State Decay: Collapse

This post is another appendix to ‘State Decay‘ — the first one is here — addressing concerns raised in the comments, which I think are legitimate and warrant a more in-depth explanation than the one given in a comments section, which unfolded as follows:

dmf: “There is great beauty in decomposition, if only we would stop resisting it” — really have you ever been in areas where the state has either collapsed or largely withdrawn?

xenogoth: There’s a great difference between collapse and a natural process of decomposition. Hence the metaphor, as well as the quote from Vince to finish.

dmf: but we aren’t literally going thru decomposition we are undergoing a series of collapses, don’t know Vince’s work well but Nick is willfully ignorant about the vital roles of infrastructures, perhaps yer writing on/as speculative fiction and I’ve missed the genre/point in which case apologies.

xenogoth: Speculative, yes, but not fiction. Collapse seems to be what happens when a state, in its rigidity, is exposed to its outside and can’t adjust. That is the subtext of this whole post. Lovecraftian horror is the horror of collapse in this same mode, but limited to the individual rather than to a state. But many have explored ways that collapse is just the result of bad infrastructure, rather than the only feasible result of [sudden, radical] change. That’s the fallacy of capitalist realism. “Horrors are not all there is to the Outside”, as Mark wrote. Also, patchwork itself is [a] multiplication of states and therefore infrastructures, is it not?

dmf: patchwork is a fictional genre, failed and failing states is the news of the day. to think we can somehow manage/re-engineer this is more way-out/scifi than promethean fantasies of re-engineering the weirdings of the climate.

xenogoth: I disagree but I’ll explain why in future posts.


Mahan: […] “Every once-living thing, in its decomposition, allows innumerable differing microcosms to flourish, uninhibited and free. There is great beauty in decomposition, if only we would stop resisting it.” yes, resistance generally sucks. deleuze taught us that. now we all affirm, for better or worse.

but ….. the left died and innumerable 4channers flourished…. if i don’t see much beauty in that, maybe we should fast-forward to the third critique and talk a bit about taste… also, and more importantly, syria has now almost totally decomposed, so did iraq, and there wasn’t anything beautiful about that either. are we talking about natural death here? or did something kill something else? is some sense of realpolitik also inspiring us? unfortunately, political decomposition is not as beautiful as its strictly natural counterpart captured on time-lapse videos. this bit just ruined the whole post for me, almost. grrrrrr….

but back to the main point. robyn makes so much sense, but he just sounds too annoyingly detached, like he just came down from mars (or wherever) to explain patchwork and he’ll be back up (or down) there right after the seminar… if we’re a bit more attached to this planet thingy we’re in, we’d be aware that there should be a path leading us from where we are now to the patchwork future (let’s say we all happen to LOVE patchwork overnight). how will the world be cut up into hundreds of thousands of swathes of land to be then autonomously but inter-dependently ruled? what happens to the resources, the raw materials we will nevertheless need even if we totally switch to bitcoin gov-corps? who will take on syria? the ‘wars’ that sustain the state form are incompatible with a patchwork model. and that is the fictional bit about patchwork. neo-empires and monopolies are more of a reality than this kind of ‘wishful thinking’, i’d say. […]

xenogoth: Like a previous commenter here, I want to stress that the difference between decomposition as a process, as I’m imagining it, is not the same as collapse. Evidently I need to clarify this and I plan to.

The Left didn’t died and allow 4chan to flourish. Again, I think that point is already made here too. The Left stopped considering / taking its outside seriously. The Left stopped communicating and began to believe too much in its own universalism. When other conversations began to dominate, it didn’t know what to do and was unprepared. That’s not death, that’s having your head in the sand.

A response to the rest, too, is to come. I do not see it as being as drastic as people assume it to be and I think, in some places, the signs of a move towards patchwork are already present, particularly in post-Brexit Britain. As Vince had already insinuated, a global patchwork is sort of an oxymoron. It’s not a globalist cure-all. We need “the infectious patchwork within the state, a recursive dissolution that leaves not a network of states, but an endless flux in which the state itself disintegrates into the very war that sustains it.” This is the process I see as state decomposition and the examples I already see as heading this way aren’t as dystopian as people seem to be assuming. I don’t think that “war”, in the sense Vince uses it, is in reference to international conflict but the internal struggles that have long given the state its form: class struggle perhaps being the central engine and all the struggles that in itself contains. Resource management and trade won’t stop with patchwork. Nor will aid. Again, this is the point I try to make clear. It’s not a turning our backs on each other but necessitates communication in order to function. It necessitates a responsibility to your outside and I think that means that situations like Syria would be less of a shitshow with states providing aid only doing so much and having their own imperial agendas. The only fiction I see is, again, people’s reliance on a capitalist realist fallacy when any alternative is put forward is wishful thinking. This post does not describe a fully functioning global system for fixing all our problems so dismissing it as not fulfilling that is stamping on it before its had time to grow legs — precisely the sort of knee jerk melancholic response that has rid the left of all altervatives. This is merely, for me, an introduction to the problem and there is more to come. And I want to show, over the course of a number of posts, how it’s an idea the Left could take seriously if it wanted to.

Evidently further clarification is needed and that’s what I plan to do here.

Continue reading “State Decay: Collapse”

State Decay: The Twitter Debate

The responses to ‘State Decay‘ on Twitter were brilliant and lively and asking all the questions that I hope to answer in future posts, which has both put a fire under me and necessitated an expansion of some points raised here specifically.

This post can be considered as the first of two preambles that will set up a follow-up post  for those who want to trace some of the discussions raised in the gulf between ‘State Decay’ and what is to follow. (You can read the second preamble here).

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State Decay: Kant, Bataille and Patchwork

As has been clear since the beginning, the overarching project of this blog is to look for exits — exits of various kinds from various things. This has inevitably involved a consideration of the politics of secession and patchwork, which I’m becoming more and more engaged with.

The most well-known (and controversial) introduction to patchwork comes from Mencius Moldbug:

The basic idea of Patchwork is that, as the crappy governments we inherited from history are smashed, they should be replaced by a global spiderweb of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of sovereign and independent mini-countries, each governed by its own joint-stock corporation without regard to the residents’ opinions. If residents don’t like their government, they can and should move. The design is all “exit,” no “voice.”

Given Moldbug’s reputation — and Nick Land’s also, who has done the most work to popularise and extend Moldbug’s ideas — the initial reaction from those who hear about patchwork in this context is one of fear: a fear of everything to the right. “Isn’t patchwork just a fascist system?” you hear them cry, again and again. By definition, it is the opposite. That is not to say it is an idea to be taken lightly, of course.

Vince Garton offers the most comprehensive articulation of this in his essay “Leviathan Rots“:

[Patchwork] should not be dismissed as ‘fascist’. It reprises a tradition of Western political thought that reaches back across the doctrine of cuius regio to the very origins of nationalism in the medieval French reaction against the universalist pretences of the Emperor; in its substance, it is clearly antagonistic to the universality of the fascist state with its insatiable thirst for conquest and death.

Patchwork calls for a complete restructuring of what we think of as politics today. However, what many of those nervous onlookers fail to realise is that it is towards a radical restructuring that we seem to be headed.

With states in the US in open rebellion, repeatedly flexing their autonomy and resisting Trump’s policies, and with Catalan, Scotland and various UK counties seeking secession via progressive devolution from their own centralised systems of governance, to ignore patchwork now is only to bury your head in the sand, no matter where your politics lie.

Before undead 2017 rolled over in its grave and became the even more putrefic 2018, I said that I wanted to read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason over the next year and I had planned to narrate my readings on this blog. I feel like patchwork has emerged as a good background against which to consider the initial implications of Kant’s transcendental argument and the stakes of it today. This was crystallised for me — as most things are at the moment — during a seminar with Robin Mackay.

Robin summarised patchwork as a “spatial sorting of differentiation, connected to a sense of progressive time, or at the very least a sense of political temporality”. This foregrounded a reading of “Lemurian Time War“, a Ccru text which fictionalises and occults many of the dynamics inherent to patchwork.

Our reading of this text was preceded by a discussion of contemporary “Left” and “Right” political subjectivities (broadly speaking). Both sides of this political binary in the West seem to be, in their own ways, preoccupied with identity.

The identity politics of the Left, whilst having their uses in some contexts, tend only to increasingly fragment identities whilst nonetheless flying the flag of Universalism. The Right, on the other hand, and the Alt-Right in particular, have repeatedly attracted controversy for their talk of ethnostates and the more general revitalisation of nationalist discourses around the world.

Robin’s analysis of this was that, whilst identity is the shared contention, the Left has an identitarian (temporal?) solution to the perceived problem whilst the Right has a spatial solution. Both, however, are concerned with limits and utopian hopes of their transcendence.

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Ambient Photography

An old post from an old blog, 2014

Ambient music has had a resurgence of late. In many ways, it’s never really gone away. 

The history of ambient music is fascinating and complex. Explorations of it — from Brian Eno’s discography and David Toop’s Ocean of Sound — often avoid making points about style and form, instead discussing philosophies towards sound and ways of listening.

With this resurgence in my mind, I came across two essays on photography that used Muzak — the very music that catalysed Brian Eno’s own ambient music — to negatively describe a certain kind of photography.

The first was a blogpost by Colin Pantall in which he railed against the majority of photography that we see all around us — “visual Musak, that inadvertently lulls us into a state of thoughtless consumption”. For Pantall, the pervasiveness of a photography so bland must surely be (negatively) affecting how we visually experience our society.

The second was a description of a similar phenomenon by David Campany in his take on the increasingly obligatory State of the Union address written to accompany the 2014 Deutsche Bank exhibition, Time Present:

The further photography moves from known objects, the less reliable its description of the world. If, as we are often told, the photograph is a universal form of communication, it is only at the level of the obvious and the already understood. It is clichés and only clichés that bind us in this increasingly fragmentary world, argued Gilles Deleuze. Indeed, what there is of a “global language of photography” is made up of images of commodities, celebrities, sunsets, and other clichés of locality. “Viewzak.”

Both use ‘Muzak’ in a context fitting with our cultural lexicon and they are certainly not the first to make such a comparison. The word ‘Muzak’ lives on (albeit only just) as a synonym for the worst examples of derivative and reductive corporate cultures that dilute the truly artful.

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Responsibility and Depression

I do feel a bit sorry for Timothy Morton today.

The online pile-on can be acutely distressing, and I hope he’s taking some time out to look after himself now in the aftermath.

He has not, however, made things any easier for himself by failing to listen to and understand his critics.

The amount of negativity I’m receiving is an indication of how unacceptable mental illness still is. I will never stop speaking up for the importance of taking care of oneself.

The above quote, taken from a new post following the antidepressant debacle, is just as wrong as everything else he’s posted recently. He still can’t see past the hundreds of messages saying “You’re wrong” to get to the true message which is: “You’ve hurt us: you say you valued a life but you’ve cheapened a death.”

Depression doesn’t excuse that. It explains so many actions and judgements but “I’m hurting” doesn’t excuse the hurt you cause.

“It’s an explanation but never an excuse.” A psychiatrist friend once said this to me many years ago when talking about how to deal with someone who, after the death of their father, had become an intolerable bully. It was vindicating but it can nonetheless be a tough line to toe when you know what it feels like on the other side.

Yesterday’s post, “Responsibility & Justice“, feels even more complicated now. Most of it was written before Morton sent his tweet but it has nonetheless dovetailed with the events of the last few days as they’ve unfolded on Twitter.

The dilemma that Morton is facing is certainly one I’ve witnessed over and over again, various griefs and depressions commingling and falling out with one another. He is at least right in saying that taking care of yourself is important — of course it is — but what does that even mean here in the context of him hurting others? How is it anything other than an extension of the self-serving attitude that angered people in the first place?

He is obviously suffering (now that he has been told off). Part of me feels guilty about that, having contributed to his no doubt endless stream of notifications, but how many more people were hurt by his glib and self-satisfied tone? Morton’s tweet was like a grief grenade that he threw into our midst and he just so happened to get caught up in the blast. That surely makes him a careless idiot, but does it also make him a victim? Does the triggering of his own depression excuse the grief that he trampled over on the way there?

When distress causes distress, it seems like everybody is doomed to lose. I’m guilty of letting my depression leak out onto those around me, and I’m guilty of doubling down on my distress when those around me become distressed by it. Most people I know who suffer from depression are guilty of this. I can’t remember how many feedback loops of depressed friends smashing their relationships to smithereens I’ve witnessed, each upset and guilty in equal measure. The feedback loop then becomes a feedback spiral, and it only ever travels downwards.

(Diagram appropriated from Cyclonopedia)

You can expect this situation to colour any future posts on “responsibility” going forwards. There’s already a couple percolating.

Responsibility and Justice

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about “responsibility” and how it relates to “justice” following an anti-Landian encounter at a party recently (discussed here). This is something I see as being related to U/ACC in my understanding of that burgeoning theory of Acceleration and I’m going to continue to try make sense of it for myself here.

Whilst “responsibility” may be counter-intuitive to a position of anti-praxis at first glance, my interest in it at the moment is helping me to articulate a fission between my thoughts on philosophies of community and a number of recent life experiences — namely, my stringent and repeatedly expressed belief in the potency of politics of “community” as espoused by the likes of Bataille and Blanchot which has recently been ungrounded (but also, paradoxically, vindicated) by the reality of communities of trauma and the affects of accelerated entropy that haunt them in their pressurised coming-together.

I won’t go into too much detail about those experiences as they have taken shape more recently but they are epitomised for me by this tweet:



This tweet, at the time it was posted, felt like a well-deserved dig at the paradoxical affects of leftist politics on the broader function (or, rather, potential) of communal care. It felt like a symptom of a contemporary Leftist sociality, mutated by filter bubbles and the option to “block” and “mute” online, with the potential to enact versions of those things on a whim IRL having messy, self-defeating consequences.

I found myself bitterly thinking: What use is a politics of “community” when communities inevitably fall apart? What good is any community built on principles of insufficiency? How can any sort of “community” be constituted when we are so eager to abandon each other?

I was quickly frustrated at myself when, taking a step back, I realised that these were precisely the questions raised by Maurice Blanchot in his book The Unavowable Community, which I had read repeatedly and diligently over the previous 12 months. I was unable to see how those issues could be constituted in a reality shaped by a grief so long in the tooth, my vision clouded by stress and paranoia.

Community, in this sense, is not an object or a fenced-in group. Jean-Luc Nancy has poetically referred to it as the between “us”. Perhaps, then, we can think of “community” as a responsibility, a duty, to an immaterial rupture.

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The #MedsWorkedForMe (But Nothing Else Did)

Timothy Morton refusing to eat his (nonetheless deleted) words, cementing his position alongside Jeremy Gilbert in the bad take stakes, has given a distinctly bad taste to the rest of the #MedsWorkedForMe campaign that swept Twitter recently, following the publishing of a report declaring that antidepressants do work and their bad rep is detrimental to those people who could benefit from taking them.

This may be true, to an extent, but to discourage the depressed from questioning and approaching their illness and its treatments critically is as dangerous as denying that antidepressants can help at all, which is inevitably what this campaign is doing. (And, for what it’s worth, Morton, any critiques of being anti-antidepressant should be lain at the feet of the disgraced Johann Hari and his attempt at a comeback, not Mark Fisher).

As Mark made it very clear, in one of the most famous passages from Capitalist Realism:

The current ruling ontology denies any possibility of a social causation of mental illness. The chemico-biologization of mental illness is of course strictly commensurate with its depoliticization. Considering mental illness an individual chemico-biological problem has enormous benefits for capitalism. First, it reinforces Capital’s drive towards atomistic individualisation (you are sick because of your brain chemistry). Second, it provides an enormously lucrative market in which multinational pharmaceutical companies can peddle their pharmaceuticals (we can cure you with our SSRIs). It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low serotonin levels. This requires a social and political explanation; and the task of repoliticising mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism.

Causation is one thing but let us not forget about entrenchment.

In the context of Capitalist Realism, this paragraph comes right before Mark goes on to consider the ‘new bureacracy’ of what he calls “Market Stalinism and bureaucratic anti-production.” The drugs might work but the system does not — regardless, the effectiveness of the drugs becomes a signifier for the system at large and so #MedsWorkedForMe becomes little more than a PR opportunity.

The way value is generated on the stock exchange depends […] less on what a company ‘really does’, and more on perceptions of, and beliefs about, its (future) performance. In capitalism, that is to say, all that is solid melts into PR,…

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Darkness Itself IV

One | Two | Three

Driving along the A63, as it merges wit the Clive Sully, the major artery of Kingston-upon-Hull, having passed under the Humber Bridge and continuing to hurtle towards the city centre, I see the Lord Line building, that rotting and abandoned monument, casting its shadow over the city and its estuary. 

Built to serve Hull’s deep sea trawlermen, the Lord Line and its surrounding out-buildings somehow repeatedly avoid demolition and redevelopment – much like the city itself (at least until recently).

Elsewhere in Yorkshire, reminders of a once-proud mining industry slip from view. In Sheffield I’ve heard they turn slag heaps into public parks, ski slopes, golf courses. Geological matter so deeply excavated cannot be put back but it is nonetheless buried, becoming one more layer of the city’s substrate, albeit uneven, the scar tissue of shifting industries.

In Hull, you can’t escape the water. It haunts and mocks. Worked or not, it laps the shore and the tide never changes.


Cod, like coal, was to be a pawn in wider political and economic issues, but in the early weeks of 1968 the enemy was atrocious weather. [via]

Many of the 20th century’s mining disasters are well known. Subterranean terrors calcify the public imagination. The darkness of Hull’s oceanic disasters are equally unfathomable and far less visible. The first two months of 1968 in particular are known for the Triple Trawler Tragedy, claiming 60 lives alone. Coastal industries have the unfortunate complication of being at the mercy of “fanged noumena”.

Is not transcendental philosophy a fear of the sea? Something like a dike or a sea-wall?

A longing for the open ocean knows at us, as the land is gnawed by the sea. A dark fluidity at the roots of our nature rebels against the security of terra firma, provoking a wave of anxiety in which we are submerged, until we feel ourselves drowning, with representation draining away. Nihil ulterius. [1]

Some 6000 deaths have been recorded at sea since records began but Hull has prospered as a fishing town long before then. The true numbers are unimaginable.

In the 12th century,  the fishing monks of Meaux Abbey established what was then Wyke-upon-Hull as a site of national important for fishing and trade, leading to its eventual nomination as a King’s Town. The word “Wyke” comes from the Scandinavian vik — meaning ‘port’ — which suggests the region was important for a few hundred years before records began.

Wyke is a name that locals will recognise as belonging to a local Further Education college but perhaps without knowledge of its origins. The same goes for the city’s peculiar accent which still retains the soft vowel “ø.

Hull remains a Viking town, through and through, but it has a tendency to forget itself.

After hundreds of years of gradually increasing prosperity, Hull’s fishing industry succumbed to the Cod Wars of the 20th century — successive wars over fishing territories between the UK and Iceland, of which Iceland won each one successively. Boats and shipsremain a familiar fixture of the city’s edges and rivers but the smell of fish that once clouded the city in its prime is now, for better and for worse, long gone.

How much thought is given to the olfactory consequences of post-industrial decline?

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Neurotic I Am

I am very aware that I’m posting a lot at the moment and I’m creating a confused web of content that is incessantly referring to itself. Apologies for that. As I start this post I’m paranoid that I might be getting hard to follow and keep up with. The paradox is that the more I post, the more aware I am of the lack of quality control. I know that I should let things stew for a bit longer but never in my entire blogging life have I managed to give my thoughts the time they deserve when presented in this format. Rapidfire posting is my preferred mode of production.

This posting frequency is definitely counter-intuitive to being read — and I’m okay with that — but I am also appreciative of the support I get from the few people who do sometimes read what I word-vomit up here and I don’t want to overwhelm and bore those people with unnecessary buckets of the stuff…

This blog is only six months old (although there is far more than six months worth of material here by now) and the most flattering comments I’ve received about it so far have been about how my fervour is encouraging others to (re)engage with the blogosphere themselves. I’d like that more than anything. The last thing I want to feel like I’m doing here is talking to myself (even though that is surely an inevitability no matter how many people I add to my blogroll). Twitter offsets that feeling somewhat but engaging in conversation with others over long-form posts is something I would definitely like to encourage.

There is always a reticence to do so, however, and there is perhaps a feeling that to blog (especially if you are involved or pursuing academia) is inherently onanistic. Axxonnhorror, new to blogosphere (welcome!), captures the feeling well. I’m sure their first post will speak truth to many people’s blogging experiences. How many times I’ve found myself writing posts like this, interrogating the desire to write by writing and not writing.

Most of the time I’m steeped in self-critical indolences, so always considered the idea of creating and maintaining a blog to be pathetic self-indulgence and a wasteful addition of never-to-be-read words to the vast information oceans. I’ve felt it was a safeguard too: to spare myself the future painful awkwardness of rereading or even merely knowing about the existence of formerly written sentences I immediately loathe. I’ve decided to accept the inevitable embarrassment, as perhaps surprisingly, there still exists some primal impulse towards cognitive action in my unpleasant brain, some desire to write cogent posts, organise mental activity, thoughts, and information. A will-to-think? No, mostly it’s just a means to more worthily procrastinate my degree (maths), devoting some part of my dilettante behaviour to blogging, which is marginally better than some of the alternatives of wasting time.

I’ve been asked a few times how I manage to write so much and for tips on making writing into a habit but the drive behind what I do is just as Axxonnhorror describes it. It makes me wonder what kind of image people have of me in their minds: a studious guy who lounges around all day reading and writing, furiously typing out essays on a daily basis. I only wish that were the case.

To tell you the truth, at the moment I have very little time on my hands. My day jobs have been relentless so far this year and I was sick for most of December and January, run down but unable to afford a break. (No sick leave for the precariat). The time needed to write in-depth essays or work on other projects was something I lost around the time this blog came into being but without such projects I’m left feeling purposeless. This blog a hobby I take far too seriously as I desperately look for job satisfaction from everywhere but the jobs I’m paid for. In essence, it is an excuse to turn my otherwise languorous depression into a neurotically productive one.

Productive depression is something I think is alien to most, and that’s no surprise when we function under the auspices of being productive members of society — that central spire around which all mental illness turns: if you’re not productive, of course you’re unwell.

For me, when I’m depressed and anxious, writing becomes a quick fix and a distraction. There is a self-destructive mania to working on a post at the expense of other life tasks. It is an opportunity to step into and live inside my own head in a way that the majority of my day forbids. It’s an attempt at privately grounding myself whilst, at the same time, being an attempt to public flaying myself.

Now I wake up every morning and feel that constant and insatiable WordPress itch that I am desperate to scratch, like a cigarette craving. I have an unhealthy dependence on the endorphin hit that comes from pushing that “Publish…” button. In this way, hitting that button is closely associated with my own sense of self-worth. It’s all a superficial attempt to keep depression at bay which is, in itself, fuelled by depression. If I was content with my life, I probably wouldn’t be spending so much time here. The WordPress phone app doesn’t help with this as I’m able to work on posts in every spare moment of the day (and I do). Writing is jouissance is suffering. I don’t blog from home, picking at my library of knowledge. I blog from the bus, trying to forget about the day I’ve had or am going to have.

All of this is, I hope, obvious; a reality that is generally known but left unsaid. The intention is not to respond to the question “Woah how do you blog so much?” with a glib “I hate myself”. The currents at play are complex but the discomfort of talking about them frankly risks contaminating the function of the outlet. There is, perhaps, a more impersonal way to approach this that allows for a return to our usual programming…

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