I am in love with my Monday evenings at the moment. Laura Grace Ford and JD Taylor have been convening an Acid Communism reading group in a snooker room in the bowels of Somerset House over the last month and, after only three sessions, our group has begun to feel beautifully enmeshed, with discussions flowing smoothly for hours without stopping, carrying on effortlessly in the pub afterwards.
Over the past two weeks we’ve been considering Mark’s unfinished Acid Communism introduction — out soon in Repeater’s mammoth anthology. Last night Laura brought her early copy of the book with her…
…and I can confirm that Steve is very correct:
After we ran out of our allotted time in our allotted room, we moved upstairs to the pub. The volume, sitting on a table between us, was imposing in its weight and size.
There was a strange sense of déjà vu to the whole situation. I remember after Mark died, many of us had just bought The Weird and the Eerie and when we convened forlorn in the pubs of New Cross, passing it around, it would always eventually end up closed on the tables between us, like an object at a wake with which we were all communally in the presence of: the latest and last thing that Mark was able to give to us. It felt so small, then, but nonetheless emitted a certain energy. K-Punk, by contrast, feels like a black hole, absorbing everything into its pages under the gravitational pull of its own swollen mass. Press k for collapse.
In resisting this somewhat inevitable drainage of energy — I do not envy the task that Repeater have so diligently and bittersweetly undertaken — as we stagger into autumn and the nights draw in — it has been wonderful to discuss Acid Communism with this disparate group of people as something to be constructed collectively and joyfully.
Laura is the perfect person to chair this. She was present and working with Mark throughout his research on the project — he had written a new introduction to the Verso edition of her book Savage Messiah (due out next year), as well as planning to dedicate a chapter of Acid Communism to her work as he had also done in Ghosts Of My Life. She undoubtedly has the best sense of the shape of the project to come.
What has become wonderfully clear, through Laura’s sense of the outline of Mark’s project, is that Acid Communsim is a project that it is still possible to reconstruct. There is work to be done but there are chapters scattered all over the place — introductions and forwards and blog posts and articles and essays — and the potential to (re)construct something in between these disparate materials, something which is able to hang together in such a way as to remain diffusely but poignantly productive, becomes more palpable the more that we read together.
In this way, it is an unfinished project like communism itself, the very acknowledgement of the immaterial nature of which is what allows for its potentials to be produced. It is a living project — in explicit contrast to the monolithic K-Punk compendium — and, as the release date of that volume looms, these Mondays have been like a preemptive measure for offsetting the encroaching bittersweetness of the Repeater volume’s finality.
Last night, my sense of this joy coalesced in a new way…
It’s been almost eighteen months since I first read the Acid Communism introduction, in a friend’s living room, slightly worse for wear, having printed out a bunch of copies in the Goldsmiths library, unearthing our hastily stapled and already dog-eared copies from our backpacks as we mellowed out following a stoned and laughter-ridden excursion around the big Sainsbury’s in New Cross. We sat in the half-dark and read a paragraph each, slightly cross-eyed, going around our little lethargic group of four with tired and bloodshot eyes.
Much of what we read didn’t really “go in” under those circumstances. We read it and let it wash over us but I remember absorbing very little. Danny Baker’s autobiography loomed large as the most bizarre and memorable reference point but not what Mark had to say about him. It was just the fact of reading it together that was important and we laughed and laughed, all the more receptive to Mark’s wonderful sense of humour.
Over the past two weeks at the Acid Communist reading group we have not read the text collectively in this way but we have nonetheless discussed the implications of the text as I felt I had previously lived it: via an explicit consideration of an inebriated laughter from the outside.
As Mark himself writes, channeling the Deleuze of Logic of Sense and discussing a 1966 BBC adaptation of Alice in Wonderland:
The laugher that this Alice provokes — sometimes uneasy, sometimes uproarious — is a laughter that comes from the outside. It is a psychedelic laughter, a laughter that — far from confirming or validating the values of any status quo — exposes the bizarreness, the inconsistency, of what had been taken for common sense.
It is here that, much to my surprise, I find Mark’s Acid Communism taking on a distinctly Bataillean edge. Throughout the text, and in a number of essays written prior to it, Mark is channeling the collectivised outsider joys of the “carnivalesque”, charting the distinct class unconsciousness of the rave, the party, the fair, the carnival. Beyond the musics that defined rave, what is laughter if not the soundtrack to these displays of frivolity?
I’m reminded of Lucio Angelo Privitello’s essay in Reading Bataille Now, in which he writes that laughter “is the joyful s/laughter of subjectivity.” Rather than giving ammunition to some sort of defence of the likes of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, laughter can instead be termed as the tearing open of interiority. Laughter, in its purest and most involuntary form, remains our central communal convergence through which the individual falls apart. Laughter affirms the non-sequiturs which penetrate all of experience and social life. To laugh at our boring dystopia is to poke holes through its seams and — as I’ve written about at length here on the blog — this is always best achieved through the collectivising, the externalising, of subjectivities.
Privitello goes on to write that laughter “is a shedding or a slipping out of what was once believed true in relation to the future, which Bataille adopted from Nietzsche’s ‘I love not knowing the future.'” He describes how, for Bataille, the
space of laughter requires “two conditions: (1) that it’s sudden; and (2) that no inhibition is involved.” Laughter is thus always on the edge of slippage, exposing, in the words of Nietzsche, the “superabundance of means of communication”…
It is here that we see the truth of Mark’s declaration, in The Weird and the Eerie, that “terrors are not all there is to the outside.” The Outside can be as hilarious as it is horrific, and this is simply down to the subject crossing an internal line within itself: the dichotomy of the good and bad trip.
With all this in mind, I’m left wondering if it is actually more than circumstance which lead Mark, in “Exiting the Vampire’s Castle“, to consider the trials of comedian Russell Brand so explicitly.
On the occasion of seeing Brand’s 2013 stand-up show Messiah Complex in Ipswich, he notes how it is a show underpinned by a kind of politics, somewhat alien to that pop-cultural moment, which was “a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality.”
Perhaps Mark’s mistake, in expressing an obvious bitterness that he had accrued under the moralising eye of the Left in that moment, was that he did not reach the depths of the analyses that would come later. Or, perhaps the backlash was precisely what drove him to better articulating the necessity of joy and laughter to processes of consciousness raising which the Left’s impotent moralism, at that time, only served to snuff out. (It’s worth noting how, over the last two years, the Left has embraced a newly memetic sense of humour but only after seeing the success of the Right’s deployment of such tactics.)
This Leftist interiority, where it still dominates, resembles the mirror image of the ‘happy’ affectlessness of neoliberal professionalism — “a blank-eyed disengagement from all Outsides, as all (your) energy is sucked up by the ultimate interiority”, as Mark wrote in the Hyperstition blog post “Megalithic Astropunk“. It is an image which is constituted by what Nick Land once called a “transcendental miserablism”, notably in a criticism that he had levelled squarely at Mark himself back in 2007. Around the time of Land’s post, Ben Woodard summarised his critique on his own blog in a way that notably echoes Mark’s later concerns. He writes that transcendental miserablism, for Land, is “an impregnable form of negation which places all negation in one entity — his example being capitalism.” He continues: “Land argues that the miserablist collapses all change (or time) or process or flux into misery thereby denying the possibility of change.” Mark was certainly guilty of this on occasion, diagnosing it whilst likewise being affected by it in the more explicitly depressive moments of his “hauntology”, but his miserablism was by no means absolute. His work would frequently swing back and forth between miserablism and mania with an honesty and a transparency that many nonetheless failed to pick up on, taking the whims of subjectivity to be an intellectual inconsistency rather than understanding each critical “face” as always already addressing a different inconsistency of the subject itself.
For the Mark of 2013, this miserablism that he was himself once accused of had since been sharpened by a movement at large into a politics and culture of vicious interiority, its edges jagged and spiked, consigning this transcendental miserablism ever more explicitly to the horizon of the self. In a moment such as that one, in 2013, Russell Brand becomes precisely the sort of figure we needed, for all his whimsy and facetiousness, so that we might see, in the shadow of his grandiose self, the inherently ridiculous and slippery nature of that which the Left was trying so hard and so authoritatively to cordon off: the late capitalist leftist subject itself.
That is not to say that the Left, in its demands, is necessarily unreasonable but its sense of truncated sense of reason is precisely the barrier it needs to overcome rather than allowing it to define itself. Previously, Mark had already written about this, offering an alternative that he termed “Psychedelic Reason“: a Spinozist rationality that foreshadows the “psychedelia” of his last years and its various contemporary misreadings; a Spinozist rationalist that was far more effective than the desperate escapism of intoxication — whether that be religious and moralising or drugged-up and care-free. He writes:
Well, what makes these things dangerous is the thing that make drugs dangerous — i.e. it is not the state of ego-loss itself but the imprecision of the art of maintaining it, the fact that the organism might resume its rights at any moment, crashing you into psychic mini-deaths and melancholic catatonia.
The problem with drugs is that they only put the Alien Parasite Entity (= His Majesty the Ego = the thing that calls itself you) to sleep. Their dissolution of the APE is temporary, all-too temporary. And after a while, the neuronal battleground — what you are fighting over AND what you are fighting with, i.e. the only resources you have — is itself damaged. APE has its way as you are dragged/drugged into permanent low-to-deep level depression.
It is only as part of a Cold Rationalist program that you can begin to permanently dissolve the APE. It’s a lifelong struggle, it’ll always lurk in the shadows and in your reflection and photographs, waiting for another opportunity to drag you back down into the looking glass world of personalised misery.
APE won’t listen to reason but it can be dissolved by it.
Hey kids: could there be a better reason to read Spinoza? He tells you not to get out of your head but how to get out through your head.
It is here that the moralising nature of a so-called Cathedral and a so-called Vampire’s Castle becomes worthy of staunch critique from a leftist perspective. Each points to a deeply embedded system of reason that is its own worst enemy, infectiously and inadvertently exacerbating the most violent interiorities of capitalism rather than expanding outwards into its outsides. As Mark continues:
Drugs are like an escape kit without an instruction manual. Taking MDMA is like improving MS Windows: no matter how much tinkering $ Bill does, MS Windows will always be shit because it is built on top of the rickety structure of DOS. In the same way, using ecstasy will always fuck up in the end because Human OS has not been taken out and dismantled.
The Cold Rationalist program tells you how to auto-affect your brain into a state of ecstasy.
This, too, whilst being embedded in his Spinozism, nonetheless rings true of Bataille’s secular “sacred”, his obsessions with “inner experience” and “the impossible”. Mark’s essay “Exiting the Vampire’s Castle” comes across as a last ditch attempt, in the sphere of social media at least, to challenge this very same foreclosing of the subject into alienation that Bataille had so violently resisted. Mark, however, is warning us more specifically against a retreat into identitarian bubbles which, at present, threaten to foreclose the contemporaneous possibilities of our coming-together, our collective subject which is brought about explicitly through the elevation of (a class) consciousness that expands outwards rather than retreating inwards.
What I fully realised last night was how essential laughter is to this Nietzschean “superbundance”. It is a laughter so fundamentally different to the sneering humour that has categorised much of the left over the last few decades: “a wheezing parody of laughter teetering upon the abject nakedness of a sob.” It is laughter that escapes the reification of the academy. It is a laughter “which is lost to discourse”, rupturing the subject in its isolation and — always; always — reaching out beyond to the other.
In the comments below, Ed is back with a great comment. He points to one of his favourite K-Punk posts, “Portmeirion: An Ideal For Living“. (It goes without saying that this is classic K-Punk, even in the title alone. One of his magnificent and hilarious “What I Did On My Holiday” posts, pivoting on The Prisoner and Joy Division — what more could you ask for?)
Ed picks out two passages of note. The first:
It’s disastrous that the Situationist insistence upon the ludic has degenerated into a smugonautic celebration of bourgeois circus trickery (juggling and unicylcists as the shock troops of the revolution against Corporate Kapital). You have to reread Ivan Chtcheglov’s astonishing Formulary for a New Urbanism — written in the year of our current Queen’s coronation (attn: Robin Carmody), 1953 — to be reminded of the force of the Situationist critique. How could architecture — i.e. the places in which we live — not be an intensely political matter? And why should we live in boring, utilitarian spaces when we could live in grottoes and crooked caverns? ‘A mental disease has swept the planet: banalization. Everyone is hypnotized by production and conveniences…’
Ed adds that “smugonautic celebration of bourgeois circus trickery (juggling and unicyclists as the shock troops of the revolution against Corporate Kapital)” is “probably the best description of what the alter-globalization movement of the late 90s and early 2000s manifested as, this sort of privileged “festival hopping” caravan that tooled around Europe, disrupting a summit here and another there.” He adds at the end:
The social movements articulated themselves as a carnivalesque experience, precisely because it is this sort of joy that is (anticipated to be) found in the sweeping mutation in the character of life, but the capacity to grapple with, get a handle on, or even pursue this to a higher position has been lost. This is no small part thanks to the reversal of the festival under late capitalism — what does one do when the inversion of power relations and the grotesque and macabre autonomy that characterize the festival becomes the very thing that affirms the dominant order? — and this is what makes the questions Mark was posing in his late work (or maybe he was posing all along). How to get from this debased position to that higher one, or to paraphrase Vaneigem, to find that alchemical method for converting the base metals of everyday life into revolutionary gold?
I really recommend you read the whole comment in full. Scroll down for more.