Mother's Books

The psychic excavation of my mother’s bookshelf continues…

I have always criminally underrated my Mum’s cultural tastes. She was a social worker and, although she was often very vocal about her unfulfilled dreams of being an English teacher, for a long time, and to my shame, I didn’t think of her as being very cultured at all. She liked poetry and crime novels and occasionally we bonded over the latter, but she didn’t like music. I didn’t get that. I found her coldness towards sounds unnerving. There was a fissure between us that grew out from that disconnection. By the time I was a teenager, and music was my life, we didn’t really get on very much at all, to the point that it nearly became “An Issue”.

She got my school involved at one point. I was the miserable and ungrateful teenager but she was the controlling and manipulative authority figure. Our visions of each other were extreme. The truth was probably more temperate but it wasn’t far from reality. There were moments where we’d joke about it, through glimpses of tragic self-awareness. It was a cruel fate, we’d laugh, to have teenage puberty and middle-age menopause overlap under the same rood. I’m surprised my Dad didn’t escape to a fallout shelter more regularly. We wasted too many years being mutually shit to each other.

She had a breakdown a few years ago, sometime after I’d left home, and now I don’t often go back to see her. The saddest and most noticeable change in her since this time is that she no longer reads or writes — two things she used to do daily. We went to Hull over Christmas and I noticed a change in her. The fact I’m publishing a book soon has led to something of a renewed connection between us, I think — at least on my side — and I’ve been doing the little that I can do affirm it to her.

I’ve been realising, slowly, over the last two or three years, how little credit I’ve given to her and her subtle influence on me growing up. It was influence by osmosis, more than anything, but I’ve come to appreciate that that is the best kind. It has manifest itself in the realisation that all of the writers I am currently obsessed with carry with them a deep association in my mind with her bookshelf.

There were two bookshelves in the house growing up. One in my parent’s bedroom and another in the living room. The latter was small and tucked to one side, directly next to the armchair in which she would always sit. One Christmas, around ’98 or so, her small annex in this room was gifted a small hi-fi with in-built radio, speakers and CD player. It was silver, with all the buttons and flaps a translucent blue. It was very “The Millennium”. She’d listen to BBC Radio 2 through it or sometimes Coldplay or Dido’s Life for Rent or those free compilation CDs that came with the Mail on Sunday.

I made use of this hi-fi on occasion as well. I used to sneak downstairs to it, very early on a Saturday morning, playing the few CD singles that I had and which I couldn’t safely listen to at any other time of day. Eminem’s “My Name Is”. Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’”. Slipknot’s “Left Behind”. With the volume down low and my ear so close to the speaker, my eyes could see very little else from this vantage point except the spines of the books on her little shelf.

I can picture that bookshelf in my mind with an almost perfect clarity. It was where she kept her “classics” alongside the occasional Wainwright Walker’s guidebook or crossword puzzles. As a result, the three authors that appeared there the most, and with whom I associate with my Mum most clearly, are: Daphne Du Maurier, Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence. (She also loved the Brontës but, having studied Wuthering Heights at high school, I felt I had ownership of my own appreciation of Emily at least.)

Daphne Du Maurier was already quite prominent in my mind during childhood. We’d go and see adaptations of Rebecca whenever the opportunity arose — I remember at least two stage adaptations — and I remember on one family holiday to Cornwall she insisted we go and see her house at Cowey and the famous Jamaica Inn.

I never investigated Du Maurier for myself until about eighteen months ago. On my first trip to Cornwall to stay at Urbanomic HQ with Robin, the memories came rushing back to me and I read her short stories. Robin read them too and I’ll never forget that joint revelation. “She’s like H.P. Lovecraft if he wasn’t so afraid of sex”, was Robin’s review, and this new appreciation of a writer who had, for me, been so fatally associated with the parental led to me putting a few other literary preconceptions to one side.

Since then, I’ve made my way through the works of Virginia Woolf and found within her writing a similar resonance with my adult interests. H.P. Lovecraft she is not but I have found her fast-and-loose approach to subjectivity almost accelerationist in its wilful dissolution of time into space.

There is a post about Woolf’s proto-accelerationism in me somewhere but, before I was able to turn my notes into something bloggable, I have now found myself wrapped up in the works of D.H. Lawrence.

Lawrence was already a subtle influence on my patchwork writings and his “Studies in American Literature” is cited in Egress. Deleuze’s subtle obsession with him caught me by surprise and now, writing his works with Deleuze in mind, it is hard to ignore him. It is also surprising, to some extent, that Deleuze has had no effect on rescuing his maligned reputation as an unsubtle soft pornographer.

I began my adventure with Son & Lovers and found its Oedipal associations very intriguing. Then, reading his book on psychoanalysis was enough to wash away my preconceptions entirely. I do not know this man, I thought — and, in an odd way, it feels like very few do.

John Worthen’s biography is a fascinating account of his life but searching for less weighty material to listen to online, on YouTube for instance, I found nothing much worth my time at all. This might be unsurprising to some, perhaps, but considering how much I’ve consumed about Virginia Woolf on YouTube in recent months, it was a shock to find nothing but an unlistenable episode of the BBC’s Culture Show, a few dry lectures, a few crappy book blog reviews and a few Conservative pundits who seem to routinely miss the point completely.

What has shocked me in Lawrence’s writing so far is not the sexy bits of prose or his overuse of a flowery metaphor but just how thickly he lays on the politics. In fact, having watched both the 2015 BBC adaptation and 1981 film of Lady Chatterley’s Lover on Netflix recently, it’s shocking to me just how empty they are compared to his prose.

Lawrence isn’t the spinner of period yarns that he’s made out to be but a (sorry, but it feels appropriate) xenogothic explorer of fin-de-siècle body horror. This is most explicit in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I feel, where the war-broken body of Sir Clifford the Cripple is contrasted so acutely against the powerful and seductive body of Mellors the working man. Rather than bodies being broken in the mines, it is the broken spirit of the landed gentry that haunts the book. Not with any melancholy, though. They no longer “fit into” the modern world. They might control the means of production but they are impotent bourgeoisie who are no match for the virulent working man. (Nowhere is this made more clear than in the central scene — notably preserved in most adaptations that otherwise leave so much out — where Clifford’s motorised wheelchair breaks down in the woods: Mellors’ domain.)

Lady Chatterley herself becomes a cog in a class machine but in a surprisingly empowered sense. As proud as she may be of her individual achievement — marrying rich and establishing herself within his class — she is all too ready to throw it all away so that she might enter into social and sexual relations with her fellow human beings. Here, Lawrence’s late-life communism shines through and it is notably not the communism of the Soviet state but rather a wholly libidinal immersion in the machinations of the social. It is powerful and, yes, it’s also pretty hot. Deleuze knew this well, it seems to me, but few who take on his material seem to see the same libidinal horrors that Deleuze and Guattari wove into Capitalism & Schizophrenia.

Tonight, as I lie in bed thinking about why this has so far been the case, I have been left with an acute desire to see an adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover made by David Cronenberg. As absurd as it may sound at first, try reading the book with that in mind. I imagine it would be the best adaptation of Lawrence yet.

XG at CTM Festival

I’m very excited to be heading to Berlin next week for this year’s CTM Festival. I’ll be taking part in “On k-punk: Egress and the Fisher-Function”, a panel discussion about Mark’s work and my forthcoming book on his legacy.

I’m really excited to be joined by Lisa Blanning and Steven Warwick. The talk will be chaired by Terence Sharpe.

Terence has organised two sessions on Mark’s work that day — the second being “Labour, Death and Cultural Logic” with Dane Sutherland of Most Dismal Swamp and Goldsmiths’ Dhanveer Singh Brar.

If you’re going to be at CTM this year too, do come and say hi. I’m only in town for one night but I have every intention of spending it in the Panorama Bar and having a big ol’ Berlin knees-up.

Mark Leckey @ for k-punk 2020

Mark Leckey has uploaded his killer set from for k-punk 2020 to his Soundcloud page. It was an insane journey and one that set the atmosphere for the rest of the night perfectly.

I liked this tweet from @body_drift a lot. I won’t forget his face on the night either. Total mind-blown moment.

It’s great to be able to relive it. (We may have recordings of the rest of the night available to listen to / watch soon as well… Watch this space…)

Check out Leckey’s set below:

A Harman-Oriented Ontology

I was sent an email the other day, after expressing some of my own amusement regarding Graham Harman’s recent placement of his foot in his own mouth, asking what my thoughts are on speculative realism and object-oriented ontology.

The person who sent the question, coming from an arts background, confessed a certain bias towards being interested in Harman’s work and the work of those around him, and wondered what my opinion was on the whole thing.

As is a habit of mine, once I’d pinged off a reply, it felt like good blog fodder, so here we are with a director’s cut of said reply.

First of all, I should say that I can relate to this inherent interest in the field that Harman is associated with — let’s call it anti-correlationism. This emerged for me from an innocent initial interest in phenomenology.

This was my way into philosophy proper, as I suspect it is for a lot of wannabe artists. Phenomenology is a field of philosophy that can be applied to almost any artistic practice very easily, asking many of the questions artists no doubt ask themselves on a regular basis:

What is it to be in the world? What is it to have a complex relationship with materials — haptic, aesthetic, emotional, physical — and try to understand why, as a species, we create so often as we do? What is the relationship between cognitive processes and artistic processes? What is it to be skilled in the act of mediating this world we live in?

When I was an arts student, these were the questions I specifically made work about. I was a photographer who made work about (the act and experience of) photography.

I was quite militant in what I wanted to express, hoping (but failing) to remove any space for misunderstanding. Any separation between thinking and being had to be dismantled in any expression of what I did as an artistic practice. Looking, listening, feeling, thinking happened simultaneously and without hierarchy. The central concern of my undergraduate degree, as a result, was related to how we can reveal the aesthetic act of making pictures within the privileged act of looking at the results. (Here, perhaps, we can already see how anti-correlationism is well suited to art world fawning.)

I tried to demonstrate this experience repeatedly over the three years I was studying photography, each time with more clarity, asking: How do I translate what is, to me, an embodied and multi-sensory experience into the experience of looking at a print on a wall or in a book? However, despite this, it was only after I’d finished my undergraduate degree that I discovered phenomenology and went, “Oh for fuck’s sake, you mean there’s a whole theoretical canon out there that’s already articulated what I’m thinking?”

I wasn’t completely ignorant — I’d written part of my undergraduate dissertation against Roland Barthes’ phenomenological romanticism in Camera Lucida, preferring the cold materialism of Bataille’s Tears of Eros, but — believe it or not — I’d entered this phenomenal swamp without ever having heard of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty or Deleuze. And I only had name recognition for Kant and Sartre but I didn’t know anything about any of their ideas whatsoever.

What interested me then was nonetheless something I’d find echoed in more contemporary debates within phenomenology and New Materialism. I liked, for instance, an argument made by James Elkins in his book What Photography Is regarding the photograph of “Little Ernest” that Barthes is so disturbed by in his book. Whereas Barthes wonders about the fate of the subject of the photograph, Elkins wonders why Barthes wasn’t at all interested in the fate of the photograph itself. His fixation on its subject matter is contrasted by an absence of an analysis of the marks and scrapes that appear on the image as an object in its own right. Surely these materialist questions are just as interesting, just as important and just as unanswerable? What puzzled Elkins was how, in writing a book on photography, Barthes allowed the photograph as object to withdraw from the experience of looking so easily.

This argument isn’t done to inaugurated an object-oriented photography, however. It is deployed to reveal how superficial and romantic Barthes’ philosophy of photography — in that text at least — is, as well as how ignorant he is his own pathologies, so legible on the surface of the text. Elkins’ argument is that Barthes forgot the insights of his own philosophy in that moment — the studium and punctum of Barthes’ melancholic readings are nonexistent and Camera Lucida is all the lesser for it. Elkins, instead, rewrites Barthes’ book for the 21st century cold rationalist, imbuing his photographic theory with a psychedelic reason and a weird realism that I found, in 2012 and 2013, to be electric.

Once I had graduated and become more aware of the great big gaping gaps in my knowledge regarding phenomenology, despite this enthusiastic first dip into the pool, and having had no luck whatsoever in understanding Deleuze’s Francis Bacon — the first book of his I bought after finishing my degree — the first book of philosophy I decided to read properly was Heidegger’s Being & Time — alongside recordings of a course run by Herbert Dreyfus accessible on

What Heidegger writes about in the first sections of the book — how we relate to the tools and objects around us — is something which I found inherently interesting as a arts graduate. I was interested in the way that, for instance, as a “skilled” photographer, the camera as a tool disappears. It too becomes “withdrawn”, as Heidegger would say, from conscious experience and is no longer an “object” but a sort of subject-extension. When you’re skilled with a tool, after a period of learning and apprenticeship, muscle memory eventually kicks in, and for Heidegger an analysis of this fundamental process, where thinking and being dissolve into one another, offered a fundamental insight into human consciousness.

This is, in a rudimentary sort of way, where Heidegger begins and then gets a lot more complicated. Suffice it to say, I think his work and phenomenology as a field more generally offers an insight into how we build worlds around ourselves and inhabit them. It’s phenomenology at its most fundamental and it’s interesting for artists especially to think about. Indeed, I think it is worth anyone’s time to become familiar with these works of philosophy that illuminate subject-object relations and reveal their precarity to us.

It seems to be Harman’s project to do this also, by reversing the polarity of Heidegger’s argument into an ontological dead-end. Rather than privileging the subject position, he says, “Well, how does the object feel in this encounter? What is the object’s experience?”

Since Kant we’ve looked at the world in this way and found a certain horror in this question. The thing-in-itself — the object outside of our experience of it — is so absolutely unknowable to us but our awareness of that unknowability is provocative in itself. H.P. Lovecraft is often discussed in relation to Kant in this regard, for instance. Nothing is more horrifying than the unknown and so Lovecraft dramatises this sense of the universe to extremes. (Harman wrote a book on Lovecraft, tellingly.)

There is some virtue in this as an approach to philosophy and many others have written on it in such a way that does not foreclose phenomenology’s philosophical potentials and limits into a system so benign. There is far more to said in this regard but it seems to me that the flaws in OOO will become obvious to anyone remotely familiar with the phenomenological canon. (Not that it has to agree but following its deadends so relentlessly isn’t, by default, an interesting and worthwhile endeavour.)

There are evidently many other people who have taken issue with Harman’s philosophy in this regard who are far more knowledgeable and skilled than I am but, nevertheless, the central flaw in Harman’s philosophy is, to me, made most apparent by his recent Facebook behaviour, which epitomises his notoriety as a compulsive Googler of his own name who will parachute into any discussion about himself or his work with a creepy velocity.

My favourite cunning articulation of this is the subtitle of Pete Wolfendale’s book on the topic of OOO, “The Noumena’s New Clothes” — a particularly witty condensation of what is wrong with OOO and how it convinces others it is worth paying attention to in the first place. OOO is likewise the emperor’s new clothes, and Harman certainly sees himself as an emperor.

My position on OOO Is similar, despite my predilection towards its talking points. Like the Barthes of Camera Lucida, it is hard to take seriously an “object-oriented” position from someone so mind-numbingly self-obsessed. If the intention is to de-privileged the subject, then why is Harman’s philosophy so entangled with his own narcissism?

Speculative Realism is, in itself, still interesting. It speaks to a renewed emphasis on certain ideas that have long haunted philosophy but find new valence in our contemporary world. As such. plenty of people have been doing speculative realist work for a long time without having to travel under the umbrella of that name. The same is true of Harman’s work although the paradoxical cult of personality that surrounds it is an oddly effective barrier that shields this point from view.

How he has made it so far in life and his career is a complete mystery to me. He is cunning, most likely, and focuses his efforts on selling his ideas to disciplines with no idea of the broader context and intellectual histories of his philosophical appropriations. He is, essentially, a snake oil salesman, selling a placebo to people who don’t know any better.

Today, as a result, Object-Oriented Ontology resembles a failed philosophical project that parasitises the art world to stay relevant. A lot of what they discuss is generally alive and well in philosophical circles more generally but its salesmen pretend it’s a niche concern and talk about it in isolation, suffocating their observations in a philosophical sense whilst making it appear cool in an artistic one.

As someone who came to these ideas down that common path of phenomenology and art, let me say that art and philosophy deserve a better relationship than the one the likes of Harman are offering, and its there for discovering if you can look past him for a minute.

UPDATE #1: It has been suggested that this post is an instance of “the pot calling the kettle black”. To attack Harman’s self-obsession by starting with a personal history is somehow hypocritical. I don’t think so.

There are two things I wanted to articulate in this post, and there may be some awkward crossover between the two, but I think both are worthwhile.

The first intention here, if it is not clear, is to demonstrate how and why Harman’s ideas are attractive to so many in the art world. I have done this through my own experience as someone who came to philosophy as a wannabe artist, particularly intrigued by speculative realism. I think that sort of subjective position in an argument is important and do not wish to claim otherwise.

However, that is part of Harman’s whole schtick. One of the central claims within Object-Oriented Philosophy is that the subject need not be the centre of philosophy anymore. At every turn that claim falls apart — and if you want a rigorous takedown, go get Pete Wolfendale’s book or something — but the most laughable and ironic stumbling block for OOO, as I see it, is that Harman himself is at the very centre of his own philosophy. He is OOO and is always adamant about the centrality of his own subject in his supposedly subjectless philosophy.

Hence the title of this post. (Also, true to form, he has predictably appeared in the replies to this post, although seemingly sheepishly and somewhat indirectly. He really can’t help himself.)

If you don’t like philosophy that speaks to an “I”, this blog won’t be for you. But I’m also not making any claims that it should be any different. I’m also not scrambling around social media attempting to rescue my own ego at every opportunity.

As Self-centred as my writings often are, I do also write a lot about the humiliation of that self by seemingly noumenal forces. So there are obvious crossovers. Harman’s general areas of interest are of interest to lots of other people. But what Harman encourages is a use of philosophical concepts and arguments in other fields that are woefully inadequate and he manages to persist in doing this, it seems to me, simply by strengthening the bizarre personality cult around him.

If artists explored his ideas on their own terms, by reading some admittedly difficult texts, or at least some other people’s thoughts on them, they may start to see the holes in what he’s attempting to do, and the way his monopolising of certain concepts that have a far richer history elsewhere — the noumenon being the most important example, perhaps — only serves to reduce artistic access to a broader tradition of thought. OOO is more an art project than a school of philosophy and, for both disciplines’ sake, I think that’s an important distinction to make.

Gruppo di Nunhead

We had the Gruppo di Nun staying with us over the weekend, having flown over from Italy to attend the Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture. Of course we had to take them to Nunhead cemetery the day after.

If you haven’t read their work, fix that for yourself with the links below. You won’t regret it… Or you might… As always: rituals practiced at summoner’s own risk…

“Under the Sign of the Black Mark” — Interview with Dustin Breitling
“Catastrophic Astrology” — Vast Abrupt
“A Manifesto for Revolutionary Demonology” — Nero

Accelerationism and Acid Communism: Notes on Theory and Praxis

The other day I made the uncharacteristic decision to join a bunch of Mark Fisher-related Facebook groups. I don’t really use Facebook or like it very much but after some people shared posts about my book Egress in a couple places, I thought it’d be nice to say thanks and hang around their scenes for a bit.

It wasn’t long before I became embroiled in a comment thread about violent far-right Accelerationism.

I’m too far past the point of caring to claim that this violent “accelerationism” isn’t accelerationism proper. That doesn’t do anything to help anyone. But when I saw it said that Mark “wasn’t himself taken in by the right aspects of Land’s thought, neither was he particularly an accelerationist”, I felt like throwing in my two cents.

I don’t want to just rehash a Facebook debate here, however, or pour a load of scorn on someone commenting in good faith — this shouldn’t be read as being aimed at any one person — nor do I intend to “grandstand” a brief discussion by making it all one-sided.

The real reason for putting this here is that I felt something else coming through whilst I was adding a long and over-blown Facebook comment to that thread. I started to articulate something I’ve been thinking about for a while now — somewhat related to how I have never managed to connect with how Mark’s work is read and written about on Facebook — but haven’t actually managed to satisfactorily write down anywhere…

So here goes…

It’s no secret that I despair at the Jeremy Gilbert Zero Books Facebook school of Acid Communism — a sort of amorphous, transatlantic Breadtube-adjacent cottage industry that I think does a great disservice to Mark’s work rather than extending it in any meaningful sense.

The view of Mark’s work that I associate with these corners of the internet speaks to the two ways that, in my experience, it often seems to manifest:

  1. From the UK, it takes Jeremy Gilbert’s smattering of posthumous articles on Acid Communism and Acid Corbynism as being somehow representative of Mark’s planned project (instead of just being representative of Gilbert’s own under-developed ideas). [Addressed here.]
  2. From the US, it sees Acid Communism as some sort of grand political do-over at the end of Mark’s thought, taking it as an opportunity to erase the more “problematic” elements of his writings whilst injecting a sort of cultural studies malaise that I reckon Mark would have been bored to tears by. [Addressed here.]

The claim that Mark’s Acid Communism was a stride away from Accelerationism felt like an example of #2 to me — an attempt to sanitise his thought based on a misunderstanding of that thought in the first instance. This position was further clarified in the Facebook thread as being a separation between theory and praxis: Acid Communism was to be a plan of action whereas Mark’s involvement with Accelerationism was just philosophical musing. This, again, is something which I think Mark would have baulked at.

What this framing does is fall into the usual trap of conflating and separating various strands of Mark’s thinking in order to construct some relatively consistent and unproblematic vision which cherry picks and lessens the critical impact of his work on both the political left and right as it exists today.

To be clear, I think describing Acid Communism as a sort of “plan of action” is absolutely correct but to suggest that all of Mark’s prior theorising wasn’t implicitly baked inside that plan leaves his work open to precisely the sort of posthumous revisionism we’ve seen run riot across social media over the last three years. Put another way: I think Acid Communism was going to be Mark’s attempt to describe a course of (cultural) action in a way that he had not done previously (at least not in book form), but his desire to do this does not negate the importance of any of his previous theories and neologisms which would have likely found themselves brought together explicitly for the first time.

This sort of compartmentalisation has happened repeatedly within the reception of Mark’s work. Neither hauntology nor accelerationism, for instance, were formulated by Mark as plans of action. However, that has not stopped bad readings of both overwriting what was said in Mark’s texts themselves, turning them into approaches to culture and politics rather than attempts to describe tendencies within those subjects that we should try to escape from.

It has long been necessary that we learn to — as Simon Reynolds put it in his Memorial lecture — “bridge the chasm”.

Capitalist realism has notably managed to avoid this fate, which probably speaks to its absolute clarity in Mark’s thinking. The other two terms were somewhat collective coinages and this may have something to do with their persistent unruliness. It is worth emphasising here, for instance, the fact that accelerationism, in particular, was not Mark’s concept alone but he was supposedly the first to embrace Benjamin Noys’ scathing -ism and affirm it as a philosophical identity. In this sense, we can argue that Mark was probably more responsible than most for confusing the discourse around it with regards to the practical implications of its theses.

The same is true of “hauntology”. Whereas Derrida used the term to explore how Marxism haunts from beyond the grave, as a sort of positively conceived poltergeist, Mark’s use of the term — subtly different to how others were using it at the time — seemed to contain a similar sense of appropriative irony, allowing him to continue decrying the effect of postmodernism on popular culture that he’d been doing since his days at Warwick with the Ccru.

For example, in the essay “Pomophobia”, written in collaboration with Robin Mackay, Mark rails against the in-growth of hauntology within Derridean postmodernism, as a zombifying pathogen fuelling a contemporary academic impotence that was only serving to exacerbate the very haunting that Derrida was attempting to describe.

Describing this situation with an unmatched feverishness, Mark and Robin write:

Fed on the endlessly regurgitated brains of dead philosophers, post-structuralism degenerates into the spongiform Hegelianism it always-already was, proudly dwelling on its own desolate but strictly delimited ground while barely concealing its delight that we can’t escape from the narratives of modernity. Theory remains tethered to the “post”, given over to interminable rumination on what is superseded but, supposedly, never overcome. All texts are pre-texts — also post-texts — flimsy tracing papers colonially irrigated and preemptively captured by reassuringly dull, appropriately academic, subtitles. Pun colon verb definite article academic designation. “Jacquing off, Offing Jacques: Derrida, Lacan and the Self-referentiality of the Academic Subject.”

Rapid response is rendered impossible, the danger of embarrassing oneself by saying something that has not been rigorously automonitored, ruminated over for a punitively extended period of scholarly detention, is too great.

Nietzsche’s critique of the clogged digestive system of the West’s Last Men, itself often perversely interpreted as a metaphor, expresses all too acutely the constipated Eurocontinence of these constricted bodies, themselves minor fascicular elements of a resonant system of transcendental miserabilism disseminated across all levels of culture.

The dreary textocratic dribblings of post-theory are merely the transcendental idealist counterpoint to the empirical realism of postmodern culture. Kurt Cobain embodied what theory disembodies, the raging stomach pains which plagued him finding their disintensified correlate in the the chin-rubbing, brow-furrowing protocols of urbane academic anxiety. Smells like Hegelian Spirit.

Here we uncover the true dangers of Mark’s thinking — for others and for his own legacy. Like the contemporary political right, Mark had a penchant for appropriating and mutating, for his own academically perverse purposes, the terms deployed in earnest by his enemies. However, as interest around his ideas grows and the theory-curious look for Facebook group Cliff Notes, many often end up confusing Mark with those he sought to vanquish.

What must be remembered and affirmed here is that all of Mark’s most (in)famous philosophical associations — capitalist realism, hauntology and accelerationism — are attempts to describe the current circumstances within which contemporary capitalist subjects are formed and, to an extent, trapped. The lesson that the vast majority of people interested in Mark’s work have repeatedly failed to learn, however, is that to deploy these concepts and neologisms as forms of action is only to exacerbate the traps they seek to describe, just as the pomo academics did with Derrida before him. This happens as a result of people conflating these overarching concepts with other tendencies visible throughout Mark’s work.

Mark’s version of hauntology, for instance, is often explored today through the fetishisation of a late capitalist aesthetic that Mark made famous through the Facebook group “Boring Dystopia”. Mark’s attempt to wrest people from their complacency by drawing attention to the eccentricities of late capitalism — think of the world-weirding that takes place in Inception when “the dreamer becomes aware of the nature of the dream”, leading to its collapse — has instead been co-opted by the networks of communicative capitalism to simply perpetuate its arresting functioning. The zombifying pathogen that had previously infected humanities departments throughout the West, reducing cultural production to an impotent Cultural Studies, has now taken hold of Facebook groups across cyberspace.

(I have a section on this in Egress, for what it’s worth, in which I explore the way that hauntology has been reduced by many well-meaning commentators to be little more than a “hauntography”.)

Similarly, regarding the contemporary and popular understanding of accelerationism, I think the present state of the discourse is a result of the same process. It also seems to emerge from a scattershot reading of Mark’s works that conflates concepts and topics together, erasing their productive differences.

Take, for example, “Going Overground” — Mark’s much-loved post on popular modernism and The Jam. Reading it now, it sounds accelerationist — at least if you go by the typically leftist definition of what accelerationism is about and/or for. Mark writes:

The Jam, like The Who before them, drew their power from an auto-destructive paradox: they were fuelled by a frustration, a tension, a blocked energy, a jam. Discharging this tension in catharsis would destroy the very libidinal blockages on which the music depended – and this self-cancelling logic of desire reached its necessary conclusion in The Who’s smashing of their instruments.

Mark continues on this jam’s productive potential, adding:

We can apprehend yet another paradox here. What made this music culture so positive was its capacity to express negativity — a negativity that was thereby de-privatised as well as de-naturalised.

Here Mark is describing a paradox that is not contained within capitalism itself but within the capitalist subject. There is a certain reciprocity at play here, of course, but what is interesting for Mark is that, whilst capitalism itself might continue to perpetuate a paradoxical auto-destructive relationship, this has (relatively speaking) been exorcised from popular culture altogether.

Here again, the popular understanding of an Accelerationist praxis falls apart. Even if capitalism were capable of dying by its own contradictions, we haven’t been able to express our own for decades. Instead, rather than being in tune with this paradox as it exists within ourselves, we focus on other things, completely ignorant to the capitalist dreamwork of now, instead fetishising our awareness of it in the past through the very mediums that perpetuate its hold on us in the present. Again, Mark sought to draw attention to what we have lost and how we might regain it, not perpetuate a tone-deaf new age mindfulness through nostalgic psychedelic imagery.

This is to say that self-awareness itself is capitalism’s new hot property. Rather than address this, we simply demonstrate our own deficiencies.

Mark concludes, echoing this sentiment: “If popular modernism’s attempts to resolve the paradox of political commitment and consumer pleasure now seem hopelessly naive, that’s more a testament to the disavowed depressive conditions of our current moment than a dispassionate assessment of the possibilities.”

Here we must emphasise that pop modernism is a potential antidote to the crisis that accelerationism continues to describe. It is a description of one moment’s radical response to a sensation that has never gone away. It is a description of an unconscious tendency that has since been exorcised from popular culture. The problem with left-accelerationism, then and now — and, by extension, the Jeremy Gilbert Zero Books Facebook school of Acid Communism — is that it’s response to a post like “Going Overground” is less an interrogation of our current pathologies and more a rallying call for a bunch of Jam cover bands. It is YouTube essays and Facebook groups filled with inspirational posters featuring Terence McKenna quotes rather than any attempt to actually understand the paradoxes of the present and how they manifest in our political-aesthetic activities on sites like Facebook.

This is an irony shared by a lot of the violent far-right “accelerationists”. Their responses to the sensations the theory describes only demonstrates the ways in which they themselves are the subjects that accelerationism as a philosophical theory first predicted the emergence of and sought to critique. The elucidations of a thousand leftist Facebook groups only serves to demonstrate the same thing but from the other side of a political coin.

I should say that this isn’t intended to be a “wake up, sheeple” dismissal, as if I am coming to you from some privileged space of late capitalist enlightenment. It does, however, have something to do with the prevalence of a superficial ’60s aesthetics over any sort of cold rationalist self-assessment of contemporary habits and tendencies. We need to stop fetishising the aesthetics of a radical politics of the past at the expense of a cold rationalist interrogation of why the left is failing in the present.

This was why Mark still had time for Nick Land as a thinker. Land’s own pathologies are another topic for another time but his work nonetheless presents the left with a hard, cold mirror through which it might take a closer look at itself.

Mark wrote about this explicitly in his essay “Postcapitalist Desire”, in which he argues that it “is worth the left treating [Land’s] texts as something other than anti-Marxist trollbait … because they luridly expose the scale and the nature of the problems that the left now faces.” He continues by noting that they also “expose an uncomfortable contradiction between the radical left’s official commitment to revolution, and its actual tendency towards political and formal-aesthetic conservatism”. They also “assume a terrain that politics now operates on, or must operate on, if it is to be effective — a terrain in which technology is embedded into everyday life and the body; design and PR are ubiquitous; financial abstraction enjoys dominion over government; life and culture are subsumed into cyberspace…”

This is the danger of sanitising Mark’s thought of Land’s influence. Land is, in effect, the arch-realist capitalist. He watches the ways in which capitalism corrupts its subjects with glee, and the left’s impotent fetishisation of acid trips in Facebook groups becomes the embarrassing mirror image of an impotent far-right terrorism.

They are two sides of the same coin, woefully at the mercy of the forces they claim unconvincingly to attack.

The main thing to remember here, I think, is that it’s generally accepted that the course outline for Mark’s final postgraduate module at Goldsmiths — also called ‘Postcapitalist Desire’ — was to function as a testing ground for each chapter of his next book. It certainly reads that way in hindsight.

The introductory session was, essentially, a summary of the Acid Communist intro, in which Mark believed the key to a leftist future was the eradication of political melancholy through consciousness raising, popular modernism, and the speculative elucidation of a collective subject.

Week by week, he intended to explore the ways that this goal had become maligned, beginning with the central question surrounding May ‘68 — why do we desire our own oppression?

Then he was going to explore, via the technopolitical developments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, how this project has repeatedly failed but never died, from the violent suppression of the Allende government in Chile due to its interest in a cybernetic socialism to the communicative capitalism of our present touchscreen capture. Mark intended to end up writing about accelerationism and xenofeminism, considering what they had to say about our present moment and preempt the ways that capital reappropriates all critiques against it, instead looking at how these two modes of thought, with a radical self-awareness of their own alienation, might be able to help us stay one step ahead of capital’s cooptive curve.

Unfortunately, much of the discourse around Mark’s work fails to grasp this, because much of this is still not widely known. Instead a Mark Fisher caricature traipses from thread to thread, only serving to demonstrate how ruthless capitalism is and how we — and now Mark’s thought itself — is so susceptible to its capture.