New Tenderness 016

The weather in Newcastle (and elsewhere) has been so unpredictable over the last month. The first bright, crisp days of autumn have finally arrived, but we were battered by uncharacteristic heat, humid rains, thunder and lightning, and gales as they made their way to us. I’ve spent most of that time alone in my flat, either playing The Legend of Zelda or watching it all unfold as I write and read on my perch in the bay window.

This is a mix for haunted and unpredictable weather. I have had it on repeat at home for weeks. I hope you find it equally satisfying to live in as the seasons change wherever you are.


  1. Ivor Cutler – Time
  2. Akron/Family – How Do I Know
  3. Bruce Langhorne – Windmill
  4. Antena – Noelle a Hawaii
  5. Mount Eerie – (Wind Lyrics)
  6. Otro – Untitled (for Mark)
  7. Iceboy Violet & Florence Sinclair – Black Gold
  8. Brian Eno & Harold Budd – Wind in Lonely Fences
  9. Oöphoi – I Hear the Wind Singing (Part Two)
  10. Oneohtrix Point Never – Krumville
  11. Soccer Mommy – With U
  12. Meredith Graves – Took the Ghost to the Movies
  13. Oxes – I’m From Hell, Open a Windle
  14. Lee Gamble – She’s Not
  15. Whirr – Ghost
  16. Piotr Kurek – Walk
  17. EMS : Piano – Grazing (Part One)

Palestine’s Wounds are Not So Recent:
On Hamas, ISIS and Consciousness-Raising

Mark Fisher’s final essay, “Cybergothic vs. Steampunk”, published shortly before his dead, is a short commentary on Alain Badiou’s Our Wound is Not So Recent. What Fisher takes from Badiou’s short text, which reflects on terrorist attacks perpetrated by ISIS in France and the West in general, as well as the West’s role in ISIS’s formation, is an almost comic-book (or science-fictional, hence the title) re-staging of the War on Terror. To aid its efforts, the West frames ISIS as its ultimate enemy — a feeling clearly reciprocated — but to an extent that is so Hollywood, on both sides, that ISIS become a supervillainous inversion of capitalist realism itself.

It is this reciprocity that is of interest to Fisher, in that ISIS and the West are informed by the same logics of capitalist realism. They are two sides of the same coin, spinning frenetically in place without a future. This is to say that the supervillainy of ISIS is framed in such a way that they become invaders of this radically other world, but nonetheless propagate their own propaganda with a surreally capitalistic valency. ISIS, like any capitalist entity that wishes to violently assert its own sovereignty, has a media arm. It has an aesthetic, a set of production values; it has cybergothic methods of representation (“beheadings on the web”), which remain oddly capitalist in their spectacularity, even as ISIS asserts its own sense of othering to this global order of the spectacle. In a sense, it asserts and translates its demands in a visual language it knows its enemy is already familiar with. As Fisher writes: “If nothing else, ISIS is a slick brand — a brand that is far more effective than anything capital can come up with at the moment in any case.”

“ISIS holds up a mirror to twenty-first-century capitalist nihilism”, Fisher continues. As a terroristic response to “a new form of (post)colonialism, in which states of conflict open up a temporary autonomous zone for capital accumulation, and plunder can continue without the irksome duties involved in setting up and running a state”, ISIS becomes a potent crystallisation of capitalist-realist excess.

This mustn’t be mistaken for a kind of sardonic admiration for ISIS, however; though Fisher is advancing the sort of nuanced approach easily dismissed by bad-faith actors as “terrorist sympathising”, its existence nonetheless “points to the very serious problem that capital now faces.” ISIS isn’t simply an army baying at the gates, after all. Many of the terrorist attacks it claimed responsibility for were perpetrated within Western countries by disenfranchised youths who found themselves socially displaced, with one foot in and one foot outside of Western social norms, making them vulnerable to radicalisation. ISIS were certainly opportunistic, in this regard, but this vulnerability is nonetheless a problem of capitalism’s own making. Faced with the limitations of a violently racist and dispiriting system, it is up to capitalism itself “to offer some other cause, some other purpose” to those most at risk. If the West’s own citizens defect, we must ask ourselves what could possibly make ISIS more attractive than the nations in which they were often born and raised.

Fisher thus asks:

What happens when you demoralise people, destroy their capacity to commit to any purpose in life beyond capital accumulation, and don’t even pay them? What if you don’t even offer them the possibility of being exploited, and classify them as a surplus population?

Capital doesn’t have much of an answer, but ISIS does. A disputed poll ‘suggested that more than one in four French youth between the ages of 18 and 24 have a favourable or very favourable opinion of Isis, although only 7–8% of France is Muslim.’ Whatever the truth of this survey, the willingness to believe it indicates that there is a growing suspicion that societies dominated by capital are now encountering mass disaffection and defection. ‘More than three of every four who join Isis from abroad do so with friends and family. Most are young, in transitional stages in life: immigrants, students, between jobs and mates, having just left their native family. They join a “band of brothers (and sisters)” ready to sacrifice for significance.’ The motivation is belonging and fellowship, not hatred.

This makes ISIS a kind of “identitarian” development born of postmodern capitalism itself, as Badiou himself argues in his essay. But Fisher then adds in a bracketed aside: “In calling Islamism identitarian, Badiou doesn’t credit the extent to which ISIS offers at least a partial escape from the dismal identities that capitalism has assigned to so many young muslims, and to so many others too.”

Fisher, expressing that late optimism still ignored by so many of his readers today, sees a moment of opportunity here for progressive politics. If we recognise that this is a problem that capital has no answer for, it is no less true that ISIS are an equally (if not more) horrifying alternative. They are but a further symptom of neoliberalism’s broader global failure. It is necessary, then, that we encourage and develop other forms of solidarity and kinship than those offered by either warmongering side.

In 2016, it was clear that this was already happening, albeit on two familiar fronts. Just as “neoliberalism was designed to eliminate the various strains of democratic socialism and libertarian communism that bubbled up in so many places during in the sixties and seventies”, neoliberalism’s subsequent failure has fallen back on the battlelines that defined its emergence: a radical (often feminist) rethinking of kinship on the one hand, and a return to “traditional family values” on the other. Both proved attractive, with the left and the right both gaining ground at that time, precisely through offers of belonging and fellowship that were severely lacking for all, no matter your political persuasion. As Fisher concludes:

the rising tide of experimental political forms in so many areas of the world at the moment shows that people are rediscovering group consciousness and the potency of the collective. It is now clear that molecular practices of consciousness-raising are not opposed to the indirect action needed to bring about lasting ideological shifts — they are two aspects of a process that is happening on many different time tracks at once. The growing clamour of groups seeking to take control of their own lives portends a long overdue return to a modernity that capital just can’t deliver. New forms of belonging are being discovered and invented, which will in the end show that both steampunk capital and cybergothic ISIS are archaisms, obstructions to a future that is already assembling itself.

Six years later, this future feels both more proximal and more threatened than ever, as it now seems to hinge on the desperately needed and long-overdue liberation of the Palestinian people. But 2016 is hardly that far back in the rear-view mirror. That year’s political tragedies return as this year’s media farce.

Following Hamas’ attack on an Israeli music festival on October 7th, much of the West has joined the Israeli government in denouncing this massacre of civilians as a terrorist attack. But Israel has also gone a great many steps further. In a heavy-handed attempt at consent-manufacture, Israel has attempted to legitimise its retaliatory (and far more egregious and genocidal) war crimes by repeating ad nauseum the flimsy equivocation “Hamas = ISIS”. Plenty of people have ridiculed this claim, pointing out that Hamas and ISIS are not remotely allies and share nothing in common beyond the vast umbrella of the Islamic faith. Their intentions in putting this equivalence forward hardly need much explanation. It is a marketing ploy, more than anything, to rally people to their imperialist cause.

But reflecting on Fisher’s essay above, perhaps these purposes are pulled into sharper focus. In fact, the present ideological (as well as literal) assault on the Palestinian people starts to look like an attempt to further the mechanisms illuminated by Fisher’s argument. The global solidarity expressed towards the Palestinian people is precisely a process of consciousness-raising, hoping to assemble a future for Palestine in particular. But this is not the only consciousness-raising process at work. Or rather, to make an important distinction, it is not the only process of solidarity-building at work.

We are finding all kinds of kinship are being radically redefined, and these are as capable of producing false consciousness and negative solidarity as they are their truer and more positive variants. But what has changed, perhaps, is that we do not have a group akin to ISIS to effectively represent some “other side”. Rather than capitalist realism on the one hand and a more violent nihilism on the other, we have something that are far less suicidal than both of them. (Faced with an worsening climate catastrophe, both are clearly “death cults” in their own right.) The resurgence of Palestinian struggle in popular conscious instead strives to establish a form of kinship that is radically other in another way. But Israel doesn’t know what to do with this raised consciousness other than force it unconvincingly back into a West-ISIS dichotomy.

Israel is, in fact, more fascistic than Hamas is, and this places Israel closer to ISIS than it is willing to admit, with its violent attempts to establish a pure ethno-state for the Jewish people being the most obvious point of comparison. But this works in much subtler ways too, such that Israel, through its zionist realism, strives to reform Jewishness itself, as an identitarian category, through the logics of capitalist realism more broadly — something it has been quite successful in doing.

In a recent clip shared on Twitter by Moya Lothian-McLean, Barnaby Raine illustrates this point by telling an anecdote from canvassing on doorsteps prior to the last UK general election, when Jeremy Corbyn faced off against Boris Johnson. He describes a meeting with man who symbolically identified himself with the right (even far-right), adorns with all the accoutrements of a classic English nationalist. But whereas the far-right has itself long been identified with antisemitism, this man exclaims that antisemitism is the primary reason he won’t be voting for Corbyn.

What this man — and the media at large — had done was “[redefine] what Jews were”, Raine explains.

Jews had come to him to be in an era of the state of Israel… Jews had come to him to be not the Semitic outsiders that they were in the antisemitic imaginary of most of the twentieth century, but a symbol of whiteness, hated by … the wretched of the earth; hated by black and brown people with Palestinians in the lead and Arabs … and all the anti-imperialist, anticolonial nations of the world behind them. Jews are also a symbol of wealth. We had a Labour MP telling us — Siobhan McDonagh, I think it was — […] that to be anti-capitalist was necessarily antisemitic…

Jewishness, then, in its populist recoding, no longer refers to a persecuted minority position so much as antisemitism is weaponised as a obfuscatory stand-in for a wokeness that attempts to imagine non-capitalist forms of fellowship and kinship. It is of no surprise, with this in mind, that so many TERFs are also supporters of Israel, for instance. (As @adornofthagn so succinctly summarised their shared interests on Twitter recently, both task themselves with “maintaining the exclusivity of a ‘safe space’ through escalating brutality, framing it as an existential necessity”.) It is a fear of other forms of life and social production that drives each fascist project.

As such, the problems identified by Fisher in 2016 remain much the same. As Raine continues:

So what you see there is both conditions for a real rise in antisemitism and a moral panic which claims to be about the antisemitism which is really rising. Synagogues are really under attack, Jews are really feeling threatened, but [the weaponisation of this rising antiseminitism] in fact is about constructing Jews in such a way that you can imagine, in this case, the antisemities as these folk devils who are the black and brown people threatening your Western hegemony and workers and the poor threatening capitalist power… So I think that’s important, right? Moral panics aren’t just lies, they’re not just inventions. They respond to real social crises.

Palestinian solidarity becomes a potent expression of another form of kinship that humiliates both capital and its zombified nemesis in ISIS. Because “Hamas” (as a useful by-word for a dehumanised Palestinian diaspora in general) are not like ISIS at all. Theirs in instead “a future that is already assembling itself”, and has been since 1948. Then and now, it is this future that capitalist realism fears most of all.

No Dream Without Folly

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, landowners across northern Europe developed a penchant for building follies. Having returned from their Grand Tours of more distant climes, they brought newly acquired visions of Romantic ruins home with them, populating country gardens with simulacra structures devoid of context or history, but seeking to evoke both.

These structures are appropriately named. Follies are architectural misadventures, purposefully built without purpose. They betray a longing for an imagined past; architectural fictions erected to imbue the surrounding landscape with what was, in their owners’ eyes, a missing historical grandeur. Unlike Rome or Athens or Istanbul, the towns and countryside of northern Europe lacked the arid air essential to preservation. As anyone living in the rainy north of England will tell you, it is a place predisposed to rot. But perhaps the nations of northern Europe also lacked a reverence for the past as well – at least a past belonging to anyone not belonging to its aristocratic class.

But no matter. As the Industrial Revolution accelerated technological progress and the further accumulation of wealth, with the monoliths of new industry and power sprouting up to impose themselves upon the landscape everywhere you looked, men with money to burn set about reintroducing some wreckage into the new age of mechanistic construction. By building false ruins of their own, they provided themselves with intentionally unfinished buildings to wander around and contemplate, wistfully daydreaming of their own ancestral pasts and future providence.

As such, these false ruins were not simply evocations of an imagined history, but markers of a new and perpetual present. Perhaps thinking themselves gods, the wealthy saw their power as eternal. Their self-assurance would beget no ruins, but still they longed for a time of conquest, importing relics from sorrier worlds, both real and imagined. Their comfort was too comfortable. They had to fray its edges in order to imagine their power deserved.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, I moved to Huddersfield in West Yorkshire for a brief eighteen-month stint. We would often pass by Wainhouse Tower, on the outskirts of nearby Halifax. A Gothic spire that towers over the surrounding Calderdale valley, it is the tallest folly in the world.

Though an incongruous apparition, impossibly transplanted from some quasi-Byzantine empire, and with no signs of industry surrounding the tower today, you would be forgiven for not knowing that its official purpose was to serve as a decorative chimney for the former local dyeworks. Overseen by local businessman John Edward Wainhouse, he insisted the chimney not only siphon off pollution but also double as a thing of beauty. But this tale was only a cover for the tower’s true purpose: it was, in fact, a project primarily undertaken to antagonize a local rival.

Wainhouse’s neighbour, Sir Henry Edwards, often boasted about the privacy he enjoyed as he roamed his Halifax estate, and so Wainhouse decided to erect something so ostentatious that his rival would see it everywhere, as well as allowing Wainhouse to provocatively see in. A true panopticon.

It is strange to learn this. Wainhouse Tower remains a grand imposition on the local landscape, still inspiring wonder in all who can see it from miles around. No one looks out from it any longer. It remains little more than an architectural jibe, erected to exacerbate a neighbourhood squabble among the landowning class. The folly is a mockery; its history a farce that has no sense of tragedy. But the trees that crowd around it remember. Their twisted, stunted branches writhe outwards with a sinister intent. You might almost think they were tangled in a long and enduring pain. Over a century and a half since Wainhouse Tower is built to pollute the skies, the woods have yet to fully recover from exposure to the toxic fumes of long-gone industries.

“The trees encountered on a country stroll / Reveal a lot about that country’s soul”, wrote W.H. Auden. “A culture is no better than its woods”. Though Auden may have felt our woods give us a connection to a primal past, in jousting with the Romantics he also suggests that they tell us a great deal about where we’re going. We struggle onwards, twisting, reaching. What is left for us is to seize the chance to dream as whimsically, encroaching on that tower of dead power and its labours… It gives us something to aim for, something to destroy. No dream without folly.

The Conspiracy:
Day One on E

I had resigned myself almost immediately to its seizure at customs, but the bottle arrived from Oceania without a hitch, and quicker than expected.

Three or four weeks ago, sick and isolating at home, I decided to shave off my beard in the hope it would change everything. Of course it didn’t. There was no latent femininity hiding under there. Just the weathered and sagging chin of a hard-done-by thirty-two-year-old. I decided to grow it back, knowing there was something much deeper beneath my skin that I wanted to experiment with. Then, I placed an order for Estradiol on the Internet. It felt good. It felt right.

When the pills arrive, I unwrap them and stare at the bottle for a while. I go over the spring-loaded information leaflet, tightly bound and taped to the lid. There was surprisingly little there to worry about. Just the usual. But of course there is little information about the kinds of effects I’m hoping they will have. It is time to wait and see.

K asks if I’ve started them yet and I say no. I want to grow my beard back fully, I say, and only then start, so I can see what I want to do with my face later. I expect my facial hair to grow considerably slower over the months ahead, so best to have as much as possible to play with.

Two hours later, I change my mind. What am I waiting for?

B offers her congratulations. I do feel like celebrating. A few words of caution: “watch out for the emotional recoding,” she says. I like her phrasing. A second puberty (of sorts) is what I am most anxious about, but I have yet to shake off my erratic teenage mood swings anyway. Fuck it.

I go to work an hour after taking my first pill and feel a rush of such intense euphoria on the walk over. It is certainly not the pill itself, but the choice to take it makes me feel so unexpectedly high.

K arrives not long after I do. We chat across the bar and I tell them I changed my mind. No deferral. The journey starts today. They’re excited for me. “Are you going to write a book about it?” they ask, only half teasing. It feels like a prerequisite for any trans writer. You obviously have to write about your transition. But again, I say no. I don’t want to be that predictable… But I will be keeping a diary…

We brainstorm titles. Estro Addict is the only one I remember, the allusion no doubt obvious.

Like visiting London, Tokyo, Paris or New York, it is hard to document your own journey to certain places and not replicate the most famous depictions of all. It is hard not to couch this experience in any number of pop-cultural references. It is an experience so alien, you reach out for whatever moorings you can. Writing them down, it is hard not to emulate, at least in spirit, Paul B. Preciado.

I recite the Transperson’s Creed: This is my transition. There are many like it, but this one is mine. But no one can transition alone. And Preciado is hardly bad company. But first I turn to elsewhere. I get home from work and think about Spinoza, falling deep into the trenches of the Ethics.

For Deleuze, Spinoza’s Ethics “is necessarily an ethics of joy: only joy is worthwhile, joy remains, bringing us near to action, and to the bliss of action.”

Accepting this basic principle of joy sought in action, foundational to philosophy since Plato’s dialogues on the beautiful and the good, is one thing. But faced with the ease of a resentful conformity, what is to be done? How do we then act upon this ethics of action?

It is, as Ronald Bogue puts it, “an ethic of choosing to choose”, adding: “Those who choose to choose affirm the possible.” And to choose to choose is always to choose otherwise. To choose something other than what is given, because what is given may well be intolerable. And: “The only viable response to the intolerable is to think differently, to disconnect the world’s networks of certainties and pieties and formulate new problems that engender as yet unmapped relations and connections.”

In choosing to choose, Deleuze asserts that we must ask ourselves three practical questions:

  1. How does one arrive at a maximum of joyful passions?
  2. How does one manage to form adequate ideas?
  3. How does one become conscious of oneself, of God, and of things?

This is no philosophy of hollow affirmation; no bleary-eyed Romanticism; no limited subscription to the pleasure principle. There is nothing so deferential in choice. Indeed, the joy that leads to — and is found in — our resistance to the drudgeries of the given is the opposite of affectless acquiescence. We are born, then we choose to be born again — this time against nature; once more with feeling. After all, we are all too aware that “our place in Nature seems to condemn us to bad encounters and sadnesses”. But in light of this, how do we then attune ourselves to our “free and active feelings”? How do we form ideas of feeling that do not, at the same time, render them inactive? How do become conscious of our nature, without giving in to the poverty of the “natural”?

A possible answer, far from neat and complete, to Deleuze’s questions:

We must follow the joy which emanates across all the organs of reason, now newly in concert. Follow your head, heart and gut. Understand each as part of a multiplicitous and borderless expanse: the body without organs. It is what Deleuze, in Difference & Repetition, repeatedly calls “a Cognito for a dissolved self.” But once dissolved, how does a self unbound from its form begin to de/reform itself? We must better understand the Cogito’s processes of formation: how it thinks. And we do not yet know — not really. We do not know all that a body can do. We have not yet begun to truly think.

The formula of “I think, therefore I am” is a problem inverted. Descartes puts the cart before the horse, quite literally. “The determination (I think) implies an undetermined existence (I am, because ‘in order to think one must exist’)”. Against Descartes, Kant moves in the other direction, arguing, according to Deleuze, that “it is impossible for determination to bear directly upon the undetermined.” It is a confused form of determination that amounts to something like time-travel, albeit wholly illusory. Hurtling outwards from the explosive site of all creation, hindsight is unthinkingly 20/20. What we mistake for determination is simply a glance over the shoulder, transforming past contingencies into inevitabilities. But the search for the good life must always be future-oriented.

This is not to suggest that “I think, therefore I am” can simply be rethought as “I am, therefore I think”, but at least in this framing we recover the coveted capacity of decision-making. “I am but what am I?” Or perhaps not even that. We stumble at the “I am?” Nevertheless, I declare that I have a say. I begin with consciousness and then immediately take leave from the squandered heuristic. I do not start with “I”. It is far too hollow. “I” itself is undetermined, and so, to become conscious of myself, truly conscious of myself, I must choose to choose another self. I choose myself a new name.

Preciado begins Testo Junkie with a note on conspiratorial decisionality, introducing the reader to a new self that he hopes will not only rejoin the world in a new way, but be welcomed anew as well. The “conspiratorial” is not used in a pejorative sense here. To inspire is individual; to conspire is collective. Thus, Preciado’s assertion of self requires co-conspirators in order to be fully actualised. A decision made for oneself means little without reciprocal collaboration. A multitude of decisions are made defiantly, speaking and acting out one’s truth, but never not in dialogue.

I choose to choose, and hope others will choose to choose with me.

To decide on a new name for oneself is a poignant example of this conspiratorial gesture. We seldom speak about ourselves in the first-person; we rarely address ourselves on a first-name basis. Most of us are aware that our names are chosen for us. We are warmed by the designation of a nickname, given out of affection and familiarity, by those who truly know us. All of these social informalities highlight the strange feeling of naming oneself, of individually deciding who we are, and of hoping that confirmation will follow when such a decision is communally affirmed.

We often speak only once we are spoken to; we are spoken to only as often as we speak for ourselves. It is perhaps a sensitivity to this tension that causes Preciado to begin with a note on “the (undecidable) decision to change my name to Paul — as slaves, upon purchasing their freedom, would take new names, as the names of the villages of Palestine will change when they are once again uttered by those in exile.” It is undecidable in that it is preceded by other decisions, other circumstances, other throws of the dice; undecidable in that the decision always emerges in discordant concordance with others.

The right name strikes us as a solitary moment of inspiration, but is preceded and followed by many more conspiratorial moments. As such, a naming “is not the final, definitive step of a gender transition”; nor, we might add, is it ever the first. It is “merely another practice of displacement and resistance.” A community is called upon, a community that may not yet exist, but the naming of oneself can allow a new community to form around you. It is a dice throw outwards, away from oneself, towards the other, who is the only one who can read aloud what is cast.

“Naming, here, is simply another fable, albeit a collective one. Now it’s you who must grant me the right to wear this mask.” There was once another name, another mask. Throughout the book, BP designates the initials of a dead name. But whereas death suggests an intractability, Paul proceeds like a dominant twin who has chosen to cannibalise its other in love, in that irregular spacetime where the self di/gest(ate)s itself. “Understand that Paul absorbs and assumes all that was once BP.” Selves are created and decreated in tandem. We endeavour to “undo the creature in us”, as Simone Weil once wrote, constructing a newly conceptual personage through grace.

This consummation of self has produced what is inevitably, Preciado informs his reader, a “body-essay”; “a somato-political fiction, a theory of the self, or self-theory”, but one always in dialogue with others: other people and other selves. It is a book that wanders through the somato-political complexities of affective decision-making, but not even the feelings as his (or mine) alone. He adds:

I’m not interested in my emotions insomuch as their being mine, belonging only, uniquely, to me. I’m not interested in their individual aspects, only in how they are traversed by what isn’t mine. In what emanates from our planet’s history…

… which is dead names, defamiliarized language, old forms of categorisation. But also chosen names, new lexicons, categorical deformations. In short, metamorphoses. Or put another way, to quote Guattari: “Revolution or the re-emergence of a plane of subjective consistency that salvages desire, it’s all the same.”

Preciado puts it like this: “I’m not taking testosterone to change myself into a man or as a physical strategy of transsexualism; I take it to foil what society wanted to make of me…” Revolution now. For myself, yes, but not me alone — never me alone. The task at hand: “To accept the fact that the change happening in me is the metamorphosis of an era.” Join me in my joy, my desires, my ecstasy. It is ours.

You may call me Other now. Yes, Other, I know.

A Spurious Marketplace of Ideas:
Online Ads and Consciousness Deflation

There’s an aside in Mark Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire lectures that I keep thinking back to at the moment, on the strange irreality of marketisation and consciousness deflation.

Fisher is initially talking about “bullshit jobs”, or at least about the intensification of bullshit in jobs of all kinds, such that even jobs we might understand as “essential” are suffocated by useless admin. He sees higher education as one such job. We accept the social necessity of education in general, but nonetheless recognise the ways that universities are under attack. The issue here, of course, is with the types of education being offered. The British government generally sees universities as incubators of supposed radicals today, and so attempts to implement changes in curricula that are more in line with its ideological position. But this process is totalizing, such that it isn’t just curricula that are strongarmed but working conditions in themselves, making consciousness raising difficult both in and outside of the classroom.

Fisher gives an anecdotal example from his time at a Further Education college:

When people have common experiences and can talk about them, then you’ve got the potential for developing consciousness very quickly. That’s why workers aren’t allowed to talk to one another! One place where I worked, when I worked in Further Education, the Head of Human Resources, who was exasperated by the development of some sort of class consciousness amongst their teachers, was like, “Well, you can’t just sit in the pub and talk to each other!” (Laughter.) She actually said that! What do you mean?! It was like the usually unspoken rule — you’re not supposed to do that. You can go to a pub and just talk rubbish, but you can’t go to a pub and talk about the conditions of your work together. Don’t do that. You can’t do that. (Laughs.)

The obvious intention here is to make workers time-poor. If we cannot directly control your capacity to meet and converse outside of work hours, we will make work so exhausting and dispiriting that all you want to do afterwards is go home and isolate yourself in order to recover before the drudgery begins again. It really is that intentional. As Fisher adds:

Look at it this way: Capital must always … prevent that awareness amongst people that they could live differently and have more control over their own lives. It must prevent that. It has to do it, and it has to keep doing it. Capitalists moan about hard work — and it is hard work! It never stops. It always has to keep preventing that potential.

Universities are, again, a prime example. “Universities were a red base — so-called”, Fisher adds, and so we can see the current acceleration of marketisation within higher education as a way to stifle the actual work of consciousness raising inherent to education itself.

If someone chooses to go to university, at any level, it is essentially a time spent outside of the general workforce where you are given the time to educate yourself in a given field. This is often necessary because education takes time — a time that is far slower than on-the-job training often is, for example. But this is something increasingly and paradoxically stifled from within education itself through processes of marketisation. That is to say, through the implementation of labour temporalities that we generally understand as being other to education itself, education is not improved but suffers. As Fisher explains:

Marketisation: they’re not making any money out of it — it’s not about that! It’s just about stopping the conditions for certain kinds of consciousness developing. Because people were taken out of the workplace for a while — young people — taken out of the workplace, free from those imperatives, and it’s about time, right? In order to raise consciousness, you need time. And that’s the difficulty, always.

An infuriating contradiction is produced, whereby students, in paying astronomical fees, expect more for their money than simply “time” to learn, so time is constricted in general for all, impeding of lecturers’ time to educate properly.

Fisher is then more explicit about how time-poverty impacts a given workforce in other circumstances:

Say you’ve done your day of work and then you go home. Are you going to leave the house now? I’m tired! Then you’ve done a double day of work — you’ve done a full day of work and then you’ve done domestic work on top of that, which is still overwhelmingly done by women more than men. So, you’ve done that, then do you want to go out and raise your consciousness? Yeah, OK, but… I’m kind of tired… (Laughter.) We can laugh about it, but we all do this. We’ve all got forms of this. It’s like healthy eating or something. We know it’s better for you, but why don’t we do it? You might know things but you’re not able to act on them. We can’t be hard on ourselves about it. Time-poverty is real. And that’s what they’ve done! That’s why they want it — scarcity of time! As Marcuse said, we could all be working much less now, but that’s the insanity of it — the full insanity of the capitalist system!

Then comes an apparent non sequitur in Fisher’s narrative. Although it appears like an unrelated aside, however, it extends the implications of time-poverty not just to individual productivity but also to consumerism. The further benefit of a scarcity of time, after all, is that it makes us more willing to accept a more general scarcity of resources — this being another way of understanding the contradiction at work in higher education: students want more out of their time-money, but conjoined with a scarcity of resources, experience only even less value for their time-money as a result. But of course, this contradicts capitalism’s sense of its own abundance. So it is necessary that we feel inundated with choices — of commodity, of degree, of employment opportunities — even if those choices are wholly pointless, spurious and unappealing in being laden with more of the same normalised bullshit. We are faced, then, with

the production of spurious commodities that nobody wants, like slippers with the faces of alligators or whatever… Imagine, you see those sorts of things and the amount of work that’s gone into them; the amount of effort that’s gone into transporting them from wherever to get to Lewisham where they’re less than a pound and no one wants them…

The link feels tenuous, but I think it is insightful. These “spurious commodities” will be a sight familiar to anyone who has gone to a market in the UK. You’ll find things you need — cheap fruit and veg, cheap clothes, random households appliances — but also a cacophony of ephemera that might be useful to someone or desirable in its peculiar novelty but in such an abundance that it is hard to imagine a future for most of it other than the scrap heap.

Ultimately, its usefulness doesn’t matter. It’s all there for you to consider regardless, as part of an inescapable semioblitz that interrupts thought itself. It is consumerist noise, which we may ultimately pay little mind, but which nonetheless intervenes in and constricts our attention spans.

I am admittedly taking Fisher at his word here. Personally, I feel capable of walking through a market and ignoring all of this — or so I think to myself. And yet, I can’t help but notice the same abundance of useless ephemera online as well, where its impact is far more obvious.

Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, I have retained the habit of blocking most ads on sight. But what I notice these days — as everyone has — is the vast increase in ads for utterly useless things. Whether it is life-coaching from capitalist hacks or the same useless commodities I’d expect to find in the corners of a local market, I spend most of my time blocking ads that are for things I could never remotely imagine myself wanting or engaging with. Then why are they advertised in the first place?

Ultimately, I must conclude that it is irrelevant whether I purchase these things or not. It impacts my use of Twitter regardless, such that the drudgery of scrolling past all of these useless things changes how I engage with the platform. And again, how I use Twitter hardly even matters. That I am seeing these things alone is enough to generate ad revenue, I suspect, but the indirect result is I also use Twitter in general more passively.

This is particularly egregious at present. The horrors unfolding in Gaza have brought Twitter back to life. The past few weeks I have engaged with the platform more than I have in recent memory, reading the swathes of information shared, further strengthening a sense of solidarity with the Palestinian people as consciousness of their struggle is emphatically raised by an international community of reporters, activists, researchers, and observers. As horrible as the past few weeks have been — a horror that cannot be overstated — Twitter has not felt this productive as a political space for years.

This makes the passive scrolling past ads for useless things all the more surreal, however. Their imposition is all the more jarring. An abundance of political messaging suddenly overrides the superficial abundance of spurious commodities. It really does feel striking, however, that it takes such an impassioned outpouring to do this. Consciousness is being raised in spite of Musk’s exacerbation of bullshit ads.

Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, I have been suffering from very poor health (and a bout of depression to boot). I am leaving my flat infrequently, and so I have not experienced any of the street protests supporting Palestinian resistance. I can only imagine how these protests feel in actuality. But the footage of tens of thousands on the streets nonetheless seems comparable to the outpouring online. The semioblitz of everyday life is overrun by signs of other kinds. In videos, I do not see advertising in its ubiquity, but Palestinian flags. It is so necessary and so powerful. Still, I wonder how this same kind of outpouring, this actual abundance of a raised collective consciousness, might be sustained in the face of other, more mundane injustices.

This hardly feels sustainable once the atrocities stop, and so there is a hope that nothing goes back to normal, that the Palestinian struggle galvanises a fury to reject not just Israeli fascism but the fascism of the capitalist everyday (of which Israel is just a particularly egregious example). Indeed, the unbelievable lengths that Israel is going to to seed its impoverished propaganda feels like a mask-off moment for our reality at large. So much is faked, exaggerated. So many sets of teeth are lied through. And yet, although we refuse Israel’s attempts to manufacture consent for war crimes, we are taken in by similar strategies on other issues by other government (such is the “culture war”). What comes next? A general strike for Palestine right now, then the world? This was a situation we only imagined and hoped for two years ago. I wonder if now this feels that much more possible…

Still, the question remains: why does it take such an extreme situation to arrest this semioblitz and highlight its ideological incongruities? Perhaps this is a question already answered. It is worrying that we must be inundated with so much information about Gaza to overcome the information that otherwise distracts us. This is the information overload necessary to shake us from the mundane semioblitz of spurious commodities. These commodities, in their ubiquitous mundanity, signify the accumulative obstacle that makes it so hard to raise consciousness of other issues. These ads remain so pointless and ignorable, but perhaps now we can make ourselves more aware of the ways they facilitate, in their abundance, an ignorance and passivity towards so many other things regardless.

On Mark Fisher:
XG in Metaxis VI

Our friends at Editorial Metaxis have just published the sixth edition of their fantastic webzine. The current issue explores Mark Fisher’s work in great depth, with essays from a number of students at the University of Barcelona, various interviews and other texts. It’s a very rich compendium!

Alongside interviews with the team at Caja Negra and Amador Fernández-Savater, there’s also an interview conducted with me. We talk about Fisher’s legacy, my new book Narcissus in Bloom, Foucault’s author-function and Mark’s Fisher-Function, photography and film, the dreamworlds of David Lynch, and a bunch of other stuff too.

The zine is mostly in Spanish, but the editors have also included the original English version of our interview as an appendix.

There’s a lot to dig into and I’m excited to work my way slowly through the essays included. Here’s a rough translation of the pre-text provided on their website:

Days have passed. We have received resonances and disjunctions orbiting at different distances from Mark Fisher’s center of gravity. We have spoken with Matt Colquhoun, with Amador Savater, with the founders of the publishing house Caja Negra that popularized his name in the Spanish language and there have been beautiful contributions that we have decided to include in this issue.

Both with Colquhoun and with Amador and the directors of Caja Negra, Diego Esteras and Ezequiel Fanego, we have been discussing the escapes, the possibilities that are in potential and are still half said, the joy of meeting and seeing the rebirth of new ways of understanding life and acting, of creating, questioning not only the theoretical-critical bulwark but its diffusion and the ways in which it is received, the great renunciation, the great depression, the great dissent, the meteorite of the climate crisis, of mental health, of machismo, the emergence of a new narcissism and tendencies of the reflective metamodern spirit. Stills that contain flashes that spring from the same pulse emitted by electronic music. Utopian environments that delineate the values we lost through pent-up rage. We thought without realizing that at some point we would have to carry it out, but, as we have been exploring, now the mutant force lurks everywhere, crouched, invisible… upper cut.

Anna, Toni, Alba, Julen… Young philosophy students, aware that they inhabit a planet in decline, do not lose their seasoning and, as their writings show, they already carry in their biographies the experiences with which they make their compasses and sketch cartographies of the spirit. The pharmaceutical industry, the dopamine-producing machines, the praise of acid communalism, the frontal clash against the devices disseminated by cities, institutions and hundreds of cultural objects… It is not the emergency that leads to writing but to running. Writing understands other kinds of emergencies: urgent, urgent, I have to shout, but I have no mouth. So, we make lips, tongues, teeth, windpipes, time to sit down and shout on the white paper the dark and bright of being alive without permission.

Fellow member of our committee, David, with his stylish pen as he has already demonstrated so many times, outlines, sketches, concepts and issues that, to this day, are still relevant since the publication of that Capitalist Realism that made Fisher so well known.

In this post-scriptum, we are on record that we are many, even if we do not speak to each other. That we are deeply in love, even if we do not confess it. That we are aware that we have been captured by specters who take us for cattle and that our quarrels are meaningless when we are only the remains of an exorcism or the flowers of a daffodil in bloom on the shores of a lake. A new world is approaching of which we only intuit what the wind whispers when we stop listening to ourselves. Its fatality seems to crack, although it remains in force. Here, we leave a record of the non-being that has brought us together. I wish we could tell you how beautiful it is every time it happens, but these affinities, when they appear, you will resent them to us and we will speak the same language.

Narcissus in Autumn:
XG in Dazed

It’s autumn, which means it’s nearly winter, which means days are getting darker, which means your day-to-day life is getting a little bit worse. But that’s OK, because we have a list of the best newly released books for you. Highlights include Naomi Klein’s Doppelganger, which is a scarily timely read on our uncanny political moment (read our interview with her here). There’s Sofia Coppola’s Archive, which takes us deep inside the Priscilla filmmaker’s creative process. And of course, there’s Julia Fox’s long-awaited (genuine masterpiece) memoir Down The Drain. 

Slotted aptly between Naomi Klein and Julia Fox, Dazed Digital have recommended my latest book Narcissus in Bloom as a “book to read this autumn as seasonal depression rears its ugly head”. Check out the full list here.

Further Notes on Capitalist Surrealism

I have long thought about Mark Fisher as a surrealist. In many ways, it’s an anachronism. Fisher clearly had more in common with surrealism’s later progeny, such as the Situationists, and his early blogging (with the Ccru and solo) was more explicitly related to the automatic and fragmentary writing Ballard and Burroughs. But in my view, his most famous concept, “capitalist realism”, nonetheless begs for a “capitalist surrealism” to also exist.

Fisher explored this, again, in more contemporary terms (relatively speaking at least). Phrases like “digital psychedelia” and “acid communism” are far more effective than “capitalist surrealism” for the ways they engage with recent leftist struggles and contemporary material conditions. But kinds of “capitalist surrealism” they remain.

This train of thought is undoubtedly a product of the Bataillean still in me. Bataille’s Sur Nietzsche was itself a play on surrealism — a movement that had denounced him — which he used to reassert some of the all-important prefix’s ambiguities, meaning not simply “beyond” or “outside of” reality but “above”, “over” and “in addition to” it. (Bataille’s original intention was, in this sense, to rethink Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” more explicitly as a “surhomme”: not as a “superman”, as it is often translated into English, but the more nuanced “overman”, retaining a kind of Promethean and liberatory understanding that moves against the more fascist readings of Nietzsche’s works.)

For Bataille, though a popular surrealist movement seemed to forget this tension, he saw himself as adhering to it more effectively. As surrealism fell out of favour in French intellectual circles in the post-war period, Bataille believed it was instead more necessary than ever. Indeed, whereas the horrors of the reality of war made surrealism appear like little more than a parlour game to some, Bataille believed that it was precisely in that moment, where “reality” appeared most oppressive and hard, that surrealism had to rise to the task it had set itself in more carefree times. As he wrote most forcefully: “in terms of mankind’s interrogation of itself, there is surrealism and nothing”.

We can see a similarly surrealist (albeit inverted) gesture in Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism; it is the negative of a more imaginative project to come (the unfinished Acid Communism). First, it was necessary that he identify the “realism” of contemporary political reality, to sketch out the present, before advancing a more positive alternative to it — indeed, to even argue that such alternatives already exist in the first place. As Fisher wrote on the k-punk blog: “Identifying the embedded, unreflective pessimism [that defines contemporary life and leftist thought] is an act of negativity which, I hope, can make some contribution to denaturalizing that pessimism (which, by its very nature, does not identify itself as such, and is covered over by a compulsory positivity which forbids negativity).”

This is no easy task. It was Marx’s task too, after all; a task that Marx never (technically) completed. Fisher, however, managed to produce an image of the present that was so lucid as to be contained in a mere 90 pages, in a book that is perhaps still best described as a pamphlet.

This is not to diminish Capitalist Realism, but rather to understand the power of its radical concision in the totalizing complexity of capitalist realism itself (cf. Lyotard) like the political pamphlets of old. This is also not to suggest that Fisher one-upped Marx, doing what he never could, but rather to suggest that he turned Marx’s textual commitments on their head (something only possible after Marx had done the necessary work). This is to say that, whereas Marx produced multiple volumes for Capital that were positioned as the background to the relative brevity of the Communist Manifesto, Fisher’s final and more positive project would likely have been much more grand in scope than his initial offering of negativity.

The problem, however, which we are left with now following Fisher’s death, is that this project never materialised, leading too many readers focus on Fisher’s negativity at the expense of his positivity — something that is again compounded by his suicide.

It is for this reason that I prefer to think of Fisher as a surrealist. The Surrealists are also (lazily) well-known for their negativity, but the work was done later to re-establish their positivity more explicitly, and that is something that remains to be done for Fisher’s work today.

I have written on this before, in a post published eighteen months ago (and later translated into Italian — so it presumably had some impact for an attentive few). There, I discuss Capitalist Realism alongside Ferdinand Alquié’s sadly out-of-print (in English) The Philosophy of Surrealism.

Earlier this week, I came across a recently translated review of Alquié’s book written by Gilles Deleuze, in which Deleuze summarises the stakes of Alquié’s project to make them even more explicit. With the above gloss and the previous post in mind, I wanted to add a few notes that further elucidate what is so interesting about surrealism, and what remains interesting about it today as we continue to wrestle with the pessimism of capitalist realism more generally.

What is first most striking about Deleuze’s review is his summation of Alquié’s method. Alquié’s book, he says, “is a true analysis”:

It not only distinguishes themes but orders of importance. Because errors may consist less of making texts say something they do not than of inverting the relative importance of themes, of presenting something as essential that is not, something that depends on something else.

In the case of Fisher’s work, including and going beyond Capitalist Realism, it is necessary to resituate, in the order of importance, Fisher’s own negativity. (This is hardly a new and innovative reading of his work, although it is certainly the one that I’ve become particularly well-known for advancing.)

Although this displacing of negativity is necessary for all of Fisher’s work, it is something that is particularly apparent in discussions of his second book, Ghosts of My Life, where many only see a man who is arrogantly self-assured that all music was better in his day. This is a reading that few who read seriously take seriously, not least because, once you pass the book’s introduction, Fisher explores contemporary popular culture consistently (contemporaneous, at least, to the time in which the book was written). Even an essay that seems to be ostensibly about the past, such as his essay on Jimmy Saville and the 1970s, is centred on David Peace’s Red Riding tetralogy (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002) and its 2009 TV adaptation.

In essence, the perceived grumpiness, the pessimism, the negativity, isn’t remotely the point. It is a question of what this negativity makes possible and how it might give rise to an alternative form of positivity — positivity in the sense of a Spinozist joy, which is radically distinct from positivity’s more compulsory and more neoliberal perversion — found most readily, I think, in the cheerily and uncannily depoliticised innocuity of polite early-morning TV news programmes. (As Fisher wrote on the Hyperstition blog: “The price of such ‘happiness’ — a state of cored-out, cheery Pod people affectlessness — is sacrifice of all autonomy” — something demonstrably apparent when presenters of supposedly apolitical programming on the BBC, for instance, attempt to pass any sort of comment on the state of the modern world; “positivity” and “impartiality” (or “complicity”) have long gone hand in hand, it seems.)

Of course, this isn’t to reduce Fisher’s work to joy entirely, as this obviously presents an image of his work that will be alien to any reader. But it is nonetheless to acknowledge its prime position in the order of importance. Joy is all, especially in those moments when it feels most absent. Other topics and affects may take textual precedence, but all are lower down the ladder than joy in Fisher’s consistently and adamantly Spinozist framework.

It is a framework that Alquié shares — having written on Spinoza himself and having supervised Deleuze’s dissertation of Spinoza’s work also — and Deleuze sees much the same joyful vision of surrealism in Alquié’s work as well. Providing a rollcall of surrealist interests that similarly resonate with Fisher’s own, Deleuze argues that Alquié shows how

the essential for the Surrealists is not pessimism, negation, anxiety, and revolt, which are nonetheless expressed in many of their works. It is no more a concern for expression, an esthetic preoccupation, or research into language, even though several Surrealists ended up in this research. The essential is not the esoterism, spiritualist initiation, or alchemy that seduced and attracted them either. Nor s it the mystique of the superman, as Carrogues desired. It is not Hegel’s dialectic nor Marxism and revolution, from which, however, they do not want to distinguish themselves. Finally, it is not the return or the exaggeration of German romanticism, which had a project that was very different than the Surrealist project.

The essential is instead “a certain theme of life: love, desire, or hope.”

The central theme of Fisher’s work is much the same, and we can break down Fisher’s sense of these terms (which are admittedly located far more implicitly in his work) along lines similar to those advanced by Deleuze via Alquié.

First, love. The Surrealists’ love is not a love beyond life but rather a love experienced in “all loved ones”, in all “figures and aspects of the world.” What is meant by this is perhaps a love of life, of which we are generally dissuaded from expressing in favour of more “rational” rhetoric. Relatedly, Fisher admonishes a view of cultural fanaticism that is made anathema to academic discourse, which transforms “research interests” into only our saddest passions. To truly appreciate something, then, we are told we must move beyond “the vicissitudes of fan-adoration [which] have no relationship to proper philosophical discussion”, just as we must also avoid “fan exasperation, the nihilation of the former idol, [which] is somehow juvenile.” He continues:

There’s a peculiar shame involved in admitting that one is a fan, perhaps because it involves being caught out in a fantasy-identification. “Maturity” insists that we remember with hostile distaste, gentle embarrassment or sympathetic condescension when we were first swept up by something — when, in the first flushes of devotion, we tried to copy the style, the tone; when, that is, we are drawn into the impossible quest of trying to become what the Other is […] to us.

But Fisher argues, on the contrary, that this “is the only kind of ‘love’ that has real philosophical implications, the passion capable of shaking us out of sensus communis.” A surrealist love, no less, which intervenes within and interrogates our desires.

Second: desire. This love that draws us into an impossible quest — a desire — to become what the Other is to us is the beginning of ethics. It is to look at another form of life — whether encapsulated by an idea, a program or an other — and then attempt to give rise to that which we love in them within ourselves. It is desire understood most radically, and explored most explicitly by Fisher in his final lectures.

Deleuze, who would also write so much on desire’s co-optation by capitalism, adds that “this desire is not primarily possessive … because this desire is more attentive, awaiting, and attention, it is at the same time hope…” [sic]

Third: hope. Hope is not simply fantasy-identification either, but rather the construction of other loving worlds from the passions found in this one. To have hope then is to have a “comprehension of signs, taste for encounters, objective and terrestrial, and openness to the marvelous.” Fisher retains this sense of hope in his own later writings, drawing on Deleuze and Spinoza explicitly, but also goes marvellously beyond it. It is a truly surrealist hope, then, which begins with hope (as well as fear) but also acts decisively upon them. As he writes on the k-punk blog:

“There’s no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons,” Deleuze writes in “Postscript on Societies of Control”. He was no doubt thinking of Spinoza’s account of hope and fear in the Ethics. “There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope,” Spinoza claimed. He defines hope and fear as follows:

Hope is a joy not constant, arising from the idea of something future or past about the issue of which we sometimes doubt.

Fear is a sorrow not constant, arising from the idea of something future or past about the issue of which we sometimes doubt.

Hope and fear are essentially interchangeable; they are passive affects, which arise from our incapacity to actually act. Like all superstitions, hope is something we call upon when we have nothing else. This is why Obama’s “politics of hope” ended up so deflating — not only because, inevitably, the Obama administration quickly became mired in capitalist realism, but also because the condition of hope is passivity. The Obama administration didn’t want to activate the population (except at election time).

We don’t need hope; what we need is confidence and the capacity to act. “Confidence,” Spinoza argues, “is a joy arising from the idea of a past or future object from which cause for doubting is removed.” Yet it is very difficult, even at the best of times, for subordinated groups to have confidence, because for them/us there are few if any “future objects from which cause for doubting is removed.”

It is for this reason that Deleuze’s conception of hope, as found in the work of Alquié, is further comingled with love and desire — terms likewise rescued from any sense of passivity.

Deleuze acknowledges this same passivity in philosophy and cultural criticism itself. “It is sometimes surprising that it is possible to write and yet show contempt for literature”, he adds. But this is hardly much of a surprise when we understand hope/fear as the ground upon which one acts and, in the case of philosophy and culture, begins to write or create, such that art — like that of the Surrealists — becomes an ungrounding of the givens of this world that elicits hope and fear in the first place.

“This attitude is based on beauty being first not an affair of aesthetics but an affair of life,” Deleuze continues, “because it speaks to desire before speaking in a work, because it responds first to an ethical and vital exigency.” This is why desire is so important here, as an affect produced by hope and fear in equal measure. Desire, Deleuze writes, thus “refuses the given, it does not recognise itself in any logically defined object, it expresses a fundamental spontaneity, it expresses itself by ‘de-realizing’.”

It is a function of desire we know well in our love lives. It is one thing to desire another, to fantasise about an encounter with another (be that at the base level of having sex or otherwise building some sort of life together), but it might take a wholly alien confidence to step beyond hope and fear and make your feelings known — that is, to act upon them.

For Deleuze, this kind of confidence is not possible through hope itself but rather through a reflection on hope. We may know what we desire, we may sense a desire reciprocated in a wanton form of signification, but it is only by reflecting on that hope that we come to formulate an image of the mad action necessary to actualise it.

Surrealism’s primary concern, then, for Alquié, is precisely this mad action, encapsulated in André Breton’s “evolution as a passage from hope to reflection on hope, to lucidity.” But what is all the more important for surrealism is that this confidence is, again, not driven by a possessive desire. It is not a question of seizing upon fantasy and forcing its acquiescence to life as it is already being lived.

Here too our love for another remains a useful analogy: we do not profess our adorations in order to imprison the other in our pre-existing reality, but rather to extend a hand so that a new world be constructed by the walking-together of two. It is to take your world and another’s world and produce a new world altogether different from either one.

In this sense, then, as Deleuze continues:

For Surrealism, it is not a question of synthesis, of reaching the unity of the real and the unreal: the point where the two are one, the Surreal or Being, is not something to be rediscovered but defined. And not defined as a beyond, as supernatural, but on the contrary as the principle of separation that makes the being of humans, as the principle of a passage that makes poetry, “means of passing at will” from the real to the unreal, from the unreal to the real, finally as the principle of a tension that makes ethics.

This is what makes desire “more than the thing [desired] but less than Being”. It is a future oriented towards, but a future that might still never necessarily arrive (at least not as we might have first imagined it). Desire only remains active, can only be perpetually acted upon, if it remains a site of contention and struggle. Desire must continue desiring. It must remain somehow surreal, such that the acquisition of what is desired does not give way to a complacency that is a state of realism.

Desire is a difficult thing to retain, however, in the present. Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy demonstrates how desire is itself weaponised by capitalism, such that we passively believe all desires can be actualised only within its bounds. But the trick capitalism plays upon us is that this grand encompassing of all wants within its nervous system denies our capacity to desire other systems in themselves. We desire only partially, losing the only thing that can be desired truly: other worlds.

Surrealism, then, Deleuze concludes, at least in Alquié’s eminently Spinozist formulation, is “a rationalism that refuses the system, but is enriched by the dual content of desire and signs, or if you prefer, psychoanalysis and poetry.” Fisher’s works are really no different; this is likewise the founding principle of his “psychedelic reason”. But still, we tend to see nothing in Fisher but his anxieties. We offset entirely the kinds of action they were able to inspire.

In some of the footage I’ve seen from a forthcoming documentary on Mark Fisher, Carl Neville argues that it was so necessary that someone disliked the present as much as Fisher did. This is the initial power of Fisher’s work for many. The slow cancellation of the future clearly made him fearful that the frenzied stasis of capitalist realism would continue in perpetuity. But Fisher would not have written a word if he was not also hopeful that things could be otherwise. Understanding this hope and fear as necessarily entwined, he reasoned forcefully that capitalism works hard to deflate all consciousness and confidence. It leaves us with nothing but passivity — the passive acceptance that there is no alternative. By identifying this given as negative, we can think again what it is about this world that we love, which may not present itself to us with any immediacy, and desire to live and love otherwise.

This is a problem that is made sadly metaphilosophical for Fisher. As ever, his suicide lingers over his writings. But Fisher’s depression was, in so many ways, a product of the system itself. He was contained by it, as we all are, and felt himself ultimately “good for nothing”, as if this world necessary refused any space in which someone like himself could exist. He personified alternatives in this regard and continues to. He carved out what space he could, particularly online, documenting his own attempts at actualising a post-capitalist asceticism. And yet, although he ultimately left this world, we cannot allow that darkly negative act to overshadow all of Fisher’s other actions prior.

I will end here on a note from Alquié’s Philosophy of Surrealism, in which he turns to his wonderfully ill-fated friend Joë Bousquet, who casts an image of studious isolation that resonates, for me at least, with my image of Mark Fisher the blogger, of k-punk:

His asceticism was not that of a hermit who had voluntarily forsaken the world, but of a lover whom the world had forsaken and who could find the world again only by preferring it to himself, searching only in the splendour of things for the essence of his sorrows… This is where Bousquet was like no one else. He was not of those who go from reflection to life and take for their drama that of their thoughts. He had rather find, with the aid of images and words, his lost life and avoid sterile revolt by preferring what he saw and what he said to what he was. So he was always consoling, not by the illusion of some promise, but by the truth of reconciliation.

A true surrealist, like Bousquet, if Fisher’s work still consoles us, consoles me, in spite of everything, this too is why.

Palestine and the Archive to Come

It is hard to know what to say. It is hard to know whether one should say anything at all. Forget “doomscrolling”, genocide-scrolling is how I’ve spent most of the last few days, retweeting people on Twitter who are far more eloquent, far better informed, far more personally affected than I.

But what are tweets worth? All feels impotent.

I think about the public record, the ephemerality of Twitter. Will any of these tweets survive once Elon Musk finally drives that platform into the ground? I think about the general function of this blog as a diary, as a journal, as a public notebook, as a space to comment rapidly on current events. I think of a time in the near future, which is already so foreboding, in which I or anyone else may look back on this time and find silence.

Let it be said: this fear of silence is not out of self-concern, but out of a more abstract concern for the archive; not just my archive, but our archive. I want to do my part, even if this post is just a miniscule drop in the ocean of an archive to come. So, how to make an adequate record? That is impossible, no doubt. But to make a mark, any mark, no matter how small, is better than none at all.

Taking breaks from the horrors of Twitter, I turn to my bookshelf and begin to leaf through the fragmentary archive in my possession. I glance through Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love, look up Deleuze’s condemnations of Israel as a colonial project, and read Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail with new intent. It is Shibli’s book that affects me the most in the present context. (She was due to receive an award at the Frankfurt Book Fair; the ceremony was postponed.)

A woman becomes obsessed with a “minor detail” in the historical record — the rape and murder of a Palestinian woman in 1949. It is a “minor” incident when placed within the full frame of the Nakba, and yet all the more affecting in its singularity. To designate it as “minor” is doubly disturbing in this way. Minor as in insignificant? But insignificant how? Insignificant as in unimportant? Or insignificant when held up against a totality of atrocities? This is the tension of the archive.

I put everything way and get back to another job at hand. I am proofreading a book about science fiction. But even this becomes relevant, as scenes of subjection linger in the back of my mind. Deleuze’s famous comments in Cinema 2 make an appearance, which likewise resonate with an Israeli propaganda machine. Israel strengthens its claim on the past, whilst Palestinians hope for a liberated future. Deleuze writes of the importance of “story-telling”, of “fabulation”, in this regard. He writes that “story-telling is itself memory, and memory is invention of a people… Not the myth of a past people, but the [fabulations] of the people to come”; it is the people, the author adds, who “must be fabulated into existence, through processes of revolutionary struggle and transformation.”

Memory, for Deleuze, is so wonderfully nebulous, so evocative. Remembering is a creative act; Proust shows us it may even be the highest creative act there is. Unforgetting is revolutionary. But the media at present not only manufactures consent, it manufactures future memory as well. It seems to insist on what will be remembered: an oneiric authoritarianism; a Zionist realism.

Israel obliterates Gaza in the present whilst waging a infowar to thwart any Palestinian futurity. To read the archive as it is being written is to become anxious as uncertainties and speculations are prematurely concretised by a media complicit in a feared genocide to come. Complicit not only in its unwavering support of an apartheid regime, but complicit in the narratives it spins on Israel’s behalf. How do you erase people, after all? Not only through the destruction of bodies but also of memory, culture, thought.

I wonder if we will remember anything more than the conjecture of open conflict. Looking back on this historical record from an imagined future, will the headlines bellow back at us louder than any public dissent?

When people speak of the “Anthropocene”, the necessity of naming this new epoch as such, they often point to the fossil record. Future archaeologists, should any exist, will know us by the sedimented chicken bones. The unfathomable slaughter of little birds for consumption will be our legacy when all else has decayed. This fossil record is measurable, of course. There is physical evidence. What will the archive tell us? Will future historians dig beneath the genocidal headlines? How many voices will not be heard? But all the more reason to say something, to place your tiny brick in the wall of a narrative that must be actively constructed and fortified whilst Gaza is demolished indiscriminately.

Earlier today, following an announcement that they will stop Gaza from receiving water, food and electricity, Israel declares it will shut down Internet access for those who might still have some battery left on their devices. This is so they can stop the rest of the world from witnessing their war crimes in real time, one commentator suggests. Again, my thoughts turn to an archive to come.

This book being proofread also contains a notable reference to Saidiya Hartman’s method of “critical fabulation”. In the essay “Venus in Two Acts”, she writes of “straining against the limits of the archive to write a cultural history of the captive, and, at the same time, enacting the impossibility of representing the lives of the captives precisely through the process of narration.” Here Hartman is discussing the reconstruction — the critical fabulation — that is necessary when looking at historical records of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

As in Shibli’s novel, Hartman hopes to reconstruct the life of a murdered girl, when all that she has at her disposal are horrifying records of her death. “It is a history of an unrecoverable past; it is a narrative of what might have been or could have been; it is a history written with and against the archive.” Her attempt “depends upon the legal records, surgeons’ journals, ledgers, ship manifests, and captains’ logs, and in this regard falters before the archive’s silence and reproduces its omissions.” She is aghast by “all the stories that we cannot know and that will never be recovered.”

In the present, the arguments made in the media centre on accusations of disregard for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Commentators tiptoe around the anxiety of drawing false equivalences, or any equivalences whatsoever. Mainstream pundits run in fear from context whilst Palestinians run from white phosphorus. They steer clear of privileging narratives and ultimately say nothing. Propaganda is repeated thoughtlessly. “Israel has the right to defend itself” is asserted so frequently to lose all signification, but is nonetheless called out online for what it is: a cowardly complicity in war crimes. The dissent grows louder in towns and cities across the world, as if everyone has come to the same realisation: without voices of dissent, it is clear that only one set of atrocities will be recorded and remembered.

Yes, all deaths are a tragedy, but why do the overwhelming number of Palestinian deaths, which will far outnumber those of Israelis, as they always have done, feel so diminished? Decades of violent rhetoric have already dehumanised an entire people long before this fateful moment — that much is clear. We have already forgotten the humanity of those living under apartheid, such that any mention of their historical circumstances, of the colonial oppression that has led to this violence, is an offense to mention.

So much else is suppressed with shocking ease. So much else must be re-remembered. One of the most eloquent voices of dissent I hear from the UK media belongs to James Schneider, who comments on the current situation on TalkTV. He is immediately admonished by one of the show’s presenters, Jeremy Kyle, whose previous daytime show was described as “human bear baiting” by a British judge in 2007. How is this man allowed anywhere near the present discussion? It is a sickness; a cultural amnesia.

Those who remember the early 2000s hear echoes of Western warmongering following the declarations of War on Terror. Dissent then is disregarded now. The “Million” march of 2003 is memory-holed, much like the 2018 March of Return. All dissent is forgotten because the record — the dominant record — is deafening in its hegemony.

I add my voice regardless. But what is to be recorded? What is to be recorded here? Only my own anxieties? At the very least, I want any readers to know that all of my thoughts are with them. I stand with you and wish I could hug so many of you. I wish I could offer more than “thoughts and prayers”. But what am I left with if I do not want to make a list of atrocities? I am bearing witness to horrors, but I do not wish to catalogue them. Someone must; many are. There are far better sources available for rally cries and analysis; I have shared many of them. But here?

Central to Hartman’s work is the tension of remembering, of recalling scenes of subjection from the historical record:

What are the kinds of stories to be told by those and about those who live in such an intimate relationship with death? Romances? Tragedies? Shrieks that find their way into speech and song? What are the protocols and limits that shape the narratives written as counterhistory, an aspiration that isn’t a prophylactic against the risks posed by reiterating violent speech and depicting again rituals of torture? How does one revisit the scene of subjection without replicating the grammar of violence? … Do the possibilities outweigh the dangers of looking (again)?

I wish I had other stories to tell. Like Deleuze’s catalogue of world cinema, I gather and read the tales of Palestinian life and resistance in my possession,

through trance or crisis, to constitute an assemblage which brings real parties together, in order to make them produce collective utterances as the préfiguration of the people who are missing (and, as Klee says, ’we can do no more’).

We can do no more.

In Deleuze’s text, this declaration seems so positive. But so many are missing; so much is missing. It does not feel like enough… I hope new voices will join the cause. I hope, in another future, for new stories too: stories of love, joy and return. I hope the archives to come record more than just destruction and exile. I hope to hear more of beauty again, from the river to the sea.

Free Palestine.

Forthcoming Events in
London, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Madrid

I’ve got a couple of events coming up over the next two months. Here’s a quick post with all the info and links to tickets, etc.:

First up, I’ll be chatting to Bill Cashmore at Housman’s in London on 27th October to celebrate the launch of her new book, We Hear Only Ourselves.

We are delighted to welcome Bill Cashmore to Housmans to celebrate the publication of her exciting new book We Hear Only Ourselves. As Étienne Balibar says, this book is a “beautiful breakthrough by enormously gifted young philosopher.” We Hear Only Ourselves is a study of utopia and its contradictions. If a future beyond capitalism cannot be imagined, what is the place of utopia today? The answer, Cashmore argues, lies beyond either idle speculation or merely hopeful optimism. We Hear Only Ourselves seeks a concept of utopia which is strengthened, not undermined, by its contradictions. From the dialectics of the Frankfurt School to the energetics of resistance in the writings of the Black Panthers, this book draws on a wide range of thought to offer a new concept of utopia, one adequate for our present moment.

Bill will be in conversation with Matt Colquhoun, followed by an open discussion.

You can get tickets and more information here.

Next, I’ll be joining a panel on the opening night of this year’s Radical Book Fair in Edinburgh, the theme of which is “Revolutionary Feeling”, at the Assembly Roxy on 9th November.

What do we really see when we look at each other and at ourselves? What narratives and assumed truths do we bring into any meeting with others, about beauty, relationships, agency and the society that shapes us all?

Who better to lead us into a weekend of exploring the personal and political than three generous, bold thinkers and authors whose work untangles what it means to see ourselves? Join Sumaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Matt Colquhoun and Nathalie Olah as they plunge the mirrors we all hold up to each other.

The panel will be chaired by Noor Hemani.

Tickets and further information can be found here.

Finally, on 23rd November, I’ll be doing a home event here in Newcastle for this year’s Books on Tyne festival. At the City Library, I’ll do a reading and host a Q&A.

More information and tickets can be found here.

As a little bonus event teaser, the Centro de Cultura Contemporánea Condeduque has recently announced its “Pensamiento” programme for 2023/24: “Fuera de Carta: Para Desviarnos del Futuro Arruinado” [Off the Menu: To Deviate from the Ruined Future], which will “try to explore the shapes and spaces in which our future is at stake.”

It is about finding new ways of defining how we order and categorize our existence in relation to the world and deciding what sustains us in life, the ways to appropriately relate to ourselves, each other, and our environment. An “off-menu” menu where you can find a detour to the “ruined future” to leave behind the impossibility of thinking about a common future.

I’ll be taking part in a panel on the work of Mark Fisher in May 2024, exploring his increasingly international (albeit posthumous) reputation in the Spanish-speaking world.

In recent times, the British academic and cultural critic Mark Fisher (1968-2017) has gained prestige and popularity in the Spanish-speaking world. His work, which dialogues with that of contemporary writers, essayists, music critics and filmmakers, is now essential for thinking about our time, based on the analysis of the mass culture industry. By approaching this work from three readings – the British one with Matt Colquhoun, the Spanish one with Germán Cano and the Latin American one with Luciana Cadahia – we will try to continue Fisher’s efforts to understand what is happening (to us) and what are the possible ways of deviate from the “capitalist realism” in which we live, as well as its eventual future.

You can find all the information here.

This event is a way off yet, of course, and I’m hoping there’ll be other events organised around the same time in other parts of Spain. More on those next year.

If you ever want to know more about events I’ve been involved in — past and future — don’t forget to click the “Events” tab at the top of the blog.