Meta-Nomad has just launched his new philosophy podcast and Episode #1 is a chat that we had about the work of Mark Fisher.
Hermitix is a completely new podcast focusing on one-on-one interviews relating to fringe philosophy, obscure theory, esotericism, underappreciated thinkers and movements, and that which historically finds itself ‘outside’ the academic canon.
The aim of the podcast is to allow autodidactic thinkers, amateur philosophers and the generally curious an insight into the work of thinkers and movements who/which are often impenetrable to those outside of the academy. With the discussions at Hermitix aiming to be informal idea barrages which attempt to retain the excitement of fringe theory without falling into the structural ‘niche’ pitfalls of the academy.
I really enjoyed doing this and I hope you enjoy listening to it.
Make sure to follow the podcast on Twitter and Podiant. The upcoming sessions with John Cussans, Nick Land and Simon Sellars are not to be missed.
…if fractal polarization (or reality forking) proves anything it’s that the world no longer exists. The shattering of the assumptive world presages the shattering of the geoclimatic planetary normal. When we read about assumptive world we need to read this in its full Lovecraftian dimensions as the world we thought we inhabited is stripped away by a resurgent real that defies our capacity to domesticate it in thought, that deforms and perverts thought, introducing new logics and new geometries, a total phenomenological and temporal instability, accelerated by inhuman arctic awakenings. This is the familiar in and as its own breakdown, a process of xenoforming.
I love this, obviously, and from there Arran goes on to address the following passage from my #WyrdPatchwork talk given last weekend. I said, after quoting Mark Fisher’s definition of “the weird” from the introduction to The Weird and the Eerie:
Perhaps, then, we can say that the “weird” is a word for the dissent of the Real. It is reality dissenting against our sense of itself, alluding to the existence of alternative realities and other possible existences in the moments where that which is does not coincide with itself.
To which Arran adds:
From a Buddhist perspective we could say that this weird is simply the real as it intrudes on our neurotic world-simulations, manifesting in the present context as the abrupt insistence of impermanence within and upon our essentially confused perception that there is a world and that that world is permanent. The weird isn’t really the dissent of the real because the real can only ever seem to dissent from within the fundamentally delusional coordinates of our projective reality. The real doesn’t dissent from us, we dissent from the real.
To this I will only echo Fisher again: “The inside is a folding of the outside.”
I agree with Arran — my mistake was perhaps not insisting this recursion goes without saying. Fisher’s weird is, along with the eerie, a “mode of perception” and both terms are associated with the inside and outside. What Arran is describing here is, I’d argue, more in line with the eerie but the two are only subtly and circumstantially differentiated, in part based on a certain subjective reorientation.
The rest of Arran’s post is primarily concerned with climate change and if I don’t address his analyses in the detail it obviously deserves here it’s because I want to spend more time with his sources, related to an area of study I know little about, but also because I think there is overlap here with a post I currently have in the oven — to be titled: “Fanged Noumena: Or, We Don’t Know What Death Can Do” — so I’ll probably reference his post again there because I think the path he’s pursuing at the moment is really interesting and important.
“Fanged noumena” is obviously Nick Land’s most famous but least discussed concept and I want to unpack this properly in future, particularly because the ways he describes it — via Kant (of course) — in The Thirst for Annihilation, seems like a far more rigorous description of the agency behind what Fisher calls “the eerie”. For now, what’s worth noting is that “fanged noumena” is initially described via a report on Bangladesh’s typhoon season — it is epitomised, it seems, by the way that “everything which had seemed solid is dissolved into the vortex of the storm.”
In his post, Arran notes an interview with social scientist Mayer Hillman who suggests, bluntly, that the “outcome” of our climate crisis is “death”. No doubt, but I’m particularly interested in the ways that many already consider the process itself to be death — climate change as a planetary death drive that we have accelerated and exacerbated. For many, these noumenal threats have always been a part of life. It’s only just become an issue for many of us Westerners to be concerned about in our seemingly previously predictable and temperate climates.
This is likewise similar to how Eugene Thacker talks about a violent Outside in his book In The Dust of Our Planet, in which he writes about how “we are increasingly more and more aware of the world in which we live as a non-human world, a world outside, one that is manifest [in] the effects of global climate change, natural disasters, the energy crisis, the progressive extinction of species world-wide.”
Tragically, we are most reminded of the world-in-itself when the world-in-itself is manifest in the form of natural disasters. … [W]hile we can never experience the world-in-itself, we seem to be almost fatalistically drawn to it, perhaps as a limit that defines who we are as human beings.
Individual death is made somewhat redundant when faced with the challenges ahead and many accelerationist writers have considered these implications — of particularly relevance here, I think is Mark’s discussion of “hyper-death” in his essay “Practical Eliminativism” in Speculative Aesthetics, as well as many books in the current sphere of writings on the Anthropocene, in particular Thom Van Dooren’s book Flight Ways here in particular — which address the ontopolitical demands of species-death on our anthropocentric conception of death and grief.
I’m finishing off a little book at the minute which I’m going to self-publish, extending out my “Egress” post. (I’ll announce this properly when I’m good and ready but here’s a placeholder.) In the third chapter of the book — “Necropolitics” (not an intentional nod to Achille Mbembe, although in thematic orbit of his use of that term for sure) — deals with these issues of geopolitical and climate collapse explicitly, particularly how they’ve been expressed and invoked in pop culture and in analyses of Trump’s election. I’m expecting a proof imminently so this will hopefully be out soon.
Also, my very first essays on patchwork focused on this dynamic of the subjective and geopolitical explicitly — returned to in “Wyrd Sisters…” but by no means a new argument for me to make — that is, the ways that patchwork is an exterior reflection of a repressed (which is to say, consolidated) psyche.
There was a poignant tweet I saw recently which spoke to this:
"Landscapes are mental states, just as mental states are cartographies, both crystallized in each other, geometrized, mineralized."
For me, patchwork is an attempt to rethink the geopolitical in light of our shifting subjectivities. This was the original jumping off point for my original patchwork essay, “State Decay“, which seemed to be the start this year’s general patchwork fever (sorry!) and it’s follow-up “State Decay: Collapse” in which I responded to criticisms of my apparent encouragement of state dissolution.
So, I think Arran is right that these dynamics are central to patchwork and I’m looking forward to seeing where else he takes it. I’m looking forward to a moment where we might nicely coalesce!
Arran has posted a follow-up response to this post featuring material from his original post ended up on the cutting room floor, including notes on Thacker’s world/earth/planet schema in his book, In The Dust of Our Planet:
…these paradoxes resemble the structure of the ko’an. The ko’an is a device used in Rinzai Zen that is a problem that lacks a solution that is given to the student. The novice must come before the master in ritual context to present his solution to the insoluble. The point is to demonstrate the deep inadequacy of conceptual thinking in an embodied experiential way. In Thacker’s language, it’s to show how the world fails to solve the planet. What’s striking in the ko’an is that it uses logic to show the inadequacies of logic and deploys language to gesture allusively beyond language. In this sense then, global weirding is the earth that refuses containment in either world or planet.
At this point where are we but in mysticism? Haven’t we been there for some time? The paradoxes that mount around us. The deepening mystery of the world that Thacker reads as tragic. There is undoubtedly tragedy in natural disasters and climatic breakdown but that derives from the suffering they cause and the threat of extinctions, human and nonhuman, and our apparent powerlessness in the face of them. The other side of the equation, the humiliation of thought, has another aspect, one less bathed in pathos. It’s this turn towards mysticism understood as an attentive immersion in the mystery of experience. To put it another way, it’s to awaken our participation in the mystery of the world.
That could sound dismissive. It could come over that I’m minimising the realities of climatic breakdown and its various horrors. Yet I’m very alive to those grim scenarios and my thinking about patchwork is entirely oriented by them. The deeply adaptive ecotechnic community is one seeking to mitigate and prevent whatever harm it can. Looming always in the darkness, behind every particular jolt or laceration we could endure, is death, and, exceeding that, the “existential risk” of human extinction.
The whole premise of Whiplash, and of thrash metal, heavy metal, or rock n’ roll in general, is really that there is no future. The response to this varies depending on who is approaching the idea, from pure hedonism in the case of much of early rock and 80s glam metal, to the increasingly hate-filled and/or despairing death metal and black metal.
Thrash, however, sits somewhere right in the middle. “Whiplash” says it all in the name: Thrash metal was about pure intensity, where the nihilism of the 80s reached its most pure form of burning oneself up gloriously in the moment.
I feel like Nyx is articulating some unknown feeling I’ve been having recently, getting more and more into various metal subgenres (and extreme guitar music more generally) after spending most of the year gorging myself on Autechre.
That’s enough of a shift for whiplash in itself.
This week I’ve been in a Slayer mood and I haven’t been able to get the song “Piece By Piece” out of my head — something I’m blaming Nyx for entirely.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m on this kick whilst so much time online in these spaces I really care about feels like it’s orbiting around a lot more drama than usual, just as Nyx says.
Her advice on what to do couldn’t be more pertinent:
Affirm the headbanger, “the Dionysus of our time.”
In a vortex of pure intensity, the headbanger affirms life and moves in rhythm to the storm.
There is a blind woman who wanders about on the road outside our flat in the middle of the night. She staggers around, looking frail, tapping a cane, shouting for help.
She flags down cars — or at least tries to. She does this by getting in their way. It’s heart-wrenching to watch as joyriders turn down their music, usually convinced by a girlfriend in the passenger seat that they must to do something to help her. But most ignore her.
Those who do stop try their best to help her but she always refuses what they have to offer. She’s desperate until they stop and then it becomes a negotiation.
She wants one outcome. The one no one is willing or able to give.
She’s from Croydon, she says. We’re in Deptford. I wouldn’t walk that far. You can’t expect a blind woman to. You wouldn’t expect a blind woman to be hanging out in the middle of the road at 3am in the first place but there she is. She says she has nowhere to go. She just needs money for a taxi.
We can give you a lift?
We can call a taxi for you? Or anyone?
No. I need the money.
I’m sorry. We don’t have that kind of cash.
Fuck off and die then, you selfish cunts!
The first time this happened it was distressing to watch, if darkly humorous. I watched this scenario unfold again and again for about half an hour from the window of our flat on the third floor.
I wasn’t just rubbernecking. I kept trying to call 101 — the non-emergency number for the police or an ambulance or anyone — but I couldn’t get through. I suppose it’s emergencies only at 3am. It felt like it could turn into an emergency at any moment but it never did.
And that’s right: I said “the first time”.
She woke us up for the third time in as many months last night. Traipsing up and down our street, around the block, tapping her cane, hurling the kind of abuse at cars that makes your eyes water.
At first I couldn’t be sure if she was blind or not. By now I’m almost certain it’s a farce.
Communism remains the best conceivable form of human organization, and it can work, but the major catch is that it requires something that smells intolerably fishy to those who are most likely to want communism (left-wing activists). I will try to show that a workable and highly desirable communism is possible on the condition of accurate social valuation of individual characters. Some people are better or worse at different things, including ethical conduct. To the degree a group calibrates itself to these differences, it can have true communism; to the degree it denies or inaccurately assesses these differences, it cannot have communism.
I wanted to take a more careful look at this sense of a communism, positioning it against my own. My communism is primarily conceived as being defined by a collectivised ontology of difference — something I’ve tentatively been piecing together on the blog here and here.
The difference between us, as I see it, is that Murphy is led by his data into all the usual traps of communism, applying statistical solutions to ontological questions rather than building purposefully around the impossibility of their resolution.
Deleuze draws a line between historical Fascism (of the type that came to power in Germany, Italy, Romania, etc) and microfascism: a field of destructive, authoritarian impulses that permeates capitalist society. In ‘Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ microfascism is the result of a blocked line of flight, a molarisation of repressed desire…
We know this already. Patchwork, as a thought experiment, produces lines of flight indefinitely (in principle) but, paradoxically, this is likely to include a spectrum of possibility from overtly consolidated dead-ends to never-ending chaos. The gambit is: surely the proliferation of alternatives is better than our dull existences amongst consolidated nation-states, each increasingly infected with capitalism and neoliberalism.
How this is remotely compatible with a classically understood communism is a tricky point to make and, in this way, I’ve previously been sympathetic to Justin’s often expressed “imposter syndrome” when talking about communism, in which he acknowledges that just because he thinks he’s a communist, he’s aware many “real” communists might reject him as one of their own. I can appreciate this. I think I might be a similar sort of communist, because my communism, rather than being purely Marxist and adhering to contemporary left-wing expectations, is rather built on foundational texts from Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy.
In many ways, Justin and I are beginning from the same position. The interpersonal differences that tend towards fragmentation are based on the inherently fraught nature of friendship and communication which Georges Bataille, in his essay “The Labyrinth”, reduces to a “principle of insufficiency”; an inability to account for the inner experience of the other as that primal wound at the heart of all of human civilisation and existence.
For me, this is not something to get rid of or solve. This is not something to attempt to rectify. It’s the productive engine of community that is often curtailed and stunted by politics of the state. Instead, it’s a condition of subjectivity that is to be exacerbated and held within thought so that all action and politics can begin from its acknowledgement.
Blanchot takes up this principle explicitly in his communism, making it central to his philosophy of community. I think it’s worth turning to Blanchot’s The Unavowable Community at length here. He writes:
I am reading the following lines by Edgar Morin which many of us could make our own: “Communism is the major question and the principal experience of my life. I have never stopped recognizing myself in the aspirations it expresses and I still believe in the possibility of another society and another humanity.”
This simple statement may sound naive, but, in its straightfor wardness, it expresses exactly what we cannot escape: Why? What about this possibility which, one way or another, is always caught in its own impossibility?
This is likewise a communism that Justin has explored in his essay “Atomization and Liberation” in the Vast Abrupt, but which he ends up taking in a direction already forewarned by Blanchot himself, who continues:
Communism, by saying that equality is its foundation and that there can be no community until the needs of all men are equally fulfilled (this in itself but a minimal requirement), presupposes not a petfect society but the principle of a transparent humanity essentially produced by itself alone, an “immanent” humanity (says Jean-Luc Nancy) . This immanence of man to man also points to man as the absolutely immanent being because he is or has to become such that he might entirely be a work, his work, and, in the end, the work of everything. As Herder says, there is nothing that must not be fashioned by him, from humanity to nature (and all the way to God). Nothing is left out, in the final analysis. Here lies the seemingly healthy origin of the sickest totalitarianism.
This is likewise how Murphy’s communism, as most recently enunciated, appears to us: as that sickest totalitarianism, built around a foundation of technologically instantiated and absolute equality.
So, what then of “community”? What is it in relation to this communism? Perhaps a small-c communism that is not enforced by the infrastructures of the state into consolidated groups but rather a social infrastructure that is modelled on its own casual and already existing dynamics.
Whilst the state tries to enforce its model of itself on the subject, this communism instead calls for a sociality that is uninhibited and attentive to the already existent flows of human life, as fragmentary and fluid, and which does not get in their way. As I recently said on Twitter: a patchwork has always been, for me, a Frankenstate that reflects the makeup of the modern subject. In this way, patchwork inverts the processes of subjection. It is to eradicate the political (as we know it) through the forces of the extrapolitical, not — as Murphy seems to be suggesting — to neuter the extrapolitical through pervasive state control and administration.
We are grappling here with difficulties not easily mastered. The community, be it numerous or not … seems to propose itself as a tendency towards a communion, even a fusion, that is to say an effervescence assembling the elements only to give rise to a unity (a supra-individuality) that would expose itself to the same objections arising from the simple consideration of the single individual, locked in his immanence.
That the community may lay itself open to its own communion (which is of course symbolized by all eucharistic communions) is shown by a variety of examples: the group under fascination, as attested by the sinister collective suicide in Guyana; the group in fusion, as named and analyzed by Sartre in his ‘Critique of Dialectical Reason’ …; the military or fascist group where each member of the group relinquishes his freedom or even his consciousness to a Head incarnating it without running the risk of being decapitated because it is, by definition, beyond reach.
I could go on quoting passages at length but surely it is already clear by now that Murphy’s communism is a version of that already familiar fascistic variety, built on technologies but ignoring any questions raised about the logistics of a communism since the mid-19th century.
If it’s still not clear enough: read more Blanchot.
A spectre is haunting #CaveTwitter — the spectre ofpatchwork.
At an Acid Communist reading group on Monday, someone had this wonderful spiel about the nature of the spectre of communism. It was like an add-on to the previous session’s discussion about “hobgoblins“.
We were talking about the idea of a “leisure society” — that once popular and quasi-utopian prediction for our future lives in which leisure would replace labour absolutely. It was described as “a spectre once circulating in the fever dreams of liberal economists” and, at one point, it was a possibility that seemed to warrant real preparation and planning.
Someone else went on to explain how communism was a spectre for Marx in a very similar way, because it was the idea itself that haunted the imagination of the liberal classes. The spectre which haunts Europe in the Communism Manifesto is likewise a fever dream of the bourgeois imagination. It was precisely what they most feared. It was their “hobgoblin”, their political boogieman, even before Marx and Engels committed it to paper.
And so — as this person marvellously put it — it was Marx’s plan to “give the fuckers what they’re terrified of.” Marx’s masterstroke was to draw the outline of that which haunted the minds of the capitalist class; to resurrect that which they had purposefully tried to repress.
Patchwork is a similar sort of idea for me. It is an idea that must linger in the mind of any unconditional accelerationist, as that which haunts the bourgeois class. Where it differs, perhaps, from the Communism of 1848, is that, today, everyone seems to fear fragmentation, on both the left and the right.
The right love their corporate monopolies. The left love their globalism — that diamond in the rough of the legacy of imperialism. The idea that both might be washed away is an idea that haunts both. It’s a project which, at this stage, necessitates a rethinking of our imposed realities at levels currently under-explored.
And that’s the crux of my interest in patchwork. That’s it.
If you decide to trawl back through this blog’s archive, you won’t find yourself reading a single patch pitch. I’m not here to offer you salvation on my little plot of land. I have no interest in any one patch in particular. What interests me is, rather, the process: patchwork as an image of a “proper” post-modernity — which is to say, a view of the world after the process of modernity has burnt out on itself, rather than pomo as a stand-in for “late modernity”.
I want to make this clear. Why? Because Justin Murphy put the fear in me.
Patchwork has always been two-fold for me: offering a Gothic Frankenstate to compliment the image of a Frankenstein of the modern subject. Murph has recently, in horrifying ways, succeeded in embodying this dynamic absolutely, and it's making me question everything. https://t.co/9cOPd54en8
I’ll be honest, after nine months of writing about and thinking about patchwork on this blog, last weekend’s #WyrdPatchwork conference in Prague got me questioning everything. It’s made me realise that the patchwork talk on this blog has become so tangled and messy that half the time I don’t know what I’m arguing for anymore so why should I expect anyone else to know?
It’s probably not that clear from this blog alone, since most of you aren’t in my head, but I’ve been increasingly and quite decisively shifting away from defending a speculative position on patchwork as a geopolitical model and moving instead towards a more focused investigation of its antecedents which are found so often in the parochial Gothic of England’s dissenting counties. (This was largely happening because I was gearing up for a PhD on precisely this topic but that’s probably not happening anymore until I sort out some funding…)
I haven’t done much work towards answering these questions on the blog. If you haven’t already noticed, most patchwork posts here over the past few months have been reactive — that is, written in explicit response to critiques rather than stating new suggestions and ideas — and this is something I’ve grown really tired of. All I end up doing, whether it is here or on Twitter, is repeating myself over and over and it’s making me develop a kind of internal dogmatism that none of this was ever about for me. I feel forced into consolidating my viewpoint in a way that I hoped patchwork, as an object of thought, would free me from.
It’s not about the result for me. I’m not interested in pitching you my idea for a patch. I’m interested in the process — why it’s more visible now; how it’s always been there; why it’s yet to be exorcised from our collective subconscious.
My essays on Wuthering Heights remains my favourite thing that I’ve written on this topic and my talk last Saturday was a way to get back to this good stuff. I must admit that I’ve had a tendency to get bogged down in arguing about patchwork realities despite the fictions being my main point of interest.
Why is that? I don’t know. My head’s been in a weird place these past few months. Looking back on 2018 already feels like looking back on some weird angry stranger.
Does that mean I take it all back? Not at all.
I think the potentials for patchwork remain interesting. But this is a PSA to say I’m not going to bother arguing about that anymore. I want to focus on what really interests me about patchwork and philosophy more generally: the role of the Gothic and the futures it might help us glimpse.
This post was initially going to be a point-by-point analysis of Justin’s talk from Saturday and an articulation of exactly what I don’t like about his patch proposal. I didn’t do that adequately in the YouTube chat at the time or in the Q&A that followed but, even now, I don’t think I want to get into it.
I discover a genius way to have rich people pay us for doing nothing, on the minor condition that we maintain good character, and I get called a Nazi. This is why the rich hide their money from you joke ass Liar Communists: you have no gratitude.
In brief: Murphy’s patch does not seem like some sort of connection to a new geopolitical ‘outside’ but rather a patch based on the holistic distillation of Market Stalinism and Randianism, powered by an unprecedented intensification of neoliberal interiority. It’s what we already have, but worse. So much worse.
Murphy is a true Petersonian at the core in that he deploys a series of symbolic-mythological masks to conceal what is fundamentally an unspectacular retreat into assumed hierarchies that undercuts radical opposition (in other words, the SJWs) to those hierarchies. For Murphy especially, these hierarchies are distinctly fascist, rather than simply conservative, in that rather than referring to an organic body of tradition, the political project unscrupulously attaches to any viral movement without any attention to internal logical coherence. There is no interiority to the signs it takes up, other than that unspeakable tyrannical center, which is not so much an interior as it is a void, an absence.
The question that remains is how to find an adequate ground for a critique of the ideology that saturates this authoritarian rhizomatic assemblage. How does one contradict a system of seemingly total non-contradiction?
I’ll be watching with trepidation to see what else comes out of these discussions and see how much longer I can resist the temptation to jump in…
This is a transcription of a presentation given at #WyrdPatchwork, an event which took place at Punctum in Prague on Saturday 22nd September 2018. The text is interspersed with a series of images, chosen by myself, which were projected within the venue throughout the talk. I was phoned in via Skype, joining Justin Murphy’s livestream of the event which you can watch back here. A report on the rest of the day and its discussions will follow soon maybe.
First of all, I just want to say thank you for inviting me to be with you today. This sounds like a fascinating project and it’s an area of particular interest to me. Dustin has done an amazing job of sketching out all the discussions within patchwork, which is definitely not an easy task, so thanks for that.
Patchwork is a very broad church, that is no doubt clear by now, with seemingly infinite implications for our contemporary moment. Rather than go into these implications in depth, I want to take a broader view of patchwork and its aesthetic and philosophical precedents, particularly related to your use of the word “wyrd”. I think I gave working title of this talk as being “aesthetics of exit” or something along those lines. I’d like to introduce here instead by the title: “The Wyrd Sisters Bring Death to the Leviathan”.
To introduce myself briefly: I blog under the name Xenogothic and I’ve been writing frequently about patchwork under that name since January of this year. It’s been astounding to watch this idea take off and fragment in so many different directions over the last nine months, having been mired in unfortunate and reductive controversies for so long. And now, after all of that, it seems like patchwork evolves into something new every other week — this event being a case in point — and this, in itself, is why I find patchwork so fascinating.
What interests me about patchwork at the moment is the way that it offers a speculative system on which we might begin to imagine and proliferate alternatives — subjective, ideological and geopolitical alternatives; alternatives to that which is imposed upon us, but also those alternatives which we can already see sprouting up all around us.
It’s an attempt to imagine a whole new world — a “panarchic” world — in which change is placed on a par with stability, so that we might escape the “frenzied stasis” of our present era.
The late cultural theorist Mark Fisher, in writing his most famous book, 2009’s Capitalist Realism, asked the question: “Is there no alternative?” And, depending on how you look at things, it may seem like now, ten years on, this question has become somewhat redundant. Alternatives are everywhere, being championed by both the political right and left.
A dozen variants of socialism and communism. Alt-this and alt-that. Whether you take this to be the proliferation of wolves in sheep’s clothing or earnest attempts at innovation, it seems to me like patchwork, as a catch-all term for a fragmentary geopolitics, offers us a way to consider this proliferation of ideological positions, in the context of their own production, as a porous and potentially radical process.
Patchwork is — fittingly, considering the context in which we’re discussing it today — referred to by many as an “operating system” on which to run disparate models of the future. The way I see it, it is an operating system to be installed for the production of difference, in explicit opposition to the consolidating nature of the modern state form and its various mythologies that have long powered the ever-resilient nationalisms which we can see finding new strength across Europe and the rest of the world in 2018.
Like the common diagnosis of the tragedy of capitalism, the State cannot help but block, for the sake of its own survival, the dissenting desires that it is nonetheless responsible for producing within itself. The trials and tribulations of crypto and the blockchain remain the most promising contemporary examples of this today but, geopolitically, we might also consider the entangled and much debated causes of terrorism and the restlessness of contemporary Europe.
More broadly, we can see this in the diminishing returns of a nationalism which breeds regionalism which breeds localism. It is consolidation itself which powers fragmentation. These positions needn’t take the form of the stereotypically small-minded parochialism of our rural racists, however. They can likewise be seen in the independence movements of Catalonia and Scotland or in the insular metropolitanism of our largely liberal urban centres.
This fragmentation is exemplary of the processes of positive feedback that are central to our experiences of modernity, which Nick Land has most famously written about in orbit of patchwork and capitalism, but the problem of imagining a diverse array of outcomes for this process remains difficult.
This is not to suggest, however, that patchwork is some kind of brand-spanking-new proposition but rather that it is an attempt to reinvigorate a tendency our civilisation has had at its heart for centuries — if not longer — but which has largely been forgotten thanks to the consolidatory and largely imperial projects of our ancestors which are sustained under tactically innocuous names by the political leaders of today.
Outside of its controversies, this is the allure of patchwork for me and I get the impression that Wyrd Patchwork has been imagined to exacerbate this tendency further. So, what I’d like to do today is consider this “wyrdness” in more detail, particularly the ways in which that it might further exacerbate patchwork’s relationship to semiotics and aesthetics. Because patchwork, as its name suggests, is not cleanly geopolitical — it is an amalgamation, in true DeleuzoGuattarian style, of a range of different disciplines and perspectives — craft and art practices amongst them.
Before I go any further, I should probably confess to my ignorance: I’m ashamed to say that I’m not that technically minded.
The idea of a proof of place bluetooth sharing augmented reality game for rethinking communal relations, as well as experiences of place and the state, sounds bloody brilliant to me but I won’t pretend that, at the time of writing, I have any idea what on earth that might mean, look like or involve. (Thanks to Dustin [Breitling] for his presentation clarifying this somewhat!) Rather than this being an obstacle to what I plan to say today, however, I’m hoping I can provide you all with some examples from my own research into a kind of “speculative aesthetics” of the Gothic.
I’m going to explore some of the less tangible but nonetheless prevalent cultural tendencies — associated with the Gothic in particular — that this use of AR technology may be able to materialise (for lack of a better word) for the first time, introducing a different but nonetheless contemporary and technologically relevant approach to a long-dormant sensibility and cultural spirit of dissent and fragmentation.
My personal view of Patchwork is, perhaps like yours, also “wyrd” — that’s W-Y-R-D — but it’s also weird — W-E-I-R-D.
Both of these words are to be found in The Weird and the Eerie, the 2017 book by Mark Fisher which has been hugely influential on my thinking about this topic, and so I’d like to start by drawing on Fisher’s definitions of the weird and the wyrd, before going on to explore their relevance to the fragmentary geopolitics of our pasts, presents and futures.
Fisher’s primary “weird” — that’s W-E-I-R-D — is his word for that which shouldn’t exist or appear but nonetheless does. He writes,
the weird is that which does not belong. The weird brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled with the “homely” (even in negation) [— that is, as opposed to Freud’s unheimlich or the “unhomely”]. The form that is perhaps most appropriate to the weird is montage — the conjoining of two or more things which do not belong together.
Perhaps, then, we can say that the “weird” is a word for the dissent of the Real. It is reality dissenting against our sense of itself, alluding to the existence of alternative realities and other possible existences in the moments where that which is does not coincide with itself.
This is a weird to be found in much science fiction but also — as Fisher seems to suggest — in the capitalist realities that we know and love today…
The weird highlights potentially new parapolitical happenings in a world of mundane neoliberal bureaucracy; a world of dull rules and regulations. It reveals to us the reality of our “boring dystopia“: the ways in which the present does not even coincide with itself, never mind our once vibrant visions of the future.
This is arguably the original allure of Donald Trump as the “weirdest” American president we’ve yet seen and the same can be said for many other right-wing oddities around the world. The left likewise has examples of weird personalities but not quite so many successful ones, giving some credence to the suggestion that the left, despite what it may think of itself, retains its hold on hegemonic social thought and practice, likewise eschewing those on its fringes who are nonetheless, broadly speaking, on its side.
But these things are not so simply diagnosed. There are key points on praxis which both sides have long forgotten. One of the most telling examples of this is perhaps the way that right-wing voters across the West, in dissenting against a liberal hegemony, have perceived themselves to be exemplary of a “New Punk”, much to the chagrin of the popular left. I can’t remember who first made this claim but I have a feeling it was Milo Yiannopoulos, symptomatic of a typically British cultural amnesia — punk, in Britain at least, has been dogged by Tory twats for over forty years by now…
The weird — and patchwork in itself — work well as an aesthetic and political response to this.
Patchwork is not punk: it’spost-punk.
Sticking with the work of Mark Fisher, this is what Fisher had to say on the legacy and now notable absence of a cultural and political post-punk mentality in the book Post-Punk Then And Now, published by Repeater Books in 2016 and edited by Fisher in collaboration with his colleagues Gavin Butt and Kodwo Eshun. Fisher explains in a transcript of a discussion between the three:
The principle behind post-punk was the popular-modernist idea that you couldn’t repeat things, you couldn’t use forms that had become kitsch — and yesterday’s innovation was today’s kitsch. So post-punk was driven by a principle of difference and self-cancellation; a constant orientation towards the new, and a hostility towards the outmoded, the already-existent, the familiar. That’s why Simon Reynolds called his book on post-punk Rip It Up and Start Again. I guess that what I’m saying is that that hostility towards the already-familiar has weakened to the point that it has disappeared. We can’t be hostile to the past in the way that post-punk was because we don’t now have a sense of the present or the future anymore.
Here we see that the weird — still with an “E-I” — is not enough to address our present realities alone. We need something else in order to address the problem of time that comes with them, which brings us to the Wyrd — that is, the wyrd with a “Y”.
As Fisher also points out in The Weird and the Eerie, the “wyrd-with-a-Y” is that Old English word for fate and it is a concept inseparable from personal destiny and our sense of the future more generally. He writes: “The concept of fate is weird in that it implies twisted forms of time and causality that are alien to ordinary perception.”
The fateful (and often fatal) Wyrd, as such, often refers to that which is predetermined but which also — paradoxically — exacerbates, amplifies and empowers that which was always meant to be. This sense of the “wyrd” is integral to many analyses of late capitalism, particularly Mark Fisher’s, but also Nick Land’s, who refers to these paradoxes through his use of the word “templexity”.
It is a slippery and complex concept which remains best encapsulated by its most famous cultural instantiation in the image of the Wyrd Sisters as found in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Right at the start of the play, Macbeth meets the Wyrd Sisters and sees his future laid out before him. He is to be king, they say, before later instilling him with a false confidence that is to be his downfall. This flawed knowledge of his own fate intensifies his actions as he hurtles towards that which has been predicted. Are the actions he takes in light of this new knowledge the same actions which were always already necessary in order to confirm the foreseen? Or have they been influenced and exacerbated by his knowledge of his own actions? How can we possibly know any different?
This is the classic empirical problem of templexity as we continue to find it in many a time-travel drama today. It is likewise the accusation levelled at late capitalist society by many of its cynics and a perspective so often ascribed to many a pseudo-nihilistic Twitter personality: all of our actions, even those taken against capitalism, can be seen as being responsible for amplifying its stronghold on the world as we know it. It’s just an over-complicated way of advocating that we do nothing.
But this says nothing of the “wyrd” in itself. This is only to respond to what we might perceive as the effects of the wyrd.
It is worth remembering here that the Wyrd Sisters are a nefarious and multiplicitous being — like capital but also like the collective form of subjectivity that Fisher explicitly calls for in his Capitalist Realism — and they are able to see, we might presume, multiple futures. They share a subjectivity between them, collectively choosing a path ahead for those they encounter and, in their conniving and mischievous ways, shaping the future for their own ends, notably against the apparatuses of the State.
Lest we forget that Shakespeare’s Wyrd Sisters were directly inspired by King James’ pamphlet dissertation: the Daemonologie. Published in 1597, it was a philosophical and theological guide to the practices of witches for concerned citizens and the prospective witch-hunters amongst them — which is to say, it’s primary purpose was to instil paranoia amongst King James’ more unruly subjects in England and Scotland.
James was the first joint king of both countries and it is telling that his own paranoia, with regards to his tenuous political position, took on the image of an endemic witchcraft amongst the peasantry. Like a sort of proto-Lovecraftian scholar, what he feared more than anything was a collective subject unbound from the nascent infrastructure of his newly consolidated state.
It is this inherently dissident nature that makes Macbeth, for me, the ur-text for many an online discussion of patchwork, praxis and unconditional accelerationism.
As a very brief introduction, “unconditional accelerationism” — or the guttural-sounding “U/Acc” — is an accelerationism opposed to the squabbles over praxis routinely enacted by the political left and right, both internally and amongst themselves. Each perceives accelerationism as a political philosophy of action but U/Acc, instead, views it fundamentally as a theory of time.
But this is not to say that such a theory cannot be of any practical use…
I’ve previously written about how Gilles Deleuze’s writings on the sign and the event are key here. Both on his own and with Felix Guattari, Deleuze wrote often of an entwined understanding of signs — that is, semiotics, understood as the administration of the sensible — and the event — that is, becoming; or, being and time, being within time.
It is out of Deleuze’s descriptions of this process that we get, from Deleuze and Guattari in collaboration, that widely-acknowledged founding statement of accelerationism — although the pair were certainly not the first to express the sentiment. Together they advise that we must “accelerate the process” of deterritorialisation, rather than withdraw from it. Accelerate the lines of flight, the moments of escape, the “wyrdness” of our circumstances.
For all their talk of deterritorialisation, we often forget how important our situatedness remains to their analyses. Theirs is a philosophy of immanence as opposed to transcendence. There is no outside to reach but rather only a becoming that you must make yourself worthy of. There is no chance of the atomised individual getting beyond the material circumstances in which we all currently live, at least without going mad alone and without consequence. There is no chance of real, productive success in isolation, and so rather than pushing for a naive utopianism, we have to first acknowledge and account for the very propulsiveness of the teleologies of which we are all inherently a part. We have to know our fate.
In doing so, we affirm our immanence, and what we find within this immanence is difference and the dynamics of multiplicity. Deleuze and Guattari write:
There are only relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness between unformed elements, or at least between elements that are relatively unformed, molecules, and particles of all kinds. There are only haecceities, affects, subjectless individuations that constitute collective assemblages.
This is how they describe a plane of immanence “which knows only longitudes and latitudes, speeds and haecceities”. It is a “plane of consistency or composition (as opposed to a plan(e) of organization or development).”
It is in this way that there can be no such thing as an accelerationist praxis. As Ed Berger has suggested in a number of blogposts — which I cannot recommend you read enough — for the unconditional accelerationist, there is only anti-praxis, in the sense that she must acknowledge the fact that any praxis which begins from a normative political position is doomed the fail.
Since no normative political positions, along the present axes of left and right, account for the process in which they are always already embedded, any normative conception of praxis is impotent. And the fragmentation that we might desire from the process is already occurring within its flows. We simply have to acclimatise ourselves to the possibility and not do the work of reterritorialisation that capitalism and the state need for us in order to survive.
Deleuze and Guattari seem to be saying much the same thing when they call upon us to enter into the process. They call for a becoming-immanent to the deterritorialising processes of immanentisation in themselves. We must view ourselves from “within the depths of things”, Deleuze writes alone, in order to fully recognise the flows that flow through, with and around us. Our task is only ever to make ourselves worthy of the process.
In this way, theirs — and Ed’s — is a consideration of the event of acceleration, of modernity, rather than a consideration of acceleration in and of itself as an “object” of study. Ed has written a lot more on this point and I want to quote him here to bring us back into the explicit realm of geopolitics. He writes:
[W]hile left-accelerationism (L/ACC) and right-accelerationism (R/ACC) seek to recompose or reterritorialize Leviathan in accordance with each of their own political theologies, [unconditional accelerationism] charts a course outwards: the structures of Oedipus, the Cathedral, Leviathan, what have you, will be ripped apart and decimated by forces rushing up from within and around the system, which in turn mobilize the entirety of the system towards its own dissolution point.
The figure of Leviathan, as Ed invokes it here, and as its likewise been invoked by Vincent Garton in his still brilliant essay for Urbanomic, Leviathan Rots, is that classic Hobbesian vision of the sovereign state as a kind of Cthulthic god-king. It is the inherent multiplicity of the state reduced to the image of a singular benevolent entity.
Macbeth’s witches, the Wyrd Sisters, in stark contrast to this, can be seen as the antithesis to this Hobbesian monstrosity: they’re feminine, or at least waywardly so (described, as they are, as ugly bearded women); they’re not imposing Goliaths, but rather unassuming wizened peasants loitering on the heath; they are subalterns; and, most importantly of all, they are many.
The witches are the dissenting subject in the shadow of the totalitarian godhead. They are creatures of fate, meddling with but also caught up in the destiny of that which rules over them. They are the thinking subject as opposed to the loyal citizen. (As Deleuze himself has been frequently quoted as saying: “To think is always to follow the witches’ flight.”)
Unconditional accelerationism argues for the affirmation of this form of “wyrdness”. It seeks to affirm the possibility that, as Deleuze writes in his book The Logic of Sense, we might become “the quasi-cause of what is produced within us”.
What is this if not a call towards an affirmation of fate, of the wyrd — an amor fati as Nietzsche would say…
Since the event and the sign are inseparable in Deleuze’s analyses, we might likewise interpret that that which is produced within us is a semiotics — or, more specifically, an aesthetics of the self: the schizophrenic self, the multiplicitous self. The minoritarian becoming of the diffused multiple must always account for the regime of signs struggling to suppress it — it must resist the state’s tentacular attempts to consolidate its subjects in its image — but there are likewise signs of something other everywhere we look.
As Fisher explores in The Weird and the Eerie, we are consistently fascinated by that which does not belong, that which does not coincide with itself — in our fictions and in our waking lives. From the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia to the sunglasses in John Carpenter’s They Live, we love the technologies in our stories which allow us to become newly attentive to that which lives beneath the familiar and the everyday.
So, with this in mind, it might be worth us asking: where, exactly, does a speculative aesthetics of the weird and the eerie come from? From outside or from within us? Fisher suggests that each is folded within its other. If we are to understand the weird and the eerie, in this way, as Mark writes, to be “modes of perception”, then what exactly is it that we are trying to perceive?
What is it that is stalling the processes of sensory administration? That which is outside ourselves and our present existences? Or rather that which is produced within us which a capitalist regime of signs cannot account for?
Perhaps it possible for us to view Wyrd Patchwork along very similar lines. It certainly seems to share this function, as a multiplicitous techne that may exacerbate the conservative telos of the State and its inability to fully coincide with itself. But, in its wyrdness, might it likewise reveal the state’s own consolidating mission to be its own downfall?
This was arguably the same technological problem tackled and reinvigorated by the Ccru in the 1990s, of which Mark Fisher and Nick Land were both a part, but it is also a problem that has routinely fallen back into disrepute again and again. As we’ve already seen, we are no longer punk, we are no longer post-punk. To be cyberpunk, to be k-punk. was only ever a goal for a future beyond the now.
Wyrd Patchwork, in light of all this, might make such futures more accessible again. It begins to resemble a tool for consciousness raising; a tool for reimagining both the sign and the event within the midst of a century that is continuing to pick up speed and shows no sign of slowing down for our benefit.
Wyrd Patchwork may assist us in catching up to this sense of difference, this sense of the weird/wyrd that is inherent to but repressed within our realities, by augmenting reality in order to exacerbate that which has, for us, for far too long, been said to be predetermined — that is, our lives as subjects, as products of the states in which we live in.
It might allow us to affirm the wyrdness of our fate and act accordingly.
Yes, as you may have noticed, I’ve got a new look.
I’m planning a big visual overhaul of the blog over the coming weeks so it looks smart in some nice new clothes for its first birthday. A massive shout-out to Matthew Fall McKenzie who has designed this logo for me. The man’s a genius. Hire him for all your aesthetic needs. You can find him here, here and here.
I’m hoping that I’ll soon be rolling out some limited amounts of merchandise using Matt’s designs and some of my own photographs (yet to be taken). I haven’t put any money into this blogging venture so far, but this is becoming harder and harder as I get bigger and bigger ideas. For example, the feedback for Xenogothic Radiohas so far been amazing and I’ve got four new episodes baking in the oven, but I’m already quite embarrassed by the quality of my vocal recording on the first two.
So, for the sake of not-for-profit transparency, this new look and first sidestep into merchandising is so that I might be able to pay for some new equipment without stressing myself out too much. I don’t have a whole lot of disposable income.
I won’t be doing merch often, but whenever I do unleash something for buying, rest assured that it’s to make this blog a bigger and better place to hang out.
I’m going to be phoning it in to Prague on Saturday afternoon, talking about the wyrd and the weird in relation to patchwork; the gothic as a speculative aesthetics that is central to the history of thought surrounding transcendental geopolitics.
It was understood from the start to be a consciousness-raising exercise, encouraging people to perceive the actual state of Britain rather than the PR state … Which is surprisingly hard, because there’s this mixture of Silicon Valley ideology, PR and advertising which distracts us from our own aesthetic poverty, and the reality of what we have. Which is just all these crap robots…
It’s Californian ideology without Californian sunshine, isn’t it?…
The point is always made that capitalism is efficient, people say ‘You might not like it, but it works.’ But Britain is not efficient. Instead it’s stuck in a form of frenzied stasis.
This is something to ruminate on, I think: a consciousness-raising exercise which exacerbates the weird, widening gaps in late capitalism towards its outside; egresses towards an understanding of the “eerie” nature of capital that would be teased in The Weird and the Eerie.