Less Hauntography, More Salvagepunk

As I continue to plug away at my own post on the new Oneohtrix Point Never album, Enrico Monacelli has pipped me to the final line and written an amazing essay for Nero that is such a magnificent punch to the gut of cliched Fisherians I did a little air-punch whilst reading it.

The way Monacelli draws on Bonnet and Gayraud is brilliant — I’ve been perusing After Death and Dialectic of Pop in orbit of MOPN as well, funnily enough; slightly panicked I may need to look elsewhere now so as not to echo Enrico too closely! — and his attack on what Fisher’s theory has been reduced to is so brutal and surgical, I wanted to clip and post it below for my own posterity. (Here’s looking at you, “Mark Fisher Memes for Hauntological Teens”.)

Noting how a genuine interrogation of millennial chronopolitics has been made anemic by the very forces it hoped to critique, Monacelli (lightly butchered by Google translate) writes:

The most painful side of this marginality is certainly noting how a sad pseudocritical vulgate has been built on the idea of ​​technically reproducible memory dissolved by the subject of memory itself and, more particularly, around the corpse of Mark Fisher. It is easy to see, in fact, how a turbid mass has spontaneously assembled and brandished the remains of the British theorist to justify a resentful and, at worst, pretentious attitude towards the world mediated by our expanded memory. Armed with Capitalist Realism, exhibited as the Little Red Book of a Pale and Agonizing Cultural Revolution, and ready to accuse every enemy of being infected with the disease of theoretical vampirism, this group has transformed Fisher’s work into a sad invective against contemporary (cultural and economic) stagnation — a work of denunciation morally detached from this same alleged stagnation and freed from all kinds of internal contradictions. With the tone of someone who knows a lot, this congregation of spirits in exile, far from the promised land of the revolution, has hung its curses on the door of “neoliberalism” — an ultra-polysemic term, capable of encompassing everything in itself, without need of too many explanations or clarifications — and she has relegated herself to her black corner where she can mourn the slow cancellation of the future, unaware of how the present constantly produces escape routes from majority time.

This is precisely what I meant when I noted, back in March, that

whilst much has been made of Mark’s writings on hauntology, in practice his theories have often been rendered hauntographically by others. For clarity, we can understand the difference between hauntology and hauntography as being similar to the difference between biology and biography — one orders and describes the events of a life after the fact; the other is a study of life as it is lived, and all the mechanisms and relations that make it possible. In these terms, Fisher saw himself as less a writer of obituaries and more as a necromancer for not just lost futures but the futures we are continually losing. To dismiss his hauntological writings as the cultural mourning of an out-of-touch writer from Generation X — as is common amongst new readers today — is to ignore the innate hope his writings contained and the riling declaration that the new could only emerge from a vigilance regarding one’s own cultural position in relation to the recent past.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and the ever more confusing kernels this kind of thought is thrown into.

Merlin Coverley’s new book on the subject, for instance, whilst fascinating, seems counterintuitive in its attempts to provide a history of hauntology. It exemplifies a hauntographic reading of where the term has come from that undermines its very power. Because the point is that hauntology isn’t concerned with the past; it’s concerned about the future.

Somehow, Daniel Lopatin is able to make these convoluted kernels productive. The recently released video for “Lost But Never Alone” is the perfect example. In inserting an iPhone into an ’80s sitcom, we get a certain anachronism that is neither representative of past or present, but it doesn’t collapse into pastiche. It instead exemplifies a twenty-first century détournement, reweirding the past rather than becoming complacent about its ever-presence.

What is produced instead is, at best, some sensation that is unfamiliar, despite the familiarity of that which is being deployed to produce it. That’s what is weird about the video for “Lost But Never Alone” — it isn’t the various anachronisms in and of themselves that make us feel something but the way in which the collage of blatantly impossible objects and imagery nonetheless resonates with our contemporary “order of things”. This isn’t the present aping the past, this is the past confronting a future it couldn’t possibly have foreseen.

Whilst watching it for the first time, trying to uncover the emotion at the heart of the family drama on screen, I wrote the following note:

Is it the fear of new technology or the fear of their punk son’s alternative structures of belonging? Doesn’t an iPhone — as a contemporary signifier for our constant tethering to social networks — signify both? But parents love Facebook now so the shock is lost. Gotta send an iPhone back in time to do it! And I can’t figure out how they did it!

That’s not hauntological — that’s salvagepunk.

More soon. I don’t want to write too much and cheat on this other mammoth 0PN post I’ve been working on for the last fortnight.

For now, check yesterday’s Twitter thread that inspired this post and which was inspired by the publication of Enrico’s essay, featuring a rare k-punk clipping from a 2013 issue of Wire magazine.


  1. There is definitely a thread to be followed of Hauntology degrading into a genre, style or ideology in itself.

  2. In general, most people in our society, no matter how brilliant and well-intentioned, are trapped in a combination of historical amnesia and cultural myopia. We might be wise to look much further afield, not merely to resurrect and renovate what has been discared or assumed lost but to look at worldviews and ways of being entirely alien to the modern mind, including among self-identified countercultural types. Amidst the debris of archaic societies and quickly disappearing tribes, we might be reminded of something long forgotten within our common heritage deep within our collective psyche. The problems of the West might not be found in the West. That is to say the WEIRD mind needs to find a way out of itself.

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