“More occult, less acceleration!”

The only possible Ballardianism is a lucid apocalyptic paranoia, theoretically incomprehensible and logically unsustainable, but capable of dissecting in detail a reality that becomes increasingly complex and beyond the reach of human cognitive abilities. Nothing human makes it out of the near-future and, paraphrasing Burroughs, who believed that Ballard touched the “nonsexual roots of sexuality,” Ballardianism shows us the essentially non-human roots of humanity’s so-called progress and future. “I imagined myself propelled to my death by forces I could not fathom, just like the victim in Crash who smashes into the narrator’s car and is hurled through the windscreen, striking the bonnet.”

There’s a new article up on Nero Editions taking excellent account of so many of the recent knotted blogosphere debates, tying them in a commendably neat but haunted bow, starting with the “art and politics” debate from a few months ago that took place in orbit of Simon Sellars’ recent book Applied Ballardianism, and hitching it to notions of Landian templexity and U/Acc anti-praxis.

A few of my own blog posts are linked to here but I very much doubt I could see the connections between them as clearly as Monacelli does here. It’s surely the best account so far of all these different threads that have proliferated over the course of the last few years online.

An essential primer. Go check it out!

The Real in Weird Realism: Notes on ‘The Haunting of Hill House’

I’ve been well and truly sucked into this new Netflix horror series, The Haunting of Hill House. There will be spoilers in this post so maybe come back to it later if you haven’t seen the show. I very much recommend it.

The series really got going for me after episode three and it has felt relentless ever since, unsettling me with an intensity I don’t think I’ve experienced since the first binge of the first season of Hannibal. That show really got inside my head on the first sitting — its excess of gore and nihilism compounding reality rather than rupturing it. This show does this too.

It’s got me thinking a lot about some of the alternative paths I could have taken with my recent “The Eerie After Derrida” posts, particularly the claims made in Fisher’s old Weird Realism posts about the (relative) realism of Lovecraft.

What I want to explore here today is the weird rather than the eerie: the weird as it is tied to objects and, particularly, how we might consider this a part of a Weird Realism, from the perspective of Lacan rather than Harman.

I went into The Haunting of Hill House knowing nothing about it. I knew the name as that of a novel by Shirley Jackson but that’s a book I haven’t yet read. (I’ll be changing that fact once I’ve finished this.) I don’t know how closely the series follows the book but I’m going to take a guess and say it takes a lot of liberties.

The series follows the Crain family as they are haunted by the ghosts of their lives: of their childhoods and their various personal traumas, but particularly the collective trauma of their mother’s suicide and the strange goings-on they all experienced in the creepy old home of their youth. As a result, each of them, as adults, has their own issues — sociopathy, depression, substance abuse, narcissism — and each episode proceeds by exploring these pathologies, how they’re connected what they saw, didn’t see or think they saw as kids, and how this continues to define them as people well into adulthood.

After tweeting about the series I completely agree with this comment from Lyrra Sark:

To hear a synopsis of the series is to think of the recent horror trope of having creepy manifestations of mental illness — The Babadook comes to mind as a pretty run-of-the-mill jump-scare movie given an underlying plot about depression which I’ve always felt was hugely overrated. This series does it right. It toes the line of psychological realism and the paranormal perfectly and makes for a series about mental illness that packs real terror and despair without it feeling gratuitous and sensational.

The best episode for me, in light of this, was episode three — “Touch” — which follows Theodora, the cold (literally and interpersonally) middle child who, as an adult, drinks a lot and is generally hedonistic, partying and having casual sex, using a cold intimacy to lose herself in others. It turns out that, rather than being a sociopath — as I assumed she was in the first two episodes — she is, in fact, an empath, capable of knowing a person intimately through touching them or an object associated with them. (Because of this, she always wears gloves.)

But this exploration of her character isn’t wholly supernatural. It’s at times explored as a sort of honed intuition and it is likewise a gift she puts to use in her day job as a child psychologist. For the adult Dr. Theodora Crain, this affective transference is far more Kleinian than the young Theo’s X-Menesque superpower. The line between the two is blurred simply by the transition between child and adult mind.

The main subplot of this episode concerns one of Theo’s patients — a girl she struggles to connect with (even through touch) who complains of being tormented by a frightening figment called Mr. Smiley — a monster who comes for her at night, always smiling but never happy.

Theo tries all she can to connect with the girl but it seems that she has been through something so traumatic that the emotional walls she has built up are too thick for even Theo’s empathic powers to penetrate. Perhaps because of this drive to reach her, the image of Mr. Smiley ends up getting into Theo’s head — she starts to see him too — but she also knows that these experiences are surely rooted in reality. She deduces, and later confirms with a house visit, that Mr. Smiley is a coping mechanism constructed by the child to deal with the fact that she is being molested by her foster father.

This may seem like a fairly obvious deduction to make to us modern viewers — the ways that children bandaid over trauma are central to many early pioneers of psychoanalysis — but this likewise seems like a good way to re-enter the “weird realism” discussed in a previous post.

The play technique that Theo demonstrates with her patient, and the negative transference that occurs as a result of it, feels like a textbook case study lited from the work of Melanie Klein, whose theory of object relations remains hugely important for modern analysis involving children.

Klein, in her practice as a psychoanalyst, would write at length on her sessions with children in which she would encourage the expression of a child’s unconscious through their play. She would note the importance of phantasy to a child’s unconscious, describing the reality-testing role-playing that we now generally associate with all children’s development. Klein writes:

From the moment the infant starts interacting with the outer world, he is engaged in testing his phantasies in a reality setting. I want to suggest that the origin of thought lies in this process of testing phantasy against reality; that is, that thought is not only contrasted with phantasy, but based on it and derived from it.

It was Klein who suggested that a toy can become an object of transference which allows for what is pathological in a person’s emotional relationship to others to be acted out and, for Klein, in her practice, this “object” could be a literal object or the analyst themselves.

In The Haunting of Hill House, we see this played out very literally. Theo is allowing her young patient to safely re-enact a night terror through the use of a doll’s house, describing Mr. Smiley and making it known that he “lives” in the basement. (The basement is, as Theo learns through a horrifying instance of objective transference with a dank sofa, the place where the father molests his children.)

Theo makes the connection that the girl’s internal explanation of her own trauma must likewise be connected to the external environment of her house. Mr. Smiley is the Kleinian phantasy that allows her to make sense of that which is wholly beyond her experiential comprehension. As Klein herself writes, a “child’s experience of the external world, which very soon includes his ambivalent relation to his father and to other members of his family, is constantly influenced by — and in turn influences — the internal world he is building up, and that external and internal situations are always interdependent, since introjection and projection operate side by side from the beginning of life.”

In her introduction to a collection of Klein’s essays on psychoanalysis, Juliet Mitchell explains the concept of phantasy more clearly. She writes:

In Klein’s concept, phantasy emanates from within and imagines what is without, it offers an unconscious commentary on instinctual life and links feelings to objects and creates a new amalgam: the world of imagination. Through its ability to phantasize, the baby tests out, primitively “thinks” about, its experiences of inside and outside. External reality can gradually affect and modify the crude hypotheses phantasy sets up.

Here I am reminded, yet again, of two consistent references on the blog: Fisher’s declaration in The Weird and the Eerie that “the inside is a folding of the outside” and also the most magnificent passage in Francois Bonnet’s The Infra-World, in which he writes:

… we would be wrong to interpret children’s night-time terrors as the result of excessive imagination. Contrary to popular belief, children do not have excessive imaginations. Upon hearing an unknown noise, spying a fleeting shadow, the adult will imagine a whole series of potential scenarios that might explain the phenomenon, bringing it back into the known world and regarding its existence probable. On the contrary, a child rapidly runs up against the limits of his imagination, then finds himself before the most radical, the most terrifying unknown. He finds himself at the gates of the infra-world, and there perceives the real danger of being snapped up by nothingness, of seeing the few certainties acquired during his early years shattered to pieces and sinking into the pitch-black waters of a groundless world. Against the structures of order and discipline, whether those of school or of the family unit, against the many strategies designed to initiate the child into the grown-up world (objects and coloured forms designed to ‘awaken’ him to rigours of civic education or to the history of civilisation), the terror of this blackness insinuates into the ear of the toddler a terrible promise: ‘You will never know the world; the known world is already gone, it is collapsing around you. Its fictional limits are at breaking point, and the ensuing flood will carry you far, far away.’

From here, we might draw a clear line from Klein’s writings on object relations to Jacques Lacan’s theory of The Thing — or, as he calls it, Das Ding — that object which Lacan associated with the Real: that noumenal zone of radical exteriority and strangeness beyond signification.

This is something embodied not only in the children under Theo’s care but in Theo’s own empathic relationship to the objects which she touches. A strength of the show is that, despite revealing all kinds of ghosts and apparitions to us on screen, the transferences that Theo experiences when she connects, abjectly, with das Ding remain occulted to us. All we know is they drive her to drink and, for us, they remain beyond signification.

In touching anything — a person, a surface, an object — it is as if Theo can infer the truth of that Thing’s nature, its sovereign “morality” (which Lacan writes of), its lingering energies. She has a sensitivity to the Real. As Lacan writes:

The real, as I have told you, is that which is always in the same place. You will see this in the history of science and thought. This detour is indispensable if we are to reach the great revolutionary crisis of morality, namely, the systematic questioning of principles there where they need to be questioned, that is, at the level of the imperative. That is the culminating point for both Kant and Sade with relation to the Thing; it is there that morality becomes, on the one hand, a pure and simple application of the pure and simple maxim and, on the other, a pure and simple object.

Despite her coldness, Theo seems like the member of the family who is most grounded in the abject Real — as pure and simple, cold and violent indifference. She doesn’t drink to mediate her experiences but rather to quiet them, occasionally indulging in her sensitivity for its pleasurable intensities to counteract the painful ones.

The other members of the Crain family all have their object fixations — Luke has heroin; Shirley has corpses (she’s a mortician); Steve has his books (he’s an author of ghost stories, his most famous one based on his sibling’s childhoods, much to their contempt); Nellie, notably has nothing, and when she is overrun by the irreality of her traumas, she commits suicide.

Whilst the rest all have their objects, they do not experience them as Theo does. The others have what might call, as Lacan (via Freud) does, their Sachvorstellungen — thing-presentations. By contrast, what Theo interacts with is das Ding, the thing-in-itself. She reaches impossibly into the “beyond-of-the-signified”, the objective unconscious devoid of subject, beyond the linguistic administration of the thinkable, administrated Sachvorstellungen.

As such, entangled with Lacan’s theory of das Ding is an ethics of subjectivity. The Other, taken to be that person who is our “neighbor”, likewise has das Ding at their heart. We can never know the true heart of the Other. We can only infer it from their representations of their Self. Theo, of course, has no such problem, having complete empathic access to the das Ding of the Other.

In light of this, I’m reminded of a tweet I saw in the midst of my Netflix binge which read: “Almost all horror movies are all about real estate, at their core.” I’ve heard this joke somewhere before but it is, of course, almost a truism, but it gets nowhere near the real heart of the obsessions with the home.

What is the house except the landscape — the spatial manifestation — of the das Ding of the Other? In The Haunting of Hill House, Hill House is the estate of the Real.

When Nellie commits suicide in the house, Steve confronts his father about the secrets that he has kept from the family about their tragedies. He confesses that it is his belief that the children’s mother — and now Nellie — did not commit suicide: “The house killed them.” Steve finds the notion deeply offensive but we can feel it all the same. We’re obsessed with houses are manifestations of the das Ding of the subject, and as the shell left behind when a family is gone. Nellie’s therapist, we might note, irresponsibly challenges her to return to the house and confront her fears. The house is just a “carcass” now, he says — a corpse; a shell without a soul.

It is the fatal error that Nellie takes this carcass to be harmless. She should know, more than anyone, the dead don’t rest. Noumenal forces continue to run through all “objects”, dead or alive.

The estate of the Real strikes back. Forget the “desert of the Real”: the Real has so often been suburban.

Patchwork is Not a Model (Part 5)

One extra thing I came across on Facebook — really not a fan of Facebook: the only way I can tell conversations are going on over there is WordPress tells me I get click referrals and then I have to manually search for stuff, it feels so privatised and lacks transparency, which feels very much antithetical to why so many of us write blogs in the first place.

Not that I hold it against anyone for using it — I only recently stopped because it just gives me anxiety at this point — but do excuse me if I occasionally dip in to see what people are saying over there and take liberties by transplanting some of the conversations I come across back onto the blog.

Today, I found some comments by Renan Porto, who graciously translated by “Acid Communism” essay a few weeks back. He writes:

Considerando que patchworks não são um modelo dado de organização das relações de poder, mas a proposta de pensar outras geometrias dessa organização que não sejam mais o modelo piramidal do Estado-nação, o que vcs pensam sobre a possibilidade de patchworks diante dessa falência braba da democracia?

Facebook’s auto-translator seemed to do a fairly good job with this first paragraph — the rest: not so much — and I agree with it absolutely. I think this is precisely in line with the earlier post from today.

Considering that patchworks are not a model of organization of power relations, but the proposal to think other geometries of this organization that are no longer the pyramidal model of the nation state, what do you think about the possibility of patchworks in front of this mad bankruptcy of Democracy?

Patchwork is Not a Model (Part 4)

A new post over at Struggle Forever! addressing some of the recent patchwork chat that had orbited around the “the map is not the territory” provocation from a few weeks back.

Their research, as an ethnographer rather than a philosopher, does very well to clarify this problematic.

…it was not the accuracy of the models that was valuable. The limitations of the models provide an insight that lead to new research and a new, but still incomplete understanding. In other words, models are not only representations of an external and independent territory, they are tools for interacting with and understanding the territory. This is a process that Manuel De Landa describes as “synthetic reason,” which he argues is unique to simulation. Models not only structure our understanding of the territory, they allow us to probe and explore parts that remain unknown and, perhaps, unknowable. As we do this, new dimensions open up and we find new limitations and new areas to explore.

This was certainly the provocation I was hoping to inject into the debate but perhaps somewhat more abstractly.

A map is a model of a territory, in the most general terms, but what do we mean by territory anyway? It is administrated space. A space that I might proclaim to own and, as such, have an in-depth empirical knowledge of. The map is a representation of this knowledge, always already laid over the top of the ground; the land-in-itself.

In scientific terms, this is clear but also, perhaps, somewhat neutral. However, when I use a map, specifically of a territory, I am always aware — at the moment — that I am using it to navigate state infrastructure.

The map is not the territory. The state is not the land.

This is the point I think Bonnet is trying to make in The Order of Sounds, with his focus on those experiences which fall through the administration of the senses. This is likewise what Robin and I began exploring in rural Cornwall.

The eeriness of some of our ruinous and abandoned, or simply untouched, spaces comes from the fact that the state, capital or even more localised infrastructures, have missed or forgotten these spaces. They acquire mystery in their falling through the processes of territorial administration. And, as such, they begin to feel like places where something else might have the opportunity to come in.

They are instances for letting the Outside in.

In this way, I agree with Struggle Forever! wholeheartedly:

Patchwork is an idea. I’m by no means up-to-date on all of the discussions about it our how it would be enacted, but I tend to take it as a way of thinking about Accelerationism, not as the simple speeding up of geopolitical and socio-economic processes, but as a proliferation of vectors.

The Sotheby’s Stillbirth

If you were lucky enough to miss it, let me fill you in:

Banksy was selling a print of one of his most famous graffitoes, of a girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon, at auction at Sotheby’s earlier this week. Immediately after the painting was sold for around £1 million, the booby-trapped frame half-shredded the image inside it.

What must be emphasised is the fact that the picture was only half-shredded. It wasn’t destroyed outright but left to linger in between states, becoming a new art object in its stasis — not by some leap of the creative imagination, but by default.

There have been artworks of destruction — this sickeningly positive BBC article highlights Robert Rausenberg’s erasure of a drawing by de Kooning as a way that destruction creates a new work of art, for example — but Banksy hasn’t destroyed anything. Not really.

This half-destruction is merely a change of state, from painting to sculpture. In displaying the act of arrested destruction, he has seamlessly created a new work without trauma. Our BBC reporter may be right that this is similar to the likes of Duchamp on a technicality but this is also to remove its context — the most important fact of all: that the act of arrested destruction occurred in parallel to an arrested expenditure that only led to an immediate profit for the buyer.

This is no sur-Nietzschean sacrifice to the imperceptible god-king of capital. Banksy’s shredded painting is a stillbirth in stasis.

The Eerie After Derrida (Part 2): Metaphysics of Absence

← Part 1

As a quick recap, the first half of Fisher’s book is concerned with the weird: a mode of perception through which we sense that there is something where there should be nothing. The second half of the book concerns the eerie. Here is the key passage from his introduction to the book’s second half, in which Mark fully conceptualises the eerie, in full:

The feeling of the eerie is very different from that of the weird. The simplest way to get to this difference is by thinking about the (highly metaphysically freighted) opposition — perhaps it is the most fundamental opposition of all — between presence and absence. As we have seen, the weird is constituted by a presence — the presence of that which does not belong. In some cases of the weird (those with which Lovecraft was obsessed) the weird is marked by an exorbitant presence, a teeming which exceeds our capacity to represent it. The eerie, by contrast, is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something.

In trying to figure this out with Robin in recent weeks, I’m left feeling like “presence” might not have been the best word for Mark to use in articulating himself here — but then, what else could you say? “Presence” certainly seems pertinent to how the weird and the eerie function as “modes of perception”, inferring a semiotics of the outside via what Bonnet calls the “infra-sensible“, but in talking about presence and absence Mark seems to inadvertently bury that force that has forever been at the heart of his writings since his Ccru days. (This is partly why I’ve come to feel like Bonnet’s book is a necessarily companion piece to The Weird and the Eerie — it does a much better job of defining the eerie in its own terms and, therefore, does not allow it to sink under decades of Derrida Studies.)

We might note the fact that Mark insists that the opposition between presence and absence as he is considering it is “highly metaphysically freighted”. Derrida, of course, likewise writes of a metaphysics of presence, via Heidegger, to note the privilege afforded to that which is, that which appears, and to suggest that we should instead consider that which is absent.

To avoid diving deep too into Derrida and Heidegger to excavate this at source — I really don’t have a lot of time for spurious tangential research projects at the moment — I’m going to draw on this excellent post from The Chicago School of Media Theory (CSMT), which begins:

The terms absence and presence describe fundamental states of being. For this reason, they are difficult to define without referencing the terms themselves. The Oxford English Dictionary definitions of both terms are self-referential: “the fact or condition of being present” and “the state of being absent or away.” The difficulty of these terms stems from the fact that they are dependent upon the notion of being. The OED cites the primary definition of being as “to have or occupy a place … somewhere … Expressing the most general relation of a thing to its place.”

This is likewise how Heidegger defines ‘Dasein’ in Being & Time — Dasein meaning “being-there”, the situated process of a being’s Being. He writes that “entities are grasped in their Being as ‘presence’; this means that they are understood with regard to a definite mode of time — the ‘Present‘.”

This was a necessary re-orientation for Heidegger who criticised the blinkered interiority of the ontological tradition that had persevered from the Greeks to Descartes, perhaps most famously encapsulated by Descartes’ phenomenological truism “I think therefore I am”.

In saying this, Descartes is considering the question of being from within presence whilst failing to take account of presence in itself, because he is oriented towards his own interiority. I think therefore I am is a concise way of saying “I sense my own presence therefore I am present” whilst ejecting the exteriority of the presentness of a subject — and so, in response, Heidegger draws a schema of being-in-the-world: the inside as a folding of the outside.

The CSMT article continues:

According to this definition, then, being is not inexplicable or transcendent, but exists within a framework or state. Therefore the definitions of presence and absence explicitly rely upon the states within which they are found. Some examples of these states could be the world, images, and representations. Throughout history, scholars have debated the relative absence and presence within such states. At the heart of this issue is the question of whether truth and presence are absolutely linked. For instance, in Phaedrus, Plato argues for unmediated truth of speech over the mediation of writing. The unmediated truth of speech comes from the presence of the speaker, while the writing mediates this presence. Therefore, representations in the form of images or writing present presence through mediation. According to Derrida, however, these mediated forms are the only available forms of presence because meaning cannot appear outside of a medium.

However, the same issues of Cartesianism arise here again, as if somehow reformed.

The interiority of the mind, of the body, is extended out to frameworks and states. Such is, perhaps, the issue of Derrida’s metaphysics for Fisher — this is not to say that such states or frameworks do not exist or are unhelpful but it is to say that the methodological tendency to simply move the goalposts of interiority does not really solve any of the issues of being. There is still a noumena; an Outside, left unaccounted for. (This is likewise the question at the heart of my recent “Patchwork is Not a Model” posts, for me, and they are likewise largely grounded in the same materials — Bonnet’s The Order of Sounds and The Infra-World contend with these issues of how we “administrate the sensible” explicitly.)

Can we not accept the necessity of states and frameworks for thought whilst acknowledging that the states that we have are inherently incapable of covering all the bases?

There are, of course, schema that do attempt to do this: Freud’s conception of the mind is perhaps the most useful for us when considering Fisher’s weird and eerie — the conscious and unconscious functioning as a presence and absence which affect each other in much the same way as presence and absence do in Fisher’s conceptualisation of the eerie, describing an interiority whilst accounting for that which is nonetheless imperceptible “within” it.

So the weird and the eerie, then, are likewise rooted in these same metaphysical problems. As Mark writes, the weird is an “exorbitant presence” — which is to say, a presence that overflows a given “framework” of consciousness, of world. The eerie, by contrast, is an imperceptibility, like a deficiency of presence that slips the framework which cannot account for it.

This is not a concept alien to Derrida — whose notion of spectrality attempts to describe how “the living present is scarcely as self-sufficient as it claims to be; that we would do well not to count on its density and solidity, which might under exceptional circumstances betray us” — and this is no doubt where we find Derrida’s usefulness, as accounted for by many of those who would nonetheless critique his own inherent presentness in the academy. The CSMT article too does not deny his influence:

Through the revaluations of philosophers like Deleuze and Derrida, the terms absence and presence have lost their binaried distinction. Instead, absence can be thought of as a kind of presence and presence as a kind of absence.

But it seems that the foul taste left in the mouth of those who have been through the Derridean wringer is that this is now, for so many, where the discussion ends. As the CSMT article concludes, “presence” is perhaps less of an issue for us today and it describes how with the most appropriately Fisherian of references:

In today’s technological world, scholars, filmmakers and artists have begun to consider the absolute loss of presence. For instance, in David Cronenberg’s film eXistenZ (1999), the film centers around the premise that the characters cannot determine whether they are playing a game or are “real.” On a more practical level, mediation infiltrates every level of our existence, whether through email, language or codified gestures. Recent scholars have begun to think beyond the binaried distinction of presence and absence to more technologically informed valuations of being. The cyborg describes the integration of man and machine, where technological forms conventionally associated with absence become integrated into being or presence. Often figured in science fiction, the cyborg represents a new way of thinking about representations and being and their relative absence and presence. Katherine Hayles describes this new integration in her book How We Became Post-Human, where there is no difference between computer simulations and corporeal existence.

What is this if not the question that haunted Fisher’s PhD thesis: his Gothic Materialism, as an eeriness of a modern materialism exacerbated by the instability of Being we see approaching us in the Promethean promises of our technological futures. The article continues:

Through the work of theorists like Jacques Derrida, it is possible to think beyond the static binary distinction that once connected presence to an absolute truth or origin and absence to imitation or copy. This model of signification displaces absolutes from its center and replaces it with forms of mediation like language, representations and images. The ability to study these forms of mediation does not do away with the concept of an absolute or Platonic truth. Rather, it points our attention to those transparent mediums that mediate our everyday lives.

But, as Fisher, Bonnet and others make clear, there is much more at work here which remains under-discussed…

The Eerie After Derrida (Part 1): The Imperceptibility of the Energetic Unconscious

Part of the difficulty of thinking through Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie is that it doesn’t feel like it’s all there. Thinking through his conceptualisations with his own words feels like a task doomed to failure. The deeper you dig, the more it falls apart.

As ever, there’s work to be done. The Weird and the Eerie calls as much for a reconstruction as Acid Communism does, with his books always being — as Robin said to me the other day — “ejecta from the blog process!” (I’ve had a few goes at this here already, focusing on various different details but always pivoting about the hard-to-pin-down descriptions of the weird and the eeries as “modes of perception”.)

In line with this suggestion, I’ve heard a number of people say that the manuscript for The Weird and the Eerie was rushed, but that’s not to say it doesn’t still contain a great deal of value, with Mark attempting to distil those questions that had plagued his thought for almost two decades, if not longer.

The book is perhaps best thought of as the latest instantiation of this thread that runs throughout all of his work — but that’s not to say that this final book was the best articulation of this thread that he had in him.

That can be a difficult thing to admit.

Today I want to think more about the “eerie”, its relationship to notions of presence and absence, and the baggage that Mark inevitably brings with him in framing the concept via these concepts — baggage of a Derridean nature.

As a number of blogged conversations from around 2010 make clear, many people writing in the blogosphere during its heydey had confessed to having complex relationships with Derrida and his thought, particularly around the time that Object-Oriented Ontology was in vogue. Graham Harman, for instance, writes in a post from 2011, which seems to instigate a debate about Derrida that would echo around the blogosphere:

I’m afraid that, now more than ever, I think it’s simply madness to call Derrida a realist. His entire argument makes sense only by identifying realism with onto-theology and hence with parousia/presence. He reads the concept of substance as the foot soldier of onto-theology.

Mark was no doubt aware of this, critiquing his own sense of “realism” in Capitalist Realism, and it seems that he is consciously seeking a way to disrupt the onto-theology of capital that has spread in realism’s name.

Futher clarifying himself in a follow-up post, Harman continues:

Onto-theology is something completely different from metaphysical realism. Onto-theology is the view that some particular being, or some particular state of things, is a better metaphysical embodiment than others of the withdrawn reality of being — so that German, for example, is treated as a language somehow closer to Sein than is Spanish. And that’s obviously a shining example of bad politics. But it’s onto-theology’s fault, not realism’s fault.

Whilst many of his concepts have nonetheless been invaluable to these bloggers — Levi Bryant wonderfully discusses his muddy relationship with Derrida in this post and, as for Mark, most obviously, we can consider “hauntology” first and foremost along with various other forms of slippery textual metaphysics, such as his “metaphysics of crackle” — many were nonetheless highly critical of the Derridean dogmatism of the academy that Harman highlights as spreading Derrida’s own form of onto-theology despite himself. Derrida, until very recently it seems, as he seems to have largely fallen out of favour, had come to dominate discourses within the academy to such an extent that the affects at the heart of many a (not exclusively) Derridean concept had been made anaemic in his name.

Mark would address this himself in a blogpost titled “Deconstruction at Pathology” in which he addresses the two main critiques of Derrida regarding his “textualism” and his “cult”. Of the former, Mark writes:

When people are refuting the claim that Derrida “reduces the world to text”, I think they are confusing two things. What is being attributed to Derrida by his opponents is not an ontological claim (the world is nothing but text) but a methodological tendency (he always treated everything he wrote about as if it were a text). … Much of what is interesting about Derrida comes from his interstitial position between literary theory and philosophy, the way that he drew philosophical implications from supposedly “literary” features of texts. I’m not saying that a philosophy couldn’t be construed from elements of Derrida’s work. But turning it into A Philosophy is already “to do violence” to it. Naturally, I welcome such “violence”. Nothing could be less Derridean than thinking that you can ignore the form in which something is written, and just render it as a series of determinate propositions.

And of the latter:

I really believe that deconstruction is a kind of intellectual pathology, and not in any interesting way. Deconstruction is sceptical not epistemologically, but in the sense that Nietzsche outlines […]: it abjures any “yes” or “no”, and makes a virtue of vacillation and equivocation. Deconstructive etiquette (which, like most bourgeois protocols, always remains implicit — a gentleman just knows how to behave) finds any strong claims distasteful. What irks about is the solemn performance of “thoughtfulness” — where “thoughtfulness” is equated with being a good reader, and being a good reader means accumulating references and ostentatiously avoiding making any determinate claims. It is a kind of negative theology of scholarship, at the same time intensely religiose and onanistically indulgent. (I do think that these pathologies find their natural home in the grey vampure zone of the academy; conversely, Derrida’s work has often been a great potentiator outside the university and its footnote-pressure: think of his role in UK music journalism). In a fabulously catty passage, Jameson argued that deconstruction is characterised “by the avoidance of the affirmative sentence as such, of the philosophical proposition. Deconstruction thus neither ‘affirmeth nor denieth’; it does not emit propositions in that sense at all (save…in the unavoidable moments of lowered guard and the relaxation of tension, in which a few affirmations slip through or the openly affirmative sentence startles the unprepared reader). ”

This is all well and good, but where I find myself stuttering in wanting to embrace Mark’s critiques is that much of what he is criticising in deconstruction has likewise been laid at the feet of accelerationism — u/acc particularly in recent months. The accusation is that it is a philosophy that makes no claims for itself, lingering in vacillation, but I don’t see it this way at all.

The claims are often very much affirmative and clear: there are forces at work which we cannot attend to — but these forces are nonetheless considered (admittedly more rigorously by others than myself) via readings of the histories of philosophy, technology, geopolitics and economics.

As such, U/Acc has never been a claim towards a belief in an occulted supernaturalism — although this aesthetic form is far more powerful, libidinally, than many of the texts under studious consideration. It is rather that there are limits on knowledge and action and an affirmation of those limits may allow for more rigorously speculative philosophies beyond them — Weird Realism over Onto-Theologism.

As Mark wrote on his K-Punk blog, following the Weird Realism symposium of 2007, exploring the use of realism within the irreal works of H.P. Lovecraft:

Here we can see the necessary relationship between realism and the Weird. In a characterstic piece of overstatement, Houellebecq argues that ‘[t]he rejection of all forms of realism is a preliminary condition for entering his universe.’ (57) Lovecraft himself often wrote disdainfully of realism. But if Lovecraft had entirely rejected realism, he would never have emerged from the Fantasy realms of Dunsany and De La Mare. It would be closer to the mark to say that Lovecraft contained or localised realism. In a letter of 1927, he makes this explicit: “Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown — the shadow-haunted Outside — we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.”

And, later, in a follow-up post, cementing these concerns within the now also maligned sphere of Speculative Realism:

There is a sense in which even Kant would himself have granted the theoretical ‘precedence of the inhuman’ over the transcendental. (Moreover, as the structural preconditions for all human experience and cognition, the transcendental is itself inhuman.) His claim, let’s remember, is not that there is nothing beyond the transcendental, only that it is not possible for human beings to experience or cognize this Beyond. Rather than being the prosecutor of a ‘deflationary realism’ which reduces the universe to a human construction, Kant can appear as the defender of the ultimate alienness of an Outside which necessarily resists any human attempt to grasp it.

The dispute between Speculative Realism and Kantianism turns on both the question of the reality (non-ideality) of space-time and on the possibility of a knowledge radically alien to phenonomenal experience.

This is the torch that U/Acc continues to carry forwards — albeit attempting to retain far more of its libidinal Lovecraftianism than make him some sort of model for an academic philosophy — presenting rigorous explorations of “realities” but also knowing when it is best to leave these explorations at the door…

“The door was always a threshold, leading beyond the pleasure principle and into the weird.”

As Amy wrote recently, as many nevertheless continue to mistake accelerationism for a fully-blown Romanticism, in the most pointed of subtweets:

A new resurgence of the superficial pop reading of acc — the attribution of a feverish socioeconomic bloodlust: “make everything worse so it can get better quicker!” — is forever infuriating.

Who the fuck has ever said that? 

It seems to be that there is an epidemic of internalised takes that have come from nowhere. The pop reading of acc is an interpretation that is seemingly devoid of origin, betraying a distinct lack of engagement and understanding of the core arguments as they actually appear.

(I know that, along with Mark’s criticisms of Derrideans, I have also been known to dismiss some of my more asinine critics with the suggestion that they are bad readers, or that they fundamentally can’t read, misunderstanding in unbelievable ways the messages that are being articulated. In my own personal experience of occasionally being mean to critics and not wanting to suffer fools, people try to make me fight them on terrain I don’t proclaim to stand on. Under such circumstances, I’d rather squarely punch someone in the Twitter jaw with a belligerent and arsey tweet than palm off straw man after straw man. And so this then comes off as cultish and bloodyminded in the face of apparently “reasonable” critiques…)

The point is this: what Derrida has been routinely been accused of — a tendency to water down imperceptible forces rather than fully account for them — is a tendency that is all the more diffuse these days. You will likely find this at work within the academy without hearing mention of Derrida’s name once, but any reading of discourses in recent decades suggests quite clearly that he is the useful idiot responsible for much of what has been lost.

I began thinking about all this earlier in the week whilst working my way back through Nick Land’s The Thirst for Annihilation for the first time in about two years.

I used to carry the book around with me everywhere when I first got down to London, along with all three volumes of the Summa Atheologica, in my then-rampant Bataille fever, but this was before the great Fascism Scare of 2017. I did this without a care and without questioning — little did I know about the controversies of modern Land at that point. I knew Bataille vaguely from my undergrad days and here was a book about him that dripped with the energy I found so enticing in the works of Nietzsche and Bataille himself. Nowadays, I must admit, I worry about getting it out on the bus.

(In 2017, I remember hearing stories from friends about getting publicly challenged over their wearing Hyberdub club bags, all because they say “Outside In” on them, which is just one example of the kind of ideas that are dragged down into the well of hysteria — Nick might have used the phrase for his Xenosystems blog but I know Mark used it himself on a number of occasions. Anyway, Nick’s current reputation aside,…)

I’ll forever defend The Thirst for Annihilation as a masterpiece regardless, and as an invaluable primer on those occulted currents that are so often missed or mischaracterised by academicised discourses and, in particular, it seems, by the Derrideans of the 2010s…

The first chapter of The Thirst for Annihilation, titled “‘The Death of Sound Philosophy'”, charts the ways that that which is beyond but nonetheless helps to constitute experience — the Kantian noumena, the Bataillean sacred, et al. — has been made “anaemic” by successive apperceptive neutralisations enacted by the canonising conveyor belt of academia. In orbit of a variety of dismissals of the ways that the state and its universities absorb and neutralise that which is written intentionally outside of their bounds, Land writes of the nihilisms of Nietzsche that would go on to inspire Bataille so fiercely:

It is not Hegel or Schelling who provide Nietzsche with a philosophical tap-root, but rather Schopenhauer. With Schopen­hauer the approach to the ‘noumenon’ as an energetic unconscious begins to be assembled, and interpreting the noumenon as will generates a discourse that is not speculative, phenomenological, or meditative, but diagnostic. It is this type of thinking that resources Nietzsche’s genealogy of inhuman desire, which feeds in turn into Bataille’s base materialism, for which ‘noumenon’ is addressed as impersonal death and as unconscious drive.

This is likewise what we can see in Fisher’s diagnoses. His discussions of the eerie as a failure of presence and a failure of absence are notably not phenomenological in this way, in the context of his wider writings, but it is perhaps the methodological slippage that makes The Weird and the Eerie so hard to pin down.

Land continues later, setting the scene for what Fisher would later draw on in his “Gothic Materialism”:

For Nietzsche, life is thought of as a means in the service of an unconscious trans-individual creative energy. Mankind as a whole is nothing but a resource for creation, a dissolving slag to be expended in the generation of something more beautiful than itself. The end of humanity does not lie within itself, but in a planetary artistic experiment about which nothing can be decided in advance, and which can only be provisionally labelled ‘overman’. For overman is not a superior model of man, but that which is beyond man; the creative surpassing of humanity. Nietzsche read Christianity as the nadir of humanistic slave­ morality, the most abject and impoverishing attempt to protect the existent human type from the ruthless impulses of an unconscious artistic process that passed through and beyond them. The mixture of continuity and discontinuity connecting Nietzsche’s atheism with Schopenhauer’s is encapsulated in Nietzsche’s maxim, ‘man is something to be overcome.’

From here, having relaid the foundations of the energetic unconsciuous, his fanged noumena, Land begins to explore the ways that this sense of an “outside” has been discussed by those who are, in their own ways, enemies of the very critiques being espoused — Hegel, Derrida, et al. Those academics who have taken up the writings of Kant and Nietzsche and made them function in harmony with the work of the university and, by extension, the state. Land could not be clearer in articulating what has been lost here when he writes:

There is an immense gulf between Nietzsche’s aggressive genealogies that wreck unity on zero, and Derrida’s deconstructed phenomenology that interminably probes the border between presence and absence.

It is here that Fisher’s eerie reveals itself, perhaps, in the immediate context of The Weird and the Eerie: undeveloped but nonetheless falling, for better and for worse, between the gaps between the academy and its outside.

As such, you’d be forgiven for interpreting the eerie, in this context, as being functionally deconstructive, in line with Derrida, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that Mark took the fight, perhaps ineffectively, to the door of Derrida’s own terminology. His use of Derrida’s term “hauntology” — put to use in such a way as to re-inject the problematic of origin into a term that Derrida has constructed to remove it — is frequently misunderstood as a result of this proximity.

We might consider the eerie to be Fisher’s contemporary attempt to rupture Derrida’s terminologies. Whilst Mark uses his own word for his conceptualisation, he nonetheless allows it to remain anchored in Derrida’s broader lexicon of presence and absence, spectres and traces. In fact, we might even consider the eerie to be an even more cryptic conceptualisation of the Derridean “trace” — that “mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent presence” — complexified anew.

As such, it seems to me that the eerie is, rather, a diagonal cut through Derridean deconstruction, utilising his intellectual work whilst attempting to let this energetic unconscious, this outside, back in.

But, if this is so, then how does it function? Is this, too, imperceptible? How does Fisher utilise the eerie to dash the subject against and away from itself, to “wreck its unity on zero” or on capital or any other viciously noumenal entity? What does this achieve for thought?

I think what is worth clarifying here are the ways that, despite his apparent continued relevance, Derrida consistently misses out that which is most important to many a proto-accelerationist argument. His texts do continue to work with much of that which is discussed in the various spheres of acc and SR, but only in the sense that they are blanket terms which generised the actual noumenal shape of the forces at play in our various analyses. They’re the cliched bedsheet over the abject horror of the imperceptible.

So, with all this in mind, to what end is Fisher invoking questions of presence and absence in The Weird and the Eerie and how might we better account for them?

Continued in part 2…


This blog is one year old today.

Not really sure how to celebrate. I certainly want to. I’ve blogged obsessively since I was about 16 — that’s ten years! — but I’ve never managed to find an audience like this before. It’s wonderful to have met so many wonderful people from all over the world.

I don’t care that this is very much off-brand: I love you all very much and I’m so grateful to you all for reading and for all the great conversations and laughs.

I thought I’d make a mix to celebrate the anniversary but I haven’t had time so you’ll have to wait for Hallowe’en for that. If you got requests or questions or want some tailored content, comment below or @ me on Twitter.

Maybe I’ll do a Justin Murphy-style livestream tonight and we can just get drunk together on YouTube?


John Cussans on the ‘Hermitix’ Podcast

Following our chat about the works of Mark Fisher in episode #1 of his new Hermitix podcast, Meta-Nomad is back with a sprawling conversation with John Cussans that I’ve been enjoying hugely today whilst I navigate a swamp of emails.

Cussans is a bit of a hero of mine. I was very excited to see him speak at Goldsmiths in 2017 for the launch of his book Undead Uprising, which I devoured whole like a snake in a matter of days after the lecture. He was likewise hugely influential on the upcoming Egress book, referenced on multiple occasions throughout, and much of the connections I draw upon quite tentatively there — as well as on the Vast Abrupt — are expanded on magnificently here and taken into many new places. I was admittedly a bit starstruck to hear him mention the name of this blog.

My fixation on Bataille as a postgrad reached comical levels that year. I had to preface every nod towards him in every class with an apology — and still feel like I must do that in certain company — but I have found (and continue to find) that his work resonates with so much of contemporary experience and thought — particularly in the context of our contemporaneous and fraught communities, implicitly informing all of this blog’s writings on patchwork as the proliferation of acephalic communities exorcising the god-king leviathan.

Whilst I’ve since sidestepped into Blanchot’s unavowable communisms and Fisher’s Acid Communism, Cussans here explores so much of that which remains untapped in the background.

Go listen to Cussans!

Doctor Who’s 11th Hour

Just one more day before my quiet excitement about the eleventh series of Doctor Who is either shot in a ditch or graciously validated.

I’ve always loved the show. Along with The X Files, I reckon it is the defining television show of my childhood. I used to always borrow VHS tapes of the show’s old serials from Hull Central Library as a kid and then the reboot when I was a teenager ended up being the one thing capable of keeping me in the house on a Saturday night with all the family rather than wanting to go out and get up to mischief.

I have vivid memories of watching City of Death and Pyramids of Mars and also that Dalek story based in the school. (Don’t all kids love horror set in their mundane workaday spaces? I can’t imagine having the same disruptive fantasies about my current office environment… Maybe the yearly emails about what to do if there’s a marauding gunmen makes the mundanity more cozy…) There’s lots of episodes from the reboot that also linger in my mind — the Weeping Angels being that classic monster of the new era, a brilliantly paradoxical noumenal subject.

When I lived in Cardiff, I used to often find myself stumbling unexpectedly onto Who sets as well. Even after I’d largely gotten bored of the series’ infuriating story arcs, I was pretty chuffed to see Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman sprinting down Westgate Street filming “Face the Raven” whilst I was on my way home from work once. I also ended up installing a couple of exhibitions in the old Customs House on Bute Street, still littered with the detritus of old set dressings — alien wallpapers and the occasional sigil graffito. The university where I did my undergraduate degree was also directly opposite a mental hospital, largely abandoned, that showed up in a few episodes. Doctor Who still felt cool because it seemed to be built around all the places I’d go urbexing in South Wales…

Anyway… Suffice it to say, as shite as the show has been for a number of years now, with the occasional exception, I can’t bring myself to hate it. It’s too embedded in my cultural DNA. I feel like there’s a deep investment in the show in my bones which I just can’t shake, no matter how much I hate all the Tumblr-pandering, bloated, and constantly unravelling storylines of Matt Smith onwards.

I long for a creepy and gothic Doctor Who, infrequently showing its face over the last 50 years but never staying around for very long. More than anything, I want genuinely new classics, not a Doctor Who that chases its own tail, stuck in the feedback loop of auto-pastiche that Moffat has mired it in.

Back in 2013, Robert Barry wrote a damning indictment of what the series had become for The Quietus that I think has stayed with many old fans, infamously dismissing all the modern regenerations down to “Topman Doctors” — in reference to their being superficial and mundanely fashionable like the high street men’s clothing store (a clarification for the benefit of anyone lucky enough to have never been in one). Barry would write:

For the best part of a decade now we have have endured a series of Doctors who have looked like the Bullingdon Club and acted like Bono. With the departure of the latest foppish do-gooder, it is time to consider a change.

Peter Capaldi was to be that changed, as so many hoped, but it wasn’t to be. In hindsight, Barry’s argument is deeply unconvincing but expressing a general resentment that so many people felt, likewise tied to this sense of auto-pastiche — Tennant, as brilliant as he was, certainly reified the Doctor into a character rather than a shell to be taken up by successive jobbing eccentrics, and when a new Doctor has nonetheless come aboard, they have done so in Tennant’s enormous shadow — all except, perhaps, John Hurt.

Barry’s problem is that he undermines this argument by falling into the postmodernist trap of longing for a typeset Doctor who never really existed — the Doctor as “cosmic clochard” — which Mark would distinctly ascribe to the postmodern TV enthusiast when writing about the show’s reception on K-Punk:

To look at the old Dr Who is not only to fail to recover a lost moment; it is to discover, with a deflating quotidian horror, that this moment never existed in the first place. An experience of awe and wonder dissolves into a pile of dressing up clothes and cheap special effects.

Because we should always remember that the Doctor wasn’t some sort of charming space tramp, he was more like an upper-class twerp on his Tardis yacht, hopping about the universe. I’m reminded of this at the moment because it’s Frieze Week this week in London and, as iconic as the Doctor’s old outfits are, I can’t help but see them echoed in the fashion statements of the elderly art collectors with more money than sense that you currently see jumping in and out of taxis all over the city, who think being arty means getting dressed in the dark and are perhaps interesting only in the context of their painfully constricted boujee bubble. This is something most of the posho demographic have in common, though, to be fair — no matter how old they are… (Haven’t you ever had a wander through Goldsmiths on degree show night?)

But what about his attitude then? Barry would go on to write that

the Doctor has no fucking interest whatsoever in saving the world. He does not give a shit about your shitty planet. Which will come as some surprise to fans of the Doctor-fucking-Jesus who has been occupying the Tardis for the last eight years.

And whilst it rings half-true, relative to the modern Doctor’s quasi-messiah complex, I never found this to be a reckless and inhumanist abandon, or a punkish nihilism. It’s the detachment of the bourgeoisie from the plebs. The Doctor is all powerful, yes, but what he has ultimately displayed on occasion is the arrogant indifference of a tourist. To him the natives are the aliens, and the grumpiest Doctor’s relationships to his companions always contained a distinct echo of the affects of Marx’s theory of alienation.

Doctor Who has always been entangled — interestingly so — in the class politics of the country from which it has come. It is the globalisation of Who, as the BBC’s biggest international export, that is probably most responsible for killing it. It’s not just the doctor’s who are foppish do-gooders, it’s that both Doctor and companions have, gradually, over the course of the rebooted seasons, moved towards the political Middle — a glob of middle-class relations playing out on an interplanetary scale, buried under overcomplicated stories with low stakes, in ever more meta-bourgeois fashion.

In light of this, what was most interesting about Eccleston and Tennant’s Doctors was that this sense of alienation was often reciprocated. The “Received Pronunciation” of previous incarnations was gone almost entirely, with most companions — until Matt Smith’s — being perceptively working-class. Tennant embodied the abandon of the Classic Doctors but the tension of his relationship with Rose Tyler was precisely like this kind of affinity. From Eccleston to Tennant, the Doctor transformed within the social strata, but Rose, even as she began hopping dimensions, never really did so. Whilst she ended up in a dimension where her father was still alive and also insanely rich, none of them escaped a working-class embodiment. It was all superficial. The Doctor, however, moved with the times.

The last few series I haven’t bothered watching at all, partly because of this but there’s also a million other reasons — all except for Capaldi’s farewell. But despite going through the motions of watching it out of loyalty and habit, I still haven’t managed to muster much faith in this new series. Chris Chibnall taking over could be good. I’d like it to be. I never watched Torchwood but the first season of Broadchurch was compelling (although the second series was atrocious shite and I never finished watching it). But considering how Moffat was certainly the best candidate for the job when he took over as head writer and considering how that turned out, maybe there’s no real way of knowing how it’s going to go… I’m happy to have an open mind.

The main thing I’m excited about is that its now Yorkshire-based — even with my own regional bias aside, because don’t get me started on the fact the first episode is all based in Sheffield (piss off hogging everything Sheff, who made you capital of Yorkshire). What I find interesting is that, rather than using this in the way Russell T Davies used Eccleston’s generic Northernness — I’ll never forget that famous exchange (paraphrased): “If you’re an alien, why do you have a Northern accent?” “Everywhere’s got a north…” — I suppose a Yorkshire accent isn’t associated with the North of England quite so generically.

Jodie Whittaker’s Huddersfield twang seems to be defining her Doctor in a big way, more than her gender, and this West Yorkshire grounding will certainly lend itself to a new tone within the show. The Cardiff-filmed but London-based previous ten series have been generically English and that has been their export. What might a new geographic specificity bring to a show that is now known around the world? The new season’s lead press image shows her with the Tardis on the moor specifically, rather than the nondescript spacey background or mundane urbanity. Will this environmental shift emphasise the culturally alien vibe long since lost? Falling into the New Hammer aesthetics of many a recent British Horror film? Emphasising the alien interiority of regional class structures and the smaller corners of the English landscape rather than those of the familiar American blockbuster which featured so often once the series tried to solidify its new global audience?…

Time will tell. And not much time at all.

Being still preoccupied by the Yorkshire Gothic written about here previously, I won’t be too disappointed if I’ve got it all wrong, because I’m certainly projecting my own tastes but the potentials are very promising.

The feeling I have right now reminds me of reading Mark’s excitement and reservations about the first season of the reboot. He was hoping that it would stagger into a newly modern uncanny, that Christopher Ecclestone would retain his native Salford accent rather than the “Received Pronunciation” of its previous and that the series would reground itself in its horrific strengths. However, it seems that, for Mark, the Drab Northern Doctor wasn’t up to scratch and he anticipated David Tennent’s natural slip into the role that was to follow. He wrote:

The current repressing of the Doctor’s dandyism is just way too Glum (as in anti-Glam). The fact that, as I’ve said before, they haven’t got the wardrobe right since Baker doesn’t mean that they should give up and concede everything to blokish functionality. In many ways, I see Eccleston’s role as a kind of clearing of the palate. His neutrality, his lack of much definable ‘taste’, is a way of re-sharpening our appreciation of the integral qualities of the Doctor that palled through PoMofication during the Eighties.

I’ll end here with Mark talking about his sense of the “uncanny” via the televisual language of Doctor Who’s original run. Is it possible — more possible now than it was then, even — that we might finally see this from Jodie Whittaker? (Her various TV interviews over the past two weeks have gotten me really excited, I must admit. I think she could be the best Doctor since Tennant.) Mark writes in his magnificent post, “This Movie Doesn’t Move Me“:

Freud’s analysis of the ‘unheimlich’, the ‘unhomely’, is very well known, but it is worth linking his account of the uncanniness of the domestic to television. Television was itself both familiar and alien, and a series which was about the alien in the familiar was bound to have particularly easy route to the child’s unconscious. In a time of cultural rationing, of modernist broadcasting, a time, that is, in which there were no endless reruns, no VCRs, the programmes had a precious evanescence. They were translated into memory and dream at the very moment they were being seen for the first time. This is quite different from the instant — and increasingly pre-emptive — monumentalization of postmodern media productions through “makings of” documentaries and interviews. So many of these productions enjoy the odd fate of being stillborn into perfect archivization, forgotten by the culture while immaculately memorialised by the technology.

But were the conditions for Dr Who’s colonizing presence in the unconscious of a generation merely scarcity and the “innocence” of a “less sophisticated” time? Does its magic, as Cooke implies, crumble like a vampire seducer in bright sunlight when exposed to the unbeguiled, unforgiving eyes of the adult?

According to Freud’s famous arguments in “Totem and Taboo” and “The Uncanny”, we moderns recapitulate in our individual psychological development the “progress” from narcissistic animism to the reality principle undergone by the species as a whole. Children, like ‘savages’, remain at the level of narcissistic auto-eroticism, subject to the animistic delusion that their thoughts are “omnipotent”; that what they think can directly affect the world.

But is it the case that children ever “really believed” in Doctor Who? Zizek has pointed out that when people from ‘primitive’ societies are asked about their myths, their response is actually indirect. They say “some people believe…” Belief is always the belief of the other. In any case, what adults and moderns have lost is not the capacity to uncritically believe, but the art of using the series as triggers for producing inhabitable fictional playzones.

The model for such practices is the Perky Pat layouts in Philip K Dick’s Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Homesick offworld colonists are able to project themselves into Ken and Barbie-like dolls who inhabit a mock-up of the earthly environment. But in order to occupy this set they need a drug. In effect, all the drug does is restore in the adult what comes easily to a child: the ability not to believe, but to act in spite of the lack of belief.

In a sense, though, to say this is already going too far. It implies that adults really have given up a narcissistic fantasy and adjusted to the harsh banality of the disenchanted-empirical. In fact, all they have done is substituted one fantasy for another. The point is that to be an adult in consumer capitalism IS to occupy the Perky Pat world of drably bright soap opera domesticity. What is eliminated in the mediocre melodrama we are invited to call adult reality is not fantasy, but the uncanny — the sense that all is not as it seems, that the kitchen-sink everyday is a front for the machinations of parasites and alien forces which either possess, control or have designs upon us. In other words, the suppressed wisdom of uncanny fiction is that it is THIS world, the world of liberal-capitalist commonsense, that is a stage set with wobbly walls. As Scanshifts and I hope to demonstrate in our upcoming audiomentary london under london on Resonance FM, the Real of the London Underground is better described by pulp and modernism (which in any case have a suitably uncanny complicity) than by postmodern drearealism. Everyone knows that, once the wafer-thin veneer of ‘persons’ is stripped away, the population on the Tube are zombies under the control of sinister extra-terrestrial corporations.

The rise of Fantasy as a genre over the last twenty-five years can be directly correlative with the collapse of any effective alternative reality structure outside capitalism in the same period. Watching something like Star Wars, you immediately think two things. Its fictional world is BOTH impossibly remote, too far-distant to care about, AND too much like this world, too similar to our own to be fascinated by. If the uncanny is about an irreducible anomalousness in anything that comes to count as the familiar, then Fantasy is about the production of a seamless world in which all the gaps have been monofilled. It is no accident that the rise of Fantasy has gone alongside the development of digital FX. The curious hollowness and depthlessness of CGI arises not from any failure of fidelity, but, quite the opposite, from its photoshopping out of the Discrepant as such.

The Fantasy structure of Family, Nation and Heroism thus functions, not in any sense as a representation, false or otherwise, but as a model to live up to. The inevitable failure of our own lives to match up to the digital Ideal is one of the motors of capitalism’s worker-consumer passivity, the docile pursuit of what will always be elusive, a world free of fissures and discontinuities. And you only have to read one of Mark Steyn’s preppy phallic fables (which need to be ranked alongside the mummy’s boystories of someone like Robert E Howard) to see how Fantasy’s pathetically imbelic manichean oppositions between Good and Evil, Us and (a foreign, contagious) Them are effective on the largest possible geopolitical stage.