Notes on the Anti-Praxis of Nietzsche’s Postcapitalist “Will”

I really enjoyed this recent article on The Guardian about Nietzsche’s underappreciated and errant extrapolitical activites (for lack of a better phrase…) — particularly his unrealised subterranean community.

It’s not news to anyone in this day and age — you’d hope — that Nietzsche’s works were misappropriated and misused by his sister after his death but I’d never heard most of the anecdotes told here to back this up.

Off the back of this article, I ended up buying Sue Prideaux’s new Nietzsche biography, I Am Dynamite! — the Guardian article being a quick gloss over a number of biographical moments discussed in her book — and I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s not a critical biography, exactly, in an academic sense, but it does place Nietzsche’s life and work in the broader historical and political context of his time, in a way that I have never read before. It’s also beautifully written which is always a bonus. It’s a very easy read.

With the book echoing around in my head, I’ve started reading Nietzsche again for the first time in ages. He was the first philosopher I “got into” when I was at school (one of my first blogs bearing the name The Wahnbriefe in his honour) and I think I’ve tweeted before about an old and heavily illustrated book called Introducing Nietzsche which I borrowed from my school’s “Religious Studies” department (which I think I might still have somewhere… Oops…) but never studying philosophy formally until I was in my mid-20s meant he only ever percolated in the back of my mind superficially. The seeds which this book planted grew out in interesting directions though, evidently, which, in hindsight, is probably the best introduction to philosophy my teenager self could ask for…

In more recent years, I’ve dipped in and out of The Birth of Tragedy and Thus Spoke Zarathustra but it’s the recent Cambridge editions of The Genealogy of Morals and Daybreak in particular that have been the best introductions to his thought proper for me. More than anything, it never fails to surprise me how alive and timeless his words are.

I’ve been left thinking a lot this week about his conceptualisation of “will” as the unconscious drive of “life” towards its outside in the past few weeks, discussed earlier on the blog via Nick Land’s The Thirst for Annihilation — Land writes: “For Nietzsche, life is thought of as a means in the service of an unconscious trans-individual creative energy” — as well as via his 1871 text “The Greek State” — an essay intended for but ultimately jettisoned from The Birth of Tragedy — in which his concept of “will” resonates profoundly, even today, especially today, with a postcapitalist fervour. He begins:

We moderns have the advantage over the Greeks with two concepts given as consolation, as it were, to a world behaving in a thoroughly slave-like manner while anxiously avoiding the word ‘slave’: we speak of the ‘dignity of man’ and of the ‘dignity of work’. We struggle wretchedly to perpetuate a wretched life; this terrible predicament necessitates exhausting work which man — or, more correctly — human intellect, seduced by the ‘will’, now and again admires as something dignified. But to justify the claim of work to be honoured, existence itself, to which work is simply a painful means, would, above all, have to have somewhat more dignity and value placed on it than appears to have been the case with serious-minded philosophies and religions up till now. What we can find, in the toil and moil of all the millions, other than the drive to exist at any price, the same all-powerful drive which makes stunted plants push their roots into arid rocks!

Of course, it goes without saying, that in saying this text has a “postcapitalist fervour” is not to claim Nietzsche for any particular political project — always a mistake — but it obviously speaks to a “will” that lies beneath (or, perhaps, above) any sense of a modern “work ethic”.

After reading this essay, I listened back to the interview I did with Meta-Nomad the other week and there was a moment where we attempted to discuss “work” as it might be thought in terms of a “post-work society”. It was a fun conversation but one I’m nonetheless left unsatisfied by. (Thinking aloud is fucking hard, especially with a brain drained by a day job, and I feel like I can only dream of one day having the eloquence which John Cussans and Nick Land have demonstrated in the later episodes of Hermitix.) Now, reading Nietzsche, I’m finding a vivid description of this liminal sense of a “work” beyond “work” that I had hoped to articulate, encapsulated by this “will” — this “drive” of existence rather than a drive towards production; a drive to (re)produce. We likewise find this in Bataille’s sense of “expenditure” — the implicitly energetic, that is energy-expending, nature of Being.

We know, all too well, that Nietzsche’s “will” was appropriated in such a way by his sister that this sense of the word was greatly reduced, forned over by her friend Adolf Hitler, into an arbeit macht frei.

For Nietzsche, in “The Greek State”, we see this “will” existing at the very heart of Greek culture without the platitudes of modern society, and we can see here how this arbeit macht frei interpretation might have come about in the minds of his fascistic countrymen. Centred around Greek attitudes towards art, Nietzsche explores (with tongue seemingly in cheek) the ways that art practices were, for the Greeks, like any other form of undignified work, like procreation and labour — as a relatively ugly means towards a more beautiful end. He writes with a euphemistic humour:

And as a father admires his child’s beauty and talent but thinks of the act of creation with embarrassed reluctance, the Greeks did the same. His pleased astonishment at beauty did not blind him to its genesis — which, like all genesis in nature, seemed to him a powerful necessity, a thrusting towards existence.

Therefore, art — or perhaps “artwork” — in itself, is, for Nietzsche, that which we as a species have always produced in our attempts to remain connected to the inherent decadence of existence, its excess. Art, and tragic art in particular, connotes an “intellectual predilection for what is hard, terrible, evil, problematic in existence, arising from well-being, overflowing health, the abundance of existence”, as Nietzsche would later write in his preface to the second edition of The Birth of Tragedy: “Attempt At A Self-Criticism.”

Existence, then, in essence, is that basis of being which, in modernity, overflows but is wasted by the limited apparatuses of capture. Capitalism’s mechanisms of capture, in this way, construct a “restricted economy” (to borrow from Bataille) in which these flows spill out onto the very ground of existence, wasted by capital’s blinkered and limited ends.

Almost 150 years after Nietzsche wrote “The Greek State” and “life” is still defined for all by an utter lack of dignity in this way: by a wallowing in the rising floodwaters of existence. Art too, today, as a world, an industry, fails to do these flows justice. Studying art, for me, rather than any other more profitable subject at university, was always seen as a way to just keep living, to perhaps forge cups in which this excess might be somehow retained. However, studying photographic art in particular, only served to mark the impossibility of such a task, “capturing” only two-dimensional and impotent glimpses of inner experience. As a medium and an industry, it is the worst avenue to wander down for this aim.

I am forever haunted by the discussions had in the last year of my undergraduate degree, the curriculum for which included such modules as “Professional Practice”, which always revolved around the financial expenditure of artistic production (whether for exhibitions or books) but never how to actually use your skills to acquire financial capital. I remember this frustrated some of my more business-minded peers, who criticised the lack of advice on how to make what we were doing profitable, and I remember one lecturer in particular, in private, noting that it was an impossible thing to teach. Making money is not something you will ever manage unless you have that innate drive to create without the prospect of reward: a child-like enthusiasm. At the time, I think I interpreted this, perhaps in the way that many of Nietzsche’s readers did, as a kind of romanticisation of work. The work itself will set you free.

This is an argument that Nietzsche himself seems to warn against, noting that art, for “we moderns”, is framed as the only acceptable laborious cul-de-sac that such an unconscious drive can be funnelled. In light of this, I’m left with that familiar ache of an “imposter sydrome”, brought on by an acknowledgement of the inherent privilege of thinking of oneself as a prospective “artist” or “professional” of any kind which attempts to curtail itself as a class betrayal. (I always felt like my teenage life choices put a wedge between the working-class side of my Dad’s family whilst my obsessions with Throbbing Gristle felt like a flight away from the petit bourgeoisie mentality of my Mum’s neurotic side of the family, compounding a sense of being adrift that I’d always felt as an adopted child, with nowhere to culturally call home.) Nietzsche writes that those who struggle with existence are most at risk of being fatally “preoccupied with the fine illusions of artistic culture, so that they do not arrive at that practical pessimism that nature abhors as truly unnatural” — that innate unnaturality that “gave rise to the need to excuse and consecrate that very greed [of the struggle of existence] ahead of the dictates of art.” He calls this a “conceptual hallucination”, as if to suggest that culture is a delusion, a societal “dreamwork”, covering over the inherent uselessness of the bourgeoisie. He continues:

Work is a disgrace because existence has no inherent value: even when this very existence glitters with the seductive jewels of artistic illusions and then really does seem to have an inherent value, the pronouncement that work is a disgrace is still valid — simply because we do not feel it is possible for man, fighting for sheer survival, to be an artist. … Such phantoms as the dignity of man, the dignity of work, are the feeble products of a slavery that hides itself. These are ill-fated times when the slave needs such ideas and is stirred up to think about himself and beyond himself!

Within our restricted economy, dignity becomes something afforded naturally to the bourgeoisie but which the proletariat must climb up towards — and this is the illusion that keeps the prole productive and the bougie preoccupied with only themselves. This is why the proletariat “must be prevented at any cost from realizing what stage or level must be attained before ‘dignity’ can even be mentioned, which is actually the point where the individual completely transcends himself and no longer has to procreate and work in the service of the continuation of his individual life.”

This is something I tried to express to Meta-Nomad in our conversation — still being hopeful that a “post-work society” might someday be attained: the scaffolding of this hope being that, without labour, work will still occur. People will still act without the prospect of rewards in the form of a careerist progression. The (unfortunate) example I gave in the moment was the figure of the mad scientist — like Rick in Rick and Morty (cringe) — mad because they produce and engineer and create irrespective of the moral genealogies of a society. Such a drive is always framed negatively in media portrayals — and within its countless canonically Gothic instantiations — because of the way it has the potential to disturb and fracture the individual and spread, affecting society as a whole. A major subplot of Rick and Morty, remember, being the ways that Rick must deal with his spatiotemporal and interdimensional fragmentations — whether in the infinite proliferation of his family’s selves (a prime example being the episode where Rick and Morty permanently leave their “home dimension”, which they have ruined, and travel to a dimension in which they have died, burying themselves so that they can cover-up their mistakes and continue to live without consequence, an experience that deeply traumatises Morty) or in Rick’s constant warring with the Council of Ricks (his various selves who live on a planet where all his proliferations live together, constructing their own state apparatuses, which he nonetheless remains outside of as the primary and most dangerous overman, always under the threat of trial and arrest by his other selves).

I think the reason that Rick came to mind was, perhaps, because his drive is, in many ways, a death drive, productively conceived. It is reckless, selfish, frequently endangering those around him. It is the very heart and soul of his being as a supreme individual, which is an interesting character trope to think about in general and certainly not exclusive to this most cursed of examples, but which is also notably cursed because of the ways that his suceeding of his self is framed as an abject bloating of his toxic individualism.

As anyone with an internet connection no doubt now knows, the “freedom” accorded by this individualism, which his character so entertainingly demonstrates, has inadvertently inspired the worst kinds of brattish behaviour in many of its biggest teenage fans, and so I find myself turning to Nietzsche again in thinking about how this drive might truly be allowed to exceed its own boundaries.

There is an extensive passage in Nietzsche’s 1881 book Daybreak which speaks to this, titled “Self-mastery and moderation and their ultimate motive”. He writes:

I find no more than six essentially different methods of combating the vehemence of a drive. First, one can avoid opportunities for gratification of the drive, and through long and ever longer periods of non-gratification weaken it and make it wither away. Then, one can impose upon oneself strict regularity in its gratification: by thus imposing a rule upon the drive itself and enclosing its ebb and flood within firm time-boundaries, one has then gained intervals during which one is no longer troubled by it — and from there one can perhaps go over to the first method. Thirdly, one can deliberately give oneself over to the wild and unrestrained gratification of a drive in order to generate disgust with it and with disgust to acquire a power over the drive: always supposing one does not do like the rider who rode his horse to death and broke his own neck in the process — which, unfortunately, is the rule when this method is attempted. Fourthly, there is the intellectual artifice of associating its gratification in general so firmly with some very painful thought that, after a little practice, the thought of its gratification is itself at once felt as very painful (as, for example, when the Christian accustoms himself to associating the proximity and mockery of the Devil with sexual enjoyment or everlasting punishment in Hell with a murder for revenge, or even when he thinks merely of the contempt which those he most respects would feel for him if he, for example, stole money; or, as many have done a hundred times, a person sets against a violent desire to commit suicide a vision of the grief and self-reproach of his friends and relations and therewith keeps himself suspended in life: — henceforth these ideas within him succeed one another as cause and effect). The same method is also being employed when a man’s pride, for example in the case of Lord Byron or Napoleon, rises up and feels the domination of his whole bearing and the ordering of his reason by a single affect as an affront: from where there then arises the habit and desire to tyrannise over the drive and make it as it were gnash its teeth. (‘I refuse to be the slave of any appetite’, Byron wrote in his diary.) Fifthly, one brings about a dislocation of one’s quanta of strength by imposing on oneself a particularly difficult and strenuous labour, or by deliberately subjecting oneself to a new stimulus and pleasure and thus directing one’s thoughts and plays of physical forces into other channels. It comes to the same thing if one for the time being favours another drive, gives it ample opportunity for gratification and thus makes it squander that energy otherwise available to the drive which through its vehemence has grown burdensome. Some few will no doubt also understand how to keep in check the individual drive that wanted to play the master by giving all the other drives he knows of a temporary encouragement and festival and letting them eat all the food the tyrant wants to have for himself alone. Finally, sixth: he who can endure it and finds it reasonable to weaken and depress his entire bodily and physical organisation will naturally thereby also attain the goal of weakening an individual violent drive: as he does, for example, who, like the ascetic, starves his sensuality and thereby also starves and ruins his vigour and not seldom his reason as well. — Thus: avoiding satiety and disgust with it and associating it with a painful idea (such as that of disgrace, evil consequences or offended pride), then dislocation of forces and finally a general weakening and exhaustion — these are the six methods…

In reading these six methods of self-mastery, we can no doubt think of a dozen different cultural manifestations of each. (Rick of Rick and Morty no doubt encapsulating the Byronic approach.) But none of these methods, which we might find at the heart of any system of ethics, address the materialist problematic that still exists underneath. As Nietzsche continues:

that one desires to combat the vehemence of a drive at all, however, does not stand within our own power; nor does the choice of any particular method; nor does the success or failure of this method. What is clearly the case is that in this entire procedure our intellect is only the blind instrument of another drive which is a rival of the drive whose vehemence is tormenting us: whether it be the drive of restfulness, or the fear of disgrace and other evil consequences, or love. While ‘we’ believe we are complaining about the vehemence of a drive, at bottom it is one drive which is complaining about another; that is to say: for us to become aware that we are suffering from the vehemence of a drive presupposes the existence of another equally vehement or even more vehement drive, and that a struggle is in prospect in which our intellect is going to have to take sides.

It is this underlying base of forces that I find explored most profoundly by Bataille, in all of its contradictions and in all of its mind-warping complexity. Bataille’s fascination with the transgressive horror of excrement and human physiology is perhaps borne explicitly out of Nietzsche’s own, less transgressively articulated, with Bataille positioning himself consciously on the outside of established moralities in order to challenge our own disgust at the base materialism of human being. Nietzsche writes, echoing this, with his usual humour:

Whither does this whole philosophy, with all its circuitous paths, want to go? Does it do more than translate as it were into reason a strong and constant drive, a drive for gentle sunlight, bright and buoyant air, southerly vegetation, the breath of the sea, fleeting meals of flesh, fruit and eggs, hot water to drink, daylong silent wandering, little talking, infrequent and cautious reading, dwelling alone, clean, simple and almost soldierly habits, in short for all those thing which taste best and are most endurable precisely to me? A philosophy which is at bottom the instinct for a personal diet?

An enthusiastic materialist, Nietzsche’s philosophies are perhaps most inspired by the acceptance of what was then a new discovery but now a truism: “You are what you eat.” And yet, things are not so simply reduced. As Prideaux’s biography retells in ways that echo many of the Bataille biographies I’ve read, Nietzsche was deeply affected by his father’s madness and early death. His father was diagnosed, she writes, with a “softening of the mind” — a naive euphemism for what might have been considered to be, today, any one of a number of degenerative brain diseases. Prideaux writes that many of the Nietzsches likewise suffered similar ailments, with such “softenings” being hereditarily predetermined, and there may have been an innate fear in the most famous Friedrich that he would also share his father’s fate — as we know, all too well, that he eventually did.

Bataille too, many of his biographers attest, was traumatised by his father’s mental collapse — particularly one instance, retold in his fictions, in which his mentally ill father exploded in a storm of expletives, at the mercy of his own failing body and interiority. For Nietzsche, and likewise for Bataille, their lives were perhaps defined by the epiphanies that the ailing physiologies of human beings, accelerated by the indignities of industrial life, could not be curtailed by mere moral codes. The introduction to the Cambridge edition of Daybreak echoes this sentiment, quoting Ludwig Feuerbach, reviewing Jacob Moleschott’s 1850 theories of the physiology of food: “If you want to improve the people then give them better food instead of declamations against sin.”

It is surely from here that Nietzsche’s theory of the “will” develops, and likewise current U/Acc debates around “anti-praxis” — as a becoming in alignment with these unconscious forces, detached from any moralism. I’m reminded of that excellent distillation from Enrico Monacelli’s recent essay, “Applying Applied Ballardianism”, in which he writes of anti-praxis as a concept that

will make some of you smile or raise a disdainful eyebrow: have we perhaps come to the point of criticizing praxis altogether and proposing the complete abandonment of all forms of political action? Are we supposed to quit trying and wait for the end of the world? But, as everyone can easily imagine, anti-praxis is, clearly, not the complete rejection of praxis and it does not demand us to totally abandon our political activities, whatever they may be.

Anti-praxis consists of two basic principles: making political action as impersonal as possible and intensifying the actually existing processes of liberation and emancipation, without situating our actions within/against capitalism, but following those political vectors which point directly towards a possible exit.

Nietzsche’s “will” is precisely such an impersonal drive — echoing the Bataillean “evil” of base materiality and Blanchot’s unavowable — which Blanchot in particular, of course, directs towards a postcapitalist desire. It is, perhaps, Bataille’s struggle to contend with this thinking, impossible not to mediate via the superego, and these are the difficulties that remain poignant for us still today.

I have no doubt: this delirium draws out human qualities in me. But, it must be said, it leads to disequilibrium and deprives me, painfully, of rest. I burn and am disoriented and remain empty in the end. I can propose to myself grand and necessary actions, but none of them answers to my fever. I am speaking of moral concerns, of the search for an object whose value sweeps all others away!

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K-Punk on Black Metal Hauntologies

Any excuse to highlight some old K-Punk gems, especially in light of my recent Black Metal mood. I’m currently trying to put a Halloween mix together for the next episode of Xenogothic Radio and it is heavy.

The first two episodes of Xenogothic Radio have both spread out from Xasthur’s music, particularly the track “Prison of Mirror” from his 2006 album Subliminal Genocide — the one black metal album that I frequently listened to even prior to being really into black metal. Its atmosphere is second to none.

I had no idea Mark had written on or spent any time listening to metal but I guess his Goth sensibilities must have meant he dipped his toe on at least a few occasions and so imagine my glee and excitement when, on a K-Punk dive, I find a bunch of posts talking specifically about Xasthur alongside Burial, somewhat vindicating the tangents that Xenogothic Radio #2 took from black metal to hip hop and dub.

Mark begins by riffing on Xasthur, following a string of (now dead) posts from Dominic Fox — Dominic, if you ever see this, are these posts resurrectable? — and one by Documents. As is customary of these sorts of blogosphere discussions, the map become a labyrinth but I want to try and chart this discussion as best I can because it’s one that I think I might pick up in a future radio show.

Following a ‘Best Of’ breakdown of metal albums from 2006 on Phil Freeman’s Running The Voodoo Down blog — in which Xasthur’s Subliminal Genocide prompts the comment: “Xasthur is pretty much metal’s own Burial; if you want hauntology, check out his cryptic wailing” — Documents asks:

Does Freeman misread ‘hauntology’ as spookiness? As K-Punk writes: “Hauntology isn’t about hoky atmospherics or ‘spookiness’…”. The fact that Xasthur’s wailing can make your hairs stand on end, does not make his music hauntological.

On Dissensus, ‘ hauntology’ is described as a concept that “… is deployed towards a music that employs certain strategies of disinternment — a disinternment of styles, sounds, even techniques and modes of production now abandoned, forgotten or erased by history”. “Yet,” writes K-Punk, “…in sonic hauntology, disinterment goes alongside internment, the deliberate burial of signal behind noise”. Hauntological music is music in which surface noise is foregrounded instead of repressed: “There is no attempt to smooth away the textural discrepancy between the crackly sample and the rest of the recording”.

Can these concepts be applied succesfully to Xasthur’s music?

Certainly, the unusual sound of Xasthur’s music foregrounds it’s technological production, foregrounds ‘layers of fizz, crackle, hiss, white noise’. As the Aquarius Records review of his Subliminal Genocide writes on Xasthur’s debut album Nocturnal Poisoning: “… the sound was murky and muddy and fuzzy, but above it, were delicate melodies, dreamlike minor key filigree over a bottomless black pit. (…) You could see the texture of the canvas and the individual brushstrokes beneath the art”.

In foregrounding technological production, Xasthur’s music is not very different from much of Black Metal, a genre whose deliberate low-quality sound recording serves to introduce ” … the technical frame, the unheard material pre-condition of the recording, on the level of content” (to quote K-Punk again). Perhaps this is the third meaning of the lo-fi Black Metal production mode explored in the previous post.

On the blackened laments of Subliminal Genocide, the Aquarius Records review writes: “Taken out of a black metal context, they’d sound like some sort of super emotional epic post rock, but as they are, buried under thick layers of blackened buzz and wrapped in huge swaths of fuzzy sonic fog, they become even darker and more desolate, lonely and mournful”. Thus, Xasthur is both interment in noise and disinterment of the Postrock genre. Postrock, the disinterred style, sound, musical technique … Postrock, now abandoned, forgotten and erased by history … Postrock, a genre that died in its infancy … Postrock, already haunting us, like the red-cloaked child of Nicholas Roeg’s tale of haunted Venice, Don’t Look Now.

Mark responds:

Fascinating as Documents’ take on Xasthur-as-metal-hauntology is, I’m inclined to agree with Dominic that Xasthur are better described as “Doomgazer”. Xasthur are like Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine with all the oestrogen removed — nihilism as jouissance. As Dominic suggests, there is no temporal discrepancy in Xasthur. Xasthur may have “blackened buzz … wrapped in huge swaths of fuzzy sonic fog” but their textures aren’t slices of time, if only because time has ended in their run-down cosmos: “Black metal is relentlessly entropic, committed to a one-way temporality in which intensities run inexorably down to zero and stay there, forever”. It is like the fantasy of being present at your own funeral, but on a much grander, more epic, scale. “The state of mind suggested by Subliminal Genocide is one of trancelike contemplation of the ashes of the cosmos — the logical end-point of Xasthur’s misanthropic individualism.” Dominic argue that Xasthur’s “is a universe of perpetual suspension, in which resolution can never arrive” but it might almost be the reverse: a universe in which resolution has been finally achieved, and the tension that accompanies all vital processes — or rather, the tension that is all vital processes — has been extinguished. Death, but no death drive.

Mark picks up this thread again in two follow-up posts, seemingly prompted by now-buried blog comments.

In “Po-Faced Versus PoMo“, Mark starts by quoting a long comment from Alex Williams on Sunn O))) and hauntology:

Structurally the real black metal hauntologists/doom-gazers are Sunn0))), their last album (Black one) liberally quoting (but in almost unrecognizable, expanded forms) classic black metal riffs, their live show almost a crystallization of the ghost of metal (in its most evil/ceremonial forms and equally its camp ludicrousness)… but a metal reduced, boiled down, vaporised in some hellish longhair’s bong — a single gesture remaining, (a raised satanic salute, as a guitar chord drones on and on…) Whilst they have begun to quote from black metal (whose hallmark is tinny atmosphere, and in its modern non-fascist form depressive nihilism let us remember) the form remains distinctly that of doom metal (hallmark: massive tritone drone) but again a doom metal divested of its “rockingness” (i.e. — rhythm and blues, percussion, climax) and purified into a form which has almost nothing to do with metal at all, for all its signifiers and quotations… but at the same time, whilst in some respects it works in a similar fashion to Burial, the analogy fails because even as it is a sonic ghost-image of metal, (nothing but reverberating amp hum and ritualistic imagery remains) it is not an elegy (is an elegy even possible in the culture of metal — the genre itself kept in eternal forward aesthetic motion so nothing to mourn, alive, yet death/doom fixated — indeed revelling in jouissance, as you say, at the terminal?)

To which Mark adds:

In that case, Black Metal could be lined up more with what we might call the “mainstream” of Dubstep (with which Burial has very little in common). Dubstep’s relationship to jungle doubles Sunn0))’s relationship to Metal. Like Sunn0))), Dubstep has produced a non-elegiac “ghost-image” of its source-inspiration (which in the case of Dubstep is Jungle). At one level, Dubstep and Sunn0))) could be heard as a (literal) continuation of their inspirations: a sound constructed entirely out of a distending of the after-effects, the traces (echoes, reverberations) of a departed sonic body.

What Metal and Dubstep (and Noise, for the matter) have in common is a philosophy, a metaphysics. At one step back, what they share is a commitment to the idea that music should come out of a philosophy. What is absolutely refused is the hegemonic Indie-endorsed ratification of commonsense, with its — usually implicit — insistence on the smallness of music, its ultimate irrelevance. Irony is repudiated. Music is not ‘just music’. It to be taken extremely seriously, even at the risk of seeming absurd. It is perhaps the absence of any fear of ridicule that is most to be treasured in (Doom and Black) Metal. Xasthur’s nihilism, which bleeds out through all their titles (“Arcane and Misanthropic Projection”, “Through A Trance Of Despondency”) is unrelenting, unrelieved by any raised eyebrows, while Sunn0)))’s return to costume and performance in the most po-faced, ritualistic sense are a repudiation of the dressed-down Indie assertion of an continuity between everyday life and the stage.

Later, in “Ecclesiastical Nihilism“, Mark goes deeper into Sunn O)))’s on-stage practices, first quoting, at length, another comment from one of his readers, Matthew Jones. Jones writes:

Two points on Alex’s recent thoughts:

1) As he quite rightly points out, sonically Sunn-O are removed from much of metal, but he should also have noted the affect it has on the listener in an emotional/spiritual sense, particularly when experienced live. The ceremonial nature of their performance is actually, unlike the relentless grind of every other doom metal act (e.g Khanate, recent Celtic Frost material) that I’ve ever heard, an uplifting and joyous experience; a total embracing of the darkness they (largely wordlessly) articulate, without the aggression and violence that characterises their peers.

In many ways, Sunn-O’s closet relatives are not within metal, but in spiritual/religious music, such as qawili. Compare and contrast Sunn-O with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; lengthy pieces of music (where something clocking in at about 10 minutes could be considered brief), which cycle through seemingly endless repetitions, leaving the listener either in a total tranced-out state or sending them into a state of pure rapture (if you ever see Sunn-O live, take a few moments to cast yr eye around the audience and you’ll see what I mean.) In the case of Nusrat, he frequently dispensed with actual words and uses a series of vocal sounds that in many ways express the intense religious love/ecstasy far better than words ever could (even if one does understand Urdu); Sunn-O’s vocals, when they are present, are so ridiculously distorted and echo-plexed that even when they sound like words you couldn’t possibly make out more than the briefest of snippets (and like Nusrat, would probably weaken the effect). Both artists share the ability to command yr attention without leaving you the actual choice of where to direct it; yr drawn in to their world inexorably; compare that to other doom metallers, where unless you are really on it trying to pay attention becomes something of a chore fairly quickly.

Sunn-O’s sound, and fundamentally their philosophy, is one of ecclesiastical nihilism. It goes deeper than “revelling in the jouissance of the terminal” (the words ‘revel’ and ‘jouissance’ themselves suggest a level of indulgence and frivolity absent in their sound), but to some sort of religious ecstasy induced through distortion and sub bass. And it is PURE, in a way their peers could never hope to be. Anderson and O’Malley don’t refer to their live shows as “sub-sonic rituals” and didn’t call the last tour “autumnal bass communion” for nothing.

2) On the subject of Burial, it surprises me that no one has linked his post-rave south London with Joy Division’s Manchester as etched out in Unknown Pleasures, [k-punk interjection. They have — Jon Wozencroft was also very quick to insist on the parallel…] which to my ears sounds like it should immediately be added to the hauntological canon (if such a thing really exists).

Sonic superficiliaties such as minimalism, echoes and found sounds in the mix? Check. A sense of mourning infusing both records? Check (“Me and him, we’re from different, ancient tribes, now… we’re both almost extinct… dreams don’t rise up they descend / but I remember / when we were young.”). Temporal disturbances? Check. (Joy Division and Hanett’s gutting+spectralising of rock* tunes, e.g war pigs, maps almost perfectly onto Burial’s faded 2-step beats and rave synths. Not to mention Wilderness’ “I travelled far and wide through many different times” line, which in many ways strikes me now as [Unknown Pleasures]’s key lyric; the isolation and despair expressed by Ian Curtis stemming from knowing that which others do not remember and cannot know).

Both records create seemingly accurate yet entirely mythical representations of the areas most closely associated with the two artists; a kind of map to orientate yrself with if you’ve no previous knowledge of the area, which you’ll find shows landmarks that no longer exist upon arrival; just rubble, boarded up windows and flyers from over a decade ago peeling of the walls. Also, they are both associated with scenes (post-punk and dubstep) that they both still seem so far removed from; even the core proto goth groups like The Cure and The Banshees don’t really fit neatly with JD; whereas they sound tortured but alive, JD and in particular Ian Curtis (as you’ve noted before) already sound dead, and Burial clearly operates in a different space to his dubstep peers, as previously discussed by pretty much everyone who has voiced an opinion on the subject. Perhaps the strongest link between JD and Burial is this sense of being alone, falling through the little gaps and cracks in time into a place where they’ve always been and always will be, totally separate from their contemporaries and their successors (I imagine that like Joy Division no one will be able to go anywhere near Burial’s musical terrain, both sounding like the aural equivalent of those little time capsule things with artifacts of today’s world that get buried for school projects and such like; despite being reflections on the past, they’ve also exhausted the final alternatives for their particular musical format).

* Kevin Shields described MBV’s sound as rock minus its guts, “the remnants”. Whilst I’ve never been convinced about this as a description of MBV, I can’t imagine a better description of JD exists.

Mark adds:

Matthew’s remarks serve as the perfect riposte to Simon’s scepticism as to whether “Sunn O))) have really escaped the irony/standing-slightly-outside-what-they-do syndrome”. When I saw Sunn O))) last year, there was absolutely no sense of irony, and much of the crowd was, as Matthew says, enraptured, entranced. Of course, I found it difficult to fully submit to the group, to take them at (po)face value, but I had to recognize that this was my problem, my sceptical ‘good sense’ insisting that “surely they cannot be serious…” Any ceremony looks ridiculous to those not properly initiated (which is why I’ve always thought that snorting about the absurdity and silliness of the ritual sex scenes in Eyes Wide Shut entirely missed the point). (It could be that Sunn O))) are like Laibach, and that the irony consists precisely in their very straight-faced identification with their role…)

I find Simon’s comparisons of Sunn O))) with KLF and intelligent drum and bass unconvincing. Surely grinning ape japesters and arch-scamsters KLF were PoMo incarnate, PoMo in excelsis in fact, and their robe-wearing was nothing else but an empty citation rather a serious attempt to be the impersonal focus of a ritual. The supposed “intelligence” of intelligent drum and bass, meanwhile, was achieved by downplaying rave’s “silliness”; Sunn O))), by contrast, amp up metal’s absurdities. It is as if they want to produce a sound that will finally match the ridiculous excesses of metal’s rhetoric and imagery. And whereas intelligent drum and bass suppressed jungle’s impersonal intensities by introducing tasteful Weather Report-ish musical affectations, Sunn O))) move in exactly the opposite direction, subtracting metal’s residual rock and roll dynamics and sonic pallette in favour of an exploration of forbiddingly featureless anti-climactic drone-plateaus. (That is why the comparison with Loop does strike a chord; when I first heard Sunn O))), the reference point I reached for was Loop.)

Another parallel with Dubstep springs to mind at this point. Both are about the significance of the minimal difference. Sunn O)))’s portentous repetitions slow down your nervous system so that a single chord change becomes a moment of enormous drama. (In this respect, they couldn’t be further from Trad Metal, which aims to vacuum pack as much baroque detail into every second of sound.)

The devotional aspect of Sunn O)))’s sound raises interesting questions. Like Dubstep, Sunn O))) live are lullling, enwombing, rather than oppressive. (Almost the reverse of MBV who, could reputedly be a violent and visceral live.) But then again, Xasthur are curiously calming, too, if you play them at an ambient volume. (The lack of tension-release, the swampy viscosity, make Xasthur excellent background music, really good to work to.) Which poses the question: how much of Xasthur’s nihilism comes from the sound, and how much from the words – or more precisely (since the lyrics are all but inaudible), the titles?

Nothing to add here — just disinterning a 10+ year old conversation from the blogosphere for posterity — but this will no doubt be something to refer back to in future.

A Note on Justin Murphy’s Moldbuggian Social Transparency

The drama of Justin Murphy’s “retard vacation” and the delayed fallout of his necrophilia tweets have dovetailed into a peak-publicity Daily Mail article recently. All that aside, I’m still thinking about the (now somewhat forgotten) fallout of his #WyrdPatchwork talk.

A transcript of the talk has been online at Justin’s blog for a minute now and so I wanted to just cut out the part that seemed to piss everyone off so much — and, I still think, rightly so:

[T]here is one thing that the rich today cannot get their hands on, no matter where they look. And I submit that it’s a highly desirable, highly valuable human resource that most people really, really, really want. And that is genuine respect and admiration, and deep social belonging. Most of the rich today, they know that people have a lot of resentment towards them. Presumably they don’t like the psychological experience of being on the run from national governments and putting their money in Swiss bank accounts. They probably don’t like feeling like criminals who everyone more or less kind of resents and wants to get the money of, or whatever. So my hypothesis here is that if we could engineer a little social system in which they actually felt valued and desired and admired and actually received some respect for their skills and talents that they do have and the work that they do put in… I would argue that if you could guarantee that, that they would get that respect, and the poor would not try to take everything from them. If you could guarantee those things, then the communist patch would actually be preferable to the current status quo for the rich people. My argument is that this would be preferable; it would be a voluntary, preferable choice for the rich, because of this kind of unique, new agreement that the poor and normal people won’t hate them and we’ll actually admire them for what they deserve to be admired for. So then the question becomes, well, how do you guarantee that that’s going to happen? This is where technology comes in.

The poor and normal people can make commitments to a certain type of, let’s call them “good behaviors” or whatever. Then we can basically enforce that through trustless, decentralized systems, namely, of course, blockchain. So what I’m imagining is… Imagine something like the Internet of Things — you know, all of these home devices that we see more and more nowadays that have sensors built in and can passively and easily monitor all types of measures in the environment. Imagine connecting that up to a blockchain, and specifically Smart Contracts, so that basically the patch is being constantly measured, your behavior in the patch is being constantly measured. You might have, say, skin conductance measures on your wrist;  there might be audio speakers recording everyone’s voice at all times. I know that sounds a little authoritarian, but stick with me. Stick with me.

Basically, by deep monitoring of everything using the Internet of Things, what we can do is basically as a group agree on what is a fair measure of, say, a satisfactory level of honesty, for instance. Let’s say the rich people say, “I’ll guarantee you a dignified life by giving you X amount of money each month. You don’t have to do anything for it as long as you respect me, you know, you don’t tell lies about me, you don’t plot to take all of my money” or whatever. So then you would have an Alexa or whatever, it would be constantly recording what everyone says, and that would be hooked up to a Smart Contract. And so if you tell some lie about the producer aristocrat, “He totally punched me the other day, he was a real ignoble asshole,” and that’s actually not true. Well, all of the speech that people are speaking would be constantly compared to some database of truth. It could be Wikipedia or whatever. And every single statement would have some sort of probability of being true or false, or something like that. That could all be automated through the Internet of Things feeding this information the internet, and basically checking it for truth or falsity. And then you have some sort of model that says, if a statement has a probability of being false that is higher than — maybe set it really high to be careful, right? —  95 percent, so only lies that can be really strongly confirmed… Those are going to get reported to the community as a whole.

If you have X amount of bad behaviors, then you lose your entitlement from the aristocrat producers. It’s noblesse oblige, the old kind of feudal term for basically an aristocratic communism, the [obligatory] generosity of the noble. So that’s all very skittish. A little sketch of how Internet of Things and Smart Contracts could be used to create this idea of a Rousseauean General Will.

The reason why this has never worked in history is because of lying, basically. People can always defect. People can always manipulate and say they’re going to do one thing but then not deliver. That’s on the side of the rich and also on the side of the poor. But what’s at least in sight now, is the possibility that we could define very rigorously the ideal expectations of everyone in a community and program that in transparent Smart Contracts, hook those up to sensors that are doing all of the work in the background, and in this way basically automate a radically guaranteed, egalitarian, communist system in which people do have different abilities, but everyone has an absolutely dignified lifestyle guaranteed for them as long as they’re not total [expletive] who break the rules of the group. You can actually engineer this in a way that rich people would find it preferable to how they’re currently living. So to me that’s a viable way of building communism that hasn’t really been tried before. And I think it really suits a patchwork model. I think that this would be something like an absolutely ideal patch, and not just in a productive, successful way. This is the ideal way to make a large group of people maximally productive and happy and feel connected and integrated. Like everyone has a place and everyone belongs, even if there’s a little bit of difference in aptitudes. The system, the culture, will reflect that. But in a dignified, and fair, and reasonable kind way, a mutually supportive way.

I was reminded of Justin’s hypothesis explicitly whilst watching this Netflix film, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, called The Circle. The end of the film is a bit shit and sensationalist, and it is basically a feature-length Black Mirror episode, but it made me laugh a lot because, as far as I could tell, it was Murphy’s patch, precisely as he describes it here, acted out on screen.

It demonstrates, in an entertaining format, what stinks about his proposals for a Moldbuggian social transparency — and it’s beautiful.

You Say You Want a Revolution?: Patchwork’s Radical Geographies

There was a conversation had on Monday night at the Acid Communism reading group on the left’s historic burden of utopianism. I found it resonating with the recent “Patchwork is Not a Model” debate, bringing it back to what I think are the more implicit benefits of a renewed patchwork thinking, some of which have been somewhat glossed over by the recent debate on the necessity of models.

Louis M. said it all and so what follows is an attempt to reconstruct what he said, as recorded in my hastily written notes, extended with a healthy dose of blogger’s ad lib and further research.

Louis defined utopianism as that impossible project through which the Left has attempted to imagine a set of circumstances that can account for and counteract all the problems capitalism produces: Utopia is conceived of as a model.

We’ve seen this form of thinking proliferate for decades, centuries even, as an imaginative but impotent proliferation of best-case scenarios, but — no doubt as a major symptom of capitalist realism — this predilection for model-creation has usurped the actual problem of revolution in itself.

Revolution, now taken paradoxically to be something that you can’t just rush into, becomes a problem for model-making rather than consciousness-raising. We can see this most clearly, perhaps, in that iconic Beatles song, with its irritatingly impotent Lennonism. Gone is “What is to be done?” In its place, we have the principled umm-ing and arr-ing of “Well, you know…

We’d all like to change the world… We’d all love to see the plan… Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright? 

The song rejects destruction, capitalist imperatives and Maoism, but what does it put forward other than the platitudes of peace-loving hippie complacency?

This isn’t psychedelia. It’s the seed of a modern leftist impotence.

Modelling offers up solutions — so we’re told — but must they do so under the umbrella of an already-existing “realism”? Unfortunately, popularly understood, modelling hides under the impotence of the neoliberal town-planner. As Louis continued, the making of models is an inherently academic exercise — as a way of giving a falsely holistic form to the more implicit functions of an ever-changing system but also as a form of state management and planning. Lest we forget, in Borges’ original short story, that the model of a 1:1 map is framed as a fault of bureaucracy as much as it is of thought itself. No model can last. Everyone is a stopgap. That might be useful for the rigours of systematic philosophical thought, in its own context, but what use is it sociopolitically? Libidinally? It’s a cold shower in an already cold world.

For Louis, the problem with all this impetus that is placed on the “model” is that you are forced to contend with capitalist realism on its own terms; the terms that it sets itself. Louis suggested that, in approaching a speculative problem in this way — for instance, as it was discussed in our Monday night conversation, in the context of a postcapitalist economics — you are likely “wrestling with a neoliberal economist” and the neoliberal economist will always win. They will win because the economic system — their system — is forever on their side. The “model” of capitalist realism — and its implicitly conjoined twin: nationalist realism — is one that is fundamentally based on shadow-boxing the essence of the model itself — a model strengthened inherently by a hegemonic belief in its value irrespective of any credible appeal to its obvious inefficiency.

Capitalism proclaims to give us all that we could ever want but most of us know from lived experience that this is really not the case. Likewise, we are provided the scaffolding of an atomised “mandatory individualism” by the state’s processes of subjection, giving us our “freedom” whilst being incessantly haunted by the spectre of a repressed collective subject.

Under such circumstances, as Mark himself makes clear in his book, Capitalist Realism, you don’t attack the model, you have to attack the collective belief in it, undoing the model’s “realistic” cover-ups of its own lacunae — or, as Louis put it, you have to attack the conditions which give the model its social power. You tap back into the libidinal desires found in that gaps in the model that continue to power many forms of politics which “the model” as a whole has necessarily covered over.

To go back to the source of this debate: Francois Bonnet, in his book The Order of Sounds — preluding the discussions of the “administration of the sensible” which would be the focus on his book The Infra-World — writes about

the asymptotic nature of the model, its tendency to superimpose itself onto the real and to cover it over, without ever being able to complete this process, and at the cost of losing its very status as model and simply disappearing into a new reality, just as hopeless as the first, a new reality which once again calls for models in order to render it legible.

Models are all well and good, but I mourn the way that the debate has fallen back into this very process of recursive modelling. Michael James, of course, refuted this well in his response:

That said, I do think we desperately need pragmatic models of patchwork to even start the process of re-imagining what massively complex ecosystemic social assemblages are, and can be, free (as possible) from existing ideologies of statecraft, community, etc. We also require technical models to go about the work of engineering and administering actually existing patches. Without both of these types of interacting modeling projects how could we possible track patch dynamics in ways required for operational efficacy, or cognitively navigate the patches of which we are enfolded within?

This is a good point but I think I disagree with its orientation — that is to say, I still think it is backwards: backwards in the sense that, to me, it feels like a cart-before-the-horse approach that has glossed over the original point being made, which the foundation of unmodelled fragmentation is, I think, inherently in tune with.

The point was this: an approach of “structural models first, structures of feeling later” feels, to me, like a premature dampening of the affective momentum of patchwork before its had the chance to free itself from the speed restrictions implemented under neoliberalism’s mechanisms of self-preservation.

To return to Louis: in refuting the wholesale primacy of modelling, he made reference to the movements of “radical” and “critical geography” which grew out of the restless academic discipline of geography in the 1970s, in response to geography’s “quantitative revolution” within the academy.

The radical geographers — more so than the critical geographers — took to analysing the ways that their discipline was (and still is?) inherently structured by the rationalities and biases of other disciplines. Richard Peet, for example, in his book Geography of Power, writes of that ways that academic rationalisation

occurs under a dominant economic imaginary. And that imaginary is made by the academic discipline called ‘economics’. Control over this disciplinary imaginary is a fundamental source of power.

He continues:

My claim is that economic theory is ideological in the sense of being committed to class and national interests. Economic ideas follow logics that are constructed rather than discovered — that is, made up with an interest in mind, rather than discovered innocently, latent in reality. This social construction includes the economic ideas and terminologies employed in policy-making power. The construction of economic ideas, rationalities and imaginaries is important — so we know what we are talking about, thinking about or, rather, what we are thinking with. We have to know where the ideas we think with (employ in analysis) come from. This means starting with ideas that are so accepted they are thought to be normal, natural, inevitable, if they are ever thought at all. Just as language relies on speakers following the intricate codes of language, without stopping to examine them (unless there is a problem with clarity, and then the pause is brief), so economic thought employs the codes of an economic rationality that is assumed rather than critically inspected. The ability to project ideas into the ‘naturally assumed’ is one main source of ideological, hegemonic power.

Peet is criticising the usual post-Enlightenment hegemony of Western power and its long-running processes of globalisation for the ways they have implemented a new dogmatism of thought within a constructed system; within an invented, imperial model of the world from the West.

We know this already, no doubt, but it is nonetheless worth emphasising: power has a geography.

Elsewhere, in his essay “Celebrating Thirty Years of Radical Geography”, Peet chronicles the early developments of radical geography and the political moment in which it was conceived:

During its first stage, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, radical geography tried to transform the scope of a conventional discipline criticized as irrelevant to the great issues of the time — civil rights, the Vietnam War, and environmental pollution were missing in geography. Somehow conventional geography’s focus on region and space precluded consideration of topics like these. Replete with tensions, space itself did not exercise an exclusionary power. Rather it was the prevailing system of academic representation, space as regional catalogue of curious facts, or distance deliberately voided of social and political character. These representational styles could be seen as final culminations of a process of narrowing, an almost fatal specialization set in motion by the definition of disciplinary contents in the late 19th century. Such a narrowing occurred as part of a conservative shift in Enlightenment thinking: thus spatial science was progressive and optimistic in the mechanical sense of social engineering rather than the organic sense of social transformation. In response, radical geography focused on diffusing a new set of academic values in the form of a different system of disciplinary topics, such as poverty, social justice, and underdevelopment…

He continues:

The second stage in radical geography, spread across the years of the middle and late 1970s, saw a series of increasingly sophisticated critiques of the positivist basis of the “quantitative revolution in geography“, and a number of proposals for a new theoretical basis in the now more relevant radical geography, fast developing in terms of interest and adherence. It should be remembered that radical geographers considered themselves to be revolutionaries in more than a disciplinary sense. Popular culture has, necessarily, rendered the term “revolution” virtually meaningless in the intervening years. But then for many, and even now for a few, the label carries the connotation of transforming everything that exists — beginning, usually, with the economy. This political ideal was often, but not always, encapsulated within a Marxist frame of thought, derived from the European Enlightenment, but with a lot of differences, like a dialectical version of materialism, and a deeper revolutionary commitment. At its best, Marxism is a democratic form of rationality, one that believes not in the logical purity of eternal Reason but in the logical potential of democratic reasoning. Marxism demands discipline from its followers, all the more so because of its social constructedness. So this stage was marked by a collective process of dedicated exegesis of the Marxists classics, and a series of applications mainly into urban and regional development, a project coordinated by solidarity emanating from commitment rather than orders from centers of command. It was the breakdown of political discipline that marked the transition to the third phase in radical geography in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Radical geography, in this context, becomes an attempt to radically do away with the primacy of the map; of the geographic consistency of subjectifying state apparatuses — or, it at least holds these things aloft with skepticism. It was a movement that revolutionised the discipline of geography and continues to have an impact today. Geography and cartography are no longer mutually exclusive disciplines — which is to say, space and its models are, necessarily, not conflated.

Skipping ahead, Peet continues, diagnosing the moment ahead of him at the time of writing, in the late 1990s:

The fourth stage [in the development of radical geography] saw the entry of poststructural and postmodern philosophies, together with a far more deeply theorized feminism, into a radical geography that became increasingly eclectic. In one stream of thought Marxist geographers appropriated and synthesized the new ideas. In another, postmodern notions entered more directly — and more critically. The tragedy of the time, from a personal view, was the antagonism that developed among the different schools of thought. Clearing space for new styles of thinking seems almost automatically to engage intellectual violence. Looking back on this time, it might be recognized that the criticisms were too personal, the remarks too severe, the atmosphere seemingly devoid of respect, and the actions taken in unnecessarily cruel ways. A pity considering that the level of philosophical insight and the quality of empirical work were gaining new presence inside and outside the discipline. At the Boston sessions in 1998 there were signs that this antagonism is now behind radical geography. Can it really be that we stand before a new phase, not in the usual sense of millennial optimism, where a year with a number attached achieves magical significance, but in terms of the optimism that comes when squabbles are finally finished, and issues demand confrontation?

Peet asks: “What might this fifth phase consist of?” He paints a picture of a geography that services processes of consciousness-raising.

It should not be too trendy in the sense of obscure topics dressed in weird philosophical clothing. It should not mainly consist in finding still more French authors to quote. It should not be excessively abstract, so much that papers can only be read to bemused audiences longing for the return of the spoken, meant word coming straight from the still-thinking mind.

In this respect, perhaps, current patchwork discussions have not been very successful — as embedded as they are in French theorists and occulted philosophical clothing — but they have, at the very least, succeeded in getting people (who would perhaps otherwise think they do not have a horse in the race) to start talking about new radical geographies that might serve to address some of the sociopolitical issues neglected by the hegemonic geographies of power. Peet concludes:

Instead there is a need for reconciliation and mutual respect that might be achieved through philosophical hybrids and comparative studies. There is a need for recommitment to a revived set of radical political values. And most importantly, there is an almost desperate need for a new round of social relevancy. We have to get over the blockage to action formed by a reluctance to speak for others. For the questions that radical geography was founded to confront are present still in mutated, far more powerful and dangerous, social and cultural forms — the terrible injuries visited still on the world’s most vulnerable peoples, the formation of global structures far beyond human control, the transformation of material into virtual reality, and the consequence of all these and more in the massive destruction of nature. The theories used to confront such issues have to be both realistic, in the original sense of rooted in the material, and even more radically profound, in the new sense of confronting cultural technologies capable of incorporating almost any resistance, usually as a new consumption frontier. Fifth-stage radical geography, in a simple phrase, should theoretically and practically reengage with the great social and cultural issues of our time. Through such confrontation we earn our right to exist. Not as living remnants of a radicalism long past, but as engaged intellectuals, people who believe that the structures of contemporary existence need transforming, and that satisfaction derives from personal commitment to a collective process of radical social change.

This call to action might be vague and it may not be entirely consistent with the patchwork philosophies being explored here currently. But this essay was written 20 years ago, unaware of the traumas of the first decade of the 21st century — from 9/11 to the vice grip of austerity — which make his call for revolutionary action all the more pertinent and, perhaps, less content with civility.

Nevertheless, drawing on his signalling towards PoMo feminisms, we might see the necessity of a patchworked thinking emerging in the recent histories of philosophies of difference. I’ve pointed towards such things before and this topic remains an area of study I want to clarify further on the blog. Not necessarily in Deleuzian terms — although that’s important but something for another post, I reckon — but rather why I see the production of a subjective difference within a fragmentary geopolitics as something positive rather than negative, particularly in our present moment.

As I’ve said repeatedly here, in ways both diffuse and various, the main thing that interests me in these analyses are the implicit relationships between processes of subjection and a fragmentary geopolitics — particularly in my own immediate context of the UK potentially becoming a disunited kingdom along the fault lines of its historically Gothic ruptures.

This will, most likely, occurred along lines of class politics — taking class politics as the basis for all other forms of oppressive subjection, whether along racial and/or gender lines, et al. This is the attraction of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, written about in one of this blog’s key posts, as well as my interest in Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wyrd Sisters. All of these characters are exemplary Gothic figures who become revolutionary agents in their contexts: anti-statist, often feminised, often proletarian; often immigrant, always Other. They are historically pertinent spectres of our radical geographies, long predating the academisation of a “radical geography” in constituting the prevailing feudal unconscious that capitalism has always carried within itself.

The “difference” inherent to these figures is, of course, two-fold: in part, it’s an imposed difference — each figure is, initially, rejected and oppressed for a perceived difference, from the perspective of a wider society — but, later, there is always a turning point where this imposed difference is consciously embodied to an extent that difference becomes positively charged, having tandem implications for both an always entangled geopolitics and subjectivity.

I was thinking about this recently — who am I kidding: I’m always thinking about this… — whilst sitting in on a seminar about Donna Haraway’s “tentacular thinking” — which made me want to go back in time and eat my previous Twitter cynicism about her more recent work. I’m still not really a fan of her last book, Staying with the Trouble — mostly because of the form it takes, as if Haraway is watering down her own theory for the sake of contemporary art world trends — but instead of discussing this text, as was initially recommended by the convener of our seminar, we instead made our collective way through an older essay of hers, from the Autumn 1988 journal Feminist Studies, called “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” — perhaps one of her most famous older essays.

In it, Haraway is attempting to construct a new sense of “objectivity”, in an explicitly feminist and entangled sense of the term. If we understand objectivity to be a “perspective” that is independent from an individualised subjectivity, then Haraway’s “objectivity” is less an appeal to notably masculine and consolidated “truths” so often associated with science but rather an objectivity that is a collectivised subject, resisting the internal paradox of that phrase.

Haraway goes on to argue for a “splitting”. She writes:

The split and contradictory self is the one who can interrogate positionings and be accountable, the one who can construct and join rational conversations and fantastic imaginings that change history. Splitting, not being, is the privileged image for feminist epistemologies of scientific knowledge. “Splitting” in this context should be about heterogeneous multiplicities that are simultaneously salient and incapable of being squashed into isomorphic slots or lists. This geometry pertains within and among subject. Subjectivity is multidimensional; so, therefore, is vision. The knowing self is partial in all its guises, never finished, whole, simply there and original; it is always constructed and stitched together imperfectly, and therefore able to join with another, to see together without claiming to be another.

I think this feminist objectivity is very relevant to the image of the Wyrd Sisters that I invoked in my talk the other week, and it’s a splitting that I’ve written about in relation to photography as well. More than anything, it speaks to an entangled objectivity of State and Subject.

However, I’m reminded here of all the early criticism that this new thinking about patchwork attracted towards the start of this year — the accusations I would backtrack between discussing it as a future and as a fiction. What use is this vague positing of a speculative subject? How is this useful, concretely, for action and thinking?

My position has always been, although perhaps not so eloquently proclaimed, that futures and fictions are one and the same — or, rather, they must be considered as such if we are to truly imagine new “political imaginaries”. Patchwork, discussed with a previously polemic over-confidence, as I initially wrote about it in “State Decay“, might function as a hyperstition.

To return again to Louis’s introduction to radical geography, I want to end here by grounding this new example within the context of the original Monday night discussion.

At the reading group last night we read Mark Fisher’s introduction to the book Economic Science Fictions, published earlier this year via Goldsmiths Press and edited by Will Davies. As Mark writes, specifically talking about capitalism, but perhaps echoing the naysayers of patchwork thinking who all too often dismiss without countering:

As capital’s cheerleaders endlessly crow, anti-capitalists have not yet been able to articulate a coherent alternative. The production of new economic science fictions therefore becomes an urgent political imperative. Capital’s economic science fictions cannot simply be opposed; they need to be countered by economic science fictions that can exert pressure on capital’s current monopolisation of possible realities. The development of economic science fictions would constitute a form of indirect action without which hegemonic struggle cannot hope to be successful. It is easy to be daunted but he seeming scale of this challenge — come up with a fully functioning blueprint for a post-capitalist society, or capitalism will rule forever! But we shouldn’t be forced into silence by this false opposition. It is not a single-total vision that is required but a multiplicity of alternative perspectives, each potentially opening up a crack into another world. The injunction to produce fictions implies an open and experimental spirit, a certain loosening up of the heavy responsibilities associated with the generation of determinate political programmes. Yet fictions can be engines for the development of future policy. They can be machines for designing the future, and fictions about what, say, a new housing, healthcare or transport system might look like inevitably also entail imagining what kind of society could house and facilitate these developments. Fictions, that is to say, can counter capitalist realism by rendering alternatives to capitalism thinkable. Not only this: fictions are also simulations in which we can get some sense of what it would be like to live in a post-capitalist society. The task is to produce fictions that can be converted into effective virtualises — fictions that not only anticipate the future but that can already start to bring it into being.

This does not jettison the use for models absolutely but it surely puts them on the back-burner. Even if a fiction is a model, let’s at least consider it as a fiction for a bit longer, resisting the temptation to fold it into already prevalent bureaucracies.

Xenogothic Premiere Twitch Stream

I was really surprised by how much fun I had doing the Xenogothic birthday stream last week. Having a few drinks and sitting with some of you going through my records was one of the nicest online collective experiences I think I’ve had in years. I was expecting I’d last about an hour, awkwardly and drunkenly, but once I got into the swing of things, we ended up with a three-hour stream that seemed to be somewhat entertaining? I didn’t realise I had it in me…

I definitely want to do something like that again and the idea is becoming more and more attractive right now as I’ve currently got a really full weekly schedule. As much as I blog a lot, I’m not quite a workaholic. I try to keep evenings and weekends for myself and my own headspace. Filling up every hour of the day starts to quickly feel like presenteeism and, having had a bumpy few months of mental health this year, I know I need to have concrete times when I can switch off and unplug, because it doesn’t take much for me to burn out.

… That being said, if I can make content for y’all to enjoy and relax and look after myself whilst doing it, that sounds pretty perfect to me. This was the joy of last week’s stream and why I’d like to incorporate streams into the weekly onslaught of stuff I put out. But this is not to step on Justin Murphy’s toes. I want to make stuff more specific to my interests and concerns. This has partly been the attraction of doing the radio shows recently but these are also overly scripted and so writing for them tends to stall, just like the writing of posts, when my day jobs take over. If anything, they take even longer to put together with my current work schedule…

Enter Twitch. This was an idea I had about a year ago and remember talking to Nyx about but a recent Wired article about kids learning about climate change via a Fortnite stream has sealed the deal and made this something I want to get into now rather than keep putting it off.

So, I’ve bought an incredibly fashionable gaming headset and, after a load of people asked about Bloodborne in the birthday stream last week, I thought I’d have a go at playing it tomorrow night whilst I have the flat to myself.

I’d initially planned to just play the game alone and then write about it but it turns out a lot of people on Twitter are far more conscientious about form and content than I am and the demand was clear immediately. So, with the confidence boost of last week’s hangout, we’re gonna dive in and Twitch stream it!

I’ve opened up a Twitch account here — give it a like and a follow and all that stuff — and I’m going to use it to play through a bunch of games that I’ve got on the PS4 (and maybe we’ll occasionally do some PC games too) on Wednesday evenings (GMT).

I’m very, very new to this so I’ll have to think about structure and schedule as we go, and feedback is very much welcomed.

My taste in games is pretty predictable if you know this blog. I currently have six PS4 games — The Last of UsResident Evil 7, Fallout 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, Bloodborne, Prey. I have only spent a good amount of time with The Last of Us and Fallout 4 so far — I’ve peeked at the first hour or so of Resident Evil 7 and Horizon Zero Dawn but didn’t get fully immersed — and so I’m quite keen to explore these other games blind with you all.

So here’s what we’re going to do:

I don’t just want to play through these games and that be it. I want to talk about what these games are doing, what questions they pose and how the makeup of the games themselves allow us to experience the implications of these questions in a certain way. Put another way, I want to use these games as prompts for thinking aloud about some of the broader concerns of this blog.

Horror games are great for this, obviously, but I don’t want to just stick with those. A lot of this year was spent writing about the “New West of Westworld” and the fragmentary subject of the American Frontier so you know that Red Dead Redemption 2 is getting a stream next month.

The first episode of this twitch series will be starting with Bloodborne, as promised, and I’ll be playing it through for the first time so excuse any n00b teething problems. We’ll start off getting a feel for it together, talking through it and seeing what questions come up that we can carry forwards into future streams.

Some of the questions I already have in mind are concerned with the aesthetics — having a bias towards the British Gothic, a lot of the tropes of Japanese horror games remain totally alien to me (why are swords always so big?) — I wanted to think about the affects of such a pronounced irrealism / surrealism, and how this game — from what I’ve already seen of it — combines this Japanese Gothic with an obvious reinterpretation of explicitly European stylistic tropes. I want to think about how this game fits into — and perhaps extends — the notions of the Gothic that I think I know and we think we know.

Discussions about this and whatever else comes to mind are actively encouraged in the stream chat. Also, I’ll hopefully figure out a way to put these streams on YouTube as edited videos but I want to emphasise that this is something to do collectively. Games requests and tips are welcome for future streams too.

Come hang out!


Xenogothic Premiere Twitch Stream
Bloodborne
20:00 — 17 October 2018 — ~3hrs

https://www.twitch.tv/xenogothic

“More occult, less acceleration!”

The only possible Ballardianism is a lucid apocalyptic paranoia, theoretically incomprehensible and logically unsustainable, but capable of dissecting in detail a reality that becomes increasingly complex and beyond the reach of human cognitive abilities. Nothing human makes it out of the near-future and, paraphrasing Burroughs, who believed that Ballard touched the “nonsexual roots of sexuality,” Ballardianism shows us the essentially non-human roots of humanity’s so-called progress and future. “I imagined myself propelled to my death by forces I could not fathom, just like the victim in Crash who smashes into the narrator’s car and is hurled through the windscreen, striking the bonnet.”

There’s a new article up on Nero Editions taking excellent account of so many of the recent knotted blogosphere debates, tying them in a commendably neat but haunted bow, starting with the “art and politics” debate from a few months ago that took place in orbit of Simon Sellars’ recent book Applied Ballardianism, and hitching it to notions of Landian templexity and U/Acc anti-praxis.

A few of my own blog posts are linked to here but I very much doubt I could see the connections between them as clearly as Monacelli does here. It’s surely the best account so far of all these different threads that have proliferated over the course of the last few years online.

An essential primer. Go check it out!

The Real in Weird Realism: Notes on ‘The Haunting of Hill House’

I’ve been well and truly sucked into this new Netflix horror series, The Haunting of Hill House. There will be spoilers in this post so maybe come back to it later if you haven’t seen the show. I very much recommend it.

The series really got going for me after episode three and it has felt relentless ever since, unsettling me with an intensity I don’t think I’ve experienced since the first binge of the first season of Hannibal. That show really got inside my head on the first sitting — its excess of gore and nihilism compounding reality rather than rupturing it. This show does this too.

It’s got me thinking a lot about some of the alternative paths I could have taken with my recent “The Eerie After Derrida” posts, particularly the claims made in Fisher’s old Weird Realism posts about the (relative) realism of Lovecraft.

What I want to explore here today is the weird rather than the eerie: the weird as it is tied to objects and, particularly, how we might consider this a part of a Weird Realism, from the perspective of Lacan rather than Harman.


I went into The Haunting of Hill House knowing nothing about it. I knew the name as that of a novel by Shirley Jackson but that’s a book I haven’t yet read. (I’ll be changing that fact once I’ve finished this.) I don’t know how closely the series follows the book but I’m going to take a guess and say it takes a lot of liberties.

The series follows the Crain family as they are haunted by the ghosts of their lives: of their childhoods and their various personal traumas, but particularly the collective trauma of their mother’s suicide and the strange goings-on they all experienced in the creepy old home of their youth. As a result, each of them, as adults, has their own issues — sociopathy, depression, substance abuse, narcissism — and each episode proceeds by exploring these pathologies, how they’re connected what they saw, didn’t see or think they saw as kids, and how this continues to define them as people well into adulthood.

After tweeting about the series I completely agree with this comment from Lyrra Sark:

To hear a synopsis of the series is to think of the recent horror trope of having creepy manifestations of mental illness — The Babadook comes to mind as a pretty run-of-the-mill jump-scare movie given an underlying plot about depression which I’ve always felt was hugely overrated. This series does it right. It toes the line of psychological realism and the paranormal perfectly and makes for a series about mental illness that packs real terror and despair without it feeling gratuitous and sensational.

The best episode for me, in light of this, was episode three — “Touch” — which follows Theodora, the cold (literally and interpersonally) middle child who, as an adult, drinks a lot and is generally hedonistic, partying and having casual sex, using a cold intimacy to lose herself in others. It turns out that, rather than being a sociopath — as I assumed she was in the first two episodes — she is, in fact, an empath, capable of knowing a person intimately through touching them or an object associated with them. (Because of this, she always wears gloves.)

But this exploration of her character isn’t wholly supernatural. It’s at times explored as a sort of honed intuition and it is likewise a gift she puts to use in her day job as a child psychologist. For the adult Dr. Theodora Crain, this affective transference is far more Kleinian than the young Theo’s X-Menesque superpower. The line between the two is blurred simply by the transition between child and adult mind.

The main subplot of this episode concerns one of Theo’s patients — a girl she struggles to connect with (even through touch) who complains of being tormented by a frightening figment called Mr. Smiley — a monster who comes for her at night, always smiling but never happy.

Theo tries all she can to connect with the girl but it seems that she has been through something so traumatic that the emotional walls she has built up are too thick for even Theo’s empathic powers to penetrate. Perhaps because of this drive to reach her, the image of Mr. Smiley ends up getting into Theo’s head — she starts to see him too — but she also knows that these experiences are surely rooted in reality. She deduces, and later confirms with a house visit, that Mr. Smiley is a coping mechanism constructed by the child to deal with the fact that she is being molested by her foster father.

This may seem like a fairly obvious deduction to make to us modern viewers — the ways that children bandaid over trauma are central to many early pioneers of psychoanalysis — but this likewise seems like a good way to re-enter the “weird realism” discussed in a previous post.

The play technique that Theo demonstrates with her patient, and the negative transference that occurs as a result of it, feels like a textbook case study lited from the work of Melanie Klein, whose theory of object relations remains hugely important for modern analysis involving children.

Klein, in her practice as a psychoanalyst, would write at length on her sessions with children in which she would encourage the expression of a child’s unconscious through their play. She would note the importance of phantasy to a child’s unconscious, describing the reality-testing role-playing that we now generally associate with all children’s development. Klein writes:

From the moment the infant starts interacting with the outer world, he is engaged in testing his phantasies in a reality setting. I want to suggest that the origin of thought lies in this process of testing phantasy against reality; that is, that thought is not only contrasted with phantasy, but based on it and derived from it.

It was Klein who suggested that a toy can become an object of transference which allows for what is pathological in a person’s emotional relationship to others to be acted out and, for Klein, in her practice, this “object” could be a literal object or the analyst themselves.

In The Haunting of Hill House, we see this played out very literally. Theo is allowing her young patient to safely re-enact a night terror through the use of a doll’s house, describing Mr. Smiley and making it known that he “lives” in the basement. (The basement is, as Theo learns through a horrifying instance of objective transference with a dank sofa, the place where the father molests his children.)

Theo makes the connection that the girl’s internal explanation of her own trauma must likewise be connected to the external environment of her house. Mr. Smiley is the Kleinian phantasy that allows her to make sense of that which is wholly beyond her experiential comprehension. As Klein herself writes, a “child’s experience of the external world, which very soon includes his ambivalent relation to his father and to other members of his family, is constantly influenced by — and in turn influences — the internal world he is building up, and that external and internal situations are always interdependent, since introjection and projection operate side by side from the beginning of life.”

In her introduction to a collection of Klein’s essays on psychoanalysis, Juliet Mitchell explains the concept of phantasy more clearly. She writes:

In Klein’s concept, phantasy emanates from within and imagines what is without, it offers an unconscious commentary on instinctual life and links feelings to objects and creates a new amalgam: the world of imagination. Through its ability to phantasize, the baby tests out, primitively “thinks” about, its experiences of inside and outside. External reality can gradually affect and modify the crude hypotheses phantasy sets up.

Here I am reminded, yet again, of two consistent references on the blog: Fisher’s declaration in The Weird and the Eerie that “the inside is a folding of the outside” and also the most magnificent passage in Francois Bonnet’s The Infra-World, in which he writes:

… we would be wrong to interpret children’s night-time terrors as the result of excessive imagination. Contrary to popular belief, children do not have excessive imaginations. Upon hearing an unknown noise, spying a fleeting shadow, the adult will imagine a whole series of potential scenarios that might explain the phenomenon, bringing it back into the known world and regarding its existence probable. On the contrary, a child rapidly runs up against the limits of his imagination, then finds himself before the most radical, the most terrifying unknown. He finds himself at the gates of the infra-world, and there perceives the real danger of being snapped up by nothingness, of seeing the few certainties acquired during his early years shattered to pieces and sinking into the pitch-black waters of a groundless world. Against the structures of order and discipline, whether those of school or of the family unit, against the many strategies designed to initiate the child into the grown-up world (objects and coloured forms designed to ‘awaken’ him to rigours of civic education or to the history of civilisation), the terror of this blackness insinuates into the ear of the toddler a terrible promise: ‘You will never know the world; the known world is already gone, it is collapsing around you. Its fictional limits are at breaking point, and the ensuing flood will carry you far, far away.’


From here, we might draw a clear line from Klein’s writings on object relations to Jacques Lacan’s theory of The Thing — or, as he calls it, Das Ding — that object which Lacan associated with the Real: that noumenal zone of radical exteriority and strangeness beyond signification.

This is something embodied not only in the children under Theo’s care but in Theo’s own empathic relationship to the objects which she touches. A strength of the show is that, despite revealing all kinds of ghosts and apparitions to us on screen, the transferences that Theo experiences when she connects, abjectly, with das Ding remain occulted to us. All we know is they drive her to drink and, for us, they remain beyond signification.

In touching anything — a person, a surface, an object — it is as if Theo can infer the truth of that Thing’s nature, its sovereign “morality” (which Lacan writes of), its lingering energies. She has a sensitivity to the Real. As Lacan writes:

The real, as I have told you, is that which is always in the same place. You will see this in the history of science and thought. This detour is indispensable if we are to reach the great revolutionary crisis of morality, namely, the systematic questioning of principles there where they need to be questioned, that is, at the level of the imperative. That is the culminating point for both Kant and Sade with relation to the Thing; it is there that morality becomes, on the one hand, a pure and simple application of the pure and simple maxim and, on the other, a pure and simple object.

Despite her coldness, Theo seems like the member of the family who is most grounded in the abject Real — as pure and simple, cold and violent indifference. She doesn’t drink to mediate her experiences but rather to quiet them, occasionally indulging in her sensitivity for its pleasurable intensities to counteract the painful ones.

The other members of the Crain family all have their object fixations — Luke has heroin; Shirley has corpses (she’s a mortician); Steve has his books (he’s an author of ghost stories, his most famous one based on his sibling’s childhoods, much to their contempt); Nellie, notably has nothing, and when she is overrun by the irreality of her traumas, she commits suicide.

Whilst the rest all have their objects, they do not experience them as Theo does. The others have what might call, as Lacan (via Freud) does, their Sachvorstellungen — thing-presentations. By contrast, what Theo interacts with is das Ding, the thing-in-itself. She reaches impossibly into the “beyond-of-the-signified”, the objective unconscious devoid of subject, beyond the linguistic administration of the thinkable, administrated Sachvorstellungen.

As such, entangled with Lacan’s theory of das Ding is an ethics of subjectivity. The Other, taken to be that person who is our “neighbor”, likewise has das Ding at their heart. We can never know the true heart of the Other. We can only infer it from their representations of their Self. Theo, of course, has no such problem, having complete empathic access to the das Ding of the Other.

In light of this, I’m reminded of a tweet I saw in the midst of my Netflix binge which read: “Almost all horror movies are all about real estate, at their core.” I’ve heard this joke somewhere before but it is, of course, almost a truism, but it gets nowhere near the real heart of the obsessions with the home.

What is the house except the landscape — the spatial manifestation — of the das Ding of the Other? In The Haunting of Hill House, Hill House is the estate of the Real.

When Nellie commits suicide in the house, Steve confronts his father about the secrets that he has kept from the family about their tragedies. He confesses that it is his belief that the children’s mother — and now Nellie — did not commit suicide: “The house killed them.” Steve finds the notion deeply offensive but we can feel it all the same. We’re obsessed with houses are manifestations of the das Ding of the subject, and as the shell left behind when a family is gone. Nellie’s therapist, we might note, irresponsibly challenges her to return to the house and confront her fears. The house is just a “carcass” now, he says — a corpse; a shell without a soul.

It is the fatal error that Nellie takes this carcass to be harmless. She should know, more than anyone, the dead don’t rest. Noumenal forces continue to run through all “objects”, dead or alive.

The estate of the Real strikes back. Forget the “desert of the Real”: the Real has so often been suburban.