After hosting the first public reading from Narcissus in Bloom a few months ago (which you can listen to here), Sam Kelly and I had a further chat about the new book for his Red Medicine podcast. We talk about narcissism as pathology, its underappreciated political potentials, and other attempts at reclaiming the self and its world from the Stoics to Hervé Guibert.
Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures of Mark Fisher, which I edited and introduced back in 2020, is getting a German translation from Brumaire in October 2023. This edition features new illustrations by Andy King and has been translated into German by Alexander Brentler. You can order it here via Jacobin.
There are other translations also available of this book. Check the page on xenogothic.com for an up-to-date list.
I recently spoke to Adam, Craig and Will for the Zer0 Books and Repeater Media YouTube channel. We talk about the new book and unpacked not only my reading of the selfie but how it is informed by Gothic Materialism, German idealism and the work of Max Stirner, Foucault’s technologies of self, and a bunch of other things. Watch above.
The monkey on your back, as they say — an intriguing analogy for a burdensome problem or perhaps an addition. I wonder if this old idiom works well as a nod to the primitive brain, for the unconscious as it sits within the body, like a parasite on the spinal cord, filtering out messages and sending missives of its own up the wire. The monkey on my back has kept me in bed for a few days. I sleep a lot and the mind calms but the body aches. My back hurts especially.
I keep coming back to old Cormac McCarthy interviews, drinking in his short comments on the nature of the unconscious. He speaks with a poet’s brevity that leaves you craving so much more.
“The same thing that tells you what to write tells you when to stop writing it”, he tells Oprah. Somewhere else — I can’t remember where — I think he says that the only thing you need to be an artist is an interesting relationship with your own unconscious. (This might just be something I have said to myself.)
“Interesting” is an appropriate word here. It feels free of judgement. It says little with regards to whether that relationship is good or bad, positive or negative. It must simply be interesting.
I started rewatching Twin Peaks: The Return last night. I was recently asked about David Lynch and Mark Fisher in an interview, due to be published in Spanish in a few months’ time. I want to share the response given in English out of context here and now, if only because it is on my mind:
David Lynch is of course renowned for his ability to unveil the dark surreality of American life. His films reveal the nightmarishness innate to the political passivity of the American dream. In this sense, we might refer to Lynch’s nightmares as critiques in their own right. Their political content may be obscure, but they feel innately political to me, if only for the ways they make manifest an oneiric plane upon which we might begin to think differently. And yet, the elevation of Lynch to the status of auteur, the elevation of his particular cinematic signature to the singular term “Lynchian”, transforms the many curtains that define his works into brick walls. Those viewers who denounce his works as weird in a pejorative sense do so to restrict their potential affects. In fact, the affectivity of his films should not simply be understood as the work of a singular genius but rather the work of a man who has found a particularly affective (and effective) way of visualising our collective unconscious. When we go to see a film by David Lynch in the cinema, then, we should not welcome our momentary visitation to his world, but rather acknowledge the ways he allows us to think differently about our own.
The use of curtains in Lynch’s films is of central importance here. As Fisher writes in The Weird and the Eerie:
“The division between worlds [is] often marked by one of Lynch’s frequently recurring visual motifs: curtains. Curtains both conceal and reveal (and, not accidentally, one of the things that they conceal and reveal is the cinema screen itself). They do not mark a threshold; they constitute one: an egress to the outside.”
Here we gain an insight not only into Fisher’s interest in Lynch but his interest in cinema as a whole. These films are not simply dreams, detached from reality; they can affect reality profoundly, and indeed, portray for us a reality affected. To make a film, then, is to document the manifestation of another reality. Shakespeare’s oft-repeated adage that the whole world is a stage is inverted, such that the dreamwork of Hollywood soundstages constitutes the very real production of worlds other to but nonetheless inside this one. (Fisher: “There is no inside except as a folding of the outside; the mirror cracks, I am an other, and I always was.”)
Deleuze writes on this same non-Euclidean folding at length in his two books on cinema, in which he attempts to conceptualise what we might call the “visual language” of cinema itself, whilst being careful the emphasise the ways that cinema’s regime of signs is profoundly other to all of the languages that make up the written or spoken languages on this planet. Indeed, his concepts of “movement-image” and “time-image” become ways of conceptualising the “language” of cinema that purposefully refuses to borrow too readily from the already-familiar mechanics of other signifying mediums. This newness is important and radical, and uncovers a truism we take for granted. For instance, whilst we might recognise how most cinematic “scenes” are structured in ways that make narrative sense to us, we cannot say that a scene is constructed like a sentence. Thus, cinema, Deleuze concludes, “constitutes a whole ‘psychomechanics’, the spiritual automation, the utterable of a language system which has its own logic.”
What is so fascinating about Lynch’s works – as well as those of the other masters of surrealist horror and the cinematic weird and eerie, such as Bergman, Kubrick, et al. – is that they seem to channel the unconsciousness of our cinematic systems. They play with the common logic of cinematic sense to demonstrate other ways of thinking cinematically. We call their strangest films “dreamlike” perhaps because we recognise how the non sequiturs and non-narrative visual collages found in their works echo the non-linguistic communications of our own unconscious, but we have far more agency over the production of cinema than we do over the production of our own dreams. Indeed, whereas our dreams seem strangely inaccessible to us, emerging from the darkest realms of the self, cinema appears before us with unprecedented clarity, making it an innately and unprecedently psychedelic medium.
Films are dreams alive, and therefore have more purchase on our imaginations than we may give them credit for. Cinema is innately hyperstitional, in this regard; films are fictions that make themselves real. To talk about film as a “first step”, then, is to undervalue the constant movement that makes cinema what it is. Deleuze writes: “Those who first made and thought about cinema began from a simple idea: cinema as industrial art achieves self-movement, automatic movement, it makes movement the immediate given of the image.” He continues: “Automatic movement gives rise to a spiritual automaton in us, which reacts in turn on movement.” The relatively new medium of cinema, then, begins to feel like a new conduit between new thoughts and new representations.
Here, Deleuze adds a footnote, quoting from Elie Faure’s Fonction du cinéma, in which Faure writes that cinema’s “material automatism … gives rise inside these images to this new universe which gradually imposes on our intellectual automatism.” What cinema constitutes is a new feedback loop in regimes of sense-making, such that we experience, in Faure’s words, “the subordination of the human soul to the tools which it creates, and vice versa.” This vice versa is of the utmost importance, and is arguably most felt in all great art, but cinema provides us with a radically new way of thinking this kind of relation. It seems, however, that we shy away from doing this.
This is to say that when we detach cinema from the means of its own production, we fail to recognise how cinema is not simply a medium that affects us but also a medium that is the product of new affections. A new film with a radical political message, for example, is not an exciting prospect simply because it might change people’s mind; its very existence reveals how thought has already changed. We can watch the Barbie movie as a potent recent example: though its political content may newly inspire young viewers to investigate the histories of feminism, the very fact that the film was made signals that we are living in a new moment, in which the basic tenets of feminism have found mainstream appeal and in which capitalism has found new ways of appropriating radical politics – something which unnerves those on both the left and right of politics, although seemingly not in equal measure. But Mattel’s corporate feminism, as dramatized by Greta Gerwig, is far from self-confident. It is anxious. It is a film that prevaricates on the dwindling relevancy not just of Barbie as a product but of capitalism’s broader ideals.
To reiterate, with this in mind, cinema is not so much a first step as it is the actualising of an always-already moving thought. Films are critiques, which are curtains, which do not mark a threshold so much as they constitute one. Barbie remains a vivid example: though we might celebrate its potential to inspire new thought, its production by Mattel as a kind of relaunch of their intellectual property suggests an anxiety with regards to the affectivity of previously popular commodities. Barbie has re-entered our collective consciousness in a bold and assertive new way, albeit through a film that betrays innumerable anxieties that surround the efficacy of a commodity-politics. We might argue, then, that Barbie is a movie about post-capitalist desire – and our desires are so often anxious – because it illuminates and wrestles with our changing thoughts and habits, which might well leave Barbie, as a commodified ideal of womanhood, on the scrapheap of capitalist history. The film has already made over a billion dollars at the global box office, and this will no doubt increase tenfold when we factor in the sales of movie merchandising. But whereas my friends – it is true – are enjoying a post-ironic moment of filling their wardrobes with pink, Barbie nonetheless still constitutes a shift in our political imaginary. Barbie is not a first step but a much later step on a post-capitalist journey; it is a film that demonstrates a corporation anxiously responding to a future upon which it may have little ideological purchase.
A week or so after writing these words, Phil Elverum makes the connection between Barbie and Twin Peaks: The Return all the more explicit in the latest edition of his newsletter:
I watched Barbie last night. Not that I want to wade into the wide trench of interesting conversation on the internet about this movie, but here’s my one thought:
It reminded me of Twin Peaks: Season 3, “The Return”. There are probably some other deep heads online talking about this, how could there not be? The doppelgangers, the real/fake, dark/light counterparts parallel existing in dream world/real world. Dark Cooper/Agent Cooper, Doll Barbie/Human Barbie Owner, the portal opening between worlds, demonic transformative manifestation of inter-generational trauma, etc. The end of Barbie when she’s in a featureless void space contemplating becoming an “uncomfortable” mortal human reminded me of this part where Cooper is floating on a dream satellite thing between realms. The vast dark sea where ideas come from. And something about the ending of Twin Peaks, returning to Laura’s house, “what year is this?”, the scream of half-recognition, it felt somehow the same as when Barbie Pinocchios into a human and walks into the doctors’ office. That’s my little blip of an observation.
Both not only dramatize but actualise the otherwise hidden affectations of the unconscious. They bring to life those parts that linger in some elsewhere. They represent the life of the mind, rendering the unconscious in rich colours of velvet and plastic. Shadows be gone.
We are all irrepressible-thoughts-of-death Barbie at the end of the day, teetering on the edge of short and long sleeps.
I want to cover over the gaping maw, the pit within. To sleep without dream. The other night someone spoke about how dreams feel like they last the night, but the only dreams remembered are those had whilst you emerge from unconsciousness. Dreams are only remembered when sleep is disturbed. To sleep without dream is to truly rest.
I haven’t had a rest for a while.
I daydream about how to patch the hole that leaks old traumas. I coddle myself in my duvet and open Sappho on fragment 100. I misread the line appropriately, as if the unconscious reorders the words before me, twisting reality in a way too subtle for me to notice on the first pass:
and with delicate woven cloths covered up her well
You can now listen back to episode fifteen of my New Tenderness show on Slack’s radio.
I hadn’t been into the studio for a while, on account of working most weekends, so when the opportunity arose to get in the booth on a Saturday evening, I jumped at it — despite not really having real plan on what to play. Expect general chaos as I flick through a bag of thrown-together records.
Ivor Cutler — A Red Flower
Andrew Ashong and Theo Parrish — Flowers
Arthur Russell — Fuzzbuster #10
Spooky Black — Pull
Dollar Brand — Little Niles
D’Angelo — Everybody Loves the Sunshine
Rude Bwoy Monty — Summer Sumting
Rhythm for Reasons — The Smoker’s Rhythm
Cutty Ranks — The Return (Bizzy B & Ruffcut Remix)
Aquarius — Dolphin Tune
Dead Calm — New Format Jazz
Lee Gamble — Jove Layup
The Beatles — Blue Jay Way
Aphrodite’s Child — The Four Horsemen
Space Afrika — Noise Sweet
Space Afrika — B£E
Shit and Shine — Jream Baby Jream
Art Garfunkel — I Only Have Eyes for You
Oneohtrix Point Never — I Only Have Eyes for You
Tirzah — Gladly
Sam Prekop — Showrooms
Jim O’Rourke — Not Sport, Martial Art
A huge thank you to everyone who came to last week’s book launch events in London and Newcastle. Both evenings were lovely and it was great to talk to so many people and sign some books. A special thank you to Michael Waugh for all of his support and friendship this year and for prompting my tired ass with questions. Another special thank you to Natasha Eves at the Royal George and Autojektor, as well as the folks at the Lubber Fiend, for hosting us. There will be a few more IRL events in the near-future.
For now, LitHub are starting off the first week post-publication by hosting an excerpt from the book online — specifically, an abridged version of chapter two. You can read that here.
I paint my fingernails black naively, no real sense of what I’m doing. WikiHow shows me how later, but I am yet to acquire the patience needed to let them properly dry.
They look bad. I walk down to the local shop for nail polish remover and cotton pads. Polish removed, black stains still linger at the edges. I am left with dirty-looking nails, now even more masculine than before.
I let my nails grow and, a week later, try again. This time I am more successful. It is stirring. The results are both aesthetically pleasing and practical. To achieve the former, I am staving off a lifelong nail-biting habit, which feels like a profound personal achievement. I realise that I have to let myself grow.
I head out for a coffee before meeting a friend and roll a cigarette under cover from light rain. I deposit a similarly light sprinkling of tobacco over the leaves of the open book I am reading: After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz.
“Sappho writes of aithussomenon, the bright trembling of leaves in the moment of anticipation.”
I brush the brown strands to the rain-kissed ground and leave more remnants of self in the process: four faint trails of what looks like black charcoal; the already carbonised tails of finger-comets. I am newly aware of my nails, occupying the outer edges of the back of my hand.
“A poet is always living in kletic time, whatever her century. She is calling out, she is waiting. She lies down in the shade of the future and dowses among its roots.”
I am waiting for my nails to grow.
Philip Maughan has written a fascinating article for Noema magazine on how and why humans have manipulated their circadian rhythms, especially recently.
Philip and I spoke briefly over email a few weeks back, as Philip had come across two of my blogposts from 2019, documenting the time I was part of a “triple chronotherapy” trial in London (you can read those here and here):
In 2019 the writer and photographer Matt Colquhoun took part in a trial of “triple chronotherapy,” an experimental treatment focused on individuals with drug-resistant bipolar disorder. According to the doctor who prescribed it, the treatment’s origins can be traced to the 19th century when a German schoolteacher reported she could temporarily cure depression by riding her bike all night. In 1976, Dr. Burkhard Pflug at the University of Tübingen published an experiment with patients undergoing sleep deprivation to alleviate depression. The treatment showed a “marked improvement” in the short term — but relapse was high.
Decades later, a protocol named “triple chronotherapy” was developed by staff at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, and included lithium, sleep deprivation and timed light exposure. When the regimen was trialed in London in 2019, there was no lithium involved. Instead, patients were required to stay awake all night — under supervision — before sleeping at 5pm the following day.
According to the timetable, in the four days that follow, bedtime is advanced by two hours each evening until it settles into an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. rhythm. Every morning, at 7 a.m., patients must view bright light. They must wear amber glasses for two hours before bed. This is then followed up with morning bright-light therapy between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for six months.
It’s “like Ctrl-Alt-Delete and resets your internal clock,” writes David Veale, the doctor who led the trial in which Colquhoun took part, on his website.
[Colquhoun] wrote in a blog post immediately after treatment: “I have not felt this good in two years and it has transformed every part of my life almost immediately.” When I checked in with them recently, they told me they had not repeated the protocol because “though it worked wonders for me and was very useful in the controlled environment of the trial, to play with my own sleeping patterns unsupervised is something I’ve been reluctant to do, in case it all goes wrong!”
Check it out!