Reza Joins Twitter

In case you missed it — if so, how? — Reza Negarestani (“your grumpy platonist grandfather“) has joined Twitter.

Although I initially promised there would not be a blogpost about Reza’s inaugural hellthread — undoubtedly the hardest thread to follow yet in these parts that I’ve ever witnessed (despite being tagged in it) — it did (eventually) prove to be somewhat fruitful and so it certainly warrants something of a nod, at the very least, for instigating what feels like the dawning of a new era in these parts. (For better or for worse? It’s not yet clear…)

As previously tweeted, Reza’s Facebook earnestness has felt like a blinding light shone into our dank Twitter caves.

Reza’s light first woke up the anti-acc dragons who descended on his suggestion that there’s a surprising amount of Spinoza hype around these parts. (Twitter is, in many respects, quite a narrow exhaust. Much more goes on in other channels and so to judge a movement by its Twitter presence should be seen as inherently reductive.) Whilst a number of these disingenuous swoops have nonetheless gained some traction in recent weeks, Reza’s arrival meant many over-played their hands, suggesting acc twitter is under-read where it counts and setting themselves up for unprecedented derision.

The thread was particularly difficult to follow for me personally, with half the interlocutors (beautifully termed “whimsical cloutvampires” by TM) having been muted after a number of recent and pointless online inanities, and so there is very little I have so say on those discussions in themselves. 

However, the more heated exchange between TM and Reza was really something, and I’d personally very much like to see a conversation happen between the two of them.

Below is a quick overview of their exchange which grew out of more general mudslinging and blind swipes:

Reza: … dismissing the adversary is just whining not an argument. Not to mention it’s not in the interests of anything or anyone. We can launch polemics against each other but never start from the position of cynical ignorance with regard to each other’s thoughts and backgrounds. [1]

TM: This seems like false, forced magnanimity after your having immediately cheerleaded the point about Deleuze. We should not practice folk psychology in rhetoric, but equally we should not encourage people to avoid it while engaging with it: that’s deceitful. [2] I’ll remind you that you have already engaged in baseless polemics by makings useless broad-brush statements about the respective content of analytic and continental philosophy. [3]

Reza: That is not the point. Re Deleuze: He as a philosopher who had all the time to actually deal with Plato properly. He did not! So I say it again, he is a shit reader of Plato like many platonists. And yes, I have already discussed this in details in the last chapter of [Intelligence & Spirit]. [4] And again who cares about dead philosophers, I was merely talking about our living interlocutors 🙂 [5]

TM: It’s interesting not much philosophical content to any of the arguments you have posed. Quibbling about references, broad historical movements and personal influences is neurotic careerist positioning rather than the practice of philosophy. [6] And you dare to invoke caricaturisation! [5]

Reza: You have to elaborate these arguments. Do you think that Aristotle’s interpretation of Plato was not decisive re the current bipolar attitude toward Plato in the history of philosophy? [6]

TM: I don’t think that nobody understood his work until the Tübingen school arrived no, the reason that’s such a convenient crutch is that it’s merely an appeal to authority. [7]

Reza: It’s not authority, it’s working in the constrains posed by the history of philosophy. And from a historical perspective, hardly anyone read the later dialogues as you said until Marburg and Tubingen schools started the actual research. [8] All I’m saying is that this history should be both recognized and also judged properly. [9] […] Would be able to let me when Deleuze actually engage with the new doctrine of forms (in Theaetetus onwards) or the idea of Good as the craftsmanship of the mind which become the central topic? [10] It is of course fine and comendable to have a Dionysian or an anachronistic reading of Plato but then to claim that this is actually Plato and what the entire system of Plato represents is a hallmark of disingenuousness. [11]

TM: He references the Theatetus 175e in footnote 32 of the second chapter of Difference and Repetition precisely to comment on this model of thought driven by a transcendent moral. The idea he did not address the whole corpus is something you have made up out of convenience. [12]

Reza: But that’s wrong. The ideas / forms in Theatetus are introduced not as registers of the transcendent. They are introduced as categories (ta koina) very much like Aristotle’s or Kant’s transcendental categories. [13]

TM: They are shown to be transcendent by the application of critique to their principle of differentiation, which should also be done to Kant’s bureaucracy of the transcendental. The idealistic neatness of prior categories is what must be refused. [10]

Reza: I agree, the neatness must be refused. But how are you going then to avoid the ugly myth of the categorial given? A genuine question. [11]

TM: I follow Maimon’s suspicions about how readily categories of the understanding apply to sensibility and instead seek a genetic method of their means of arising. Faculties and their categories are empirically habituated, which process can be rationally described. [12]

Reza: Right, now we are actually going somewhere. I’m a broadly rationalist skeptic on this issue particularly re Kant. The whole thing sounds too fishy in [the Critique of Pure Reason]. [13] But then the question would be what empirical habituation is in fact with the understanding that empirical entrenchment does not by itself yield an epistemological right. [14]

TM: … An idea is then a differential matrix, composed of the quantum of Bateson’s information theoretical “difference that makes a difference”, and so on for the manifold of apperception and the cosmological ideas. [15]

Reza: Jesus Christ! That’s way above my nonexistent paygrade! [16] … How about this Thomas, you reread Theatetus and Philebus and I reread Deleuze, then we have a Skype on all this. This medium is not the best way to have detailed arguments. [17]

The conversation then fragmented here beyond recognition. However, Reza did pick up on a separated unthreaded tweet from TM:

TM: Neorationalism is conceptually isomorphic with the Intellectual Dark Web / LessWrong / effective altruism nonsense. In its desire to “reengineer the world” in the shape of philosophical reason it provides the perfect excuse for technocratic totalitarianism. Despotic thinking. [1] It’s proceeds by means of analogy, not a philosophical approach, in its direct application of computation to cognitive process. It’s like philosophy’s equivalent of the Silicon Valley holographic universe solipsists. [2]

Reza: Now can we have actual discussion on this? [3]

TM: I will NOT debate Platonists, especially those with poor memecraft [4] 

Reza: You never know, you might actually convert me to your cause. Teach me. If that’s not on the table then why are you doing here other than exhibiting your ego. You are better than that [5]

I, for one, would very much like to see this. Long may Reza’s hellthrealds continue as they have begun, but making them easier to follow would be very much appreciated…

Picture Wizard

As I have repeatedly mentioned on Xenogothic — perhaps one day to my peril — there have been many blogs in my life prior to this one. The longest running blog I’ve had was a 5-year photoblog which I culled in a deep depression at the start of 2016 and, despite the occasional lacklustre attempt, it never got started again. There were a few abortive attempts at writing-only blogs and some that were more hybridised between text and image but they never really worked out. Then Xenogothic was born and it feels like the best platform I’ve ever built for myself online.

Before that, however, I used to call myself “Picture Wizard”…


The sentiment of this blog, despite appearances, was very much the same as Xenogothic. It was an attempt to document the occasional vibrancy and humour and beauty of our “boring dystopia”. A diary of the few things that would make me happy throughout an otherwise hollow and melancholic existent. I really fucking loved that blog.

More recently, as Xenogothic has settled into its own rhythm, and I have become less paranoid and reluctant to associate my meatself with my cyberself, I’ve started to feel less bitter about the bridges burned with these former selves, and Picture Wizard was such a long-running labour of joy that it would be a shame not to let some of these projects that I’m most proud of slip back in under this moniker.

On this old photoblog, I used to collect up all the best photos from each year and make them into print-on-demand books. I’ve tried to post a few things like this on Xenogothic here and here — but they are few and far between because, much to my own disappointment, I’m out of the habit of taking photos every day.

But I’m still really proud of these books. They encapsulate the love I had for looking at things that I refused to let my undergraduate degree take away from me. Rather than unlearn stuff later on, I decided to double-down on this enthusiasm and let it guide me, unpretentiously, letting photography be a way of processing the world like any other, not wanting it to be infected by a egotistical romanticism that came to define a lot of my peers. (My post-postgrad existence feels driven very much by the same wonderfully aimless energy.)

As a result, I never did make much of a go at being a “professional” photographer — although I had a few fun experiences in that industry, working at music festivals most memorably — but, very much in line with the ethos of this blog, I thought: why should I try and shape what I was doing for the sake of an exhibition when I could just do what I wanted on my blog? I don’t care about impressing people. I just wanna express myself. *hair flip*

The problem with this is that, if people think you’re nonchalant about monetising your work, they won’t hesitate to do so for their own gain. I had my photographic fingers burnt a few times…

These Picture Wizard annuals became a way of addressing this. The blog was added to with fervour and enthusiasm but, at the end of each year, I would take all the images and edit them rigorously into a cohesive sequence over many months, creating a vibrant visual journey that takes you through 12 months’ worth of form and colour.

There are two volumes in this series, documenting 2013 and 2014 respectively, and I remain immensely proud of them. A sequence for the third was completed but the cover art never got finished and then it fell into archive dormancy. Maybe I’ll get it out one day. Whilst my Blurb account is still live, Picture Wizard #01 #02 might as well be allowed to migrate over here as a glimpse into a past life when I took 1000s of pictures a week rather than writing 1000s of words.

You can see flick-through videos of the books and links to their pages on my Blurb shop over on my now-updated Books & Zines page.

Dead Settled

“Hmm… Zoo.”
Nuts and Zoo, man! Now that is the axis of wanking.”
“Oh, Nando’s!”
“Mac D’s!”
“Let me tell you something, yeah, when you wake up in the morning and you’ve got like a massive hang-over, there is nothing better than a good egg McMuffin.”
“Yeah, I’ll give you that.”
“Kill or cure, innit.”
“Come on, we’re off track here.”
Dr Who.”
“Who cares, it’s a kid’s show.”
“It’s not a kid’s show.”
“It is.”
The Sopranos.”
“Already finished.”
“We’re talking about things that have ended prematurely because of this mess. Come on, Jops, if you want to play, get it right.”
“Oh shit! MySpace!”
“Now you’re on it.”

Very strange to think it is just 10 years since Dead Set came out — now currently on Netflix. I loved that miniseries at the time and giving it a re-watch now, in a post-Black Mirror world is enough to make anyone long for that simpler time.

Dead Set‘s premise is sort of ingenious, in that way that most Black Mirror episodes are, stretched out over a sort of jarringly paced five-episode miniseries. The novelty was electrifying at the time. Perhaps less so now, since Brooker has come to corner the niche of outrageously meta and politically satirical SF.

Watching it now, it’s strange to see just how much has changed and how dated this scene in particular, quoted above, now is.

RIP Nuts and Zoo, bastions of turn-of-the-decade Lad culture. No one misses you, but it’s incredible to think about the ease with which you were replaced by little more than the basic functionality of Facebook’s share button. (The likes of Grazia, it seems, will always have a place on newsagents’ shelves.)

All of the online references, of course, with the exception of MySpace, have continued to grow from strength to strength. If the world did end tomorrow, I can’t imagine anyone would say they were over too soon. In fact, LOST looms large as a weird example. We did see the end of it, but should we have bothered watching it…?

The eventual (one can only hope) demise of everything else in this list will no doubt feel the same. Yes, we’ve witnessed the end of an era, and in the end none of it feels all that worth it.

Except Vine.

No, wait, that’s already finished…

No More Miserable Monday Evenings: An Introduction to “Egress”

A few weeks ago I wrote about the marvellous Acid Communism reading group I’ve been attending these past couple of months at Somerset House, led by Dan Taylor and Laura Grace Ford. Tonight I was really honoured to accept an invitation from Dan and Laura to lead a session.

Dan asked that I pick the week’s readings as a way of introducing some of the concepts found in The Weird and the Eerie into our reconstructive readings around Acid Communism. I suggested we all read “…The Eeriness Remains” — the final chapter of The Weird and the Eerie — and “Practical Eliminativism: Or, Getting Out of Our Faces Again” — a short talk Mark gave that was featured in the Speculative Aesthetics edition of Urbanomic’s Redactions series. (I also suggested my own “Reaching Out Beyond to the Other” essay as a here’s-some-connections-I-made-earlier intro for generating discussion around two very different texts.)

Before getting into things, I wrote a little intro which I read out at the start of the session, presented below.

(Note: many of the references in here are regurgitated from various posts on this blog, written over the last year, so it might all be familiar to regular readers, but this is a presentation for a new context and a new audience).

I want to start by thanking Laura and Dan for inviting me to pick the readings for today. I’m hoping this means I’ll talk less than I do most weeks rather than more…

That being said… I’ve written a roughly ten-minute intro to start off with, if no one minds listening to me ramble for a little bit… Not that you really have a choice either…

A lot of what we’ll find in these two texts resonates with the discussions we’ve already been having in recent months, I think, but they are also of a distinctly different tone to those other texts that we’ve read so far. I don’t want to say too much about the texts themselves and leave that up to us all to discuss as a group but I would like to contextualise why I’ve chosen them and, specifically, why I think an acknowledgement of their ton;e is important to our fortnightly pursuit and exercise of collective joy, even though the affects articulated may seem antithetical to this. Whilst the likewise of Jeremy Gilbert have bastardised an Acid Communism, emphasising a affectless positivity, it has to be acknowledged that Mark’s project, like all his work, was reaching out beyond the pleasure principle

This is a complex suggestion, however, so I’d like to spend a bit of time unpacking this using a few more unusual but perhaps accessible references.

Back in 2017, a few months after Mark died, I was part of a reading group much like this one. We were all Goldsmiths students and staff, many of us already friends with each other, but we were nonetheless a thrown-together bunch, each with our own distinct experiences of and relationships to Mark and his work.

Mark’s death and the release of The Weird and the Eerie felt like tandem occurrences at that time. One thing entered the world just as he left it. Holding the book close and closed, we all shared an anxiety over the prospect of reading it in isolation, and so we decided to do it together, to share the weight of it in that moment.

We would read a chapter a week, going round in a circle, tackling the book a paragraph at a time, before attempting to unpack its concepts and attend to its more puzzling moments, but more than anything we just wanted to spent time together with Mark.

Our group was initially a support group, an assembly, a weekly opportunity to touch base with each other and our grief, and so, as we made our way through the book over a period of a couple of months, many struggled with the shifting dynamics within the group itself, as we inevitably moved away from this affective grounding.

Some weeks philosophizing would overtake our looking out for each other. Other times reading the book was secondary to checking in on each other’s wellbeing. For me, personally, I never wanted the two things to be distinct. The book felt like a vector through which we could process the horror we were facing, aesthetically rendered through the ghost stories and science fictions that Mark so obviously loved.

The final paragraph of the book, however, pulled this already rickety scaffolding down and made the book feel, for one sullen moment, like a suicide note.

As Mark writes about the ways in which Marion and Miranda, two characters in Joan Lindsey’s 1967 novel The Picnic at Hanging Rock, “are fully prepared to take the step into the unknown … possessed by an eerie calm that settles when familiar passions are overcome”, I couldn’t help but think about Mark himself, putting the finishing touches to his final book as he struggled through that dark December, preparing himself for what was to come.

Once Marion and Miranda disappear, their absences, Mark writes, leave “haunting gaps, eerie intimations of the outside.” Mark’s absence, too, from the Visual Cultures corridor at Goldsmiths, was experienced in very much the same way.

This was a reading overly influenced, no doubt, by the horror of that time. Looking around the room, expressing my own discomfort, I felt like I was saying what everyone else was thinking but what no one wanted to hear, and it made my stomach churn. I immediately regretted voicing it, because it is all too easy to imagine Mark somewhere, fuming at the thought of such melodramatic projections being allowed to stain his work. In light of this mental image of an angry Mark, a short while later, my reading less coloured by melancholy, this ending began to feel less like a full stop and more like a challenge to the experience of grief and melancholy in itself.

But then again, aren’t both of these readings inherently and fatally entwined?

Mount Eerie @ ATP Curated by Jeff Mangum, Minehead, 2012 (Photo: me)

A few months ago I read an article, totally unrelated, that crystallised this uneasiness for me in a new way. It was an article for the online metal magazine Invisible Oranges by the American musician Phil Elverum, better known by his monikers The Microphones and, currently, Mount Eerie.

His Mount Eerie project found a much wider audience last year with the release of its eighth studio album, A Crow Looked At Me, a solitary and diaristic singer-songwriter affair about the grief of losing his wife to cancer in 2016. The first verse of the first song, “Real Death”, lays out the paradoxes the album intends to explore with a heart-wretching but also almost humorous frankness, attending to the ironies and contradictions of death felt so closely by those that keep on living. Elverum sings:

Death is real
Someone’s there and then they’re not
And it’s not for singing about
It’s not for making into art
When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb
When I walk into the room where you were
And look into the emptiness instead
All fails

My knees fail
My brain fails
Words fail

The album hits like a hammer, transposing the tandem representations and obliterations of Elverum’s ever-shifting inner experiences.

Subject matter aside, the album is, in some ways, a return to an older performance style for Elverum, whose output over the previous ten years has been increasingly shaped by the sonic influence of US Black Metal. Big guitars. Big bass. Big drums. Encapsulating a very Black Metal kind of sonic solitude, distinct from that of your typical singer-songwriter in its attempted sonic gutterings of the ego.

However, in the article for Invisible Oranges, Elverum writes how, following the death of his wife, he had struggled with his love of this aesthetic darkness, particularly in its original Norwegian form. How does a music scene defined by death-obsessed, satanist-LARPing teenagers hold up to any scrutiny under the light of an experience of Real Death, he wonders.

He writes:

In a lot of ways, the defining aspect of this music for most people, its “evil”ness or whatever, is not something I think about at all. It seems so clearly a joke or a performance. Even with the early Europeans who killed each other, I don’t see them as evil but just confused and carried away. The black is just a costume. It’s Halloween. It’s cool, I love Halloween. But also honesty is important to me, and there’s something embarrassing and facetious about that performative darkness, living in it too much.

Then, on the day of his wife’s funeral, Elverum writes about his decision to play the song “Prison of Mirrors” by the one-man US black metal band Xasthur as loud as he can before her memorial service took place. Following his immersion in Xasthur’s “shredded screaming, extreme sorrow”, he says that, then, “the room felt ready.”

It felt like “ah, yes, this is the use of this music. This is the moment, once in a lifetime hopefully, or maybe never in a lifetime for people who are fortunate enough to avoid experiencing devastation like this, this is the moment where music this extreme can tear through the veil of the difficult present moment and reveal something beyond.”

If this feels like a strange and extended tangent to take here, I mention this article only because I feel it articulates, better than I ever could, my own experience of embracing Mark’s Gothic mode after his death. I worried about living with his darker texts too much, as if it appear I was romanticising what happened to him, the mode of writing I’d always enjoyed the most now inevitably facetious. However, I found that Mark’s own work — The Weird and the Eerie especially — provided a vector of intensity through which to navigate the difficult then-present moments of 2017 — and there were plenty of those… — and reach into something beyond.

The earlier text presented here, “Practical Eliminativism”, articulates an almost cosmic pessimism which treats “death” as a sort of line in the sand of experience, and nothing more. It is Mark’s “astropunk” sensibility writ large. Yes, Mark the Spinozist might have argued for a freedom from sad passions, but this is not, as he writes on the Hyperstition blog, “the end of the story if it is at the price of a ‘happy’ passivity, a blank-eyed disengagement from all Outsides, as all (your) energy is sucked up by the ultimate interiority”. Joy, in this sense, is not a guard against suffering. We know this. I’m sure none of us are under any illusions that the sheer English repressiveness of a ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ attitude is the epitome of a forced and petrified happiness. To quote Mark: “The price of such ‘happiness’ — a state of cored-out, cheery Pod people affectlessness — is [the] sacrifice of all autonomy.”

But does all this really mean we that we have to revel in horror? No, I don’t think so, but horror is certainly this thoughts most effectively affective mode. Horror is a libidinal short-circuiting towards action, towards fight and flight, towards rebellion and emancipation. This is likewise not to will bad things to happen, but when they inevitably do, in some form or other, we can affirm that terror and find its beyond.

In light of this, we might also think about Fisher’s conceptual deaths as a return to — or even an extension of — his first “book” that remains bootlegged but officially unpublished — his PhD thesis: “Flatline Constructs”. Here Mark formulates a Gothic Materialism, orbiting “death” in the Nietzschean sense of just another form of life. Whilst he writes, in 1999, that his Gothic Materialism is a way to jettison the “supernatural, ethereal or otherworldly” from our conceptions of the Outside, in favour of a radical plane of immanence, The Weird and the Eerie nonetheless demonstrates the return of these elements to the heart of his thesis, rehabilitated as prime cultural examples of our perpetual grasping at other ways of being.

The paradox of doing this is an echo of Elverum’s wrestling with grief. As Mark writes in a separate essay, written for Pli, Warwick University’s journal of philosophy, called “Gothic Materialism“: “It is not a matter of speaking the unspeakable, but of vocalising the extra-linguistic or the non-verbal, and thereby letting the Outside in.”

In this way, the speculative aesthetics of death, with their provocations of horror, can assist us as we look — even reach — beyond ourselves and the abject interiority of the neoliberal subject. “Death” needn’t be an end — rather it is a cognitive challenge that forces us to engage with a necessarily difficult thinking that can only ever be speculative until we’re ready to throw off, as Mark writes, the “petty repressions and mean confines of common experience”.

This is a thinking that is not just the navel-gazing of a depressed and dejected contemporary subject. It is a thinking echoed in the thought of Donna Harraway, Eugene Thacker and Thom Van Dooren in their writings on the possibility of thinking extinction, whether our own or that of another species. If we are to reengage with the end-of-the-world thinking that Mark made his name writing about in Capitalist Realism — that is, the suggestion that “the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism” — we have to confront collective death at the same time as collective joy. Both are increasingly necessary for thinking about and challenging the politics of our time, from austerity and the implications of well-spread mental ill-health, from artificial intelligence to new materialisms, from climate change to an expanded species-consciousness.

Picnic at Hanging Rock, in light of all this, becomes a pulp-modernist fable of exit from the corsets of a moralising and — most importantly — gendered subjection, enforced under the preparatory pretensions of Australia’s well-to-do high society. “Practical Eliminativism”, with Mark wearing his more explicitly philosophical hat, likewise tackles the subjective capture of high modernity at the absolute limit of experience itself. Whilst its talk of Kantianism and subjectivity might frighten off the more casual reader, what Mark is discussing here has become an central concern of pop culture in recent years.

If anyone here has seen The OA or The Walking Dead or Games of Thrones or the return of Twin Peaks or Westworld or any number of other shows — I have no doubt this list could continue endlessly — you will have seen these same questions and their stakes played out in innumerable ways, where the question of another world and another life are two-fold, each encompassing the other, with the end of the world and the death of the individual held up as interscalar contingencies rather than absolute limits. It is my view that Mark’s own death shouldn’t undermine this thinking but intensify the necessity of its immanence for thought. It is necessary to recognise all that happened to Mark, all that led to his death, and render it impersonal, as he would have done, as obstacles to the instantiation of an Acid Communism which we must fight against.

I’ll end here with some questions posed by Mark himself, in a K-Punk post he wrote in 2009 after an event at Goldsmiths called “Militant Dysphoria“. He writes:

There’s an special urgency and poignancy about the concept of militant dysphoria just now, when dejection is so widespread amongst the young. The regime of anti-depressants, CBT and relentlessly upbeat pop culture enforce a compulsory positivity which treats the negative only as failure and pathology. Dejection is not an extreme state so much as a generational condition, as invisible as it is ubiquitous, sometimes treated as a medicalised disorder, sometimes condemned as a depoliticised apathy, often not acknowledged at all, but normalised as an existential horizon of lowered expectations and minimal hope. If, from the perspective of a vitalist commonsense, militancy and dysphoria is an impossible collocation, then the dejected young (and among them, all those who aestheticise their dysphoria, such as Goths and the devotees of Black Metal), must simply be abandoned as depoliticised, unpolitical or — at best — pre-political. But as Dominic [Fox] put it in his own comments box recently, “Dysphoria is ‘militant’ when it refuses to be framed as a personal mishap, and instead poses itself as a question and a challenge to the society in which it occurs.” […] What can politics learn from the perspective of the “abyss that laughs at creation”?

Community Remains

A text commissioned in 2017 for the final degree show publication of the BA(hons) Photographic Art course at the University of South Wales in Cardiff, which I was a student on between 2010-2013, prior to various course cancellations and institutional mergers.

The degree show took place in a repurposed old warehouse in the Cardiff Bay area on 9th June 2017. I didn’t share this at the time because I didn’t have a blog but it’s an essay that captures a very personal moment in my thinking about community that I’d now like to share.

In 2014 I was asked to write an afterword for the BA (hons) Photographic Art degree show publication, Leaving the Building. I wrote about “experience” and what that word means, negotiating its limits in relation to the illusory role photography plays in helping us grasp ungraspable experience as it unfolds all around us. At that time, I had survived the dreaded first year out of university and felt I could relate to the myriad experiences of the following year’s graduating students. What was looming for them on the horizon, terrifying in its unknowability, was, for me, starting to show its shape; shifting from abstract experience into an experience.

Now, three years later, as the assimilation of the University of South Wales’ photography courses reaches its completion, I have been asked to return to this topic again. Unfortunately, the experiences of this year’s graduating students are unknown to me. This unknowing is not a bad thing — I am excited to see what they have been up to. However, I wonder, as I write these words in another city and at another university, am I still in a position to say anything meaningful here? How can I write about experience again without having a tangible experience in common?

What we do have in common is the influence of Peter Bobby, Eileen Little, Magali Nougarède & Matt White — not to mention the guidance of those previously a part of this team and their many invited guests. Each of them has been along for the ride with us, no more certain of what the future holds, repeatedly adapting to changes both inside and outside of the university. So what of their experiences? How do they collide with the experiences of we students and alumni?

What we share, if not an experience, is a community — and I do not mean this in the sense that we will soon be receiving the same alumni emails. The typical definition of the word “community” fails here. When asked how to define the “Photo Art” course (as it is affectionately known) I have often said: it is an arts course that takes photography as its starting point. It has produced works of photography, audio, sculpture, video, performance, and everything in between, and so to define our community through a common interest is reductive. Likewise, having moved from Caerleon and Newport to Cardiff, this community cannot be reduced to a shared space either. Rather “community” here refers to something beyond what the word itself describes.

These demands on the word “community” are central to experiences of the modern university — a space that must be ruptured for creativity to take place (even when the university itself paradoxically instigates the rupturing). Stefano Harney and Fred Moten ask, in their book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, what is the work of the modern university and what is its social capacity for producing a certain fugitivity from its controls?

If one were to say teaching, one would be performing the work of the university. […] It is not teaching that holds this social capacity, but something that produces the not visible other side of teaching, a thinking through the skin of teaching toward a collective orientation to the knowledge object as future project, and a commitment to what we want to call the prophetic organization. But it is teaching that brings us in. Before there are grants, research, conferences, books, and journals there is the experience of being taught and of teaching. [1]

They go on to describe a “beyond of teaching”: a social praxis of pedagogy that does not simply transmit knowledge to the consumer-student but encourages an acephalic community of independent thinkers; a community of a shared secret that is fugitive to bureaucracy.

This “community” is not something worked towards and achieved but rather something experienced in itself, outside of regulation — the kind of community that Jean-Luc Nancy and Maurice Blanchot have respectively referred to as “inoperative” and “unavowable”. It does not exist for the sake of networking or profit or climbing the ladder of industry — the pursuits of the individual — but as a way of being that requires a collective subject in order to sustain itself. Jason Kemp Winfree, discussing “community” in the thought of Nancy, Blanchot and Bataille, writes that:

Community is not, therefore, an extant division or willed unity within the social order, but a configuration of luck and chance where one being opens onto another and is what it is only through this opening. […] Community is constituted in the overlapping of wounds, the sharing not only of what cannot be shared, but the sharing of a suffering that is neither mine nor yours, a suffering that does not belong to us, but which gives us to one another, and in doing so both maintains and withdraws the beings so configured. [This community is] an exhilarating affirmation of chance, the will to be what befalls it but that its will could never produce. [2]

The word “suffering” looms large here as something abject in its negativity but it speaks to a wider experience that is folded within life itself; within the good and the bad; the trivial and the profound. (One of Blanchot’s primary examples is, hearteningly, “the community of lovers”.) From debt and dissertation stress to the political uncertainty that looms large over the institution and the world at large; from class trips and nights-out to exhibitions and those life-affirming moments of inspiration, the Photo Art community is one that exists through the necessity of navigating these various trials and triumphs together, starting with photography and moving continuously towards its outside. As such, this is not a photography course that wants to simply document the world and be cold to it — rather, it aims to make a world for itself to live in.

Maurice Blanchot, ending his book The Unavowable Community, asks if his thoughts have been worthwhile and I ask myself this question too, “given that each time we have talked about [this community’s] way of being, one has had the feeling that one grasped only what makes it exist by default? So, would it have been better to have remained silent?” [3] Not at all: this question of community — unique in each instance — must be asked so that it may be entrusted “to others, not that they may answer it, rather that they may choose to carry it with them, and, perhaps, extend it.” [4] It is here, in these requisite extensions, that Photo Art truly reveals itself.

Hopefully the event at which you will be holding this publication in your hands for the first time will be a testament to this, surrounded by students past and present who have travelled far and wide to say goodbye to a course that has shaped them far beyond the remit expected of any university course. It shall be missed… but this is not the end.

The community remains. The experience continues.

[1] Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. “The University And The Undercommons”. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013), pgs. 26-27. Harney and Moten write specifically on the role of the black radical tradition in this “beyond of teaching”, a foundation I do not wish to erase. What they refer to as the “undercommons” is a community of figures displaced and dispossessed within the particular systems of the modern American university. Whilst this resonates most explicitly on the fragile ground of contemporary black experience, to invoke their criticality here more generally, on the occasion of the final degree show and dissolution of this course, nonetheless feels appropriate.

[2] Jason Kemp Winfree. “The Contestation of Community” in The Obsessions of Georges Bataille: Community and Communication, eds. Andrew J. Mitchell and Jason Kemp Winfree. (New York: SUNY Press, 2009), pg. 41

[3] Maurice Blanchot. The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris. (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1988), pg. 56

[4] Ibid.

The Unacknowledged: Doctor Who Gets Brave

I never did give my verdict on the new series of Doctor Who. It only seemed fair to give it a few weeks to get into the swing of things. But also, none of the episodes so far really gave me much to say…

In general, I think this series is great. Compared to what we’ve put up with in recent years, it’s the breath of fresh air the show needed. A second reboot. No dumb overarching plot no one cares about,… In fact, very little that feels superfluous whatsoever. It’s a stripped-back Who and it’s been a long time coming after the televisual mud of recent years.

I think the show has gone back to its heart, as it was in the early years of the reboot, as a character-driven show. It’s not about endlessly retconning the Tumblt-baiting lore of the Doctor’s pasts and futures but rather it deals with the Doctor’s relationship to the humans in their charge and the difficulties of being a seemingly immortal alien with a love for fragile and all-too-human human life.

This episode was a case in point of what this series has managed to do so well. It focused specifically on Yaz, a young police officer from Sheffield of Pakistani heritage who asks to go spend time with her grandmother in 1950s Lahore. An initially reticent Doctor agreed but, of course, things don’t go according to plan. Yaz doesn’t quite get what she bargained for and ends up inadvertently exploring the secrets of her grandmother’s untold past — specifically, her controversial and tragically short-lived Hindu-Muslim first marriage, cut short as the family were caught up in the political violence of the partition of India in 1947.

I think this episode encapsulates everything I love and hate about this new series.

On the negative side, the script is frequently stunted, written like a script for stage rather than the screen, with character exits often feeling like they were ripped from a hammy panto, and this isn’t helped by moments of really wooden acting and sluggish editing, no doubt exacerbated by its new longer running time. It has the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster but remains stuck with the writing chops of Hollyoaks.

That’s being said, I’m reluctant to moan too much because it is such a massive improvement on the last few series and, to be honest, would Doctor Who even be Doctor Who if it wasn’t a little bit shit around the edges?

On the positive side, however, it’s taking risks in brand new ways. Whilst some have rolled their eyes at the show’s diversity and political correctness, it deals with genuinely interesting social implications around time-travel. A previous episode, aired during Black History Month, didn’t pull punches in its treatment of Ryan, the Doctor’s new young black companion, when he travelled back to a segregated American South, travelling on a bus with Rosa Parks.

This was genuinely interesting and educational TV for the whole family, taking the opportunity to explore very real moments in our recent history. Plus, I’d rather a show that mirrors the calendar of its airing than having a token trip to Victorian England every five episodes.But what is also notable is how these trips to our recent pasta needn’t be so stringently politically correct. In fact, last night’s episode was anything but, shown as it was on Armistice Day and the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

It would have been far too easy to have the Doctor don a poppy and go visit the trenches. Instead, the series chooses Armistice Day to orbit around some of England’s own recent atrocities. It’s not explicit, but it’s close enough.

In the episode’s central scene, the Doctor discovers that a pair of “demons” stalking Yaz’s ancestors are not intergalactic assassins disrupting history, as she first thinks. They are actually a previously hostile race of aliens that, having witnessed the wanton destruction of their own planet, now travel the universe to honour the unacknowledged and lonesome dead, bearing witness to those deaths which are not seen.

“Why here? Why now?”, the Doctor asks before answering her own question — the partition of British India, forming the republics of Pakistan and India, based loosely along the lines of religious majorities, resulting in a massive refugee crisis and a million dead.

Much blame for the upheaval is laid at Britain’s doorstep for rushing through the process as well as failing to anticipate the huge shifts in population. Little of this is explored in the episode itself — it’s only fleetingly hinted at in two separate lines of dialogue — but to show this episode at this time of year, when our media is so often gripped by a poppy-obsessed moralising hysteria, to point to the unromanticed and unacknowledged casualties of British incompetence outside Europe is quite a statement.

In light of all the initial hysteria in the run-up to this season about the fact the Doctor was becoming a woman, it’s commendable that the show has actually found itself some balls in the process.

It’s production faults aside, this is some brave telly.

Whatever Sells…

In the last year, an old bandmate and girlfriend, known as Cosey Fanni Tutti, accused P-Orridge in a memoir of being physically and emotionally abusive. P-Orridge said she had not seen the book, but denied the allegations. “Whatever sells a book sells a book,” she said.

I can’t believe what I’ve just read.

This new New York Times profile of Genesis P-Orridge is very cunning but this nod to an elephant in the room is so insultingly brief, I think the way it’s mentioned is perhaps worse than if it had not been mentioned at all.

Genesis is described as a manipulative, controlling and bitter person in Cosey’s book. Domestic violence escalates to what is effectively attempted murder.

Despite how that might sound, Cosey’s book is not sensationalist. Constructed in orbit of old diary entries, it’s a surreally objective book if anything, a sort of rememoir in which the past is looked upon anew by a very different person to the one who first wrote the entries that fuel it.

Accusations shared to sell a book? Cosey’s is not an autobiography of the #MeToo era. It’s not a politicised exposé. It’s the story of an extraordinary life, and one in which — even in her own words — Cosey is not presented as the central character, but rather as a vessel for strange events who is as bemused by her life as her readers might be.

What would Genesis’s autobiography be like? I can quite easily imagine.

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Cosey back stage in Hull before a Carter Tutti Void gig in 2017. We’d exchanged emails back in 2014 when, as a naive and unemployed resident of Hull, having a bit of a crisis with too much time on his hands, I threw myself into trying to singlehandedly organise a COUM Transmissions retrospective.

As far as I’m aware, I was the first person to publicly lobby for the idea but I was also very far from the best person to carry it forwards. My enthusiasm did get me further than even I had anticipated, however.

Unfortunately, I teamed up with the wrong people and it was a mess, but it seemed to provoke others into taking the suggestion seriously and doing it right, and that’s precisely what happened. Organised by The Quietus and my old school friend Sophie Coletta, the COUM Transmissions programme at the brand-new Humber Street art gallery was a dream come true for many.

When I introduced myself to Cosey back stage on the second opening weekend, I was greeted like an old friend by a woman of remarkable humility and generosity.

Her book hadn’t come out yet, at that time, but proofs were circulating. Genesis had come to Hull too and there was an anxiety amongst those in the know that having COUM members in the same room for the first time in decades might not actually be such a good idea…

Everyone was nervous about Gen…

A series of performances were scheduled: two solo sets, one each from Gen and Cosey. Cosey did about 40 minutes of improvised techno which felt fresh, forward-thinking, demonstrating a relentless and continuing trajectory of exploration and play. What I found must endearing was that, between each 3-4 minute techno vignette, she would look over her shoulder to Chris Carter, mouthing whether she’d filled up enough time yet. She seemed somewhat self-conscious but the crowd didn’t want it to end.

Genesis did a sort of spoken word performance over field recordings, ranting about memory, the Facebook generation, totally enamoured by the sound of their own voice. It was perhaps the most self-involved and pretentious thing I’ve ever seen — and I like going Café Oto…

It’s obvious to anyone that the Genesis described by Cosey is still the Genesis dining out on the story of their partner’s death today, walking around under a cloud of self-importance. They’ve passed it.

Give Cosey the credit and respect she’s long overdue.