My dream of a life post-graduation was one defined by reading groups. I wanted to have one every other day. They’re the best.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case in the harsh reality of this city — turns out you have to work sometime — but they nevertheless do happen from time to time.
I have just come back from one I’m particularly excited about, organised by Dan Taylor and Laura Grace Ford.
Taking writer & cultural theorist Mark Fisher's unfinished book Acid Communism as a central text, Savage Messiah author & resident @LauraOF + writer Dan Taylor host a Mark Fisher Reading Group at #SomersetHouseStudios, starting 3 Sep. Register by 10 Aug: https://t.co/wsnGEMqvoJ pic.twitter.com/c7kYILs9Fv
— Somerset House Studios (@sh_studios_) July 30, 2018
Laura invited me along shortly after performing at our first K-Punk night in Dalston so it has been a long time coming and it didn’t disappoint.
We read an essay by Mark I hadn’t come across before — a rare occurrence these days. It was an essay entitled “Baroque Sunbursts” and it originally appeared in a book called RAVE out on Black Dog Publishing.
I remember seeing it in a shop when it came out, also featuring an essay by Kodwo Eshun, and being gutted I couldn’t afford it at the time. It had completely faded from memory since then, until today.
(Coincidentally, I recently rescued the book on Black Metal that Black Dog put out many years back from its Northern exile. They do good stuff.)
Reading this essay earlier today, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it before. It’s a magnificent text and encapsulates so much as yet undiscussed about his Acid Communism project — much of which I found resonating with the conversations Robin and I had in Cornwall last week.
Because it feels so pertinent to that still-burgeoning project, I won’t say too much more about it here, but there was one thing which came up in the reading group which I loved so much it definitely warrants a blogpost.
Appearing once again in this text, as it did in many of Mark’s later essays, is his favourite Herbert Marcuse invocation of “the spectre of a world that could be free.”
This quotation was highlighted by co-convener Dan and much was said about its strange templexity — its resonances with past and future, hope and mourning.
I chimed in at some point with an argument already rehearsed in this blogpost: “Atemporal Spectres at the Limit“. The word “spectre” is in need of a technological update, I think, if it is to necessarily shirk off the hauntological melancholy of its recursive self-defeatism. I think “hologram” is better suited in this day and age.
At this point, Nina Power, who I was sat next to, made the point that, originally, in Helen Macfarlane’s very first English translation of the Communist Manifesto, there was no “spectre” at all but rather just a “hobgoblin”.
A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe. We are haunted by a ghost, the ghost of Communism…
Nina proffered the suggestion of creating a kind of “hologoblin” which is too delicious not to try and do.
In looking further into this tale of translation, I came across an old blogpost by Jim Jepps which asks many of the same questions I’ve always had. He writes:
I’ve always loved this evocative but, let’s face it, inaccurate translation of the manifesto’s opening line “Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa – das Gespenst des Kommunismus”. It is a delicious thing to conjure up the image of socialist revolution as some kind of seditious whisperer, carrying respectable bourgeois children into the night as recruits for its cause.
These days the line is usually rendered as “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism” which has it’s own charms, avoids translating “Gespenst” as two entirely different things in the space of one line and doesn’t dis communism as “frightful” right at the start of a pamphlet whose main purpose is to make us feel warm and fuzzy about the idea.
However, it puzzles me that I’ve never seen anyone mention that a spectre, or ghost, is an intriguing thing to compare a living movement to. These are spirits of the dead who may well frighten the living but are, ultimately, echoes of those who have departed the world – a spectre cannot inherit the future but is a forgotten ancestor. So why would Engels and Marx choose this as the hook with which to start such an important pamphlet? Perhaps they didn’t.
Jepps makes the perhaps obvious connection between Marx and Engels’ historical materialism, their “Left Hegelianism” and the way “spectre” is perhaps better understood as the “spirit” of an age; a Hegelian Geist.
He later makes a case for Macfarlane’s “hobgoblin” nonetheless being a better symbol for a Communist movement:
Goblins do things for themselves, they have agency, spectres possess people and use them for their own ends.
There has been a consistent problem on the far-left of seeing things like General Strikes, Revolutions, and indeed the working class itself as mystical events which have a special, almost religious meaning, outside of the real people doing actual things.
His argument feels hammy but the sentiment is good — hobgoblins are belligerent agents of chaos and change and communism should embrace their mischief. It is a sentiment which ties into much of my thinking of Acid Communism as an “eerie politic” — which I explored over one, two, three posts before falling into a fog which Robin and I are now attempting to tackle together.
The flaw in the image of the hologram, particularly as it appears in the likes of Blade Runner 2049, is that it nonetheless remains somewhat impotent. It remains as, if not a remnant, a product — which is nonetheless a kind of future-oriented remnant…
What we need is perhaps a kind of “hologoblin” — a hologram with attitude.
Wikipedia’s description of the entomology of the word “hobgoblin” is also notably telling. It is apparently considered to be a “piece of rude familiarity to cover up uncertainty or fear” and this is likewise how holograms have been deployed by capitalism, most infamously used to attempt to elongate the productive lives of cultural giants such as Tupac.
A “hologoblin” is perhaps a good name for this sensibility with its pointy end aimed squarely at the “boring dystopia” epitomised by the “normalisation of crisis” that Mark wrote so much about. In this respect, perhaps he, in his online guise as K-Punk, was already a hologoblin par excellence.