The Lure of the Gothic

My interest in the Gothic is probably one of the most frequently questioned and challenged aspects of this blog, particularly when mixed up with politics. “Why does everything have to be about death?” “What is the appeal of darkness and the Gothic when talking about supposedly ‘progressive’ politics?” “Why can’t these politics be about life instead?”

These questions are all legitimate.

In trying to articulate what it is about the Gothic that is so interesting in relation to all these topics, I am reminded of Old Nick’s series of blog posts on the lure of the void.

In the series, Land considers our faded wonder at space exploration, describing the legacy of the Apollo missions as “a modern variant of the Orpheus myth”. He writes: “We were told not to look back from orbit, but of course, we did, and what we saw pulled us back down.”

He continues:

… perhaps we’re not out there because there’s no convincing reason to expect anything else. Extraterrestrial space isn’t a frontier, even a tough one, but rather an implacably hostile desolation that promises nothing except grief and waste.

What I have been trying to tentatively explore on the blog is a similar sort of disillusionment, mirrored in our all too terrestrial cultures. The Gothic novel, for instance, frequently investigates the outer limits of inner space.

The abstract horror of JG Ballard, most famously, encapsulates an attempt to push linguistically and imaginatively beyond the frontiers of the enclosed subject. As we have pushed further and further out of ourselves, assisted by technology and culture, it seems that somewhere along the way we likewise looked back. The process of expansion itself has not stopped, just as we continue to innovate (albeit more slowly) in areas of space travel, but the popular imagination has seemingly recoiled from its own limits.

Is this not likewise what Mark Fisher most famously mourned in his book Ghosts of my Life? Caught in the cultural feedback loop of late capitalism, everywhere we look, we see the neoliberal subject wander aimlessly, haunting its own borders.

The darkness has become the exclusive domain of melancholy and nostalgia. It’s expansive potentials squandered. The now-classic stereotype of Goth subcultures is a case in point.

The Gothic “aesthetic” inherent to this image, to me, is not just a well-trodden way to achieve an edgy, politically-ambiguous anonymity — it is representative of an interest in limit-experiences; limits of the self, of politics, of philosophy.

What I have been trying to tentatively explore in my recent readings of the Gothic novel and patchwork is a similar sort of lure which has suffered a similar disillusionment.

Alongside the more contemporary works of JG Ballard and the like, the Gothic novel frequently investigates the outer limits of inner space.

Abstract horror, whether Landian or Fisherian, often attempts to push linguistically beyond the frontiers of the enclosed subject. As we have pushed further and further out of ourselves, assisted by technology and culture, it seems that somewhere along the way we likewise looked back. The process itself has not stopped, just as we continue to innovate in areas of space travel, but the popular imagination has seemingly recoiled from its limits.

This Gothic “aesthetic”, then, to me, is not just a well-trodden way to achieve an edgy, politically ambiguous anonymity — it is representative of an interest in limit-experiences; limits of the self, of politics, of philosophy.


I initially drafted a version of this post months ago, giving an unnecessarily long-winded personal history, but something was missing, left unarticulated. Then I read this article by Phil Elverum, who I was obsessed with for much of my teens, and everything fell into place.

In a lot of ways, the defining aspect of this music [black metal] for most people, its “evil”ness or whatever, is not something I think about at all. It seems so clearly a joke or a performance. Even with the early Europeans who killed each other, I don’t see them as evil but just confused and carried away. The black is just a costume. It’s Halloween. It’s cool, I love Halloween. But also honesty is important to me, and there’s something embarrassing and facetious about that performative darkness, living in it too much.

And then in 2016 when my wife died of cancer, my perspective on this all shifted a little. It no longer seemed okay or fun to play around with ideas of death and sorrow. These are legitimate and serious things that shouldn’t be juggled around by young people who don’t actually have any experience with them.

BUT: A week after she died, I organized a memorial for her in the old former church where I have a studio space. We cleared out the big room and cleaned the floor. People came from all over. We set up the PA, with the big subwoofer and everything. I set up some of the things from her drawing desk, a little diorama of her existence. There were flowers. Before anyone came into the building, as they milled around outside, I blasted the song “Prison Of Mirrors” by Xasthur as loud as it could go, deafening in the room as I stood in the middle of it with my eyes closed and head tilted back. Shredded screaming, extreme sorrow. Then the room felt ready. It felt like “ah, yes, this is the use of this music. This is the moment, once in a lifetime hopefully, or maybe never in a lifetime for people who are fortunate enough to avoid experiencing devastation like this, this is the moment where music this extreme can tear through the veil of the difficult present moment and reveal something beyond.”

I think this sort of experience is what informs much of the questioning of my tone on my blog, whether from others or in being self-critical.

Considering how so much of my own thinking was galvanised and accelerated by my communal proximity to Mark Fisher’s suicide, how is this “aesthetic” not facetious when faced with such an abjectly real experience?

In fact, one of the most affective experiences of the last year for me was reading Mark’s darkest book in the explicit context of his suicide. Not in an attempt to give his suicide meaning but as a way to soothe the very trauma of that experience.

Mark killed himself and it ungrounded me, and everyone around me, violently, but his own writings, particularly The Weird and The Eerie, read collectively in mourning, began to function as our own “Prison of Mirrors”. That book likewise tore through the veil of the difficult present moment and revealed something beyond.




Xenogoth / zɛnəˈɡɒθ /
(AQ = 180)

Noun.

33 14 23 24 16 24 29 17
180 [33 + 14 + 23 + 24 + 16 + 24 + 29 + 17]
9 [1 + 8 + 0]

Zone-9 is the second of the two zones mutually composing the Plex-region of the Numogram, and Tractor-Zone for the 9-0 (or ‘Plex’) current. Its Plex-complement and Syzygetic-twin is Zone-0. This 9+0 Syzygy (carried by the demon Uttunul) draws the outermost curve of the Barker-spiral, which coincides with the limit ordinal-span in Barkerian arithmetic. Zone-9 provides the terminus for two channels, one each from the Torque (the 8th), and the Plex (the 9th).

Zone-9 both initiates and envelops the Ninth-Phase of Pandemonium (including 512 impulse-entities, one half of the fully disorganized population). In the first of these aspects it functions as the Ninth (or Ultimate) Door, which degenerated Muvian sorceries identify with the syzygetic xenodemon (and imp of the first degree) Uttunul (9::0, see above).

The Ninth Gate (Gt-45) connects Zone-9 to itself, transducing the third involutionary channel (see Zone-0, Zone-1). Nma sorcery refers to it as the Gate of Pandemonium (a fact Stillwell attributes to the coincidence of its number (45) with that of the Nma demonomy). The Tzikvik associate it with Tchukululok (fabled City of the Worms), and emphasize its numerical cross-match with the 5+4 Syzygy, whose demonic carrier they call Kattku (the Nma ‘Katak’). The Xxignal track Utterminus is dedicated to the Ninth Gate, linking it to K-goth synthanatonic fugues. In contrast, Polanski’s film ‘The Ninth Gate’ – despite its title – has only the most tenuous and allusive relation to the Numogram path of this name.

Mu Tantrism plots Zone-9 intensities onto the Sacral level of the spine. The Sacrum (or ‘sacred bone’) has been identified (by Goethe amongst others) as a degenerated second skull.

Zone-9 is allotted the Sarkonian Mesh-Tag 0511.

Lemurian subcultures associate Zone-9 with the Cthellloid metallic ocean of the earth’s iron core.

Centauri subdecadence maps Zone-9 onto the active side of the Fifth (or Root) Pylon on the Atlantean Cross. As the light aspect of Foundation (‘deep past’) it corresponds to the prehuman cultures of the Old Ones.

Stillwell links Zone-9 to the Munumese quasiphonic particle ‘tn,’ which Horowitz describes as ‘the ultimate unutterable mystery of vocal nullity.’

AQ Equivalences: “Conscience”; “Full Moon”; “Global Jihad”; “Neophyte”; “Omega-Phase”; “Pull Out”; “Tobias Ewe“; “Torture”; “Tyranny”




UPDATE [25/07/2018]:

[This post was originally written as a response to accusations on Twitter that writing specifically about patchwork, in a way that acknowledges its right-wing roots via Mencius Moldbug but also looks for other potentials and antecedents of the theory found in more explicitly leftist circles, makes me nothing more than a racist tarnishing the legacy of Mark Fisher. This is surely quite a leap but it was expressed nonetheless.

This was an accusation made by just one individual and, in hindsight, it didn’t warrant being addressed as in as much depth as it was. Removing all the Twitter drama, I feel like I am left with an honest and accurate description of why I started this blog but, in the interest of transparency, I’ll leave the original parts of the post below:]

As I prepare the promised “Patchwork 101” post, I am all too aware of the dangers of considering this kind of thinking recklessly.

This post began as an aside within “Patchwork 101” itself but it grew too big and started to derail it. I feel, unfortunately, that what I write here is still worth saying. Much of what is to follow (I hope) is obvious, or at least I thought it was, but since I am questioned on it frequently perhaps this is not in fact the case.

So let this be a sort of disclaimer: an attempt to answer some questions that often come up with regards to the way — that is to say: the style, aesthetic, tone — I end up talking about topics like patchwork but also the make-up of this blog more generally.

Following a recent shitshow on the timeline in the wake of my last post, I must say I do not and will never take accusations or insinuations that I am a racist engaging in Moldbuggian readings of Mark Fisher lightly. The latter part of this point in particular is laughable but some people are liable to taking that sort of shit seriously. I feel like I have a duty to be on top of it.

(No surprises it was @Miraculate, once again wading in, hypocritically invoking Brassier’s “online orgy of stupidity” comment whilst demonstrating a tragically low-level reading comprehension…)

Most people saw these comments for the trash they are and I’d like to think this is abundantly clear to anyone who has been following my blog in recent months. My relationship to Mark’s thought has been written about extensively, particularly here, and I resent the suggestion that any level of a polemic tone about more contemporary topics undoes or tarnishes this. Such a suggestion is, for me, greatly at odds with his memory.

Mark was a master of packaging and repackaging ideas and concepts. He was, like Kodwo Eshun, an exemplary “concept engineer“. It is not my intention to somehow undo Mark’s work or align him with writers on the Right on this blog. If I am tampering with his ideas, this is intended as a respectful extension of his own neological creativity and nothing more. That his ideas may be considered in orbit of “right-wing” political philosophy simply comes with the territory.

What frustrates me the most is that, within so many of Mark’s writings, there are calls to arms for a new and experimental politics that are so often ignored or sanitised by many of his (mis)readers. (Acid Communism remains a case in point.)

This is not the fault of Mark’s writing. Whilst he seemed to be exceedingly careful to toe the line of leftist respectability — although he eventually became frustrated with this futile exercise — there is a sense that he was translating more radical politics into a language that the populist Left could more readily appreciate.

This is not to say his ideas were in any way subliminally right-wing, but some of his biggest influences — Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy is the first to come to mind — were far from shining examples of political correctness by the standards of our contemporary Left.

(I will always remember hearing Mark read out passages from Libidinal Economy in his final ‘Postcapitalist Desire’ seminar before his death, chuckling to himself gleefully with a perverse admiration as Lyotard requests his reader to “hang on tight and spit on me”. Mark knew what it was like to be spat on by his fellow leftists…)

I do sometimes wonder how much Mark’s brevity is to blame for him being misread in this way. (Although that is, again, not on him: brevity is very good.) Capitalist Realism and The Weird & The Eerie, in particular, are deceptively concise books. They are short and can easily be read in a day but there is an incredible amount to unpack in them and the message I have consistently found throughout Fisher’s writings is this:

To disturb normality is inherently disturbing but, to quote Mark himself, “terrors are not all there is to the outside”.

The only way in which a Moldbuggian reading of Mark is even vaguely possible is through an acknowledgement of the fact that both share this goal of disturbing normality. That is not to say I think Moldbug is particularly successful — I’m with Elizabeth Sandifer here: he is generally not — or that the two are somehow equatable. Moldbug and Fisher do not share a penchant for the Gothic but both the Gothic and Moldbuggian Patchwork have obliteratory aims. (Take this framing as a hint, to be explored in a later post, that not all visions of patchworks must be inherently Moldbuggian.)

If you think it is now necessary for me to defend the Gothic novel against fascism, you are mistaken…

[…]

That is why the name of this blog is Xenogoth rather than Xenonazi. I have no interest in clamouring for the solid edges of an elusive nationalist or racial identity.

What are Goths if not Outside-worshippers who already live amongst us? However, even this subculture has been subsumed within capitalism — commodified, its vague political potentials have long been neutralised. [via]

I grew up on drum and bass and Throbbing Gristle, Cronenberg and Camus, but I never found a sense of belonging in a populist goth culture that defined itself and its borders so definitively.

It is this feeling, that lure of the outside, the outside of outsides, that was the inspiration for this blog. I’ll be damned if that isn’t a transnational, transcultural, transversal experience. There’s no desire for fascistic enclosures here.

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