Halloween began in central London for me today. A visit to 180 The Strand to see Everything At Once, a new temporary exhibition installed in what feels like a half-finished office block. Last year’s The Infinite Mixin the same space was, frankly, beautiful. It was described by a friend as “joyful, if meaningless” and I agreed, albeit not seeing this as a bad thing.
Everything At Once was, on the whole, just meaningless.
Susan Hiller’s Channelswas the main highlight: a wall of televisions, white noise and oscilloscopes with the sound of voices playing around the room, people describing near-death experiences. There is a sense that this is a John Carpenter installation rather than a Susan Hiller one, hinting at the relationship between television and spiritual “channels”. Signal interference. I kept expecting more than voices to emerge from the screens before me. A cybernetic rumination on how we visualise and articulate the other side. A fitting experience for a Halloween evening.
Later, Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, the Message is Death was a sobering video mix best summarised by a clip of Amandla Stenberg in which he asks “What if we loved Black people as much as we love Black culture?” A necessary addition to an otherwise dull show that nevertheless felt like a shadow of Jafa’s Serpentine Gallery show from earlier in the year – one of the best exhibitions of 2017. A haunting video for very different reasons.
Walking home we pass the decorated windows of a local letting agent. I did not need a Halloween illustration to tell me their offices are full of ghouls.
A graveyard shortcut and then home, passing the early trick-or-treaters knocking on doors before bedtime – which will no doubt pass them by if they consume all their acquired sugars.
Halloween feels like less of an occasion when you have a job. I hate it.
As it’s October, I’ve decided to give most of this first Cuttings post over to Halloween.
I’ve been getting very much into the spirit all month and a free trial of Shudderhas meant I’ve had a lot of stuff to enjoy these past few weeks. So, for now, here’s a random selection of spooky films I’ve enjoyed over the past month. (Not all of them on Shudder – a service like that always makes you painfully aware of what’s missing when you’re reminded of old favourites).
A few months ago, I attended the launch of Cosey Fanni Tutti’s autobiography Art Sex Music at London’s Rough Trade East. To my frustration, and much like during the COUM exhibition’s opening weekend, I had a cold. The receiving and transmitting of bacteria, never mind art, makes me reluctant to open my mouth to speak in case I breathe on anyone, stifling my attempts to communicate. After a Q&A and book signing, I spend an hour on the bus home. I learn through an opening Author’s Note that the book is intrinsically entangled with the conception of the Humber Street exhibition itself:
As I was researching for an exhibition, going through some of my old diaries to fact-check, I got totally distracted and drawn into my past and ended up reading for hours. I finally closed the diaries and put them back in the cupboard, all chronologically lined up, like my story in waiting. I knew at that moment what form my book would take. If I was going to enter the lion’s den of my past, it would be by using my diaries as my primary source. They offered an unblinkered view into my mindset of that time, and I could avoid the misty goggles of retrospection. 
Bringing the reader right up to the present, the Humber Street exhibition is discussed on the book’s final pages:
A combination of what seemed unrelated factors had come together, fulfilling all the necessary conditions for me to begin work on writing my autobiography. I’d come full circle: from Hull, the place where my life and my art began, and where my book would begin, and now back there, marking where my book will end as I enter into a new dialogue with Hull, in recognition of my life and art. 
Elsewhere, Cosey details the extent to which she has been sidelined and undermined throughout her artistic career due to sexism (amongst other things). She details many personal and private attacks—most shockingly made by Genesis P-Orridge whose track record of emotional and physical abuse towards her is truly abhorrent—as well as elaborating on the curatorial decisions made on her behalf. Discussing curatorial decisions made prior to Prostitution’s opening, she explains:
it was decided that my sexually explicit magazine works could not be shown on the main gallery walls for legal—and what was described as ‘diplomatic’—reasons. Not just that, but they would be housed in boxes and form part of a members-only exhibition in a separate room at the back of the main gallery—to be viewed ‘on request’ and only by members of the ICA. […] I always felt this was, intentional or not, like relegating the magazines to a place comparable to their original context—in a back room, an under-the-counter situation like a Soho sex shop. Sex shop to gallery to back room. All it needed was a dusty velvet curtain in the doorway. 
The atmosphere at the Humber Street Gallery could not have been more different. The police were apparently called to the gallery during the opening weekend but, in contrast to Prostitution, “as soon as the police heard the word ‘Tate’ it was alright.”  Chased from the city for their old associations, now welcomed back under the wing of their new friends, the disjuncture of COUM’s newfound acceptance has not been lost on Cosey:
“[…] I don’t like acceptance, I distrust it completely, I think I’ve done something wrong, like I’ve gone off on a bad tangent and need to get back on track.” She pauses. “I mean, I understand why certain things have found their place in history, so I can accept that. But I don’t see it as acceptance of what I did then, because it wasn’t. It’s still loaded with that unacceptance.”
Still following Paul Mann’s thought, he notes what he calls Bataille’s “second death”: following his first death; his physical death, ending the immediate and literal continuation of his thought, his second death occurs at the hands of the reifying thesis mill of accepting academia:
Even as it is theory’s task to disrupt every system it has proposed, even as we depend on it to do so, it is also theory’s task entirely to close off the ruptures on which it entirely depends. This endless, exhaustible circuit constitutes the fatal exhaustion of theory. There is no means of taking transgression into account that does not endorse it as a restricted economic term in the first place and subject it to a perpetual, garrulous, undying death. And since this cycle repeats itself compulsively: still the mute and irrecuperable trace of the second death. 
I wonder if this folding of the unacceptable within COUM’s newfound acceptance results in their “second death”—or perhaps a second life. Prostitution was their first retrospective; their first death—a self-immolation that the press sought to extinguish and disembowel on their own terms, making COUM martyrs for their cause and engendering decades of misunderstandings. The Humber Street exhibition is a second retrospective for which COUM’s restless corpse has been reanimated so that it might continue to wander with the gait the group had intended for it. Is the exhibition successful in this regard? To rephrase Mann’s questions, do the visitors to the Humber Street exhibition become the coummunity the group envisioned by being present at their second death? Or does this exhibition reassemble COUM for another use, ruining them for good?
Acid is everywhere at the moment, sloshing about in unexpected places – recent releases from Richard D. James’ AFX alias, alongside a spate of festival appearances, have brought his corrosive jams back into dance music’s collective consciousness; there has been a surge of acid attacks in London, with dozens of the disfigured becoming front-page news; the UK Left has taken up Mark Fisher’s “Acid Communism”, albeit adapting it at a recent Labour Party fringe event to become “Acid Corbynism”, which was just memetic enough to warrant a snooty Guardian overview. These three seemingly unconnected references demonstrate one thing: “Acid” is promiscuous, and that was no doubt part of the attraction when Fisher first put his latest provocative neologism to use.
You could argue that defining “acid” is as awkward as defining “communism”. There have been too many iterations of either word to pin them down with any certainty, but that hasn’t stopped Jeremy Gilbert’s recent attempts to bottle the combo of the two and declare co-authorship alongside Fisher (whilst exorcising Fisher’s nuance and personality) in a recent article on Red Pepper.
Gilbert writes that Acid Communism
was Mark’s term for a utopian sensibility shared by the political radicals and psychedelic experimentalists of the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. It rejected both the conformism and authoritarianism that characterised much of post-war society and the crass individualism of consumer culture. It sought to raise the consciousness of individuals and society as a whole, be that through the creative use of psychedelic chemicals, aesthetic experiments in music and other arts, new kinds of household arrangements, radical forms of therapy, social and political revolution, or all of the above.
He’s not wrong, of course, but compared to what Acid Communism was to potentially become in Fisher’s hands, Gilbert’s synopsis feels so one-dimensional as he insists on erasing the Gothic trajectory towards the Outside that Fisher has always aimed for.
More recently, in the New Statesman, Gilbert defines “Acid” through its psychedelic connotations of “the liberation of human consciousness from the norms of capitalist society [as] a desirable, achievable and pleasurable objective.” Desirable, yes. Achievable, yes… But pleasurable? Not always. Not essentially. Fisher’s AC was explicitly a journey beyond the pleasure principle.
COUM’s notoriety hit its height just as the British economy hit an all time low. Was there any connection? Some newspapers thought so. With the economic and social crisis identified at the end of 1973 refusing to go away, commentators kept themselves busy looking for the latest signs of the Nation’s declining standards. By the end of 1976 both COUM and the sinking value of the pound would be taken as proof of the near terminal condition of the once Great Britain. 
COUM Transmissions were a performance art group formed in Kingston-Upon-Hull in the late 1960s. At once a self-engineered artistic success and failure, the group’s reputation ricocheted between rising stars of the art world and hated arbiters of moral panic. Their most notorious work, Prostitution, was exhibited at the ICA in London in 1976. Billed as a retrospective of the group’s work prior to moving onto new projects, the exhibition became a national scandal after being denounced in various newspapers and magazines, even triggering a parliamentary debate on the acceptable purview of public funding for the arts. During the debate, Nicholas Fairbairn, the Conservative MP for Kinross and West Perthshire, called the group “wreckers of civilisation”—a label that affectionately stuck. Fairbairn has since been posthumously accused of child sex offences.
As discussed by Simon Ford in his history of the group, quoted above, many saw the group’s performances as just another symptom of national socio-economic and moral decline, but this is to downplay COUM’s cunning approach towards their art practice and its reception, and their thoughtful subversions of the political conventions of British society at the time. The group consistently stayed one step ahead of their audiences, hurling all their hopes and fears back at them with a wicked sense of humour and a grim sincerity. Despite the diverse and spontaneous nature of their performances, the group are best known now for their controversies. COUM founding member Cosey Fanni Tutti addressed this reputation in a 2013 interview with The Quietus:
There were no shock tactics. That would imply a kind of script, a contrivance that would be incompatible with our improvisational approach. Public self-discovery in the form of art actions or music performances can shock. That’s just the way it was/is. […] The fact that people called what we did transgressive was at times surprising. We were just doing what we found interesting and putting it out there… communication, but not in its usual format. A more interesting way to instigate dialogue.
I’d like to get away from the awful reputation of being a war photographer. I think, in a way, it’s parallel to calling me a kind of abattoir worker, somebody who works with the dead, or an undertaker or something. I’m none of those things. I went to war to photograph it in a compassionate way, and I came to the conclusion that it was a filthy, vile business. War—it was tragic, and it was awful, and I was witness to murder and terrible cruelty. So do I need a title for that? The answer is no, I don’t. I hate being called a war photographer. It’s almost an insult.
Naturally, I’m getting older and coming to the end of my life, so I’ve slowed down. I’ve reinvented myself. The reason I am doing these new landscapes … is because it’s a form of healing. I’m kind of healing myself. I don’t have those bad dreams. But you can never run away from what you’ve seen. I have a house full of negatives of all those hideous moments in my life in the past.
Don McCullin shoots landscapes now. He has for a while. He’s an old and haunted man and doesn’t do war anymore. Beautiful, dramatic and melancholic, his landscapes seem to be a way for him to both publicly and privately contend with his legacy and yet his intentions never seem to puncture his reputation as a hardened working-class man of war that is found in the minds of his admirers.
These images are inseparable from the decades of photographs that have come before them. Fields and skies do battle over horizon lines. Windswept crops and angered clouds gear up for war. There is a sense in these images that, even when human affairs are peaceful or absent, there are forces bigger than us doing battle high above. Incomparable to the horrors he has built his career on, these landscapes nonetheless remain haunted by conflict. McCullin can no more easily erase his images from his mind than we can.
I spent last Sunday afternoon exploring Chislehurst caves and it was far more goth than I expected.
I’ve been on a few spelunking adventures recently, inspired by the last few months spent lurking around #CaveTwitter. As such, this post is something of a #CaveTwitter tribute – probably the first of many. I have so many thoughts circling since this trip underground but there’s not enough space to get them all down here. Think of this as a prologue…
The Chislehurst Caves are located at the centre of an exceptionally wealthy London suburb. To find the place you must make your way through the kind of winding, bloated neighbourhoods that have you masochistically checking house prices on your phone every few hundred metres. There is an unimaginable amount of money here, making Chislehurst a surprising location for a hollowed-out subterranean city. Below the excess of the living, there is another world – a vast underground cave system inverting the grandeur above with its silence and darkness.
It also has a gift shop, but when it sells merchandise like this poster for £1.50, that is not something to gripe about.
I watched The Shining over the weekend and noticed a hyperstitional typo.
This scene gave me lots of ideas for Twitter bots. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost the ability to make any more accounts. I’ll just leave this image here in case anyone else has a similar spark and wants to take up the mantle.
Noun. A muteness; petrification of vocal apparatuses when opened by the Outside, emphasised by its phonetic relationship to the Uttunul.
Adjective. Having the quality of an eerie, Outside silence.
Uttunul is the xenodemon that populates the syzygy of 9::0 found within the Numogram. In Linda Trent’s formulation, Uttunul is described through its phonetic relationship to the words “‘eternal’, ‘utter’ (meaning both speech and the absolute), ‘null’ (empty)”. The Guttunul, then, emphasises this relation to voice (or a lack thereof), interpreted as an eternal and absolute silence; a “seething void”.
Anatomically, the Guttunul is instantiated by any kataplectic vocal response to affective stimuli. If “Palate Tectonics” is described through an analysis “of the voice as the prolonged phylogenetic impact product of the collision between the vertical spinal-axis and the roof of the mouth”, a guttunil response is a failing of this system that results in the clamour of oesophageal trauma – a silent scream.
Kataplexy is a distinct side affect of spinal catastrophism. Case severity can range from a localised weakening of the facial muscles to complete postural collapse, often triggered by strong emotional responses such as anger or laughter. The root cause can be damage to the brain stem or, in some cases, to the orexin-secreting neurons found in the hypothalamus, inhibiting motor functions. The hypothalamus is notably a region of the brain common to all vertebrate animals. The memetic popularity of myotonic goats on YouTube reveals a particularly severe postural collapse in animals, albeit observed with humour. Given the towering bipedal nature of humans, the results of such postural collapse have the potential to be all the more catastrophic.
Due to erect posture the head has been twisted around, shattering vertebro-perceptual linearity and setting-up the phylogenetic preconditions for the face. This right-angled pneumatic-oral arrangement produces the vocal-apparatus as a crash-site, in which thoracic impulses collide with the roof of the mouth. The bipedal head becomes a virtual speech-impediment, a sub-cranial pneumatic pile-up, discharged as linguo-gestural development and cephalization take-off. Burroughs suggests that the protohuman ape was dragged through its body to expire upon its tongue. Its a twin-axial system, howls and clicks, reciprocally articulated as a vowel-consonant phonetic palette, rigidly intersegmented to repress staccato-hiss continuous variation and its attendant becomings-animal. That’s why stammerings, stutterings, vocal tics, extralingual phonetics, and electrodigital voice synthesis are so laden with biopolitical intensity – they threaten to bypass the anthropostructural head-smash that establishes our identity with logos, escaping in the direction of numbers.
The most common example of kataplexy found in humans is to be rendered “speechless”. This colloquialism, however, does not fully apprehend the complex failure of physical mechanisms when vocal apparatuses are ruptured by the Outside.
Prof. Barker’s escape in the direction of numbers was theorised through a process of Tic Xenotation. Discussed amongst the Hyperstition blog at great length (here, here, here and here), research into Tic Xenotation progressed through various phases – from TX to TX2 to TX2+ – and eventually led to an exploration of Nullified Xenotation, or 0X. (0)TX((2)(+)) sought to construct numbers through “a notation without modulus (base), place-value or numerals” – not entirely beyond language but most certainly beyond speech. The notations remain unpronounceable without creative modulation.
0X remains the most intriguing formulation of (0)TX((2)(+)) when thinking about the Guttunal. Taking lead from Prof. Barker’s formulation of Palate Tectonics and the silence of 0X, what biopolitical intensities can be drawn from muteness?
The most famous cultural illustration of the Guttunal can perhaps be found in Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream. Munch painted four versions of the painting, one of which features a poem by the artist on the back of the canvas in which he describes the “great, unending scream piercing through nature.” Whilst it may be the best known, Munch’s painting fails to fully encapsulated the biopolitical intensity of the Guttunal in its abstract nature. Philip K. Dick, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, offers a perfect elucidation:
The painting showed a hairless, oppressed creature with a head like an inverted pear, its hands clapped in horror to its ears, its mouth open in a vast, soundless scream. Twisted ripples of the creature’s torment, echoes of its cry, flooded out into the air surrounding it; the man or woman, whichever it was, had become contained by its own howl. It had covered its ears against its own sound. The creature stood on a bridge and no one else was present; the creature screamed in isolation. Cut off by — or despite — its outcry. “He did a woodcut of this,” Rick said, reading the card tacked below the painting. “I think,” Phil Resch said, “that this is how an andy must feel.” He traced in the air the convolutions, visible in the picture, of the creature’s cry.
The Guttunal is a stifling of the scream by its own corporeal feedback loop. It is the taking over and suppression of the vocal chords; the spine; the body; life itself by the Outside as it emerges from within.
We could look also to Sarah Conner, in Terminator 2 (pictured). In one dream sequence, she can be seen running after her dead lover and the father of her child, Kyle Reese. The dream becomes a premonition as she pushes through a door and finds herself by a children’s playground. Her screams are completely silent in the seconds prior to nuclear annihilation – nature’s scream at its most destructive. A lesser abstract model still is perhaps this diagram of the parasitic relationship between a larval xenomorph to its host. We all know how this relationship ends and this too is worth remembering when considering the psychosomatic power of forced repression on the human body.
Returning to Linda Trent, she refers to the first part of Spinoza’s Ethics as “the most rigorous philosophical description of the Uttunul ever published”, likening Spinoza’s abstraction to that of Lemurianism. This is no doubt in reference to Spinoza’s conception of “God, Nature” as “a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal or infinite essence.” In de-anthropomorphising God to a philosophical substance, Spinoza begins to describe the nature of the Outside. In orbit of this relation, the Guttunal may then represent the true inversion of logos, the Word of God as the Scream of Nature. It is a rupturing of immanence. A fractured nous, on its way to become logos, is choked on – the self-contained horror of which sustains itself indefinitely.