An empty day. Blissful, even. I read or wrote for all of it.
Tuesday 31 March 2020
I called the NHS hotline on 111 this evening. My girlfriend has had her dry cough for a week but that’s not what’s worrying me. After two days of it seemingly receding, her fever came back — and hard.
The nurse’s advice on the end of the phone was simply to take paracetamol, which was slightly anticlimactic. As I relayed her symptoms she said, “Yep, that sounds like Covid.” I could sense the adding of a line to a tally on the desk in front of her and a sudden urgency to get onto the next call.
It’s not that I wanted an air ambulance sent to whisk her to the field hospital at the Excel Centre but, to my mind, a fever this high that lasted this long would be more of a cause for concern under normal circumstances.
I suppose these are not normal circumstances.
It was good to have some sort of confirmation though. It’s also slightly surreal that this crisis has hit home like this. We’ve been sensible and disciplined, and anxious about the virus sooner than most people we knew. We haven’t left the house in over a week regardless of symptoms. In truth, we didn’t expect to get it but feared more for others than ourselves. And now it’s in here with us.
It’s still the boredom that is overwhelming. I’m keeping myself occupied but she doesn’t have the energy to open her eyes to watch TV. I’ve been reading Jane Eyre to her instead. I think we’re both enjoying it. I’ve read it before but not out loud. Out loud the poetry of it sings, and the existential turmoil of this young child in the opening chapters is so lucid and beautiful and witty. I’m left wanting to re-read all the classics out into the air. We might have the time on our hands to do so.
It feels like a miracle right now that I don’t have it too. If we both caught it simultaneously I think we’d waste away into nothing. Already the fridge is empty. We’d planned a trip to the shop tomorrow but I’m not sure that’s on the cards anymore. We’ll need to figure out a workaround.
Wednesday 1 April 2020
April’s fools are suddenly everywhere.
I wake up groggily to the blaring sound of our fire alarm. My girlfriend was already up and ready to go. I was less convinced and panicked by the situation. I work from home a lot. I am used to the false alarms.
The alarm was shut off before we made it through the front door, much to her frustration. A message later went around the building’s WhatsApp group that explained some plumbers had set it off.
I was surprised to hear plumbers were even allowed in the building but that was when I caught a glimpse of the developing hysteria. A plumbing issue can’t wait. Nevertheless, I felt afraid for those two men on the job. They were working on our floor just a few doors down. I felt like maybe we should put quarantine tape on the front door or something, just to warn the neighbours. It’s stupid, really, but I had these thoughts regardless.
With it being so early in the morning, and with nowhere to be, I decided to go back to bed. Once horizontal, I picked up my phone only to find a text from a man saying he was in the area to carry out some pre-booked energy efficiency testing. It was something the landlord arranged a few weeks back. We’d forgotten about it — him included when I text him to ask about it — and we were all very surprised to hear that the tester still planned to go ahead with the testing. Plumbing is one thing but I don’t think checking the efficiency of our flat’s insulation is all that pressing. I text him back saying so.
“We are still working under the current safety guidelines,” was the response.
The next thing I knew he was calling us from inside the building. “What’s your flat number?” he kept asking. I told him my girlfriend was sick with the virus and that it was unlikely he had enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to put our minds at ease.
“So you’re cancelling?”
At around three o’clock I started to make a late lunch. We’re moving around so little that we barely have any appetite and the shocking deficiency of snacks in the cupboard meant we were spending more time talking about food and driving ourselves crazy.
There are plenty of people in the local area we could probably call upon to help us out but neither of us has the nerve to collate a list of comfort foods to get us through the boredom. We’ll just keep using up what we’ve got until her symptoms pass.
We’re not struggling yet anyway. I made some pasta and we sat in bed. My girlfriend put on the news which we’d decided to more or less ignore for the past week. The forced updates of social media apps are about as much as we’d like to know at this point
The BBC newsreaders were going through various reports and they all kept talking ominously about … The Peak. Just like that as well. They’d take a slight pause — dramatic but not melodramatic — right before they said the words, which were in themselves also slightly emphasised. The Peak. We are approaching … The Peak. How long is the government estimating it will be before we reach … The Peak. The death toll is rising daily — how bad is … The Peak … going to be? Then they start talking about plateaus. After … The Peak … the death toll will begin to plateau. “Plateau” is said with a little more urgency, with a certain relief. Peaks and plateaus. Plateaus and peaks.
We eat quickly and turn it off.
Despite the media’s dramatics, there is a sense that the government is trying to soothe people’s anxieties in the wrong way. They report on the numbers but with this tone that says, “Hey, you know, things don’t look too bad… Statistically, it’s mostly all fine… People die everyday… Things could be getting better sooner than we thought!”
It’s hard not to witness this and watch activity pick up again outside our window. We watch the frequency of cars passing increase with a certain terror. Some non-essential works are still going ahead without anyone taking the time to figure out the risks. Everyone seems to want to get in our building or into our flat to carry out works that can wait.
I feel like we have had too many close calls today, too many opportunities for the virus in our flat to spread through our building. Everyone seems eager to get back to work or get out of the house, and that’s understandable, but I can’t help but think it’s moronic. Although I don’t blame anyone. It’s like they are been pushed through their front doors by some unconscious kick — the myoclonic jerks of a capitalist system being told to go to sleep. Nevertheless, I wish everyone would stay indoors as stubbornly as we are.
We’ve got the fear today and the fear is real. It’s that same fear that used to emerge on the last day of the summer holidays. The fear that still emerges on a Sunday evening as you stare down the barrel of the week ahead.
“No more miserable Monday mornings” was Mark’s dream for himself and the world at large. In the introduction to Acid Communism, he took up this same phrase to write about the Small Faces’ “Lazy Sunday” — a song through which “the fog and frost of a Monday morning [is] abjured from a sunny Sunday afternoon that does not need to end…”
We’re living through a very long Sunday at the moment and, the longer it goes on, the more monstrous the Monday to follow seems like it will be. Because it isn’t the dream of no work that keeps us in bed but the dream of no illness — or, now, not spreading the illness any further — and that seems like a drive worth listening to.
The lazy Sunday is over. Now we’re back to thinking neurotically about the correct use of soap…
Thursday 2nd April 2020
My Dad is texting us for daily updates now. He’s concerned but it’s nice. We usually only drop each other an email every few months. Today he rang me to see how we were getting on. A mundane gesture but unusual for him. His fear has been real for over a month. I laughed about it at first. I’m not laughing now.
I even had a somewhat wholesome chat with the landlord about how he’s talking this opportunity to potty train his kid (“That’s brave”) before he offered to relax the rent if things were getting tough. It was quite the relief.
I went outside to take the bins out and bumped into the neighbours. I think they’re new. They woke us up at 4am the other week whilst having what I assume was a house-warming party. I went round like a grumpy old boomer and asked them to keep it down. The walls in this building are very well insulated. You wouldn’t know anyone lived around you if it wasn’t for the occasion noise from the corridor passing under the front door. The fact they made enough noise to wake us up was saying something.
They looked pretty sheepish but I smiled and said hello. Everyone is different newly awake at 4am than they are during the day. Water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned. Maybe they weren’t sheepish about that though. Maybe they’d heard my girlfriend’s incessant coughing through the walls…
Below is an off-cut from my previous post on Dorian Batycka’s article written against a dangerously indeterminate form of taboo.
In that article, there is a brief exploration of cancel culture, of which Batycka writes:
While critics of cancel culture propagate a myth that being cancelled is akin to a form of censorship or an attack on free speech, cancel culture is voluntary withdrawal of attention, be it through a public re-reading or harsh critique.
I was thinking about this and the use of the phrase “voluntary withdrawal of attention” immediately prior to “public re-reading or harsh critique”. It stuck in my head for a bit. It is a paradox, like much of the rest of the article, where a virtuous retreat is defined through a mode of attack.
After thinking about it for a while, I wrote the following, reflecting on my own perceptions of cancel culture — both first- and second-hand.
From experience, having known a few people who have been “cancelled” — deservedly and undeservedly — the result of this situation is the imposition of a traumatic cognitive dissonance; a kind of ego-inflating paranoia.
On many occasions, I have watched as a cancelled person shows their face in public and wrongly assumes that everyone in a room is talking about them. They smirk to themselves maybe — if they are strong enough to remain defiant — believing that their enemies are disgruntled at their appearance in spite of their apparent removal from public life. In truth, most won’t know who said person is or care what they have to say.
This isn’t because the cancelled person lacks any self-awareness but because this is the unseen impact of this process on a socialised sense of self. Cancellation is, in this sense, a form of gaslighting, where abject scrutiny is replaced by a “withdrawal of attention” at such speed that the two actions appear simultaneous, leaving the cancelled person not knowing where they stand.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that, in many cases, mental health issues are triggered or inflamed by this sort of experience. This is the trauma of cancellation that is forever left unacknowledged by those who feel protected and on the right side of the mob, emboldened by the fact they believe the person concerned deserves everything they have coming to them. But rarely is this a righteous case of judgement and atonement or disagreement and separation. All too often, the impact is purely psychological and betrays a cruelty that those responsible will often deny that they themselves are capable of.
This was what happened to me towards the end of my time at Goldsmiths — and this is the sort of diffuse example I’m speaking to, which makes up the lion’s share of what people despise about “cancel culture”, I think, and not the sort of fraught public pursuit of extrajudicial justice that is defined by something like the #MeToo movement or no-platforming the alt-right.
In late 2017, a friend very viciously declared that they were cutting off all communication with me because they didn’t like the way I was “treating Mark Fisher’s work”. What they meant by this was never confirmed and any attempt on my part to push them into a further explanation was denounced as “bullying”.
This was not a singular incident, it should be said, on their part or more generally. This happened in 2017, when a broad mental health crisis subsuming the left resulted in various occasions where friends would lash out at friends, strangers at strangers, trying to root out the indeterminately dangerous and impure people in their midst. It was a McCarthite paranoia of the highest order. Whilst the shutdown of the LD50 Gallery inaugurated this process for us locally, the fallout spread far and wide and attached itself to something bigger that was looming.
It was like the left had developed an auto-immune disorder. An overproduction of white blood cells, produced to fight off a perceived invasion, led to the left carelessly attacking itself.
The unfounded nature of the particular critique levelled at me seems largely vindicated in my favour now. Nevertheless, the psychic whiplash I experienced was irreal and deeply traumatic. What began with an announcement of intense scrutiny was followed by a complete withdrawal of attention and communication.
Although I know now that this person was a very small minority, they did everything they could to appear bigger than that. For the next six months, I would wander around the pubs of New Cross carrying with me a deep-seated paranoia, assuming this person’s associates knew more about my apparent crimes than I did and felt I was not to be trusted. Whether I was actually being regarded with such pervasive suspicion or not was never ascertained on my part, but it felt that way.
I was left feeling downbeat and adrift, without any actual misbehaviour to reflect upon. One person had simply decided that I was not to be liked and this led to a public outpouring of silent scorn. As such, I didn’t know of any way that I could possibly defend myself because I wasn’t wholly certain of the charges brought against me in the court of public opinion, or of the identities of people now told to avoid me (although I had my own suspicions). Most of the people who seemed to view me with suspicions of their own were people I didn’t actually know. The paranoia intensified. It triggered a very real depression.
This experience very nearly pushed me into an even darker place — politically and mentally — and led me to lash out, on occasion, at a political home I now found riven by a weird McCarthyism. (We all know that McCarthyism was for rooting out communists but not by other self-identifying communists?!) I’m amazed, to this day, that I somehow managed to use the initial anonymity of this blog to write myself out of it, and retain a firm belief in our unavowable communities in the process. Nevertheless, I have since seen this same process be repeated numerous times since.
Cancel culture paradoxically makes such a huge spectacle out of withdrawing attention that when the process of excommunication is over and done with, the undesirable expunged from the culture finds that very same culture taking over their thoughts completely.
This is to say that the cultural impact of cancellation absorbs the mind of the person cancelled whilst life goes on unaffected for everyone else. It is a form of bridge-burning that has only ever led to people being pushed further into the arms of those they may have so far only been accused of associating with, worsening the disconnection that may or may not have existed in the first place. A sense of belonging is powerful and it both fuels cancel culture and the continued existence of the left’s apparent enemies.
This is what happened to me. Filled with a deep anger at the injustice I felt had been done to me, I found myself in company that was similarly angry but this anger was sometimes channelled into projects that genuinely scared me. Gradually, I made my way back, and whilst I still harbour a disgruntled attitude towards a left often ignorant to its own flaws, I’m glad to have done so, primarily for the wider communities I’ve found beyond a small one I was in that fell apart.
Dean was talking about the stakes involved in calling someone “comrade”, rehearsing the argument of the book she would later publish with Verso. It was an inspired decision, I thought, to link Mark’s most controversial essay to the communal stakes involved in his nascent and increasingly popular Acid Communism.
More specifically, Dean was talking about the place of restorative justice in political organisations and how the communality of communism demands we take a harder look at how we deal with disagreement and social fissures. But people really didn’t like that.
There was an infamous moment in the Q&A at the end when someone asked, very provocatively, what the response would be if someone in a Communist Party raped another member. Do they just get allowed back into the party after some therapy and a time-out?
It reminded me of how, a few years prior, when the US justice system was really coming under scrutiny following the increased popularity of “true crime” TV series and podcasts documenting miscarriages of justice, there were many articles that would enthuse on the benefits of Norway’s prison system, with its focus on rehabilitation and restorative justice. And yet, a lecture audience in London’s leftiest university — on a social level at least — suddenly seemed squeamish about actually implementing these kinds of politics within its own ranks and immediate circles.
Dean, to her credit, did offer up some historical precedents for ways to deal with this hypothetical rapist but, really, it wasn’t a question Dean should have been asked in the first place. It said far more about the person asking the question then it did her argument and, as such, it’s the kind of question that those who proclaim to possess radical politics should ask themselves.
This isn’t to say that a rapist should be welcomed back into a political party but thinking about how that question affects the politics you sign your name to must surely be a necessary question to ask yourself? How far do your politics go? Are you really a communist? Or a prison abolitionist? I’m sure many present that day would have identified themselves as both those things but, when faced with the true stakes of those political identities — encapsulated in a limit chosen by themselves — they didn’t want to have to deal with it.
Perhaps these things are apples and oranges — prison abolition and being anti-cancel culture — but surely, if we are going to gleefully enter the business of discipline and punishment, the left should at least be consistent? At present it seems to be one rule for the state justice system, another when it comes to their own community relations.
The overarching point is that there are always ways of doing things that do not necessitate a psychological schism on the part of the person(s) concerned. (It is here that those who dismiss cancel culture after being cancelled for transphobia also tend to sound like hypocrites — this is a point that goes both ways and transphobia is another example of psychological violence that it is right not to tolerate. “Putting the other first”, as an ethical imperative, should not be placed under a priori conditions.) In this sense, even when the reasons for critique are very real and worrisome, the tactics of “cancel culture” are wholly antithetical to the politics they are meant to be protecting.
As far as I’m concerned, anyone who engages with or revels in such practices should not dare to call themselves a “comrade” in any sense of the word. They have no sense of the real work that a true belief in that term necessitates.
I talk a bit about how I got to this point in my life, trying to be a photographer for a bit and why I stopped. I talk about how that connects to my new book Egress and about the context from which the book emerged. Elsewhere in the newsletter, I recommend some stuff I’ve been reading and listening to recently and I also offer up a tip for would-be music writers (which is probably a bit rich coming from me because I’d hardly describe myself as a music writer — I’m a writer who likes music and other people’s writing about music — but I hope it’s of interest nonetheless.)
If music journalism is your passion — whether you love reading about the latest stuff or you want to get involved or you’re already involved but want to feel connected to a wider community — I really recommend signing up for the full version of Todd’s newsletter. It is a weekly inbox highlight for me and a truly formidable one-man magazine — the sort of thing this blog tries to be and which is, frankly, a dying breed.
The curse of other people’s poor research strikes again.
I had one of those weird Twitter moments the other day, when I discovered, seemingly by chance, that someone I’d never heard of had blocked me.
And that’s fine. I’m sure there are many more people out there who would rather not see my blog rambles pop up in their wider social networks. But that doesn’t mean that when you find yourself blocked by someone you don’t know, you don’t poke around a bit and try to figure out why…
This is what happened to me earlier this week when I found myself unable to view half of a conversation about accelerationism that popped up on my timeline. It was Dominic Fox whose responses I could see, popping up to defend some random person’s sweeping generalisations about accelerationism, it seemed, but I couldn’t actually see who he was responding to.
When I went to try and see Dominic’s responses in context, I discovered the block, and I discovered a whole lot more besides too.
With this happening in a conversation about accelerationism, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised by what I found next, but it was the circles this other person ran in that amused me so much. It was someone called Lulu Nunn, tweeting about the rise of accelerationism and denouncing anyone “in the art world” who followed Nick Land on Twitter because he is the inspiration behind alt-right mass shootings and wants to start a race war, don’t you know.
I didn’t know who Lulu Nunn was, of course, but a cursory Google revealed that she is the Communications Manager for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The complete lack of self-awareness that must allow someone to hurl repeated rocks from that glass house is surely on another level! Only someone who works for a charity named after the wife of a Blue Labour war criminal could have the tenacity to criticise other people’s choice in Twitter follows.
What’s illuminating about this isn’t the fact that someone on Twitter is a hypocrite, however. That isn’t shocking in the slightest. It’s rather that it is symptomatic of something more insidious that lingers just below the surface…
Coming from the art world, this article predictably goes back to the defining moment of 2017 art world paranoia — the shutdown of the LD50 gallery — and attempts to describe the present emergence of “taboo” art and the artists behind it who keep questionable company. (There is no more to be said on LD50 on this blog, although, in many ways, having read this old post back to myself for the first time in a long time, what is to follow here is an inadvertent kind of sequel, developing and deepening that old argument for now.)
Right from the off, there’s a really weird dichotomy emerging here — an unnamed progressive side of art (conflating “progressive” in the arbitrary sense of pushing forwards into the new with an indeterminate but supposedly predetermined “correct” direction, whatever that is) and the dark side of “taboo”. As Batycka writes, “the paradox of the internet is that while it has given marginalized voices a space in which to secure access to speech and community, disobedience and nonconformity, it has also given platform to taboo ideas, fascist and far-right literature and memes, cannibalizing extremist views into a cornucopia of half-truths and anti-establishment conspiracy theories.”
Is this really a paradox? Or is this just how all forms of media are used in the real world? I can’t think of any technology that hasn’t been used to both liberate and oppress… (Have you read the history of the printing press? It’s a riot!)
Unfortunately, this seemingly innocuous point demonstrates a popular leftist fallacy of assuming something has gone wrong when technology isn’t being used exclusively in your favour. It’s a shadow of the sort of malignant techno-utopianism that led to Trump — and, yes, that’s right, it is techno-utopianism that the article later goes on to critique, through the deployment of a bunch of half-truths — now that’s a paradox — but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here…
There’s a more important question we need to ask first: How are we separating “disobedience and nonconformity” from “taboo” here? Taboo is a fitting word to use, in many respects. It is an all-too-Freudian Freudian slip. As Freud once wrote:
Taboo restrictions are distinct from religious or moral prohibitions. They are not based upon any divine ordinance, but may be said to impose themselves on their own account. They differ from moral prohibitions in that they fall into no system that declares quite generally that certain abstinences must be observed and gives reasons for that necessity. Taboo prohibitions have no grounds and are of unknown origin. Though they are unintelligible to us, to those who are dominated by them they are taken as a matter of course.
How fitting that the latest critique of accelerationism — that, as someone astutely put it, belongs to the “read Vox once” school of critique — should invoke taboo in such a way that epitomises the shadowboxing of “denouncing something I don’t understand.”
Philosophical accelerationism is, in many ways, a school of thought that purposefully rejects the pop-left’s penchant for secular-Protestantism and moralism in this regard, engaging critically with the “taboo” in this original sense and how it continues to define our worldview under capitalism, and so it makes total sense that this be lumped in with the “Outside” category of Batycka’s diffuse worldview.
There is a great many ironies here. For example — and, believe me, there are many to choose from — the mode of critique being generically deployed here without any self-awareness is also the one Nick Land first skewers in Fanged Noumena with his essay “Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest.”
To turn to Robin Mackay’s summary for the sake of brevity, in this essay Land maps out
the capitalist need to keep the proletariat at a distance while actively compelling it into the labour market […] Land sees in capitalism a suspension, a compromise: at the same time as it liberates a frustrated tendency towards synthesis […] it reinstates ‘a priori’ control by sequestering kinship from this general tendency and containing it within familialism and the nation-state.
Translation: capitalism cannot help producing its own enemies; to counteract this, it compartmentalises disruptive “deterritorialising” tendencies into instances of stasis but such pressure cookers eventually go off and with explosive consequences for life and thought.
As Robin continues, Land explains how “Kant’s thinking of synthesis” — the generalised relationship between self and other — is of particular use to us here because it “symptomatizes modernity, formally distilling its predicament, the ‘profound but uneasy relation’ in which European modernity seeks to stabilise and codify a relation (with its proletarian or third-world ‘material’) whose instability or difference is the very source of its perpetual expansion.” (It’s a argument made, drawing similarly on an analogous Orientalism, in this recent article from The Philosophical Salonon academic philosophy.)
This is a tension encapsulated — by Lévi-Strauss in an epigraph to Land’s essay — by the incest taboo. Lévi-Strauss observes that “incest proper … even combines in some countries with its direct opposite, inter-racial sexual relations.” For Land, in his reading of Kant and the patrilineal development of capitalism’s logics of continual growth, this reflexive problematic of incest being equated with exogamy defines the contradictions of capitalist modernity in the form of the “taboo”. Reproductively speaking, facing inwards is to die, but facing outwards must be done with violence and suspicion. In an imperial and capitalistic sense, “an enlightenment society wants both to learn and to legislate for all time, to open itself to the other and to consolidate itself from within, to expand indefinitely whilst reproducing itself as the same.”
This is precisely the contradictory logic of capitalist modernity being deployed in this anti-accelerationist essay, where the “progressive nature” of the art world is tied arbitrarily to a superficial faith in its righteousness whilst a different “progressive” form — a just as arbitrary misreading of accelerationism — is taken up as the enemy and given a show trial to reassure others just how powerfully and self-assuredly we are progressing in the right direction.
It’s performative bullshit, in which cheap shots are taken at an xenomorphic scapegoat to cover over the incestuous logic that rots the art world from within.
It is also a bullshit compounded by the only passage in the article that actually engages with accelerationism.
In essence, what Batycka thinks accelerationism is is a kind of “techno-futurism”:
… a slick blending of cyber-utopian thinking [with] an impulse to think that humanity’s problems will magically be solved through technology, science and engineering. Indissoluble from deliberately nihilistic meltdowns, technological determinism has exacerbated the vertiginous speeds of capitalism gone amock. [sic]
There’s a strange conflation going on here that we haven’t seen for a few years — not since Jon Cruddas MP wrote this weird thing for the New Statesmen, demonstrating all the flustered, fear-mongered hand-waving that many have come to associate with the UK centre-left. It ironically conflates a STEM progressivism with Blade Runner’s neo-fascist aesthetics of futurity but without paying any heed to the documented benefits of the former (which we can surely recognise without falling into STEM supremacy) and the baked-in Oedipal critique of the latter.
It is, basically, an outdated art world critique of “left-accelerationism” — a vague offshoot of accelerationism that was both born from and died with Srnicek and Williams’ Inventing the Future. This was because no-one interested in accelerationism beyond that point picked up the torch they fashioned and so it eventually went out.
Nevertheless, ever since, we have seen these same critiques make appearances in various magazines and news websites where this wildly divergent and fragmented intellectual history is consolidated into some popular Thing — a truly monstrous amalgamation of the few scraps of thought that some have managed to pick up on, producing something that maybe looks like a sick dog or human or an alien from certain angles if you don’t know what you’re looking at, but to everyone who has actually kept abreast of these things, they just see a mutated mess.
Case in point: in his article, Batycka half-truthfully says that accelerationism was born out of the Ccru at the University of Warwick in the 1990s — so far so good — which “began looking at how global varieties of technology and capitalism should be sped up and intensified, if only to ensure their (and our) demise. According to Land, in order to move past the disastrous effects of capitalist accumulation, we must instead accelerate past it towards its own eventual destruction.”
It’s worth noting that this “According to Land,…” sentence comes with a footnote, but the footnote isn’t actually quoting anything Nick Land has written — just Andy Beckett’s write-up on accelerationism for the Guardian. This article has a lot to answer for and is deceptively authoritative because, whilst Beckett has obviously interviewed a bunch of people who were there and brought accelerationism to the light for the mainstream — specifically Robin Mackay — the understanding of accelerationism that Beckett attributes to them is a misreading that this “fringe philosophy” has been trying to shed almost since its conception.
Because accelerationism isn’t about making things worse, and because Land — or anyone else for that matter — has fundamentally never argued for this. To quote Pete Wolfendale again: Nick Land “likes capitalism. He wants to accelerate it, but not because it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.”
However, what Land arguably does believe will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, at least in a political effective sense, is “the Cathedral” — a concept borrowed from Mencius Moldbug to describe what Land calls “the truly dominant instance of the democratic polity”; an otherwise broadly leftist (or generically “progressivist”) hegemony populated by people who are, “despite their avowed secularism and faux egalitarianism, in effect a theocratic priestly class” (as Moldbug once wrote). (There’s an argument to be made that Mark Fisher called this same tactless cabal the Vampire Castle.)
Whether anyone likes the term or whoever coined it is largely irrelevant at this point. The Cathedral is a term that carries a certain valence by describing the conditions of contemporary politics far more astutely than anyone on the left has thus far been capable of, precisely because it views popular leftism from outside itself.
Whilst Land has his own further nuanced definitions of what exactly the Cathedral is, to my mind the Cathedral remains a useful term because it skewers a kind of political religiosity that broadly affects the popular left in particular, beyond the infamous ties that bind the Church with the far-right in the mind of your average leftist. More specifically, it points to a brand of progressivism that adheres to a downright Protestant logic of always being without political sin based on nothing more than the fact you have an unshakeable faith in the leftist cause. (This is why there is much anxiety that comes from critiquing the left from within — to betray a lack of faith is to betray the left most fundamentally.)
It should go without saying — you’d hope — that using this term does not, by default, place one on the right. Personally, I recognise my politics as being far to the left but that doesn’t mean I’m not repulsed by the pop-left’s “universal priesthood of believers” that is constituted by a highly recognisable cross-section of the media commentariat. It is, in essence, a continuation of the “Christ to the bourgeoisie” argument of the twentieth century. Just as Fukuyama’s “end of history” reveals itself to be wishful thinking, not to mention premature, the left’s self-assurance that we live in a world after the “death of God” finds itself disturbed by an acknowledgement of the absorption of religiosity into secular politics.
If anything — and Mark Fisher acknowledged this repeatedly and explicitly — this is why Nick Land needs to be read. Reading someone does not constitute agreeing with them, but reading Land (beyond his tweets, at least) does confront you with some of the most incisive critiques of leftism that are in present circulation.
It is interesting to note here that Land’s suggested praxis when facing down the Cathedral is: “Do nothing.” Such is his horrorist approach. “Rather than resisting the desperation of the progressive ideal by terrorizing its enemies, [the horrorist task] directs itself to the culmination of progressive despair in the abandonment of reality compensation.” My reading of this is that Land believes the left will die by its own melancholy; by its own impotent and internal logics. It’s melancholic state is its true form — the rest of the time it is exercising a kind of “reality compensation”. That is an argument that has certainly been vindicated — to an extent at least — considering the last five years of leftist political failures, and has been an internal critique of the left since Walter Benjamin if not before, but Land goes further than this. Once the world is revealed to be as truly unforgiving as it is, and elusive to human control, he seems to argue, the left will drink the Kool-aid and end its own despair by giving up the ghost of Marx once and for all.
Horrorism, then, is the rightist anti-praxis of “accelerationism” proper, understood as an analysis of this very sensation and the noumenal mechanisms that show just how out of our control things are. (Might we say that this is where Z/Acc comes in?)
The leftist anti-praxis, as I see it, doubles down on the Deleuzianism of accelerationism and advocates an ethics of “making oneself worthy of the process.” Both viewpoints makes value-judgements and recommend responses, but neither does that ahead of an attentive vigilance regarding the shape-shifting and accelerative nature of the system itself.
It is only by becoming attuned to this system and how it impacts us that we can even begin to answer the question “What is to be done?” Therefore, the argument from the left is that we must respond better, and less reactively. So far, the left is abjectly failing to do this and the fallacies and poor research that pepper Batycka’s text — along with just about every other popular reading of accelerationism — demonstrate this fact abysmally, as their paranoia remains focused on shadow-boxing and straw man arguments that they don’t even realise they’re making.
All of this is important because Batycka’s critique essentially doubles down on the worst aspects of Cathedralism in this regard. It reminds me of my Mum’s old aesthetic squeamishness regarding the music I liked from childhood. Playing anything that was not recognisably melodic or classically “musical” often resulted in a request to turn it off because she didn’t like anything “satanic” being played in the house. (This from a woman who was in no sense a practising Christian or adherent to any other kind of religious belief.)
(Notably, I remember a particularly mind-boggling instance of this resulting from me playing DJ Shadow’s remix of “The Gloaming” by Radiohead a bit too loud. Is this music “taboo” by Batycka’s logics of aesthetic darkness? Or is critiquing George W. Bush through dance music too complex a notion to compute?)
The words “taboo” and also “contrarian” take on much the same tone here in Batycka’s article. They are words used to lump together aesthetics that do not adhere to the doctrines of the-right-kind-of-leftism and more explicitly “alt-right artworks”.
Even then, how these aesthetics are to be defined is not made clear. It is seemingly a dismissal of any of the more specific offshoots of postmodernism — as the cultural logic of late capitalism — but the issue is that there is no separation made between aesthetic practices and investigations of form, and political beliefs and practices of resistance.
Plenty of the “post-Internet art” referenced here, for instance — including that which appeared at the notorious LD50 Gallery show — is just superficial and bad. Do we need to lump that in with any art that attempts to investigate or reflect on the present aesthetic chaos in which we live? Is the argument here really that we have a moral imperative only to imagine nice, simplistic worlds rather than reflect the chaos of the world in which we live, just in case someone thinks we might be glorifying our contemporary dystopia? That’s certainly how it comes across. Beyond the positive affirmations, all you’re left with is an ahistorical and apolitical view of art that is all finger-pointing spectacle and no substance.
What is even worse is that this article is far more guilty of entrenching the homogenisation it tries to stand against. Towards the end, Batycka writes:
we must continue to develop proportionally well-honed critiques of the alt-right, taboo and contrarian aesthetics that use satire and irony to cycle through dangerous ideas. In such politically uncertain and chaotic times, the sense of impatience many people feel today can make neoreactionary ideas like accelerationism seem romantic.
But what does any of this mean? References to neoreactionary politics — a broad church that, rudimentarily summarised, explores the contradictory pulsion of using technological innovations to entrench conservatism (techno-capitalists for monarchy), i.e. capitalism being used to produce the mechanisms the nation-state (rather than vice versa) — completely lose all meaning when deployed in a veritable word salad that even the Ccru would send back to the kitchen. This isn’t a “proportionally well-honed critique”, unless what is “proportional” about it is the fact it is as dumb as the tracts produced by the alt-right themselves.
This is why I personally find myself tearing my hair out over articles that bodge their reading of accelerationism. They are merely perpetuating the “impatience” they say they reject, because nothing epitomises that impatience more in the media than the replication and homogenisation of useless critiques and inaccurate summaries.
This is the lesson that no one wants to hear. It is your own perpetuation of “accelerationism is making thing worse” that has inspired these mass shooters, far more than anything written by Nick Land. To those of us who are familiar with Land’s work, we know that these monsters haven’t read him. We know that you haven’t either. What is abundantly clear, however, is that these monsters have read you. They are defining themselves through their enemy’s shoddy Cliff Notes rather than any engagement with those you deem to be the enemy. It is articles like this that short-circuit the discourse, imposing an incestuous logic of creating that which it says it already opposes. As such, it is the likes of Batycka who don’t realise thatthey have blood on their hands.
The line repeated again and again here on this blog and elsewhere is that the accelerationist shooters and 4chan edgelords are precisely the subjects that accelerationism first sets out to critique: those subjects who respond to the accelerating nature of their environments by doubling down on populist rhetoric and racism. These are the life rafts too readily available to too many in a failing world, who jump at the conspiracy theories rather than actually engaging their critical faculties.
Accelerationism, in this part of the world, is — and I genuinely believe this — a salve to that. So many times I have been referred back to imageboard threads where my explanatory post, “A U/Acc Primer”, has been shared by anons to coax the edgelords down from their hysteria and maybe get them to engage critically with their surroundings and interrogate their alienated place within the world, all through a mix of canonical philosophy and contemporary thought. To some, that is a crime against humanity in itself, but I think it’s better than what we’re used to.
This is why the left’s present purity politics is so asinine. Whatever you want to call it — identity politics, cancel culture, etc. — the overarching issue here — not always but often — is that reactive denouncements and Twitter blockings are often fuelled by a mistaken sense of who is right and who is wrong. Is the Nick Land follower worse than the Blairite charity worker? Either every argument against complicity is important or none of them are.
The fear-mongering of art world paranoia is a further demonstration of this. LD50 wasn’t scary because it demonstrated how some people in our midst have bad politics. Most people who run art galleries have bad politics. Most people who run art galleries have money and people with money tend to have bad politics. The egregiousness of Lucia Diego’s Trump apologism was just an easy target — an example of the postmodernist edgelording that the Ccru and its successors effectively dramatised and critiqued. Having an awareness of the way these people want to attract your ire and attention is certainly worthy while but a moralising scattershot approach gets you nowhere.
Nor does focusing all of your attention on a generalised boogieman you don’t understand. In the case of accelerationism at least, this does nothing but demonstrate the impotency of art world criticism at large and Batycka’s article perfectly demonstrates the flaws of its logic. It is, in effect, a deployment of an institutionalised thinking undermined by laziness and false consciousness, that is part of a system far more corrupt in how it is organised than in the ideas it dares to interrogate or explore.
This isn’t a case of whataboutery but rather demonstrates how poor internal critiques are mirrored by poor external critiques. The fact is that both the interrogations and explorations of such ideas and the articles that denounce them are as superficial as each other. This negative feedback loop does nothing to remedy the situation. In fact, it is the situation, and not all of us who want nothing to do with it are de facto fascists, particularly when we do so much work to skewer these bastard logics in pursuit of a properly anti-capitalist communism.
Anti-capitalism isn’t just a hatred of wage labour. It’s a protest against the logics that inhabit and undermine the political actions that must be enacted within its spaces. If accelerationism, in its original philosophical mode, is a gateway to anything, it is to an apprehension of just how deep these logics go and the speed with which they adapt to the frenzied stasis of our present world order.
This apprehension is necessary because it demonstrates how nothing will ever collapse under the weight of its own contradictions — neither capitalism nor its parasitic growth that we call “the art world”.
I have had trouble sleeping. The dust in the flat and the pollution and the spring air has been playing havoc with my allergies this past week.
I stay up late and hear the foxes screaming and screeching. They don’t usually make a lot of noise but they are at the moment. It feels like they’re reclaiming the night.
I get up early, around 8am. My nostrils sting in the dry air and I’m awake whether I like it or not. Despite seeing the full day through, I find myself glancing up at the clock at around 5pm every day and not knowing what has happened. I have achieved little but nonetheless been preoccupied. I’m not worried about it. There is no guilt.
My girlfriend has had a fever for four days. We’re fairly convinced that she has the virus. I’m showing no symptoms that couldn’t be explained by my allergies. No fever for me. I look after her but also mostly keep to myself. She had no energy and aches all over. “The muscles even ache when I move my eyes,” she says. There’s little to do other than run the odd bath or get her glasses of water. It’s not like I can pop down to the shop and bring back supplies.
I wonder if I’m immune or if I’ve entered a waiting game now, fated to be struck down by the inevitable. Whatever happens, the result is more or less the same. Following the medical advice, because someone I live with is sick, I can’t leave the flat for 14 days. She can be more mobile seven days after her symptoms stop. At this rate, I’ll suffer the punishment of isolation longer than she will. That seems unfair somehow.
I just want to order a pizza.
Sunday 29 March 2020
Where did the rest of the week go?
I have sunk my time into completing two essays for elsewhere and it is only now, trying to account for those lost days whilst on the other side of them, that I start to feel disorientated.
The days are long but I don’t remember them. They drag and are over before I know it. On the PlaguePod, Robin talks a bit about Michel Tournier’s Friday and I open a random page of my copy of the book to find the journal entries of his initial days on the island. It’s surreal how accurate they are when compared to the present: a mundane equivalent.
Solitude is not a changeless state imposed on me […] It is a corrosive influence which acts on me slowly but ceaselessly, and in one sense purely destructively. […]
I know now that every man carries within himself — and as it were above himself — a fragile and complex framework of habits, responses, reflexes, preoccupations, dreams and associations, formed and constantly transformed by perpetual contact with his fellows. Deprived of its sap this delicate growth withers and dissolves. My fellow-men were the mainstay of my world […] Each day I measure my debt to them by observing the fresh cracks in my personal structure. I know what I would suffer should I lose the use of words, and with all the power of my anguish I seek to combat that final surrender. But my relationship to material things is also undermined by solitude. […]
But my solitude does not only destroy the meaning of things. It undermines them at the very root of their being. More and more do I come to doubt the existence of my senses. I know now that the very earth beneath my feet needs to be trodden by feet other than mine if I am to be sure of its substance. Optical illusions, mirages, hallucinations, waking dreams, imagined sounds, fantasy and delirium … against these aberrations the surest guard is our brother, our neighbour, our friend of our enemy — anyway, God save us, someone!
It was amusing to read this and think about Robin and Simon’s disagreement that J.G. Ballard’s short story “The Enormous Space” could possibly be read as a positive tale. Simon finds no novel reading in it that becomes emancipatory. Robin, perhaps, sees a modern day version of Tournier’s Robinson.
Friday, or the Other Island is, after all, a retelling of Robinson Crusoe but one in which the fatal flaw of that story is sidestepped. As countless critics have noted, the power of Robinson Crusoe is totally dissipated by Robinson’s decision to simply recreate the civilisation he has left behind on the island he now finds himself. It is, in reality, a great failure of the imagination. Friday instead takes seriously the scenario into which Robinson has been thrown and considers the impact of one’s consciousness (and unconsciousness) echoing around itself without the reflective screen of the Other. Then, when the Other is reintroduced, what happens next is all the more mind-bending.
Not that this has much of an impact on our current existences. I felt a bit useless on the PlaguePod on Saturday night because, despite the billed probing into the psychological effects of corona quarantine, I actually feel really great…
Before all this, I was nonetheless trying to articulate the surreality of our present circumstances. I keep thinking about Mark Fisher’s phrase “boring dystopia”, for instance.
Whilst real-life events are enough to bring that to mind, I had in fact spent most of Saturday replaying the first Resident Evil game for the first time in about 20 years. I was taking time to read all the diary entries and documents about the outbreak and the escalation of the crisis. I got really into it. I started to think, if things get really bad here in the real world, will people read this blog and other people’s blogs in the same way? As these darkly humorous documents, brimming with mystery and naivety before the impending disaster wipes all trace of us from the earth, only to be picked over as novel dispatches for the few survivors left standing?
Probably not. It’s all so boring. Like, it is literally boring. The streets outside and the media reports and the news bulletins and the general anxiety felt by all… It’s so familiar, it’s so Hollywood, it’s so dystopian, and yet so fucking boring. Our present moment is so defined by uneventfulness, by pointlessness, by stupidity. There’s no great moment of hubris on the horizon as the bureaucrats realise the world has ended without them. Boris Johnson tests positive and the response is, yeah, well done, you fucking muppet, now what? Go work from home, I guess? Don’t you do that anyway, “part-time prime minister”?
The dystopia is here. We’re living in it and we have been for some time. There’s no point to it. There’s no spectacle. It’s just boring as fuck. So too is the experience of my own adjusting subjectivity. This is no Ballardian adventure into inner space. Time wobbles and dilates but what is the impact? I can suddenly fit more video gaming into my day than I previously thought possible.
But that’s not entirely true. It is having an impact. In fact, I’m very puzzled to tell you that it is having a really positive impact. I’m going through a sort of corona detox. I’ve been forced to let go of all the bad habits that I usually rely on the make it through the day. I’m detoxing on caffeine and refined sugar. The bout of bulimia that had begun to creep back into my life in the last few weeks has been curtailed with immediate effect. I’ve effortlessly fallen into a regulated sleeping pattern. I’m eating better. I’m being more productive and managing my time a lot better. I’ve spent the weekend doing nothing at all, guilt-free.
I felt bad about confessing this, in case it came across as one of those “woah, I’m reborn and am now working much more efficiently” type people. But it’s not that at all. I’m not being “productive” in the sense of using my labour time efficiently. Instead, I feel like I’m putting better vibes out into the world. I’m calmer, happier. The natural expenditures of my existence, uncontaminated by capitalist control, are producing good things.
It made me think about that god-awful eco-fascist bullshit being spread by some members of Extinction Rebellion.
Humans aren’t the disease. Capitalism is. To equate one with the other is to give up on another world before you’ve decided to build it.
If corona has been a cure for anything so far, on a personal level, it has cured me of the workaday anxieties that have defined life in this city for the past three years. I feel like the monkey is off my back. I can’t afford to pay rent but also, I don’t care. Because no one can.
Also, this solitude hasn’t denied me of “the surest guard … of my brother”, as Tournier describes it. It has cleansed the relationships that already exist underneath capitalism’s watchful eye.
I thought being trapped in this shoebox flat with my girlfriend 24/7 would lead to us killing each other, for instance. In fact, I can tell we’re both feeling the benefits. We’re just existing in each other’s company. The days might not be filled with couple’s activities and long talks about the state of the world — especially not since she’s been ill — but I find myself looking at her and smiling in a way I haven’t for a long time, because the monkey is off my back. Economic pressures are not yanking at my hair and trying to divert my attention elsewhere.
I feel at peace because coronavirus has silenced the constant hum of the machine, the tinnitus of capital, that usually accompanies every waking moment of life and which makes me feel ill. It’s only been one week but I feel the healthiest I’ve felt in over four years. My body is going into the sort of recovery mode that I only tend to experience when I go on holiday.
It’s not all silver linings, of course. The virus brings its own terrors. I am still exchanging anxious texts and emails with my extended family but I’ve been surprised to find that those who I assumed would struggle most actually feel the same way I do.
We were particularly worried about one family member, who works as an independent cleaner and who is a precarious worker like so many. If she doesn’t work she doesn’t get paid and she has a son and a dog and a house to keep up with. And yet, she feels the same way I do. There’s nothing she can do. It’s out of her control. So, she’s relaxed into the present circumstances and is putting her feet up. And so she should.
My girlfriend called to me from the bedroom, wondering where I’d disappeared off to so quietly. “Blogging,” was the response. “Of course,” was her reply. I told her about these feelings and she was quick to remind me, “It’s only week one…”
Best to be cautious with your musings in times like these. I’d hate a blogpost to acquire the same energy this tweet now has in six months’ time…
Westworld took a big gamble by diminishing itself for half of an episode in service of a jokey plot twist.
During the first half of the second episode of series three, I felt really weird about what I was seeing. The show was suddenly so wooden. It felt like the writers had decided to introduce a bunch of unnatural narrative elements in order to keep the series going passed last season’s quite natural end point. As a result, it felt like poor Westworld fan fiction rather than Westworld proper.
And then it turned out that that was entirely the point.
This episode got meta — really meta. The opening in World-War-Two-World — or “Warworld” as the cast called it — teased a show not yet finished playing with other genres. It also revealed that this is a show not yet finished playing with other genre functions. The superficial pastiche and the over-bearing symbolism of a new world at war felt like the show had either completely lost itself or it was making a comment about the world of television production out here in the real world. I was grateful, if still somewhat convinced, when it seemed more like the latter.
The glimpses we saw of a hypothetical Game of Thrones World, for instance, whilst inside Maeve’s simulation within a simulation, were a funny twist considering how the televisual landscape has changed since this series started. In fact, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that this episode was a sharp dig at that final season — a bait and switch, feigning a dive before getting back to the story proper.
But what for?
For many years we have supposedly been celebrating a new televisual “Golden Age” but I’m sure many would now acknowledge that this time of great prosperity has started to wane. Many shows — Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are the first to come to mind — have found themselves unable to live up to their own grandeur, whether in failing to tie up loose ends or continuing to hang around long past the expiration of their welcome.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the makers of Westworld felt themselves pushing into this “expired welcome” stage of their development. This is a show that has been so convoluted and demanded so much of its viewer’s attention that it must surely be aware that the average viewer will not have mapped out the show’s twists and turns to such an extent that the narrative continues to hold together without some implicit scaffolding on the writers’ part. It was a discomfiting surprise that the Westworld writers sidestepped this altogether.
The holes in the plot and the complete disconnection from the end of the last season felt weirdly like a shoddy attempt to keep a character alive beyond the decisions of a previous writing team, like when a character is miraculously resuscitated or killed off in a soap opera to account for external issues or market demand. Maeve took on the brunt of this but Stubs the Bodyguard’s continued existence also felt like a convenient moment of deus ex machina.
This latest episode played up to this with an uneasy fidelity. Even when the joke was revealed, it left an odd taste in the mouth. This was an odd way to reintroduce the supplementary character arches in this third season. What I was left with, personally, was a feeling that this show is well aware of the questions left unanswered and the tight grip it needs to keep on its own internal logics if it is to get away with its own continued existence. It was a somewhat brave move, I think, to play up to the average fan’s need to warm back up to the world and its narrative after a couple of years off our screens.
It is a brave move because, with the cancellation of The OA and the shallow grave of Game of Thrones in its rearview mirror, and with The Walking Dead lumbering on far too much like its own namesake, there are a lot of challenges and lessons to be learned for new and continuing shows in our present moment. The likes of Better Call Saul are showing the way ahead for complex narrative universes — although, at this point, even that show’s predictable structure of character-developing vignette after character-developing vignette is starting to wear thin — but Westworld feels like one of the last “big” shows on our screens to emerge during that late-Golden moment to still be happy reinventing itself. Nevertheless, it has a lot to prove.
Whether it will be able to prove itself going forwards obviosuly remains to be seen, but watching this latest episode of Westworld, it feels like the response from within their production team has been a defiant: “Hold my beer…”