“Literally” a Communist?: Communism’s Ontology of Difference (Part 0)

Recently, on Good Morning Britain — the UK’s televisual equivalent of a morning dump; a once-innocuous morning television show for tabloid news and banal pleasantries turned personal soapbox for Piers Morgan — go-to lefty pundit Ash Sarkar uttered an infuriated riposte that was heard across the internet.

On the programme, Morgan bullishly constructed a straw man argument against Sarkar, arguing that the hysterics surrounding Trump’s visit to the UK were hypocritical considering that far worse geopolitical characters have walked into this country without any resistance. (Morgan has shown himself up with this argument before.)

No one protested Obama when he came to visit over his problematic domestic and foreign policies, Morgan proclaimed. Where was Sarkar then? Sarkar, of course, refuted this. She explained she did protest Obama’s domestic and foreign policies when he was president. However, she was unable to make herself heard over Morgan’s incessant questions, asked without pause so that he might hear an answer. Sarkar had had enough when, despite all her attempts to say otherwise, Morgan doubled-down and ordained her as a disciple of “Saint Obama”, to which she replied that she was not a fan of Obama or the Democratic Party at all because “I’m a communist, you idiot … I’m literally a communist.”

The retort took flight, making its way across the internet. Capitalising on the moment, Novara Media — the political news platform of which Sarkar is a senior editor — began to sell t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “I’m literally a communist”, adding fuel to the viral fire.

The mainstream media response to the whole affair was painfully predictable. Many on the right were appalled that someone could openly align themselves with an ideology that resulted in the deaths of some nine million people in the 20th century. This parroting of arguably the most common criticism of Communism offered by free market capitalists without any self-awareness is nothing new. The left is so used to firing back statistics of social murder under capitalism that this time it seemed too tired of the charade to even bother. Instead, many on the political left simply refuted Sarkar’s communist credentials — myself included, at first, I must admit — launching a thousand alternatively nuanced definitions into the Twitter milieu, each taking as their focus an issue which Sarkar had not publicly acknowledged.

Sarkar went on to clarify her definition of communism later in a succession of interviews, particularly when speaking to Teen Vogue — of all people. She explained that, for her,

being a communist means being a fierce critic of the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex. The expanded use of drone warfare and the expansive use of deportation under Obama. You can be a vocal critic of all those things, while also looking at how Trump [has done them] because, quite simply, he was able to build on a lot of Obama’s legacy, particularly in terms of executive overreach. He’s been able to pursue extreme, draconian forms of state violence.

In this way, communism is understood not necessarily as the state owning the means of production, as a kind of post-socialist end-game, but rather as something that is critical of and points itself towards the horizon of present understandings of the state and its infrastructures of control and expansion. The confusion I have had in trying to understand Sarkar’s position is whether she is an actually anti-state communist or not. Perhaps criticisms of the state-as-such are a line better left uncrossed on national television. Later, however, Sarkar is more clear, telling Teen Vogue that the central communist issue of our times is “the crisis represented by the automation of labor.” She explains:

Human labour cannot compete with fixed capital — that’s just a fact. In the U.K., one in five jobs is going to be automated. What does that mean? Does that mean one in five people is then excluded from the means of survival because they can no longer afford to feed themselves [or] house themselves?…

[As a communist,] you say, ‘OK, technology, which Marx calls fixed capital in The Fragment on the Machine, has a contradictory element because on the one hand it makes you more precarious as a worker. On the other hand, it shows what you can be when liberated from work because you’ve got all this extra time. You can imagine different ways of living. You can pursue your passions. You can live a happy life.’ Why don’t we just bring that technology into common ownership? Ownership of the people, not the capitalist class, and distribute the abundance generated by that fixed capital equitably.

And there are different ways of distributing that more equitably. That’s possible under social democracy through taxation or universal basic income. It’s possible under socialism. But communism is the only thing which says all things should be brought into the hands of commons to benefit all people. In the past, you’d call that communism. I think in the future, we’ll have to call that common sense.

If Sarkar is making her fellow pundits anxious, it’s perhaps because this definition resembles most clearly a kind of “Classic Communism” of state-ownership and control. It is an expression of a familiar means towards an end that, I would argue, we are already seeing take shape. What is there, in Sarkar’s argument, that stops the flows of capitalism from capturing these other ways of living for its own aims? In this staggered trajectory, what safeguards are in place that allow these changes to retain their radicality rather than remaining susceptible to capture?

Sarkar’s colleague at Novara Media, Aaron Bastani, invited onto the BBC current events programme Newsnight in the wake of Sarkar’s Good Morning Britain appearance, clarified his own position on communism in more general terms. Asked whether he and Sarkar were just “romanticising a murderous ideology”, he responded:

No. The way I look at the word ‘communism’ is it is talking about a kind of society that is so qualitatively different to capitalism, as capitalism was to feudalism, which is to say its key features — within capitalism: having to sell your labour for a wage, production for profit, production for exchange — these things would no longer exist. Have we ever had a political economy, a polity, which didn’t have those features? No, we haven’t. I’m not talking about Actually Existing Socialism from the ’80s, the 1990s, North Korea or the Soviet Union, I’m talking about a politics which fits the technological possibilities which we’re only just beginning to see — clearly in automation but I think elsewhere as well.

This I am on board with.

What this apparently shocking ideological aberration indicates, nestled amongst the already weird daily news cycles of 2018, is not only the willingness of a new generation to openly adopt the ideologies of communism, undeterred by the negative connotations it has accrued over previous generations, but also the very problem of communism itself in the 21st century.

The left’s reaction to this whole affair was the most telling by far. Whilst other writers within the political media pronounced a kind of just-left-of-Corbyn line, left twitter more generally decried Sarkar’s credentials. “She isn’t literally a communist”, I saw again and again on the timeline. I echoed this sentiment myself.

But then I saw myself…

I’ve just had a text published on Acid Communism, championing the multiplicity inherent to communism’s seizing of the means of desiring-production, but the timeline’s inundation by splintering communisms made me want everyone to just shut the fuck up. After calling “I’m literally a communist” the worst political meme of 2018, I had to stop and take a closer look at what my issue was. Is this not what I wanted? Is this not the fractious discourse I was calling for?

In short: No. I think what we’re seeing here is, instead, the very thing that is holding us back. What is so (genuinely) funny about Sarkar’s literal communism is its polemical vagueness aimed squarely at Piers Morgan’s hyper-specific worldview. But is such a communism not an impossibility in the 21st century?

Bastani, on Newsnight, highlights the communism to come in a way that seems to largely fly over his fellow panelist’s heads.

I don’t believe “communism” — as in, something beyond capitalism — was even possible in the 20th century. An analogue here is John Wycliffe who was a heretical priest, 14th century Protestant — his idea were more or less the same as Luther. They didn’t scale in the 1400s like they would in the 1500s. Why? The absense of the printing press. I think we’re now at a moment where there are a presence of technologies that make new realities plausible.

This is entirely ignored by the panel who instead, along with the rest of us, choose instead to attempt to answer concretely the slipperiest of questions: “What is a communist?” “What is a literal communist?” “What does a literal communist look like?” If Novara Media’s new t-shirt campaign is a viral marketing success, perhaps they might soon be able to assemble some sort of typology…

That is perhaps the ultimate joke. Like the “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts of a few years back, such things only serve to highlight the inherent multiplicity and communal valence of a term being paradoxically self-affirmed. 

Communism, as Bastani makes more clear, is a word that antagonistically connotes an outsideness, an otherness, “a kind of society that is so qualitatively different” to what we have now, echoing precisely the position of Mark Fisher and others.

We can break this notion of a communist “society” down here to be a signifier for — amongst other things — an economic, political and ontological otherness. Economic otherness is the central concern for most mainstream leftist communists but rarely do we hear discussions about the other two kinds of other. Perhaps this is because economics is already viewed as a kind of outsideness. It is far easier to pass comment on and theorise, but to theorise the tandem changes to the subject is territory far too speculative and complex for most public discussions.


It’s the opinion of this blog that this is the consolidated consciousness that needs to be razed; this form of fragmentation that must be accelerated.

In the English preface of The Disavowed Community, his 2014 statement on the ontopolitical problem of communism today, Jean-Luc Nancy writes:

If there is a “work-in-progress” in contemporary philosophy, it is undoubtedly in work on community — on the common, communism, communitarianism, being-in-common, being-with, being-together, or again in “living together”, which today designates, in a manner that is poignant and sometimes entirely naive, the preoccupation of a society shocked by attacks that condemn it in its very being even as society simultaneously experiences itself as uncertain and anxious. …

The entirety of the Western world believed that it progressed toward the possibility of common existence, of law, freedom, and equality. It believed that this word “democracy” was society’s own true foundation. It had been encouraged to think this by the fact that what called itself “communism” revealed itself to be unfounded, imposed by a will that was no less dominating than the imperialism that had already taken possession of much of the world.

Communism that was labeled “real” collapsed for having exclusively gambled on military power and the domination of a worn-out ideology. For its part, democracy was increasingly recognised as a facade behind which economic power operated, which now contained the real mechanisms of control. Politics lost its most illuminating sense.

Nancy, of the three actors involved in the conversation on communism — Georges Bataille and Maurice Blanchot being the other two thinkers he is in explicit orbit of — is the voice I like the least but here, in his latest statement, he atones for previous misunderstandings. He comes to recognise that which is central to the thought of Bataille and Blanchot that he failed to account for: that which “escapes”.

For Blanchot, it is a question of pursuing a thought of “community” on the side of love and more precisely a love whose pleasure [jouissance] is unsharable [impartageable], unshared, and “essentially escapes”. It escapes all institution, all forms of communal consistency.

Blanchot’s communism is a communism for the 21st century. It is a communism to be built out of the social and communal relations that are already central to being as we know it but also to difference as we fail to comprehend it. These are the relations which, today, feel most fraught but which are nonetheless central to our futures. Blanchot’s is, for me, a Deleuzian communism through and through, built on a new ontology of difference. Our lack of faith in a “literal communism” or our ridiculing of the silhouette of a literal communist is a damning self-indictment but also clarifies the paradox of the collective subject that we must still contend with.

Nancy, at the end of this book, highlights how Blanchot once drew attention to Samuel Becket’s “soi soi-disant”, his “so-called self”, illuminating the paradox of a self which tries to but cannot affirm itself.

This is because the self is a transcendental wall, affirmed by its outside. The self, self-defined, is a paradox, amputating all that is unavowable about itself but which truly constitutes itself.

If we struggle to contend with the individual self in this way, what hope do we have of collectivising selves towards a new understanding of our world and its infrastructures?

What I’d like to do here on the blog in the coming weeks is consider this idea in more detail, tentatively exploring what a communism of the 21st century can learn — specifically — from Deleuze’s Difference & Repetition.

The reasons for doing this are, at present, not very rigorous. I’m writing this, at present, based mostly on a hunch about a half-baked idea coupled with a general desire to understand this book better, but I think there’s something in it. I had initially intended this to be a long paper to shop around elsewhere but I have far too much to figure out and so, having quickly established the contemporary stakes of a communism shaped by its own multiplicity rather than what Nancy calls a “worn-out” consolidated politic, let’s dive in deep and see what a better understanding of Deleuze’s ontology of difference can provide a thinking about communism…

To be continued…

Before I Fall Asleep

I’ve had an idea today. It’s a big one. The kind I need to diagram before I start writing it.

These don’t come along very often.

Unfortunately, I’ve no idea when I’m going to get the chance to work on it in the coming weeks. The multiple day jobs are defined by their deadlines and these must take priority, but it’s the kind of idea burning a hole in my head, wanting to get out.

I’ve just spent about an hour writing an introduction and the basic structure before I forget it, but I’m all too aware that this is an egg laid that I won’t have time to sit on.

Still full of writing energy, i feel like committing a memory to the blog so that I might be freed from it and allowed to sleep. I can’t cope with another week of nodding off at my desk. My mental health is not robust enough at the moment to cope with work on a lack of sleep.

And yet, I’m kept awake thinking about the height of last year’s summer.

My girlfriend had moved down to London from Manchester so that we could be together after a very difficult year apart. She moved into a run-down flat in a big Victorian terrace house in Dulwich. The ceilings were high and the furniture spoke every time you touched it. I was finishing my Masters dissertation and I did nothing but write all day, every day.

At the time, I was driven by the looming deadline but, in hindsight, that summer was bliss. Wanting an excuse to keep writing all the time is why this blog exists.

I’m sorry to say that life is finally starting to get in the way.

I’m nonetheless aware every time I say this, I trigger a spate of productivity. Here’s hoping I eat my words again and miraculously find the time to cough up new ones.

Proper ones. Substantial ones. Not 20-minute missives fired off into the night. Here’s hoping I can find the time to read and ruminate.

Right now, though, that’s my writing itch scratched.

Dagga This, Dagga That: Miss Red at Corsica Studios

The loudest night I ever went to was at Corsica Studios. A Dillinja DJ set for Ø. The bass shook the whole venue. I took my girlfriend — not a junglist — who opted to sit outside because the sensation of bass inadvertently vibrating her vocal chords was not one she found very enjoyable. On necessary breaks from the mayhem, it felt like the piss trough upstairs threatened to become violently unhinged from the wall, unleashing untold horrors on the party below.

Bass is beautiful because it shakes everything loose.

Tonight I am here for the Miss Red album launch, waiting to hear The Bug, Flowdan, Grandmixxer and the woman of the hour herself. As I enter the main area, my eye catches a succession of signs that read: “Volume levels tonight may be excessive. Hearing protection is FREE at the bar.” I haven’t seen a sign like it here before and I’d think of myself as a regular visitor. This is, however, the first time I’ve been to the venue since they installed their new Funktion One sound system — an upgrade that, I thought at the time, could not have been better timed, occurring shortly after this night was announced.

The question remained: What were my ears in for?

Continue reading “Dagga This, Dagga That: Miss Red at Corsica Studios”

Picnic at Hanging Rock (2018)

Now that Westworld season 2 has finished, it’s about time I found some more telly to write about.

The BBC has just started showing a new mini-series based on Joan Lindsey’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. (Originally released on Amazon Prime, I believe, and now finding its way to the old-fashioned broadcast TV.)

Eighteen months ago, I’d never heard of the book before reading about it in Mark’s The Weird and the Eerie. After Mark’s beautiful exploration of the book, I bought it and demolished it in a single sitting. Shortly afterwards, I fell in love with the 1976 film adaptation as well.

I’ve written about the story before — briefly in “Reaching Out to the Other” — so I won’t rehearse the synopsis again in too much detail because, going forwards, it might not even be that useful.

Suffice it to say that the central event around which the story orbits is the disappearance of a group of young Australian women from a boarding school in the early 1900s, enticed onto some other plane (we can only assume) by some unknown agency when they visit a local beauty spot for a picnic.

The film and book, from this point, both consider the consequences of the women’s unexplained absence on their immediate community. The story, in this way, is a tracing of the repercussions that ripple out from an event: an event which is nothing more than an absence. It is, effectively, a study of trauma without trauma; the trauma of a void, of gaps, of unexplained emptiness.

Fisher wrote, all too presciently, in the final sentences of The Weird and the Eerie, about how the disappeared women in the book and film are

fully prepared to take the step into the unknown. They are possessed by the eerie calm that settles whenever familiar passions can be overcome. They have disappeared, and their disappearances will leave haunting gaps, eerie intimations of the outside.

My love for this story was intensified further by Robin’s lecture on the film at the start of this year, as a “study of cryptolithic passion”, a “descent into the world-soul”.

It is the story of a “splitting away from the socially conditioned personality”, a “shedding of a layer of subjectivity … reaching out towards a complicity with the inorganic.” (I’m drawing on my notes here.)

Robin called it — the film in particular, that is, with its deeply evocative soundtrack — “one of the most sustained geopoetical works” there is.

So it goes without saying that, as I start episode one of this new adaptation, it has a lot to live up to…

What is immediately different about this adaptation is, well… everything.

We begin with Hester Appleyard (played by Natalie Dormer) pacing around an abandoned house. It’s an already familiar beginning but not from this story.

A major strength of the novel is its realism, its utter immersion in the mundane. The event around which its narrative unfolds is a flash of a kind of magical realism, never resolved, amongst an otherwise “normal” account of life in a school.

Here, however, we’re immediately thrown into a familiar trope of the paranormal: “unsuspecting woman buys decrepit old mansion.” Except she’s not unassuming. There’s something not quite right about this Miss Appleyard. She seems to be something of a… con woman?

Everything here is heightened, exaggerated. There’s no realism here. It’s just another example of Hollywood bloating out a narrative to make it more appealing (and familiar) to narratively-conservative audiences.

Ten minutes in and this seems to be Picnic at Hanging Rock meets St Trinian’s. And I can’t think of a worse fate for this story.

Things end up going from bad to worse.

Miranda, the lead in all versions of the story, is here quite familiar. A wayward spirit possessed, even before her encounter with the rock, by a strange libidinal force.

Robin noted too that there is “an eerie, languorous eroticism that hovers over” the 1976 film: there is “a libidinal force at work in the whole narrative”. That was always already expressed without needing to subject Miranda, as this new adaptation chooses, to a sexual assault in the stables…

It’s a moment handled well, and highlighting such dangers that women face is certainly all the rage on TV at the moment, and appropriately so, but I’m still bemused as to why it needed to be added to a story that already explored such themes of female sexuality without it.

What was so interesting about the original story was its exploration of inherently libidinal women. Women whose desires overflow in their relative boarding school isolation, not needing to be channelled into any nearby men but channeled into the landscape itself. Revolutionary desire in its purest form. Miranda, drawn libidinally towards the earth, here becomes fodder for assault as if to emphasise the danger her wayward being brings upon herself.

It’s not an uninteresting or inappropriate path to explore but it seems to exemplify the approach to this new adaptation, heightening drama and removing the eeriness absences that were so central to the story.

There is no eerie here.

Despite the amount of time it has given itself, the girl’s disappearance — the central moment of the entire story — feels rushed, depicted through cliched dream sequences and over in a flash. So much time if given to subplots that the central plot is muddied and hard to follow.

It is a version of the story that seems to be an enemy of itself, inserting precisely what the story was written against back into its DNA. The women’s central propensity towards societal escape is here made impotent. As other women are given backstories of lives they hope to escape, there is foreshadowing of them becoming each other’s enemies, threatening to drag the past into the present.

I’m not usually one to get upset about disloyal book adaptations and remakes, but to bastardise the story’s central conceit of escape and nullify it to such an extent is a powerful disappointment. This seems to be an adaptation made my people with no real understanding of the strengths of the story they are working with.

Sam Wollaston has reviewed this first episode for the Guardian. I can’t say I agree with it. Not his impression of this series nor his reappraisal of the ’76 adaptation as “thin, all about the creation of an atmosphere and not a lot else.”

Wollaston goes on to ask the question that I first wondered when hearing this adaptation was in the works: “How the hell are they going to stretch out that story to six episodes?” The answer, he rightly points out, is by “filling it out, making it bigger in every way.”

Bigger is not always better. If the previous version was “thin”, this new version is so “big” as to eclipse everything that made the originals worthwhile. Just as the girls are “fully prepared to take the step into the unknown”, the original film and novel asked as much of their audiences — and to devastating effect. Here, it seems, the unknown has been utterly exorcised, replaced with shitty tropes, the absence of which were partly what made the original film so enchanting.

For a story that centres around an absence, it is the singular strength of the film — a strength it holds even over the original novella — that it doubles down on its eeriness, exacerbating the emptiness of a mystery on the Australian frontier, resisting the temptation to do what this new adaptation has done: force-feed it familiarity to fattened it up for Hollywood expectations. For all its Lynchian references, much could have been done here to exacerbate the eeriness of emptiness, as Twin Peaks: The Return did so radically with its incredibly slow and deliberate pace. No such care is taken here.

I’m not enchanted by this. Nor am I unsettled. Perhaps shockingly, for someone who loves the “thin” 1976 adaptation so much, I’m just bored.

All this being said, I intend to stick with this series. I’ll see if I feel the same way once I’ve watched it all.

The Ethics of Exit

It’s always strange to see what corners of the internet this patchwork conversation can spread to. Recently, patchwork hit rock bottom, getting picked up in a really terrible thread by William Gillis, but it was a thread with an offshoot that ties into patchwork as it has been discussed on this blog explicitly. It also provides a nice way into talking about a major consideration for me that has nonetheless been underexplored in my blogged considerations so far: ethics.

[NB: The way WordPress embeds tweets is good until you want to embed a thread, so I’m going to blockquote tweets here for readability with numbered hyperlinks to the original tweets.]

Gillis began his thread with a dismissal of Moldbuggian patchwork — fair enough — and he then went on to address a bunch of the other tandem theories that Cave Twitter has pulled into patchwork’s orbit in recent months. He writes:

“patchwork” — what marxists who read nick land because of some memes say when they want to talk about “national anarchism” but pretend it’s not a deeply fascist idea [1]

“ummm panarchy tho, surely just treating the entire complex interconnected world like we’re kids discovering politics in the nationstates forums in 2002 and ‘agreeing to disagree’ will solve everything” [2]

Sorry folks, shit is far too complicated for “just break things apart into tribes” to actually replicate freedom in a meaningful sense, since connectivity & options are critical and must be evaluated globally, and tribal splintering has never solved conflict.

Ethics, not exit. [3]

There are a lot of things to disagree with here, the main one being the suggestion that “‘agreeing to disagree’ will solve everything” is anything like the argument being put forward more recently by anyone. This isn’t the suggested solution at all. In fact, I’d argue “agreeing to disagree” is largely what is expected of us in the here and now. “Let’s agree to disagree for the sake of ‘democracy’, for the sake of our consolidated sense of togetherness.” I’d argue it’s passively agreeing to disagree that has led to this normalisation of our present crises. Our sociopolitical landscape is defined by impotent disagreement. Tribal splintering has never solved conflict if only because attempts to do so trigger hostility from consolidated nation-states which view exit as inherently offensive following centuries of hard work (read: imperialism and colonialism). 

At this point in Gillis’ thread, AmbrosialArts jumps in:

This is actually the wrong message for queer teenagers in abusive homophobic households, who have no leverage in a situation to institute reform, but escape is lower cost and provides outstanding long term EV, so I’m not sure the facts on the ground support your position. [4]


“Ethics, not exit” is in no way a claim that escape is never a good strategy. It’s that “the right of exit” is not a replacement for an actual ethics. [5]


You’re using the translingual mind-crushing axiom phrasing, like “sonnō jōi”, and you have to be very careful what you code into those axioms, so maybe try again. [6]

Going on to write off the powerful and visible benefits of escape as “almost nothing” leaves me even less confident that you didn’t mean exactly what you said, and not what you think you said. [7]

If you want to appeal to people’s sense of empathy, to inspire them to care about what you’re saying, you have to be able to adjust scale focus a lot more than you do. Many are thinking through these premises in terms of individuals and the next 2-5 years, not globes and 1000[s]. [8]

I mean, you’re going to have to make some discussions about one or another, so maybe I should be less contentious, but it’s an incoherency in what you’re selling as a crystallized philosophy. “Social fragmentation is tactically useful but also endorsing its use is fascist” is…? [9]

I agree with this completely, particularly the third and fourth tweets here, and this is the crux of how an ethics of exit must function, for me, when speaking about patchwork.

Patchwork is, even for Moldbug, scalable and he likewise acknowledges that, practically speaking, it is better to start small. This is where, despite Moldbug’s own neoreactionary idealism, we see many more potential egresses for other groups: at scale. When considering individuals or, far more preferably, minoritarian communities, exit is often ethical.

The message of this blog has consistently been: other options are available. Solidarity without similarity. What the vision of patchwork explored on this blog emphasises is its inherent multiplicity and the example of a queer exit highlighted by AmbroisalArts is a perfect one. To socially exit into enclosed queer spaces is something that many people do for various reasons. Experiencing violence and abuse is one such reason; simply seeking a previously elusive sense of solidarity is another. It is also, we must acknowledge here, not a social isolationism. To enter a queer space is not to exit society at large. It is an attempt to find autonomy from within a larger structure. What if that larger structure, rather than being violently consolidatory and hostile to exits (of all kinds), was rather predicated on the possibilities of such fragmentations? The structure we’re apparently stuck with is so often “unjust” and all too often the intention of exit is separate from attempts to change that wider system. Activism is a large part of queer politics, for instance, but the central consideration is, generally speaking, survival. (But survival alone is, of course, not enough.)

In my chat with Justin, I discussed this in a way that was ramshackle and all over the place. I attempted to critique what exactly we mean when we talk about survival in relation to patchwork. The survival of the individual may be the impetus for exit but once that exit has occurred, survival becomes a concern for the multiple, for the collective subject, for the community as a non-whole. In queer politics in particular, this is not an aggressive form of survival. It’s not inherently “imperial”. It’s not inherently predisposed to hostile takeover. The basis is generally “coexistence”.

This is something shared amongst exit politics across the board. Previously I published a post about a Twitter thread by Patri Friedman on the Netflix series Wild Wild Country, in which Friedman highlights that what so often leads to bloodshed following the foundation of an autonomous community — whether that is a cult or something else — is when that community is threatened by a consolidating outside force. We can see this dynamic playing out across the political spectrum.

Most explosively, we can find examples in the West occuring on the American Right. Recently I watched another Netflix documentary on the Oklahoma City bombing. The documentary focuses on the series of events that inspired Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. These events all share the same catalyst: autonomous communities, based on various sociocultural ideals, that the United States government attempts to violently dissolve. The central catalyst for McVeigh was Waco, in which the excessive violence of the government arguably led to the deaths of 168 men, women and children. Whilst these groups — right-wing cults, admittedly — were founded on what they perceived to be the values of the American constitution, their destruction by the government inflamed tensions and led to acts of domestic terrorism.

Terrorism is never defensible but, whether domestic or foreign, surely we can acknowledge the role of American interventionism at home and abroad as being the tendency which triggers all of these instances. The violent rejection of exit, whether it is perceived by the hegemonic culture in question as an exit from governance or values, is a common thread.

We can see other examples elsewhere too. The violence that erupted following Catalonia’s attempt at a democratic exit was based on the same desire. Elsewhere, we can view China’s annexation of Tibet or Russia’s annexation of Crimea as similar attempts at consolidation of a historically separatist group. Whilst the foundational politics are different, the arguments for exit are the same: a rejection of state (and therefore self) consolidation. Your territory is not recognised. Your way of being is not recognised. Accept consolidation or die.

This is a tangent better left to another time but here we can see the inherently ethical concerns of exit and patchwork emerging. What I would like to discuss in this post specifically is my own philosophical basis for an ethical vision of patchwork. So, if you’ll allow me an excessive ramble, let me now go back to square one…

Continue reading “The Ethics of Exit”

Friday the 13th

Our next k-punk event is happening tomorrow night. Whereas the last two have been moments of intense stress and anxiety around this time, I feel very relaxed going into Night #3.

Each time we have had to contend with our snide inner voices. The overall logistical success of the night can all too easily overtake the reasons why we’re doing it.

We’re not promoters or events organisers in any other capacity. It often feels like we’ve fallen into this role. We had an idea and it’s taken us for a ride. We wanted to keep remembering Mark Fisher in the spaces where his legacy felt most potent to us: in non-academic spaces, in pubs and clubs, with music and with the people we love.

Coordinating all the variables in order to create the circumstances for such nights of remembrance and joy has often been more work than anticipated.

But, today, I’m free of all stress. Not that there isn’t much still to do and shepherd into position, but the reasons why we’re doing this have remained very much present in my mind this week. I think this is because Mark himself feels present this week.

Wednesday was both his 50th birthday and the World Cup semi-final — two events for the price of one which I’m sure would have occasioned a lengthy k-punk post (each).

Reading Mark on football was always a joy. He had a Twitter account dedicated to World Cup commentary and there were times where his k-punk blog struggled to talk about anything else, albeit — of course — entangled with everything else. From 2010:

“English football,” the writer Robin Carmody argued on his live journal page, “is a metaphor for precisely what the neoliberals have done to England itself …” But it’s more than a metaphor. Football has been at the forefront of the total re-engineering of English culture, society and economy wrought by neoliberalism over the last thirty years. Neoliberalism presented itself as supremely realistic — as the only possible realism. It told us that utopia is impossible because there is no such thing as society, only individuals pursuing their own interests. What better image of this anti-utopianism is there than the Premiership, with its imperious, untouchable elite of clubs, its synergy with multinational media conglomerates, its conspicuously consuming players, its super-predatory club owners buying success like they are buying another yacht? Competition, exploitation, the strong lording it over the weak, paparazzi snaps of the fabulously wealthy masters of the universe players exiting nightclubs, flashing their very new money: football as anti-egalitarian Nietzschean combat. Forget utopia: dream, instead – if you’re young – of eventually becoming like this, of owning these Cheshire mansions, of getting a cyborg-slick WAG; or if you’re too old to ever lace up those ultrabranded boots, get used to being inferior, to never making it – dream instead of media-transfiguration via reality TV, or of a lottery win…

The World Cup has an entirely different atmosphere to the Premiere League, of course. This year, the most noticeable difference is perhaps the extent to which this 2018 England squad’s young players were media trained. WAGs were exorcised from proceedings and the team were defined by their post-match composure, as well as by their inability to score outside of a “set piece”.

Both on and off the pitch, they were suffocated by their own professionalisation, their creativity rotted away. Much was made of their wholesome hotel fun but, despite the media’s painfully excessive historicising — “This is the first World Cup team to score twice in a semi-final at this temperature in this country on this day. This team is truly making their own history.” — much of what occurred in this year’s tournament seemed to be down to good luck.

Mark would have had more to say here and he would have certainly said it better. Perhaps he already did. In 2010, he wrote extensively on the footie blog Minus The Shooting and, even when a post wasn’t authored by him, he seemed to have a presence in every one. He wrote about football as well as he wrote on just about everything else.

On the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands:

Sporting events always end with a feeling of anti-climax, even when you’ve won them. The intense immersion and heightened dissipate instantly once the tension of competition is over. As a World Cup watcher, I usually start to feel this looming anti-climax once the semi-finals come around – by then, the sense that anything can still happen as hardened into a few determinate possibilities, and the glow of festival time starts to give way to the bleak twilight of everyday routine again. The sense of anti-climax is reinforced for the World Cup watcher by the fact that finals haven’t often tended to be classics. Last night’s game, to say the least, didn’t break the pattern – it was a case of the unpalatable in pursuit of the unloveable. The BBC pundits were frantically building the narrative – “Spain were a joy to watch”, “it was a victory for football” – and, yes, even my hard heart was glad for Iniesta, less one point of the moveable tiki-taka triangle last night than a tireless force: the will to win personified, the perfect mixture of urgency and patience.

Paul Myerscought, for the London Review of Books, picked up on a Fisherian comment that continues to resonate into 2018. He wrote:

One of the contributors, Mark Fisher (a.k.a k-punk), has focused on the ‘negative alchemy’ of the England shirt, its ability to turn good players miraculously into bad. Fisher has persuasive things to say about why England fail. Such a shame that so far as the FA are concerned, he may as well be talking to himself.

Mark is, unfortunately, in the air for other reasons.

Today is Friday the 13th.

Mark died on Friday the 13th January 2017 and, since that time, I have noticed more Friday the 13th’s than ever before. Each Friday the 13th has become an anniversary for Mark. Usually resulting in an exchange with Robin, who first pointed this out to me.

As Robin referred to it in a message yesterday, each Friday the 13th is “the real cryptochronic anniversary”.

Carl Stone and the Complexities of Real Life

There was a strange but minor uproar on experimental music Twitter recently. A Pitchfork review of the new Carl Stone retrospective, Electronic Music From the Eighties and Nineties, ruffled some feathers and, when you read it, it is very easy to see why.

The review, by Daniel Martin-McCormick, comes across as a piece of writing that lays the writer’s own insecurities on the table and then attempts to talk about them somehow objectively, eschewing any kind of self-awareness.

Straight out of the gate, the reviewer positions the work as the product of the “cloistered realm of academia”. His main argument from there on out is that Carl Stone has simply reinvented the wheel, removing all emotional resonance out of sampling techniques that were, at the time, novel but are now old-hat. He writes:

Though noteworthy on technical and historical levels, ‘Electronic Music’ flags emotionally, vacillating between maudlin optimism and a half-baked minimalism. … [Stone] seems all too concerned with making sure his listeners feel safe and attended to, and the work suffers as a result. In the academy, an appealing artist statement and a complex process can go a long way, but for music to make a real impact you need to take a leap beyond the page. ‘Electronic Music’ jumps up and down with impressive energy, pointing excitedly towards the future, but in the end stays put in a quickly receding past.

Is he reviewing the album here or just Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s historicising liner notes…? If you were confronted by an album that left you stumped, which you didn’t know what to feel about and sought refuge in the words on the sleeve, this is the sort of review I’d expect to read.

The biggest issue that many seem to have with the review, however, is elsewhere. Just one sentence. Even if you’ve chosen to go through the wringer of overly generous defences of subjective taste, it is a moment that feels like an egregious leap into territory that I don’t even know what to call:

Stone is clearly reaching for an emotional connection, but he remains oddly disengaged from the complexities of real life.

Many on Twitter have rejected criticisms of the review, informing those offended few that Carl Stone is not some sacred cow who cannot receive a negative appraisal. There is, of course, a tremendous difference between a “bad review” and a bad review… Frankly, I think this sentence above might be one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever read in a context such as this.

For me, this jars with when Martin-McCormick makes reference to the way that “an appealing artist statement and a complex process can go a long way” in the context of critiquing stuffy academia. What is today considered by so many to be a painfully pretentious crutch for mediocre expression is something to be championed here, it seems, over this relatively austere and minimal anthology of “dated” works.

Compare this second retrospective album by Carl Stone to Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe, also released by Unseen Worlds back in 2012. The CD liner notes of that release are extensive, particularly in reissued form. Inside the booklet, technical information and context are offered freely whilst, on the cover of the album itself, Spiegel conducts an interview with herself. After rattling quickly through her CV and evading pressures to overly define her sound, she waxes lyrical about her entangled process of creation and research in a way that is very much of its time, betraying a residual spirituality, a hippie sensibility, which jars with her cutting edge and pioneering computer music.

Spiegel rejects the conservatism and anally retentive practices of conservatoire students before she goes on to write about her music in a way that was, I imagine, at the time, refreshingly candid, affective and uninhibited. She writes:

My pieces are most strongly concerned with feelings, actually, but no matter what I feel, my mind is always active. Every piece is different, and I suspect that every good piece has all the aspects of being human in it which are integrated into its creator, probably in the same balance. Each piece I do reflects what’s happening in me at the time I create it. Sometimes a particular idea or emotion will dominate my awareness while I’m working, but the rest of me is still acting on the piece as I work. The intellect is a great source of pleasure, and wants expression just as the emotions do. They are not really separable.

When this reissue came out, I myself was a second-year undergraduate art student and I remember reading Spiegel talking to herself and thinking: “Yes! Why should I smother my own work in jargon-laden over-explanations and technical exposition? What is missing from my art school education is feeling. That’s what I want to express.” And so I did, ditching an “artist statement” at my degree show for a mix CD instead — describing what I was doing with sound made just as much sense as describing what I was doing in half-understood words. I’m sure it remains a common feeling felt by young art students and always has been. There will always be those who are serious about play but resent the game.

Carl Stone, I must confess, I know nothing about. Maybe he felt the same as Spiegel in making these compositions. Or maybe Martin-McCormick is right. Maybe he’s some fuddy-duddy academic composer who plays with technique but has forgotten how to feel. I don’t know how Stone lives his life but, living with this music, embracing its distinctly non-academic mystery, I’m captivated. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I read a review that I disagreed with on quite so many levels. (Although I also don’t remember the last time I read a review on Pitchfork…)

Opener “Banteay Srey” feels heavily reminscent of last year’s PAN complication, Mono No Aware, despite predating it by almost 30 years. “Woo Lae Oak” is a minimal slab of Steve Reich violins and pan flutes, a jarring combination if ever there was one, which nonetheless evokes a new underside that is both other and complimentary to its Different Trains-esque sonic frontierism.

Stone is certainly channelling many iconic modern composers here but what is most endearing about this release is the blissful new heights it takes these motifs and the understated manner in which it does so. It’s one of the most enchanting records I’ve heard so far this year. If it is devoid of reference to real life’s complexities, perhaps that’s because it is music for soothing them. And to do so with such grace, this side of the 2010s ambient revival, with an archive release no less, is no mean feat.

Brexit Has Failed; Long Live Brexit

The successive resignations that have struck the Conservative Party in the UK this week have heralded the same cry, again and again, from the left-wing media: Brexit has failed. No one can deny that Brexit has been, generally speaking, a resolute failure, but I can’t help but feel like the finality of so much of this week’s political commentary is wishful thinking.

The solution, they cry, is to hold a general election. The possibility of this occurring certainly seems to be increasingly likely, but to what end? Will that cauterise the “failed” Brexit project? Will it occasion accurate use of the past tense rather than limiting temporal references to a never-ending omnishambles? Surely no one believes or expects Brexit to “end” so soon but still the suggestive cry continues to echo around the web. Brexit has failed.

We are living in the midst of a perpetual political failure — “the normalisation of crisis”, as Fisher called it — and there remains no end in sight. Like the financial crash of 2008, this week is (apparently) yet another watershed moment, but the anticipated major change that should follow it will likely never materialise.

This isn’t some rerun of “the end of history” but there certainly seems to be a crisis of narrative; the end of linearity. Paul Mason, to my surprise, has acknowledged the fragmentary nature of contemporary geopolitics quite explicitly in a new article for iNews. This blog has been focussed on this tendency for months and so it feels unusual to hear it acknowledged in the mainstream media, which tends to balk at any acknowledgement of present fragmentations.

Mason highlights the fact obvious to anyone since 2016: the main reason Brexit has been such a failure is that those within the Conservative Party have been too busy playing political games from the very moment the referendum on EU membership was announced.

Mason describes Boris Johnson’s personal “three-phase plan” as follows: “exit the European Union, take over the Tory party, destroy what’s left of the welfare state in pursuit of a new, primary relationship with the USA.” Then, he continues:

[Boris] Johnson has invited comparisons between himself and Churchill, not least by writing one of the worst biographies of Churchill ever published. Like Churchill he was a journalist. Like Churchill he switched sides. Like Churchill he’s had a classical education and understands rhetoric.

Unlike Churchill, history is against him. For history is breaking the globalised world economy into chunks, and stimulating new military rivalries. In a fragmenting world you need to be part of, or close to, something big, friendly and efficient. That is the continent on our doorstep, not the failing democracy of the USA.

Mason likewise goes on to argue for a general election, in the face of May’s crumbling cabinet, but this point about the fragmenting world economy drifts off, unaddressed.

Perhaps this is because it’s an obvious point. Brexit is likewise a symptom of a fragmenting globe but, at the same time, it is so often defined by the new alliances that it might occasion.

Farewell, EU… Hello, America? Hello, China?

Europe is, in itself, threatening to fragment even further as its individual member states wrestle with their own internal problems and rifts. With that in mind, is it accurate to call Europe efficient? That’s a strange sort of compliment, especially for Mason — a journalist whose career remains defined, in my mind, by his reporting on the “economic war” between Greece and the European “troika”.

I reject Boris Johnson’s woeful foreign policy opinions on principle but are the UK left’s any stronger? Britain seems totally bemused by its own position on the world stage, from all angles, and it is true that that position will be defined by its future alliances. But as the “special relationship” wanes and EU relations continue to sour and the UK’s internal makeup threatens to shift, will a general election solve anything? If Jeremy Corbyn were to become PM, on his well-established anti-austerity platform, will relations not sour even further, to the lows previously experienced by Greece?

I hope this says more about the EU’s neoliberal core than Corbyn’s potential leadership skills, which I’m still keen to see if only for it providing this country with a long-overdue shake-up.

The Conservatives certainly seem incapable — now more so than ever — of delivering what was unconvincingly promised. Could the Labour Party change things for the better? The biggest obstacle to major economic change nonetheless remains the same.

The EU would undoubtedly be a thorn in the side of a pre-Brexit anti-austerity Corbyn government. A mid-Brexit government of any flavour will likely continue the new status quo. Will a post-Brexit Corbyn government fare any better? Perhaps there is only one way to find out.

That could be a general election, but a general election seems inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, whilst Schrodinger’s Brexit continues in its limbo. From here, yes, the possibilities are infinite, but these possibilities are meaningless until the box on the world is opened or — better yet — smashed to pieces.


“Acid Communism”: New Essay in Krisis Magazine

‘Acid’ is desire, as corrosive and denaturalising multiplicity, flowing through the multiplicities of communism itself to create alinguistic feedback loops; an ideological accelerator through which the new and previously unknown might be found in the politics we mistakenly think we already know, reinstantiating a politics to come.

I was invited to write an essay for Krisis, Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, back in January.

Their latest issue, “Marx from the Margins”, is an A-to-Z exploration of all the strange places Marxism has spread to in the 200 years since Karl Marx’s birth back in 1818 in the German city of Trier.

Specifically, I was asked to write a short entry on “Acid Communism”, Mark Fisher’s corrosive play on Marx’s original manifesto and it has finally gone live.

I’m really proud of this one. You can read it here.

Continue reading ““Acid Communism”: New Essay in Krisis Magazine”


As I attempt to drift off to sleep tonight, I’m finding myself in another strange dream loop.

A few hours ago, I arrived back in London after three days spent in the north of England, time split between dual parental homes in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

The drive home to London was long. Five hours in sweltering heat. Rhizomatic country roads turn into motorway Möbius strips before the free-for-all which is London seems to shatter all illusions that driving can be a relaxing experience.

The one hundred and twelve miles spent on the M1 were regularly glorious and I found myself entering a kind of meditative state on various occasions.

This is what I love about driving. It may be the only activity in which I can achieve such a state. Mind, body and car all feel as one. I’m alert and responsive to the road around me but nothing else exists outside of this scenario, this task. Nothing else is of any concern.

I found myself thinking about mindfulness, in between these moments.

Mindfulness often annoys me in this regard. It too often feels like teaching your granny to suck eggs (or, perhaps, a singular grape). Put me on the M1 and I’ll show you mindfulness.

I change gears and adjust my interior surroundings without thinking, without looking, totally in tune with the task at hand, feeling every vibration within the car, every shift in performance. I am a cautious driver and, having driven around an exploding jalopy for three years in Hull, I know when my car is under the weather.

I feel like I have melted into the car itself, inseparable from it, like some sort of benign T-1000 — a sensation only exacerbated by the summer sun in this year’s heatwave that is brazenly blazing through the driver’s side windows.

I spend at least an hour meditating on Simon Sellars’ elucidations on Mad Max and Crash in his new book, Applied Ballardianismpondering just how perversely similar my automobilised bliss is to the mindfulness fad that irritates me so much.

… when incomplete bodies, fractured by the demands of capitalism, are rebuilt, they’re bound together by the signs and symbols of banal technology.

I think that at least my “late capitalist” ecstasy is devoid of the watered-down signifiers of “late orientalism”.

In any other circumstance, the alignments of these conditions would threaten to lull me into a nap. But despite the relaxing monotony of the experience, I don’t once feel drowsy. Only when we have stopped and I have lost my sense of immanence to car and road do I start to yawn.

Now, as I try to fall asleep, past midnight, a puddle of heatwave sweat and movers-day adrenaline, I am finding myself falling seamlessly into a dream about driving.

My eyes slowly shut and I am immediately behind the wheel of the car, staring down the infinite expanse of the rolling M1.

Somehow aware that I am asleep, I jolt myself awake.

Again and again, I try to settle into the driving seat of my unconscious but the innate anxiety of falling asleep at the wheel prevents me from entering the dream in which I’m driving.

Instead, I stare at the ceiling for hours, tempted to take the car out for a late night spin.