Mark’s last book, The Weird & The Eerie, as its title suggests, is split into two parts: the weird is first, followed by the eerie, but each is nonetheless entangled with the other.
Mark writes, early on:
The allure that the weird and the eerie possess is not captured by the idea that we “enjoy what scares us”. It has, rather, to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience.
Here at least, both concepts are anchored in their literary origins, but this is not where they have to remain.
From the first introductory chapter, the political subtext of this allure is always present, just beneath the surface, signifying a subtle change in Mark’s thought in which he sidesteps his well-known fascination with “lost futures” and instead stakes out an occupation with “the new”.
Previously, on his kpunk blog, and also in his second book, Ghosts of my Life, Mark makes it quite clear that music is the most advantageous battleground on which the argument for the existence of capitalist realism could be fought. In Ghosts of my Life in particular, he writes extensively on music.
Music is, in itself, a temporal medium — it is inherently “progressive” in a very literal sense, since most tracks begin and end. However, our music cultures themselves, it seems, are stuck in a groove. The record of history is skipping and the cultural and political progressions we once took for granted seem to have slowed to a full stop. The futures we were promised have not materialised and music, perhaps more so than our visual mediums, has made the gap between promise and reality all too apparent.
And yet, in The Weird & The Eerie, Mark writes not of what we have “lost” but the new in which we encounter that which disturbs us:
The sense of wrongness associated with the weird — the conviction that this does not belong — is often a sign that we are in the presence of the new. The weird here is a signal that the concepts and frameworks which we have previously employed are now obsolete.
There are no lost futures here; no ghosts of options which no longer exist. If we can describe the limbo of our lost futures as a rupturing of the temporal, the new instead ruptures the ontological — the two are inherently related, of course, but it is worth noting their difference for the more specific potentials that each unleashes. For starters, whilst the idea of a lost future is recursively graspable — we can only properly make sense of that which has become obsolete — with the new we find ourselves within that which is radically immanent. Jarringly so. We encounter something towards which all our past experiences are obsolete and which alerts us to the contingency and fallibility of the present, the now. In this mode, the inside is not sufficient enough for the outside, rather than vice versa. It requires the outside be folded in and synthesised.
In its very wrongness, the weird uncovers an oversaturated present, in which there is no space for the weird itself (or an experience of the weird). Recursion after recursion: the weird is weird in itself.
Whilst this may seem like a new direction for Mark, instead it harks back to his PhD thesis, Flatline Constructs, and his love of Spinoza. (As an aside, let us not forget that this is — and, astoundingly, remains — the allure of jungle: that music genre which was so influential for the Ccru.) At one point, Mark, summarising the stakes of the theory of Gothic Materialism that is central to his thesis, writes: “While antropo-Marxism still posits a transcendent and authentic human agent which could overcome capital, Gothic Materialism takes it for granted that real materialism must involve total immanentization; one of its chief resources, therefore, is the philosopher whose whole work was devoted to developing a rigorously immanent account of agency: Spinoza.”
For Mark, Spinoza is an exemplary weird and eerie thinker. He continues: “For Spinoza, there is agency everywhere but this never belongs to human subjects.” What Spinoza does, according to Mark, is he “entifies” — form and function are irrelevant, entities are rather processes. Everything is governed by such processes and so, for Spinoza, this is his way of thinking God as/in nature.
This lends itself all too easily to the Frankensteining of matter and material. If Spinoza is an atheistic materialist, as many of his critics claimed, Mark seems to suggest that it is in a way that is more twisted than those critics dared imagine, even more so today when we consider that what Spinoza saw as ‘God, nature’ has undergone an intensive period of expansion and extension.
Spinoza was a regular feature on kpunk thanks to his wide-ranging influence on many of Mark’s favourite thinkers. Mark would later write that Spinoza “took for granted what would later become the first principle of Marx’s thought — that it was more important to change the world than to interpret it”. He continues:
[Spinoza’s] project of systematically rooting out the underlying motivation for irrational behaviours was effectively psychoanalysis three hundred years early. Freud, whose written acknowledgements to Spinoza were few, nevertheless admitted in his correspondence to being thoroughly indebted to Spinoza’s framework; Lacan was more explicit in his homage, comparing his own excommunication from Psychoanalysis to Spinoza’s banishment from the Amsterdam Synagogue. Deleuze’s thought is unimaginable without Spinoza.
This trajectory is most telling when considering Mark’s thought. In this way, Spinoza lingers in the background of all that Mark writes. Deleuze’s Spinozism, in particular, is central for him in this context.
In Flatline Constructs, Mark summarises the above penchant for Spinozic entifying, with all the impetus on processes, with a quote from Deleuze: “True entities are events.” And yet, as Deleuze continues: “It’s not easy to think in terms of the event.” The weird, like the Gothic for Y2k Mark, is perhaps one such way of making this thought more accessible.
What Deleuze is pointing to here — at least in relation to those arguments found in Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense — is that the “life” of the self is less an enclosed Cartesian cogito and more like some thing which is open to the intensities of all that is around it. Being, itself an intensity, passes through “beings”. As Mark puts it, with inverted commas undermining the deceptively holistic nature of linguistically expressed subjectivity, “‘we’ ‘ourselves’ are caught up in the rhythms, pulsions and patternings of non-human forces.”
“We” “ourselves” are not only “caught” — in fact, we dissolve into flows. Indistinguishable.
Mark continues, in Flatline Constructs, by talking about Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of haecceity, referring to “non-subjectified individuation”. Through the concept of haecceity, we can think of entities as events without making entities subjects. For Mark, it seems, this includes processes of non-subjectifying and de-subjectifying.
The Gothic has an affinity with the concept of the haecceity because it refuses to distinguish human figures from their backgrounds … You can’t enter such zones without entering into composition with them.
It is the immanence of the human to forces, the human as an arrangement of forces in itself, which causes Mark to write of Spinoza’s “psychedelic reason”:
Hey kids: could there be a better reason to read Spinoza? He tells you not to get out of your head but how to get out through your head.
But, ever recursive in our immanence, how do we wrap our heads around this? How do we think of this form of agency without anthropomorphising it, separating it, and reducing its power? How do we think the event without trapping its agency in the anthropotemporal? How do you get out through your head without giving your head an unnecessarily Cartesian level of credit?
We can think of the weird and the eerie, in their literary modes, are qualities of events which allow us to retain a certain distance from these problems of thought which philosophy cannot help but ontologise. The benefit of this deontologising manoeuvre for political thinking is only hinted at by Mark in one instance when he writes that capital “is, at every level, an eerie entity: conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity.”
Perhaps the weird and the eerie, and our acknowledgement of their presence(-as-absence) within capitalism, can allow us to interrogate capital anew? At the very least it reveals to us just how susceptible we are to dissolution by capital’s flows.
All that is solid melts into air, etc.
Before we continue, what we first require is a clarification of the difference between the weird and the eerie — although this is by no means an easy task. If the weird is dependent on a Spinozic immanence, what is the eerie in relation to it? Mark’s concepts are, of course, a challenge to Freud’s often misused and misunderstood unheimlich.
Freud’s unheimlich signals a closed reading of multiplicity, forcing childhood experiences of self consolidation down the cul-de-sac of castration anxiety. By introducing a distinction where (you could argue) there is none, Mark injects multiplicity back into where it has long been absent from. The two words shadow each other; haunt each other.
The eerie, for Mark, it soon becomes apparent, is more explicitly concerned with notions of agency. The weird, we could say, is the jarring experience of the new, “a glitch in the Matrix”, for instance. The eerie is rather a sensation, like the sensation of being watched. (We can also argue, however, that the weird can also be a sensation in the form of deja vu, but this is perceptive rather than agentic.) Each concept is an expression for a whole entanglement of intensities, making complex and two-dimensional that which Freud flattened into the uncanny, the unhomely.
(Perhaps — although this is probably something to be further explored at another time — we can think of the weird as indexical whilst the eerie is causal, along the blurred lines of the thing-in-itself and the noumena…?)
If we return to the weird’s deontologising nature, just as Mark saw music as the most accessible way to think the affects of capitalist realism, sound remains the easiest (but also weirdest) way to consider the eerie.
Mark writes, entangling the eerie with the more accurate translation of the unheimlich as the unhomely:
A sense of the eerie seldom clings to enclosed and inhabited domestic spaces; we find the eerie more readily in landscapes partially emptied of the human. What happened to reproduce these ruins, this disappearance? What kind of entity was involved? What kind of thing was it that emitted such an eerie cry?
In discussing this passage during our Weird & Eerie reading group, I was reminded of an experience I had as a teenager, taking my camera for a walk and having a cheeky cigarette in the fields close to the family home.
Walking across a muddy field in pitch blackness, I heard a terrifying sound like nothing I had ever heard before. A scream which quite literally curdled my blood. It made me feel ill. At first I feared the worst: that somewhere, in this darkness, someone was being attacked, unseen and unheard by all but me.
But there was something wholly inhuman about this sound and it wasn’t until I had run home and told my Dad about what had happened that I learned this scream most likely belonged to a vixen.
A vixen’s scream is perhaps the perfect example of an eerie cry. (An extensive section of my notes following this story comes very recognisably from Kodwo Eshun.)
In my experience, this disembodied howl ruptured the event of my experience. It created its own world, the edges and contours of which were undefinable. It dislocated my own capacity to world in the process of listening.
It was a cry which came from a thing, a thing with a body, for sure, but a body which I could not describe with any confidence. It was a cry that overcame its own potential categorisation. Kodwo called it a “vocalic body”: the acousmatic cry creates a “body” which overcomes the body of the fox itself, he said.
This is what Mark would call a “force”.
Sound additionally compounds the eerie in other ways. We spoke previously of how one of the most common sensations associated with the eerie is the sensation of being watched. What about the sensation of being listened to? And being listened to by what?
We can relate this to “our” “selves” through an experience we are all probably familiar with to some degree: the experience of hearing ourselves outside ourselves, i.e. the alien sensation of hearing and failing to recognise a recording of your own voice. We can note, in this instance, that how we normally hear our own voices is haptic. They are not transmitted to us through space, but through our bones. Our recorded selves emanate from a whole other body.
The sensation of the vocalic body can then lead us to ask: How does sound hear us? What do we gain from an understanding of ourselves in the ear of an entity? How do we hear ourselves as something hears us? Hearing, as opposed to seeing, is much harder to imagine. It’s weirder.
What if we are nothing but a crack or a cry. A crack caught up in a pulsion. A cry caught up in a rhythm.
In Flatline Constructs, Mark was to highlight the perfect fictional example of this, found in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The painting showed a hairless, oppressed creature with a head like an inverted pear, its hands clapped in horror to its ears, its mouth open in a vast, soundless scream. Twisted ripples of the creature’s torment, echoes of its cry, flooded out into the air surrounding it; the man or woman, whichever it was, had become contained by its own howl. It had covered its ears against its own sound. The creature stood on a bridge and no one else was present; the creature screamed in isolation. Cut off by — or despite — its outcry. “He did a woodcut of this,” Rick said, reading the card tacked below the painting. “I think,” Phil Resch said, “that this is how an andy must feel.” He traced in the air the convolutions, visible in the picture, of the creature’s cry.”
What is Dick doing, in describing Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, this vision of the horror of Spinozic immanence, in relation to the specific experience of an “andy”, an android?
If we can identify Munch’s misshapen painting as an image of a vocalic body, what does this say about the way an android would feel? Mark, in Flatline Constructs, writes of media — via Mcluhan and Baudrillard — as an extension of the human body. What becomes of the subjective body and the vocalic body in moments of non-human haecceity? Is this a becoming-weird? A becoming-eerie?
Mark ends the introduction to his book with a more focused exposition of the eerie in particular:
The perspective of the eerie can give us access to the forces which govern mundane reality but which are ordinarily obscured, just as it can give us access to spaces beyond mundane reality altogether. It is this release from the mundane, this escape from the confines of what is ordinarily taken for reality, which goes some way to account for the peculiar appeal that the eerie possesses.
In the next posts in this series, I’d like to consider, through Mark’s own examples, what the rapturous potentials of a becoming-eerie have to do with Acid Communism specifically.
What I hope is clear by now, specifically in our discussion of Mark’s problematising of Freud, is that his deontologising of certain processes aids in the necessary disruption of self consolidation — the self that is consolidated by capitalist society. In this way, Mark’s recuperation of multiplicity is a form of schizoanalysis, but how might this be further put to use to change our world politically?
Some of you may have already picked up on connections between the disruption of self consolidation and the state consolidation antithetical to patchwork. We’ll consider a schizoanalytic patchwork later but first I’d like to write more about desire.
It is desire, as eerie a force as capital itself, that will be our ladder between Mark’s last and unfinished next book.
To be continued…