This Great Society is Going Smash: A Lesson to be Learned from Accelerationism

Shout out to Geoff Shullenberger for pointing out this tweet. I’m used to seeing these by now — who isn’t? — but I think there’s a further point to be made with this one.

The suggestion that “accelerationism” is an “age-old” tactic from white supremacists is silly. I’m sure if you traced their appropriation of the term back to its origin, they started using it no more than three years ago. It has been associated with the far-right in the popular imagination for even less time than that.

As a by-word for “inflaming tensions”, I suppose it is a tactic that goes back much further, and tying this directly to accelerationism as it is popularly misunderstood is hardly a stretch. But the twisted development of this term is increasingly important to understand, I think — not just for those of us invested in its observations but also to those outside of our discussions who pounce on it as some sort of life-raft for understanding these right-wing forces they can barely comprehend.

As far as I am concerned, accelerationism was and continues to be a political philosophy for understanding how we have ended up in our present quagmire and for describing the available trajectories out of it. Whilst there’s a lot of contention around this now, I personally see little difference between what has (since 2016) been called “unconditional accelerationism” and the arguments first developed by Alex Williams in 2008. Whilst others called it a “left-” or “post-Landianism”, it is arguably more concerned with what Badiou called the “crisis in negation”, understood through Ray Brassier’s brand of “nihilism” and various radical reformulations of Marx’s labour theory of value.

All of this has, of course, been buried under various levels of retconning, with too much time spent arguing over the various influences that led to the formulation of this position rather than what futures this position is capable of giving voice to — so much so that the original position has been lost entirely.

I’ve been writing about the dire irony of this a lot recently. I’m trying to hammer it into a book but this is no easy task; unfortunately, the argument is anything but straightforward. Nevertheless, it goes something like this: That a radical politics, which hoped to take the stasis illuminated by the financial crash very seriously, could be captured inside its own reactionary stasis and made so publicly impotent is an embarrassing state of affairs. That those on the left take this as an opportunity to gloat should be careful, however. This trajectory shows how accelerationism itself has not been immune to the forces it hoped to describe. Indeed, it shows how nothing is immune to the disorientating tactics of a postmodernist populism.

It is very important that we emphasise this — not simply to save face but to demonstrate how the world works to those desperate to understand it. The tweets above demonstrate why.

Calling accelerationism an “age-old” white supremacist tactic is ahistorical at best, but it is a mistake worthy of note because, in grounding it in some false lineage, we jettison how central this type of appropriation has been to a very contemporary far-right play book. It is a tactic we see everywhere nowadays, most specifically in messaging around the coronavirus pandemic. The left-wing press in the UK, for instance, has been up in arms about the Conservative party’s poor and confusing messaging, but the point that many find difficult to make (but which is undoubtedly true) is that the government prefer confusion over clarity any day of the week.

This has (somewhat ironically) been clear this week, as the more dominant right-wing media in this country have been up in arms about the political-correctness-gone-mad suggestion that we stop singing “Land of Hope and Glory” at the BBC Proms.

The mundane reason for this cancellation of an even more mundane tradition, according to the BBC, is that the whole point of singing Land of Hope and Glory at the Proms is to end on a big, hearty singalong, but with no mass gatherings permitted they will likely remove this spectacle from the schedule.

Despite this being in accordance with the government’s own guidelines, the media (and Boris Johnson himself) have pounced on an alternative narrative that this is because Land Of Hope & Glory is racist and bad. There is a legitimate argument to be made for that — it is certainly a symbol of British nationalist pomposity — but it is hardly high on anyone’s list of wrongs to be righted in 2020. As such, it is clear to many that this is a story fabricated by the media, leapt on by the right, all to de-legitimise the left and distract from the right’s own failures.

Thankfully, left-wing media have been diligent in pointing out that this outrage has been wholly fabricated and fed by the media themselves. Pundits who have been booked onto news programmes to defend the constructed left-wing position, for instance, who have chosen to instead take the opportunity to call the farce out for what it is, have either been uninvited — as was Ash Sarkar’s experience…

…or they were given a slap on the wrist. Most tellingly, it was seemingly centre-left melt Femi alone who managed to get past the media vetting process and actually tell it like it is, and he was hilariously branded as an extremist for doing so.

This is all very relevant to accelerationism. Whilst I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for a fringe philosophical interest, it has nonetheless fallen victim to this same process. Its claims have certainly caused a lot of confusion, but we might ask ourselves why? Is it not telling that this concerted effort to address the impasse faced by contemporary anti-capitalist discourses has been transformed into the very thing it sort to “accelerate” out of — tactics of “capitalist realist” disorientation that keep the right in power? Is it not telling that this philosophical lightning rod, erected following the great political impotence demonstrated by the left following the financial crash, has become so impotent in itself?

Part of the reason is surely that we cannot see the totality that we are trying to escape from. Countless Marxists foretold this sorry state of limited consciousness — Marx’s negation of the negation and Lukács’ mire of immediacy are the first to come to mind — but even they probably never imagined it would get this much worse. We are wholly incapable, it seems, of seeing just how far down these tactics of distraction, exaggeration and appropriation go.

We must take care to illustrate how exactly these tactics differ from those described by “age-old” Marxist texts. The “brouhaha” around Land of Hope and Glory is a very blatant example of the media constructing instances of false consciousness in ways that Marxists have told us about for decades, for instance, but a more specific variation on these tactics are unique to popular neoliberalism (most visible in Reagan’s electioneering tactics) and have mutated into something quite distinct again since the rise to power of our new far-right populists.

Do you remember the time when both Donald Trump and Bernice Sanders were identified as “accelerationist” candidates? That’s a moment worth going back to. (We see a similar argument made around both Trump and Biden at present.) This was not because either one would wholly destabilise the office of the president, but rather because they would both further illuminate the cracks in the firmament. Trump has certainly done this, but for his own gain. Sanders did this too, but in negative — that he had the establishment running more scared than Trump, both in 2016 and in 2019, spoke volumes. The same is true here in the UK. We were more afraid of Corbyn than bumbling Boris. Both have shaken up politics as usual, but Boris has retained a bourgeois handle on the Overton Window. If it has been shifted, it remains in the favour of those who have been in control for centuries. There is nothing very radical about it.

This is to say, in an underhand sort of way, that accelerationism only retains its use-value as a political philosophy when it retains its Marxist foundations. It is, like so many positions and arguments, made impotent when it is reshaped for use by the establishment it hopes to dismantle. We are certainly aware of instances when establishments around the world do this — and, as the Land of Hope and Glory debacle illustrates, we are still capable of attacking the most egregious examples (although those attacks seem broader ineffective) — but we are terrible are defending the small fry. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t matter. Would a broad defence of accelerationism online have done anything to change our present fortunes? It seems unlikely. But these sorts of bastardisations and appropriations have built up over the last five years. As each one is neutralised by a nefarious media and a gaggle of high-profile useful idiots, we lose a potential vector for imagining new futures — and such vectors have already in short supply for some time.

(Of all the genuinely interesting readings of The Matrix available, for instance — including the most recently affirmed reading that the film is a parable for gender transition — that we are left with a Red Pill meme that grew out of Men’s Rights Activists forums surely makes it the most obvious example of leftist parable being bastardised into impotency.)

This may start to sound like “First they came for the accelerationists, and I did nothing because I wasn’t an accelerationist…” I suppose that’s, in part, precisely what this is. But it is an argument worth making because its impact is far reaching — it gives the media an ideological bogeyman to point to; it emboldens a misplaced cynicism in the politically illiterate; it generates infighting on the left as people obsess over taking cheap shots at a thought that doesn’t hold sway with a reductive canon, in order to birth new thought that is capable of adapting to our new age. (Accelerationists, broadly speaking, aren’t your enemy — and if they seem like it, maybe you’re more of a useful idiot than you realise.) That new kind of thought is still desperately needed.

This is not to say that anyone needs to start immediately sympathising with the plight of our already edgelordy blogosphere, or even to suggest that accelerationism is salvageable at this point, but it’s trajectory from radical thrust out of impotence to the most impotent thing out there should be better understood by all on the left. It could happen — and, arguably, already is happening — to you too.

“Exiting Left”: Geoff Shullenberger on ‘Egress’ for Athwart

Many thanks to Geoff Shullenberger for writing this essay on the work of Mark Fisher and my book Egress.

It’s a thorough and very intriguing perspective that does an excellent job of pulling together the book’s various theoretical threads. However, I’m not sure its grounding of the term “egress” as a variant on Hirschman’s “exit” is strictly accurate — and that assumption might be my fault anyway — but it is an interesting suggestion nonetheless. This is partly what the book (and this blog, in 2018 at least, during our collective patchwork fever) spent much time trying to make sense of.

Personally, I’d argue that “egress” is an attempt to pull exit back from the libertarian right’s perhaps better known understanding of it — an understanding that causes the left to throw the baby out with the bath water, over-reacting (in a very literal sense) against it. This is much like my argument that the Red Pill has far more potential than its memetic sibling gives it, which Shullenberger discusses here too. It is a sort of ideological Prometheanism but one which, in its original instance, does well to dramatise various leftist problematics.

Whilst the right uses it, at present, to signal a “based” exit from the left’s cultural hegemony, the left has long had the capitalist totality in its sights instead. This is what makes the assertion that this is Hirschman’s concept originally quite intriguing. Whilst I don’t think this is correct, it does make me wonder: When did the “right” — an inevitably ahistorical concept at this scale; bourgeoisie is not much better — first come to understand its desire to “exit”? Has this not always been tied to the exoticism of colonialism or imperialism? Similarly, when did the “left” first come to understand its desire to be emancipated? “Voice” and “exit” become interesting terms when split in this way — one is related to subjectivity, the other to space. My own interest in Hirschman came from an understanding of the fact that, in postmodernity, both of these categories become further complicated and intertwined with one another, but no consideration of this should obfuscate the underlying (and foundational) relation that exists between bourgeois exotic fantasies and proletariat emancipation.

However, one further thing I think is worthy of note today is that many of these (particularly accelerationist) discussions are attempting to answer the question of what is to be done after our bitter acceptance of the fact that, following Lyotard, there is no non-alienated region left to exit onto. Wherever you move to, capitalism is already there, or we’re so indoctrinated that, even if we could, we would probably take it with us without thinking about it — Robinson Crusoe-style: we set up camp on some untouched land, fully capable of starting over, and just replicate (somewhat shoddily) the ideological landscape we have come from.

Egress, to my mind, is an attempt to sidestep these kinds of misadventures. Exit, in so many senses — not just Hirschman’s — is entangled with Christopher McCandless-type primitivist fantasies of returning to nature and leaving modernity behind. They’re seductive tales, not least for the kind of challenge they represent to consciousness, but we must be careful in how we navigate these sorts of fantasies. They can quickly become unproductive and so require considerable vigilance.

I’ve been speaking to people about this recently as part of the accelerationism course, actually. Twice in the seminars we discussed the fallacy of Ted Kaczinski and the ethics of Henry David Thoreau, for instance. Poor Ted K was a bit of an idiot when he exited. He was fine in his cabin until the deforestation company came and that’s when he started sending out his mail bombs. But Ted was naive to think he could set down roots and the capitalist machine wouldn’t catch up to him eventually.

Thoreau, for all the fetishisation of his exit, was far more nomadic, in that he was able to continually adapt, and in the sense that his years “in nature” were still spent in earshot of the town. The main benefit of his exit was to see the town from the perspective of the woods, to see it outside of itself and gain a new perspective, but not to leave it entirely. He did much the same thing from jail. To be removed from the flows of society was not to turn his back on them but see them for what they really are, in their totality, so that he might intervene in new ways.

In this sense, Thoreau understood the power of voice and exit in tandem and exercised both simultaneously. However, for those of us unable to just take a trip out to the woods, Fisher’s egress offers an exit from captured consciousness in the here and now, in line with his Spinozist “psychedelic reason” — “getting out through your head.” That sort of endeavor is all the more important when we note, as Shullenberger does, that “voice” is in crisis.

There is more about this in the Postcapitalist Desire lectures. Egress, for what it’s worth, deals with the difficulties of these questions in a very specific context. Other contexts are available — and much more hopeful.

At its best, and on a very personal level, Egress was an attempt to do what it was describing: find a way out of that depressive mode of thinking when I felt entirely and hopelessly immersed within it. It worked — although the blog hasn’t seen much of the benefits as yet — but what is coming next from me is far outside that cloistered consciousness and I’m excited about it.

Anyway, below are a few passages from Shullenberger’s essay that I think sketch this trajectory very well, extending Egress out into our present COVID moment also. It’s a very life-affirming turn of events, I think. As difficult as imagining alternatives was in 2017, and as horrific as this year has been, in 2020 we’re not just thinking about egresses but enacting them. In that sense, I hope the book remains quite prescient.

Fisher adapted Jacques Derrida’s neologism “hauntology” to evoke the melancholic presence within 21st-century culture of futures never realized by the 20th century’s utopian projects. He differentiated between the sterile nostalgia of “retro” culture and a distinct “hauntological melancholia” attuned not so much to the specific contents of earlier historical moments as to the conditions of possibility, trajectories, and energies embedded within them. While nostalgic retro culture may fall into the pathological impasses Freud and Brown identified, Fisher argued, hauntological melancholia might conversely sustain a defiance of “the closed horizons of capitalist realism” and inspire “a refusal to adjust to what current conditions call ‘reality.’”

Colquhoun develops this idea, suggesting that mourning transfigured into melancholia can render visible the “impossible Real” hidden by capitalist realism. Central to this claim is Jacques Lacan’s notion of the Real as that which any socially defined “reality” suppresses. For Fisher, “one strategy against capitalist realism could involve invoking the Real(s) underlying the reality that capitalism presents to us.” “Negative Reals” such as mental illness and climate catastrophe, that is, might “allow us to see Kapital’s striplit mall of the mind for what it actually is.”

Egress folds these inquiries back onto the narrative of Fisher’s own life and death. In particular, it explores the possibilities found within the collective experience of his mourning among his students, friends and colleagues. As Colquhoun writes, “the surreality of death as it is experienced by those that remain alive injects a strangeness deep into the heart of our communities [and] ruptures the strange behaviours we take for granted.”


The Covid-19 pandemic exemplifies Fisher’s “negative Real.” It is a traumatic irruption that has burst through the seams of our reality and forced us to reassess our ideas of what’s possible, individually and collectively. In Egress, Fisher’s death provides the primary instance of such a Real, but the virus and its economic fallout have lately played this role for all of us. The fact that a massive spontaneous protest movement emerged in the wake of these developments might support Colquhoun’s claim that moments of catastrophe and loss can generate new political subjectivities. On the other hand, the rapid embrace of the movement’s messages by the full spectrum of corporate interests should be cause for concern for anyone who has read Fisher, since it seems to confirm capital’s endless ability to absorb and profit from crises.

However you contemplate the current scene, the politics of voice are in crisis. The fact that recent protests have culminated more in unilateral corporate actions than in coherent political responses is one measure of this fact. The impact of the virus has thrown the sustaining rituals of politics into disarray and accelerated the migration of social life into a privatized virtual realm. Biological and technological trajectories are unfolding in the absence of effective political control. The question is not whether some political collective can harness these tendencies to some determinate political end, or whether we can only watch them unfold. The question is whether anyone is even in a position to make such a choice.

Nihilism Without Negativity (in 2020)

An excellent response to some predictable Twitter snark has me feeling quite inspired going into this weekend.

Kevin Rogan recently tweeted the following:

mark fisher’s legacy is complex. was he an interesting writer? yes. did he write way too much about how bad music evidenced something called ‘libidinal’ this or some shit? yes. but most importantly, has he led to an insufferable cadre of online ‘theorist’ dipshits? extremely yes [1]

It proved a popular shitpost, and it is easy to appreciate as nothing more then that, but it’s also very telling in the wider context or Twitter’s various Cold Wars. Rogan has long been a virulent subtweeter, showing distain for almost anyone who does anything.

This is to say that, whilst on the one hand, it is hardly expressing a controversial opinion — that Mark Fisher needs to be saved from some of his biggest fans is surely widely acknowledged at this point — on the other, it is clear that, for many on Twitter, this sentiment extends to just about any para-academic (or purely “pop”) engagement with Fisher’s work.

It’s always best to just ignore this sort of thing — it’s mostly all rooted in anti-accelerationist sniping going back years now — but some of the replies to this tweet, which were less triggered and more just sad about a desperate need to be contrarian, were encouraging to see. Specifically, I thought this response from Twitter user @miker2049 was excellent:

This is kinda a bummer take to me if only because [Fisher’s] demonstrative effort to deprofessionalize and democratize the work of theory by writing earnest blogs about whatever instead of just working on tenure or being a good academic was so great and I think a net positive thing. [1]

I’d rather have a million “dipshits” thinking about the relations between mental illness and capitalism than a handful of smug career academics who are probably trapped in terrible institutional jobs. or are just assholes [2]

This is something always worth remembering.

Before coming across like a total hypocrite, it is clear that I’m no saint in this regard — I’ve had my fair share of gripes, slinging critiques at Mark Fisher Facebook meme groups I do think are partly responsible for Fisher’s incredibly reductive posthumous legacy. I’m also partial to being grumpy on Twitter, having gotten myself in hot water over this very recently, but what often makes me grumpy in the first place is precisely this sort of sniping, that looks to pick pointlessly at others’ projects and offer nothing that could be mistaken for a productive impulse.

I want to tread lightly here. The temptation to declare that all Twitter miserablists are part of the Vampire Castle that Fisher despised leaves one open to easy ridicule, since that sort of dismissal is very much overused at this point, but it is worth noting how Fisher defined his Grey Vampires. He wrote on the k-punk blog:

Grey Vampires don’t feed on energy directly, they feed on obstructing projects. The problem is that, often, they don’t know that they are doing this. (That’s one difference between them and a troll — trolls usually aren’t under any illusions about themselves, they just find spurious justifications for their activities.)

This is an important point to consider. Whilst negging on the timeline 24/7 might make you feel smart and like you have exercised your critical faculties, you can hardly call that a positive critical project. So where does that leave you? Impotently beholden to the compulsive obstruction of anything you’re not keen on? Ever wonder where that compulsion comes from? (I have some idea.)

These are questions genuinely worth asking. I think it is true that most don’t know that they’re doing it, particularly when engulfed in academia. I’d probably be more of a miserable arse myself if I was stuck chasing the ghosts of clout through my alienated academic labour in a modern university, precisely because the system makes you feel that way — like the rest of the world at large, it makes you feel like an atomised individual swimming resentfully against the current. (The further I get some academia, the more productive and zen I feel, personally.)

Interestingly, this was precisely what the early accelerationists hoped to counter. They didn’t just want the negation of negation but the negation of a postmodern negativity that defined itself purely through what it didn’t like. This was even how Fisher described the resonant strategies of Deleuze and Guattari and Nick Land. (Plenty of questions remain unresolved regarding what we do about this but, as a starting point, it remains provocative and productive.) He writes that theirs was

a kind of nihilism without negativity; the only interdiction was on the negative, in all its senses: the ‘No’ of a sclerotic leftism characterised (or caricatured) as eternally resisting and repressing and the miserabilism of all the parties of depressive deceleration were to be abjured in favour of the unleashed full positivity of Capital as monstrous ex nihilo propagator without limit. The vast, sublime mechanism of Capital as planetary artificial intelligence would liquidate (the illusion) of human agency: you either submit and enjoy or act out the dead drama of your own impotence.

It remains as controversial a position now as it was then, and it is clear that, for Fisher, the benefits of networked communication technologies did not outweigh the further impositions they made upon the postmodern subject. This is perhaps to say that, whilst the choices are clearly the same on social media — submitting and enjoying or exercising your own impotence — that doesn’t mean I get much of a thrill out of infinitely scrolling through the results.

Fisher’s blogpost was, of course, written before the likes of Facebook and Twitter really tightened their stranglehold on communication, but the problematic he is provocatively describing remains unresolved. There is an abundance of cultural and political negativity in circulation today that rarely escapes the flows in which it has long been trapped. Social media certainly won’t save us from this capture — in fact, it epitomises this capture — but, thankfully, there are plenty of other spaces left online for sharing our surplus of info-knowledge. Blogging is still fun — honest. And the driver behind that first blogosphere, for many, was precisely to maintain an output for this negativity that was not beholden to the productive pressures of capitalism. Whether that remains true today is another matter but it certainly feels possible if you’re able to separate it from the generic treadmills you remain handcuffed to in daily life.

This largely depends on the platform being used. Posting on social media is a kind of production lacking in remuneration that nonetheless brings incredibly amounts of wealth to tech giants. Very aware of my own position, I still know an independent domain is better than a WordPress. As such, what Fisher called “touchscreen capture” remains an issue, and it is far better to take that curiosity and find ways to make it productive IRL than subject it to Zucc capture for eternity. This is surely why Fisher left social media in the first place. But he didn’t log off altogether. In fact, whilst the assumption has often been that he got angry and then sold out or tuned out, Fisher instead decided to put his money where his mouth was.

Most don’t realise this — evidenced by the fact his most controversial essay continues to be misread as the very thing he wanted to critique — but it is worth noting that, after “Exiting the Vampire Castle” fell somewhat on its own critical sword, Fisher’s response wasn’t to double down on his anger but instead become the change he wanted to see in the world. He left social media and focused his efforts on building a positive project. Writing for Plan C, for instance, he explicitly sided with feminist theorists like Nancy Hartsock, emphasising that “the point is to develop an account of the world that treats our perspectives not as subjugated, insurrectionary, or disruptive knowledges, but as potentially constitutive of a different world.” The underlining message here, for me, is that being a thorn in the side of a dominant conversation, whether on Twitter or at a much larger scale, is precisely the default melancholic position that has made the left so impotent. Being a gobshite is fine, of course, but if you really care about the things you claim to be defending, surely you should be striving for more than that?

In recent weeks, I’ve been feeling this quite intensely. The cliques and spats have made me think that only posting on the blog or just writing for myself and ignoring the internet altogether might be a much more preferable set-up once I’ve left the big city — extending the clean slate to cyberspace. But I do think retaining some sort of networked presence is vital, despite the drawbacks, and how you contribute to that kind of network does matter. The question is: how can we change things? If such a network is to be sustainable and not lead to yet more miserablist burnout, the least we can do is amplify and repeat @miker2049’s point: Compared to the constant miserablism displayed by so many on Twitter, a popular enthusiasm is surely the lesser of two evils. If all you want to do is pose a problem, good for you, but are you a part of that problem? If correctives are necessary — note to self — better to make them in a way that doesn’t push other people away completely, but rather encourages them to look deeper into what they are interested in.

Everything — every argument, every critique, every shot across the bow — should end up in a positive project. If it doesn’t, you’re just shooting blanks.

Last Nights

As the summers get hotter, I swear London loses a little bit more of its collective mind. August is the month things happen. People snap or let loose. Year on year, this is the month we end up having weird encounters with weird people. The consequences are sometimes shocking but never not entertaining.

Within the last month we’ve seen two police hard stops in the neighbourhood and this week there was a huge party that got shut down on the block. Ten police cars showed up. And a dog. I feel like we’re living in an episode of Cops.

The pictures above were taken at 3am. For all the excitement, I am very tired today. Interestingly, no one else in the neighbourhood really seemed to care. I’ll never not be surprised by how indifferent Londoners are to events outside their houses. I am, unfortunately, a perennial curtain-twitcher. I like to watch the drama.

And don’t tell me things don’t look that little bit more spectacular with Canary Wharf looming over the horizon. As ominous as that skyline is, I quite like it. At its most dysfunctional, Deptford can get quite Ballardian — worlds layered on top of worlds. I’m going to miss it when we move to Brontë country in a few weeks. Just a little bit.

This is me savouring our last nights, before I disappear completely up some idealised literary imaginary.

The Moebian Intensity of Mourning and Melancholy

I can’t stop thinking about a very old series of tweets — old reading group notes from June 2017, predating the blog by four months. They resonate so much more intensely with me now than they did then (if only because, back then, we were inside something that has now started to develop holes).

These tweets were brought to my attention because someone retweeted the last one out of the blue. Their power is only further intensified by the fact I have no recollection of writing them.

The effect of reading them now is quite something. I feel my distance from them profoundly but remember the sensation like a hum in my bones. They capture the intensity of the Goldsmiths moment in 2017, when every event or thought was encased within and punctured by Mark’s death — an event that overshadowed everything. But, sometimes, that shadow felt powerfully productive when we forgot we were inside it; nowadays I feel an ache when I forget that we are outside it…

There’s a trajectory hard-baked into this — from productive grief to accelerationist anti-praxis. I’m truly blown away by this, as if it was a seed sown unconsciously that’s now borne considerable fruit. It’s like being visited in the present by a former self.

Subliminal note-taking, posted below for posterity:

Lyotard said: “be inside it and forget it, that’s the position of the death drive.” [1]

Folds, curves and corridors. By making your interiority labyrinthine you increase potential encounters with the other; the outside. [2]

An impossible maze suspends decision-making. The suspension of decision is an intensification and immanentisation. Suspense is a plateau. [3]

Fisher writes, “There is no inside except as a folding of the outside.” [4]

What does this say about the relative interiority of mourning and the exteriority of melancholy? [5]

Are these not precisely the Moebian intensities capable of rupturing Lyotard’s ‘great ephemeral skin’? [6]

If these notes came from anywhere, it was likely our reading group around Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie, which developed out of a slightly uncomfortable and tentative desire to make our weekly support group more productive when we kind of ran out of steam talking about our feelings. We decided to start memorialising Mark alongside working through his just-released book — a book none of us really wanted to read alone. This gesture, in itself, became a way of deploying his own mode of thinking — making our mourning productively impersonal; not abandoning it but extending it beyond ourselves so that it might have other (more political) uses.

I’m tempted to situate these quotes in our reading of the Weird & Eerie chapter “Curtains & Holes: David Lynch”. I turned back to this on Sunday in the XG reading group when discussing “The Smooth and the Striated” chapter of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. It is a perfect example of Mark seamlessly deploying his understanding of high theory in the context of popular culture.

Talking about Lynch’s films, specifically Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, in which dreams and screen tests are “redoubled and refracted”, each laid on top of and allowed to cross-contaminate and inform our understanding of their other — the smooth space of the unconscious intersecting with the striated productions of Tinsel Town — Mark writes:

Each embedding contains the possibility of a dis-embedding, as something that was at a supposedly inferior ontological level threatens to climb up out of its subordinated position and claim equal status with the level above: figments from dreams cross over into waking life; screen tests appear at least as convincing as the exchanges in the supposedly real-world scenes that surround them.

This is similarly how theory and fiction, high culture and low, pop and avant-garde intersect in Fisher’s work, but also how the weird and the eerie interrelate, and mourning and Melancholy too.

I saw a Goodreads review of The Weird and the Eerie the other day that mentioned this — I like the idea of Goodreads but find it very difficult to get into — and I think it is a common complaint: why does Mark separate the strange or the uncanny into the weird and the eerie? What’s the point? Is it to create a new dialectic? Maybe but not really. It’s a way to uncover a multiplicity within the uncanny; to make the conceptual interior more labyrinthine so that it has more potential to interact with its outside. And each term does this very easily.

This was, for Fisher, the modernist sensibility — a sensibility that struggles to persist today, at a time when we continually insist upon tying off all loose ends at the end of history. When we take these various poles — and the two poles of theory-fiction are perhaps the most obvious examples in this corner of the internet — and then conflate them into a singular type, we miss the point somewhat. We cover over the concept’s “psychotic geography”, as Fisher puts it — the very thing that makes it interesting.

Theoretical bumbling aside, we also cover over this geography, this topography, inadvertently when we attempt to make sense of our more unruly cultural artefacts. Take what Fisher has to say about the default critical appraisal of Lynch’s body of work (and Mulholland Drive in particular):

Ultimately, Mulholland Drive is perhaps best read as something which cannot be made to add up. That is not to say that the film should just be considered fair game for any possible interpretation. Rather, it is to say that any attempt finally to tie up the film’s convolutions and impasses will only dissipate its strangeness, its formal weirdness. The weirdness here is generated in part by the way that the film feels like a “wrong” version of a recognisable Hollywood film-type. Roger Ebert remarked that “there is no solution. There may not even be a mystery.” It could be that Mulholland Drive is the illusion of a mystery: we are compelled to treat it as a solvable enigma, to overlook its “wrongness”, its intractibility, in the same way that, in Club Silencio, we are compelled to overlook the illusory nature of the performances.

This is deploying the suspension of judgement — an inability to judge absolutely — as an onto-aesthetic quality. Not judgement in a moral sense but an aesthetic one. It suspends decision-making and, most importantly, removes us from immediacy by entrapping us in an uncanny experience. In so doing, we can hone a vigilance and attune ourselves to the “wrongness” of the everyday.

This is what made consciousness-raising a psychedelic activity for Fisher. It is seeing real life for the Lynchian family drama that it really is.

Fisher makes this point more explicitly in his Postcapitalist Desire lectures — out next month — when discussing the psychedelic Marxism of György Lukács. Uncovering the unassuming radicality of seeing the world in a way not prescribed by hegemony — an experience integral to second-wave feminism and the raising of class (or group) consciousness more generally — is a “red pill” sort of moment in that it is a psychedelic experience, where new knowledge (or suppressed knowledge) leads to the development of political agency. Capitalism is nefarious in that it hides things in immediacy. To understand the way of the world takes vigilance and consideration. The way of the world lies hidden in plain sight. You can’t see it unless you can get past what the system is telling you you’re looking at. As Fisher explains:

Patriarchy is not going to come in here and announce itself, any more than ideology is. It’s a bit like when Thatcher says that “there’s no such thing as society”. It’s the same sort of claim, because, OK, well, you can’t see it, can you? It’s not given in immediacy, this society. So, when Lukács talks about the bourgeoisie and a thought mired in immediacy, that’s exactly it! The English: we take this to an absurd degree. Things are only what they are and no more, and probably a little bit less. Capitalism itself is not given in experience! You have to construct it in consciousness. It isn’t given to you. Your work is given to you. What you do is given to you. Your little bit is given to you. The totality is not given to you in experience. Never. Never! Your experience is only your experience — and not even that. It doesn’t belong to you because both you and your experience are already ideologically packaged … it’s trippy quite quickly. …

Then it gets even more psychedelic.

Part of the problem of the old idea of objective truth, you could say, was this idea that consciousness has no effect on the truth. That might well be true of the state of a black hole or something like that, but it can’t possibly be true of social relations. I’m in those social relations! I’m already in those social relations. So, when I — and it can’t be me alone, ever, who does this — when group consciousness develops, when class consciousness develops, when any subordinated group [consciousness] develops, this immediately changes things — straight away. Because in being lifted out of experience, you’re broken out of ideology. You — and I’m using this as a second-person plural — you can then achieve agency! You can’t achieve it before.

Even before you do anything, something has happened, which is the production of this new consciousness. When we think about this set of social relations… Something has shifted in the set of social relations by the sheer fact that your consciousness has shifted anyway. That’s the first thing. It’s already changed things. Secondly, then, once a group recognises its common interests, then it can act together. Once workers realise the problem is capital, not them — once they stop competing against one another and realise they have a common enemy — capital — this is when they’re going to have agency. Similarly, when women realise the problem is patriarchy, not them as individuals, then their consciousness has immediately shifted. You feel better! That’s the first thing. You’ll feel relief from the guilt and misery of having to take responsibility for your own life, which you shouldn’t have to — despite everything neoliberal propaganda tells us. It is not you! It’s a direct inversion of Thatcher! “There’s no such thing as society. There are only individuals and their families”. It’s the other way round! There’s no such thing as the individual. But the individual is immediately given. And that’s part of the problem of immediacy.

This is what David Lynch offers his viewers — the Moebian intensity of thought-space, leaking out the holes in cinematic immediacy. This is to say that Lynch takes the individual and viewer both — often a great American archetype whom the viewer is ideologically primed to identify with: the rebel without a cause; the femme fatale; the sheriff; the outlaw; the homemaker; the artist — and dissolves them into the collective unconscious, removing them from immediacy and into the kaleidoscope of Hollywood ideology and idealism.

Fisher makes the point, albeit implicitly, that what is true of Lynch’s cinematic psychedelia is true of our emotional experiences more generally in the waking world.

At Goldsmiths in 2017, we saw another world, where a collective mourning picked holes in the encasement of a pervasive leftist melancholy. The Mobius strip of individual mourning and collective melancholy, individual melancholy and collective mourning, was deconstructed by a handbrake on immediacy. “No one feels this pain quite like we do”, was the sensation. “Those who aren’t here and did not know this man could never know what we have gone through.” But this “we” was pervasive and we were many and we slipped out of the ways of the world. Traumatically for some, both inside and out, but we saw another world.

It was hard to sustain that world and it didn’t last, but Fisher still shows the way. He had his own Tibetan method.

Gaming The Aftermath — Coming Soon

In just under two weeks, on September 5th, I’m going to be presenting my recent post-Western research and talk about the “deframing power” (via Deleuze and Guattari) of The Last of Us Part II.

Follow the Diffractions Collective on WordPress, Twitter and elsewhere for more info closer to the time. Read their introduction below:

Gaming the Aftermath

Featuring: Reza Negarestani, Alexandre Monnin, Matt Colquhoun

September 5th 18:30 CET Online and Link Will Be Shared and Distributed

Surveying the current landscape, this series of workshops strive to unpack the role of gaming in the wake of disruptive Climate Change, developments in Artificial Intelligence and Simulation Modeling, and socio-political upheavals. Respectively, these workshops will investigate into what becomes the role of gaming as a vehicle to potential develop strategies that work in tandem against a present reality of crisis and engage with specific examples to explore how we can utilize them to conceive of alternative world-building or as a way to becomes resilient in the face of further catastrophe.

Thinking About Writing, Writing About Thinking

I wanted to enter 2016 with a blank slate. On 28th December 2015, I wrote the following on my photo blog, before abandoning it forever — a blog onto which I had posted 642 times since June 2011:

New Year, New Blog

A lot has changed in the past two years and this blog, as much as it pains me to say it, is starting to feel redundant. It was never going to last forever, but a change of heart has gradually been gaining momentum.

In a week or so, this blog will become password protected. Friends and family are welcome to the password for reminiscing purposes, but a lot of these images will show up again in book and zine projects at some point. In fact, a lot of them have already.

I’ve blogged in some form for nearly half my life at this point. I’m not ready to give up on it entirely yet, but I need a clean break for a new approach and a new phase in life.

I linked to a new WordPress, hooked up to my “professional” photography website, and vowed to use it less as a diary and more like an online CV. I kept it up for six months before I killed that one too.

At that time, having graduated from my photography degree two years earlier, I felt — due to a certain amount of paranoia, no doubt — that my continuing practice of sharing everything I made online for all to see was being viewed quite cynically by peers and potential employers. It was, at best, immature; at worst, self-sabotaging.

One day I was complaining on Twitter about not getting paid for jobs or not being taken seriously and eventually the point was made that, if you don’t value your own work (by placing an explicit economic value upon it), then why should anyone else?

At that time, I was broke. That advice, though intended to be constructive, was devastating. I already felt worthless; that my output could be seen that way too was quite the blow.

It hadn’t bothered me before but then 2015 was an odd year; similar to 2020, in some ways. (This year is certainly drawing to a close with the same horizonlessness; a depressing sense of limbo.) I’d just been made redundant from my job due to Tory funding cuts, and suddenly couldn’t afford to pay rent. We had to move out almost immediately. I left Cardiff, moved back in with my parents in Hull, and I don’t think my self-esteem has ever been lower. I stopped blogging, attempting to take myself more seriously. I don’t think it made any difference to my income whatsoever. In fact, I soon realised that blogging was my way of working around the tactics that everyone else was engaged with that supposedly meant they were more serious about their chosen profession — schmoozing at exhibitions, brown-nosing, circle-jerk networking. I soon began to miss blogging quite desperately. I felt like I’d given up an outlet for no good reason, finding the implied alternative more repulsive than living in my overdraft.

When I graduated from my MA two years later, I started to blog again. “If you want to get good at photography, you’ve got to do it everyday” was the old mantra; I wasn’t taking so many pictures anymore but I wanted to write and I applied the same logic to a new endeavour. The blog was always a motivator for going out and sharing what I had seen or getting me out the house and experimenting in the studio or whatever else; xenogothic became a similar sort of motivator.

At that time, I was back working at a shitty arts administrator job. It didn’t require any schmoozing but I was often schmoozed at. I found it hard to make friends. It was just a job to me. Writing blog posts on my phone on my 90-minute commute and my lunch break was all I really cared about. Regardless of whether anyone read it or not, it was space to feed my experiments and thoughts as and when I had them; a space to hone a craft and express myself and feel connected to something bigger than my own life, precisely by putting my own life out there. It was also a way to put my thoughts into words and organise myself in relative isolation, having left the discursive community of academia.

Twitter was a big part of getting started. What I loved most about this “weird theory” corner of the Internet, almost immediately, was that this way of working was wholly supported and encouraged. Whereas previously I felt like 99% of my peers didn’t “get it”, blogging was seen as a basic principle out in para-academia. Writing for journals is whack; even more so if you don’t have an academic profile to maintain. If you want to be read, start a blog. If you want to build a new culture of public thought and discussion, start a blog. I didn’t need to be told twice.

Almost fifteen years on from when I first started putting the things I was creating online, the unthinkable has happened. I’ve started to make money off it — or at least off the profile I’ve acquired by doing it — and I’ve started to make money from the one outlet I didn’t think that much about: writing. I’d previously had multiple blogs for sharing lo-fi recordings of music I was making, I’d had one big blog for sharing pictures, and now it was writing — mode of expression #3 — that ended up actually gaining some traction. Traction was never the intention, of course, but I’d be lying if I said the recognition didn’t feel good, especially after having been told this obsession with blogging, which I’ve had for half my life, was a self-sabotaging waste of energy.

This attention has, of course, taken quite a bit of getting used to — getting recognised down the pub on multiple occasions last year was a particularly weird experience — and I’m sure it is obvious that this blog, and the person behind it, have been through a particularly awkward period of transition in recent months because of an increase in this kind of visibility.

The biggest change has come from the small fact that, in 2019, I got my act together and finished a book. It is a dense, intense and personal book that I have spent way too much time reflecting on since. And yet, ignoring the desire to do so is to go against the blogging sensibility that has come so naturally for so long. In fact, I feel I have to write about it; I have to occasionally write this kind of long look at my own navel, if only so that I might clear the blockage in my brain and get back to other things.

This has been more of a necessity of late because the experience of publishing a book has been nothing less than an existential shock — one I’ve continued to document as I would any other — but I am painfully aware that my natural response to such a shock flies in the face of the expectation that being a serious writer means writing seriously in silence. This is to say that there is a sort of silent pressure to leave this world behind; that persistently pointing out the drawn curtain that says “published” on it is very uncouth, but I didn’t write the book so I could graduate from WordPress. And yet, trying to retain my old blogging habits in the face of a new kind of “professional” existence where I try to get paid more frequently for what I do has meant that that same cognitive dissonance I struggled with in 2015 has raised its annoying contrarian head again.

How do you remain true to principles of open access whilst also trying to pay your rent, especially during a pandemic?

There has been a bit of drama in the discourse this past week that feels connected to this. Plenty of things have been said that people (myself included) aren’t proud of but I’m happy to say that bridges have been rebuilt and the flow of chatter has been restored to amicable levels of exchange and mutual support. Nevertheless, what has been said continues to reverberate in my mind. From the other side of the battle, it is clear that a certain amount of resentment and cynicism had built up over the last few weeks or months. Lines had been drawn, cliques established, and I have largely been oblivious to all of it.

After recently stumbling into Aly’s Discord server, for instance, having heard good things about the Sadie Plant reading group they have been conducting, I found myself caught up masochistically reading a few weeks’ worth of criticism of my online activities and feeling quite sad about it. Whilst I hold no grudges, and I’m grateful to be back on good terms with people who’s writing and thinking I have long respected, it was like stumbling into my worst nightmare. Assumptions were made and conclusions drawn — many of which were quite to the contrary of the kind of positions I have attempted to represent online.

Some criticism, of course, was quite on the money. I blog too much — although this is presumably to retain some dominant market presence — or too reflexively and too mundanely now that my book is out — as if I’ve said all I have to say and now I have little to contribute other than looking at my own navel. The sensible response is to brush all of this off as background grumblings, and that is partly how I interpreted these things, but there is a catch-22 here.

These sometimes unkind perceptions are interesting to me, in a more objective sense, because the feeling I was left with — damned if I do, damned if I don’t — is precisely the sort of neurotic concern that drove me to write so often and so reflexively long before the book even came out. It is this same tension, anticipated if not experienced directly, that I have long thought about since first being advised to blog less in 2015. The problem, now fully realised, is that, as I supposedly transition from “blogger” to “author”, my old way of writing and reflecting starts to feel less palatable. Just as the expectation, on writing a book that receives reviews, is to retain a stoic silence and rise above the discourse — “you’ll find your entire existence being given over to responding to each and every criticism”, as Tariq Goddard dutifully warned — I am left feeling alienated from the kind of discourse I first started blogging to engage with. I want to respond! I want to engage! I want to participate! But it turns out there is a big difference between sharing your thoughts as an anonymous blogger and sharing your thoughts as someone under various kinds of scrutiny. And it should be said that the distinction is purely external. I don’t feel any different now than as I did before my book hit the shelves.

It is a bit like aging — birthdays don’t feel like much of anything anymore but the fact I still feel 21 as I approach 30 doesn’t count for much. I certainly don’t look 21 and sometimes being treated like I’m 30 triggers a crisis. There is a similar disparity between being a “blogger” and an “author”. I feel like the former, but when some people treat you like the latter it fucks you up a bit. In fact, even typing out the latter makes me cringe deeply inside. I just want to write; I don’t want to have to think about what to call it.

We used to have this discussion in photography circles a lot — people would call themselves “artists” as if to signal that they have risen above the mundane existence of the jobbing photographer. But then, to call yourself a “photographer” would generally invite the question: “So you do weddings and stuff then?” There’s nothing wrong with weddings in principle — which is different to in practice; although lucrative, I’ve photographed weddings before and there’s probably nothing more stressful — having to then explain you’re an insufferable sod who actually makes photographic art feels like going round to tell your neighbours you’re a sex offender. What to label yourself can be a shameful truth.

Because of this kind of tension, these past four months I have felt torn. I have felt estranged from this new world that I have published my way into and I have felt just as estranged from the blogosphere that I have wanted, more than anything, to remain loyal to. I’ve tweeted less, tended to ignore timeline bait, muted replyguys ruthlessly, and generally found myself interacting with these platforms in very different ways whilst secretly pretending nothing has changed in me.

Whilst this transition could not be planned for in advance, it is a process I have been preparing myself for for a number of years now. For instance, I was well aware that Egress would do as much to inflate my own profile as it has done to complicate — productively (I hope) — Mark Fisher’s popular legacy. That in itself is a tension that is tough to navigate. Thankfully, as far as my published work on Mark Fisher goes, I have already made my peace with this process. Even back in 2017, as I have mentioned on a few occasions here — and even in Egress itself — I lost friends when the assumption was made that I was using Mark’s death as fodder for my dissertation. Later, this same assumption has echoed around Egress but on a larger scale, to the point that being “the Mark Fisher guy” has inevitably become something of a brand, making me look more like a gravedigger rather than someone working sensitively, as so many people do, with another’s legacy. This perception no doubt comes from the fact my mode of approach isn’t purely objective (read: academic), and is instead entangled with my personal experiences. The assumption is supposedly that I can’t have my cake and eat it — I can’t be both objective and subjective — but bridging this disconnect was precisely what made Mark’s writing so powerful to do many.

I cannot say I am as good at this style of writing as Fisher was, but the decision to apply a version of his own modus operandi to his own life was a very conscious one. After all, Mark and Kodwo had previously assigned Jane Gallop’s Anecdotal Theory as reading for their Aural & Visual Cultures course. I saw this in 2016 and read it before I even got to Goldsmiths and it’s impact on me has been quite profound. It spoke to my photographic interest in using diaristic images to comment on the world at large and it continues to speak to my intentions with Egress (and this blog more generally), which have always been attempts to produce a thought that must be read via this kind of supposedly contradictory category.

This kind of conscious decision is further complicated by the non-academic reasoning it is inevitably coupled with; my writing on and about Mark has always been an attempt to make a very personal trauma impersonally productive; a way to deal with grief. Having spent so much time with his output also makes him a frequent first-port-of-call within my theoretical armoury. I’ll likely never lose that. Suffice it to say, I am aware — of my flaws, my bad habits, the tensions within what I do. But if those things weren’t there, I’d probably have very little reason to write about anything. Articulating this kind of complexity is precisely why I write. Egress is inevitably an accumulative statement that explores this kind of process — if you’re still suspicious of it, you’re better off just reading it. It wears its difficulties very much on its sleeve. The questions you have going in will be answer in the book itself.

So, what is next? Lots of things, but these tensions have been replaced by new ones. Specifically, at the moment, I am trying to think more carefully about how I write. I’ve just completed a huge project in which I wrote through and was enveloped by mourning, and now I’m left wondering where to turn next. Writing about this experience as it unfolds is one way of working myself out of it. It might not be so interesting to read but, frankly, that’s not the reason for writing posts like this. The reason is to try and transparently negotiate a fidelity to principles that are important to me — open access, open thought — but it is clear that continuing to do this whilst also using what I do to pay the bills does shift the perception of what this kind of post is for. I suppose the assumption is made that it is to maintain a profile because to write it for no good reason at all would surely be detrimental to a burgeoning career, but the detriments of blogging having never been a concern. Blogging’s use in lubricating thought trumps any other benefit. But what about when my thinking is preoccupied with how to move forwards into this new existence? How do I continue on a path inaugurated by a book written out of love with a new set of opportunities that let me write for money? This clearly presents a whole new set of complications that I’ve barely had an opportunity to think about. What was always a problem I wished I had is now in my lap, and it’s a biter.

Frankly, I don’t have the luxury of not monetising what I do, so I am interested in maintaining a productive but also knowingly disruptive balance between being both a kind of online CV and a public notebook. In my head, it’s a kind of blogger’s horizontalism — for better and for worse. That is a difficult balance to strike, of course, but one which I find interesting to interrogate openly because I think it gets right to the heart of many of the pathologies we harbour about writing, creativity, intellectual work more generally, and the value of certain kinds of (art)work under capitalism.

It is because of this that, more recently, the writing on this blog has been more immediate and reflexive than usual. I write big long essays less and less frequently. This is mostly because the backlog of writing accumulated on this blog — 850,000+ words in just under three years, no less — requires some shifting through. Egress was something of a blockage that I needed to get out before I could properly address all the unrelated essays written here during its gestation. There are a few more books’ worth of ideas here that could do with polishing. As I work on this in the background, I’m still left wanting to maintain a self-reflexive habit of thought. This is necessarily more navel-gazing because what I am hard at work on is producing a text that is not about someone else but is more explicitly a work of my own; a book that stands on its own two feet. As a result, I find myself reading and writing a lot more about writing itself as a practice. Divorced from the trauma that gave rise to Egress, where the style of writing was perhaps self-explanatory, I feel I am left trying to rediscover who I am and what my interests are beyond being “the Mark Fisher guy”. Because I don’t want to remain known as “the Mark Fisher guy”. I would like to be known as someone who did some valuable work to rectify the public perception of a major thinker, but I would also like to exist (if I can) out from under that shadow, exploring my own tastes and interests that have persistently differed vastly from Mark’s own.

Lest we forget, of course, that Egress only came out four months ago; one week before the UK went into lockdown. To say this has been an odd time to try and reinvent myself, whilst remaining loyal to well-established principles and interests, is a huge understatement. In fact, this is what made reading a load of Discord criticism so oddly humbling; the cynicism on display was a cynicism I shared. The questions they asked — and, sometimes, quite brutally answered — were questions I have been trying to ask myself quite seriously in recent months: Why do I write? Why I write in this way? Why I write so much? It makes responding to such criticism a difficult task: How do you respond to critiques that you sympathise with so intensely?

The truest response is, unfortunately, quite mundane. Why am I so reflexive and self-involved? Because that’s the kind of writing I like to read. On a practical level, I often write in the first person because it grounds my thought and I find it easier to make sense of the writing of others when I can ground it in (or let it unground) my own experiences and my sense of self. (Surely this is made clear in Egress too, thanks to the overbearing presence of Bataille and Blanchot.) It’s a kind of modernist approach to writing that has never not been marmite — at its best, it is heralded as a powerful form of literary endeavour (think big names like Maggie Nelson, Karl Ove Knausgaard — everyone loves a brutally honest memoir); at its worst, it is decried as a writerly symptom of our postmodern narcissism. But the politics of these kinds of texts have been fascinating since their very origins, and they are modernist in precisely the sense that they came into their own in modernity.

I love reading biographic-memoirs. I’m not sure that’s a real genre but it should be; it’d make my book-buying less hit and miss. They’re the kinds of books about huge personalities written by huge personalities, or at least the myriad people who personally knew their subject. I love their complexity and their unruliness and their vitality. I love how the story of a life can be told through its very real impact on the life of another. They are the sorts of books that require a certain vigilance and, in due course, they may well be unwritten by another, but taking the accumulative shelf of biographic reflections together paints a far more vivid image of a life than a supposedly objective and singular account ever could.

In recent years, I’ve been trying to map out just want it is about this style of writing that I love. In 2018, for instance, I was persistently inspired by Virginia Woolf’s templex approach to writing, complicating how both memoir (women’s writing; not considered capital-L Literature) and biography (men’s writing; her father, Leslie Stephen, was a renowned biographer in his day) were seen in her time — this makes Orlando her magnum opus in this sense — a kind of fictionalised, gender-bending, time-travelling biography that is nonetheless based on a very real person, Vita Sackville-West, and her own relationship to her — but her writer’s diaries are often just as inspirational and vivid.

Since my Woolf obsession gave way towards the end of last year, I’ve been working my way through various biographies of D.H. Lawrence and Phillip Larkin — specifically those written by their contemporaries and associates — and, boy, is it a trip. Whilst Larkin’s shifting reputation (as a man if not a poet) has been a very recent literary spectacle (trashed by Andrew Motion in 1993, somewhat rehabilitated by James Booth in 2014), D.H. Lawrence’s reputation has been through so many twists and turns in the ninety years since his death that it is hard to know what to think about the man or his work at all.

At the moment, for instance, I am particularly fascinated by his often problematic way of dealing with his own lived experiences; as his most recent biographer, John Worthen, puts it, the fictional content of his works and the very personal emotions he is trying to express in his day-to-day life are always deeply entangled. This results in work after Nietzschean work by Lawrence in which “The individual is threatened by the very thing that he or she craves, and is likely to veer between a desire to lose him or herself in passion and a desperate longing for detachment.” (Yes, I am embarrassed that I relate to my blog like Lawrence related to women.) Worthen continues: “What [Lawrence] did was feel, which in this case meant write, his way into the problem. The writing enacted the problem, and offered some understanding of it.” This ‘problem’, more often than not, was a relationship.

Intriguingly, in the years after his death, Lawrence became the subject of many biographies by male contemporaries and rivals and, indeed, by the women he was intimate with who he used as inspiration for his stories. His works were often a kind of fictionalised autobiography in this sense, and those who knew Lawrence could see themselves quite clearly in his stories. Lawrence’s reading of their very selves was always poetic but often brutally honest. The veil of fiction was not enough to save the feelings of his muses. And so, when the tables were posthumously turned on Lawrence by those who knew him, his perspective in his own novels was rattled and ungrounded. But these biographies are not just interesting for this reason. They are fascinating because as much is learned about the authors themselves as about Lawrence, and what you end up with, rather than a cubist portrait of a man, is a map of a moment and the politics of its fraught relations. You end up, quite fittingly, with a very Lawrencean drama — art imitating life imitating art — where personal relations are complicated by the political concerns of the day.

My own attempt at navigating a recent personal-cultural history is hardly on a par with the great modernists but their relationship to the process of writing nonetheless resonates with my own. Their thoughts on the production of knowledge and understanding through fiction and non-fiction, for instance, echoes what I was always been drawn to about the Ccru; the Warwick crowd quite explicitly updated the modernists’ concerns to the tensions of postmodernity.

It is this process that I hope to explore with an increasing distance and scope as I move on with my writing life. However, whilst I began work on two books soon after Egress that mark quite a radical departure with my focus on Fisher and the blogosphere, I’ve nonetheless found that the project nearest to completion is a book about accelerationism, which I’ve sketched out 50,000 words for during lockdown.

Accelerationism remains a niche concern, no doubt, but it still shares this kind of acutely postmodern dilemma. We might put it like this: If Egress is a response to the fact that so many of our great writers and thinkers are collectively seen through are the very prisms they hoped to critique, and an attempt to stave off the impotence of reification that accumulates around a body of work after the death of the person who produced it, accelerationism is a movement that has similarly fallen victim to the kind of postmodern impotence it first hoped to shatter. Without a single authoritative representative, however, it is a project that stumbles on zombie-like, worn down by its ill-formed supporters and and critics alike. This is a legacy far more complex than Fisher’s, which can be rectified by better access to his most important texts and a more honest approach to the long but nonetheless singular trajectory of his thought. Accelerationism, on the contrary, cannot be rehabilitated with quite the same linear strategy.

Aly’s recent reading list demonstrated one such alternate approach, of course — doubling down on specific “alternatives” to excavate that which has been buried by a kind of patriarchal desire-path of canon-building. However, when I wrote about her reading list and how I thought it was a very productive shot across the bow of recent discourse, I did not realise it was, in part, a troll on the reading lists provided as part of the accelerationism course I had co-written with Meta Nomad. That the lists only featured one woman is, in hindsight, an embarrassing oversight. But I hope my blogpost also made clear that my intention was similar — I wanted to write a course that dispelled the drive to reactively reify accelerationism, whether from the left or the right, by focusing on a very particular moment; providing an intentionally limited perspective in order to provide a better understanding of how the discourse got into such a mess of retcons and canons, violent affirmations and paranoid disavowals. Because, ultimately, accelerationism was an attempt to break the leftist impotence surrounding Occupy, and no matter how we frame the philosophical lineage that informed its claims, we are no closer to answering that call. In fact, the citational politics that Aly so provocatively shone a light on revealed this quite explicitly. Few accelerationists’ priorities, no matter the school of thought they pledge allegiance to, have any bearing on actually changing our static present. When a mode of thought can become that detached from its original aims, to its own detriment, surely we need to ask ourselves how and why.

With this in mind, the most important questions concerning accelerationism today, as far as I am (personally) concerned, are: How to write about accelerationism in a way that can interrogate its twisted epistemic process without collapsing into it? Or how to write about accelerationism in a way that can interrogate its twisted epistemic process that forces the reader to engage with the twisted nature of their own perspective on the topic at hand?

If I might stick with DH Lawrence, as an example that is productively distanced from present concerns and social dynamics, he was acutely concerned with the social etiquette of a sexually repressed society in much the same way. He wrote obscenely only to draw attention to the pervasive social structures that impact not just sexual expression but subjectivity as such under capitalism. The English inability to talk about sex, for instance, led to an inability to have sex in any gratifying sense — something Lawrence felt frustrated by personally as well as socially (making him somewhat of a proto-incel, if we want to be particularly unkind) — but the English were hardly locked in idealised (that is, self-conscious) social relations and wholly out of touch with their bodies. Lawrence made the prescient connection, decades before it would become a countercultural trope, that bodily autonomy was as maligned in the bedroom as it was in the factory or colliery, and the beauty of Lawrence’s writing, for me, even at its most purple, is the way his obscenity thrusts itself through a sexual consciousness into class consciousness.

What is the accelerationist version of this? It is perhaps that our inability to actually talk about accelerationism without falling into inane discussions about how we’re supposed to talk about accelerationism demonstrates how utterly beholden we are by the impotence accelerationism first sought to critique. The dissipation of agency and the disarticulation of philosophy from politics were two postmodern tendencies that the first self-identifying accelerationists wanted to dismantle — that those are two things many accelerationists now celebrate unwittingly is beyond parody. However, whilst we can talk about this ingrown logic and point and laugh a pseuds until we’re blue in the face, accelerationism as a discourse is only worth continuing to pursue if we can engage with it in a way that penetrates through our respective cliques and into the broader impotence it is a mere byproduct of.

Still, deciding how best to do this — what analogies are useful, which references are provocative and productive enough — remains an open question. For instance, here I am talking about Fisher and accelerationism again using references that he would have surely been repulsed by. Is that useful for uncovering the subjective twists in Fisher’s thought? Or does it only muddy the waters?

For instance, Fisher really did not share my appreciation of DH Lawrence’s work — for much the same reason he disliked Bataille; the perversity of being someone writing publicly about Fisher who loves everything he hated continues. This is unsurprising, of course, for someone who frequently blogged so vitriolically about how they hated sex, but the writings of these two Notts men at least shared the same power of traversal between different forms of bodily subjugation. (I am thinking about Steve Finbow’s comment for 3am Magazine here, in which he describes Fisher as a kind of “radical Geoff Dyer infused with the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft rather than D. H. Lawrence”; I can think of no better description of a man who was so asexually sensual in his writing.)

This is what I like about Fisher’s work, however. Despite his fierce opinions, published on the k-punk blog, his hates seem to be as informative to his writing as his loves. Like the tension captured between the Arctic Monkeys and Burial, Fisher was very sensitive to the aesthetic packaging of shared sensations, trying to untangle symptoms from diagnoses. But he often seemed incapable of doing this with more canonised cultural artefacts, particularly literary figures. This isn’t to cast aspersions upon him, of course. What I like about many of these writers is that they are so internally contradictory, but immensely productive because of this, much like Fisher himself.

Reading Lawrence’s writing chronologically, for instance, with the added context of his lived experiences, we can chart his own shifting attempts to wrestle with the sensual alienation of the early twentieth century. It is in this sense that I think Lawrence and Fisher aren’t so different in their aims, whilst differing vastly in style. Rather than picking sides, I’m quite fascinated by what they share and why those differences exist in the context of the times in which they lived. This is to say that, whilst Fisher would see himself as a diagnostician and Lawrence as a writer riddled with the problems he sought to critique, Fisher was no doubt similarly complex in his own way. After all, Lawrence’s critical writings — on American literature and psychoanalysis, in particular — was so incredibly ahead of their time, but his writings with still symptomatic of the problems of his age. Fisher’s output is similar; accelerationism even more so.

Where do I fit into that kind of problematic? It is hardly my place to say. That kind of self-awareness is impossible, surely; if it is not, to attain it would no doubt drive me into an utterly unproductive nihilism. That is the last thing I want, and so continuing unsteadily on the path I am on is the only option. I have a lot of changes to synthesise and a lot of internal contradictions to weather but at least I’m moving forwards. Under such circumstances, shutting up is not an option.