The Year in Review: A 2017 Xenogothic Table of Contents

This post has been written way after 2017 has come to an end and been subsequently backdated.

I didn’t make one of these posts initially because I was still finding my feet at this point in this blog’s development. Also, compared to the nauseating productivity of 2018, it didn’t feel like a necessary exercise to carry out for readers’ benefit.

However, I wrote and did some stuff in 2017 that I remain proud of so here’s a short breakdown of this blog’s first three months of existence by topic that should make things more navigable for blog spelunkers.


First Things First…

Some vague admin — blog introductions and plans and stuff like that.


Mental Health


K-Punk & Acid Communism


Art & Photography

Various writing about various exhibitions visits and art encounters had through the course of the year.


Theory-Fiction

Tales and stories and embellished diary entries.


Neologisms & Wordplay


Film & Television

Music & Mixes


Philosophy


Technology


Divergence

I have been trying to write an introductory post that reflects the marriage of my interests in photography and philosophy and it got me thinking about the moment I diverged from one to the other. The divergence I went on in that post itself was appropriately wide but rather than delete it I thought I’d continue the reminiscence here.


I used to be quite active in my philosophy community at school and, in fact, a (much) older philosophy A Level student was the first person to buy one of my photographs way back when. We met because I’d jump onto local message boards and I started posting in the Philosophy section about Freud and “nature vs nurture”.

I never did Philosophy formally though, mostly because the teacher put me off. In the compulsory Religious Studies classes we had already crossed paths and I was sent out of her class regularly. I was hungry for knowledge but wanted it on my terms – I used to have a bit of a kleptomanic compulsion for stealing school library books when I was much younger, and I stole Thus Sprach Zarathustra from her.

I remember one lesson was on euthanasia and it was her opinion that anyone who commits suicide is a selfish coward. In my mind, I was at war with her from then on.

She was quite a fascinating character though. She was a foul-tempered woman who survived a car crash many years back and she was left with a metal plate in her leg and a bleak outlook that she supplemented by openly popping codeine in class.

My favourite story of her is that she put forward the first question following an extracurricular tour of a local Buddhist monastery, asking “And what do you contribute to society?”

I’m not sure if that’s badass or not in hindsight.

At the time, I couldn’t think of anything worse than doing a philosophy A Level with her and so plucked for photography and English literature instead. Photography ultimately won out because I kept being told I was good at it and people only seemed to do English literature if they were academically inclined and liked the humanities but didn’t have much of a clue beyond that. Somedays I wish I’d done that instead too.

I recently met up with that old student who first bought my photograph. He went on to do philosophy at undergraduate level in Sheffield. I asked if the A Level had been worth doing. (My only memory was that they did Kant which tickled everyone because his name sounded like “cunt” but I never heard of any substance beyond that). He said no, I didn’t miss out.

But still, as I continue to stare down the Critique of Pure Reason I do wonder if it might have been a tiny bit useful.

“Doctor, I let you go…”

https://twitter.com/mutablejoe/status/945037807210434562

The true meaning of Christmas in this ever-weird 21st century.


The “death” of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was inevitably narcissistic as his last words seemed to emerge from both his mouth and Steven Moffat’s.

“Doctor, I let you go…”

Hearing the Moffat echo in my mind’s ear was horribly cringe-worthy but somewhat satisfying since it is long overdue.

Capaldi’s final episode as the Doctor was a roll call of Moffat’s sins – original Doctor fetishism, nonsensical templexity, wanky Tumblr-baiting monologues and melodrama over impotency. This mix in which Moffat has inadvertently managed to distill all of his own flaws made the abyssal meaninglessness of the last 4 or 5 seasons laughably potent.

It is fitting that nothing much happened in his final episode and, whilst Capaldi was not a bad Doctor, the continually bad writing that he has been lumped with – the less said about his rock’n’roll grandad quirks the better – has sealed his fate as an ultimately forgettable Doctor. Unfortunately, what should have nonetheless been an extended goodbye to Capaldi instead felt like Moffat writing his own funeral.

It was precisely because of this that the episode was something of a joy to watch.

So many of Doctor Who‘s seasons over the last 5 years (if not longer) have been overly preoccupied with death. They have tried to make the Doctor’s mortality more of a concern for him than it ever could be given his well-established, two-hearted thirteenth-regeneration-deep backstory… My memory of all the specials and finales over the last few years is that they have, in this way, been about death in the most meaningless of ways. Whilst the Doctor is irritatingly existential despite his troublesome and seemingly inescapable immortality, every other minor and under-developed character has been pointlessly disposable (whilst inevitably coming back for some sort of prescribed emotional cameo somewhere along the line – cue Clara Oswald in this finale).

The narrative arch of Bill Potts over the last season is a case in point. Whilst very likeable and bringing a welcome complexity to the often one-dimensional “companion” character, she wasn’t around long enough for me to care much about her role throughout the rest of the season as some confused self-haunting cybernetic spectre. For all her potential, she was reduced to little more than overcomplicated cannon fodder – another character that only the Doctor can mourn. Long, long, long gone are the days of genuinely affecting companion goodbyes.

What was joyful about the episode, in spite of all this, was the way that it reminded me repeatedly of Robin Mackay’s disclaimer for his Geopoetics class: “There are many dead white men on this course but it is ultimately about their disintegration.”

The fixation on the elderly Capaldi, Bradley and John Hurt in previous specials (the most haunted but also the most temporally impotent Doctor of all), has made Jodie Whitaker’s takeover inevitable. I’d argue the past few years of this show have precisely been about old white male disintegration but the show has lacked the necessary self-awareness to do anything meaningful with its own midlife crisis. The show has rather just spiralled out of control.

This downwards spiral was summarised beautifully and inadvertently by the sustained coupling in this episode of David-Bradley-as-William-Hartnell-as-the-First-Doctor and Peter Capaldi – the “first” and most recent male Doctor. Spiralling around each other, verbally sparring over their perspectives on the other’s irrelevance, whether due to retcon redundancy or a vague understanding of the other’s inept futurity. Both demonstrate little more than an impressive ability to onanistically prolong the inevitable.

This episode was not just the end of Capaldi and a reiteration of the end of Hartnell (whose original regeneration is replayed towards the episode’s end), it also felt like the disintegration of all the show’s fragile masculinity – from the brazen channelling of Hartnell’s explicitly sexist 60s to the implicit sexism of this generation’s Topman Doctors that are the virus of Moffat’s ingrown tenure. (The waste of Capaldi’s Doctor was that, even in his old age, he was crowbarred into this chipper young template despite his aptitude for darkness – and this was painfully obvious from the start).

Moffat has no doubt seen himself as the Great Moderniser, the Great Meta-Script Progressive, but his subconscious seemed to get the better of him throughout this episode. For instance, whether he meant it to or not, the set up for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, in light of Moffat’s hopefully subconscious but nonetheless ironically impotent mourning of masculinity, felt like a last hurrah for his special brand of wacky beta-male space-man. As Whittaker presses a single button on the TARDIS and is ejected into outer space, it was all too easy to read her exit-entrance as “lol the woman can’t drive the time machine”.

We can only hope that Whittaker is given the writing she deserves and this show is finally shaken up in the way it was by Christopher Eccleston’s working class reboot. (I also can’t help but be reminded and disappointed by how far this show has strayed from that series which showed so much promise, and how different it is from k-punk‘s original hopes and predictions.) Unfortunately, if that god-awful second series of Broadchurch is anything to go by, Chris Chibnall may only bring more of the same with a new but ultimately misused face…

So, the same as all Doctors since Tenant.

Whittaker is already living in Tenant’s shadow following her supporting role alongside him in Broadchurch. I really hope she manages to escape from under it here.

The Year in Music

An additional New Year’s Blog Resolution that must be added to the previous 2017 post is to write more about music.

When I first moved to London, eagerly anticipating the tutelage of Mark Fisher and Kodwo Eshun, I had intended to step away from the visual arts and write much more about music and sound arts. I ended up writing about political philosophy instead…

What is far more depressing than a lack of music writing, however, is a lack of music listening in general. I lost the ability to study with background music and having to put my record collection in storage, selling some of my more prized LPs so I could survive in the big city, has meant that this year has been one of the quietest I’ve ever known.

Thankfully, since finishing my studies and starting this blog, I’ve managed to put out two mixes: Exits and The Ritual. Expect a lot more where that came from in 2018.

I made up for the quiet at home by enjoying many loud nights out, thanks to the freedom of a full-time student schedule. The year was peppered with a number of raucous squat parties around Elephant & Castle and I lost count of how many times I saw Kode9 DJ in 2017.

Regardless of the frequency, Kode9 was also responsible for the best DJ set I saw this past year as part of April’s Record Store Day celebrations at Copeland Gallery in Peckham. The moment below – a perfect blend of DJ Rashad and Sister Nancy – was one of many highlights that night.

That was also the night that the fire alarm repeatedly went off in the venue. The party continued with the lights on with no one prepared to leave regardless of whether there was a fire or not.

(There wasn’t).

Another particularly serendipitous and fraught night involved meeting Andrew Ashong after a conference at Goldsmiths, at which Kodwo Eshun premiered the Otolith Group’s Julius Eastman film. We bonded over my past life as a visual artist working on videos for electronic musicians, and he invited me and a friend to a secret basement party. That night terrorists killed 8 people on London Bridge and around Borough Market. The night was spent trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, dancing, afraid to leave the venue.

On top of most other listening experiences signifying some sort of remembrance for Mark Fisher, it’s been a weird and emotional year for my ears.

What I’d like to do here is list a bunch of my favourite musical experiences from over the last year, followed by a more usual album list…

So, in chronological order:

Continue reading “The Year in Music”

2017 Exit

2017 is almost over. It’s time to embrace the Gothic undercurrents of Christmas time and exacerbate its Dickensian emotional templexity to its fullest potentials by looking to the past, present and future…


It’s been a great few months blogging again and I am so grateful for the few readers that I have had so far. This is, I think, my 5th blog in as many years (and the second one of this year). All previous blogs have died sudden and impulsive deaths, euthanised by the double bind of a depressive low and a lack of audience. The difference this time round is that I am writing under a pseudonym and this is without a doubt the best decision I have ever made online. (I must try not to be cynical about how much more receptive and interested people are to writing when they don’t know who has authored it.)

Nevertheless, the frequency of posts on Xenogoth has finally started to slow down after a few months of arguably posting far too much.

I must confess: this is because my pooled assortment of short essays and amputated footnotes written over the past twelve months, which I have so far been drawing on, is reaching its end. Whilst there are still 50 drafts languishing in limbo, these will take quite some time to develop and half will probably end up in the trash.

Suffice to say, I’ll be taking my time from now on.

Most importantly, however, the dwindling of this pile of left-overs means that I can no longer ignore the two much longer and more substantial texts that I am desperate to finish and self-publish in the New Year. One is currently book-length and I have had Lulu.com on my mind for that for some time now. The other might be serialised somewhere new.

An additional platform has also emerged – my new and already godforsaken CuriousCat profile. You can now “ask me anything” here. Whilst it is primarily a space for shitposting anons, a couple of the questions received so far have been provocative enough to become fuel for future posts.

I also want to try and keep up some sort of sustained philosophical project that allows for semi-regular posts and I’m anticipating that in 2018 that will present itself as a swing towards the Kantian.

Over the past few years I have set myself the task of closely reading one major work of philosophy because I have a tendency to flit about and only dip into things when needed. (Despite expectations, the postgraduate degree I spent most of 2017 working towards only encouraged this further.) So, in 2018 I’ve decided I want to read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, along with J.M. Bernstein (possibly supplementing the lack of Deleuze, et al., with a little help from my #CaveTwitter pals).

The joy of blogs has always been, for me, an opportunity to show my thinking and doing so with the added pressure of knowing it is open to public scrutiny means learning from mistakes a lot faster – and there will certainly be mistakes.


Taking on this project also provides me with an opportunity to “move on” from a lot of thinking from the past year.

Earlier this week I officially graduated from Goldsmiths, and the past 12 months there have been some of the toughest I’ve ever known. The way I decided to work through the events of the past year has been to channel them through my Masters dissertation which looked at the trajectory of Mark Fisher’s work over the last two decades of his life and tried to think a future for it in line with what Robin Mackay termed the Fisher-Function – and particularly its potential collective modes. All this was explored against a frank consideration of collective mourning and melancholia that threatened to smother the university in the months following Mark’s death.

I had begun 2017 closely reading Bataille’s Summa Atheologica alongside Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy’s writings on “community”. The communal rupture that Mark’s death instigated at Goldsmiths made the stakes of that thinking traumatically palpable. I didn’t know how to write on anything else. However, whilst “community” (in their sense) remains a very important concept for me moving forwards, I need to spend less time thinking about it solely in orbit of Mark’s work and the event of his death. I also need to get as far away as possible from the toxicity that has unfortunately never been far away at the university and which has only become more noticeable in hindsight.

Time has made this a necessity rather than making it easier. It feels strange to have spent so much of this year dwelling on the event of Mark’s death only for the same time of year to come around again. Wandering around in the biting dark in New Cross makes me think of little else than spiralling out into nowhere and struggling to find my way back to sadness. I am eternally grateful for those at Goldsmiths who felt similar – and there were so many people who did – and in our spiralling out we soon found ourselves uncomfortably but compassionately in orbit of one another. The heroic amounts of patience and compassion that emerged from this traumatic syzygy is astounding to me still but it was ultimately shortlived. I can’t help but feel that same depression rearing its head on the realisation that so much of that togetherness has since mutated into something else that seems fuelled by competition and infighting rather than collective care and compassion. (Although the illusion that the latter is still intact remains for some.)

All I feel like saying, as 2018 rushes up from the horizon, is: never mind.

I’ve moved on.

There remain many individual relationships that I hold very dear at the end of 2017, within Goldsmiths in particular, and my social depression and renewed tendency to isolate myself has been occasioned by very, very few. The foundation of my own sense of communality has nevetheless revealed itself rotten but there remains a constellation of individuals who, whilst being somewhat disparate, continue to give me hope. In fact, it is the disparateness of their constellation that is the most inspiring. I smile to think that there are people that I am regularly in touch with around the world, many of whom do not know each other, but who nevertheless share this unspoken secret of community and with far more success than those who have comported themselves towards it with a conscious effort. Both within and without Goldsmiths, I think you’ll know who you are reading this.

Pete Wolfendale is one of them although he won’t recognise himself as such. I do not know Pete but, having read his blog post Transcendental Blues this morning, I almost feel like I do. Besides my own past experiences of depression in Sunderland – although its the cliffs at Roker I walked rather than Ryhope – his reaction to the news of Mark’s death is all too familiar. To read this post is to be transported back to January 2017 – a surreal experience as I wait impatiently for January 2018 to get itself over with. I can’t recommend his post enough.

Whilst it is mournful, there is nevetheless a drive within the post that I recognise from my own Masters dissertation. Whilst it considers the past in the mournful present there is a palpable sense that this working-through is aimed towards a new dawn of something-better-than-this – in a way that is more affectively critical and personal than politically utopian.

More than anything, that is what I want from this blog moving forwards. Whilst the constant references to Fisher’s writings may not stop completely, in the New Year I would like to build upon its foundation rather than continue to dwell on it.

I think Pete highlights the perfect post of Mark’s for this sentiment – Abandon hope (summer is coming) – following which he writes:

Mark long advised us not to fall into easy patterns of online behaviour, micro-addictions, dopamine loops, and attention traps that have been designed to capture our cognitive mechanisms, and customised to our unique behavioural profile. Perhaps more than anyone he saw social media as the new frontier of Deleuze’s society of control, not simply deterritorialising and reterritorialising existing disciplinary institutions in strange and more bureaucratic ways, but a whole new plane on which the subpersonal undercurrents of the personal were laid open to observation and manipulation. However, he also refused the obvious conservative response: “Kids these days with their twitter and instagram! Why can’t they all just look up from their phones, get offline, and live real lives?” His answer was that we should use social media pro-actively, not reactively. So I’m redirecting my word generators away from Facebook and back to WordPress. Will this mean a return to the good old days of Deontologistics? Probably not, but who knows? If I write nothing more than this, then at least that will be something.


I’ll say it again: if you’re reading this, thanks for making this blog a highlight of what has ultimately been a shitfuck of a 2017. I hope you’ll stick with me for 2018 and beyond.

Cold War, Colder World (Part 1)

[Spoiler warning: these posts will look closely at two recent Netflix shows, Stranger Things (seasons one and two) and Dark. If you don’t want them spoiling, come back another time.]


The Candyman always had some new kind of acid. That month I had already sampled Window Pane and Sunshine. I didn’t know if my system could handle another extended flight to the far reaches. But this Czech acid was different. For one thing, it revealed to me that the entire molecular and submolecular structure of the universe was in fact composed of tiny sickles and hammers. Billions and billions of tiny sickles and hammers shimmered in the beauteous symmetry of the material world. I always thought of this particular “commie trip” as a rather private experience brought about by my having been born and raised in Communist Romania, where sickles and hammers were ubiquitous and unavoidable.

I did not doubt what I had seen, but I did doubt whether there was such a thing as Czech acid from the simple reason that Czechoslovakia, like Romania, was a monochromatic world. It seemed clear that if acid had existed in Eastern Europe it would have brought about the collapse of communism there, just as it was bringing about the downfall of a certain kind of dour-faced, simple-minded America. And at that time it didn’t look like communism was anywhere near collapse. [1]

The return of Stranger Things to Netflix in October meant the return of its version of the Outside to Western pop-consciousness. The show boils down various popular instantiations of the Outside to a median view of the noumenal other-worlds common to so much science fiction—an Outside that is always present but unseen by us; a shadow dimension that is referred to in the show as the “Upside Down”.

In the first season’s backstory, a woman given LSD whilst pregnant—as part of the infamous CIA project MKUltra, which sought to explore new potentials of the human mind through the use of psychedelics—gives birth to a child that displays special mental abilities, including telepathy and telekinesis. The baby is taken from her and subjected to a childhood of experimentation and institutionalisation as a ward of the United States’ clandestine Department of Energy. The child, (code)named Eleven, is trained as a tool for espionage by the US government as it looks for new ways to spy on the Russians at the height of the Cold War.

Eleven escapes from the facility after being told to use her powers of astral projection to locate and listen in on a conversation being had in Russia. This unprecedented use of her powers—mentally travelling further into the political Outside than she ever has before—inadvertently rips a hole in our dimension and let’s loose a horrific, faceless creature which ravages the laboratory, escapes and begins to prey on the small town of Hawkins where the Department of Energy’s lab is located.

As a true 1980s cultural pastiche, heavily reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s ET (1982) amongst other things, the first season’s focus is on a small group of unassuming local kids who become embroiled in the government’s shady experiments when they meet the fugitive Eleven whilst looking for their friend, Will Byers, who has been trapped in the Upside Down by the monster.

In one noteworthy scene, Eleven attempts to explain (with her very limited vocabulary) where Will is hiding by literally flipping “upside down” a Dungeons & Dragons game board—a game the children were playing on the night of Will’s disappearance. Will is trapped in a place where the normal rules of the game do not apply. Here the Outside is a frightening and horrific place that visually mirrors the world we know but is otherwise drenched in a toxic, irradiated atmosphere. More exact details of its content and composition are slowly being teased as the show progresses.

Stranger-Things-Eleven-DD-Board.jpg

The Russian connection, however, should not be understated and it has been made all the more explicit in the show’s second season. The fear of the Communist Other is dramatised as a horrific other world—a cold, monochromatic world—that exists alongside our own; home to monstrous threats that are both accessed and combated with new technologies. In an unusual turn away from the more classical use of the Outside in weird fiction, the Upside Down seems to act as a graspable, visual referent for an otherwise incomprehensible and invisible political Otherness. LSD itself can be seen as the latent catalyst for this rupture—expand your mind too far and all hell will break loose. Acid Communism and the Red Scare collide.

Continue reading “Cold War, Colder World (Part 1)”

“Take care. It’s a desert out there…”

Clips and pops fill a grand theatre whilst two armchairs sit empty centre stage. A hat stand, bare, can be seen towards the back of stage left. The whole scene is bathed in a thick blue fog.

I’m waiting for The Caretaker to “perform” at the Barbican, as the middle filling for Unsound Dislocation. Whilst the main attraction for me was – and always will be – whatever project Liz Harris has lent her skills to, it seemed that for most The Caretaker was the primary draw. Was this the first live performance of music from this moniker? The pair of them on the same bill is surely a dream come true and both evoke so many memories for me.

I’ve been lucky enough never to see Grouper play anywhere ordinary – two churches and a swimming pool to date – and when Dragging a Dead Deer Up A Hill came out in 2008 I proceeded to fall asleep to it every night for the next three and a half years. My girlfriend can attest to this – it kept her up at night and our meeting occasioned the end of my habit. We met in 2011, the same year that An Empty Bliss Beyond This World came out and she also had to put up with me falling asleep to that for the first few months of our relationship.

I remember particularly well how that album somehow worked when played back to back with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica and whenever I hear one now I also, in my mind’s ear, hear the other. Together they were on a constant rotation for days and days at a time.


Just before the house lights went down inside the Barbican, I had been handed a CD by an usher. Featuring an instantly recognisable painting by Ivan Seal, I turned it over to find the following dedication:

“Take care. It’s a desert out there…”
in memory of and for Mark Fisher
remembered by The Caretaker

Whilst Mark had written much on the music of The Caretaker, he was not a musician I readily associated with him. I had a wealth of my own memories already, with Fisher’s infectious rememberings unable to penetrate and transpose themselves over my own. As I was thinking of Mark then, however, and as the familiar sound of The Caretaker filled the auditorium, something happened:

Two middle-aged, greying gentlemen walked across the stage, pitching themselves in the previously empty armchairs and sharing a small bottle of (what I presumed to be) whiskey.

One of the men, I was fairly certain, was Leyland ‘The Caretaker’ Kirby himself. The other man I couldn’t place. From my vantage point, high up in the stalls, he could have been anyone and yet I couldn’t shake the odd sensation that he looked like Mark from way up here.

As the music played, probably-Leyland would, on occasion, rise from his low armchair and mime along to some of the more memorable vocal tracks featured on his most famous album. Then he would sit down again and, whilst a hazy hallucination of a half-remembered life poured over the enormous screen behind them, they would chat amongst themselves. As the performance progressed, the periods of inanimate silence between the two grew shorter and shorter until they seemed to be two people lost in conversation at a bar, oblivious to their surroundings yet nonetheless inaudible over them.

Whilst not to divert attention from the video behind them – by Weirdcore, which was incredible – it is their image that has stayed with me more than any other part of the night’s performances.

Since Mark’s death in January 2017, music has undoubtedly played a major role in many remembrances: Kode9 playing Delia Derbyshire in Corsica Studios, prior to the frenzied shouts of “KATAK IS COMING!”, was the first, followed by listening to the entirety of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ A Kiss in the Dreamhouse in a Goldsmiths classroom, just because, followed by various public listening sessions with Mark’s mixes and audio essays – and, of course, not forgetting so, so many tearful renditions of Ghosts.

The sounds of The Caretaker now round out a year of painful listening experiences with something far more bittersweet.

Tonight, I felt like I had watched Leyland Kirby have one last spirited conversation with Mark, and it was a pleasure to have done so.

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Continue reading ““Take care. It’s a desert out there…””

Darkness Itself II

That England is populated will always come as a surprise; humans can live on an island only by forgetting what an island represents. Islands are either from before or for after humankind. [1]

What luck to be lured underground by darkness itself in the London suburb of Chiselhurst. What luck to sink beneath the surface at that time so that I might fall out of time itself. There was an agency attached to that experience – I’m sure of it – and it is this agency that is responsible for what has occurred since. Alternatively, perhaps this agency comes from now, or some indeterminate future, making sure of its existence by impregnating the thoughts of today through the recently experienced. Somehow, this sounds more plausible… Either way, I am sure that desires do not naturally dovetail like this through coincidence alone.

My original post, exploring the (per)plexing ahistory of Chiselhurst Caves was surprisingly well received. There was certainly something there too, in the writing, but I felt that others were more aware of it than I was.

In the weeks since my trip underground, despite no longer being a student, I have been lurking in a postgraduate seminar once a week where the subterranean has become a central topic of consideration.

This was not something I had anticipated. I have felt like each thought had in class was struck in relief by my recent excursion, which has continued to unfold within and without myself.

I have recently found myself underground once more.


The first introductory session of the postgraduate seminar drew the attention of the class to Freud’s account of humanity’s three narcissistic wounds. Freud wrote in his own Introduction to Psychoanalysis:

Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages upon its naive self-love. The first was when it realised that our earth was not the centre of the universe, but only a tiny speck in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable; this is associated in our minds with the name of Copernicus, although Alexandrian doctrines taught something very similar. The second was when biological research robbed man of his peculiar privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to a descent from the animal world, implying an ineradicable animal nature in him: this transvaluation has been accomplished in our own time upon the instigation of Charles Darwin, Wallace, and their predecessors, and not without the most violent opposition from their contemporaries. But man’s craving for grandiosity is now suffering the third and most bitter blow from present-day psychological research which is endeavouring to prove to the ego of each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with the veriest scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously in his own mind. We psycho-analysts were neither the first nor the only ones to propose to mankind that they should look inward; but it appears to be our lot to advocate it most insistently and to support it by empirical evidence which touches every man closely.

What if, it was argued, it is not psychoanalysis but geology that forms our third narcissistic wound – geology, which has endeavoured to prove to the human ego that we are not the master of our own lands, which have existed long before us and will exist long after. Freudian psychoanalysis has always borrowed its terminology and analogies from geology. The unearthing and excavation of traumas from deep within the psyche – Deleuze & Guattari’s “destratification” most obviously – echoes the geological study of tectonic plates.

This analysis, when considering England’s subterranea at least, is further complicated by those spaces that our collective consciousness has long since forgotten that we created. Chiselhurst Caves are, as was previously pointed out, not caves at all but mines, and the forgotten purpose for which the mines were created has led to the indexical nomenclature slipping from the man-made into the God-given.

An even more mysterious subterranean structure can be found a mile inland from the Kentish coast in the heart of the seaside town of Margate. There, just two metres below street level, lies the Shell Grotto.

Here, there is no question that this underground world is man-made. It has been a tourist attraction since the early 1800s and the single-room museum that proceeds these mollusk catacombs is far more honest about its history than Chiselhurst Caves but it is all the more occulted for its honesty. Their mystery is far more genuine.

Continue reading “Darkness Itself II”

Blue of Noon

Georges Bataille’s Blue of Noon takes questions of political agency to their extremes. The novel follows the debauched adventures of Henri Troppmann, a self-proclaimed necrophiliac who drinks and cavorts his way around Europe with three women in the 1930s. Written during this same time period—in the midst of those pregnant years between the first and second world wars; a violent period of endemic cultural and political disillusionment across the continent—the rise of fascism in Europe serves as both the novel’s literary and literal backdrop.

The novel’s pivotal scene is an exchange between Troppmann, Lazare—a female acquaintance with whom Troppmann has little in common but feels a certain perverse attraction towards (supposedly based on Bataille’s contemporary, the Christian mystic and philosopher Simone Weil)—and her stepfather, Melou—a teacher of philosophy. Melou articulates the “agonizing dilemma that confronted the intellectual world in this deplorable age”:

Straining his brow in folds, he declared, ‘Should we wrap ourselves in silence? Should we, on the contrary, bestow our help on the workers as they make their last stand, thereby dooming ourselves to an inescapable and fruitless death?’

Sick from days of drinking and little sleep, a miserable Troppmann has little time for Melou’s musings and he asks step-father and -daughter: “If the working classes are done for, why are you both Communists, or socialists, or whatever?” Lazare’s response, it seems, is too stereotypically Christian for the atheist Troppmann to take seriously. She declares: “No matter what happens, we must not abandon the downtrodden.” Melou’s response, on the other hand, is far more affecting for Troppmann. Melou, on principle, seems to agree with his stepdaughter but not without recognising, with all the hallmarks of a petit bourgeois Left melancholia, that doing so threatens his own destruction.

The tension between Troppmann, Lazare and Melou embodies a contemporary melancholia that the Left seems doomed to unceremoniously trip over in pursuit of the oversized band-aid of identity politics. It also mirrors the public disagreement that had erupted between Bataille and Simone Weil in the years before Blue of Noon was written.

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