Accelerate the Metaverse: Epic Games and the Networked Individual Mindset

When Mark Fisher introduced his “Postcapitalist Desire” class to Apple’s Ridley Scott-directed “1984” Superbowl commercial in late 2016, he did so to pinpoint the moment that a new vision of the future was emerging.

That advert, he explains, would “seed the idea of many of the tropes that are now … standard in our imagining: the idea of top-down, bureaucratic control systems versus the dynamism of a kind of networked individual mindset.”

Epic Games — the company responsible for the insanely successful battle royale online multiplayer game Fortnite — has now lampooned that advert, protesting Apple’s attempts to make itself a market monopoly for micro-transactions.

The company are upset at Apple for trying to enforce usage of their platform. In an attempt to undermine Apple’s pushy tactics, the company began rewarding players with discounts when they made payments directly to them rather than via the Apple app store. Apple, in response, has deleted Fortnite from its platform, effectively deleting the game from millions of devices. Epic Games is now suing Apple.

It’s not a good look for Apple or platform capitalism more generally. Platform capitalism, as it was so called, now starts to look like a blip in the timeline. It’s throwing a tantrum when the new upstart starts taking swings at its exploitative rules and regulations. If platform capitalism is now for the off as a result, Epic Games is putting itself forward as the true innovator and representative for the next phase in capitalism’s late development.

It’s a very weird and oddly exciting state of affairs and Epic Games’ reference to Apple’s own advert is very fitting, perhaps in more ways than may have been intended. This is to say that, yes, whilst it is an interesting troll, it might also signify a further development in the late capitalist imaginary in its own right. At present, I’m not sure if that’s for better or for worse…

For Fisher, “all advertising … is a form of dreamwork — dreamwork, as Freud says, involves conflation, and a compressing, a condensing of different ideas together.” What Apple’s original “1984” advert does “is it condenses Cold War imagery … with dreariness [and the] bureaucratic submission of individuals” to a higher authoritarian power. Perhaps you can already tell where this is going: Apple, as far as Epic Games is concerned, has become the thing it once claimed itself to be the death of.

Fisher’s analysis of this advert, from Postcapitalist Desire, out next month, continues as follows:

Apple is positioning itself as an upstart, as colour intervening into this grey, dreary, bureaucratic world. Apple is new. It’s female, interestingly. It’s colour intervening in this grey world of bureaucratic monoliths where IBM becomes, in the advertising dreamwork, equated with the Soviet Union. This, then, is the new world that is about to break out of this monolithic, dreary, grey, boring control system. And that’s what happened! In a certain way, it was prophetic. It was more than prophetic; you could say it was hyperstitional. It helped to bring about the very thing which it was describing.

From my point of view, what I think is interesting about this [advert], then, is the way in which it suggests there is a problem of desire in terms of capital. The thing about the Cold War imagery — what it’s suggesting is there is … only desire for capitalism. The Communist world, like IBM, and the then dominant corporate capitalist world, is boring and dreary, and [Apple’s advert is] an objection to it! The new capitalist world won’t be like that. The new capitalist world will be about desire in a way that the Communist world won’t be.

Fortnite’s little in-game protest is a peculiar twist on this. Fisher made the point in his lecture that most of the students present weren’t old enough to remember the imagery associated with the Soviet Union. They would know it but only indirectly; which is to say its symbolism was legible but that’s not the same as something being recognisable within the context of their present cultural experiences. This was to a room full of students who were, at the very least, in their mid-20s or older. (28-year-old me was born on the day the Soviet Union was officially disbanded — some seven years after Apple’s advert was first aired — so Fisher’s comment is certainly true of my experience, or lack thereof.)

I wonder what percentage of Fortnite’s player base is able to read this hard-baked Cold War undercurrent into their favourite battle royale game? What will Apple make of it themselves? How effective will this ironically capitalist pastiche of Apple’s ironically capitalist pastiche of Orwell’s critique be in their dispute?

Personally, I think it is a telling reference for Epic Games to draw upon. The fact that the company has been positioning itself as the future of entertainment or “narrative” — as was the cry following the game’s “end” last year — or of computing and gaming more specifically may seem trivial since they’re just a games company and Apple is a technological behemoth, but to many Epic are the future. It is Epic Games, not Apple, that are changing the shape of things to come.

Apple has had a huge impact, of course, but their hype machine has run out of steam. To be honest, I’ve never not been cynical about their sleek and claustrophobic hardware and software so I’m biased, but they also clearly owned the last decade following the launch of the iPhone in 2007. They revolutionised how we communicate and interact with the world — giving rise to what Jodi Dean has called “communicative capitalism”. Epic Games, however, has been hot on their heels in terms of influence and they are increasingly a force to be reckoned with — if not financially, at least technologically. They are perfectly poised, then, to re-revolutionise the new world that Apple created. But are they part of a solution or just another problem?

I was intrigued by this conversation between Ben Vickers and David Rudnick on Twitter that discussed this. Rudnick takes position I would have taken: Fortnite is a huge revenue stream for a company that has found a great deal of early success as the games industry has been bent quite forcefully in favour of what Peter Frase has called “rentism”.

I like the term “rentism” a lot, if not what it represents. It speaks to a new form of capitalism that is solely “based on the extraction of rents rather than the accumulation of capital through commodity production”. This makes it similar to “neofeudalism” (or whatever neologism was doing the rounds a few months ago) but I think rentism is a better term because it encapsulates our present stasis in a way that is so quotidian as to be even more horrifying.

Neofeudalism is accurate in some ways — it’s clearly reactionary, like our present moment, in that it heralds a literal return to the dark ages — but rentism takes its name from something that is already here. It takes its name not from some apparently distant recess of history but from the very ground of contemporary existence in all of their mundanity: rent. The rent you pay on your house, your entertainment, your car, your bicycle, your utilities… Rentism is rent universalised; rent for everything. If this were to come into effect, as feels increasingly likely, it will have huge historical consequences. It is, in essence, the return of the negation of individual property; the ultimate failure of the negation of the negation; the full erasure of that tension that Marx saw as the starting point of socialism, whereby the expropriators will be expropriated.

If this is part of what Epic Games represents, it makes them seem like a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than a bright star on the horizon. Ben Vickers, however, in response to Rudnick’s cynicism, shares this series of essays on the company that paints it in a very different light.

The series’ authors make the point that, whilst Fortnite is a big moneymaker for Epic, many of the company’s other assets — and they have an insane amount of them — are given away from free.

The most telling part of the authors’ analysis seems to be this section of the final essay which considers Epic Games’ intentions:

There is a way to be cynical of Epic’s strategy. Each new service and fee drop expands Epic’s influence over the technical roadmaps of the future and, in part, decides which companies can and cannot exist, which parts of the ecosystem will generate profits, and if they can and by how much. 

However, this perspective is difficult to reconcile with the macro context of the gaming industry. Today, the industry generates roughly $120B per year in revenue (excluding hardware sales).

I’m not sure how much that stands up at present. The gaming industry feels increasingly less macro by the year and if its influence extends as far as the authors go on to predict it will, retaining this cynicism seems healthy. Their insistence that Epic CEO Tim Sweeney seems to be a pretty right-on dude also doesn’t impress me too much. Nevertheless, the authors continue:

It could be argued that Epic’s plan is more devious. In its famous antitrust case against Microsoft, the Department of Justice found the company had an internal strategy called “Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish.” Specifically, this involved Microsoft deploying industry-wide standards that would later prefer Microsoft-related products, and eventually disadvantage competing products. But were this Epic’s actual goal, it would make little sense for the company to zero-out pricing in these categories, versus just undercut them through lower prices and better offerings. 

So how does one explain Epic’s strategy? What is the Epic Games Flywheel looking to achieve? Why is Epic spending billions to launch new businesses that remove or reduce all the value in that category — and without shifting the remainder to Epic’s own pockets? 

The answer goes back to the gaming TAM (“Total Addressable Market”) of $120B. Sweeney believes that the most important segment of the gaming/entertainment ecosystem is the content creator. And, accordingly, the entire ecosystem benefits from making it easier for developers to make both a game and a profit, from driving a greater share of industry profits away from stores and infrastructure providers to these developers, and by breaking down the closed platforms of Microsoft, Sony, Valve, Windows, Steam, etc. 

As a David versus Goliath story, it’s easy to root for Fortnite. Still, in recent weeks I’ve been thinking a great deal about the cultural impact of rentism and now I’m curious as to what role Epic Games will play in it, especially considering the fact it is clearly going against most rentist trends right now. (Can you imagine a series of articles about the likes of Netflix or Spotify, or anyone for that matter, that insists on the company’s belief in a broader creative ecosystem that demonstrates a repeat disregard for profit?)

Epic Games is, arguably, looking five steps ahead of the competition. Whilst every other tech company exploits the new dominance of rent-to-access financial models, Epic seems to have its eye on the next phase of the cycle, when rentism — which they are no doubt profiting from in their own way — eventually gives way to a new kind of capitalism proper, rather than an atrophying of the present, where the glimmer of individual ownership returns, albeit in a new arena: the Metaverse.

It makes Epic Games an exciting prospect. Rentism, as far as I am concerned, is the bleakest future available to us. It’s a truly Sisyphean existence of endless drudgery in return for endless monthly payments. I reckon extinction sounds more palatable. The horror of rentism is also that, were it to establish itself absolutely, there’d be no way out — not unless we had a kind of technological revolution like the kind that led to the transition from feudalism to capitalism in the first place. The very idea of that kind of revolution has long been in crisis. My fear is we’d stay in this stasis forever. It would be the true end of history.

Any alternative to that is to be welcomed, but plenty of questions remain for Epic Games…

If, in its 1984 commercial, Apple was declaring that the new capitalist world is going to be about desire in a way that the Communist world wasn’t, what is Epic Games insinuating about a capitalist future under their particular MO? Whilst they may be a spanner in the works for an encroaching rentism, they nonetheless represent the continuation of the “networked individual mindset” that Apple first claimed to inaugurate.

Is cheering for Epic, then, a bit like cheering for Biden over Trump? Or perhaps Epic Games is the only true accelerationist force left in the world today? By rejecting capitalism’s attempts to stall itself and implement global rentism, they push late capitalism forwards a few more steps than it presently feels comfortable with — a few more steps towards its next mutation rather than its settling for a hegemonic mediocrity.

Epic Games do start to look like the heroes they are presenting themselves to be, preserving the kinds of sci-fi future we were previously always promised and taught to desire — the kind of future Apple themselves promised only to later betray it absolutely. The question is: can they deliver? And will we be ready to properly exploit the world they build for us?


I had a mental health assessment yesterday — I’m fine; I’m just looking for support on the NHS that isn’t CBT — and it was sort of disappointing.

I’ve written quite openly about my mental health escapades before but it has been a while. I gave an account of my bad run-ins with mental health professionals in Egress — from a shockingly inept school councillor to being patronised by GPs and having two pretty useless rounds of talking therapy — and I blogged about my triple chronotherapy when dealing with a really bad depression early last year.

The triple chronotherapy thing was a miracle cure, for those who are curious. It dragged me out of a depression within days rather than the usual 2-4 weeks it takes when changing medications (if you’re lucky). The problem, however, was that the woman running the trial was so anal about documentation and results that her persistent attempts to call me and do questionnaires ended up making my anxiety worse. Despite considering myself a massive advocate for what is currently an experimental treatment for depression and insomnia, I dropped out of the trial because the anxiety brought on by her phone calls was too much.

Classic NHS catch-22 — the treatment was great; I found the doctors and mental health professionals themselves hard to trust and deal with.

This is my eternal dilemma. On the whole, I function. I find medication works well for me when it comes to balancing out my moods, but my life is unfortunately still defined by a tendency to engage in constant low-level self-destructive tendencies. It makes me feel like a ticking time bomb. Depressions come and go, but each fall is always that much worse than the last one. It is increasingly clear to me that I have a lot of bad coping mechanisms and I need to start unlearning them so the next fall is easier to pick myself up from, not harder. But I’m yet to find a doctor or therapist who doesn’t just make things worse for me.

Nevertheless, I’m trying again.

Over the past few weeks, as I embark on this latest attempt at self-improvement, I’ve been having phone interviews, chats with my GP and various psychiatrists, and today I had a face-to-face meeting to get feedback and hear the local mental health team’s first round of recommendations regarding how I might move forwards. It was positive, on the whole, but also pretty gutting.

I was told I wasn’t eligible for the kind of path I hoped to go down because I’m not acting out self-destructively everyday. What they mean by this, of course, is that I’m not enough of an immediate threat to myself, which is true and fair enough, but I had wanted to emphasise the fact that, although I’m engaged in more of a war of attrition with myself, it’s a war nonetheless, and it’s not going to end well. It affects my life daily and impacts my capacity to hold down jobs and friendships. As far as I’m concerned, I might as well be the sort of self-destructive person they’re looking for. I just lack spectacle. But still, it was not enough.

Why am I telling you this? What has really struck me about yesterday — as I’ve been sat at home, melting in this heat wave, ruminating on what was discussed and trying to recover emotionally from making myself very vulnerable in front of a complete stranger — is that I felt like I’d just come back from a bad job interview.

I cannot shake the feeling that maybe if I’d cried or maybe if I’d played up to how I actually feel a bit more I might have been treated another way. And that makes me feel really weird. As I reflect on what I could have done differently, I start to feel really nauseous. Because I don’t think I’m capable of doing that — of playing the part. Part of the problem is that I’m a kind of high-functioning addict with regards to my own coping mechanisms. I can do what I need to do to get by and push on with my day. Which is to say, I’m good at hiding it. And that’s the problem. Hiding it is wearing me down more than my actual distress is. And so the problem feeds back on itself, affecting not just my mental but my physical health.

I felt this even whilst I sat in the grey office room, unable to do anything about the situation.

Sitting across from someone I don’t know, trying to make a good first impression, being personable and patient, isn’t getting me the help that I think I need. I’m left reeling, running through this inverted assessment back over and over in my head. How could I have sabotaged myself more? Maybe I should have dressed worse… Or maybe I should have said something different in response to that question… Maybe I should have spoken less… Or maybe spoken more… Spoken faster or spoken slower… In effect, I’m left wondering how I can fake my way to a truer representation of myself. How can I turn up the artifice to trick myself into revealing the real me?

Just like in a job interview, assessing the person in front of me and their generic questions, I am trying to figure out what it is they want to hear, in the hope I might get the job (the treatment) I need to live a life.

It is a slippery slope, undoubtedly. I know a few people in my life who have gone too far the other way. So used to being patronised or not taken seriously, they turn the melodrama up the 11. More often than not, it makes the cynicism worse. My mother suffered from this. By the time she was taken seriously, it was too late. She went off the deep end and never recovered. I’ve seen up close that melodrama gets you nowhere.

That traumatic memory has pushed me the other way. I have a tendency to play things down, my girlfriend tells me. One of the side effects of a northerner’s stiff upper lip, which protrudes into every lane of my life except blogging. What a sorry situation.

Regardless, it is clear that high functionality doesn’t get you very far either. What I’m doing to get through the day seems less important than the fact I am still getting through the day. But for how long? Something is going to give. The whole point of doing these interviews is so that I can avoid the levee that breaks being me. It’s only a matter of time.

This feeling is what I hate about how mental health is dealt with in this country — the bureaucracy of it, the overbearing sense of professionalisation. These tendencies are wholly necessary on an institutional level, of course — or so they’d have us believe. When it comes to actually working in a field like mental health, with vulnerable and potentially unstable people, you need the straight-laced backbone of the institutional and its code of ethics to set the tone and certain boundaries. But must these sensibilities really leak out all over the patients themselves? Your professional sense of self creates a mirror, and now I am trying to see myself as a professional invalid.

What was most surreal was that, when I arrived at the assessment centre, I was sat in the waiting room with two women. We ignored each other, for the most part, until the two women started talking to each other. They knew each other already. It turned out they were both there for actual job interviews. It seemed they were moving around as NHS departments restructured themselves during lockdown and had previously met in their official capacities before the world was turned on its head. They were both in the running for a position at this particular assessment centre and were there to interview for a new role.

A wall went up in that moment of realisation. I felt like a patient or a punter who’d come in through the front door and accidentally sat in the staff room. I felt like I was somewhere I shouldn’t be — behind the curtain.

My experience is going to be very different to yours, I thought to myself, feeling my size and dress and demeanor crumble. Perhaps, in the end, it wasn’t. Although I wasn’t a patient, of course. I was a “client”. Every time I was referred to this way in abstract — “we find our clients respond to…”; “we try to provide our clients with…” — I felt distanced from the real reason I was actually there, and not in a good way. Yes, you’re providing a service, but I’m not about to tell you about it later on Yelp.

Nevermind. I guess the interview didn’t quite work out how I wanted but they said they were going to keep me in mind for another position. I didn’t work out on this occasion but keep your fingers crossed I get the next one.

Le Voyageur

Shout out to Simon Sellars for posting this on Twitter the other day, I’ve been bumping it all week: Richard Pinhas’ short-lived band Schizo, with guest vocals from Gilles Deleuze reading aloud from Nietzsche’s The Wanderer.

Pinhas has an incredible back catalogue of music and he seems to have single-handedly kept the Continental philosophy publishing industry afloat. Whilst he is best known in philosophy circles for his recordings of Deleuze’s lectures, available at webdeleuze, I was reading about him just the other day in another context… And I can’t now remember whereabouts this was… It was either in an intro to one of Lacan’s seminars or one of Badiou’s seminars. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in time, he’d had a hand in both.

A Postcapitalist Battle of the Sexes

One of the comments that came up persistently following Aly’s reading list — and even in a comment on my own post [since deleted] — is that reducing accelerationism to some battle of the sexes is reductive and lame.

I’m not sure what those people think they are defending in saying this. If I was to emphasise Alex Williams’ original communist inflection on accelerationism, would these same commentators decry the reduction of accelerationism to the class struggle?

On Twitter, @CmonNowGirl commented on my last post with a link to a recent essay of their own on “Gender Realism” — a really excellent bridging of the gap between Mark Fisher’s capitalist realism and an Irigarayian feminism. I’m really glad @CmonNowGirl brought this up, as it further grounds the importance of cyber/xenofeminism to accelerationism’s overall lineage.

Fisher wrote on feminism fairly often. In his own accelerationist writings, he addressed the melancholy of Ellen Willis, for instance, as a way to highlight second-wave feminism’s crisis of negation. He writes for eflux:

In her 1979 essay “The Family: Love It or Leave It,” the late music and cultural critic Ellen Willis noted that the counterculture’s desire to replace the family with a system of collective child-rearing would have entailed “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude.” It’s very difficult, in our deflated times, to re-create the counterculture’s confidence that such a “social and psychic revolution” could not only happen, but was already in the process of unfolding. Like many of her generation, Willis’s life was shaped by first being swept up by these hopes, then seeing them gradually wither as the forces of reaction regained control of history. There’s probably no better account of the Sixties counterculture’s retreat from Promethean ambition into self-destruction, resignation, and pragmatism than Willis’s collection of essays Beginning To See The Light.

The upset commentator on my last post expressed concern that I, xenogothic, great reader of Mark Fisher, could be so easily caught up in Aly’s manufacturing of outrage that he would have surely had little time for. (It was a truly mind-numbing comment.) The truth is Mark was a huge supporter of accelerationism’s feminist foundations and using them to reinvigorate accelerationism’s wayward edgelording. He adds in his essay on Willis:

I want to situate accelerationism not as some heretical form of Marxism, but as an attempt to converge with, intensify, and politicize the most challenging and exploratory dimensions of popular culture. Willis’s desire for “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude” and her “quarrel with the left” over desire and freedom can provide a different way into thinking what is at stake in this much misunderstood concept.

What @CmonNowGirl calls “gender realism” is precisely the sort of extension to his own thinking that Fisher applauded. In fact, “gender realism” resonates very nicely with what Helen Hester has called “domestic realism”. Hester’s essay on this was the required reading for the last session of Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire course at Goldsmiths in 2017. We unfortunately don’t know what Fisher would have had to say on it but it is nonetheless mentioned over the course of the course — which you’ll be able to read for yourself next month in this new collection I’ve edited.

Mentioning Willis’s text — also required reading — in his introduction to the course, Fisher says:

And what I particularly like about this piece by Ellen Willis is how it raises the question of what we’ll look at later; of what Helen Hester calls “domestic realism”, which is a bit of a parallel to what I’ve called “capitalist realism” — i.e. the idea that domestic structures, the ways we organise our lives at home, are fixed and immutable, and we can’t imagine them being any different. In the Sixties, in the counterculture, people did try to live in a different way, did try to live in a more collective and communal way. It didn’t work out. It stalled. It failed. It went wrong. Interestingly, Willis’s argument is that part of the problem was impatience. People thought that we could overcome these structures very quickly. In fact, they are highly tenacious and will reassert themselves unless they are continually dismantled.

In the session on Willis’s text, which did go ahead before Fisher’s death, he expands on this — [emphasis in the quotation below is all mine]:

What the counterculture aimed at was the phrase that I picked up: “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude”. We who came after the 1960s — even though I was born in the 1960s, although too late to comprehend it at that time — we who come after it find it hard to imagine a time when those ambitions seemed to be realistic. What’s being registered in this text by this time is the simultaneous and synchronised emergence of capitalist realism and domestic realism, and their co-implication: the idea that there’s no alternative to capitalism and there’s no alternative to the family either.

I actually think that domestic realism is even more powerful than capitalist realism in today’s world. Even when I was at school, in the 1980s, there were fairly serious debates about alternatives to the family. I remember when I taught teenagers, a few years ago, you’d talk about alternatives to the family and they were just horrified by the very thought of it. And the full tragedy of that was, of course, that many of them had come from very difficult family backgrounds. So, they had an idealised idea of the family that didn’t fit with their experience of the family at all. And yet that very idealisation implied that they still held up the family as an idea. The countercultural mission to have done with the family really has almost entirely disappeared now as a widespread cultural phenomenon.

@CmonNowGirl’s essay, along with Helen Hester’s, covers a lot of the groundwork here, expounding upon why capitalist and gender and domestic realism are co-implicated and, most importantly, why so much has been done to obscure their relationship to one another.

An accelerationism that dismisses this as a superfluous “battle of the sexes” is precisely the outlook of someone who doesn’t know what accelerationism’s stakes are. It is, of course, not the only revolution that accelerationism first sought to instigate, but it is a major one. Without first revolutionising these relations, little else will be able to follow.

Cyberfeminist Beginnings, Cyberfeminist Ends


My mind is elsewhere as of late, but it would be remiss of this blog to witness some accelerationist drama on Twitter and then let it go unacknowledged.

Aly recently posted an accelerationist reader that controversially, as Ed Berger explains on his blog, “skips all the usual suspects (Marx, Deleuze, Guattari, Land, Fisher…).”

The reading list is great. By (almost) exclusively citing women, it provocatively provides accelerationism with an alternate history — or rather, it provides an alternative to what has since become understood as acc “canon”.

It’s a shame that this is how accelerationism is now approached, through claims of canon and non-canon. We were discussing this in the XG reading group on Sunday — the extent to which Reza Negarestani is now retconned as a card-carrying member of the Ccru. He never was, but that’s not to delegitimise Reza. It’s important.

The Ccru, in themselves, were not “canon”. They were a Thing that emerged from a combination of all this cross-cultural pulp; a veritable Swamp Thing. But they found a certain amount of fame nonetheless. Reza was someone who kept their momentum going along a new vector. He wasn’t a part of Ccru but he was successful in inserting himself into that demoralised post-Warwick trajectory, lighting up the blogosphere. He was an outsider who wrote himself inside the fiction. It says a lot about how successful he was — but also how short people’s memories are — when the Ccru and Reza and the rest of the blogosphere started to lose their defining outsider status. It’s a process whereby narratives get calcified, fossilized. For Reza, that acephalous oily mouth, that’s effectively theory-death — although a death he later welcomed. But an essence is lost in the process. The original fault is filled in like grout between tiles.

When Robin addresses Reza’s strange history in his Brief History of Geotrauma, he writes that “Trauma belongs to a time beyond personal memory”. What is being investigated there is something prehistoric; prewriting; prenarrative. I think that’s an important consideration here.

A narrative is something that we build on top. Extending a narrative has its uses but, at a certain point, all we are doing is repressing that which we were first trying to describe. This is, arguably, why Deleuze and Guattari and the Ccru and Reza all try to describe and enact what they are describing simultaneously. It’s a kind of writing in your own blood. It is a kind of traumatic writing that triggers and is triggered. It drives stakes down beneath texts to those things we dress up in philosophy only to later forget them. It’s a practice of holding wounds open rather than than stitching them with so many words.

This is why Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos grew beyond him so successfully. His personal traumas were obscured by the sharing of a cosmic perspective and the truth was unearthed from beneath one man’s sexually repressed and racist neuroses. The wounds were opened so wide as to swallow the world in them.

For better and for worse, since the days of the Ccru, accelerationism and its adjacent weird theories have been given the status of a Cthulhu mythos, always adding strings to the bow. Of course, acc thought is nowhere near as internally cohesive as the Ccru’s brand of fictioning. Perhaps because it arrived too late (and this is perhaps why we must repeatedly go back to the Nineties, skipping over the actual moment of accelerationism’s Noughties emergence). Today, accelerationism, as a political philosophy that hopes to deal with the impasses of postmodern capitalism, is crawling with PoMo rot. We should be careful what we attached it to, in case you lose control of its spread.

This is why repeated attempts have been made to try and re-situate accelerationism’s original concerns. Aly’s list is perhaps the most important recent example. (You wouldn’t think it to look at it — no shade, of course; it is just minimal as far as acc primers go — but the response to it speaks volumes.) It is a list that does well to add an obscured dimension back into accelerationist thinking and Ed’s follow-up post goes a step further towards situating the list in a context that those people mad about it have conveniently forgotten about, having become too caught up in an ahistorical narrative. It is necessary that we drag “accelerationism — now more a splinter of cyberfeminism than vice-versa — back to the (un)ground that gave rise to it in the first place”.

It’s been quite exciting to see — even the backlash. The squabbling has reminded me of that exciting time online in 2018 when U/Acc and G/Acc were first being developed in the blogosphere and in the bowels of Cave Twitter. Amy Ireland and Nyx Land were doing so much valuable work to re-centre this trajectory via a kind of feminist horrorism, drawn quite explicitly from Land’s often ignored tendency to give voice to a feminine Nietzscheanism — and going further still, building on those members / affiliates of the Ccru so often lost under Land’s shadow — many of whom are mentioned in Ed’s post.

Whilst Land remained the central vector and influence, emphasising his (proto-)xenofeminist tendencies was an attempt to uncover this same trajectory, re-contaminating his thinking, and making it something impossible for his more uncritical acolytes to ignore.

It was later Mother Hellcrypt, an elusive avatar occasionally invoked by Land himself, that became a icon for those of us thinking these things through. She was the vector through which this history was allowed to flow.

I’d like to think this blog has always had a place for this lineage — although, admittedly, it’s not my main area of expertise. Amidst the blogosphere’s patchwork of ideological perspectives, these threads were best explored by others, but a defence of accelerationism’s feminist valences has nonetheless been a regular feature here. (The last time was notably in response to another of Aly’s excellent blog posts, attempting to reconnect XF to the insights provided by accelerationism’s central ur-text, Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy — a connection squeamishly ignored by XF’s critics, even though it holds the answers to many of their concerns.)

But the question still remains: Why has this disarticulation between XF and accelerationism occurred in the first place? XF was arguably an attempt to intensify a vector that seemed to lead to an amputation. An acc-fearing feminism and a feminism-fearing acc found themselves firmly gripping two sides of the same saw. (Never mind Twitter spitting its dummy out the other night, it was clear that we were having a bit of a crisis when XF, and accelerationism’s feminist beginnings more broadly, had to be defended against other feminists rather than from any other explicitly acc contingent.) As ever, accelerationism is caught unproductively in the middle as all sides of the political compass try and use it as a vessel for vague, paranoid concerns.

Again, Ed’s excellent post drives home the fact that things are not as they used to be. But still: why? Aly’s reading list raises a number of valuable questions in this regard, some that should give everyone pause for thought.

Accelerationist thinking has long been a boy’s club — that’s undeniable. The assumption of ownership by male interlocutors has always been a point of contention, with some of the most important contributors to acc thought being chased off platforms not with pitchforks but through creepy replyguy tendencies. Theorybros are a scourge that many thinkers have struggled against and found the battle not worth fighting for, going quiet / private or disappearing altogether rather than masochistically fighting for a seat at the table, the other occupants of which having previously looked up to them for guidance. (I probably wouldn’t be blogging here still without early support and encouragement from Amy Ireland in 2017, who introduced me to the rest of Cave Twitter — I think the same is true for many people around these parts.)

Suffice it to say, if accelerationism’s feminist foundations are shocking to you, perhaps ask yourself why. What has led to this ground being obscured from your vision of this unruly thought? It’s long had a presence on every acc blog that matters, so why is a list that only lists its feminist (or at least female) influences the source of so much outrage?

The answers will be obvious to most. If they’re not to you, maybe take a look at yourself and ask why.


Following the recent release of the acc course written by Meta-Nomad and myself, I’ve been continuing to flesh out my side of the project in the hope of turning my material into a book draft. (Don’t hold your breath, it’ll take me a while yet.)

This version of acc’s genealogy that I’m newly sketching out for myself — contrary to Vincent Garton’s perennial wisdom — doesn’t (presently) include any explicitly feminist material, to my shame, but — following the recent Twitter drama around acc’s cyberfeminist beginnings — I’m now wondering about how this project is still relevant to that cyberfeminist trajectory, and how I might make space for it in my otherwise heavily localised considerations.

This is to say that my focus might be somewhat controversial in its own right. It isn’t much concerned with Land, or Deleuze and Guattari either, except in passing. Instead, it situates accelerationism within the immediate circumstances of its blogospheric emergence: the financial crash of 2007/08 and the critical impasse that left-wing thought seemed to be faced with at that time.

Alain Badiou called this impasse our “crisis of negation”. His argument, succinctly put, is no doubt familiar: we are capable of destroying the old but we are incapable of producing the new. Today I’m wondering to what extent xenofeminism and cyberfeminism are concerned with this same crisis in negation, albeit within feminist thought, that acc first sought to rectify more generally…

This argument regarding the crisis in negation has long been doing the rounds culturally — Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds’ writings on hauntology made much the same claim. However it was Badiou (and, to a lesser extent, Žižek) who led the charge politically in the late 2000s.

With this long ignored Badiouian basis in mind, we might argue that accelerationism and hauntology are concerned with the same problems. Accelerationism, however, placed itself distinctly in opposition to its theoretical neighbour.

Alex Williams, on his long dead blog Splintering Bone Ashes, rejected hauntology as a “form of good postmodernism, as set against the bad PoMo of a rampaging retroism.” It is, he writes, “a cowardly move, lusting after utopias that never were, or which are now unreachable, a retreat into childhood/youth, just as trapped in the endless re-iterative mechanistics of the postmodern as the lowest form of retroism, merely in a hyper-self-aware form.” As a result, hauntology is too liable to falling on its own sword — and, in its melancholy, it would probably be happy if it did so — because it “cedes too much ground to what it attempts to oppose”.

Accelerationism emerges as a kind of political response to hauntology’s cultural ascendancy in this regard — the overbearing nature of its melancholic “end of history” stasis. Accelerationism, then, challenges Badiou, at the height of his (recently acquired) powers in the Anglosphere, with the same critique — he also cedes too much ground to what he attempts to oppose. Williams nonetheless draws on Badiou’s thought and then, notably, pushes it further. He writes:

Perhaps what [the financial crash] offers … is a chink in the armour of late capital, a Badiouian event, evading the usual in-situational structural determinations. In a sense Badiou would not recognise (economic) it really does give an opportunity (as did the crash of 1929) to recalibrate both the state-market relation and the type of economic theory deployed by governments. But this will be merely to retrench, to stabilise, to maintain the present system, in a new form, by whatever means necessary and available. Politically it is less clear, for in order that the potential this event offers to be fully exploited, we need a politics capable of fully evading even the kind of generic humanism Badiou’s politics (for example) proffers. For the impasse of the end of history can only be properly surmounted by a final nihilistic overcoming of humanism — in a sense even Badiou fails this test, his minimal-communist humanism not going far enough. What perhaps this might entail is a rethinking of a revolutionary position, built on the basis of a rethinking of the very notion of value itself.

Now, I don’t want to just regurgitate my research from my half of the acc course here, but suffice it to say that a renewed focus on Williams’ initial accelerationist texts has proved hugely informative for me as of late. (It was following this post quoted above that Noys responded: “that’s the sort of kakocratic thinking I’ve been calling accelerationism” and Williams (followed closely by Fisher) went “yoink!”)

I feel like a new sense of acc’s beginnings has given me a new appreciation of just how shit the conversation around it has become. Indeed, all the squabbling about what is and isn’t acc is not only futile but damaging when we fail to realise that what we are witnessing is accelerationism falling victim to the very forces to hoped to critique. This was articulated after the Christchurch shooting — Brenton Tarrant is the very subject that accelerationism first sought to critique — but accelerationism’s problems started long before he pulled a trigger.

What we failed to see, in the years prior, was how Accelerationism was similarly sliding from the “good” PoMo deterritorialising political heresy of the 2000s to a bad PoMo horroristic conservatism in the 2010s. It is the equivalent of Burial releasing an album of Arctic Monkeys covers and we run with it for the sheer “mad lad” cahones of it. Or perhaps the other way round — Alex Turner releases an “Archangel” cover for Record Store Day. The line between blessed and cursed runs thin and whilst we might get caught up in the lulz and the spectacle of it all, we should remain vigilant to the fact that this could be the system’s way of ironing out the dialectical movement that exists (with difficulty) between diagnosis and symptom. Before you know it, the world has moved on, and someone picks up that release and sees Burial and Alex Turner as natural bedfellows. Where there was, initially, a critical tension, there is now a flatness as a postmodern cultural consciousness eats its outliers.

Are we still able to affirm, after everything that has happened, Williams’ attempts to play chicken with these tensions in the hope they might break the system? I’m not so sure. He obviously no longer thinks so. But it remains relevant because this problem that Williams and others sought to address has still yet to be resolved. There is the additional irony that this problem is most relevant to accelerationism itself today. It has become entangled in the forces of PoMo it hoped to accelerate out from. Clearly some acc theorising had done nothing but place drag on that attempt.

(As an aside, it is worth noting, I think, that although Land’s influence looms large over accelerationism — the fury around Aly’s recent reading list seemed to come primarily from Land’s sidelining — many of the early accelerationists were critical of his fidelity to capitalism. Whilst his Nineties analysis of capitalism is DeleuzoGuattarian, it seems he later came to prefer its reterritorialising tendencies rather than call for a vigilance against them. This is to say that Land seems to absorb ideological extremes and others’ attempts to move past his thought in order to retain his own relevance, just like capital. Perhaps such a tactic is not to be rebuked in and of itself — we could just call to “learning” or “changing your mind” — but it certainly complicated his affinity with the neoconservative right in the present moment, which begs the question: To what extent does Land’s aping of capital through a cultural conservatism similarly cause drag on the system rather than lubricating it?)

(As an aside to this aside, this problematic becomes most apparent in the ways that Land absorbs and neutralises many critiques made against him by the early blogosphere; in the ways he adopts tendencies that were invoked by others to move beyond his Nineties work in order to furnish his new Noughties neoreaction for himself. Horrorism, for instance, is wholly associated with Land today, but it was Alex Williams who first used that term, borrowing it cynically from Martin Amis to describe “a non-dialectical amassing of negativity … a horror piled upon horror, a critical mass capable of pulling the subjectivity attached to the organic human substrate through to some nether-zone of dissolution, a Deleuzean becoming crucially without affirmation.” This was a dark Deleuzeanism proper — far darker than anything Andrew Culp could pull out of the blogosphere — which called for a political praxis of terroristic communism able to “destabilise the current state-capital bond … a kind of meta-terrorism, operating on the plane of capital itself … a capitalist surrealism [seeking] the exploitation of credit-based financial systems for their primary destructive potential … not merely to be thought on the ability to trigger vast crashes, which is readily apparent, but further their capacity to destabilise the consistency of value itself.” That horrorism is today associated with the worst kind of right-wing online edgelording shows just how successful Land’s reterritorialisation of the term has been.)

Where does accelerationism’s cyberfeminist foundation fit into all of this? I’d argue that G/Acc, most explicitly, was the first successful attempt to answer Badiou’s melancholy call. Feminism itself has been caught within its own crisis of negation, happy to destroy old gender norms but reluctant to build new ones (outside the purview of capitalist orthodoxy). Accelerationism’s adjacency to trans discourses is obviously relevant here. There’s no more accessible way to hack the matrix of subjectivity in the present than fucking with gender. G/acc recentred the cyberfeminist lineage and added to this the horrorism that trans discourse injects into a liberal establishment.

G/acc’s relationship to u/acc in this regard is wholly positive. U/acc flattened the playing field, attempting to destroy the build-up of misconceptions and divergences that obscured accelerationism’s striving for the new over the destruction of the old. Without ceding too much ground to the destructive tendency it hoped to critique, g/acc emerged as a product of that striving; the phoenix from the ashes.

Cyberfeminism has arguably always played that role in this thought. The outrage triggered by a reading list — a fucking reading list — that recentres this shows just how rotten and fatally ingrown (broadly speaking) accelerationism’s attempts to produce the new have become.

No Nature, Not Ever

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Gary Snyder quotation recently and how it has been bastardised to become some generic caption for an inspirational poster in your dentist’s waiting room.

In every instance it is shared online — search “Gary Synder” on Twitter and 75% of tweets are replicating this line and anchoring it down with hashtags — it seems to invert its own logic by setting up a false dichotomy. It seems to beg the question: If nature is home, where are we now? But, for Snyder, often somewhat controversially, it is instead the case that nature is home and your home is nature; i.e. nature is the place I live, no matter where that is.

It is this immanent and Zen-like view of nature that allows Synder, as poet laureate of the Pacific North West, to encapsulate the veil we’ve discussed repeatedly in recent weeks, between subject and void, nature and society. His poems take form as he picks holes in the thin paper that separates planes.

I wonder if his collection No Nature is a response to this bastardisation of his poems. What is it for one of America’s foremost “nature” poets to declare there is no nature? It’s a kind of punk contrarianism. Sometimes there’s nothing more fun than shouting “no fun, not ever.” Similarly, for Synder, true nature is revealed when we declare there is no nature. Synder’s is a kind of poetic postnaturalism in this regard.

Snyder’s poem “In the Santa Clarita Valley” is often chosen as being most representative of this turn.

Like skinny wildweed flowers sticking up
hexagonal “Denny’s” sign
starry “Carl’s”
loopy “McDonald’s”
eight-petaled yellow “Shell”
blue-and-white “Mobil” with a big red “O”

growing in the asphalt riparian zone
by the soft roar of the flow
of Interstate 5.

His later poems have often entertained a post-natural view of the world in which the flows of human life and capital become riparian zones of their own; invisible rivers, no less natural than the ones we already know.

For Synder — like D.H. Lawrence before him — alienation is not caused by capitalism in and of itself; not any longer. Alienation is not the sight of a McDonald’s sign but our othering of it. The false dichotomy of nature and society, which we think we make for nature’s benefit, only others ourselves from its flows. Capitalism, as shapeshifting current, does as much to plug us back into the nature that we distinguish ourselves from (ideologically) than it does to destroy it (materially). This is to say that capital is precisely the vector that drives our interventions in our own environment. Nature and society’s modes of productivity mirror each other. What we require more than anything is not a new moralising incision between the two but a way to think both together in a new relation. Mountains and websites.

All this reminds me of that moment, late last year, when a proper push was made to give voice to an ecologically-minded accelerationism. But what use is ecology to accelerationism, really? It doesn’t mean accelerationism cannot inform a thinking about our environment but environment and ecology are subtly different things. Synder himself makes the point when he is asked in an interview about the poetic distinction between the two terms, in relation to his poem above:

Look at the words. “Environment” means the surroundings. The surroundings can include an oil refinery, can include all of Los Angeles and the I-5 strip. That’s the environment too, whatever surrounds us. … Everything surrounds everything else. … What is “ecological”? Etymologically, the “household of nature” is what’s being called up. “Ecological” refers to the systems of biological nature, which include energy, and mineral and chemical transformations and pathways. “The environment” is used more commonly to also include human and technological productions. And it’s not an absolute, hard and fast separation. …

Such is the problem of accelerationism more generally. It’s speciation is often productive but only if we understand this process within a grander scheme of things. Mutations are welcome but when we make them distinct from the world in which they are acting, which accelerationism (without conditions) has always spoken to, then we fall into that all too human tunnel vision. It slots accelerationism into a more general trend within the humanities, claiming itself necessary because we can no longer see the trees for the commodity that is wood. It asks: How can we protect nature from Acceleration? In the process, it abjures one of accelerationism’s central observations (going back to the geophilosophy of the Ccru and Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia and even the solar economy of Georges Bataille): Acceleration is natural.

The challenge of accelerationism was always to complicate our understanding of a world-for-us and a world-without-us in this regard. “What are things-in-themselves?” is one philosophical starting point. “What is the world-without-us?” is another, slotting itself into a present confluence of speculative fictions and hypotheticals that are increasingly defining how we see our own futures. “What is capital-without-us?” is the speculative-realist juncture that first birthed an accelerationist thinking.

It is time that complicates and stitches together all of these perspectives. An environmental accelerationism is no different; always included in the Ccru’s accelerationist musings and explored through their preoccupation with geotrauma. In this sense, there is no nature; only time. You do not rectify this outlook by focusing on nature but by opening up time. As Snyder puts it, we require an “openness not just for the human community but for the natural community; it’s for our immediate neighborhood of all the other species, all of us passing through time.”

Stiegler, Lost by the Species

Until man, life rests on the combination of two systems of memory: genetic memory, DNA, and on the other hand, the memory of the individual, in the nervous system, the brain, etc. These two memories, which exist in all superior, sexed, vertebrate beings endowed with a nervous system… these two memories do not communicate with each other. They are completely autonomous, and consequently when an animal acquires an individual experience, something vital to it, the experience can’t be transmitted to the next generation, because the memory of the nervous system has no way of communicating with genetic memory. In other words, when the living being dies, all the experiences it has accumulated individually are lost by the species.

The news has only just broken: the life of Bernard Stiegler is (technically) over. I cannot proclaim to have any familiarity with his work, but what a life he lived — the bank robber turned philosopher.

I am currently thinking back to watching The Ister with Robin at Urbanomic HQ — clips from which are embedded above. An interesting film and an interesting introduction to a kind of post-Heideggerian Continental philosophy.


“Meet Me Behind the Mall”: Notes on the Heavenly Storekeeper and His Stock

In the afternoon he sat in the compound breaking ore samples with a hammer, the feldspar rich in red oxide of copper and native nuggets in whose organic lobations he purported to read news of the earth’s origins, holding an extemporary lecture in geology to a small gathering who nodded and spat. A few would quote scripture to confound his ordering up of eons out of the ancient chaos and other apostate supposings. The judge smiled.

Books lie, he said.

God dont lie.

No, said the judge. He does not. And these are his words.

He held up a chunk of rock.

He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.

— Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Speaking previously about Taylor Swift’s inadvertent fall into black metal imagery, and the veil between inside and out that she seems to be walking like a tightrope, I decided to take a closer look at her lyrics and was surprised to find little mention of nature whatsoever.

The album does well to evoke a dreamy, folk(loric) landscape and it does speak occasionally of woods and coastlines, but Swift is far more concerned with products and things than the natural world. Hers in a material world. Nevertheless, she only seems fascinated with these things only because of the halo they carry with them. She holds her decadent possessions aloft and interrogates them in order to glimpse some something else that lurks behind them. The recurring line from “August” — “Meet me behind the mall” — echoes throughout the album in the way. What is behind the mall? A parking lot most likely, but in Swift’s dreamscape it seems like the scope of her song is far bigger than that.

Behind the mall is the world.

In much US Black Metal, this tension is reversed. In their sonic realms of fantasy and horror, these musicians proclaim they have destroyed the mall and speak of it no longer. They are back in the world, even if a little bleary-eyed and awestruck. It is a return to nature-in-itself that, according to DH Lawrence, the American mind has long been dissuaded from engaging with.

Lawrence spends the first analytic chapter proper of his Studies in American Literature by ridiculing Benjamin Franklin (who he admires but does not like). Franklin speaks so eloquently of God and Providence as to almost collapse one onto the other and begin to see God in his own capitalistic activities. Whilst God — for someone like Schelling most explicitly — is certainly to be found in “productivity”, for Lawrence Franklin’s prostituting of a natural extropy, transforming it into a Godly Providence, is nothing short of a pitiful fallacy. He writes:

Now if Mr Andrew Carnegie, or any other millionaire, had wished to invent a God to suit his ends, he could not have done better. Benjamin did it for him in the eighteenth century. God is the supreme servant of men who want to get on, to produce. Providence. The provider. The heavenly storekeeper. The everlasting Wanamaker.”

For Lawrence, the soul of man is a dark forest; not Franklin’s English country garden, all topiary and cabbages patches ready for market. “The soul of man is a dark vast forest, with wild life in it”, he writes. “Think of Benjamin fencing it off!”

And yet, this fencing off is not without its consequences. For a nomadic Englishman like Lawrence (what a paradox), trying to find his way through the dark night of the American soul, Franklin’s obstacles are most treacherous.

“Here am I now in tatters and scratched to ribbons, sitting in the middle of Benjamin’s America looking at the barbed wire, and the fat sheep crawling under the fence to get fat outside, and the watch-dogs yelling at the gate lest by chance anyone should get out by the proper exit.” So is the feeling of reaching the landscape depicted on Swift’s album cover via the vectors of her songs. Yearning for a life beyond quarantine, just as she is, we have to make it through the fire exits in a labyrinthine mall of Swift’s own making.

Lawrence’s dictums, contra Franklin, speak to a kind of Lovecraft country. But he has little time for the evangelism of the Cthulhu cult, and far less still for an intellectual’s morbid curiosity with an external otherness. He offers up the following six rules for life:

‘That I am I.’

‘That my soul is a dark forest.’

‘That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest.’

‘That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back.’

‘That I must have the courage to let them come and go.’

‘That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women.’

For Lawrence, the great challenge of the American psyche, in its relationship with nature, is to let these gods come and go. Indeed, isn’t this folklore? The oral tradition of narrating this kind of divine passing-through? Lawrence seems to think so, although Franklin has bastardised it beyond all recognition.

Through the lens of his great American moralism, Franklin’s racism comes to epitomise a national paradox: a racialised, fearful love of otherness. Lawrence references Franklin’s encounter with a tribe of rum-loving Indians, for instance. Franklin declares, “if it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for the cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means.” But the land is, of course, already cultivated. For Lawrence, the new American’s joy at growing “potatoes and Chicagoes” is far less impressive than the longevity of its First Nation’s history. And yet, Lawrence does not go so far as to idolise or fetishize the first Americans. He simply acknowledges the truth that the colonists cannot see, although they will spend the next few hundred years grasping at it. He writes:

You can idealize or intellectualize. Or, on the contrary, you can let the dark soul in you see for itself. An artist usually intellectualizes on top, and his dark under-consciousness goes on contradicting him beneath. This is almost laughably the case with most American artists.

Could this cynicism be vindicated any clearer than it is on Swift’s folklore? She successfully captures an essence, but it always lurks in the background, as an all too recognisable Americana lingers on the surface like a thin layer of scum. Perhaps because Swift’s temper has been altered for good. She is not a figure breaking free from the back of the mall but a gun-totin’ hunter, stalking the edges of a dark forest that fascinates her and makes her afraid.

When Lawrence later moves onto the writings of J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur, he points to de Crèvecœur’s similar understanding of the woods. Wood-adjacent Americans are of another sort, he says, and it resonates surprisingly well with the world of celebrity in which Swift moves. “Look what you made me do”, she snarls at the trees, taking potshots at owls and paparazzi. This is what has changed her.

‘I must tell you,’ he says, ‘that there is something in the proxomity of the woods which is very singular. It is with men as it is with the plants and animals that grow and live in the forests; they are entirely different from those that live in the plains. I will candidly tell you all my thoughts, but you are not to expect that I shall advance any reasons. By living in or near the woods, their actions are regulated by the wildness of their neighbourhood. The deer often come to eat their grain, the wolves to destroy their sheep, the bears to kill their hogs, the foxes to catch their poultry. This surrounding hostility immediately puts the gun into their hands; they watch these animals, they kill some; and thus by defending their property they soon become professed hunters; this is the progress; once hunters, farewell to the plough. The chase renders them ferocious, gloomy, and unsociable; a hunter wants no neighbour, he rather hates them, because he dreads the competition. … Eating of wild meat, whatever you may think, tends to alter their temper. …’

Interestingly, de Crèvecœur’s future would take a similar turn to Swift’s. Having lived out in the wilderness and written his stories of a farmer’s hardships, he returns to his native France a hero; a survivor. He leaves his wife and child for the luxury and comfort of Parisian literary circles. He wanted a taste but not the life, too enamoured by his old decadence. Lawrence, in his appraisal of the bougie Frenchman, once again pulls no punches:

For the animals and savages are isolate, each one in its own pristine self. The animal lifts its head, sniffs, and knows within the dark, passionate belly. It knows at once, in dark mindlessness. […]

Crèvecœur wanted this kind of knowledge. But comfortably, in his head, along with his other ideas and ideals. He didn’t go too near the wigwam. Because he must have suspected that the moment he saw as the savages saw, all his fraternity and equality would go up in smoke, and his ideal world of pure sweet goodness along with it. And still worse than this, he would have to give up his own will, which insists that the world is so, because it would be nicest if it were so. Therefore he trotted back to France in high-heeled shoes, and imagined America in Paris.

For Lawrence, this is America’s great influence on the husk from which it grew out of. Because, although America may fetishize its struggles, white Americans had known decadence for a very long time. In fact, Lawrence goes so far as to claim that “European decadence was anticipated in America; and American influence passed over to Europe, was assimilated there, and then returned to this land of innocence as something purplish in its modernity and a little wicked. So absurd things are.”

This feedback loop, like all others in postmodernity, gathers itself ever tighter. Taylor Swift epitomises it. Her hankering after a Gatsby life of American modernism is reduced to a facile glamour that is, at once, uniquely American but made exotic with its faint whiff of European aristocracy. The lesson becomes that bit more clear: There is little opportunity to separate American and European today, so fatally enamoured we are (whether culturally or politically) with each other’s ideals and each other’s natures, but that dream meridian that joins us from afar continues to seduce us.

What lies behind the mall?

Two Men in Love with IT

Yesterday’s post was written, like most, on the fly. I was intrigued to learn, after a little more digging, that Stephen King is openly a big fan of D.H. Lawrence, having mentioned him in a few interviews.

Suddenly King’s dramatising of Lawrence’s “IT” doesn’t seem like a moment of literary serendipity — but of course it isn’t. King’s fingers have long been on the pulse of the American psyche. He feels its rhythms more deeply than his reputation for pulp suggests, and it is precisely his reputation for pulp horror that tells us this.

The same is true of Lawrence too, of course; his reputation for smut proceeds him. And yet people are still surprised that his surgical dissections of the national unconscious still ring true.

Intriguingly, King came to Lawrence’s posthumous defence in 2005, following Francine Prose’s very bizarre review of John Worthen’s incredible Lawrence biography for The New York Times. (For what it’s worth, I read Worthen’s book at the end of last year and found his unpacking of his life to be incredible, despite the fact my exploration of Lawrence’s works is still only just beginning.)

Prose says she doesn’t really get Lawrence, but she knows how well regarded he is, and so she’s optimistic that she might discover something new to like in this biography. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get beyond the cliches. Not for lack of trying, she seems to say, but then whether the fault is hers or Worthen’s is unclear. Either way, King does not take kindly to her middling book report. He writes:

To the Editor:

The problem with Francine Prose’s review of D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider (Dec. 4) isn’t that she came to Lawrence through a book (Lady Chatterley’s Lover) she glommed from her Dad’s sock drawer, or that she seems not to have renewed her acquaintance with Lawrence’s work since her undergraduate days; the problem is her not uncommon assumption that she may be better able to understand a great writer by reading about him than by reading him.

A critical examination of Lawrence’s work makes it possible to understand that by saying explicitly what Thomas Hardy only implied in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure — that marriage is the heart of modern society, and sex is the heart of marriage — Lawrence novels such as The Rainbow (published long before Lady Chatterley) were almost certain to be suppressed. But that is a dry bone indeed, and antithetical to everything for which Lawrence lived. It was feeling he cared for, and the heart at which he aimed, not the loins that attracted Prose’s attention as a teenager.

I suspect Lawrence would have clutched his head at the idea of anyone turning to biography as a way of finding “new ways of understanding” his work. Prose might have done better to glance at one of Lawrence’s poems — also titled “The Rainbow,” and probably not coincidentally. It closes with these radiant lines:

But the one thing that is bow-legged
and can’t put its feet together
is the rainbow.
Because one foot is the heart of a man
and the other is the heart of a woman.
And these two, as you know,
never meet.
Save they leap
high —
Oh hearts, leap high!
— they touch in mid-heaven like an acrobat
and make a rainbow.

The writer’s rainbow is always found in his work, and students seeking gold would thus do well to start there.

It is an intriguing turn of events. Lawrence, as both author and critic, had defended the role of the latter in his poetically critical work on American literature:

The artist usually sets out — or used to — to point a moral and adorn a tale. The tale, however, points the other way, as a rule. Two blankly opposing morals, the artist’s and the tale’s. Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.

Now we know our business in these studies; saving the American tale from the American artist.

It is precisely in dissecting “the American tale” that Lawrence’s uncovers IT. King’s novel IT is an intriguing response to Lawrence’s symptomatology. Indeed, with all this in mind, IT, particularly at its most “purple”, feels quite explicitly Lawrencean. Or, alternatively, it reads like a tribute to Poe via Lawrence’s reading of him.

Poe is interesting for Lawrence because he abjures the Other that so many other novelists — James Fenimore Cooper in particular — rely on to interrogate the national unconscious. There are no overtly racialised forces here (although Lovecraft, of course, brings them back); for Lawrence,

Poe has no truck with Indians or Nature. He makes no bones about Red Brothers and Wigwams.

He is absolutely concerned with the disintegration-processes of his own psyche. As we have said, the rhythm of American art-activity is dual.

(1) A disintegrating and sloughing of the old consciousness.

(2) The forming of a new consciousness underneath.

The entire chapter is surreal in the present context. It reads like a dissection of IT out of time… I could go through and pull quotes left, right and centre. But I won’t.

Lawrence proclaims to know the American intimately, because he knows that he himself represents what the emigrant European hoped to get away from. In remaining anchored to that point of egress and following the American out into the desert — he spent most of 1922 in New Mexico — he felt he had a perspective on their nation that the New Americans had forgotten. He was the phantom of old consciousness coming back to haunt the frontier, and yet he was also on the frontier of a new European consciousness himself, that has reflected on modernity and transformed itself anew.

King seems to take Lawrence’s insights in this regard very seriously, dramatising the latest phase of the horror (which I’ve discussed previously), the latest twist in America’s dialectical consciousness. Considering all the work he has done in this regard, it is little wonder that, for King, almost a century after Lawrence’s initial diagnosis, Prose’s extension of a national amnesia cannot be tolerated.