Notes on and Against the
Media-Political Complex

For International Transgender Day of Visibility, 2023

There was a wonderful presentation given by Juliet Jacques at Newcastle University last night, organised as part of its INSIGHTS public lecture series to coincide with LGBT+ History Month (which was last month but the event was rescheduled due to strikes).

Jacques spoke about her work to date, specifically her three books on transgender experiences: Trans: A Memoir (2015), the short story collection Variations (2021), and a collection of her trans journalism from 2007 to 2021, Front Lines (2022). (Of course, Jacques has done much more than write alone, also working as a broadcaster and filmmaker.)

What struck me most during the lecture were Jacques’ comments on how others might undertake the kind of work she has become known for, in a new way and in the here and now. She spoke of not wanting to be typecast; of wanting media representations of trans people that aren’t simply “mundane” or “incidental” or, as is the case right now, so painfully topical, but rather a world in which trans experiences are seen simply as a part of “the tapestry of life” — a weaving that I interpreted as multidirectional, rhizomatic even, affirmed from both within and without; a world that allows not just for one’s own appearing but also the freedom to explore one’s many interests, which may stray from the enforced existential questioning that is made foundational to trans identities by a wider and innately hostile world. Not just trans “representation” as such, then, but the expressive freedom to be trans and to create like anyone else.

Now in her early 40s, in order for her to do this, Jacques felt it was necessary to move on from such an existential questioning, to explore those other interests, of which she has so many, and pass on the baton to a younger generation of trans people who are necessarily more preoccupied with building a world in which they want to (and can) live. (Jacques did not feel like she had to relinquish such a responsibility absolutely, she said during the Q&A, but felt, when it came to discussions of trans experiences explicitly, she may have said all that she has to say.)

But to take up such a baton seems harder to do now than ever, in the midst of a transphobic “media-political complex”, which Jacques sees as “the biggest political problem in the UK” today, since it is the primary blockade that stops all other change being imaginable — a communicative-capitalist realism, perhaps.

On this point, she made me wonder about how the blogosphere has waned in recent years. I often think, perhaps blogs have just fallen out of fashion. But when framed within a broader “media-political” context, such a waning seems less incidental than it does intentional.

Both the left and the right, Jacques argued, have restricted themselves to “exploiting loopholes in liberalism”, advocating for one’s own appearance in the “marketplace of ideas”, which is fatally adjudicated and refereed from the centre. In the 2010s, there was a proliferation of new media platforms on the left, but many may rightly feel that these platforms, in order to survive, have had to cosy up closer to the “mainstream” media and its centrist mode of comportment than seemed necessary at their inception. (This may be because the right themselves have followed suit, such that the peripheries of a centralised — and, of course, centrist — discursive space are now populated by many more reactionary websites and online magazines as well, all fighting for influence, and so we can note how the proliferation of new discursive spaces is now something that our media-political complex is more willing to accept than it was a decade ago.)

What is to be done?

Every few years — probably a lot more frequently than that these days — I take this kind of question personally. I wonder if I’m doing things right. I wonder whether this blog is redundant, whether I should have “progressed” to new spaces. There is an unspoken expectation, it seems, to write independently only for so long, build a profile, and graduate from blogs to books and columns, op-eds and TV appearances. (Something it is assumed I have done simply by virtue of being published, but nothing is so simple…)

Whether this is achieved or not, it is all too often the case that, on Twitter at least, to have any sort of profile is to be seen as part of the fabric of that same overarching media-political complex. Semi-regularly, I find myself denounced by cynics and haters as a careerist or a sell-out, as if I’m out here only to make money from my opinions, which never quite appear as “commitments” but are rather reduced to positions that are advocated for merely to fill a role in the totalising complex of politicised multimedia.

Just last night, some idiot made a remark I’ve heard all too often, which is that my work on Mark Fisher is simply a cash-grab, such that an acknowledgement of the “work” I have done on Mark Fisher’s thought — and it is undoubtedly work of a certain type — obscures its point of emergence from an abject and personal grief. I understand the point: it is necessary, for one’s own survival, that all work be remunerated. But the writing life is wholly unsustainable without funds from other sources. I say it all the time and it always bears repeating: writing does not pay, and so writing can hardly be done for money. But when seen through the lens of a totalising media-political complex, there is a prevailing and cynical assumption that no one does anything except for money and clout.

This is because, ultimately, we’re all talking to each other. There is no discursive outside. We are trapped in what Deleuze calls a corrupted communication; what Jodi Dean calls “communicative capitalism.” In an interview published under the title “Control and Becoming”, Deleuze says:

The quest for “universals of communication” ought to make us shudder … You ask whether control or communication societies will lead to forms of resistance that might reopen the way for a communism understood as the “transversal organization of free individuals” …

(Communism understood, as Blanchot once enigmatically wrote, as the “material search for communication”.)

… Maybe, I don’t know. But it would be nothing to do with minorities speaking out. Maybe speech and communication have been corrupted. They’re thoroughly permeated by money — and not by accident but by their very nature. We’ve got to hijack speech. Creating has always been something different from communicating. The key thing is to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control.

It is hard to know what such a noncommunication would even look like today. Everyone seems to think they are engaged in an elusive dance with apparatuses of capture, which seems wholly unmeasurable beyond certain public and private self-assurances. My feeling is that there are plenty of examples of noncommunication that exist, but “universals of communication” cloud our eyes nonetheless. Whether something is resistant or not, we cannot see it, since we see everything through the prism of the media-political complex.

This is made readily apparent on Twitter, when people do their utmost to deconstruct any vocal individual’s communicative “authenticity”. After Jacques’ talk, a few of us went out for dinner and drinks. Peter Mitchell was present and we were laughing about a familiar accusation sent to him on Twitter that evening: that the fact he’d published a book on Manchester University Press somehow equated to an “academic sinecure”.

No matter how precarious you may remain, being visible alone makes you, in the eyes of the ignorant, immediately complicit with a general media circuitry. But in so many cases, it is not remotely true. We remain on the periphery, in actuality, such that the death of the author produces a zombified virtual avatar — quite literally on social media — who is somehow more affluent and complicit with Control in the minds of others than an individual writer could ever be. You are left feeling damned if you do, damned if you don’t — materially and financially ostracized, contrary to the perception you’re somehow on the “inside” now.

With all of this in mind, Deleuze’s argument above warrants some unpacking. Speech and communication may be “thoroughly permeated by money”, but that money is generally unseen by those who speak. They are permeated, perhaps, with the idea of money, more than anything else. Bank is reserved for the few who find a position at the heart of the media-political complex, or are more securely situated within its distributive entities. And perhaps not even then — I don’t know how well-off other people really are. But the result is that there is a false equivalence constantly made between writing and grifting, where all philosophy (in the broadest sense of the term) appears indistinguishable from either an imagined academic security or popular sophistry, unless you reduce your existence to an errant and inconsequential “posting”.

Jacques’ advice given, with regards to how we can remedy this situation, was familiar (although it is a piece of advice I have not heard for a few years now, since the height of the blogosphere): it is better to set up your own platforms and not rely on cultural gatekeepers, she said. It is better to just do what you want.

I’ve been thinking about this as I (very prematurely) think about what I want to do next. My PhD is going to take up most of my time over the next few years, and I should let that be the case — I already pitched a new book draft, in a recent but brief period of manic procrastination, which was rightly turned down as it was suggested I stew for a bit, feed my mind, see what comes up later — but I’m left really wanting to do something new, something different, and to do it immediately. The end of every book project, for me at least, is always met with a desire to deform the author-function that is soon to be made public — a desperate desire to immediately counter any compartmentalisation by renouncing what I have just finished but which many have not yet even read.

Now, as I must commit to returning to the academic fold, I am left longing for an immersion in a mode of writing that I explored more emphatically last year, which was more fragmentary, improvisatory, deformed — to my mind, more “literary”. I’m not sure when (or where) I’ll find the opportunity to do that in the near future (other than right here on the blog). And I already know that, should I hope to have my efforts published elsewhere, such a writing would not be an easy sell, unless I become more confident in its less academic and more generally literary and experimental merits.)

This is a conundrum specific to my present circumstances, of course, with my prevaricating and anxiety probably being of little interest to others, but I am without doubt that it will resonate with others too. The question of what is to be done next never leaves you alone. But there is hope — and it is a hope to can found with a writer’s life that is also lived whilst being transgender.

Jacques spoke at length on her book Variations, a project some two decades in the making, she said, which is made up of short stories that each explore a different space-time in transgender history. It is an inspiring project, and one that clearly means a lot to her, which contains stories that cover a multitude of styles, places, times and registers. In speaking to some kind of transhistorical (pun intended) experience, the book is so wonderfully varied, as per its title.

Discussing and summarising the book during her lecture, Jacques made reference to Sandy Stone’s The Empire Strikes Back, which is an essay, Stone herself says, that is

about morality tales and origin myths, about telling the “truth” of gender. Its informing principle is that “technical arts are always imagined to be subordinated by the ruling artistic idea, itself rooted authoritatively in nature’s own life.” It is about the image and the real mutually defining each other through the inscriptions and reading practices of late capitalism. It is about postmodernism, postfeminism, and [dare I say it] posttranssexualism.

All trans writing plays explicitly with genre/gender in this regard — a francophonic injunction once associated with Jacques Derrida, particularly his essay “The Law of Genre”, perhaps, but which has become more closely associated with trans literature since then, which Juliet herself discusses here.

Trans writing is a “formally inventive writing”, and necessarily so, since, as Jacques put it in her lecture, the trans experience is itself an experiment with form — “life-experimentation”, as Deleuze might say. It is a function of LGBT writing in general, she adds, arguing — according to someone referenced whose name I’ve already forgotten; perhaps Stone again or maybe Susan Stryker — that LGBT discourses were born of the industrial revolution, of industrialisation in general, and the breaking of feudal bonds.

It is an argument explored in my forthcoming book, Narcissus in Bloom, such that the pathology of narcissism, “invented” at the end of the nineteenth century, was initially an attempt to pathologize homosexual relations and the “love of the same”. But as Steven Bruhm argues, “Narcissus, who is said to aspire to that which is the same, is continually destroying the political safety promised by sameness.”

Narcissus in Bloom is a positive book, about (self-)transformation. It could just as easily have been a more negative (and perhaps Deleuzian) text, however, about (self-)deformation. But how to deform when you feel like you are still only just building a life? How to deform life in its making? How to deform writing in its very construction?

On one or two occasions, across yesterday evening, we spoke fleetingly of poetry. (Jacques mentioned that she was particularly interested in trans poetry at present.) As Michael and I walked Juliet to her hotel, I asked her about her experience of lockdown, how she felt about Variations being released in the midst of Covid. She said it was strange and that publishing took an unexpected hit over those years. We might have assumed that, since we were stuck indoors, we would turn to reading as an activity more readily. But she, like so many, could not bring herself to read much at all. I felt the same way too.

When I moved to Huddersfield at the end of the first lockdown, I explained how I found a new appreciation for poetry, living in the Yorkshire landscape that inspired Emily Brontë and Sylvia Plath. Poems, in their often quintessential brevity, were easier to read and reread at that time, whereas other tomes repulsed. The distillation of life into stanzas felt as much like a deformation as it did a crystallisation, at a time when life itself felt painfully deformed and distilled in equal measure.

It was then that I first read Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry (discussed in my recent Dublin lecture), in which he argues that “the noble failure at the heart of every great poem” emerges from “the impulse to launch the experience of the individual into a timeless communal existence.”

It is an argument I’ve found resonating with much Caribbean literature more recently. Reading Edouard Glissant’s Caribbean Discourse whilst waiting for a friend before Jacques’ lecture, I underlined the following:

The author must be demythified, certainly, because he must be integrated into a common resolve. The collective ‘We’ becomes the site of the generative system, and the true subject.

In his introduction, J. Michael Dash argues that the “point of departure of Caribbean literature has been the effort to write the subject into existence”, but Glissant subverts this task into a deformation, emphasising “the structuring force of landscape, community, and collective unconscious”, far beyond any subject’s nascent individuality. Glissant was influenced, in this regard, by Aimé Césaire, for whom “the subject was not privileged but simply the site where the collective experience finds articulation” — a “decentered subject, central to the poetics of the cross-cultural imagination”. The power of any writer, then, Dash continues, is found in their “capacity … to descend, like Orpheus, into the underworld of the collective unconscious and to emerge with a song that can reanimate the petrified world.”

There is a wonderful resonance, I think, between the writings of a black diaspora and the requirements of any other marginalised subject that must proceed by corrupting a wider hegemony, simply by existing. (Binaries of sex, gender and race are acutely related in this regard, as others have more recently argued.) But whereas Caribbean literature has the Creole language to create “vacuoles of noncommunication”, what does gender, more generally, have today? How do languages of resistance make themselves heard in the midst of a totalising media-political complex, beyond the specificity of Creole culture? Is it in the language of blogs? Not anymore, it seems. Such a suggestion feels immediately parochial. But perhaps this is made possible in other ways…

There is something to be said for simply speaking your own truth, regardless of its compounding by a wider media hegemony. Jacques demonstrated this, perhaps without even meaning to, in the Q&A that followed her talk.

Although the atmosphere in the lecture hall felt jovial, as Jacques cracked wise before her attentive audience, the event was briefly overshadowed by a final question asked by an audience member, before we filed out to buy books and have them signed.

Moments prior, Jacques had responded to a question from a young trans woman in the audience, who asked how Jacques felt about a more flippant and colloquial language used by many public trans figures: the “whatever-being” of those who may not speak so eloquently on trans politics, and notably by choice. Jacques had no problem with this, and added that a certain flippancy regarding an expected rhetoric was itself important. Speak however you like. Trans people may often find themselves pulled into debates on their own existence, but no one needs to take TERFs and other transphobic people seriously, nor engage with them in a style of debate that is constructed by a pervasive centrism, at least if they don’t want to.

This young student’s question was ironically followed by a comment made by a more elderly woman, who raised her hand and began, “I am a feminist, and a lifelong socialist”, with the “but…” implied if not announced explicitly. (I am certain that I recognised this woman as a supporter of Posie Parker’s recent #LetWomenSpeak event in Newcastle, but I couldn’t say for sure.) She rambled on for a few minutes, giving anyone who might have wanted to play TERF bingo a rapid ‘full house’ — biological essentialism, single-sex spaces and prisons, etc. — before the event’s chair, Kate Chedgzoy, interjected to ask if she wanted to ask a question or simply make a rambling statement. Things, for a moment, felt heated. (“Whose got a can of soup?” someone asked, speaking over the woman as she continued to ramble.) Encouraged to get to the point, she rushedly concluded by asking Jacques to speak to the “tensions” that exist between trans and women’s rights, to which Jacques (and the rest of the room) succinctly replied that no tension exists. Then the event was over.

It was an interjection that upset everyone, as it was a sad and combative conclusion to a talk that had otherwise been so joyful. But the woman’s argument was also illustrative of what Jacques had been saying for much of the last hour. This woman was clearly and totally immersed in the talking points amplified incessantly by the media-political complex that Jacques had previously denounced. There was no original comment made, no reflection on any part of Jacques’ 40-minute lecture, just the mindless regurgitation of TERF talking points. Hers was a “comment” that was woefully restricted to a perspective that Jacques had pushed far beyond. There was no sense of fanfare or transgression or defiance in Jacques’ words, in this sense, only the unfurling of her own traversal of the tapestry of life, of her life and career, through which she has explored so many topics in print, as well as on radio and television. In stark contrast, this final part of the Q&A was embarrassingly myopic, as if this woman had heard nothing at all, her ears blocked by a sad agenda that was so rehearsed (even if poorly) as to hardly even sound like her own at all.

Jacques did not come back at this woman with hostility or even bother entertaining her position at all. There was no need. Her expansive interests and body of work, explored over the previous hour, made few direct references to the media furore that overshadows trans experiences today. She spoke of navigating it, at times, particularly as a former Guardian columnist, but in conversation spoke instead of her fascination with British towns in general, their architecture, their football stadiums; the strange stories to be found in any exploration of local politics; the writers and politicians produced by spaces and landscapes so often overlooked, who appear all the more radical and inspiring having emerged from “nowhere”. Places are strange. The specificities of certain localities, and the ‘We’ that may populate them, humiliates any genericised worldview. The tapestry of life is so complex and intricate, filled with imperfections and deviations, unsettling any “common” sense or norm. Life emerges there, and feels innately experimental, in the margins that are in fact centres for the vast majority of us.

In this way, Jacques’ writings on trans politics and experiences reveal the lifeforce of so much more besides. To be confronted and asked to address illusory tensions was completely inapposite, even if the talk was advertised as an account of the trans writing life. But rather than encase her writing in a specific subject position, this was only the starting point, outwards from which the world came to life in Jacques’ journeys through its wonderous incongruities, lingering in the memorial vacuoles of underrepresented stories and times, creating space for that which struggles to be communicated.

ChatGPT Wrote This Blogpost

The world today is full of contradictions and complexities that often leave us feeling disoriented and uncertain. From the rise of authoritarianism and the erosion of democratic norms to the threats of climate change and economic inequality, it can be difficult to make sense of the present moment. But perhaps the key to understanding our situation lies in looking beyond the familiar frameworks and paradigms that we have inherited from the past.

One way of doing this is by embracing the concept of xenogothic thought, which challenges the dominant narratives of our time and opens up new possibilities for understanding the world. At its core, xenogothic thought involves a rejection of the traditional dichotomies between the human and the non-human, the natural and the artificial, and the past and the present.

Instead, it offers a vision of the world as a complex and dynamic system that is constantly evolving and changing in response to a range of different forces and influences. This perspective invites us to think beyond the familiar categories and to embrace a more fluid and open-ended understanding of the world around us.

One of the key insights of xenogothic thought is that the boundaries between different forms of life and matter are not fixed or predetermined. Rather, they are constantly shifting and evolving, as new forms of technology, culture, and social organization emerge and interact with one another. This fluidity and instability is what gives the world its vibrancy and complexity, and it is what makes it such a rich and fascinating place to explore and study.

At the same time, xenogothic thought also acknowledges the deep interconnections between different forms of life and matter. It recognizes that everything is interconnected, from the smallest particles to the largest structures, and that these connections are what make the world a coherent and meaningful whole.

In this sense, xenogothic thought can be seen as a way of breaking down the barriers that separate us from the world around us. It invites us to embrace the full complexity and richness of our environment, and to engage with it in a more open and creative way.

Ultimately, xenogothic thought offers a powerful framework for understanding the world and our place within it. By challenging our assumptions and pushing us beyond our comfort zones, it helps us to see the world in new and exciting ways, and to explore the endless possibilities that lie ahead.

Pretty wishy-washy. Sounds like a corporate marketing speech from some venture capitalist start-up. Distinctly lacking fun bits of pop culture or goth stuff. Does not do well to define its central term. Some general posthumanist / gothic materialist vibes going on though. 3/10.

Kitty’s Itty Bitty No Titty Kitty

Wonderful friend to all and Scouse DJ extraordinaire Kitty is currently raising funds for top surgery. I first met them in 2017, a stone’s throw from Goldsmiths, dressed as an octopus, and they’ve been one of my favourite people ever since. They were a big factor in me moving up to Newcastle, and they’re a much-loved part of the community up here in general. If you can give anything towards the itty bitty no titty kitty, that would be amazing. You can find their GoFundMe page here.

If you’re down London ends, there’s also going to be a big fundraising party at the end of April. Tickets for that are currently going on the RA website here, with poster by Natasha Eves below.

The Year is 1984:
Notes on Hypofiction

Baudrillard conceptualised the hyperreal many decades ago as a certain quality of postmodern experience, wherein we cannot clearly distinguish between what is real and what is not. It is a term that he applies explicitly to ever-improving technologies of representation, such that nowadays, in the age of deep fakes and AI-generated photorealism, it feels evermore prescient and inescapable.

Hyperfiction used to refer to any sort of digital media that had exceeded the restrictions of paper and ink in the early years of the Internet. An example of hyperfiction, then, could be any kind of online fiction that utilised hyperlinks. But I think Mark Fisher retooled the concept and made it far more interesting and useful when talking about Toy Story in Flatline Constructs. There, he discusses the film as a fictional narrative about toys, following the release of which the toys are themselves made purchasable and material. It is not simply the case that the distinction between reality and fiction is blurred, but rather that fiction far more explicitly intervenes within reality.

It was an interesting time to be a child when that first Toy Story movie came out. A lot of the toys I’d play with as a kid, aside from my Dad’s old Lego box, were generally movie tie-ins from other eras. Star Wars merchandise, for instance, like miniatures of various characters, were among my favourites. But Toy Story changed things.

I knew the film itself was not real, as an animation, but when my uncle bought me a Woody doll for my birthday one year, I remember being quite disturbed by the possibility that my toys may well come alive when I’m not in the room. (A phenomenon Fisher talks about this at length in his thesis, drawing on Sherry Turkle’s research into how the technological innovations of the Nineties, particularly the Internet, were reshaping subjectivity.)

It was like sensing the installation of your own superego. To play with my toys was now to be reflexively aware of their own (apparent) agency. A Kleinian playtime was not necessarily about processing my own feelings, but rather being afraid of the ways my toys might be toying with me and might be having feelings of their own. (Perhaps I was just a neurotic child, plagued by adoption trauma, but that Woody toy made me feel nothing but guilt when I left it on its own in my room, like a neglected pet or another child.)

Personal anecdotes aside, suffice it to say that I found my Nineties hyperfictional childhood unsettling in all sorts of ways, and not so much a reservoir for nostalgia. Cultural theorists like Fisher and others have certainly helped many of us to critically reflect on that time in hindsight, but it was also already readily apparent, even to us as children, that new things were happening and some of them felt really weird.

It’ll be interesting to see what sort of cultural artefacts comes to dominate the zeitgeist if and when we millennials come to explore these neuroses in more contemporary media, although we seem far more preoccupied with being cross-generational “middle children” than actually dealing with this stuff.

On the one hand, we bemoan Gen Z for not knowing what VHS tapes or landline telephones are, as we struggle to come to terms with the fact that we all thought we’d be our parents by thirty, when in reality the the material conditions of our present moment mean we’re becoming developmentally arrested in our mid- to late-twenties instead. On the other hand, this helps us tell ourselves that we’re still cool because we get our TikToks second-hand on Instagram.

But if there is anything interesting about being a millennial, maybe it is seeing the push-and-pull for what it is. Gen Z get on and do what they want, intensifying a gender revolution — not unlike the sexual revolution of the Sixties — whilst a culture war rages overhead that is punctuated by a resentful cloud of Gen X wistfulness and nostalgia. And as time goes by, that Gen X nostalgia only gets weirder and weirder.

Stranger Things is quaint compared to what’s coming down the cinematic crapshoot later this year…

There have been two recent film trailers that I have not been able to escape online over the last few weeks:

1) Tetris, the 2023 movie about the creation and marketing of one of the most famous and best-selling video games of all time.

It looks like it has an interesting story to tell — a story far more interesting than the game itself. But whatever. I’m of the Nintendo 64 to PlayStation 1 generation. I never had much interest in Tetris, and so I wouldn’t have thought much about this forthcoming film at all if it weren’t for….

2) Air, the 2023 movie about Nike’s pursuit of a partnership with Michael Jordan to create the Air Jordan sneaker franchise.

Now that’s another story I really couldn’t give a shit about. But taken together, both of these soon-to-be-released films signify an interesting (if depressing) development in the extraneous marketing strategies of late-stage capitalism.

What’s particularly interesting, to my mind, is that both these films dramatize an increasingly prevalent movie genre. Retellings of Eighties “coming-of-age” stories are old hat now. Today it’s all about “coming-to-market” stories.

And what is further interesting about these two coming-to-market stories in particular is that they are for two products first released in the year 1984. It’s a significant date for this kind of movie, in fact. It’s as if they are all echoing the blueprint of the Steve Jobs movie, which similarly seemed to orbit that moment in space-time.

It’s a moment that Mark Fisher draws upon in his final lectures, which I’m sure most are familiar with by now, where he begins by discussing Apple’s 1984 Superbowl commercial, directed by Ridley Scott:

What this did, really, was seed the idea of many of the tropes that are now, I think, standard in our imagining: the idea of top-down, bureaucratic control systems versus the dynamism of a kind of networked individual mindset.

And what is clever, I think — or certainly significant — all advertising you could say is a form of dreamwork — dreamwork, as Freud says, involves conflation, and a compressing, a condensing of different ideas together. All this does, if you look at the imagery, is it condenses Cold War imagery — which none of you are really old enough to actually remember except historically, I think — Cold War imagery associated with the Soviet Union in particular; negative imagery to do with dreariness, bureaucratic submission of individuals. If you look at the film, these grey drones trudge around being subjected to the ultimately top-down commands coming from the talking head, clearly referencing 1984 of Orwell … But it conflates that imagery that has long been associated with the Soviet bloc, with imagery to do with big computer corporations, such as IBM, which then dominated the computer world.

Apple is positioning itself as an upstart, as colour intervening into this grey, dreary, bureaucratic world. Apple is new. It’s female, interestingly. It’s colour intervening in this grey world of bureaucratic monoliths where IBM becomes, in the advertising dreamwork, equated with the Soviet Union. This, then, is the new world that is about to break out of this monolithic, dreary, grey, boring control system. And that’s what happened! In a certain way, it was prophetic. It was more than prophetic; you could say it was hyperstitional. It helped to bring about the very thing which it was describing. From my point of view, what I think is interesting about this, then, is the way in which it suggests there is a problem of desire in terms of capital. The thing about the Cold War imagery — what it’s suggesting is … there is only desire for capitalism. The Communist world, like IBM, and the then dominant corporate capitalist world, is boring and dreary, and that’s an objection to it! The new capitalist world won’t be like that. The new capitalist world will be about desire in a way that the Communist world won’t be.

And of course, the story of what comes next is well-trodden. “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984“, the commercial concludes, and so ignites a desire for something else. A desire for another 1984; a capitalist rather than “communist” 1984.

But has that desire matured at all? Or has it stagnated? Why, almost 30 years later, does 1984 still feel like a libidinal threshold, arrived at and then stuck with? After all, don’t these movies insist that we must keep desiring the same old 1984 of Apple, Air Jordans and Tetris?

Whereas Toy Story, for an impressionable child at least, gave the world of commodities a newly agentic (or gothic materialist) charge, letting you feel adrift and untethered in a world of objects that might have their revenge on your consumerist indifference, this kind of fiction instead contracts capitalist time around you and further exacerbates a feeling of stasis. It is less hauntological and more hauntographic. It is nostalgia wholly cut off from its generative function — and such a nostalgia does exist. (Grafton Tanner is excellent on this.)

These films are instead temporal aberrations of a kind we’ve not really seen before. This is no longer a kind of hagiographic biopic of an entrepreneurial guru. This isn’t a film about a Steve Jobs or a Coco Chanel. This is a film about a product. But that doesn’t make it a hyperfiction necessarily either, since these products have been fetishised for decades. It’s not even an example of retromania, since there’s little frenzy to this, little sense of fraught expansion and excitement about the recent past.

This is hypofiction. This is the contraction of capitalist space-time, rather than its technicolour expansion. It’s not nostalgia but hypochronia, in which old time pools under the surface of a disenfranchised generation not only old enough to remember the Old Days but mentally stuck there. Previous generations made this kind of film about specific “events” and eras — about the Swinging 60s, or the Roaring 20s, or even (perversely) about the chivalrous time of the two World Wars. Today, Gen X makes films not about the events it lived through, strictly speaking, but a more restrictive kind of capitalist event; it makes films about the things it used to buy.

For what purpose? It is hard to say. The obvious answer might be that these brands simply want to reinvigorate their IP. We have moved from product placements to product-protagonists, and so the self-mythologising function of capitalist dreamwork has fallen victim to its sense of signifying inflation too. Once upon a time, a Superbowl commercial would suffice; now you need a blockbuster. But still, the question is: why?

In 1984, we might argue that a new capitalist fiction was still being written. These products were the backbone of Cold War dreamwork, as commodity fetishism spread from capitalist enclosures into their outside. (Tetris, in particular, seems to really play up the whole Cold War drama of the story being told.) But the old dream is dead. The world is still defined by drudgery. The technicolour promise has been revealed as a lie.

Capitalism is no longer in the business of making things new. All it can do, it seems, is reinvigorate the old spirit of 1984, and the products brought to market that lent a superficial agency to our own purchasing power. As the capitalist ideal is humiliated through its infernal repetitions, the myth must be re-grounded. We can still “buy in” to that time of promise, if only by going to the cinema, re-immersing ourselves in that still- functional dream factory; in the darkened room, which cloaks the late-capitalist reality of empty shelves, faltering production and the depressing capture of the shop floor.

New Tenderness 010

[I can hear the seething mania in this one. I’m having a weird time.]

I struggled to make a mix this month as all of my records and my hard drive are in storage. There are a couple tunes here, but I’m giving 40 mins of this month’s hour over to a recording of a talk I gave recently at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. It’s a talk about some of my own work, a book I’ve just finished, but mostly about why writing is good and art is good and how we can use a lot of what we make for ourselves and each other to help imagine new worlds.


Nia Archives — Ode 2 Maya Angelou
DJ Harmony — Hear Me Now
Hooverian Blur — Techlash
Meemo Comma — Loverboy
Postgraduate Desires [Excerpt from a Talk at NCAD, Dublin]

Two More Translations of
Postcapitalist Desire

I may well be a little late to the party here, but it was recently brought to my attention that there are now two further translations of Mark Fisher’s final lectures out in the world, which I first began transcribing roughly this time three years ago, in the midst of the first Covid-19 lockdown.

The Arabic edition has been translated by Nawal Al-Ali and published by Takween Publishing. You can find more information on their website.

The French edition has been translated by Louis Morelle and published by Audimat Editions. It also includes a translation of the unfinished introduction to Acid Communism, translated by Julien Guazzini, which first appeared in English in the big K-Punk collection. More information on their website.

Spring Fragments

In reality writing does not have its end in itself, precisely because life is not something personal. Or rather, the aim of writing is to carry life to the state of a non-personal power. In doing this it renounces claim to any territory, any end which would reside in itself. Why does one write? Because it is not a case of writing. It may be that the writer has delicate health, a weak constitution. He is none the less the opposite of the neurotic: a sort of Alive (in the manner of Spinoza, Nietzsche or Lawrence) in so far as he is only too weak for the life which runs through him or the affects which pass in him. To write has no other function: to be a flux which combines with other fluxes — all the minority-becomings of the world.

— Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues II

I have effectively taken my first day off in two weeks today. I have been working intensely, although I know I’ve spent more money doing so than I’ll make from the effort.

Back in mid-February, I asked ChatGPT who I am and I found the answer it gave oddly inspiring. It attributed a book to me that I had not written, but I took this to be an eerie encounter, and have since planned to pervert the error into a hyperstition. The book, as described, is something I could have written, and in some ways already have written. It felt like a summary of this blog, and so inadvertently provided a scaffolding around which I hope to build a new book. I’m already some 40k words in and very happy with what I have so far.

But then I felt weird about not writing on the blog too much of late. Between Narcissus in Bloom (now properly finished, heading off to print in a month’s time for an August 8th release date), my PhD and now this new procrastination project, I have had no reason to.

Once upon a time, I used to get very neurotic about posting regularly on the blog, and did so with such intensity that I gather no one could keep up and eventually stopped trying to. I stopped caring about that at some point. At first I thought I was neurotically preoccupied with generating content. Then I realised I would write so much just to feel alive. Or not alive, but to demonstrate to myself, more than anyone, that I was surviving. Those months during which I wrote the most were the months when I felt most scared and insecure.

Writing gets me through the day.

When I do write, I write in public — outside pubs or coffee shops or on the blog. Better the street than the corner of the cafe or the library, back turned on the world. It is all the more grounding to write in the midst of things, chatting to people who come and go, never minding the interruption, becoming known locally, not so much as a name but as a constant presence, my drink orders recognised. There are probably five or six different places in this city where I could get away with just saying, “The usual, please!” It lets me know where all my money is going, that I’m probably drinking too much since I moved out, but the cost of feeling seen is worth it, rather than becoming invisible, or worse still, relying on an irreal social-media presence. That’s a surefire way to catch brainworms.

All of this gives the impression that I’m active, sociable, a part of the world around me. But there’s no ignoring the fact that I still spend the vast majority of my time alone.

I had a conversation with two friends in the pub a few weeks back. We were exchanging notes on how we feel about our own productivity, our own potentials. A story is shared about writing so furiously, in the midst of a relationship, such that the relationship itself suffers. It felt all too familiar. But rather than take this as a failure of character, it feels better right now — for me at least — to write as much as possible and affirm the drive, to give myself over to the compulsion and get to work, to get it out of my system maybe, so that one day, when I can’t comprehend the idea of writing any more, I might finally be able to give myself over to a life shared with someone else

But at the moment, I’m not sure how I’ll ever give it up. Not having the words to describe experiences is a horror I daren’t think about.

It was as if I had lost language / been forced / to the outer edge of words

Left with a body that even Antigone
would refuse to hold in her arms

I am reading Aftermath by Preti Taneja at the moment and the opening chapter resonates but lightly, a reflection on trauma that has all the weight of experience but the lightness of words.

I stick a bright orange post-it tab against the lines above, leaving too long a tail for my liking. I moved it, but the ink hardly sits on the page. The word “had” if left faint, the post-it taking a layer of signification off with it, now floating in the space between paragraphs.

In moments of deep loss we become as children, trained to seek comfort in the old fairy tales: the fundamental good versus the fundamental evil. We crave the redemptive hope of the hero’s journey in the old tradition of linear story from when we are born we are immersed in this the dominant mythic; we wait for someone to deliver us

An epigraph for my PhD if ever there was one. An epitaph for life more generally.

I moved out of a shared flat at the end of February and am now occupying a friend’s spare room. I am living out of bags, with the rest of my stuff in storage. “Functionally homeless.”

I am glad to have a roof over my head but it is only temporary. I have three bags with me — one for a few books (mostly Deleuze) and my laptop; two for clothes and daily ephemera. I feel constantly unmoored and struggle to relax into things. It’s partly why I no longer live where I used to. I think it is difficult to live with someone so constantly if quietly on edge. I don’t know how to feel safe anywhere. It’s exhausting.

Since moving out, nothing has worked out as I hoped it would. I apply for flats but get rejected from each one. It is like applying for a job, playing a numbers game of persistent applications for various houses, some wanted and some not, in the blind hope that one will pay off. The pressure of unemployment rubs up against the general cost of living, as does the pressure of homelessness, even as a technicality. I have the money (just) to live somewhere, if “somewhere” should become available. But even without rent and bills to pay, limbo is expensive. I’m worried I won’t be able to afford my storage lot long-term.

The stress is constant, like a low hum, but it is manageable. I keep myself busy with work in between crises.

I go for lunch with a new friend on campus and leave feeling like they already had an innate sense of how much we had in common. Our experiences are so similar, but they have clearly put more time into coming to terms with their own. We talk about queerness, negotiating non-binary identities and transitioning, as well as displaced children — my PhD topic — and how we find the right language to talk about certain experiences that feel ever-present but under-represented (or otherwise represented poorly).

I’m struck, at first, by how eloquent they are. They describe their own feelings and experiences in ways that resonate deeply with mine, but which I’ve never known how to put into words. It’s a problem that I feel on so many levels. Whereas I jot down thousands of words on this blog, each sketching a broad and general outline of a feeling, they condense things down into a few conversational sentences. And they are a scientist, not a writer. I am left wondering if writing is such a compulsion precisely because I don’t have the words. I simply try them all.

“You’re just a canny lad who finds life hard.” An observation that has haunted me for nine months now, back when it all started to go wrong.

I think back to last year’s intense period of blogging all the time, when it was uncertain to friends and readers — as well as to myself — whether this flare-up of intensity was a product of an unwell mind or a life raft amidst the turmoil.

I think it was both. Friends, who I was living with, were torn. They didn’t know whether to let me read certain books or have open access to my laptop. A couple of things were confiscated, if memory serves. But over time, as they realised they could not keep me from reading and writing, there was a begrudging acceptance to see where things would lead.

I remember Tariq especially, over email, at first being worried by the excessively public self-exposure of my own struggles, but later found a sensitivity on display that he believed was healing — and so did I.

Was I digging down deeper into some sort of morbid self-pity or excavating the crash site? Without intending to, I think I provided some anecdotal evidence for the thesis of my next book.

A depressively narcissistic tendency digs deep down into the ego — which is unable to think and talk and complain about anything other than itself — before smashing through to the other side, creating some kind of wormhole out the back way.

I remember Tariq suggesting that this is an unfortunate tendency at work in so many writers, who needn’t be figures as grand as those Deleuze admires. We talked about Mark a lot. A sensitivity to the world can be precisely what leads one to a cloistered world of words. But this is not to escape reality; rather, it is to let it permeate in a way that lightens the weight of the Ego. 

In much the same way, for Deleuze, “the aim of writing is to carry life to the stage of a non-personal power.” No one who truly writes, writes in order to be known. You write to alleviate the pressure of a self. To impersonalise what is felt so personally. It is a hard task to accomplish, requiring a constant shifting of that same weight. It is a profound discomfort. But writing allows you to set the weight down, objectify it, other it, allow yourself to sketch it as something that does not smother you. Not to pursue the Sisyphean labour of rolling it around but letting it settle in its place and find a beauty in its contours. 

This is not the same as a narcissistic preoccupation, though it can often look similar. The writer is instead, Deleuze continues, “the opposite of the neurotic: a sort of great Alive … in so far as he is only too weak for the life which runs through him or for the affects which pass in him.” At my most narcissistic (at least in a negative sense), I give up on writing and berate myself for a sensitivity that makes the daily drudgery of life such a hard and exhausting thing to manage and content with. I don’t know how other people do it.

At least I can write though, I tell myself. At least I have that. When all else is lost, stored away, sold off, without a home or the first idea of how to make a new one, I’ll always have paper and a pen (I hope).

A Night of Red Medicine

Really looking forward to this, organised by Sam Kelly. You can get tickets here and read more about the event below:

Join Red Medicine for a night of readings and discussion at The Horse Hospital. Amber Husain, Micha Frazer-Carroll and Matt Colquhoun will be presenting work on the political, cultural and historic significance of illness. Followed by discussions.

The readings will be of texts from illness #0, a publication edited alongside this event which be available to buy.

Admission is a donation ranging from £0-£15 depending on what you can afford.


Red Medicine is a weekly podcast featuring interviews with writers, organisers and academics about radical politics, medical anthropology, and the sociology of science.

Micha Frazer-Carroll is a columnist at the Independent. She has previously edited for gal-dem, the Guardian and Blueprint, a mental health magazine that she founded. Micha has also written for Vogue, HuffPost, Huck and Dazed. She was nominated for the Comment Awards’ Fresh New Voice of the Year Award, and the Observer/Anthony Burgess Award for Arts Criticism. She is invested in using journalism to challenge systems of power.

Matt Colquhoun is a writer and photographer from Hull, UK. They are the author of Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and Mark Fisher (2020) and the editor of Mark Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures (2021). Their next book, Narcissus in Bloom, is forthcoming from Repeater Books in 2023. Currently based in Newcastle upon Tyne, they blog at

Amber Husain is an essayist and academic, currently researching the relationship between ‘psychosomatic’ medicine and neoliberal biopolitics. She is the author of Replace Me (Peninsula Press, 2021) and Meat Love (Mack, 2023), and is currently working on a book on the politics of emotional incoherence.

The Cracks in Everything

There is something so brilliant about the sunshine in spring. It gets into everything. The trees, still barren, open outwards, newly warmed; their branches less knotted entanglements than nets that let so many things generously through.

As I walk around the Ouseburn in the mid-afternoon, at a time when, only recently, everything would already be shrouded by night, I can see for hundreds of metres, at times for miles. Other locations, not so distant, are no longer obscured by scrubs and thickets but newly perceptible through the mesh. I feel like I am only now seeing things with a new clarity.

My one-year anniversary in this city is fast approaching. March 2023 is the only month I have yet to fully experience, having initially arrived at the beginning of April. It is my favourite month so far, despite all the uncertainty it has so far contained.

I am listening to the new boygenius album a lot. I like the track “Leonard Cohen”, in particular:

Leonard Cohen once said there’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
And I am not an old man having an existential crisis
In a Buddhist monastery
Writing horny poetry
But I agree