Armstrong Bridge

Photos taken from the Armstrong bridge, on a walk to and from dinner in Jesmond.

Friends Are Good

Things have felt quiet around here lately. Settling into Newcastle has taken precedence over most online writing these past few weeks. I’m still hard at work on Narcissus in Bloom and want to get that finished within the next few months, so a lack of activity here also means more work elsewhere, but I’m also just taking time to have fun and make new friends.

Previously, I might have blogged about this more openly, but I don’t feel the need. After the recent Tusk Mini event at the Star and Shadow, a friend who lives up here said they visited the blog expecting to see some sort of write-up. The photos were enough. The photos above feel like enough too (all taken on a few recent nights out, including a mad night at the World Headquarters with leg-buckling sets from Coco Bryce and Eminence.) It feels nice right now to just be with friends and enjoy each moment for what it is without throttling it to death afterwards with a personal debrief.

This is something that’s been coming up in therapy a fair amount. (I’ve started keeping a diary of what is discussed there, and it may be the first instance of habitual writing in years that I’ve kept up with no intention of ever sharing it.) We started speaking about the work I do day to day in a recent session, and I was struck by a critique of Roland Barthes that could just as likely apply to myself.

In Camera Lucida, Barthes wrestles with the death of his mother and photography’s relationship to death more generally. A now-classic work of photo theory, it’s nonetheless had many detractors over the years. It’s at once theoretical and romantic, studious and careless. There’s a great deal in the book that just seems wrong or superficial and it has made some critics wonder why Barthes actually wrote it. On the one hand, he seems to suggest that he writes as a way to express and formulate his thoughts and desires, but in practice, it feels like what Barthes thinks and desires above all else is writing itself. It is less a means to an end than something to fill in a gap he can’t quite suture. In addressing his grief, he doesn’t write his desires but desires his writing. It becomes a kind of prophylactic that stops him really feeling anything too much.

I recognise this tendency in myself. Though I like to think I write about many of the more difficult parts of my life in order to process and internalise them, writing is also a kind of externalisation and compartmentalisation process. It dilutes things, orders them in a way that is artificial. That’s not to say it doesn’t help, but it’s not to say it’s a particularly healthy compulsion either. And it doesn’t stop me writing. But simply asking why is an overdue preoccupation right now.

This is something that also emerges in Barthes’ essay on the “Death of the Author”, extended into more interesting territory (I think) by Foucault in his essay, “What Is An Author?” Writing, like photography, maintains a close relationship with death, but as Kate Zambreno puts it in, if “Barthes wants to kill the author, Foucault wants the author to take on the appearance of a dead man.” The new book makes a similar case, as it turns out — it’s always interesting and discombobulating to find someone has articulated your own point far more succinctly than you have — but whereas Foucault is taking about writing, my book explores how painters and photographers have been doing the same thing since the Renaissance and the dawn of modernity respectively.

I’m still reading Zambreno’s book on this topic, To Write As If Already Dead, which might be my favourite book I’ve read in some time. It’s incredible. And readers of Egress will know I love the paradox of writing about things that far exceed the bounds of writing itself. But it is changing how I relate to my own compulsions of late. I’m getting back in touch with photography and also music, and finding the daily practice of those two mediums is offering me far more than the space of the blog right now. It’s a nice realisation. I’ve wanted to redress the balance for years.

So expect more posts like this for the time being, and maybe a few DJ mixes in the future as well. Having spent a magnificent evening with Kitty and Archie of Incursions, it feels the three of us are really excited about playing music together and dancing at the moment. I feel back in a space that I haven’t been in since 2017, and it was the loss of that space that made me turn to writing in the first place. Now it’s a question of how to still keep this thing up whilst having regained something I’d somewhat accepted was gone forever. Friends are good. Cherish them.

Mark Fisher in Translation:
Transnational Communities of Capitalist Realism

I’ll be taking part in this event, hosted by the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), on 25th May 2022. You can read more about the event below. Head over to their website for full information and to book a ticket.

Date
25 May 2022, 5.00pm – 6.30pm

Institute
Institute of Modern Languages Research

Type
Other Events

Venue
Online

Organised by the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS)

Speakers: 
Matt Colquhoun, author and photographer
Alejandro Galliano, author and lecturer

Moderators:
Brigid Lynch (CLACS Visiting Fellow)
Mauro Greco (CONICET Argentina)
Ariadna Álvarez Gavela (Complutense University of Madrid)

This round table discussion explores the recent translation into Spanish of the writing of the late Mark Fisher, a British writer, cultural theorist and lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College. In 2016 the Buenos Aires independent publisher Caja Negra published the first Spanish-language edition of Fisher’s seminal 2009 work Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? to widespread acclaim in both Spain and Latin America. Realismo Capitalista – ¿No hay alternativa? placed Fisher’s work at the centre of urgent and ongoing debates about the potential of progressive politics and culture to enact real change in the era of late capitalism. Further translations of Fisher’s work followed, with Los fantasmas de mi vida in 2017, and K-Punk Volumen 1, 2 and 3, a three-volume edition of Fisher’s work in his K-Punk blog (in 2019, 2020, 2021 respectively).

Writer Matt Colquhoun uses the term ‘the Fisher-Function’, to describe the emancipatory potential of Fisher’s work in its capacity to engender a ‘shared sense of experience and communal constellation’. Alejandro Galliano has written on the relevance of Fisher’s thought to critical moments from the recent past in Argentina, from the decade of transition to democracy to the economic crisis of 2001. In a conversation with Colquhoun and Galliano, this event will address how the translation of Fisher’s writing into Spanish expands and enhances its potential for community. What are the new forms of knowledge and praxis that these translations generate, and how can they inform and enrich existing dialogues around Fisher’s legacy and the future potential of his work in both the UK and Argentina?

Alejandro Galliano is a writer, and he teaches at the University of Buenos Aires. He is a regular contributor of cultural criticism and political analysis to the magazines Crisis, Playboy and Nueva Sociedad. His most recent book is ¿Por qué el capitalismo puede soñar y nosotros no? (Siglo XXI Press, 2020). On twitter, he is @bauerbrun

Matt Colquhoun is a writer and photographer from Hull, UK. He is the author of Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and Mark Fisher and the editor of Mark Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures. He blogs at xenogothic.com and can be found on twitter as @xenogothic

The Return of the New (Again)

Good on Craig for giving us a proper hellthread. The first seen in ages. He tweeted:

Around 2015 Mark Fisher was saying that there hadn’t been any significant technical advances in electronic music to the extent that one couldn’t make music that didn’t sound like it could have been produced in the 20th century. Was that claim true and if so does it still hold?

Originally tweeted by Acid Horizon (@acidhorizonpod) on April 6, 2022.

There were so many replies and conversations, it was hard to keep up with. Chal Ravens’ tweets were the best of the bunch, I think. But there was some buffoonery from others in there as well.

For posterity’s sake, here’s a slightly polished version of my threaded response.


In lots of ways, I think this is a trap question. How we decide what is and isn’t new is maybe one of the oldest questions in philosophy (chicken-egg scenario, Zeno’s paradox, Heraclitus’ river, etc.) But it is one that becomes even more pertinent under the influence of postmodernism (as the cultural logic of late capitalism), because our perceptions of culture seem to mirror (even inform) our political views as well. (I wrote about this last year and later gave a talk on it online.)

This is the underside of Fisher’s point, which he wrote about repeatedly, but it nonetheless gets overlooked when this conversation is confined to music press pedantry.

For one thing, though plenty of points are made about different cross-cultural encounters and new technologies allowing for new modes of expression, all of which is engendered by capitalism, the stagnancy of capitalism itself is never addressed in many of these responses. If we’re talking about the veracity of Fisher’s old claim, we have to emphasise that this was the background against which he made it, and which launched this decades-long argument in the first place.

The arguments around “hauntology” rested on this oddly critical complicity. It became, as Alex Williams argued, a question of “good” versus “bad” postmodernism. Recombinant pop and rock (e.g. the Arctic Monkeys, as Fisher’s primary bugbear) were bad, set against the recombinant mutations of Burial, et al. Both were essentially produced by the same subject, but the argument rested on a necessary (but not always present) tension. For the Arctic Monkeys, for example, past cultural signifiers hang together with contemporary ones in a completely frictionless space; for Burial, these two things are instead bounced off each other, transforming the hardcore continuum into a sort of supercollider, now working at a subatomic level. But what does any of that matter if they’re both contained within the same overarching totality? Quickly, things get a little more complicated.

That totality — our recombinant political landscape; postmodern capitalism — is bad because it makes us feel trapped. But for Fisher and others to extend that critique to culture is seen as too pessimistic or uncharitable. Okay then, so let’s say for argument’s sake that culture does produce newness all the time. But how did this newness end up disconnected from a political sense of newness? Or maybe it’s not disconnected at all. And anyway, what good is a cultural newness if it is wholly compartmentalised, negligibly affecting the world in which it is produced? Is that not precisely the “frenzied stasis” — as Fisher called it — of capitalism writ large? The finer point of this whole discussion, for me anyway, is that music will always respond to its present moment, and it gets a sense of newness from that alone. But the very nature of a pomo capitalist present is that newness is so often illusionary and contained to certain outcrops or subcultures, deemed as such by their strained relationship to a hegemonic culture at large. So whilst music journos can argue that Fisher was full of it and just a reactionary critic, they fail to account for how his critique extended far beyond the incessant debating of low-stakes music journalism or even academic philosophy, instead straddling both discourses at once in the hope of producing a more influential and intervening synthesis.

The nature of the conversation suggests this attempted synthesis wasn’t all that successful, and as a result, Fisher’s position is always mischaracterised. People think Mark meant that nothing new has ever happened this side of the millennium, but in his polemic negativity, he instead calls into question the quality of the newness we’ve accepted.

Never mind insisting that “new” things happen, we need to first define our terms. What constitutes “the new” exactly? How do you know it when you see it? What is it “new” in relation to? If we can formulate a few answers to those questions, then maybe we can ask ourselves some more: What is the character of the present that allows this newness to emerge? What are the conditions of its emergence? Chal Ravens, in her great thread, does this well. She points to new kinds of or approaches to rhythm, arrangement, lyricism — a formal sense of the new — whilst later pointing, in part, to the “democratisation of access to music tech and hybridisation outside of [the] anglophone world” as the conditions that have allowed this formal newness to emerge.

But to play devil’s advocate, how has this happened, why, and in whose favour? There is nothing negative about democratisation and hybridisation in itself, but both are nonetheless products of global capitalism. How do we understand this “newness” when it is facilitated by a totalising global system that’s main goal is its own stasis? Is that not the problem at the heart of the matter, rather than the superficial suggestion that things are just boring and old hat?

I don’t want this to be read as a simple denial of agency, arguing that all newness is impotently complicit in capitalism’s illusionary progress. On the contrary, it is worth considering how the new emerges in spite of this totalising structure. Jodi Dean has a really great example in her book Blog Theory, where she argues that television, as a technological innovation, allowed the new to emerge from two competing modes of power. It made the personal political but it also made the political personal: politicians were newly broadcast into our homes, whereas we might have previously entertained the idea that domestic spaces were cut off from their outside machinations; women were newly inspired to take their domestic realities into the political arena, fueling second-wave feminism. With this in mind, we might argue that many new music genres have emerged not so much from a democratisation of tech but via its hijacking. This is something heard in the crunchy aesthetics of a lot of footwork tracks, for example, which have clearly been sampled from YouTube rips and often float around in the world as unmastered “bootlegs” on file-sharing sites and blogs. That’s not so much democratic as it is staunchly defiant.

This was, for many, accelerationism in action — that is, not just the BPM of footwork but its distributive surpassing of capitalist systems. But the further question remains: if we can argue that we are capable of producing culture newness, then how do we insist upon this kind of innovation happening within our political spheres? How can the aesthetic better inform the political?

Fisher later came round to this anti-hauntological position, which was Williams’ — I have a longer essay forthcoming that goes into this conversation in more depth — but he did not abandon one position in favour of the other. He did both. He asserted that culture must make demands on the political, and he believed one way of making this possible was to use culture to question the political, as a font of negativity.

All this is to say, then, that Craig’s question is certainly valid, but is it the right question for us to be asking? What is happening underneath the hood? For me, the problem with this conversation, whenever it reemerges, is that the initial question is just argued over incessantly without us ever getting down to the finer details and the chaotic mess underneath the polemic pros and cons, which I’d argue was always the implicit intention. If we dig down a little further, this initial question becomes wholly insufficient.

For example, what use are the categories of “new” and “old” if the world in which we live is, as Chal calls it, a “global vortex”? Surely this leads to a necessary untethering from the temporal relativism of new and old, making it seem odd to even talk about any sort of teleological progress. Oddly enough, arguments made in favour of the new make our conception of the new itself null and void. Or rather, it makes it null and void when applied to the products of our creative endeavours. Any subject is capable of producing things and we can easily call those things “new”, in the sense that they did not exist before someone made them, but what if it’s not just the sounds that have changed but the subjectivity that is producing them in the first place? Is that not a more interesting newness for us to consider?

That’s why SOPHIE is always an interesting example in these discussions. Was her music sonically new? In many ways, yes; in others, no. It was a synthesis of different cultures, from the underground to the pop, and was its own kind of popular modernism in that regard. But to what extent was SOPHIE’s music also a product of a new sense of subjectivity? Again, I’ve written about this previously. The magic of SOPHIE isn’t just her music but her persona (which she nonetheless explores and mediates through her music). I think of that conversation, hosted by Dazed, between SOPHIE the musician and Sophia the robot. Sophia the robot is supposed to be the more immediately uncanny representative of a future struggling to be born, but it’s SOPHIE who appears to have been sent back from another world fully formed. The futureshock of the SOPHIE project doesn’t necessarily come from the music itself but who is presenting it to us and how.

In this sense, I don’t think that SOPHIE is necessarily “new” in any quantifiable sense that does her project justice. She’s weird in the sense that Fisher enjoyed, not so much giving us something new but denaturalising our complacent responses to sounds and forms of representation we might be broadly familiar with. Focusing on the sounds alone is only to consider part of what was new about her.

If SOPHIE does appear new to us, it is as a new kind of self, which isn’t so much a sort of “newness” born ex nihilo but rather of the sort explored by hauntology (albeit without any of the melancholy) and accelerationism. Her sound-persona epitomizes a new subject in that she emerges from a point of joyful collapse between various dualities — related to binaries of gender (male/female), temporality (old/new), subjectivity (subject/object), culture (pop/underground), et al.

It’s in the midst of this collapse that the most interesting things happen — and as I’ve also said before elsewhere, the blogosphere’s conversation was likewise produced by a tension between two philosophical senses of the new (Deleuze/Badiou). SOPHIE is one of the positive byproducts of the world in which we live, where various dualities have also been called into question. There are plenty of more negative examples that we could highlight as well. But the point is that you have to notice the collapse in order to express it.

Elsewhere in the replies to Craig’s post, it was apparent that others weren’t aware that the conflations they were making about our categories of newness were precisely those the initial blogospheric conversation set out to hold apart and challenge in tandem. These two modes of new were held apart, with a recombinant newness held aloft, but that’s arguably the older version. Philosophy has more recently entertained the idea of creation ex nihilo, unfettered by an anthropocentric sense of temporality. But still, the conversation is lagging decades behind a wider discourse. Indeed, this very idea of recombinant newness is a twentieth-century hangover popularised by the likes of Deleuze. (Fisher’s own militant newness was a clear product of Badiou hype in the mid-Noughties anglosphere.) But there’s no nuance or thought in a lot of our conversations, nor any sense of the original stakes under discussion, even among some of those who were supposedly there. Everything just collapses into an unproductive mess.

A good example can be found in Joe Muggs’ responses. He replies to Craig’s questions with an emphatic “no”:

No it’s the same obvious “better in my day” goth bollocks he always peddled. No we’re not having a Cambrian explosion of individual genres, but technological shifts like the mass AVAILABILITY of high powered DAWs have enabled hyperpop, drill, amapiano etc etc.

Some of them technically COULD’ve been made earlier, just like acid house COULD have been made in 1982, but the point is the intersection of tech and social factors meant that the full material conditions weren’t there for them. The whole Fisher/Reynolds view of the world is based on the idea of grand breaks, of revolutions, of single events that change everything, of — no pun intended — fissures. It’s a proprietary, boundary-drawing thing, that is desperate for the days when the white male inky music press declared X was the new thing and lo it was thus.

(It’s why, incidentally, that school always disliked and found it hard to engage with hip hop: because it is in a state of CONSTANT seething innovation, rather than having simple “this happened then this happened then this happened” linear step development)

Originally tweeted by Mean Old Daddy (@joemuggs) on April 6, 2022.

This is frankly just bizarre and woefully contradictory, conflating two sides of an old conversation: hauntology, on the one hand, which argues that 21st century culture is both impotently and productively recombinatory; accelerationism, which argues that we must strive for revolutionary breaks and fissures, on the other. It turns two opposing views that Fisher entertained and explored into one incongruously holistic worldview, which just didn’t exist. Muggs says it did in public, but the blogospheric conversation really begs to differ — not to mention the fact his strawman that they thought the world had to go one way ironically undermines the ways their own positions adapted, changed, and became new in response to the unfurling present.

Case in point: Fisher wrote at length, towards the end of his life, on his conception of a “postcapitalism”, which necessarily emerges from capitalism as we know it, not through a breakdown but through a sort of strategic adaptation. But in so doing, he also wrestled with the term’s insufficiency: how, as a signifier for a new world order, it nonetheless remains tethered to our understanding of what came before it. This is the same problem embedded in the various postmodern music cultures that are discussed by many in the above thread. We can argue they are new, by giving them new names, but each is nonetheless defined in relation to the long shadow of twentieth-century cultural innovations. For Fisher, though he might emphatically argue one way or the other, the reason the question of “the new” is one of the oldest we have is that it isn’t so easy to separate the two, and without a little bit more care, you just end up running circles around yourself.

To use Muggs as an example: the suggestion we’re not seeing a Cambrian explosion of individual genres is nonetheless followed by a list of new ones; the idea that the new emerges from distinct “events” is rubbished, whilst nonetheless affirming “the intersection of tech and social factors” as a necessary pre-condition of something happening, e.g. as a precursor to events…

This is exactly the sort of confused thinking Fisher and the rest of the blogosphere tried to intervene within, because it is confusing. What Muggs ends up doing is skirting around both the chicken and the egg, denouncing both depending on what vantage point he’s looking from. Which is precisely the problem of a postmodernist late-capitalist music industry that may struggle to maintain any sure sense of itself. But rather than address the contradictory, the result is a cynical denouncement of an. impossible position: new things happen when technology and the social collide, as with the example of television — which is preciesly how the blogosphere understood the idea of an “event”, central to both Deleuze and Badiou’s philosophies — but then we’re told that trying to name the event is boundary-marking. (Muggs’ later response that “It’s all sub-academic territorial pissing at the end of the day, who’s got time for all that?” compounds the issue and doubles down on its impotency: he expresses a certitude about what was being argued for, which I suggest he has misunderstood, and then suggests that understanding itself is something for academics to do… Why both having thoughts at all?)

Ultimately, the conversation amounts to nought. Lines are drawn in the sand, dualities are only affirmed in their apparent deconstruction, and the elephant in the room — how to intervene in capitalism’s broader stasis — is left by the wayside. Is it any wonder, then, that sometimes it still feel like nothing ever really changes? This conversation sure hasn’t.

Move (Part Two)
+ Tusk Mini

I’ve not had a whole lot of time to blog recently. Since beginning the staggered move up to Newcastle a month ago, I’ve been getting settled, getting over an inevitable cold, and also getting right back into writing my next book, Narcissus in Bloom, perfectly timed for spring’s emergence, and which I’ve been neglecting these past few months. So the blog is on the backburner whilst I tackled all of those things.

I’m also incredibly grateful for all of my friends up here. It’s quite funny how many people I know have moved up to Newcastle, were already here or are from here. Case in point: a few photos above were taken at the recent Tusk Mini one-dayer at the Star and Shadow over the weekend. It was a treat to hang out with Jenn Walton all day, who melted everyone’s faces mid-afternoon, and so great to see and meet so many new people as well. I feel like I’ve fallen right into a really lovely community here and I’m excited to become a proper part of it as time goes on. Look out for more in-person events, maybe a few radio shows and an increase in photo posts like this one.

Speaking of, if anyone wants to hang out or put something on on an evening during the week, get in touch. I’m so ready to wind down on broadcasting from home and never leaving the house.

Can Straights Be Queer?

I have seen tremblings of “discourse” on Twitter recently, making fun of straights who identify as queer. So far, this seems to come from one man’s well-meaning but inarticulate Twitter thread wherein he seemed to “come out” as straight, cursing him with the accolade of being Twitter’s main character for a day. But as easy as it was to make fun, given how he phrased things, I did feel a certain sympathy for his position.

I’ve written about my own feelings on this at length before, declaring that I want to explore a similar feeling of “queerness” in my own life whilst nonetheless being aware that I may not be the best fit for the label. But the paradox here is surely that queerness is defined by one’s being askew, relative to a more “straight”-line sense of self. My experience is that, whilst I have always felt at home in queer spaces and have frequented them since I was a teenager, I have only ever dated women. To hide away in another’s safe space was, at one time, a necessity. Though not identifying as homosexual, my teenage years were nonetheless defined by experiences of homophobic abuse and hatred, simply because of how I was perceived. Now that I’m not perceived a certain way any longer, it has often pained me when I’ve felt newly unwelcome in places I’ve spent time in for 15 years and where I’ve always felt safe.

I can’t say if this is how this other person felt, but suffice it to say, I can appreciate the sentiment of “feeling” queer, for not cleanly adhering to certain gender roles, whilst nonetheless dating “straight”.

Perhaps this makes more sense for people who identify as men. What’s difficult is that I think many men, who may not be gay but are nonetheless perceived as such, find themselves in a strange and peculiar (dare I say queer) space between homosexuality and heterosexuality. Though this is a hot topic now, I’m struck by the fact it hasn’t always been that way.

The other day, I was reading this brilliant 1995 book by Lawrence Schehr called Alcibiades at the Door, which touches on this in the introduction. He’s more broadly considering the role of gay discourses in French literature, but precisely how they have found a place in an otherwise broadly heteronormative culture. Gay life has often been present in these works long before it made an appearance in other countries’ literatures, he argues (speaking in terms of modernity at least). But he also argues that this isn’t the sign of some innate progressivism, but rather the acknowledgement of a certain sexual transference that takes place between members of the same sex, regardless of how they identify.

Men tell other men stories, women tell other women stories; the gender of the vanquished is secondary. If the apostrophes of love are alternately hetero- or homosexual, the discourse about sexuality is structured as homosexual sign, a sign of a shared lust or a remembered chagrin. Now, obviously there are cases in which, for example, a male narrator tells a story to a female listener, or vice versa. Still, even in cases like that there is a homosexual dimension. If the woman listens to a man telling a tale, she is asked to identify with the other woman, so that she too will get turned on, so to speak. […]

Thus there is always a homosexual component to hererosexual discourses about sex. Already at the beginning of these discoures, at the beginning of philosophy’s tales of love, Plato reminds us that the structure of the discourses of sexuality will be among men (or among women), as the deipnosophists extend their banquet into a symposium on love… [T]he discourses between sexes are reduced to closets within closets, tales of lust never spoken. Again we wonder if the figure of the closet, the metaphor of gay liberation of the last twenty years, should not itself be turned on its head: Is it not heterosexuality that is really locked in a closet of its own devising and that forces a similar closet on homosexuality out of spite?

[…] This is readily apparent in the concepts of social constructivism that gender studies have offered: If sexual and gender identity are only products of the crisscrossings of instruments, structures, and discourses of power, how could homosexuality not be in a “closet”? Then again, how could any sexuality not be in a closet? Even a white male heterosexuality thinks it is free because each individual instance identifies with the doxological discourses of social construction, is it not at that moment that sexuality is in its deepest, most tightly locked closet?

If we alarmist conversations around straights identifying as queer, is this not the background to take into account? Nothing is more stringent and oppressive than heterosexuality. Contrarian though this may seem, Schehr argues this is precisely why a closet of shame has been reinforced around homosexual discourses, as if this has been done purely out of spite. Gay liberation, then, spreads outwards. To identify as queer but date straight seems to suggest, to my ears, that someone has had it with the stringent sexual exchanges of heteronormative culture, which are so rigid and stagnant in their representations.

But perhaps this is just appropriation. Straights fed up of patriarchy should find modes of representation of their own, perhaps. But what is interesting about Schehr’s book is that he argues queer cultures have always had a close relationship to popular cultures or even avant-garde cultures. Modernism in particular was the coming to the fore of a “homosexual poiesis”. (Shout out Diana Souhami’s recent book, No Modernism Without Lesbians.)

“Homosexual poiesis participates in a model of production”, Schehr writes, “but not one, quite literally, of reproduction: that one needs straight lines and heliotrophic movement, and cannot admit any version of the spilled seed of Onan.”

Later returning to the “closet” metaphor, Schehr expands on how this homosexual poiesis is never wholly detached from its reproductive equivalent but rather “interwoven” with it. Recognising that this may be a product of patriarchy more generally, he argues heretically that, throughout our cultural histories, “homosexual discourse is always there and, more often than not, at center stage. Sometimes we choose to read the homosexual aspect publicly, sometimes privately. And when it is read privately by some, others do not read it at all.” (I’m reminded here of Leslie Fiedler’s infamous argument that so much classic American literature — even the American dream itself — is innately homoerotic, although these components seem to pass us by, filtered out by a collective heterosexual unconscious.) But this porosity, rather than diminishing gay culture as an outcrop, is integral. Indeed, the contemporary resonances drawn between queer culture and pop music are not new but persistent — queer and pop have long developed side by side, each intruding on the other. To this end, Schehr writes:

The image of the closet has at its attendant metaphors figures of closure, darkness, and impenetrable secrets. To open the closet door is to let in the light of truth. With the figure of visibility and invisibility, the heliotropic movement is neither central nor eclipsed, but part of a double trope that plays in light and in shadows, that moves both towards light and toward the dark. Homosexual poeisis is not marginal as much as it is eccentric: not repressed, not pushed off to the sides, it is there at the heart of things, sometimes seen, sometimes not seen, sometimes recognised, sometimes not. And its entry into the game recasts the disposition of the playing pieces or the figures: Alcibiades at the door [in Plato’s Symposium] is not retained as a marginal figure but forces the people in the room to recognise his eccentric presence. He is not merely the decorative figure of an arabesque at the margins but a decentering and revivifying figure who inverts center and edge as he bends the lines of sight.

It is not by chance that one of the older slang words used to describe a homosexual man was the word “bent,” and that one of the words from the same era has recently been revived as an empowering term: “queer.” Those two words, and especially the latter one, are more accurately the otherness of “straight” than is the word “gay”. […] A queer or bent line is one that is not orthogonal, not straight: it does not go directly for it. A queer line may, however, tell the right story even in being off the mark, off-center, or offhand in its observations. And, for purposes of equanimity, a straight line can be defined relative to a queer one just as easily as the reverse.

What does any of this have to do with Twitter’s recent main character: the man who came out as straight? I think, contrary to the reactionaries who insist that men can sort themselves out by doubling down on tired tropes of cishet masculinity, that what we are seeing is more men are recognising they do not fit into these stringent ideals of a reproductive culture, and indeed, that they do not want to continue replicating a society that makes very little space for how they feel. These men are instead finding themselves at home in the in-between, which society has arguably always made available to all genders whilst unconvincingly denying that fact. The idea that straights can be queer seems like a contradiction, but perhaps (and this certainly matches my own feelings) what is being expressed in that declaration is a desire that is other to the restrictions of a heteronormative society. If queerness can be the telling of “the right story even in being off the mark, off-center,” then there are surely many people who do not experience same-sex attraction but nonetheless find themselves out of sync with the symbolic exchanges they are otherwise pressured to conform to.

I was recently having a conversation with someone else who felt this way but in reverse. Having predominantly dated women, they have found themselves, very much to their own surprise, currently dating a man. As they feel the walls of heteronormativity closing in, they mentioned how they were struggling to keep a space open for their queerness in such a new configuration. They have experienced no hostility about this, but nonetheless feel uneasy about it. But that in itself is surely the mark of some kind of queerness: the very difficulty and uneasy that comes from walking a straight line.

Of course, as someone who feels like they very much exist on the peripheries, feeling like the token straight of many a queer friendship group, maybe I’m just wrong and reading too much into this stuff to calm my own insecurities and anxieties. But I do think there’s something here. To feel like you don’t fit in or can’t walk the line is surely a defining constant, and we do ourselves a disservice when we essentialise one way or the other, fueled by nothing more than resentment. That’s surely all this desire to don the mark of queerness is: an affirmation to the contrary.

To take a brief peek at the other side, this is also something we see constantly in trans discourses, for instance, where TERFs will shoot themselves in the foot by overdefining “woman” to such an extent that they exclude women who have been through or otherwise experienced certain bodily changes or medical conditions. Are women that have been through the menopause still women to TERFs? Are women who have had hysterectomies? They will say yes, of course, but their rhetoric always suggests otherwise.

It may be not be the case that these women suddenly find themselves at local drag shows, wholly affirming this slight othering, but at the same time, that these same women may find themselves run over roughshod by the loudest of essentialist voices is nonetheless an indictment of just how ridiculously “straight” straight culture can be (and may still become). As the pearl-clutching around such categories intensifies, more and more people may come to sense that straightness makes room for only a few. Most may strive for it anyway, but for those who start to think otherwise, that’s surely only a good thing for the world at large? Rather than deny straights their queerness, maybe its better for all if they’re allowed a little bit of it, as a treat.



Addendum: An interesting series of comments from Alexander Boyd below the Twitter share of this post. He explained how “my everyday experience of heterosexuality is less of oppression than of (privileged) freedom from scrutiny and insecurity”, which makes “thinking in terms of gender and sexuality … unintuitive.”

I thought this was a really interesting point, getting to the crux of what I otherwise meant to say above: what has long bemused and complicated my relationship to myself since I was a child was recognising a personal heterosexuality that has nonetheless felt deeply scrutinised from within its own structures. Not in the usual sense of “manning up”, but rather the assumption being made that it’s just not in my capacity to be manly / not be a bit camp (which is probably fair enough). But I also don’t know how to articulate that experience other than through queer discourses. What to do when others dislike a certain appropriation of language that is nonetheless better equipped to articulate the resulting (if only relative) indeterminacy that comes from this kind of scrutiny?

Perhaps the point is nothing more than this, offered up by @Syderas: “Straightness as a culture is safe for absolutely no one — not even straight people”.