The Spectre of Acid Communism

There’s a nice interview out with Adam Curtis for Jacobin in which he briefly talks about ghosts, Mark Fisher, and his latest series I Can’t Get You Out of My Head:

I’d like to ask you about ghosts. There’s a story by M. R. James called “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” which you’re influenced by.

The inscription on the whistle that the protagonist of that story finds on the beach — “What is this that is coming?” — was actually going to be the title of this series. But it’s not a silly thing. M. R. James was writing those stories in the 1890s, which I would argue is a similar time to now. The British Empire was collapsing, and there was this feeling of fear and guilt, that something was coming back to haunt you. I would argue that America has had that same feeling since the end of the Vietnam War.

That’s a bit like what Mark Fisher wrote about — the ghosts of the past returning to blot out the future.

I knew Mark. We used to meet regularly in a café by Liverpool Street station and have long conversations about all this. We appeared on stage together in Berlin, I think. But going back to this idea about ghosts, I use characters like Jiang Qing because they had this idea that you could force the ghosts out of people’s heads to produce a new kind of society. But the vital thing they forgot is the ghosts inside their own heads.

It’s the same with the Brexit people, who are haunted by a fictitious, idealized vision of Britain’s past. Dominic Cummings [Boris Johnson’s former adviser, who is credited as the Brexit campaign mastermind] accessed it through nationalism, which is something liberals are very scared of.

Already tweeted, this is a point that bears repeating on the blog: “this idea that you could force the ghosts out of people’s heads to produce a new kind of society” is, I think, the most succinct encapsulation of what Mark was aiming for in Acid Communism. It’s perfect, not least because it demonstrates the continuity with his previous writings that is so often erased, but also affirms that psychedelic gesture of manifesting what is in the mind.

I’m not sure Curtis’s new series makes good on that, as explored previously, but you can guarantee I’ll end up referring back to this indirect definition in the future.

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