Over the past month, I’ve been working on a k-punk-related commission [TBA] that has once again sent me back into the depths of the blogosphere, specifically the various conversations that were happening in orbit of the “Weird Realism” conference that Mark Fisher organised(?) at Goldsmiths in April 2007.
In particular, there is a reflection on the conference from late 2007, entitled “Weird/ Psychoanalysis”, that has occupied my thoughts more than any other during this time — a response to a post written by Andy Sharp over on the English Heretic blog.
At that moment in time, Mark was exploring and repeatedly making the case for a “weird psychoanalysis”, affirming the radical potentials that lie within psychoanalysis’s capacity to denaturalise our sense of who we are. But such an orientation is not a given for or innate to psychoanalysis, of course; it is a complex arena of thought that has often been pulled in multiple directions.
As Mark argues: “What is reactionary about psychoanalysis is intricately tied up with what is most radical about it” — the suggestion being that Freud’s exploration of the innately weird nature of the unconscious not only problematises our desires, it also (and perhaps unintentionally) problematises the institutions that attempt to control our desires as well. (This is the reason why, Mark adds, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and Alain Badiou’s The Century “can both be right when they, respectively, attack Freud for his familialism and celebrate psychoanalysis for its denaturalization of the family structure.”)
Mark quickly pivots away from psychoanalysis, however, to consider the broader tensions found within modernism in general at this time. We are all no doubt aware by now that modernism was as much a home to a radical progressivism as it was to more fascistic tendencies — and for Mark, as well as many others in the mid-2000s, no writer demonstrated this more acutely than H.P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft’s fictions — in implicitly responding to the discoveries of Freud’s “dark enlightenment” — lay bare the contradictions of modernism and psychoanalysis some time before Lacan would popularise such a reading (albeit through Poe) in his seminars. Indeed, it is also the case that what is most reactionary about Lovecraft’s tales is innately tied up with what makes them so radical. This is because, as Mark writes, although “Lovecraft’s ‘reactionary modernism’ was constitutively unable to abject the avant garde,” which he racialised and made abhorrent, his tales nonetheless became “fatally infected with it, implicated in it.”
Mark is here reiterating an argument later excised from The Weird and the Eerie, but which I tried to make more explicitly in my book Egress: “what if the best deployment of Lovecraft was not a reversal of his texts’ libidinal polarity, such that the slimy and mulitiplicitous is embraced rather than reviled… What if, instead, it was Lovecraft’s horror of the body and the chaotic that contained the most political potential in the current [conjuncture]?”
As I was thinking about this earlier today, I remembered that the Twitter account Zero H.P. Lovecraft exists… It’s been a long time since I thought about that account — I was blocked by him years ago — but I remember when it first emerged, it captivated much of the blogosphere. The first story that ZHPL published — I forget its title — was praised almost universally: a weird tale in the Lovecraftian tradition that nonetheless updated Lovecraft’s anxieties to the present day. More than mere fan-fiction or pastiche, however, the story was hailed as a deeply original and also uncanny continuation of the Lovecraftian mode, exciting a blogosphere still tentatively enthralled by the philosophy of Nick Land.
But just as Land’s brain worms have since grown to Shai-Hulud-like proportions since 2017, so is the ZHPL Twitter account a monstrous cesspit of racism and misogyny. You won’t find many admitting to being enthralled by his writing now (at least on the left-wing of the blogosphere)… Suffice it to say, as effective and affective as their fictions once were on first reading, it is not a part of the internet I miss from the other side of the block.
Still, in thinking once again about the rise of the alt-right and its Landian penchant for Lovecraftian fictions, I wonder what exactly it is that these accounts present us with today? It is clearly not a “reactionary modernism” any longer. Is it, perhaps, a “reactionary postmodernism”?
This formulation is question-begging. Is postmodernism not innately reactionary? I don’t think so, actually. Following Jameson, my understanding of postmodernism — as “the cultural logic of late capitalism” — is that it represents an oddly frictionless space. Whereas modernism was propelled by its tensions and contradictions, postmodernism’s equivalents are wholly affectless; it is a space where things co-exist without any meaningful tension whatsoever. It is arguably incapable of being reactionary in any truly meaningful sense.
But maybe there is something in Fisher’s assessment of a “reactionary modernism” that is clarifying today regardless. Perhaps we only require a further modifier: theirs is a neoreactionary postmodernism. This phrase already feels familiar enough, but how exactly do its internal contradictions function?
Whereas Lovecraft seemingly abhorred the avant-garde, whilst nonetheless being infected with its affective vectors, we can note how many of the formerly “alt-right” crowd instead declare themselves to be the avant-garde du jour. This self-assessment is useful, and in light of Fisher’s sense of a Lovecraftian modernism, quite ironic. But there is no tension to this irony. Neoreactionary tantrums and racist epithets, though offensive, nonetheless appear to have a diminished charge.
The current moral panic around Hogwarts Legacy may be a useful example. As a terminally online subsection of the left impotently prevaricates over whether it is morally right to play the game — as much as I have love for trans allies and activists online, many would benefit as much from logging off as their terminally online TERF counterparts some days, lest they meet a similar fate (see: keffals) — many on the right end up affirming the consumption of a AAA video game, attached to perhaps the most profitable and popular media franchise in the world, as some sort of political radical act. (“If you boycott, I am going to mindlessly consume so hard!”)
This kind of response is only a stone’s throw from how the ZHPL’s and Dime Square socialites of today act in response to the strands of progressivism they disagree with. Indeed, they end up inverting the reactionary tendencies of yore quite explicitly.
This crowd does not abhor the avant-garde but instead make attempts to abject the “normies” that swarm beneath them. But much like Lovecraft himself, they cannot separate themselves from the caricatures they drape over the rest of us. Indeed, they are in fact constitutively unable to abject the normie, instead being fatally infected with and implicated in the trad. Many affirm this, of course, but it humiliates any claim to the avant-garde that might otherwise be affirmed in the same breath.
Again, what makes this crowd so radical is likewise what makes them so reactionary. As the dregs of a late-2010s edgelord culture of alt-right (or post-left) trolls, they can rightly claim to have contributed to the wholesale denaturalisation of a complacent political order. Nothing will be the same post-Trump. But in staying there, sticking their feet in 2017 and its moment of upheaval, they let history pass them by. The new horrors they find in our modern world are only the unintended consequences of their own actions. Far more has been denaturalised than the liberal consensus alone. It is for this reason that their horror at the new bodies and chaos of the present — the unsettling of so many of the traditional values they still hold dear — is where many find the most political potential in our current conjuncture.