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.
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.
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.
[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.
Intro 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]
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.
Photos from the latter half of February and the beginning of March, including visiting friends, night walks, Kitty at the Old Coal Yard, Corin at the Lubber Fiend, Man Power b2b Special Request at the Kings Street Social Club in North Shields, and performances by Strange Digressions and Marcin Pietruszewski at Tusk North 2023.
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.
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).
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 xenogothic.com.
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.
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
Arriving at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil for the second day of Tusk North, the day begins with Edward George in conversation with Derek Walmsley. To set not just the stage but the whole room, George plays “Dub Revolution” by Lee Perry — a version of which I cannot find online. Given the nature of its production and the track’s dynamic range as a whole, it’s the perfect song to use to EQ your hi-fi, he says, to tune your living room.
Over the past three years, George’s recent broadcasts on Morley Radio, under the title The Strangeness of Dub, explore dub not only as a genre that is strange but as an approach to sound that actively produces strangeness. In the introduction to the inaugural show, he describes dub as “a sonic process, a way of making new music from existing music”; a music “waiting to be excavated and discovered for the first time.” It is a sound that “has at its heart a concern with ideas of emptiness and silence, being and presence, space and repetition, and these ideas intersect with themes, especially in reggae, of Diaspora, and ‘race’ history and memory, longing and loss.”
The Lee Perry track, with its perhaps unintended uses as a tool for attunement, is a perfect introduction to this sentiment, as well as George’s particular interest in dub’s affects. It places dub immediately in the context of a kind of Freudian uncanny, the unheimliche, the homely and unhomely. It is an approach to sound and production that may begin at “home”, in a room, in a studio, but which ultimately has a “queering” function, George says.
I’m reminded of Sara Ahmed’s 2006 book, Queer Phenomenology. There is a sense in which we not only communicate who or what we are, but must inherently create identities for ourselves — a process that is made explicit when we find ourselves coming to terms with a gender identity or sexual orientation that is deemed to be “other” to the norm. Indeed, to be “oriented” at all, Ahmed argues, is to “know where we are when we turn this way or that way”. It is to have a sense of “our bearings”, she writes: “We know what to do to get to this place or to that.” But in order “to become orientated, you might suppose that we must first experience disorientation.”
Though any sense of orientation is perhaps thought to be innately visual in its nature — we understand how our position in a given space is relative to certain landmarks that surround us — Ahmed argues that orientation is a far more embodied than simply visual exercise. Borrowing the fitting — and somewhat perverse — analogy of walking blindfolded into a room from Immanuel Kant, she notes how we orient ourselves in such circumstances by first walking this way and that, arms outstretched, ears open, nostrils flared, coming to understand our position through an ad hoc process of repeatedly turning and turning again. “Space then becomes a question of ‘turning’, of directions taken, which not only allow things to appear, but also enable us to find our way through the world by situating ourselves in relation to such things.” Extending Kant’s analogy and borrowing a further subversive reading by Martin Heidegger, Ahmed notes how orientation also becomes “a question not only of how we ‘find our way’ but how we come to ‘feel at home.’”
But not everyone feels at home in the same spaces, or in and with the same bodies. There is no one place for us all to be, socially speaking, and so it is necessary to embrace a kind of multiplicity in how we all orient ourselves across different positions. This is the very sense of positioning designated by the word “queer”, Ahmed argues. She notes how the word “is, after all, a spatial term, which then gets translated into a sexual term, a term for a twisted sexuality that does not follow a ‘straight line’, a sexuality that is bent and crooked.”
Though there are plenty of landmarks around us that might help us to “see straight”, with the various gazes of a heteronormative, patriarchal, white-supremacist and capitalist society offering themselves up as righteous examples, there are always other — and equally valid — ways of doing things.
With this in mind, for Ahmed, it is important that queerness does not lose this spatial sense in being translated into a sexual term. On the contrary, queerness is so often determined by the ways that “bodies inhabit sexual spaces”, but also in how “bodies are sexualised through how they inhabit space”. It is a queerness determined by how a body orients itself to the objects around it, and how the body is itself oriented towards as an “object” for others. But queerness is not only determined by “object choice”, Ahmed suggests. It is also determined by the ways we recognise how one differs from the other objects in a given space, to the extent that our “orientations towards sexual objects affect other things that we do, such that different orientations, different ways of directing one’s desires, means inhabiting different worlds.”
George notes how a queering of dub is (or was) deeply necessary in this regard, especially when considering the abundant homophobia in Jamaica’s cultural past — a legal oppression that has begun to soften and wane in more recent decades, he suggests. But this adaptation is itself strange, at least in being so overdue, in that dub’s very relation to space, to a sense of cultural identity, makes this adaptation of social norms far easier to accomplish than many may have previously thought, such that queerness has begun to feel like more of a norm in itself — perhaps because, sonically at least, it has always already been there, albeit closeted.
George later talks about how this kind of queering process has been more evident in dub’s lyrical content over the decades, particularly its frequent references to religion. Dub has changed how subsequent generations understand actuality and the Real, he says; their understanding of cause and effect, and of material relations. This is something achieved by doing a kind of “creative damage to the things that tell you whether you’re human or not”, George says — a process that begins with dub’s inherent queering of the Bible.
The audience at Tusk North are enthused. However, during the Q&A at the end, the discussion is perhaps predictably turned towards punk and post-punk, towards The Clash and Rock Against Racism — despite the fact George seems to parry this overbearing period of British cultural history away when in conversation with Walmsley. But dub’s influence is integral here regardless. George suggests that dub’s influence on punk and post-punk in particular was an integral bridge and olive branch for a generation that was about to get “dumped on” by Thatcher in 1979. A few years prior, here is an important instance of cultural exchange that provides a white working class with a moment of creative intersectionality; a way to understand and gain solidarity with that demographic of people who are about to be framed by Thatcher’s fascists as their enemy.
But beyond this, George suggests that what is most important about dub, and black music in general, at least when it reaches the ears of white people, particularly working class or otherwise tangentially oppressed white people who embrace black music, from the birth of rock‘n’roll onwards, is that it is a music of and for life, against all the odds. He discusses Joy Division in particular, the gothic fetishisation of Ian Curtis and his suicide, but pays closer attention to record producer Martin Hannett, who transduces the sounds of Kingston and Berlin through his studio, using digital delays and tape echo in the construction of the Joy Division sound.
This sonic displacement is no coincidence, George suggests, nor are the geographic locations invoked, which are defined as sites of struggle. What Hannett does — for Joy Division as a group but perhaps also Ian Curtis in particular — is construct around this band, synonymous with post-industrial discontent and depression, various “architectures of survival”.
Walmsley goes on to ask George about his work with the Black Audio Film Collective, particularly their 1996 film The Last Angel of History, written by and starring George as the time-travelling “data thief” of its title. George suggests that the figure haunting the film’s cultural excavations is CLR James, whose approach to historiography is precisely that of a writing and re-writing of history; a way of providing a history to those who are said not to have one; history as another architecture of survival and perserverance.
Previously, it might have been suggested that, “If you don’t have a country, you don’t have a history”, George says, such that a new approach to history must necessarily be created by and for those who have suffered through forced migrations, crises of independence and state-formation, and an extreme kind of subjugation to other’s histories. It is an approach to the writing of history that might best be summarised by Michel de Certeau, in his 1975 text L’Ecriture de l’histoire:
Writing is born from and deals with the acknowledged doubt of an explicit division, in sum, of the impossibility of one’s own place. It articulates an act that is constantly a beginning: the subject is never authorized by a place, it could never install itself in an inalterable cogito, it remains a stranger to itself and forever deprived of an ontological ground, and therefore it always comes up short or is in excess, always the debtor of a death, indebted with respect to the disappearance of a genealogical and territorial “substance,” linked to a name that cannot be owned.
Walmsley later asks George about his own approach to the history of dub, which is not so much a written history, which he provides through a chronological explication of movements and moments, but instead ricochets against writing’s own bounds, in being sonically rather that literarily constituted. George does not provide much in way of an explicit answer here, perhaps because it is hard or even improper to concretise a process that is still ongoing. But the key to George’s approach might be found here nonetheless.
George remains a “data thief”, scavenging tracks from his own heritage, not as an outsider so much as someone who refuses to take any explicit ownership of a sound that is not only collectively constructed but is itself always a recombination of pre-existing objects. Dub is fugitive; it cannot be owned. But it can be used.
I hope to ask a question when the Q&A begins, but time is short. After two questions about punk and post-punk, the session is wrapped up. But the question I am left wanting to ask is: if Lee Perry allows you to EQ your living room, using the extremes of his production process to attune yourself to space, does CLR James — and the undertaking of a black historiography in general — allow you to EQ and attune yourself to time in the same way?
It is an approach put into action later in the afternoon, when George does a live rendition of his radio show in the Lit & Phil’s central library. The sound in the room is incredible, and as the day progresses, it modulates the body in surprising ways.
The intensity of sound reverberates against a collective ear in such a way that, at times, extreme frequencies seem to come as much from within as they are hurled against the delicate barrier of an eardrum. The nervous system is played and plays along, as the sound comes to feel even more at home in this strange space, decorated with the busts and portraits of so many unknown white men, whose objectified materiality deadens the sound in a space otherwise brought newly alive.
You half expect the books contained within the library’s walls to be shaken from their perches, razing history to and scattering it upon the ground, but dub instead rattles all that is around it, as existence itself is rocked steady. In the end, it is not history itself that is shaken so much as ourselves, who make it.