The OA: Part II

Couldn’t help but laugh at this. Like, a lot.

I wrote about the first series of The OA back in the day. On reflection, I was really fascinated by how bad it was but also by the tropes it drew on in the process. I said in a group chat just now:

I liked The OA. I found it impossible to buy into its internal belief system but I was entertained by it and found its weird collective channelling of an outside quite interesting if only because it felt like a weird progressive dilution of Lovecraftian hysteria.

Of course, I can back that up with blog references because no thought goes undocumented in these parts.

I think I watched the first season of The OA twice in the end and my strange fascination with it came out of my consideration of Lovecraft’s Outside-worshipping Cthulhu Cult from the end of 2017.

I ended up carrying this forward in my “Mental Health Asteroid” post, looking at the weirdly hopeful nihilism of the show and comparing it to The Walking Dead.

The OA and The Walking Dead, it seems, could not be more different. Both, however, seek to articulate a collective praxis through which the realities of death and undeath can be transcended. 

The stakes of this kind of thinking in reality are currently prevalent within the Black Lives Matter movement.

Repetitive chants such as “I can’t breathe” and “I am Michael Brown” echo the sentiment of “We are the walking dead” in their frank identification by the living with the deceased; The OA’s emphasis on a communal bodily knowledge of repetitive death and violence echoes, albeit through a relative whiteness, a political reality of communal fear and death-consciousness.

The Five Movements are also a gesture of protest; an embodied emancipatory technology—a “branch of knowledge dealing with [libidinal] engineering.” It is also a technology beyond the pleasure principle that engineers a collective desire for emancipation through repetition—a repetition that is continued until the movements are performed with “perfect feeling”. 

Just as Freud describes the repetition of trauma as being central to the death drive, the characters in The OA are forced to repeatedly die but practice the Five Movements so as to process and transcend their situation. 

This technological trend is common in cinema but it is seldom so emancipatory. Flatliners (1990/2017) follows a group of medical students who self-induce near-death experiences on a quest to find what lies beyond. They likewise find an afterlife but are haunted by their experiences on their return, threatening their community. In Strange Days (1995), a man illegally sells transgressive experiences—from robberies to deaths—on a kind of MiniDisc that can be played through a neural-interface technology called SQUID. In Brainstorm (1983) a “death trip” is similarly recorded and committed to tape by a medical researcher who resists the military’s desire to weaponise the technology for use in torture.

In all instances, an impossible knowledge of death is framed as transgressive and dangerous, even when those exploring such limit-experiences are actively curious as to what they will find on the other side. Experiences are shared but nonetheless remain individually subjective. Death is transgressed but nonetheless remains taboo. 

In The OA and The Walking Dead, the experience of death is no longer framed as a transgressive act but rather a means towards emancipation. Whilst The OA presents death as a Promethean technology of emancipation, The Walking Dead articulates a transforming of the affects of death and grief for emancipatory, consciousness-raising/razing purposes. Both attempt to move death from transgression to egression.

To channel these stakes so grotesquely and then to introduce season 2 with protagonist Prairie being transported to an alternative dimension where no one knows who Barack Obama is is so horrifically hilarious to me.

I knew my hope in its internal logic was generous but this is worse than I expected.

Of course I’ll be blogging about it when it’s released later next month.

Frontier Psychiatry #1: ‘The Shining’ (1980) and ‘Misery’ (1991)

How many horror movies hypothesise about their violent goings-on being due to someone having built on an “Indian burial ground”?

The Amityville Horror is the first to come to mind. The Shining too.

The central horror of these films revolves around there being something supposedly absorbent about the American landscape. The importance of burial grounds being “Indian” is the most unsubtle of nods in this direction. Such a comment seems to infer there is some sort of curse placed upon the dead by the living — a sort of classically Orientalist superstition we see projected across the American West to places as far afield as Ancient Egypt — but it is a suggestion that also contains the echoes of untold horrors that Native Americans were subjected to the colonising Europeans.

In The Shining, however, things seem more complex.

Far more resonant than the “Indian burial ground” suggestion is the film’s opening sequence. As the Torrance family meander through the American wilderness, entirely in the jaws of the landscape, they discuss the Donner Party.

Shirley Torrance wonders if they’re close to where the fated homesteaders were snowed in but Jack says it was further out west. When little Tony Torrance asks what the Donner Party was, Jack tells him — with a father’s corrupting glint in his eye — that they were settlers who, when snowed in, resorted to cannibalism.

Shirley seems wary of the topic, perhaps because she doesn’t want to give Tony nightmares. He protests. “I know all about cannibalism — I saw it on TV!”

“See, he saw it on TV,” responds Jack, somehow proud yet cynical.

I think The Shining, in various subtle ways, offers us a way into the American psyche that I want to explore it in this series. The Donner Party didn’t happen here but the cultural memory of the American West foreshadows the psychological changes that the family will undergo as the film progresses.

Originally, in my brief introduction to this series, I said I want to explore Westerns — and that remains the overall purpose here — but this exploration includes the ways that the American West lingers and haunts other genres.

A common thread I’ve noticed recently is how the West haunts the pop-cultural figure of the writer especially — the prospective author of the Great American Novel.

Jack Torrance, in becoming the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, intends to spend his spare time writing. Many scenes depicting his escalating madness show him sat in the hotel’s great hall, plucking away at his typewriter. Writers, it seems, are even more susceptible to channelling the remnants of other worlds and other lives embedded within the American landscape.

This is something that Mark Fisher notes when discussing Westworld, central to the original Western posts on this blog. He notes how the robot “host” Dolores, in the series, “is increasingly subject to flashbacks, which we must understand not as glitches but as the first stirrings of memory, a recollection of her previous iterations.”

In my reading, this is something common to the American Western as a whole, and American horror and sci-fi too — the haunting of previous iterations. This is something that has only become more and more explicit as the decades have gone by. No Country for Old Men (2008), for instance, is a particularly notable film in this regard, wherein two iterations meet with violent yet impotent consequences.

In The Shining, Jack too is haunted — and even possessed — by his previous iterations. The revelation that he has “always been the caretaker” says less about him as a singular man and perhaps more about the archetypal “man” which he represents — stoic, closed off, but never far from “going Native”; an archetype reiterated last time via Leslie Fiedler concept of a “Higher Masculine Sentimentality”.

Here, across genres, memory and pop culture become almost interchangeable. Here, nostalgia is not a conservative pleasure but the reality of being possessed by an unruly dead spirit — the “spirit” of the near-mythical American West.

Recently, I watched another Stephen King movie — Rob Reiner’s 1991 adaptation of Misery. This film, too, shares many of the same subtle motifs explored in The Shining, and likewise dramatises supposedly disparate iterations of American life coming together with disastrous consequences.

The film begins with Paul Sheldon, a successful writer, finishing off his latest manuscript. He is the author of a series of romance novels about a young woman named Misery Chastain. They’ve brought him great success but he’s bored of the character and decides to kill her off — in childbirth no less — so that he can move onto other things.

Driving to the city to deliver the manuscript, he crashes in a blizzard only to be rescued, near death, by a woman named Annie Wilkes. Together the pair are their own two-person Donner Party.

It transpires that Annie is Paul’s “biggest fan”, finding him in the snow only because she was stalking him. She nurses Paul back to health but, on reading the final Misery manuscript, things take a turn a terrifying turn. She’s appalled that Paul would led Misery die, forcing him to burn the finished manuscript and write an entirely new one. Not one to revise what has come to pass, however, this novel must start where the last one ended.

Contrary to the tradition outlined by Fiedler, it is Annie, the deeply repressed and conservative WASP who “goes Native”. She has a pathological aversion to the new, it seems — to the extent that, in the film, it is revealed she was found culpable for a spate of cot deaths whilst working as a nurse at a hospital. She embodies a stereotypically social role as a nurse but it is as if childbirth itself is an abomination to her; a symbol of life’s inevitable evolution and progression.

As such, she is enthralled by the Misery novels because they represent another time; a lost time. To take that time away from her, through childbirth in particular, is unthinkable.

What I find particularly interesting here, and what will lead us onto our first Western proper, is Annie’s aversion to revision — the scene above demonstrating her commitment to what has already happened, even if it is not to her satisfaction.

It is this terror that I’d like to address in our first look at a proper Western, particularly a Western which is part of that subgenre known as the “Revisionist Western“.

In line with the tide change which occurred in the academy around the same time, when Turner’s famous Frontier Thesis was re-evaluated as reductive and biased, new perceptions of the American West emerged in which cowboys were not all heroes and Indians not all villains. Likewise echoing the national self-reflection that grew around the Vietnam war, the Western anti-hero was born and with it a more nuanced view — relatively nuanced anyway, it’s still Hollywood — of this period of American history.

It is here, it seems to me, that the seed of modern American cinema was planted — in this tension of past iterations both actual and pop-cultural.

Frontier Psychiatry: Introduction

If I tweet it, it must be so. You can’t go back on blog promises that have made it to the tweet stage.

I’ve said that I wanted to do something like this on the blog already, having confessed to something of an American literature / American West obsession in the midst of last year, and now that I’m currently working these thoughts into my “Egress” book I want to give even more of a life to these ideas.

I wasn’t sure exactly what form this would take but then it seemed obvious.

My favourite discovery of last year was undoubtedly Leslie Fiedler. Found in a footnote in A Thousand Plateaus, unearthed by Ed Berger, I ended up reading the whole of Fiedler’s psychedelic trilogy of American literary criticism — Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), Waiting for the End (1964) and The Return of the Vanishing American (1968).

I ended up applying most of my reading to a series of posts on Westworld and I really enjoyed following this lineage. In fact, Westworld is arguably all about this lineage and not a lot else. It’s not about AI — it’s about the fact that the American psyche can never get past the primal wound of lost promises and traumas that define the “birth” of the nation and, particularly, how this period continues to be associated with the American frontier.

I was already writing a lot about the relationship between state and subject in my patchwork posts at the time but here, read via the immediate influence of Gilles Deleuze, I found example after example of failed geophilosophic liberations. I ended up wanting to read every book Fiedler wrote about but I just couldn’t keep up with my own desire. I read a few of them, mind you, and even ended up going beyond, carrying his writings with me in my readings of Cormac McCarthy and even The Hunger Games. I never wrote about any of these things on the blog though. The moment passed and I moved on to other things.

Having been consolidating and building on my Westworld posts considerably for my new book, however, I’ve caught the bug again and I want to have a way of scratching this itch on the blog, maybe even extending out the project. But I’ll never keep up with myself if I do it with books. I thought maybe I could do it with films instead.

For some reason, as a teenager, I was obsessed with Clint Eastwood. I had a thing for the Dirty Harry movies, trying to collect all the films in the series on DVD through this mail order Clint Eastwood filmography thing that I’d discovered in WHSmith or some other shop. At my parents’ house, I still have Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Dead Pool, and maybe The Enforcer. This same mail order thing also included some of his Westerns too (and also Space Cowboys — yikes). The main ones I remember are Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales.

The Outlaw Josey Wales was a film I watched again and again and again, and I thought it might be the perfect first selection. But then I thought about the rest of his movies and realised, perhaps for the first time, that this is what they share in common.

The character of “Dirty Harry” is essentially a frontiersman out of time — I mean, that’s who Clint Eastwood seems to think he is in real life too, right? He’s an “Old” American, a sort of Classic Man, the very embodiment of what Fiedler calls a “Higher Masculine Sentimentality”.

Fiedler writes in Love and Death in the American Novel:

Primitivism is the large generic name for the Higher Masculine Sentimentality, a passionate commitment to inverting Christian-Humanist values, out of a conviction that the Indian’s way of life is preferable.

He continues:

From this follows the belief that if one is an Indian he ought, despite missionaries and school boards, to remain Indian; and if one is White, he should do his best, despite all pressures of the historical past, to go Native.”

This is Clint Eastwood in a nutshell, isn’t it? The abjectly stoic white man who loves to “go Native”? How interesting that this is something that spans his characters, whether they’re meant to be alive in the 1860s or the 1960s.

Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about, one movie at a time.

I want to watch a bunch of westerns here and write individual posts about them, their historical context — fictive and actual — and hopefully, with screen shots and the like, we’ll explore the ways that these films depict interesting schisms and tensions within the American (but also, more broadly, Western) psyche as a whole. I want to watch classic westerns and new westerns and movies wholly unrelated (stylistically) to the genre which nonetheless transpose its tropes, and see what they say about the minds of a people who just can’t get over the closing of the frontier.

Watch this space for Frontier Psychiatry #1 — maybe something I’ll work on at the weekends. In the meantime, click here to explore the new “Frontier Psychiatry” tag where all these future posts will be collected together and where, at the moment, I’ve added all the old Westworld posts and a few other relevant posts too.

Total, Unblinking, Unerring, Irreversible Escape

Very sad to hear that Mark Hollis has passed away. There’ll be a lot of Talk Talk played at home today.

I think about “The Rainbow” a lot — the opener to their 1988 album Spirit of Eden. I’ve always been enchanted by its sample from the final scene of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, as if starting from where it ends, leaving the Siberian zone for a new eden that is palpably western, it seems, despite emerging from a North London studio. It bends time and space to its will.

I’ve been reading Rob Young’s Electric Eden recently and was thrilled to find Talk Talk emerge from it as exemplary of a particularly unBritish Englishness which seems to channel some sort of frontier. I love Young’s description of Spirit of Eden, so of but so beyond its time, defining it by what it escapes. He writes:

Spirit of Eden, which emerged from its nine-month pupation in September 1988, represented a wholesale re-evaluation, like a yuppie renouncing his financial career and taking off to live in a yurt. […]

Hollis equated the artificiality of modern studio techniques with the pervasive dishonesty of his times. […] EMI’s desperate marketing campaign was reduced to calling it “An album for 1988”; in fact, it was much more an album for 1968, and yet had advanced further than almost all their contemporaries.

His description of the sounds of Spirit of Eden in itself are pure psychedelia, like huffing the melted lacquer of a vinyl record you just want to try and get inside.

Hollis created a sorrowing masterpiece, adrift in every way — from its fragile ensemble sound to its dejected, pining vocals — from the prevailing winds of the pop charts. The first sung line — after a tensed, dewy dawn of muted trumpet, sustained strings, tectonic rumbles and scraped ceramics lasting almost two and a half minutes — is ‘The world’s turned upside down‘. ‘The Rainbow’ arches across the whole of side one, the music inhaling and exhaling slowly through ‘Eden’ before breaking into the excoriating rasp in the middle of ‘Desire’. Side two adds an extra measure of chagrined disgust with the injustices, needless deaths and materialism of his own time: Hollis as a modern-day Blake, bearing witness to London’s dismal streets. With its luminous jazz-trio textures and Danny Thompson’s double-bass figures, ‘Inheritance’ can be heard as a successor to John Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’. Particularly since the song’s subject could conceivably be a thumbnail sketch of Nick Drake, a ‘Nature’s son … Burying progess in the clouds / … Heaven bless you in your calm‘. Like Drake, Hollis is in communion with exquisite instants in the natural world: spring is broad-brushed in three words, ‘lilic glistening fool‘, and the lyrics, shaved almost to synactical incomprehensibility, offset the simple joys of nature against lives governed by financial incentives: ‘I’ve seen heroin for myself / On the street so young laying wasted‘ sings Hollis on ‘I Believe in You’, a cri de coeur— with a choral section lifted from Sibelius’s sixth symphony — that may be a warning to his brother at the height of his problems with the drug.

There was also a great article written by Josh Baines last year for Noisey which has a wonderful opening and introduces Hollis as someone this blog is bound to admire:

Escape — total, unblinking, unerring, irreversible escape — is a basic human fantasy. The desire to disappear, to be elsewhere and other, is why we drink to excess, or take the drugs we told ourselves and our parents we’d never take. It is why we plunge ourselves into debt just for a weekend watering someone else’s indoor plants in a Berlin apartment. And it is why, in quiet, unguarded moments, late at night and at our most alone, we imagine just how it feels to slowly, ever so slowly, walk into the sea, never once looking back, not waving but drowning.


A lack of enchantment in the present; a desire to wilfully confuse memory with youth; a proper final payday for a bunch of blokes who’ve lived precariously off eBay for the past decade — there any many reasons why the reformation scene is bigger than ever. One thing however is certain: the musical comeback — be it a faithful reproduction of the old favorites, or a dull and dismal attempt to do something new — is more often than not a disappointing embarrassment. In this context — and in most contexts, really — Mark Hollis stands out. This isn’t to say that Mark Hollis is a total anomaly — Bill Withers and Captain Beefheart are proof that with enough willpower, one can escape the music industry for good. But Mark Hollis is perhaps the only musician to come back as strong as ever, after Talk Talk, to then walk away again.

Enjoy your final escape, Mark. Thanks for the breadcrumbs you left on the way out.

Do U (Even) /Acc, Bro?

I heard on the grapevine there was some very cursed accelerationist chat on the latest episode of Parallax Views — specifically some chat about U/Acc — and, against all better judgement, I decided to check it out.

It was disappointing but not all that surprising to hear the usual misconceptions and not a lot else. I’d really love to hear what people’s sources are for a lot of this stuff. I don’t mind that people don’t like U/Acc writing or ideas or whatever — to each their own — but it is irritating when people trot out the same straw men again and again, as if these are things which aren’t addressed in the earliest U/Acc (and more broadly accelerationist) writings already.

It seems like someone who hasn’t read anything makes a comment and then that comment is parroted by other people who haven’t read anything either. It feels like a bizarre psyop implemented by people who just don’t know any better. The blind leading the blind. It’s boring. It’d be great to have a better class of opponent.

This happens a lot, obviously, but I take particular umbrage with this instance because JG Michael and Michael James have been around for some time. Heck, they’ve been hanging around these parts longer than I have, probably. They’re well-known interlocutors. So what’s the excuse? Have they inadvertently betrayed their own laziness? Their own superficial readings? As fellow chroniclers of a lot of online debates, I’m really struggling to understand how this episode is peppered with so many basic errors. It’s embarrassing.

That said, I have no intention of writing some waste-of-time point-by-point deconstruction of anything here — I’ll be keeping this short — but it does feel like these things haven’t been reiterated in a while. And since the weird takes from nowhere continue to proliferate ad nauseum, it can’t hurt if we all take a minute to revise the basics, right?

So, without further ado…

In the written intro to the episode, podcast host JG Michael points to our little corner of the internet and describes us as “the meme-loving denizens of U/Acc ‘Cave Twitter’ who advocate for accelerating capitalism to it’s endpoint regardless of it’s outcome.” You hear this all the time but I don’t know when anyone has ever said this?

I mean, okay, it’s The Guardian‘s view of accelerationism… But everyone knows that article is utterly reductive and flawed… right? Are we really using that as our theoretical touchstone here?

It’s the summary that has been thrown at accelerationism — no matter the substrate — for over a decade but who knows how it has managed to stick in the minds of so many supposedly educated people.

Mark Fisher said it most clearly in his essay “Postcapitalist Desire” back in 2014. This is — and always has been — Accelerationism 101:

Capitalism is a necessarily failed escape from feudalism, which, instead of destroying encastement, reconstitutes social stratification in the class structure. It is only given this model that Deleuze and Guattari’s call to “accelerate the process” makes sense. It does not mean accelerating any or everything in capitalism willy-nilly, in the hope that capitalism will thereby collapse. Rather, it means accelerating the processes of destratification that capitalism cannot but obstruct.

In this sense, U/Acc isn’t a new mutation. It’s the original idea brought back to the fore after the woeful distractions of its left and right divergences — which led to its explicit dumbing down and dilution rather than being understood simply as “capitalist” and “anti-capitalist” variants. If U/Acc attempts to separate itself from these discussions, that’s only to shift focus to the further work done to exacerbate and rigorise the ‘Philosophy of Time’ elements that were buried in the writings of the Ccru and glossed over far too quickly by the subsequent L/R discussions.

The further critique explored on PV, particularly by Michael James, is that U/Acc supposedly rejects agency and instead believes in capitalism as a theological entity to be worshipped, as if its all a big Cthulhu Club LARP. This, again, is common and the result of people seeing the dramatised and poeticised experiments with Accelerationist ideas and taking them to be all too literal, failing to understand the distinct merits of (but nonetheless close relationship between) poetics and philosophy. (This has been discussed in orbit of the work of JG Ballard and Simon Sellars on this blog here.)

This is to say: yes, various accelerationist texts have used the style and language of occulted knowledges and theological beliefs, precisely to lampoon and refer to those (effectively hyperstitional) properties of human civilisation and thought when faced with something that we don’t (and, perhaps, can’t) fully understand.

Further to this is an investigation of the limits of a philosophical humanism when talking about climate change politics, the very things that James says he’s all about.

I quoted Vincent Garton on this in a post published just yesterday. In one of the initial texts which birthed U/Acc into the blogosphere, Vince writes in his essay “Unconditional Accelerationism as Anti-Praxis“:

The problem has been muddied by its own continual posing in humanist terms, which have provoked a refusal to understand the enormity of the issues at stake. From this perspective of humanism, thought is assimilated entirely to the objective of negotiating the problems that are held to confront humanity. Philosophically, it is concerned with epistemological understanding founded implicitly or not on the centrality of a coherent human subject; critically, it reduces the world to the relations of power practiced by humans towards humans; politically, it immerses itself in defining and putting into motion a better human society. Thought is rendered finally as a series of technical questions that constitute the tactical mapping of a topography whose ultimate form is placed beyond dispute.

This insistent backwater parochialism has eclipsed the intellectually interesting content of accelerationism. In colloquial usage on the left, for instance, ‘accelerationism’ has come to denote merely the idea that the situation of humanity must get worse before it gets better. At the heart of this definition lies the insistent, obsessional humanist question, ‘What is to be done?’, the fundamental question of praxis. The answer is rendered: ‘We must make things worse, so that they get better.’ This uninteresting idea has provoked an avalanche of furious critique of a commensurate intellectual scale. It is the doctrine, we are told, of ‘a dim child, trapped in a train about to crash, pretending he’s the driver’. Quite right, yet the critics protest too much: this is a feeling that has been characteristic of modern radicalism for centuries.

Frankly, I think it says it all how far below this point James’ ideas are when you consider how he has gone on a podcast and introduced his own blog as being built out of an “exhaustion with the theoretical limits of philosophy” and then all he does is demonstrate the limits of his comprehension, as if to say “If I can’t think it, no one can”, betraying the identitarian foundations of a politics he likes to pretend are far more radical.

In truth, it is an individualism that dresses itself up as a humanism. Through and through, his thoughts are always a factor of 10 below the scale he thinks he’s addressing. It’s the ingrown logic of a coveted individualist who LARPs being all about collective action. (In the next few minutes of the podcast, without a lick of irony, U/Acc is accused of being an “anhedonic mindset” but please show me anything more depressing than James’ logic.)

Likewise, the points made about U/Acc wanting to decimate the “human subject” — where is this coming from? The human subject, as we currently understand it, is riven through with the conservative logics of capitalism. It’s the argument of capitalist realism. The human subject is limited by present state infrastructures. It’s the argument of and a further challenge to Foucault’s biopolitics, more than anything.

But James instead goes on about how “there are still people who make decisions”.

Yes, there are. Well done. But anyone who’s powerful enough to make decisions about the future of our planet is a capitalist. They are most likely a capitalist subject par excellence. And so the beast eats its tale. Which comes first? Or, better yet: what ends first? Capitalism or the capitalist? James’ argument is, well, when the world ends and we all die out, they’ll both be gone…

The man’s a genius. Please, tell us again how wanting to radicalise and find exits from present infrastructures and subjectivities whilst we still can is depressive and all about giving up.

(Sidenote: @mutual_ayyde makes the point that it’s not just about capitalists: “modern complexity means that any intentional change period is difficult”. I agree: This is “more to challenge the point made in the podcast but any intentional change being difficult is why u/acc splits with both L and R wishful thinking.”)

My favourite line of this segment must go to James, again. It’s a doozy.

People don’t see a way out, right? It’s almost a giving up. It’s almost like a depression that’s set in. It’s like, “Okay, if we can’t be human, or if we can’t find a way out of this system, let’s just be complicit with becoming something new.”

Michael James’ Twitter has been a frequent source of tradical logic in recent months and here it is encapsulated beautifully. The depressive complicity of becoming something new.

Actually, you know what, I take that back. That’s perfect. That’s exactly what U/Acc is. In fact, it’s an Accelerationism laid out in precisely the same terms as Fisher, previously quoted — “accelerating the processes of destratification that capitalism cannot but obstruct.” It’s a complicity with capitalism’s self-destructive tendencies, the exacerbating of our desires for the new — which capitalism encourages materialistically — short-circuited towards a new system beyond itself. Because that’s the trick, right? Capitalism already contains its own demise. Playing chicken with its own redundancy is how it keeps its edge. U/Acc recognises this and says, “What can we do for ourselves that encourages it a little bit further over the edge?” We can’t give it the final push but we can sure throw our weight behind its own momentum. This is what it means to “accelerate the process”.

Ultimately, that’s how accelerationism has always seen us transitioning out. (“Transitioning” being something of a double entendre here, of course, with the beautiful shitposting of U/Acc’s transgender community persistently striking the cloistered limits of the real anhedonic logic of a cisgendered realism in stark relief — oh, the fragility of the (truly) complicit trad.)

Furthermore, as Fisher once said, capitalism can’t be voted out. It takes a libidinal usurping — a change of mind; a fundamental change of the subject hardwired into maintaining the status quo — to change the system. Politics alone won’t change anything…

Same with climate change, right, Michael?

In Capitalist Realism, remember, Fisher demands a new collective subject, which does not exist but has long been promised. Michael James seems to argue for this himself elsewhere, but repeatedly betrays a squeamishness as to its real implications. It’s all hot air and bitterness and tweeting about not caring about twitter. The holier-than-thou piety of a deluded egoist, hiding under the very nihilism he denounces in others.

Oh, and please forgive U/Acc for heading for the exits and having fun with the most radical subjects that popular culture has to offer. They are the seeds for a new realism, after all.


That Parallax Views segment is just a load of waffle between two people who evidently don’t have a clue what they’re on about.

Update: I see Max Castle has taken on many of the same issues with the podcast on Twitter:

One of the more difficult things about staking a position and defending it against criticism is the way interlocutors feint stupidity as a defense for a particular bad point. [1]

For example, look at a recent episode of @ViewsParallax with Michael James (@brightabyss). The host, J.G. Michael, asked James about accelerationism and we got the sort of criticism one has come to expect. [2]

The host’s criticism was especially galaxy brain level stuff: “Accelerationists love the Blade Runner aesthetic but if there aren’t humans, you can’t have Blade Runner.” I’m going to treat this ‘critique’ with more seriousness than it deserves. [3]

Accelerationism is NOT an aesthetic theory nor does it have a favored aesthetic. It is a theory of Capital. Cyberpunk/BR is a way to imagine a DIY response to obstacles in the flow of capital. It is not the official aesthetic ACC. [4]

That all being said, “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.” [5]

How can this point be so consistently missed? Obvious BA will come back with some sort of point about idol worshipping Marx, but shit the guy got Capital. Maybe the Marxists should pay attention. [6]

BA’s critique is only slightly better. Here they are:

(1) Accelerationism makes him have the bad feels.

(2) Corporation and CEOs make decisions.

(3) He doesn’t see accelerationists living the accelerationist life. [7]

So, in order:

(1) Who cares if you get the feels? Why must we assume that a theory of Capital must also include a political plan? This is not assumed of any other theory and points to a clear misunderstanding of the purposes of thought. [8]

(2) Yes, humans make decisions but the point is that these decisions are driven by a logic existing at a higher level. This logic is not the product of simple CEO desires but is the mechanism that drives their desires. [9]

(3) What part of beyond individual control is BA struggling with? [10]

On the point about “accelerationists not living the accelerationist life”, I’ll point — once again — to my old post on this: “U/ACC … argues that what is open to ‘us’ is perhaps only the possibility of, as Deleuze writes in Logic of Sense, a ‘becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us’.” 

Further Update:

Reader: he never did post it. You can, however, now read my U/Acc Primer which is filled with lots more evidence proving MJ is clueless. Is that a further tantrum? Or is it an attempt to actually inform people instead of parroting under-researched misgivings? You decide.

Nunhead Cemetery #1

We go to Nunhead cemetery quite often these days. At first it was just me on little goth expeditions in the summer and now it’s become a regular Sunday haunt for all the family.

This is not the first time I’ve posted pictures taken there on the blog but now it feels like it warrants something of a series of its own.

According to Wikipedia, Nunhead is the “least famous and celebrated” of London’s “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries but it’s my favourite of the ones I’ve been too. (Highgate to see Marx is still on the waiting list — it’s too far north.) I like it because it’s regularly creepy as fuck and it’s also home to London’s Scottish Martyr’s monument celebrating five Chartists who campaigned for parliamentary reform in the late 1700s. They were all sentenced to “penal transportation” — i.e. sent to Australia.

Here are some photos from our Sunday afternoon stroll. There’ll be more to come another time, no doubt.

Notes on an Unconditional Geopoetics

Lots of people in my various social media feeds are talking about the new book from Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes, which promises to rewrite the “origin stories” of the Anthropocene.

A summary of the book from University of Minnesota Press reads:

Kathryn Yusoff examines how the grammar of geology is foundational to establishing the extractive economies of subjective life and the earth under colonialism and slavery. She initiates a transdisciplinary conversation between black feminist theory, geography, and the earth sciences, addressing the politics of the Anthropocene within the context of race, materiality, deep time, and the afterlives of geology.

I’m interested to read it and will hopefully pick it up soon but I was also interested to read this essay for Verso from McKenzie Wark.

The essay was sent over by Robin and there were no surprises as to why, with much of what Wark explores echoing Robin’s own research and interests.

Indeed, this geological thread is central to a lineage that runs prior to, after but also straight through the Ccru, with its shades of Nietzschean materialism, Bataillean gnosticism, DeleuzoGuattarian schizoanalysis, Landian catastrophism, Negarestanian terrestrial apostacism, and Robin’s continuing study of geotraumatics through which he has continued to mine the earth to even greater depths of geopoetic resonance.

Wark writes:

What Yusoff advocates as an alternative is undoing geopolitics through geopoetics. Maybe there is another writing of the earth, against or outside the division of matter into active and passive, where the active includes only whiteness and the passive reduces Blackness to the status of thing or instrument. “A new language of the earth cannot be resolved in biopolitical modes (of inclusion) because of the hierarchical divisions that mark the biocentric subject.” (56)

What’s interesting is that, following this, Wark points out, albeit in their own flawed way, that there is no political guarantee to any of this. But isn’t that precisely the point already? Such is the primary lesson of schizoanalysis in A Thousand Plateaus, as that which avoids our persistent tendency towards “reductionist modifications which simplify the complex.” Wark continues:

This counter project has a delicious name: “there is a need to de-sediment the social life of geology, to place it in the terror of its coercive acts and the interstitial movements of its shadow geology — what I call a billion Black Anthropocenes…. There is an invisible agent that carries those Golden Spikes, in their flesh, chains, hunger, and bone, and in their social formations as sound, radical poetry, critical black studies and subjective possibility realized against impossible conditions: there are a billion Black Anthropocenes that are its experiential witness…” (59-60)

So far so good, and very intriguing. But Wark then summarises:

Yusoff: “Geology then becomes a spacing in the imagination that is used to separate forms of the human into permissible modes of exchange and circulation. This is the geotrauma of a billion Black Anthropocenes.” (84) This is to be a speculative geology of geotrauma. Although one has to point out that as form or style or genre this poetics is not necessarily always on the right side of any history. Nick Land favors a poetics of geotauma too. Forms of knowledge don’t in and of themselves act as political guarantees.

Indeed, so much of Wark’s essay hints at an attempted course-correct of the kind that is central to so many ostensibly left-wing political philosophies in recent years. Points are highlighted in quotations and then the subsequent readings of said quotations betray a thinking that the quotations themselves hint at a counter to.

For example, ultimately, the Landian scare-flag Wark is raising here does more harm than good and, in fact, moves contrary to the general project which Yusoff just described, because such a new writing of the Earth as that which Yusoff supposedly calls to seems to be one which mitigates the hangups of walking over a contemporary landscape of political eggshells. It returns to the foundation, highlighting the ground on which these eggshells are sprinkled on, often despite themselves.

The real tension here comes from differentiating between the senses of the “new” being deployed — in the sense that one of them is not all that new at all. Writing from present articulations of ideas in the common nomenclature of our ideological era or in a newly decolonised language does not make the ideas and concepts and science themselves new and, in fact, that seems to be precisely what Yusoff is calling to.

This is to say that, whilst the “new” is not new to thought, its present representations certainly are. And surely the point is that much of the real story of geology exists beyond representation. And so, to handle the Anthropocene with nothing but the naive enthusiasm of a new art world trend, as Wark inevitably does, is a regression regardless of the shiny new political subtext. (That is why, we could argue, the Ccru prefer to use numerology to sketch out these cryptic contours.)

Of course, you can’t hold your breathe on issues such as this from the University of Minnesota Press, who are best known in these parts as the publishers of Dark Deleuze — a paradoxical attempt at diversifying a discourse through a reductive reading — and so it remains unclear here, without having read both texts, who is really guilty of the conceptual flub — Yusoff or Wark.

At present, though, Wark feels like a very safe bet…

To me, the way that Wark frames A Billion Black Anthropocenes makes it sound strangely like a rewrite of Cyclonopedia for our present moment, albeit in the poetic stylings of Fred Moten rather than Gilles Deleuze (to match current trends). For many, that is worthwhile in itself — usurp the white canon — although this is made more complicated by Reza’s appropriation being so embedded within his own cultural background: diversifying rather than decolonising Deleuze.

This makes it resemble something of a DeleuzoGuattarian schizoanalytic project in its a knotted tackling of issues of geo- and biopolitics and their inherent entwinement with one another, and it likewise echoes an argument had on Twitter the other week between @wokeytliberal and those Hysteric Bad Marxists Who Shall Not Be Named, with the latter seemingly misunderstanding what an “immanent critique” is in trying to discuss the inherent “whiteness” or “blackness” of capitalism. (The immanence of the critique holds the two in tandem — or it should and many now go further in this than Marx ever did in Das Kapital to more widely implement his own theory.)

Before we explore this in more detail, however — a caveat: I’m reminded at this point of a discussion had on the latest edition of Novara Media’s #TyskySour YouTube show in which Ash Sarkar and Kehinde Andrews discuss the “Decolonise The Curriculum” movement — starting at the 55:47 mark if you’d like to see it for yourself.

Both make the point that you can “diversify” a curriculum but not “decolonise” it — the academy is too far gone. James Butler then goes on to make a comparison between the contemporaneous campus “free speech” war of the last couple of years (which loudly decries complaints of curriculums being too white as being typical of millennial snowflakery) and the “theory wars” of the 1970s and ’80s, in which attempts to diversify curriculums to include queer, feminist and other perspectives were dismissed as “faddish or trendy obscurantism” in much the same way.

The danger, I think, of present discussions around geopoetics is that they fall somewhere between the two sides of this argument due to the very nature of what is being discussed. Some — a minority; not all — loudly left-wing writers and theorists do deploy an obscurantism relative to the scale of the subject at hand, because the argument for diversification is precisely the result of a thought that “poeticises” the findings of a science like geology — poetry, here, perhaps best understood in the Blanchotian sense, as that which births philosophy; as that which cannot ordinarily be put into words — the effect of which is, first and foremost, a humiliation of the human subject.

This subject is, of course, stratified and a focus on the more minoritarian strata is endlessly illuminating but to lose sight of a geopoetics’ wider implications in its response to these findings is to lose the essence of its immanent critiques.

I’ve been writing about this for myself elsewhere, particularly in orbit of a line from Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques in which he writes how Freud, Marx and the science of geology all “demonstrate that understanding consists in reducing one type of reality to another; that the true reality is never the most obvious; and that the nature of truth is already indicated by the care it takes to remain elusive”. (This is a central part of Landian thought too, we should note, regardless of what you think of his personal politics.)

As I see it, so much of the discourse around the Anthropocene as an art world fad is — quite literally — related to its myopic concentration on one strata at the expense of the broader understanding that was its original intent. This is why a “geology of morals”, then — as Deleuze and Guattari call their preliminary excavation in A Thousand Plateaus — is far more than a Nietzschean genealogy, which reveals to us, relatively superficially, where we are now. The intention is always to go deeper.

All of these anthropocentric texts arguably share this same goal, which is to raise consciousness to a planetary scale (or rather, I’d argue, given this geological scale: to raise an unconsciousness) about the present conditions of reality. Geology — and geopoetics — exert a particular influence due to the fact they might just help us predict what comes next; predict the next steps and ruptures within the earth’s primary process. They might just help us find the fault lines and make ourselves ready for when the ground underneath gives way under the constant strain of our political processes.

This is to say that it speaks to a larger unconscious but also — further removed than this — an “unconditional” process which runs underneath the chattering of political disputes, in precisely the same terms as those described by an Unconditional Accelerationism.

To quote Vincent Garton:

The problem has been muddied by its own continual posing in humanist terms, which have provoked a refusal to understand the enormity of the issues at stake. From this perspective of humanism, thought is assimilated entirely to the objective of negotiating the problems that are held to confront humanity. Philosophically, it is concerned with epistemological understanding founded implicitly or not on the centrality of a coherent human subject; critically, it reduces the world to the relations of power practiced by humans towards humans; politically, it immerses itself in defining and putting into motion a better human society. Thought is rendered finally as a series of technical questions that constitute the tactical mapping of a topography whose ultimate form is placed beyond dispute.

U/Acc’s controversies continue to quietly bubble away at present but, to me, this seems to be the same point inferred by Ash Sarkar when she dismisses the haranguing of school children concerned about climate change that we have seen from the Boomer contingent of the Right in the UK and in the US over the last two weeks. Sarkar says, with incredulity: “What is identitarian about not wanting the planet to die?” Glibly put, but the underlying point resonates. The politics of climate change can quickly (and perhaps should be encouraged to) become unhumanist, and yet we continue to see such issues discussed in identitarian terms by both sides of a political divide. (The benefits of the Right’s patronising posturing is that it shows just how moronic such a position is to the benefit of a climate-change-affirming left.)

So, Wark’s pointing to Land as a kind of warning is surely a moot point. Land’s — and, by extension, early Negarestani’s — favouring of a geopoetics is not a sign that geopoetics is politically promiscuous but rather that it is ostensibly cryptic, in much the same sense that Lévi-Strauss describes, and so it must be understood as being riven with veins for the mining of many properties. As Robin likewise made clear years ago: “The theory of trauma was a crypto-geological hybrid from the very start.”

Black Dice

Today is the first day in years I’ve listened to Black Dice. Their albums are a lot more fun than I remember.

It’s a shame that Black Dice always seemed to exist in the shadow of Animal Collective, a live group that were widely inconsistent and more or less collapsed completely under the weight of their post-2009 popularity. (The AC live shows I saw between 2007-2008 were a lot of fun — after that, always complete trash.) Black Dice, however, were always good. I’d love to see them again one day.

I saw Black Dice live twice in the late 00s / early 10s and loved them but never felt like their records lived up to the experience. Beaches & Canyons and Load Blown were often on heavy rotation at the time regardless.

All these years later, I’m not sure how to describe the experience of a Black Dice live show, but I think these photos from their set at All Tomorrow’s Parties speak volumes.

No Sleep ’til Bedlam

The idea of being back on (what I thought was) a mental health ward in the middle of the night was a prospect that filled me with an all too familiar kind of dread. My memories of being on a hospital ward or in A&E during a moment of mental health crisis as notably surreal, particularly during a manic episode, when you feel like there really isn’t anything wrong with you. You’re walking out in the same condition you walked in — or so you assume. I have a distinct memory of feeling invincible. It’s a time of total irreality to be in A&E for feelings of invincibility.

The last time this happened to me I was 19 and living in Newport, South Wales. I remember hanging out in the smoking area — they still had them then — with the drunks and the homeless feeling painfully sober but weirdly elated, like I was out for a night out down the pub with the old boys and the regulars.

This time, the déjà vu of taking yourself to hospital in the middle of the night was palpable but also had an unprecedented lucidity. This time, I felt the full gravity of the situation. I also felt a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t really know where I was going, for starters, and I had no idea what to expect when I got there either.

A few days before, I’d been given some strange equipment — a Fitbit, a pair of orange-tinted glasses and an enormous light therapy lamp. I was told to wear the Fitbit for 10 days and follow the instructions for when to use the other two.

What I was preparing for was a course of wake and light therapy — or “triple chronotherapy”, as I later learned was its official name. My understanding was that it was a new and faster acting treatment for depression based around resetting your sleeping pattern and introducing a new regularity to your daily routine.

The purpose of the trial itself was to build up a big enough data set so that the people in charge of big decisions might agree to start offering it on the NHS. Personally, I was just desperate for some alternative therapy or treatment. The meds were only doing so much and I didn’t give a shit about the CBT I was on some infinite waiting list for. So I jumped at the chance to take part in something new.

And yet this excitement was interchangeable from nervousness. I felt like I was going to go away, like saying goodbye to people, like I taking myself to be sectioned. I felt like it was the end of something.

I got the train out of New Cross and headed for Bethlem Hospital.

The name didn’t ring any bells at the time but, arriving as I did at 11pm and absorbing its somewhat ominous atmosphere in the thick darkness, the lights of the various buildings twinkling in the distance, shrouded in the silence of a distinct lack of activity (by any hospital’s standards, never mind a London one), I slowly and subconsciously realised where I was. This was nothing like King’s College Hospital where I’d been for my assessments. Then the penny finally dropped.

I walked through the gates of the country’s oldest psychiatric institution and found myself feeling suffocated by its calm and its history. Being that time of year, the vixen’s screams echoing on the air didn’t help matters either.

Thankfully, I was greeted by two very lovely therapists — a young woman and an older man. The man was there simply to introduce us to the proceedings and the young woman was our therapist for the night. It was her job to look out for us and make sure we were okay but also, most importantly, to make sure we stayed awake. We waited for a short while before the second attendee arrived and then we were filled in on the purpose of our visit.

Triple chronotherapy is, perhaps obviously, a strange name for a treatment. It’s downright cyberpunk. What are we talking about here? A triplicate time therapy? 33.3 rehabilitations a minute?

As the man explained, we have apparently known for quite some time that keeping someone up all night can have an immediate and noticeably positive effect on their mood. (I don’t know what kind of weird people they’re keeping up — it sounds torturous to me.) It has something to do with the body’s production of melatonin boosting mood significantly to compensate for the disruption to normal sleep patterns. So, whilst there’s a lot of talk about light involved, what is actually being shunted here is time — or, perhaps more accurately, the body clock. Hence, chronotherapy.

Unsurprisingly, however, this isn’t a very stable treatment to put people through. In fact, it might seem downright reckless to some. The suggestion that you should deprive a mentally ill person’s brain of something we typically think of brain’s needing to function doesn’t sound like such a great idea. And so, for a long time, researchers have wanted to know how they could stabilise and regulate the results of this quite unceremonious treatment. They believe they’ve found the best way to do this and this stabilisation process has three parts.

Firstly, they stagger the reintroduction of a normal sleep cycle. So, after staying up all night, I’m not allowed to go to bed until 5pm the following day. I then wake up at 1am and stay up all night again. Then I go to bed at 7pm the following day, waking up at 3am, and the whole process is moved forwards two hours at a time until I am going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 7am.

To make this process easier and to encourage melatonin production at certain times, I wear my very stylish ski goggles for four hours before I plan to go to bed. The orange tint of the glasses is meant to have the same affect as the orange screen setting on your phone. As our resident expert said, it simulated darkness whilst allowing you to get on with stuff during your day, further tricking the brain into producing melatonin and making you ready for sleep.

Last but not least is the light therapy, which has the opposite effect of the glasses. For half an hour every morning at 7am for the next 6 months, I’m meant to sit in front of this light box. I tried this for two days prior to having my sleep cycle reset and it was wonderful. Better than any morning cup of coffee I’ve ever had. I don’t remember the last time I had so much energy first thing on a morning.

Taken together, all these things are meant to act as a rapid treatment for depression. Personally, I think it sounds like a godsend. With SSRIs typically taking from 2 to 6 weeks before having their desired effect and with talking therapies on the NHS having waiting lists that are between 6 and 10 times as long as this, there is an urgent need for a treatment that is broadly effective and acts fast for people in need. And, all things considered, this treatment feels relatively noninvasive for something that promises quick results.

So, whilst I arrived at Bedlam feeling like a bag of nerves, I soon felt at ease. We weren’t on a ward — because, as the therapist humorously pointed out, it would be cruel to tease people who were staying awake all night with the prospect of a bed — and instead we were in a kind of day care centre.

It was a large facility, feeling a lot like a secondary school art department more than a hospital wing. We all started by sitting in the creative art studio and, for the first hour, we got to know each other and spoke about what we do when not depriving ourselves of a good night’s rest.

The young man who was with me on the trial was doing an MA in Manchester and he was doing fascinating research into how CAMHS wards can best support young and at risk children, particularly supporting their transition to and from care back into a school environment. (As I went on to rant about on Twitter, this is an issue very close to my heart.)

After about an hour of talking, the therapist made the first move and went to spend time in the textiles room. The young man and I talked for a little while longer and then he moved to another part of the building as well. In the end I was left alone in the art studio. It was cold and with horribly bright fluorescent lighting so I was happy — there was little chance of falling asleep in there.

This strange space, reminiscent of my old high school but on such well-trodden ground, meant that I spent much of the night reading about the hospital’s history online and did not miss the irony of my over-sharing whilst doing so.

I thought about staying on site until around 10am, if I could, and going to Bethlem’s Museum of the Mind to kill some time rather than heading straight home and being tempted to sleep. This didn’t happen. At present, I’ve never felt more tired in my life and the suggestion seems to be that we cannot nap to make it easier.

Staying up all night is not something that I anticipated feeling so melodramatic about but, now, 30 hours into my Friday, I feel like my entire body is rebelling against me. This is not a state in which to productively reflect on the nature of sleep…

I won’t forget this morning’s fog in a hurry though. The morning walk almost made the whole night worthwhile.

A dual thank you and apology to everyone who put up with / ignored me on Twitter last night as I decided to use it as a stimulant to stay awake for this (lack of) sleep trial.

I wrote something weird and rambling about why it is I’m doing this trial the other day, to finally get it off my chest. Feel free to check that out if you missed it.

My own nerves and internal dilemmas aside, this has been a really fascinating experience. It is also only the beginning of it. I hope I have more to say in the near future. Hopefully positive news and feedback about the impact of this chronotherapy.

Right now it’s 12pm and I’m back home, having struggled to stay awake on the train journey(s) back to the flat, maybe succumbing to a very short 15 minute nap which seemed to take the edge off. Now I am staring down the barrel of the next five hours and I feel miserable and shit. Here’s hoping it doesn’t last.

Thank you to Paul for the title inspiration and to Prat, forever, for continuing to capture my true essence even better than words can.