New Tenderness

The first episode of my new radio show, New Tenderness, will be broadcast on at midday (GMT) today. Tune in!

First thought, best thought… For my first show on Slack’s, I wanted to share part of a mix I made shortly after moving up to Newcastle back in March. It was trialed in friends’ kitchens and at home after work, with a new community of people giving me a reason to listen to my own music again, having left it to gather digital dust during lockdown. It was a lot of fun to make. In the future, more tenderness.

Update: You can now listen back to the show here:

Synchronicity and the Will-To-Chance:
Notes on the Ruptured Space-Time of Trauma

In every story I tell comes a point where I can see no further. I hate that point. It is why they call storytellers blind. It is a taunt.

— Anne Carson, “Short Talk on Homo Sapiens”

Carl Jung’s paper on synchronicity functions as a kind of astrological experiment; an attempt to bridge his now seemingly disparate interests in Einsteinian physics and parapsychology; an attempt to give some scientific grounding to “so-called occult phenomena.” He himself believed he had had a vision that foretold the advent of the First World War — a vision of “a terrible flood that covered all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps.” For years, even decades, Jung was reticent to put his theory into words, but he eventually did so, publishing it in 1952. He was not unaware, however, that such a book would “make uncommon demands on the open-mindedness and goodwill of the reader.” But in his work as a psychoanalyst, as well as in his own life, Jung felt he had experienced too many instances of an “acausal connecting principle” to let it go wholly uninvestigated.

What struck Jung was the scientific formulation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which made it understood that the natural laws of physics are only “statistical truths, which means they are completely valid only when we are dealing with macrophysical quantities.” At the level of the microphysical, however — what we might now call the quantum level of physics — or even at scales so large that they are still difficult for us to quantify — “prediction becomes uncertain, if not impossible.”

This has implications for our understanding of cause and effect, where certitude is ungrounded, rendered statistical and relative. Non-causal relations are nonetheless hard for us to imagine, slipping into mystical and paranormal territory, but “that does not mean that such events do not exist”, Jung argues. “Their existence — or at least their possibility — follows logically from the promise of statistical truth.”

Here Jung enters “the world of chance, where a chance event seems causally unconnected from the coinciding fact.” Thinking rationally, empirically, we can argue that such an event “is only called ‘chance’ or ‘coincidence’ because its causality has not yet been discovered yet.” But this is hardly a conclusion to rest upon — instead, it only further illuminates the limits of what we currently know or can prove.

It is this sense of illumination we might call, as Jung does, “a case of meaningful coincidence, i.e., an acausal connection.” The coincidences themselves might be explained away by a fluke of probability, but what fascinates Jung is the way that such a “run of events” might make “a considerable impression on me”, allowing them to possess “a certain numinous quality.”

Jung’s analysis quickly descends into an overview of various parapsychological and psychical research experiments — experiments with which we will all be ambiently familiar from popular culture: subjects guessing symbols on a series of cards unseen, for instance. He notes how many experiments of this kind produced results that “were distinctly above probability”, meaning that guesses were accurate more frequently than an prediction based on statistical probability would suggest. Though nothing concrete is proven by such experiments, to Jung’s mind at least, their indeterminate findings make these occult phenomena worthy of further investigation. Such meaningful coincidences, he says, are interesting because they “cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity.”

What remains interesting in Jung’s analysis, no matter how far it might slide into a study of paranormal activity, is his belief that, following Einstein, the space and time of the psyche, of the unconscious, are no less “elastic” and relative than space and time as they are perceived in our phenomenal world. He continues:

In themselves, space and time consist of nothing. They are hypostatized concepts born of the discriminating activity of the conscious mind, and they form the indispensable co-ordinates for describing the behaviour of bodies in motion. They are, therefore, essentially psychic in origin, which is probably the reason that impelled Kant to regard them as a priori categories. But if space and time are only apparently properties of bodies in motion and are created by the intellectual needs of the observer, then their relativization by psychic conditions is no longer a matter for astonishment but is brought within the bounds of possibility. This possibility presents itself when the psyche observes, not external bodies, but itself.

In my own experiences, the Jungian idea of synchronicity hardly seems wholly pseudoscientific. I first came across it whilst reading Nancy Newton Verrier’s The Primal Wound, her self-help book (of sorts) for helping the reader understand the adopted child. In reflecting on Jung’s concept, I remembered, for instance, how my biological mother and I both shared an escapist fantasy of packing up our bags and moving out to the American Midwest to become storm-chasers. As a teenager, her favourite pastime was ice skating and she played for a local women’s ice hockey team; before puberty trapped me in an ungainly and ungraceful rugby player’s physique, my favourite hobby was figure skating and going to roller discos. We found the synchronicity of these fantasies and passions between us both unsettling and amusing in their seemingly impossible specificity.

These coincidences felt like an uneasy ground upon which to build a new mythology. But how to tell these stories to others without losing faith or without provoking ridicule? How to tell these stories without slipping into fantasy and spirituality? How to rationalise an experience that feels, at its core, so irrational and mystical? At the same time, how to accept that these synchronicities are nothing more than coincidences? Or mundane experiences given undue weight by later reflection? To read into these stories in passing is no more rational than reading the stars, but the meaning gathered nonetheless is deeply affecting.

Still, I find ways to explain these coincidences away, as if to protect myself from falling too deeply into this mystical connection. In Hull, for instance, ice skating is hardly an uncommon pastime, with the city boasting the only Olympic-sized ice rink in the region. The city also has a long history of success in ice hockey, with the Humberside Seahawks becoming national champions in 1988 — an incredible achievement considering this was the very same year the team was founded. This success greatly popularised the sport locally, in a city better known for its rugby teams, during my mother’s adolescence and during mine. At the same time, my fascination with tornadoes no doubt comes from a childhood spent watching the 1996 film Twister over and over again — a film that was pop-culturally significant for many. But there is also something symbolic in this fascination, coming from a sense of awe at the destruction and confusion brought to communities under certain atmospheric conditions. I feel like I can identify with tornadoes, keen to study a thing of mystery and beauty that can nonetheless leave so much devastation in its wake. I remain certain that any psychoanalyst would have a field day pondering the shared significance of these dreams of ours.

But perhaps all of this can all be explained away by our cultural proximity, or simply growing up in similar social conditions? (There is only fifteen years between us, after all; barely a generation.) I would likely not think much of these coincidences were they shared with a total stranger, but they mean something to me nonetheless. They help populate a fiction, a mythology of life, and there is a great deal of joy to be experienced in telling some of these stories anyway, even if their veracity or significance is overplayed. They constitute a further mythologisation of a life lived in uncertainty and discontinuity. Sometimes such unavowable experiences can only be expressed through mysticism and poetry.

Though it is hard not to hold Jung’s thought before oneself with a healthy scepticism, the traumatised mind knows all too well how meaningful coincidence can dismantle its own functioning. Jung’s theory of synchronicity, no matter how forcefully he may attempt to back it up with science, is surely mad. But madness is the perfect domain in which to make use of it, where connections between events are made unconsciously all the time, and where “numinous effects”, as Jung says, often “express themselves as affects.” Indeed, what is trauma, as a kind of psychic wounding, if not a free-floating and acausal affect, wherein past events are echoed inexplicably in present ones, not necessarily connected through space and time as it normally appears to us, but through the warped space-time of the damaged unconscious. A post-traumatic experience, in this respect, may not even refer to an event that is consciously remembered but simply emits itself from a tear in the fabric of the unconscious mind. Indeed, trauma is a wormhole, a shortcut between events that collapses thought under its density.

I try to think this through my recent unwellness, through which excessive feelings were brought forth by events that had no immediate impact on my life; or the subsequent detachment and dissociation, through which the mind, in an apparent attempt to protect itself from itself, denies the emergence of any affect whatsoever, allowing only a numbness that separates the unconscious from the lived experiences of a more conscious mind, transforming life into the shadow of a bad dream.

What is left to affirm, through such difficulty, is our own will. The will to overcome, perhaps, but also the will to chance; the will to face life in all of its possibility, for good or ill.

In On Nietzsche, Bataille explains how the mad philosopher “was horrified by the idea of subordinating his thought to a cause.” The sense (and tense) given here is one of present and future — a nod to the idea later quasi-actualized by Nietzsche’s sister, attaching his philosophy to Nazism like cart to a horse. But we also find in Nietzsche an expressed affirmation of indeterminism, reaching far into the past as well.

“Did my ‘a priori‘ want this of me?” Nietzsche exclaims in the preface to On the Genealogy of Morality. His thought often considers how it is we have come to think and reason thus. He later asks, however, time and again, how we might still come to think otherwise, through our own sheer force of will.

But the will is a complex thing. It is not so easily contained by how we might otherwise imagine it: a linear direction of thought, thrust ahead of us like a sword; the sovereignty of thought and action combined into some unitary entity. On the contrary, at the level of what we might call the microphysical, will is multiplicitous, schizophrenic, polyvocal, making connections wherever it pleases.

Deleuze makes reference to this explicitly in his book Nietzsche and Philosophy. He writes that the “being of force” — any force — “is plural.” It is never a case of a singular force acting upon some indifferent object. (Jung’s interest in the relation between contemporary physics and the unconscious mind returns here.) “Every force is thus essentially related to another force.” It is Newton’s first law of motion: there is no inertial observer within the interplay of forces. As Deleuze continues, there is always a “hierarchy, that is to say the relation of a dominant to a dominated force, of an obeyed to an obeying will.” He adds: “The sense of something is its relation to the force which takes possession of it, the value of something is the hierarchy of forces which are expressed in it as a complex phenomenon.”

“Sense” might be understood here as the “truth” of something, or rather another kind of “essence”, which is not so much intrinsic to force but how a force is relatively understood. For something to “make sense” to us, then, we must first recognise certain familiar signs that are perceptible to us within it. Signs, it must be said, can be objective or subjective. We must all learn the signs that mark our roads if we are to drive, for instance, attuning ourselves to a common sense, but we can — and, indeed, do, whether we like it or not — also develop ways of being that are wholly our own, formed by the chance repetition of other signs that accost us.

When Jung writes of meaningful coincidences, he writes of signs that he alone (perhaps) has attached a certain significance to. He writes of repeatedly coming across fish, for example, in actuality and symbolically, as he undertakes a study of the symbolism of fish throughout history. We can explain this away by saying that he is simply more sensitive to the appearance of the fish sign in his studiousness, but he is also only studying fish because their symbology seems oddly ubiquitous to him, in various cultures and their histories. He finds himself not in a relation of cause and effect, but a symbolic feedback loop, where experience gives rise to metaphor and metaphor, in turn, comes to shape experience. It is not, then, so simply a case of cause and effect but, as Jung himself writes, of things “falling together in time.”

It is perhaps in this same sense that we can understand Deleuze’s comment, when writing on Marcel Proust, that signs “are the object of a temporal apprenticeship, not of an abstract knowledge.” Signs are themselves multiplicitous, resistant to a compartmentalisation into a general system of knowledge. He writes:

From one moment to the next, [signs] evolve, crystallize, or give way to other signs. Thus the apprentice’s task is to understand why someone is ‘received’ in a certain world, why someone ceases to be so, what signs do the worlds obey, which signs are legislators, and which high priests.

Jung seems to understand this intuitively, but still he attempts to fold the non-sense of synchronicity into a general theory of the collective unconscious. But the unconscious, whether collectively or individually understood, surely always remains multiplicitous. Jung’s sense of the “collective” becomes paradoxically unitary, as he places “meaningful coincidences” — “to be distinguished from meaningless chance groupings” — on top of what he calls “an archetypical foundation.” In his assessment of an “acausal connecting principle”, he nonetheless subordinates his thought, and that of his patients, to a set of primitive and unconscious causes — acausal causes that are acausal if only because they have been lost to time.

In his attempt to account for time lost, Jung defers to a natural — we might even say genealogical — set of relations lost to the conscious mind. But as Deleuze writes, “when we posit the unity, the identity, of the will we must necessarily repudiate the will itself.” The will’s multiplicity is lost. The acausal is restricted to causes forgotten, in the past, rather than a future unknown towards which any will must surely strive, even in its roundabout way. Perhaps this is inevitable, even a logical conclusion to draw — one arrived at despite all of Jung’s interest in the seemingly illogical and paranormal — but it also seems to undo Jung’s own interest in the relativity and unknowability of unconscious time.

Here, the usefulness of Deleuze and Guattari’s more geological sense of the unconscious in A Thousand Plateaus becomes far more explicitly useful. “We are never signifier or signified. We are stratified.”

With the stratification of the unconscious in mind, we can turn back to Deleuze’s study of Proust, which begins with the question: “What constitutes the unity of In Search of Lost Time?”

We know, at least, what does not. It is not recollection, memory, even involuntary memory… the Search is not simply an effort of recall, an exploration of memory… Lost Time is not simply time past; it is also time wasted, time lost track of. Consequently, memory intervenes as a means of Search, of investigation, but not the most profound means; and time past intervenes as a structure of time, but not the most profound structure.

There is no unity, then, between the Search and the time that is lost. Rather, there is only a multitude of orientations facing off against each other; a multitude of dimensions interlaced. It is in this way, as Deleuze writes at the start of Logic of Sense, that the central characteristic of the “simultaneity of becoming” — we might even say its synchronicity — “is to elude the present.” In this way, “becoming does not tolerate the separation or the distinction of before and after, or of past and future.” This is nowhere more apparent than in Proust, whose Lost Time may be behind him, but whose Search is nonetheless an activity oriented towards the future. To search for lost time is a paradox, an ouroboros, in plain sight, encapsulating the synchronous dimensions of becoming.

It is in this sense that “memory intervenes only as the means of an apprenticeship that transcends recollection both by its goals and by its principles.” It is less a process of recollection than it is an active and always unfolding reflection, of two dimensions of becoming — the first: “that of limited and measured things, of fixed qualities, permanent or temporary which always presuppose pauses and rests, the fixing of present, and the assignation of subjects”; the second: “a pure becoming without measure, a veritable becoming-mad, which never rests” — seeing themselves in the other. This tandem movement is complex, paradoxical, unconscious, but it is nonetheless legible, with the right training.

This is to say, as Deleuze does of Nietzsche,

that genealogy does not appear on the first night and that we risk serious misunderstanding if we look for a child’s father at the birth. The difference in the origin does not appear at the origin — except perhaps to a particularly practised eye, the eye which sees from afar, the eye of the far-sighted, the eye of the genealogist.

The eye, that is to say, of the semiotic apprentice of time; the eye that conducts the Search for Lost Time.

Diary Fragments

On Saturday, I plan to relax and then go out to see a friend DJ at a club in town. A post-punk night, she is restricted to only playing music released prior to 1989.

I sleep most of the day instead and don’t make it out.

On Sunday, I do not feel rested. I head to a coffee shop in Heaton to read and write. It rains periodically, clouding the neighbourhood in a fine mist. I set up at a wooden table outside regardless so I can smoke. The table is covered in a green film — some sort of moss or algae — which is activated by the moisture in the air. If it wasn’t so dark, it would be neon. It rubs off on my fingers. I rub it off but still end up with the taste of it, the grit of it, in my mouth somehow.

I try to read but feel nauseous, a little dizzy. My eyes feel untethered, oscillating drunkenly around the page. I start to write instead and the nausea subsides, my eyes more able to focus on the words as they appear, rather than the lines already inked to the page.

My hand cramps up almost immediately, but I write through the discomfort — a further distracting kind of pain.

I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination — so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it.

More than that, I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself wasn’t enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it.

Imagining life without the diary, even one week without it, spurred a panic that I might as well be dead.

Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness is a diary of a diary, or a diary of a diary’s end. She explores the same condition I am wrestling with and translates it into a kind of prose poetry, fragmentary and circling towards a void, where writing is finally, maybe, to be denounced.

Hypergraphia, the overwhelming urge to write. Graphomania, the obsessive impulse to write. Look up the famous cases if you’re interested. Nothing about them ever helped me with my problem.

I talk to my friend, who says I have inspired in her a similar compulsion. She flatters me but all I think about are the negatives. I am a lonely person to live with, I confess. I know that to be true. It has been said repeatedly. Home is where I write, or where I flee from when the compulsion takes me — either way, if there is not an event or social occasion to be engaged with, I sit with pen in hand or sleep.

I need to write, I tell myself, to make writing my life, because life itself feels so difficult to understand on its own terms. Writing grounds me. But in the same way that the sating of any addiction does not always lead to a healthy lifestyle, I am often aware of the things that writing keeps me from, the other ways that life might be lived.

Manguso: “I write the diary instead of taking exercise, performing remunerative work, or volunteering my time to the unlucky. It’s a vice.” She continues, explaining that she “started keeping the diary in earnest when I started finding myself in moments that were too full.” This too resonates. Writing as a way of grounding against nausea, against the overwhelm, that existential nausea of life felt too intensely (or perhaps life felt at all).

On the table next to me, the complete translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in all of its 800-page density. I want to read what she has to say about D.H. Lawrence, some 200 pages in, but struggle to contextualise her argument by dipping in halfway through. I start at the beginning, but it only compounds my nausea. The gravitational weight of the book, intellectually and as an object, pulls me apart, like a body drifting toward a black hole. This treatise on becoming unbecomes me.

I wonder how she wrote it. Was its enormity fuelled, like Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, by amphetamines? Was it the writing drug that fuelled the production of such density, of thought’s fullness rendered in its entirety? The book feels like the aftermath of a writerly explosion, that moment when the voided space of fiery experience refills with the back draft of solid air. It knocks you over, obliterative, a hard block of time.

A person’s diaries, if maintained long enough — Manguso says hers is 800,000 words long — would surely be even denser. But here time is recorded in another way, drifting, fragmentary, unhardened even when printed out. It captures, in Manguso’s word, an ongoingness.

Such an enormous tome, exploring the becoming of woman, the limits placed upon such a becoming by the social, the social conception of the body, the body of the work weighted, not so much becoming in itself but dragging me down, my back aching, too many books lugged around, this one the biggest, the weight of experience even heavier, nauseating.

I am nauseous because I am tired, I tell myself. I am due at my friend’s house for dinner in two hours. The coffee shop closes at four. It is four now.

I go to a pub up the road and nurse a pint, wondering whether I should go home and briefly nurse myself. I worry I won’t get up again. I worry I will have depleted myself and not make it home from dinner.

Writing again, the nausea again subsides. I feel it leaking out of me in other ways. The beer makes me sweat, my stomach cramps, but at least my head is clear, distracted, no longer spinning. Writing fills up the time of the present. The present is written and avoided. It bubbles up inside me, feels like wind. I belch but feel something solid hitching a ride. I fart into the mottled felt of the bar’s furniture. My body is working away at something unseen. It is bloated, a food baby from a pregnant moment, constipated time flowing irregularly. What a burden a body can be. Let me live, I think, to the body, keeping a frustrated silence, annoyed and not speaking to the mind.

Ninety minutes left to go.

Ninety minutes filled with the Women’s Euro finals. England versus Germany. So many blonde ponytails bouncing around the screen. Still the cantankerous old man holding court at the bar. The referee makes a call that is not in England’s favour. Impassioned but still himself, she’s a “useless old tart”. The German team are all “dirty krauts”. He cheers on the nation, on the women’s football team, with a broadcast that is perhaps the biggest platform the women’s game has ever received. I can’t help but laugh at how he slots this new experience into his hardened thoughts and way of life. It is fun to hear him so invested in the match, even if his nationalism and sexism is only partly dented in response. No new tricks for the old dog.

Dinner is lovely. I’m elated and a bit tipsy. I get the last bus home and sleep, but wake up on the hour every hour from 3am through to 4am, 5am and 6am. From 6am to 10am, I dream.

Some months ago, I dreamt that I was in Amsterdam, but it looked more like Miami Beach. I was staying in a beautiful-looking hotel with my Dad, but the room was exactly the same as my London flat. It had a stunning bar on one of the top floors where I’d go for cigarettes. But despite all of that, I felt really oppressed by it. I found the architecture stressful, the glamour of the place intimidating. I couldn’t enjoy it, feeling like an imposter or an anxious squatter who has found a spot to rest but knowing they shouldn’t really be there.

In the dream, I couldn’t sleep. There was a school group of teenagers staying on our floor of the hotel and they kept me awake all night with their antics. I’d go into the corridors to scowl at them. Lying awake in bed, I saw a man jump from the bar above and plummet past our window.

It was, in the end, a very disturbing dream, combining all of my anxieties around travel and sleep and death. But I forgot about it completely. It was not a dream that, I thought, had stayed with me.

Last night I had another dream about being on holiday. I bumped into a girl I used to date at university, along with her twin sister. It had been a decade since we’d last had a conversation and so we fell into that ripened familiarity, candid and cajoling, returning to a prior mode of relation, the frayed edges of which were protected by the distance of time.

They were going on holiday again soon, they said, to Amsterdam, and described a hotel in a region of the city that sounded familiar to me. I began recanting my previous dream in this one, then found myself suddenly before the hotel in question, which was named “Chaza”, and through which I suggested I could give them a tour.

Recalling the moment the body fell, I decided against it. I left them and went to the sea, and in the sea I woke up.

A Note on The Madwoman in the Attic

I went into Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination without too much expectation. I’d heard of it and was intrigued by their focus on the Brontë’s and Emily Dickinson. I’d heard it was pretty seminal. I didn’t expect it to be quite so outdated.

Lots of critiques have been written about the book over the years — many focusing on the familiar second-wave-feminist stumbling block of an overreliance on biological essentialism and other sorts of blinkers — and the authors try to address a few of these critiques in the second edition’s introduction, where they each herald themselves as a “madwoman in the academy”. For a piece of writing written in the year 2000, introducing a book first published in the late 1970s, it is striking how so many of their arguments (and the style of their arguments too) echo those that various TERFs now use to hold much of the mainstream media to ransom.

In considering their critics’ various positions, but taking particular issue with the poststructuralists that would soon surpass them, the pair argue that

the attack on the paradigm of The Madwoman could and did go beyond the content of [their original] metaphorical model (of the rebelliously diseased woman writer struggling to gain independence) to a post-structuralist rejection of any formulation that would lend credence either to the term “woman” or to the category “women writers”, a disavowal that necessarily makes it difficult indeed to do feminist work in a literary historical context.

This is seemingly to say, in a now-familiar TERF nomenclature, that you can’t even say what a woman is anymore. (Judith Butler predictably comes up a few times to receive some vague scorn.)

This point falls shortly after a repudiation of the work of Michel Foucault and his argument about how the self more broadly is formed. For Foucault, they write, “what replaces the self as a source of power are institutional regimes whose social forces shape people laboring under the delusion of individuality.” As a result, the ways that “[n]ineteenth-century literature repeatedly refers to the creation of the self … actually achieves — for poststructuralists — … the naturalization of this historical concept.” The self is a concept, an invention, which art historians in particular, many decades before Foucault, trace back to the Renaissance and to the trickle-down influence of a courtly despotism. (Jacob Bruckhardt argued this way back in 1860, in fact, in The Civilisation of the Renaissance, giving his name to what is now known as the Bruckhardt Thesis.) It is a clear product of liberalist thinking, and one they daren’t see critiqued.

Though they may reject this line of thinking, it is striking to me that so many of the women they later consider (in the book’s three-part sequel, No Man’s Land, that I’m yet to read, which focuses on women in the twentieth century) seemed far more on board with it, arguably inspiring — albeit under the still-obfuscating influence of patriarchy — the theoretical work that was to come. (Deleuze and Guattari may only rely on Woolf, but she is foundational all the same.) Gilbert and Gubar cannot see this. It makes the book very surreal now to read.

The book begins, for instance, with a quote from Anais Nin, who I have been interested in of late for her championing of an androgynous writing. But Gilbert and Gubar seem to reference her whilst wholly ignoring her interest in an androgynous literature, even quoting critics who would perhaps find such a writing abhorrent. John Irwin, for example, in Doubling and Incest, is quoted favourably for having said that

the relationship “of the masculine self with the feminine-masculine work is also an autoerotic act… a kind of creative onanism in which through the use of the phallic pen on the ‘pure space’ of the virgin page… the self is continually spent and wasted…

This may describe the chauvinistic work of Henry Miller quite well, but Nin’s too? They would probably argue she is just reproducing masculine tropes in her work, as Miller thought himself. But to my ears, this starts to sound a lot like the transphobic work of someone like Ray Blanchard, with his pathology of “autogynephilia”.

Intriguingly, despite this, they quote Leo Bersani’s A Future for Astyanax, in which he argues that “language doesn’t merely describe identity but actually produces moral and perhaps even physical identity… We have to allow for a kind of dissolution or at least elasticity of being induced by an immersion in literature.” So the question must be asked more forcefully: what is produced by a far more androgynous literature? Is this not the primary legacy of women’s writing under modernism which — as Virginia Woolf herself wrote, in what they too acknowledge as perhaps the founding text of “women’s studies”, A Room of One’s Own — calls not just fiction but woman herself into question? How is it not painfully obvious to Gilbert and Gubar that so many of the seminal “women writers” of the last two centuries would squirm under their own characterisations of what it means to be a woman who writes?

None of this makes it impossible for us to talk about a “women’s writing”, however, despite the pair’s fears. Surely it only makes the concept more interesting, for the ways that it changes literature as such more broadly, incapable of remaining a distinct subculture, as Gilbert and Gubar believe it to be, but having a clear influence on the literature in general, precisely by producing the elasticity of (gendered) being that Bersani calls for.

It is a sad and familiar story, which now feels even more overbearing in our popular discourse than it once did: yes to elasticity, they say, only to complain that now the rubber band of subjectivity has been stretched too far…

Sod it. Let’s keep stretching.

Storm Crow

There’s a new Mark Stewart track out, appearing on a forthcoming compilation from On-U Sound. Niall McCann has made the video and it has served as a bit of a soft announcement of a project McCann has been working on for a few years now — a documentary about Mark Fisher called Lost Futures.

I’m excited for this project to come out. I was interviewed for it way back in March 2020, just before the pandemic, at the launch for Egress at the ICA in London. I’ve seen a few clips already and it looks like it is going to be amazing.

Read more from the video’s press release below:

‘Storm Crow’ by Mark Stewart is a track made for ‘Lost Futures’, the forthcoming film in development about the life and work of the influential writer and theorist Mark Fisher, and is also featured on the compilation ‘Pay It All Back Vol. 8’, the latest volume in the acclaimed series of samplers from Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label.

“I first met Mark Stewart through the film we are making about the life and work of the writer Mark Fisher. Tariq Goddard (the writer and head of Repeater Books, which he founded with Fisher) had given me the names of people we should speak to and Mark’s was one of the first names on the list. As Mark Stewart and I began discussing the film and I told him I wanted to use some of his music in it because Fisher loved the Pop Group, he suggested we collaborate on a music video for a new track of his, ‘Storm Crow’. It seemed like a perfect fit, a chance to experiment and also a way of getting the news about the film we are trying to make out into the world. We are in the process of financing the film which can be an arduous process. We’re always on the look out for collaborators and champions for the project and if people who read this feel they can help in some way we would love to speak to them.

The ‘Storm Crow’ video is an attempt to visualise the ideas of Mark Fisher and combine them with music with a similar perspective. A playful experiment in matching his ideas to the music of Mark Stewart, recontextualizing old tv advertisements (which both Marks would have grown up watching) zombie movies, along with pivotal social and political moments which helped bring us to what Fisher called “Capitalist Realism” which is the idea that it is now easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

The vast body of work Fisher left behind explores Capitalism’s unassailable role in our lives, the closing off of any sense of a future different from the present, and the effects of this on us as individuals. His writings lifted up the veil and showed the world afresh to his readers, and that’s what is the core idea in the music video.

The film itself revolves around something which is central to Mark Fisher’s work: the future. When I was young the future was everywhere. It could be anything, it seemed rife with possibilities, for something better. Now, it’s only talked about as a more terrifying version of the present. This is a film about the futures we have lost and how we might start imagining new ones again.

We will use Mark Fisher’s life and his brilliant ideas as a guide through some of the most urgent questions of our time.”

Rizosfera has some more info too, with further comments from Mark Stewart, Obsolete Capitalism and Bobby Gillespie, who have also contributed to the soundtrack.