Unfolding Folds

I’ve been reflecting a lot under quarantine — what else is there to do? — particularly about writing. I reflect on writing often, and often on this blog.

At the moment, I’m thinking a lot about how the writing I like to read is not the same as the writing I like to write, and figuring out the balance between the two is often a very conscious process for me. Following a recent review of Egress, I’ve been thinking about this even more.

I keep thinking about Deleuze too. I need to dig it out again but I remember reading something once — I think it was in that Intersecting Lives joint-biography of D+G — where the author comments on the shift that occurs between Deleuze’s writings on other writers and then the sheer torrent of energy that erupts once he shelves that habit and starts to write for himself. I’m feeling that at the moment. I’ve plotted out the entirely of my next book and, to be honest, it’s probably far too ambitious a project right now, but I feel like the sky is the limit. It is going to be my book proper. Not a comment on someone else but an expansion of my own ideas. That’s liberating right now.

I’m also excited about it because I think it will allow my own writing to be considered on its own terms. I have lived very consciously under the shadow of Mark Fisher for a few years now but I have long been looking for an exit. That’s not to dismiss the achievement that is Egress. The book means a great deal to me, but that’s almost four years of my life, and the book is finished and out in the world, and now I’m eager to take what I’ve learned and start the next chapter.

More books about Mark will no doubt come out in the mean time, however. As said on Twitter the other day, that one review of my book seemed to want the sort of book about Mark that I dread to see — a book about Mark that tries to imitate him — but also a book that reduces him to his three slim volumes.

This is the main problem for me, going forwards, and it was even one predicted during the Egress‘s gestation. I have many problems with the space into which this book has entered: the one-dimensional landscape on which Mark’s works are generally discussed.

This landscape colours everything. It is at once superficial but also heavily weighted. In the midst of our current apocalypse I’ve been reading D.H. Lawrence’s book Apocalypse and it is interesting to read him talking about the Bible in its early pages:

The Bible is a book that has been temporarily killed for us, or for some of us, by having its meaning arbitrarily fixed. We know it so thoroughly, in its superficial or popular meaning, that it is dead, it gives us nothing any more.

That’s a comment that could apply to any number of things in this corner of the internet, where the war between pop culture and underground is never-ending, but it’s particularly true of Mark’s work for me, especially since his death. Mark has been transformed from a man who desired another way of life, for himself and others, into the cornerstone of a new faith. That’s a second death for Mark as far as I’m concerned. It’s in this sense that Egress is a book about life and death, and also second lives and second deaths. Resisting Mark’s second death is what I have been neurotically pursuing for years now.

It’s nonetheless quite hard to resist. The popular meaning of Mark’s work creates a pressure to write as Mark, but who would dare — or want — to write that book? I’m not sure, but it’s clear plenty of people want to read it. You know it is on the way because, whatever itch within the market my book fails to itch, someone else will fill in the gap soon enough.

I couldn’t have written that book, nor would I have wanted to. When I wander into forums or Facebook groups dedicated to Mark’s work, I don’t recognise the Mark I find there. I see this weird-looking posthumous Mark reduced to his catchphrases. I find it vulgar and repulsive.

However, when I do wander through these places, I also see lots of inquiring minds asking about Mark’s various takes on other topics. “What did Mark Fisher think about x or y?” The desires driving such questions are likely suspect, compounding this problem, as if the right response to any situation must be the Mark Fisher response. The funny thing, however, is that many of these enquiries do indeed have responses, buried in Mark’s diverse array of essays and blogposts. I think it was Mark’s hope, however, that people would find these things for themselves.

The Mark that wrote those slim books for Zero and Repeater was — I think quite consciously, on his part — just the tip of the iceberg. His books are so thin to be accessible, yes, but also to be bait into a deeper and more disturbing world of philosophical heresy and cultural production.

Take Capitalist Realism, for instance. Here Mark frequently sprinkles his political arguments with repeated references to the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and he does this without really taking those references anywhere — he doesn’t really quote Spinoza and he certainly doesn’t preface his references with any broader intellectual context — but I’m sure that’s because Mark felt he didn’t need or want to. Nevertheless, I doubt Spinoza is the kind of figure most casual readers will be familiar with, but there he is, again and again, as if Mark is a DJ throwing in a deep cut for the ‘heads and for the curious.

I’ve heard numerous people criticise Mark’s lacklustre use of Spinoza in this regard but the more generous reading is to call these references breadcrumbs. (For what it’s worth, Spinoza’s influence on Mark’s writings is far more explicit on k-punk than anywhere else.) He sprinkles just enough Spinoza into the mix so that the name jumps out at you but he doesn’t get stuck into the particulars of his thinking. Spinoza is not allowed to get in the way of the argument being made. It’s a risky gamble but one that Mark was very good at, perhaps because of its connection to a wider philosophical thinking that he was well versed in.

This is one way of saying — implicitly — that Mark’s books are interesting examples of Deleuzian folding. “There’s no inside except as a folding of the outside,” as Mark wrote in The Weird and the Eerie, and that book, in itself, is the perfect example of his folding/unfolding skills in full flow. It is another book that is, of course, incredibly concise — at times even too concise for its own good — but, as we discovered when we turned our support group into a reading group at Goldsmiths in 2017, when you start to unfold it, it becomes infinitely more complex.

That’s the relationship to Mark’s work that I wanted to share, in Egress and on this blog. The joy, for me, is in the unfolding; in making the connections. Mark’s legacy is a jigsaw puzzle and, once you find the connections between the pieces, a whole new world starts to emerge before you.

As a case in point, I ended up reading Simon O’Sullivan’s essay on “the fold” in Deleuze’s thought whilst writing this post and it demonstrates what I’m gesturing towards with far more clarity than I could muster right now. More importantly, however, read with Mark in mind, you can feel him in there, in the concept itself. He doesn’t need to explain it because he inhabits it.

This is similarly something I wanted to get across in my essay for The Quietus in which I unpacked hauntology using Deleuze’s concepts of the critical and the clinical, undermining the deadened popular understanding. This wasn’t meant to be an exercise in academic complication but rather unfolding, making more explicit the connections within. When reading Mark, whether we’re familiar with Deleuze or not, it doesn’t really matter. Mark lived it implicitly rather than explicitly scaffolding his work with borrowed concepts. Instead, he made his own. Like Kodwo Eshun, he was a “concept engineer”.

And that’s part of the joy of Mark’s work but also the frustration. The implicit nature of his writings on philosophy lends itself to popular reduction. Nevertheless, the mark of Deleuze left imprinted on his thought is plain to see if you know what you’re looking at. That’s what I find fascinating in Mark’s writing. He openly referenced Deleuze far less often than one might expect but these vectors are nonetheless there.

It reminds me of a comment Mark made in his very first Post-Capitalist Desire seminar. He commented that the lack of Deleuze and Guattari on the syllabus was shocking, even to him — and he’d written it — but they were still there as the thread that ran in the background, as if they were all the more important precisely because they had been omitted.

The question becomes: How do you approach a thinker like that? Like Mark? Diminish these conceptual echoes to Easter Eggs for the theorybros? Or dare to unpack them far more than Mark did himself to probe the under-explored depths of his writings?

Personally, I’m not the sort of writer who goes in for subtle omissions. I’m far more neurotic a writer than Mark was in that regard. I like to unfold everything and lay it out nicely and make connections explicit. Is it an academic hangover? I don’t think so. I only spent one year studying this stuff formally. I arrived with that neurotic desire to unfold already embedded. I’ve done the implicit signalling enough with photography, and spent years being frustrated when no one picks up on it. Writing is where I get to let loose instead.

Of course, this is the complete opposite of the style deployed by the Ccru, who compress and compress concepts until they reach a point of nuclear reaction, but that’s fine with me. I like to read that stuff but I don’t think I’m very good at writing it, and I don’t think the reasons for that are all that deep.

Again, what’s better: affirming my own preferences or producing a pale imitation? The former, I think, but it’s certainly not the easy option.

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