Community Remains

A text commissioned in 2017 for the final degree show publication of the BA(hons) Photographic Art course at the University of South Wales in Cardiff, which I was a student on between 2010-2013, prior to various course cancellations and institutional mergers.

The degree show took place in a repurposed old warehouse in the Cardiff Bay area on 9th June 2017. I didn’t share this at the time because I didn’t have a blog but it’s an essay that captures a very personal moment in my thinking about community that I’d now like to share.

In 2014 I was asked to write an afterword for the BA (hons) Photographic Art degree show publication, Leaving the Building. I wrote about “experience” and what that word means, negotiating its limits in relation to the illusory role photography plays in helping us grasp ungraspable experience as it unfolds all around us. At that time, I had survived the dreaded first year out of university and felt I could relate to the myriad experiences of the following year’s graduating students. What was looming for them on the horizon, terrifying in its unknowability, was, for me, starting to show its shape; shifting from abstract experience into an experience.

Now, three years later, as the assimilation of the University of South Wales’ photography courses reaches its completion, I have been asked to return to this topic again. Unfortunately, the experiences of this year’s graduating students are unknown to me. This unknowing is not a bad thing — I am excited to see what they have been up to. However, I wonder, as I write these words in another city and at another university, am I still in a position to say anything meaningful here? How can I write about experience again without having a tangible experience in common?

What we do have in common is the influence of Peter Bobby, Eileen Little, Magali Nougarède & Matt White — not to mention the guidance of those previously a part of this team and their many invited guests. Each of them has been along for the ride with us, no more certain of what the future holds, repeatedly adapting to changes both inside and outside of the university. So what of their experiences? How do they collide with the experiences of we students and alumni?

What we share, if not an experience, is a community — and I do not mean this in the sense that we will soon be receiving the same alumni emails. The typical definition of the word “community” fails here. When asked how to define the “Photo Art” course (as it is affectionately known) I have often said: it is an arts course that takes photography as its starting point. It has produced works of photography, audio, sculpture, video, performance, and everything in between, and so to define our community through a common interest is reductive. Likewise, having moved from Caerleon and Newport to Cardiff, this community cannot be reduced to a shared space either. Rather “community” here refers to something beyond what the word itself describes.

These demands on the word “community” are central to experiences of the modern university — a space that must be ruptured for creativity to take place (even when the university itself paradoxically instigates the rupturing). Stefano Harney and Fred Moten ask, in their book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, what is the work of the modern university and what is its social capacity for producing a certain fugitivity from its controls?

If one were to say teaching, one would be performing the work of the university. […] It is not teaching that holds this social capacity, but something that produces the not visible other side of teaching, a thinking through the skin of teaching toward a collective orientation to the knowledge object as future project, and a commitment to what we want to call the prophetic organization. But it is teaching that brings us in. Before there are grants, research, conferences, books, and journals there is the experience of being taught and of teaching. [1]

They go on to describe a “beyond of teaching”: a social praxis of pedagogy that does not simply transmit knowledge to the consumer-student but encourages an acephalic community of independent thinkers; a community of a shared secret that is fugitive to bureaucracy.

This “community” is not something worked towards and achieved but rather something experienced in itself, outside of regulation — the kind of community that Jean-Luc Nancy and Maurice Blanchot have respectively referred to as “inoperative” and “unavowable”. It does not exist for the sake of networking or profit or climbing the ladder of industry — the pursuits of the individual — but as a way of being that requires a collective subject in order to sustain itself. Jason Kemp Winfree, discussing “community” in the thought of Nancy, Blanchot and Bataille, writes that:

Community is not, therefore, an extant division or willed unity within the social order, but a configuration of luck and chance where one being opens onto another and is what it is only through this opening. […] Community is constituted in the overlapping of wounds, the sharing not only of what cannot be shared, but the sharing of a suffering that is neither mine nor yours, a suffering that does not belong to us, but which gives us to one another, and in doing so both maintains and withdraws the beings so configured. [This community is] an exhilarating affirmation of chance, the will to be what befalls it but that its will could never produce. [2]

The word “suffering” looms large here as something abject in its negativity but it speaks to a wider experience that is folded within life itself; within the good and the bad; the trivial and the profound. (One of Blanchot’s primary examples is, hearteningly, “the community of lovers”.) From debt and dissertation stress to the political uncertainty that looms large over the institution and the world at large; from class trips and nights-out to exhibitions and those life-affirming moments of inspiration, the Photo Art community is one that exists through the necessity of navigating these various trials and triumphs together, starting with photography and moving continuously towards its outside. As such, this is not a photography course that wants to simply document the world and be cold to it — rather, it aims to make a world for itself to live in.

Maurice Blanchot, ending his book The Unavowable Community, asks if his thoughts have been worthwhile and I ask myself this question too, “given that each time we have talked about [this community’s] way of being, one has had the feeling that one grasped only what makes it exist by default? So, would it have been better to have remained silent?” [3] Not at all: this question of community — unique in each instance — must be asked so that it may be entrusted “to others, not that they may answer it, rather that they may choose to carry it with them, and, perhaps, extend it.” [4] It is here, in these requisite extensions, that Photo Art truly reveals itself.

Hopefully the event at which you will be holding this publication in your hands for the first time will be a testament to this, surrounded by students past and present who have travelled far and wide to say goodbye to a course that has shaped them far beyond the remit expected of any university course. It shall be missed… but this is not the end.

The community remains. The experience continues.

[1] Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. “The University And The Undercommons”. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013), pgs. 26-27. Harney and Moten write specifically on the role of the black radical tradition in this “beyond of teaching”, a foundation I do not wish to erase. What they refer to as the “undercommons” is a community of figures displaced and dispossessed within the particular systems of the modern American university. Whilst this resonates most explicitly on the fragile ground of contemporary black experience, to invoke their criticality here more generally, on the occasion of the final degree show and dissolution of this course, nonetheless feels appropriate.

[2] Jason Kemp Winfree. “The Contestation of Community” in The Obsessions of Georges Bataille: Community and Communication, eds. Andrew J. Mitchell and Jason Kemp Winfree. (New York: SUNY Press, 2009), pg. 41

[3] Maurice Blanchot. The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris. (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1988), pg. 56

[4] Ibid.

The Unacknowledged: Doctor Who Gets Brave

I never did give my verdict on the new series of Doctor Who. It only seemed fair to give it a few weeks to get into the swing of things. But also, none of the episodes so far really gave me much to say…

In general, I think this series is great. Compared to what we’ve put up with in recent years, it’s the breath of fresh air the show needed. A second reboot. No dumb overarching plot no one cares about,… In fact, very little that feels superfluous whatsoever. It’s a stripped-back Who and it’s been a long time coming after the televisual mud of recent years.

I think the show has gone back to its heart, as it was in the early years of the reboot, as a character-driven show. It’s not about endlessly retconning the Tumblt-baiting lore of the Doctor’s pasts and futures but rather it deals with the Doctor’s relationship to the humans in their charge and the difficulties of being a seemingly immortal alien with a love for fragile and all-too-human human life.

This episode was a case in point of what this series has managed to do so well. It focused specifically on Yaz, a young police officer from Sheffield of Pakistani heritage who asks to go spend time with her grandmother in 1950s Lahore. An initially reticent Doctor agreed but, of course, things don’t go according to plan. Yaz doesn’t quite get what she bargained for and ends up inadvertently exploring the secrets of her grandmother’s untold past — specifically, her controversial and tragically short-lived Hindu-Muslim first marriage, cut short as the family were caught up in the political violence of the partition of India in 1947.

I think this episode encapsulates everything I love and hate about this new series.

On the negative side, the script is frequently stunted, written like a script for stage rather than the screen, with character exits often feeling like they were ripped from a hammy panto, and this isn’t helped by moments of really wooden acting and sluggish editing, no doubt exacerbated by its new longer running time. It has the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster but remains stuck with the writing chops of Hollyoaks.

That’s being said, I’m reluctant to moan too much because it is such a massive improvement on the last few series and, to be honest, would Doctor Who even be Doctor Who if it wasn’t a little bit shit around the edges?

On the positive side, however, it’s taking risks in brand new ways. Whilst some have rolled their eyes at the show’s diversity and political correctness, it deals with genuinely interesting social implications around time-travel. A previous episode, aired during Black History Month, didn’t pull punches in its treatment of Ryan, the Doctor’s new young black companion, when he travelled back to a segregated American South, travelling on a bus with Rosa Parks.

This was genuinely interesting and educational TV for the whole family, taking the opportunity to explore very real moments in our recent history. Plus, I’d rather a show that mirrors the calendar of its airing than having a token trip to Victorian England every five episodes.But what is also notable is how these trips to our recent pasta needn’t be so stringently politically correct. In fact, last night’s episode was anything but, shown as it was on Armistice Day and the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

It would have been far too easy to have the Doctor don a poppy and go visit the trenches. Instead, the series chooses Armistice Day to orbit around some of England’s own recent atrocities. It’s not explicit, but it’s close enough.

In the episode’s central scene, the Doctor discovers that a pair of “demons” stalking Yaz’s ancestors are not intergalactic assassins disrupting history, as she first thinks. They are actually a previously hostile race of aliens that, having witnessed the wanton destruction of their own planet, now travel the universe to honour the unacknowledged and lonesome dead, bearing witness to those deaths which are not seen.

“Why here? Why now?”, the Doctor asks before answering her own question — the partition of British India, forming the republics of Pakistan and India, based loosely along the lines of religious majorities, resulting in a massive refugee crisis and a million dead.

Much blame for the upheaval is laid at Britain’s doorstep for rushing through the process as well as failing to anticipate the huge shifts in population. Little of this is explored in the episode itself — it’s only fleetingly hinted at in two separate lines of dialogue — but to show this episode at this time of year, when our media is so often gripped by a poppy-obsessed moralising hysteria, to point to the unromanticed and unacknowledged casualties of British incompetence outside Europe is quite a statement.

In light of all the initial hysteria in the run-up to this season about the fact the Doctor was becoming a woman, it’s commendable that the show has actually found itself some balls in the process.

It’s production faults aside, this is some brave telly.

Whatever Sells…

In the last year, an old bandmate and girlfriend, known as Cosey Fanni Tutti, accused P-Orridge in a memoir of being physically and emotionally abusive. P-Orridge said she had not seen the book, but denied the allegations. “Whatever sells a book sells a book,” she said.

I can’t believe what I’ve just read.

This new New York Times profile of Genesis P-Orridge is very cunning but this nod to an elephant in the room is so insultingly brief, I think the way it’s mentioned is perhaps worse than if it had not been mentioned at all.

Genesis is described as a manipulative, controlling and bitter person in Cosey’s book. Domestic violence escalates to what is effectively attempted murder.

Despite how that might sound, Cosey’s book is not sensationalist. Constructed in orbit of old diary entries, it’s a surreally objective book if anything, a sort of rememoir in which the past is looked upon anew by a very different person to the one who first wrote the entries that fuel it.

Accusations shared to sell a book? Cosey’s is not an autobiography of the #MeToo era. It’s not a politicised exposé. It’s the story of an extraordinary life, and one in which — even in her own words — Cosey is not presented as the central character, but rather as a vessel for strange events who is as bemused by her life as her readers might be.

What would Genesis’s autobiography be like? I can quite easily imagine.

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Cosey back stage in Hull before a Carter Tutti Void gig in 2017. We’d exchanged emails back in 2014 when, as a naive and unemployed resident of Hull, having a bit of a crisis with too much time on his hands, I threw myself into trying to singlehandedly organise a COUM Transmissions retrospective.

As far as I’m aware, I was the first person to publicly lobby for the idea but I was also very far from the best person to carry it forwards. My enthusiasm did get me further than even I had anticipated, however.

Unfortunately, I teamed up with the wrong people and it was a mess, but it seemed to provoke others into taking the suggestion seriously and doing it right, and that’s precisely what happened. Organised by The Quietus, the COUM Transmissions programme at the brand-new Humber Street art gallery was a dream come true for many.

When I introduced myself to Cosey back stage on the second opening weekend, I was greeted like an old friend by a woman of remarkable humility and generosity.

Her book hadn’t come out yet, at that time, but proofs were circulating. Genesis had come to Hull too and there was an anxiety amongst those in the know that having COUM members in the same room for the first time in decades might not actually be such a good idea…

Everyone was nervous about Gen…

A series of performances were scheduled: two solo sets, one each from Gen and Cosey. Cosey did about 40 minutes of improvised techno which felt fresh, forward-thinking, demonstrating a relentless and continuing trajectory of exploration and play. What I found must endearing was that, between each 3-4 minute techno vignette, she would look over her shoulder to Chris Carter, mouthing whether she’d filled up enough time yet. She seemed somewhat self-conscious but the crowd didn’t want it to end.

Genesis did a sort of spoken word performance over field recordings, ranting about memory, the Facebook generation, totally enamoured by the sound of their own voice. It was perhaps the most self-involved and pretentious thing I’ve ever seen — and I like going Café Oto…

It’s obvious to anyone that the Genesis described by Cosey is still the Genesis dining out on the story of their partner’s death today, walking around under a cloud of self-importance. They’ve passed it.

Give Cosey the credit and respect she’s long overdue.

Notes on the Communist Horizon as an Immanent Outside

Distinct thoughts are coalescing after last night’s now-embarrassing waste of energy on Twitter arguments. I always regret fanning the flames with so much oxygen the morning after and, obviously, it would only be worse to delete it later.

A very important side note from the Caves: “weaponise inattention”.

There was a point made, however — a mention of which is not intended as a provocation towards further pointless discussion; I’m not going to address it any further in any hellthreads — that Fisher and Dean both expressed a belief in the piety of party politics and so my own frequent and/or recent use of their work towards a politics of fragmentation is bad. The response I would give to this is useful only because I think it opens out onto a bunch of tandem debates, and one in particular witnessed in private channels which likewise speaks to some of the broader misunderstandings directed at U/ACC and Nyx’s G/ACC blackpaper.

The first thing to be said for Mark, of course, is that he was cunning with his exposures. More so than most. He wanted to publish Acid Communism with Verso because he wanted to be read by as many people as possible. Given a platform, he wanted to effect change, and he wanted to do this by smuggling the long trajectory of his thought — from the Ccru onwards, which he carried with him more or less in tact — into contemporaneous, popular and public debates. This is a tactic to which many might respond with cynicism but Mark was more than skilled enough to do it right.

He demonstrated this on many occasions, writing various essays for thinktanks and policy groups but, as has been explored on this blog countless times, to totalize his thinking around this late orbit of party politics nonetheless remains disingenuous. That’s the project that Jeremy Gilbert has taken upon himself with his deeply embarrassing “Acid Corbynism”.

Mark may have had a singular vision but he nonetheless sought to let it proliferate through innumerable cunning guises. I cannot proclaim to be any good at this myself, although it’s a thought to hold on to and likewise keep in mind as we proceed here.

On Jodi Dean, the related suggestion is that her book The Communist Horizon is a rallying cry for the reformation of a communist universalism and that my suggestion that she might be patchwoke is ridiculous. I do not think this is the case, primarily because to equate party politics with the totalism of a state politics is a misstep. Her universalism is, I’d argue, one of a folded inside and outside — and this is distinct from a reformed unitary totalisation of classic Marxism.

Revisiting other scattered essays by Dean, I came across an essay on the Paris Commune called “Commune, Party, State” in which she writes about the consistent problem of a “people divided” which haunts all attempts at a Marxist universalism. She writes:

Insofar as the people precede the state, analysis of the Commune event necessarily opens up to the people’s subjectification and to the political process of which the people are the subject. And insofar as the people politicized are people divided, a part of a constitutively open and incomplete set, the place from which the people are understood is necessarily partisan. The question of the party precedes the question of the state. Until we pose the party as a possibility, discussions of the state — of whether or not we should target or seize the state — are nothing more than fantasies that cloak failure as a choice: it’s not that we couldn’t take power; we just didn’t want to.

She continues:

Instead of solving a political problem, the Commune poses one: the sovereignty of the people. Is it possible and what forms can it take? The non-all character of the people has been a consistent sticking point in democratic theory. If the people are not a unity, how can they rule themselves? How can they speak or legislate? And how do we know? The theoretical discussions take place under various headings — foundings, constituent power, and the possibility of bringing something new into being.

She then goes on to address Marx’s initial argument for universality:

The revolutionary class gives its ideas “the form of universality” and represents these ideas “as the only rational, universally valid ones.” Marx explains, “The class making revolution emerges at the outset simply because it is opposed to a class not as a class but as a representative of the whole of society.” This is the sense in which class struggle is a political struggle. Rather than determined within the economic conditions in which class confronts class as two distinct forces with particular interests, the class making revolution represents its interests as general over and against the particular will of the oppressing class.

Communicative capitalism presents such an argument with a whole range of new problems in that the universal representation of the will of a society is exploited by social media and intensified through echo chambers, making the reality of the problem of the people all too traumatic when the necessary illusion of Leftist universality is revealed, most often at the polls, to be a lie. Preempting this somewhat, Dean addresses the imperfect reality of what otherwise resembles a sound Marxist strategy:

Marxist theory doesn’t escape the problem of the people. Whether as the limits of working class struggle in trade union consciousness, the failure of the masses to revolt, or the betrayal of elitist, authoritarian vanguard parties, Marxist theory and communist movement run up against the disorganized, disagreeable, divided people. The people resist and evade the very forms on which their political subjectivity depends. When it appears, which isn’t often, the movement for the majority isn’t necessarily in the immediate interest of the majority. Since they can never be fully present, no revolution or revolutionary movement can actually be that of the people. It will always entail the imposition of the ideas of some upon the many.

Without wanting to succumb to too close a reading of Dean’s essay — I have too much ground to cover and too little time — I will jump to her conclusion in which she writes that what is required for a revolutionary party politics is a more nuanced proposition of political form, and we should be clear that a form is not the same as totality. Form is appearance, not the thing in itself. As such, I think Dean’s communism is useful to a patchwork thinking that does not (immediately) equate party with state-government-in-waiting and is attuned to the necessarily fragmented politics of gender, race, et al. that classical Marxism has often failed to account for. (I’m reminded here of Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism which I’ve been reading a bit of lately.)

Patchwork, in this way, is a new form given to what Dean calls “the challenge of responding to the opening the active crowd produces, in the consequences of the gap effected by the crowd for organizing the people.” And so, as Dean’s essay concludes, echoing further arguments made by patchwork bloggers:

At stake is not the specificity of a form of government, municipal or national. Nor is it a matter of the legitimacy of elections, representatives, or decisions. Instead it concerns the movement from class, to people, to party, the movement at stake in politicization. The stakes of this movement, moreover, are not those of substitution, vanguardism, or domination — they are arrangements of intensity, courage, and will. The relation of the people to the party is a question of organization in the context of those who might steer the people against themselves, making them a means of a revolution not their own.

The last glimpse of such a moment was undoubtedly the Occupy protests and the Arab Spring and the other events that defined the early 2010s.  As such, the final chapter of Dean’s 2012 book, The Communist Horizon, is filled with hope for the prospects of Occupy. However, this is an optimism that essays such as “Communicative Capitalism and Class Struggle” partially repudiate and adapt.

Yes, Occupy and the Arab Spring did suggest a revitalisation of collective action which the left had seemingly lost sight of, but what she later goes on to address is the way that this collective action was ultimately impotent precisely because of capitalism’s capture of communications technologies, originally heralded as revolutionary tools but later understood as missed opportunities that have only extended the reach of capitalism’s apparatuses of capture. What we were witnessing was not a new localism or a new attempt at creating a totalising force against an oppressive Big Other — which, if that was initially the case, has since failed — but the dynamics of a global class struggle; of fragmentary oppositional struggles unfolding at different speeds and intensities.

As such, many of the issues with Dean’s 2012 book echo those of Jameson’s Marxism, previously discussed and framed as now somewhat outdated due to their lack of relevance the current form that capitalism has taken, but her concept of a “Communist horizon” still holds water and in much the same way that Jameson’s “cognitive mapping” does, so long as you don’t give it a one-dimensional reading that seems stuck in the previous decade(s).

Dean defines her concept of a “communist horizon” as follows:

I use “horizon” not to recall a forgotten future but to designate a dimension of experience that we can never lose, even if, lost in a fog or focused on our feet, we fail to see it. The horizon is Real in the sense of impossible — we can never reach it — and in the sense of actual (Jacques Lacan’s notion of the Real includes both these senses). The horizon shapes our setting. We can lose our bearings, but the horizon is a necessary dimension of our actuality. Whether the effect of a singularity or the meeting of earth and sky, the horizon is the fundamental division establishing where we are.

This “fundamental division” that establishes where we are echoes the practical usage of Jameson’s biopolitical mindfulness, but what it is most important to emphasise here, I think, is the way in which she frames the communist horizon as a “dimension of experience”.

The Outside that Dean is implicitly describing is precisely the kind of immanent Outside that Nyx’s describes in her G/ACC blackpaper. To see this horizon as a tool for subsuming the outside into a totalizing framework is the worst of readings. Just as Nyx writes that it is “the logic of gender to subsume the Outside into a binarist framework that de-legitimizes the Outside”, the same can be said of a political thought which treats a totalizing thought as a unitary thought and I do not think this is what Dean is doing in framing the horizon in this way.

The horizon is not a lack but a productive void, if we treat it right.

The great line demarcating outside from inside assigns interiority to time and exteriority to the non-time of eternity via a spatial horizon. A definitionally beautiful misconception of the topology of time, but a misconception nonetheless. [via]

This thinking about an immanent outside was discussed recently in the Caves, via Anna Greenspan’s PhD thesis which some cave-dwellers are working their way through. Amy offered a quote from her essay “The Alien Inside” as a way to clarify how Greenspan’s idea of an immanent outside functions in philosophy.

Just as this blog has sought to articulate, on occasion, a communist ontology of difference, Amy speaks to the communist horizon as a “dimension of experience” when she writes that each “human subject of experience is understood as carrying an irreducible exteriority at its heart, an obscure motor that processes all experience, determining yet indeterminable — the immanent abstraction of temporal succession grasped as a personal (yet universal) alien interloper.” What is this if not a horizon — the form of which is determined as much by the interiority of your immediate location and perspective as it is by any exteriority. If this sounds familiar, it’s because I’m written a number of times about Bataille and Blanchot — my two main dudes — explicitly referring to this “irreducible exteriority” at the heart of experience as a form of communism.

Just as Fisher writes of the “inside as a folding of the outside”, the immanent outside of communism’s horizon becomes a form of seeing where we are, a cognitive mapping that is not Cartesian but immanent to its surroundings. Amy again:

Our problem is not the externalised difference of the inhuman outsider — the dissimulating alien, the duplicitous fairy, the illegal immigrant, the all-too-human machine, whatever name one gives it (it wants nothing more than for you to name it) — it is our inability to grasp the illusion of integrality in the first place. If we refuse to rid ourselves of the narcissistic compulsion to draw the contours of difference from an illusory model of identity and, correspondingly, to fear difference, a construction roughly equating ‘intrinsic humanity’ could indeed be thrown up.

Just as capitalism, so writes Marcuse, has given itself a “biological foundation”, we may find that the disruption of our supposedly “intrinsic humanity” unsettles far more than we might have bargained for, such is Nyx’s argument that the dissolution of the unitary subject into a feminized zero will occasion fateful consequences for patriarchy and nation-state.

These ideas are not alien to U/ACC and its futures. They are its foundation.


as I am without a doubt one of the reductive “gobshites” Xenogoth whines about making the “demand that [blog theory] must be applicable to all bases, needs, demographics and interests” in the form of a “rigorous Total Theory,” my only response is [1] to repeat Jameson’s point from the cognitive mapping essay: if you give up on developing a total response to totalizing capital, you have absolutely fucking nothing to say that’s remotely anti-capitalist or useful for anyone on the Left [2]

Ah yes, there’s me told. Good luck trying to counter the totalising nature of capital. I’m sure that will go really well.

I was reading this article recently on David Harvey by Simon Springer called “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Anarchist? Rejecting Left Unity and Raising Hell in Radical Geography“. It’s a pretty bad article, to be honest. Caring little about Harvey and having no idea who Springer is, it seemed like little more than a chronicle of all the airing of their dirty laundry, published randomly on some website that is otherwise about interesting stuff. However, underneath all the mudslinging there’s an interesting and all too familiar dynamic at play: an anarchist struggling against a totalitarian academic Marxist.

The personalities and lame particulars of their blog-fighting aside, it’s a familiar scenario. U/ACC and its offshoots, each undeniably coloured by anarchism, always seem to piss off classic Marxists, who just love to weigh in on any position that comes from a leftist perspective that is not their own, supposedly defending the voices of those left unspoken for, even if it means shouting down someone articulating their own marginalised experience, as if no fragment can be allowed to threaten their near-theological whole. Hence “total(itarian)isation”.

This distinction of an “academic” Marxism, I should clarify, is not to make vague and superficial assumptions about an individual’s education but it is rather a rough distinction that is surely necessary even if badly named — lest we forget: there’s plenty of Marxism in U/ACC too.

Jameson’s “cognitive mapping” is a case in point of this odd brand of impotent Marx — an inherently contemplative argument that pays lip service to Marxist praxis — but there are plenty more problems with it besides.

Many of them are related to topics already explored on this blog recently — primarily. the problem of using maps and mapping as analogies for totalisations which inevitably reduce abstractions to their illusionary appearances.

Cognitive mapping, for Jameson, is a means to an end of disalienation. It is best understood as a sort of biopolitical mindfulness — a consideration of your situatedness within an imagined totality as a way to better anchor yourself.

The suggestion seems to be that cognitive mapping, in reaffirming the limits of the subject, may aid disalienation as this newly reformed internal totality is transposed onto the subject’s outside, just as mindfulness teaches self-awareness of personal bodily flows so that you might resituate yourself in the external flows that we are blown about by.

That is not the same as constructing a totality to fight a totality, as Crane suggests. In fact, reading Jameson properly, G/ACC is precisely an example of cognitive mapping in practice, albeit in the pursuit of a radical alienation rather than its remedy.

In this way, as Jameson considers the enclosure of an alienated city, Nyx instead considers the vast abrupt of an indifferent universe, acknowledging the limits of a practice of mapping at this scale to be impotent (in more ways than one) and doubling down on a zero-centric revolutionary feminine subject which dissipates itself, undermining nation-state and subject, those bastard wholes.

Is the point of Jameson’s essay really to affirm those wholes instead? If yes, Crane’s suggestion that anything to the contrary has nothing to say to the left is just another mistake of his cognitive mapping of his own political position. There is far more to the left beyond his reductive horizon.

The differences don’t stop there of course. Jameson also draws frequently on Lacan here, a figure Nyx is no doubt attempting to usurp from received analyses in her refutation of zero-as-lack. Jameson, instead, draws on Lacan to address the discourse of subjective capture that has orbited this blog recently as well. My own position remains — soon to be expanded — that the Left cannot hope to totalise capital before their map is captured and exploited by a system which will proceed to adapt itself further still, always one step ahead. As such, what is communicative capitalism if not the very capture and cooption of our mapping capabilities?

To approach Jameson, boil him down so disingenuously, ejecting all dated problematics and jump to “build a total to fight a total” is simply an expansion of the disingenuousness that some corners of Twitter have insisted to laying at Nyx’s feet, repeating the same bad arguments and inverted moralities, consistently refusing to address her text on its own terms and instead bringing to the table a total(itarian)ism that G/ACC already preempts and violently rejects.

Crane might continue to use the same tactic with me, dismissing a thought based on an anarchist antifascism as being somehow antileftist in favour of a repugnant insistent on totalising — that’s fine, if incredibly hypocritical.

As Springer likewise details in his own experience, there’s nothing some Marxists like doing more than making blasphemers out of those who reject to the total(itarian)ising of political theory.

It’s all too predictable and, at this stage, all too ineffective.

Addendum: The rebuttal seems to be “But Jameson said equating totalising thought with totalitarian thought is dumb!” As a rule, most definitely, but not in this instance. Jameson wasn’t talking about anarchism when he said that. To use this thought against a fragmentary feminism aimed at patriarchy and nation-state seems like a very convenient reading of Jameson to excuse what remains — in its superficial Twitter deployment — a total(itarian)ism.

The brackets are important — smuggling an action into its disavowal is the definition of a disingenuousness that has polluted the timeline in recent days.

I’m going back to muting gobshites.

All Roads Lead to Alienation: Melancholy and Communicative Capitalism

I had a conversation with lēves last week on WhatsApp about the pros and cons of various messaging services…

Whilst she had her preferences, I was resolutely more… “disenfranchised”…

To my mind, how best to communicate feels like the ultimate generational problem these days. How many times have you asked yourself something along the lines of: “How do I opt out of this social media hellscape without my actual social life taking a hit?”; “How do I reject the alienation of social media without becoming even more alienated?”

These are interesting, if infuriating, problems — not just for users of these platforms but for those who have built them as well. Facebook is, of course, the most obvious example. As it continues with its efforts towards world domination, consolidating a whole variety of platforms and features under its monolithic “F”, it seems that — surprise, surprise! — many people don’t actually want everything they do online to be consolidated under a single platform. (The difficulty of establishing this gradually in the West has not stopped the company pitching it wholesale elsewhere.)

The more Facebook tries to connect people, the more people criticise the platform’s tandem attempts at monopolisation, undermining the fragmentary principles — “high connectivity, low integration” — that the internet was supposedly built on. Whilst older generations nonetheless continue to flock to Facebook as a Friends Reunited substitute, many younger people have been turning their backs on the enforced ubiquity of its various societal uses, particularly in light of its data misusage debacles.

I made the decision to “opt out” of Facebook quite recently but what has horrified me about the process of making this decision is that I was unable to “opt out” absolutely.

Since initially (but not very consistently) shirking off my meatspace identity for this blog, my relationship with Facebook has fundamentally changed. It is no longer something that I need for social networking — in fact, I’ve found the benefits of posting without a face to be innumerable — but it nonetheless remains a platform that I continue to need solely for work.

Until very recently, I spent a lot of time doing freelance work which required me to run a pretty big Facebook page with thousands of “likes”, using it to upload events and respond to various enquiries and things like that. I’ve done this a few times in the past. In fact, I’ve done a fair amount of consulting work related to digital media, advising arts organisations and universities on how best to build up and use web platforms in interesting and perhaps unfashionable ways, recommending blogs rather than social media accounts — I have always been an advocate for the blogosphere — as alternatives twhich allow staff and/or student bodies to have more control over how they represent themselves online: blogs as platforms for workers, not just marketing departments and CEOs.

Case in point: having run a blog for the entirety of my undergrad years — and for some years before — I was asked by my course leader in my third year to set one up for the course itself to function as a multipurpose online space run by and for students. Part student newspaper, part newsletter, it took off once I graduated and became a place where the staff could show off their activities to prospective students whilst the students used it as a space to post irreverent opinion pieces and exhibition reviews. It was brilliant — institutionally practical (ensuring its survival) whilst also challenging expectations. Unfortunately, it died with the course itself.

Blogs like this made a lot more sense 10 years ago than they do today. These days, blogs are seen as being a bit cumbersome and old-hat — laying the foundations for fully-functioning websites in and of themselves rather than being additional nodes for diffuse representation and communication. Instead, social media now reigns supreme as the only way to connect with “your audience”.

When I now dabble with digital media, for work rather than play, Facebook is almost always the first thing I end up working with, meaning that it has stopped being an escape from work into procrastination and instead become wholly associated with work in and of itself. (I have misused Twitter far too much for this to ever be the case for that platform. It’s too easily corruptible.)

It’s not unlike that age-old problem with emails. Who answers their personal emails in a timely manner anymore? No one — especially if its what you already do at work all day. Now it seems like this problem has spread, like a virus, as media monopolies continuously mutate, in a constant state of flux and disarray, vying for attention and encouraging the most bizarre behaviour and habits. It’s as if Facebook has some sort of autoimmune disease, a victim of its own success as a carrier for digital viruses.

Of course, none of this will be news to anyone working in these areas today — most will no doubt know far more than I do about these sorts of trends — but it tells us something about where we’ve been and where we’re going, somewhat imperceptibly.

I found all of these thoughts and experiences coalescing together as lēves and I discussed how best to stay in touch with one another in the coming months, trying to balance out seemingly conflicting desires for personal connection and digital disconnection.

After our conversation, I ended up turning to Jodi Dean’s writings on “communicative capitalism” — a term of hers that I think deserves far more attention that it has so far received (as far as I’m aware), not least because, in recognising how common these conversations are in my own life, it feels like an apt and under-explored arena for consciousness-raising.

Communicative capitalism, in the simplest terms, is Dean’s name for capitalism’s newest obsession: data. For Dean, capitalism in the early 21st century has parasitically attached itself to our communicative technologies with such success that it has found new and unprecedented forms of libidinal engineering and cultural subjection.

I’ve written about Jodi Dean’s work a few times in recent years, although I’m not sure if much of that — or any of it — has made its way onto the blog. I was specifically interested in her writings via her influence on Mark Fisher. In a number of lectures and talks, Fisher would speak generally about the rise and further rise of the smart phone as, primarily, a device for communication but one which continues to infiltrate all areas of our lives as an almost transhumanist capitalist appendage.

In his short talk “Practical Eliminativism”, Mark would not mince words:

The constitution of our subjectivity in everyday life is the product of various forms of engineering and manipulation; the reality in which we are invited to live is constructed by PR and corporations, is a form of libidinal informational engineering. So I think this mandates a kind of counter-engineering practice that must be undertaken. … [W]e’ve seen massive behavioural mutations of the human population in the last decade. But they’re turning towards banal ends, such as Facebook, smartphones, etc. What you’re seeing are behavioural tics that have passed through a population, i.e. looking at a screen, digital twitch, etc. These behaviours were not in place ten to fifteen years ago; it was impossible for them to be in place. Now they are ubiquitous.

He continues:

… mainstream culture has become increasingly reduced to folk psychological interiority. Whether it’s reality tv or social networks, people have been captured/captivated by their own reflections. It’s all done with mirrors. The various attacks on the subject in theory have done nothing to resist the super-personalization of contemporary culture. Identitarianism rules. Queer theory might reign in the academy, but it has done nothing to halt the depressing return of gender normativity in popular culture and everyday life. Elements of ‘leftist’ politics not only collude in, but actively organise this rampant identitarianism, corralling groups into ’communities’ defined according to the categories of power: a Foucauldian dystopia. … [I]ncreasingly cultural time is taken up with forms which, at the psychological level, mirror people back to themselves in the most banal possible kind of manifest image. The question now is whether a certain kind of defacialization can be recovered — whether a practical, not merely theoretical, eliminativist project can be resumed, and whether we can start getting out of our faces again.

It is all too easy to hear Mark’s critique here in the voice of a luddite moralism, decrying millennial narcissism. The myth of Echo and Narcissus is most certainly applicable here, but the message is rather that resistance is futile. The tragic conditions of both Echo and Narcissus are imposed on all. Self-love has nothing to do with it. It rather describes the conditions under which subjectivity is formed, through which a subject forcibly ricochets off its own image as its strives impotently for its outside. It is the very basis of subjection under communicative capitalism, all too readily dismissed as a fault of the individual who is only acting according to widespread social imposition.

I’m reminded here of Bataille’s various writings on “communication” in which he wonders about the ways that we can’t help but debase ourselves before each other, undermining our own idealisms of the subjective whole.

Communication, for Bataille, is inherently evil. It is an absolute necessity for being but it is also inherently violent. It is predicated on conflict. Communication, in this way, is a constant challenge to the Idea of the subject as an intact and bordered entity. Communication is the constant piercing of subjects by other subjectivities. It is not limited to language in its form but rather flows from the outside continuously, even in our silences. It is like smoke out the exhaust of inner experience, ruining itself, outside itself. To remedy the onslaught with absolute isolation is to sit in your garage with the engine running. You won’t stop “communication”, you’ll just suffocate on it.


This is likewise an analogy applicable, I think, to the alienation of social media. Under communicative capitalism, communication itself is captured. All our talk of echo chambers and identity politics simply marks the various ways that the subject wrecks itself on its own shores rather than on the shores of others. It is constituted by communication made profitable through the mechanisms of a kind of human centipede. To capture communication is to render it toxic to itself. What is needed, perhaps, is a return to the evil of communication as Bataille described it.

For Bataille, communication does not submit to the structure imposed on it by linguists (sender, receiver, message, etc.); it destroys this structure. It is never the transmission of a message existing independently, as a signified, between two subjects whose identity remains intact and untouched by the process: communication is loss of self in the absence of message on both sides…

With regards to this, I hear cynical echoes from Twitter and the blogosphere that wonder, incredulously, why Accelerationism is even still a thing. If you look around you, all we’re doing is slowing down. This is certainly true of the forms of capitalism we’re now all too familiar with. As far as communicative capitalism is concerned, it seems like we’re only just becoming aware that the brakes have been cut.

To return to Fisher: in order to get out of our faces again, he argues that we must resist the apparatuses of capture embedded within our communications technologies. This is why, for Fisher and for Dean, the smartphone is the primary instantiation of a Marcusean “biological foundation” for communicative capitalism; the most visible example of how the libido has been most recently engineered for capital’s benefit.

The question nevertheless remains: How are we to get out of our faces again when faciality is today more forcibly imposed on us than ever before?

This is not a new challenge although it has been entrenched ever deeper. Herbert Marcuse, in his brilliant Essay on Liberation, even predicts it, way back in the 1960s, presaging the new materialism of Deleuze and Guattari by conflating a Nietzschean genealogy of morality with a Freudian analysis of our civilisation’s discontents. Marcuse writes:

Once a specific morality is firmly established as a norm of social behaviour, it is not only introjected — it also operates as a norm of “organic” behaviour: the organism receives and reacts to certain stimuli and “ignores” and repels others in accord with the introjected morality, which is thus promoting or impeding the function of the organism as a living cell in the respective society. In this way, a society constantly re-creates, this side of consciousness and ideology, patterns of behaviour and aspiration as part of the “nature” of its people, and unless the revolt reaches into this “second” nature, into these ingrown patterns, social change will remain “incomplete,” even self-defeating.

I didn’t appreciate just how much I felt this before, struggling with my own bemused pursuit of a politics of communist collectivity, inevitably trapped under the mask of neoliberal subjectivity. I had not previously connected Dean’s analyses to the constant low-level depression that Facebook, specifically, has fostered within me as a major part of my working life. I had not previously considered just how complicit so many of my interests and daily activities are in this overarching system. And what about this blog? Does it teeter on the edge on the hypocrisy as its audience continues to grow?…

Following this melancholic crisis and returning to Dean’s writings, I came across an article of hers which I wasn’t previously familiar with: “Communicative Capitalism and Class Struggle“, a 2014 essay written for the Spheres Journal for Digital Cultures.

Dean has written about communicative capitalism a lot and I’m always amused by how many of her essays include multiple footnotes to her own previous works. Here, quoted for the sake of further clarity, drawing on her own vast back catalogue of other writings on the topic, she defines “communicative capitalism” as follows:

Communicative capitalism refers to the form of late capitalism in which values heralded as central to democracy materialize in networked communications technologies. Ideals of access, inclusion, discussion and participation are realized through expansions, intensifications and interconnections of global telecommunications. In communicative capitalism, capitalist productivity derives from its expropriation and exploitation of communicative processes. This does not mean that information technologies have replaced manufacturing; in fact, they drive a wide variety of mining, chemical, and biotechnological industries. Nor does it mean that networked computing has enhanced productivity outside the production of networked computing itself. Rather, it means that capitalism has subsumed communication such that communication does not provide a critical outside. Communication serves capital, whether in affective forms of care for producers and consumers, the mobilization of sharing and expression as instruments for “human relations” in the workplace, or contributions to ubiquitous media circuits.

This is what we all inherently know, deep down — and now more than ever, following the data scandals of recent years. “Communication serves capital“.

Dean’s analysis begins to feel like a tightrope between those aspects of modernity that are so hard to think about: the occulted yet monstrous scale of our communcations networks and their co-opting of the minutiae of our quotidian online existences. Rather than jettisoning the problematics of “platform capitalism” out into the barely thinkable scale of “Big Data”, communicative capitalism allows us to consider, practically, just how complicit our daily communications now are in capitalism as a global system, allowing for the initiation of practices of consciousness raising immanently at our fingertips. The task of resistance, however, is not to be underestimated.

Mark wrote about this in his essay “Touchscreen Capture”:

The genius of communicative capitalist capture is that it is indifferent to content. It doesn’t care how many anti-capitalist messages are circulating, only that the circulation of messages continues, incessantly. This is a seemingly perfect system of capture in which “[c]hanging the system seems to entail strengthening the system.” One consequence is that an “invidious and predatory political-economic project that concentrates assets and power in the hands of the very, very rich” is disguised as its opposite: an open, participatory system that offers increased access. By this sleight of hand, structural antagonism is made to disappear, “multiplying … into myriad minor issues and events”. And what is it that drives this circulation if not our desire — one more connection, to give one more reply, to keep on clicking? […] It is not human groups or individuals who have access to an unlimited wealth of information; it is capitalist cyberspace that now has virtually unlimited access to us — to our nervous systems, to our appetites, to our energy, to our attention. We become a channel through which communicative capitalism circulates and proliferates, slaves to click drive, a drive which erodes our impulse control at the same time as it keeps a permanent record of everything we do.

Such is the minefield of personal-political problems that so many of us now openly and articulately struggle with. My 2018, for instance, feels defined by the guilt associated with the impact of my messaging (or lack thereof) on a localised scale; the guilt of wanting more control over my cognitive expenditures.

I am repeatedly blindsided by the guilt of not being as attentive as I perhaps should be to the messages I receive on social media or in my inbox. I’m always paranoid that people must think, “Well, you spend so much time blogging, why can’t you just look at an email or a Facebook message since you’re already online?” The answer is — genuinely — because it’s work.

This isn’t to go so far as to dismiss texting as some kind of “emotional labour” or anything like that — “emotional labour” being a phrase so frequently and incorrectly deployed, as if its mere use, signifying the act of pointing and naming cognitive expenditure, is enough to wriggle free from ubiquitous processes of subjection. In fact, I suspect that what I feel is so common as to no doubt have helped birth this very misuse of the concept of “emotional labour” — that is: as far as my brain is concerned, at the most basic Pavlovian level, communications technologies have dissolved any healthy distinction between the cognitive work I do in an office or during set hours at home and what I do when I’m at home on my own time, interacting with people not in my immediate vicinity.

And that’s bad, especially when these are now the only ways in which I can stay in touch with some of those people that I love but who live far away.

Related to this, we can observe that Dean makes clear that she is only talking about “affective forms of care for producers and consumers, the mobilization of sharing and expression as instruments for ‘human relations’ in the workplace, or contributions to ubiquitous media circuits”, but who can draw the line between those communiques made under the watchful eye of an office manager and those which you do at home? Communicative capitalism infects your superego, making any technical distinction moot. How are you supposed to set boundaries for yourself when technology insists on erasing them completely?

To feel the benefits of time off, of time to myself, I personally feel like I have to be (communicatively) off the radar. This has never been a necessity for me before, and sometimes it wanes when I’m out in the middle of nowhere.

During the most recent years I spent living in Hull, for instance, Twitter was my lifeline to the rest of the world. London, however, feels like a city where you are constantly buffeted around like trash in the wind, and I am often desperate here in wanting to feel like I have more control over what occupies my mind.

In orbit of this problem, Fisher goes on to address similar concerns in “Touchscreen Capture”, drawing on the politics of boredom, best encapsulated by his subheading: “Everything is Boring, No-One is Bored.” He writes that “capitalism has effectively solved the problem of boredom” but with that comes a lack of control over your own (over)stimulation. The suggestion seems to be: how can you be sad or anxious when everything you could ever want is at your fingertips? Running parallel to this is “neoliberalism’s successful tendency to privatise stress, to convert political antagonisms into medical conditions or failures of will.” The neoliberal logic of inner experience seems to be that mental illness, taken to be an individual deficiency, is obviously antithetical to our current age of cultural collective abundance, even when the causes of both are one and the same.

Dean puts it perfectly — so perfectly, in fact, I think I want this on a t-shirt — when she writes:

[C]ommunication has become a primary means for capitalist expropriation and exploitation. Linguistic, affective, and unconscious being-together, flows and processes constitutive not just of being human but of broader relationality and belonging, have been co-opted for capitalist production.

My personal politics — apparently sometimes unclear — revolve intensely around this last point.

Some eagle-eyed readers might recognise in this diagnosis the seeds for many an argument made in orbit of the patchwork debate around these parts. I’m reminded, yet again, of some of Justin Murphy’s recent writings and discussions around communism in which (perhaps intentionally or inadvertently — it’s hard to tell) he highlights the fateful confluences of much contemporary thinking about capitalism and communism.

“Actually existing communism”, understood in its supposedly pure form as the ontopolitical opposite of capitalism, is paradoxically more possible now than ever before, thanks to the very mechanisms of communicative capitalist capture and its harnessing of collective energies. Justin, in recognising this, seeks to follow it through to its logical conclusions. The acceleration of the status quo under the guise of a nonexistent radical intervention, like accelerationism popularly (and incorrectly) understood as the willful acceleration of things as they currently are.

Defining communism basically as “a theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs”, we might observe that it is communicative capitalism that seeks to own our communities, empowering us superficially so that it might mine the noise we make for its own ends as we suffocate in our social vacuums. Too few of us admit that our visions of a 21st century communism are inherently useful for capitalism.

Were it not for the political upsets of the past two years, Facebook might have instantiated a form of communism like that which we see in the 2017 film The Circle, blogged about recently, echoing Justin Murphy’s own “aristocratic communist” patch. Communicative capitalism allows for the reemergence of the spectre of communism in the popular imagination, but only on capitalism’s own terms, instantiating a communist ideology that remains self-defeating, albeit in a new way than those instances that indelibly mark the theory’s history.

Patchwork (as I personally see it anyway) is like a jagged rock to communicative capitalism’s birth canal hall of mirrors. This might explain why it provokes such untold and superstitious terrors in the minds of many, but drastic measures are surely necessary to reclaim a politics of relationality and belonging from capitalism’s consolidated mimicry of leviathan.

Whilst the Left continues to talk so much about being-together and the feel-good politics of its historically communal (and sometimes communist) thought, it repeatedly fails to attend to the forms in which it presents these ideals, under the shadow of capitalism as its historical “oppressor”. Patchwork might likewise cunningly echo the movements of some capitalist mechanisms but they are decisively less about capture and more about breaking of the chains of subjection.

Here, it is worth backtracking somewhat, to how Dean’s previously referenced article starts: provocatively, with a roll call of examples that show just how necessary our thinking about the nuances of communicative capitalism is, not just so we might resist it but so that we might better understand what it is exactly that we are already rebelling against:

We have entered the first phase of the revolt of the knowledge class. The protests associated with the Occupy movement, Chilean student protests, the Montreal protests, European anti-austerity protests, some components of the protests of the Arab spring, as well as multiple ongoing and intermittent strikes of teachers, civil servants, and medical workers all over the world, are protests of those proletarianized under communicative capitalism. These are not struggles of the multitude, struggles for democracy, or struggles specific to local contexts. Nor are they merely the defensive struggles of a middle class facing cuts to social services, wage stagnation, unemployment, and declining home values. They are fronts in a class war under the conditions of global communicative capitalism.

Mainstream media babble about Facebook and Twitter revolutions was right, but for the wrong reasons. It was right to draw our attention to networked media, to suggest a link between the protests and ubiquitous communication networks. But it was wrong to think that protests are occurring because people can easily coordinate with social media, that they are primarily struggles for democracy, or that they are indications of a push for freedom on the part of networked individuals. These revolts make sense as class struggle, as the political struggle of a knowledge class whose work is exploited and lives are expropriated by communicative capitalism.

I am using the term knowledge class very broadly to designate those whose communicative activities generate value that is expropriated from them. I have in mind both the wide field of knowledge labor and the voluntary, unpaid, everyday activities of media use that are traced, stored, aggregated and analyzed as a proprietary resource for capitalist accumulation. Paid, unpaid and precarious labor should not be treated separately. As Enda Brophy and Greig de Peuter powerfully demonstrate, they constitute a “circuit of exploitation”. Brophy and de Peuter use the smartphone to articulate this labor circuit, making sense of it in terms of work typical of a “cybertariart”. The “circuit of exploitation” around the smartphone moves from extraction, assembly and design through mobile-work, support-work, and e-waste.

It’s a bleak outlook but she concludes by highlighting the most obvious other forms of resistance that so many engage already with, many examples of which are explored in these blogospheric parts on an almost daily basis:

[F]ragmentation, the use of images over demands, and being out of doors, are not remarkable tactical innovations and advances. They are practical responses to a setting in which our communicative engagements are expropriated from us.

There’s use for a patchwoke U/Acc yet.

Ed Berger Under Fire: A Hellthread

Twitter has been home to more hellthreads than usual in recent weeks but we saw a milder and more productive one forged today, much like the Applied Ballardianism and Accelerationism debate, which was hellish only for being so difficult to follow.

Having spent a lot of time throwing gasoline on the more explosive hellthreads in recent weeks, Crane emerged earlier today with a monster thread that seems more in-depth and thought out, challenging Ed’s recent work on his blog.

It’s an interesting thread, for sure, although — no doubt predictably — I can’t say I agree with Crane’s position. The basis of his critique seems to be a mischaracterisation of genericised Acc positions whilst the rest of it is stuff that I’m sure most in the Acc sphere already agree with, albeit here framed as something new and antithetical to what most believe…

It’s a difficult Twitter read and so, as is somewhat customary on this blog by now as I take on the self-appointed role as cybrarian of hellthreads, here is the conversation in full for posterity along with Ed’s later responses.

(It’s also worth noting that, towards the end, Ed promises a new long-form essay due in the next issue of ŠUM so make sure you look out for that.)

a thread on the recent, brilliant, but, I think, ultimately mistaken work by

I argue Ed, like other accers, has an impoverished theory of the relation b/w (collective) knowledge & action from Fisher’s Spinozist pov. B/c of that, his acc ends bourgeoise revisionism. [1]

Pace Ed, I don’t think ‘capitalist realism’ “is wholly distinct from the sort of picture drawn by the accelerationists.” Like my disagreements with other accelerationists, I disagree with the relationship (or lack thereof) between knowledge and action in Ed’s work. [2]

Ed claims that to claim acc = capitalist realism, the claimant would have to argue for a version of voluntarism, according to which capital would be a priori subject to human intentions (and currently run by a malicious Oz-like ‘man behind the curtain’) [3]

Ed conflates voluntarism and agency. As Fisher himself says, however, voluntarism is an obstacle to agency. In this review of Bakker’s neuropath, Fisher claims even neuro-determinism could be a collectively emancipating form of knowledge. [4] In the ‘Marxist Supernanny’ conclusion to Capitalist Realism, Fisher even calls for “resuscitating the very concept of a general will,” which manifests in his other work in the notion of a ‘general intellect’ as the proletarian consciousness capable of mobilizing against capital [5] Fisher, from the Neuropath review: “Certainly, there are no a priori reasons why Malabou’s question “what should we do with our brain?” should not be answered collectively, by a General Intellect free to experiment on itself.” [6]

This stems from Fisher’s thoroughgoing Spinozism, which is lost in Ed’s reconstruction of capitalist realism. To use Deleuzian language, capitalist realism separates us from what we can do. It does this by naturalizing & setting capital at a scale beyond collective agency [7] If ‘Capitalist Realism’ (CR) as Fisher defines it is as ideological obstacle to imagining alternatives to capitalism before it destroys the world, Ed’s accelerationism is CR insofar as it’s an obstacle to imagining *collectively actionable* alternatives to capital [8] In his ‘Marxist Supernanny’ k-punk post, Fisher writes: “A mature, rational anti-capitalist politics needs to be able to think beyond the phantasms of the family, to imagine an abstract public space not embodied in the figure of a facialized individual.” [9]

Where I diverge from Ed revolves around the issue of the human, and how humanism is best overcome. Ed appears to register to Land’s capital=inhuman formula when he writes that capital can only ‘escape’ if it sheds its human face. [10] Like Fisher, however, I think this is a fundamentally mistaken eschatological picture of capitalism. Here’s Fisher in CR, disabusing us of the illusion that capital is undergoing a process of ‘purification’ to the extent that it can do without human ‘sheathing’:

“One of the problems of Land’s position is also what is most interesting about it: precisely that it posits a ‘pure’ capitalism, a capitalism which is only inhibited and blocked by extrinsic, rather than internal, elements (according to Land’s logic, these elements and atavisms that will eventually be consumed and metabolised by Capital). Yet capitalism cannot be ‘purified’ in this way; strip away the forces of anti-production and capitalism disappears with them. Similarly, there is no progressive tendency towards an ‘unsheathing’ of capitalism, no gradual unmasking of Capital as it ‘really’ is: rapacious, indifferent, inhuman. On the contrary, the essential role of the ‘incorporeal transformations’ effectuated by PR, branding and advertising in capitalism suggests that, in order to operate effectively, capitalism’s rapacity depends upon various forms of sheathing.” [11]

In a discussion about Spinoza, Fisher writes, “The personal is something that needs to be decoded. You can’t leap out to the impersonal. […] [But] [t]hat’s something that is only decided by the continued activity of desubjectization of the group” [12] desubjectization & depersonalization are inseparable from engagement in collective intelligence – which, for Spinoza, means collective action and social/political organization. Fisher: “it’s a collective machine that needs to be continually built […]” [13] What Ed and other accers want when they aspire to depersonalization without social construction is what Fisher calls (in the above) the mistaken belief “that you can just leap out to reason without undertaking such decoding.” [14]

Despite Fisher’s acknowledgment that ‘baboonery’ (humanist enthusiasm) will inevitably be involved in trying to build collective agency, he defines ‘dogmatism’ as being able to distinguish the means from the end of emancipation. [15] Fisher commits to harnessing ‘human’ social organization for effecting a becoming-inhuman through group activity: “Finally, however, we have to recognize that, on Spinoza’s account, the best interests of the human species coincide with becoming-inhuman.” [16]  Further, Fisher’s ‘dogmatism’ likewise recognizes the nonsensical claims that capital can be undone by its own inertia because of the ‘difference’ it produces (following Badiou) or ‘cut-up’ it achieves (re: Ballard’s advantage over Burroughs). Atomization humanizes individuals. [17]

Paradoxically, Ed’s ‘affirmations of the inevitable’ as theoretical achievements divorced from collective agency leads to a stoic interiority with the power only to affirm or deny. Different from the disempowered ‘neurotic’ subject Fisher talks abt, but just as capital-compatible [18]

“Kapitalism requires you to identify with yourself as ‘the subject of loss’, the crippled neurotic who lacks the power to act, sentimentally attached to an interiority which was never there. Theism has retreated, not vanished. The conviction that there is a Factor X, some inexplicably, ineffable residue over and above genetics, neurology and social coding that makes you you — this is the ‘soul superstition’ that Nietzsche rightly excoriated. It is the belief that the human is ultimately explicable in biographical and personal terms which Cold Rationalism emphatically rejects, maintaining, rather, that the personal and the biographical are only explicable in machinic and impersonal terms.” [via]

As Fisher says in his lecture on Land + Lyotard, the ‘machinic’ model of desire means it is inherently social and manipulable for the sake of social/political construction. Hence his talk on creating class consciousness [19]

Fisher defines COMMUNIST REALISM as a plebianization of economics-speak, a demystification of the market-place (including, no doubt, the acc mystifications of capital-as-omnipotent-agent) for the sake of creating class consciousness (which, through Spinoza, = class action) [20]

“Of particular importance, it seems to me, is the popular demystification of economics and ‘the economy’. The austerity myth has only seemed credible because of a widespread economic illiteracy — an illiteracy I very much share. Economics functions now much as theology functioned in the medieval world — as an intricate and elaborate system of concepts, objects and reasoning that is closed to non-initiates. We need something like a Reformation in/and against capitalist economics — the equivalent of the Bible being translated into English. I think this could be done, not bu a series of large-scale conferences, televisions, or films — although of course these wouldn’t hurt — but virally. Small groups of people, including at least one individual who is an expert in economics, could get together and talk through some key concepts and principles, major economic events, etc. This could take place in private homes, in universities and colleges, in social clubs … in addition to everything else, this would also serve the function of reviving sociality, of re-building a class consciousness that has been dissipated by the individualising tendencies of neoliberalism and communicative capitalism.”

For Fisher, the human capacity to become-inhuman through social construction and political engagement with other humans is nothing other than our capacity to be inhuman – that is, our capacity to use reason. [21] if Ed rejects reason as our capacity to enter into greater scales of collective agency through collective intelligence, he could very well fall into one of Fisher’s various ‘fascisms’ (psychedelic fascism / sur-fascism[22]

In a passage from Lenin I’m trying to track down, Lenin says that bourgeois economists never had trouble admitting class struggle was the motor of social history. Therefore, what distinguished booj econs from Marxists was in their rejection of the rev agency of the proles. [23] Mao’s def of revisionism is the denial of the necessity for class struggle to bring down the bourgeoisie, for the proles to be the revolutionary agent effecting this downfall. [24] Through Lenin & Mao, I think Ed’s position in the ‘Land as anti-cap’ pieces is bourgeois revisionism. Following Gouldner, acc’s “Nightmare Marxism” is just the claim that the bourgeoisie were the real revolutionaries the whole time [25]

Ed comes in with a divergence after Tweet #10:

Yo Crane, can only offer a brief reply at the moment but just wanted to point out that I don’t think capital can unsheath itself from the human element – ‘autonomization’ in Landian language is more properly understood, in the breakdown sketched by Marx [1] 

Also it’s not so much that I think acceleration is CR – there’s a division we can draw between a technical tendency (rate of change and elements clustered to that) and the ideological portraits of capitalism that appear at different stages of development [2]

Crane responds:

To the first point: apologies if you think I misattributed that to you, but I took it to be consonant with your position in the first Land as anti-cap post about capital only escaping on the condition it loses its human sheath (& thereby, in your account, ceases to be capitalism) [1]

To the second: I don’t think we can draw that distinction so neatly. I take it that the Marxist critique of bourgeois science (Lenin/Lukacs/etc) goes after reification of the descriptive vocab of “tendencies” such that they’re situated at a scale unreachable by social agency [2] As if the ‘scientific’ elaboration and description of tendencies was not already motivated by the potential benefit of this knowledge for social purposes [3]

Crane then adds a clarification to his first point:

For clarification, I don’t think the self-abolition of capitalism (through intrinsic tendencies or w/e) is the equivalent of the self-abolition of the proletariat, which wages class struggle to end all class etc. [1]


fwiw I don’t think they are equivalent either, but I do think that they are intimately related. Furthermore, I think this is evident in Marx’s own writings and as something that supercedes the supposed young Marx/old Marx divide. [1]

What Land refers to as the autonomization of capital indexes, on the one side, the increasing penetration of productive forces by scientific and technical knowledge, and on the other, the breakdown of the law of value (portending the obsolescence of the marketplace) [2] The particular claim about Land isn’t that he is himself anti-capitalist (he’s not), but that the argumentative structure and the data-points he draws upon flips into the Marxian schema for how the capitalist mode of production ‘blows sky-high’, to paraphrase the Grundrisse [3]

The question of class struggle enters at precisely this point: the approach to the real historical limit of capital is opening of the communist possibility space, which is founded upon the annihilation of the reactionary and regressive shackles and the affirmation of progressive, [4] liberatory forces.

Now, I do put a high emphasis on the importance of capital in my reading of Marx (which admittedly is influenced by Postone, who takes a different route in many respects from Lukacs), but I’ll own that (and insist against booj collaboration, but I [5] understand if this gets me the wall someday) [6]

Here the fragmentations start in earnest so here are Crane’s responses to the various comments above collected together in a way that is (hopefully) more readable. (If things are unclear, click on the bracketed numbers to see the original tweets in their proper context.) Crane responds:

I agree. this is where there’s a real ambiguity in Marx (both young & old). I think overemphasis on the self-abolition of capital makes certain arguments in Marx compatible with bourgeoise revisionism if they’re taken apart from his idea of the rev prole collective agent [1]

if the penetration of productive forces by scientific & technical knowledge doesn’t take the form of plebianizing tech/scientific literacy to the effect of increasing collective powers of action, I don’t think it dodges my crit [2]

In response to Ed’s tweet on the question of class struggle, the thread diverges once again. Crane writes:

This is a point of divergence I think. I don’t think Landian autonomization as far as I understand it is that sort of opening of communist possibility space – not unless it has unique status as a class consciousness imparting event [1]


Yeah I do think that class consciousness is essential in actualizing that possibility space, and in that sense my position is pretty different from earlier more purely ‘mechanical’ takes, in that I’ve gone from the breakdown of collective action to seeing it as possible in [1] certain forms and in particular conditions. I haven’t written much on it cuz I’ve been trying to finish up a very different kind of project so my headspace has been elsewhere, but got a piece coming out soon in Sum that deals with this. [2] It draws on a lot of the Fisher that you’re using here, actually! [3]


Hell yeah, I’m excited to read it [1]

An amicable end to a really interesting thread. We don’t get many of those these days. However, if you’re remiss of the usual cursed ending, you can also follow-up on Ed’s divergence with Miraculate but the less said about them the better…

(Z)eros and Civilisation: Cave Twitter’s Cryptic Trans-Actions (Part 1)

At the risk of giving oxygen to a handful of bogus critiques — aimed at others most recently but I’ve received my own fair share these past months — can we talk for a minute about this really irritating and reductive habit shared by some Twitter gobshites, who disingenuously try to force others into cul-de-sac concepts and systems with the straw men of ignorance?

Whether its patchwork, accelerationism or something else, there’s a consistent demand from some quarters that everything cooked up in the blogosphere must be applicable to all bases, needs, demographics and interests, as if the intention has ever been to produce some sort of rigorous Total Theory that will solve all of our problems; as if everyone has forgotten the near-canonical utterance that the mission is to “let the Outside in”.

The intention is always to perforate the totality we’re presented with, undermine it, giving a voice to that which is always left out of our state-sanctioned historiographies, beliefs and “truths”. Still, cries of “crypto-fascist” ring out, left over from the Great Paranoia of 2017. By definition, what is sought is the implementation of fascism’s absolute opposite, taking deliberate and localised aim at the various microfascisms that provide the foundations for our contemporary processes of subjection and territorialisation — prevalent on all sides of politics. The intention is not to consolidate a new world order, but break apart that which is.

Nyx, in her recent essay, “Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper” — which weathered a couple of familiarly disingenuous attacks that seemed entirely ignorant and blind to this foundational position — made repeat and explicit references to this nomadic tendency in relation to the politics and praxes of a transgendered existence.

What I enjoyed most about Nyx’s essay was the way she expanded so incredibly on the work of Sadie Plant in her book Zeros + Ones, particularly Nyx’s additional and more contemporary examples of an (a)gendered guerrilla warfare in cyberspace.

In numerous instances, Plant writes about the inherently feminine and guerrilla nature of digital activism and cyberwarfare, but Nyx enriches this secret history even further, highlighting the more contemporary ways in which an amateur hacker — “amateur” in the positive sense of a person acting beyond the remit of some kind of neoliberal professionalism — and the state might find themselves, in unprecedented ways, on more-or-less even footing. Hacking and its associated tactics, in this regard, as Nyx quotes of Plant, are distinct from “the Western way of confrontation, stratified strategies, muscular strength, testosterone energy, big guns, and blunted instruments”, they are rather more like “Sun Tzu’s art of war: tactical engagements, lightning speeds, the ways of the guerrillas.”

Nyx articulates the relevance of such guerrilla tactics to trans experience in the starkest of terms when she writes:

The trans woman is an insurgent against patriarchy who is continually flanking it, introducing an affirmative zero into the gender binary, the affirmative zero which reaches ever more configurations in the downward cascade of gender fragmentation away from the binary and ultimately away from the human itself. It is a process of gender shredding where the feminine wins out in a cybernetic warfare against the crumbling tower of the masculine, and where therefore human reproduction becomes impossible. And yet while doing so, in affirming zero, inhuman desire and inhuman sentience develops alongside and in the same fashion as trans women.

Here, Nyx is building upon the gendered notions of Plant’s book brilliantly and, what is worth highlighting specifically here, is the ever-present (un)grounding of zero.

What is “zero”, affirmatively understood? Within the history of mathematics, as Plant sketches out so lucidly and in great detail, the concept of “zero” had existed for centuries as something — that is, as something more than “nothing” — primarily in the arithmetics of Hindu and Arabic cultures. Europe, she notes, was initially resistant to — even threatened by — the alien 0-9 system (which we might now struggle to imagine ever doing without) when it was first imported to the continent by the merchant classes:

When [zero] first appeared in the new string of infidel figures, the old Church fathers did everything to keep it out of a world which then revolved around one and its multiples: one God, one truth, one way, one one. The numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 were subservient enough, but zero was unthinkable. If it wasn’t one of something, it couldn’t be allowed. Then again, the Church could hardly be seen to protest too much about something that, as far as they could see, wasn’t really there at all. If zero was nothing, it should be as easy to absorb as the Sanskrit one had been. And, sure enough, zero was appropriated as a sign of absence, nonbeing, and nothingness. The ancient unity of something and nothing was apparently disturbed.

For Plant, ontopolitically, zero takes on the symbolic role of the feminine in echoing the seemingly paradoxical nature of the productive void. There are, however, more nuances to attend to. As Nyx writes:

0 and 1 are fitting glyphs to make analogous to gender. The 0 which seems to be a void, a vulva, and the 1 which seems to be a unity, a phallus. The problem with trying to layer a simple misogynistic narrative of feminine as lack or castration is that the number 0 itself is not merely a void but rather a circle of autoproduction, an ouroboros. Paradoxically, 0 is not merely a lack or nothingness, but rather is itself a number. It is a positive signifier in the guise of nothingness, the enclosed and captured void that makes the unity possible.

And as Plant herself writes later:

It takes two to make a binary, but all these parts are two of a kind, and the kind is always kind of one. 1 and 0 make another 1. Male and female add up to man. There is no female equivalent. No universal woman at his side. The male is one, one is everything, and the female has “nothing you can see.” Woman “functions as a hole,” a gap, a space, “a nothing — that is a nothing the same, identical, identifiable … a fault, a flaw, a lack, an absence, outside the system of representations and auto-representations.” Lacan lays down the law and leaves no doubt: “There is woman only as excluded by the nature of thing,” he explains. She is “not-all,” “not-whole,” “not-one,” and whatever she knows can only be described as “not-knowledge.” There is “no such thing as The woman, where the definite article stands for the universal.” She has no place like home, nothing of her own, “other than the place of the Other which,” writes Lacan, “I designate with a capital O.”

Nyx’s move may have provoked some controversy but, to me, it seems like a wonderful and loyal continuation of the line of flight that Plant herself describes here. The few criticisms fired at Nyx seem based on a failure to grasp the move she carries over and updates from Plant herself. If Nyx’s argument is so sacrilegious, what are we to make of the materials she is drawing on? Is Nyx’s position not an attempt to update a smattering of seminal Accelerationist texts and take them to their ultimate conclusion?

If that is somehow distasteful to you, it’s a wonder you’ve stuck around this corner of the internet long enough to find it. Such is the pessimism that so many of these writings are based on.

Nyx’s symbolic shifting of zero from woman to transwoman, some have suggested, is a fundamentally mysogynistic gesture. Peter Heft is not one of these people but, in his post on the essay and its critics, he nonetheless confesses some anxiety in this regard. First summarising Nyx’s argument, he nonetheless adds a concerned, albeit still thrilled, caveat:

The brunt of G/Acc rests on the assertion that “[i]f patriarchy treats woman as little more than a deficient or castrated male, then trans femininity is an affirmation of that castration as a site of production” and posits that the trans-feminine subject must reject humanity and propel forward alongside, and within, technocapital. As the trans-feminine subject and technocapital become increasingly interwoven, gender becomes “shredded” as the war between the sexes accelerates creating the conditions where males are no longer needed. Thus, the feminine forces the masculine into a position of double-death. For n1x, the “dreary duty of masculinity” is overcome and ideals of masculinity as such either succumb to the passive nihilism of celibacy, or to the vain hope of sexbots solving the problem of obsolescence. In both cases, however, “the era of testosterone” comes to an end and the trans-feminine overcomes the masculine paradigm leaving the still masculine men to die off while the “more evolved” men take the so-called “pink pill” and become the trans-feminine.

While I have some worries here — namely that n1x still invokes an ideal of futurity and she seems to ignore the straight, cisgender woman and her role –, I’m also willing to spot this as I find the idea intriguing and morbidly exciting.

I like Heft’s post, even if I don’t necessarily agree with his concerns, and so I don’t mean to unnecessarily pour scorn when I suggest that his anxiety contains the latent echo of the transphobic discourses that have dominated so many channels this past year.

An argument for a central role of ciswomen is one that, we should remember, TERFs themselves routinely give their (very loud) voices too. Why is this an issue worth noting here? Because, in line with the senses of masculine and feminine as they have been explored here already, we might argue that TERFs damningly fill the role of “masculine feminists” — which is to say, as women who wish to define themselves as another-One, as a whole, as all, alongside the masculine-one itself. This is why Nyx’s zero is affirmative, injecting into a gender binary that has sought to reconsolidate itself over as little as bathrooms and pluralist pronouns.

The “TE” of TERF, of course, means “trans-exclusionary”. Transplanting the worst instances of this discourse into the terms of Nyx’s argument, we might likewise rename them “zero-exclusionary” feminists — the apparent paradox of saying something can exclude zero being more than appropriate in this context.

The political necessity of this manoeuvre could not be more obvious this month, considering the recent news that President Trump might attempt to legislate “transgender” out of existence, just as the Church sought to administrate zero into the oblivion it was reductively taken to represent. Inserting anyone who identifies as trans- into the equation of Plant’s 0s + 1s must necessitate, today, a shift in where zero lies, making both man and woman 1: conceptual wholes relative to the perpetual transcience of trans identity.

This should not be taken to be an erasure of ciswomen. I think Nyx makes this very clear. To suggest otherwise is to, again, echo the arguments of TERFs.

As @laincortes said on Twitter: any affinity acknowledged between zero and (trans)women is not an erasure, an absence — this is to stick to the Western reduction of zero — but rather the “manifestation of adaptability”.

To be continued…

Following my mention of Peter Heft’s post, Peter himself responded on Twitter. I was wary of putting words in Peter’s mouth and his comment, whilst obvious not clearly representative of any position, simply made me think of the argument explored above but I didn’t want to necessarily attribute this to him.

Peter went on to make a number of great points in a thread that followed, presented below:

I feel as if it’s only right that I add a brief comment: I didn’t expand upon the cis woman argument because it’s not a huge concern, but I’ll explain it briefly here. My concern is *NOT* that cis women are being dethroned or aren’t going to take a primary role, etc… [1] My concern was, rather, with n1x’s teleological claim. The claim that men will become obsolete via biotech, etc., does ignore the role of straight cis women in propping up the current regime. In other words, just as men will react against G/Acc and be placed in the [2] double death scenario, I think a subset of women, be they antitech, trad, or simply not down with the project, will react against it as well. Thus my worry is that by ignoring these womens’ place, we skirt dangerously close to patronization at best and misogyny at worst. [3]

Nyx herself replied too:

That’s actually a really great point. The reason why I didn’t elaborate very much on it is mainly because G/ACC’s scope is explicitly analytical and not political. My goal was to first lay out a theoretical understanding of gender related to accelerationism. [1] In the #LesbiaNRx manifesto I will definitely be exploring this point though, because (unsurprisingly) I reject the whole universal female sisterhood bullshit. [2] (and also because the #LesbiaNRx manifesto is going to be on the political consequences of my conceptualization of gender in G/ACC) [3]

Peter again:

I figured the analytic as opposed to political nature of G/Acc is why discussions of other groups wasn’t foregrounded. Given that, I felt it would be unfair for me to criticize that since that wasn’t the purpose of the post. I suppose my general worry boils down to the following: [1] Cis “women” (whatever that may mean once we reject essentialism) have been oppressed in specific ways and I don’t just wanna shrug off the work of “traditional” feminists or non-queer liberators. But perhaps I’m too idealistic in thinking a coalition, of sorts, could form. [2] I suppose to more formally explain my thoughts I’d have to go back to the headspace I was in the other day and that will take a re-reading and bracketing of all else right now. Regardless, I look forward to LesbiaNrx! [3]


I mean I feel like I also was pretty insistent in G/ACC that the root of patriarchy lies in the primordial exploitation of female reproductive potential. So certainly it’s not going to be a simple “cishet women are canceled” position either. [1] Fortunately, female sexuality is also pretty fluid overall, heh. [2]

Halloween 2018

I’ve made one of these lame-ass videos every year since 2012. They’ve become a yearly tradition that my girlfriend and I are very much endeared to. Every year we make one with friends and family, carving up pumpkins, roasting the seeds in the oven, and then settling down to watch a scary movie. This year we watched The Thing on account of no one having seen it (which I was frankly appalled by).

Halloween means more to me than my birthday, I think. I want to merge the occasions.

I might also have to put the other six years of videos up on YouTube at some point to give them their baby-faced context. Before that cursed moment arrives, here’s 2018’s.