Patchwork Epistemologies (Part 6): Complex Communisms

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All this talk of world-building and speculative sandboxes allowed us to find common ground, I think. Reza’s definition of world-building as “a way of understanding the existing world(s)” is precisely the point for me, particularly in a post-Brexit referendum UK, where it is clear that a establishment “media class” does not understand the patchworked intersection of different politics and sentiments that are persistently upsetting the electorate. It has created an insidious feedback loop where this lack of understanding spreads and eats itself, further unsettling the national psyche. He responded:

Right, I can see that. But of course, this comes down to this so-called fact that to so many non-UK people these revolutionary ambitions made in response to purely UK-centric paradigms have no relevance to a broader global context. I mean, look at the British orthodox marxists: nothing is more detached from a global reality than these people.

But I think that even these very specifically British scenarios can be expanded to a wider political logic. We should neither dismiss them nor should we take them out of their territorial / geographic context. And that’s why, once we take British politics — across the left and right spectra — seriously as no more than an important exemplar, then we need to do the actual job of investigating them in terms of whether they are methodologically sound (with regards to the context, the system of specific socio-economic relations, mode of governance, etc) or not.

I agree with that, of course, and I’ve repeatedly said that my focus on the UK — which I do recognise to be a nation that already takes up far too much oxygen in the grand scheme of things — is simply because I would not be comfortable writing about anywhere else. It’s all I know.

But that’s not to say that these points cannot be extrapolated outwards more broadly to relate to other parts of the world. The response from many of my readers have confirmed this and I’ve very grateful for their input, particularly by Brazilian, Czech and Slovenian readers who have greatly enriched this debate over the last year.

Reza continued:

If so many people experience the same set of tribulations and issues, then as you say, these quasi-problems should be recognised as real problems: Problems for which we have not yet found final solutions. That’s why we not only need to uncover and assiduously investigate our current models of problems, but to develop hypothetical models from whose standpoints the limits of our current models and problems can be fleshed out and renegotiated.

Again, I find myself agreeing with Reza whilst likewise being made aware of my own philosophical blindspots:

Until and unless we embark on the task of real investigation (the skepticos), we just don’t know how many of our problems are actually pseudo-problems. That’s why the broad question of epistemology is important in addressing what we should do and why we should do it.

At the risk of retreading already well-trodden ground (on this blog and in this series itself), I went on to further address the influence of Mark Fisher’s work here, far beyond Capitalist Realism.

What has powered this blog since the start is the relationship I see — now left unexplored by Fisher himself — between his final book The Weird & The Eerie and what was to be his next book, Acid Communism.

Mark didn’t simply favoured communism because it was an edgy and notorious failure. He hoped to explore its broad history, its moments of impotent or squashed revolution — specifically the 1970s in Europe and North and South America — and, most specifically, he hoped to analyse what failed in us that led to communism’s destitution as an ideal or a goal.

With all this in mind, I see The Weird and the Eerie, despite its brevity, as an extension of Mark’s eternal project: How do you re-acquire an intuitive desire for this form of political collectivity against the captive forces of capitalism?

In my reading, I think Mark recognised in The Weird and the Eerie that weird fiction and horror (and SF more generally) already contains variations on this same question in their inherent (re)weirding of the mundane. Robin and I have likewise talked about this in terms of the British countryside — particularly where he lives in Cornwall with its megalithic structures, postindustrial detritus and its gothic literary tradition. (Reza: “Robin is exactly that kind of interlocutor you need, someone who refuses to settle his mind on this or that option without being whimsical.”) Whilst many environmental writers talk about a “rewilding” of our landscapes in this country, Robin has repeatedly suggested that what is closer to the surface and far more useful in the present moment is a practice of “reweirding” instead.

My interest in this process is related to a bastardisation of Mark’s “capitalist realism” which I wrote about on the blog a few months ago: a “nationalist realism” — the suggestion being that too often our speculative remodelling of how we might organise ourselves and our societies beyond the state-form is prematurely judged to be reckless. We are as squeamish about alternatives to the state-form as we are to capitalism as an economic system and I think the mechanisms for this bad faith are entirely related to one another. (Capitalism wouldn’t exist without the state-form, of course.)

In attempting to rethink a new political collectivity in this regard — a collectivity that is certainly counterfactual to how most people currently understand themselves as “national subjects” — I think a patchwork thinking precisely allows for the creation of a new world where new things are permitted which are nonetheless based on a familiar cultural history: specifically, in the case of this blog, the Gothic as an entwined commentary on a shifting state and subject — both necessarily affecting their other.

And so, it’s been my project on this blog to try and explore how a shift in how we think about the State will allow for a shift in how we think about the Subject, breaking us out of our individualisms and our more vampiric tendencies, in a way that means we have far more political control over ourselves than being at the whims of capitalism’s “libidinal engineering” (as Mark would call it). Reza writes:

Yes, I do agree with your point regarding the task of subject-engineering. There is an abstract generic subject (in the Kantian sense) but there is no generic concrete subject. We cannot simply jump from the former to the latter. The concrete subject should always be gauged in its determinate relations to what you called the rigorous explication of the state and the idea of we.

Here again, we see an example of what we have been talking about with regards to understanding the contexts and particularities of fragmentation as ways of new modes of integration which can ultimately afford us new differences of which we were unaware of in our own established particularities.  

Acid Communism remains a really potent idea for thinking about these questions for me and what I hoped to do by the end of my conversation with Reza was to really drive this point home and see what his thoughts are on it.

I may not be well versed in my Hegel, Carnap, Sellars or Quine. The sight of an equation might still trigger a certain nausea left over from my school days. But this is what patchwork is about for me. It’s an acidic dissolution of current paradigms that we might rebuild brickwise. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:

‘Acid’ is desire, as corrosive and denaturalising multiplicity, flowing through the multiplicities of communism itself to create alinguistic feedback loops; an ideological accelerator through which the new and previously unknown might be found in the politics we mistakenly think we already know, reinstantiating a politics to come.

I’m going to end this series with Reza’s comments on this. I agreed with every word and, whilst our back-and-forth had been immensely enjoyable and productive, it felt like a good and natural place to stop (all the while considering when and where we might be able to pick things up again.) I still think patchwork, as so many people have been exploring it, fits with these demands. All we need next, if enough people have their interest piqued, is to see some results…

Yes, I think this confusion between communism as a process of discovering true alternatives and a failed experimentation at statecraft is partly due to Marx and Engels’s own puzzlement. In German Ideology, they give a brilliant definition of what communism is: a real movement that suspends the established order of things. But on other occasions, they sound as if they are peddling a kind of utopia for the sake of utopia. I would say, this is actually the enigma of communism that should be understood first.

The process view (the adventure for new alternatives) by itself is too vague. Its potentials should be tested against the existing world which means that from the standpoint of particular historical moments (presents) communism as a process should be arrested as a specific configuration of social and economic relations (a system). Otherwise, it would be just novelty for the sake of novelty, difference for the sake of difference, which is too abstract, too bewildered to make a concrete difference in the status quo or the current order of things.

So, in this sense, the craft of a communist state should be seen as something positive and determinate, pitting the real movement or process against the actual world.

Now of course, as you mentioned, this moment of arresting the real movement (line of flight if we want to be a tad D&Gishly cheesy) can be assimilated by the current order. The break, deterritorialization and arrest mechanisms were invented to thwart the pathologies of acceleration, deterritorialization and pure escape. But then what can warrant that we are safe from the pathologies of deceleration, capture and reterritorialization when communism as a process turns into a planetary scale stifling state?

This is the question that we should try to answer in an elaborate and popular manner: how can we experiment with alternatives without becoming the slaves of uncritical differences which might as a matter of fact be just the projections of our own identititarian egos? And how can we pierce through these kitsch marxist versions of communism which seek to establish an actual counterpart of the process?

The end.


  1. This really speaks much less to Reza and his thinking as much as it reveals your own pitiful need to speak of yourself; vain attempts at speaking out and connecting yourself to figures of status or import. A sad yet typical example of such bloggophile existence.

    1. Yep, I said as much about not being able to speak to Reza’s thought in the first post. This series was a flawed attempt to find a way into Reza’s thought via discussions he had initiated around my work last year. I wasn’t satisfied with it — and said as much online — and I’ve moved on.

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