It is well known that the total book is as much Leibniz’s dream as it is Mallarmé‘s, even though they never stop working in fragments. Our error is in believing that they did not succeed in their wishes: they made this unique Book perfectly, the book of monads, in letters and little circumstantial pieces that could sustain as many dispersions as combinations. The monad is the book or the reading room.
— Gilles Deleuze, The Fold
When we consider the Repeater Books’ k-punk collection, it is surely as an impossible project. I do not envy Darren Ambrose the task of putting it together. What texts to choose? What to leave out? Though it is a shelf-buckling book of considerable proportion, it does not (and could not) include everything. A different editor would no doubt produce a different book every time. But that’s not reason enough to say a project should not have been undertaken. It is a valuable document of disagreeably alive and precarious thought, which poetically reflects the present in being so.
But the vast amount of work Mark produced still presents us with a problem — one that is no less impossible to manage, even after the anthology’s successful publication. In fact, surely Darren had to embrace the project’s impossibility in the editorial process? Could we not argue that, in quite literally “book-ending” Mark’s life, with its tombstone-like appearance, it creates a capstone on which others might build? That is partly why people dislike it — a capstone is not a continuation but an end. But given the fact it ends with an unpublished draft, it is, paradoxically, an elliptical capstone. And better that than some formally completist project.
Like the rest of Fisher’s work, the k-punk anthology wavers uncomfortably between forms and contexts. Gathering everything together would not solve this. It would make up thousands upon thousands of pages, volumes upon volumes of books. But maybe that would be an admirable testament to Fisher’s productivity? To see it all printed out would give us a visceral sense of the work of a life, and illustrate bittersweetly how much more he could have said had he continued to live for a “full” lifetime. But isn’t that also a strange and somewhat morbid way of thinking about it? And aren’t we ignoring the biases Fisher otherwise set about challenging when we measure his work by the width of a spine? The internet wasn’t made for printing off, after all. It was a new way of doing things and entombing that new way in an old format breaks something. It betrays the original medium and stops us from appreciating blogged texts in their proper context, which are so often more ephemeral and fleeting, and more reflective of our present for being so.
Urbanomic recently published an English translation of an excellent essay by Enrico Monacelli and Massimo Filippi that precisely argues this point, whilst at the time entangling itself in the complexities of feeling the collection elicits. It is a critical text that, as Enrico put it originally on Twitter, provocatively argues the k-punk volume should not exist. But it is not a critique made lightly. It is a critique that respects the work, whilst at the same time carving out a space for vital if uncomfortable questions relevant to the entirety of Fisher’s corpus. A paradox emerges as a result, which the essay navigates deftly, asking questions that too many denounce thoughtlessly, barely unfolding the true content of Fisher’s body of work.
(As Deleuze might put it: “We do not even know what a body [of work] is capable of… We do not even know of what affections [it is] capable, nor the extent of [its] power.”)
Consider Fisher’s (or, more recently, Repeater’s) less reasonable critics. They do not just denounce the k-punk anthology but all archival work that hopes to develop and prolong Fisher’s legacy — my own work included. The general critique argues something along the lines of, “Can we wait for him to be in the ground a bit longer before dredging up and profiting off the ephemera?” (The assumption that profits are made for those who do the work never ceases to entertain.) But I am left wondering, is there any part of Fisher’s work that isn’t ephemeral? Capitalist Realism could not be shorter if it tried; The Weird and the Eerie feels like it is over in an instant. Ephemerality is not a simple case of length, of course, but Capitalist Realism, in particular, is only a few millimeters off being a pamphlet — and intentionally so. Ghosts of My Life is more substantial but also more openly addresses its status as a collection of polished blogposts and articles, acting as a capstone Fisher put together himself, underwriting a period of “hauntological” blogging he would move on from whilst, at the same time, becoming best known for it. (If I might offer up a confession, it is the book of Fisher’s that I’ve spent the least amount of time with, because I was a k-punk reader before its release and so always saw it as a compilation.) Still, we forget, deferring to this collection’s relative transparency, that drafts from Capitalist Realism and The Weird and the Eerie are still available for us to read on k-punk.org. Each book, then, in turn, functions as a more digestible summary of an already public thinking.
In that sense, how different is k-punk from what came before it? From what Mark curated for himself? But I still think Enrico and Massimo are right. The context lost when Mark’s work is gathered and shaped into a book is peculiar and awkward, but something else is lost more broadly as well when philosophers and other writers “graduate” from online media or independent spaces only to take up columns or book deals in more traditional publishing zones. This is not to say that successful writers should not have nice things — and I think the role of Repeater Books, in particular, as a space to celebrate new and often online voices, is valuable and always aware of the changing critical landscape — but we do lose something as a result of this kind of transition. But what exactly? A certain philosophical spirit, maybe, that is gestured towards with this post’s opening quotation. We lose the monadic (and nomadic) relations writing is otherwise entangled in. We may gain a book but we lose the reading room.
This is not to suggest that blogs and books can’t work in harmony, of course. What is a “reading room” if not precisely a space for books and the transitions between them? I have no problem with Fisher putting out more polished arguments in physical form, even if I’ve read them before in another context. I can also appreciate, simply on a practical level, how, when time is precious, firing off a quick blogpost is a useful way to generate drafts you can come back to later, eventually stitching together a patchwork for further refinement. (Although this process of refinement is looked down upon by a surprising number of readers, in my experience at least, who want books to be made up of material not thought about publicly — as if bloggers aren’t time-poor enough already that they have to maintain two places to think simultaneously.)
That being said, as I’m working on numerous projects right now, I’m actually keeping most of them to myself, but it is a harder task because of this. I find holding a full manuscript more or less in your head, carrying it around all day as you spend too much time daydreaming and falling into habits of mental editing and resequencing, starts to feel like a full-time job. (And I already have one of those.) Tragically, at least for me, plenty of ideas and thoughts fall out, eventually lost forever. A blog is not just a pin board though, but a proving ground. To blog something makes it easier to remain in touch with that element otherwise too easily lost when you disappear up inside your own over-ambitious book plans — that is, the poetry of the social.
I am continuing to think about Ben Lerner’s recently discussed book The Hatred of Poetry at the moment, in which he writes that the gesture at the heart of all poetry is “the impulse to launch the experience of an individual into a timeless communal existence”. (Again, a prime concern of Egress and, I imagine, everything I do going forwards.) I am interested in it because I think you could go through Lerner’s book and replace every instance of the word “poetry” with the word “photography” and you’d have the book I wish I’d gotten round to writing about the latter medium. But I also think the same is true of blogging as well. This certainly explains the particular tone of Fisher’s work. It is not “poetic” in a stylistic sense — his post-Ccru work generally stirs clear of abstractions and instead works to clarify and demystify ideological apparatuses. But I find the k-punk sentiment reflects Lerner’s poetic impulse regardless (“making the personal impersonal”, etc.) — indeed, it is a central strand of any popular modernism.
I think this poeticism is precisely what gets lost when Fisher’s work is taken off his blog, whether by Fisher himself or others. A process of transfiguration takes place when blog becomes book. This might just be practical for many — a kind of formalization takes place — but for Fisher some of the lifeblood is drained also. This is what Enrico and Massimo point to when they write how the anthology creates “a certain discomfort” as we “re-read these ‘live’ interventions within the bounds of a book that, volens nolens, reterritorializes the deterritorializing flows of Fisher’s diffractions.” (Again, for the sake of argument, this was my experience of reading Ghosts of My Life also.)
Speaking of the second volume of the Italian translation of k-punk, which is titled Screens, Dreams and Spectres, they write:
All the pieces that make up Screens, Dreams and Spectres and, more generally, the entirety of K-Punk, were conceived of as interventions on a blog, interventions loosed without precautions — like screenless dreams — into the magmatic flow of the web. They were bullets aimed at the present in fieri, moved by the desire to be quick and compact, to hit the flesh of the collective imagination right where it hurts most. In short, they were interventions designed to be fragile, contingent, and lethal creatures.
They were, in their own way, poems.
(I often think this is what is meant be the phrase “literary criticism” as well, which is hardly restricted to critiques of literature. It also means critique that has “literary merit” or, preferably, critique that struggles with the existential questions of culture just as much as the culture under consideration does. I think the latter certainly describes Fisher’s MO — cultural critique as cultural production.)
Enrico and Massimo continue:
We cannot, therefore, fail to notice the pungent smell of incense that spread from this premature embalming. Perhaps this anthology is the expression of an excess of zealous tact toward writings that continue to claim their right to die together with what they criticised or celebrated.
We are aware, however, that the extraction of these writings from a blog that could disappear at any moment is an operation not without merit. In other words, we would not want to lose forever the chance to read, for example, Fisher’s lightning-fast and illuminating diagnostic reports…
It is particularly telling, I think, that this torn critique — infrequently verbalised in hushed tones by British readers — has emerged loudly and proudly from outside of the Anglosphere. How are non-English(-speaking) readers (or, more accurately, non-domiciles of this tiny fascist island) expected to understand the context of these blogposts? For those reading them in their own tongue, perhaps for the first time, out of their blogospheric context, the distance between blog and (translated) book must be all the more pronounced. But this, again, was always already true. We might consider that, even whilst Fisher was alive, Americans often seemed to be the worst readers of his work, if only because they often didn’t grasp its very British idiosyncrasies and class concerns. This is true on the most banal level. So many k-punk posts come to mind that are, in essence, running commentaries on late-night screenings of obscure movies or shows on under-watched British TV channels.
His essays were undeniably parochial, for better or worse. They were grounded in his cultural experiences. Though he speaks to global(ised) issues and problems, his reference points are nonetheless often restricted to those things that he most enjoyed or at least understood intimately — a point as applicable to 1970s British TV as it is to the lived experience of depression. It is part of his charm for some, his uselessness for others. Personally, I think it is what was so compelling about his work. It so often highlighted, in its very bones, the tensions of postmodern subjectivity, torn between the local and the global, the personal and the political, whilst at the same time articulating how our burgeoning sense of “the social” conflates all of these things together. The travesty, as described by Herbert Marcuse, is that our understanding of the social is, instead, so utterly one-dimensional. “Social media” is a sort of flat signifier for our contemporary hellscape, for instance, but the social we should be striving for is a kind of consciously complex local-global-personal-political framework that embraces its own four-dimensional character.
The weird thing that has happened to Fisher himself is that many English readers have tried to subsume him into their one-dimensional world. But as his work enters translation, we begin to see the negative work of dumb Anglos undone. Because, as is the pop-mod sentiment, they have to put a bit more work in. They do not take for granted the mundane backdrop of British life.
Consider, for instance, how Fisher is currently finding a brand new audience in the Spanish-speaking world. (Something I thought about quite a lot earlier this year when writing this previously shared essay.) How many Fisher fans in Buenos Aires will have seen (or will be able to see) Channel 4’s Benefits Street and understand the particular context of that show beyond Fisher’s descriptions of it? I’d wager very few. It doesn’t really matter, of course, because the argument works without it, and the problems documented are hardly exclusively “British”, but something is lost nonetheless. There is something broader and more ephemeral that cannot be translated — that sense of immediacy, of a conversation around the coffee machine or in the pub the day after. But it is from the friction this distance creates that creative thinking emerges, and it is in this way that Fisher’s otherwise parochial concerns contribute to the real movement.
I hope this doesn’t sound patronizing. I think this is the real work to be done. Fisher may not have made it easy, restricting his talking points to those things that were within his own experience, but finding the connections and strands outwards is part of the task left to those who find his work engaging and resonant, even if the experiences or cultural examples are relatively obscure and foreign. It demands that the social aspects of his work be upheld, and I think that Enrico and Massimo’s essay is a perfect example of that kind of gesture. It is a gesture of grief also. What separates the k-punk anthology from Ghosts of My Life is Fisher was still around after its compilation to continue the conversation. There is a sense now that the books are all we have. No blog, no social.
My own interest in that kind of work is rooted in the thinking of Maurice Blanchot. My book Egress dealt with this explicitly (and even “perversely”, according to one reviewer), but I think Enrico and Massimo have articulated something and unlocked a further layer to this conversation. After reading this essay, I immediately revisited Blanchot’s book The Infinite Conversation and what I found inside, bursting forth with new clarity, was a sort of theorising of fragmentary writing that spoke to blogging and the blogosphere in a way I had never previously appreciated.
It left me wanting to do a close reading of The Infinite Conversation, or at least the book’s final section, with all of this in mind, interpreting its arguments through a blogospheric lens. I’d hoped to do this in a single post, but already this preamble is long enough. I’d also quite like to take my time with it and unfold it over the coming weeks. I don’t have a lot of time at the moment and I haven’t done a “series” of posts in over a year, so it feels like a nice exercise. As I continue to work on other things, this will be a series on blogging as a way of resisting the one-dimensionality of social media. Placing that forthcoming gesture in its proper context, before leaping into it, feels like a worthwhile endeavor.
Watch this space.
Update: Thanks to Terence Blake for retweeting this. Blake later shared an old post from his own blog that is nicely resonant here: “Deleuze’s Transindividuation: On blogging before the internet existed”.