Accelerationism and Acid Communism: Notes on Theory and Praxis

The other day I made the uncharacteristic decision to join a bunch of Mark Fisher-related Facebook groups. I don’t really use Facebook or like it very much but after some people shared posts about my book Egress in a couple places, I thought it’d be nice to say thanks and hang around their scenes for a bit.

It wasn’t long before I became embroiled in a comment thread about violent far-right Accelerationism.

I’m too far past the point of caring to claim that this violent “accelerationism” isn’t accelerationism proper. That doesn’t do anything to help anyone. But when I saw it said that Mark “wasn’t himself taken in by the right aspects of Land’s thought, neither was he particularly an accelerationist”, I felt like throwing in my two cents.

I don’t want to just rehash a Facebook debate here, however, or pour a load of scorn on someone commenting in good faith — this shouldn’t be read as being aimed at any one person — nor do I intend to “grandstand” a brief discussion by making it all one-sided.

The real reason for putting this here is that I felt something else coming through whilst I was adding a long and over-blown Facebook comment to that thread. I started to articulate something I’ve been thinking about for a while now — somewhat related to how I have never managed to connect with how Mark’s work is read and written about on Facebook — but haven’t actually managed to satisfactorily write down anywhere…

So here goes…

It’s no secret that I despair at the Jeremy Gilbert Zero Books Facebook school of Acid Communism — a sort of amorphous, transatlantic Breadtube-adjacent cottage industry that I think does a great disservice to Mark’s work rather than extending it in any meaningful sense.

The view of Mark’s work that I associate with these corners of the internet speaks to the two ways that, in my experience, it often seems to manifest:

  1. From the UK, it takes Jeremy Gilbert’s smattering of posthumous articles on Acid Communism and Acid Corbynism as being somehow representative of Mark’s planned project (instead of just being representative of Gilbert’s own under-developed ideas). [Addressed here.]
  2. From the US, it sees Acid Communism as some sort of grand political do-over at the end of Mark’s thought, taking it as an opportunity to erase the more “problematic” elements of his writings whilst injecting a sort of cultural studies malaise that I reckon Mark would have been bored to tears by. [Addressed here.]

The claim that Mark’s Acid Communism was a stride away from Accelerationism felt like an example of #2 to me — an attempt to sanitise his thought based on a misunderstanding of that thought in the first instance. This position was further clarified in the Facebook thread as being a separation between theory and praxis: Acid Communism was to be a plan of action whereas Mark’s involvement with Accelerationism was just philosophical musing. This, again, is something which I think Mark would have baulked at.

What this framing does is fall into the usual trap of conflating and separating various strands of Mark’s thinking in order to construct some relatively consistent and unproblematic vision which cherry picks and lessens the critical impact of his work on both the political left and right as it exists today.

To be clear, I think describing Acid Communism as a sort of “plan of action” is absolutely correct but to suggest that all of Mark’s prior theorising wasn’t implicitly baked inside that plan leaves his work open to precisely the sort of posthumous revisionism we’ve seen run riot across social media over the last three years. Put another way: I think Acid Communism was going to be Mark’s attempt to describe a course of (cultural) action in a way that he had not done previously (at least not in book form), but his desire to do this does not negate the importance of any of his previous theories and neologisms which would have likely found themselves brought together explicitly for the first time.

This sort of compartmentalisation has happened repeatedly within the reception of Mark’s work. Neither hauntology nor accelerationism, for instance, were formulated by Mark as plans of action. However, that has not stopped bad readings of both overwriting what was said in Mark’s texts themselves, turning them into approaches to culture and politics rather than attempts to describe tendencies within those subjects that we should try to escape from.

It has long been necessary that we learn to — as Simon Reynolds put it in his Memorial lecture — “bridge the chasm”.

Capitalist realism has notably managed to avoid this fate, which probably speaks to its absolute clarity in Mark’s thinking. The other two terms were somewhat collective coinages and this may have something to do with their persistent unruliness. It is worth emphasising here, for instance, the fact that accelerationism, in particular, was not Mark’s concept alone but he was supposedly the first to embrace Benjamin Noys’ scathing -ism and affirm it as a philosophical identity. In this sense, we can argue that Mark was probably more responsible than most for confusing the discourse around it with regards to the practical implications of its theses.

The same is true of “hauntology”. Whereas Derrida used the term to explore how Marxism haunts from beyond the grave, as a sort of positively conceived poltergeist, Mark’s use of the term — subtly different to how others were using it at the time — seemed to contain a similar sense of appropriative irony, allowing him to continue decrying the effect of postmodernism on popular culture that he’d been doing since his days at Warwick with the Ccru.

For example, in the essay “Pomophobia”, written in collaboration with Robin Mackay, Mark rails against the in-growth of hauntology within Derridean postmodernism, as a zombifying pathogen fuelling a contemporary academic impotence that was only serving to exacerbate the very haunting that Derrida was attempting to describe.

Describing this situation with an unmatched feverishness, Mark and Robin write:

Fed on the endlessly regurgitated brains of dead philosophers, post-structuralism degenerates into the spongiform Hegelianism it always-already was, proudly dwelling on its own desolate but strictly delimited ground while barely concealing its delight that we can’t escape from the narratives of modernity. Theory remains tethered to the “post”, given over to interminable rumination on what is superseded but, supposedly, never overcome. All texts are pre-texts — also post-texts — flimsy tracing papers colonially irrigated and preemptively captured by reassuringly dull, appropriately academic, subtitles. Pun colon verb definite article academic designation. “Jacquing off, Offing Jacques: Derrida, Lacan and the Self-referentiality of the Academic Subject.”

Rapid response is rendered impossible, the danger of embarrassing oneself by saying something that has not been rigorously automonitored, ruminated over for a punitively extended period of scholarly detention, is too great.

Nietzsche’s critique of the clogged digestive system of the West’s Last Men, itself often perversely interpreted as a metaphor, expresses all too acutely the constipated Eurocontinence of these constricted bodies, themselves minor fascicular elements of a resonant system of transcendental miserabilism disseminated across all levels of culture.

The dreary textocratic dribblings of post-theory are merely the transcendental idealist counterpoint to the empirical realism of postmodern culture. Kurt Cobain embodied what theory disembodies, the raging stomach pains which plagued him finding their disintensified correlate in the the chin-rubbing, brow-furrowing protocols of urbane academic anxiety. Smells like Hegelian Spirit.

Here we uncover the true dangers of Mark’s thinking — for others and for his own legacy. Like the contemporary political right, Mark had a penchant for appropriating and mutating, for his own academically perverse purposes, the terms deployed in earnest by his enemies. However, as interest around his ideas grows and the theory-curious look for Facebook group Cliff Notes, many often end up confusing Mark with those he sought to vanquish.

What must be remembered and affirmed here is that all of Mark’s most (in)famous philosophical associations — capitalist realism, hauntology and accelerationism — are attempts to describe the current circumstances within which contemporary capitalist subjects are formed and, to an extent, trapped. The lesson that the vast majority of people interested in Mark’s work have repeatedly failed to learn, however, is that to deploy these concepts and neologisms as forms of action is only to exacerbate the traps they seek to describe, just as the pomo academics did with Derrida before him. This happens as a result of people conflating these overarching concepts with other tendencies visible throughout Mark’s work.

Mark’s version of hauntology, for instance, is often explored today through the fetishisation of a late capitalist aesthetic that Mark made famous through the Facebook group “Boring Dystopia”. Mark’s attempt to wrest people from their complacency by drawing attention to the eccentricities of late capitalism — think of the world-weirding that takes place in Inception when “the dreamer becomes aware of the nature of the dream”, leading to its collapse — has instead been co-opted by the networks of communicative capitalism to simply perpetuate its arresting functioning. The zombifying pathogen that had previously infected humanities departments throughout the West, reducing cultural production to an impotent Cultural Studies, has now taken hold of Facebook groups across cyberspace.

(I have a section on this in Egress, for what it’s worth, in which I explore the way that hauntology has been reduced by many well-meaning commentators to be little more than a “hauntography”.)

Similarly, regarding the contemporary and popular understanding of accelerationism, I think the present state of the discourse is a result of the same process. It also seems to emerge from a scattershot reading of Mark’s works that conflates concepts and topics together, erasing their productive differences.

Take, for example, “Going Overground” — Mark’s much-loved post on popular modernism and The Jam. Reading it now, it sounds accelerationist — at least if you go by the typically leftist definition of what accelerationism is about and/or for. Mark writes:

The Jam, like The Who before them, drew their power from an auto-destructive paradox: they were fuelled by a frustration, a tension, a blocked energy, a jam. Discharging this tension in catharsis would destroy the very libidinal blockages on which the music depended – and this self-cancelling logic of desire reached its necessary conclusion in The Who’s smashing of their instruments.

Mark continues on this jam’s productive potential, adding:

We can apprehend yet another paradox here. What made this music culture so positive was its capacity to express negativity — a negativity that was thereby de-privatised as well as de-naturalised.

Here Mark is describing a paradox that is not contained within capitalism itself but within the capitalist subject. There is a certain reciprocity at play here, of course, but what is interesting for Mark is that, whilst capitalism itself might continue to perpetuate a paradoxical auto-destructive relationship, this has (relatively speaking) been exorcised from popular culture altogether.

Here again, the popular understanding of an Accelerationist praxis falls apart. Even if capitalism were capable of dying by its own contradictions, we haven’t been able to express our own for decades. Instead, rather than being in tune with this paradox as it exists within ourselves, we focus on other things, completely ignorant to the capitalist dreamwork of now, instead fetishising our awareness of it in the past through the very mediums that perpetuate its hold on us in the present. Again, Mark sought to draw attention to what we have lost and how we might regain it, not perpetuate a tone-deaf new age mindfulness through nostalgic psychedelic imagery.

This is to say that self-awareness itself is capitalism’s new hot property. Rather than address this, we simply demonstrate our own deficiencies.

Mark concludes, echoing this sentiment: “If popular modernism’s attempts to resolve the paradox of political commitment and consumer pleasure now seem hopelessly naive, that’s more a testament to the disavowed depressive conditions of our current moment than a dispassionate assessment of the possibilities.”

Here we must emphasise that pop modernism is a potential antidote to the crisis that accelerationism continues to describe. It is a description of one moment’s radical response to a sensation that has never gone away. It is a description of an unconscious tendency that has since been exorcised from popular culture. The problem with left-accelerationism, then and now — and, by extension, the Jeremy Gilbert Zero Books Facebook school of Acid Communism — is that it’s response to a post like “Going Overground” is less an interrogation of our current pathologies and more a rallying call for a bunch of Jam cover bands. It is YouTube essays and Facebook groups filled with inspirational posters featuring Terence McKenna quotes rather than any attempt to actually understand the paradoxes of the present and how they manifest in our political-aesthetic activities on sites like Facebook.

This is an irony shared by a lot of the violent far-right “accelerationists”. Their responses to the sensations the theory describes only demonstrates the ways in which they themselves are the subjects that accelerationism as a philosophical theory first predicted the emergence of and sought to critique. The elucidations of a thousand leftist Facebook groups only serves to demonstrate the same thing but from the other side of a political coin.

I should say that this isn’t intended to be a “wake up, sheeple” dismissal, as if I am coming to you from some privileged space of late capitalist enlightenment. It does, however, have something to do with the prevalence of a superficial ’60s aesthetics over any sort of cold rationalist self-assessment of contemporary habits and tendencies. We need to stop fetishising the aesthetics of a radical politics of the past at the expense of a cold rationalist interrogation of why the left is failing in the present.

This was why Mark still had time for Nick Land as a thinker. Land’s own pathologies are another topic for another time but his work nonetheless presents the left with a hard, cold mirror through which it might take a closer look at itself.

Mark wrote about this explicitly in his essay “Postcapitalist Desire”, in which he argues that it “is worth the left treating [Land’s] texts as something other than anti-Marxist trollbait … because they luridly expose the scale and the nature of the problems that the left now faces.” He continues by noting that they also “expose an uncomfortable contradiction between the radical left’s official commitment to revolution, and its actual tendency towards political and formal-aesthetic conservatism”. They also “assume a terrain that politics now operates on, or must operate on, if it is to be effective — a terrain in which technology is embedded into everyday life and the body; design and PR are ubiquitous; financial abstraction enjoys dominion over government; life and culture are subsumed into cyberspace…”

This is the danger of sanitising Mark’s thought of Land’s influence. Land is, in effect, the arch-realist capitalist. He watches the ways in which capitalism corrupts its subjects with glee, and the left’s impotent fetishisation of acid trips in Facebook groups becomes the embarrassing mirror image of an impotent far-right terrorism.

They are two sides of the same coin, woefully at the mercy of the forces they claim unconvincingly to attack.

The main thing to remember here, I think, is that it’s generally accepted that the course outline for Mark’s final postgraduate module at Goldsmiths — also called ‘Postcapitalist Desire’ — was to function as a testing ground for each chapter of his next book. It certainly reads that way in hindsight.

The introductory session was, essentially, a summary of the Acid Communist intro, in which Mark believed the key to a leftist future was the eradication of political melancholy through consciousness raising, popular modernism, and the speculative elucidation of a collective subject.

Week by week, he intended to explore the ways that this goal had become maligned, beginning with the central question surrounding May ‘68 — why do we desire our own oppression?

Then he was going to explore, via the technopolitical developments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, how this project has repeatedly failed but never died, from the violent suppression of the Allende government in Chile due to its interest in a cybernetic socialism to the communicative capitalism of our present touchscreen capture. Mark intended to end up writing about accelerationism and xenofeminism, considering what they had to say about our present moment and preempt the ways that capital reappropriates all critiques against it, instead looking at how these two modes of thought, with a radical self-awareness of their own alienation, might be able to help us stay one step ahead of capital’s cooptive curve.

Unfortunately, much of the discourse around Mark’s work fails to grasp this, because much of this is still not widely known. Instead a Mark Fisher caricature traipses from thread to thread, only serving to demonstrate how ruthless capitalism is and how we — and now Mark’s thought itself — is so susceptible to its capture.

Chant Down Babylon: Notes from the 3rd Annual Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture

Everyone who played at for k-punk 2020 was incredible. The energy was so high and the sound so good and the crowd so up for it. I don’t think there is any combination of words that can do it all justice.

Mark Leckey alone, as the first act of the night, played everything from Meredith Monk-esque vocalisations through to Throbbing Gristle and a gabba explosion. It felt like such an eclectic hour but it also like a microcosm of the sonics to come, shifting from Tetine’s mutant tropical funk-punk through to Jennifer Walton’s hyperplastic edit fest.

“Write about this!” was Natasha’s challenge towards the end of the night, as if to say “I bet you can’t”, and she was right.

But then, have I ever? A run down of the Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture is a given and it is inevitably the lecture alone that gives context to the amorphous love-in that is to follow. This year’s presenter, Simon Reynolds, was no exception. Simon sparked off so many thoughts that were both discussed and danced through in the Goldsmiths SU shortly afterwards.

The theme of the lecture was pop’s ability to instigate political change but, as Simon himself conceded, that’s hardly a question to which anyone can give a quantifiable answer. However, that’s not to say there aren’t dozens of very explicit examples of pop music instigating a political consciousness raising.

In the unfinished introduction to Acid Communism, of course, Mark revisited the pop of the 1960s and ‘70s and the explicit political messages contained within many of the hits of the day; the usurping of capitalist realism that lay in the verses and choruses of tracks from the era that still reverberate down the years.

Simon discussed Sly and the Family Stone at length in this regard, as perhaps the most tumultuous and infamous example of Black protestant funk finding itself under the weight of militant politics and mind-altering drugs. He adeptly plotted their trajectory from “Sesame Street to revolution” — from the music-by-numbers breakdown of “Dance to the Music” to the “broken and dispirited” sociopolitical rock-and-a-hard-place of There’s a Riot Going On…

(No conceivable shade cast upon Sly and the Family Stone but if you like your “Sesame Street to revolution” funk bands without the browbeaten dejection and hard drug abuse, then might I point you towards one of my favourites: the intriguingly named Stark Reality.)

Rather than simply echoing Mark’s reference points, Simon demonstrated his passion for YouTube archaeology by sharing his own selection of clips and videos. It was surprisingly thrilling, like watching a blissblog post unfold live before your eyes.

Whereas Mark loved the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack”, Simon drew attention to the Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind”. I liked his analysis of the song’s penultimate verse a lot, noting how the lyrics might contain a powerful anti-capitalist sentiment but, at the same time, there’s a deferral of revolution to another day, perfectly encapsulating the strange tension Mark was fascinated by in the counterculture in his final years:

Do the five day grind once more
I know of nothin’ else that bugs me
More than workin’ for the rich man
Hey! I’ll change that scene one day
Today I might be mad, tomorrow I’ll be glad
‘Cause I’ll have Friday on my mind

Whereas Mark talked about The Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping”, Simon focused on John Lennon’s “Nutopian International Anthem”. He also drew attention to an interview Lennon gave in Red Mole magazine — a surprisingly erudite and impressive conversation that counters Lennon’s reputation today.

(My impression has always been that Lennon was just a blundering artist without any real critical faculties, too alienated by his unimaginable stardom to create the timeless tracks that populate Paul’s solo outings, for example. It’s quite nice to be proved wrong and find a man deeply concerned with the class politics of his own position and an engagement with the here and now.)

Whereas Mark wrote about the Jam’s strangely modernist social realism, Simon spoke of the paradoxical fun of the Sex Pistols’ cover of the Stooges’ “No Fun”. A libidinal delibidinisation.

I really liked what Simon had to say about punk’s embrace of a wholly nihilistic place in society, knowingly embodying the corrupt adage of “children are the problem” rather than the ’60s whimsical “children are the future”. (Kudos where due to Greta Thunberg for simultaneously channeling both positions and upsetting all the boomers.)

The paradox at the heart of the Jam was also particularly interesting to me. (It came up again over dinner last night.) Speaking of the Jam and the likes of, say, Joy Division, Simon made the distinction between post-punk and new wave as being a distinction between modernism and realism. Whereas Ian Curtis was heralded as defining the sound of Manchester in that moment of late-70s / early 80s transition, the music itself was also hugely dystopian and otherworldly — it was the sound of another Manchester, a future Manchester but also a present Manchester, lurking in the depths of the post-industrial unconscious. It was a sonic modernism as new and radical as its previous aesthetic instantiations in literature, painting and architecture. By contrast, Simon explained, “Paul Weller sought to escape his situation by describing it.” The new wave bands like him took the kitchen-sink social realism of a previous era and made it pop — “describing things too humdrum to enter pop previously”, as Simon put it. Mark’s great intervention in this blogosphere debate was to encourage a cross pollination of the two.

(Later I mourned how this surely blatant and powerful precursor to the political and cultural tensions explored around Speculative Realism blogosphere could today be reduced to Graham Harman wondering about whether his dog is a Great Old One or about the politically impotent ontologising of material science.)

Moving swiftly up the decades, Simon went on to speak about jungle and the calls to arms sampled from reggae and its various sub-genres, repurposed for a new generation and giving rise to so many resonant attempts to chant down Babylon. (Soundbite of the night for me: “‘Babylon’ is a far more powerful word than ‘neoliberalism’.”)

But then we came to grime and the problem of modern day hip-hop.

A notion that came out of the Q&A I found quite haunting was the suggestion that hip hop, as the most important and innovative popular music genre of the last few decades, by constantly bringing the new to the ears of the masses, is also, at least in its lyrical content, an integral vehicle for upholding the illusionary status of capitalist realism.

(Mark’s intervention was to write surprisingly glowing endorsements of Drake in Ghosts of my Life, drawing attention to “the secret sadness of the 21st century” that undermines the aspirational politics of capitalism’s emphasis on individual — rather than collective — advancement.)

Grime doesn’t do this to the same extent. Or does it? Grime, in the first instance, for Simon, seemed to be wholly devoid of any political consciousness. As grime has found its feet, this has changed noticeably. It is a genre that echoes many of the tensions of inner city black experience in the UK but still, beyond the political endorsements and lyrics of someone as outspoken as Stormzy, can we still say that grime is a political genre?

It’s a trick question. The answer is “of course” but that doesn’t meant you can quantify it. Grime, like hiphop, is innately political simply given its nature “as a social force” and as an “aesthetic vanguard” — that was Simon’s argument — and this was the sentiment carried over into for k-punk 2020 for me on Friday night.

Is what we’ve done political? Not really; not on the whole; not explicitly in terms of its overall content… But as a social force, I think so, absolutely.

We’ve been doing this for three years now and so there is a sense of tradition setting in, but in the most beautiful way.

I realised that there are a number of friendships I now cherish dearly that were born on these nights. People I adore and who now feel like a major part of my social life were met in or around the Mark Fisher Memorial Lectures in 2018 and 2019. Others I only ever seem to see at for k-punk nights. They are part of its fabric simply as repeat attendees who choose to come up and say hello.

At the first for k-punk night, for instance, I met some of Cave Twitter in person for the first time. The second year I met Lucy and over the year since we’ve been for drinks and to gigs and I joined her and her partner-in-crime Sean to record an episode of their Wyrd Signal podcast. This year we had members of Gruppo Di Nun staying with us, and it felt extra special to have the memorial lecture feel like a truly international event. (They were not the only ones, I later heard, to fly over to the UK for the occasion.)

Each year has not only been an opportunity to engage with people on the dancefloor but it has also been an opportunity to invite people who have otherwise emerged as fellow travellers to join us in our remembrance. Whether someone knew Mark or not is somewhat irrelevant. If they understand the importance of what they and others around them do as a social force, then they’re in. This year’s lineup was, I think, the perfect testament to that sentiment. (Not bad for another year organised with no actual knowledge of the content of the lecture.)

A huge thank you to everyone who came and danced with us and who came to the lecture. An enormous thank you to Mark Leckey, Bruno Verner, Eliete Mejorado, Chooc Ly Tan, Robin Buckley and Jennifer Walton for playing for us and making it such an incredible night. Thank you to everyone who made the effort to travel and who came to the fundraiser last year and who bought my book in the lobby afterwards and everyone who said hello.

The other thing to be said about Friday night is the strange wealth of emotions floating around. As each year goes by, and as we travel further and further from the initial event of Mark’s death, the more bizarre the emotional landscape becomes. I found myself overwhelmed by sadness and joy in equal measure on the dance floor that night. Not all at once but the pendulum swing was sharp and rapid; the root obvious but also indeterminate.

I missed Mark. I was also just exhausted. I am grateful to everyone — performers and attendees — for so skilfully blasting away all fatigue and melancholy and creating a night that was so seamless and enchanting I went home feeling lighter than air.

Ø 3

An emotional night as ever for Ø’s 3rd birthday at Corsica Studios. It still stings that what is probably the best night in London was born in such close proximity to Mark’s death.

Kode9 playing Japan’s “Ghosts” into a room full of green fog every January will never not be transportive. However, last night’s transition into Wendy Carlos’ “Main Theme” from The Shining was also something else. The bass bins in that room will take you anywhere.

Steve also played — and I think began with? — an extended excerpt from Mark’s collaboration with English Heretic, “Plan for the Kidnap of Princess Anne”. (Drunk me got the name wrong on Twitter — apologies.)

I’m still thinking about it today, and still wondering, if Mark was still here, would he make an even more speculative sequel for Prince Andrew…

A Body Without Options (Part 2)

In thinking about Cheer the other day, I ended up reminiscing about sports I liked and, to an extent, mourning.

A little known fact about me that I always enjoy dropping on unsuspecting new friends is that, for a few years, from the end of primary school to the start of secondary school, I was a passionate figure skater.

The only photograph I have of me on the ice…

Today, at a broad 6″2′, I do not cut a figure of glacial elegance in the slightest. However, before puberty, I was small enough that it somewhat made sense. But I was nonetheless the tallest kid in a small school and always broad shouldered. Looking like a wannabe ice hockey player who got lost, I loved it all the same, even if my body type wasn’t the typical figure skater look.

Living in Hull at the time, famous for its two rugby teams, to be a stocky kid was to be coached for a local rugby team. I was even scouted once at school, invited to try out for Hull Ionians junior team simply because of how I was built. The sensation that I had a body that was desirable — in a sort of utilitarian sense, I mean — was disorientating because, on the inside, I didn’t feel like the tank I was seen as on the outside.

I tried rugby all the same but I didn’t like it. The other boys there were too annoying. It was the same with football. Passion for the game was expressed through anger and aggression. If you weren’t being a cunt, you weren’t playing properly. They seemed to think I didn’t understand it. I didn’t think they understood “it” either.

It wasn’t that I was bad a football or rugby, either. In fact, when it came to football, I was a natural. It was my attitude that was apparently incompatible — but, I thought, for all the right reasons. I did win a football trophy once, for instance. “Best Team Player.” I remember everyone snickering about it because it was seen as a booby prize for taking part but not really achieving anything in terms of points scored. I took pride in it nonetheless. It felt like the award for being the least insufferable. The “Congrats, you’re not an arsehole” trophy.

Because — sometimes to a fault — socially speaking, anyway — I wasn’t competitive in sport and I wasn’t aggressive in my playing style either (no matter the sport I was playing). I had an almost pathological indifference to winning and losing and was made to feel like an alien for it. You’d maybe assume that this was a fairly innocuous affliction. If I won something, I got on with my day. But if I lost, a lack of emotion would usually make another person’s gloating feel cheap. I was always very aware of how another kid’s capacity to celebrate was relative. They could only feel good if they knew someone else felt bad. If I didn’t feel bad, they couldn’t feel good, and they would hold me in violent contempt over it. They were little sociopaths. I had little time for it.

The most important thing for me when it came to physical activity was that I liked moving and having a relationship with my body and neither of those things was dependent on anyone else. They weren’t even dependent on sport. They were the most basic, fundamental boxes to tick, and yet I was always surprised how often the actions of others would get in the way of this. I liked moving all the time, building dens, climbing trees, scurrying through self-made rabbit warrens through the edges of the school playing field or the neighbour’s overgrown gardens. With the pressure put on to provide a structured outlet for this normal childhood hyperactivity, figure skating — but I suppose it could just as easily have been dance or something else — became the ultimate outlet. It wasn’t about competition with other people or even with myself. It was just expressive and that’s what I liked about it. I didn’t even care if it looked good to anyone else. I cared that it felt good and I liked the space moving around on the ice gave me in my mind. It was mentally meditative and physically thrilling all at once.

I flourished here and so, within the space of about a year, I progressed up the skill levels at the local ice rink until I was good enough to join a class where they taught the big tricks. The spins and pirouettes. There was no emphasis on gendered roles here so I wasn’t partnering up with the girls to play support to their feminine finesse — we were all in it together — but when I reached a skill level where I was in the same class as a girl from my school, who had no idea up until that point that I skated, things fell apart.

I’ll never forget the welcome she gave me through gritted teeth. “What are you doing here?” There was a chance she was bitter… We used to live on the same street for a short time but she was such a prima donna that I once told her I didn’t want to play with her anymore. I told her to go home — in a very young, naive but brutally honest fashion — because she was taking the fun out of playing outside by being so horrible to everyone all the time. I couldn’t help but feel like that interaction from a few years previously had left its mark on her, however, and, to an extent, I didn’t blame her, so when she had the opportunity to get her own back, she jumped at it. I had entered her domain and, just as I’d rejected her from my own back garden, she was never going to let me feel a part of this new group. She pushed me out but, devoid of any fighting spirit, I just left and moved onto the next thing. She was still the bully I didn’t like from before but, now on her turf, there was no winning the argument.

All was not lost. I saw Saturday Night Fever for the first time not long afterwards and soon wanted to be John Travolta. I got really into funk, soul and disco, and swapped the ice rink for the local sports hall, spinning around to Curtis Mayfield every Saturday at a local roller disco. (This was the late 1990s / early 2000s — I promise — and not 1974.)

I also tried tennis for a while afterwards, and I got really good at that. It gave me what felt like superhuman hand-eye coordination, which I loved. It also felt like it was more about cardio than anything else, taking the explicit pressure off my legs that had started to struggle under the constant strain they were put under with all my skating, but again, I had no interest in subjecting myself to the skewed personality traits of peers with pushy parents and that was what came to define these experiences. In fact, I had no time for parents at all — theirs or my own.

My Dad, in his youth, had been a talented swimmer who competed at an international level and really encouraged a relationship with the water in me but I walked away from it because I wasn’t interested in being coached by him. He was tough and not very nice and I didn’t like that side of him — something which I think broke his heart a bit but it just wasn’t in my personality to respond well to barking about a need to beat other people or myself in races. Going backwards and forwards fast felt like the most boring kind of swimming there was. (I liked and was best at diving — hardly a surprise.)

I was developing a physical relationship with myself that was devoid of goals. I progressed naturally — as anyone will do if they practice anything — but was otherwise allergic to any external force encouraging a competitive nature. I didn’t care about what anyone else was doing. I just wanted to express myself. Today, swimming still makes me really stressed. I love the water but not getting in it. I would prefer not to.

It was all irrelevant within a few years. Puberty hit soon enough and I remember being so aware of the changes to my body. I gained a lot of “puppy fat” and also had a quite catastrophic growth spurt which was coupled with horrific growing pains in my legs — pain so intense I’d get fevers and hallucinate. (I still remember these hallucinations vividly — Lovecraftian entities at my window and objects flying around my room — these were as informative to a relationship with my mind as the waking pain was to my relationship with my body.) I remember thinking that my sporting days were over when I had a roller disco birthday party one year but I couldn’t skate for the agony. At the hospital the next day, I had x-rays and the doctors discovered that my awkward growth spurt meant my bones were growing at different rates, with my knee joints rubbing against my knee caps and shaving off bits of bone that were getting lodged in my knee cartilage. My ankles went through something similar and any time we did track at school I was guaranteed to roll over on them but there was nothing to do but ride it out with pain killers.

I’ve had problems with my knees ever since. The pain gets really bad in winter when the cold hits. I’m very aware that the general wear and tear of an active life never made me stronger but only brought about more pain, giving me the knees of someone probably twice my age. The number of activities that I’d be able to comfortably partake in — physically and emotionally — dwindled. It was around this time I became interested in photography as an activity that I have always felt is as much about the mind as it is the body. Photography was about exploration, walking, navigating your environment, thinking through sight and movement and responding to encounters. It was also quite solitary but, even with other people around, it wasn’t meant to be competitive. It was about bouncing off each other’s bodies and movements and even including each other in your compositions. It was casually and naturally collective.

This sensibility won out in the end and I went to do an undergraduate degree in photography. I think back to that moment of decision in my life now a lot and wondered if it would have made more sense to do English Literature or Philosophy… I discovered my love of writing whilst studying photography but I think the physical nature of the course was essential. Spending out days physically exploring the world around us and moving and constructing things was what gave the written component such life. The same is true today. How much of my writing is inflected with diaristic elements? Hopefully the above goes some way towards explaining why.

I think about this trajectory from exercise to art quite often and it always makes me laugh when the usual insults and dismissals about inactivity are uttered around these parts, as if writing all the time means sitting on your arse… I mean, it does, but it comes after a great deal of activity. If I can’t relate something to a lived experience, it doesn’t have the same power for me when I’m writing it down. Nevertheless, I can’t count the number of times an intense and over-long blogpost has received the response: “Jeez, dude. Go outside.” In my head, I usually think: “I’ve just come from there… That’s why I’m writing…” It’s all expression.

There are also comments made online about my weight from time to time and I won’t claim that they don’t sting. The few pictures that I have posted online over the last few years no doubt give away the fact that I’m a big guy. I’m tall and broad and, sometimes, quite rotund. My weight fluctuates constantly but my overall size never really does. How much padding I’m carrying around ebbs and flows but I still take up a far amount of space in the world regardless.

These weight fluctuations respond to my mood. I’ve struggled with eating disorders since my early 20s, going through cycles of bingeing and purging when I’m trying to ignore some internal crisis or barely eating at all when my heart is on my sleeve. (The best shape I’ve ever been in was in 2017, for instance, the year after Mark died.) And what I find interesting about this, which I’ve realised during my own self-reflection, is that this is as much an extension of that once proud relationship to my body as any form of exercise. It’s an attempt to physically flush out emotion and distress or keep it outside of myself when the social situation is set up to encourage that. People talk about going for a run or jogging and this making them feel better and encourage it if you have depression as if this relationship with your body will keep the mind at bay. But this dualist understanding of mental ill-health is dangerously ill-informed. I’m fairly certain I’ve told this story before but I remember once, living at home and having been in bed for a week, sometime around 2015, my Dad knocked on my bedroom door and said to me, frustrated but also somewhat compassionately, like the swimming coach of my childhood, that lying in bed for so long might be one of the worst things you can do to your body, and I didn’t know how to explain that that was more gratifying than energising. It is the mind acting upon the body — more often for the worse rather than for the better — but it is a working upon the body nonetheless.

I still wish I had that drive though — that drive to be physically active in a way that was communal and supportive. Having had nothing but negative experiences, it’s something I feel I have an almost pathological aversion to, bringing to mind nothing other than bullies and snide comments and a painful sense of indifference to the entire enterprise. And it hurts sometimes, because it’s not as if I don’t want those experiences. Exercising on my own only makes me feel lonely.

I already tweeted about this when I first started writing this post and it led to an interesting conversation between Reza, Robin and Amy. (Particularly proud of this one, just fwiw.)

Reza told a funny story:

Then you haven’t heard about when I was an aspiring runner, getting into local tournaments. [1]

I always thought I had a future and my friends were always cheering me. Until the jurors told me, no you are ahead of everyone else because you missed three rounds of coming back to the starting point! That was it, I became a philosopher. [2]

I mentioned how this sort of trauma reminded me of what Joshua Ramey says about philosophy and “initiatory ordeals” — and this is something I remember talking to Robin about in relation to the Ccru on a few occasions.

Ramey begins his book The Hermetic Deleuze by declaring that “what connects Deleuze to Artaud is the conviction that what matters for life, and for thought, is an encounter with imperceptible forces in sensations, affections, and conceptions, and that these forces truly generate the mind, challenging the coordination of the faculties by rending the self from its habits.” (I’ve written about how the negative side of this sensation informed Deleuze’s philosophy once before.)

How this connects to the above personal history, at least within my mind, is that my relationship to my body — even in its most woeful state — has been something hard won through its own fateful collapse, through the personal experience of having weak knees and the social experience of its competitive rejection, but rather than trigger a theorycel isolation I have simply moved onto other activities through which I can continue to explore this relationship.*

Yesterday I wrote about how you can see this same drive to connect with your body even through physical and mental hardships as having a place within Deleuze’s concept of univocity. Ramey goes on to connect Deleuze’s univocity to the Hermetic tradition instead, in which, he writes:

materiality and spirituality are profoundly united, and that life itself is a process of theandric regeneration in which the nature of the divine is both discovered and produced in an unfolding of personal and cosmic, evolutionary and historical time: “As above, so below.” In short, hermetic thought identifies the very process of natural life with a manifestation of encosmic divinity. In this tradition, there is no clear distinction between the rational and the spiritual; philosophical speculation is viewed as an attempt to explicate transcendental structures common to natural and spiritual realms.

Put another way, this is a similarly why philosophy and psychoanalysis are just natural bedfellows — because both, at their core, are about the excavation of trauma. Whereas psychoanalysis focuses explicitly on the individual, philosophy focuses on the collective — even civilisation itself. (This is why, to an extent, I think “Dark Enlightenments” are inevitable expressions of the death drives within our collective unconsciousness.) It was the Ccru, most effectively, who conjoined mental and cosmic trauma together for the dawning of the 21st century, throwing God out of the equation and replacing Him with capitalism, and the work that has continued since then has extended this “as above, so below” approach to thinking the world in ways that, I think, are incredibly useful for carving out a path ahead.

Reza went on to argue, however: “When you become a philosopher, it always comes with this realization that you became a philosopher because most probably you sucked at every other human endeavor.”

Reza was probably being a bit facetious but it’s an interesting stereotype all the same. (The number of people who liked and retweeted that comment speaks volumes.) That isn’t true in my case. Or many other people’s cases that I know. In fact, there are so many philosophers who harbour secret talents that they could perhaps take on professionally were they not fated to a problem. In fact, I was reminded, in that instant, of talking to Thomas Moynihan about his book Spinal Catastrophism and his bemusement at people constantly being surprised by the fact that he drew all the illustrations in the book himself. I remember we only half-laughed at my response to his bemusement: “You’re not supposed to be good at more than one thing.”

There is certainly a relatable truth to the fact that many of us philosophy types feel “good for nothing” in our daily lives, but that is more a fact of not fitting into productive flows rather than not being good at other activities. Jokes aside, it is important for me personally to recognise — in myself — that I have other ways of navigating this world. Philosophy is not a vehicle but a map, or even a cartography for plotting where I’ve been. The “vehicles” I jump in to explore the world are photography, roller skates, music, writing. It is essential to recognise that philosophy is a thread that runs through these things but it not a vehicle in itself because, as Thomas Murphy later explained, brutally, in response to Reza’s comment:

Every theorycel has such an origin story. Just imagining theorising about something rather than simply doing that something. Risible. [1]

The theory/praxis distinction is also just theory, mere metaphysical silliness employing binary symbolic oppositions. Repetitive language tricks to make up for failures in virtuosity in other spheres. Tragic really. [2]

To think of philosophy — or any activity for that matter — as a last resort is surely to surrender the Leibnizian body to its own finitude. (Again, this was discussed yesterday.) To be a theorycel is also, in its own way, to be a body without options.

* As an aside, Deleuze’s comments on learning to swim in Difference & Repetition come to mind here:

The movement of the swimmer does not resemble that of the wave, in particular, the movements of the swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movements of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs. … We learn nothing from those who say: ‘Do as I do’. Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘do with me’, and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce. In other words, there is no ideo-motivity, only sensory-motivity. When a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other – involves difference, from one wave and one gesture to another, and carries that difference through the repetitive space thereby constituted. To learn is indeed to constitute this space of an encounter with signs, in which the distinctive points renew themselves in each other, and repetition takes shape while disguising itself.

It is precisely this expression of a “sensory-motivity” over an “ideo-motivity” that I found myself always championing whilst watching Cheer.

A Body Without Options (Part 1)

Last week I binge-watched the new Netflix series, Cheer, about a life in the Navarro College cheer squad.

Following certain members of the team as they prepare for the Daytona national championships, each episode explores their struggles and hardships and the support and discipline that cheerleading provides them…

Yeah, it’s pretty by-the-numbers…

But it’s captivating watching them throw themselves — quite literally — into cheerleading, navigating the sport alongside their various neuroses, suffering frequent injuries but always getting back up again.

Here, cheerleading is presented as a sport of extremes and one that seems to be getting more extreme every year. More flips, more jumps, more complicated maneuvers, pushing against the capabilities of what a young body can do and heightening the trust required in your fellow team mates to create an immovable bond. And it is a young person’s sport. They talk repeatedly about how there is no competitive cheerleading above the college level. Once you’ve graduated, you’ve aged out.

It’s your one and only chance. It’s all or nothing, until you’re ~25, and then you’re out, and you watch, as a viewer, how the bodies of alumni are so different from those still actively competing. They’re all a lot stockier — just as strong, perhaps, but less nimble — and they are also a lot more settled. The visible weight of their bodies seems to reflect their social status as grounded and well-rounded individuals, in stark contrast to the flying teens required to throw themselves like strands of thread through the eye of a needle. The mat is a microcosm of their young lives in almost every sense.

As a result, college cheerleading becomes this extremophile militant finishing school, where you push yourself to your limits and (hopefully) win big before you take your sense of discipline and your relentless work ethic and your communal consciousness into the State and the Family and then live out the rest of your days.

I struggled with this side of things a bit and couldn’t help but start philosophizing.

Most recently I’ve been thinking a lot about philosophical explorations of embodiment and bodily relation, attempting to work my way through Deleuze’s book on Spinoza, Expressionism in Philosophy, in which he explores Spinoza’s (and also Leibniz’s) Anticartesianism in which “expression” becomes an category of existence that better encapsulates the entangled nature of human experience than cogito ergo sum.

“Being, knowing and acting are the three forms of expression”, Deleuze writes, and he traces the emergence of this thought in Spinoza’s God, nature. Being, knowing and acting are drawn out from a consciousness of God’s acting upon the world and so the act of creation and the very essence of our metaphysical emanation within the world unfolds us across the world in which we see God.

God, nature then becomes, for Spinoza, a positive feedback loop between ourselves and our consciousness of the world outside ourselves. Deleuze articulates the radicality of this position with far more clarity. He writes that expression

at once gives back to Nature its own specific depth and renders man capable of penetrating into this depth. It makes man commensurate with God, and puts him in possession of a new logic: makes him a spiritual automaton equal to a combinatorial world. Born of the traditions of emanation and creation it makes of these two enemies, questioning the transcendence of a One above Being along with the transcendence of a Being above his Creation.

This is Deleuze’s concept of univocity. What we can say of God and nature is always also applicable to humans or things. The body without organs is a univocal way of thinking things in their parallelism. A mind is a body is a world. The world is a body is a mind. However, whilst Deleuze notes how Leibniz and Spinoza both express this sentiment, he sides with Spinoza’s particular interpretation because, as he sees it, Leibniz introduces a finality to this process. Univocity, for him, as with Spinoza, is “an absolute rule” and so to predict its end and restrict it to a set of known categories is to predict an end to expression as such, as if it is possible that we will eventually say and do all things, as if the world and the human body and everything in between will not continuously reevaluate their limits as our understanding and our technics continue to develop. It is a positive feedback loop all the way down. As Deleuze describes it:

Expression in Nature is never a final symbolization, but always, and everywhere, a causal explication.

It is here that the enforced cut-off of cheerleading becomes a poignant problematic. In applying a sense of finitude to its own process, it restricts the embodied imagination of these athletes in an oddly ideological way, creating a false ceiling where they believe they have pushed beyond to the very limits of what a body can do in their present moment and this somehow makes the compromise of a settled life more important. This is your one path to the limit-experience of cheerleading and, from such heights, there is a single path back down again. To deviate from it is to sin. To stray from it is to let down your team. You retreat when we tell you too. Then, and only then, you must take all you have learned at the limits of embodied experience and apply it to a life lived within its means. Those means may seem infinitely extensive and far reaching on the mat with our fellow team mates but it cannot last forever and so, if you are to pass this extension on to your offspring, it is necessary that you learn how to step back and step down into the social traditions that have made this experience possible.

Cheerleading becomes a sacred experience, almost religious in its habitude. Sundays are for limit-experiences. Every other day you humble yourself against the glory of the superego. It becomes, at once, a control value and an accelerant for radical embodiment. The control value, however, always has the final say.

Maybe that’s fine. Maybe that’s a legitimate ethical position to take as an expressive being-in-the-world. Deleuze and Spinoza, however, would disagree. Such a thought process makes ethical the soul’s limiting of the body in the name of a higher cause, precisely what Spinoza was rebelling against. As Deleuze writes, explaining Spinoza’s Anticartesian “parallelism”, Spinoza’s thought “overturns the moral principle by which” the actions of the body are the passions of the mind. He continues, first quoting Spinoza directly:

“The order of actions and passions of our body is, by nature, at one with the order of actions and passions of the mind.” What is a passion in the mind is also a passion in the body, what is an action in the mind is also an action in the body. Parallelism thus excludes any eminence of the soul, any spiritual and moral finality, any transcendence of a God who might base one series on the other. And parallelism is in this respect practically opposed not only to the doctrine of real action, but to the theories of preestablished harmony and occasionalism also. We ask “Of what is a body capable? Of what affections, passive as well as active? How far does its power extend?” Thereby, and thereby only, can we know of what a soul is in itself capable, what is its power. Thereby we find a means of “comparing” the power of the soul with that of the body, and so find a means of assessing the power of the soul considered in itself.

To encourage this embodied exploration to such extremes in childhood only to curtail it at its peak starts to resemble a violence. Deleuze continues on this point:

Reason, strength and freedom are in Spinoza inseparable from a development, a formative process, a culture. Nobody is born free, nobody is born reasonable. And nobody can undergo for us the slow learning of what agrees with our nature, the slow effort of discovering our joys. Childhood, says Spinoza, is a state of impotence and slavery, a state of foolishness in which we depend in the highest degree on external causes, and in which we necessarily have more of sadness than of joy; we are never more cut off from our power of action. The first man, Adam, corresponds to the childhood of humanity. This is why Spinoza so forcefully opposes the Christian, and then rationalist, traditions which present Adam to us as reasonable, free and perfect before his fall. Rather should we imagine Adam as a child: sad, weak, enslaved, ignorant, left to chance encounters. “It must be admitted that it was not in the first man’s power to make a right use of reason, but that, like us, he was subject to passions.” That is to say: It is not sin that explains weakness, but our initial weakness that explains the myth of sin.

It is with this in mind that I found the most interesting member of the Navarro cheer team to be a young girl who had auditioned for Navarro college and got in based on her “potential”. She’d had a troubled upbringing and came from a working class background. She had an assault charge against her name and repeatedly throughout the series her past comes back to haunt her. Her prior passions always, at all times, threaten her position within the team whilst, at the same time, she resents the external obstacles that have made this such an achievement for her against the relative ease of the other cheerleaders, and these external causes never quite go away. First, she’s a victim of revenge porn. Then, at the end, she’s busted during a car stop for having — it is suggested — weed in her car.

Despite having a hugely successful year at Navarro, and even entering the history books, so they say, for being able to perform a certain combination of skills that no one else ever has, she’s booted off the team for the possession charge and returns home.

They downplay her post-Navarro experience but I couldn’t imagine the torture of it. At first, early on in the series, she’s openly hostile. She has imposter syndrome, all too aware of that fact that everyone has a chip on their shoulder due to some sort of hardship but, for the most part, all she sees is rich kids regardless. She overcomes that perception and ingratiates herself into the team but she never escapes the trailer park kid inside. “Don’t you want family; kids?” the coach asks at one point, and she says yes, and the whole experience is then reframed as an opportunity for her to escape her former self, transcend her class and settle.

The last we see of her, she’s back at home, no longer a cheerleader, dancing with friends at an EDM concert, covered in glitter. Despite the melancholy of her voiceover, she’s still living her life and continuing her relationship with her body and the world around her through movement and dance. The reject she is supposed to have, presumably, is that she is doing this whilst eschewing the rules and regulations of the middle class microcosm in which she had previously found herself.

I wanted to reach out to her and be like, “Hey, ignore all this bullshit, framing you as a disappointment and a failure. You’re still living it.” She’s still exploring her body through these extremes of experience. So what if she wants to get high and dance rather than throw herself into human pyramids? She may not be cruising towards cheerleader stardom but she’s still a body. Just because they are not channeled into this extremist pressure point shouldn’t mean she is somehow missing out. Better that she sustains that experience and this relationship to herself throughout her life, allowing it to persist rather than burn out. Her sidestepping from a given moral code is more preferable than accepting her destin as a middle-aged body without options.

To be continued…

Bring Back the Music Blogosphere

If you were young and wanted to be a music writer in the 2000s / 2010s, you had to have a space online where you could prove that you were at least as good as an algorithm. Ear to the modem, you had to be able to say who someone sounded like, doing the work of the laziest A&R bots around.

And yet, amongst the clones, there were flashes of greatness within the music blogospheres of that era. Blogs and forums were symbiotically in tune with one another and it seemed like a few clicks was all it took to find the strangest new volleys from city scenes around the world. Blog house became an early meme but I mostly remember it as an era of “neo-psychedelia”.

(I’ve been revisiting quite a bit of this stuff recently and finding myself surprised by how much I still like it — Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, for instance, or remembering just how incredible Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead was or, woah, we didn’t deserve witch house.)

It was an exciting moment. I had a music blog back then too — obviously — and started around 2006 when the likes of 20jazzfunkgreats and GvB were fast becoming major influencers on the big press machines. I remember Pitchfork, for instance, used to regularly cite those blogs in its bylines as the origins of stories or tracks or ones-to-watch. 20jfg was blogging about Oneohtrix Point Never, for instance, long before the hype and GvB was where I first discovered Grouper. And what’s more, these people were approachable. I’m fairly certain that, as a kid in my bedroom, I was having conversations online with these blogs that, when I turned my back, suddenly exploded into big ventures. (I’ve never been able to confirm this or eradicate the suspicion tha my memory is off, but Eat Your Own Ears — the promoters — started off that way I’m sure?) We were the blogspot crew and then, suddenly, the landscape shifted and we seamlessly entered the age of big corporate websites.

Before anyone seemed to know what was happening, these blogs just became irrelevant overnight. Maybe it was just because our collective tastes changed and they couldn’t keep up, falling off the wave of influence, but I always suspected there was some corporate wangling going on behind the scenes. The clampdown on file sharing undoubtedly hurt the MP3 bloggers a lot but then it was also competing with the cut-and-run journalism of these other websites, copying just enough of the working model from celebrity gossip magazines to rake in the ad revenue whilst still appearing cool.

Pitchfork was the US’s main outlet in this regard, unavoidable for its constant news dripfeed but also infamous for its terrible writing and reviews. (That didn’t stop it.) FACTmag emerged as a major British counterpoint to this, still pushing a daily feed of news out into the world, but at least it was over the heads of a core staff of young and exciting reviewers.

Thankfully, other interesting writers also managed to work their way into these places and influence their output. The Quietus must be recognised for influencing a wider scene in this way, helping lots of writers make their mark, but even they could not escape the necessity of a rolling news feed to keep the ad revenue coming in.

Now it seems the landscape is about the change again as not even news is enough to keep yourself afloat these days.

Written content is getting the axe.

Like a number of other outlets who announced similar cutbacks earlier this year, it is being reported that FACT will no longer be commissioning written content, putting more time and effort into videos. I’m sorry to say, from here, it’s not surprising in the slightest. (I’ll explain why in a moment.)

Amazingly, however, the response to this has been beautifully counter-intuitive.

Gabriel Szatan — a writer I’ve been actively following for some time who has written some brilliant pieces for various places over the years — recently tweeted the following:

And of course my eyes widened. Of course a grin spread across my face. I’m the biggest advocate for blogging I know and have ridden the various waves of popularity and unpopularity, through various different monikers, since the first blogger’s haçienda came together in the 2000s. As soon as someone says, “up the blogs!”, my heart swells and I fall in love with the world again.

But it is nonetheless a counterintuitive move to make because the rise of video content has been unstoppable for some time. It’s already hit this part of the internet — that is, weird theory internet — and hard. In fact, we’re already in the midst of the backlash. Countless people are now cynical about Breadtubers, for instance, where accessible content related to philosophy and politics has turned into an Adam Curtis echo chamber and an arms race of production values and eye-watering Patreon hustling, all whilst overall content quality has gone way, way down.

Dare I mention the hellscape that is the Zero Books YouTube channel? Now there is the perfect example of a shift to quick-buck video content resulting in a mind-blowing fall in written substance.

Because that is where the money is. You want to make quick money from online content? A monetised YouTube channel will bring you more viewers and revenue than any WordPress blog ever could.

“Why don’t you do it, Xenogoth, instead of complaining?” I hear you cry… Because I vomit these posts out in a few hours for you people. I don’t have the neuroses necessary to spend months working on a single video. Gotta go fast!

That’s not to say that I don’t recognise the fact that people prefer watching and listening to stuff than reading about it. I’ve dappled with radio and video before for this very reason. Accessibility is good and the normalisation of streaming services (or “rent to listen”), more affordable equipment and better wireless connectivity have normalised the consumption of those mediums in our day-to-day lives and increased our desire for them above all else whilst we’re on the move or at home, and this has offered up a viable revenue stream for big companies to capitalise on.

But still… Give up on writing? Really? Call me a Luddite but I don’t care about supply and demand. Personally, I’d rather have a long read. Bend to my individual preferences please! I’m joking, of course. (And yet...)

In fact, what I really think is that this is a blessing in disguise.

I might be painfully biased but, if you ask me, the best music writing these days isn’t just concentrated to a few publications but to a few individuals, a few freelancers who — more often than not — seem to jump around whilst the companies they work for take them for granted, emulating the trends of the industry on which they want to report without any criticality. As a result, the industry will now no doubt fail to work with what it’s got, cowing to market trends at the expense of encouraging (but also nurturing) obvious talent.

Video content isn’t going to go away but here is an opportunity — an opportunity to disengage with the infernal machine and take a little time out of your day to publicly nurture your craft. This isn’t a euphemism for “work for free”. I genuinely believe that this sort of widespread grassroots self-exploration might reinvigorate an industry still just barely treading water after the failed revolution of the dawn of the digital era.

And this only sounds risky now because we should have seen this coming. The fact that these sites are dying whilst Zane Lowe continues to exist like a sycophantic cockroach turning the “music press” into its own streaming service with three-hour long colonoscopies of Kanye West shows that blogs have surrendered without putting up nearly enough of a fight. But, just because the age of the “MP3 Premiere” is over, doesn’t mean that good music writing doesn’t have its place. The problem of monetising this — that is, allowing people to do this work without struggle — will no doubt remain but a diversity of writing styles and topics is something worth fighting for regardless.

I think a widespread return to the blogosphere could do the trick in terms of diversifying talent and approaches to writing about sound that we have needed for some time. It could also make people fight harder for the bloggers’ principles that made music blogging so exciting in the 2000s before the music press followed the music industry itself up its own arse.

Ruth Saxelby said it best:

Update #1: Shout-out to @thejaymo for already penning this call-to-arms at the end of last year.

Continue reading “Bring Back the Music Blogosphere”

Post-Corbyn Exits: Strength or Weakness?

The current national gaslighting campaign being played by the nominees in the Labour party’s leadership contest is something to behold. With Corbyn’s supporters designating Rebecca Long-Bailey all too quickly as his protégé and rightful heir, the other candidates have done everything that they can to distance themselves from her and their prospective predecessor.

Did I imagine Keir Starmer’s masterful performances in the Commons, poking legal hole after legal hole in the Conservative’s Brexit proposals? Did I dream Emily Thornberry’s stern no-nonsense media appearances? Of course, these clips heavily feature chatter about Brexit. Was it all a post-referendum fever dream? After December’s general election, these doggedly defended positions seem a bit embarrassing and perhaps they themselves have recognised that — I certainly feel like I’m hearing them for the first time now that the constant noise bombardment of Brexit arguing has died down — opting instead to throw the baby out with the bather.

What is clear now, especially considering Thornberry’s appearance on Good Morning Britain opposite Piers Morgan, is that the Labour party was fighting for its life and it was certain that this was dependent on the votes of Remain voters. Corbyn knew better but ended up toeing the line of his party’s members and its MPs. And now look where we are.

I feel violently cynical about all this today, not least because the likes of Starmer and Thornberry have turned on a dime, abandoning all memories of past strengths and instead licking the boots of a demographic that lost them the election whose face they still can’t recognise. (No mention of Jess Phillips here because she was grotesque both before and after the election but at least she’s consistent, I suppose…) Now they have shifted their positions to trashing Corbyn for not staying true to his Euroscepticism and leaving behind — in fellow nominee Lisa Nandy’s eternal words — “the towns.”

It is a sorry state of affairs when the fickle nature of the Labour party’s noisiest MPs reminds me of Nick Land’s The Dark Enlightenment. At the very beginning, he writes:

Since winning elections is overwhelmingly a matter of vote buying, and society’s informational organs (education and media) are no more resistant to bribery than the electorate, a thrifty politician is simply an incompetent politician, and the democratic variant of Darwinism quickly eliminates such misfits from the gene pool. This is a reality that the left applauds, the establishment right grumpily accepts, and the libertarian right has ineffectively railed against. Increasingly, however, libertarians have ceased to care whether anyone is ‘pay[ing them] attention’ — they have been looking for something else entirely: an exit.

It is interesting that, in the UK right now, it feels like this same situation could happen on the left.

Newly aware of an undercurrent of disaffection, given a voice during the Brexit referendum, left and right have spent the last three or four years fighting for the votes of the (Br)exiteers. This blog spent a great deal of time writing about patchwork politics and exit but this naturally died down after the left’s strengths seemed to negate it as a talking point. Despite how democracy is supposed to work, Corbyn has proved incredibly resistant to the establishment’s internal flows of Darwinian selection via vote buying that the Brexit process unconvincingly brought to new light. It is only now that he is on the back foot, and stepping down as leader of the party, that the UK’s “progressive democracy” is revealing its true character to those who fought for its continued existence on the left.

The danger ahead is that the left will no longer applaud this reality. The tables have turned and the right have found, in Boris Johnson and in Trump and in countless other right-populist leaders around the world, a democratic representative who has their votes interests at heart. The British left, by contrast, in the wilderness since Blair’s premiership, looks down the barrel of another half-decade up shit creek without a Corbyn.

Whereas in recent years this has increasingly been the sentiment of the nation’s centrists, with new political parties for a centre-left/right coalition emerging and dying off repeatedly — like ghosts of New Labour waving “look at me” long after the wake, thinking their poltergeists rather than just sticky ectoplasm trodden underfoot — it seems unlikely to me that Corbyn’s grassroots base would go down so easily. Perhaps because they would no longer look to parliament as the only important battleground.

To many, this could sound like a death knell to present dreams of a new democratic socialism. To others, it may be a situation that presents the left with a whole new array of opportunities. Recognising you have the numbers on the ground but not enough establishment support sounds like a recipe for a breakout from present restrictions.

So, after this leadership race has been run, and with the libertarians brought back on the side of the establishment, what could potentially happen to the former outer-left that took over the Labour leadership? It’ll be worth keeping an eye on Scotland to see. Being in opposition is one disappointment, but feeling unrepresented by that opposition is another thing altogether. If this leadership contest does not end in their favour, a exit could be precisely what a newly emboldened left looks for — and this might not be the self-castrating option that so many will assume it to be.

Mark Fisher: Essays Critical and Clinical

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the death of Mark Fisher.

I was at work today. The first anniversary since it happened that I haven’t had the day to myself and my thoughts — but that’s okay. In some ways, the workaday distractions have been welcomed. It is all too easy to disappear inside yourself on a day like today.

Thankfully, this will be offset as the week goes on. As ever, the whole of January feels like Mark Fisher Month and this Friday’s memorial lecture and afterparty will be a better occasion for thinking with Mark’s work than a particularly miserable Monday morning at work.

(It has been all too reminiscent of the first Monday after Mark’s death — Monday 16th January 2017 — when students from various years and courses descended on his classroom in the Richard Hoggart Building at Goldsmiths where his ‘Postcapitalist Desire’ class was scheduled to take place. Instead we listened to Mark’s mix and felt numb together.)

There’s another difference this year too which only exaggerates the surreality of today: my book on Mark is coming out very soon and is already available from The Word Bookshop in New Cross, and my notifications have been overrun with chatter about it. It’s hard not to feel a little guilty about that.

I don’t want to just push the book any further today but I would like to share something that was cut from it — notes for a later abandoned preface — about Mark’s mark on my writing more generally. A mark which is indelible.

I’m fairly certain that, in talking about the prospect of Repeater’s since-published k-punk collection back in 2017, Kodwo Eshun joked a great name for it would have been “Essays Critical and Clinical” had that name not already been taken.

It is in his essay “Coldness & Cruelty” that Deleuze writes of “the critical (in the literary sense) and the clinical (in the medical sense)” and how these two modes of thought may “be destined to enter into a new relationship of mutual learning.” This is a sensibility shared by so many of Mark’s own works as well. From Flatline Constructs to The Weird and the Eerie, this is the realm he inhabited with ease, exploring the hidden pathologies still waiting to be excavated from works of weird literature or Hollywood film or haunted music.

Everywhere we turn in his works we find cultural criticism put to work in the minds of the subjects he hopes will read him. This was Mark’s rebellion against “Cultural Studies”. He had no interest in pinning down cultural works, like butterflies to a board. He wanted to give a new life to artworks past, present and future. Nowhere was this more clear and affecting than in Capitalist Realism and the book’s opening consideration of the film Children of Men in which the cultural treasures of a former world are trinkets for the elite.

Cultural treasures — Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s Guernica, Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig — are preserved in a building that is itself a refurbished heritage artifact. This is our only glimpse into the lives of the elite, holed up against the effects of a catastrophe which has caused mass sterility: no children have been born for a generation. Theo asks the question, ‘how all this can matter if there will be no-one to see it?’ The alibi can no longer be future generations, since there will be none. The response is nihilistic hedonism: ‘I try not to think about it’.

Cultural studies treats culture like the capitalist elite. What Mark wants to do is put Children of Men itself to work against the hyperbolic system it dramatises. This is to say that Mark presents “capitalist realism” as a symptomatology of the capitalist condition.

Deleuze writes: “Symptomatology is always a question of art” by virtue of its innately interpretative and observational nature. This is to say, as Deleuze indeed does, that “clinical specificities … are not separable from … literary values”. A symptomatology is its own form of theory-fiction, untethered from the awkward dialectic that many think constitutes that unruly genre today. Deleuze knew this also. He writes that, in “place of a dialectic which all too readily perceives the link between opposites, we should aim for a critical and clinical appraisal able to reveal … truly differential mechanisms as well as … artistic originalities.”

(Together with Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus constituted the pair putting their money where his mouth is. Their influence on Mark’s thought in this regard is as indelible as his thought is on others.)

However, these artistic originalities are less common today than they once were, Mark believed. What he hoped for was a revived “popular modernism” — his most important but underdiscussed concept, in my view — which is, as Phoebe Braithwaite wrote last year:

… a kind of culture — most often found in music — which straddled the experimental and the mainstream. While popular, it required work to be fully understood, doing away with past forms, following a modernist make it new imperative. […] Pop modernism, he argued, embodied a sense of possibility which never fully recovered from the thoroughgoing attack it underwent in the 1980s.

This pop modernist approach — of which, we might note, post-punk and goth in particular were central reference points within Mark’s writings — was central to “Fisher’s philosophy of ‘going beyond the pleasure principle'” and this reference to (but also this push beyond) Freud is not to be taken for granted…

I’ve got another manuscript on the go at the minute which is taking me on a deep dive into the history of psychoanalysis and literary modernism. Partly inspired by Mark, it is a project that is otherwise unrelated to him. I have found myself looking at a lot of the “high modernist” stuff that I’m sure he would have had little time for on account of it not being “pulp” enough. Nevertheless, Hogarth Press has become a focal point — a publishing house that first hit its stride one hundred years ago and which is best known today as the original published of the works of Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud in English translation.

Hogarth Press, to my mind, is the birthplace of a mode of writing that would influence philosophy throughout the 20th century and which Mark was perhaps the best vehicle for in the 21st: the syzygetic relationship between the critical and the clinical.

The tension between these two things was central to the gestation of Egress — if it can be described as anything other than a tribute to Mark Fisher, I would say it is an attempt to understand how those two modes of thought-writing function today — but it also feels central to everything that could possibly come after it.

That’s the legacy I hope to affirm today, right now, looking to the future.

Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy & Mark Fisher — Forthcoming from Repeater Books

I’m really excited to be able to tell you all (officially) that my first book, Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy & Mark Fisher, is coming to bookshops near you on 10th March 2020, published by the wonderful folks at Repeater Books.

(One shop even has it early…)

The book’s blurb reads as follows:

An exploration of the work and legacy of Mark Fisher, one of the most influential and incendiary writers of our generation.

Egress is the first book to consider the legacy and work of the writer, cultural critic and cult academic Mark Fisher.

Narrated in orbit of his death as experienced by a community of friends and students in 2017, it analyses Fisher’s philosophical trajectory, from his days as a PhD student at the University of Warwick to the development of his unfinished book on Acid Communism.

Taking the word “egress” as its starting point — a word used by Fisher in his book The Weird and the Eerie to describe an escape from present circumstances as experiences by the characters in countless examples of weird fiction — Egress consider the politics of death and community in a way that is indebted to Fisher’s own forms of cultural criticism, ruminating on personal experience in the hope of making it productively impersonal.

There’s more to it than that though.

Egress has been a labour of love lost for me over the last three years. It originally came into the world as an unruly MA dissertation, submitted to Goldsmiths, University of London, in September 2017.

The death of a lecturer might sound like an unusual choice for a dissertation topic, especially since it was written in the immediate aftermath of said death without any distance, but I wrote about Mark because I didn’t know how to write about anything else. Mark’s death had so absolutely dominated all social and academic experiences that year, and challenged the research I had been doing before his death (into Bataillean ethics and the politics of community) so absolutely, that there seemed like no other way to move forward than to grab my grief by its horns and write my way out of it.

As such, it was a very weird dissertation to write but the response to it was hugely gratifying. My academic supervisor and second marker — Ayesha Hameed and Irit Rogoff respectively — were the first to offer their feedback on it and they were more encouraging than I could have anticipated. Both suggested I should keep going with it and let it see the light of day outside the walls of the institution. It was already written with one foot outside those walls and so, with this tentative permission to keep pushing forwards, I thought I might as well take the leap. At first, that’s what this blog was for — an excuse to keep writing after there were no more academic hoops to jump through — but it quickly grew into something much more than a blog.

It has taken a further two years to get it right but now, six times the length it was in September 2017, and with a few more years thought and experience inserted into its initial ideas, the result is something I am immensely proud of.

However, if it was a weird dissertation, it also remains a weird book. As I’ve been warning family and friends who have no idea what I write about here on the blog, “it’s certainly not a light beach read.”

As I write in the book’s introduction, it is as much a product of grief and depression as it is about those two things and so it is a book that slips and slides between registers and references, between personal experience and collective thought, in a way that is both indebted to Mark’s work and the slippery practice of blogging through which he made his name and to which I’ve also dedicated much of my life. It also attempts to connect these practices and projects to the wider philosophies that Mark and his friends were so naturally in tune with. As such, I believe that this weirdness is its strength rather than its weakness.

Suffice it to say, this is not a by-the-numbers summary of Mark’s published works or a biography of the man himself. With Egress being the first work of “secondary criticism” about Mark’s work, I think that’s how it should be.

This is not an attempt to tie up the loose ends he left behind into a neat package. It is an attempt to give an account of his death, written through the experiences of those he left behind, and an attempt to show, through a philosophical rigour and a rhetorical accessibility (and a certain desperation), how the relevance of his work persists even though, at a glance, it may appear to have failed the man who penned it.

You can find out more information about the book over on Repeater’s website here.

I’ve also got a page here where I’m collecting any endorsements and reviews which I’ll be updating periodically.

If you’re in the UK, you can preorder it from Blackwell’s, Foyles and Waterstones. If you’re in the US, it’s available from Barnes & Noble and Penguin and… I don’t know what shops you have over there, but it’s in lots of places. Check your nearest bookstore! It’s global! (Amazon has it too if you’re desperate.) It will also be available to order direct from Repeater here on March 10th.

I’m sorry to say you’ll be seeing a lot more of my face and hearing a lot more of my voice over the coming weeks. I’ve got a bunch of press stuff and events planned so keep an eye out for those. (There will be a book launch in central London on March 11th which I can’t wait to announce — save the date!)

Thanks to everyone for the support over the last few years and to those who have had a more direct hand in keeping me sane and afloat during this book’s gestation. I hope you feel it’s been a worthwhile endeavour.