The Year in Review: A 2019 Xenogothic Rolodex

It’s that time of year again — time to summarise the year’s posts so you can find them more easily over on the archive page.

It is also the time to reflect a bit.

I’ve posted almost 300 times this year — almost 100 more blogposts than last year — and I’ve clocked up another quarter of a million words — although slightly less than last year. Engagement has been insane too. Views have doubled on last year, from 45,000 to 90,000 over the last twelve months.

That’s all very nice to see and I am hugely grateful for the continuing support. This blog has only existed for a little over 26 months but the line on the engagement graph is downright accelerationist. It is steep and very humbling.

From my own perspective, it’s been a bit of a weird year this year. I think I’ve posted so much because I was insecure about the productivity of the year before but, now we’re at the end of 2019, it may have been a year of quantity over quality.

That’s okay though. I’ve been working super hard behind the scenes and what quality has been missing from the blog will hopefully be made up for by my first book, Egress, which is due imminently. (I’m told there might even be a few available at the Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture this year, in just a couple weeks time.)

And that’s weird. Although I’d announced Egress in October 2018 — or rather, it was announced for me after I’d put it up on my website and Justin Murphy caught wind of it — as a self-publishing project, which I just felt done with and felt like putting out myself as print-on-demand, I was really grateful to Robin Mackay for telling me to hold my horses and make sure it’s as good as it can be before I let it out of my grasp.

And I think I’ve done that. I was working on it right up to the wire — to the extent that I’m a bit embarrassed about the galley proofs doing the press rounds as we speak because I know it is a lesser version of the text than the final one, even if that is in ways that only I’ll notice — and it has been through a complete transformation over the four months since I submitted it to Repeater and then had to hand over the final proof to be printed. It doubled in length and I learnt an insane amount about myself and my bad writing tics and also that, when the pressure is on, I can do some of my absolute best work. Looking back, it blows my mind how I’d struggled with that book for so long and then as soon as it was in the hands of Repeater I saw every flaw I’d missed previously and turned it into another book entirely. (That’s why I blog so much — much better at finding the flaws in my own thinking when I know it is on display.)

I never thought any of these epiphanies would come out of 2019. And it is weird to be writing this now knowing that no one has any idea what I’m talking about and won’t until the end of Q1 of 2020. I’ve been ready to wash my hands of this project since September and now as we enter January the press machine gets into gear. So weird, writer’s templexity.

Putting all the time spent booking to one side, the year takes on a very different shape. January started with a massive mental block, emerging out of a long conversation had at the end of 2018 with Reza Negarestani. I attempted to turn this conversation into a blog series called “Patchwork Epistemologies”. It wasn’t very good but I have no regrets. Sometimes you just have to clear the brain pipes with a six-part excursion through your own mediocrity before you can move onto the next thing.

Then, of course, it was the second anniversary of Mark’s death which always dominates the start of the year.

After January, things sort of faded into a grey area. I don’t remember writing a lot of what came next. In my head, I didn’t do anything for months but I must have just gone into auto-pilot. There were some really big posts that came out of this — the U/Acc primer being the most influential it seems — but also a lot of micro-blogging glorified-tweet type stuff which feels worthwhile in the moment but doesn’t hold up to much in hindsight. (I’ve left most of that out of here.)

From February onward, I fell into a really deep depression — one of the worst I can remember having since at least 2015. It was a weird brain chemistry thing, in part. I did a load of drugs at a party and then never recovered from the comedown. In fact, I just kept sliding down further and further into perhaps the bleakest mental state I’ve ever known.

Whilst everything fell apart in 2017, after Mark’s death, emotions from around that time were worn on my sleeve for the most part. I felt like quite a public mental health mess. It wasn’t any secret that I wasn’t coping very well because it was all anyone was talking about anyway. I was a mess and so was everyone else. Such was the atmosphere around Goldsmiths then. However, no longer in that zone, working a day job and having responsibilities beyond studying meant I fell back into the default position of hiding my feelings rather than letting them all hang out. And it was suffocating. Quite literally. I fell into a really dark place because even confessing my struggles to my partner on the daily didn’t make the pain go away and there was a point where I didn’t think I could take it anymore. All I remember is that every day was defined by a pathological guilt and I would sit in the office trying to smile through the very physical sensation of having a lump of lead in my chest.

Then I spent a night in Bedlam, starting an experimental course of triple chronotherapy and doubling by antidepressant dosage, and that shunted my brain out of the pit it was in. And I was almost euphoric after that. It was such a relief to not feel like death. I’d forgotten what “wellness” felt like.

Once I was out the other end, I set my heart on finishing Egress. Again, I don’t remember keeping up with the blog much during that time but I evidently posted some stuff. I “finished” the book in July and sent it off to Repeater and I was amazed by their quick response. But it wasn’t without caveats. As soon as I sent it to Tariq Goddard, all the faults in it became glaringly obvious and it was in July and August that it doubled in size from a modest 45,000 word document to 90,000. Then, after a stressful few months of editing and finding all the spelling mistakes and reinforcing the philosophical arguments, it is now due out on 10th March 2020.

I am really, really proud of it and I am so relieved to have washed my hands of it now. It is a load off my heart and my head.

I’m expecting that 2020 will be defined by this book. As much as it is an opportunity for myself to get some closure and move on from Mark’s thought to some other projects, the irony is that, in orbit of the release date, I’m sure I’ll end up writing about Mark more than ever. I just hope I can find a way to do so that doesn’t emboldened the Mark Fisher cottage industry. (I already have a few essays and op-eds lined up as well as a few lectures and launch events and podcasts.)

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in…

But I’ve also already started on book #2. Over the first six months of this year, I struggled to write an essay called The Primal Wound which was featured on I’d been invited to contribute to the website in December 2018 and had the idea almost immediately but really struggled to get it out of my head and onto the page. I really laboured over it. When it came out, it felt really special and the response was amazing but I’ve since realised that I am not finished with it. It was very compacted and functioned as a snapshot within a process that dominates a lot of my thought-life. That’s good, to some, but despite how much the post-Ccru crowd love compression, it’s not really how I roll and so I feel like there’s another book in there for sure. At the time of writing, I’m 25,000 words into it and I hope to finish a draft of it by the end of 2020.

I don’t intend it to be as long as Egress. It’s going to be a lot more concise and with much shorter chapters. More than anything, I’m in love with this project already because I know it’s going to be a mental sanctuary over the year ahead. It is a project so totally unrelated to everything else I’ll be preoccupied with promoting.

Other highlights of this year include our various trips to Cornwall and Suffolk, the xenofeminist hellthreads, writing about gigs I’ve loved, getting back into photography and having more of that on the blog, and a few other post series: “Cascading Adolescence” and “Frontier Psychiatry”, both of which were kind of aborted but I’m not done with them. (A polished version of “Cascading Adolescence” may be getting translated into French in the new year, seeing itself properly published, and “Frontier Psychiatry” could be another book project but it might be something I edit rather than write wholly on my own. [My previous Wild West posts turned into a major chapter in Egress so I have sort of scratched that itch for now — which is also why that series died before it got off the ground: energy went elsewhere.] I also already know of one other person who caught the Wild West bug… If you want to write something about frontier politics and psychoanalysis, drop me a line.)

Anyway, enjoy the highlights below and here’s to what is shaping up to be the most exciting year yet for xenogothic. Big terrifying things are happening. It’s great that all the energy put into this blog — that might have been seen as energy squandered by so many of the more traditionally academic types I know — is starting to pay off. If only so I don’t feel like I haven’t been completely wasting my time procrastinating on it eternally.

Here’s to 2020 being the year my procrastination helps me pay the bills?

Continue reading “The Year in Review: A 2019 Xenogothic Rolodex”

The Decade in Pictures

I’m a sucker for a bit of nostalgia. I think it’s the photographer’s curse. My memory, on its own, is pretty shit, making photographs all the more important. (As I write this, I hear this song in my head…) It often feels like they are my memories but no longer “owned” — externalized and given a life of their own.

As Twitter engaged in its own 240 character summaries of the last ten years recently, I ended up going back through my archive of photographs and having a good ol’ think.

The 2010s are the first decade I remember the entirety of because I photographed it all. Whereas 2000 to 2009 is a strange soup of events that do not seem chronological or connected by time, due to the fact that there are such huge leaps between my memories and things would change so fast, the 2010s have become a decade of settling in — settling into my own skin. It’s made for some interesting reminiscing, and the acceleration of events from 2015 to now is horrifying and real.

Rather than go through my entire family album and bore you all to tears, I thought I’d pick a couple of photos from each year for no other reason than to indulge in my own memories and share some of my favourite experiences from the last ten years.

Continue reading “The Decade in Pictures”

Thames Path

Back in London just in time for New Year’s. Robin and I spent an afternoon walking down the Thames Path from Deptford to Rotherhithe, passing by various landmarks I’ve already been familiar with for a while but didn’t realise how they were interconnected on foot.

It’s a beautiful walk. It feels like walking through a London from another time.

It was an afternoon well spent, ending up in a Sam Smith’s for a much needed pub lunch.

Mam Tor Fog

Before heading back down to London, we had a brisk walk up Mam Tor, the village of Castleton down the gorge to our right and Kinder Scout to our left. We were up there less than five minutes before it was completely engulfed in fog. A fitting end to our trip.

‘To go for a walk like Virginia Woolf’; to be tied down like Jane Eyre.

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

The opening line of Jane Eyre contrasts with all that came after it in English literature. The young orphan does not feel like she has her freedom. She is “less than a servant”, because she does not even earn her keep. She’s untethered but denied her right to roam. She protests but is tied down with her mistress’s garters.

The women in Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock discard their corsets with ease, following a walk in the midday sun, out on the Australian frontier where the recoding of bourgeois society is beginning but has not quite taken root. But it is always those in high society who egress through heat.

The other day I wrote about cold intensities. The heat of jungles, deserts and swamps, favoured by the Ccru and its acolytes, but I can’t help but feel like this is a hangover from Grand Tour bourgeois imperialism that is adopted uncritically.

Jane Eyre, sent into isolation for her wayward and uncouth ways, immediately gives her mind over to “the haunts of sea-fowl; of ‘the solitary rocks and promontories’ by them only inhabited”. She cites a poem by James Thomson that speaks to “melancholy isles / Of farthest Thule”. The cold, to her, is synonymous of dreams of isolation, where she will be left in peace, no longer under the thumb of the nurses and children of gentry who abuse her daily.

And yet, the primary reason for her not being able to go on a walk is because of the cold, which she despises in that instant — “dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes” — but only because, at that time, it was synonymous with the coldness and the “chidings” levelled at her by those to whom she was supposedly indebted: the upper-classes to whom she is an inconvenient ward.

Cold is both oppressor and freedom in the mind of the child. This is not a sign of cognitive dissonance but instead speaks to cold’s innate multiplicity. It is singular in its expression but contains within itself countless degrees of intensity.

When Deleuze and Guattari write of the body as a haecceity, this is what they are getting at. “A season, a winter, a summer, an hour, a date have a perfected individuality lacking nothing, even though this individuality is different from that of a thing or a subject. They are haecceities in the sense that they consist entirely to relations of movement and rest”.

The heat of Heart of Darkness, most explicitly, is a haecceity to counter the banal temperateness to which the capitalist classes are accustomed. The cold, on the other hand, becomes a haecceity that hardens working hands and faces or sends lovers careening across non-Euclidean paths. (“In Charlotte Brontë, everything is in terms of wind”, Deleuze and Guattari note.)

The shortest distance between two points is only a straight line on a flat surface. Out in the world, in “the plane of Nature”, longitude and latitude — “the two elements of cartography” — provide reference for points of intensive potential. They are beacons in fog, but they do not represent two distinct locations for a traveller to pass between but two areas of intensity where light spreads out, creating a halo of possibility.

They are lighthouses, turning, casting a panning light across unknown regions, not representing land, danger or a safe haven, but simply providing a veil of preparation that encompasses an area between sea and land.

In this sense, it is important that Deleuze and Guattari compare a schizophrenic out for a walk as being “like Virginia Woolf”. Woolf is not an individual subject in this instance but a haecceity herself. We should note that they do not say “like Clarissa Dalloway” or “like Septimus Smith” — the characters in Woolf’s novels known for their walkabouts. They say “like Virginia Woolf” because the author walks both paths, and countless others besides. She is the lighthouse, casting her gaze across lives lived. She disappears into minds that are not her own, and drifts out again, dissolving herself into a collective intensity, a light that pans across our subjective fog.

It is no coincidence that so many of her novels transcend class structures in this regard, nor that the characters created by the Brontës or Gaskell or Lawrence similarly transgress their enclosures, both sociocultural and geographic.

Most important of all, though, is that the plane of intensity they utilise is still available to us right here on the British isles. Outsideness needn’t be jungle fever but a pervasive home-grown coldness.

We forget what this is like, under the influence of a warming planet, but in areas of class oppression the cold has often been a vector for other forms of life. It might be useful to channel the cold again in opposition to the temperate nature of a climate emergency that sees seasons become less distinct and politics become less ambitious. I’d wager the two are not unrelated.

Contemporary geotrauma leads to boomers complaining around an open fire. Don’t stay inside and fight about it.

Go for a walk, like Virginia Woolf.

Photographs taken on two walks through Derbyshire on 21st and 25th December.

Dambusted II

Back in August, we didn’t talk about much of anything other than press perceptions of accelerationism and the Whaley Bridge’s busted dam. I wrote a post about both topics that has lingered in the back of my mind ever since. That was a big moment of self-reflection that changed how I looked at 2019.

We only heard about everything from afar then and, with accelerationism’s press on ice for the time being, now we’re up in Derbyshire for Christmas, it was pretty sobering to see the aftermath.

The Chinook-dropped bags of hardcore and whatever else are still plugging the hole and the insane amount of pumps — that can pump out “four bathtubs a second”, apparently — make it feel like a microcosm of a warzone.

A surreal sight.

Elliptical Orbit II

After yesterday’s afternoon Joy Division pilgrimage, we went back to a very foggy Macclesfield (pictured) that same evening to go and see Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

It was fine. The screening was held in an independent cinema installed in an old church / town hall which had amazing picture quality but muddy sound. The plot of the film itself was a bit weak, suffering from that all too common ailment of blockbuster impatience — bad writing with bad editing to match — which relies too heavily on audience dreamwork to patch up plot lacuna. It makes for a thrill ride quickly forgotten, much like the second installation of this latest trilogy (and 75% of action-adventure movies these days since the rise of Michael Bay.)

I’m not here to pick apart plot holes though. This isn’t a review of any kind. I just found the film resonating — despite itself — with a lot of recent thoughts.

[Spoilers below]

So many bad Cultural Studies essays have been written about the original Star Wars trilogy aping on Oedipus Rex. Orphaned boy goes out seeking vengeance for the death of his parents but in the process almost kills his father and nearly fucks his sister. It’s not really that close to Sophocles’ character at all but it does have many heavy doses of classicist hubris.

The new trilogy, though, echoes Sophocles’ plays a bit closely and in interesting ways. Kylo Ren’s rebellion against his family in the first film, culminating in him murdering his father, seems to correlate somehow with Rey’s orphaned upbringing and her adventure being driven by her search for her true self. Together they are Oedipus split.

In film #2, Rey finds Luke Skywalker, the original Oedipus, isolated on a planet somewhere and learns about Jedi stuff from him. Rey is devoted to him but he’s weighed down by the fateful line his life has taken and struggles to overcome his resentment towards it. In the end, Rey not only learns from him but helps him to let go of his past. At peace, he dies, or becomes one with the force, or whatever, and she heads off to get back to doing her own thing. It is Oedipus at Colonus in space.

The final film, then, quickly and blatantly becomes Antigone. Rey, set free of the burdens of her own past and her duties towards her elders, affirms her displacement but also retains a dogged sense of loyalty despite this. Just as Antigone stays loyal to her brother’s corpse despite being sentenced to death for the principle, Rey nurtures a loyalty to Kylo Ren, the last Skywalker, despite his persistent attempts to kill her.

Rey’s loyalty simmers and grows because she increasingly sees in Ren his family lineage — his mother, Leia, and his uncle, Luke — the two “masters” who have trained her in the ways of the Jedi and the force — and, as a result, realises that some bonds are worth more than life, fate and the rule of law. Family — or a sense of collective belonging at least — remains central to her life and the driving force of the Resistance as a whole but gone are the shackles of a patriarchal tradition and duty. She follows love and desire wherever they lead her, even if that is into the jaws of what she fears most, navigating their complexities as and when they cross her path.

(And they cross her path on countless occasions. The set piece of Rey and Kylo fighting on the wreck of the Death Star amidst a violent ocean was a highlight due to its very strong symbolic-of-the-unconscious vibes, but it ultimately felt like the setting was underused. A rare attempt at subtly, perhaps, that didn’t really work out.)

This is affirmed most explicitly when it’s revealed that her family are the worst of them all — it is revealed she is a Palpatine, grand-daughter (somehow) of the Emperor who has pulled the strings throughout the entire Star Wars saga. She struggles with the knowledge of her own bloodline and experiences the same horror when faced with the truth that Luke did, but she is far more assured of her own place in the universe than her mentor when he learned of his father’s true identity. There is no question of her giving into a familial fate. She moves adeptly around others’ expectations of her to find a third way.

Here, she affirms her displacement. “Some things are stronger than blood,” someone tells her — something I couldn’t help but scribble down in my notebook with surprisingly clarity in the pitch dark of the cinema (pictured).

This could refer to any sort of sentimentality but, thankfully, it turns out that what is stronger than blood is her own will to power.

Of course this is all demonstrated with little subtlety or grace. In the final scene, after burying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers on Tatooine, she reveals her own lightsaber, built herself, has a yellow “blade” — the third colour of the primary trinity, relative to the blue and red lightsabers that have defined the saga’s colour code of good and evil — but what I found most touching was that the final dialogue of the film had Rey — who has so far been known as “just Rey” — affirming a new identity, introducing herself to a passerby as Rey Skywalker.

After all that I’ve been writing about lately, around the anxieties of post-adoption experience and its impact on subjectivity, I couldn’t help but do a little air punch at this affirmation of a name that is not her own by birth. To choose a name is still a surreal taboo for many in society, even now. It was nice to see.

For all its faults — and the saga has had so many — it was nice to see it end with its own Antigone. Through all the melodrama and clunky set pieces, it ended with a popular-modernist affirmation of what I think is the best but most difficult position to take regarding family dramas:

Anti-Oedipus but Pro-Antigone

Elliptical Orbit

It’s my birthday today. I am 28 years old. I have completed my twenty-eighth trip around the sun.

Every year, as my birthday approaches, I feel a chill inside that grows and intensifies. Mental functioning becomes erratic and unpredictable. I retreat inwards and want to isolate myself. I feel like Kerans sailing south on solar winds.

The cold brings with it another kind of intensity. Not the jungle intensity of heat, of Heart of Darkness but the glacial intensity of cold, of The Thing. Perhaps this is what seasonal affective disorder is. I like the cold, though. The only issue is coping with my birthday.

Even as a kid, with little knowledge of what the day meant, it was a day I wanted to hide away. Performing happiness for the sake of making family feel good about it, letting them know I was having a good time, only made it worse. This hasn’t gone away as I’ve gotten older. The impetus put on family at Christmas and the dysfunctional and fractured nature of my own only makes me want to hide away more.

I haven’t tried to hide away from anything this year. Over the past few weeks, and the last few days in the lead up to Christmas especially, I have slowly been chipping away at a new book project on adoption and subjectivity — and finding it very therapeutic, I might add — but it seems like there is no shield against once again passing through the primal wound.

Birthdays are when this primal wound truly opens up, as if my emotions are at the mercy of some internal calendar that slips back into a default state of mourning, on that day when the trauma was first experienced. It happens every year like clockwork.

The sad thing is that I quite like Christmas, if only because it is the one holiday I can switch off completely from the outside world, but a tumultuous inner experience rises up to meet the new calm on the 26th nonetheless.

This year, like every year, I’ve felt distant and distracted. It’s strange because I did the annual trip to see my birth and adoptive mothers the other day and found it, for the first time since it became a tradition, to be a really lovely and calming occasion. Nothing went awry. In fact, it went so well and ended in such high spirits that I thought I had altogether dodged the usual seasonal depression to follows it. That night, however, I found that I wasn’t myself and I haven’t quite gotten back to myself since.

The book project is about affirming these sorts of negatively libidinal experiences; affirming the sense of displacement that comes from the adoptive experience and using it to step off one map and onto another. But there’s no circumventing birthdays and the intensity of the occasion pummels any thinking — not matter how wishful or wilful — back into where it came from, levelling everything to the level of the unconscious. It disturbs. There are forces at play that have other ideas and I feel myself bending to their will no matter my own.

Every other day of the year I have some Deleuze and some Nietzsche in my back pocket for moments like this, when fate feels cruel. However, today, there is no hope for me. There’s nothing to do but ride it out and wait for a natural emergence from the other side of the sun, using January as a springboard into the new year.

So, how do you do that? How do you stay afloat through such a feeling?

With a goth birthday excursion, of course.

This afternoon we drove to Macclesfield on the pretense of checking out some of the Boxing Day sales. I had a browse around a bookshop and bought Deborah Curtis’ biography of her late husband and his band Joy Division before swinging by their old house at 77 Barton Street.

It’s still used and lived in today so it’s not really much of a pilgrimage spot, especially at Christmas time. It felt a little bit intrusive to be taking photos of the street so I didn’t hang about. I was greeted almost immediately by a very friendly cat though.

Later, we went to Macclesfield cemetary where “love will tear us apart” is carved onto Curtis’ memorial stone.

There’s a song that encapsulates a cold intensity that seems to define Curtis’ legacy but it is not the only one. He was consistent; fated to a problem. Deborah’s biography already bears the title “Touching from a Distance”, taken from the lyrics of the song “Transmission” — a title that encapsulates a certain kind of paradox — a cold intimacy. The lyrics in the back of the edition I picked up list countless others that speak to this coldness as well.

What I find most affecting, however, is how incessantly Curtis writes of love as a mixture of hot and cold. “Heart and soul, one will burn.” They pivot from one to another. The best way to affirm the mixed feelings of this time of year is evidently to listen to Joy Division, latching onto those recordings of Curtis’ own elliptical orbit.

Patri Friedman and the English Paternal Function

It’s been about eight months since we last heard anything from the Seasteading Institute. It looks like the project is properly dead in the water.

If you’ve no idea what I’m taking about, here’s a very brief recap:

Back in 2018, when patchwork was the big topic in the blogosphere, seasteading was this tiny beacon of hope where it seemed like there was potential for a new kind of experimental politics to be tried out at sea on a new oceanic frontier. Unfortunately, it was all about deregulating capitalism and having a go at some weirdly anachronistic kind of neocolonialism.

Instead, what initially had potential to be a sort of bipartisan experimental project where new and sustainable technologies for living could be tried out in politically autonomous zones very quickly became this pathetic attempt to territorialise the oceans by neorandians, Bioshock-style.

Nevertheless, it did generate a lot of really interesting engineering innovations and it also contained seeds of a sustainable and new way of living but then some idiot wrote some self-published libertarian book about the whole thing and rather than bury it like any self-respecting person would they showed their true colours by making him their official spokesperson and from there on out it was gaff central and embarrassing for everyone.

I still find the whole thing really interesting though and I have a tendency to moan about it on the blog because it could be fantastic if these schmucks weren’t the ones pursuing it.

If there is anything interesting about these sorts of projects from a political standpoint it is that they could potentially offer up opportunities to try something genuinely and radically new, if the right people were involved — new forms of government, of life, of trade, etc. etc. Unfortunately, working so hard to innovate in that area only to make tax havens out of these newly autonomous zones is a woeful failure of the imagination.

Perhaps they realised this after they had a load of mishaps. Maybe that’s why the whole project went quiet…

… Nope!!

Lizette Chapman writes for Bloomberg that former captain of the good ship Seasteading Institute, Patri Friedman, has launched a new venture which hopes to do basically the same thing as the last one by replicating all the same problems:

Pronomos Capital, which Friedman incorporated in August, is supposed to bankroll the construction of experimental cities on vacant tracts of land in developing countries. Pronomos is set up like a venture fund, making investments in local organizations that do the work of securing government approvals, finding tenants, and hiring retired U.K. judges to enforce the new legal framework, to be based on British common law. The firm says it’s discussing semi-autonomous cities of varying sizes with foreign and local businesspeople in countries where officials have seemed receptive to exempting them from area laws, including Ghana, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Nigeria, and Panama. A given community could start as small as an industrial park, Friedman says. Most will be aimed at foreign businesses seeking friendlier tax treatment.

While other organizations with names such as Free Private Cities and Charter Cities Institute are advising similar efforts around the world, Pronomos is the only one with seed money from boldface names including Thiel, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Bitcoin evangelists Roger Ver and Balaji Srinivasan. In describing his new firm, Friedman isn’t shy to use seasteading as a reference point. “I’ve been putting these ideas out there for 20 years, and they’ve grown and compounded,” he says, sipping well water at his mountaintop compound south of San Jose. “What we get excited about is the ability to do this repeatedly.”

Why the colonial-sounding framework, right down to the old British laws? Dressed in a well-loved Slytherin sweatshirt, Friedman says it’s the best fuel for a fledgling economy and property values, and to assure global investors that their money will be safe in Pronomos projects. The justice system is more important than the tax breaks, he says, citing research that suggests faith in a functional code of laws is a leading indicator of a region’s economic success.

That’s been less than reassuring to politicians and residents leery of ceding land to unaccountable foreigners, in exchange for theoretical network effects. Fierce local opposition has halted a plan to create an independent area on a stretch of coastal land in Honduras, for example. The proposed tax incentives and other benefits for foreign investors were about as popular as you’d expect. “That land belongs to someone,” says Silvio Carrillo, the nephew of assassinated Honduran rights advocate Berta Cáceres.

Pronomos “will only go where we are wanted,” according to Friedman. He also says, with a straight face, that if Pronomos can get local officials to agree to its plans, “we have a credible shot at eliminating poverty.”

What it sounds like they are describing is the City of London — that financial city within a city — except it can do what it wants… Truly innovative stuff. As anyone who listens to grime will know, the City’s wealth doesn’t magically leak out over the surrounding neighbourhoods. All you get is incredibly stark inequality.

(Also, can we take a moment to appreciate the “well-loved Slytherin sweatshirt” comment… Jesus…)

What I think is hilarious about the seasteaders’ shift to land is that it makes the holes in their ideological model all the more apparent. The phrase “landsteading” begs comparisons with “homesteading” and, whilst the colonial hangovers here are strong, at its very best, homesteading is, to my mind at least, a call for the sort of “universe” Gilles Deleuze described in his essay on Herman Melville:

The American is one who is freed from the English paternal function, the son of a crumbled father, the son of all nations. Even before their independence, Americans were thinking about the combination of States, the State-form most compatible to their vocation. But their vocation was not to reconstitute an “old State secret,” a nation, a family, a heritage, or a father. It was above all to constitute a universe, a society of brothers, a federation of men and goods, a community of anarchist individuals, inspired by Jefferson, by Thoreau, by Melville.

Friedman’s fatal flaw — and he apparently says himself in Chapman’s article that he’s been trying these things out for twenty years so he really should have realised it by now — is that he is trying to replicate the end of the frontier. Every time, he’s trying to replicate a fleeting moment within the American West’s territorialisation, between the anarchic freedom and the recoding of English capitalism. He’s trying to capture and hold open the death of something, and then every time he gets close it realising it — surprise, surprise — it just dies…

If he wants to have any sort of success, he needs to displace a whole lot more than just tax laws.