Knowing the Unknown Knower

Blogs and search engines are different approaches to the same problem, different occupations of the same place. They point, though, in different directions. Faced with the challenge of providing a trusted guide through a chaotic, indeterminable, changing field, search engines say “trust the algorithm”. In contrast, blogs say, “trust doesn’t scale.” So while the former offers a reliability based in equations and crawl capacities, the latter says, know the knower. It focuses on the person providing the link, offering the searcher the opportunity to know this person and so determine whether she can be trusted. Social network sites refract the problem of truth yet again: if the issue with blogs is the credibility of the guide or writer, the issue for social network sites is trust in the audience, in the others who might be following me.

In her 2010 book Blog Theory, quoted above, Jodi Dean gives us a snapshot of online trust at the start of the last decade. Reading it today, at the start of a new decade, illuminates just how much has changed.

“Knowing the knower” is the foundation for blogging’s value. Dean explains how early blogs were little more than curators of links on a radically disorganised and decentralised internet. Knowing the blogger, respecting their opinion, shaped your experience of navigating the World Wide Web, that may have otherwise been utterly and hopelessly formless.

In many respects, the purpose of blogging today remains the same. In others, however, it has been inverted. All too aware of its own value, the blogger has further gone underground. Knowing the knower is now, in some cases, impossible — and that is often the attraction of a blog’s output. Though there is an abundance of content, scarcity of self is exacerbated. This is no doubt because the idea of an “authentic online self” has been undermined absolutely by capitalist capture. The more authentic you are online, the more attractive you are to capitalism, because your trust can be commodified and transformed into marketing gold. Just look at Instagram — anyone who has been on that platform long enough will have likely seen a fun account, run by an extroverted someone just sharing their day, perhaps pursuing some niche interest or occupation. (Case in point, my girlfriend and I follows a couple shepherdesses.) Suddenly breaking into a new zone of visibility, their authenticity is easily hijacked by corporations who then pay the authentic blogger to advertise and/or recommend their product.

This transformation is often bittersweet. Those who let capitalism in are likely those who could use the financial boost, selling a self they may have shaped over the years in the service industry, in an environment where the self is often all you have to give, and where putting on a smile is the best way to gain tips. Though their authenticity is immediately undermined, such is the paradox of needing to pay your rent and having little else to give. In the social media age, personality can become a useful commodity.

In the theory blogosphere, hiding behind aliases and avatars was once seen a way to challenge this norm. “Getting out of your face again” was a rejection of the new face of capitalism and a way to seed knowledge on the peripheries of its libidinal circuits. This tradition continues to this day. The knower is, more often than not, hidden. But the reasons behind the donning of a cybermask are long outdated. Now, there is a problem: the unknown knower is just as susceptible to capitalist capture as their more visible rivals have long been.

The unknown knower sells their inauthenticity just as the authentic poster sells its opposite, albeit in a more clandestine fashion. The anon’s profile supersedes the authentic self, easily accruing more followers and more influence than their more visible counterpart, all because they are seen to be in possession of forbidden knowledge. Rather than putting their own face out there because they have something to gain, the anon hides their identity and corrals a sense that they may have something to lose. To hide is made brave, cowardice is inverted. A crowd gathers to listen to the untainted prophet.

The encouraged assumption that the unknown knower has more to lose is, in my experience, very accurate. But this is not because they are bearers of inconvenient truths. It is, more often than not, the establishment, the reactionaries, the conservatives who hide their faces online. They get off on its clandestine networks of tradposting. They go underground, only to disguise any chinks in their overground armour. All the while, those with something to say should go overground with more ferocity. Recognising that the right’s burrowing underground is down to their vulnerability overground suggests now is the time to rise up. Mark Fisher’s argument from 2014 is argubaly more resonant now than it once was:

Perhaps now is the moment when New Times can finally happen – if we can emerge, blinking, from our barricaded (but now extensively connected) cellars, and step out into the desert of a destituted public world, into a mass culture reduced to bland hedonic homogeneity by corporate depredation. Yes, this is hostile country, occupied territory. But how well defended is it? What possibilities are there for us here, now? What could happen, that is to say, if we go overground?

Update: Irony of ironies, the day after posting this I was tagged in a Twitter thread by someone’s burner Twitter account about former NRx blogger, Bryce Laliberte, doxxing his friend to a journalist.

I’ve had Bryce blocked since he had an almighty tantrum in my mentions over a post I wrote about Freudian antecedents to the so-called “Dark Enlightenment”. So I’m not sure why this person thought I’d care, but the hypocrisy of it is demonstrative in the context of this post.

Alt-right anons telling on alt-right face-posters who doxx their secretly alt-right friends sums up the whole circle jerk that is the alt-right mask economy better than I ever could. Most people don’t care, because it is clear that all they’re capable of is generating inconsequential outrage over an establishment that is guilty about protecting its own self-interests.

And someone’s shocked that alt-right solidarity is paper thin?

The Slow Cancellation of…
Sorry, What Were We Talking About?:
Some Concessions and Further Notes

Thanks to Matheus Calderon, who sent over the text for Noys’ lecture. Below is a more in-depth commentary on Noys’ talk, made up of a few concessions, notes and further confusion following my previous post.

With that previous post in mind, let’s turn to what Noys actually had to say. You can watch the talk back below.

In my previous post, I was mostly confused by Noys’ appeals to the present. This is clarified very early on. Drawing on various texts from queer theory, afrofuturism/afropessimism, and accelerationism, Noys writes:

In all cases, there are complex articulations of past, present, and future that could be discovered in these texts and in these contrasting lines of thought. They are also, obviously, turning to the future and the past to address the present. This complexity does not, I argue, invalidate the point that the orientation to past and future risks abandoning the present. The splitting between a past primal wounding that provides a negative rupture and a utopian future that sends its ‘tendrils’ into a destitute present, leave us living in the worst of all possible worlds… In these orientations, however, this absent present is addressed as a moment of stagnation, degeneration or decadence, what Badiou calls an ‘atonal world’ that lacks points of decision.

But this still ignores Alex Williams’ founding accelerationist argument where he explicitly affirms these same Badiouian points of decision, calling on us to address them.

I can nevertheless see what Noys is trying to do. He is attempting to intervene in a kind of Parmenidean paradox. To say things need to start moving suggests an impossible moment of prior stasis. Noys seems to be arguing that, in presenting the present as static, we trap ourselves in an impossible perspective that is fatally limited to the first-person. The point should be to get beyond the privileged positions we give ourselves as individuals — what Noys nicely conflates with “the bourgeois viewpoint” — which observes the world in its flux only in relation to our own stasis. For Parmenides’ partner Zeno, in particular, the opposite was also true: we cannot say the world is still, only because we ourselves are moving at speed. Either everything is moving or nothing is, and nothing, as a kind of radical stillness, is an impossibility. Instead, we should look to the bigger picture of what is happening around us.

This is how I am understanding Noys when he writes:

If we currently exist in a present emptiness, one half of the bourgeois viewpoint, the alternative offered is an original, or future, fullness. While these theoretical currents claim to transcend the antinomies of bourgeois thought, we may also be suspicious of such self-characterisations. Certainly, the antinomy between original fullness and present standstill does seem to remain resonant, even if these terms are reworked by the currents I have sketched.

But wasn’t this Lyotard’s point regarding the impossibility of an outside, later taken up by the accelerationists?

Putting Lyotard to one side, our references to the pre-Socratics are intentional here, since Noys mentions them repeatedly, albeit only in passing, noting Heidegger and Nietzsche’s turns to antiquity, which they acknowledge as that founding moment in philosophy. There we find a familiar discussion regarding the generative capacities of finitude and infinitude, which has particular bearing on how we are able to categorise difference, change, and the new.

I don’t want to expand on this history too much here, as I’m planning to write on this in far more detail for my upcoming talk at Ctrl Network. I’ll no doubt have to work some of Noys’ points into that lecture between now and then. For now, suffice it to say that what we find in the pre-Socratics are those first attempts to rigorously stamp out the obscurantism of Heraclitean riddles. For Heraclitus, the apparent truism that we cannot step into the same river twice is not just a philosophy of nature but a way of problematising epistemology as such. For him, all language is poetry, the meaning of which can change in every instance we encounter it. But this is only true from the limited perspective of the individual, so argued Parmenides and Zeno. Collectively, we can speak of things that are true for all of us. Indeed, that must be where we turn our attention. (Mathematics takes the cake here, and continues to.)

When Plato later banishes poets from the republic, in the name of his theory of forms, he does so to service this kind of truth. Poets are still great thinkers, and contribute much to culture and society, but he insists that we must be able to decide on the proper names for things — as Ideas or Forms — before we can begin to play with them. Otherwise, how would we have language? We need shared understanding. Without it, how would we be able to converse with one another? (This is of central importance to Plato. Conversation is the primary form that his dialectical philosophy takes, after all.) In the end, we can say there is difference, and naming difference is how we give form to the new, and even new ideas. It is the goal of philosophy to set that process to work and maintain its motion.

It is downstream from here, from this Platonic river of forms, that we find the great ocean of philosophy. The tension here is never quite resolved. Aristotle makes an attempt, and reigns supreme for centuries, but Plato soon returns to the fore, both positively and negatively. The battle over his contemporary relevance no doubt falls to that central dialectic of the mid-2000s blogosphere, between the anti-Platonism of Deleuze and and the Cantorian Platonism of Badiou.

Even prior to that moment, we might turn to Alfred North Whitehead, who was famous for having said that “the European philosophical tradition … consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” But this was not to diminish the thousands of years of thought to have followed since Plato’s own, as if it is all derivative in a pejorative sense. It is instead to understand philosophy – and, indeed, thought itself – in a Platonic manner. Whitehead’s comment is, in this sense, reflexive: the form of Plato’s ideas – nothing less than a theory of ideas themselves – provided a structure from which all ideas since could emerge. He provides us with an Idea of philosophy, against which we can judge all other variants. We find ourselves connected across millennia. Plato sought truth and so do we. And yet, a fundamental tension remains.

If there is such a thing as truth – and we know that there is: two plus two will always equal four, for example – then how do we account for all that has changed in the meantime? If truths don’t change, how do we keep inventing new ones? Are we even “inventing” the new if truths are things that have always been true, but were previously unknown? If we “discover” the new, is it still really new? Or only new to us? This tension defines twentieth century philosophy, and underlies some of its central texts: Being and Time, Process and Reality, Difference and Repetition, Being and Event. (There are other examples still, albeit not of the same canonical stature, but Yuk Hui’s Recursivity and Contingency is another that comes to mind.)

Suddenly, our understanding of the new no longer seems so linear… Indeed, not even Plato can be held up as a central origin; his theory of forms was not wholly original in itself. Philosophical positions very similar to his were already circulating in other parts of the world at this time. Confucius, for instance – whose thought predates Plato’s by about a century – developed his own theory of forms. His “reification of names”, as it was called, is worth noting because it perhaps clarifies why Plato’s theory is so important to his Republic that he would ban all poets from the city in its name. Contrary to first impressions, Plato is not a joyless authoritarian but rather seeks to build a utopia based on the true order of things. He hopes to live, first and foremost, in accordance with nature and natural law – an attractive proposition, since to do so would negate all the pretensions of ideology. Similarly, Confucius suggests that all social disorder can be traced back to an inability to give things their proper names. The theory of forms, then, takes on a social dimension – to name each thing in its proper place, not just Plato’s tables but emotions and experiences as well, is to be able to articulate one’s self in accordance with nature. “When names are not rectified, what is said will not seem reasonable”, Confucius writes. “When what is said does not seem reasonable, nothing will get accomplished.”

The political dimension of the new now comes to the fore, and it is this sentiment that is explored consistently throughout the entirety of recorded history — not history understood as a linear progression but as a problematic always re-problematised in the present in which we encounter it.

It is from here we uncover the tension between idealism and materialism that Noys points to when he argues tangentially against a certain form of capitalist realism, which collapses capitalist ideology onto a Platonic understanding of the universe. This is to say that capitalism establishes itself as eternal, as always having been here, and it has now finally won out over the twentieth century’s alternatives. “The end of history”, though a point of critique for Fukuyama, is then picked up and affirmed by conservatives who herald their own victory. Truth has won out and its name is capitalism. For many, it is no doubt very easy to believe them, as they appeal to various habits of human relations — exchange, trading, etc. — that have always been with us and which, for them, constitute the seeds of our true capitalist nature. That is, until we put in the work to actually track capitalism’s development. Suddenly we see how forms and names can be manipulated. So we look for the origins of language — structuralism — before acknowledging that, yes, language does not lie inert and unchanging. It does change in every instance we encounter it — post-structuralism — but all the more reason to make note of those encounters and the differences between him, in the present. (Shout out Althusser.) So Noys writes:

These statements do not say all we have is the present, but rather we must account for this present through historical reconstruction, hence the Phenomenology of Spirit or Capital, while tracing the possibilities of the present as potentials to realise a future of self-determination and freedom. In each of these iterations of the phrase it is implied that we have to grasp the present conditions as the site of overcoming. My point, therefore, is a simple one: contemporary radical theoretical forms have embraced the future or the deep ontological past in a flight from the present. Images of stagnation and inertia remain to characterise the present of high capitalism in accents that are more Nietzschean than anything else.

From here Noys goes on to challenge this history, attacking the forgetting of Being in Heidegger. “Western metaphysics begins, with Socrates and Plato, to forget Being and Being leads a fugitive role in the history of that metaphysics”, Noys writes, summarising Heidegger’s position. “We need to return to before the rift, to the moment of the pre-Socratics,” Heidegger argues, if we are “to find a thinking of Being qua Being.”

As mentioned last time, this is where we can turn instead to the importance of Whitehead, and of Steven Shaviro’s speculative injunction in the philosophy of the late 2000s (as well as his particular brand of accelerationism, which I find to be wholly commensurate with much of what is called “unconditional accelerationism” — or, as Shaviro might describe it, “accelerationism without criteria”.) “What if Whitehead, instead of Heidegger, had set the agenda for postmodern thought?”, he asks. The question of beginnings is once again central. Shaviro continues:

Where does one start in philosophy? Heidegger asks the question of Being: “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” But Whitehead is splendidly indifferent to this question. He asks, instead: “How is it that there is always something new?” Whitehead doesn’t see any point in returning to our ultimate beginnings. He is interested in creation rather than rectification, Becoming rather than Being, the New rather than the immemorially old.

Oddly, Noys does not follow this trajectory, which feels characteristically accelerationist to me, in being contrary to capitalism’s insistent that it is immemorially old. Indeed, there is plenty out there that explores and further clarifies Noys’ own position. Instead, he seems to be on the lookout for enemies. He turns to Nietzsche’s “philosophy for the future”, which is “scathing towards the ‘frivolous deification of the present’, and dismissive of ‘the barbaric turmoil known as “the present”‘.”

The non-linear development of thought presents itself again. Though it feels more natural to suggest Nietzsche’s futurism inverts Heidegger’s history, the opposite is true. But then what was Nietzsche reacting to? Isn’t Heidegger following that Enlightenment tendency, from Rousseau through to Freud and all the rest of it, of finding our primal scene? Nietzsche certainly emerges from this context as an anti-Enlightenment figure, in the way that he attempts to prefigure, as Noys puts it, “a past of hierarchical authority that throws a bridge to a future authoritarian rebirth of rank.” But both are accelerationists, apparently, in their own ways. Together they give form to the double-articulation that accelerationism, in Noys’ view, hopes to affirm: Nietzsche cloaks the left hand of a dark future whilst Heidegger shrouds the right in the truth of philosophy’s deep past, before it alienated itself from its true object.

Soon enough, Heidegger falls away, his role left unresolved. Noys instead warns against any form of left-Nietzscheanism that may seem tangentially resonant with much of Marxism. We must not confuse the two, he insists, even though Nietzsche’s elitism may seem to resonate with the vanguardism of Marxist-Leninism.

This is a fair observation, but from here I am lost. Noys turns to Mark Fisher, rather than the more obvious choice, Nick Land, to explore the fallacies of such a thinking. He makes Fisher out to be the central left-Nietzschean of our age. This is a reading immediately complicated by any consideration of Fisher’s far more prominent Spinozism (not to mention Nietzsche’s anti-Spinozism), but let us take Noys at his word here. In reference to Fisher’s critique of “the slow cancellation of the future” that he began his talk with, Noys writes:

The cultural diagnosis of Mark Fisher we cited, for example, is explicitly Nietzschean, and Fisher identifies with Nietzsche’s aristocratic critique of culture. While Fisher identifies capitalism as Nietzschean ‘slave morality’: resentful, levelling, opposed to innovation, identifying the working class with experimentation, the structure of aristocratic critique remains. The present remains a stagnant present. While this Nietzschean critique is often given a radical accent, or presented as a radical gesture, or even ‘the most radical gesture’, it comes at the cost of fundamentally losing the basis of a critical radicalism.

It is here that my inchoate critique reemerges.

What is this “critical radicalism” that Fisher was losing sight of? It was a “critical radicalism” that manifest itself as a “reflexive impotence”, recently discussed here. In previously citing Natasha Lennard’s article for Salon, I mentioned how what was being rejected at that time was the looming “celebrity vanguard” that many on the left feared the likes of Russell Brand and Owen Jones represented. This was a left whose “critical radicalism” amounted to nothing more than an impotent horizontalism; a radicalism that didn’t so much critique its pop-cultural figureheads as denounce any cultural representation whatsoever. It was a leftism that kept making appeals to an illusory outsideness, arguing that what we needed was a form of cultural representation that wasn’t produced under capitalism. Fisher’s point was that familiar Lyotardian one: there is no outside, the only way out is through.

Though he may reference Lyotard and Nietzsche in his critiques, this thought has next to no relation to the hysterical accelerationism Noys once took aim at in The Persistence of the Negative. This is Fisher’s “popular modernism”, which decries the impotence of a “critical radicalism” that no longer sees any role for popular culture in the creation of certain structures of feeling. It is an argument that has since been vindicated. When the left eventually dropped this pretension to an impossible purity, it discovered a resurgence of its ideas in the political imagination. In 2015 Jeremy Corbyn broke through, with the grassroots movement surrounding him making active use of capitalism’s cultural dynamics, producing memes and conflating Corbyn with designer fashion as part of an irreverent merchandising campaign — a clear example of what Fisher called “designer communism”.

Though defeated in parliament, this new leftist energy has persisted. The memetically intelligent and culturally attuned Northern Independence Party is showing how this kind of defiant cultural participation can actively produce new conversations and, one hopes, real change. It was this sort of role that Fisher saw in the likes of The Jam and, yes, Russell Brand. Though a controversial suggestion, then and now, even Brand acknowledged that things must be dire if it was up to someone like him to raise consciousness in the 21st century. Brand arguably rose to the top because there were few other representatives to rally around. (Now his influence seems to have diminished somewhat, but only because people have followed his lead and engaged with politics in a way that, at one time, only Brand dared to.)

Clearly, this wasn’t elitism. This was generating structures of feeling, and using popular individuals to awaken collective undercurrents — something that Noys’ “critical radicalism”, at that time, was quite allergic too. As Fisher writes in his 2014 essay “Going Overground”:

One of the problems with many of the horizontalist models of political action is that they assume that we already know what we think and feel, and we are simply prevented from expressing ourselves by oppressive power structures. Yet mass mediated art could name and focus feelings that were not only suppressed – by ‘internal’ as well as external censoring agencies – but which were inchoate, unformed, virtual. Mass mediation transformed, not merely ‘represented’ these affects; after they were named and brought into focus, the feelings ‘themselves’ were experienced differently.

In my jumble of thoughts provoked by his abstract, I suggested that Noys’ critique of Fisher was dependent on a misremembering of what form this “critical radicalism” took, which was either impotent horizontalism or neoliberal centrism. However, it doesn’t seem to me that Noys is so forgetful. Unfortunately, it seems worse than that. Noys seems to affirm the leftist melancholy of the late 2000s, as if we didn’t get to see the results of that moment’s great negativity. He recruits Mario Tronti to his cause, affirming Tronti’s argument “that working class passivity and lack of struggle could have effects on capitalism.” Drawing on Tronti’s analyis of the crash of 1929, Noys suggests that a

lack of struggles… robbed capitalists and capital of the ability and knowledge it gained from the struggle by workers. Without workers’ struggles no innovation and no development and no knowledge.

We could argue there is an air of “anti-praxis” here, taken from unconditional accelerationism, or even the horrorism of Nick Land’s “do nothing”. Either way, the same issue lingers over Noys’ talk. But the real implication is that this is nothing more than an echo of the dominant leftist position that emerged around the crash of 2008. No leaders, no programme — that is how we win.

But we didn’t win. Nothing happened. Austerity instead made everything worse. Noys’ position suddenly appears like more of a kakocracy than accelerationism ever was. It echoes the impotence that define an era, that Fisher and others put on blast, and which accelerationism was an ardent rejection of. Noys was always a critic of accelerationism, so perhaps this is unsurprising, but I’m sure many would not expect the rejection of accelerationism to be such a depressive rejection of praxis. Though Noys’ talk began by denouncing a Fisherian pessimism, he suddenly seems more pessimistic than Mark ever was.

This, to me, feels like an instance of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In light of Noys’ full critique, I am willing to admit that Fisher’s theoretical allegiances may have been a bit confused. Nietzsche’s aristocratic radicalism is certainly less popular in the present, and Fisher may have been conflating his Nietzschean analysis with a sort of Marxist-Leninism, as Noys seems to suggest. (Although there is clearly more of an emphasis on the latter here, compared to some of Nietzsche’s more loyal twentieth-century adherents, who Fisher was explicitly not a fan of — Bataille and DH Lawrence come to mind, even though I’d argue they both lie on the pop-mod spectrum in that they encouraged the emergence of specifically psychosexual structures of feeling in their own times.) Regardless, the point of the previous post remains intact. Noys’ appeals to a “critical radicalism” are misplaced. What counted for critical radicalism at the time Fisher was writing was a leftist melancholy that refused to engage with the present, which Noys nonetheless seems to interpret as the only viable response to a present defined by “weakness and disorientation”. Surely this is more indicative of the self-fulfilling prophecies of “reflexive impotence” than Fisher’s “slow cancellations of the future”? As Fisher remarked of the reflexively impotent:

They know things are bad, but more than that, they know they can’t do anything about it. But that ‘knowledge’, that reflexivity, is not a passive observation of an already existing state of affairs. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Denouncing left-Nietzscheanism might sound good now, in the aftermath of Losurdo’s newly translated critique, but what this amounts to, placed back into the historical context under consideration, is a defense of a period when the left was arguably least capable of engaging with the present as a site of struggle. Tronti’s argument that an end to class struggle may presage an end to capitalism, rather than vice versa, may have once seemed attractive in its contrarianism, but not now. His analysis of the post-crash world after 1929 hardly seems resonant with our post-crash world since 2008. That is, in part, because class struggle had already been eliminated — at least semantically. The beginning of the twentieth-century was defined not just by the ultimate ascendency of global capitalism, but also by the defaulting of an entire country to the middle class — that generic class position used to deny the very existence of class as a struggle. In the late 90s, the British centre-left declared that we are all middle class now, and suddenly everything was meant to be fine. But capitalism kept churning regardless.

Yes, capitalism may generate struggles that we allow to persist in our resistance against them, but I’d argue that is because our resistance has not been strong enough. Any argument that suggests the left should once again weaken its own position is an awful one, and one that is wholly out of touch with the actual struggles of the present.

The Slow Cancellation of…
Sorry, What Were We Talking About?

I was sorry to miss this recent talk from Benjamin Noys. I only heard about it after the fact. Here’s the abstract:

In the face of what Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi and Mark Fisher have called ‘the slow cancellation of the future’ contemporary theory has often responded by stressing the utopian possibilities of ‘inventing the future’ or turning to a fundamental past ontological rift or wounding. The crisis of the future, I wish to suggest, is in fact a crisis of the imagination of the present. In contrast to the invention of the future, or the turn to the past, I argue we need to de-invent the future and return to the present as a fraught and fragmentary site of struggle.

You shouldn’t judge a talk by its abstract alone, obviously. They can be such hastily written things. But I do have a lot of questions…

I tweeted about this the other day and it seems that my suspicions were somewhat confirmed by others who attended. This makes me feel like it might be worth airing these questions in a more lucid form than a few bewildered tweets, not only because Noys’ approach seems bizarre to me, but because it seems indicative of what’s gone wrong with the accelerationist blogosphere over the last few years. It suggests that many have been struck by a certain amnesia.

I’m mostly curious to know how Noys’ argument actually differs from Fisher’s. After all, Fisher was better attuned to the time-signature of the present than anyone.

Though Noys apparently took aim at Fisher’s Nietzschean pessimism in this talk, Fisher’s critiques from Capitalist Realism onwards — and his notion of “reflexive impotence” in particular — were a diagnosis of a new strand of left melancholia, emerging from the Long Nineties and flaring up around the Occupy movement — a task explicitly grounded in the present. As Wendy Brown writes of this strange pathology:

“Left melancholia” is [Walter] Benjamin’s unambivalent epithet for the revolutionary hack who is, finally, not serious about political change, who is more attached to a particular political analysis or ideal — even to the failure of that ideal — than to seizing possibilities for radical change in the present. In the context of Benjamin’s enigmatic insistence on the political value of a dialectical historical grasp of the time of the Now, Left melancholia represents not only a refusal to come to terms with the particular character of the present, that is, a failure to understand history in terms other than “empty time” or “progress.” It signifies as well a certain narcissism with regard to one’s past political attachments and identity that exceeds any contemporary investment in political mobilization, alliance, or transformation.

Mark referenced this essay a few times, including in his final lectures. But the left’s reluctance or inability to deal with the present was something he critiqued constantly. (It was also his argument in “Exiting the Vampire Castle”, where he swaps the death rattle of New Labour for Twitter’s tendency to call visible socialists “sell-outs” in 2013.)

This makes Noys’ argument sound particularly weak, even self-defeating. To talk of left-Nietzscheanism ends up sounding more like an indirect flex that he’s read Losurdo and nothing more. I can’t think of any other reason why someone might think critiques of left-Nietzscheanism and the mid-2000s pessimism of Mark Fisher have any bearing whatsoever on our present moment.

What’s worse is the other side of Noys’ critique is similarly misrepresented here. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s Inventing the Future wasn’t detached from the present either. It was a speculative politics, yes, but speculation begins in the present; it intervenes in the present. That was Williams’ original argument when he first made moves against the blogosphere’s hauntological trend, insisting that we sod all that “good postmodernism” rubbish and actually interrogate “in our current time… those regions which appear, from the in-situational point of view, to be marginal, and properly undecideable.”

What is that if not a demarcation of the present as a “fraught and fragmentary site of struggle”?

It’s as if the first blogosphere never happened; as if Mark Fisher, Alex Williams and Steven Shaviro never wrote all they did about the contingencies of now. To make matters worse, Noys was there for all this. It was Williams’ denouncement of hauntology, and his insistence on the present as a site of struggle, that Noys first (perjoratively) named “accelerationism”. But accelerationism, for the likes of Williams and Fisher, was always, fundamentally, concerned with “the new”, how it appears or fails to appear, how new forms of political subjectivity can be “invented” or “discovered” after the end of history; after capitalism’s claim to have won out overall. It is in this way that accelerationism begins from the present and moves outwards, as all speculative philosophies do. Indeed, Alfred North Whitehead, so central to the accelerationist writings of Steven Shaviro, argues that speculative philosophy is essentially a meeting point for temporalised logics: “Whenever we attempt to express the matter of immediate experience, we find that its understanding leads us beyond itself, to its contemporaries, to its past, to its future, and to the universals in terms of which its definitiveness is exhibited.”

Maybe Noys addressed all this in his talk… Maybe he’s just forgotten all of his previous entanglements… But if that is the case, then the present is being misused as a rug, under which we can conveniently forget the past once witnessed and the future once promised. Noys’ talk doesn’t sound like an argument for the “present” but a “presenteeism”. It is showing up and achieving nothing.

We might note that forgetting is also a central tool of capitalism realism. Fisher always suggested that “the slow cancellation of the future” took place in memory, first and foremost. The future is cancelled as old visions are reified as novelties of the past. Representations are decoupled from transhistorical gestures towards emancipation. Structures of feeling are diminished, abstracted, made distant. The present becomes a postmodern soup where only the past is eternally and destructively present.

There’s a reason why the final albums of arch-hauntologist The Caretaker attempted to sonically document an experience of dementia or, as on his earlier works, retrograde amnesia. Capitalism’s drive to make us forget is a demented infringement upon our cognitive potentials in the present.

Fisher’s Acid Communism, again, hoped to intervene in this demented space. As if channeling the psychedelic drawn-from-memory still lives of Ivan Seal, he found a productive tension in the cognitive dichotomy of remembering and hallucinating — two closely related processes that both take place in the present. This gives form to that long-considered tension between hauntology and accelerationism. The dialectic between them attempts to illuminate capitalist dreamwork and allow us to regain some agency in the here and now. This isn’t a new tension. It was central throughout the first blogosphere, dramatised in the imagined dialogues between Deleuze and Badiou.

With all of this in mind, it seems strange that Noys would offer up, as a critical intervention, a summary of his opponents’ positions from over decade ago. It makes it seem less like a timely critique than a symptom of what Fisher and others were describing way back when… For Noys to demonstrate this as part of a series of talks called “Theory in Crisis” only makes things stranger. It starts to feel more demonstrative than diagnostic… How can we take someone’s claim to the present seriously when they themselves seem so far removed from it?

But again, it’s just an abstract. I’ll happily eat my words if a recording appears, but I have a strong feeling I won’t have to…

Update: Noys talk is now online — a follow-up here.

Tornadoes: XG on Come Internet With Me

Over the weekend, I followed @thejaymo down a clickhole for his incredibly wholesome web show, Come Internet With Me. We spent an hour talking about what I’d probably be writing about if I wasn’t doing all this other nonsense — tornadoes — as well as Microsoft Excel…?

Towards the end of our hour-long chat, we ended up reading about tornadoes in London — one that occurred in 1091, apparently destroying London Bridge and another that happened in 1954. For some reason, there’s only footage of the aftermath of the second one but its a terrifying sight. It is reminiscent of the London Blitz in a way must have been pretty traumatic for people.

I promised Jay I would continue this click hole to see where else it led me.

I ended up looking up two further storms to strike Britain in the twentieth century — not just singular tornadoes but “outbreaks”. One was in 1913, which led to two tornadoes in England and three in South Wales — this website provides a pretty thorough timeline of the destruction — and the other was in 1981, the largest tornado outbreak in European history. This resulted in tornadoes touching down in Liverpool, Birmingham, Hull, Manchester, the Welsh town of Holyhead and the Warwickshire village of Stoneleigh. Over a five-hour period on the 23rd April that year, there were 104 confirmed tornadoes. I found this very dense 2016 academic paper with diagrams galore re-examining the conditions that led to the outbreak.

I think part of my interest in tornadoes comes from the few I used to hear about happening over Hull. I remember one year there were reports of one that felled a tree and flipped a few cars. I tried to find a few reports about this but couldn’t find one I recognised. There were, however, various reports of other tornadoes forming (if not quite touching down) over Hull with a surprising frequency. The most recent was in 2019 (with video here), another in 2014 which caused considerable damage (with another report here). The one I heard about must have been in the mid-2000s.

I wonder if East Yorkshire experiences these things more frequently than I first thought? It would explain the strange synchronicities I’ve found in relationships with people over the years. I will never forget the first time I ever met my birth mother, we somehow ended up on this topic and I told her that it was a secret dream of mine to live in a van for a year and just chase storms full-time. She literally replied, “oh my god me too!” And that was weird…

Anyway, tornadoes are crazy and fascinating and wild.

Go check out the rest of Jay’s stuff on his website. He publishes a wonderfully diverse range of content and is legitimately one of the most interesting people I know.

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Thinking About Writing, Writing About Thinking

I wanted to enter 2016 with a blank slate. On 28th December 2015, I wrote the following on my photo blog, before abandoning it forever — a blog onto which I had posted 642 times since June 2011:

New Year, New Blog

A lot has changed in the past two years and this blog, as much as it pains me to say it, is starting to feel redundant. It was never going to last forever, but a change of heart has gradually been gaining momentum.

In a week or so, this blog will become password protected. Friends and family are welcome to the password for reminiscing purposes, but a lot of these images will show up again in book and zine projects at some point. In fact, a lot of them have already.

I’ve blogged in some form for nearly half my life at this point. I’m not ready to give up on it entirely yet, but I need a clean break for a new approach and a new phase in life.

I linked to a new WordPress, hooked up to my “professional” photography website, and vowed to use it less as a diary and more like an online CV. I kept it up for six months before I killed that one too.

At that time, having graduated from my photography degree two years earlier, I felt — due to a certain amount of paranoia, no doubt — that my continuing practice of sharing everything I made online for all to see was being viewed quite cynically by peers and potential employers. It was, at best, immature; at worst, self-sabotaging.

One day I was complaining on Twitter about not getting paid for jobs or not being taken seriously and eventually the point was made that, if you don’t value your own work (by placing an explicit economic value upon it), then why should anyone else?

At that time, I was broke. That advice, though intended to be constructive, was devastating. I already felt worthless; that my output could be seen that way too was quite the blow.

It hadn’t bothered me before but then 2015 was an odd year; similar to 2020, in some ways. (This year is certainly drawing to a close with the same horizonlessness; a depressing sense of limbo.) I’d just been made redundant from my job due to Tory funding cuts, and suddenly couldn’t afford to pay rent. We had to move out almost immediately. I left Cardiff, moved back in with my parents in Hull, and I don’t think my self-esteem has ever been lower. I stopped blogging, attempting to take myself more seriously. I don’t think it made any difference to my income whatsoever. In fact, I soon realised that blogging was my way of working around the tactics that everyone else was engaged with that supposedly meant they were more serious about their chosen profession — schmoozing at exhibitions, brown-nosing, circle-jerk networking. I soon began to miss blogging quite desperately. I felt like I’d given up an outlet for no good reason, finding the implied alternative more repulsive than living in my overdraft.

When I graduated from my MA two years later, I started to blog again. “If you want to get good at photography, you’ve got to do it everyday” was the old mantra; I wasn’t taking so many pictures anymore but I wanted to write and I applied the same logic to a new endeavour. The blog was always a motivator for going out and sharing what I had seen or getting me out the house and experimenting in the studio or whatever else; xenogothic became a similar sort of motivator.

At that time, I was back working at a shitty arts administrator job. It didn’t require any schmoozing but I was often schmoozed at. I found it hard to make friends. It was just a job to me. Writing blog posts on my phone on my 90-minute commute and my lunch break was all I really cared about. Regardless of whether anyone read it or not, it was space to feed my experiments and thoughts as and when I had them; a space to hone a craft and express myself and feel connected to something bigger than my own life, precisely by putting my own life out there. It was also a way to put my thoughts into words and organise myself in relative isolation, having left the discursive community of academia.

Twitter was a big part of getting started. What I loved most about this “weird theory” corner of the Internet, almost immediately, was that this way of working was wholly supported and encouraged. Whereas previously I felt like 99% of my peers didn’t “get it”, blogging was seen as a basic principle out in para-academia. Writing for journals is whack; even more so if you don’t have an academic profile to maintain. If you want to be read, start a blog. If you want to build a new culture of public thought and discussion, start a blog. I didn’t need to be told twice.

Almost fifteen years on from when I first started putting the things I was creating online, the unthinkable has happened. I’ve started to make money off it — or at least off the profile I’ve acquired by doing it — and I’ve started to make money from the one outlet I didn’t think that much about: writing. I’d previously had multiple blogs for sharing lo-fi recordings of music I was making, I’d had one big blog for sharing pictures, and now it was writing — mode of expression #3 — that ended up actually gaining some traction. Traction was never the intention, of course, but I’d be lying if I said the recognition didn’t feel good, especially after having been told this obsession with blogging, which I’ve had for half my life, was a self-sabotaging waste of energy.

This attention has, of course, taken quite a bit of getting used to — getting recognised down the pub on multiple occasions last year was a particularly weird experience — and I’m sure it is obvious that this blog, and the person behind it, have been through a particularly awkward period of transition in recent months because of an increase in this kind of visibility.

The biggest change has come from the small fact that, in 2019, I got my act together and finished a book. It is a dense, intense and personal book that I have spent way too much time reflecting on since. And yet, ignoring the desire to do so is to go against the blogging sensibility that has come so naturally for so long. In fact, I feel I have to write about it; I have to occasionally write this kind of long look at my own navel, if only so that I might clear the blockage in my brain and get back to other things.

This has been more of a necessity of late because the experience of publishing a book has been nothing less than an existential shock — one I’ve continued to document as I would any other — but I am painfully aware that my natural response to such a shock flies in the face of the expectation that being a serious writer means writing seriously in silence. This is to say that there is a sort of silent pressure to leave this world behind; that persistently pointing out the drawn curtain that says “published” on it is very uncouth, but I didn’t write the book so I could graduate from WordPress. And yet, trying to retain my old blogging habits in the face of a new kind of “professional” existence where I try to get paid more frequently for what I do has meant that that same cognitive dissonance I struggled with in 2015 has raised its annoying contrarian head again.

How do you remain true to principles of open access whilst also trying to pay your rent, especially during a pandemic?

There has been a bit of drama in the discourse this past week that feels connected to this. Plenty of things have been said that people (myself included) aren’t proud of but I’m happy to say that bridges have been rebuilt and the flow of chatter has been restored to amicable levels of exchange and mutual support. Nevertheless, what has been said continues to reverberate in my mind. From the other side of the battle, it is clear that a certain amount of resentment and cynicism had built up over the last few weeks or months. Lines had been drawn, cliques established, and I have largely been oblivious to all of it.

After recently stumbling into Aly’s Discord server, for instance, having heard good things about the Sadie Plant reading group they have been conducting, I found myself caught up masochistically reading a few weeks’ worth of criticism of my online activities and feeling quite sad about it. Whilst I hold no grudges, and I’m grateful to be back on good terms with people who’s writing and thinking I have long respected, it was like stumbling into my worst nightmare. Assumptions were made and conclusions drawn — many of which were quite to the contrary of the kind of positions I have attempted to represent online.

Some criticism, of course, was quite on the money. I blog too much — although this is presumably to retain some dominant market presence — or too reflexively and too mundanely now that my book is out — as if I’ve said all I have to say and now I have little to contribute other than looking at my own navel. The sensible response is to brush all of this off as background grumblings, and that is partly how I interpreted these things, but there is a catch-22 here.

These sometimes unkind perceptions are interesting to me, in a more objective sense, because the feeling I was left with — damned if I do, damned if I don’t — is precisely the sort of neurotic concern that drove me to write so often and so reflexively long before the book even came out. It is this same tension, anticipated if not experienced directly, that I have long thought about since first being advised to blog less in 2015. The problem, now fully realised, is that, as I supposedly transition from “blogger” to “author”, my old way of writing and reflecting starts to feel less palatable. Just as the expectation, on writing a book that receives reviews, is to retain a stoic silence and rise above the discourse — “you’ll find your entire existence being given over to responding to each and every criticism”, as Tariq Goddard dutifully warned — I am left feeling alienated from the kind of discourse I first started blogging to engage with. I want to respond! I want to engage! I want to participate! But it turns out there is a big difference between sharing your thoughts as an anonymous blogger and sharing your thoughts as someone under various kinds of scrutiny. And it should be said that the distinction is purely external. I don’t feel any different now than as I did before my book hit the shelves.

It is a bit like aging — birthdays don’t feel like much of anything anymore but the fact I still feel 21 as I approach 30 doesn’t count for much. I certainly don’t look 21 and sometimes being treated like I’m 30 triggers a crisis. There is a similar disparity between being a “blogger” and an “author”. I feel like the former, but when some people treat you like the latter it fucks you up a bit. In fact, even typing out the latter makes me cringe deeply inside. I just want to write; I don’t want to have to think about what to call it.

We used to have this discussion in photography circles a lot — people would call themselves “artists” as if to signal that they have risen above the mundane existence of the jobbing photographer. But then, to call yourself a “photographer” would generally invite the question: “So you do weddings and stuff then?” There’s nothing wrong with weddings in principle — which is different to in practice; although lucrative, I’ve photographed weddings before and there’s probably nothing more stressful — having to then explain you’re an insufferable sod who actually makes photographic art feels like going round to tell your neighbours you’re a sex offender. What to label yourself can be a shameful truth.

Because of this kind of tension, these past four months I have felt torn. I have felt estranged from this new world that I have published my way into and I have felt just as estranged from the blogosphere that I have wanted, more than anything, to remain loyal to. I’ve tweeted less, tended to ignore timeline bait, muted replyguys ruthlessly, and generally found myself interacting with these platforms in very different ways whilst secretly pretending nothing has changed in me.

Whilst this transition could not be planned for in advance, it is a process I have been preparing myself for for a number of years now. For instance, I was well aware that Egress would do as much to inflate my own profile as it has done to complicate — productively (I hope) — Mark Fisher’s popular legacy. That in itself is a tension that is tough to navigate. Thankfully, as far as my published work on Mark Fisher goes, I have already made my peace with this process. Even back in 2017, as I have mentioned on a few occasions here — and even in Egress itself — I lost friends when the assumption was made that I was using Mark’s death as fodder for my dissertation. Later, this same assumption has echoed around Egress but on a larger scale, to the point that being “the Mark Fisher guy” has inevitably become something of a brand, making me look more like a gravedigger rather than someone working sensitively, as so many people do, with another’s legacy. This perception no doubt comes from the fact my mode of approach isn’t purely objective (read: academic), and is instead entangled with my personal experiences. The assumption is supposedly that I can’t have my cake and eat it — I can’t be both objective and subjective — but bridging this disconnect was precisely what made Mark’s writing so powerful to do many.

I cannot say I am as good at this style of writing as Fisher was, but the decision to apply a version of his own modus operandi to his own life was a very conscious one. After all, Mark and Kodwo had previously assigned Jane Gallop’s Anecdotal Theory as reading for their Aural & Visual Cultures course. I saw this in 2016 and read it before I even got to Goldsmiths and it’s impact on me has been quite profound. It spoke to my photographic interest in using diaristic images to comment on the world at large and it continues to speak to my intentions with Egress (and this blog more generally), which have always been attempts to produce a thought that must be read via this kind of supposedly contradictory category.

This kind of conscious decision is further complicated by the non-academic reasoning it is inevitably coupled with; my writing on and about Mark has always been an attempt to make a very personal trauma impersonally productive; a way to deal with grief. Having spent so much time with his output also makes him a frequent first-port-of-call within my theoretical armoury. I’ll likely never lose that. Suffice it to say, I am aware — of my flaws, my bad habits, the tensions within what I do. But if those things weren’t there, I’d probably have very little reason to write about anything. Articulating this kind of complexity is precisely why I write. Egress is inevitably an accumulative statement that explores this kind of process — if you’re still suspicious of it, you’re better off just reading it. It wears its difficulties very much on its sleeve. The questions you have going in will be answer in the book itself.

So, what is next? Lots of things, but these tensions have been replaced by new ones. Specifically, at the moment, I am trying to think more carefully about how I write. I’ve just completed a huge project in which I wrote through and was enveloped by mourning, and now I’m left wondering where to turn next. Writing about this experience as it unfolds is one way of working myself out of it. It might not be so interesting to read but, frankly, that’s not the reason for writing posts like this. The reason is to try and transparently negotiate a fidelity to principles that are important to me — open access, open thought — but it is clear that continuing to do this whilst also using what I do to pay the bills does shift the perception of what this kind of post is for. I suppose the assumption is made that it is to maintain a profile because to write it for no good reason at all would surely be detrimental to a burgeoning career, but the detriments of blogging having never been a concern. Blogging’s use in lubricating thought trumps any other benefit. But what about when my thinking is preoccupied with how to move forwards into this new existence? How do I continue on a path inaugurated by a book written out of love with a new set of opportunities that let me write for money? This clearly presents a whole new set of complications that I’ve barely had an opportunity to think about. What was always a problem I wished I had is now in my lap, and it’s a biter.

Frankly, I don’t have the luxury of not monetising what I do, so I am interested in maintaining a productive but also knowingly disruptive balance between being both a kind of online CV and a public notebook. In my head, it’s a kind of blogger’s horizontalism — for better and for worse. That is a difficult balance to strike, of course, but one which I find interesting to interrogate openly because I think it gets right to the heart of many of the pathologies we harbour about writing, creativity, intellectual work more generally, and the value of certain kinds of (art)work under capitalism.

It is because of this that, more recently, the writing on this blog has been more immediate and reflexive than usual. I write big long essays less and less frequently. This is mostly because the backlog of writing accumulated on this blog — 850,000+ words in just under three years, no less — requires some shifting through. Egress was something of a blockage that I needed to get out before I could properly address all the unrelated essays written here during its gestation. There are a few more books’ worth of ideas here that could do with polishing. As I work on this in the background, I’m still left wanting to maintain a self-reflexive habit of thought. This is necessarily more navel-gazing because what I am hard at work on is producing a text that is not about someone else but is more explicitly a work of my own; a book that stands on its own two feet. As a result, I find myself reading and writing a lot more about writing itself as a practice. Divorced from the trauma that gave rise to Egress, where the style of writing was perhaps self-explanatory, I feel I am left trying to rediscover who I am and what my interests are beyond being “the Mark Fisher guy”. Because I don’t want to remain known as “the Mark Fisher guy”. I would like to be known as someone who did some valuable work to rectify the public perception of a major thinker, but I would also like to exist (if I can) out from under that shadow, exploring my own tastes and interests that have persistently differed vastly from Mark’s own.

Lest we forget, of course, that Egress only came out four months ago; one week before the UK went into lockdown. To say this has been an odd time to try and reinvent myself, whilst remaining loyal to well-established principles and interests, is a huge understatement. In fact, this is what made reading a load of Discord criticism so oddly humbling; the cynicism on display was a cynicism I shared. The questions they asked — and, sometimes, quite brutally answered — were questions I have been trying to ask myself quite seriously in recent months: Why do I write? Why I write in this way? Why I write so much? It makes responding to such criticism a difficult task: How do you respond to critiques that you sympathise with so intensely?

The truest response is, unfortunately, quite mundane. Why am I so reflexive and self-involved? Because that’s the kind of writing I like to read. On a practical level, I often write in the first person because it grounds my thought and I find it easier to make sense of the writing of others when I can ground it in (or let it unground) my own experiences and my sense of self. (Surely this is made clear in Egress too, thanks to the overbearing presence of Bataille and Blanchot.) It’s a kind of modernist approach to writing that has never not been marmite — at its best, it is heralded as a powerful form of literary endeavour (think big names like Maggie Nelson, Karl Ove Knausgaard — everyone loves a brutally honest memoir); at its worst, it is decried as a writerly symptom of our postmodern narcissism. But the politics of these kinds of texts have been fascinating since their very origins, and they are modernist in precisely the sense that they came into their own in modernity.

I love reading biographic-memoirs. I’m not sure that’s a real genre but it should be; it’d make my book-buying less hit and miss. They’re the kinds of books about huge personalities written by huge personalities, or at least the myriad people who personally knew their subject. I love their complexity and their unruliness and their vitality. I love how the story of a life can be told through its very real impact on the life of another. They are the sorts of books that require a certain vigilance and, in due course, they may well be unwritten by another, but taking the accumulative shelf of biographic reflections together paints a far more vivid image of a life than a supposedly objective and singular account ever could.

In recent years, I’ve been trying to map out just want it is about this style of writing that I love. In 2018, for instance, I was persistently inspired by Virginia Woolf’s templex approach to writing, complicating how both memoir (women’s writing; not considered capital-L Literature) and biography (men’s writing; her father, Leslie Stephen, was a renowned biographer in his day) were seen in her time — this makes Orlando her magnum opus in this sense — a kind of fictionalised, gender-bending, time-travelling biography that is nonetheless based on a very real person, Vita Sackville-West, and her own relationship to her — but her writer’s diaries are often just as inspirational and vivid.

Since my Woolf obsession gave way towards the end of last year, I’ve been working my way through various biographies of D.H. Lawrence and Phillip Larkin — specifically those written by their contemporaries and associates — and, boy, is it a trip. Whilst Larkin’s shifting reputation (as a man if not a poet) has been a very recent literary spectacle (trashed by Andrew Motion in 1993, somewhat rehabilitated by James Booth in 2014), D.H. Lawrence’s reputation has been through so many twists and turns in the ninety years since his death that it is hard to know what to think about the man or his work at all.

At the moment, for instance, I am particularly fascinated by his often problematic way of dealing with his own lived experiences; as his most recent biographer, John Worthen, puts it, the fictional content of his works and the very personal emotions he is trying to express in his day-to-day life are always deeply entangled. This results in work after Nietzschean work by Lawrence in which “The individual is threatened by the very thing that he or she craves, and is likely to veer between a desire to lose him or herself in passion and a desperate longing for detachment.” (Yes, I am embarrassed that I relate to my blog like Lawrence related to women.) Worthen continues: “What [Lawrence] did was feel, which in this case meant write, his way into the problem. The writing enacted the problem, and offered some understanding of it.” This ‘problem’, more often than not, was a relationship.

Intriguingly, in the years after his death, Lawrence became the subject of many biographies by male contemporaries and rivals and, indeed, by the women he was intimate with who he used as inspiration for his stories. His works were often a kind of fictionalised autobiography in this sense, and those who knew Lawrence could see themselves quite clearly in his stories. Lawrence’s reading of their very selves was always poetic but often brutally honest. The veil of fiction was not enough to save the feelings of his muses. And so, when the tables were posthumously turned on Lawrence by those who knew him, his perspective in his own novels was rattled and ungrounded. But these biographies are not just interesting for this reason. They are fascinating because as much is learned about the authors themselves as about Lawrence, and what you end up with, rather than a cubist portrait of a man, is a map of a moment and the politics of its fraught relations. You end up, quite fittingly, with a very Lawrencean drama — art imitating life imitating art — where personal relations are complicated by the political concerns of the day.

My own attempt at navigating a recent personal-cultural history is hardly on a par with the great modernists but their relationship to the process of writing nonetheless resonates with my own. Their thoughts on the production of knowledge and understanding through fiction and non-fiction, for instance, echoes what I was always been drawn to about the Ccru; the Warwick crowd quite explicitly updated the modernists’ concerns to the tensions of postmodernity.

It is this process that I hope to explore with an increasing distance and scope as I move on with my writing life. However, whilst I began work on two books soon after Egress that mark quite a radical departure with my focus on Fisher and the blogosphere, I’ve nonetheless found that the project nearest to completion is a book about accelerationism, which I’ve sketched out 50,000 words for during lockdown.

Accelerationism remains a niche concern, no doubt, but it still shares this kind of acutely postmodern dilemma. We might put it like this: If Egress is a response to the fact that so many of our great writers and thinkers are collectively seen through are the very prisms they hoped to critique, and an attempt to stave off the impotence of reification that accumulates around a body of work after the death of the person who produced it, accelerationism is a movement that has similarly fallen victim to the kind of postmodern impotence it first hoped to shatter. Without a single authoritative representative, however, it is a project that stumbles on zombie-like, worn down by its ill-formed supporters and and critics alike. This is a legacy far more complex than Fisher’s, which can be rectified by better access to his most important texts and a more honest approach to the long but nonetheless singular trajectory of his thought. Accelerationism, on the contrary, cannot be rehabilitated with quite the same linear strategy.

Aly’s recent reading list demonstrated one such alternate approach, of course — doubling down on specific “alternatives” to excavate that which has been buried by a kind of patriarchal desire-path of canon-building. However, when I wrote about her reading list and how I thought it was a very productive shot across the bow of recent discourse, I did not realise it was, in part, a troll on the reading lists provided as part of the accelerationism course I had co-written with Meta Nomad. That the lists only featured one woman is, in hindsight, an embarrassing oversight. But I hope my blogpost also made clear that my intention was similar — I wanted to write a course that dispelled the drive to reactively reify accelerationism, whether from the left or the right, by focusing on a very particular moment; providing an intentionally limited perspective in order to provide a better understanding of how the discourse got into such a mess of retcons and canons, violent affirmations and paranoid disavowals. Because, ultimately, accelerationism was an attempt to break the leftist impotence surrounding Occupy, and no matter how we frame the philosophical lineage that informed its claims, we are no closer to answering that call. In fact, the citational politics that Aly so provocatively shone a light on revealed this quite explicitly. Few accelerationists’ priorities, no matter the school of thought they pledge allegiance to, have any bearing on actually changing our static present. When a mode of thought can become that detached from its original aims, to its own detriment, surely we need to ask ourselves how and why.

With this in mind, the most important questions concerning accelerationism today, as far as I am (personally) concerned, are: How to write about accelerationism in a way that can interrogate its twisted epistemic process without collapsing into it? Or how to write about accelerationism in a way that can interrogate its twisted epistemic process that forces the reader to engage with the twisted nature of their own perspective on the topic at hand?

If I might stick with DH Lawrence, as an example that is productively distanced from present concerns and social dynamics, he was acutely concerned with the social etiquette of a sexually repressed society in much the same way. He wrote obscenely only to draw attention to the pervasive social structures that impact not just sexual expression but subjectivity as such under capitalism. The English inability to talk about sex, for instance, led to an inability to have sex in any gratifying sense — something Lawrence felt frustrated by personally as well as socially (making him somewhat of a proto-incel, if we want to be particularly unkind) — but the English were hardly locked in idealised (that is, self-conscious) social relations and wholly out of touch with their bodies. Lawrence made the prescient connection, decades before it would become a countercultural trope, that bodily autonomy was as maligned in the bedroom as it was in the factory or colliery, and the beauty of Lawrence’s writing, for me, even at its most purple, is the way his obscenity thrusts itself through a sexual consciousness into class consciousness.

What is the accelerationist version of this? It is perhaps that our inability to actually talk about accelerationism without falling into inane discussions about how we’re supposed to talk about accelerationism demonstrates how utterly beholden we are by the impotence accelerationism first sought to critique. The dissipation of agency and the disarticulation of philosophy from politics were two postmodern tendencies that the first self-identifying accelerationists wanted to dismantle — that those are two things many accelerationists now celebrate unwittingly is beyond parody. However, whilst we can talk about this ingrown logic and point and laugh a pseuds until we’re blue in the face, accelerationism as a discourse is only worth continuing to pursue if we can engage with it in a way that penetrates through our respective cliques and into the broader impotence it is a mere byproduct of.

Still, deciding how best to do this — what analogies are useful, which references are provocative and productive enough — remains an open question. For instance, here I am talking about Fisher and accelerationism again using references that he would have surely been repulsed by. Is that useful for uncovering the subjective twists in Fisher’s thought? Or does it only muddy the waters?

For instance, Fisher really did not share my appreciation of DH Lawrence’s work — for much the same reason he disliked Bataille; the perversity of being someone writing publicly about Fisher who loves everything he hated continues. This is unsurprising, of course, for someone who frequently blogged so vitriolically about how they hated sex, but the writings of these two Notts men at least shared the same power of traversal between different forms of bodily subjugation. (I am thinking about Steve Finbow’s comment for 3am Magazine here, in which he describes Fisher as a kind of “radical Geoff Dyer infused with the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft rather than D. H. Lawrence”; I can think of no better description of a man who was so asexually sensual in his writing.)

This is what I like about Fisher’s work, however. Despite his fierce opinions, published on the k-punk blog, his hates seem to be as informative to his writing as his loves. Like the tension captured between the Arctic Monkeys and Burial, Fisher was very sensitive to the aesthetic packaging of shared sensations, trying to untangle symptoms from diagnoses. But he often seemed incapable of doing this with more canonised cultural artefacts, particularly literary figures. This isn’t to cast aspersions upon him, of course. What I like about many of these writers is that they are so internally contradictory, but immensely productive because of this, much like Fisher himself.

Reading Lawrence’s writing chronologically, for instance, with the added context of his lived experiences, we can chart his own shifting attempts to wrestle with the sensual alienation of the early twentieth century. It is in this sense that I think Lawrence and Fisher aren’t so different in their aims, whilst differing vastly in style. Rather than picking sides, I’m quite fascinated by what they share and why those differences exist in the context of the times in which they lived. This is to say that, whilst Fisher would see himself as a diagnostician and Lawrence as a writer riddled with the problems he sought to critique, Fisher was no doubt similarly complex in his own way. After all, Lawrence’s critical writings — on American literature and psychoanalysis, in particular — was so incredibly ahead of their time, but his writings with still symptomatic of the problems of his age. Fisher’s output is similar; accelerationism even more so.

Where do I fit into that kind of problematic? It is hardly my place to say. That kind of self-awareness is impossible, surely; if it is not, to attain it would no doubt drive me into an utterly unproductive nihilism. That is the last thing I want, and so continuing unsteadily on the path I am on is the only option. I have a lot of changes to synthesise and a lot of internal contradictions to weather but at least I’m moving forwards. Under such circumstances, shutting up is not an option.

Le Voyageur

Shout out to Simon Sellars for posting this on Twitter the other day, I’ve been bumping it all week: Richard Pinhas’ short-lived band Schizo, with guest vocals from Gilles Deleuze reading aloud from Nietzsche’s The Wanderer.

Pinhas has an incredible back catalogue of music and he seems to have single-handedly kept the Continental philosophy publishing industry afloat. Whilst he is best known in philosophy circles for his recordings of Deleuze’s lectures, available at webdeleuze, I was reading about him just the other day in another context… And I can’t now remember whereabouts this was… It was either in an intro to one of Lacan’s seminars or one of Badiou’s seminars. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in time, he’d had a hand in both.

A Note on the Abuse of Esotericism

I’m still receiving messages about the drama surrounding two of my recent posts (here and here). A few DMs just didn’t get what all the fuss was about. One email said it was all wishy-washy vagueness without any real point or critique made and therefore it was bad philosophy.

It is clear that, as much as the original argument is over, plenty of people are still pushing for further clarification. I’ll simply say this:

If those blogposts were confusing to you, I don’t know what more I can say. My initial reason for writing the first one was that I found great irony in the invocation of a “principle of charity” from someone who has exhausted that principle in a lot of people I know. As such, there appears to be a gulf between the person and the work. The problem is that, given the liminal nature of the gulf, all critique falls back onto anecdotes that would be inappropriate to repeat. I acknowledged this whilst still trying to engage at the level of philosophical discourse. It was a position doomed to failure. It was never going to convince anyone who wasn’t already aware of the particulars.

Because of this, I do understand the outrage expressed from some corners who would prefer to protect the accused’s plausible deniability against the nonexistence of hard evidence. I also understand how these posts may seem like an unnecessary assault on a person. In a somewhat related conversation the other day, someone said to me: “There’s a line I dimly remember from Herman Hesse about how it’s a kind of unforgivable assault on someone to try to pull the mask off their face…” I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I wonder if the question of whether or not to pull off another’s mask in this day and age, and on the internet in particular, is the defining gesture of cancel culture. To be cancelled is to have a self-constructed image torn down absolutely. For some, it looks like doxxing; for others, it’s just calling time on their bullshit.

In another conversation, someone else was recently explaining the alt-right’s Straussian tendencies to me. This brought to mind Strauss’s explorations of esotericism in philosophy — the use of esoteric writing (knowing contradictions, elusive complexity, impenetrable prose) to retain philosophy’s distance from politics so that the two do not corrupt one another. This sounds all well and good until we consider who has relied upon such a principle the most over the last decade.

The disarticulation of philosophy from politics today is most often sought by those who wish to obfuscate the material consequences of their words. I’d argue esoteric writing is impossible today because of this. Many still engage in it — and it has been telling that many of those best known for doing so have signalled their support for those who’ve supposedly been cancelled — but esoteric writing does not exist today in a space outside of the mainstream. It is the mainstream. Nothing defines our “post-truth” moment more damningly than the co-option of esoteric writing or speech by neoconservatism.

In this conversation, this charge of esoteric edgelording was place firmly at the feet of Bronze Age Pervert — an unambiguous example if ever there was one. But I see it reflected in the writings and interests of Nina Power and DC Miller also. (When DC rejects labels like “fascist” and “neo-nazi”, for instance, and instead describes himself as a “surrealist”, this is why.)

Many on (or adjacent to) the alt-right live on this foggy plain of plausible deniability. To still call it “esotericism” is a misnomer, of course; it is little more than dog-whistle philosophy. This is why the insistence upon a “principle of charity” was offensive to me — because that is precisely what an alt-right MO depends upon to function. It requires a pliable audience to manipulate and convince of their virtue against the unthinking leftist pitchfork-wielders. But are those who denounce them really just reactionary philistines? Or do they see through the fog? I certainly feel like a fog has been lifted. It’s like Trump screaming fake news to cheering crowds of blind admirers. Many might see it for what it is but plenty don’t. Why do so many people trust a liar’s accusations that others are lying?

If you think that’s what I’m doing too, congrats, you have entered the hall of mirrors. But I do have reasons to question the narrative. The reasons for sharing this now are, for Nina, no doubt careerism or virtue signalling for likes. I have little interest in either. This isn’t a tell-all book written about the ineptitude of a regime; “once wrote a blogpost denouncing Nina Power” isn’t going to boost my CV. Nevertheless, the response is the same. Anyone who opposes a muddying of the waters of thought in paranoia is seen as being against their right to rational dissent and walking blindly into agreement with the hoard. I think these are little more than delusions of grandeur. I shared a public warning to compliment the many private ones I’ve received. It wasn’t fully packaged as a scorching philosophical critique or a outright trashing of another person because it was never my intention to construct such things. Indeed, to do so would be impossible. My point is simple — don’t trust them or the narratives they peddle. If that isn’t detailed enough for you, it’s because it’s Twitter. To get down and dirty in the particulars is an ugly process that will lead to mud getting on far more people than those directly concerned. As such, I’m limiting by disavowal to an expression of resentment; I resent the game being played.

Is this going to have any real impact beyond upsetting someone who assumed I was a friend? I doubt it. I’ve skirted the edges of cancellation for far too long myself for anyone to take me as a moral authority on anything. Furthermore, I doubt my little blog is going to have any impact whatsoever on the standing of an opinion piece published in a national newspaper. (Whilst some may disingenuously quibble about bullying, given the size of the platforms in question this is unmistakably an instance of punching up.) If I want to “cancel” anything, in the sense provided by Nina on Twitter — “late 14c., ‘cross out with lines, draw lines across (something written) so as to deface'” — it is my own previous defences of her reputation. That is all. I would happily cross out those words of support.

This act may be meaningless to many and cruel to some but it feels important and right to me. It has become clear that, for a blog that contains so many writings written in emphatic support of trans people in general and my trans friends more specifically, the lack of a retraction has been unfortunate as Nina’s TERFy tendencies have become less and less ambiguous.

The article about JK Rowling felt like as good an opportunity as any to kill two birds with one stone and make my own position clear after a few elusive years of my own: fuck TERFs; fuck manipulative appeals to ethics.

Fidelity to Truth and the Suspension of Politics from Philosophy

Below is a conversation had on Twitter following my previous post, “Cancel Culture and the Betrayal of Truth”, that I think is worthy pinning here for posterity as it was an opportunity to clarify some things.

The underlying (and perhaps implicit) point of the previous post was that the disarticulation of philosophy from politics doesn’t help anyone, but it is often now seen as the “rationalist” and “realist” position to take. This is a poor foundation to build on, in my experience. In fact, it’s the very tension discussed by Badiou in his Ethics.

There are many interesting passages to draw upon but the quotation to follow seems like the most obviously relevant to me. Badiou writes:

When Nietzsche proposes to ‘break the history of the world in two’ by exploding Christian nihilism and generalizing the great Dionysian ‘yes’ to Life; or when certain Red Guards of the Chinese Revolution proclaim, in 1967, the complete suppression of self-interest, they are indeed inspired by a vision of a situation in which all interest has disappeared, and in which opinions have been replaced by the truth to which Nietzsche and the Red Guards are committed. The great nineteenth-century positivists likewise imagined that the statements of science were going to replace opinions and beliefs about all things. And the German Romantics worshipped a universe entirely transfixed by an absolutized poetics.

But Nietzsche went mad. The Red Guards, after inflicting immense harm, were imprisoned or shot, or betrayed by their own fidelity. Our century has been the graveyard of positivist ideas of progress. And the Romantics, already prone to suicide, were to see their ‘literary absolute’ engender monsters in the form of ‘aestheticized politics’.

For every truth presumes, in fact, in the composition of the subject it induces, the preservation of ‘some-one’, the always two-sided activity of the human animal caught up in truth. Even ethical ‘consistency’, as we have seen, is only the disinterested engagement, in fidelity, of a perseverance whose origin is interest — such that every attempt to impose the total power of a truth ruins that truth’s very foundation.

At its most obnoxious, this is epitomised by a “facts don’t care about your feelings” approach to life, which in turn is mistaken for a “realism”, when in fact it simply defers judgement on certain topics in favour of throwing everything into the marketplace of ideas. At its most benign, it’s a kind of liberal complicity in bad philosophy. There is nothing rational or reasonable in allowing yourself to be a useful idiot for over-egged truths.

I’ve been guilty of this myself on occasion (and I’ve been accused of it on a few more occasions than that). I’d argue suspending judgement until you’re in full possession of the facts is a normal thing to do, so long as you’re actively trying to expand your own consciousness of the issue at hand. However, to remain afloat in this space by persistently placing an over-emphasis on philosophical debate does have a tendency to leave the political out in the cold, sometimes with embarrassing consequences. This was also part of my point in the previous post. Reducing the so-called “principle of charity” to respecting any and all points of view is a hollow conception of an ethics if ever there was one.

This is where we can end up when we take as a given the logical fallacy that politics is the realm of subjective experience (and therefore bad) and philosophy the realm of pure reason (and therefore good). At best, this betrays a very poor understanding of modern philosophy; at worst, it’s a complicity in the various disarticulations wrought upon political thought under neoliberalism. It is in this way that we betray the truth.

Badiou’s thought is slippery in this regard. In his most accessible mode, it is all too easy to read it and see oneself as the carrier of his truthful torch. He writes, for instance, of breaking free from the tyranny of opinion and dedicating oneself to truth:

Opinion tells me (and therefore I tell myself, for I am never outside opinions) that my fidelity [to truth] may well be terror exerted against myself, and that the fidelity to which I am faithful looks very much like — too much like — this or that certified Evil. It is always a possibility, since the formal characteristics of this Evil (as simulacrum) are exactly those of a truth.

But this only supports the plight of the narcissistic and cancelled if they choose to suspend politics, or equate politics with opinion. (Badiou explicitly decries such a manoeuvre.)

This is very easily done today. In most instances it is true that politics and opinion go hand in hand. But striving for a better world is not a matter of opinion. The pill-popping habits of conservatives — where it’s the red pill, black pill, etc. on the menu — consistently confuse the stakes. They see tradition as truth and progress as opinion, but opinion is only a factor in how we get there — there is truth in the forward-facing direction of travel.

To betray this truth is to emphasise the twists and turns at the expense of the trajectory. (See: communism is bust because the Soviet Union failed; the left is dead because I got cancelled.) As Badiou continues:

This explains why former revolutionaries are obliged to declare that they used to be lost in error and madness, why a former lover no longer understands why he loved that woman, why a tired scientist comes to misunderstand, and to frustrate through bureaucratic routine, the very development of his own science. Since the process of truth is an immanent break, you can ‘leave’ it … only by breaking with this break which has seized you. And this breaking of a break has continuity as its motif. Continuity of the situation and continuity of opinions: all that came before, under the names of ‘politics’ or ‘love’, was an illusion at best, a simulacrum at worst.

So it is that the defeat of the ethic of a truth, at the undecidable point of a crisis, presents itself as betrayal.

And this is an Evil from which there is no return; betrayal is the second name, after simulacrum, of the Evil made possible by a truth.

The left struggles to retain fidelity to its own truths — that’s blatantly apparent. But the response from some quarters that goes on to denounce the movement as a whole surely characterises the break above, and without the breaking of the break that a Badiouian ethics suggests must follow.

There was a good thread about this the other day that demonstrates how those on the wrong side of the tracks can nonetheless use this fraught and difficult process to retain a fidelity to a truth. In this sense, some cancellations are an attempt to firmly kick a political football into someone else’s court…

…Too many respond to this by picking up the football and just taking it home with them. They manipulate the way in which they fail to live up to the demands of an event and instead position themselves as taking an apolitical high road in the lofty realm of philosophical discourse. TERFs do this very well but, as Badiou writes: “Fidelity to a simulacrum, unlike fidelity to an event, regulates its break with the situation not by the universality of the void, but by the closed particularity of an abstract set.” He gives nationalist and ethnic examples — “(the ‘Germans’ or the ‘Aryans’)” — we can easily include other ones.

TERFs and racists — or, frankly, anyone who works (knowingly or unknowingly) against the emancipation of others — who find themselves browbeaten by the court of public opinion, tend to run deeper into a darkened politics. Online, philosophy often becomes a safe haven in this regard, where thought is free and travels far and wide. Some cancelled thinkers embrace their newfound “freedom”. They become magpies, decorating their nests in spectacular and exotic materials, only to protect a rotten and paranoid egg at its centre. Power and others create much confusion in this regard, but in ways that are already well-documented. The cognitive dissonance of a Nietzschean will to power combined with a fidelity to political simulacrum is arguably the defining crisis of our modern moment. In Nina Power’s narcissism, the pun is hard to ignore. Her’s is a will-to-Power — a self-interest disguised as what Badiou calls “disinterested-interest”. It is the perfect encapsulation of the disarticulation of philosophy from politics at its most abstract. Power, in particular, increasingly appears to be the ultimate caricature of this kind of postmodern position — the gnostic TERF.

It is with all this in mind that my reading of an article about having a “principle of charity” by someone who has exhausted that principle in others felt like a summary of everything wrong with this moment, specifically in this corner of the internet, that likes to pride itself on a higher level of discourse but often fails to penetrate through the higher level of abstraction that comes with that. This was not intended to be an overwrought exercise in shit-slinging. In fact, I tried to leave out anything that could be misconstrued as gossip. (The very point of mentioning Nancy Hartsock’s feminist standpoint theory previously was to provide a philosophical example of a political epistemology built on a notion of “strong objectivity” provided by lived experience, without necessarily going into the details.) But if we’re talking about ethics — distinct from leftist moralism — we are nonetheless invoking our own behaviour. And it is worth acknowledging the fact that, as philosophers, we can woefully fail to live up to the principles we fill our essays with. If we’re talking about being on the side of truth, but cannot acknowledge that fact, then how truthful are we being? There is a lesson to be learned from a philosopher who has written extensively on Badiou but cannot separate her fidelity to political simulacrum and her fidelity to the event of her own cancellation. I think it is an important one.

This is similarly the most powerful lesson of Bataille’s ethics, but despite her more recent interest in his gnonsticism, Power wholly lacks any of the hubris of Bataillean insufficiency. The truth of the matter is that someone like Nina Power is wholly dependent on the principle of charity to retain support — that’s why she’s in favour of it. But plenty of people who retained that principle for themselves — for over a year after she was first cancelled, in my case — have found it exhausted by repeated evidence of what that principle is being put in service of. It turns out, by declaring you have nothing but a humble interest in ideas, you can get away with a lot of bullshit.

I was vocally supportive of Nina last year. As time has gone on, I’ve found that Linda Stupart was right. I still think the left still has its problems — of course it does — but acknowledging that fact doesn’t necessitate blind support for someone who has long since betrayed their own truths.

Anyway, hopefully these various points are made clearer by the conversation below. This conversation was between David John Roden (henceforth DJR) and myself (XG).

DJR: I don’t see how we exercise the principle of charity AND pathologize an interlocutor as a ‘bourgeois white ….’ clinging on to victimhood. The [principle of charity] requires, at the very least, that we construe our opponents as reasonable, if not right. [1]

XG: Being “bourgeois” and “white” aren’t pathologies, they’re categories of material condition. Construing an opponent as “reasonable” depends on their ability to be reasoned with, and when those conditions obscure the facts of others’ lives, that capacity for reason is diminished. [1]

Material conditions can, of course, produce pathologies; just as science can produce ideology in the wrong hands. But being able to identify that difference is a key threshold for rational discourse in my view and most TERF discourse falls well below that threshold. [2]

DJR: I think you’re confusing being reasonable with being right. Sure, TERF discourse often makes dubious use of scientific claims — I’ve been on the receiving end of venom from Gender Critical Feminists for arguing this … [1]

However, your piece simply assumes wrongness on the part of the other. It doesn’t engage with them. You don’t analyze the effects of material conditions, you pretty much reduce your opponent to vessels for those conditions. Talk of the POC just becomes hypocritical in this light. [2]

XG: This is the slippery slope into moral relativism I’m talking about. If being reasonable is the capacity to exercise sound judgement, I think I can reasonably ascertain when someone’s judgement is unsound based on the facts at hand. [1]

DJR: I think you underestimate the difficulty of arbitrating claims about complex often metaphysical claims (about sexual difference, for example). Most people I know are confused about this stuff. It’s also not relativist to hold that beliefs can be rational but false. It’s realist. [1]

XG: I don’t underestimate it at all. I’m precisely in favour of those discussions, and I’m aware that those issues are philosophical[ly] contentious. What I reject [is] the use of philosophical ambiguity as a cheap cover for political conservatism. [1]

DJR: Right. So then why not interpret your opponents in the most charitable light to refute them with a reasoned argument? The POC, as I always tell my students, is the best way to nix the opposition. Assuming that your opponents are benighted dupes of ideology gets you nowhere. [1]

XG: Because this exact same argument [of philosophical contentiousness] can be used to affirm radical gender experimentation and biohacking, but in this instance, it’s not. It’s being used to defend the right of a rich white women to say trans women aren’t women. [1]

You’re just continuing to bastardise an ethical standpoint in favour of vague relativism and apologism. As I insinuate in the post, that’s not what ethics is. And no one should understand that better than an apparent reader of Badiou. [2]

DJR: As stated, the distinction between justification and truth isn’t relativist, it’s key to a minimal realism. And it’s because I think the reasons stack up against TERF claims that I think something like a principle of charity is potentially useful here. [1]

XG: Realism is a double-edged sword, as you well know. You err on the side of defending “gender realism” here. I’ll take my realism with a second-order drive towards the Promethean, thanks, rather than wasting time defending a TERF’s right to clutch her pearls. [1]

DJR: C’mon! The fact that gender realists are realists doesn’t mean that all realists are gender realists. Being realist just means that we assume that reality can be structured independently of our beliefs about it, that truth can outrun verification, etc. [1]

XG: Yes, I know that. And that’s why I think your understanding of realism is hollow. It’s nothing but a moral relativism supported by a passive nihilism. [1] …You can have a realism that errs towards a Promethean understanding of gender (or w/e). By suspending politics from the equation, you obscure the fact that is a choice, making your realism resemble a realism in the negative sense rather than the positive. [2]

DJR: Now, having pathologized your opponents, you traduce me, which is a low move I think. I’ve consistently defended trans and non-binary people and opposed gender critical readings — and received some abuse for it. I’m arguing for an ethics of discussion not the substantive issue. [1]

XG: I’m not pathologising you in the slightest. You’re the one talking about contentious understanding[s] of gender, etc. [2] I suppose [what] I’m gesturing towards [is] a distinction between a speculative realism or, say, capitalist realism. [You] might claim to support trans and non-binary people but every instance in which “realism” has been invoked here tends towards the latter rather than the former. [3]

I know what you’re arguing for and I’m saying your ethics is hollow if you’re using it to defend a TERF’s right to be wrong. That right isn’t [even] under threat. But you’re invoking it to take an apparent high road which requires you to superficially suspend politics from philosophy. [2]

Update: This conversation flared up again and then later lost momentum (again). Nina entered the fray herself both on Twitter and in private emails. The principle of charity has remained a sticking point and, predictably, lead to an trollish Catch-22, where it seems clear that if I exit the conversation and shut it down, I’m the one against discourse. The emails, in particular, are textbook sea-lioning. It is precisely the ease with which such a principle of charity is abused in this sense that I take issue with and it was this sort of tactic that I saw as the manipulative underbelly of an apparent appeal towards ethics. Nothing said or discussed so far has dissuaded me from that opinion.

The overlap between private and public communication only muddies the waters even further here so I would like to include my final email below, even if some of it is devoid of context, as a way of drawing a line under the whole thing and retaining a firm grip on what I find so disagreeable — the way a principle of charity can slip into a deferral of responsibility; the deferring of thinking to asking questions:


My intention isn’t to punish you. You said before I should have the decency to say to you and to the world what I think. I’ve done that. Just because you don’t like what I think, doesn’t make it a punishment. By that same logic, you’re punishing trans people by saying things you know upset them. This might not mean “denying their existence” — a charge I’ve never mentioned against you or Rowling — but it certainly affects existence, in precisely the ways you describe [by blogposts affecting yours]. That doesn’t [mean] no one should talk about anything, of course. Far from it. But you can’t have your cake and eat it.

I’m certainly not enjoying any of this. Hellthreads make me nauseous with anxiety, frankly, so am I also just punishing myself? Maybe. I just don’t intend to sit on the side lines for the sake of my own comfort anymore. Communication is fraught. Bataille said it was “evil”. The consequences are pervasive. It’s precisely this that I don’t think you can avoid simply because you do it with politeness. The way in which you say something is irrelevant. Nothing is without consequences. 

I’ve often found your positions to be ambiguous and given you the benefit of the doubt as a result. They’ve become increasingly less ambiguous over time and the recent article made it clear. It’s TERFs sticking up for TERFs. The same as it ever was. As such, your commitments feel confused and hypocritical to me, and from my perspective you’re complicit in the very things you say you stand against. You’re welcome to think the same of me after this, if you like. That’s fine. 

The focus here, for me, has always been on the disarticulation of politics from philosophy. If you think the way I did this was too personal, that’s fine too. I apologise. But it was precisely you that I disagreed with. Roden entering the conversation abstracted that somewhat and made it into a more interesting discussion but the stakes didn’t change. I disagreed with it as much from him as from you. Nevertheless, the to-ing and fro-ing between scales — between overarching principles and the interpersonal consequences of standing by them — only obfuscates those consequences and leads to a self-pitying back and forth that I have no interest in. This is what I find disingenuous. The privilege given to open discussion, especially when it has passed the point of productivity, serves only to suspend action until we reach the impotence of agreeing to disagree. It might not have reached that point for you yet but I’m certainly over it. I’ve said all that I have to say.

Nina denies any desire to hurt trans people. I’m sure many would argue that her intent has not stopped it from happening, in part due to the ethics she proscribes to the rest of us.

A few others continued to debate the issue after this fact, attempting to retain space for an open debate about the philosophical and even biological differences in the material experiences of cis women and trans women. Only a bigoted view point can demand that space and not see how it already exists. Trans women and cis women have different experiences and that is precisely why they are named as such. They may be different in kind but they are still both women. Anything less than that — or anything that apologises for anything less than that — is TERF dogma.

First Thought Best Thought

Simon Reynolds has informally celebrated his eighteenth blog birthday with a reflective post on what it means to blog and for so long. He’s posted a little something here (which includes a nice hyperlinked shout-out to Xenogothic, along with a few other bloggers in the current blogosphere). It also signals a sad end though, as Simon points out that Bruce Sterling’s blog at Wired is shutting this month.

Sterling’s blog has been an interesting vector for weirder goings-on in cyberspace and, in his farewell post, he talks about how that was always his intention. (We were chuffed back in 2018 when Bruce posted about Vast Abrupt, for instance.) Bruce writes:

When I first started the “Beyond the Beyond” blog, I was a monthly WIRED columnist and a contributing editor. Wired magazine wanted to explore the newfangled medium of weblogs, and asked me to give that a try. I was doing plenty of Internet research to support my monthly Wired column, so I was nothing loath. I figured I would simply stick my research notes online. How hard could that be?

That wouldn’t cost me much more effort than the duty of writing my column — or so I imagined. Maybe readers would derive some benefit from seeing some odd, tangential stuff that couldn’t fit within a magazine’s paper limits. The stuff that was — you know — less mainstream acceptable, more sci-fi-ish, more far-out and beyond-ish — more Sterlingian.

Simon writes that a lot of Sterling’s reflections on the use of blogging chime with his own feelings: “the value of unpaid labour: writing as freeform fun, as mental calisthenics, as intellectual hygiene… the blog as public notepad, a testing space or site for the construction of thought-probes.” (It makes blogging feel like a natural outlet for Robin’s brand of pop philosophy discussed a few weeks back — but then, of course it does.)

But blogging is also very messy, of course. There are plenty of weeks where I feel like I’m just posting inconsistent shite. It can be a challenge, sometimes, to accept those weeks as being just as much a part of the process, as the good stuff, the “popular” stuff — the swings from consistency and inconsistency, half-thoughts and full thoughts — and so it is great to see others, who have blogged for so long and published so much that I admire, relating to their blogs in much the way. As Simon writes:

One of the problems with having a blog (or blogs multiple) is that you start thinking bloggy  — everything becomes potential “material”, something that could be turned into a riff with only a smidgeon of effort, given the lax standards of the format and the tolerance of the readership.  The incontinence you see (not here these days, but still on the other blogs) is a fraction of the stuff that I have in bulging folders of scrawled notes… and there is more that never even reached paper at all. 

(Perhaps this level of mind-churn was always going on — and getting emitted in letters and later in emails — both of which tend to go copious — or in conversations in pubs and elsewhere. I don’t know. But there’s something about the itch caused by having a blog outlet that is generative, for good and for bad).

This is similarly echoed by Bruce over at Wired, who embraces the public notebook approach, even when it is at its most casual and self-serving, affirming that it really is a useful exercise, despite the occasionally sloppy optics:

The blog never trolled for any viral hits, or tried to please any patrons. Also, I never got paid anything for my blogging, which was probably the key to the blog’s longevity. This blog persisted with such ease, because there was so much that I didn’t have to do.

I keep a lot of paper notebooks in my writerly practice. I’m not a diarist, but I’ve been known to write long screeds for an audience of one, meaning myself. That unpaid, unseen writing work has been some critically important writing for me — although I commonly destroy it. You don’t have creative power over words unless you can delete them.

It’s the writerly act of organizing and assembling inchoate thought that seems to helps me. That’s what I did with this blog; if I blogged something for “Beyond the Beyond,” then I had tightened it, I had brightened it. I had summarized it in some medium outside my own head. Posting on the blog was a form of psychic relief, a stream of consciousness that had moved from my eyes to my fingertips; by blogging, I removed things from the fog of vague interest and I oriented them toward possible creative use.

It’s a genuine relief to read both of these reflections, particularly right now.

For what it’s worth, my current feeling — particularly as I try and tentatively turn a few bits of recent book-writing into blog-writing, and worry about potentially undermining some distant final product in the process — is that the blog is nonetheless still an essential tool. Without it, as I’ve found in recent weeks, the whole project quickly gets constipated and backed up in places. Not throwing down some stray thought, in the very moment I have it — articulating something no matter how brief and broken off from a wider context — often means it falls out of my head. Collecting things in some Word document somewhere just doesn’t do the trick. It’s becomes part of some piecemeal swamp. Making something at least bloggable, even if it means taking ten minutes to polish a thought rather than just scribbling it off hand and immediately filing it away, makes the thought stick better. As overused as the analogy is, every blogpost is a seed planted. To write it down is to stick it in the ground and see if it sprouts anything later. As Bruce puts it so perfect, and as Simon quotes for his post’s title: you tighten it and brighten it.

This is why blogging is so important for me personally. It is an opportunity to capture a first thought, no matter how fleeting and under-developed. In my experience, over the last three years that I’ve been word-blogging — as opposed to the ten years before that I spent strictly photo-blogging — this is always worth it in the long run. It was worth it with photography too. It helped to hone an eye and a taste for form that felt like my own. But with photography, there felt like there was little room for development beyond that. The gulf between blog and book felt so big. With writing, after about a year or so at least, that doesn’t feel like the case.

I think this is because blog posts of all kinds end up capturing some kernel of something, and taking the time to formulate it in some form, because of the blog’s public nature, often proves very fruitful later. So, in the spirit of Simon’s nod to Ivor Cutler — “I believe in blogs” — I ended up putting on that Ginsberg-inspired Arhtur Russell record: First Thought, Best Thought.

Beyond this, Bruce’s final post is really worth reading in full. I’m quite fascinated by this strange, perhaps counterintuitive picture he paints of himself as a kind of Batman-blogger:

My blog often had the sensibility of some midnight rookie patrolman with a flashlight, poking a night-stick into trash-heaps, watching rats and raccoons scatter. Cops know where the trouble is; they have to stay with the trouble; it’s their duty.

My blog was often darkly suspicious in tone, and keen to look for undersides and downsides. In retrospect, I can see that my blog promoted the blogger’s personal anxieties. Often, he wasn’t “informing the readers” so much as chasing half-seen wolves from his own doorstep. This wary, edgy view of life got a little monotonous sometimes, in the way that endless suspicion commonly does.

In public, cops are full of stoic dignity. But I’m not a cop, for I’ve never been a servant of the public peace and safety. My gift from the police was a lasting, burdensome awareness of dark motives, vulnerabilities and attack surfaces. That’s wisdom, but it costs an eye to get it.


This magpie ragpicking that I did within this blog, it was never scholarship; it wouldn’t make the readers morally better people; it was sometimes funny, but often just arcane, an autodidactic effort by some eccentric guy teaching himself things probably better not known by anyone. So I wouldn’t call the blog a “success,” yet it was still a success. As the late Mark E Smith used so say, back in the heyday of punk, “you don’t have to be weird to be weird; you don’t have to be strange to be strange.” That’s good advice; if you want to become original, you should keep an eye out for whatever you don’t-have-to.

There’s also some interesting advice for the present cyberspelunker, and a nice farewell as he enters blog — if not internet — retirement:

If I was a young person, and starting over today, I would not experiment with a weblog supported by a West Coast US technology magazine. Instead, I would try something more youthful in spirit, less conventional, more beyond-the-beyond. This blog was an experiment when I started it, but in modern conditions, it’s technically archaic; I’ve got a blog here that’s old enough to vote.

So I might well have gone on blogging here indefinitely, through dint of mature habit, but I can recognize that fate has handed me a get-out-of-jail-free card. The post-Internet may even be a different Monopoly board-game. So I will accept the situation graciously, and with a sense of contentment.

With all that, wonderfully said: ‘bye “Beyond the Beyond”. Thanks for the posts.

Dialectical Modernism: XG for the Pseudodoxology Podcast Network

On Saturday afternoon I had what might be the most productive conversation yet about my book Egress with the inimitable Kantbot.

There was so much we could have kept talking about and maybe we’ll chat again sometime for your pleasure. First, we laid the groundwork of what my book is about and then — as Kantbot has put it out in the episode’s tags — we dove into “Accelerationism, Capitalist Realism, Dialectic Materialism, Flying Nightmare Skulls, Grandpa Munster, Hauntology, LSD, Matrix 2 Rave Scene, Mrs Dalloway was Hegelian, Nick Land”.

For me, the core of this episode emerged about two hours before our conversation began when Kantbot DMed me with: “And also want to get your thoughts about dialectical materialism”.

This totally sent my mind spinning as I hadn’t considered this in the context of the book at all but it got right to the very core of what I think I’d implicitly wanted to do with it and also went a long way towards helping me articulating what I’m doing next — far more explicitly, at least — with my current work-in-progress One Or Several Mothers — currently a purposefully disjointed book of two halves: one on psychoanalysis and the other on literary modernism.

(I ended up writing a blogpost immediately before our conversation, trying to make my initial thoughts somewhat coherent before jumping into things, which I might post in a few days time as a little something extra.)

So, personally speaking, this conversation was amazing and I am very grateful to Kantbot for having me on the podcast and for being such an excellent host. I look forward to talking more soon!

You can listen to the episode here.

Support Kantbot’s podcast on Patreon to hear more of his excellent conversations in future and, of course, buy my book!

(NB: Coronavirus lockdowns are throttling distribution channels at the moment so physical copies of Egress are becoming quite rare commodities. It is probably most readily available from Amazon right now but, if you’d rather not give Bezos your money, best to hold out as they will become more readily available soon. For now, you can either check the ebook on Repeater’s website or buy me Kofi or something if you want to support the blog directly during these weird quarantine days.)