Same Virus, New Zombies: Towards a New Hauntology

Following yesterday’s brief summary of some of the papers given at the Capitalist Realism: 10 Years On conference, one of the more persistent discussions surrounding Mark’s writings was on hauntology — and it was a discussion that irked me more and more as the weekend went on.

As is unsurprising these days, numerous people had problems with Mark’s arguments regarding our cultural stagnation. This ended up featuring quite heavily in my keynote and I’m planning to condense and redevelop this argument for elsewhere so I won’t rehash it here but, essentially, it drives me mad how common poor readings of this part of Mark’s thought are, particularly regarding the assumption that Mark just thought everything new was shit.

Of course he didn’t. He could see the future coming but what frustrated him, I think, was how unevenly distributed it was, with the experimental and the mainstream no longer sharing the same spaces as they once did.

Mark hated the Arctic Monkeys, for instance.

He saw their repetitive cultural pastiche as nothing more than a by-the-numbers product of pop cultural nostalgia, hauntographically ordering and describing late-twentieth century cultural signifiers on album after album. (Something which has not abated one bit over the last fifteen years.)

What Mark loved, however, was the hauntology of the Caretaker’s new modernism.

One should not be equated with the other. It’s like arguments surrounding accelerationism all over again. People are far too quick to flatten the distinction between acceleration itself and the subject affected by acceleration. What accelerationism does is observe the former and critique the latter.

Similarly, critics of hauntology flatten the distinction between repetition itself and the subject affected by repetition. Again, hauntology observes the former and critiques the latter.

This is to say that the Arctic Monkeys replicate uncritically a homogenising cultural mode at the end of history, seemingly without irony. They are repetition incarnate. The Caretaker, on the other hand, explicitly interrogates the impact of this very tendency on the contemporary subject, producing new sonic worlds in the process. Therefore, hauntology proper should be seen less as a description of the repetitive semiology of capitalist modernity and more as a study of postmodern capitalism’s innately repetitive nature and its effect on us as subjects.

Interestingly, however, the main critics of Mark’s hauntological thinking in this regard were a group of Huddersfield PhD candidates who would later perform together as a free improvisation group. There is so much experimentation going on today, they would argue, implicitly referencing activity on a campus known for its radical music department, and they couldn’t understand why Mark would ignore these other practices and potentials. (I’d argue he didn’t but, again, the distinctions within his work are flattened.)

The excitement and freedom they felt running through their musical practices made them openly annoyed at Mark, as if his critiques did nothing but shut down these potentials by demoralising his students. This was far from his intention, of course, but this was nonetheless how they felt reading Capitalist Realism for the first time ten years on.

Although I was vocal in my disagreement, I was also newly aware of my own over-familiarity with Mark. I could no longer imagine reading him for the first time without the baggage I carry around, so it was very interesting to hear the first thoughts of a PhD cohort otherwise unfamiliar with his life and trajectory. For example, most surprisingly, Capitalist Realism was interpreted as an indictment of political disengaged students, at least when compared with “their forebears in the 1960s and 1970s”.

I don’t interpret this as Mark being critical of individuals, however. He loved his students. They weren’t in his crosshairs. It was the system that encourage their disengagement that he took issue with. Mark made clear elsewhere — although I can’t remember where right now but it was in some interview — that Capitalist Realism was his attempt to change this and engage directly with and excite his A Level students. After all, he writes, through personal experience:

In Britain, Further Education colleges used to be places which students, often from working class backgrounds, were drawn to if they wanted an alternative to more formal state educational institutions. Ever since Further Education colleges were removed from local authority control in the early 1990s, they have become subject both to ‘market’ pressures and to government-imposed targets.

Here Mark is referring to the slow decline of the polytechnic — institutions known (and derided) for catering to vocational interests that fuelled radical experimentation. (Leeds University, for instance, is particularly famous for being a post-punk hot bed.) However, in 2009, at least in my experience, these reports of political disengagement ring true. The most politically active kid at my college was a smarmy cunt who became well-known as one of the youngest ever local Labour councillors but fell out of the public eye as soon as the anti-Blairite wave rose through the ranks. (He was a particularly slimy example.)

The politicisation of British students post-Millennium didn’t seem to happen until immediately after Capitalist Realism was published, which is partly why I think it had the surprise success that it did. It emerged at a time when Mark’s intended audience was suddenly very keen to listen.

The London riots and the protests around student fees in 2010 and 2011, for example, lit a literal fire under a whole generation who are, today, actively shaping cultural discourse. In 2009, however, that just did not exist. Owen Jones’ Chavs didn’t come out until 2011 — the book that single-handedly shone a light on the class consciousness of a generation who had not realised the ferocity of their own (often internalised) classism — but, as someone speaking to the future, he also appeared very lonely within the nation’s consciousness of radically left-wing political commentators at that time. Again, he was a breath of fresh air and this, too, is largely why his book started doing so well.

What is more sad, however, is that it is likely that Mark was going to continue to surf the edge of popular discourse but, since his death, his works have been criticised for posthumously falling behind. Further criticisms popped up infrequently, for instance, regarding Capitalst Realism‘s anglocentrism and its lack of diverse references. Pedro Alvarez — whose paper of Latin American protest music was great — derided Mark’s lack of engagement with the rise of neoliberalism in Latin America. It was sad to hear this criticism laid at his feet as Mark was intending to teach this topic specifically before his death. (One week of his “Post-Capitalist Desire” seminar at Goldsmiths, to take place in 2017, was to consider the “cybernetic socialism” of Chile’s Allende government, long before the West finally began paying attention during the riots of 2019.) Similarly, he derided the way that Mark’s references to Spinoza felt “second hand”, although Mark wrote repeatedly of his time at Warwick where he “spent over a year poring over The Ethics in a reading group.”

Others had issues with Capitalist Realism‘s political incorrectness — Mark’s impersonalisation of dyslexia under capitalism being seen as some affront to contemporary discourses around neurodiversity, for instance — but, no matter the concern, each complaint felt like a criticism made out of time and out of context and revealed, to me at least, the lasting impact of the very formalisation of state educational institutions that Mark was talking about in his first published book. As such, it felt like middle-class hand-wringing in response to a book that did not live up to an academic rigour that Mark ignored explicitly because he saw it as an acute barrier to student consciousness raising.

It should go without saying that criticisms of Mark’s work are, of course, welcomed and allowed, and I’ve heard some great critiques in recent years that have made me wonder what he might have said in response to them. Reading Mark’s writings, even posthumously, is to quickly learn that he was — as Dom put it last month — “a touchy sod.” I said something similar in my paper on Sunday in response to suggestions on the first day that Mark is a frustrating thinker. He absolutely is — and I wouldn’t have him any other way, personally. He’s a writer who remains wholly human in my mind, as a result. As much as we must resist “an emerging hagiography of Saint Mark”, we should also resist attempts to posthumously problematise him, at least if the reason for doing so is to subject him to the ever-increasing pressures of the dull academic landscape he stood in firm opposition to.

It is in this sense that I struggled with the perception of his books as excitingly accessible but academically flawed documents, embarrassing today for their lack of foresight about the academic trends of 2020, and yet repeatedly it felt like his conference critics had not given his work the attention they wished he had paid to their own particular bugbears. Mark’s claims of cultural stagnation are easily quashed, someone said, if you get online and have “a little curiosity” to push you into new zones. The same could be said of approaches to Mark’s own works. The books are easily accessible and digestible — as was the intention — but the meat was often found on his blog, purposefully disconnected from academia’s self-referential circuits of citation.

I don’t say these things to shit on anyone’s research after the fact — I, too, am merely a touchy sod — but one presentation in particular has stuck in my craw and has made me think a lot, over the days since, about what precisely Mark’s work was trying to critique and how those who disagreed with this at the Capitalist Realism conference were also, I’d argue, those most guilty of enacting it.


On the second day, Henry McPherson presented an interesting paper on the relationship between practices of mindfulness and improvisation. Reflecting on his own practice as an improviser, Henry considered how the corporate spirituality of McMindfulness is evidently well meaning but limited and captured. However, he argued that radical potentials are nonetheless still present within some of the less popular “presence practices”.

(After the conference, I was welcomed home to London by a galley of Matthew Ingram’s forthcoming book Retreat: How The Counterculture Invented Wellness which, interestingly, seems to draw a firm line between these two trends rather than attempt hold them in contradistinction with one another.)

However, I unfortunately found it a difficult paper to make head or tail of. Whilst the argument was incredibly clear, thoroughly referenced and carefully articulated, it felt like it was so polished that the medium immediately began to drastically undermine the message. A gesture of interrupting his own introduction by dragging a violin against the wall of the lecture hall was left subsumed by citations and reduced to precisely that — a gesture. All I could think throughout was: “What is it to present such a straight-jacketed academic paper about something as liberating as free improvisation?” It felt like mindfulness’s capture by a corporate spiritualism — a practice advertised as a paltry moment of internal freedom within the drudgery of the work day — was mirrored by a demonstration of improvisation’s capture by an academic affectlessness and propriety, providing a momentary creative outlet that nonetheless had to be justified by the REF-scoring expectations of the institution at large.

No offence to Henry, of course, who was a great contributor to proceedings throughout the weekend. As with Mark, the fault does not lie with him but rather the sort of institution that can disengage itself from the modes of critique it produces. (I had every intention of asking him about the relationship between his research and his practice but, unfortunately, we ran out of time.)

I also want to affirm that the free improvisation performance that followed the conference — intentionally and hilariously inserting a sort of bureaucratic anti-production into its set-up, where audience members were encourage to offer “performance reviews” mid-performance — was a welcome addition to the schedule, in much the same way that we have always emphasised the schism of a club night to follow the Mark Fisher Memorial Lectures, offering up the dance as an equally powerful way of articulating Mark’s beliefs and ideas beyond the propriety of the lecture theatre.

This is because Mark, too, was an “improvisor”. What is blogging, at its best, if not a rejection of academia’s “business ontology”; a kind of public writing performance through which success and failure are both potentials, equally embraced? Where writing is done for its own sake rather than to bolster your rating on Academia.edu or, again, to boost your REF score?

These free improvisors may have found Mark’s academic and musical references dated and oddly basic for someone supposedly on the cusp of cultural thinking, but what they tragically missed from Mark’s thinking was the way in which it offers those seeking new ways of living and thinking a practical tool kit through which to think differently. It doesn’t give you free improvisation on the one hand and academic propriety on the other. It is free action all the way down. It is getting our of your head through your head; getting out of the world through the world.

We might note here that, in mourning the separation of the mainstream and the experimental, Mark’s hauntological critiques apply as much to the stagnation of the avant-garde as they do to the stagnation of pop culture.

I’m reminded here of that Jerry Saltz article that left the art world shook back in 2014: “Zombies on the Walls: Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same?” The title more or less says it all. Is the same not true of an avant-garde musical tradition? Saltz writes:

Galleries everywhere are awash in these brand-name reductivist canvases, all more or less handsome, harmless, supposedly metacritical, and just “new” or “dangerous”-looking enough not to violate anyone’s sense of what “new” or “dangerous” really is, all of it impersonal, mimicking a set of preapproved influences… It feels “cerebral” and looks hip… Replete with self-conscious comments on art, recycling, sustainability, appropriation, processes of abstraction, or nature, all this painting employs a similar vocabulary… This is supposed to tell us, “See, I know I’m a painting — and I’m not glitzy like something from Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons.” Much of this product is just painters playing scales, doing finger exercises, without the wit or the rapport that makes music. Instead, it’s visual Muzak, blending in.

Saltz mention of music here stings a bit. Similarly, gestures of free improvisation do not go far enough in an academic institution, less so when draped superficially in the latest moral-academic trends. In fact, it was particularly telling that the other musics mentioned during the conference that had far more political resonance were Latin American protest songs or even something like Squarepusher’s “MIDI sans Frontières”. (The latter was mentioned alongside Aphex Twin’s face-mapping in an excellent presentation by Adrien Ordonneau who discused the relationship between embodied protest and so-called “IDM” which has surely shaked off its “armchair listening” reputation by now!). These protest songs are, effectively, pop songs. But more than that, they were musics that draw in the world outside only to push it — critically — back out again.

This is something emphasised again and again and again by someone like David Toop, who notably gave the keynote at the CeReNem “Ambient @ 40” conference last year (available to read here):

Toop, as an improvisor, appreciates the outsideness of sound, understood culturally and phenomenologically. His paper presented at Huddersfield asks a number of pertinent questions about music’s capture within capitalist infrastructures that resonate here, in ways that the Huddersfield students seemed reluctant to accept and engage with. He writes, for instance:

Last year Pitchfork magazine asked me to write an introductory essay for an ambient top one-hundred they were about to unleash. I declined and when I saw the hundred choices felt glad I had. A lot of it was genre ambient, industry ambient if you like, very little to do with the softening expansions of boundaries I was proposing in Ocean of Sound in 1995 and nothing to do with the field of possibilities that existed when I recorded for Brian Eno’s Obscure label in 1975. […] So the question now is what ambient means at this point in time. Is it ossified, cut off from change, eternally fixed as journalists’ shorthand for any droning, slow, dreamy, drifting, barely changing, consonant electronic music? Does it supply a perennial refuge for temporarily forgetting the precarity, hysteria and threat of current conditions or can it be a vehicle for engaging with those same conditions?

Regarding the last question in particular, following the Capitalist Realism conference, I am more readily inclined to agree with the former. The free improvisors engaged in a self-aware performance, for sure, in which capitalist work ethics were referents in the performance’s structure but the playing itself was hard to interpret as anything other than “a perennial refuge”. It was less critical and more panto. Their improvisation was less an attack on expectations and more of a welcome break for the academic brain.

Later still, Toop’s comments on ambient skewer the context improvisation was placed in here. Replace “ambient” with “improvisation” and the effect is the same:

So ambient was instrumentalised — it was conceived as a functional asset to well-being, an optimisation or facilitation of a thoughtful, tranquil approach to life — and given the fractious, stressful nature of most airports, any calming instrument is welcome. The music’s potential for this role is unsurprising. Ambient formed its own specialised branch, off-shooting sometimes in a reactive way, sometimes more benevolently, from a family tree that included yoga, relaxation and meditation tapes, Muzak, easy listening, background and library music and records of bird song aimed at ornithologists, the ultimate use-value lineage.

Of course, Toop knows that this is highly resonant. He adds: “The same criticism, if it is a criticism, of instrumentalisation and self-optimisation could be levelled at other genres, maybe all genres of music.”


Any highlighting of these tensions within the Capitalist Realism conference is not intended to be any comment on the skills of the performers at the conference, who were really excellent — they demonstrated collectivised attentiveness that is necessary for any good instance of free improvisation — but simply playing the space of the institution did nothing to assuage their complicity in its politically restrictive flows.

This is the lesson for cultural practitioners still to be found within Mark’s writings. Your radical practices, particularly when practiced within the bounds of the academic institution, wilt far quicker than you might think they do. But this isn’t meant to be a bleak demoralisation — a further penchant for which was also repeatedly laid at Mark’s feet. (Shout out to Nic Clear for affirming, in the final panel discussion, that Mark often made him laugh — really laugh.) This is precisely why popular modernism was so interesting for Mark, particularly when seen from within the field of academia. It takes far less effort for pop to weird itself. (A point made poignantly by John Harries, Rose Dagul & Joe Newman over Skype, in a presentation that was, very intriguing, improvisational in nature, with the structure of the paper given over to a dice throw, with a member of the trio reading a passage depending on the number assigned to it.) A contemporary post-classical avant-garde has a lot more work to do, and that work just doesn’t look like a sound use of Chicago style referencing.

This is part of hauntology’s observations about the treacle through which contemporary culture must pull itself. It is a danger that continues to stalk all cultural production even today. When Simon Reynolds described a contemporary conceptronica — with admiration we might note, but no one likes being neologismed — powerfully channelling the same sorts of cultural protest that defined post-punk, he did so as if to raise a certain awareness around experimental music’s next phase of capture that hangs like the sword of Damocles precisely in this REF-supporting mode:

The agit-prop sector within conceptual electronica is woke music, in all senses. “Using cacophony and unusual sonics, I reject the passive experience of listening, and try to use sounds that are active to wake the listener up and to bring them into the moment,” [Chino] Amobi has said. This rhetoric recalls the post-punk band This Heat, whose song “Sleep” agitated against consumerism and entertainment as mass sedation. In conceptronica and post-punk alike, there’s a similar interest in demystification and seeing through the blizzard of lies: When Lee Gamble uses the late theorist Mark Fisher’s term “semioblitz” — the desire-triggering, anxiety-inciting bombardment of today’s infoculture — I’m reminded of Gang of Four’s 1979 song “Natural’s Not In It” and its line about advertising as “coercion of the senses.”

But you can also sense some of the same problems that afflicted post-punk four decades ago, especially in its later years, when it reached an impasse. With conceptronica, there can be a feeling, at times, of being lectured. There’s the perennial doubt about the efficacy of preaching to the converted. That in turn points to a disquieting discrepancy between the anti-elitist left politics and the material realities of conceptronica as both a cultural economy and a demographic — the fact that it is so entwined with and dependent on higher education and arts institutions.

Is it possible that Mark was guilty of this himself? It may have had a part in encouraging it but he always retained one foot outside, in his immediate environment. That should not be the basis for critique if all we are going to do is do the academy’s work for it.

We’ve seen the problems with this on this blog already very recently with Slash, the Last Women of History. I didn’t think I’d see the same thing again so soon. But then, why not? It’s endemic and requires a vigilance from all of us — but especially those of us attending conferences about radicality we wish to see in the world. If you’re going to hurl critiques from such a platform, aim them firmly at the glass house that surrounds you. Anything less than this doomed to impotence.

Notes from the ‘Capitalist Realism’ Conference

Last weekend I went to a conference at the University of Huddersfield called Capitalist Realism: 10 Years On. I had a brilliant time listening to some fascinating papers and it was interesting to see — first-hand and for the first time — how Mark’s work is being discussed and perceived within a cross-section of academic disciplines, outside the bubbles of social media.

I took a lot of notes that weekend so I thought I would very briefly flesh out some of what I noted down. (Not that it matters what I think but you know what I’m like…)

There was a great deal to be positive about. Peter Conlin, for example, brought Mark’s conception of “the eerie” to bear on Amazon’s giant distribution warehouses and the tandem presence and absence of capitalism’s hyperactive logistical infrastructures. It felt like a timely update of Mark’s elucidations on Felixstowe shipping port, albeit less War of the Worlds and more Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Inside, these warehouses are known for their appalling conditions and enforcement of extreme levels of productivity. Outside, they look like dead spaces. Conlin commented that the eerie is interesting in relation to this because it brings these sorts of spaces into the cultural, despite everything about them supposedly being set up to resist this. Through such encounters with these spaces we can begin to appreciate Mark’s argument that capitalism is eerie because it is so difficult to locate it in a tangible sense, even though it can make almost anything happen.

Similarly, I thoroughly enjoyed Nic Clear’s archaeology of the phrase “the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism”, tracing it back to “Future City”, an article by Fredric Jameson on architecture that was a further comment on “Junkspace”, an article by Rem Koolhaas, which could have been lifted straight off the Ccru website. Nic was undoubtedly right when he criticised the infrequency with which people trace this phrase back to its sources — I’d certainly never done it, at least not that many steps back — and he highlighted how a new attention paid to this architectural thinking at Capitalist Realism‘s root expanded Mark’s thought in interesting new ways.

I also enjoyed Jorge Boehringer channeling moments of egress in Blanchot — “the everyday escapes, that is its definition” — and Michel de Certeau, particularly the latter’s concept of “la perruque” or “the wig”, through which “a worker’s own work is disguised as the work for his employer.”

Kier Milburn’s discussion of contemporary consciousness raising workshops was excellent, particularly for bringing in Jameson’s concept of “cognitive mapping”, and articulating how these sorts of practices can be used to gain electoral ground for the left by addressing the age gap between Labour and Conservative voters.

It was also lovely to meet fellow Twitter interlocutor Matthew Lowery who presented first on “The Aporias of Late Capitalism”, commenting on pop music and tourism as two areas where the suffocation of alternative practices and engagements has led to an odd ouroboros of cultural production. I liked, for instance, his mention of a (negatively conceived) schizophrenia — it’s odd we have to make that distinct round these parts — following Jameson’s writings on postmodernism — as being “the breakdown of signifiers in the unconscious” and how this is evidenced by pop music’s bottomless self-referentiality and the emergence of the “post-tourist.”

In orbit of this, Matt commented that, although a return to pre-capitalist territorialities is wholly undesired, we mustn’t be unprepared for them becoming a reality — something that seems hard-baked into our futures by capitalism’s current endgame.

At one point, Kier expressed a complete disbelief at the actions of someone like Bolsonaro, for instance, purposefully setting fire to the Amazon rainforests. It seems to me that these pre-capitalist potentials are precisely why many like him play chicken with planetary resources. They may see themselves as largely insulated from the worst of the end of world’s affects and so it is better for them to lord over a slide back to a pre-capitalist politics than suffer in a postcapitalist future. By watching the world down whilst in power, they set themselves up to take over as our future feudal lords.

This is the terrifying undercurrent within contemporary platform capitalism, I think. It is what should make us so wary about our present monopolies.


There were a few things at the conference that frustrated me also… But I’ll save those for a separate post…

More on that tomorrow…

To be continued…

RIP Andrew Weatherall

It’s always surreal, when a well-known figure passes away, reading what the media focus on as their major achievements, if only because it might illuminated the parochialism of your own understanding of a person’s work.

I was sad to hear that Andrew Weatherall passed away yesterday but I never really knew that much about him. I knew him as a DJ and had heard a bunch of his mixes over the years but never looked any further into his discography to discover, for example, that he worked with Primal Scream and produced Screamadelica.

That’s also probably because I never really liked Screamadelica… That’s an album the boys at school liked who were also into Oasis and The Stone Roses… Not my crowd…

I did, however, like The Sabres of Paradise and Two Lone Swordsmen — two projects I also only just discovered he worked on; two projects I only just discovered were related.

I remember back in 2011 I was trying to recommend The Caretaker’s new album to someone who was an old raver and when they asked what the music was like I said: “haunted dancehall”.

They were all over it in a flash and it was only later, when they came back disgruntled, that I later realised what I really meant to say was “haunted ballroom”…

But we ended up having a good record listening sesh at their house and they put on Sabres of Paradise and I liked it a lot.

I particularly liked it with no context and no background. I liked the mystery of it. It felt oddly like a library record. On listening to it, I had no desire to find out any more and ruin the mystery.

It was around that same time — probably within a few months of that botched recommendation — that I picked up Two Lone Swordsmen’s Tiny Reminders from a record shop in Cardiff, also without having any idea what it was about. I only knew I liked its playfulness and odd familiarity, like someone had just heard a bunch of grooves and gone back to their bedroom to have a go at recreating what they’d heard only passively. It’s close to something you know but it has a certain naivety to it that is really enchanting, like if Jandek made dance music or something… Like if the Autechre boys never grew up…

Anyway, RIP Andrew Weatherall. Thanks for the mysteries.

Walk(ab)out

The first session of my short three-week module at the RCA was a brilliant experience. Unfortunately but also fittingly, it was the first and last.

It is a strange time to join a university department — even if only as a “visiting lecturer” — because the second and third weeks of the module coincide with the third(?) round of strike action that many British universities have engaged in over the last couple of years. It feels strange to be supporting strike action after just one day of teaching but I also took part in the Goldsmiths pickets as an alumnus and greatly appreciate the cause and its aims.

Attending the Goldsmiths teach-outs at a pub near Telegraph Hill in 2018?was an experience I really enjoyed. However, with this modernist / Situationist-inspired module, which takes walking as “the most radical gesture”, already encompassing a series of planned “walk-outs” from the institution, exploring London, the line between striking and teaching already felt weirdly blurred before I was even aware that the strike would affect my plans.

Thankfully, the students have been incredibly receptive to this, with one member of the class suggesting that we use one of our scheduled sessions to walk between RCA picket lines from Battersea to Kensington — a brilliant idea.

I’ve never really taught before — although I’ve wanted to — and navigating the institution from this side of the classroom is something I’ve been worrying about, especially with carefully laid plans seeming like they were about to go to waste.

I worried for nothing.

More soon…

“To Take A Walk Like…”: Radical Art and Philosophy in Three Walks

I’m really looking forward to teaching a short three-week module of workshops at the Royal College of Art in February and March.

Over three sessions, I’m hoping to introduce students to Deleuze’s central provocation — “we don’t yet know what our bodies can do” — through three mediums and moments within popular culture, imploring them to take a walk like Virginia Woolf in week one, Lee Friedlander in week two, and Burial in week three, wandering from the literary to the visual to the sonic.

I was invited to do this by the wonderful Eleni Ikoniadou and intend to use this opportunity as a testing ground for another book I’m working on, so I won’t say too much more about it here but I may reflect on the experience at a later date.

You can find a very condensed course introduction after the jump…

Continue reading ““To Take A Walk Like…”: Radical Art and Philosophy in Three Walks”

New Humanism’s Inhuman Forgetting

The usage of new ecological thinking in contemporary academia always feels ahistorical to me.

The rush to address the intensity of the present crisis leads to a glossing over of all that came before it. An emphasis on human/non-human relations becomes an awkward rehash of German Idealism’s insertion of the subject itself into the nature it cannot know.

Paradoxically, however, this new emphasis results from a recent humanist discourse. It is an example of the late-capitalist ego attempting to (re)produce and (re)introduce an anti-egoic thinking which it doesn’t realise there is a precedence for.

Why doesn’t it realise this? Because of capitalism’s enclosing of fields of knowledge that it believes are other to itself. The desire for this never went away, however, and now finds itself reemerging, like the emperor in his new clothes, picked out for it and recontextualised by the neoliberal institution itself.

The result is never not superficial and that’s how they like it.

Kill Landlords, Smash Babylon

If there was one thing that Mark Fisher was aiming for in writing his Acid Communism, it was the reinvigoration of pop cultural potentials that were previously rife within the 1960s and 1970s.

In his introduction to the unfinished project, he discusses The Beatles expressing an anti-work ethic on “I’m Only Sleeping”, for instance, and saw this as a radical sentiment that had the potential to flick switches in the popular imagination.

Of course, the Beatles are an interesting example considering just how huge they were, but they were also a pretty soft option…

Since picking up my first one in 2013, I have developed a habit for buying reggae and dub records about how shit landlords are. Now there is a radical message smuggled inside a pop cultural phenomenon — and one that is still going strong too.

Yeah, work is bad, but hey, maybe just kill your landlord? Yeah, I get it, dancing is fun, but ever think about the abolition of private property whilst you’re doing it?

I came across a new one earlier today — the first new one for a while — so here’s a post celebrating killing landlords and smashing babylon.

Like Simon Reynolds said in his Mark Fisher memorial lecture: “‘Babylon’ is a far more powerful word than ‘neoliberalism’.”

Capitalist Realism: 10 Years On — This Weekend

I’m traveling around the North a bit for the rest of the week. Hull tomorrow to see my parents, then onto Derbyshire, before I spend the weekend at the University of Huddersfield for Capitalist Realism: Ten Years On where I’m going to be giving the keynote on Sunday morning with a lecture that bares the nondescript title of “On Desire”.

It’s been a tricky thing to work on… I have a feeling that, with Egress now just a month away, I’ve said all that I have to say about Mark’s work, and it would probably be healthy, after this whole book situation has run its course, that I should take a step away from writing about him for a bit and stop fiercely carrying a torch that I never really meant to act so possessive of.

Nevertheless, I still find wider perceptions of Mark’s work quite alien to my own and I still do occasionally get caught up in a desire to extend Mark’s work outwards beyond the limits of the gathering storm of a “Mark Fisher Studies” discourse. (I’m also anxious about my book being seen as an attempt to inaugurate this, although I hope Egress‘s content will speak for itself.)

This is the paradoxical desire that I want to talk about on Sunday: the desire to not be the one writing but also the desire you might find yourself possessed by which keeps you typing away incessantly regardless.

It is a desire that I can’t seem to qualm and it has been something I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about recently. (Oh, the irony.) I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate these pathologies on the blog here and here, for instance, and doing this all feels like a way to practice addressing any questions I might get regarding my own position with the book’s narrative once Egress is out in the world.

This isn’t just for my benefit but also to address the more common misunderstandings around Mark’s work. I want to find a way to talk about Egress and this blog, and Mark’s books and his k-punk blog in particular, as exercises in letting the Outside in. However, I want to articulate this Outsideness in such a way that it does not dissolve impotently into a superficially understood Facebook meme of void-loving nihilism. I want to articulate what this experience is like at its most banal and quotidian but also its most radical and practical. I want to explain how, in writing a book like this, the “anti-ego” emerges and the ego unravels away from itself, with the “I” becoming a gate for desiring flows to travel through. I think this sort of strange experience is important to talk about because it is, at its heart, the impetus behind Mark’s use of his k-punk persona as a channel for what he called “uttunul signal” and his belief in a popular modernism.

So that’s what I’ve chosen to talk about on Sunday — how a desire for outsideness runs through Mark’s work and also connects his ideas to worlds far beyond his immediate environment.

We only tackle the light topics on this blog…



I’m excited to see all the presentations over the weekend. It looks like an excellent line up. There’ll be recordings of the sessions up on YouTube at a later date, I think, and I may also rework this lecture into a text to appear elsewhere soon. Watch this space.

Hell is Other People’s Cynicism: On Fans, Trolls, and a Purgatorial Mark Fisher

DIS magazine has a new video up on its website called “A New Face in Hell” — a 10-minute play written and performed by hip irreverent two-piece Slash, aka Emily Allen and Leah Hennessey.

Known for their penchant for ‘shipping figures from intellectual and cultural history and writing them into newly theatrical and homoerotic encounters, this new piece features — much to everyone’s surprise, no doubt — Mark Fisher and Mark E. Smith. (Shout-out to James Elsey from DMing me a link to it yesterday.)

The intro on the website reads as follows:

Welcome to hell. The late cultural theorist Mark Fisher, known to some as k-punk from his early blogging days, is giving a lecture on the “gentrification of contrapasso,” the Dantean term for a punishment resembling the sin itself. What could this flashy phrase possibly mean? Fisher is interested in those doomed to repetition until they realize their wrongdoing. See: Groundhog Day, Russian Doll. He hasn’t watched that show, but he doesn’t like what it’s doing to hell on Earth. What he does like is punk band The Fall, particularly their inimitably antisocial frontman Mark E. Smith. He drones on and on about Smith’s antiborgeious, radical inscrutability. Then, a certain kind of heaven. Smith appears before him. He got to heaven and he hated it. Soon he’ll learn to regret his reactionary choice, doomed to spend his afterlife as part of Fisher’s repeating his self-deluded sin.


It’s hard to know what to make of all this. To be honest, I only started writing this post to try and make sense of my own revulsion towards it.

On the one hand, I hate it… It embodies everything that Mark Fisher was not, transforming him into an incoherent existentialist Cultural Studies posho.

On the other hand, I love it… It perversely and reflexively skewers everything wrong with the posthumous image of Mark Fisher that his international fandoms have perpetuated and which have provided mountains of fuel for this blog’s vitriolic engine over the last few years.

With both of these responses waging war in my head, I’m left not knowing which way I should read this odd piece of internet theatre — and I can’t help but shake the feeling that that’s (somewhat paradoxically) the desired response: impotence.

What we are presented with is a shadow of the pomophobe-in-chief as seen through the eyes of a contemporary pomo schlock lampoon. “The cardinal features of PoMo — the arbitrary aesthetics, the simulated gestures, the boredom, the poignancy of the lost object — combine to produce a transcendental miserabilism — a deep sense not only that there is nothing to be done, but that nothing could ever have been done.” It is an ingrown parody, bent backwards so that Allen and Hennessy become Nietzsche’s Last Women — “They are clever and know everything that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery” — and yet still dramatise Mark as the bore that is Nietzsche’s Last Man.

It’s ironic, in more ways than one. In fact, it’s irony all the way down. Here the “dreary textocratic dribblings of post-theory” become theatre, letting the contemporary art world’s “transcendental idealist counterpoint to the empirical realism of postmodern culture” play out counter-intuitively on a blackened stage. These are words Mark wrote with Robin Mackay back in early 2000s, slamming Slash ahead of time, albeit with the very mode of hyper-compression they are ridiculing here as onanistic. It is a most cyclically cynical ouroboros.

Watching this, I’m left asking myself: What is self-awareness and what is a mimetic mirroring of Fisher’s contemporary reception? (Such is the eternal problem of postmodern media.) It feels like the only productive thing we can do here is to read it generously as both. (Kill them with kindness.)

This is to say that, understanding that our emotional horror as viewers comes from the fact that Slash allow Mark to embody everything he vocally hated, just as many other people online have since allowed him to do uncritically, our best approach to this odd piece of media is not to dismiss it outright but instead try and affirm it…

As horrific a task as this sounds, I think it is also potentially useful…


What this Slash video dramatises is a Mark that is now caught in the machine that he so frequently critiqued. To dramatise Mark was the word-salad ghost of a Derridean TedTalk in a Beckettian purgatory is precisely to insert Mark in the apparatuses of capture that he repeatedly poured scorn on. Perhaps that is precisely the repetition being viciously lampooned: no matter what he wrote and how many times he did so, Mark has still posthumously fallen victim to that which he lamented. (Again, it’s a hall of mirrors). After all, for all Mark’s writings, we’re still here. Perhaps, at our most cynical, we might say that it is appropriate for Mark the false messiah to end up in hell for failing to save us from our own capture. But this fictionalising of Mark’s ghost as a tragic false prophet feels less like a transgression to be attacked and more like an opportunity to make more visible the sort of “Mark Fisher Studies” discourse that I have repeatedly had problems with — even whilst others might see me as someone who helped inaugurate it.

This is to say that this Mark, no matter how perverse, is a contemporary reality. It is Mark captured in what he himself called “the purgatory of the pseudo-present”, in which his theoretical and cultural contributions to the 21st century are captured in “Beckett’s universe — a universe in which compulsion and waiting never end, a universe without any possibility of climax, resolution or transformation, a universe that is closed, but which will never finally run down into a state of total entropic dissolution”. The tragedy of our contemporary moment, of course, in which Mark’s legacy is now itself embroiled, is that this is as true of a Labour Party conference as it is of anything else. (Heck, we for k-punk organisers have been on the receiving end of such cynicism ourselves recently.)

I am nonetheless tempted to affirm this depiction of Mark. Not for its inaccuracy but because dramatising Mark in this way and in this context goes someway towards fuelling the kinds of virulent cultural production he admired.

Don’t feed the trolls — use them as manure for your own culturally productive capabilities. Do not attack others’ misgivings in order to shut them down but rather in order to extend the reach of a thought beyond them. The passivity of agreeing to disagree is not an option.

This is to say that refuting one person’s perception of a cultural figure in good faith need not be an egotistical attempt to demoralise but rather an attempt to extend one person’s thought beyond the cul-de-sacs of posthumous capture — that’s certainly been my intention in being a frequently Fisherian gobshite — and here Slash have provided us with the perfect effigy with which to do this.

I think it was this sentiment that Mark was channeling also when he once wrote: “Betrayal is just as important a cultural engine as fidelity; hate is just as important as love.”

This quotation comes from one of Mark’s better-known posts about the cultural productivity of fandoms and we might note that this is an arena that the Slash project is also very familiar with. As an article on the pair in Vogue notes: “What they understand intuitively, and what makes Slash so spot-on, is the thrill and stickiness of niche knowledge.”

In this sense, considering what Slash are going for, it is an accurate encapsulation of Mark as a figure as seen through his stereotypical theorybro fan base — particularly of the New York PolPhil / Cultural Studies department variety. The problem with this sort of fanbase for Mark’s work, however, is that it often seems to exorcise the vitriol and cultural productivity that he saw as essential to any sort of engagement with intellectual or cultural works. Academia’s greatest — and most frequently committed — crime has been its dissolution of the positive feedback loop between cultural and intellectual production, with Cultural Studies, most ironically, rendering it wholly negative. (Not to shit on CS too much — Mark’s misgivings in this department might apply far more readily to much of the NYC theory contingent’s socialite miserablism these days, as we’ll see in a moment.) This remains the case even — and especially — when academics form their own kinds of “fandom.”

Here we can see how the landscape has changed over the last ten years — that is, how the relationship between academia and cultural production has shifted. For instance, take these comments that Mark made, again in his k-punk post about fandoms, regarding academia and trolls:

Trolls pride themselves on not being fans, on not having the investments shared by those occupying whatever space they are trolling. Trolls are not limited to cyberspace, although, evidently, zones of cyberspace — comments boxes and discussion boards — are particularly congenial for them. And of course the elementary Troll gesture is the disavowal of cyberspace itself. In a typical gesture of flailing impotence that nevertheless has effects — of energy-drain and demoralisation — the Troll spends a great deal of time on the web saying how debased, how unsophisticated, the web is — by contrast, we have to conclude, with the superb work routinely being turned out by ‘professionals’ in the media and the academy.

Here, writing in 2009, Mark is obviously emphasising how academics — in the name of the rational rigour of objectivity no doubt — tend to eschew the fan label entirely. However, I don’t think this is the case anymore. At least not in all circles. Cultural Studies itself seems to have wholly embraced and absorbed the desiring-production behind pop cultural wikis and encyclopedias. However, in the process, it has made pop cultural passion as impotent as the academy’s former virulent cynicism.

You can see this for yourself. Just look at the lineup for a Cultural Studies conference on any sort of genre (or — as is, notably, just as common these days — sub-genre) fiction. Perusing Gothic Studies sites, for instance, I’ve seen many a paper advertised on fanfic as cultural production that makes Mark’s comments above feeling wholly misplaced. The issue is not fanfic itself, however, but rather its capture by the engine that it was once made to feel so absolutely alienated from. However, with cultural passion now finding itself within the academy itself, the tables have resolutely been turned, so that it is now culture that trolls academic sycophancy in favour of a hipster’s hard-nosed irreverence.

As such, what Slash‘s video demonstrates is a caricature of Mark as seen through this newly established prism, but what is fitting is that his continuing comments on trolls more generally still ring true. He writes:

In many ways, the academic qua academic is the Troll par excellence. Postgraduate study has a propensity to breeds trolls; in the worst cases, the mode of nitpicking critique (and autocritique) required by academic training turns people into permanent trolls, trolls who troll themselves, who transform their inability to commit to any position into a virtue, a sign of their maturity (opposed, in their minds, to the allegedly infantile attachments of The Fan). But there is nothing more adolescent — in the worst way — than this posture of alleged detachment, this sneer from nowhere. For what it disavows is its own investments; an investment in always being at the edge of projects it can neither commit to nor entirely sever itself from — the worst kind of libidinal configuration, an appalling trap, an existential toxicity which ensures debilitation for all who come into contact with it (if only that in terms of time and energy wasted — the Troll above all wants to waste time, its libido involves a banal sadism, the dull malice of snatching people’s toys away from them).

Here we find it is the artist qua artist who trolls exquisitely, with their sort bred like rabbits on MFA courses around the world.

Here Slash emerges from behind their 5000 spirits; the layers of the irony onion. The desired effect of this video is no doubt to make writing a post like this feel like a nauseating process. Nevertheless, the mask slips. The fan has become the troll. A whole scenius finds itself with its pants down, revealed starkly within a box of its own making.

The response should be to map this out further. Extend outwards beyond the edges of an impotent art world autocritique.

Shoot to kill. They’re fish in a barrel.



Much love to Leah and Emily for taking this declaration of war in such good faith over on Instagram. I was really humbled by their response and feel very excited and fired up by the fact that this post resonated with them. Thanks for reaching out!

When Things Take Time — Now Online

My somewhat knotty essay on Blanchot and time in modernism, communism and accelerationism is now available online via Diffractions Collective.

I think I wrote most of this with a fever — a common experience on a few commissions last year — and now, reading it back for the first time in about six months or something, I quite like the feverish subjective dissolution bubbling beneath the surface.

At first, I thought it was an essay that was slightly confused… Now I wonder how it could have honestly been anything but…

As Woolf would write from the depths of her novel’s templexity: “How to describe the world seen without a self? There are no words.” What an opportunity for the ever-present xenopoetics of late capitalism, for there is no time here either and, for capitalism, as for us, time is all there is.