Remember Aguileric Accelerationism? Now Grimes has declared herself high priestess at Roko’s basilica.
2018: what a year.
Remember Aguileric Accelerationism? Now Grimes has declared herself high priestess at Roko’s basilica.
2018: what a year.
In the article, Beck interviews Arlie Hochschild, who originally coined the term, and explores how its generalisation — to include forms of “emotional labour” that are, at the end of the day, just examples of good old-fashioned normal workaday labour — undermines attempts to raise consciousness about unnecessary emotional duress endured for the benefit of capital.
At the start of the interview, Hochschild sets the record straight:
Emotional labor, as I introduced the term in [1983 book] The Managed Heart, is the work, for which you’re paid, which centrally involves trying to feel the right feeling for the job. This involves evoking and suppressing feelings. Some jobs require a lot of it, some a little of it. From the flight attendant whose job it is to be nicer than natural to the bill collector whose job it is to be, if necessary, harsher than natural, there are a variety of jobs that call for this. Teachers, nursing-home attendants, and child-care workers are examples. The point is that while you may also be doing physical labor and mental labor, you are crucially being hired and monitored for your capacity to manage and produce a feeling.
[Today, the term] is being used to apply to a wider and wider range of experiences and acts. It’s being used, for example, to refer to the enacting of to-do lists in daily life — pick up the laundry, shop for potatoes, that kind of thing. Which I think is an overextension. It’s also being applied to perfectionism: You’ve absolutely got to do the perfect Christmas holiday. And that can be a confusion and an overextension. I do think that managing anxiety associated with obligatory chores is emotional labor. I would say that. But I don’t think that common examples I could give are necessarily emotional labor. It’s very blurry and over-applied.
The most frequently deployed logic and understanding of emotional labour I’ve heard, unfortunately, is that it is hard to maintain interpersonal relationships sometimes… It’s not just been moved to the home from the workplace, as is argued in the article, but, in my experience, it’s a term that is used to generically refer to all kinds of social interaction that someone would just rather not do.
The main issue I have with this, as Hochschild goes on to point out for herself, is that when the term is deployed loosely like this, it is done so without any attention being paid to the specific class relations that are being twisted and often exacerbated in the process.
Hochschild highlights one particularly egregious example:
One thing that I read said even the work of calling the maid to clean the bathtub is too much. It’s burdensome. I felt there is really, in this work, no social-class perspective. There are many more maids than there are people who find it burdensome to pick up the telephone to ask them to clean your tub.
Part of this is, perhaps, due to the term being so deeply gendered and becoming increasingly more so, which Hochschild sees, in many respects, to be a problem. She did not originally analyse emotional labour as an inherently feminine affliction and she seems to suggest that to readily associate it with women is a sort of back-handed sexism. There’s no denying that it is a term of particular use to a feminist politics under a capitalist patriarchy, of course, but any feminist politics that seeks to undermine class politics in the process of its analysis is not an adequate form of feminism at all.
That being said, I’m aware that popular feminisms are an unfortunately easy target these days but this must be said and said more often. Identity politics, properly understood, obviously has its uses but the danger is that it is reduced to nothing more than a Woke Libertarianism which achieves nothing — boosting the bourgeoisiego and failing the classes who are actually afflicted.
At this point you might be thinking, “You’re a dude” — yeah, I know, I know, “so shut the fuck up” — but I start here mostly because this article is great and what is being described here is a symptom of a larger problem; an endemic one.
Many other strands of popular progressivism have focused intensely on the intersectional lines of race and (non-essentialist) gender politics in recent years — to their credit — but class nonetheless remains a consistent oversight — and a telling one. Whilst battles are won in the diversity wars along these other lines, class diversity remains years behind the rest, and our political thinking is also considerably less nuanced on this issue than on other issues of identity, despite all the apparent waffling that goes on about Marxism.  Perhaps most just assume that class is an integral ingredient in all other forms of social relations — which it is — and is therefore included by default, but this is not the case. Its persistent absence from populist discourses despite its structural centrality illuminates precisely who continues to control a lot of these debates on the left today.
The watering-down of “emotional labour” is a case in point. Properly deployed, it has the potential to be an excellent weapon in anybody’s theoretical arsenal. But not if, in generalising the forms of labour that the term is most usefully applied to, we continue to overshadow the particularities the term was coined to critique in the first place, especially when there are many companies that we could be challenging but don’t because they’re bastions of wokeness in other ways.
All of this takes me back to 2015, when I saw, first-hand, the harsh reality of my girlfriend’s experiences of working at LUSH. (I’ve been wanting to write a post about this for years because this has been a bugbear of mine for a long time… So excuse this rant-interlude.)
My girlfriend loves LUSH. Even now. With Christmas approaching, I know I’ll be popping into the hellscape that is their flagship Oxford Street store on some future lunch break to pick up some bath bombs. And their bath bombs are good. I’m partial to one myself if I’ve had a manually laborious week at work and need to decompress with a book and some multicoloured bubbles. The irony, however, is that the respite their products provide to people wholly contradicts the way they treat their staff.
Many people don’t seem to think of LUSH as being unethical in this way. They know the shop for its olfactory assaults and political activism — its corporate veganism, environmental and sustainability policies, campaigns against animal testing and for animal rights more generally, etc. etc. These are all good things to champion and the company seems to put a lot of money into raising awareness about these issues. It’s also obviously something of a marketing ploy — this 2016 article in The Guardian explores the impact of their politics on their market share explicitly — and sure, why not give people something to believe in, but if you’re going to sell your customers the illusion of ethical consumption, the very least you can do is extend it to your own shop floor.
When my girlfriend worked at LUSH she would so frequently come home in tears. She’d be emotionally exhausted after a fraught shift of adhering to the shop’s draconian regulation of staff emotions. If you’ve been to LUSH, you know this — the intensity of their staff, how they swoop down on you, beaming manically, welcoming you and positioning themselves as your own personal shadow. I think many would be forgiven for thinking you just have to be naturally wired and extrovert to work there but this is not the case. This behaviour is enforced and it blatantly and negatively impacts the mental health of those who work there. It is the direct result of workforce training and shop floor indoctrination. It is something that is actively policed.
ForAs long as LUSH continues to make its staff to work in this way, enforcing unnatural and often creepy expectations regarding their staff’s actual emotional labour, I can’t take any of their woke campaigns seriously at all. This is precisely the sort of situation that “emotional labour” — understood as Hochschild intended it — was made for but I’ve never seen anyone say a bad word against them.
On a lighter note, after working at LUSH, my girlfriend got a job at IKEA.
IKEA shifts were, I learned, manually intensive. You’d walk a lot and move a lot of stock, traipsing around your assigned department keeping things in order as customers streamed through like salmon, slapping stuff about all over the place.
People on the shop floor, despite appearances and expectations, are not employed as “shop assistants”. It’s simply their job to keep things flowing and in order. All onus to shop is left to the customer, collecting what you want and paying for it at the end.
IKEA apparently has its own draconian management problems but, because of this shop floor dynamic, being polite to customers was not enforced — at all. In fact, she’d tell me there was an employee subculture of grumpy solidarity. If someone gave you shit, as was a frequent occurrence in IKEA’s labyrinthine layouts, you didn’t have to take it. You couldn’t insult or verbally abuse, of course, but you weren’t being paid to smile so you didn’t have to. You were being paid to keep order and you could do that however you wanted. She’d come home on many occasions with stories about one particularly bolshy manager who had very little time for customers who took the piss and made their job harder than it already was.
That’s not to paint IKEA has some sort of gold standard employer, but I still laugh about these stories: how, post-LUSH, free disgruntled expression was a much-needed emotional outlet and, physical labour aside, it helped her recover.
Writing about all this, I feel a prickle on the back of my neck as I hear my own words resonating with a number of recent articles about so-called “Woke Capital”.
It is frankly embarrassing that things can get this bad; that this sort of cynical analysis, bastardising years-old leftist critiques, is seen as innovative. (It often feels like no political movement these days has any self-awareness. The left lacks any awareness of its own bastardising of right-wing self-interest and the right-wing lacks any self-awareness of its own (nonetheless inhumanist) progressivism.)
It’s notable, I think, that Woke Capital twists the same issues of “emotional labour” for its own similarly disingenuous aims. In particular, emotional labour seems analogous to the pressure of being “Made To Care” which the @WokeCapital Twitter account decried in a recent interview with Parallax Optics.
The Twitter account takes it upon itself to cynically highlight instances where corporate entities enforce progressivism on their staff for the sake of market survival. Whilst the contamination is derided from the other side of the political divide, the argument is effectively that of a libertarian “homocapitalism“. This could not be clearer than in the way the concept of “Woke Capital” is defined in the opening question as “the nexus connecting orthodox state progressivism to large ‘capitalist’ corporations.”
The interview even goes on to address “homocapitalism” for itself, seeming oblivious to the fact that it is parroting the critiques that LGBTQ communities have been making about themselves for years.
I think Shon Faye put it best, in this video from 2016 for Novara Media:
The problem with [Gay Pride’s] fixation on inclusion at all costs is that it’s something of a Faustian pact.
Some queers — most notably the white middle class gay men in the community — are offered the opportunity to partake in public life: you can get married, you can still rise to the top of your profession, and you can have various legal rights afforded to you. In return, you must not question these institutions any further and you must also shut up the more troublesome areas of your community.
(Note those dumb middle class politics again.)
As a result, the Woke Capital interview reads like an attempt to describe the other side of the bad “emotional labour” woke-coin — which is to say, it takes the side of devilish Capital’s own cynical self-interest in this Faustian pact (although @WokeCapital’s description in inevitably fed through the drunk Thanksgiving screeching of a disgruntled boomer):
Gays have no families, a ton of disposable income, and are incredibly loyal to those who validate them. This works on a few different levels. For starters, no families means they are ideal employees, since they have fewer obligations that could take them away from work. Additionally, the lack of family and stake in the future means more disposable income to spend now, making them ideal consumers of things. Finally, if there’s anything I’ve noticed about gays, it’s that they’re on average more narcissistic and insecure. As a result, anything that validates them and their feels will get them emotionally invested. Corporations have manipulated this impulse via cheap signaling, leading to greater profits and brand value.
This is no doubt offensive to many readers in its generalisations but it’s not hard to imagine that this is the way that many corporations actually think about LGBTQ demographics, strategically marketing their Pride parade floats through a homophobia-infused market analysis. As a result, it’s not a critique of Woke Capital from the outside but one from within: it’s the diatribe of a capitalist who dislikes capital’s promiscuous complicity as much as anti-capitalists do. (As if either side is going to change capital’s mind.)
In essence, the argument being made two-fold, mirroring that of the Cathedral itself: capital and its progressive bourgeois subjects are entwined in a parasitic death-spiral, each cynically using the other to ensure their own survival, but the ouroboros won’t be able to sustain itself forever.
@WokeCapital’s bleak predictions for our futures continue to echo those of a radical leftism:
Corporations are kind of in a bind where they have to play ball or be destroyed, and if they play ball they might still be destroyed anyway. In the case where a CEO doesn’t want to play ball, he can be removed from his position by an activist board. You don’t even have power over what you’ve built. So how does this all end? We will not see an end to this until we’re broke, or get a new religion, or both.
What’s the best-case scenario? According to @WokeCapital, it’s to end up with a capitalistic do-over: “Can’t we just go back to where we were about 100 years ago — politically if not technologically?”
It’s neoreaction, but a neoreaction fed on the trickle-down politics of a 2016 counter-cultural leftism. It’s evidently incapable of neoreacting fast enough.
 Sidenote #1: I feel like mentioning Owen Jones’ book Chavs here. A lot of people are cynical about Jones these days, having blossomed into a full-blown media pundit, but when I read his first book, very soon after it first came out during my first year at university, it blew my mind wide open. It was the best book for raising class consciousness in that moment but I remember being frequently ridiculed by middle class peers when sharing its arguments. He may have singlehandedly caused the word “chav” to fall into disrepute but the underlying sentiments remain. Little else has noticeably changed — especially in academia where, as I’ve climbed up the postgrad ladder, things have only gotten worse. People seldom talk about class anymore in the academic circles I’ve passed through and, if they do, they’re hardly ever talked about well (because, duh, academia doesn’t favour working-class people)…
I looked at him, lost in astonishment. There he was before me, in motley, as though he had absconded from a troupe of mimes, enthusiastic, fabulous. His very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering. He was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how he had existed, how he had succeeded in getting so far, how he had managed to remain — why he did not instantly disappear. […] The glamour of youth enveloped his particoloured rags, his destitution, his loneliness, the essential desolation of his futile wanderings. For months — for years — his life hadn’t been worth a day’s purchase; and there he was gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all appearance indestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and of his unreflecting audacity. I was seduced into something like admiration — like envy.Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness”
Mr Blobby has returned to our screens. Out of the wilderness, long thought discontinued, but now back. And I am glad.
Mr Blobby may not be the revolutionary figure that we want, but he is the figure that we need.
On This Morning, ITV’s offensively innocuous breakfast TV show, during a segment about the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, presenters Philip Schofield and Rochelle Humes were accosted by the blob whilst discussing — with Maggie Philbin — Noel Edmonds‘ prospects as he takes part in the Australia-based “jungle” show, in which a group of celebrities must survive in a contrived wilderness by doing gross-out tasks and not being “voted out”.
Blobby was introduced as an old friend of Noel’s — his best friend even — which he undoubtedly is: his infamous partner-in-crime from his 1990s heyday on the Saturday night TV sensation Noel’s House Party. Who better to comment on his jungle prospects than him? However, Blobby was not a mere blast from the past. He emerged from backstage timeless. He hadn’t aged a day.
Confused? Don’t worry. The people and their context are irrelevant. They are mere background noise to the return of Blobby. Although, that being said, it was fitting that Blobby should reappear as Edmonds entered the irreality of the celebrity jungle. Who better to represent the truth of the environ in which Edmonds now found himself? As Rochelle Humes joked, perhaps there is no better preparation for the “Jungle” than spending an extensive amount of time with Mr Blobby.
The spatial intensity of an actual jungle is absent from I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! It is presented to participant and viewer through the enclosed quasi-studio representation of culinary horrors or glorified adventure-playground spelunking. This is not a Real jungle. The “Jungle” of I’m a Celebrity… has rules; boundaries. The celebs exist, supposedly at risk from the elements, but nonetheless protected from the world of the non-famous. The Jungle of the Real has no rules. It cares not who you are. It is a lawless energetic expanse. It is a natural anarchitecture. It is Blobby.
Blobby is the last remaining television junglist. He is a mutant; an anarchic mess of desiring-disruption. His violence is in his ineptitude, his inability to conform to the burgeoning sense of neoliberal propriety that was to take hold of the entire nation in orbit of those years when he was first conceived. As such, we might think of Blobby as the national unconscious of this infamously repressed isle, masochistically let loose on ourselves, at the very moment it was to be neutered — for good? Blobby was the last great cultural horror that our nation produced. And we loved him. We needed him.
We still need Mr Blobby today. Perhaps now more than ever.
Writing for The New York Times in 1994, Elizabeth Kolbert notes:
Some commentators have called [Mr Blobby] a metaphor for a nation gone soft in the head. Others have seen him as proof of Britain’s deep-seated attraction to trash. Mr. Blobby “is not some aberration of taste but an intrinsic part of British culture,” one columnist wrote in The Sunday Times of London, adding, “But it’s not the part we like to boast about, especially around the Americans.”
Blobby is the spectre of an unconscious not watched over by a globalist superego. He is not “trash” but a working class hero, unbound from the cultural trappings of bourgeois capture. He is a libidinal entity unleashed upon the bourgeoisie. This was demonstrated most clearly in Blobby’s encounter with Hyacinth Bucket of Keeping Up Appearances — a sitcom about the futile pretensions and inauthenticities of the British petite bourgeoisie. Blobby is the one true authentic being, unrestricted by the oppressions of our micropolitical niceties.
Of course Blobby is not the hero that we boast about. He represents everything we seek to repress: our all-too-human nature. And of course it has been the media class that has long sought to repress him. He is their Frankenstein’s monster, birthed to the masses, and they have been repulsed by the love he received for his chaos, pulling down the curtain, the illusion of their over-scripted and airbrushed lives.
They perhaps intended Blobby to be a warning, a caricature, but he has instead become an icon.
In this way, Blobby is a Lovecraftian mirroring of the self with his Cthulhic stature reduced. He nonetheless remains both king and jester in the court of the symbolic order. To look upon him is to recognise the best of our unconscious qualities — our desires, loves, enthusiasms — given reckless autonomy. The fact that we are baffled by his form only marks our distance from our sense of our true selves.
As this most recent television appearance demonstrates, in the quarter of a century since Blobby emerged from the mind of a TV prank writer and proved too unruly to be restrained by the narrative that birthed him, Blobby has not been tamed. 25 years ago, Blobby was a regular feature on This Morning — or, as it was then known, GMTV. The chaos Blobby brought to that live television environment was like an act of self-harm, shattering the illusion of a suffocating state-sanctioned British propriety.
Was there something in the water? Did the nation really once fall about laughing at the clumsy antics of a bloke in a big pink rubber costume with yellow blobs all over it?
Yes. Bizarrely, Noel Edmonds’s daft sidekick was so popular his single bumped Take That off the top of the charts in 1993. (And has since been voted the most annoying Christmas number one ever.)
It was not a Blobby aphrodisiac that was in the water but the molecular pollutants of Thatcherism: an individualism that sought to purify our dissident natures. Blobby was resistant for far longer than most could have anticipated. He survived so long that many tried to market him, make him an agent of capitalism by creating a theme park in his honour, but all such attempts failed. Blobby was a figure of the fete, not the ticketed enclosure. And so, in the end, he had to be forcibly put down.
In the years since Blobby used to frequently frequent our screens, ITV’s breakfast show has only emboldened itself further, attempting to embody and dictate to the nation a neoliberal moral standing. Arguably, as a result of this, the show has become increasingly Americanised — the studio clinical and over-lit; the presenters the epitome of a soulless straight-toothed respectability. The show’s producers continue to parade guests before the nation who are seen as mutated avatars of their normative values, existing out on the fringes of society. (Most recently, for example, I saw that veganism remains a newsworthy cultural curiosity for some.) As such, This Morning presents itself as a revolving human zoo, under the auspices of public-interest interviews with the nation’s nonconformists.
Blobby is truly antithetical to its nature. He flings himself across the divide; across the delineation between host and guest. The show invites him onto their sofa knowing full well that he’ll flip it over. Why do they do this? In the hope they can defeat him; tame him? Perhaps they too cannot resist the chance to be in the presence of his expenditures. After all, he is their unconscious too. They still do not realise this fact and it is remains their tragic flaw.
The media class had mistakenly thought they had won, overcoming the nation’s hysteric love for this monstrosity, believing they could write him out as easily as he was written in. And so, the media turned on Blobby, declaring him “unfunny”, a symptom of a national dementia, and, unfortunately, it seems like these panicked rejections of the Blob, who threaten to rupture the internal processes of neoliberal subjection, ultimately won out.
We forgot ourselves. They forgot themselves too. But Blobby remains the last true embodiment of rave frivolity, of impolite abandon, of libidinal excess. Blobby is all that we have repressed given a life of its own.
Attempting to explain Mr Blobby to the American public, in her same article for the NYT, Elizabeth Kolbert also writes that
watching Mr. Blobby at work, his green plastic eyes spinning maniacally, one has to wonder whether his appeal to this nation of Shakespeare, Milton and Philip Larkin isn’t a bit more complex. His frozen smile has a malevolent curve. Blobby is Barney without his medication.
But of course he shares this appeal. Barney is surely medicated — just look at him! He is just another victim of the therapeutic imaginary. Blobby represents something too old and too primal to succumb to the modern politics of individualism. He is Shakespeare’s Caliban; Milton’s Satan. Philip Larkin, too, was famous for his beautification of the national unconscious. Blobby is what Larkin could not contain within the pretensions of an intensely English poetics. Blobby can only be expressed through his own immortal tongue. “Blobby blobby blobby!!”
To bring Blobby back in 2018 is surely to unleash that which was long thought vanquished by the transcendental miserablism of the media establishment.
We might understand transcendental miserablism, via Ben Woodard, as that “impregnable form of negation which places all negation in one entity”. For Nick Land, for the British left, this entity is capitalism. What is that entity for the capitalist? Surely it is Blobby.
Blobby is useless. Our negative image, as Woodard suggests, which is devoid of utility. Or perhaps the real danger of Blobby was that he is all too useful, too easily captured by libidinal forces, too easily reduced to our political whims. His alinguistic “blobs” too easily filled as false signifiers.
This is the danger of Blobby but also his revolutionary utility.
In Cyclonopedia, Reza Negarestani writes of a “blobjective” point of view which he attributes to the functionality of “petropolitical undercurrents” — the world as seen by and through oil. Blobby may not resemble the material consistency of oil but he is nonetheless absorbent and free-flowing. He likewise interconnects “inconsistencies, anomalies or what we might simply call the ‘plot holes'” of our neoliberal existence. Blobby travels through the wounds of class war. He is the libidinal ejecta of the class war machine itself, levelling all other idols in his burning immanence, a mutation emerging from the molten intensity of sociopolitical flows. He is, as Reza writes, “a manifest degenerate entity for which wholeness is but a superficial distraction.”
It is this irreverence for the whole that makes Blobby such a threat to the neoliberal order — and so, in 1999, he was extinguished. Now, he has returned, perhaps summoned by the calls of a false jungle. Who knows how he might be able to aid us in future…
His philosophy of life will steer him through
And as far as he can see
He’s the same as you and me
There’s nothing in the world he cannot do
No hill too high, no desert too dry
No road too long, no tide too strong
No bridge too far, he’s got a car
No slope to steep, no thought too deep
No star too bright, no squeeze too tight
No tale too tall, no cat too cool
No bass too low, he’ll give it a go
No end to his talents, no sense of balance
Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, when disaster strikes you never get depressed
Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, you’ll always prove that Blobby is the best
It looks like seasteading is finally trying to address its audience problem…
Ever since Joe Quirk became the Seasteading Institute‘s unofficial spokesperson, after he wrote that really shitty book, he’s tanked its potential audience by emphasising the endeavour’s potential usefulness for the establishment of a kind of Oceanic Neorandianism.
I think seasteading is a really interesting idea, in and of itself, and a lot of the Seasteading Institute’s materials show that they have been involved in some genuinely interesting research. Unfortunately, that’s largely overshadowed by Quirk’s deficient persona as he tries to be some sort of garden-variety alt-right firebrand. (I wrote about all this previously here.)
So it’s interesting to see this push back (even though it still ends with a plug of Quirk’s book), and a broader look at the SI’s website seems to show they’re pushing for this bipartisan angle more generally too.
Is it even salvageable at this point? Who knows…
It’s worth noting, however, because there has obviously been a lot of patchwork chat orbiting issues of climate change recently and, if that’s your bag, seasteading might be a worthwhile thing to look into. It holds those issues of environmental sustainability and innovation at its heart. Maybe it needs more people who are really invested in that side of things and less Quirks…
The ASSEMBLY programme at Somerset House last weekend was pretty incredible. Unfortunately, I found out about it all far too late. I scrambled to get a couple of tickets for events but, in the end, only went to see two talks.
(I was very excited to see Gazelle Twin perform on Friday night but illness meant her show had to be cancelled last minute.)
The two talks I went to see were “Extreme Romanticism” and “Baroque Sunbursts” — the former a panel about a new mutant goth revival, also meant to feature Gazelle Twin (the panel was changed up in her absence), and the latter a k-punk book launch event (and a sort of public iteration of our wonderful Monday night reading group).
“Extreme Romanticism” turned out to be an odd one but I found it complementing the k-punk talk in strange and unexpected ways. It was advertised as follows:
Terror, power, awe, hitherto darkness brought into the light. A gothic revival or a new ‘Romanticism’ for Modern Britain? Agnes Gryczkowska, Seb Gainborough and John Bence discuss emotion and extremity and their ASSEMBLY performances with writer Chal Ravens.
With Xenogothic being heavily invested in the revitalisation of our otherwise captured gothic tendencies, the idea of a panel discussion on a new gothic extreme romanticism seemed right up my street.
Whilst it was a fun talk with some brilliant people, unfortunately I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with the way the discussion went. It revolved, primarily, around ideas of a new communality in extreme music, a new sense of compassion, but I was left unconvinced it was anything new… It felt instead like watching a group of people rediscover a forgotten element of goth’s DNA, and an unfortunate example of a music scene demonstrating the internalisation of its own bad press.
Amongst discussions of the politics of BDSM and John Bence’s barely repressed murderous impulses, what struck me most was a discussion around the failure of atheism. Ravens noted how, as a teenager, she was an adamant atheist, as were most kids, refusing to entertain any form of irrationality. Atheism was synonymous with a (proto-)neo-rationalism but this is, apparently, in 2018, no longer cool.
Goths today, it was suggested, are less defined by a cosmic pessimism and more by an occulted spirituality. The things that many people would previously not have been caught dead near are now all the rage: horoscopes, tarot, crystals… The oddities of our spiritual pasts have now reemerged to constitute a more broadly populist spiritualism, with goth dragged into the milieu and given a new superficial foundation in the 21st century. There’s nothing wrong with those things exactly, in and of themselves, and I know many people who dabble with them under the light of a lucid materialism, but I refuse to swallow the argument that these things are indicative of gothic innovation or a new form of romantic extremity. Surely, it’s well-trodden ground, with this “new” form being nothing more than a symptom of goth’s continued capitalist capture?
The pervasiveness of capitalism means that, of course, it has become an integral (albeit contradictory) component of our innumerable contemporary subjectivities and ideologies — even those that profess to stand in opposition to it. To miss this and direct the blame at our countercultures in themselves is very symbolic of our current melancholic mindsets.
For the panel, regardless, the verdict was damning and framed in a way that I really did not expect to hear: these elements have been revitalised within goth culture because atheism has failed. It’s too cold. Too cold even for goths…
I couldn’t help but think that this was a false characterisation of a nihilistic atheism informed by its own critics; by the inherent religiosity of a moralising contemporary Left, its problematic outcries caught in their own echo chamber, only strengthening the inner Catholic whip, caught between an attempt to heretically invert Judeo-Christian rituals whilst nonetheless being immediately captured within their normalised parameters.
This was something that the panel themselves were nonetheless humorously aware of. The abject tension of John Bence introducing his Kill EP as an opportunity for him to channel his very real murderous impulses felt like a case in point — until somehow laughed and crossed the impasse of British politeness. Bence then continued to poke fun at this by feigning(?) a sensitivity to the anti-Christian. But it was hard to know to what extent everyone was in on the joke or how far down the joke went, and, as a result, much of the conversation seemed to continue with a bizarre sincerity…
This was most evident when music itself was held up as central to this new communality — the panel was made up of musicians after all — and it is true: music does resonate with the outside most effortlessly. However, for this panel, music’s affective nature was limited to its associations with an organised religiosity. No one thought to make the point that the “sacred” in music is an expression of something that is “religious” by association only, incapable of being limited to religion in and of itself. I kept wanting to jump in, stick my hand up, and champion the Bataillean “sacred” — that atheological but nonetheless sublime experience of “communion”; of “communication”.
The “sacred”, for Bataille, is a world distinct from work; a world of “festival, intensified delight, joy, and abandonment.” And Bataille was, of course, the OG Goth of the 20th century, viscerally informed by Nietzsche’s thinking. The intensive compassion of his communism seems totally in line with this “new” gothic that the panel had gathered to discuss, albeit ejected into some new beyond through a templexed association with a moral antiquity. (But when they was familiar territory even for Bataille.)
Here I was reminded of my Wednesday night out with @thejaymo, at one point discussing our shared interest in Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, with its aim towards “updating and de-mystifying religious thought [through] magick, technology, poetry, musick, whatever!” I still like TOPY’s self-aware appeals to magick. They’re clear in their intentions. For example, their “statement ov intent” is downright Deleuzean. It reads:
As first steps towards change, we attempt to cultivate an awareness ov thee consequences ov our thoughts and actions, and to direct our energies in constructive directions. All this is done on thee understanding that our thoughts and behaviour form thee interface between our lives and thee lives ov others, and their repercussions are therefore endlessly returning.
Awareness is consequently a requirement for our personal and collective survival and evolution. Still, we recognise that awareness itself is dependent on information, communication, and personal commitment. Our work is subsequently practical, exchanging models and methods we have found useful to ourselves. Thus we do not dictate, but rather focus on expanding thee available possibilities through thee cross-fertilisation ov suggestions, successes, and failures. And for us this is a full-time commitment, a continual process ov being, an endless myriad ov becomings.
I mention this here only because I feel like so many post-80s (cyber)goth cultures have been rooted in some form of these same beliefs. It was a 21st century anethics presented via a language and aesthetics that was wholly other to the prevailing interests and discourses of the time but nonetheless centred around the power of collective rituals, whatever they may be. It likewise echoes the delirious mythos of the Ccru: the irrational rationalism of technomagick explored in tandem with the rational irrationalism of stock market hype. (What is hyperstition if not a magick that de-mystifies the religious pathologies of financial speculation in cyberspace, amongst other things?)
Here, the suspicion remains: perhaps I’m not in on the joke. Perhaps everyone knows this. Each of their works traverse these lines with skill and with ease, containing and dramatising all of these elements, traveling far beyond them. (Gazelle Twin, most specifically, even in her absence, epitomises this new gothic.) None of their bodies of work can be reduced to a wayward panel discussion, but I was nonetheless left bemused by it. If all of the above is familiar to them, they’re doing an awful job of articulating it…
Then I hear Gainsborough’s suggestion that we are, in fact, all to blame for goth’s subcultural failings, saying something along the lines of: “When God died, we threw the baby out with the bathwater” — conjuring up a wonderfully and inadvertently grotesque image. His argument seemed to be that the death of God also killed our communality and a renewed pop cultural interest in the materiality of the occult and the esoteric is a reaction against the normalised nihilism of our mandatory individualisms, emboldened by a societal fear of the collective ritual. But we might note that TOPY’s statement ov intent reads like a rave sensibility made goth and there are many other subcultures like it. So where is this sensibility now? It seems long gone, and most certainly neutered, but by what? By our own lack of faith? I don’t think so. All this new pop irrationalism signals, for me, is the project’s failure to ward off capitalist capture. I’d even go so far as to argue that the death of God has nothing to do with it — at least not explicitly
I have always felt like the image of Nietzsche’s madman in the marketplace was particularly prescient in being situated in a space of commerce, as if capitalism had long been primed to infiltrate that space reserved for God’s slowly decomposing corpse. The point of the parable of the death of God is surely that the world is indifferent to its announcement, preoccupied by the market. It is he who mourns the death of God — a death that can only of interest to the philosopher — who momentary ruptures the new everyday in his hysteria. But nothing happens. The shock to the madman is the world’s indifference to indifference.
If we are to nonetheless stay with Vessel’s analogy for a moment, it seems to me that, with God out of the bathtub, Goth subcultures have long been drinking deep, ingesting this soiled bathwater so that they might spread a gnostic dyssentry throughout the popular imagination. The intention being to cultivate an active nihilism, and act in the face of indifference, affirming it.
I’m reminded of that brilliant and blood-drunk post from Southern Nights on the cosmologies of Nietzsche, Bataille and Land, echoing the rantings of Nietzsche’s madman with an atheological prose that entangles the triumphs and humiliations of rationalism:
What if all we see around us in this visible universe of dust and light is nothing but the byproduct of endless expenditure, an excess expunged by the engorgements of a darker world of forces that the ancient dreamers, shamans, and Gnostics could only hint at in their negative theologies, and our scientists can only mathematize in their theoretical alchemy of this universal degradation and catastrophic trauma? What if we are mere shit in the drift of things unseen? Dead waste in a floating sea of black impenetrability? The Big Bang nothing more than a burp in the body of some great blind entity roiling in its own excess? Is this madness a metaphoric marshalling of strange tales from heresies of dead worlds?
Modern cosmology stripped of its ancient lineage of myth forces the cosmos into the procrustean bed of a bare and minimal system of holographs, strings, and vibrating systems of chaos and order. Has this given us anything better than the older myths? Is this universe bled of its fabrications, emptied of our desires, become a mere artifact of our insanity — an indifferent and essentially blind machine without purpose or telic motion? And, even if we revitalized a gnosis stripped of its redemptive qualities, its soteriological thrust how will we move those dark forces to reveal themselves? How unconceal their potential by way of math and technology? And, to what ends? Utilitarian ends for some human destitution? A bid to enslave the elements, develop even greater destructive power than our atomic weaponry? Are we nothing more than sorcerers nibbling at the table of existence, seeking ways to tap into its secret machinations, control and master its dark blessing?
This Baroque nihilism is the epitome of the Gothic stylings I was drawn towards in my formative years. The Gothic, specifically in its traditionally Frankensteinian mode of new myth grown out of new science, has always been about the paradoxical attempts to de-mystify that which we can still never hope to know. (It’s why Kant and Lovecraft work so well together.)
In this way, we can understand the Gothic itself as inherently tied to the Enlightenment, in much the same way that Gryczkowska acknowledged the entanglement of Somerset House’s neo-classical architecture and status as high-flying London arts institution and subterranean location of her band’s performance earlier that week in the Deadhouse, a crypt-turned-venue-for-hire… Such a relationship can be seen as a critical positioning that nonetheless depends on the Enlightenment for contrast so that it might define its own structures in negative. Goth, too, in hindsight, feels like an 80s subculture gilded in a similar forge, negatively echoing the new moralities and immoralities of a Thatcherite neoliberalism. Lest we forget how omnipresent vampires were to that time, as both figure of a timeless bourgeois decadence and the youthful abandon of a generation lost to politics.
This feedback loop, viewed cynically, demonstrates just some of the ways that capitalism’s greatest trick has been to sell back to us those things that we have always already had in our possession. It affirms itself and sells its homogenised worldview back to us, offsetting our alienation with the superficial salve of data-mined connections. Vampires remain poignant figures for both state and subject, depending on how you choose to look at things. However, the death of God never resulted in societal collapse because capitalism swooped in to sell our spirit back to us, at new and competitive prices. Capitalism has effectively upcycled human nature, reducing that which was always ours to little more than a novel Christmas gift. (I am left wondering how a new Light Gothic may truly be emerging but, instead of being Sad Christianity Lite, it may function as a movement of conscious and critical complicity with the developments of the Dark Enlightenment, so infamously explored by Nick Land. (Something to explore another time.)
As such, if there is to be a new Gothic, it is doomed to the same impotent fate of past subcultures if it cannot account for this inherent positioning, parallel to, if nonetheless framed negatively against, the new complicities and complexities of our age. What is this new popular magick if not a response to the post-truth of a ruling capitalist class, echoing the market itself in its indifference to the quality and content of a message, just so long as there is something to circulate? It is the epistemological slippage of contemporary politics reflected in the contingencies-for-sale on the counter of your gentrified neighbourhood crystal shop. To assign this socio-subcultural development to a latent Christianity seems, to me, like an utter waste of time.
The panel ended somewhat abruptly, unsatisfactorily, having started late and being cut down promptly, as is the usual struggle of festival scheduling.
But then, an hour later still, the work of Mark Fisher was invoked to set things straight for us…
The k-punk session revolved around Mark’s little-known 2016 text, “Baroque Sunbursts”, from the book, Rave: Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture. With Laura Grace Ford also being sick — London is a viral piece of shit this time of year — we were left in the very capable hands of Dan Taylor and Repeater Books’ Tamar Shlaim to guide us into Mark’s later work and their newly-published k-punk collection.
It must be said that “Baroque Sunbursts” is one of Mark’s best texts from recent years and, as Dan and Laura have highlighted time and again, it would no doubt be a cornerstone of what was to come in his Acid Communism.
The essay takes its name from a passage from Jameson (emphasis added to those parts most relevant to us here):
We may argue that Utopia is no longer in time just as with the end of voyages of discovery and the exploration of the globe it disappeared from geographical space as such. Utopia as the absolute negation of the fully realized Absolute which our own system has attained cannot now be imagined as lying ahead of us in historical time as an evolutionary or even revolutionary possibility. Indeed, it cannot be imagined at all; and one needs the languages and figurations of physics — the conception of closed worlds and a multiplicity of unconnected yet simultaneous universes — in order to convey what might be the ontology of this now so seemingly empty and abstract idea. Yet it is not to be grapsed in this logic of religious transcendence either, as some other world after or before this one, or beyond it. It would be best, perhaps, to think of an alternate world — better to say the alternate world, our alternate world — as one contiguous with ours but without any connection or access to it. Then, from time to time, like a diseased eyeball in which disturbing flashes of light are perceived or like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one, we are reminded that Utopia exists and that other systems, other spaces, are still possible.
What is this Jameson text if not a wonderfully expressive instantiation of what our subcultures can make possible, setting the gothic grotesque and the baroque across from each other in a way that rings as true with Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie as it does with the psychedelia to come.
The diffuse frustration of the previous session aside, the k-punk talk, in light of this text, would go on to address — and not just address, but demonstrate — the sociopolitical problems that any modern goth subculture (and other subcultures besides) must inevitably contend with — which is to say, whilst “Baroque Sunbursts” may only address the halted legacy of rave, in very general terms, it also describes a fate that has met many a subcultural music current, seen through the homogenising gaze of capitalist control.
For example, Mark describes the programme of capitalist neutralisation as being pursued in three steps:
The campaign against rave might have been draconian, but it was not absurd or arbitrary. Very much to the contrary, the attack on rave was part of a systematic process — a process that had begun with the birth of capitalism itself. The aims of this process were essentially threefold: cultural exorcism, commercial purification and mandatory individualism.
He goes on to note that the radical communality of rave was precisely a core threat to the newly established neoliberal status quo, but that is not to say that it was, in itself, new.
Rave’s ecstatic festivals revived the use of time and land which the bourgeoisie had [long] forbidden and sought to bury. Yet, for all that it recalled those older festive rhythms, rave was evidently not some archaic revival. It was a spectre of post-capitalism more than of pre-capitalism. Rave culture grew out of the synthesis of new drugs, technology and music culture. MDMA and Akai-based electronic psychedelia generated a consciousness which saw no reason to accept that boring work was inevitable. The same technology that facilitated the waste and futility of capitalist domination could be used to eliminate drudgery, to give people a standard of living much greater than that of pre-capitalist peasantry, while freeing up even more time for leisure than those peasants could enjoy. As such rave culture was in tune with those unconscious drives, which as Marcuse put it, could not accept the ‘temporal dismemberment of pleasure… its distribution in small separate doses’. Why should rave ever end? Why should there be any miserable Monday mornings for anyone?
Mark continues, chiming with our present clawing for collective joy and abandonment:
‘As the bourgeoisie laboured to produce the economic as a separate domain, partitioned off from its intimate and manifold interconnectedness with the festive calendar, so they laboured conceptually to re-form the fair as either a rational, commercial, trading event or as a popular pleasure-ground.’ Such a division was necessary in order that the bourgeoisie could make a clean and definitive distinction between morally improving toil and decadent leisure — the refusal of ‘the temporal dismemberment of pleasure’. Hence, ‘although the bourgeois classes were frequently frightened by the threat of political subversion and moral license, they were perhaps more scandalised by the deep conceptual confusion by the fair’s mixing of work and pleasure, trade and play.’ The fair always carried traces of ‘the spectre of the world which could be free’, threatening to rob commerce of the association with toil and capital accumulation that the bourgeoisie was trying to impose. That is why ‘the carnival, the circus, the gypsy, the lumpenproletariat, play a symbolic role in bourgeois culture out of all proportion to their actual social importance.’
The carnival, the gypsy and the lumpenproletariat evoked forms of life — and forms of commerce — which were incompatible with the solitary labour of the lonely bourgeoise subject and the world it projected. That is why they could not be tolerated. If other forms of life were possible then — contrary to one of Mrs Thatcher’s most famous formulations — there were alternatives, after all.
And then, he concludes:
This psychedelic imagery [of Jameson’s gothic baroque evocation] seems especially apposite for the ‘energy flash’ of rave, which now seems like a memory bleeding through from a mind that is not ours. In fact, the memories come from ourselves as we once were: a group consciousness that waits in the virtual future not only in the actual past. So it is perhaps better to see the other possibilities that these baroque sunbursts illuminate not as some distant Utopia, but as a carnival that is achingly proximate, a spectre haunting even — especially — the most miserably de-socialised spaces.
Mark’s genealogy of the rave as a form of postcapitalist festival fervour chimes with Bataille’s notion of the “sacred”, but here, at Somerset House, in a packed room in the West Wing, these forms were demonstrated, rather than just described, through the musics that Mark loved so much and, also, often wrote about.
Rufige Kru are a case in point. The mundane refrains of “Ghosts of My Life”, from a mournful David Sylvian to the libidinal exorcism of that most famous of First Choice samples, crashing against the rocks of its rolling breaks, dashed in all directions. Ghosts slip into the everyday, just as an illusory mundane begins to haunt the extraordinary weirdness of capitalism itself. In this way, jungle is Jameson’s diseased eyeball or, rather, an afflicted inner ear. Your libido has been thrown off balance with an acidic labrinthitis. “Do you want what you say you want?” The elusive answer drags you into the downward spiral. Egress is imminent.
Mark once wrote for The Wire that jungle “was best enjoyed as an anonymous electro-libidinal current that seemed to pass through producers, as a series of affects and FX de-linked from authors.” It was “less like a music and more like an audio unlife form, a ferocious, feral artificial intelligence that has been unwittingly called up in the studio.” It remains the Gothic antithesis and grotesque mirror image of a 90s technoculture. The acceleration of alienation that complemented the accelerated accumulation of capitalism’s Thing-like functionalities. The popular imagination is what suffers.
Next, we would fast-forward to the 1970s with The Temptation’s Psychedelic Shack — the song at the heart of Mark’s Acid Communism introduction.
It’s got a neon sigh outside that says
Come in and take a look at your mind
You’ll be surprised what you might find
Strobe lights flashing from sun up to sun down
People gather there from all parts of town
Right around the corner, you know it’s just across the track
People I’m talking about the psychedelic shack
Psychedelic shack, that’s where it’s at
Psychedelic shack, that’s where it’s at
Psychedelic shack, that’s where it’s at
A new humanity, a new seeing, a new thinking, a new loving: this is the promise of acid communism, and it was the promise that you could hear in “Psychedelic Shack” and the culture that inspired it. Only five years separated “Psychedelic Shack” from The Temptations’ early signature hit “My Girl”, but how many new worlds had come into being then? In “My Girl”, love remains sentimentalised, confined to the couple, in “Psychedelic Shack”, love is collective, and orientated towards the outside.
Such talk of love is not antithetical to the Gothic — something I think has been made very clear on this blog previously. What is most important, and must continually be emphasised, is this orientation towards the outside.
This was what was missed in “Extreme Romanticism”. The compassion and libidinal fervour is not akin to the dewy-eyed and godly “love” of your Sunday school service, though they may inevitably share a language. Goth love is necrophilic and spectral. It is not a love for what has passed, but the libidinal energy flows of unlife and undeath, skirting along the edge of a doorway to somewhere new. A cock in the glory hole of an unknown politics. A grotesque image, no doubt, but one with a form that capitalism understands. Get ready for the bait and switch…
If we communicate for two minutes only
It will be enough
For knowing that someone in this world
Feels as desperate as me —
And what you give is what you get
Mark writes — and the whole post is absolutely worth reading in full:
The Jam thrived in public space, on public service broadcasting. It mattered that they were popular; the records gained in intensity when you knew that they were number one, when you saw them on Top of the Pops — because it wasn’t only you and fellow initiates who heard the music; the (big) Other heard it too. This effect was maximised in The Jam’s case because their best work happened in the three minute single. At that point, singles staked a place in the mainstream, directly affecting the conditions of possibilities for popular culture. What we witnessed with punk and postpunk — or more broadly, with the whole efflorescence of popular modernism since the 50s — was an ‘affective contagion’, to use a term discussed in Frederic Jameson’s enthralling new book The Antinomies of Realism. One of the problems with many of the horizontalist models of political action is that they assume that we already know what we think and feel, and we are simply prevented from expressing ourselves by oppressive power structures. Yet mass mediated art could name and focus feelings that were not only suppressed — by ‘internal’ as well as external censoring agencies — but which were inchoate, unformed, virtual. Mass mediation transformed, not merely ‘represented’ these affects; after they were named and brought into focus, the feelings ‘themselves’ were experienced differently. And you could say that all of this was self-consciously worked through by Weller, with his Mod(ernist) affiliation, and its hunger for new sensations.
As Marcello Carlin put it in a post that is as moving an account of a fan going back to a former obsession as you’ll ever see, it’s now unbelievable that something like ‘Start’ — a record ‘which goes so far as to debate with its listener what a pop single might be for, and that it might actually be a stepping stone in helping people get along and bond better’ — could ever have been a number one record. I’m pretty sure that this song about a fugitive encounter in enemy territory — which contained the line, ‘knowing someone in this life/ who feels as desperate as me’ — was another one of the Jam records I first heard when it was played on Top of the Pops.
I took The Jam for granted, but the thirty odd years since they ruled the charts have been a painful process of watching what we once took for granted being taken away from us. Seeing — and working with — John Akomfrah’s The Unfinished Conversation and The Stuart Hall Project has prompted many thoughts, one of which concerns confronting just this process of watching the taken for granted become the (retrospectively) impossible. The way to avoid nostalgia is to look for the lost possibilities in any era, and Hall’s work — from his earliest writings on Cool jazz and Colin MaccInes in the late 50s, through to his New Times essays at the tail end of the 80s — alerts us to a persistent failure to make connections between left-wing politics and the popular culture, even when both were much stronger than they are today. Parliamentary socialism could never come to terms with, still less hegemonise, the new energies that had come out of jazz, the Sixties counterculture, or punk. By the time that explicit attempts were made to link the parliamentary left and rock/pop — in the earnest hamfistedness of Red Wedge — it was already too late. Blair’s Britpop flirtations, meanwhile, were like a double death, (the end of) history laughing at us: the corpse of white lad rock summoned to serenade socialism succumbing to capitalist realism.
The relevance of this is obvious here, I hope. That which was once taken for granted, the inherent communality of extreme musics and the gothic, has now become something to be rediscovered, made speculative and impossible. Extreme musics and pop music are not dissimilar in this respect, conjoined in Mark’s thought by the thread of a “popular modernism”. Again, outsiderness remains the orientation in the best examples of both. Extreme musics must understand that their form alone is not enough to escape the gravitational pull.
The tone of the first panel was frustrating in that it seemed to miss this (admittedly subtle and elusive) point, placing an extreme romanticism beyond our immediate capabilities, as a new striving, and whilst it is a post capitalist spectre, as Mark himself wrote on rave, we must likewise account for the ways it has been purposefully exorcised from our ways of being.
K-Punk rectified this, emphasising the immediate malleability of cultural production.
This was a point emphasised most poignantly, I thought, by David Stubbs. Sat in the audience, he arose for a moment to play a clip from Luigi Nono’s Non consumiamo Marx, a dose of acid communist mystique concrete in which the sounds of revolution become the foundations for a new music, bringing to mind the technomagick of William Burroughs’ tape experiments. Here, the everyday was — literally — sampled and reshaped for a politics to come.
The final track played was a mix, apparently made by Mark and Laura, of tracks by Jam City. Jam City is perhaps the perfect demonstration of the above.
Tamar noted that, for Mark, Jam City was to his “Acid Communism” as Burial was to his “Ghosts of my Life“. The sounds heard are all somewhat familiar, but rather than being haunting, as Burial are, they are evocative. They likewise portray a lost future, albeit positively conceived.
Whereas Burial, for me, and countless others, evokes the future musics heard by the uninitiated, further twisted and mutated by their environments, out of the windows of passing cars, muffled by the void between your pavement-dwelling self and a lofty tower block flat party, mediated through your body rather than your afflicted and colonised ears alone; Jam City glimmers through the gaps in between.
The track was illustrated by a photograph by Laura, taken in a graveyard near Canary Wharf, the gothic loomed over by the HSBC building, or rather London’s dead threatening to unground those buildings that seem to sure of themselves. The track appears along the edges, the “jam” in between a patchwork cityscape, where something else bleeds through.
It’s as gothic as it always was. It’s xenogothic. Disco as a dark weapon against the dayglo irreality of a mundane workday. It is, and always will be, Hull fair to me — a square-mile of neon and bass bins, palm reading and caravans, carny jungle and gabba on the waltzers. Travellers stop, just for one week, coming from all around Europe, to open up a hole in the middle of the city, turning a match-day car park into the zombic heart of autumn. It’s a gigantic and effervescent rupture, brighter and louder than anything you’ve ever seen. It’s sugar-fuelled penny gambling and chip spice and a new community grown in a council-sanctioned Petri dish, transforming the whole city that you might think you know so well. It’s not new. It’s over 100 years old. You can see the lights for miles around — at least 15 miles away by one count one year — and it’s still goth as fuck.
A separate and far more personal highlight of the evening was later being introduced to David Stubbs at the bar. Stubbs’ writing has been just as important to me as Mark’s over the years. When Fear of Music came out, it was a revelation for me. It was a book I read wishing I’d had it a few years earlier, which spoke to me as a young A Level Art edgelord who loved noise music and was Rothko obsessive and had a hard time articulating why they were two sides of the same coin. The rest of his work is masterful in much the same way and this year’s Mars By 1980, a personal and twisted history of electronic music, from the Futurists to Aphex Twin and beyond, was something I demolished in a week. Go check it out.
It was truly an honour to meet David and chat about the history of British comedy, of all things, over a few drinks at the ASSEMBLY bar. Later, after exchanging Facebook profiles, I saw a status update David wrote on the night and Mark’s legacy that encapsulated things perfectly. I’d like to end this post with a part of it:
The scope, audacity, penetration of [Mark’s] writing went way beyond music journalism. I’m convinced that this volume will be a cornerstone for future young thinkers if the world survives; that he will function like a latter-day Nietzsche, a fireball, in that it won’t so much matter what judgments he arrives at as the flamethrowing, impassioned, impossible-demanding eyeballs he casts around our present, seemingly impossible situation to which he demands, outlines reasonable, near-impossible solutions.
Although I initially promised there would not be a blogpost about Reza’s inaugural hellthread — undoubtedly the hardest thread to follow yet in these parts that I’ve ever witnessed (despite being tagged in it) — it did (eventually) prove to be somewhat fruitful and so it certainly warrants something of a nod, at the very least, for instigating what feels like the dawning of a new era in these parts. (For better or for worse? It’s not yet clear…)
As previously tweeted, Reza’s Facebook earnestness has felt like a blinding light shone into our dank Twitter caves.
Reza’s light first woke up the anti-acc dragons who descended on his suggestion that there’s a surprising amount of Spinoza hype around these parts. (Twitter is, in many respects, quite a narrow exhaust. Much more goes on in other channels and so to judge a movement by its Twitter presence should be seen as inherently reductive.) Whilst a number of these disingenuous swoops have nonetheless gained some traction in recent weeks, Reza’s arrival meant many over-played their hands, suggesting acc twitter is under-read where it counts and setting themselves up for unprecedented derision.
The thread was particularly difficult to follow for me personally, with half the interlocutors (beautifully termed “whimsical cloutvampires” by TM) having been muted after a number of recent and pointless online inanities, and so there is very little I have so say on those discussions in themselves.
However, the more heated exchange between TM and Reza was really something, and I’d personally very much like to see a conversation happen between the two of them.
Below is a quick overview of their exchange which grew out of more general mudslinging and blind swipes:
Reza: … dismissing the adversary is just whining not an argument. Not to mention it’s not in the interests of anything or anyone. We can launch polemics against each other but never start from the position of cynical ignorance with regard to each other’s thoughts and backgrounds. 
TM: This seems like false, forced magnanimity after your having immediately cheerleaded the point about Deleuze. We should not practice folk psychology in rhetoric, but equally we should not encourage people to avoid it while engaging with it: that’s deceitful.  I’ll remind you that you have already engaged in baseless polemics by makings useless broad-brush statements about the respective content of analytic and continental philosophy. 
Reza: That is not the point. Re Deleuze: He as a philosopher who had all the time to actually deal with Plato properly. He did not! So I say it again, he is a shit reader of Plato like many platonists. And yes, I have already discussed this in details in the last chapter of [Intelligence & Spirit].  And again who cares about dead philosophers, I was merely talking about our living interlocutors 🙂 
TM: It’s interesting not much philosophical content to any of the arguments you have posed. Quibbling about references, broad historical movements and personal influences is neurotic careerist positioning rather than the practice of philosophy.  And you dare to invoke caricaturisation! 
Reza: You have to elaborate these arguments. Do you think that Aristotle’s interpretation of Plato was not decisive re the current bipolar attitude toward Plato in the history of philosophy? 
TM: I don’t think that nobody understood his work until the Tübingen school arrived no, the reason that’s such a convenient crutch is that it’s merely an appeal to authority. 
Reza: It’s not authority, it’s working in the constrains posed by the history of philosophy. And from a historical perspective, hardly anyone read the later dialogues as you said until Marburg and Tubingen schools started the actual research.  All I’m saying is that this history should be both recognized and also judged properly.  […] Would be able to let me when Deleuze actually engage with the new doctrine of forms (in Theaetetus onwards) or the idea of Good as the craftsmanship of the mind which become the central topic?  It is of course fine and comendable to have a Dionysian or an anachronistic reading of Plato but then to claim that this is actually Plato and what the entire system of Plato represents is a hallmark of disingenuousness. 
TM: He references the Theatetus 175e in footnote 32 of the second chapter of Difference and Repetition precisely to comment on this model of thought driven by a transcendent moral. The idea he did not address the whole corpus is something you have made up out of convenience. 
Reza: But that’s wrong. The ideas / forms in Theatetus are introduced not as registers of the transcendent. They are introduced as categories (ta koina) very much like Aristotle’s or Kant’s transcendental categories. 
TM: They are shown to be transcendent by the application of critique to their principle of differentiation, which should also be done to Kant’s bureaucracy of the transcendental. The idealistic neatness of prior categories is what must be refused. 
Reza: I agree, the neatness must be refused. But how are you going then to avoid the ugly myth of the categorial given? A genuine question. 
TM: I follow Maimon’s suspicions about how readily categories of the understanding apply to sensibility and instead seek a genetic method of their means of arising. Faculties and their categories are empirically habituated, which process can be rationally described. 
Reza: Right, now we are actually going somewhere. I’m a broadly rationalist skeptic on this issue particularly re Kant. The whole thing sounds too fishy in [the Critique of Pure Reason].  But then the question would be what empirical habituation is in fact with the understanding that empirical entrenchment does not by itself yield an epistemological right. 
TM: … An idea is then a differential matrix, composed of the quantum of Bateson’s information theoretical “difference that makes a difference”, and so on for the manifold of apperception and the cosmological ideas. 
Reza: Jesus Christ! That’s way above my nonexistent paygrade!  … How about this Thomas, you reread Theatetus and Philebus and I reread Deleuze, then we have a Skype on all this. This medium is not the best way to have detailed arguments. 
The conversation then fragmented here beyond recognition. However, Reza did pick up on a separated unthreaded tweet from TM:
TM: Neorationalism is conceptually isomorphic with the Intellectual Dark Web / LessWrong / effective altruism nonsense. In its desire to “reengineer the world” in the shape of philosophical reason it provides the perfect excuse for technocratic totalitarianism. Despotic thinking.  It’s proceeds by means of analogy, not a philosophical approach, in its direct application of computation to cognitive process. It’s like philosophy’s equivalent of the Silicon Valley holographic universe solipsists. 
Reza: Now can we have actual discussion on this? 
TM: I will NOT debate Platonists, especially those with poor memecraft 
Reza: You never know, you might actually convert me to your cause. Teach me. If that’s not on the table then why are you doing here other than exhibiting your ego. You are better than that 
I, for one, would very much like to see this. Long may Reza’s hellthrealds continue as they have begun, but making them easier to follow would be very much appreciated…
As I have repeatedly mentioned on Xenogothic — perhaps one day to my peril — there have been many blogs in my life prior to this one. The longest running blog I’ve had was a 5-year photoblog which I culled in a deep depression at the start of 2016 and, despite the occasional lacklustre attempt, it never got started again. There were a few abortive attempts at writing-only blogs and some that were more hybridised between text and image but they never really worked out. Then Xenogothic was born and it feels like the best platform I’ve ever built for myself online.
Before that, however, I used to call myself “Picture Wizard”…
The sentiment of this blog, despite appearances, was very much the same as Xenogothic. It was an attempt to document the occasional vibrancy and humour and beauty of our “boring dystopia”. A diary of the few things that would make me happy throughout an otherwise hollow and melancholic existent. I really fucking loved that blog.
More recently, as Xenogothic has settled into its own rhythm, and I have become less paranoid and reluctant to associate my meatself with my cyberself, I’ve started to feel less bitter about the bridges burned with these former selves, and Picture Wizard was such a long-running labour of joy that it would be a shame not to let some of these projects that I’m most proud of slip back in under this moniker.
On this old photoblog, I used to collect up all the best photos from each year and make them into print-on-demand books. I’ve tried to post a few things like this on Xenogothic — here and here — but they are few and far between because, much to my own disappointment, I’m out of the habit of taking photos every day.
But I’m still really proud of these books. They encapsulate the love I had for looking at things that I refused to let my undergraduate degree take away from me. Rather than unlearn stuff later on, I decided to double-down on this enthusiasm and let it guide me, unpretentiously, letting photography be a way of processing the world like any other, not wanting it to be infected by a egotistical romanticism that came to define a lot of my peers. (My post-postgrad existence feels driven very much by the same wonderfully aimless energy.)
As a result, I never did make much of a go at being a “professional” photographer — although I had a few fun experiences in that industry, working at music festivals most memorably — but, very much in line with the ethos of this blog, I thought: why should I try and shape what I was doing for the sake of an exhibition when I could just do what I wanted on my blog? I don’t care about impressing people. I just wanna express myself. *hair flip*
The problem with this is that, if people think you’re nonchalant about monetising your work, they won’t hesitate to do so for their own gain. I had my photographic fingers burnt a few times…
These Picture Wizard annuals became a way of addressing this. The blog was added to with fervour and enthusiasm but, at the end of each year, I would take all the images and edit them rigorously into a cohesive sequence over many months, creating a vibrant visual journey that takes you through 12 months’ worth of form and colour.
There are two volumes in this series, documenting 2013 and 2014 respectively, and I remain immensely proud of them. A sequence for the third was completed but the cover art never got finished and then it fell into archive dormancy. Maybe I’ll get it out one day. Whilst my Blurb account is still live, Picture Wizard #01 & #02 might as well be allowed to migrate over here as a glimpse into a past life when I took 1000s of pictures a week rather than writing 1000s of words.
You can see flick-through videos of the books and links to their pages on my Blurb shop over on my now-updated Books & Zines page.
“Nuts and Zoo, man! Now that is the axis of wanking.”
“Let me tell you something, yeah, when you wake up in the morning and you’ve got like a massive hang-over, there is nothing better than a good egg McMuffin.”
“Yeah, I’ll give you that.”
“Kill or cure, innit.”
“Come on, we’re off track here.”
“Who cares, it’s a kid’s show.”
“It’s not a kid’s show.”
“We’re talking about things that have ended prematurely because of this mess. Come on, Jops, if you want to play, get it right.”
“Oh shit! MySpace!”
“Now you’re on it.”
Very strange to think it is just 10 years since Dead Set came out — now currently on Netflix. I loved that miniseries at the time and giving it a re-watch now, in a post-Black Mirror world is enough to make anyone long for that simpler time.
Dead Set‘s premise is sort of ingenious, in that way that most Black Mirror episodes are, stretched out over a sort of jarringly paced five-episode miniseries. The novelty was electrifying at the time. Perhaps less so now, since Brooker has come to corner the niche of outrageously meta and politically satirical SF.
Watching it now, it’s strange to see just how much has changed and how dated this scene in particular, quoted above, now is.
RIP Nuts and Zoo, bastions of turn-of-the-decade Lad culture. No one misses you, but it’s incredible to think about the ease with which you were replaced by little more than the basic functionality of Facebook’s share button. (The likes of Grazia, it seems, will always have a place on newsagents’ shelves.)
All of the online references, of course, with the exception of MySpace, have continued to grow from strength to strength. If the world did end tomorrow, I can’t imagine anyone would say they were over too soon. In fact, LOST looms large as a weird example. We did see the end of it, but should we have bothered watching it…?
The eventual (one can only hope) demise of everything else in this list will no doubt feel the same. Yes, we’ve witnessed the end of an era, and in the end none of it feels all that worth it.
No, wait, that’s already finished…
A few weeks ago I wrote about the marvellous Acid Communism reading group I’ve been attending these past couple of months at Somerset House, led by Dan Taylor and Laura Grace Ford. Tonight I was really honoured to accept an invitation from Dan and Laura to lead a session.
Dan asked that I pick the week’s readings as a way of introducing some of the concepts found in The Weird and the Eerie into our reconstructive readings around Acid Communism. I suggested we all read “…The Eeriness Remains” — the final chapter of The Weird and the Eerie — and “Practical Eliminativism: Or, Getting Out of Our Faces Again” — a short talk Mark gave that was featured in the Speculative Aesthetics edition of Urbanomic’s Redactions series. (I also suggested my own “Reaching Out Beyond to the Other” essay as a here’s-some-connections-I-made-earlier intro for generating discussion around two very different texts.)
Before getting into things, I wrote a little intro which I read out at the start of the session, presented below.
(Note: many of the references in here are regurgitated from various posts on this blog, written over the last year, so it might all be familiar to regular readers, but this is a presentation for a new context and a new audience).
I want to start by thanking Laura and Dan for inviting me to pick the readings for today. I’m hoping this means I’ll talk less than I do most weeks rather than more…
That being said… I’ve written a roughly ten-minute intro to start off with, if no one minds listening to me ramble for a little bit… Not that you really have a choice either…
A lot of what we’ll find in these two texts resonates with the discussions we’ve already been having in recent months, I think, but they are also of a distinctly different tone to those other texts that we’ve read so far. I don’t want to say too much about the texts themselves and leave that up to us all to discuss as a group but I would like to contextualise why I’ve chosen them and, specifically, why I think an acknowledgement of their ton;e is important to our fortnightly pursuit and exercise of collective joy, even though the affects articulated may seem antithetical to this. Whilst the likewise of Jeremy Gilbert have bastardised an Acid Communism, emphasising a affectless positivity, it has to be acknowledged that Mark’s project, like all his work, was reaching out beyond the pleasure principle…
This is a complex suggestion, however, so I’d like to spend a bit of time unpacking this using a few more unusual but perhaps accessible references.
Back in 2017, a few months after Mark died, I was part of a reading group much like this one. We were all Goldsmiths students and staff, many of us already friends with each other, but we were nonetheless a thrown-together bunch, each with our own distinct experiences of and relationships to Mark and his work.
Mark’s death and the release of The Weird and the Eerie felt like tandem occurrences at that time. One thing entered the world just as he left it. Holding the book close and closed, we all shared an anxiety over the prospect of reading it in isolation, and so we decided to do it together, to share the weight of it in that moment.
We would read a chapter a week, going round in a circle, tackling the book a paragraph at a time, before attempting to unpack its concepts and attend to its more puzzling moments, but more than anything we just wanted to spent time together with Mark.
Our group was initially a support group, an assembly, a weekly opportunity to touch base with each other and our grief, and so, as we made our way through the book over a period of a couple of months, many struggled with the shifting dynamics within the group itself, as we inevitably moved away from this affective grounding.
Some weeks philosophizing would overtake our looking out for each other. Other times reading the book was secondary to checking in on each other’s wellbeing. For me, personally, I never wanted the two things to be distinct. The book felt like a vector through which we could process the horror we were facing, aesthetically rendered through the ghost stories and science fictions that Mark so obviously loved.
The final paragraph of the book, however, pulled this already rickety scaffolding down and made the book feel, for one sullen moment, like a suicide note.
As Mark writes about the ways in which Marion and Miranda, two characters in Joan Lindsey’s 1967 novel The Picnic at Hanging Rock, “are fully prepared to take the step into the unknown … possessed by an eerie calm that settles when familiar passions are overcome”, I couldn’t help but think about Mark himself, putting the finishing touches to his final book as he struggled through that dark December, preparing himself for what was to come.
Once Marion and Miranda disappear, their absences, Mark writes, leave “haunting gaps, eerie intimations of the outside.” Mark’s absence, too, from the Visual Cultures corridor at Goldsmiths, was experienced in very much the same way.
This was a reading overly influenced, no doubt, by the horror of that time. Looking around the room, expressing my own discomfort, I felt like I was saying what everyone else was thinking but what no one wanted to hear, and it made my stomach churn. I immediately regretted voicing it, because it is all too easy to imagine Mark somewhere, fuming at the thought of such melodramatic projections being allowed to stain his work. In light of this mental image of an angry Mark, a short while later, my reading less coloured by melancholy, this ending began to feel less like a full stop and more like a challenge to the experience of grief and melancholy in itself.
But then again, aren’t both of these readings inherently and fatally entwined?
A few months ago I read an article, totally unrelated, that crystallised this uneasiness for me in a new way. It was an article for the online metal magazine Invisible Oranges by the American musician Phil Elverum, better known by his monikers The Microphones and, currently, Mount Eerie.
His Mount Eerie project found a much wider audience last year with the release of its eighth studio album, A Crow Looked At Me, a solitary and diaristic singer-songwriter affair about the grief of losing his wife to cancer in 2016. The first verse of the first song, “Real Death”, lays out the paradoxes the album intends to explore with a heart-wretching but also almost humorous frankness, attending to the ironies and contradictions of death felt so closely by those that keep on living. Elverum sings:
Death is real
Someone’s there and then they’re not
And it’s not for singing about
It’s not for making into art
When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb
When I walk into the room where you were
And look into the emptiness instead
My knees fail
My brain fails
The album hits like a hammer, transposing the tandem representations and obliterations of Elverum’s ever-shifting inner experiences.
Subject matter aside, the album is, in some ways, a return to an older performance style for Elverum, whose output over the previous ten years has been increasingly shaped by the sonic influence of US Black Metal. Big guitars. Big bass. Big drums. Encapsulating a very Black Metal kind of sonic solitude, distinct from that of your typical singer-songwriter in its attempted sonic gutterings of the ego.
However, in the article for Invisible Oranges, Elverum writes how, following the death of his wife, he had struggled with his love of this aesthetic darkness, particularly in its original Norwegian form. How does a music scene defined by death-obsessed, satanist-LARPing teenagers hold up to any scrutiny under the light of an experience of Real Death, he wonders.
In a lot of ways, the defining aspect of this music for most people, its “evil”ness or whatever, is not something I think about at all. It seems so clearly a joke or a performance. Even with the early Europeans who killed each other, I don’t see them as evil but just confused and carried away. The black is just a costume. It’s Halloween. It’s cool, I love Halloween. But also honesty is important to me, and there’s something embarrassing and facetious about that performative darkness, living in it too much.
Then, on the day of his wife’s funeral, Elverum writes about his decision to play the song “Prison of Mirrors” by the one-man US black metal band Xasthur as loud as he can before her memorial service took place. Following his immersion in Xasthur’s “shredded screaming, extreme sorrow”, he says that, then, “the room felt ready.”
It felt like “ah, yes, this is the use of this music. This is the moment, once in a lifetime hopefully, or maybe never in a lifetime for people who are fortunate enough to avoid experiencing devastation like this, this is the moment where music this extreme can tear through the veil of the difficult present moment and reveal something beyond.”
If this feels like a strange and extended tangent to take here, I mention this article only because I feel it articulates, better than I ever could, my own experience of embracing Mark’s Gothic mode after his death. I worried about living with his darker texts too much, as if it appear I was romanticising what happened to him, the mode of writing I’d always enjoyed the most now inevitably facetious. However, I found that Mark’s own work — The Weird and the Eerie especially — provided a vector of intensity through which to navigate the difficult then-present moments of 2017 — and there were plenty of those… — and reach into something beyond.
The earlier text presented here, “Practical Eliminativism”, articulates an almost cosmic pessimism which treats “death” as a sort of line in the sand of experience, and nothing more. It is Mark’s “astropunk” sensibility writ large. Yes, Mark the Spinozist might have argued for a freedom from sad passions, but this is not, as he writes on the Hyperstition blog, “the end of the story if it is at the price of a ‘happy’ passivity, a blank-eyed disengagement from all Outsides, as all (your) energy is sucked up by the ultimate interiority”. Joy, in this sense, is not a guard against suffering. We know this. I’m sure none of us are under any illusions that the sheer English repressiveness of a ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ attitude is the epitome of a forced and petrified happiness. To quote Mark: “The price of such ‘happiness’ — a state of cored-out, cheery Pod people affectlessness — is [the] sacrifice of all autonomy.”
But does all this really mean we that we have to revel in horror? No, I don’t think so, but horror is certainly this thoughts most effectively affective mode. Horror is a libidinal short-circuiting towards action, towards fight and flight, towards rebellion and emancipation. This is likewise not to will bad things to happen, but when they inevitably do, in some form or other, we can affirm that terror and find its beyond.
In light of this, we might also think about Fisher’s conceptual deaths as a return to — or even an extension of — his first “book” that remains bootlegged but officially unpublished — his PhD thesis: “Flatline Constructs”. Here Mark formulates a Gothic Materialism, orbiting “death” in the Nietzschean sense of just another form of life. Whilst he writes, in 1999, that his Gothic Materialism is a way to jettison the “supernatural, ethereal or otherworldly” from our conceptions of the Outside, in favour of a radical plane of immanence, The Weird and the Eerie nonetheless demonstrates the return of these elements to the heart of his thesis, rehabilitated as prime cultural examples of our perpetual grasping at other ways of being.
The paradox of doing this is an echo of Elverum’s wrestling with grief. As Mark writes in a separate essay, written for Pli, Warwick University’s journal of philosophy, called “Gothic Materialism“: “It is not a matter of speaking the unspeakable, but of vocalising the extra-linguistic or the non-verbal, and thereby letting the Outside in.”
In this way, the speculative aesthetics of death, with their provocations of horror, can assist us as we look — even reach — beyond ourselves and the abject interiority of the neoliberal subject. “Death” needn’t be an end — rather it is a cognitive challenge that forces us to engage with a necessarily difficult thinking that can only ever be speculative until we’re ready to throw off, as Mark writes, the “petty repressions and mean confines of common experience”.
This is a thinking that is not just the navel-gazing of a depressed and dejected contemporary subject. It is a thinking echoed in the thought of Donna Harraway, Eugene Thacker and Thom Van Dooren in their writings on the possibility of thinking extinction, whether our own or that of another species. If we are to reengage with the end-of-the-world thinking that Mark made his name writing about in Capitalist Realism — that is, the suggestion that “the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism” — we have to confront collective death at the same time as collective joy. Both are increasingly necessary for thinking about and challenging the politics of our time, from austerity and the implications of well-spread mental ill-health, from artificial intelligence to new materialisms, from climate change to an expanded species-consciousness.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, in light of all this, becomes a pulp-modernist fable of exit from the corsets of a moralising and — most importantly — gendered subjection, enforced under the preparatory pretensions of Australia’s well-to-do high society. “Practical Eliminativism”, with Mark wearing his more explicitly philosophical hat, likewise tackles the subjective capture of high modernity at the absolute limit of experience itself. Whilst its talk of Kantianism and subjectivity might frighten off the more casual reader, what Mark is discussing here has become an central concern of pop culture in recent years.
If anyone here has seen The OA or The Walking Dead or Games of Thrones or the return of Twin Peaks or Westworld or any number of other shows — I have no doubt this list could continue endlessly — you will have seen these same questions and their stakes played out in innumerable ways, where the question of another world and another life are two-fold, each encompassing the other, with the end of the world and the death of the individual held up as interscalar contingencies rather than absolute limits. It is my view that Mark’s own death shouldn’t undermine this thinking but intensify the necessity of its immanence for thought. It is necessary to recognise all that happened to Mark, all that led to his death, and render it impersonal, as he would have done, as obstacles to the instantiation of an Acid Communism which we must fight against.
I’ll end here with some questions posed by Mark himself, in a K-Punk post he wrote in 2009 after an event at Goldsmiths called “Militant Dysphoria“. He writes:
There’s an special urgency and poignancy about the concept of militant dysphoria just now, when dejection is so widespread amongst the young. The regime of anti-depressants, CBT and relentlessly upbeat pop culture enforce a compulsory positivity which treats the negative only as failure and pathology. Dejection is not an extreme state so much as a generational condition, as invisible as it is ubiquitous, sometimes treated as a medicalised disorder, sometimes condemned as a depoliticised apathy, often not acknowledged at all, but normalised as an existential horizon of lowered expectations and minimal hope. If, from the perspective of a vitalist commonsense, militancy and dysphoria is an impossible collocation, then the dejected young (and among them, all those who aestheticise their dysphoria, such as Goths and the devotees of Black Metal), must simply be abandoned as depoliticised, unpolitical or — at best — pre-political. But as Dominic [Fox] put it in his own comments box recently, “Dysphoria is ‘militant’ when it refuses to be framed as a personal mishap, and instead poses itself as a question and a challenge to the society in which it occurs.” […] What can politics learn from the perspective of the “abyss that laughs at creation”?