Year in Review

It’s been an odd year… I’ve spent most of it doing the following: settling into a new city, Newcastle Upon Tyne; finishing my second book, Narcissus in Bloom; starting my PhD; and having a breakdown.

When I think about time spent blogging, I feel like I’ve actually neglected this space a lot this year. That has perhaps only been true the last few months, from late summer onwards. And it was certainly strange to use this space so sparingly. My life has revolved around it for around five years. And then suddenly, it didn’t.

Or maybe it is more accurate to say that I’ve simply used the blog differently this year — more diaristically, perhaps. As I look back over everything posted this year, the suggestion I’ve used the blog less than previous years certainly feels like an illusion. I’ve written about as much as I have any other year, albeit perhaps not on such a wide array of topics. It has most served a more explicitly therapeutic purpose than ever before.

But I think a lot of what has come out of this changed relation has been interesting. It remains so to me, at least. In fact, I’m oddly proud of what I did write this year. I moved into new territory and onto new topics and spent plenty of time feeling inspired as a result. I only wish I didn’t have to have a breakdown to appreciate the breakthroughs.

Outside of the blog, I think the most significant thing published this year was my introduction to the reissue of Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of my Life, which I’m also very proud of, as it’s not often I get to really flex my cybrarian muscles these days, sketching out the development of a given concept or idea (in this instance, “hauntology”) through a URL rabbit hole.

The last few months have also given me time to travel. Trips to London, Kraków and Málaga have been hugely inspiring in terms of building international solidarity post-Covid and reconnecting with a broader community of people who all share similar interests. (Something I do not take for granted, as the blogging life can be quite solitary.) I’m hoping there’ll be more opportunities to talk with people in the flesh in 2023.

But until then, as is tradition, here are all of the posts I’ve written this year, sorted into loose categories. Apologies that one category definitely takes precedence over all the others… But that’s just how this year has gone…

There’s a bunch of Mark Fisher-related stuff, as ever; a few posts on more general topics or current events, and also a few podcast / radio appearances. Seeing it all together, it looks like quite a lot… Weird to feel like I’ve distinctly slowed down… Time and productivity have lost all meaning, it seems.

Here’s hoping 2023 isn’t an utter crap shoot, for all of us.

Mark Fisher

Five Years [13/01/2022]
Disintensification-by-Canonisation: Thoughts on the Fisher-Function [20/01/2022]
For K-Punk 2022: Robin Mackay’s ‘By The North Sea’ [21/01/2022]
For K-Punk 2022 // By The North Sea [28/01/2022]
Jornada de Vigilia por Mark Fisher [15/02/2022]
“Maintaining Now the Spectres of Mark.” [20/02/2022]
Caja Negra’s Mark Fisher Vigil [23/02/2022]
Egress Review: “Un lenguaje común” by Óscar Brox [08/03/2022]
Notes on Capitalist Surrealism [17/03/2022]
Mark Fisher in Translation: Transnational Communities of Capitalist Realism [07/04/2022]
Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of my Life: Zer0 Classics Edition [08/05/2022]
Mark Fisher in Translation — Video Now Online [09/06/2022]
Desiderio Postcapitalista. Le Ultime Lezioni. [03/07/2022]
ポスト資本主義の欲望 — Japanese Translation of Postcapitalist Desire [18/07/2022]
Rob Doyle on Ghosts of My Life [26/07/2022]
Storm Crow [01/08/2022]
Mental Health is (Still) a Political Issue: On Mark Fisher’s Lost Futures at the Moth Club [10/08/2022]
For K-Punk: Ghosts of My Life [12/09/2022]
For K-Punk: Ghosts of My Life — Full Lineup Announcement [04/10/2022]
Resurfacing, Resisting: Capitalist Realism in 2022 [05/10/2022]
For K-Punk: Ghosts of My Life — Photos and Audio [24/10/2022]

The Time I Spent Having a Very Public Mental Breakdown and Manically Writing a Lot About Writing

Mundane Schizophrenias: Notes on Wounds and Degraded Ideals [22/02/2022]
Wound Stories: The Orphan-Unconscious in Harry Potter and Anti-Oedipus [09/03/2022]
Our Last Night Together [15/03/2022]
Home [17/03/2022]
Relationships and the Real: Thoughts on Desiring-Production as Social Production [15/05/2022]
Sex and Subjective Instability [16/05/2022]
Dreams of the Liminal [18/05/2022]
What Crisis? [19/05/2022]
The Maternal Return [20/05/2022]
The Problem of Love Unregulated [21/05/2022]
Masculinity, Patriarchy and the New Tenderness [22/05/2022]
Burn the Diaries [23/05/2022]
Coming Home to Self [24/05/2022]
Wounds [26/05/2022]
Strength [27/05/2022]
Negative Participation [28/05/2022]
Meatspace [28/05/2022]
Meatspace 2 [07/06/2022]
Cause and Affect: On Spinoza and Mark Fisher [14/06/2022]
Untitled (Three Days of Calm) [17/06/2022]
House Sparrow [20/06/2022]
Questions [22/06/2022]
Material Love [24/06/2022]
Trauma Self [25/06/2022]
Lion [25/06/2022]
Lost and Safe [26/05/2022]
No Transformation [27/06/2022]
Seeing and Seen [28/06/2022]
Reading [01/07/2022]
Knights of Journals [02/07/2022]
Taking Risks [04/07/2022]
Absurdity [05/07/2022]
Actualising Literature [06/07/2022]
Mind and Matter: A Note on Acid Communism [14/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part One) [15/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Two) [16/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Three) [17/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Four) [18/07/2022]
Deleuze and the Temporalities of Mental Illness [19/07/2022]
Sense, Sensation, Sensuality: Sex and the Body without Organs [20/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Five) [21/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Six) [22/07/2022]
Collioure [23/07/2022]
Discharged: Notes on Annie Ernaux and the End of a Diary [23/07/2022]
I Cried At Your Show With The Teenagers: On Phoebe Bridgers [24/07/2022]
Surfeminism: Notes on an Androgynous Writing [27/07/2022]
Ouija Words: On Sylvia Plath [28/07/2022]
Midnight Automatic [29/07/2022]
Writing After Silence [30/07/2022]
Unlatched Red Being: On Anne Carson and Phoebe Bridgers [31/07/2022]
Diary Fragments [03/08/2022]
Synchronicity and the Will-To-Chance: Notes on the Ruptured Space-Time of Trauma [04/08/2022]
Notes on Estrangement: Decreation and Ekstasis [08/08/2022]
Researching Sleep: Writing Lacunae [11/08/2022]
Coming Through: Notes on Solitude and Substance, Fashion and Poetry [25/08/2022]
Stigmatext / Statictext [18/11/2022]
The Meds Stopped Working [19/12/2022]


Vile Venerations, Past and Present: Thoughts on Blair and Colston [07/01/2022]
Everyday Authoritarianism [12/01/2022]
Oedipal Israel: Notes on Oedipus Beyond Psychoanalysis [22/01/2022]
Ukraine [28/02/2022]
Disestablished Orders: Notes on Abstraction and Empathy in Culture and Politics [02/03/2022]
Peterson versus Foucault [14/03/2022]
Notes Against Reading Widely (For a Pluralist Militancy) [15/03/2022]
Can Straights Be Queer? [31/03/2022]
Nomads of the Deep: Notes on Palestine and the Orphan-Unconscious [22/05/2022]
A Note on The Madwoman in the Attic [02/08/2022]
“En este lugar nunca estuvo Palbo Ruiz Picasso”: Notes on the Deterritorialization of Málaga [17/12/22]
Abolition of the Family, Abolition of the Individual: Notes on Anti-Oedipus [22/12/2022]

Film & TV

Spencer [03/01/2022]
It’s Mattel’s Hyperreality, We Just Live in It [31/01/2022]
The Demon of the Continent: Notes on Prey [12/08/2022]
Capitalism and Control: The Oedipal Rise of Steve Jobs [15/08/2022]
Drug War, Time War [13/12/2022]


There’s No End [10/02/2022]
The Spectre of Indie Sleaze [09/03/2022]
The Return of the New (Again) [06/04/2022]
Woodstock ’99: A Mismanaged Structure of Feeling [23/08/2022]
“New Mask” by NY Graffiti [03/09/2022]
Make It Nu: Thoughts on Modernism and Rap Metal [13/12/2022]
2022: Albums of the Year [14/12/2022]


Translating Silence: Notes on Bousquet and Learning French [04/02/2022]
“Joe Bousquet and his Double” by René Nelli [Draft Translation] [17/02/2022]
“Joe Bousquet and the Morality of Language” by Ferdinand Alquié [Draft Translation] [19/02/2022]


NFTs and Open Access: Power in the Age of Digital Individualism [24/01/2022]
NFTs and Open Access: Promiscuous Communities [03/02/2022]


A World Without Any Future?: XG at Kunstraum Lakeside [31/01/2022]
Anti-Oedipus, Pro-Antigone: XG at Unsound 2022 [29/09/2022]
Anti-Oedipus, Pro-Antigone: Notes from Unsound 2022 [14/10/2022]


2022 Slug [11/01/2022]
Friends are Good [11/04/2022]
Spring News [01/05/2022]
Transitions [23/05/2022]
Coffee in Crisis [24/07/2022]
Patchwork: A Reflection [23/12/2022]


New Year’s Day [02/01/2022]
Winscar [05/01/2022]
Haworth [09/01/2022]
The Royal George [16/01/2022]
Top Withens [23/01/2022]
All Centre @ Spanners [08/02/2022]
The Royal George II [11/02/2022]
Harlow Carr [16/02/2022]
Rain [18/02/2022]
Slaithwaite Canal [27/02/2022]
Move (Part One) [09/03/2022]
Iceboy Violet at the Star and Shadow [22/03/2022]
Move (Part Two) + Tusk Mini [04/04/2022]
Incursions (11/04/2022) [14/04/2022]
Armstrong Bridge [15/04/2022]
¡PASCUA! [27/04/2022]
Incursions (18/04/2022) [29/04/2022]
No Familiar [10/05/2022]
Incursions (09/05/2022) [13/05/2022]
Late May [16/06/2022]
Incursions (23/05/2022) [19/06/2022]
Saz [21/06/2022]
Tynemouth [23/06/2022]
Whitley Bay [23/06/2022]
25/06/2022 [29/06/2022]
Possible Hope [13/08/2022]
Beachfires [27/08/2022]
Kuba Ryniewicz’ Parallel Stories From Here [09/09/2022]
London [15/11/2022]
Sully x Flowdan [17/11/2022]
Marsden Rock [19/11/2022]
Blanchland Moor [21/11/2022]
Bonfire Night [23/11/2022]
Night Walks [25/11/2022]
Corin [27/11/2022]
Penance Stare + Divide & Dissolve [08/12/2022]
November [09/12/2022]

Essays Elsewhere

Chimeras: Inventory of Synthetic Cognition [19/04/2022]
“A Subject Cut Into Pieces”: Interview in The Courier [30/06/2022]
『無条件加速主義入門』Japanese Translation of the U/Acc Primer [28/11/2022]

Podcasts & Radio

The K Files Teaser Trailer [15/01/2022]
Blobtology: XG on Horror Vanguard [09/02/2022]
The K-Files: Episodes So Far [21/02/2022]
The K-Files: Episode #3 — “Who’s Pulling Your Strings?” [07/03/2022]
The K-Files: Episode #04 — “Have You Been Enjoying Yourself?” [15/03/2022]
Getting Out of our Faces with Zer0 Books Patreons [23/03/2022]
The K-Files: Episode #05 — “Terminator Vs. Avatar” [12/04/2022]
In memoriam Mark Fisher (1968-2017) — Radio Tribute on Österreich 1 [06/05/2022]
Dream Flats w/ Kitty & Archie on Slacks Radio [21/06/2022]
New Tenderness 001 [05/08/2022]
XG on “Behind the News” [26/08/2022]
Ghosts of My Life: XG on Horror Vanguard [01/09/2022]
New Tenderness 002 [06/09/2022]
New Tenderness 003 [04/10/2022]
New Tenderness 004 [06/11/2022]
New Tenderness 005 [02/12/2022]
New Tenderness 006 [20/12/2022]

Patreon Posts

XG Reading Group 4.0: Postcapitalist Desire [19/01/2022]
Blogger’s Digest #16 [01/02/2022]

A Reflection

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on patchwork. Years, in fact. But I still occasionally get messages or tweets that ask for an updated missive on the topic.

I’ve generally got no interest in ever supplying one. At this point, I feel much the same way about patchwork as I do about accelerationism. It was such a complicated moment in the recent history of the blogosphere, with so many possible offshoots and points of interest, that in the end, for my own sanity, I have just stopped caring about its latest mutations, and for the last few years have instead made attempts to boil the whole thing back and cut off the chaff to return to a long-obscured essence.

As such, the only way to think about patchwork or accelerationism these days is reductively. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound that great or intellectually adventurous or whatever, but I have seen too many minds lost to the sheer abundance of possible adaptations over the years. The multiplication of resonances helped no-one, and too many people seemed to catch brainworms by proxy with Nick Land. (I nearly did myself, and I’m grateful to my friends who consistently challenged some of my more manic bullshit in 2018.)

In the end, this persistent fragmentation only assisted with the (re)entry of reactionary alternatives to a thought that was being actively fought over in the years leading up to Trump’s election.

In many ways, it was like Brexit. Prior to Brexit becoming a reality, there were plenty of discussions on the left that were openly critical of the European Union and even advocated for a kind of “Lexit”. But once it was clear that this major change in our political landscape would be the responsibility of conservatives and reactionaries alone, there was no possible “lexit” worth fighting for. It became something to resist, if only to maintain a prior space of possibility that was rapidly being shuttered by an establishment that insisted it was the new punk.

If patchwork politics continued to interest me personally post-Brexit, it was because I felt (and, to be honest, still do feel) there are dormant potentials lying in wait in any future geopolitical fragmentation. In the UK especially, Scottish independence, Welsh independence, Northern independence are still movements that I find interesting, and patchwork itself (as a product of a Silicon Valley blogosphere) remained relevant because it was a thought that was attuned to the cutting edge of technological innovation and which sought to intervene in such spaces that have long been the preserve of Randians and the like. The purpose was always to enter into this conversation and try to inject (or otherwise uncover) some genuinely progressive ideas into their neoreactionary foundations.

But at a certain point, when the undecidability of these movements and moments was eventually closed off by a hardening of right-wing power and neoliberal priorities — with a few significant contributors to the discourse even shamelessly trading in their intellectual explorations in order to grift for the enemy — it no longer seemed productive to make arguments in that space specifically. So I stopped.

But that has not stopped the cycle of diminishing returns from continuing anyway.

To return to accelerationism, we can see the fallout of this trajectory continuing apace even now. Take the recent manifesto for an “effective accelerationism”, which has been doing the rounds of Twitter — a supposedly “accelerationist” retooling of “effective altruism” (a bold move considering how its source material has been so widely ridiculed lately).

After everyone had fun laughing at it a few weeks back, Nick Land endorsed it. But all the more reason, for me at least, to go back to the moment “accelerationism” was born — not the 1990s but in 2008 — in order to take heed of and reaffirm Alex Williams’ warning: capital is not the accelerant; “in its present form [it] is incapable of delivering anything but inertia”. Having too much faith in the process, even if we can make it sound cool and Lovecraftian, leads to little but a “dark/banal fall into mere neo-liberalism”. If the theoretical petri dish of the Nineties was to have any continuing relevance for the problem of a postcapitalist desire, which should be at the very core of any accelerationism worth its salt, then it remains necessary we think as follows:

Though we might wish to create a system which has had done with judgement, to ground the praxis (and here we return to the “sticky” issue of agency) necessary to arrive at this state requires the illegitimate use of the very devices the praxis seeks to erase.

An “effective accelerationism” will, ironically, be deeply ineffective in this regard, since it forgets this core tenet altogether, making it an “Emperor’s New Clothes” manifesto for a movement long since twisted beyond all theoretical recognition (even if it retains some Landian aesthetic markers and stylisations.)

Ultimately, no new accelerationism has been worth engaging with for years. The “dark/banal fall into mere neo-liberalism” has been as dark and banal as predicted. Indeed, this was already understood to be Land’s trajectory almost 15 years ago, and he has followed it oh so predictably. His approval today is no badge of honour. It only confirms the most obvious critiques of e/acc: it is the most pointless manifesto going; a hip bill in praise of the status quo.

(My take on this, restricted to Twitter, was grumpy and wholly uninterested in any sort of debate. That same day, however, I happened to bump into Pete Wolfendale in the pub — who has long been one of the best commentators on accelerationism — and he later sent over his review of William MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future, which can easily be extended to the half-baked Twitter aestheticization of this same approach in e/acc.)

Suffice it to say, it’s hard to stay interested in accelerationism these days. I still have half a book draft chronicling its rise and fall, from 2008 to 2019, that I might get finished one day. (I was also interviewed for a TV documentary about accelerationism earlier this year, along with a host of other very interesting people who’ve written about it at length and genuinely extended its proposals, but I’m not allowed to talk about that yet.) But as far as I’m concerned, there is no active movement worth investing in today. All that is left to do with accelerationism is argue in favour of a better historiographic approach and a proper archiving of the debate to date. But even then, I doubt it will stop the persistently diminishing returns.

If that’s how I feel about accelerationism at present, patchwork is even less present on my mind. Though it grew out of accelerationist debates, it was always a needlessly difficult uphill climb. I’m aware that I failed to convince many people of its potentials, outside a constant stream of impressionable blog spelunkers, and that is because, on reflection, the approach was all wrong from the start. In taking its lead from a neoreactionary obsession with “exit” and trying to change course, the patchwork discourse was doomed to fail, because it could never fully separate itself from and make something positive of its own critique.

It was an approach that failed because it did not contend with the myriad other debates in twentieth-century political philosopher (and more recently) that were having a far more developed version of this conversation than anyone in orbit of Mencius Moldbug was remotely capable of.

It is the same problem with accelerationism today. Though I can (and do) try to affirm Alex Williams’ always initially post-Landian reading, the problem of the post- is that it always remains tied to the thing it hopes to get beyond. And so accelerationism, as a contemporary and much-needed challenge to Land, has always ended up deferring back to his thoughts on the topic, despite the fact accelerationism, in its first instance, no longer saw him as particularly useful in the present.

Patchwork, on this blog, suffered from similar problems. It was always post-Moldbuggian, but as a result, it never shook off its Moldbuggian baggage. It was a conversation that would have been better served starting from another entry point entirely.

It is also worth mentioning the other dramas that were going on at that time, which were never sufficiently recorded in the online record. The death knell of patchwork discourse was undoubtedly rung by Justin Murphy, with his contribution to what was otherwise a really interesting series of events run in Prague doing little but piss people off and undermine the positive investment in another way of approaching patchwork as a twenty-first problem. Indeed, it derailed much of the discussion on the day in question, prefiguring a lot of “effective altruism” debates had more recently and setting a cat among the pigeons that proved to me more of an unnecessary distraction than anything productively provocative.

I’m not sure how well the video linked above records the discontent in hindsight, but on the ground in Prague it was reported that many people walked out, and objections to Murphy’s reactionary talk smothered any potential for a productive panel at the end of the event and wholly overshadowed the more interesting presentations given by others. It was a truly decisive moment, turning a lot of people off the topic, as well as making Murphy’s reactionary turn obvious to a lot more people, who decided they had no time for debating something he was involved with.

Essentially, the very thing that many were trying to intervene within and challenge was welcomed back by Murphy via his increasing platform, and what followed was a load of entryism that made a lot of interesting interventions up to that point seem moot. The challenges and heterodox thinking around patchwork and its more radical political potentials were driven out by an influx of people that no one had any sort of time for.

The discourse died a death soon after, and the ripple effect left a real gouge in the blogosphere as a whole thereafter. Cave Twitter — a Slack group that effectively revitalised the blogosphere, although it was later taken up as a generalised hashtag that a lot of random people put in their Twitter bios — was fragmented and basically disbanded. It was a real shame. The Slack only existed as a secretive enclave following a similar breakdown in relations amongst what was then known as #RhettTwitter, which was similarly overrun by reactionaries, and Murphy’s turn towards an NRx grift seemed to suggest history was about to repeat itself.

Forever stubborn, I kept writing about these things for sometime afterwards, until it became clear that the meatspaces my writing had gotten me invited to were increasingly populated by neoreactionaries and, at one pub meet in North London, a card-carrying Nazi. Online disagreements seeped into real life and I began to largely keep to myself because Twitter had started to have a negative impact on my mental heath anyway and I didn’t want it to take over my life offline either. (Nina Power remains a cautionary tale for what happens when the line blurs.) I drew a much harder line in the sand for myself not long after; I probably should have drawn it a lot sooner.

Fast forward a few years, however, and I can’t say I’ve fully stopped thinking about patchwork and the politics of exit/egress. In fact, their real life significance has actually become more pronounced post-Covid. After moving to Newcastle and more openly identifying as queer, changing my wardrobe to something that makes me feel more comfortable in a non-binary gender identity, I’ve come to realise the importance of a decisive exit from certain spaces.

I’ve discussed this with a lot of queer friends. A few months back, I had a strange night out in Newcastle that saw me traversing an eclectic number of spaces. I attended a noise gig at the Lubber Fiend, emitting big dyke energy in a hard-shouldered suit jacket and pleated skirt. It’s a mode of dress that I find personally very affirming. There is no getting away from the fact I’m 6″4′ in boots and look like a giant goth, but adding a softer edge to my wardrobe signals an inner truth that has long been discounted by myself and others. And nowhere is that sort of fashion statement more at home than a noise gig.

But afterwards, the night was young. A few friends and I headed out into the centre of Newcastle, but in navigating the crowds of regular drinkers, I have never felt more vulnerable. Waiting outside a takeaway with a cigarette as friends bought chips, I found myself been looked at and openly gestured towards and felt genuinely afraid for my safety after realising I was no longer in a safe space where I could express myself without qualm or question.

Talking to friends about this later, who were far more used to this kind of experience, the remedy to calm my nerves was obvious. Don’t go back. Restrict yourself to spaces where you can be yourself. Exit the normalised “club” environment, rife as it already is with sexual harassment and lairy lads. There’s no need to go there. Curate a new environment that is decidedly queer and where the risk of any encounter with someone not sympathetic to those experiences and forms of life is reduced to an absolute minimum. It turns out it is quite an easy thing to do. But it is a conscious reorientation of one’s relationship to public space.

This realisation was new to be only given its context. After all, many of the original patchwork debates were explicitly concerned with an exit not just from an established political landscape but also a tech-bro arena. In 2018, I wrote two posts on this, one of which is still regularly shared and cited: “Patchwork from the Left” and “The Ethics of Exit”.

In the former, I wrote the following in response to a critique from a fellow blogger who (understandably) could not see past patchwork’s reactionary beginnings and saw “unconditional accelerationism” as retaining too many Landian propositions:

… calling patchwork, as this blog has been formulating it, a “Landian unconditional accelerationist utopianism” betrays an ignorance of U/Acc contentions with (present day) Land and its distinct lack of any kind of end-game utopianism. Granted, this is a criticism of U/Acc more generally and one that has yet to be sufficiently addressed. In my view, what patchwork shares with the “unconditional” is that it is not preloaded with any particular rigid utopianism. It is a flinging open of all doors, allowing the outside — as multiplicity; as alternative(s) — in. For Land, yes, that “outside” is capital. For others, it’s “blackness” or “queer temporalities”. This language is not exclusively Landian and this blog does not treat it as such.

The latter post makes a similar point, albeit more pointedly:

The message of this blog has consistently been: other options are available. Solidarity without similarity. What the vision of patchwork explored on this blog emphasises is its inherent multiplicity and the example of a queer exit … is a perfect one. To socially exit into enclosed queer spaces is something that many people do for various reasons. Experiencing violence and abuse is one such reason; simply seeking a previously elusive sense of solidarity is another. It is also, we must acknowledge here, not a social isolationism. To enter a queer space is not to exit society at large. It is an attempt to find autonomy from within a larger structure. What if that larger structure, rather than being violently consolidatory and hostile to exits (of all kinds), was rather predicated on the possibilities of such fragmentations? The structure we’re apparently stuck with is so often “unjust” and all too often the intention of exit is separate from attempts to change that wider system. Activism is a large part of queer politics, for instance, but the central consideration is, generally speaking, survival. (But survival alone is, of course, not enough.)

I wrote each of these posts as a tellingly vocal ally. I have since found myself having a lot more skin in the game. And so, in this regard, my thought remains unchanged. But I also better appreciate today how pointless it is to tie such a political orientation (even critically) to the likes of Moldbug and Land.

All of this came back to my mind this week, as I’ve been reading Enrico Monacelli’s new book, The Great Psychic Outdoors, in the run-up to Christmas. It’s forthcoming on Repeater Books next year and is essentially a politically and philosophically astute history of lo-fi music. Indeed, it is sending me off down as many philosophical rabbit holes as it is sonic ones. What more can you ask for?

One particular reference that has struck me early on is to Paolo Virno’s work, and particularly his own understanding of social revolution as an “exodus”. Virno’s ideas on this topic can be most readily found in his 2015 book, The Idea of World: Public Intellect and Use of Life. (On picking it up, I have been kicking myself that I had not read it sooner, but it was only translated into English this year — coincidently, by my second PhD supervisor, Lorenzo Chiesa.)

It is a book that threads together many points of interest for the u/acc sphere. Each section of the book is concerned, in one way or another, with ethics and with our sense of our own agency. Part one explores the possibility of any ethics (and action) in relation to a cosmological view of our world, exploring the “unconditional principle” at the heart of our modern understanding of the world-without-us. Part three takes a biopolitical ethics (at once echoing Levinas, Agamben, Foucault) and gives it a more distinctly Promethean bent. Two central concerns of any worthwhile accelerationist politics, right there. Part two, however, is the most relevant here, in that is puts forward a “political theory of exodus”.

Here Virno begins from a familiar u/acc-esque position — one which routinely causes people to reject u/acc outright — antipraxis.

“Today, nothing seems so enigmatic — and unattainable — as acting”, he begins.

[T]he paralysis of acting is connected with some essential aspects of contemporary existence. It is there, close to these essential aspects, that we need to delve into — knowing that they do not amount to an unfortunate conjuncture, but to an inescapable background. In order to break the spell, it is necessary to elaborate a model of action that will enable it to feed on precisely what is now blocking it. The interdiction itself is to be transformed into a laissez-passer.

It is precisely an exit, an egress, an exodus that is to be affirmed here. Indeed, we can understand Laissez-passer as a “pass”, a “permit”… We might think of it as a kind of “hall pass”, in this regard. Playing the system to attain a period of leave, which is then exploited to play truant indefinitely. (As an aside, can we not see how this paragraph echoes perfectly Alex Williams’ post-Landian politics of a speculative realism? A “praxis [that] requires the illegitimate use of the very devices the praxis seeks to erase”?)

This truancy — particularly its seizing of a more absolute flouting of rule and law — can be directly correlated to Virno’s exodus. He writes: “I call Exodus the mass defection from the State, the alliance between general intellect and political action, and the transit towards the public sphere of the Intellect.” Indeed, Virno has a particular conception of public intellectual life — that is, a kind of common sense or shared “intellect-in-general“. He affirms the bugbear of many an activist, the separation of theory and praxis, in order to emphasise the ways that political action and its strategies can be inherently confined to the logics of the state in general.

Pure theory and pure intellect may at times feel far removed from everyday life, but such is the point of theory. It allows us to go further out, to think more radically than the playing field of political action — which so often reduced to a “political labour”, Virno argues — often allows us to. This is not to create a hierarchy between one and the other, however, as if political action is therefore lesser. Not at all. Instead, the boldness of our intellect, untethered from its “general” application, can make our actions even more radical. The two exist at a necessary distance from each other, in the sense that each goads the other out of any space of comfort, tucked alongside the modus operandi of the State and its laws.

Thus, the term [Exodus] does not at all point at a miserable existential strategy, exiting on tiptoes from the backdoor, or searching for a sheltering hole. On the contrary, what I mean by ‘exodus’ is a model of thorough action, one that is capable of confronting the ‘ultimate things’ of modern politics … today we need to delimit anew the field of common affairs.

Virno continues:

Exodus is the foundation of a Republic. But the very idea of ‘republic’ requires a dismissal of the state system. The political action of exodus therefore consists of a resourceful withdrawal. Only those who open a way out are able to found something; but, vice versa, only those who found something manage to find the crossing that will enable them to leave Egypt.

On this point, Virno shares a common reference with many of patchwork’s reactionary adherents: Albert O. Hirschman’s 1970 work Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Indeed, Hirschman’s conception of “exit” is one of the most promiscuous parts of his theory. Virno, however, moves in a direction similar to those of us who approached patchwork from the left, echoing the “lines of flight” advocated by Deleuze and Guattari:

Nothing is less passive than flight. The ‘exit’ modifies the conditions within which the confrontation takes place, instead of presupposing them as an unmovable horizon — it changes the context in which the problem arose, instead of tackling the problem by choosing one or the other expected alternative. In short, the ‘exit’ consists in an audacious invention that alters the rules of the game and makes our adversary lose his bearings.

Silicon Valley types, like Moldbug, love this perspective. It allows them to fantasise about LARPing Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The “resourceful withdrawal” is one of withdrawing their capital. Governments hate it when big corporations do that, choosing to operate out of tax havens, for instance, rather than “contributing” to a given state economy more directly. It is an easy way of effectuating policy and no one ever seems to pay it much mind. It’s all just corporate leveraging…

But we need only look everywhere around us right now, in the UK at least, to see how differently a “resourceful withdrawal” from below is treated. Unfairly paid and working in declining conditions, workers can withdraw their labour. But this way of changing the rules of the game is demonised far more often by the establishment, precisely because it comes from below.

Virno affirms this kind of withdrawal, harking back to his intellectual roots with Autonomia. He describes how a young workforce in 1970s Italy

contradict[ed] all expectations, preferr[ing] precariousness and part-time work over permanent jobs in large companies. Albeit only for a short time, occupational mobility functioned as a political resource, causing the eclipse of industrial discipline and permitting a certain degree of self-determination. Even in this case pre-established roles were deserted and a ‘territory’ unknown to official maps was colonized.

Of course, at a time when precariousness has been seized upon and exploited by capitalism and leveraged the other way, Virno updates this sense of exodus accordingly:

Defection is the opposite of the desperate ‘You have nothing to lose but your chains’; instead, it hinges on a latent richness, an exuberance of possibilities, and ultimately the principle of the tertium datur. But, in the post-Fordist age, what is the virtual abundance that elicits the option of flight to the detriment of the option of resistance? Evidently, what is at stake is not a spatial frontier, but an excess of knowledge, communication, and acting in concert implied by the public character of the general intellect. The act of collective imagination I call ‘defection’ gives an autonomous, affirmative, and highlighted expression to this excess, thus preventing its ‘transfer’ into the power of state Administration.

Expanding on this point, Virno takes up the concept of “Intemperance”, which he sets across from a more general “Incontinence”, both discussed in ancient ethics by the likes of Aristotle. He does so to further emphasise the exoduses afforded by a theoretical thinking that far exceeds the bounds of any kind of common sense, or what Deleuze calls “state philosophy”:

While incontinence amounts to vulgar unruliness, disregard for the laws, and giving in to the most immediate whims, Intemperance consists instead of opposing intellectual knowledge to ethical and political norms. We adopt a theoretical premise in place of a practical one as a guiding principle of action, and the consequences that follow may be extravagant and dangerous with regard to the harmony of social life. […]

Exodus finds in Intemperance its main virtue. The preliminary obligation to obedience to the State is not disregarded out of incontinence but in the name of a systematic combination of Intellect and political Action.

In order to avoid a wholesale book report, suffice it to say that Virno continues wonderfully along these lines, and I only wish I had had this book at my disposal when wading into discussions of patchwork back in 2018. Admittedly, I am fairly certain that many people did raise Virno’s work as being relevant to those discussions years ago, and whilst I certainly found much to admire in his theories of the Multitude (which likewise make an appearance in The Idea of World), I did not appreciate quite how thoroughly his work aligns with the weird leftist blogosphere of the late 2010s and likewise addresses many of the problems that we fumbled with for years in our discussions of “patchwork” and its potentials.

For instance, I came across this interview with Virno on generation online from 2002 earlier today, and I am almost certain I have quoted from it before. At one point, he is asked about the relevance of “exodus” to non-European contexts:

Do you think it’s possible to sustain this point of view of exodus in the regions of the third world such as, for example, Latin America? We ask you this because … there have been very polemical voices over the possibility of extending this thesis to contexts in which the struggles and the resistances must deal with an extreme, corrupt, and decomposed, neoliberal state, that don’t seem like the states of Western Europe. Above all was the critique of the Argentine philosopher Nicolás Casullo, that to maintain exodus, in our country, we should look not to the multitudes, but rather to the state itself.

Virno’s response speaks even more so to the peculiar political developments of the last few years, particularly Brexit and its fallout, never mind the specific state of the “first” and “third” worlds in the early 2000s. Even more interestingly, he suggests we should ignore these tantrums within the state form altogether and turn our attention to the plight of the Palestinians, which is the kind of context I always hoped “patchwork” would be able to more concretely speak to, contrary to Silicon Valley’s dreams of seasteading tax havens, etc.

Virno responds:

It is not only an Argentine problem, also Italy or in France there exists the temptation to consider the National State as a refuge, a salvation in the face of globalization. Considering the National State as the place of possible exodus in the face of globalization, its violence, its laws. But this — in Argentina, as in France and Italy — is a complete illusion, a daydream that always run the risk of turning into a nightmare. Exodus is not nostalgic, but to consider the National State as refuge is nostalgic. Exodus is not a step back, but is rather leaving the land of the Pharaoh; the land of the Pharaoh was until one or two generations ago the National State, today it is the Global State, and the National States are like empty shells, like empty boxes and, for that, upon them is made an emotive investment but, naturally, that is very dangerous because it runs the risk of transforming sooner or later into xenophobia or, in every manner, into a rabid and subaltern attitude at the same time: rabies and subalternity together.

I want to be more clear: we shouldn’t speak more of Argentina, France or Italy, we should speak of Palestine. All of us are in Jenin. As much as you hope that the sooner a Palestinian state can be created the sooner it is possible to save lives, but in the conceptual plane I think that the creation of a new state is a disaster that would not have any power, that will have none of the prerogatives of the ancient national states: it would mean solely the fact that the prisoners, if not tortured, would be mistreated in their mother tongue, but it does not seem to me that that would be a grand conquest. The grand occasion that still was given after ten years, in the epoch of the first Intifada, was that of constructing a not necessarily statist or state-centric form of organization. All of the national states today, those that exist or those that are being founded, are the caricature, the parody of what the National State was as bearer of all rights. We all know that most of the economic, scientific research — not to speak of military — functions are in another place. I understand perfectly but it is a new form of ambivalence. Exodus is necessary but can also take a reactionary form.

It is this reactionary form that so many saw looming over us as a new leviathan in the 2010s. There was a protracted and promiscuous attempt, at that time, to retain something of Virno’s radical exodus in light of the “resourceful withdrawals” teased and threatened in the name of MAGA or Brexit, which came to dominate any kind of discussion along these lines.

I’m not sure anyone was particularly successful. I think my book Egress, for instance, attempted to deal with all the themes above, albeit implicitly without evoking the patchwork discourse that had occupied me over the years immediately prior to its publication. But the book’s subtitle and study of Mark Fisher’s work tended to pull focus in this regard. Only one person, to my mind, wrote publicly about how the book’s title gestured towards a more explicitly post-Landian sense of exit and defection, both in terms of political action and a bold theoretical thinking. That was Geoff Schullenberger in his review of Egress.

But this review always troubled me for the ways Schullenberger tries to tie my titular concept a little too closely to Hirschman, seeing it as a poor reading of “exit” that cannot do without voice, as if he is the only authority on the matter. “[I]n the end, both [myself] and Fisher seem unable to plausibly link accelerationist exit and collectivist politics”, he writes. But Schullenberger seemed far more ignorant of the lineage I was invoking than I was at that time. Indeed, I only wish I had Virno in my arsenal, as his discussion of the relationship between Exodus and the Multitude is far clearer on this. Such an argument shuts down Schullenberger’s more reactionary (if nonetheless sympathetic) reading of my book with ease. But alas, such is hindsight.

I think my next book, Narcissus in Bloom, likewise retains this thematic… It explores more explicitly the politics of representation and our powers of observation, arguing not for a complete renouncement of our ocular-centricity — if we can count our sense of “appearing” as another kind of “voice” — but rather, following Martin Jay, an “ocular-eccentricity”.

In so doing, the book affirms the tale of Narcissus not as a story of capture by the spectacle, as is suggested by the moral panic surrounding the pathology of narcissism, but rather follows Ovid’s version of the tale to its conclusion, where Narcissus transforms himself into a flower, affirming another form of life.

Narcissus is another tale of exit, in this regard. And here I take up the opportunity to consider how central Narcissus, as a figure used and abused both critically and clinically, is to queer discourses and various post-structuralist attempts to perforated the false unity of liberalism’s individual subject.

There’s no time left to shoehorn Virno into that book, though I can think of a few uses for him. And anyway, I would hate to step on Enrico’s toes. But Enrico’s use of Virno is worth returning to, with all this in mind. It really did excite me no end to see Enrico take him up in his own book on lo-fi, exploring the idea of social revolution as exodus through sonic retreats into bedrooms and home studios.

It is exciting to me if only because it is a book that I think the general reader will gobble up as enthusiastically as I did. And yet, at the same time, it is a book that wonderfully expands on discussions and debates that have occupied this part of the internet for years now. I can see the traces of certain lines of flight, with their roots in the very particular discussions had by “weird theory” Twitter for years, that were no doubt impenetrable for many on the outside. But all of those ideas are still there in Enrico’s book. They are cunningly smuggled into a topic that your average music fan will get a lot out of — in that way that Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher long since mastered.

I think my own writing still has a tendency to be more opaque. I’m not so good at seamlessly sprinkling my philosophy over more accessible topics. It is something I would generally like to get better at, even if I secretly like the tension and challenge produced… But still, that attempt at smuggling remains and has become more pronounced for many of us who cut our teeth in the blogosphere of the late 2010s. I only wish that whose who remain enamoured with patchwork / accelerationist discussions would see that.

Indeed, for all those people who are probably excited about this post, given its explicit nod to a discourse long dead, I can only suggest you open your minds a little further. I don’t talk about “patchwork” anymore, as a term and discourse that was smothered by its own naive attempts to intervene in a predominantly reactionary discourse from the left. But the implications of exit and voice, intellect and action, theory and praxis, outsideness and capture? I don’t think I write about much else…

My recent report from Malaga, for instance, arguably has all of this and more, as does yesterday’s admittedly dense discussion of the abolition of the family. If these sorts of posts aren’t recognised as fitting into the patchwork discourse, it is arguably because that discourse was always so limited. Its reactionary beginnings were well founded to exclude any perspectives on exodus that might include the sorts of flight long actualised by leftists, queers and all the other things reactionaries hate. But all the more reason to leave that particular enclave of discussion behind.

I chose to exit the patchwork discourse. I defected from the cabal of brainworms that it birthed. I withdrew from an echo chamber of Landian fanfiction. But I think the work I have done since has been all the more interesting for it. I feel a lot better for putting the tools and weapons acquired to other uses. That was always the point of egress/exit/exodus, after all…

Abolition of the Family,
Abolition of the Individual:
Notes on Anti-Oedipus

What is it that moves over the body of a society? It is always flows, and a person is always a cutting off [coupure] of a flow. A person is always a point of departure for the production of a flow, a point of destination for the reception of a flow, a flow of any kind; or, better yet, an interception of many flows…

How to respond to the idea that we should abolish the family?

Speaking personally, I have always had a complicated relationship to the notion. On the one hand, having always had a slightly perforated sense of family as an adoptee, existing somewhat on the fringes of more than one family, I have initially found arguments around the abolition of the family too often centre the experiences of those who have grown up in broadly functional families themselves and have no experienced the dysfunctions produced by a falling outside its bounds.

That being said, I certainly know what it is like to have parents. But as a child, despite being welcomed wholeheartedly into a new family, my difference within that same family was also often openly acknowledged. Not maliciously, but nonetheless in subtle ways that made me feel like some sort of outsider, because, symbolically speaking at least, I always was.

Later in life, I have experienced this in reverse. I have gotten to know my biological mother’s family — my father’s identity remains a secret to everyone but her — but having gotten to know them as an adult, I have also never felt able to develop any real sort of foothold. Any attempt to do so has often been too painful to see through.

Of course, none of this has much to do with what is being called for by family abolitionists. But in practice, I find myself oddly triggered by the discussion — supportive in theory; uncomfortable with the reality. These dysfunctions, for instance, are not a problem for family abolitionists but rather speak to the hold that the family has upon us. In cases of adoption most explicitly, we have historically been (and largely remain) reluctant to accommodate or rectify the injustices experiences by so many bastards.

This is even true on a more micropolitical level. For example, when I talk to people about the struggles of being an adoptee who feels somewhat estranged from any particular family, the response often given is: “It doesn’t matter — you can always choose your own family.” But part of me always baulks at this. The notion of “choosing” a family nonetheless feels dependent on having some sort of stable model on which to base your desires. Whether from within or from without, the family remains an uncomfortable point of reference that I’d almost wish we could away with altogether.

This is because, although you can certainly choose new members for your family, the family model itself remains steadfast through signifiers and forms of relation if not exactly within the same structure. (I wholly embrace being referred to as “queer uncle Matt” by friends at present, for instance, particularly those who are younger than me and may see me as some sort of elder, but I do wonder sometimes about our reliance on familial signifiers like “auntie” and “uncle” for those on the edges of our immediate others.) And so, what if you feel like you’ve never really had an experience of that kind of family? What if you don’t feel like you know what that “family” model really looks like? At least not in a way that isn’t in itself triggering…

I have a tendency to struggle with the maintenance of interpersonal relationships as a result of this, because the original example of kinship that so many of us possess feels fundamentally malformed in my experiences. The designated names of different family members begins to feel like a series of hollow signifiers, giving a sense of structure to my relations that may have no significance otherwise. The “mum” who is not really my mum, etc. But even this is a malformed thought process — what makes a mum anyway? As a result, I struggle to know how to relate to anyone, and so have a tendency to withdraw and close myself off.

But this is not a tendency that I particularly like about myself. I have developed an awareness of these thought processes as something to try and actively fight against. Again, the ways that my thought is structured by social expectations, givens and pressures runs contrary to many of my political beliefs. This does not, I don’t think, eject my politics into the realm of fantasy. Nor does it make me feel like my neuroses are particularly invalid. But it is towards the cleft between the two that a lot of my thinking has been oriented of late, and the return of family abolition to Twitter discourse has made me want to write some tentative thoughts down.

If I am to try and embrace such an attempt to think against myself, I am inclined to believe that my personal circumstances can also be considered a strength too. Having no expectations of what a “family” should be leaves a lot of space for reimagining certain kinds of kinship — which is the fundamental demand of most family abolitionists anyway: a new kind of kinship that is structured otherwise to the hierarchy of the nuclear family, particularly with regards to “patriarchy” as the male-centred form of its institutionalised organisation. But the centrality of the family as an ideal to social life nonetheless restricts our imagination of what a family can be, as well as our social relations as a whole, and that is just as apparent if we have grown up in loving families or found our familial relations to be maladapted.

But anyway, to affirm the positive, maybe I’m in the perfect position to think through this problem, I tell myself. Surely it is for the benefit of someone like me that these multiple senses of displacement — queer, adopted, etc. — are affirmed, so that the restructuring of power relations within the institution of the family can be rethought to include those who do not fit into its bourgeois bounds. But the idea of the family looms large regardless. It haunts as a loss, or something that I should grieve as such, even if the reality is quite different. Indeed, like Camus’s Outsider, the designations of “mother,” “father,” “uncle,” “auntie”, etc., all come with expectations of action and response. Whether experienced from within or without, the family’s hold on our psychic lives cannot be understated.

Again, it is clear that this brief overview of my own messy thoughts is notably devoid of any specific reference to things family abolitionists, past and present, have ever said or argued. But this is purposeful. Ultimately, I recognise why many people cannot get past the emotional response that is provoked by the phrase “abolish the family”, because I too, even now, struggle to move past it sometimes. It is undoubtedly the topic, above all others, that pushes my buttons and which I struggle to formulate any coherent response to. (All the more reason to start a PhD roughly related to the topic.) And I think that is true for many people as well. But we should all try to grasp it, I think, for reasons that we can easily transplant from elsewhere.

We should be suspicious, I think, of how vigorously our restricted idea of the family holds onto us — that is, precisely how it holds onto us rather than how we hold onto it. We are more than happy to hold such healthy suspicions of other ideas. But the family remains a hard barrier for many. To twist Mark Fisher’s famously borrowed adage: even the end of capitalism is now easier for us to imagine than the end of the family. But this is for many of the same structural reasons that our imaginations are stifled in other ways. As such, we should pay attention to how the two ideas are linked, not just in terms of their structural power but also in terms of how these ideas function ideologically.

To twist Fisher’s words in this way isn’t even much of a stretch. He made similar remarks himself, referencing Helen Hester’s work on the subject. I am reminded of the point he makes in his Postcapitalist Desire lectures when discussing Herbert Marcuse and Ellen Willis:

I actually think that domestic realism is even more powerful than capitalist realism in today’s world. Even when I was at school, in the 1980s, there were fairly serious debates about alternatives to the family. I remember when I taught teenagers, a few years ago, you’d talk about alternatives to the family and they were just horrified by the very thought of it. And the full tragedy of that was, of course, that many of them had come from very difficult family backgrounds. So, they had an idealised idea of the family that didn’t fit with their experience of the family at all. And yet that very idealisation implied that they still help up the family as an idea. The countercultural mission has almost entirely disappeared now as a widespread cultural phenomenon.

As ever, I wish we’d have gotten more from Fisher on this point — although this essay, on which the lecture is based, was clearly ripe for salvage in any hypothetical Acid Communism manuscript.

Fisher goes into a bit more detail on this point, which I think is worth considering below, as a way of further grounding what it is I actually want to talk about in this post:

I don’t distinguish, in a Kantian sense, between the family as a transcendental structure and a family as an empirical fact. The family, as an empirical fact, is under massive pressure. As I understand it, particularly in the UK … there are more people living on their own than ever before. Of course, divorce has increased beyond all proportion since the 1970s. So, the family is not empirically strong, I would say — it’s empirically weak but it is transcendentally strong. It’s strong as a sort of basic structure that is still normative. Now if you think of people living collectively, you think of that as a temporary phase, when actually there is more of that than there was in the 1970s, all because people can’t afford to live on their own, particularly in London.

So, there’s increasing amounts of people living outside the family structure, and yet the family remains normative, I would suggest.

Fisher’s argument makes the idea of a “domestic realism” (a la capitalist realism) seem self-evident. But I think it is interesting to further explore some of the ways we can think about the idea’s grip upon us.

One way of doing this is through the work of Deleuze and Guattari.

At the very start of his seminars, Fisher tells his students that, whilst it is nowhere to be found on the reading list, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is the unspoken foundational text of the course. Having been rereading it recently, as I sink my teeth into my PhD, I’ve found it to be particularly fascinating on this point. Indeed, though capitalism looms large as the primary object of their critique, as it does for Fisher’s, it is the family that comes in for a particularly forceful beating, at least as a transcendental idea passed down by the shortsightedness of Freudian psychoanalysis. And this is even more apparent in Deleuze’s seminars on the book, which are currently being translated by the Deleuze Seminars Project.

Following Deleuze and Guattari, there are arguably two ways of talking about our responses to the idea of the family and its abolition: there is a psychotic response and a schizo response. Given my prevaricating above about rejecting family abolition because it calls for the dissolution of something I’ve long wanted but never had, I can see how the psychotic response can all too easily be established.

For starters, Deleuze suggests that there are “two major kinds of interpretations” of psychosis in psychoanalysis. The first proceeds “in terms of degradation, decomposition”; it proceeds “under the sign of the negative”. Psychosis, in this sense, is what “happens when something breaks down, or when there is a kind of degradation” — a degradation “of the rapport with the real, with the unity of the person.”

This is a point that Deleuze and Guattaria reject outright. The individual, after all, is a relatively recent concept, born of Protestantism and Cartesian. Even the idea of a “person”, as an individuated subject, was integral to John Locke’s liberalism. And so the point is implicit for Deleuze and Guattari that any understanding of a “degradation” of individual personhood is nothing less than false problem, and rather speaks to the fallibility of the Cartesian subject and liberalism’s bastardisation of its constitution for political ends.

Given its reliance on a sense of unified selfhood, then, Deleuze describes this kind of interpretation of psychosis as “personological”. Psychosis interpreters of this ilk “always come back to take the ‘me’ as a basic reference … to mark a sort of defeat from the point of view of the unity of the person, and of his/her rapports with reality.” The questions he leaves hanging in the air of the seminar are precisely: what unity? whose reality? Neither of these things is a given.

Nevertheless, the influence of this kind of thinking is hard to shake off. On matters of the family, this is where I often find myself. Any discussions of the breakdown of the family as an idea are all too easily projected onto my own sense of disunity as a person, which is traumatic only in the sense that it seems to disqualify oneself from a “normative” understanding of what a person actually is — a transcendental idea in its own right, which is the direct product of that other transcendental idea: the family.

But there is another view of psychosis that is far more interesting.

The second major interpretation of psychosis is structuralist, Deleuze says (although not in the sense that it is a direct product of structuralism):

This time, psychosis is interpreted by virtue of “essential phenomena of the structure”. It is no longer an accident that occurs to people, in the form of a kind of mechanism of decomposition, degradation. It’s an essential event in the structure, related to the distribution of positions, situations and relationships within a structure.

On this point, Deleuze’s references Lacan — one of the few times he references Lacan positively, in fact — drawing attention to the ways that, in Lacan’s analysis, psychosis is a structure relevant to all of us.

It is worth affirming here that, in theoretical discussions of psychoanalysis, references to psychosis and schizophrenia are not synonymous with the “psychotic” and “schizophrenic” person encountered “in real life”. As Deleuze puts it, we must not overly equivocate “the schizophrenic and schizophrenic activity”, on account of the innumerable “ambiguities” that exist between the two. Theoretically speaking, then, we might say that each refers to a structure of thought rather than being an umbrella term for a specific clinical symptomatology. As Deleuze argued in Coldness and Cruelty, there is always a cleft between the clinical and the critical, and so what is being attempted in many theoretical discussions of such psychoanalytic structures is the undoubtedly very difficult task of creating “a kind of lyrical picture of schizophrenia” in particular, as well as of psychosis, neurosis, perversion, et al.

The psychotic, then, for Lacan, is someone with a particularly fraught relationship to the familial structure, which he understands through the absence of a paternal signifier, the Name-of-the-Father. For the psychotic, this signifier is foreclosed.

In Lacanian thought, the Name-of-the-Father is so named to emphasise its symbolic function. It is not “The Father” strictly speaking — it is not a necessarily gendered notion but one that nonetheless takes on the role of patriarchal authority and law; it is the person who “wears the trousers”, so to speak. For the psychotic, the Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed from the symbolic order and is instead only imaginary. This sense of foreclosure is different to a sense of loss — for the psychotic, as Freud writes, “the ego rejects the incompatible idea together with its affect and behaves as if the idea had never occurred to the ego at all.” It is not something buried in the unconscious but ejected from it altogether.

If Deleuze has particular sympathy for the Lacanian psychotic, it is that he sees this position as being far more common than psychoanalytic nomenclature may suggest. Indeed, it may be difficult for us to imagine such a psychotic. After all, who does not have a symbolic father of some kind; some kind of “father figure”. Such a symbolic relation may be established outside the bounds of the family, in the form of a particularly influential teacher, for instance, or more amorphously in the broader disciplinary structures of the State. But it is in the very notion of a “father figure” that the symbolic grasp of the family persists and is dragged over everything. It is as if a complete (psychotic) absence of patriarchal authority were utterly impossible in our current system. For Deleuze, this is simply not the case. This is because he takes a step back from this psychoanalytic structure and instead takes the more poststructuralist view — this time in its proper philosophical sense — and instead wonders how we might understand the processes that produce these structures in the first place.

On this point — and pouring a more characteristic scorn on Lacanian thought — Deleuze writes much later, in a series of reflection on Anti-Oedipus presented to his students in 1980:

What annoys me in psychoanalysis of the Lacanian camp is the cult of castration. The family is a system of transmission, the social investments of one generation passed on to another, but I absolutely do not think that the family is a necessary element in the making of social investments because, in any case, there are desiring machines that, on their own, constitute social libidinal investments of the large social machines.

To this end, the question seems to be, why must every authority figure be a father? There are other processes at work that produce the family as a structure, and it is towards these that we should turn our attention. The Freudian emphasis on the family is, in this regard, an underexamined foundation. Superseding the bounds of the family, why can’t we describe such figures in a way that is not behold to a familial sentimentality? Why can’t we just call a fascist a fascist?

This point is made clear in Mark Seem’s introduction to the English translation of Anti-Oedipus:

Reversing the Freudian distinction between neurosis and psychosis that measures everything against the former, Anti-Oedipus concludes: the neurotic is the one on whom the Oedipal imprints take, whereas the psychotic is the one incapable of being oedipalized, even and especially by psychoanalysis. The first task of the revolutionary, they add, is to learn from the psychotic how to shake off the Oedipal yoke and the effects of power, in order to initiate a radical politics of desire freed from all beliefs. Such a politics dissolves the mystifications of power through the kindling, on all levels, of anti-oedipal forces — the schizzes-flows — forces that escape coding, scramble the codes, and flee in all directions: orphans (no daddy-mommy-me), atheists (no beliefs), and nomads (no habits, no territories).

What is of particular interest to me, as I begin my PhD, is the role of orphans in this schema. Though we have a tendency to think of orphans, in the first instance, as tragic figures — think Oliver Twist. They are so often the heroes of our stories. (I discussed this in Krakow a few months back.) Indeed, we far more often herald orphans (or children otherwise displaced) as heroes for the ways that they can circumvent the mystifications of power that otherwise bind us to the status quo. It should be noted that few (although not all) of these figures are far from tired to the structure of psychosis in the ways that Lacan might argue.

Deleuze discusses orphans often, but culturally speaking, there are many examples we can draw upon and learn from that show how even the orphan is not somehow inoculated from oedipal forces. (Enter Batman.) But this is where the role of the schizo becomes most relevant. For Deleuze and Guattari, orphans are instead more at home on the schizo’s place of immanence.

For Deleuze, the schizo is a more positive alternative to the psychotic. Batman, for instance, is the psychotic proper. Following the traumatic break of his orphaning, his solitude is affirmed as allowing for a new sovereignty. Wholly independent — financially, interpersonally — the Batman attacks the family in negative. He sees the networks of a criminal underground and sets about rendering them asunder. Crime families become things for him to smash. Capable of shedding the symbolic significance of his family name, he moves through familial shadows, cutting off flows.

But Spiderman, however, as another superheroic orphan (of a type), proceeds otherwise. In Spiderman, there is — as per his namesake — a drive to establish new webs of connection, to take responsibility for those around him, to do what is best for the neighbourhood. Flinging webs around an expansive sense of community, criminals are instead those who would disrupt these extrafamilial bonds. Spiderman is the schizo proper in this regard, traversing great distances in a single swing and using this mode of extension to expand a sense of family explicitly.

Like Lenz in Anti-Oedipus, “he is in the mountains, amid falling snowfiakes, with other gods or without any gods at all, without a family, without a father or a mother, with nature.”

The problem with the Lacanian understanding of psychosis, then, for Deleuze and Guattari, is the ways in which it remains tied to the family unnecessarily. This is true of psychoanalysis in general they argue:

Let us add that by enveloping the illness in a familial complex internal to the patient, and then the familial complex itself in the transference or the doctor-patient relationship, Freudian psychoanalysis made a somewhat intensive use of the family. Granted, this use distorted the nature of the intensive quantities in the unconscious. Nevertheless it still respected in part the general principle of a production of these quantities. When it became necessary once again to confront psychosis directly, however, the family was immediately reopened in extension, and was in itself considered as the indicator for measuring the forces of alienation and disalienation. In this manner the study of the families of schizophrenics has breathed new life into Oedipus by making it reign over the extensive order of an expanded family, where not only each person would combine to a greater or lesser extent his or her triangle with the triangle of others, but where the entirety of the extended family also would oscillate between the two poles of a “healthy” triangulation, structuring and differentiating, and forms of perverted triangles, bringing about their fusion in the realm of the undifferentiated.

The schizo newly problematises the inescapability of Oedipus. There are countless examples of this figure — both fictional and actual — who humiliate Oedipus’s essentialised nature by psychoanalysis. (These include Oedipus himself, who falls back into the family in a movement of great irony, but whom, beforehand, was a orphan wandering the land who became a hero for the Theban people, with his schizoid thinking allowing him to make new connections and solve the riddle of the sphinx.) It is this pre-oedipal reality that is to be affirmed, and to do so beyond the realms of myth and infancy requires a rethinking not only of the family as an institution but also the potentials of its primary product: the individual.

Again, the task of family abolition in this regard is not to disavow your nan, but rather to reaffirm the potential revolutionary junctures accessible to all of us when we free ourselves from the family as a social machine, which primarily maintains the production of individuals, traditions and privations, all of which break apart potential flows. To hold onto the family as an ineluctable structure only obscures the processes that far exceed its bounds. It is to enter into a far wider sense of social production that reinvigorates each person with a truly radical political agency. If the end of capitalism remains at all unthinkable to us, then it is necessary we proceed in a more segmented fashion. Start smaller; start with the family.

Anyway, merry Christmas…

New Tenderness

An hour of winter heaters for refrigerated kitchen shuffles to help you through the cost of living crisis.

I had a lot of fun putting this one together… It has been getting me through just about every ill-advised venture outside.


The Waterproof Candle — Electrically Heated Child
Ruth White — Mists and Rains
Slacker — Love is the Devil
Current Value — Weight
En:vy — Over You
aya — babylos (bey x hmw)
Particle — Eskimode (ft. Redders)
SAULT — Love Will Free Your Mind
Lukid — Chord
Low End Activist — Get Get (ft. Emz)
Tracks — Mans On Road
Bored Lord — Smells Like Rave Spirit
Skee Mask — CZ3000 Dub
Lil Peep — The Song They Played (When I Crashed Into The Wall)
Limp Bizkit — Build a Bridge

The Meds Stopped Working

One of the first posts to gain traction on this blog was about anti-depressants. After Timothy Morton outed himself as a particularly callous moron on the subject, I went through a few of Mark Fisher’s most famous comments on the pharmacological treatment of depression and how it is often used to cover over any analysis of the more structural / material problems at work in society today.

At the time, the NHS was running a kind of awareness campaign to normalise the usage of SSRIs and hear from people who had had their lives changed by them for the better. But this wholly ignored far more damning issues with the NHS’s treatment of mental issues, including 1) how social circumstances lead to an endemic depressions today and 2) the ways that the NHS’s treatment for those with mental health issues is impossible to access for so many because of those same circumstances.

I made a few points related to all of the above, but what was key for me was that, despite finding Morton’s flippant comments utterly disgusting, I had plenty of faith in anti-depressants themselves. As much as I appreciated Fisher’s scepticism towards them, I’d actually always found that they worked just fine for me. It’s everything else that doesn’t work and that needs to be addressed. Because the fact remains: medication works for some, not all; the system itself, however, works for far fewer people than that.

I’ve been thinking back to this post often the past week or so. Things have changed a lot recently. After over a decade on citalopram (on and off), I found that, despite being on the highest available dose, the medication had stopped working for me. I had a full-on suicidal breakdown whilst taking my medication and I found that the “capitalist palliative” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

There were many reasons for this, no doubt. Not only had I presumably built up a tolerance to citalopram, my personal life completely fell apart and there came a point where I found myself incapable of responding rationally to anything else that life might throw at me, with my emotions becoming completely dysregulated in the process. Medication only did so much to actually soften the blows at that time and even therapy, which I’d been paying for for six months, was starting to make things worse rather than better. It felt clear that none of the support I had at my immediate disposal was actually suitable to my needs, but it was also a real struggle to make any meaningful change to my treatment plan.

Following months of struggling to access any effective treatment whatsoever, I was eventually given a new regime of medications, which were eventually whittled back to a single daily dose of sertraline. (I’ve written about this a few times, so I won’t retread over the details.)

Sertraline is the most commonly proscribed antidepressant these days, as it is seen as a bit more bespoke than an older drug like citalopram, or so I was told. Whereas the maximum dosage for citalopram is 40mg, sertraline can go up to a maximum of 200mg, meaning there is more of a range to work with so that the drug can be prescribed at varying intensities to best treat an individual’s particular needs.

It worked for me, for a time. I felt myself stabilise. But I never actually began to feel better. It felt like the medication had simply hit pause, rather than do anything to fix my situation. I found this was a very different reaction than I ever had to citalopram. Whereas citalopram, when it worked, helped to raise up the low end of my emotional range, so that I could not fall into too deep of a depression and could function better day to day, sertraline put a limit on my top end too. It squeezed the middle, and didn’t make me feel good at all, but instead like even more of a powder keg with no way to alleviate the pressure, meaning I’d become quickly overwhelmed by daily life, falling into a habit of sleeping all day.

For the last three months, that has been my reality. I’ve struggled to write or do anything creative. This blog, previously an integral outlet for me, shrivelled up. I’ve pushed through this feeling necessarily at times, in order to hit deadlines and have a social life, but I have generally found a lot of things that used to come easily a lot more difficult. I’d find myself exhausted by the slightest bit of mental exertion, with just a few days of concentrated engagement with people and events always leading to a complete burn out, or just a few hours working on a book draft resulting in at least a four-hour nap every day. Over time, these limitations meant I started to socially withdraw more and more.

As the months flew by, life itself didn’t change much. I still found a lot of things hard, particularly a constant awareness that I lacked any real foundation, pitying myself as I felt turned and spurned like a stray dog. But ultimately, I didn’t do anything about it. I put no effort into changing my circumstances. Because all I felt was numb.

After three months on sertraline, I became deeply fed up of this numbness, and I gradually identified that it wasn’t because I was irreparably broken or whatever. It was the meds themselves.

Maybe my dosage was too high. Maybe there were other medicines I could have explored. But as long as I wasn’t actively suicidal, my GP seemed to have no interest in any of my concerns. I wasn’t allowed to have any meaningful say in my own treatment, primarily because, at my most unwell, I’d abused what I’d been prescribed and taken an overdose. But the solution from the medical professionals around me was presumably to numb my feelings altogether and leave me to it. Every complaint (about emotional flatness, too much or too little sleep) was dismissed. I was told to just wait and see, hang on until my next medication review. But when was that going to be? In another three months time? Six months, more likely… Sertraline left me without hope. Though it stopped me from feeling suicidal, it only intensified my despair as I thought daily about how I could not go on like this.

It seems clear that the meds aren’t working for me anymore. And without that basic silver lining, I felt there was little hope to hold out for. I was numbed to the point I couldn’t articulate my thoughts, I couldn’t be bothered to act in my own best interests, and I couldn’t feel much of anything — sadness or happiness. By any measure, despite being on anti-depressants, I was still struggling with all the anhedonic symptoms of depression. I was simply not a risk to myself anymore. But this new regime of treatment began to feel like a fate worse than death. I took pain from nothing and joy from little. It was horrible in that surreal sense of medicalised ennui. I was drugged so I wouldn’t suffer, but found that feeling nothing was its own kind of torture. I struggled to connect with other people and sustain relationships and felt all the more alienated as I wandered around in a constant brain fog.

No one around me seemed to get it. (Hard to blame them, since I have barely understood it myself.) My assumption has been, perhaps I’m just a shitty, annoying and inconsiderate person. I’m being treated, after all. I’m no longer acting insane. This is meant to be me “well”. But taking the doctors at their word, I was questioning everything about myself and nothing about what was being done to me. The more important questions, then, were never asked, by myself or by anyone else: is this medication really doing what it is supposed to…?

Enough is enough. With the meds no longer working, and the system itself still so broken that I have no faith in it fixing things, last week I decided to go cold turkey on the sertraline. Whether this is a wise decision or not, I don’t know. I’m sure my doctor will think it is reckless when they realise I haven’t picked up my prescription in a while. Then again, I don’t expect anyone to notice. They seem to care very little and are so administratively incompetent that staying medicated has been a challenge. So if they’re not going to try and make things work, neither am I.

It has been a strange experience so far. I am over the worst of the withdrawal symptoms, with the worst “brain zaps” of my life having finally begun to subside. But I am also already feeling the positives. My emotional range has expanded in ways I’d forgotten it could. I made a new show for Slack’s at home and found such euphoria in the process. I was grinning from ear to ear like I had not done in months. At the same time, I’ve been crying at just about every melancholic moment on the TV going, from silly melodramatic sitcoms to overtly sentimental Christmas adverts. I have even found myself frequently laughing at the things that have made me sad. But it is a novelty to feel things so fully for the first time in months. I am sure the mood swings will quiet down soon, but right now I’m almost glad for them. Crying is cathartic, after all. It has been oddly uncomfortable to find it an impossible thing to do.

All in all, I actually feel so much better for giving up on the meds. I feel like I have taken charge of my own treatment. I will do something else now, and what I do is fully up to me. I feel reenergised. I will try and put other things in place that make my life work better. It’s about time I went out fully on my own, got my own place, set up a life and routine that works for me and is not tied up unnecessarily with other people’s, including the assertions of my useless GP. I need to build a foundation for my own life before I can hope to share it purposefully with anyone else and that is what I intend to do. In fact, I am excited that this is what 2023 will have in store for me. 2022 has been a lot of trial and a lot of error. But I feel like I have done little for myself. I have white-knuckled it, being petrified in place, stuck in medicated purgatory, admitting I have no idea what I’m doing and relying on medical professionals to tell me what is best. The truth is: none of them know or care. Their priorities are limited, their conduct neglectful and their advice unfit for purpose.

But what will continue to sadden me is that I now know what it is like to experience the medicated life from the other side. I know what it is like to find the first port of call for most physicians no longer works for me. I will still advocate for SSRIs regardless — they are worth taking a chance on, in case they do work for you. But it also seems clear to me now that they are not and never have been a long-term and meaningful fix under the current system. If you can build up a tolerance, or if certain medications don’t affect you like they do others, what are you supposed to do? Changing the circumstances of your life is one thing, but how doable is that? Eat better, exercise more, drink less. Yes, these are all things that help. But please kindly shut the fuck up if it’s your only piece of advice. None of those things will exorcise your demons. None of those things will free you from drudgery. All are palliatives. Because all they do is allow you to “function” in a very restricted sense. (To get you back to work, which, in my experience, is just as effective at making you ill.)

This is the struggle I feel left with, moving forwards into 2023. I need to change my circumstances, but I am hardly in a position to ever live comfortably, with myself or others. Accepting a bumpy past and inevitable future of neurodivergence and the ways that I — never mind anyone else — can learn to accommodate it is a tough pill to swallow. And so the next year is undoubtedly going to be a real struggle, financially and otherwise. I imagine it will be lonely too. But it will force me to carve out a space for myself in a world that feels far from accommodating than anywhere available to me in the present. That is ultimately what it takes. The meds aren’t a solution anymore — perhaps they never were. All I can do is affirm what agency I have and never again let myself be put in a position, by our ineffective system, where that agency is medically diminished or taken away.

That cunt Morton would never understand that.

“En este lugar nunca estuvo Pablo Ruiz Picasso”:
Notes on Deterritorialization in Málaga

Kike España is showing us around La Casa Invisible, a squatted DIY venue and organising space nestled amongst the labyrinthine backstreets of Málaga. It’s an enormous building. The central courtyard is busy with local misfits and activists, spurning the usual tourist crowd. A cash bar keeps everyone watered amongst LGBT+ flags and a banner that reads “Málaga no se vende” – Málaga is not for sale.

As we wander round, we accidentally interrupt a group of women having a discussion in the main exhibition space, up on the first floor, overlooking the touristic low tide below. We poke our heads out of a row of floor-to-ceiling windows. It is early December and Málaga is out of season. Nevertheless, I meet a surprising amount of fellow Newcastle residents who have come for a cheap getaway. You cannot escape the swells of visitors. Except here.

We move on quickly down meandering corridors. Louis Moreno, who gave a talk on spatial conjunctures and new urbanism that morning at the Universidad de Málaga, says they make him feel like he’s playing Resident Evil.

Long corridors appear like blind alleys, lined by doors over two meters tall, as if built to accommodate creatures not of this world, and you wonder if a devil dog might jump out at you at any moment. But the space is not foreboding. We British folk are simply not used to having so much room to manoeuvre. It is hard not to be intimidated (or perhaps just awestruck) by so much possibility.

We stop for a while in a small office and peruse a library of books in Spanish and German, taking a few freebies for the road that have been produced by some of the groups that use the space. The one book in English we find is a gargantuan omnibus edition of all three volumes of Grant Morrison’s 1990s comic book series The Invisibles, which tells various stories of the extraordinary, often outcast and often queer members of a secret organization fighting social oppression through violence and magic in time-fucked London.

And here we were, in the headquarters of Málaga’s own Invisibles, who are resisting psychic oppression through other means.

The whole building functions as a hypersigil, as Morrison might call it: a defiant stamp within the city’s topology; a circle of salt creating an inner sanctum that keeps capitalist sorceries at bay. But what is notable is that the building openly functions as a thorn in the side of the city’s preferred way of doing things. It’s very existence is a provocation.

I am reminded of Mark Fisher’s comments on capitalist counter-sorceries: La Casa Invisibles is “a weapon built from the very same materials that capitalist sorcery itself uses.” In a city threatened by overdevelopment and the seemingly irresistible influence of AirBnBs, La Invi (as it is affectionately known) shows what other forces the occupation of property can be used to conjure.

Perhaps that is what we sense (and eventually find) lurking in the building’s many darkened rooms. Horrors not to spook us, but to unsettle the forces of capitalist realism that seek to penetrate the building from its outside.

I’ve wanted to come to Málaga for some years now. When I was at Goldsmiths in 2017, following the death of Mark Fisher, I was part of a reading group for Fisher’s last book The Weird and the Eerie. There, I got to know then-lecturer in Visual Cultures, Stefan Nowotny.

In the pub afterwards, Stefan often spoke about a dream he had: of moving to Málaga and setting up a communal living space, which also housed facilities for organising, cultural production, and academic research. A few years later, the dream is now a reality.

La Casa Azul, much like La Casa Invisibles, is home to a small group who work in various different fields. Their collective library of books in all languages sprawls across rooms, corridors and staircases. There is also a bookshop directly downstairs, Librería Suburbia, which I was excited to discover was selling the Spanish translation of my book Egress. There’s a sound studio and various printing presses (from riso to letterpress), as well as a flat for guests. This was home for our five-day stay.

I am visiting with Natasha Eves, a co-conspirator with whom I’ve organised a few of the For K-Punk events over the years. (We’re curious to see if one such an event might work in Málaga…)

We talk about Mark’s work often, and I’m immediately reminded of the other cities in which I’ve discussed his writings over the last few years. In particular, I’m reminded of a talk given in Ljubljana in late 2021 to celebrate the Slovenian translation of Capitalist Realism. There, discussions oscillated around the various spaces squatted and occupied by publishers, theatre companies and artists ever since the revolution in 1987. But a journal was produced around the time of my visit discussing the potential “eviction of culture” from Metelkova as the right-wing government cracked down on leftists and counter-cultural producers in the city.

The same problems and threats were to be found in Málaga as well – indeed, as they are everywhere. La Casa Invisible was the focal point of a great deal of attention in this regard. Though the building has not been served an eviction notice explicitly, the government has repeatedly (and often passively) cracked down on its activities – for instance, by shutting off the building’s water supply, which likewise affected the bar in the courtyard and which was now not supposed to sell anything. But the space has found a number of ways around the council’s disruptive methods: on our tour of the space, Kike showed us a room to the back of La Casa Invisible that housed almost 9000 litres of water, which they had delivered periodically and which was independently connected to the plumbing by those who work and organise there.

The reason for the local government’s stifling of La Casa Invisible’s activities seems to be that it is an “unofficial” space. Nothing more. The city’s liberal council is a stickler for the rule of law, of course. The space hardly seems “unsafe”, however. It’s the (liberalist) principle, the restrictions of which only serve as a means of controlling cultural production (and, by proxy, cultural capital) in the city.

There is a deep irony to this behaviour. In recent decades, the city has embraced the fact it is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and this fact is fixated on in order to drive tourism. But as is often the effect of driving a tourist economy at all costs, the city itself is suffering as rents rise and AirBnBs replace housing in the city centre. Local residents are understandably cynical of the council’s obsession with Picasso in this regard, especially because he lived here only fleetingly. He produced no art in the city, as he was only a young child when he resided in Málaga; downstairs in La Casa Azul, a sign in the window reads: “En este lugar nunca estuvo Pablo Ruiz Picasso”, meaning “Pablo Ruiz Picasso was never in this place”.  

On our second day, Natasha and I decided to visit the Museo Picasso Málaga. Despite all we’d heard about the city’s relationship to the artist, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised. The rotating collection of works, changed every three years, was thoughtfully curated and both of us left feeling deeply inspired. Though Picasso’s reputation is often questioned today, not least for his tendency to be a scoundrel, the museum celebrated his radical influence on twentieth-century art as a whole. Leaflets advertising the museum articulated this succinctly:

Picasso’s fundamental contribution to the 20th century stems from his transformation of the work of art into an expression that vindicates absolute individual liberty in the face of conventions, rules, manifestos and dogmas. Picasso switched from one style to another with unparalleled ease. He interpreted and played down the canons developed by the great painters of the past, and manipulated stereotypes and myths of bourgeois culture, opting to bestow dignity on quotidian anecdotes and short stories that became great visual poems in his hands. Picasso was an artist who rethought the history of painting and thus revolutionised the fundamental and previously untouchable principles of representation. He demolished once and for all the hierarchical humanistic relationships in which the representation of the human form was more important than that of the object.

This expression of “absolute individual liberty in the face of conventions, rules, manifestos and dogmas” was further affirmed in the last part of the museum’s exhibition, entitled “Picasso face-to-face with the museum”, which explored how Picasso travelled across Europe in his youth to see the works of many of the great master painters, producing studies of or otherwise adapting and challenging a European canon.

Particular attention was paid to his studies of Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas. Rather than passively receive and merely try to copy these great works, however, Picasso challenged them, using them as objects that he could paint again by his own hand, in various styles.

His approach was truly modernist in this regard, making each work new again. In this sense, his love of art museums seemed to function as a kind of state-sanctioned compartmentalisation: the past was fixed in these places; all the better for him to push off from their foundations and out into the future that lay so clearly beyond their walls.

For all of Picasso’s radicality, however, it was easy to see how the city itself was not re-appropriating the artist’s own response to the world around him.

In one section of the exhibition, focusing on Picasso’s “magic” paintings, the evocative copy stencilled onto the walls argues that “Picasso demonstrated how desire could disassemble the body into independent parts, to be encountered and enjoyed one after another, seemingly at random.” It is an approach that speaks to the modernist schizophrenia of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. In Picasso’s hands, though a essential resemblance is never entirely lost from the subjects he depicts, facial features crowd and swarm the canvas in ways that are affectively relatable but far from reality — “freckles dashing towards the horizon, hair carried off by the wind, eyes you traverse instead of seeing yourself in or gazing into in those glum face-to-face encounters between signifying subjectivities.”

Whilst such an approach is invigorating inside the museum, the city centre of Málaga begins to feel like a grotesque inversion or parody of Picasso’s deterritorializing approach. Whereas the topology of the face is disassembled so that subjectivity flows smoothly across the evacuated space of the Real, the very topology of the city is disassembled so that it is capital that flows smoothly across the evicted properties of real estate. Picasso is reterritorialised and put to work, not so much as a challenge to norms of aesthetic expression but instead as a way to usurp culture itself and allow easy access for capital instead.

It is for these reasons that, in spite the museum’s sensitive and affirmative curatorial engagement with Picasso’s work, the veneration of Picasso elsewhere was, with a sickening irony, also suffocating the potentials of his own legacy and those who were also born or otherwise live here. You can only hope that the irony of the situation is lost on those in charge, otherwise the Picassofication of Málaga is nothing less than cruel. In approaching its already tenuous relationship to its most famous “son” in this way, the city’s local council actively stifles and neglects the sorts of spaces that might actually produce more credible local heroes and radicals in the future.

Picasso was never in this place; nevertheless, they ignore those who are here, who are challenging an establishment in ways Picasso did himself, who might likewise revolutionise the city’s culture in the present. But whereas Picasso is made abundantly visible, those who do live and work in Málaga today are actively invisibilised by his shadow.

In his talk given at the Over-Tourist City conference at the Universidad de Málaga, Louis Moreno discussed the shifting nature of gentrification and its relationship to “ground rent”. Once again, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus was brought to the fore, as Louis drew on the book’s chapter about apparatuses of capture, applying it to recent real estate developments in London’s King’s Cross.

For clarity, “ground rent” is that foundational exchange that makes the owning of property profitable in the first instance. A shop, for example, may lease its premises from a landlord, and so, although a tenant may produce income for themselves through whatever commercial activities they undertake, the landowner is always at the top of the economic hierarchy, feeding on all that happens below and wielding their power as the titleholder to influence the kinds of activity that are deemed to be legitimate, etc. The same is true of all property, including housing, with ground rent necessitating the selling of our labour in order to pay for the rental of our homes.

But the point for Deleuze and Guattari is how these different ground rents overlap and comingle. We must pay our rent, and so we go to work, but it is often the case that our workplaces often have ground rents of their own, and so we must work both to sustain ourselves, our workplaces, and other properties in our local community. In this way, as Deleuze and Guattari write:

Ground rent homogenizes, equalizes different conditions of productivity by linking the excess of the highest conditions of productivity over the lowest to a landowner: since the price (profit included) is established on the basis of the least productive land, rent taps the surplus profit accruing to the best lands; it taps “the difference between the product of two equal amounts of capital and labor.” This is the very model of an apparatus of capture, inseparable from a process of relative deterritorialization.

But there is a point at which our communities can shift, both by shutting down some institutions and replacing them with others. To explain this, Deleuze and Guattari focus on the politics of exchange (whether related to stock, labour or commodities):

Take two abstract groups, one of which (A) gives seeds and receives axes, while the other (B) does the opposite. What is the collective evaluation of the objects based on? It is based on the idea of the last objects received, or rather receivable, on each side.

Presumably, there will come a point when the farmer who sells seeds has enough axes, or perhaps needs axes less frequently than the axe-producer needs to sell them. Similarly, the axe-producer who buys seeds may reach a point where they need seeds no longer, and may in fact be capable of harvesting their own. This process of exchange is unlikely to be viewed as indefinite, then. Each side of the exchange will no doubt have some idea of when they reach the limits of their need. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they write of “the idea of the last objects received, or receivable, on each side.” They continue:

By “last” or “marginal” we must understand not the most recent, nor the final, but rather the penultimate, the next to the last, in other words, the last one before the apparent exchange loses its appeal for the exchangers, or forces them to modify their respective assemblages, to enter another assemblage.

Put another way, at what point must the seed-axe producer prepare to change their relations? At what point is it necessary to enter into a new seed-x or axe-x assemblage?

We will consider that the farmer-gatherer group A, which receives axes, has an “idea” of the number of axes that would force it to change assemblage; and the manufacturing group B, of the quantity of seeds that would force it to change assemblage. We may say, then, that the seed-ax relation is determined by the last quantity of seeds (for group B) corresponding to the last ax (for group A). The last as the object of a collective evaluation determines the value of the entire series. It marks the exact point at which the assemblage must reproduce itself, begin a new operation period or a new cycle, lodge itself on another territory, and beyond which the assemblage could not continue as such. This is indeed a next-to-the-last, a penultimate, since it comes before the ultimate. The ultimate is when the assemblage must change its nature: B would have to plant the excess seeds. A would have to increase the rhythm of its own plantings and remain on the same land.

From here, Deleuze and Guattari write a surprisingly beautiful passage on how this kind of exchange, this shifting of assemblages, is not just limited to economic machinations but rather underpins the “economics of everyday life”, which allows them to generalise the assemblages of production-consumption to refer to everything from alcoholism to love. They write:

We can now posit a conceptual difference between the “limit” and the “threshold”: the limit designates the penultimate marking a necessary rebeginning, and the threshold the ultimate marking an inevitable change. It is an economic given of every enterprise to include an evaluation of the limit beyond which the enterprise would have to modify its structure. Marginalism claims to demonstrate the frequency of this penultimate mechanism: it applies not only to the last exchangeable objects but also to the last producible object, or the last producer him- or herself, the marginal or limit-producer before the assemblage changes. This is an economics of everyday life. For example, what does an alcoholic call the last glass? The alcoholic makes a subjective evaluation of how much he or she can tolerate. What can be tolerated is precisely the limit at which, as the alcoholic sees it, he or she will be able to start over again (after a rest, a pause …). But beyond that limit there lies a threshold that would cause the alcoholic to change assemblage: it would change either the nature of the drinks or the customary places and hours of the drinking. Or worse yet, the alcoholic would enter a suicidal assemblage, or a medical, hospital assemblage, etc. It is of little importance that the alcoholic may be fooling him- or herself, or makes a very ambiguous use of the theme “I’m going to stop,” the theme of the last one. What counts is the existence of a spontaneous marginal criterion and marginalist evaluation determining the value of the entire series of “glasses.” The same goes for having the last word in a domestic-squabble assemblage. Both partners evaluate from the start the volume or density of the last word that would give them the advantage and conclude the discussion, marking the end of an operation period or cycle of the assemblage, allowing it to start all over again. Both calculate their words in accordance with their evaluation of this last word, and the vaguely agreed time for it to come. And beyond the last (penultimate) word there lie still other words, this time final words that would cause them to enter another assemblage, divorce, for example, because they would have overstepped “bounds.” The same could be said for the last love. Proust has shown how a love can be oriented toward its own limit, its own margin: it repeats its own ending. A new love follows, so that each love is serial, so that there is a series of loves. But once again, “beyond” lies the ultimate, at the point where the assemblage changes, where the assemblage of love is superseded by an artistic assemblage — the Work to be written, which is the problem Proust tackles…

Intriguingly, despite its deceptively dry delivery, we might use this same section of Deleuze and Guattari’s work to discuss the Picassofication of Málaga. As far as cultural production is concerned, and the (economic) validity of radical art, it seems that Picasso is precisely this last or marginal figure for those who oversee the governance of the city today. It is as if an artist-economy assemblage has long since passed its limit.

But there is nonetheless something that follows the limit: it is the threshold. “The threshold comes ‘after’ the limit,” Deleuze and Guattari write, “‘after’ the last receivable objects: it marks the moment when the apparent exchange is no longer of interest.” When the threshold is crossed, Deleuze and Guattari “believe that it is precisely at this moment that stockpiling begins.” And in Málaga, it is Picasso himself who is now stockpiled.

Following the life of Picasso, the city’s (already tenuous) relationship with a cultural radical is cauterised. It is as if, because Picasso was so productive, no assemblage with any other artist is deemed necessary, and so the city shifts the formation of its cultural exchanges, using the accrued products of its artist-economy assemblage with Picasso to sustain a new tourist-economy assemblage.

The artists who come after Picasso are jilted, discarded, made invisible through the devaluation of their activities, and all the while the culture of the city is threatened with stagnation, smothering its citizens for the sake of what is currently (economically) productive at the expense of all else.

It is a kind of utilitarian relation, perhaps, but in focusing specifically on the shifting value of ground rents, despite this kind of relation being functionally central to everyday life, it is precisely everyday life that suffers. Indeed, everyday life is itself devalued, so that the economic benefits of tourism trump the quality of life of those people who actually live and create in Málaga itself.

On our third day in Málaga, we returned to La Casa Invisible. Over lunchtime, the venue and its supporters had organized a demonstration against the various inane threats to its existence. As was soon reported by local press (awkwardly Google-translated):

From the building on Calle Nosquera 9-11 in the capital of Malaga, a day of “MOBILIZA-ACCIÓN” #LaInviSeQueda has taken place within the calendar of actions of the citizen space. On this occasion, a demonstration has not been called, but a new mobilization with “the idea of ​​staging that if they play La Invisible we will take over the city,” according to a statement. […] “The irresponsible claim of Mayor Francisco de la Torre is clearer than ever: to put an end to a consolidated social and cultural project with almost 16 years of experience,” they detail in the letter that they have sent to the media.

The demo was incredibly well-attended and might just have been the best organised demo I’ve ever been to. (Spot me briefly beneath a tree in this video taken by @adrianagru.) Leading the charge, a monstrous Major Francisco de la Torre, with devilled face, top hat and far-reaching limbs bobbing alongside a real-estate body. Behind him, a drum procession, followed by hundreds of marchers.

Not being a Spanish speaker, many of the speeches and chants were lost on me, but I learnt one: ¡La Invi se queda! (The Invisible remains.) Stefan also noted how some of the placards carried or attached to trolleyed sound systems reflected what those involved with La Casa Invisible were often reading.

Against a tendency in Britain to see political thought as anathema to political action, here there were no anxieties about wielding placards that referenced radical principles and concepts from political philosophy. That being said, the most accessible sentiments were inevitably by favourites. This included a quote from the late Foucault: “Where there is power there is also resistance”.

The whole action was intensely affective, and it is not the first to have occur in the city in recent months. As Gerald Ruinig writes in an invigorating article on the transversal website, describing an atmosphere that was certainly replicated on the march I attended:

Incompliant flight, breaking through the consumption and movement patterns of the expensive shopping mile, stares of disbelief from passersby and even most of the protest participants are astounded by what is possible on this day.

This was readily apparent when I bumped into a group of elderly Geordies I’d met in a bar a few nights before. “You causing trouble?” one of the men asked, catching me off guard. It took me a few seconds to recognise him, but once I did I explained, as best I could, what was happening. They left no less bemused than when they arrived.

How is this possible in a city that has become more and more beholden to tourism? That caves in to the assignment and handing-over of the city center to speculation, gentrification and touristification? Culture instrumentalized as attraction in the competition amongst cities and as brand in the service of tourism — from the claim to Picasso’s birthplace to the countless museum institutions erected of mediocre quality? How is this possible, above all, in a city that is now also shedding its liberal cloak and attempting to evict the sole remaining sociocultural oasis in the thoroughly-touristified desert of its center?

These questions are palpable, even to the non-Spanish speaker and, indeed, someone like myself who is visiting the city for the very first time.

From La Casa Invisible, we meandered through the centre of Málaga, stopping off in a number of the city’s plazas. Each one played host to a different performance, from traditional to interpretative dance and also a lot of singing, often to the tune of popular songs with their lyrics adapted for the protest itself.

The demo was intended to last from 1130 to 1330, but went on for at least another hour. At that time, the local policía upped their attempts at intimidation. First, this amounted to simply videoing protesters and gathering information; after 1330, the procession was stalked by three riot vans and police officers with riot helmets and firearms attached to their belts. The response felt acutely exaggerated; there was no possibility of this crowd, enthused with collective joy, turning violent.

The final stop was Plaza de la Merced, close to La Casa Azul, where there was more singing and a particularly affecting performance by a solitary dancer. The dance began with Capoeira-like attacks on the monstrous major, followed by a teasing of different audience members (offering up a yellow box — displaying the logo of a local gig economy company, something like Uber — before taking it away), and ending with the smashing of three ceramic roof tiles, which are ubiquitous across the city’s skyline.

Having not understood any of the songs or speeches, the message here was clear as day. The major’s liberalist obsession with property was stifling life in the city, not just in threatening the existence of La Casa Invisible as a free and accessible cultural enterprise but also life as it is lived more generally, which cannot be understood here without paying specific attention to its cultural traditions, its political radicality and its communal spirit.

There is a vibrant life beyond commerce here, one that feels even more special to a pitiful Brit. On our final evening, sitting outside one of three bars named after Picasso in the Plaza de la Merced, our conversation turned to political grief. In the UK, the phrase oft repeated is that the Tories are governing on borrowed time. But if a general election were called tomorrow, who would you vote for? Internally, I entertain the idea of not voting, despite being deeply cynical of those who don’t.

I feel increasingly tired of life in England. Each trip to Europe, especially around the Mediterranean, is stark in contrast to everyday life in the UK. Good food is easily accessible and markedly cheaper. A slower pace of life leaves more room to meditate on one’s own existence. One never feels quite so smothered by drudgery. Though this may just be a somewhat touristic perspective on la Vie en rose – as who doesn’t feel lighter when on holiday – there is a distinct kind of political hope felt here too.

For a few years now, as I’ve often documented on this blog, I have watched with keen interest as Mark Fisher’s work is taken up in other countries and translated into other languages. It is an interesting development for a writer who often feels so parochially British. But I have found that his critical view of life in Britain is an interesting measure for others to use. What often feels settled in the UK, what often feels past the point of no return, is far less settled elsewhere.

If history has ended everywhere, its passing has been marked relatively recently here. Other places in Europe lack Britain’s depressive liberal continuity. Whereas I am often left wanting to fight for something long lost, in Málaga and elsewhere this process of stultification and capture is still ongoing. There is far more active resistance, it seems. Nothing is taken for granted and no hegemony is taken as a given. Another world and another life is possible. Though it is no less under threat, the gaps in the firmament feel wider and most hospitable. And although there is anger and resistance in abundance, it is so heavily underlined by a visceral collective joy.

After the march, we take a siesta, then return to La Casa Invisible for drinks and a lock-in. Originally a club, La Invi’s present occupiers know how to make the most of the space that they are in. They sell bottles over the bar for cash and two local musicians play an hours-long set of improvised techno, facing off against each other to produce an infectious river of sound.

There is no DJ-raver assemblage here. There is no waiting for the “last” song. (A way to get around licensing laws? No fees to be paid on music no one will ever hear again.) The assemblage dissolves into a pure multiplicity of joy and celebration that I imagine lasting all night. But I do not have the stamina to find out. I walk back through the city centre alone in the early hours, having made friends with a few people who soon seem too tired to entertain a monolingual foreigner in a second language. I do not blame them. They have put up a fight today like I have never seen.

On our final day, before heading back to the airport to catch our flight home, Natasha and I visit the Centre Pompidou next to Málaga’s port — another monstrosity of capitalism. All cranes, cruise ships and shipping containers, it reminds me of Felixstowe, that “nerve ganglion of capital.”

Inside the Centre Pompidou, we visit a small exhibition of works by Lucio Fontana, which also features appearances from Yves Klein, Giacomo Balla and Piero Manzoni. Many of the works included form part of Fontana’s explorations of holes and slashes, perforating the flat topology of the canvas.

“I don’t want to make a picture”, Fontana said. “I want to open up space, to create a new dimension for art, to link it up to the cosmos as it extends to infinity, beyond the flat surface of the image”, helping to give rise to the Spatialist movement.

Here again, I feel a resonance with Málaga’s activists and radicals, who perforate the topology of the city in their own ways. But the past and present are cleft apart here still. It is abundantly clear that what is fetished in the city’s cultural institutions struggles to exist in actuality outside their walls. Indeed, just as Picasso is reterritorialised by Málaga’s local council, so is Fontana. Here, his holes are contained. The relation to infinity that he strove for so absolutely is ironically denied. The portals torn into canvases lead to nowhere. They are rendered black holes here, where possibility goes to die.

Nevertheless, La Invi se queda. The Invisible remains. The newest dimension of spatialised politics can be found in the heart of Málaga, and the local council cannot wait to flatten it, fill it with another gift shop perhaps, selling even more Picasso tea-towels, so that the city’s residents and tourists alike might use these former abstractions in the course of their drudgery. No other possible appropriation is allowed. Certainly not a true deterritorialisation of their limited purview of urban possibility. But I have no doubts that La Invi will continue to put up a fight, picking holes of its own in the fabric, the shroud, of the city’s Picassofication, ripping it up to start again.

After the last, infinity…

Albums of the Year

I found it hard to keep up with a lot of stuff this past year, and so I’ve been eagerly gathering together the “end of year” lists of just about everyone who’s posted one so far, on Twitter or elsewhere. I’ll probably spend most of Christmas playing catch up.

Though I don’t feel like I listened to much, the albums this year that did catch my ear ended up burying themselves deep. These have all been on repeat for days, at some point or another.

Ellen Arkbro & Johan Graden — I get along without you very well
Current Value — Platinum Scatter
DJ Hank — City Stars
Codeine — Dessau
Low End Activist — Hostile Utopia
rRoxymore — Perpetual Now
Daphni — Cherry
Kali Malone — Living Torch
DJ Q — Est. 2003
Nik Colk Void — Bucked Up Space
Lila Tirando a Violeta — Desire Path
Iceboy Violent — The Vanity Project

Drug War, Time War

I enjoyed watching Synchronic recently, in which paramedic Anthony Mackie gets a brain tumour on his pineal gland and tries to solve the mystery of a designer drug that is disappearing people or causing them to suffer bizarre and horrible deaths.

It just so happens that the drug affects the pineal gland specifically and allows the user to travel through time. With law enforcement not taking the emerging social crisis seriously, and with his tumour making the potential effects of the drug oddly intriguing to him, Mackie falls down a surreal rabbit-hole where he begins to lose his grip of reality — or “reality” otherwise begins to lose its grip on him.

Mackie is far from a puritan; occupation aside, he is on a path, it is claimed, to becoming “a junkie-paramedic cliche”. But when he is called out to a medical emergency involving his best friend’s daughter, who goes missing after taking the drug, Mackie seems torn between getting it off the streets altogether and abusing it for himself. It is an interesting development, to my mind, in that the film initially walks an uncomfortable tightrope between light social commentary on the bizarre scourge of designer drugs and the potential liberation offered by such radically new chemical compounds. That the drug affects the user’s sense of time feels appropriate to this. There are few topics that have so captured our attention as time-travel, but in almost every sci-fi film in which it is a major theme, we are presented with oddly abstract morality tales that insist time is the last thing you ever want to play with.

All of the Back to the Future films revolve around an escape from the temporality of certain social structures. In the first film, the enclosure temporally fought against is the family, although its enclosure must notably be affirmed anew towards the end if Marty McFly is to exist at all as a subject when he returns to the present.

The second film reveals time-travel as a weapon that can be used both for good and ill; in the future, Marty purchases a sports almanac that tells him the results of various sporting events, which eventually falls into the hands of his neighbourhood bully, allowing him to accrue great wealth and power by exploiting this knowledge and gambling across time periods. Marty must travel backwards and forwards in time in order to rectify this mistake and stop the development of a dark and dystopian future. This particular morality tale runs both ways — though Marty in the hero, he learns the hard way that his desire for self-actualisation through twisting time has as many potential risks as it does rewards. (Of course, he and Doc generally can’t help themselves despite this.)

Left with a considerable temporal mess, after becoming stranded on an “alternate” timeline at the end of the second film — it is not the present they hoped for, at least — the third and final film in the franchise returns our heroes to that period in American history when the nation-state and its body politic was far from settled, the Wild West — a space and time that continues to exert a powerful symbolic hold on the American imagination as a period of raw potential and possibility, prior to the settled political programmes that now define it.

This sort of return to historically significant (and significantly indeterminate) time periods is often where more positive examples of time-travel’s benefits are found. By way of another example, we might consider the recent TV adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, in which occulted film reels are fought over by political elites and those who resist them. The films show the Allies winning World War II — our reality, of course, but an alternate vision of the fictional character’s history — and so the films provide hope and a sense of potential new futures to a cast of characters living in a dystopian America that is ruled by the fascist coalition of imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

Whatever approach we take, time-travel narratives are essentially narratives about control in this regard — that is, control of our own destinies or the fate of the world in general. It is seen as a method of manipulation, of affecting the bigger picture, contrary to our otherwise minor role in time’s great expanse. But to turn to drugs as a way of manipulating time solely from the perspective of the individual is interesting. It aligns this sense of control with one that may be more familiar to readers of philosophy.

Gilles Deleuze’s understanding of “control” is the same, he acknowledges, as that of William S. Burroughs. Writing on and extending Foucault’s thesis of disciplinary societies, Deleuze notes that, whereas discipline takes place in “major sites of confinement” — that is, in space — control, for Burroughs, instead takes place in time. “Control needs time in which to exercise control”, Burroughs writes, but it also, notably, “needs opposition or acquiescence; otherwise it ceases to be control.” Control responds to the fact that there is always the possibility of resistance to its mechanisms, and so it knowingly holds open a (space-)time — read: time-as-enclosure — of possibility and becoming for its own benefit.

Though seemingly paradoxical, retaining this sense of a possible resistance works in control’s favour. “All control systems try to make control as tight as possible,” Burrough continues, “but at the same time, if they succeeded completely, there would be nothing left to control.” This is to say that control must allow the person subjected to it to retain a certain sense of becoming in time, if it is to remain control at all. Whereas confinement and discipline are more absolute and rigid, fixing us in space, control is more indeterminate and diffuse, providing us with the illusion of freedom through the paltry gift of limited “free time”.

It is precisely this temporal struggle that allows control and its dissenting subjects to persist and adapt. Consider how we relate to cultural time and its artefacts under capitalism — that is, within its totalising global market — which allows for the contradictory proliferation of arguments against its hegemony from within itself. The irony should not be lost on us that capitalism’s vast distribution network means you can have the Communist Manifesto rapidly delivered straight to your front door. Tales of historical alternates — real or imagined — are made readily available to all of us in the present, albeit with all tension removed. With everything “available” — or at least “consumable” — in the present, our sense of temporal becoming is diminished.

But this does not make the very expression of opposition to control impotent in and of itself. We must continue to resist, albeit with a little more cunning, so that we might stay one step ahead of control, rather than allowing it to remain one step ahead of us. If time is essential to control, it is just as essential that we fight for more time in actuality. Let us remember Deleuze’s famous adage: “It is not a case of worrying or hoping for the best, but of finding new weapons.”

These weapons must be temporal in nature. The Communist Manifesto remains one such example, if an “old” one, for the ways its ideas continue to haunt and inspire us through time, despite their apparent irrelevance in our restricted present. This is an argument made most famous, of course, by Jacques Derrida, in his book Specters of Marx, where he affirms the ways that the idea of communism haunts us, despite the suggestion that it has been vanquished by capitalism’s new universalism and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Francis Fukuyama later argued that the Soviet Union’s collapse precisely brought about the “end of history” — that is, an end to time’s symbolic advance — as the twentieth century’s political battles were settled and the world came to accept that any future was bound to be capitalist rather than potentially anything else. But the writings of Karl Marx linger on as a promise of another world and another future, making their historical arguments a kind of temporal weapon that aims to think the future otherwise.

Though a contentious argument in contemporary political discourse, we can nonetheless see similar processes of temporal control and resistance unfolding in many science-fiction films, in which time-travel is used as both a tool for fugitivity and capture. But in truth, few of the examples we might think of are wholly positive.

In the alternate worlds we depict, wherein time-travel is possible, its potentials are understandably like catnip to the curious, but the sheer complexity of time’s functioning always delivers the same lesson: meddle all you like, but you’ll only be left with a bigger mess to tidy up than you started with. The science of time-travel is so complex and dangerous, it can never be made accessible to the plebs. When it inevitably is, however, time dilutes the paternal function of our understanding of the universe, only allowing us to play so that we can learn lessons for ourselves the hard way. We wander into temporal chaos, through hubris, but also acquiesce, returning to linear time’s symbolic order.

That is, at least, how time-travel appears to us in so many films, where it is often representative of the highest form of technology — the ultimate Promethean flame that we better not steal from the Gods above. But what becomes of time-travel when the tables are turned, when such a power is not the preserve of gods or mad scientists but is produced from below, in the backstreets, in makeshift drug labs, in the mind? What if time-travel were understood as being properly psychedelic?

Capitalist realism loves to brag about its win against communism in the twentieth century, but so many other wars were not won, and the war on drugs is one of the most infamous “social” conflicts to be usurped by an unrelenting guerrilla warfare. I reckon the time war will be similar. And it is interesting to see films like Synchronic that — all sci-fi spectacle aside — seem to implicitly connect the dots. But in the end, not even Synchronic can escape the expectations of your average time-travelling fable, and so it struggles to make good on its own premise.

Halfway through the film, Mackie references Back to the Future himself, making the now-common observation that time-travel is a whole lot easier for white people. “The past sucks.” But it seems strange that the film never offers Mackie (or us) a sense of the future. He can only ever travel backwards. The future always remains strangely unknown — a truism that loses its edge when Mackie finds himself travelling all the way back to the Ice Age and sharing a fire with a nomad on the tundra.

This oversight is made all the more disappointing when it turns out that, in the end — and despite the light-hearted swipe at its predecessor — Synchronic echoes Back to the Future‘s morality tale exactly: family is everything, and there’s no time like the present.

Unfortunately for Mackie, in the film’s closing moments, it is made abundantly clear that he no longer has either. For a film that raises so many questions about the time-travel genre, approached from a genuinely interesting and modern angle, it dare not hypothesise any notable answers…

In the trenches of both the drug war and the time war, the potentials of psychedelia ares till yet to be fully re-established.

Make It Nu:
Thoughts on Modernism and Rap Metal

In his forthcoming book for Repeater, Acid Detroit, Joe Molloy does a marvellous job of connecting up the dots between the city’s supposed golden eras of psychedelic — modernist, emancipatory, etc. — music with some of its more post-modern offshoots.

He deftly navigates a trajectory I’ve always mistakenly thought of as a gulf. Returning to Mark Fisher’s concept of acid communism, and Fisher’s nod to the musical legacy of Detroit — from Motown to techno — Molloy brings things right up to date in a way that I can imagine Fisher really appreciating. To my mind, this is no easy task. The fact that there is a trajectory of musical development to be followed is not to suggest it is a wholly clean and linear one…

Sketching out the twisting lines of musical development as perhaps only a Detroit local can, from Motown and techno to garage rock and hardcore, Molloy shows how it is impossible to essentialise the city’s musical history, no matter where you’re approaching it from — and that is precisely what makes the city’s music so exciting, then and now. Furthermore, by turning to the “good postmodernism” of the city’s specific hauntological tendencies, he outlines the ways that its haunting pasts are nonetheless suggestive of many bright futures. It’s a really great way of using Fisher’s whole toolbox, often seen as disjointed and contradictory, to paint a far more complex and holistic picture of how culture moves forwards in the twenty-first century.

In the final chapters, this framework leads Molloy to talk about Danny Brown, who is as much in communion with the city’s particular legacies as he is with those reverberating from further afield. Particularly on 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition, with its overt references to Joy Division and post-punk in general, Brown builds a jarring and kaleidoscopic set of bridges between experiences of alienation and drudgery, emanating out of cities and sounds that are otherwise worlds apart.

It was a strange move that meant I never actually appreciated Brown’s music until recently. I didn’t “get” Atrocity Exhibition when it first came out, though I thought I’d be into it on paper. Though I appreciated all its references, it confounded my expectations. I just wasn’t receptive to it.

But in hindsight — and very much with thanks to Molloy’s book — it is precisely its confounding nature that makes it exciting to me now. Brown’s album isn’t so much an attempt to look back, to create a collage of familiar references and sounds; if lines of affinity are drawn, it is in response to the fact that the general situation of living in an industrial city like Detroit or Manchester hasn’t changed. But this is not to suggest a particular set of material conditions is explicitly shared between the two. Beyond capitalism’s universal oppressions, the ways that these different worlds, different musical legacies, do not neatly line up allows him to produce unsettling portals between local unknowns.

For me, as an English listener, all I heard initially were homegrown references put through a Detroit meat grinder. I clearly missed the point entirely. I failed to identify that what was being straddled was not a neat musical history that crosses borders but rather certain structures of feeling, the surrounding contexts of which collide and produce a new and productive tension.

This is notable, I think. Though there is now often a rivalry between European and American lines of sonic development, given how music journalists are prone to collapsing scenes together and discounting the specific material conditions that are unique to each environ — see: DeForrest Brown Jr.’s unhitching of Detroit techno from Kraftwerk’s legacy in Assembling a Black Counter Culture, for example, in which he powerfully dismisses the suggestion that the Germans inspired techno overseas, since the figure of the robotic dehumanised labourer that Kraftwerk deploy aesthetically is surely far more familiar to the Black experience than it could ever be to four conservatoire students from Düsseldorf — Danny Brown instead moves across abjectly discordant but undoubtedly resonant structures of feeling, refusing to defer to any sense of canon or received legacy. He instead spreads himself over sonic wormholes and affirms the dissolution of sense that results.

This is, of course, similar to most readers’ experiences of JG Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, which Brown refers to less explicitly, alluding more to Joy Division. But in being the third refraction of that abject exhibition to date, it is clear that Brown is hanging his own pictures on its walls. He installs himself as the new curator and breaks from the lineage he otherwise acknowledges in daring and exciting ways. He makes it new.

Without going too much into the content of Molloy’s book — it’s not due out for a while yet — suffice it to say that it is great and his argument very convincing, but I must admit that I am still surprised, all things considered, that it is something resembling rap metal that arises to the fore in the 2010s… In the context of Molloy’s book, it hardly seems surprising at all, but his narrative upturns the genre’s general reputation as the postmodern runt of the genre litter, lacking any of the esteem reserved for its antecedents.

But rap metal’s haunting of the twenty-first century is increasingly hard to ignore. The last few years alone have led to repeated reappraisals of that moment. Deftones’ White Pony feels like a hallowed classic these days, which feels rare for an albums from that time. Korn, too, have become a sort of cherished meme, because who can deny that the “Freak on a Leash” video is iconic. More personally, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years trying to reckon with the hold that Limp Bizkit still have on my heart, despite themselves, and their recent return has led me to write about how their comeback record sucked but also how they captured a peculiar zeitgeist around the turn of the millennium, which I don’t think is that well understood even today.

This vague preoccupation, which I feel like I don’t have the knowledge to fully articulate, has brought Molloy’s book back to mind, after I first read it a few months back. The way he threads together different histories, to make something even as aberrantly postmodern as nu metal seem like it has psychedelic potential (in Danny Brown’s hands at least), makes me want to know more about how this apparent revival is understood in the US today.

Of course, this may even feel like quite a leap in itself. It may appear lazy and loose to shove Danny Brown under the “rap metal” umbrella. He is clearly influenced by horrorcore and a few of rap metal / nu metal’s less fully-formed antecedents, but it’s a big tent for someone so singular to exist under…

But then I came across a more recent piece of the puzzle…

Earlier today, I came across HEALTH’s remix of Korn’s recent single “Worst is on Its Way”, featuring Danny Brown and Meechy Darko. The original single version of the track is nothing much to shout about. It functions well enough as a trip down memory lane with 2022 polish, but HEALTH’s more minimal take on the production, reducing Korn’s roaring guitars to haunting shimmers with the lethargic beat adding a motoric drag, reminiscent of classic Nine Inch Nails, changes the song into a strange beast that is no longer at home within any particular genre. But rather than sounding like a horrible mash-up, it works very well.

It feels like an attempt to rearticulate that previously mismanaged structure of feeling, and though paying dues to a band like Korn that many remember so fondly, it refuses to let the original track sit comfortably in its de facto position as a throw-back. Indeed, unlike Limp Bizkit’s recent attempt at a renewed relevancy, it seems like Korn, whilst perhaps understandably a little too comfortable in their sound at this point, are leaving it to a new generation to remix them and once again make them “nu”.

HEALTH’s remix brings together a series of threads that have long been hinted at but perhaps never been made explicit. Danny Brown’s relationship to post-punk and nu metal is largely referential in much of his material, without hitching itself to either genre explicitly. But this track is a true cross-generational collaboration.

Is that for the better or for the worse?

I’m left wondering if this coming together is something of a step forward, towards a new coalescence, a new recognition of a shared structure of feeling, allowing the spectre of nu metal to once again materialise after a decade of various musicians treating the seemingly dead genre as ripe for salvage. (Oneohtrix Point Never’s 2015 album Garden of Delete is the first to come to mind, with Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition following not long after; and both were notably put out on Warp Records.)

Or perhaps this more explicit connection to old idols is a misstep. Will it only serve to once again collapse the material conditions and structures of feeling that nu metal’s popularity arguably obscured? Nu metal’s negativity burst through into the mainstream, soundtracking a distinctly suburban discontent (at least that is how it felt in the UK), and perhaps because of this it failed to make contact with any sort of political project, as so many of its antecedents did explicitly. Does the appearance of Brown and Darko on this remix suggest an alterative reading? Another history? Another future? Not just a white appropriation of black angst but a properly sonic solidarity?

I’m not sure I know either way. Maybe this is all an overexertion of energy in an attempt to crystallise something half-thought and half-formed. And maybe, for that reason, I’m not the right person to offer up a take here.

Joe: any thoughts on this? Is it possible to make nu metal, as the quintessential postmodern genre of the Y2K period, newly modernist? Is Danny Brown capable of properly taking rap metal and making it nu? Or is that just an old nu metal kid’s reductive attempt at understanding what’s happening in the present moment?