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’s post-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.