Leaving the path
Lured by an emerald
I wander into the Bog of Names
As is so often the case in January, I have spent a lot of the month latching onto a couple of albums from last year that were slow burners which I had not yet given the chance to click with me yet.
Richard Dawson’s Peasant is an album that it has taken me a while to connect with — a fact that has surprised me. I have been a fan of Dawson for a good few years now, entranced by 2011’s The Magic Bridge and later obsessed with 2014’s Nothing Important. Whilst 2017’s Peasant is recognisably Dawson, the maximalism of his latest effort will no doubt be jarring at first to anyone more familiar with his trademark Geordie primitivism.
Previously, his music has always embodied a weirdness (in the true Fisherian sense), pivoting on “the contrast between the terrestrial-empirical and the Outside“, de-naturalising the quotidian and dragging the psychedelic out from under minutiae. “Wooden Bag” from 2011’s The Magic Bridge is a perfect example of this. What begins as a Proustian encounter with a picnic box becomes an affective wormhole, an albatross around Dawson’s neck, a time capsule for his memories and something of a casket for himself.
This continues throughout the album, with glimpses of an unknown beyond that is always tied to material objects (excluding, perhaps, “Grandad’s Deathbed Hallucinations” in which Dawson takes a leap towards this Outside, set adrift in his experience by such close proximity to death).
The Magic Bridge is primarily, in this way, an album of object-oriented hauntologies.
Reza Negarestani has returned to the blogosphere. We’ll have to wait and see what results from that…
I did very much enjoy the sentiment of the opening of his first post:
If people can build on your ideas even when your ideas are still in their larval stage, then it does not matter whether they reference you or not. As long as ideas and concepts can be enhanced, refined and propagated, plagiarism is a virtue rather than a vice. The task of a philosopher is to highlight the hard fact that the concept is that over which no single human has a final grip. Therefore, the whole obsession with working in secret, keeping things in the closet until the book is published is absurd. To take the concept of open-source seriously, one must first take the idea of an open-source self seriously.
I have felt this way for a long, long time – and a CuriousCat anon caught me a joyous mood of wanting to express this earlier today – but it is not a very easy position to maintain.
Xenobuddhism, quote-tweeting the CuriousCat response, put it perfectly:
Blogging is my favourite thing about the internet. However, and particularly with photography (that most bloggable of the visual arts where I first started), there is an expectation that when you move from being an “amateur” to a “professional” you privatise your practice, as if openly sharing what you do online cheapens it inherently.
(But it’s not just your work that becomes privatised, of course. A friend of mine used to refer to a prevailing sense of “neoliberal professionalism” which I always enjoyed – the sense that to be professional under neoliberalism is to be cold and atomised and don’t you dare show any affiliations or speak your mind online, it’ll only affect your job prospects.)
There was a moment not so long ago when this thought got under my skin. I shuttered my longest-running blog over Christmas in 2015, making it private, password-protecting a written and photographic diary of my life that ran from 2010 to the the first week of 2016.
I was sad to kill it but I had begun to feel like my blogging habits were holding me back and not being anally-retentive with my creative practices meant I was not to be taken seriously. I felt an overwhelming pressure to privatise and find a way to make money from what was immediately available to me.
I came back with a new blog a few months later (as I always do) but one that was far less forthcoming and, as a result, far less interesting.
Reza’s “open-source self” is the perfect phrase for what has been lost. Not just in the photography blogosphere or the philosophy blogosphere but everywhere.
Can we get back to this? Can we migrate back to long-form blogging and away from Twitter threads?
It’s very hard to believe that we have lost Mark E Smith, but it is also amazing he dodged death as long as he did. He was a man who, by the sight of him, seemed to hold back death with poetry alone.
I had the pleasure of seeing The Fall more times than I can remember and I bumped into Mark E Smith himself twice, in circumstances that couldn’t be more different. I feel like every single encounter with that man would be unforgettable for anyone. He was the writer of a million songs and the heart of even more stories.
I suppose it is probably best to get the story of my first encounter with Smith out of the way first. It is the least flattering of the two.
This blog will soon return to its usual programming but for the past week I have been much more active in meatspace.
On the anniversary of Mark’s death, the impotence I felt was deeply depressing. Whereas last year, Mark’s death had sent everyone affected into action, when the anniversary came around I just felt lethargic.
ForK-Punk, in this way, at that time, just felt like sharing an idea: the idea of a party. So much of the energy that Mark’s death had occasioned was spent on London dance floors in 2017 and this continued to feel like the best way to honour his memory. Something similar had to happen following Kodwo’s leture, and so myself and lēves set about making the idea a reality.
In the lead up to the day, I was a mess of stress and anxiety. It is very difficult to organise a party in a week. To be honest, the party that we had planned didn’t happen – it all fell apart – but something else fell together in its place and that was entirely down to the people who were there and their energy and love. This was palpable throughout the whole evening with Kodwo filling out three lecture halls on campus – two others projecting a live stream of the event – and with countless others tuning in worldwide.
Kodwo’s lecture spoke to this well – better than well; better than anyone could have done except maybe for Mark himself. I won’t do the lecture a disservice in summarising it from memory here (and it will hopefully be on YouTube soon enough) but I will share the snatches of phrases I scribbled in my notebook.
Kodwo spoke of “gatherting people into gatherings”, “making movements”, “consenting not to be a single being”, “affective proximity”, “being alert to the temporality of theory”, “shifting grounds”, “drastically advanced regressions”, “turbulence”…
He noted how people who approach thought through and from music have an insight into the “time signature” of the current moment, as Mark did and as Kodwo most certainly does. (I kept thinking last night how Kodwo can often feel out of time in his analyses, but in the best way – like some sort of Time Lord gazing down with omnipotence on the entangled time crises below.)
One of the projects that Kodwo and Mark had planned, that Kodwo and others have since talked about at length, became a focus for the second half of the lecture: a book called Kanye Theory.
“An ultralight beam connects the earth to an Outside through a mutant gospel”, he says at one point, in reference to the opening song of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. “Gospel is a summoning of forces from outside to aid endangered persons.”
The first performance of For K-Punk became the most fitting listening session in light of this. Without knowing the content of Kodwo’s lecture, we had planned to play The Life of Pablo in full (at the suggestion of Ayesha Hameed, because it was a recent album that Mark had really liked) and whilst the Kanye-adverse bar owner didn’t let this happen quite as intended we nonetheless heard most of it and the atmosphere of the night was set.
Dancing in a circle with friends, strangers, Kodwo busting moves like there was no tomorrow, was perhaps the happiest I have been in months and I will long remember how taken aback by this I was.
The last six months were immediately struck in relief. I have missed dancing and I have missed our howling communities screaming along to whatever summons has been hurled at us from the DJ booth.
What Kodwo meant by Mark’s capacity to make and midwife movements was so clear then. He is still doing it from beyond the grave. This must continue, and it might… The venue were very impressed with the turn out.
How last night could be repeated, I do not know, but I have faith in the people around here who I believe would rally around a night that continues explicitly to channel the memory of K-Punk.
In much the same way that Kode9’s Ø nights at Corsica Studios have become a gathering point for gatherings, there is certainly space and desire for more opportunities to be together with music.
A thousand thanks must go to Adam Harper and No Signal Sound for playing the first few hours of the night, and a thousand apologies to those who stayed with me as I tried to get to grips with CDJs for the first time. (I really miss my records).
In the untimely history of zero, intelligence finds its ultimate horizon in absolute risk. An abysmal, divaricating threat defines the game. Titan shadow of the dealer in the fog. There is only one way out: to go all in.
A spasm shakes the frame.
You find yourself inside an empty theatre, but the dimensionality is wrong. The ground warps around your steps, stage lights refract off impossible surfaces. Alien lines splinter and reform. You see yourself stalking behind the wings and reach out to connect, but space isn’t responding how it should. You’re losing your grip. A waveform uncoils, oscillates between you and the double across a nightmare terrain of molten geometry. Differentials dance in the intervals, an infinitesimal conflict that betrays the closeness of infinity. The double points behind you and your arm returns the gesture―but it’s the wrong hand. Metrics collapse into chiral discrepancy. A tragic click initiates a cascade of involuting echoes that fuse with the light, refined by feedback into a trans-spectral howl that tests the limits of the theatre’s manifold.
When the echo finally disintegrates, the thing that was you understands this is because it has beached space on time. The vast abrupt: sprawling and compressed, black infinity seared to a singular point―zero gnawing at the lip of elanguescence.
Antimemory floods the system. Something mouths, ‘What happened?’
If you haven’t already seen it, the Vast Abrupt has recently ripped a hole in the blogosphere. All those who have gazed into it have been as repulsed as they have been entranced.
Thomas Moynihan’s seven days of Cosmic Dyspepsia is as intoxicating an induction as you could ever be force-fed (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Justin Murphy’s Atomisation & Liberation, Uriel Alexis’ Skins and the Game, and Edmund Berger’s introduction to Synthetic Fabricationhave all provided various other fascinating twists and turns around the hive mind of Cave Twitter’s troglodytes.
I moved to Deptford recently and I have been reminded of that strange time in the late ’00s MP3 blogosphere when lots of bands had names that sounded like great genres which you would have preferred to listen to instead of their actual painfully generic music.
Deptford Goth, you are unworthy of your own name. Give it to me.
(An honourable mention must also go to Egyptian Hip Hop who were, in fact, four generic indie white boys. I will never forgive your betrayal either.)
Yesterday was a very strange day. I felt so disconnected from everything that happened last year and ended up feeling more sad about my own numbness than anything else. The anniversary of Mark’s death felt like less a day of remembrance and more a marker of how long it had been; how much had changed. I spent much of the day just wondering if and when it would hit me again. It didn’t hit me when I posted Egress. It didn’t hit me on Twitter, watching and reading all the posts made in his memory. In fact, this was just unsettling.
I ended up reading Mark’s essay Touchscreen Capture and after that I had to leave the house.
If, in medieval theology, purgatory was a transitional state, in which souls were purified on their way to heaven, then what the modern era has invented is the purgatorial as a mode in its own right. Is this not the mode of Beckett’s universe – a universe in which compulsion and waiting never end, a universe without any possibility of climax, resolution or transformation, a universe that is closed, but which will never finally run down into a state of total entropic dissolution?
Walking around, I ended up thinking again about the day that we found out Mark had died – which was actually a year ago today, the 14th. So many of us were sent into flight. Immediately people dropped everything and attempt to gather from around London to all be in the same place. On my way to meet with others, I dropped my wallet in a moment of distraction and spent 4 hours in a bus garage waiting for it to be returned when someone got off their shift, rendered totally impotent. I was unable to get home to be alone and unable to get north of the river to be with people I knew and who felt the same way. I first cried about Mark in the canteen of that bus garage, avoiding eye contact with bemused drivers on a coffee break.
Meatspace can feel just as purgatorial as the internet in grief.
I ended up meeting friends in a pub at around 11pm yesterday. The day itself had been surreal in its dullness. I’d seen a friend from back home who was down for the evening before a flight the next day and I hadn’t seen her in person for well over a year. I kept chastising myself for not thinking about Mark and for doing something unrelated to his memory but then when I did focus of him and this time last year I felt desperate for distraction.
In the pub in New Cross, we read Nina Power’s beautiful tribute, laughing joyfully at the photographs within. Mark’s various phases of dyed hair were the stuff of legend amongst his students who couldn’t imagine the seemingly reserved man we knew with anything as outlandish as red hair…
We went to the mural shortly afterwards. Earlier in the day, people had brought flowers and candles. I was sad to have missed it. I missed Mark. It hit me then.
[A]t the limit of discursive thought experience tends not only toward the outside, toward death; it also tends toward contact with another, toward community. Indeed, so much that “[t]here cannot be inner experience without a community of those who live it.” Inner experience requires a community of lucky beings drawn together, bound together in their excessive movement, in their fall away from themselves. This, then, is “where” community is located: in the chance movement of insufficiency; in the openness that my being is in exceeding the requirements of homogenization, preservation, and justification—in the movement outside oneself, which falls in love, dies, laughs, cries, mourns, celebrates, suffers. 
0 Spectres of Mark’s
January 14th 2017
Saturday: one week into the second semester of the academic year at Goldsmiths, University of London. The library is busy. The days are still getting dark early and it has been raining heavily all week. I receive a push notification from the Twitter app on my phone telling me that a recent tweet is proving popular with my followers:
Sat opposite two friends who were writing essays for Mark Fisher’s postgraduate class before an imminent deadline, our thoughts grasp at one another, sent into a panic on such little information.
I soon start receiving messages from others about the tweet. At first, most assume it to be a hoax or a misunderstanding. I put Mark’s name into Google followed by the word “dead”, not knowing how else to corroborate the rumour. I see that a former keyboardist in the band Wham!, also named Mark Fisher, had died the month before—surely they meant this Mark…
…But Repeater were Mark’s publisher, having just published his book The Weird and the Eerie. They wouldn’t get this wrong…
We sat in silence, continuing to work in short, shocked bursts of disbelief. Then, we stopped. “What am I doing?” someone said. “What’s the point now?”
Later that evening, our worst fears were confirmed: on Friday 13th January 2017, Mark Fisher had committed suicide.
In the months following Mark’s death, answering this question of “What’s the point now?” became an intense collective project within and around Goldsmiths, informing a great deal of activity, including—but by no means limited to—the summer term public lecture programme which was organised by students and staff within the Visual Cultures department that Fisher himself had been a beloved part of.
Titled The Fisher-Function, the series ran for seven weeks throughout July and August and was built around lesser-known works made by Mark in various different registers—from blog posts and academic papers to mixes and audio essays.
What is the Fisher-Function? How did it make itself real, and how can we continue to realise it? Many of us naturally feel a need to ensure this is a moment when the force [Mark] brought into our world is redoubled rather than depleted. And to do so, to continue his work and our own, we have to try to understand his life, and the consequences of his death, at once horrifying and awakening, as a part of the Fisher-Function. And I don’t simply mean the intellectual contributions that we can appreciate, extend, take forward into the future; I also mean what we need to learn in terms of looking after ourselves and each other, right now.
It is precisely the Fisher-Function that I would like to explore in this essay through the very experience of community that gave the term such resonance in the immediate aftermath of Fisher’s death. This essay’s opening epigraph speaks to this community explicitly. Fisher’s death galvanised us as we found ourselves bound together in our excessive movement, in our fall away from ourselves—and it is in this fall, in the exceeding of our individual experiences, that our community has since been located. However, this “location” is not locatable; it is not institutional—it is implicitly outside Goldsmiths; outside ourselves. It is a community formed by the molten intensities of a shared experience that cannot be shared.
In the months immediately prior to Fisher’s death, during my first semester as a postgraduate student at Goldsmiths, I had already written on this paradoxical problem of “community” whilst reading through the works of Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy. A conversation on “community” had entangled the works of all three over a number of decades at the end of the twentieth century and it remains a lively area of study. Serendipitously (and painfully), this initially academic train of thought took on a new significance after Fisher’s death, unfolding into newly potent dimensions as it assisted me through the trauma of the formulation of this new community built on an otherwise isolating experience of grief.
Soon to be published by Repeater Books, this post has been cut short. You can find a further developed version of it in my book of the same name, coming to bookshops in March 2020.