An Introduction to ‘Insufficient Armour’

This is a short, shitty video made on location in Derbyshire with bad equipment and a horrifically old version of iMovie over Christmas 2019, for an event that took place in Milan in January 2020, showcasing a book I was asked to contribute an essay to.

The cultured coven at NERO Editions have recently produced Insufficient Armour, a collaboration with Giorgio Di Salvo from United Standard, exploring prostheses and the augmented body.

I took the opportunity to write something explicit about the xenogothic. (A first, believe it or not.)

I’ll share more info about the final publication once it’s ready and available.

Transcript of the video after the jump…

Hi. My name is Matt Colquhoun. I’m coming to you from some witchy woods on a cold December afternoon in the north of England. 

This is a part of the world that many associate with the Gothic. Just over there you can see the Manchester skyline and there is a strong sense here, even today, that we’re on the outskirts of a new world, caught between two times with the future happening over there as the past mutates the natural landscape into something very different — but just as unusual — over here.

Standing here and looking out across the city, I’m left thinking about the drastic changes that occurred here during what we now refer to as the Industrial Revolution. Walking through these woods and hills, you often come across the ruins of former industries. Mills and factories and farms. Places where the lives of working people were revolutionised — some for the better and some for the worse — by the latest technologies of the day. Technologies that are often now redundant, their detritus littering the landscape and taking on the form of post-Gothic ruins.

But we’re also not far from Kinder Scout — the highest point of this landscape — where, in 1932, a group of ramblers and workers, organised by the Young Communist League, organised a mass trespass. It was reported that hundreds of working people and families from the local area came together to wilfully trespass on land that had been privatised under the Enclosures Act, restricting access to the natural world for working people in a deplorable hangover from English feudalism, the echoes of which were still felt long after the apparent revolution of capitalism.

I’m here for Christmas, visiting family and friends, but I also think there is no better place to introduce my essay to you today. My contribution to Insufficient Armour grew out from a quotation taken from Terry Eagleton’s 1990 book The Ideology of the Aesthetic, in which he describes aesthetics as a discourse born of the body — that is to say that the entire history of all our civilisational aesthetic sensibilities can be traced back to the beauty standards of what makes a “good” body. In the west, we may think first of the muscular statutes of Ancient Greece. Elsewhere, we can find fertility statues that celebrate the body parts deemed most essential to child rearing and reproduction. 

Today, such aesthetic standards are still lauded over us. They are modes of territorialisation, socially produced and individually internalised, bringing a fascistic and restrictive order to our bodies long before we can claim to have mastered them. However, it is my argument that the Gothic is an aesthetic mode that can provide us with a way out of this stultifying sense of ourselves. Indeed, so much so that it is not an aesthetic mode at all but a prosthetic mode, extending our conception of what our bodies can do in ways that make us imagine new bodies for ourselves and new worlds for them to inhabit. 

That is nowhere more clear that in this landscape, where natural beauty and body horror collide; where the buildings that deformed the bodies of so many men, women and children still stand, but also where something as simple as a walk up a hill can change the living conditions of a whole nation for generations to come. That is the central message of a Northern literary gothic tradition in this country. Although it is often buried under layers of horror and transgression, the message is one made most famous by Antonin Artaud and Gilles Deleuze: we don’t yet know what our bodies can do.

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