It’s Mattel’s Hyperreality, We Just Live in It

A lot of people have been talking about this article in Variety about Mattel Studios’ somewhat desperate attempts to bring their toy portfolio to the big screen:

Warner Bros. is in prep for “Barbie,” starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling and directed by Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with partner Noah Baumbach. They’re also at script stage on a Hot Wheels film. In July, Netflix will shoot the anticipated remount of “Masters of the Universe,” with Kyle Allen starring as the buff, blonde He-Man. Universal Pictures is at work on a horror franchise based on Magic 8 Ball with Blumhouse, and the studio is bringing Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots to life with Vin Diesel. At Paramount, Tom Hanks will embody his childhood favorite Major Matt Mason, the astronaut action figure, with “A Beautiful Mind” screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, and MGM will put forth Polly Pocket with writer-director Lena Dunham and star Lily Collins.

It feels like an excellent excuse to share an excerpt from Mark Fisher’s PhD thesis: “Capitalism as Toy Story”:

If, in the context of cybernetics, Freud’s dismissal of animism seems hasty, so does his confinement of children to an early stage of development. Turkle’s work reinforces the observation – which, although well-worn, is more than glib cliche — that children know more about computers than their parents; and the early encounter with such cybernetic systems pre-emptively disables much of the metaphysics the adult world seeks to impose. Children, that is to say, increasingly live in a Gothic Materialist chaosmos. “Children, instinctual animists, identify with toys and dolls, subjecting themselves to and projecting themselves onto the inanimate: every 12-year old knows that I is an other and another and another.” Under capitalism, the idea that toys do not have a certain agency becomes increasingly questionable. It may be the case that children take for granted, not only a Freudian animism, but a neo-Marxian picture of  “necromantic” capital. It would only be natural for children to share what, in Chapter 1, we saw Judith Halberstam characterize as Marx’s “Gothic” picture of capitalism. Blitzed with capitalist hyperstimulus, children are already participants in capitalism. In many ways, children occupy the frontier-zones of capitalism, operating as probe-heads in what, for adults, is the future. Indeed, the Freudian model of regression could be radically reversed: it might be said that the child’s universe of animist presences and animal-becomings has far more purchase on capitalist (and schizophrenic) reality than adults’ continued belief in subjective interiority. “To a certain extent, we can look to children to see what we are starting to think ourselves.”

Capitalism, it could be said, is giving an agency to toys far more far-reaching than was achieved by Hoffmann’s clunky automaton. Naturally, the role of fiction is absolutely central to the toy-child relation. But it is a fiction which enjoys a peculiar relation to the Real. Increasingly, children are presented with toys and fictional systems which emerge together, in a loop. Where once there was a serial trajectory – comic books – toys – films or toys – films – comic books – now toys, films, comic books (and innumerable other examples of merchandising) are issued simultaneously. The notion of the original and the copy is systematically eroded by a digital uncanny which generalizes simulation by fusing capital and fiction. Take the example of Disney’s Toy Story (cybernetic capitalism’s riposte to Freud’s “Uncanny”?) Here, in a film that was entirely generated by computer animation, digitized versions of old toys are presented next to new, “fictionalized” toys. But fictionality has a new sense here: it no longer has anything to do with a fantastic unattainability; on the contrary, the toys onscreen are available, immediately, as consumer objects, as soon as you leave the cinema. The toys really are toys. In an increasingly familiar pattern, the film functions as an advertisement for the toys, which function as an advertisement for it, in an ever-tightening spiral. The fictional is immediately real, in the most palpable sense: it can be bought. This, then, is hyperfiction: a process whereby fiction and reality are radically smeared. Unlike metafiction, hyperfiction assumes no special role for the author (or indeed for the text). On the contrary, it is only when the author and the text have become immanentized that a hyperfictional circuit is in place. (Who cares who wrote Toy Story?) What is crucial is not the representation of reality, but the feedback between fiction and the Real. (Toy Story doesn’t reflect reality, it actively intervenes in it, inducing children – via their attached servomechanisms, parents – to consume commodities.) Hyperfiction, then, can be defined as fiction which makes itself real. What connects hyperfiction with animism is precisely the escape of agency from the subject. Fiction itself gains an agency, an ability to intervene into the Real.

A World Without Any Future?:
XG at Kunstraum Lakeside

Following on from their zine launch at Trafó, Budapest, back in December, Mark Fridvalszki and Zsolt Miklósvölgyi have taken their acid test to Kunstraum Lakeside in Austria, with me in tow, trapped in my cathode-ray prison.

A few photos from the installation above, all taken by Johannes Puch, and a statement on the show below. You can find more info over on Lakeside’s website here.

We are living in the age of Aquarius. If one was to believe Western astrology and esoteric thinking, air—the element of this zodiac sign—stands for the intensification of processes associated with the mind and soul, immaterial goods, and not least, with revolutionary ideas. Departing from Western thought permeated by psychedelic subcultures since the 1960s, artist Mark Fridvalszki and author Zsolt Miklósvölgyi negotiate the sensual materiality of failed visions of the modern age.

In this light, Fridvalszki’s artistic practice, which manifests in collages, prints, paintings, and expansive wallpapers as well as readymades and sculptures, can be read as both an archeological and futurological approach. He speculates on the visual remnants of lost futures and transfers the results of this quest for utopian impulses to an atemporal context. Miklósvölgyi’s texts, in turn, imagine “mythofictions”; models such as Hungarofuturism are employed to reclaim national and historical myths, which have been exploited by nationalist ideologies, and craft images for a positive future.

In Kunstraum Lakeside, Fridvalszki and Miklósvölgyi install an experimental setting where the metaphor of the psychedelic trip is used to make the energy of diverse counter-cultural momentums tangible—not only with the aid of a careful selection of pertinent contents and references but also in direct conversations with the two artists. “Psychedelia is an attitude fueled by improvisation and creativity, a belief that it is possible to see the world with different eyes,” say Fridvalszki and Miklósvölgy with conviction about the political potential they have identified in psychedelic experiences to transcend the prevailing limits of our imagination. “Psychedelia negates hierarchies, ignorant individualism, hedonistic fetishes of matter, and thus represents a permanent threat to every authoritarian regime.” This statement by Fridvalszki and Miklósvölgy is inspired by their publication project Technologie und das Unheimliche (T+U), founded in 2014 in collaboration with Márió Z. Nemes, in which the trio of artist-authors organizes mixtape series, lectures, exhibitions, and conferences at the interface of contemporary cultural phenomena and cultural techniques in the postdigital age.

NFTs and Open Access:
Power in the Age of Digital Individualism

fundamentally if you are into NFTs, we are not in community together. my community celebrates how digital abundance has connected and equalized us. NFTs enforce artificial scarcity at the cost of collapsing power grids. it’s distilled capitalism and it’s fucking gross

Originally tweeted by milf twink (@SamAllenX) on January 22, 2022.

In recent weeks, I’ve been getting more and more pingbacks to an essay I wrote about an NFT controversy on Twitter last year, when the whole thing was compared to a star registry system. I still think this understanding of NFTs is flawed but, in all honesty, my desire to defend NFTs has been tempered by the accelerating bleakness of its most “popular” iteration — its “popularity”, that is, with an extravagant, headline-grabbing few, if not the broader online many. Their usage at present and the myopic hype around bored apes and the rest of it is mind-numbing in the extreme.

But still, there seems to be a crisis of understanding on both sides here, and I think the tweet above is a good demonstration of this. The beginnings of Web3 are far from attractive, on the whole, but few seem to realize how dead their vision of another internet truly is.

Of course, on the surface, I’m inclined to agree with this tweet. As a blogger who has been sharing things online for free for almost 15 years — that’s half my life at this point — I firmly believe in the joys of digital abundance and its ability to connect people. It’s about cultural production, pure and simple — that is, producing cultures to inhabit when you might feel there is little else around you. That was my experience as a teenager and it is a commitment I’ve never really lost.

Unfortunately, this sense of community has been steadily eroded. The mid-Noughties ideal I still hold in my head, like a mental imago of what this scene should look like, has aged out. Looking in the digital mirror, it produces a kind of communal dysmorphia. I see the shape of something I know and love, but it is twisted. There is a clear disparity between mental image and reality, and how to rectify that disconnection is a very important question for anyone who cares about online cultures today.

The problem itself is not new, however. It is one widely written about. Marshall McLuhan called it a kind of media “narcosis”:

The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image.

I fear that those who hold onto a Noughties ideal of online cultural production fall into this same trap. Our commitments to perpetuating a certain kind of community only strengthen the demands of platform capitalism, rather than help ourselves.

To understand this disparity we need only consider the rise of social media. These large-scale platforms that supposedly assist in the proliferation of digital abundance nonetheless mine the communities we, as its users, produce for their own profit. Though we may not think of our conversations and our blogposts and our images as “content”, our skin crawling at the very suggestion that the inputs and outputs of the cultures we hope to build can be reduced to some new managerial business speak, it is all content to someone and it is often treated as such. The sad reality is that the online world we live in today is a kind of digital feudalism, implemented through stealth. As our communities thrive and share and support one another, we focus less and less on the fact that the land we’ve developed through a kind of digital agriculture is not ours and never has been. As online life becomes increasingly dystopian, it is about time we updated our vision of what this place can be.

Unfortunately, when others reach out to us, suggesting there are other ways of doing things, we hear nothing. McLuhan:

The nymph Echo tried to win [Narcissus’] love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system.

We might think the original tweet has a point in this regard, but “scarcity” and “closed system” are not synonyms. The problem with Web 2.0 is that our digital abundance does not serve us. It is not necessarily to introduce “scarcity” for all, but rather to carve out a space for cultural production that is not under the all-seeing eye of platform capitalism by default. We’ve seen this become increasingly popular in recent years. Indeed, I know more and more people who are forsaking the cursed landscapes of social media for quieter and more close-knit Discord communities. But this isn’t to produce a kind of gated community to keep out the online plebs. It is to keep out online power. Discord is by no means a pure platform, of course, but that kind of online experience is driving the emergence of DAOs and other online community structures. In the end, what is “closed” about an anti-Web3 defiance is that it offers no alternatives to our present and very real capture. What other way out is there from Web 2.0 drudgery, where cultures proliferate in abundance for “free” but are nonetheless mined for profit by somebody? (Of course, nothing about this is really free, especially if you’re trying to facilitate cultural space online; I have annual running costs for all my websites, even though I don’t make money from them directly — they face many of the same problems as IRL community spaces, if not to the same level of precarity or the same scale.)

But I get it. Web3 is a big change. It’s scary, opaque if you’re not that technically minded — that’s the biggest obstacle for me. It signifies unknown territory. But this is as true for the optimists and it is for the pessimists. The former are excited and invigorated by the fact they don’t have all the answers; the latter don’t want to get into bed with anyone who doesn’t. It’s unfortunate, because it is clear that those actively working in this space are onto something. The fact that the giants of platform capitalism are now jumping on the Web3 hype is to be expected in this regard. It hasn’t deterred many. It should make more of us want to fight over it. Because all it signals is how this area of technoligical development is precisely in tension. It has to be seized by someone — no surprises that contemporary power wants to seize it for itself.

But of course, what is to be done in response is far from obvious…

It is worth reminding ourselves that the initial dream of crypto was a vision of a newly open system. It sought to cut out the middleman. Centralised finance put all the power with the banks. To this day, everything is debt. You’re never really spending “your” money. Every transaction and purchase is visible to somebody. Encrypted currency was one way of taking back control of our own financial activities. It facilitates a process of hiding or restricting, but the question remains: hiding from who? For many years, the answer was always power, and its popularity on the dark web, for better or worse, gave many people online a sense of power they didn’t have previously. (I appreciate I’m not exactly defining “power” here, which makes it a nebulous, even promiscuous term, but it would require a whole other blogpost to do so — so, for the sake of shorthand, cf. Foucault.) More than that, crypto functioned, as James Bridle writes, as a way to “disempower governments”.

The blockchain, then, was a powerful new technology that was far from pure, but precisely because it was being actively fought over by governments and individuals. Like 3D printing technology, it had the potential to revolutionize industrial production as it did independent production of goods. But as we’ve seen in recent years, particularly during the Covid pandemic, libertarian tendencies can be easily corrupted. One person’s demand for power doesn’t necessary allow those who truly possess it to transfer it to some sort of power account. Much like money itself, power often takes on the form of debt. As has been the case since the popularisation of individual rights around the time of the Renaissance, to demand individual autonomy can also give those with all the power the permission to simply relinquish responsibility for the sake of profit.

In this sense, what we are witnessing is arguably a replay of individualism’s initial emergence. For the last few decades, we have been living through the turbulent new age of digital individualism. Though “individualism” is a term that generates a predictable scorn today, as a core pillar of neoliberal capitalism, the early years of its development were then, and are now still, far from straightforward.

The Bruckhardt theory of the individual’s development, for example, argues that individualism is an inadvertent by-product of despotism. The divine sovereignty of a given ruler rubs off on those around them. Proximity to power gives oneself power. This is first visible in the arts, which starts to produce images of the liberal self about a century before it was formulated by Descartes, Locke, et al. But this understanding of the self trickled down all the way to the bottom. Soon we had Protestantism, and before long, those on the bottom rungs of the social ladder began to develop senses of self that were set apart from their servitude to higher powers, culminating, most explosively, in the German Peasants’ War.

Individualism and Protestantism, etc., are far from societal goods in and of themselves. Protestantism, for example, asserted that a person’s fate before God was down to them alone, and could not be bought through fealty to a corrupt institution like the Catholic church, which at that time was offering “cash for absolution” deals to the wealthiest in society. This assertion may have fractured the power of Catholicism — in Germany especially at that time — but it also encouraged a new selfishness among the powerful, who could suddenly get away with taking less responsibility for their serfs or workers — something that persists in our contemporary understanding of a “Protestant work ethic”.

Still, this new sense of individual consciousness also produced a new sense of class consciousness as society began to transition out of feudalism. Friedrich Engels would later argue that this war was the first spark of communist sentiment in Europe, later echoed in the French and Russian revolutions but never fully actualised. It was a legacy Marx also traced through the German Ideology and later developed in Capital, noting how the emergence of “private property” had to be curtailed by capitalism at large — “the negation of negation” — unless individual ownership was universalized and gave way to a new kind of social ownership.

Technologically speaking, the new innovations that accelerated this societal shift were the development of frontal perspective in painting and the printing press. The press in particular introduced a new compromise. It brought about a new era of cultural abundance, but it also put more pressure on the individual. The success of a particular printing, for example — whether of a book or artwork, etc. — became wholly dependent on the fame of the individual who produced it. It was no longer the case that a talented unknown could sell a one-off to a rich patron and live off the proceeds. Abundance intensified the role of the individual in cultural production — something we’re continuing to live with today.

I see these same dynamics at play in the battle over Web3 and the idea of NFTs, albeit unfurling much less dramatically in space. (Note to self: sci-fi story about the NFT Wars of the 2040s?) Yes, it arguably challenges the notion of digital abundance, but it also challenges the individual, with more emphasis being put on the object than who made it. NFTs and Web3 stir the pot, putting more emphasis on the community than we currently have done for — arguably — centuries! But there’s also a sense that we’re re-inscribing the individual and the politics of the digital press. It isn’t certain if we’re leaving Web 2.0 by politically and ideologically pushing forwards or moving backwards or by engaging in some twisted combination of the two.

Many contemporary theorists have argued we are living in an age of neo-feudalism, for example, but Web3 suggests this phase will be short-lived. Indeed, technologically speaking, Web3 contains all the same tensions of individual sovereignty and symbolic vulnerability as the printing press introduced into society, and NFTs start to reflect concurrent changes in subjectivity in much the same way the reproducible work of art did. Consider someone like Albrecht Dürer, who embraced the new image of the self as a prolific producer of self-portraits, embracing the printing press also as a way to fund his activities and travels, providing him with the time and resources to radically influence the pool of human knowledge. He too would become disillusioned by the squandered potential of the instruments and perspectives he had used to revolutionize the European art world, but that squandering does not undo the fact that these technologies had — at least partially — given individual artists an unprecedented sense of autonomy, no longer dependent on the patronage of powerful institutions and the aristocracy, providing them with an unprecedented economic stability and a way to bring art and knowledge of the natural world to the masses in a new way. Still, these technologies also introduced new forms of co-option, ensuring their newfound freedom was ever more dependent on an emergent set of capitalist ideals. Nothing was clear cut. Capitalism was then a parasitic mite that attached itself to these advances. It continues to.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can denounce such artists for not seeing the writing that was actively being scribbled on the wall, to distracted by the good things these technologies did for them, but we should remember how much hope was attached to that moment, as an older and far more explicitly oppressive form of socio-economic system was made steadily redundant. That is also what lies in store for us now, I think. Though an embrace of this new technological landscape seems like reneging on prior principles of communal abundance, we should be aware that this digital world has connected us but it has not equalized us. On the contrary, we are more unequal and exploited than ever before, to the extent that we’re basically all engaged in digital labour 24/7 — doing things that generate profit for other companies — and seem wholly incapable of recognising it as such.

See, for example, this recent article by Caleb Sharf which, as one Twitter uses put it, argues “a species creating virtual worth by energy consumption hasn’t got a lot of survival potential.” But I fail to see how this is any different to how Web 2.0 is being used to extract value from our predilection for constantly sharing? This is a real issue — don’t get me wrong. But it was already an issue, and will remain so even if NFTs are beaten back into the worthless underground where they supposedly belong. There is no inherent value in all these images of cats, for instance, but we nonetheless expend energy circulating them to bring a little joy here and there but mostly to generate ad revenue for platform giants.

The most basic thing an NFT does to interrupt this process is make that image a far more explicit commodity, rather than dishonestly and implicitly suggesting it is digital ephemera with no value. (If that were true, memes and virality wouldn’t be such a big concern for corporate marketing departments.) Rather than letting that cultural object be exploited by opportunistic platforms, in principle it makes its digital objecthood explicit. Because that’s the other thing a lot of people misunderstand about our contemporary cybercultures. We think NFTs are allowing the market to capture cultural non-objects. On the contrary, they are insisting on the objecthood of images that circulate around a space that platform giants don’t want you to recognise as a market. Revealing their digital objectivity illuminates the market that stalks them. The going-mainstream of crypto has forced all other manipulations hiding in plain sight into the clear light of day.

All this is to say that main problem with critiques of NFTs (and, indeed, with a lot of NFT culture in itself) is that, more often than not, it amounts to little more a commentary on all that is wrong with the non-crypto present. As a result, the worst thing anyone can say about how some people use NFTs is that they do explicitly, and for the benefit of certain individuals or “content creators”, what platform capitalism has been doing to all of us for years. But all this does is illustrate our complacency with regards to how things have been for a long time, that we only kick off when the worst of our Web 2.0 or late-capitalist tendencies are transplanted into a new space. Most of those with a real (cultural) investment in these spaces aren’t interested in that kind of thing, precisely because it is nothing more than a graft of our hegemonic political imaginary onto a novel new piece of technology.

All that aside, it remains true that the increased accessibility of Web3 technologies does have the potential to facilitate new ways for us to carve out new political communities in cyberspace. It doesn’t — shouldn’t; mustn’t — all look like Bored Ape bullshit.

Still, at the moment, as I’ve said, it is hard to retain optimism for this technology. The communities that dominate the headlines could not be less culturally interesting. But that isn’t down to the technology in itself. To turn again to James Bridle:

The problem created by blockchain, and dramatised by Bitcoin, is fundamentally inseparable from the political situation it emerged from: the eternal battle between power structures and individual rights. The solution to this problem is not to be found in the technology alone, but in radically different political imaginaries.

The person who wrote the tweet above clearly understands this, and remains beholden to the kinds of radically different political imaginary that found a home on the early internet. The point now is that we need new ones. The world is changing, both on- and offline, but our imaginations are slow to catch up. Without an insistence upon it proceeding otherwise, Web3 will be (and is being) used to replicate the pre-existing cultural hegemony of Funko-Populist finance bros. (My day job has had me proofreading lots of internal documents at some big banks about the independence implications of investing in crypto and it is clear it’s being adopted as an extension of their own closed system over there.) But there are a number of alternative visions out there — the latest issue of Spike Art magazine contains advocates for a bunch of them, who are both optimistic and pessimism about the current state of things. The worry I have, and that many others have, is that it may already be too late. What depresses me isn’t so much how NFTs are being used by the internet’s most naïve denizens, but that their idiocy atrophies the political imagination of the rest of us.

In that sense, the responsibility for our unabating digital dystopia lies as much with the mindless naysayers as it does mindless enthusiasts. The narcosis of an old digital radicalism is developing necrosis. Something has got to give, but we need to realize that this needn’t be the communities we hold so dear. There is space for them to well and truly thrive in this new space, without generating profit for big corporations whilst struggling to survive for themselves. But to secure that sort of space we have to actively demand and carve it out, just as we did when the internet first became available to us.

Granted, there was a lot less resistance to our imaginative users of the internet back then. But that there is resistance ahead of us doesn’t mean the politically correct thing to do is stay put. In that regard, it is our complacency, not Web3, that will be the death of us.

Top Withens

A Sunday walk up the Withens…

This remote spot is closely associated with the Brontë’s, as Top Withens is often cited as the inspiration for the setting of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights. Although there are other buildings in the area that fit the description of Heathcliff’s home more closely, Top Withens and the views from it encapsulate the landscape that inspired the Brontës’ writing and continues to be a place of pilgramage for visitors from all over the world.

Oedipal Israel:
Notes on Oedipus Beyond Psychoanalysis

Oedipus is a tragic figure and a victim of a strange fate. He is left to die on a mountainside by his father as a child — a father who enacts such a desperate act of cruelty in order to save his own skin, his family, his rule. He is rescued by a shepherd, adopted by another royal household. When he grows older, he hears the prophecy that led to his abandonment and instead choses to leave his new family. He embarks on a line of flight and heads out into the world.

It is only then that fate’s twisted sense of humour comes to bear on Oedipus’ life. He unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother. When the truth of his new life is revealed, his wife-mother hangs herself and Oedipus blinds himself. But the cycle begins again. This time, however, lessons have been learnt, if the outcome is no less tragic.

Antigone, Oedipus’ daughter of incest, cares for her old man all the same, and embarks on a line of flight with him, later standing by those she loves beyond any other sense of loyalty to the state or to power. Born of a tragic and complex family, she nonetheless strives forward on her own and makes herself worthy of the things that happen to her, an enemy of the state but a soldier of love.

Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is a book full of resources for escaping our own tendency towards self-oppression. It is unfortunate, however, that these potentials have often been encased within their critique of psychoanalysis and allowed to go no further. Taken up by others, their critique of Oedipus leads many to (quite literally) throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should remember their argument is that Oedipus is not in himself oedipalizing — no, that function is found within the family itself as a bourgeois institution. But it is also only the first in a series of nested institutions that demand the same affinity.

I’ve been interested in Oedipus again recently as I have been slowly working towards a project — potentially a PhD — that tries to consider the orphan as a positive figure for philosophy. Orphans are positive figures in literature, after all; ubiquitous figures sent out on lines of flight from birth whose lack allows them to skirt the edges of social expectation and belonging, often making them innately radical figures who mix up whatever institution they are captured by. (Think Luke Skywalker and the rebellion; Harry Potter and the wizarding world; Oliver Twist and the London underworld; Superman and planet Earth, etc. etc.) But in philosophy and psychoanalysis, this lack is so often negative and totalizing.

Entombed within Freud’s Oedipus Complex, Oedipus’ tragic fate is replicated again and again. The lack the orphan or adoptee feels — the hole left by family — becomes a dangerous attractor to servitude. This lack becomes, in the words of Deleuze and Guattari, a “displaced or internalized limit where desire lets itself be caught”.

When I think of a situation where this tension is most visible, I can’t help but think of Israel and Palestine. In fact, it is telling that so many post-structuralists, interested in the psycho-political affects of displacement and escape, have long declared solidarity with the Palestinians, from Deleuze and Guattari themselves to more explicit adoptees who affirmed their lines of flight, like Jean Genet. But of course, to many, Deleuze and Guattari in particular are dangerous figures who have been utilised by the Israeli Defense Force to further brutalize and displace the Palestinians themselves.

The distinction here should be obvious, but to many it is not. From the Nakba to the Holocaust, we are capable of recognising that both Palestinians and Israelis now hold a central catastrophe, a displacement, at the heart of their existences. Like any displaced child, they may hold onto knowledge of a far more sprawling family tree or history, but they themselves have been pushed off the map. They experience a lack at the heart of their being. It is a question of how we respond to this lack and the things we do in its name.

Just like Oedipus and Antigone, their situations are complex and resist reduction, but we can nonetheless see how the tragedy unfolds. The displacement of the Jewish people, whether from their ancestral lands or from Europe during the Second World War (because Zionism predates the Holocaust, lest we forget), also constitutes a “limit where desire lets itself be caught”. Rather than the family, this desire is captured by the Oedipalizing State, which, like the family as a social institution, restricts the potential innate to the displaced child who could have made a new world for themselves. Just as children leave the family to create the family anew, the generative potential of flight is made reproductive rather than productive in its own right.

Not all Jews are beholden to the encasement that Israel represents, of course. They perhaps understand their place in the world far better. A history of flight is a traumatic thing for any people to experience, but it sets you up well to assist in and offer solidarity to the emancipation of others. The productive nature of a line of flight is no less difficult to remain committed to, often setting oneself against the world at large, but it is righteous.

Zionism is the opposite. It is the Oedipal function raised up to the level of the state, which enacts the liberating philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari from the wrong side — not to free others from servitude but to perpetuate the trauma of displacement at the heart of their existence. Israel reproduces the trauma at its heart ad nauseum, rather than producing a new world in which others might be liberated from the sorts of tyranny they experienced.

This is the sort of anti-oedipal political programme that is elucidated by a text like Anti-Oedipus. It is a shame it is so often restricted to the first war it waged, against Freudian psychoanalysis. Its resources can travel much further, if we let them. In this way, it is a book that warrants a taste of its own medicine — free it from its “parenthood”, reconstructed by an academic oedipalizing process. Once achieved, it has so much left to teach us, not only in Palestine, but everywhere in contemporary politics, where politicians are elected on promises of change and escape only to replicate the tyranny of their predecessors in a more distilled manner.

The tragedy of Oedipus is alive and well in the 21st century.

For K-Punk 2022:
Robin Mackay’s ‘By The North Sea’

Towards the end of last year, Natasha and I were really excited to be finally planning an in-person For k-punk for the first time in two years. We were invited by Goldsmiths to be the main event, rather than just the unofficial after-party, and had big plans. Then Omicron happened.

As part of the proceedings, celebrating five years since the publication of The Weird and the Eerie, we invited Robin Mackay to present his long-gestating audio work By The North Sea, and we are really proud to still be able to present it to you.

Tune in from 20.30 London time next Friday (28th January 2022). You can watch the livestream (and set a reminder for yourself) using the YouTube embed above. Feel free to use the chat function too, as the premiere will be followed by a conversation between and Q+A with Mackay and writer and theorist Amy Ireland.

Intended as the fifth annual Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture, this event is now being hosted independently by Urbanomic in support the Goldsmiths UCU strike. You can donate to the strike fund here.

You can find more information about this project and all past For k-punk events over on our website here.

Thoughts on the Fisher-Function

The five-year anniversary passed by strangely, and I found myself exhausted and infuriated by that same old comment, made every single year like clockwork, that Mark’s final act was easily explained by his penchant for ghosts and his depression.

It makes me want to log off every January. Instead, I ended up embroiled in another public spat, with someone who claimed to be a reader of us both but who couldn’t help but profligate stupidities. The general foul mood these encounters generated stuck with me over the week since and irritated me at intervals, like a rolled ankle for the soul.

That it is somehow fair game to comment on the reasons for anyone’s suicide publicly is one thing, but what makes it so much more nauseating is that Mark would have hated this Romantic melancholy more than anything. Maybe I was a bit touchy about it. After all, at the end of the day, is there not a shred of truth to these assertions? Sure there is. But the speculation is ultimately dis-intensifying, because it will never be and cannot be the whole story.

Mark wrote about this very process himself, some twenty years ago:

There are of course many fates worse than death, and one is being posthumously canonised as a ‘genius’ who is ‘too sensitive to live’ by the same class who made your life unliveable, the very intensity of your life serving as an alibi for the mediocrity and complacency of those who necrospectively pore over its minutiae. Stay inside, because if you let go and you end up like Van Gogh, Nietzsche, all the madmen … Such, of course, seemed to be the fate of Artaud, who wrote so corruscatingly about how this process of disintensification-by-canonisation was happening to Van Gogh and who must have had some intuition that the same reterritorialization project was already underway in his own case. It’s via the Deleuze-Guattari Gothic materialist machine that Artaud can be sprung from his assigned (captured) role as a (new) Romantic tragic genius to assuming his materialist-efficient function as a neuro/mancer — an electro-nerve sorcerer, an abstract engineer who left behind diagrams, plans and maps for escaping the meat. “Even if Artaud did not succeed for himself, it is certain that through him something has succeeded for us all”.

The increasingly dominant tendency to flatten the intensity of Mark’s work is two-fold in this regard. Is he being appropriated by Kapital, posthumously commodified, as the market latches onto the intensity and popularity of his work? Unfortunately, yes. But the solution isn’t to abandon him and let it all go. Better to keep spreading contrarian Fishers — there are plenty — who rebound and reject any stable, unified, whole, singular subject. He wrote essay after essay after essay trying to do exactly that whilst he was alive. It’s the whole point of his Janus-like approach to the writer’s life.

There were (and are) a multitude of Marks. That is why it is a difficult to present the curious with a coherent and fully-developed appraisal of his thought — something which is true enough in an online space. All of his posts and essays and musings could never constitute a single book, or even multiple books. He could never be captured by an all-encompassing corpus. There are too many posts, comments, essays, articles, theses. They overlap, echo each other, unravel in conversations increasingly lost to data death. Some will appear academically opaque to readers today; others will be pop-culturally basic and outdated. All are necessary for not only reaching out to different groups at different times but also for pushing those same groups out of their comfort zone. But beyond the contradictions, the stylistic flips, the divergent intentions and audiences, there is a thread running through that still deserves celebration and understanding.

We haven’t really seen it discussed publicly yet. The Fisher who has been celebrated in recent years is the Fisher who was exciting and accessible, who hoped to inspire his students or readers of the music press to enter a strange new world with him. And yet, whilst the Fisher-man’s lures have been celebrated, the net remains broadly misunderstood, resisting summarisation. Indeed, the disparity between pop lure and theoretical net has led to one often being discarded in favour of the other. I saw a comment recently about his use of the word “subjectivation” in Capitalist Realism, for instance — an alienating concept for the working man, surely? But is “capitalist realism” not a concept? The meaning of which has been learnt through proliferation? Any word can alienate; any word can inspire — the best ones do both, and Mark sprinkled his work with these liberally.

What was precisely so exciting — so provocative, stirring and radical — about Fisher’s thought was its unruliness and its refusal to stick in one category. With nothing to prove to anyone, he was as comfortable spit-balling about low culture, engaging publicly in a kind of blogosphere water-cooler talk about whatever was on the BBC last night, as he was philosophising in journals, producing high-density texts with a Burroughsian irreverence for the nomenclature and a deep appreciation for the power of the word-virus. Neither was a contradiction of, but rather essential to, the other.

It’s for this reason that he opened himself up to capture when he was alive, unafraid of co-option, excited by the prospect of his ideas being spread further throughout the system. It’s the sort of act you see often in monster movies, where some kamikaze soldier lets themselves be eaten by the heavily-armoured monster only to let some grenades off on their soft tissue from within.

So don’t mourn Mark’s digestion in the belly of the beast. It’s precisely where he wanted to be. “[S]chizoanalysis = pop philosophy = rhizomatics = stratoanalysis = pragmatics = micropolitics”, he insisted. But tis is worth noting not as some rousing eulogy but as a question of strategy. Those who complain about his co-option are the enemy, filling in the mournful other side of his disintensification. “Is nothing sacred?” No. Definitely not. Get over it. Push through. Lie in wait. He is indigestible. Relish the backlash that attacks the one-dimensional figure and re-intensify with other Marks who still populate cyberspace.

Mark died one death in January 2017, but doesn’t need to die another one every year afterwards.