Jornada de Vigilia por Mark Fisher

A lovely event happening this weekend, with Caja Negra Editora taking up the idea of the Fisher-Function and throwing their own day-long event thinking with and through Mark Fisher, hosted by Club de Artes y Ocios in Buenos Aires.

I’ll be joining Emiliano Exposto, Mnemo, Tamara Tenenbaum, Alfredo Aracil and Ezequiel Fanego tp talk about my book Egress. You can find more information, as well as a full programme of events, on the Caja Negra website.

There’s No End

There’s a new documentary about Phil Elverum up on his YouTube channel, directed by Mattias Evangelista and with cinematography by Riley Donavan. It’s a really beautiful piece of work, documenting life more than anything, albeit through that Twin Peaks haze that Elverum has become so well-known for translating through his music and Tarkovsky-esque photography. It’s not so much a documentary about his work, in that regard, as the strange and elusive source material that he draws upon so wonderfully.

I watched the documentary not long after I received the bank-and-back-breaking delivery of Elverum’s recent retrospective Microphones boxset, completely everything, 1996-2021. I felt like an idiot for buying it at first. I already own half the records inside, and set about selling some of the ones I was set to duplicate, but there was something about it all coming boxed together I couldn’t resist.

I sat thinking about this for a while, trying to rationalise the purchase. As a teenager, I was already a bit of an Elverum completist, spending all my money on shipments from the Pacific Northwest, ending up with a lot of Microphones and Mount Eerie stuff in duplicate or triplicate — that is, until a few years ago, when it was time to make some space and the inflated Discogs prices were hard to ignore when I didn’t have a job anymore…

But that was always the joy of Elverum’s work, in lots of ways. The impetus wasn’t so much on me wanting to “have it all”, but rather on the shifting nature of the work itself. Though Elverum has put a lot of emphasis on the fact that he is both resurrecting and putting to bed an old project, for someone who lived through these releases the first time round, nothing about this feels retrospective — or rather, it feels no more retrospective than the first time these records were released.

All of Elverum’s work exists as a kind of living archive, with each new book or record or reissue not simply repeating and once again making available what was already in circulation, but throwing stuff back up in the air, putting it in tension with itself.

This was most obvious with an album like Mount Eerie’s No Flashlight. I bought the Guinness Book of Records “largest album cover” edition when it came out in 2005. Then, in 2008, a new “zine” edition appeared, which, Elverum explained, served “as a way of using up the remaining 114 records [from the ’05 edition] that had no corresponding poster/covers.” So a facsimile of the giant poster cover was Xeroxed together and new record covers were made with a beautifully tactile screen-printing process on the reverse of much old record covers. (Mine was printed on the “inside” of sleeve for the 2005 EP “SINGERS”.) It wasn’t a new edition, nor was it really a new pressing of the vinyl, but a way of making something new out of a something that was still left lying around.

This is what makes so much of the work still feel so alive. With so much of his output being autobiographical — or at the very least clearly informed or emerging from the habitual documentation by his own experiences — it has never felt like his own life was at risk of being exhausted. Indeed, to exhaust his own life, to be a completist about his own archive, would surely be to snuff it out.

I think this is why my “collection”, as it were, has always been shifting these last few years. At some point, I did regret getting rid of a lot of the stuff I’d collected over the years, but then I just indulged in reissues again. In fact, there’s something quite unique about Phil’s output. For all the Discogs fetishism around first pressings or whatever, Phil’s wholly bucks the trend. In most instances — excluding a few releases, like that first No Flashlight release — each reissue often feels like the best edition of that record yet. It’s out with the old and in with the new. For the presentation nerd, more so than the music nerd, every edition feels like an improvement on all the novel processes used previously. It’s Phil’s opportunity to flex as he gets better and better at his craft, not just as a musician but as a photographer, a designer, an artist, a curator of his own life. It’s a kind of industrial music in that regard, that takes such care over the production of objects but without the romanticism often attributed to vinyl in our postmodern age. These records are beautiful things in much the same way mountains are beautiful and websites are beautiful.

“There’s no end” is a perfect title for this new documentary, with all of this in mind. There’s no clear beginning either. The advancement of the past into the present creates a kind of twisted temporality that becomes more and more relatable the older I get and life gets more and more complicated; as the past has more of a bearing on the present, and the new tricks and lessons learned allow the past to be better understood and presented. It is a process that is far from complacent but wrestles with itself, denaturalising the enforced nostalgia of the present precisely by entangling itself with nature more broadly. The “natural” is not romanticised or fetishised in this sense but endlessly complexified, like a Spinozist or Stoic vision of the world around us, that is not totalising but responsive, as we should be.

By way of an errant conclusion, in looking through the beautiful book of scraps and notes and ticket stubs and artwork Phil presents with the boxset, I found what looks like an old business card / flyer, advertising the then-forthcoming Microphones record, It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water. In the bottom left, there is contact information for Phil’s musical home at that time, K Records.

box 7154
Olympia, Wash. 98507

I had never noticed this before… Now I’m curious, at least in terms of my own life, which k-punk came first… Certainly K Records, but then maybe one k-punk implicitly lead to the other… Mountains and websites… Mountains and websites…

XG on Horror Vanguard

I had so much fun with Ash and Jon the other week on their excellent podcast, Horror Vanguard. We talked about Mr Blobby as libidinal ejecta of the class war and as postmodern children’s soft play area having its revenge on suburbia — something of a riff on a blogpost I wrote back in 2018 that is still occasionally lifted skyward by the winds of popular culture.

I almost feel I must apologize for my constant snickering throughout this, but can you blame any of us for that? I haven’t laughed this much in the theorysphere for a long time.

Listen above and definitely go and check out the rest of their episodes over on Soundcloud.

Translating Silence:
Notes on Bousquet and Learning French

Has the time finally arrived? For years, I’ve been struck by that itch, common to a lot of people who ready and study French philosophy, no doubt: a resigned understanding that a lot of the best scholarship and further reading just isn’t available in English and is unlikely to be any time soon. So, best to make a go of reading and translating it for yourself.

Joë Bousquet has been the final straw for me, as he has come back to me time and again like a boomerang. He is famous for being injured in Vailly, a hotly contested region on the border of France and Switzerland, just six months before the end of the First World War. Though he survived, he became a paraplegic, suffering from chronic pain. A short biography prefacing a Gallimard edition of one of his books reads:

On 27 May 1918, a bullet hit him, severing his spinal cord. At the age of twenty-one, he began a life of immobility. From 1924 until his death, he lived in Carcassonne in “the room with the closed shutters”. It was there that he undertook to “naturalise his wound”.

Bedbound and shrinking from the light of the world, he embarked on the writer’s life, surrounding himself with books, writing poetry and prose, filling dozens of notebooks and sending copious letters, corresponding with some of the best-known (or otherwise notorious) writers and artists of the day, particularly the Surrealists. He soon became an important writer in his own right.

My interest in him was first piqued by Deleuze’s infrequent references to his works, and his wounding, particularly in the “Twenty-First Series of the Event” from Logic of Sense. It’s my favourite chapter of that book, and I’ve drawn on it many times. Fully elucidating his stoicism, Deleuze writes:

We are sometimes hesitant to call Stoic[ism] a concrete or poetic way of life, as if the name of a doctrine were too bookish or abstract to designate the most personal relation with a wound. But where do doctrines come from, if not from wounds and vital aphorisms which, with their charge of exemplary provocation, are so many speculative anecdotes? Joe Bousquet must be called Stoic. He apprehends the wound that he bears deep within his body in its eternal truth as a pure event. To the extent that events are articulated in us, they wait for us and invite us in. They signal us: “My wound existed before me, I was born to embody it.” It is a question of attaining this will that the event creates in us; of becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us, the Operator…

It is a passage that I think problematises much of his philosophy, and I am particularly interested in exploring how this sentiment unfurls in his numerous other references — not least in Oedipus, who surely does this exquisitely, if also disastrously and tragically. Though anti-Oedipal, Deleuze’s philosophy seeks out other ways to meet your destiny.

But there’s something about this orientation that isn’t just defeatist, accepting one’s fate, but rather, as Nietzsche would argue, loving one’s fate for the intensities that it produces within you. This is true enough of “the Genius of Òc”, in the words of Renat Nelli, referring to the cultural history of Provence and the Languedoc-Roussillon, where Bousquet lived and died. Born in Narbonne and spending his life in Carcassonne, he was closely associated with the region and its literary explosion, centring on the radical literary journal, the Cahiers du Sud. Particularly during and after the Second World War, the land of the troubadours once again became an artistic retreat; a hotbed for French modernisms. Indeed, despite being subsumed within Vichy France, it was arguably the very occupation that allowed so many to experiment with new modes of expression and resistance — as both militants and artists.

I became newly fascinated with this period after spending time in the Roussillon at the end of summer, 2021. I spent a lot of summers there as a kid too, as my parents had a dream of retiring out there, which they sadly never realised. Its cultural history fascinates me — its in-betweenness; the cultural bravado of the French Resistance, whose militancy still bubbles under the surface of an area otherwise known for its popularity among the rich and famous; its status as a contested land, historically part of Catalonia; the region where Ezra Pound and Walter Benjamin both walked, one seeing the birth of a new world and the other the end of the old one.

In fact, I’d really love to write a book about it one day (if I ever again find the time). I feel like I’ve gathered up all these stories about strange cultural encounters in the South of France that could fit together into a wonderfully weird little travelogue — the Fauves in Collioure, the Cubists in Ceret, Claude Simon sailing on noumenal winds, Bataille at the caves of Lascaux, Benjamin’s route to Catalonia, Bousquet’s bed in Carcassonne, the Holy Grail at Rennes-le-Chateau, and so many more. It paints the peculiar picture of a region perhaps most famous for its medieval lyric poetry but where, strangely, no more songs are sung of its more recent (oc)cultural history (at least outside of France and its academy).

These serendipitous encounters aside, I also keep returning to Bousquet every time I think about my old essay, “The Primal Wound”. I’ve wanted to return to it for a while as well, and although I’ve got enough on my plate right now, having started Lainging psychoanalysis at the end of last year, Bousquet’s very embodiment of his wound, which both made and ruined his life, makes him a figure I want to get to know now more than ever.

The only problem, of course, is that no one has ever written about him at any length in English, nor have they translated any of his works. So I’m left wanting to do it for myself…

A further problem — and its quite a big one — is that I don’t really speak French… My reading comprehension is passable, but that counts for little when reading such poetic prose as this… But i wonder if this could be an interesting way to learn, feeling it out. If I don’t understand the language, I feel I do, at the very least, understand Bousquet’s position and the place from which he is writing. So, perhaps I’ll start to share some stuff over the next few weeks and months, as I try to figure him out…

To start, I’ve picked up Traduit du Silence, a volume edited together from his various notebooks. This is not his Cahier noir, a volume of bedbound fantasies, of sexual and violent desires, which are far more infamous and scandalous. These, on the contrary, are far more introspective, focusing on that wound at the heart of himself. It is a silent void, the nonetheless deafening nature of which he hopes to translate into words. Below, the first few paragraphs, which I translated yesterday, trying to figure out the grammar and taking a few poetic liberties with the phrasing that I think better encapsulates the intended meaning — which I may be getting completely wrong, of course, but it’s a learning curve.

It should come as no surprise that this writer I’ve felt so drawn to is a bit of a goth… Here, in the opening few pages, we find a man who hasn’t yet come to terms with his wound. There’s a ways to go before Bousquet’s Stoicism presumably emerges. In fact, he seems to be at war with himself in these opening passages. And the battle unfolds like a Poean horror, in which his pain takes on the form of his double. But rather than being a shadow that follows him around, he is the shadow of it. This other “me” that determines him.

It’s all very melodramatic. I love it.

After a number of years, I have come to understand that the nature of things makes my desire for death into a law. Not because I am myself, but because I am a man. Right now, each of my sensations is full of a growing discontent that I will try to define over the following pages: I receive a mouthful of horror with every breathe, in every moment, which gives every act of my life an aftertaste, and with each taste, I feel a little more capable of describing this horror than I was before.

Through the perception of an object, whatever it is, I feel a kind of harm done to my thinking. The world in which I live is overwhelmed by the weight of the light – a light I cannot penetrate without all the thoughts becoming transparent and non-existent like ghosts. This world is grotesque, and it has to wear its absurdity on its face since, without knowing others, I can judge it to be imperfect. You can’t stay in the horrible light, under the hideous rain of rays, and if someone as hurt as I am still lives there, it’s because I don’t know which path to take to the night.

There is a night inside the night.

Some evenings, I feel touched by a kind of melancholy, a sad insensitivity. I feel inferior, then worthy of the mediocrity to which my life certainly conforms. I feel cut off from the world by an idea that I have of beauty. I don’t suffer; but I savour and think about my silence as if it were the perfectly appropriate expression of my inner nothingness.

I have a disgust for this “I”, because I know that he holds the reality of the world in his hands. I hate this “I” which, instead of forming me, determines me. For he is the unity of all my instants, but he abandons me in the midst of them, abandoning me to my thoughts – that is to say, he puts me face-to-face with the exterior world that is outside of him.

This is just a fragment, of course. I am stuck on the paragraph that follows the final one here. If anyone has any advice on best ways to approach this sort of translation — resources, guides, e-learning courses, etc. — I’d appreciate it. I don’t want my very rudimentary reading proficiency to get too much in the way here, and I am mostly relying on guesswork, a French-English dictionary and a little bit of Google Translate if the grammar boggles my brain, but I would like to take it seriously and find ways to improve as I go that aren’t so reliant on dodgy crutches…

(Getting better at speaking French will have to be undertaken separately, I feel… I’m awful at it… Rendered a silent bag of nerves when the opporunity arises… If I could find an excuse to go stay in Carcassonne or Perpignan again, at least for six months, and have a real go at it, I think I would. If anyone comes across an opportunity that might be suitable for throwing myself in the deep end and learning that way — evidently the best way — I’d appreciate that as well.)

NFTs and Open Access:
Promiscuous Communities

Last month, I wrote a post about “NFTs and Open Access: Power in the Age of Digital Individualism” that proved pretty popular. What surprised me, however, was the sheer range of people it appeared popular with.

On the one hand, it received acknowledgements from people working in Web3 that I respect and admire, and who I look to in trying to understand this strange new online world. On the other hand, it was shared by people with some weird NFTs as Twitter avatars that seemed, on the surface, to be the very people I was actively disparaging in the piece…

Here we find the flipside of the problem discussed. The initial post was inspired by a random tweet announcing that people into NFTs aren’t “in a community” with people who care about “digital abundance”, connection and equality. I argued that “digital abundance” isn’t a virtue in itself, since it has been — and continues to be — exploited by platform capitalism, which parasitizes the abundance we generously produced for ourselves and others for the sake of its own profits — profits that our “communities” never see.

In this sense, the way I see it, the function of NFTs isn’t solely about accumulation and scarcity. Accumulation is what platform capitalism does with our data, and if anything is being made scarce it is the profits that can be drawn from certain digital cultural objects. As big tech makes moves into this space, it is clearly because they want a piece of this market enclave, playing up a sense of “exclusivity” that was only ever flirted with to keep them out! But nothing seems to be settled in this space. It has interrupted who profits from certain forms of cultural production, restricting access from the global market that has gotten all too used to gorging itself, drawing on the productive potentials of each individual on social media for their own sustenance.

Of course, this is simply the idea(l) that some crypto projects long for. They hope to disrupt the process of shadowy marketisation, relying less on individuals and more on communities who control the income from their own activities for themselves, often allowing those who invest in their outputs to have some sort of input. To “invest” in a community through tokens or what have you is to be a part of that community. That’s not to say this is the reality at present. And it may never be the reality, as big tech makes furious in-roads into some spaces. But it is nonetheless true that there was small communities of people wanting to do cool things with this tech that are, for the time being, wholly off the radar or otherwise closed to the platforms that would otherwise passively capitalize on their self-initiated activities.

So there is a clearly progressive application for this technology that could be used by people who run communal spaces, in much the same way they are run IRL. I still carry a few “club cards” in my wallet for community spaces in London, and this is, of course, a model vaguely copied by big supermarkets and chain stores. But the idea that your Tesco clubcard sits alongside your membership card for your local queer space doesn’t negate the potential over the latter by proximity to the former. In much the same way, there is potential for blockchain governance to easily support those types of activity and make communal support for independent ventures not only go further but also remain wholly independent.

However, in the last post, I mostly focused on how berating crypto’s apparent “individualism” ignores this clear communitarian orientation. But the flip side is also true. Focusing on community spirit as an inherent virtue ignores how communalised capitalism has become.

This was something briefly outlined in an unannounced book I’m proofing at the moment, so I won’t cite or quote at length, but they make the argument that the way “monopoly capitalism” functions — and what is “platform capitalism” if not the digital version of this — is that it displaces the authority of an “individual tycoon”, replacing them with “a corporate ‘managerial stratum'” of executives. Essentially, monopolies, particularly those that are made up by vampiric conglomerates, buying up and subsuming all the smaller innovators, already follow a communal and often horizontalist model. It is not simply the case that individualism bad / communalism good, no matter what direction you’re looking at this from. Context is important.

But it is nonetheless worth recognising that some of these NFT clubs or DAOs leave a bad taste in the mouth because they speak like communal spaces but act like managerial boardrooms. Being able to distinguish between the two is important, for fans and critics alike.

Neoreaction and the Hyperreal

A short Twitter thread, expanded on the blog for posterity:

Charlie Kirk warns “the transgender movement is an introductory phase to get you to strip yourself of your humanity to mesh with machines,” adding “if you stop being a man, then maybe you can stop being a human being”

Originally tweeted by Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) on February 2, 2022.

The video attached to the above tweet is intriguing. Charlie Kirk’s fear-mongering about the “transgender movement” and its “transhumanist” attacks on “reality” reveals the bare face of mainstream neoreactionary ideologues.

The knowingly embraced paradox of neoreaction is, of course, that it is the new face of traditionalism and conservatism. It is conservatism but bigger, better and more postmodern. Though it denounces “postmodern neomarxism” as an attack on reality as such, it is driven by a complementary demand for not just the protection of “reality” and its norms, but the generation of more reality — a reality that is often nebulously defined, gesturing towards vague traditionalist tropes and exaggerated aesthetics. (Think about the much-memed figure of the “trad wife”: a beacon of “natural” womanhood with bleached blonde hair, big hips and big boobs — like a sort of European-coded fertility idol who cooks you dinner.)

This is what you find in the neoreaction’s renewed enthusiasm for high Toryism, Christian fundamentalism and seasteading Randianism on the blockchain. Each of these things fit the Classic Liberal pattern of beliefs and behaviours, albeit enlarged and emboldened. When they demand the return or preservation of law and order, they mean more law and more order. It is a conservatism that ironically progresses by generating more and more exaggerated responses to its own ideological supernormal stimuli. It generates moral panics by exaggerating social phenomena or events in order to legitimize its own exaggerated responses. The strange paradox of postmodernism is most visible through this knowing taste for an exaggerated reality. It’s what makes the familiar feel new (and vice versa), giving form to our accelerated phase of capitalist realism and its associated stasis. It is a quintessentially American preference for hyperreality — political reality as Disneyland.

We can see this clearly in Kirk’s exaggeration and conspiratorial conflation of motives. “[I]f you stop being a man, then maybe you can stop being a human being, maybe you can just plug into some sort of machine”, he says, assigning motive to “the trans lobby”. “This is where their control, their profit motive, is coming down the line.” It is especially telling that the only way he can understand the very idea of transgender identities is as just another form of “business ontology”.

Note how he conflates trans “control” — supposedly of opinions and behaviors through political correctness — and an assumed trans “profit motive”. This is how most major companies function, of course. (Though he seems to be against tech monopolization, casting aspersions on the assumption we’re all going to be controlled by “five companies” in our VR pods, Kirk is an unabashed capitalist.) The exaggeration of health benefits or prestige of certain products is a way to “control” consumers, convincing them to buy things, and subsequently driving profits. It’s the basic nefariousness of marketing. But it is telling that Kirk cannot think of any other reason why a group of people would collectively want something. He cannot compute the desire that transgender people have to just exist without concluding they must also want people to buy stuff. He has no conception of a “post-capitalist desire”; on the contrary, desire for anything must proceed in capitalist terms. Ergo, transgender people are in cahoots with a transhumanist Silicon Valley to get you to change your gender and buy VR headsets. (It’s called syzygy! Look it up!)

But this conspiratorial conflation and inflation of trans rights with big tech’s profit motive does nothing other than provide us with mundane insight into how Kirk constructs his hyperreality. By defining “transgenderism”, as an apparent political project, through his own closed capitalist mindset, he seems to tell us more about what he would do than what transgender people actually want. And the way he inflates and conflates is an integral part of that process. He extrapolates outwards from the logics of his own worldview to disparage the presumed outcomes of his ideological enemy’s desires.

“If I were them, I’d do this.” “God, that’s evil.” “I know right.” Not a single ounce of self-awareness is to be found anywhere.

This is, of course, how capitalist realism has always functioned. Though it may be ideologically static, it is not productively inert. When Fisher talks about our “frenzied stasis”, this is what he is talking about: the churning hyperreality of postmodern conservatism and neoreactionary politics, albeit at a time when things were a lot less explicit than they are now. (That being said, we find it presciently described in the work of Baudrillard, who Fisher has drawn upon from the beginning, before he’d even appropriated the term “capitalist realism”.) As he argues in an unpublished essay from 2013, “Rather than being defined by the disappearance of reality … the hyperreal is instead characterised by a claustrophobic excess of reality. Change can be imagined, but only as a metastatic expansion of that which already exists.”

This is how Kirk understands trans people. If they want change, it must only be through this same kind of metastatic expansion, but not of their world — of his. Unable to see outside of his hyperreal capitalist perspective, he tells us far more about the world he’s trying to protect than the new world his “opponents” desperately want.