I liked from childhood. Playing anything that was not recognisably melodic or classically “musical” often resulted in a request to turn it off because she didn’t like anything “satanic” being played in the house. (This from a woman who was in no sense a practising Christian or adherent to any other kind of religious belief.)
(Notably, I remember a particularly mind-boggling instance of this resulting from me playing DJ Shadow’s remix of “The Gloaming” by Radiohead a bit too loud. Is this music “taboo” by Batycka’s logics of aesthetic darkness? Or is critiquing George W. Bush through dance music too complex a notion to compute?)
The words “taboo” and also “contrarian” take on much the same tone here in Batycka’s article. They are words used to lump together aesthetics that do not adhere to the doctrines of the-right-kind-of-leftism and more explicitly “alt-right artworks”.
Even then, how these aesthetics are to be defined is not made clear. It is seemingly a dismissal of any of the more specific offshoots of postmodernism — as the cultural logic of late capitalism — but the issue is that there is no separation made between aesthetic practices and investigations of form, and political beliefs and practices of resistance.
Plenty of the “post-Internet art” referenced here, for instance — including that which appeared at the notorious LD50 Gallery show — is just superficial and bad. Do we need to lump that in with any art that attempts to investigate or reflect on the present aesthetic chaos in which we live? Is the argument here really that we have a moral imperative only to imagine nice, simplistic worlds rather than reflect the chaos of the world in which we live, just in case someone thinks we might be glorifying our contemporary dystopia? That’s certainly how it comes across. Beyond the positive affirmations, all you’re left with is an ahistorical and apolitical view of art that is all finger-pointing spectacle and no substance.
What is even worse is that this article is far more guilty of entrenching the homogenisation it tries to stand against. Towards the end, Batycka writes:
we must continue to develop proportionally well-honed critiques of the alt-right, taboo and contrarian aesthetics that use satire and irony to cycle through dangerous ideas. In such politically uncertain and chaotic times, the sense of impatience many people feel today can make neoreactionary ideas like accelerationism seem romantic.
But what does any of this mean? References to neoreactionary politics — a broad church that, rudimentarily summarised, explores the contradictory pulsion of using technological innovations to entrench conservatism (techno-capitalists for monarchy), i.e. capitalism being used to produce the mechanisms the nation-state (rather than vice versa) — completely lose all meaning when deployed in a veritable word salad that even the Ccru would send back to the kitchen. This isn’t a “proportionally well-honed critique”, unless what is “proportional” about it is the fact it is as dumb as the tracts produced by the alt-right themselves.
This is why I personally find myself tearing my hair out over articles that bodge their reading of accelerationism. They are merely perpetuating the “impatience” they say they reject, because nothing epitomises that impatience more in the media than the replication and homogenisation of useless critiques and inaccurate summaries.
This is the lesson that no one wants to hear. It is your own perpetuation of “accelerationism is making thing worse” that has inspired these mass shooters, far more than anything written by Nick Land. To those of us who are familiar with Land’s work, we know that these monsters haven’t read him. We know that you haven’t either. What is abundantly clear, however, is that these monsters have read you. They are defining themselves through their enemy’s shoddy Cliff Notes rather than any engagement with those you deem to be the enemy. It is articles like this that short-circuit the discourse, imposing an incestuous logic of creating that which it says it already opposes. As such, it is the likes of Batycka who don’t realise thatthey have blood on their hands.
The line repeated again and again here on this blog and elsewhere is that the accelerationist shooters and 4chan edgelords are precisely the subjects that accelerationism first sets out to critique: those subjects who respond to the accelerating nature of their environments by doubling down on populist rhetoric and racism. These are the life rafts too readily available to too many in a failing world, who jump at the conspiracy theories rather than actually engaging their critical faculties.
Accelerationism, in this part of the world, is — and I genuinely believe this — a salve to that. So many times I have been referred back to imageboard threads where my explanatory post, “A U/Acc Primer”, has been shared by anons to coax the edgelords down from their hysteria and maybe get them to engage critically with their surroundings and interrogate their alienated place within the world, all through a mix of canonical philosophy and contemporary thought. To some, that is a crime against humanity in itself, but I think it’s better than what we’re used to.
This is why the left’s present purity politics is so asinine. Whatever you want to call it — identity politics, cancel culture, etc. — the overarching issue here — not always but often — is that reactive denouncements and Twitter blockings are often fuelled by a mistaken sense of who is right and who is wrong. Is the Nick Land follower worse than the Blairite charity worker? Either every argument against complicity is important or none of them are.
The fear-mongering of art world paranoia is a further demonstration of this. LD50 wasn’t scary because it demonstrated how some people in our midst have bad politics. Most people who run art galleries have bad politics. Most people who run art galleries have money and people with money tend to have bad politics. The egregiousness of Lucia Diego’s Trump apologism was just an easy target — an example of the postmodernist edgelording that the Ccru and its successors effectively dramatised and critiqued. Having an awareness of the way these people want to attract your ire and attention is certainly worthy while but a moralising scattershot approach gets you nowhere.
Nor does focusing all of your attention on a generalised boogieman you don’t understand. In the case of accelerationism at least, this does nothing but demonstrate the impotency of art world criticism at large and Batycka’s article perfectly demonstrates the flaws of its logic. It is, in effect, a deployment of an institutionalised thinking undermined by laziness and false consciousness, that is part of a system far more corrupt in how it is organised than in the ideas it dares to interrogate or explore.
This isn’t a case of whataboutery but rather demonstrates how poor internal critiques are mirrored by poor external critiques. The fact is that both the interrogations and explorations of such ideas and the articles that denounce them are as superficial as each other. This negative feedback loop does nothing to remedy the situation. In fact, it is the situation, and not all of us who want nothing to do with it are de facto fascists, particularly when we do so much work to skewer these bastard logics in pursuit of a properly anti-capitalist communism.
Anti-capitalism isn’t just a hatred of wage labour. It’s a protest against the logics that inhabit and undermine the political actions that must be enacted within its spaces. If accelerationism, in its original philosophical mode, is a gateway to anything, it is to an apprehension of just how deep these logics go and the speed with which they adapt to the frenzied stasis of our present world order.
This apprehension is necessary because it demonstrates how nothing will ever collapse under the weight of its own contradictions — neither capitalism nor its parasitic growth that we call “the art world”.
I have had trouble sleeping. The dust in the flat and the pollution and the spring air has been playing havoc with my allergies this past week.
I stay up late and hear the foxes screaming and screeching. They don’t usually make a lot of noise but they are at the moment. It feels like they’re reclaiming the night.
I get up early, around 8am. My nostrils sting in the dry air and I’m awake whether I like it or not. Despite seeing the full day through, I find myself glancing up at the clock at around 5pm every day and not knowing what has happened. I have achieved little but nonetheless been preoccupied. I’m not worried about it. There is no guilt.
My girlfriend has had a fever for four days. We’re fairly convinced that she has the virus. I’m showing no symptoms that couldn’t be explained by my allergies. No fever for me. I look after her but also mostly keep to myself. She had no energy and aches all over. “The muscles even ache when I move my eyes,” she says. There’s little to do other than run the odd bath or get her glasses of water. It’s not like I can pop down to the shop and bring back supplies.
I wonder if I’m immune or if I’ve entered a waiting game now, fated to be struck down by the inevitable. Whatever happens, the result is more or less the same. Following the medical advice, because someone I live with is sick, I can’t leave the flat for 14 days. She can be more mobile seven days after her symptoms stop. At this rate, I’ll suffer the punishment of isolation longer than she will. That seems unfair somehow.
I just want to order a pizza.
Sunday 29 March 2020
Where did the rest of the week go?
I have sunk my time into completing two essays for elsewhere and it is only now, trying to account for those lost days whilst on the other side of them, that I start to feel disorientated.
The days are long but I don’t remember them. They drag and are over before I know it. On the PlaguePod, Robin talks a bit about Michel Tournier’s Friday and I open a random page of my copy of the book to find the journal entries of his initial days on the island. It’s surreal how accurate they are when compared to the present: a mundane equivalent.
Solitude is not a changeless state imposed on me […] It is a corrosive influence which acts on me slowly but ceaselessly, and in one sense purely destructively. […]
I know now that every man carries within himself — and as it were above himself — a fragile and complex framework of habits, responses, reflexes, preoccupations, dreams and associations, formed and constantly transformed by perpetual contact with his fellows. Deprived of its sap this delicate growth withers and dissolves. My fellow-men were the mainstay of my world […] Each day I measure my debt to them by observing the fresh cracks in my personal structure. I know what I would suffer should I lose the use of words, and with all the power of my anguish I seek to combat that final surrender. But my relationship to material things is also undermined by solitude. […]
But my solitude does not only destroy the meaning of things. It undermines them at the very root of their being. More and more do I come to doubt the existence of my senses. I know now that the very earth beneath my feet needs to be trodden by feet other than mine if I am to be sure of its substance. Optical illusions, mirages, hallucinations, waking dreams, imagined sounds, fantasy and delirium … against these aberrations the surest guard is our brother, our neighbour, our friend of our enemy — anyway, God save us, someone!
It was amusing to read this and think about Robin and Simon’s disagreement that J.G. Ballard’s short story “The Enormous Space” could possibly be read as a positive tale. Simon finds no novel reading in it that becomes emancipatory. Robin, perhaps, sees a modern day version of Tournier’s Robinson.
Friday, or the Other Island is, after all, a retelling of Robinson Crusoe but one in which the fatal flaw of that story is sidestepped. As countless critics have noted, the power of Robinson Crusoe is totally dissipated by Robinson’s decision to simply recreate the civilisation he has left behind on the island he now finds himself. It is, in reality, a great failure of the imagination. Friday instead takes seriously the scenario into which Robinson has been thrown and considers the impact of one’s consciousness (and unconsciousness) echoing around itself without the reflective screen of the Other. Then, when the Other is reintroduced, what happens next is all the more mind-bending.
Not that this has much of an impact on our current existences. I felt a bit useless on the PlaguePod on Saturday night because, despite the billed probing into the psychological effects of corona quarantine, I actually feel really great…
Before all this, I was nonetheless trying to articulate the surreality of our present circumstances. I keep thinking about Mark Fisher’s phrase “boring dystopia”, for instance.
Whilst real-life events are enough to bring that to mind, I had in fact spent most of Saturday replaying the first Resident Evil game for the first time in about 20 years. I was taking time to read all the diary entries and documents about the outbreak and the escalation of the crisis. I got really into it. I started to think, if things get really bad here in the real world, will people read this blog and other people’s blogs in the same way? As these darkly humorous documents, brimming with mystery and naivety before the impending disaster wipes all trace of us from the earth, only to be picked over as novel dispatches for the few survivors left standing?
Probably not. It’s all so boring. Like, it is literally boring. The streets outside and the media reports and the news bulletins and the general anxiety felt by all… It’s so familiar, it’s so Hollywood, it’s so dystopian, and yet so fucking boring. Our present moment is so defined by uneventfulness, by pointlessness, by stupidity. There’s no great moment of hubris on the horizon as the bureaucrats realise the world has ended without them. Boris Johnson tests positive and the response is, yeah, well done, you fucking muppet, now what? Go work from home, I guess? Don’t you do that anyway, “part-time prime minister”?
The dystopia is here. We’re living in it and we have been for some time. There’s no point to it. There’s no spectacle. It’s just boring as fuck. So too is the experience of my own adjusting subjectivity. This is no Ballardian adventure into inner space. Time wobbles and dilates but what is the impact? I can suddenly fit more video gaming into my day than I previously thought possible.
But that’s not entirely true. It is having an impact. In fact, I’m very puzzled to tell you that it is having a really positive impact. I’m going through a sort of corona detox. I’ve been forced to let go of all the bad habits that I usually rely on the make it through the day. I’m detoxing on caffeine and refined sugar. The bout of bulimia that had begun to creep back into my life in the last few weeks has been curtailed with immediate effect. I’ve effortlessly fallen into a regulated sleeping pattern. I’m eating better. I’m being more productive and managing my time a lot better. I’ve spent the weekend doing nothing at all, guilt-free.
I felt bad about confessing this, in case it came across as one of those “woah, I’m reborn and am now working much more efficiently” type people. But it’s not that at all. I’m not being “productive” in the sense of using my labour time efficiently. Instead, I feel like I’m putting better vibes out into the world. I’m calmer, happier. The natural expenditures of my existence, uncontaminated by capitalist control, are producing good things.
It made me think about that god-awful eco-fascist bullshit being spread by some members of Extinction Rebellion.
Humans aren’t the disease. Capitalism is. To equate one with the other is to give up on another world before you’ve decided to build it.
If corona has been a cure for anything so far, on a personal level, it has cured me of the workaday anxieties that have defined life in this city for the past three years. I feel like the monkey is off my back. I can’t afford to pay rent but also, I don’t care. Because no one can.
Also, this solitude hasn’t denied me of “the surest guard … of my brother”, as Tournier describes it. It has cleansed the relationships that already exist underneath capitalism’s watchful eye.
I thought being trapped in this shoebox flat with my girlfriend 24/7 would lead to us killing each other, for instance. In fact, I can tell we’re both feeling the benefits. We’re just existing in each other’s company. The days might not be filled with couple’s activities and long talks about the state of the world — especially not since she’s been ill — but I find myself looking at her and smiling in a way I haven’t for a long time, because the monkey is off my back. Economic pressures are not yanking at my hair and trying to divert my attention elsewhere.
I feel at peace because coronavirus has silenced the constant hum of the machine, the tinnitus of capital, that usually accompanies every waking moment of life and which makes me feel ill. It’s only been one week but I feel the healthiest I’ve felt in over four years. My body is going into the sort of recovery mode that I only tend to experience when I go on holiday.
It’s not all silver linings, of course. The virus brings its own terrors. I am still exchanging anxious texts and emails with my extended family but I’ve been surprised to find that those who I assumed would struggle most actually feel the same way I do.
We were particularly worried about one family member, who works as an independent cleaner and who is a precarious worker like so many. If she doesn’t work she doesn’t get paid and she has a son and a dog and a house to keep up with. And yet, she feels the same way I do. There’s nothing she can do. It’s out of her control. So, she’s relaxed into the present circumstances and is putting her feet up. And so she should.
My girlfriend called to me from the bedroom, wondering where I’d disappeared off to so quietly. “Blogging,” was the response. “Of course,” was her reply. I told her about these feelings and she was quick to remind me, “It’s only week one…”
Best to be cautious with your musings in times like these. I’d hate a blogpost to acquire the same energy this tweet now has in six months’ time…
Westworld took a big gamble by diminishing itself for half of an episode in service of a jokey plot twist.
During the first half of the second episode of series three, I felt really weird about what I was seeing. The show was suddenly so wooden. It felt like the writers had decided to introduce a bunch of unnatural narrative elements in order to keep the series going passed last season’s quite natural end point. As a result, it felt like poor Westworld fan fiction rather than Westworld proper.
And then it turned out that that was entirely the point.
This episode got meta — really meta. The opening in World-War-Two-World — or “Warworld” as the cast called it — teased a show not yet finished playing with other genres. It also revealed that this is a show not yet finished playing with other genre functions. The superficial pastiche and the over-bearing symbolism of a new world at war felt like the show had either completely lost itself or it was making a comment about the world of television production out here in the real world. I was grateful, if still somewhat convinced, when it seemed more like the latter.
The glimpses we saw of a hypothetical Game of Thrones World, for instance, whilst inside Maeve’s simulation within a simulation, were a funny twist considering how the televisual landscape has changed since this series started. In fact, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that this episode was a sharp dig at that final season — a bait and switch, feigning a dive before getting back to the story proper.
But what for?
For many years we have supposedly been celebrating a new televisual “Golden Age” but I’m sure many would now acknowledge that this time of great prosperity has started to wane. Many shows — Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are the first to come to mind — have found themselves unable to live up to their own grandeur, whether in failing to tie up loose ends or continuing to hang around long past the expiration of their welcome.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the makers of Westworld felt themselves pushing into this “expired welcome” stage of their development. This is a show that has been so convoluted and demanded so much of its viewer’s attention that it must surely be aware that the average viewer will not have mapped out the show’s twists and turns to such an extent that the narrative continues to hold together without some implicit scaffolding on the writers’ part. It was a discomfiting surprise that the Westworld writers sidestepped this altogether.
The holes in the plot and the complete disconnection from the end of the last season felt weirdly like a shoddy attempt to keep a character alive beyond the decisions of a previous writing team, like when a character is miraculously resuscitated or killed off in a soap opera to account for external issues or market demand. Maeve took on the brunt of this but Stubs the Bodyguard’s continued existence also felt like a convenient moment of deus ex machina.
This latest episode played up to this with an uneasy fidelity. Even when the joke was revealed, it left an odd taste in the mouth. This was an odd way to reintroduce the supplementary character arches in this third season. What I was left with, personally, was a feeling that this show is well aware of the questions left unanswered and the tight grip it needs to keep on its own internal logics if it is to get away with its own continued existence. It was a somewhat brave move, I think, to play up to the average fan’s need to warm back up to the world and its narrative after a couple of years off our screens.
It is a brave move because, with the cancellation of The OA and the shallow grave of Game of Thrones in its rearview mirror, and with The Walking Dead lumbering on far too much like its own namesake, there are a lot of challenges and lessons to be learned for new and continuing shows in our present moment. The likes of Better Call Saul are showing the way ahead for complex narrative universes — although, at this point, even that show’s predictable structure of character-developing vignette after character-developing vignette is starting to wear thin — but Westworld feels like one of the last “big” shows on our screens to emerge during that late-Golden moment to still be happy reinventing itself. Nevertheless, it has a lot to prove.
Whether it will be able to prove itself going forwards obviosuly remains to be seen, but watching this latest episode of Westworld, it feels like the response from within their production team has been a defiant: “Hold my beer…”
At the end of our road, there are two churches. A Baptist church and a Celestial Church of Christ. The latter has a huge congregation. They wear these pristine white costumes and hats that make them look like bakers for Jesus. Their kids always play football after the service in a disused sports ground opposite our building.
Given this usual hive of activity, it was so surreal to open the front window and hear nothing; to look out and see no bakers.
The streets were so empty and still. They are seldom this quiet, even in the dead of night.
I spent the day going through my Dad’s old Beatles records, starting with The White Album. It set a train of thought off that turned into an essay for elsewhere.
Already, every song feels like it’s about quarantine. “Dear Prudence” was like a siren song sung by the coronavirus itself, tempting us out into the park on a day that was perversely beautiful for the apocalypse.
We resisted the urge to go outside. My girlfriend started rearranging furniture in the afternoon instead, kicking up dust and setting off my allergies. I would wheeze through the night for the rest of the week but it was worth it. The flat felt fresh. It immediately mitigated the pressure of being enclosed within the overly familiar.
As the dust clouds loomed, I spent most of the day hiding in our bedroom working on my next book. It is very much in its early stages. I have the trajectory more or less figured out, I just need to write it. However, I’ve also discovered various gaps in my knowledge, and you know what that means — buying books.
At the moment, I’m reading a lot of Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, and Juliet Mitchell. It’s intriguing — and perhaps surprising — to read these women so adamantly defending Freud’s legacy. Whereas the likes of Shulasmith Firestone and Germaine Greer would quite vehemently write against him, to read these other women makes the anti-Freudian feminists feel like they are shadowboxing. Every takedown is a misreading — but of course it is. Nevertheless, it makes Freud’s legacy all the more complicated than history’s intellectual victors would have you believe. Freud was repeatedly mistaken in his writings and concepts, no doubt, but it seems the real failure was that the female Freudians have been so thoroughly written out of history.
This is taking a nascent argument within my book into interesting new depths. Freud himself was Oedipus, in ways he was not aware of, but as in Sophocles’ plays, his daughter Anna (and others — Klein especially) seem to take on the role of Antigone, escorting the beaten man through the wilderness and developing his legacy in ways that are intellectually loyal but theoretically less orthodox. As such, their loyalty makes for a far more interesting transgression than the loudness of his critics.
As a result of this current train of thought, this old tweet feels more and more accurate by the day. It’s likely to be a chapter title.
The other (unsurprising) travesty is that the contributions these women made have been diminished by the sheer volume of the male Freudians, who are been given more credit simply for repeating their earlier discoveries. It has become a very fruitful area of inquiry and one that will likely keep me occupied for much of this lockdown.
Monday 23 March 2020
On Monday I still had to go into work… Or out to work… I picked up a colleague and we drove smoothly through rush hour London without the rush, up to Hampstead Heath where we were scheduled to take a series of photographs as part of some undisclosed architectural project that had the potential to impact on one of London’s many protected viewpoints.
We were anxious to be working under the current conditions and had set out a few restrictions for ourselves. She would handle all the camera equipment today. Usually, I prep lens and other things whilst she takes pictures so that we can take all the photographs we need smoothly and efficiently. Today I was to be the driver and little else. We didn’t want to contaminate anything unnecessarily.
Few other people out that day seemed to share in our anxiety. The Heath was busy. Perhaps not as busy as it was on your average Monday but you certainly wouldn’t have thought there was a pandemic going on.
At one point we were accosted by some stupid woman. We’d taken a series of photographs looking out over the London skyline. She was sat in the foreground of our picture with about ten friends. She waved at us and asked us to delete any photographs she was in. We said we were just trying to do our jobs and we weren’t interested in her. She wasn’t in them anyway. She persisted and asked to see. We said no. We informed her we had every right to take the photographs we had taken, and were doing so precisely to protect this space and its view for others enjoyment. She asked why we didn’t take the photograph somewhere else instead. She was oddly hostile. We told her we needed to take the photographs from the exact spot where we were positioned, above a survey pin in the pavement, placed there by the council. She persisted still, taking our names and the name of the company we worked for and generally being a jobsworth, as we slowly and tactfully revealed to her that he really didn’t know what she was talking about. The temptation was to say, “We’re working — you should be social distancing. Back off.” I doubt that would have gone down very well.
I don’t know why it annoyed me quite so much as it did. She was very irritating but it’s not like these questions and interruptions were unusual for us. I think I had a very low tolerance for stupid that day. Other people’s and my own. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be outside.
Elsewhere in the park, we passed two men trying to negotiate an exchange. One man really wanted to tissue. The other man felt obliged to give one to him, as you would, as if he’d just asked him for the time, but you could see he was struggling to fulfil what would otherwise be a basic act of decency. He didn’t want to do it. It was as if the crisis wasn’t quite over the threshold yet that allowed his Englishness to be sidestepped. The very agony of the situation was already incredibly English. He was stuck in a feedback loop of Englishness and it looked like his head might explore.
That was amusing. Less amusing was the gaggles of meatheads in the outdoor gyms, going on about how the virus would cull the unworthy, as they slathered their hands over those germ farms.
I’d never been a germaphobe previously but I was suddenly desperate for a mask and gloves. I felt vulnerable. We were scheduled to go out again the next day but I didn’t want to.
That night, Boris Johnson made the lockdown official. Frankly, I was relieved. As far as I was concerned, at least in stupid London, the crackdown was necessary. People had no idea what was coming or what had already happened elsewhere.
Tuesday 24 March 2020
I woke to the uncanny sound of birdsong. I didn’t know where I was. It seemed to echo and feedback on itself. I slid back the bedroom door to see my girlfriend sat on the floor by the open window, answering emails, the sparse birdsong of the real world competing with a dawn chorus emanating from her laptop.
London was on lockdown and she was working from home but this did not apply to the builders down the road. Their banging and clanging continued. She was playing birdsong to try and drown them out. It felt like an odd premonition of what our lives would be like in a few weeks or months when the lockdown applied to everyone and the outside became a toxic space.
We still went outside. I had records to post. As successive nations go under lockdown, I’ve noticed that I have been receiving a flurry of Discogs orders from each one. I had two records to post out that day and so we went down to the post office. It’s a busy branch and everyone was queued up outside, two metres apart. It was an odd sight, like a Yeezy fashion show celebrating the British working class. All pyjamas and jogging bottoms, posting parcels or trying to pay their electric bill.
On the way home, we did a few lengths on the abandoned running track. Four lanes, one hundred metres in length, the spongey ground oddly full of potholes. I was newly aware that every building around us was full of people. I’d never felt so surveilled before.
We went home for the last time. We haven’t left since.
For this PlaguePod, we’re joined by guests including Simon Sellars, author of ‘Applied Ballardianism‘, to talk about the psychological effects of the Coronavirus crisis, and the ever more alarming prescience of Ballard’s tales of isolation and quarantine, social breakdown, inner space, and the psychologically debilitating yet possibly liberating liberating effects of living through catastrophe. With soothing ASMR readings from Sellars, Ballard, and others, crisis music, plus listener phone-in on how lockdown is affecting mental health.
Tune in on 28th March 2020 at 2200 GMT. What else have you got to do other than pick at the edges of your own subjectivity?
I’ve been reflecting a lot under quarantine — what else is there to do? — particularly about writing. I reflect on writing often, and often on this blog.
At the moment, I’m thinking a lot about how the writing I like to read is not the same as the writing I like to write, and figuring out the balance between the two is often a very conscious process for me. Following a recent review of Egress, I’ve been thinking about this even more.
I keep thinking about Deleuze too. I need to dig it out again but I remember reading something once — I think it was in that Intersecting Lives joint-biography of D+G — where the author comments on the shift that occurs between Deleuze’s writings on other writers and then the sheer torrent of energy that erupts once he shelves that habit and starts to write for himself. I’m feeling that at the moment. I’ve plotted out the entirely of my next book and, to be honest, it’s probably far too ambitious a project right now, but I feel like the sky is the limit. It is going to be my book proper. Not a comment on someone else but an expansion of my own ideas. That’s liberating right now.
I’m also excited about it because I think it will allow my own writing to be considered on its own terms. I have lived very consciously under the shadow of Mark Fisher for a few years now but I have long been looking for an exit. That’s not to dismiss the achievement that is Egress. The book means a great deal to me, but that’s almost four years of my life, and the book is finished and out in the world, and now I’m eager to take what I’ve learned and start the next chapter.
More books about Mark will no doubt come out in the mean time, however. As said on Twitter the other day, that one review of my bookseemed to want the sort of book about Mark that I dread to see — a book about Mark that tries to imitate him — but also a book that reduces him to his three slim volumes.
This is the main problem for me, going forwards, and it was even one predicted during the Egress‘s gestation. I have many problems with the space into which this book has entered: the one-dimensional landscape on which Mark’s works are generally discussed.
This landscape colours everything. It is at once superficial but also heavily weighted. In the midst of our current apocalypse I’ve been reading D.H. Lawrence’s book Apocalypse and it is interesting to read him talking about the Bible in its early pages:
The Bible is a book that has been temporarily killed for us, or for some of us, by having its meaning arbitrarily fixed. We know it so thoroughly, in its superficial or popular meaning, that it is dead, it gives us nothing any more.
That’s a comment that could apply to any number of things in this corner of the internet, where the war between pop culture and underground is never-ending, but it’s particularly true of Mark’s work for me, especially since his death. Mark has been transformed from a man who desired another way of life, for himself and others, into the cornerstone of a new faith. That’s a second death for Mark as far as I’m concerned. It’s in this sense that Egress is a book about life and death, and also second lives and second deaths. Resisting Mark’s second death is what I have been neurotically pursuing for years now.
It’s nonetheless quite hard to resist. The popular meaning of Mark’s work creates a pressure to write as Mark, but who would dare — or want — to write that book? I’m not sure, but it’s clear plenty of people want to read it. You know it is on the way because, whatever itch within the market my book fails to itch, someone else will fill in the gap soon enough.
I couldn’t have written that book, nor would I have wanted to. When I wander into forums or Facebook groups dedicated to Mark’s work, I don’t recognise the Mark I find there. I see this weird-looking posthumous Mark reduced to his catchphrases. I find it vulgar and repulsive.
However, when I do wander through these places, I also see lots of inquiring minds asking about Mark’s various takes on other topics. “What did Mark Fisher think about x or y?” The desires driving such questions are likely suspect, compounding this problem, as if the right response to any situation must be the Mark Fisher response. The funny thing, however, is that many of these enquiries do indeed have responses, buried in Mark’s diverse array of essays and blogposts. I think it was Mark’s hope, however, that people would find these things for themselves.
The Mark that wrote those slim books for Zero and Repeater was — I think quite consciously, on his part — just the tip of the iceberg. His books are so thin to be accessible, yes, but also to be bait into a deeper and more disturbing world of philosophical heresy and cultural production.
Take Capitalist Realism, for instance. Here Mark frequently sprinkles his political arguments with repeated references to the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and he does this without really taking those references anywhere — he doesn’t really quote Spinoza and he certainly doesn’t preface his references with any broader intellectual context — but I’m sure that’s because Mark felt he didn’t need or want to. Nevertheless, I doubt Spinoza is the kind of figure most casual readers will be familiar with, but there he is, again and again, as if Mark is a DJ throwing in a deep cut for the ‘heads and for the curious.
I’ve heard numerous people criticise Mark’s lacklustre use of Spinoza in this regard but the more generous reading is to call these references breadcrumbs. (For what it’s worth, Spinoza’s influence on Mark’s writings is far more explicit on k-punk than anywhere else.) He sprinkles just enough Spinoza into the mix so that the name jumps out at you but he doesn’t get stuck into the particulars of his thinking. Spinoza is not allowed to get in the way of the argument being made. It’s a risky gamble but one that Mark was very good at, perhaps because of its connection to a wider philosophical thinking that he was well versed in.
This is one way of saying — implicitly — that Mark’s books are interesting examples of Deleuzian folding. “There’s no inside except as a folding of the outside,” as Mark wrote in The Weird and the Eerie, and that book, in itself, is the perfect example of his folding/unfolding skills in full flow. It is another book that is, of course, incredibly concise — at times even too concise for its own good — but, as we discovered when we turned our support group into a reading group at Goldsmiths in 2017, when you start to unfold it, it becomes infinitely more complex.
That’s the relationship to Mark’s work that I wanted to share, in Egress and on this blog. The joy, for me, is in the unfolding; in making the connections. Mark’s legacy is a jigsaw puzzle and, once you find the connections between the pieces, a whole new world starts to emerge before you.
As a case in point, I ended up reading Simon O’Sullivan’s essay on “the fold” in Deleuze’s thought whilst writing this post and it demonstrates what I’m gesturing towards with far more clarity than I could muster right now. More importantly, however, read with Mark in mind, you can feel him in there, in the concept itself. He doesn’t need to explain it because he inhabits it.
This is similarly something I wanted to get across in my essay for The Quietus in which I unpacked hauntology using Deleuze’s concepts of the critical and the clinical, undermining the deadened popular understanding. This wasn’t meant to be an exercise in academic complication but rather unfolding, making more explicit the connections within. When reading Mark, whether we’re familiar with Deleuze or not, it doesn’t really matter. Mark lived it implicitly rather than explicitly scaffolding his work with borrowed concepts. Instead, he made his own. Like Kodwo Eshun, he was a “concept engineer”.
And that’s part of the joy of Mark’s work but also the frustration. The implicit nature of his writings on philosophy lends itself to popular reduction. Nevertheless, the mark of Deleuze left imprinted on his thought is plain to see if you know what you’re looking at. That’s what I find fascinating in Mark’s writing. He openly referenced Deleuze far less often than one might expect but these vectors are nonetheless there.
It reminds me of a comment Mark made in his very first Post-Capitalist Desire seminar. He commented that the lack of Deleuze and Guattari on the syllabus was shocking, even to him — and he’d written it — but they were still there as the thread that ran in the background, as if they were all the more important precisely because they had been omitted.
The question becomes: How do you approach a thinker like that? Like Mark? Diminish these conceptual echoes to Easter Eggs for the theorybros? Or dare to unpack them far more than Mark did himself to probe the under-explored depths of his writings?
Personally, I’m not the sort of writer who goes in for subtle omissions. I’m far more neurotic a writer than Mark was in that regard. I like to unfold everything and lay it out nicely and make connections explicit. Is it an academic hangover? I don’t think so. I only spent one year studying this stuff formally. I arrived with that neurotic desire to unfold already embedded. I’ve done the implicit signalling enough with photography, and spent years being frustrated when no one picks up on it. Writing is where I get to let loose instead.
Of course, this is the complete opposite of the style deployed by the Ccru, who compress and compress concepts until they reach a point of nuclear reaction, but that’s fine with me. I like to read that stuff but I don’t think I’m very good at writing it, and I don’t think the reasons for that are all that deep.
Again, what’s better: affirming my own preferences or producing a pale imitation? The former, I think, but it’s certainly not the easy option.