Dérive Around The Westway

Following my crammed morning session at the RCA, attempting to boil a three-week module into a couple of hours, we nonetheless spent the afternoon, as scheduled, on a walk around the local area.

It was nerve-wracking running a workshop that was essentially built around an attitude of “Let’s just go outside?” We were in White City and I didn’t know the area at all. My tentative suggestion was, let’s just see where the wind takes us and maybe end up in a pub. It’s one thing explaining a dérive in a classroom but it is another making it fruitful under the productive pressures of an academic institution. Thankfully, the students were as keen to slip out from underneath its watchful eye as I was.

On exiting the building where I’d thrown a century’s worth of literature, art and philosophy at three unsuspecting postgraduate students — essentially asking “What connects Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway to Kim Kardashian’s Selfish?” — we left buoyed by the rich current that I had attempted to describe: What impact has modernity had one our understanding of the self in its environments? The environment we found outside was more immediately interesting than I could have hoped.

Turning left, off campus, we walked the short distance up Wood Lane to the Westway flyover. The disused land that lurked underneath was an immediate point of interest. Formerly home to a large contingent of the homeless — the detritus of human refuge clinging to the walls and pillars — the underpass felt eerily reminiscent of a dismantled refugee camp. Food containers, clothes and the occasional duvet and blanket appeared in strewn across the concrete expanse.

It was an odd sight. Homelessness is endemic in this city but it felt unusual to see such a wide-open area bearing the signs of a collective shelter. (Not to mention an open area not undergoing some sort of (re)development.) It was nonetheless closed off by large concrete pillars and fencing, beautified with a superficial lick of purple paint. To look at it — to really look at this space — felt voyeuristic, precisely because the suffuse intention was evidently for it to be hidden.

Nearby, various office buildings, university departments, generic and soulless institutional spaces insisted on being looked at. Postmodern architecture has begun to dominate White City’s more recognisably modernist structures and the big windows that make up almost every ground floor space felt like the rows of empty tanks that you might find lining the back wall of your local struggling pet store. Goldfish bowls awaiting occupants.

The contrast between this hyper-visibility and the ambient secrecy of more traditionally industrial spaces was stark. Walking through an underpass that passed under the Westway we became fascinated by a series of heavy iron doors, attached to the former Cardboard City, previously ignored by the students who had walked this way on other occasions.

Looking through the cracks, they were shocked not to be welcomed by darkness and the stench of damp urban decay. Behind one door in particular we could glimpse a large grey-painted room with a single desk and computer located at the far end. It was an acutely Ballardian vision. We felt like we had uncovered some deep state operation, hidden in plain sight. The surprise that one of the students experienced was palpable. She responded like Nada in They Live!, donning his sunglasses for the first time and seeing a new world underneath the superficial gleam of the one he otherwise knows.

In the classroom, it was precisely this sort of intersubjective tension I had wanted to explore. Fascinated by the corporous relationship between Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, it was precisely a sense of being a part of (and apart from) “the crowd” — an otherwise collective subject — that I wanted to unearth in the London of today. Whether this was even possible was part of the tension I wanted to explore. How has London faired under the “mandatory individualism” of late capitalism and how has it changed compared to the radical modernism of Virginia Woolf’s urban wanderings?

This was a question I had hoped to take three weeks to ponder but our first and only session — although I am sure this question will remain pertinent as we partake in the UCU strikes — nonetheless provided us with strangely telling spectacles, as if the world was already keen to show us the answers.

Descending a flight of stairs into an underpass, below the Westway, for instance, we were greeted with a bizarre mosaic at a pedestrian T-junction. An unnerving parade of school children’s self-portraits watched us, separated by mirrored shards, with even more shards arranged into an oddly didactic message, “It’s good to be me.” Above, a convex mirror reflected our distorted selves back at us. A security measure, no doubt, to be watched paranoiacally by those traversing this space after hours. To the right of this, the black eye of a security cameras blinks silently in our direction. The mural’s message becomes increasingly anxiety-inducing as a message of individual self-worth is enclosed within apparatuses of risk management and crime prevention. The individual must be protected, perhaps most elusively from itself. The multitude much be surveyed, so as not to gain any form of momentum.

Pulled in both directions by sub-street level public art is to feel an unconscious — part your own, part something else’s — suddenly aware of its own innate disorientation. The medium of school children only makes this all the more dystopian. The unruly and desirous id of the Cookie Monster is poised around the corner to tell us the letter of the day. It’s the letter “A” — for alienation.

Old Valentine's Mixtapes

With Valentine’s Day just gone, I was mourning an old tradition we used to have that has since become technologically redundant.

My girlfriend used to have this cute red car for scooting around the place. It was the quintessential first car and was equipped with little more than an engine and a tape deck. Always keen to foist my listening habits onto our long summers together spent exploring the Derbyshire countryside, I got into the habit of making her cassette tapes, specifically for use in her car’s tape player.

I’m not sure where these tapes are now. They’re probably in a box somewhere, stored out of the way. The car died a few years back, I’m sorry to say, and went to scrap. It had a good run. She has since graduated to something with a CD player and an aux cord.

I thought about making her a mixtape, for old time’s sake, this year — something I haven’t done since at least 2015. Unfortunately, I no longer have the tools to make them. We also don’t have the tools to play them. I can’t even burn CDs anymore. The CD that lives in her new car’s slot is a masterpiece I spent the whole summer of 2016 honing and adapting until it was just right. I no longer have the tools necessary to replace it and so we continue to drive around in a 2016 timewarp.

Coincidentally, whilst looking for something else in the depths of my archive, with these old mixtapes not far from my thoughts, I found these pictures of them from 2013, taken for posterity, as if I assumed they’d one day go astray and it’d be worth having some pictures to remember them by.

I can only vaguely remember what was on them… “Katie is a Baseball” was named after and revolved around various tracks by the Intruders. “Love is the Drug” took its title from the Kode9 track of the same name. “Space is the Place” was a load of Sun Ra-infused psychedelic funk about satellites and aliens — real romantic stuff.

If they ever resurface again, in physical form, I must remember to rip them…

Same Virus, New Zombies: Towards a New Hauntology

Following yesterday’s brief summary of some of the papers given at the Capitalist Realism: 10 Years On conference, one of the more persistent discussions surrounding Mark’s writings was on hauntology — and it was a discussion that irked me more and more as the weekend went on.

As is unsurprising these days, numerous people had problems with Mark’s arguments regarding our cultural stagnation. This ended up featuring quite heavily in my keynote and I’m planning to condense and redevelop this argument for elsewhere so I won’t rehash it here but, essentially, it drives me mad how common poor readings of this part of Mark’s thought are, particularly regarding the assumption that Mark just thought everything new was shit.

Of course he didn’t. He could see the future coming but what frustrated him, I think, was how unevenly distributed it was, with the experimental and the mainstream no longer sharing the same spaces as they once did.

Mark hated the Arctic Monkeys, for instance.

He saw their repetitive cultural pastiche as nothing more than a by-the-numbers product of pop cultural nostalgia, hauntographically ordering and describing late-twentieth century cultural signifiers on album after album. (Something which has not abated one bit over the last fifteen years.)

What Mark loved, however, was the hauntology of the Caretaker’s new modernism.

One should not be equated with the other. It’s like arguments surrounding accelerationism all over again. People are far too quick to flatten the distinction between acceleration itself and the subject affected by acceleration. What accelerationism does is observe the former and critique the latter.

Similarly, critics of hauntology flatten the distinction between repetition itself and the subject affected by repetition. Again, hauntology observes the former and critiques the latter.

This is to say that the Arctic Monkeys replicate uncritically a homogenising cultural mode at the end of history, seemingly without irony. They are repetition incarnate. The Caretaker, on the other hand, explicitly interrogates the impact of this very tendency on the contemporary subject, producing new sonic worlds in the process. Therefore, hauntology proper should be seen less as a description of the repetitive semiology of capitalist modernity and more as a study of postmodern capitalism’s innately repetitive nature and its effect on us as subjects.

Interestingly, however, the main critics of Mark’s hauntological thinking in this regard were a group of Huddersfield PhD candidates who would later perform together as a free improvisation group. There is so much experimentation going on today, they would argue, implicitly referencing activity on a campus known for its radical music department, and they couldn’t understand why Mark would ignore these other practices and potentials. (I’d argue he didn’t but, again, the distinctions within his work are flattened.)

The excitement and freedom they felt running through their musical practices made them openly annoyed at Mark, as if his critiques did nothing but shut down these potentials by demoralising his students. This was far from his intention, of course, but this was nonetheless how they felt reading Capitalist Realism for the first time ten years on.

Although I was vocal in my disagreement, I was also newly aware of my own over-familiarity with Mark. I could no longer imagine reading him for the first time without the baggage I carry around, so it was very interesting to hear the first thoughts of a PhD cohort otherwise unfamiliar with his life and trajectory. For example, most surprisingly, Capitalist Realism was interpreted as an indictment of political disengaged students, at least when compared with “their forebears in the 1960s and 1970s”.

I don’t interpret this as Mark being critical of individuals, however. He loved his students. They weren’t in his crosshairs. It was the system that encourage their disengagement that he took issue with. Mark made clear elsewhere — although I can’t remember where right now but it was in some interview — that Capitalist Realism was his attempt to change this and engage directly with and excite his A Level students. After all, he writes, through personal experience:

In Britain, Further Education colleges used to be places which students, often from working class backgrounds, were drawn to if they wanted an alternative to more formal state educational institutions. Ever since Further Education colleges were removed from local authority control in the early 1990s, they have become subject both to ‘market’ pressures and to government-imposed targets.

Here Mark is referring to the slow decline of the polytechnic — institutions known (and derided) for catering to vocational interests that fuelled radical experimentation. (Leeds University, for instance, is particularly famous for being a post-punk hot bed.) However, in 2009, at least in my experience, these reports of political disengagement ring true. The most politically active kid at my college was a smarmy cunt who became well-known as one of the youngest ever local Labour councillors but fell out of the public eye as soon as the anti-Blairite wave rose through the ranks. (He was a particularly slimy example.)

The politicisation of British students post-Millennium didn’t seem to happen until immediately after Capitalist Realism was published, which is partly why I think it had the surprise success that it did. It emerged at a time when Mark’s intended audience was suddenly very keen to listen.

The London riots and the protests around student fees in 2010 and 2011, for example, lit a literal fire under a whole generation who are, today, actively shaping cultural discourse. In 2009, however, that just did not exist. Owen Jones’ Chavs didn’t come out until 2011 — the book that single-handedly shone a light on the class consciousness of a generation who had not realised the ferocity of their own (often internalised) classism — but, as someone speaking to the future, he also appeared very lonely within the nation’s consciousness of radically left-wing political commentators at that time. Again, he was a breath of fresh air and this, too, is largely why his book started doing so well.

What is more sad, however, is that it is likely that Mark was going to continue to surf the edge of popular discourse but, since his death, his works have been criticised for posthumously falling behind. Further criticisms popped up infrequently, for instance, regarding Capitalst Realism‘s anglocentrism and its lack of diverse references. Pedro Alvarez — whose paper of Latin American protest music was great — derided Mark’s lack of engagement with the rise of neoliberalism in Latin America. It was sad to hear this criticism laid at his feet as Mark was intending to teach this topic specifically before his death. (One week of his “Post-Capitalist Desire” seminar at Goldsmiths, to take place in 2017, was to consider the “cybernetic socialism” of Chile’s Allende government, long before the West finally began paying attention during the riots of 2019.) Similarly, he derided the way that Mark’s references to Spinoza felt “second hand”, although Mark wrote repeatedly of his time at Warwick where he “spent over a year poring over The Ethics in a reading group.”

Others had issues with Capitalist Realism‘s political incorrectness — Mark’s impersonalisation of dyslexia under capitalism being seen as some affront to contemporary discourses around neurodiversity, for instance — but, no matter the concern, each complaint felt like a criticism made out of time and out of context and revealed, to me at least, the lasting impact of the very formalisation of state educational institutions that Mark was talking about in his first published book. As such, it felt like middle-class hand-wringing in response to a book that did not live up to an academic rigour that Mark ignored explicitly because he saw it as an acute barrier to student consciousness raising.

It should go without saying that criticisms of Mark’s work are, of course, welcomed and allowed, and I’ve heard some great critiques in recent years that have made me wonder what he might have said in response to them. Reading Mark’s writings, even posthumously, is to quickly learn that he was — as Dom put it last month — “a touchy sod.” I said something similar in my paper on Sunday in response to suggestions on the first day that Mark is a frustrating thinker. He absolutely is — and I wouldn’t have him any other way, personally. He’s a writer who remains wholly human in my mind, as a result. As much as we must resist “an emerging hagiography of Saint Mark”, we should also resist attempts to posthumously problematise him, at least if the reason for doing so is to subject him to the ever-increasing pressures of the dull academic landscape he stood in firm opposition to.

It is in this sense that I struggled with the perception of his books as excitingly accessible but academically flawed documents, embarrassing today for their lack of foresight about the academic trends of 2020, and yet repeatedly it felt like his conference critics had not given his work the attention they wished he had paid to their own particular bugbears. Mark’s claims of cultural stagnation are easily quashed, someone said, if you get online and have “a little curiosity” to push you into new zones. The same could be said of approaches to Mark’s own works. The books are easily accessible and digestible — as was the intention — but the meat was often found on his blog, purposefully disconnected from academia’s self-referential circuits of citation.

I don’t say these things to shit on anyone’s research after the fact — I, too, am merely a touchy sod — but one presentation in particular has stuck in my craw and has made me think a lot, over the days since, about what precisely Mark’s work was trying to critique and how those who disagreed with this at the Capitalist Realism conference were also, I’d argue, those most guilty of enacting it.

On the second day, Henry McPherson presented an interesting paper on the relationship between practices of mindfulness and improvisation. Reflecting on his own practice as an improviser, Henry considered how the corporate spirituality of McMindfulness is evidently well meaning but limited and captured. However, he argued that radical potentials are nonetheless still present within some of the less popular “presence practices”.

(After the conference, I was welcomed home to London by a galley of Matthew Ingram’s forthcoming book Retreat: How The Counterculture Invented Wellness which, interestingly, seems to draw a firm line between these two trends rather than attempt hold them in contradistinction with one another.)

However, I unfortunately found it a difficult paper to make head or tail of. Whilst the argument was incredibly clear, thoroughly referenced and carefully articulated, it felt like it was so polished that the medium immediately began to drastically undermine the message. A gesture of interrupting his own introduction by dragging a violin against the wall of the lecture hall was left subsumed by citations and reduced to precisely that — a gesture. All I could think throughout was: “What is it to present such a straight-jacketed academic paper about something as liberating as free improvisation?” It felt like mindfulness’s capture by a corporate spiritualism — a practice advertised as a paltry moment of internal freedom within the drudgery of the work day — was mirrored by a demonstration of improvisation’s capture by an academic affectlessness and propriety, providing a momentary creative outlet that nonetheless had to be justified by the REF-scoring expectations of the institution at large.

No offence to Henry, of course, who was a great contributor to proceedings throughout the weekend. As with Mark, the fault does not lie with him but rather the sort of institution that can disengage itself from the modes of critique it produces. (I had every intention of asking him about the relationship between his research and his practice but, unfortunately, we ran out of time.)

I also want to affirm that the free improvisation performance that followed the conference — intentionally and hilariously inserting a sort of bureaucratic anti-production into its set-up, where audience members were encourage to offer “performance reviews” mid-performance — was a welcome addition to the schedule, in much the same way that we have always emphasised the schism of a club night to follow the Mark Fisher Memorial Lectures, offering up the dance as an equally powerful way of articulating Mark’s beliefs and ideas beyond the propriety of the lecture theatre.

This is because Mark, too, was an “improvisor”. What is blogging, at its best, if not a rejection of academia’s “business ontology”; a kind of public writing performance through which success and failure are both potentials, equally embraced? Where writing is done for its own sake rather than to bolster your rating on Academia.edu or, again, to boost your REF score?

These free improvisors may have found Mark’s academic and musical references dated and oddly basic for someone supposedly on the cusp of cultural thinking, but what they tragically missed from Mark’s thinking was the way in which it offers those seeking new ways of living and thinking a practical tool kit through which to think differently. It doesn’t give you free improvisation on the one hand and academic propriety on the other. It is free action all the way down. It is getting our of your head through your head; getting out of the world through the world.

We might note here that, in mourning the separation of the mainstream and the experimental, Mark’s hauntological critiques apply as much to the stagnation of the avant-garde as they do to the stagnation of pop culture.

I’m reminded here of that Jerry Saltz article that left the art world shook back in 2014: “Zombies on the Walls: Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same?” The title more or less says it all. Is the same not true of an avant-garde musical tradition? Saltz writes:

Galleries everywhere are awash in these brand-name reductivist canvases, all more or less handsome, harmless, supposedly metacritical, and just “new” or “dangerous”-looking enough not to violate anyone’s sense of what “new” or “dangerous” really is, all of it impersonal, mimicking a set of preapproved influences… It feels “cerebral” and looks hip… Replete with self-conscious comments on art, recycling, sustainability, appropriation, processes of abstraction, or nature, all this painting employs a similar vocabulary… This is supposed to tell us, “See, I know I’m a painting — and I’m not glitzy like something from Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons.” Much of this product is just painters playing scales, doing finger exercises, without the wit or the rapport that makes music. Instead, it’s visual Muzak, blending in.

Saltz mention of music here stings a bit. Similarly, gestures of free improvisation do not go far enough in an academic institution, less so when draped superficially in the latest moral-academic trends. In fact, it was particularly telling that the other musics mentioned during the conference that had far more political resonance were Latin American protest songs or even something like Squarepusher’s “MIDI sans Frontières”. (The latter was mentioned alongside Aphex Twin’s face-mapping in an excellent presentation by Adrien Ordonneau who discused the relationship between embodied protest and so-called “IDM” which has surely shaked off its “armchair listening” reputation by now!). These protest songs are, effectively, pop songs. But more than that, they were musics that draw in the world outside only to push it — critically — back out again.

This is something emphasised again and again and again by someone like David Toop, who notably gave the keynote at the CeReNem “Ambient @ 40” conference last year (available to read here):

Toop, as an improvisor, appreciates the outsideness of sound, understood culturally and phenomenologically. His paper presented at Huddersfield asks a number of pertinent questions about music’s capture within capitalist infrastructures that resonate here, in ways that the Huddersfield students seemed reluctant to accept and engage with. He writes, for instance:

Last year Pitchfork magazine asked me to write an introductory essay for an ambient top one-hundred they were about to unleash. I declined and when I saw the hundred choices felt glad I had. A lot of it was genre ambient, industry ambient if you like, very little to do with the softening expansions of boundaries I was proposing in Ocean of Sound in 1995 and nothing to do with the field of possibilities that existed when I recorded for Brian Eno’s Obscure label in 1975. […] So the question now is what ambient means at this point in time. Is it ossified, cut off from change, eternally fixed as journalists’ shorthand for any droning, slow, dreamy, drifting, barely changing, consonant electronic music? Does it supply a perennial refuge for temporarily forgetting the precarity, hysteria and threat of current conditions or can it be a vehicle for engaging with those same conditions?

Regarding the last question in particular, following the Capitalist Realism conference, I am more readily inclined to agree with the former. The free improvisors engaged in a self-aware performance, for sure, in which capitalist work ethics were referents in the performance’s structure but the playing itself was hard to interpret as anything other than “a perennial refuge”. It was less critical and more panto. Their improvisation was less an attack on expectations and more of a welcome break for the academic brain.

Later still, Toop’s comments on ambient skewer the context improvisation was placed in here. Replace “ambient” with “improvisation” and the effect is the same:

So ambient was instrumentalised — it was conceived as a functional asset to well-being, an optimisation or facilitation of a thoughtful, tranquil approach to life — and given the fractious, stressful nature of most airports, any calming instrument is welcome. The music’s potential for this role is unsurprising. Ambient formed its own specialised branch, off-shooting sometimes in a reactive way, sometimes more benevolently, from a family tree that included yoga, relaxation and meditation tapes, Muzak, easy listening, background and library music and records of bird song aimed at ornithologists, the ultimate use-value lineage.

Of course, Toop knows that this is highly resonant. He adds: “The same criticism, if it is a criticism, of instrumentalisation and self-optimisation could be levelled at other genres, maybe all genres of music.”

Any highlighting of these tensions within the Capitalist Realism conference is not intended to be any comment on the skills of the performers at the conference, who were really excellent — they demonstrated collectivised attentiveness that is necessary for any good instance of free improvisation — but simply playing the space of the institution did nothing to assuage their complicity in its politically restrictive flows.

This is the lesson for cultural practitioners still to be found within Mark’s writings. Your radical practices, particularly when practiced within the bounds of the academic institution, wilt far quicker than you might think they do. But this isn’t meant to be a bleak demoralisation — a further penchant for which was also repeatedly laid at Mark’s feet. (Shout out to Nic Clear for affirming, in the final panel discussion, that Mark often made him laugh — really laugh.) This is precisely why popular modernism was so interesting for Mark, particularly when seen from within the field of academia. It takes far less effort for pop to weird itself. (A point made poignantly by John Harries, Rose Dagul & Joe Newman over Skype, in a presentation that was, very intriguing, improvisational in nature, with the structure of the paper given over to a dice throw, with a member of the trio reading a passage depending on the number assigned to it.) A contemporary post-classical avant-garde has a lot more work to do, and that work just doesn’t look like a sound use of Chicago style referencing.

This is part of hauntology’s observations about the treacle through which contemporary culture must pull itself. It is a danger that continues to stalk all cultural production even today. When Simon Reynolds described a contemporary conceptronica — with admiration we might note, but no one likes being neologismed — powerfully channelling the same sorts of cultural protest that defined post-punk, he did so as if to raise a certain awareness around experimental music’s next phase of capture that hangs like the sword of Damocles precisely in this REF-supporting mode:

The agit-prop sector within conceptual electronica is woke music, in all senses. “Using cacophony and unusual sonics, I reject the passive experience of listening, and try to use sounds that are active to wake the listener up and to bring them into the moment,” [Chino] Amobi has said. This rhetoric recalls the post-punk band This Heat, whose song “Sleep” agitated against consumerism and entertainment as mass sedation. In conceptronica and post-punk alike, there’s a similar interest in demystification and seeing through the blizzard of lies: When Lee Gamble uses the late theorist Mark Fisher’s term “semioblitz” — the desire-triggering, anxiety-inciting bombardment of today’s infoculture — I’m reminded of Gang of Four’s 1979 song “Natural’s Not In It” and its line about advertising as “coercion of the senses.”

But you can also sense some of the same problems that afflicted post-punk four decades ago, especially in its later years, when it reached an impasse. With conceptronica, there can be a feeling, at times, of being lectured. There’s the perennial doubt about the efficacy of preaching to the converted. That in turn points to a disquieting discrepancy between the anti-elitist left politics and the material realities of conceptronica as both a cultural economy and a demographic — the fact that it is so entwined with and dependent on higher education and arts institutions.

Is it possible that Mark was guilty of this himself? It may have had a part in encouraging it but he always retained one foot outside, in his immediate environment. That should not be the basis for critique if all we are going to do is do the academy’s work for it.

We’ve seen the problems with this on this blog already very recently with Slash, the Last Women of History. I didn’t think I’d see the same thing again so soon. But then, why not? It’s endemic and requires a vigilance from all of us — but especially those of us attending conferences about radicality we wish to see in the world. If you’re going to hurl critiques from such a platform, aim them firmly at the glass house that surrounds you. Anything less than this doomed to impotence.

Notes from the 'Capitalist Realism' Conference

Last weekend I went to a conference at the University of Huddersfield called Capitalist Realism: 10 Years On. I had a brilliant time listening to some fascinating papers and it was interesting to see — first-hand and for the first time — how Mark’s work is being discussed and perceived within a cross-section of academic disciplines, outside the bubbles of social media.

I took a lot of notes that weekend so I thought I would very briefly flesh out some of what I noted down. (Not that it matters what I think but you know what I’m like…)

There was a great deal to be positive about. Peter Conlin, for example, brought Mark’s conception of “the eerie” to bear on Amazon’s giant distribution warehouses and the tandem presence and absence of capitalism’s hyperactive logistical infrastructures. It felt like a timely update of Mark’s elucidations on Felixstowe shipping port, albeit less War of the Worlds and more Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Inside, these warehouses are known for their appalling conditions and enforcement of extreme levels of productivity. Outside, they look like dead spaces. Conlin commented that the eerie is interesting in relation to this because it brings these sorts of spaces into the cultural, despite everything about them supposedly being set up to resist this. Through such encounters with these spaces we can begin to appreciate Mark’s argument that capitalism is eerie because it is so difficult to locate it in a tangible sense, even though it can make almost anything happen.

Similarly, I thoroughly enjoyed Nic Clear’s archaeology of the phrase “the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism”, tracing it back to “Future City”, an article by Fredric Jameson on architecture that was a further comment on “Junkspace”, an article by Rem Koolhaas, which could have been lifted straight off the Ccru website. Nic was undoubtedly right when he criticised the infrequency with which people trace this phrase back to its sources — I’d certainly never done it, at least not that many steps back — and he highlighted how a new attention paid to this architectural thinking at Capitalist Realism‘s root expanded Mark’s thought in interesting new ways.

I also enjoyed Jorge Boehringer channeling moments of egress in Blanchot — “the everyday escapes, that is its definition” — and Michel de Certeau, particularly the latter’s concept of “la perruque” or “the wig”, through which “a worker’s own work is disguised as the work for his employer.”

Kier Milburn’s discussion of contemporary consciousness raising workshops was excellent, particularly for bringing in Jameson’s concept of “cognitive mapping”, and articulating how these sorts of practices can be used to gain electoral ground for the left by addressing the age gap between Labour and Conservative voters.

It was also lovely to meet fellow Twitter interlocutor Matthew Lowery who presented first on “The Aporias of Late Capitalism”, commenting on pop music and tourism as two areas where the suffocation of alternative practices and engagements has led to an odd ouroboros of cultural production. I liked, for instance, his mention of a (negatively conceived) schizophrenia — it’s odd we have to make that distinct round these parts — following Jameson’s writings on postmodernism — as being “the breakdown of signifiers in the unconscious” and how this is evidenced by pop music’s bottomless self-referentiality and the emergence of the “post-tourist.”

In orbit of this, Matt commented that, although a return to pre-capitalist territorialities is wholly undesired, we mustn’t be unprepared for them becoming a reality — something that seems hard-baked into our futures by capitalism’s current endgame.

At one point, Kier expressed a complete disbelief at the actions of someone like Bolsonaro, for instance, purposefully setting fire to the Amazon rainforests. It seems to me that these pre-capitalist potentials are precisely why many like him play chicken with planetary resources. They may see themselves as largely insulated from the worst of the end of world’s affects and so it is better for them to lord over a slide back to a pre-capitalist politics than suffer in a postcapitalist future. By watching the world down whilst in power, they set themselves up to take over as our future feudal lords.

This is the terrifying undercurrent within contemporary platform capitalism, I think. It is what should make us so wary about our present monopolies.

There were a few things at the conference that frustrated me also… But I’ll save those for a separate post…

More on that tomorrow…

To be continued…

RIP Andrew Weatherall

It’s always surreal, when a well-known figure passes away, reading what the media focus on as their major achievements, if only because it might illuminated the parochialism of your own understanding of a person’s work.

I was sad to hear that Andrew Weatherall passed away yesterday but I never really knew that much about him. I knew him as a DJ and had heard a bunch of his mixes over the years but never looked any further into his discography to discover, for example, that he worked with Primal Scream and produced Screamadelica.

That’s also probably because I never really liked Screamadelica… That’s an album the boys at school liked who were also into Oasis and The Stone Roses… Not my crowd…

I did, however, like The Sabres of Paradise and Two Lone Swordsmen — two projects I also only just discovered he worked on; two projects I only just discovered were related.

I remember back in 2011 I was trying to recommend The Caretaker’s new album to someone who was an old raver and when they asked what the music was like I said: “haunted dancehall”.

They were all over it in a flash and it was only later, when they came back disgruntled, that I later realised what I really meant to say was “haunted ballroom”…

But we ended up having a good record listening sesh at their house and they put on Sabres of Paradise and I liked it a lot.

I particularly liked it with no context and no background. I liked the mystery of it. It felt oddly like a library record. On listening to it, I had no desire to find out any more and ruin the mystery.

It was around that same time — probably within a few months of that botched recommendation — that I picked up Two Lone Swordsmen’s Tiny Reminders from a record shop in Cardiff, also without having any idea what it was about. I only knew I liked its playfulness and odd familiarity, like someone had just heard a bunch of grooves and gone back to their bedroom to have a go at recreating what they’d heard only passively. It’s close to something you know but it has a certain naivety to it that is really enchanting, like if Jandek made dance music or something… Like if the Autechre boys never grew up…

Anyway, RIP Andrew Weatherall. Thanks for the mysteries.


The first session of my short three-week module at the RCA was a brilliant experience. Unfortunately but also fittingly, it was the first and last.

It is a strange time to join a university department — even if only as a “visiting lecturer” — because the second and third weeks of the module coincide with the third(?) round of strike action that many British universities have engaged in over the last couple of years. It feels strange to be supporting strike action after just one day of teaching but I also took part in the Goldsmiths pickets as an alumnus and greatly appreciate the cause and its aims.

Attending the Goldsmiths teach-outs at a pub near Telegraph Hill in 2018?was an experience I really enjoyed. However, with this modernist / Situationist-inspired module, which takes walking as “the most radical gesture”, already encompassing a series of planned “walk-outs” from the institution, exploring London, the line between striking and teaching already felt weirdly blurred before I was even aware that the strike would affect my plans.

Thankfully, the students have been incredibly receptive to this, with one member of the class suggesting that we use one of our scheduled sessions to walk between RCA picket lines from Battersea to Kensington — a brilliant idea.

I’ve never really taught before — although I’ve wanted to — and navigating the institution from this side of the classroom is something I’ve been worrying about, especially with carefully laid plans seeming like they were about to go to waste.

I worried for nothing.

More soon…

“To Take A Walk Like…”: Radical Art and Philosophy in Three Walks

I’m really looking forward to teaching a short three-week module of workshops at the Royal College of Art in February and March.

Over three sessions, I’m hoping to introduce students to Deleuze’s central provocation — “we don’t yet know what our bodies can do” — through three mediums and moments within popular culture, imploring them to take a walk like Virginia Woolf in week one, Lee Friedlander in week two, and Burial in week three, wandering from the literary to the visual to the sonic.

I was invited to do this by the wonderful Eleni Ikoniadou and intend to use this opportunity as a testing ground for another book I’m working on, so I won’t say too much more about it here but I may reflect on the experience at a later date.

You can find a very condensed course introduction after the jump…

Continue reading ““To Take A Walk Like…”: Radical Art and Philosophy in Three Walks”