Mark Fisher & Lost Futures: XG on the Archipelago

The two-part conversation I recently had with Yannis Orestis-Papadimitriou on his Movement Radio show, The Archipelago, is now available to listen back to online! You can find Part One here and Part Two here, or you can listen via Mixcloud below.

This was a wide-ranging conversation and could have likely carried on for hours. Many thanks to Yannis for having me and check out all the other amazing things that Movement Radio do here.

Mark Fisher and the Lost Futures (Part 1)

In his book Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and Mark Fisher, author and photographer Matt Colquhoun elaborates on his former teacher’s later ideas, tragically interrupted by Fisher’s untimely passing in January 2017. He would later edit and introduce Fisher’s unfinished final lectures, now published under the title Post Capitalist Desire.

In his final days, Fisher moved away from his initial diagnosis of a standstill in political and cultural imagination that he termed “Capitalist Realism”, towards seeking a way out through a project he outlined as Acid Communism.

This episode of The Archipelago features the first of two conversations with Matt Colquhoun, in which he discusses Mark Fisher’s trajectory from the experimental counterculture of the CCRU lab in the mid-90s to his pessimistic take on Capitalist Realism. He also talks about the concept of Egress in practice: how Fisher’s passing affected his community, which is finding new potentialities in his writings under the presence of his absence.

Mark Fisher and the Lost Futures (Part 2)

In the previous conversation with Matt Colquhoun, the author of Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and Mark Fisher and editor of Fisher’s final lectures Postcapitalist Desire, we ran through the events and processes that gave shape to his thought for two decades: the CCRU, his contemporary thinkers and his diagnosis of the cultural and political standstill we find ourselves in.

In his second appearance on the Archipelago, Matt Colquhoun uses Oneohtrix Point Never albums as a starting point to examine cultural practices that re-energize imagination and examine how perceptions of different temporalities affect our collective psyche. He also talks about Tarantino films, depression as illness and metaphor and the ideas that advance or block the potential of radical politics today.

“Turning Nothings Into Somethings”:
Phil Christman on ‘Postcapitalist Desire’

A new essay for Commonweal magazine by Phil Christman on Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures of Mark Fisher is a magnificent read, and maybe does a better job of stitching together Mark’s various perspectives, hopes, ideals and flaws than I’ve managed to before. It’s called “Turning Nothings Into Somethings” and I’d say it is essential reading.

What I like most about this essay is how it grounds Fisher’s post-punk sensibilities within his humanism (or rather, inhumanism — his Promethean belief in the human as an incomplete category). Connecting Fisher’s belief in post-punk, then and now, to his teaching and other cultural activities, Christman writes:

In an entry on his blog, k-punk, he wrote, “More or less everything I’ve written or participated in has been in some sense an attempt to keep fidelity with the post-punk event.” Post-punk: not the loud, colorful, simple, proudly incompetent, and often nihilistic music known then and now as punk rock, but the strange and often foreboding music that came immediately after it, made by artists who occupied the space of possibility that punk had created by saying “No” to manners, taboos, and musical skill. Such artists — Joy Division, the Mekons, the Fall, the Raincoats, Wire — turned punk’s nothing into something, or many somethings. And just as Fisher attempted to keep fidelity with that brief opening in cultural history, that moment when a person could turn on the radio and instantly feel that the world of the possible had expanded, his students and friends, in the days after his death, kept fidelity with the event of Mark Fisher, who had done the same for them.

I really do implore you to read the rest. I could keep sharing highlights from this essay but I’d most likely just end up copying the whole thing out here. So I won’t.

However, I would like to share this one additional paragraph on the blog, if only because it feels very appropriate, and asks a question that lingers in my head constantly when I hit publish on things on the strange zombified fate of the blogosphere and its hyperlink graveyard. I have spent much of this year excavating the old blogosphere, using the WaybackMachine to paint a picture of a new obfuscated accelerationist network, and it is strange now, when I hit publish on something here. I feel very aware of the web ghost that XG might one day become…

You can still read the k-punk archives, and I recommend doing so to anyone who admires Fisher’s work—he first came to general notice as a blogger, and the medium is the message. But it can be a melancholy exercise. In part that’s because of the intensities you encounter—the Fishers, good and bad, that ultimately weren’t—and in part because the blog form itself, with its long-dead links, becomes an unwitting illustration of the split between Fisher and Land, the Left humanist Fisher became and the post-humanist that Land already was. He raves about an essay, you click on the link (and Fisher always links; he seems to want you to read all his friends and influences as much as he wants you to read him), and you wind up on another blog that hasn’t been updated in a decade, or on one of those zombie websites that cannibalizes old URLs, leaving a seemingly computer-generated text about “what employers should never do.” Or you follow the link embedded in a description of his friend Nina Power’s flat—“a space,” Fisher writes, “in which impersonal production is always happening”—and you find yourself at another zombie website, this one reading that business casual attire is “one of the best styles any gentleman can wear.” Impersonal production, indeed. The colonization of old web pages by the sort of search-engine-optimized advertisements that robots can and do write suggests what a Landian post-humanist world might sound like. Does the future belong to Fisher’s nervously excited human voice, or to these chittering algorithms?

Trust No-One

Shout-out to Kode9, recently unearthing Mark’s old essay “SF Capital”, written back when he still didn’t trust the hippies. He noted that the following passage is oddly resonant with the Postcapitalist Desire lectures:

The smooth transition from hippy to hyper-capitalist, from slacker hedonism to authoritarianism, from engagement to entertainment, retrospectively reveals what the punks knew so we when they cackled ‘never trust a hippie’. Far from posing any threat to capitalism, the dope-smoking, soap-dodging rockers of the 60s were acting as capitalism’s reserve army of exploiters, whose time spent at festivals and on the experimental avant-garde fringe did little or nothing to engineer lines of collective escape, but yielded instead resources for the new forms of enslavement that loom everywhere around us now. 

In our present moment, and following the softening of Mark’s militantly anti-hippie sentiments, the hippies remain far from vindicated. The issue, perhaps, is that we can’t trust the punks either. Far from posing any threat to capitalism, they lay the groundwork for new forms of reaction.

Post-punk? In 2020, even Nick Cave is an anti-masker.

Trust no-one.

The Magic of Relics

Novelty does not necessarily belong to the new. Not anymore. Novus, as the word’s etymological root, means “new” quite explicitly, but it also means “original” or “unusual”. The newness of novelty is not absolute.

Increasingly, we might define a novelty as that which has either escaped or is newly present within the typical order of things. As the new stagnates in its postmodern crisis, we find that novelty is as applicable to the tired cliché as it is to a bold new mode of expression.

As a result, Arthur C. Clarke’s assertion that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” begins to lose its potency. Now it is more often the case that any sufficiently redundant technology is indistinguishable from magic also. Our most mundane analogue mediums are transformed by the passage of time into weird objects – not nostalgic objects but objects utterly decontextualised.

Old objects acquire a new power. They become relics, in the true sense of the world – the spiritually potent yet abandoned remains of old ideals.

Occasionally, this process provides older generations with an opportunity to laugh at their youngers, who are oblivious to the cultural power captured within these relics. There are countless videos online, for instance, in which we see parents give their children a VHS tape or a Walkman or something similar and ask them to guess how it worked. What is always captivating about these videos is that, whilst the children’s guesses as to what a given object is for may be way off the mark, their logic is often sound; they are simply approaching a past object from the perspective of an unfolding present.

“A VHS tape is for watching movies”, someone might say, offering up a clue. “Well, where’s the screen?” the child asks in response, curiously turning this opaque rectangle over and over in their hands.

We might interpret this hypothetical child’s attempt at reasoning to be a fine use of their imagination but, as François Bonnet has argued, “Contrary to popular belief, children do not have excessive imaginations.” In fact, when confronted by new sensations and experiences, “a child rapidly runs up against the limit of his imagination, then finds himself before the most radical, the most terrifying unknown.” This is most evident when a child hears something go bump in the night but, when confronted with the cultural artefacts of a previous generation, the situation is more complex. We don’t see terror but curiosity; the terror is instead projected onto them from anxious adults that corral around.

Consider the video above. The children’s innocent reactions to this strange object – a Walkman – are perfectly understandable; the incredulous adults betray a potent anxiety that lingers behind their smiles. After all, these children may not know how a Walkman works but they remain “digital natives”, always-already at home with technologies that baffle their elders.

One of the adults shares a telling anecdote in this regard, adding that his daughter recently went on his laptop and started jabbing at the screen, thinking it was touch-sensitive. “She is too used to her tablet”, he laughs, shaking his head with an obligatory and knowingly-clichéd “kids these days!

But this clip was first uploaded online six years ago. At the time of writing, the screen of the laptop I am writing on is touch-sensitive.

Can we go so far as to argue that the contemporary intuitions of children predict the future? To watch them mocked, no matter how gently, is to see the joke backfire. A child’s lack of imagination with regards to the past comes full circle as adults find themselves just as incapable of imagining the possibilities of the present. In this sense, Bonnet’s description of a child’s terror and uncertainty when faced with a “new” aesthetic experience is just as applicable to the adults themselves, who are today routinely confronted with rapidly accelerating technological experiences that they can barely keep up with.