The Spectre of Patchwork

A spectre is haunting #CaveTwitter — the spectre of patchwork.

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.

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…)

What is it that connects Wuthering Heights to a Yorkshire independence movement? What is it that connects Daphne du Maurier to Cornish nationalism? Why has the break-up of the UK shifted from being a radical left-wing suggestion to one associated with right-wing populism?

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.

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.

I already know Justin disagrees with this summary and that’s okay. I don’t particularly want to argue about it. As usual, others are doing a far better job of this than I — Ed’s tweeting and mcrumps has written a hilarious and scathing blogpost which, I think, says it all:

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…


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