Blobby is lurking. Always ready to destroy the bourgeoisie.
All photos taken between September and December, 2011.
It felt very strange to hear that Leyland Kirby’s Caretaker project has finally come to an end last night. I only heard about the release of the final part of his Everywhere at the End of Time project after seeing Axxon N. Horror’s post. It felt, suitably, like an obituary. It felt like unexpectedly hearing about the passing of a recently forgotten old friend: melancholic, and nostalgically bittersweet.
Many people around these parts have long associated The Caretaker with Mark Fisher’s writings but I’ve never had that immediate association. It always makes me think of Skyrim. I’ve written about this once or twice before: how I spent most of the final months of 2011 — the first semester of my second year at university — in my room in Newport, South Wales, listening to An Empty Bliss Beyond This World and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica back-to-back-to-back-to-back as I crept around dungeons silently dispatching skeletons with my longbow, with the crackle and pop of vinyl perforating the Caretaker’s ballroom loops sounding more like the arrhythmic drip-drip of tearful stalactites on mossed stone floors than the spectral physicality of an imagined musical object re-recorded somewhere in Berlin.
All three were brand new releases at that time. There was no thinking about the past, as such. I felt like I had my finger on the pulse. There was nothing hauntological about it — at least in the sense that most people deploy that word. It was listening to the echoes of a contemporary culture echo around its own edges, bleeding into the virtual world I was escaping into — an empty bliss, indeed.
The memories came later.
Many hear every Caretaker album as a soundtrack to the ballroom in Kubrick’s The Shining but, whilst it was an inspired conceptual beginning, this project has not remained there for me. It is a project that feels so painfully present, despite itself. As Mark would write, Kirby’s main contribution to the late 2000s discourse surrounding hauntology has been “his understanding that the nostalgia mode has to do not with memories but with a memory disorder.” It’s not that you were the caretaker, Mr. Torrance. It’s that you always will be — as far as you (and the environment in which you are trapped) are concerned.
This was, Mark would continue, the importance of the vinyl crackle to this music. It “makes the dimension of time audible.”
It is through this scratching of the scanner-lens that we can hear the time-wound, the chronological fracture, the expression of the sense, crucial to hauntology, that time is out of joint. Dyschronia.
This is the final album’s strength — the entire project’s strength, even — its affective nature in the present, revealing the weirdness of a world were ballroom dub can feel contemporaneous in the minds of those too young to ever live in the world these sonic fictions refer to.
Eight years later and I still have an almost Pavlovian response to that album’s ungainly opening rhythm and its crooning violin. It speaks to the strength of the project that I can’t talk about any part of it without wanting to recall this utterly banal and yet (to me) incredibly vivid set of experiences that have so persistently orbited my obsessive listening to this project. If I ever do get dementia — god forbid — put the The Caretaker on for me. I’ll no doubt reanimate and try to pickpocket everyone in my immediate vicinity and start saying words like “lush” and “cwtch” and “fos ro dah“…
I am not stuck in 2011, however. The world is. It was a year defined by the mayhem of student protests, London riots, and everything that followed; everything that continues to unfold. Time stopped there. We just live in its rupture; its wake. As such, this project has always been deeply connected to the spatial in contrast to the temporal, forcing us to navigate the space of time, wherever it may be.
Headphone listening exacerbates this. It feels like putting your head in the cavernous ballroom which was the project’s initial inspiration, expanding your headspace despite the cloistered environs in which you might currently be embedded within. Listening to the first part of Everywhere at the End of Time this morning on my commute to work, passing through the crowds of London Bridge, narrowly avoiding collision as panicked commuters gravitated towards each other in their reckless momentum, like heavenly objects slingshotting around each other, far too close for comfort, I felt like I was somewhere else entirely, or rather, everywhere else. (Note to self: listen to less black metal on a morning, it has the opposite effect.)
But then, what I am doing now? Sitting at my desk, procrastinating as I wait for email responses and large files to load on my laptop, reminiscing about those most vividly empty years. 2010 to 2013. I can smell them. What are these office-dwelling years by contrast? Is this the onset of my own culturally pure anterograde amnesia? As Kirby says, in an interview conducted by Mark Fisher for The Wire in 2009, discussing his 2006 boxset Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia, he was hoping to audibly recreate “a specific form of amnesia where sufferers can remember things from the past but are unable to remember new things.”
To recreate that in sound was a challenge that I relished, really. I realised the only way was to make a disorientating set with very few references points. Fragments of melody breaking out of this monotonous tone and audio quagmire. Even if you listen over and over to all the songs, you still can’t remember when these melodies will come in. You have no favourite tracks, it’s like a dream you are trying to remember. Certain things are clear but the details are still buried and distant.
That’s what this sensation feels like even now: unnervingly present — a monotonous quagmire with few reference points. Today, all my reference points for the present are grounded in 2017. Things happened then but nothing really changed since. In Britain, in particular, we’re still arguing about an event that happened almost three years ago. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. The details become more and more elusive as time warps around itself. Life itself is a dream you are trying to remember. You feel the ghosts of a culture hanging on for dear life. (Such was Wales, in particular.)
This is the distinct sensation that these records conjure for me: something missed or missing. London isn’t a city propelled by the new, for example — despite what it may think of itself. It is instead a city that rushes to bury its present in the past, and it does this very well, to the detriment of the communities that have to live here. As Mark wrote in the sleeve notes for Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia:
The present — broken, desolated is constantly erasing itself, leaving few traces. Things catch your attention for a while but you do not remember them for very long. But the old memories persist intact… Constantly commemorated…
The Caretaker felt so vivid in Newport because it seemed clear to all that we were living in the shadow of a past incessantly regurgitated — but not negatively so. It was a Twilight Zone where play was possible, albeit against a static backdrop. It was a past that many nonetheless attempted to preserve in the face of the cynically new. Stasis was preferable, in some ways, because at least it was grounded in a kind of truth. It was necessary, even, for fighting off the impending cognitive disorder; the fracture of memory by neoliberalism’s promise.
At the time, we all lived on Grafton Road, a few hundred metres from the old Newport Art College — hallowed birth canal for an entire generation of world-famous British photographers — which was, at the time, in the midst of being transformed into luxury flats; from the corpse of TJs, the legendary nightclub where local legend says Kurt Cobain proposed to Courtney Love whilst on tour with Hole, now soon to be a hotel; from the Chartist Mural, remembering the Newport Rising, an attempt to liberate arrested Welsh comrades from their English oppressors in the fight for a working class vote back in 1839, demolished just as we were leaving the city to build a shopping centre.
We lived in the antebellum, before the forced redevelopment; prior to the tyranny of the superficially new. This town cared about culture and heritage, yes, but — more than anything — it cared about progress. It cared about politics; a new politics; a new brought about on its own terms, not offered cynically by corporate giants who promised to save the high street at the expense of all those things that this city did not want to forget. It was a city that was trying to move, trying to function, trying to build, fighting off a neoliberal dementia.
In the end, it lost.
There was a peace and a tranquility that came from these post-industrial centres of gravity. I liked Newport because it felt just like my home in Hull — a time-warp; a forgotten bubble; a whole city struggling under what I called, at the time, the “slow violence of neglect”. It was dreadful but it was real. We knew what was up. You didn’t have to dig for it. It was plain to see. And it made it easier to make demands. We wanted change, not gloss, but gloss was all we got.
There was a sense that, no matter whether the memories forced upon you were of a heyday or a catastrophe, the point to be emphasised was that it had all already happened. What is there to do about any of it now? Just enjoy — even revel in — the spatial retirement of time. As Mark would write on his blog:
Its like the world has ended.
A world has ended here, in fact. […]
It is not a space that humans live in any more. But it is a space they explore.
Post-jungle. Up river. That is where Leyland Kirby now leaves us. Arriving at the long-anticipated point of singularity on this protracted Kurtz-gradient.
In truth, he already left us there months ago. I struggle to remember it, however. Newport persists in the mind.
Kirby’s advice still echoes like one of his own half-broken melodies, offered up at the Barbican in December, 2017: “Take care, it’s a desert out there…”
We spent last Sunday wandering around Russia Dock Woodland in the wind and the rain. Always feels nice to be swallowed up by nature in the middle of this city. You can completely pass by places like this if you don’t already know they’re there.
Thomas Murphy has been on top form on Twitter this past week in all sorts of ways. I felt like capturing some of these threads for posterity.
so many people who went to the University of Warwick who decided that various things (words! capitalism! jungle!) were ‘viruses’, when clearly the University of Warwick was the ‘virus’ and a pretty malignant one
Thomas was on hand to fill him in:
EVIL forces of malignancy OWNED by the acerbic wit of the nation’s premier soviet nostalgia tourguide and milquetoast psychogeographer. You see they talked positively about ‘viruses’,, but it was they who were the virus… how will the CCRU ever recover from this? 
“Kid you really think haunted computers are exciting?” he croaked in the guildlight, “check out this moodboard composed of the finest examples of post-war brutalist social housing…” 
Here he is with a truly blistering thread on the performative contradictions internal to leftist politics, particularly in this little corner of the internet. Here TM condenses what this blog has spent 1000s of words vaguely exploring into 9 incredibly precise tweets. Grumpy grad student “marxists” take note.
No surprise the exploding brain “Deleuze and Lyotard created neoliberalism” take comes from legacy tankies who think neoliberal statecraft was purely about deregulation, ignoring massive expansion of state spending on the military and police under Reagan/Thatcher and monetaryism 
The irony remains that the 90s control societ was the culmination of the post-war experiments in aping the fascist command economy (state as a macroeconomic relay station) amongst the Western bloc. That’s the kind of society the kiddies bandying around the term “neoliberal” want. 
If you identity as a communist or Marxist and support soft-socialist Keynesian dynamic stochastic equilibria, your political subjectivity is a performative contraction. 
The function of the academy is to produce generations of elites who support the current economic regime, be it under the guise of radicalism or conservatism. Critical theorists hate texts like Libidinal Economy and Capitalism and Schizophrenia because they illustrate this. 
“Desire is a part of the infrastructure.” 
These thinkers claim Marx as an idol but then treat him like a classical economist. The whole purpose of the critique of political economy was the abolition of economic abstracta (equilibria, price idealism etc.) and regrounding of the discipline on concreta. 
Marx: *cites mostly economists, engages with empirical data, constantly updates theories in accordance with the emergence of new financial instruments*
Critical theorists: Money—evil, like Satan, and also fake and lame. I h8 maths. Here are quotes from my favourite philosophers 
Characteristic that thinkers who are essentially one form of philosophical civil servant or another find this kind of thinking appalling—they’re simply protecting their self-interest. But it is the height of dishonesty for them to suggest their modus operandi is morally virtuous 
The sad truth is there are entire ideologies designed around criticism of the current MOP, which also prohibit and police any empirical or transcendental grasp of that process. One flails about, complaining about oppression, while enjoying a bourgeois life of scholasticism. 
I’ve got a few posts brewing on some topics featured here but I doubt they’ll be manage to skewer anything as resolutely as this.
Last but definitely not least, TM weighs in on the recent UBI debates, following on from the strangely memetic Andrew Yang and his desire to run for POTUS in 2020. (Sidenote: Nyx has also published a great post on this recently.)
Firstly, he quotes a tweet from @Outsideness:
Adam Smith on UBI: “… like him who perverts the revenues of some pious foundation to profane purposes, he pays the wages of idleness with those funds which the frugality of his forefathers had, as it were, consecrated to the maintenance of industry.”
“the democratic petty bourgeois want better wages and security for the workers, and hope to achieve this by an extension of state employment and by welfare measures; in short, they hope to bribe the workers with a more or less disguised form of alms” —Marx on #YangGang 
It takes mindblowing degrees of stupidity to encourage any model of governance where general livelihood depends on the mere charity of the state. As the populous becomes increasingly deskilled, dependent and uselss, their destiny will be left to the whims of technocrats. 
It’s reminiscent of the disgraceful dishonesty of the left acceleration crowd who are “Marxist” yet disregard his sustained, foundational criticism of Proudhonian socialism, in whose equalitarian model of distribution he rightly spots a tyrannical control principle. 
“The proletariat would lose all its hard-won independent position and be reduced once more to a mere appendage of official bourgeois democracy.” 
Splitting the Catholic Church into several or many separate churches is the best way to sharply reduce church sex crime, corruption, and cover-ups. The separate churches would compete with each other for members and clergy in the same way that non-Catholic churches do. The competition would produce more transparency and better practices that would minimize church crime and corruption. Some of the separate Catholic churches would be scandal-free; others would not. But as with non-Catholic churches, both worshippers and clergy would vote with their feet, move to better-run churches, and thereby impose competitive discipline, financial and otherwise, on poorly run churches.
It’s a Moldbuggian argument which goes off piste from there, however, arguing that the second-best way to tackled sex crime in the Catholic Church is to end the requirement of celibacy. “Prohibitions don’t prevent activities. They produce black markets and crime.” Celibacy, of course, applies specifically to adults, presumably. Prohibitions on child sex abuse would surely remain without the requirement of celibacy… Big danger of slipping into weird territory here, mate. We’ll come back to this bizarre point in a minute…
The article continues:
Splitting up the Catholic Church would require the pope and the top levels of the Church’s hierarchy to cede much of their power, but separate Catholic churches could adhere to the same theological doctrines, celebrate the same Mass, and continue their educational and charitable good work. They also could theologically diverge and form different denominations, as Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and other Protestant denominations have.
The breakup of the Catholic Church could be accomplished in a variety of ways. A “big bang” approach would declare each parish, diocese, or archdiocese an independent church entity and allow the new independent entities to organize into associations, remain standalone churches, or further subdivide. Another approach would call for conventions of Catholics in each nation to organize their churches. Like non-Catholic churches, the resulting separate Catholic churches could end up organized in a myriad of ways. The Orthodox Church has 22 self-governing churches with the same or very similar theology and worship. Protestant churches range from those with a single building to the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Splitting up the Catholic Church, however it is done, would increase competition, produce more transparency and better practices, and accomplish what the existing Catholic Church has proven it cannot: sharply reduce church crime and corruption.
The Catholic Church is not too big to fail. It’s time to break it up.
I admire the sentiment and the transparency. It’s unintentionally humorous, however. I’m interested in it though, not as a Catholic but because this is something I’ve written about before, in what is effectively my first essay written on the topics that have come to define this blog: “Monastic Vampirism“.
I don’t stand by it all but my initial interest in monasticism, the Catholic Church and Agamben was that I wondered whether monasticism itself could constitute a form of exit? In my reading of Giorgio Agamben’s The Highest Poverty I found a Franciscan monasticism that was proto-anarchist in nature, advocating radical self-discipline over any hierarchical prohibition, use over ownership, and I ended up comparing these outside-oriented communities to the clinic at La Borde made famous by Felix Guattari.
I won’t recount the whole thing, although I’d warn any first-time readers that it does wander around in places (to a fault), but the question remains interesting for me: does the form-of-life encouraged by Franciscan monasticism reveal just where the modern church has — and continues — to go wrong?
Land himself, I assume, remains against monasticism on principle — with the relevant passages where he writes against its practice quoted in the old post also — but is that still the case? Even when thought of as a form of exit from law and the state, and church preemptively?
The church absorbed the monasteries precisely because it did not trust them to function beyond its power and control. For it to fragment now, as Simon suggests, then, does not go far enough. Fragmenting the law does not stop it being the law. Simon seems to argue for something beyond prohibition without considering just how much these forms of competition would undoubtedly require it to remain. He is nonetheless right to suggest that prohibition does nothing to desire — it might even encourage it — but how is that an ethical argument for the prevention of pedophilic sex abuse? It doesn’t work, precisely because it is a form-of-life that is required. The Church has to reinvent its infrastructure even more radically than proposed here to reacquire that.
Update: A further point made by the Woke Space Jesuit:
Really don’t understand the argument of the OP — the catholic church is already lots of literally or de facto seperate churches
To which I replied:
True. It’s very ambiguous about what it wants or why. It just reads like someone who’s read Moldbug and decided to apply it thickly to their own world without nuance.
I get asked for film and TV recommendations a lot on CuriousCat and I’m never really sure what to say. More often than not, I ignore them, because it ultimately feels quite arbitrary.
I watch everything. Or try to. I used to literally watch everything and my threshold for liking things was low. I paid my dues with French New Wave or Polish Slow Cinema or whatever else. My favourite directors were Kieślowski, Bergman and Lynch but I don’t really want to be the guy who still recommends that stuff at the drop of a hat into his late 20s. (Although, of course, I still think they’re all great.)
If 18-year-old Film Bro me was to give you a list of films that were really influential for me, it would look like this:
— A Short Film About Killing (1988, Krzysztof Kieślowski)
— The Hour of the Wolf (1968, Ingmar Bergman)
— The Devil Probably (1977, Robert Bresson)
— The Sentinel (1977, Michael Winner)
— The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)
— The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)
— Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)
— Possession (1981, Andrzej Żuławski)
— The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)
— INLAND EMPIRE (2006, David Lynch)
— Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
— The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)
— Kwaidan (1964, Masaki Kobayashi)
— Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Mike Nicholls)
—Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicholas Roeg)
I’d still stand by that list, I reckon, but I’m wary of saying it is definitive because I haven’t seen most of these films (except The Thing, which still gets frequent outings) within the last 5 years — 10 years for some. As such, I could just keep going. I’ve seen a lot of films and I’ve liked a lot of films because I was a teenage sponge and there comes a point where a list just becomes redundant because it’s whatever comes to mind first. I don’t want to equate my taste with the effectiveness of my memory. Nowadays, if I watch something and it makes me feel something out of the ordinary, I’ll probably find something to write about it right here.
Beyond this connoisseur-appropriate list, I’ve also really liked The Hunger Games trilogy, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners and David Fincher movies — Zodiac, Alien 3 and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I really like Michael Mann’s Collateral — the first (and only) movie I ever saw on a plane! I like the most recent run of Marvel movies — which have finally found their stride, I think, after a load of money-grabbing. The last three films I saw and really liked were The Favourite, Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
I could have just said all this when an anon asked earlier if I could recommend some “Gothic media essentials” and, whilst I’d otherwise be happy to, it felt like a good opportunity to offer some broader thoughts on tastes and xenogothic media. Because not all these things are recognisably Gothic and making a list doesn’t really do enough in terms of clarifying that I actually think about the Gothic (and why this blog is called Xenogothic).
I like finding the Gothic in all the telly I watch. My view of the Gothic isn’t that normative because I don’t think the Gothic is — or, rather, it shouldn’t be — that normative. At its best, it ruptures itself. The best examples of the Gothic, for me, are often thrillers and murder mysteries rather than horror movies. More often than not, I end up chatting about the latest murder mystery on Netflix than the latest jump-scare-athon. I’m a big fan of Robin Mackay’s writing on yarnwork in this regard and Robin might be the person I talk to about TV and films the most. (In fact, we shared a folk horror kick last year, watching Blood on Satan’s Claw at Urbanomic’s Cornwall HQ.) He once wrote:
The international thriller and the detective story … present us with a localised object or event that stands out from the ground of normality, suggesting forces as yet unaccounted for. At the same time they transform that vision through abrupt shifts in perspective — the ‘plot twists’ that are the stock in trade of such narratives. This continual interrogation appeals in part because it models the predicament of finite, situated cognition and its aspirations toward universal purchase.
Gothic media essentials are, then, a misnomer for me. It’s about rupturing normality, not finding the best examples of a norm. What I’m interested in is being attuned to the weird as we can find it in the here and now, and the now and then. And there are plenty of examples of media that do that, albeit not being readily seen as “Gothic”. “American Horror Story” never quite got my vote, for example, because it felt so invested in heavy-handed genre tropes. I much prefer the neo-baroque of “Hannibal“, for instance, or, most recently, I liked that new adaptation of “The Haunting of Hill House“. Another series I can’t stop thinking about is “Children of the Stones“, particularly for the way that Mark wrote about it on the Hyperstition blog, tapping into a vigilant and militant dysphoria.
I’ve been interested in finding this sort of thing in all kind of films, mostly recently planning to find the American Gothic in Westerns.
Non-normative gothic is the most gothic.
There’s nothing here but flesh and bone
There’s nothing more, nothing more
There’s nothing more
Let’s go outside
Dancing on the d-train baby
“Let’s go outside” was the call that echoed across the office on Wednesday, midmorning. Spring sunshine was coming through the windows of the oppressively air-conditioned office and winter germs were still lingering in clouds around nonetheless professionally decontaminated desks. You didn’t need to ask twice.
My manager, running late, had passed The George Michael Collection at Christie’s the other morning and suggested our department all go, for no reason other than it might be interesting. I said, halfway through an important email, perhaps a little too loudly, “Fuck it!”, and grabbed my coat, happy to have an excuse to leave the stifling office.
I found myself quite pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. It was enthralling. I’ve been to art fairs before and even auction houses but nothing quite like this. As nauseating as the posh hoards can be, the day is often justified by the spectacle of some old duchess gazing into the cosmic arsehole of an abstract expressionist painting and declaring, “Oh I never in my life thought I’d see you again!” What decadent depravities those eyes must have seen…
This was very much the vibe of the George Michael Collection and it might have been one of the most surreal art-viewing experiences I’ve ever had. A survey of ’90s British art, for the most part, largely produced by the YBAs, soundtracked by George Michael’s greatest hits. There were giant images of George Michael himself scattered throughout the “exhibition” with vultures everywhere buying up the dead man’s possessions in this glittering mausoleum. This isn’t a comment made entirely cynically — so much of the artwork collected was about death, it was hard not to come away with that feeling.
Having wandered around for a while, I eventually found myself hypnotised by the mutated cock on the face of a Chapman brothers Bellmer-esque monstrosity, my eyes glazing over to the sounds of “Careless Whisper“. I thought about how differently I imagined my day would unfold when I woke up this morning.
This morning on Twitter dot com, @PartyPrat discovered the weird world of UK folk traditions. From the Burry Man and Uppies and Downies — that was a new one for me too — to the Padstow ‘obby ‘oss and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Roll.
In typically blessed Prat fashion, I present to you a picture of Xenogothic dressed as an ‘obby ‘oss chasing a wheel of cheese.
Thanks to the lovely anon on CuriousCat:
I don’t post this message to massage my own ego but because it taps into a conundrum that has haunted me throughout my entire blogging life and which I’ve wanted to write about for a long time now. It speaks to an interesting dilemma, and one that says a lot about how we think about and respond to opportunities for cultural production. What I want to talk about is this “academic hamster wheel” and the problems and joys of existing outside of it.
The wheel is endemic, that’s for sure, and they push you on it young. Nyx commented on this when I posted this screenshot on Twitter, noting how she’d felt this pressure to keep your cards close to your chest even as a philosophy undergraduate.
This “hamster wheel” is most obviously an issue for writers writing theses and essays and books — and strict rules around plagiarism and self-plagiarism within universities only help to embed this culturally, even if it’s for the sake of protecting research — but it is also something I hated about studying and making art too: this suggestion that, to give something value, you have to keep it to yourself until the very last moment. This is a good thing to do in some ways but antithetical to thinking and cultural production in others.
This is quite a serious question for me. Struggling with it has genuinely triggered depressions in the past. I resisted any notion of self-privatisation as neoliberal professionalism for many years but — unemployed, broke and miserable — I purged all my old blogs in late 2015 when I thought that maintaining them was actually holding me back, stopping me from reaching certain personal goals because my openness online was only devaluing what I could do in the eyes of anyone who might be in a position to pay for it.
This is a tension that you see playing out across various different platforms and mediums and scenes, and I’ve known many friends who have likewise slidden up and down the scale of private/public during similar experiences.
People talk about this in the music industry most heatedly, I think, where there’s a protracted tension around debates regarding the best way to sustain the value of the medium you’re working with — how should you try and get exposure for your work whilst not undermining its potential for sustaining your life and your ability to make stuff? It’s a distressing question because, for many, it just seems to eat itself. This is a particularly pressing issue online too, where cultural hubs are increasingly diffuse and global rather than tight-knit and local. Given such circumstances, how do you keep a scene alive on the internet whilst also sustaining yourself through the monetisation of the cultural work you do (if you even have the option to do that)? How do you walk that line between principled creator and sell-out? Bandcamp, I think, finds a happy medium, with the website’s model and UX seemingly doing well when it comes to cultivating scenes and supporting those who create within them without too much privatising interference. (But then, I’m just a Bandcamp user, not a musician, so what do I know.)
With writing, these tension seem to be even more awkward and convoluted. For freelancers in particular, there’s a strong case to be made for strengthening the value of the work you do so that payment for it reflects the work put into it rather than the amount of space it takes up on the page. Making pop-cultural production pay in this way requires a pretty radical rethinking of the platforms we use and how. For instance, in my opinion, Patreon — whilst working for some — seems to be completely deaf to the nuanced differences between the mediums its platform is used to support. But, then again, I’m not a freelance writer either. I do sometimes write for other places and I like getting paid to write very much — who doesn’t enjoy that sense of validation? — but generally I contribute to stuff by invitation only. I’m not out here pitching anything because writing isn’t my day job and why would I want to pitch when I’ve got the immediacy of my own platform anyway. Blogging suits me because its light on admin which I don’t have any time for. I just wanna put stuff out there. (The precarity of my main source of income, however, does make me think about other options regularly.)
On the flip side, there’s a separate strong case to be made for devaluing academic writing that exists almost exclusively between paywalls and university library price-tags. I am more than happy to contribute to this devaluation but academic writing is not really what I’m going for anyway. I hear on the grapevine and get pingbacks which show that some people are referencing my blog in academic papers which I think is hilarious and brilliant as far as challenging the cloistered world of journals and conferences goes, but the main reason I’m here isn’t out of protest but because I care more about writing as its own form of cultural production. Xenogothic, in this way, is not meant to be a “Culture Studies” blog — I want to help make a culture rather than settle for writing about culture as an end in itself. However, I’ve found myself running into problems over the years because of the necessity of attaching writing to other cultural spheres, each with their own accessibility problems already.
The fun and joy of writing here and making related stuff is that it feels like contributing to a community of other bloggers and artists and interesting people; like being embedded in something beyond yourself (particularly when you’re not a part of an institution); like giving a structure to a diffuse online culture, positioning yourself as one of many columns supporting certain discussions and activities; feeling like a touchstone for other people in other fields, a cultural vector for the meeting of other things. And when I hear other people say they’d like to join that community but don’t know how or think they’ve not got the chops or whatever, I say bullshit. The best thing about blogging for me, and the best way to blog is: “show your working.”
“Showing your working” is exactly how I used to describe my old photography blogs. I’m all for big, somewhat secretive and long-term projects, but I think there’s a great benefit and excitement that comes from showing your working online, quite literally. And I really don’t mean this in the Instagram sense of showing that you’re busy. I mean showing your trajectory, your method, in all of its unruliness. I think of it a bit like a maths quiz, where just writing the right answer in the box isn’t really the point — half the marks are for showing your method in the margins and showing that it’s sound. Academia has its own fusty ways of encouraging this, of course, with “research methodologies” and whatever else, which are often rightfully ridiculed for just telling people how you plan to read to book. (“I dunno, from front to back — how do you do it?”) That’s not what I’m talking about here. The blogosphere — thank fuck — isn’t about good grades. It isn’t about bureaucratic hoop-jumping. Nevertheless, showing your working is good practice. Big mathematicians might call this having a “proof” but this is why I use the example of an quiz instead. It’s not about putting it on a big blackboard and going for the Nobel. It’s about sharing and bringing people in and building something together.
Demonstrate your method in the margins of the culture.
The methods you’ve learned in institutions or elsewhere are fine to use here, just set them free. Tracking the development of a thought, from seed to tree, helps you to keep track of it — and even showing how you can loose track of it keeps things vivid and alive. It’s not about knowing everything and sharing it. It’s about sharing your learning, in all the ways that it takes place. Twitter helps with this, at its best, when it’s not all about combative reductions and dick-measuring. As grumpy as I can be when combatting haters, I try hard the rest of the time to talk about and discuss things in a way that is accessible, open, and exploratory, like a study group people can enter and exit at will, regardless of experience. That’s why I think documenting, referencing and reflecting on Twitter conversations is a valuable thing to do here.
When I ran a photography blog, this was likewise — broadly speaking — the intention there too. I was posting pictures I was taking whenever I took them. If you think I’m productive here, the productivity of this blog is little more than a hangover from posting photos multiple times a week for five or six years. I was proud of what I was doing and sharing it felt natural. Why hold it in? Why isolate it? Why does keeping a public diary of your work diminish any final, polished product? What’s the benefit of the illusion of immaculate conception to culture? What has that done to our expectations? We romanticise it later, often posthumously, but why not when we’re alive and kicking? Why not embrace that fact? Working in this way did open up some really interesting doors for me — I posted one instance recently — and it likewise led to the formation of some beautiful friendships. And this was not just about sharing things but responding to others too. I liked taking pictures with my peers and then each of us sharing our views on the day across our blogs. It helped refine what we saw that was different to other people and it felt like collaboration, cultivating an atmosphere of collective thought. Cultivating a culture that was antithetical to the professionalisation being encouraged in other classrooms. (Shout-out Michael and Sara, I miss what we had during those years.)
Xenogothic has led to some very similar interactions, becoming a kind of node in a network of people sharing ideas, sometimes fully developed, sometimes half-baked. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for sitting on an egg until its ready to hatch — and there’s nothing that says you can’t do both — but sharing things with people and creating a community around that sort of activity has always felt more rewarding, interpersonally if not financially.
When I wanted to “be” a photographer, I would always be working towards big projects, of course — chasing that dream of publishing my own photo book or having my own exhibition. In this way, the attitude wasn’t a “punk” thing, exactly. When it came to photography, as a form of capturing your own processes of looking, I just felt like only showing off my eye in those big-ticket instances was phoney. I’m doing it all the time, not just in instances where I’m wearing a professional hat, and I didn’t want to have some sort of hierarchy of value over what I was doing. It was all valuable — to me, anyway. I didn’t want to compartmentalise casual stuff to a Instagram, as if that’s the place for it. I wanted everything to exist alongside everything else.
And so, as I was looking all the time I was blogging all the time, collecting instances of forms that I liked and visually enjoyed, like a magpie. Unfortunately, this very natural way of looking and working has already been monopolised. Wolfgang Tillmans, for example, has built his entire career off of this way of working. It even won him the Turner Prize — making him the only photographer (so far) to ever win it. Tillmans is a brilliant photographer and, in saying this, I don’t mean to downplay his obvious skill, but the prize was awarded — so said the jurors — for the ways in which “his work engages with different aspects of contemporary culture, while challenging conventional aesthetics, taking photography in new directions in both his methods of working and in the presentation of his work.” This way of working, now wholly associated with him, is, in essence, a kind of photographic honesty, and it seems strange that, as far as the art world is concerned, he has been allow the monopoly on that.
What’s even worse is that, rather than Tillmans win opening doors for a less conservative photographic culture (as it should have done), this way of working is almost impossible to enjoy now because of intensified gate-keeping practices which emphasise keeping your work hidden to the extent that you should pay other people to look at it. Here we find the frankly criminal photographic sub-industry of “portfolio reviews” where a photographer’s eyes are so precious that they won’t even open them to look at you unless you pay them £50. Make that a couple of hundred if you want the privilege of having them look at what you’ve made. You pay to have your work seen. You have to pay for entry into the hallow halls of professionalism.
In the spirit of this “show your working” approach, my final project as an undergraduate photography student was an installation of disparate and loosely connected photographs that could be walked around and seen from different angles. I also made a mix CD that was given away, featuring a selection of songs that I listened to whilst making the work which I felt poeticised the act of looking in itself and which likewise tried to encourage it. The sounds of this CD were also pumped into the exhibition space. This became “my thing”, my novelty, but it was genuinely very important to me that these static, two-dimensional instances of looking — these photographs — were accompanied by songs, by a temporal experience, where looking at photography became an exercise in looking in itself. There were photographs in frames, photographs as wallpaper, zines, found objects… Things collected over time. I wanted to try and bring the temporal process of making the images back into the images themselves because the images alone felt wholly unimportant unless they conveyed the experience of taking them in the first place. Their temporal nature had to be emphasised despite themselves.
I kept this project going for a few years after graduating but nothing ever came of it. (I did bizarrely get nominated for the inaugural Magnum Photos Graduate Prize — by someone who I think was trying to protest their position as a juror — and Magnum was so antithetical to what I was about that my submission was something of a protest too — you can buy it if you like!) At first, I called it “Automatically Sunshine“, after the song by the Supremes. Later, it became “Looking at Life” in honour of a song by Alice Clark. It was all very colourful and soppy and joyful, trying to have a sense of humour and not allowing it to take itself too seriously. I made it during the “positive affirmations” phase of combatting my own depression so I look back on many of the messages of these songs with a certain cynicism now (even if they’re still bangers). More than anything, it was a project that was, at its heart, deeply inspired by the ineffectuality of the “finished” object.
Music returns here as an exemplary cultural form. We think of the album often as a fully realised artistic vision, as a product of a process, as a honed performance. Many avant-garde musicians hated records because of this — John Cage most vehemently. They diluted the experience of live sound, changing audience expectations for the worse, unable to adequately represent the sonic qualities of minimalism, for instance, or the extreme temporalities of long-form performance. (David Grubbs’ book Records Ruin the Landscape is an interesting overview of this sentiment in its time, interestingly challenged nowadays by the digital era — Terre Thaemlitz comes to mind.) However, I always loved the bands and musicians who emphasised the limitations of the medium in this regard, seeing their records as snapshots, as frozen moments in time, so obviously different to the nature of live performance. It was music in the dub tradition — studio as instrument and environment. Phil Elverum, a favourite of this blog, was a major influence on me as a teenager for his approach to cross-genre music-making in this vein — and he continues to be so. His best records have always been those ones which are about to fall apart at the seams, barely containing the experience which produced them, whether that be abject grief or the unruliness of creative expression in itself.
My favourite hiphop albums are self-reflexive in this way too, embedding their making-of into their very DNA. J Dilla’s Donuts is an album with a whole mythology attached to it in this regard — made, as it was, from 7″s sampled from Dilla’s eventual death-bed — but, personally, I think it is mythologised at the expense of a broader cultural tradition. I can name you a dozen other records that keep this tension at their heart, for instance — painstakingly constructed records that nonetheless try to retain the energy of improvisation; the act of listening, of call and response.
K-Otix’s Spontaneity EP might be one of the most lyrically explicit example that comes to mind. From the EP’s second track, “???????!?!?”: “Blowing simplified versions of extended mental, co-incidentally extends from the existential / Breathing life into the Mic”.
The second verse of “I See Colours” by Edan also featured on an old photography mix due to its masterful combination of self-reflexive sampling and lyrics: “I work with the aesthetic of a brain medic / Cutting up the reels with crystal shards to make a tape edit”.
A lot of this stuff would fall into that nauseatingly-named genre label of “Conscious Hiphop” — invariably named “political hiphop” or “socially conscious hiphop”. All hip-hop is conscious, of course, but what the genre name seemed to be getting at in its original instance was a strain of hip-hop that was about hip-hop; a kind of meta-hiphop, reflecting on itself as often as it told stories about its outside. Jeru the Damaja is one of my favourite rappers from this sphere, tying mental knots around himself as he shadowboxes hip-hop and its aesthetic expectations along with his own love and mastery of the street culture. For instance, on the short song-skit “Tha Bullshit“, he would critique the aesthetics expected of rap music but then, on tracks like “My Mind Spray“, he would embody the energy and bravado of a battle rap, reflecting on the power of words themselves — words sprayed like bullets from the loaded chamber of his brain, raining down on his linguistic opponents.
Throughout, we see a dance where the very processes of listening, rapping, writing, speaking are articulated within the acts themselves.
Elsewhere, Kool and the Gang, on cosmic gospel number “Heaven At Once”, declare:,
“What are you doin’ to make things better”
“Well, you see we are scientists of sound,
We’re mathematically puttin’ it down”
I can’t find the page reference for this but I’m positive this line gets a shout-out in Kodwo Eshun’s sonic-bible More Brilliant Than The Sun, likewise echoing the libidinal engineering mindset that weaves itself through Jeru the Damaja’s 1996 album Wrath of the Math.
This enunciation of a Black desiring-production embraces the Deleuzean materialism of the body as a factory, with math being a sort of dual signifier for human intelligence and divine design. As such, the rationalism of math and science is combined with a certain spirituality, a mental acuity. You don’t think in order to engineer — thought is engineering. Raising consciousness is drawing blueprints. Writing primers and reading lists and mixing your essay notes in with your diary entries is enacting and breathing the philosophy and science and math of life in its actuality and its virtuality, refusing the compartmentalisation of either. This is likewise how I interpret Kodwo’s evocative self-description of himself as a “concept-engineer”. It’s not just wordplay or a cool ’90s rephrasing, as so much of the Ccru-era poeticisms are reduced to. It’s a term that contains the task at hand succinctly within itself. Concepts are constructed and built up by people; by cultures. It’s a challenge to the isolated image of the philosopher. It’s saying something like, “I just draw the thing, the culture builds it”, or even points to a conceptual reverse-engineering — drawing the potencies of culture out for other uses. Culture-production is the name of the game but it does not simply flow in one direction. It’s rhizomatic at its core and always has been.
This is not the only way to do things, of course. It’s just important to me. And I think there’s a lot left to be said for other writers who do this — many of whom we are already (intentionally) in orbit of. Putting out a book of woke and trendy opinions isn’t that hard to do, in the grand scheme of things, and everyone knows that no book has ever been written in isolation. So why not be honest about that? Why not show the links and the workings and have this open community that exists below or, better yet, adjacent to your blog ejecta? All of us writing online here today are writing in the shadow of those who came before us in this regard. The Mark Fisher’s, the Robin Mackay’s, the Nick Land’s, the Nina Power’s, the Ben Woodard’s, the Dominic Fox’s, the Justin Barton’s, the Simon Reynolds’s, the Steven Shaviro’s, the Reza Negarestani’s. These are just some of the names that jump out at me from my bookshelf, whose books I have studied closely but whose blogs I also follow and whose methods I’ve seen unfold in “real time”, whether in the present or retrospectively (or both).
This is what blogging should be able. It’s doing it and writing about doing it. It’s not careerism or networking or arse-kissing or erecting a paywall to be taken seriously. I already take it seriously and that should be self-evident by the fact that the method is considered as in-depth as the product. In a way, the method is the product. I value the method above all else. I value the fact that I am living it. And the value and affect of that method is that every time I say “I”, I should melt away.
It’s been two weeks since Bedlam, and what a rollercoaster ride it has been.
In the immediate aftermath of the initial sleep phase shift, I felt horrendous. Generally, life has been defined by having no energy, sluggishness, old man aches before my time, but for the rest of that weekend I was truly miserable with it.
As a result, I found it difficult to stick with the sleep pattern provided. One major part of the study has been to measure the success of triple chronotherapy in outpatients. It’s been offered to inpatients on the NHS but it hasn’t been implemented as a regimen to follow at home. One piece of feedback I know I’ll be giving when the time comes is that those first couple of days felt impossible when I was in the comfort of your own home and didn’t have someone checking in on me every so often. The first morning, I slept for 90 minutes or so when I got home — something we’d been specifically told not to do — and I was mortified. I hadn’t meant to. I’d simply sat on the sofa and passed out.
I had wanted to take it very seriously and the fear that I’d fucked it up before it truly began did not help things initially. The process was exacerbating my anxiety. But then, after the initial hump, it has worked like a charm. I started going to sleep happily at all these odds times and I started to really enjoy the very early mornings. Waking up at 1am, 3am and 5am respectively over successive days felt like I was gaining back the hours to myself that I’d grown accustomed to — unhealthily — on a night. And immediately I seemed to be converted from a night owl to an early worm. This is undoubtedly down to sitting in front of my new giant wake lamp. It is an incredible thing. It’s better than any amount of sugar on a morning — what I’d usually relied on — and it lasts too. I have not felt this good in two years and it has transformed every part of my life almost immediately.
At home, I’m happier and so are those around me. I feel like I’ve gotten my mojo back. I’m calmer, less stressed, more productive in my day-to-day life (blogging really doesn’t count), better around the house, more willing to do chores and look after myself and cook. I care more about the world around me rather than feeling like a burden to it. I feel more present and more attentive. All in all, I feel significantly less depressed.
But then, today, I’m starting to see how my situation remains fragile. I’ve caught a glimpse of myself from outside myself. I felt that moment that often comes on the road to (or from) wellness, when a good mood stops feeling like a miracle. I’ve been depressed for so long this elation started to take on its own irreality, and then once I saw it as such I started to notice the behaviour I was letting slip through which wasn’t healthy. I started to feel guilty again, embarrassed. For the past two weeks I’ve been, for about 3/4 of the time, erring on the side of mania. Not a clinical “I’m invincible!” mania, but certainly a mania within my usually subdued parameters — a persistent hyperactivity at best. (I’m really fucking annoying when I’m hyper.) As a result, I’ve been oversharing and all too readily engaging with the kind of stuff I’d otherwise ignore. That recent Twitter argument was a long time coming but then it led to others. I let it lead to others. The enforced serenity of “weaponised inattention” lost its potency and I wanted to swat everyone who’d subtweeted me in recent weeks. I wanted to violently shove away all the haters. In that way, I did feel invincible. Twitter invincible. After telling Crane to suck on his incessant subtweets, I wanted to take on everyone else who’d tried to talk shit about me. I felt strong but looked pathetic regardless. The U/Acc Primer was a productive use of this irritation. Recent Twitter activity has not been productive at all.
This was a mistake. I’m left wanting to apologise for being a belligerent bull in a china shop, wading into anything and everything, being constantly on my phone. A weirdly viral tweet set the tone, then hellthreads, then drunk live-streaming, then foot injury overshares, then the paranoia surrounding that weird open letter, then more hellthreads. Individually, they’re par for the course on Twitter dot com, but today I feel exhausted and I think enough is enough. I don’t really know what has been up with me this week. Too much drama all too quickly. Everyone who’s been an arsehole is still an arsehole but I regret engaging with so much of it and I regret opening myself up to ridicule and bad tempers in the first place.
Why am I oversharing about oversharing? I don’t know. Blogger’s curse maybe. Maybe because I’m aware that all this stuff is connected; is a part of what I’m been going through at the moment, but taking half an hour to write this down and be attentive to it feels like a way to take back control.
Triple chronotherapy has been a miracle for me at this time in my life, following a year of increasing desperation. I cannot recommend it enough and I’d like to write a post that offers up something of a how-to. What’s so important to me right now is that the very minimal support given throughout this trial has been simply for the sake of the trial itself, so they can control the data. What feels so good about it is that this has been totally self-initiated, in many ways. I’ve been given the gear but I’ve done it for myself. And the positive effects have been so immediate, I’m left wanting to recommend it to everyone. But still, the truth lurks in the background. It’s not a cure. It works but if you want it to keep working, that takes discipline and self-awareness. That needs to extend to Twitter usage also, no matter how giddy and friendly (or giddy and combative) I’m feeling.