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.

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