Vampires and Vampire-Hunting: Notes on the Sharp End of the Blogosphere

There’s a brilliant new (multi-part) long read on Mark Fisher, k-punk and the blogosphere up online via the Sydney Review of Books. It’s a really fascinating read and well worth dipping into.

In it, a group of familiar names consider what it was like to float around the blogosphere at the height of Mark’s k-punk powers and, initially, the fear that came with engaging with him and it.

Later, there are reflections on Mark’s somewhat diffuse legacy throughout the left more generally today but I found this chatter about the blogosphere most interesting personally because Blogosphere 2.0 is very much still here, albeit more explicitly attached to social media platforms. Nevertheless, much of the atmosphere that is discussed here still remains pervasive today.

It’s also interesting because, at the start at least, there’s this certain moralising of k-punk on display, a moralising of Mark the Moraliser, the Position-Haver, the Excommunicator, the Hard-Nosed Critic…

This is telling, in one sense. In every discussion of Mark the Online Polemicist that happens today, there is a sense that many of Mark’s former interlocutors have themselves moved on, but social media remains a more fierce battleground than ever before, and as problematic as Mark’s conduct may have been at times, we can still learn a great deal from it.

There is an understanding — an implicit one, perhaps — that, in person, so many of the people who engage in the blogosphere today are not who they are online. (I’ve had that comment repeatedly made about myself — about a stony “xenogothic” Twitter camouflage that does not coincide with an IRL personality.) I think this is more important now than ever before and I think Carl Neville’s comments in this conversation are particularly resonant with the blogosphere as it continues to operate. He says:

It felt necessary at the time to be as unremittingly harsh as possible because to some extent it was a life or death matter, at least in psychic terms. My own experience of the Noughties was one of a continued and sustained assault on the psyche, capitalist realism as embodied in the high-watermark of neoliberal hegemony — in London, its epicentre, around 2005-2008, there was a sort of world-historical gas-lighting for anyone who came out of a left tradition or had attachments to ideas about the relation between politics, political economy, and culture. Do we need it now, post-financial crash? Not really — capitalism has done its own ‘unmasking’ — but at the time criticism was often grim and unforgiving because it was a desperate survival strategy, an attempt to carve out a liveable collective psychic space. That sounds grandiose or melodramatic but as I say, the daily reality of the London bubble (in both senses) was deeply demoralising.   

I am sensing a bit of a clap back at Mark’s Vampire Castle piece in the question too. He was, as you say, likely to excommunicate and also to inspire fear, the things he accuses the Identarians of doing.

Contrary to Neville’s position, I feel like this sense of a criticism that was “often grim and unforgiving because it was a desperate survival strategy, an attempt to carve out a liveable collective psychic space” remains necessary today for precisely the same reasons.

The London bubble — to take up Neville’s own example — remains deeply demoralising, albeit in a contrary sense. It is not that we must fight to have these discussions — we are here and we are having them — but now it is certainly the case that we must fight to continue having them on our own terms.

This is the sense in which Facebook has become the primary habitat for these formerly IRL remoralising tendencies. Capitalism — platform capitalism in particular, which has reached its ascendency over the decade since Blogosphere 1.0 — has captured its own unmasking. This is to say that, whilst capitalism has certainly had its own “unmasking” in political terms, it is has also culturally unmasked all of us as subjects in the process. We are now as personally vulnerable as it is.

Like it or not, these comments made by Nick Land recently on the difference between the pre-blogosphere and the internet landscape today summarise this shift very well:

There was an extremely exciting wave that was ridden by the Ccru in the early to mid-1990s. You know, the internet basically arrived in those years, there were all kinds of things going on culturally and technologically and economically that were extremely exciting and that just carried this accelerationist current and made it extremely, immediately plausible and convincing to people. Outrageous perhaps, but definitely convincing. It was followed — and I wouldn’t want to put specific dates on this, really — but I think there was an epoch of deep disillusionment. I’d call it the Facebook era, and obviously, for anyone who’s coming in any way out of Deleuze and Guattari, for something called “Facebook” to be the dominant representative of cyberspace is just almost, you know, a comically horrible thing to happen!

Capitalism unmasked itself and then all of us with it, and it is precisely this that I think Mark struggled with, along with the rest of us.

This is largely why there is such animosity between Facebook and Twitter circles of blogospheric interlocutors today. Twitter remains a notoriously hostile place precisely because of this ambient resistance to having spaces be coopted by a certain forms of groupthink, which many people despise the existence of in Facebook groups.

I think this is, most accurately, the division of power that Mark was attempting to skewer in his most infamous essay. Yes, Mark excommunicated whilst deriding excommunicators but to eradicate the collectivised nature of Twitter mob rule — that Mark was explicitly deriding in “Exiting the Vampire Castle” — from the equation seems disingenuous.

Mark may have excommunicated people but such is the experience of having a public platform where you are open to all interactions with all interlocutors. Remember when Mark suffered a pile-on for closing the comments on k-punk? Today, the equivalent is perhaps a liberal usage of the ‘mute’ button on Twitter, which so many people quietly deploy. (Myself included.) Sometimes people just get to a point of sucking more energy out of you than their engagements might otherwise put in. The line might seem fickle but it’s real.

We might think of the scarlet letters of the k-punk logo as being an explicit choice here. Mark wanted to own his existence as an outside node at the same time as he resented the shame cast upon him at that time for doing so.

However, things did not stay that way. We can see a tension that comes from seeing his tone soften, as he discovered his writing and platform had become his livelihood and suddenly “Mark Fisher” emerged quite explicitly from underneath the hermetic shell of “k-punk”.

Neville comments on this again, very perceptively: “His political positions changed considerably over a decade or so into basically woolly left-liberal humanism as far as I can see, and I suspect his tone softened and his range of interests broadened and he became more engaged with institution-building.”

This later phase of Mark’s life is the one that many now attempt to essentialise. The Jeremy Gilbert’s of the world wish to affirm Mark Fisher the wooly left-liberal humanist above every other Mark Fisher that existed prior to this but, it seems to me, that Mark was still figuring this out for himself at the time of his death and the Mark Fisher that existed in the world post-“Exiting the Vampire Castle” was watching very closely where things were headed.

There are other reasons too. Some have argued that Mark’s tone softened as a result of his journey into fatherhood. I wonder how much his position in a university and job security were also factors in toning down some of his more radical opinions when writing so publicly. (In my brief experience, these opinions were not absent from the classroom or interpersonal conversation, but softened in the articles he was being paid to write. Make of that what you will.)

The sense that Mark himself now needs to be unmasked is both illuminating and unfortunate, with all of this in mind. I think the drive behind an emerging posthumous backlash is warranted, in many respects.

Resisting the beautification of “Saint Mark” is important because I’m sure he too would have resisted it. We mustn’t essentialise Mark, for better or for worse. (Essentialisation was the fourth rule of the Vampire Castle after all.) Shining a light on the various shades of Mark k-punk’s personas is worthwhile only if we are understanding them as a range of masks that he wore consciously. (He wrote under a number of pseudonyms as part of the Ccru, lest we forget.)

To moralise about them in turn, however, will always be uncomfortable. Anything else is arguably perpetuating the face-assigning Vampire Castle of our contemporary moment.

I can’t help but picture Mark in his Punisher t-shirt here. Mark suited the position of vigilante antihero well precisely because he understood his complicity in capitalist society as a whole. He becomes reminiscent of a comic book figure like Blade — the Gothic daywalker — a half-vampire using his vampiric powers against his own kind: the emerging commentariat; the hegemony tyranny of the LBC radio and the Guardian’s Comment is Free section. Perhaps this was how Mark saw himself as a “para-academic” always on the edges of the academic institution or, when inside it, always critiquing it from within.

Mark derided the Vampire Castle most explicitly for its deference to the morality of the Big Other. Critiquing this does not make having one’s own sense of morality hypocritical. It is instead a call for a Bataillean sovereignty through which a radically new sense of community can reemerge. Carl Neville seems to understand this, implicitly, but here fails to articulate the difference between the two.

I think it is necessary that we pay attention to this difference as Mark’s posthumous legacy continues to develop. The biggest tragedy of Mark’s death is that the infrastructures he critiqued are continuing to mutate whilst his thought now exists in a posthumous resin, but he left us with all the tools we might need to continue his work as vigilantes against a system that always wants to enclose and neutralise its outliers in each successive update.

It will never not be frustrating when those who powered the first blogosphere, now largely detached from its current iteration, lose all sense of critique for what their communicative networks have been replaced with. Mark certainly didn’t lose this. His comments on what was to come have only been vindicated since.

(To reiterate, there is a lot more to the conversation had than this. This simply tweaked by blogger’s drive. Go check out the rest of the piece and join me in looking forward to its subsequent parts.)

Egos and Anti-Egos: Going South of the “I”

My recent post about desire in writings on accelerationism didn’t come from nowhere. It also didn’t explicitly come from Twitter. Addressing the Anarcho-Accelerationist’s hubris was simply a useful and polemic vehicle for that moment but it was also a post that I worried about, at first, in case it came across like I was throwing stones from a glass house.

I’ve written about this before — in fact, on multiple occasions. I am painfully aware of the centrality of my “ego” within my own writings. It’s a bad habit, more than anything, and something I agonise over a lot, often deciding to just throw caution to the wind and hit ‘publish’ regardless.

It’s also something I’m thinking about and wrestling with a lot at this particular moment. Not just as a background concern but as something that feels particularly scary within my life right now as I look down the barrel of an immanent shift in my public profile, which is occurring gradually, for the time being, as I go from a somewhat anonymous writer into someone who writes through a far more public face.

CTM Festival was the first instance of this that required some wrestling with but I have more public speaking engagements lined up as Egress comes out and I get on that weird and uncomfortable treadmill of promoting it and Mark’s work in the process.

This is obviously something I’ve been doing here for quite some time now but it nonetheless feels like 2020 is the year I really stick my neck out.

This has already been happening in my day-to-day life. At my current day job, for instance, everyone in the office knows I have written a book. In fact, the last time I was in the office, earlier this week, there was a copy of my book, visible to everyone, on my boss’s desk. She has even posted about it on their website and, yesterday, sent an email round to everyone about bulk buying a load of tickets to the ICA book launch next month.

I can’t deny that it feels really nice to be acknowledged like this and to feel like the publication of this book is something for multiple people to celebrate in, but it jars somewhat compared to where I was at with my “public profile” this time last year.

At my last job, where I worked for close to two years, from late 2017 to mid 2019, no one knew what I did in my spare time at all. I started this blog at almost exacting the same time I started that job and it was an explicit exercise in splitting my self in two as I re-entered the real world of work whilst trying to keep one foot in the strange temporalities of weird theory Twitter. Most days I showed up to work, did what I had to do, and then went home. I felt a bit like an alien there. It was quite a prestigious place to work and I often felt a sort of unconscious hostility from some people about my presence, simply because of the way I dressed and talked — that is, poorly, in both instances. I remember on my first day, I’d gone into my first meeting with management really confident with a load of ideas but then got quietly shut down. I hadn’t meant to put my foot in anyone’s way but rather wanted to make clear that I would be an active and involved member of the team. That didn’t seem to go down so well, but this wasn’t really a surprise. This has often been the case when working in the arts as some sort of glorified technician.

I wanted Velvet Buzzsaw recently — a film I really enjoyed, with its lampooning of the LA art world taking on an In The Mouth Of Madness quality — and I laughed a lot at the art gallery technician character, always hitting on the receptionists, saying things like, “I’m not just the muscle, you know. I have ideas. I’m an artist.” I’m not like that at all, but I understood the sentiment of wanting people to know that you’re not just a body to be put to work, even if I have personally ignored it and just got on with the job at hand without trying to change my co-worker’s assumptions to the contrary. Instead, I think I hid my other life — this life right here — out of embarrassment. I didn’t want to have to explain what I wrote about to anyone. I was quite happy just being a body, in that context. I’d anticipate the potential questions in the pub after work about what I did in my spare time with a preemptive mortification. Thankfully, those questions never really came, no doubt due to my generally secretive body language.

(I watched the Netflix documentary about the band Rush the other day, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, and was amused to see Neil Peart also express a discomfort in relation to his role within the band. It’s nice to see that there are some people who make it big for whom this feeling never changes.)

At my new job, I’ve been a bit more forthcoming, mostly because I think keeping the blog an active secret from people I’m spending every day with isn’t all that healthy. I hate the thought of them going online to look and read it but it also feels like a better strategy to just be open about my life and not try and compartmentalise the different parts of it. Even though it still makes me really anxious, it feels better to weather the storm of visibility than alienate my co-workers through a lack of communication.

For a lot of the last year I’ve been trying to figure out where exactly this anxiety comes from. It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I think and write about, but there is nonetheless a question of how exactly I’m supposed to articulate all this; of explaining that talking about what I do here is something I find really difficult. Sometimes it erupts quite traumatically. I pride myself on a online reputation for being accessible — or at least more accessible than most — but when talking to family about politics and philosophy I think I have the opposite reputation entirely. (I became painfully aware of this over Christmas when it was me against the rest of the family in a conversation about politics which ended ugly in the early hours.) In that context, I feel like silence is taken to be judgemental — the result of a stoic but over-inflated ego. In truth, I’d rather just not talk about stuff because I don’t think I’m all that articulate in the moment and before the wrong sort of audience — that is, an audience not already laden with the particulars of Weird Theory Twitter head-scratching. (This is also to say, unfortunately, I am more comfortable speaking my mind when I know an audience has shared concerns, but maybe that’s natural.)

I’m very anxious about this at the moment as I’ve been offered the amazing opportunity of running a short three-week module at a London university — nowhere I’ve previously been affiliated with, before you start guessing; I’ll make an announcement in due course — talking about whatever I like to a group of undergraduate art students. The focus of the course is going to be about walking, as a sort of rudimentary but radical gesture — think the Situationists — and how I think having a certain relationship to the world is the most important foundation to any art practice. It’s not necessarily about the theory or the fashionable concepts but what you do with them in your daily life. (I think my interest in this comes from a teenage interest in jazz and learning to play the trumpet as a kid. I’m a terrible musician but I get the “improvisatory mindset”, if there’s such a thing. I’m just better at putting that mindset into practice with other mediums that aren’t necessarily known for having a culturally embedded discourse around a sense of improvisation — e.g. writing and photography.)

However, with a slight hint of irony, I’m also using this course as an opportunity to talk to these presently unknown students about modernism and Deleuze and Guattari. In fact, I’m in the pub right now, trying to think of a way to articulate what a “body without organs” is, as a sort of backwards introduction to a century of radical art — from Virginia Woolf to Lee Friedlander to Burial; from writing to visual art to music.

I suppose the general overview of the course is: How do you make art about your life and immediate environment without falling into that stereotype of just making art about yourself; how do you use your self as a conduit for saying something about the world around you.

Before heading out to the pub, I was updating my Discogs inventory and ended up putting on a bunch of records I forgot I owned. I was listening to Andrew Chalk, Meredith Monk, Cannonball Adderley, Max Roach… Music is the perfect way of expressing this sort of relationship to the world because sound — even the voice, at least in Meredith Monk’s case, with her disembodied, Artaudian vocalisations — is far more easily “de-individualised” and improvised with. What I find all the more fascinating about photography and writing in this regard is that the self is far more obviously their foundation. You are working explicitly with an “I”, be it a written voice or eye that is often, at least for the practitioner, hard to separate yourself from. (No surprises I’m going to be drawing on my essay about “de-individualisation” in visual art — “Points of View” — for one of the upcoming sessions.)

It probably says a lot about me that I’m procrastinating from writing this by writing something else for the blog, which — in a sort of roundabout way — is actually the perfect vehicle for articulating and letting go of all this chaff. I can get all this subjective hand-wringing out the way and figure out a way to articulate what I really want to convey later, devoid of myself.

This blog has been very good for this over the last couple of years and the irony is not lost on me that this blog is often so self-centred, because I think it gets it out my system. It becomes an abattoir for hanging up the chunks I flay off myself, allowing me to put the choicest cuts to better use elsewhere. (This is probably what this reply to my recent post was trying to get at, which I appreciate, but I don’t think that’s what goes on on the Anarcho-Accelerationist’s Twitter feed…)

I think about what Mark would have thought about this a lot. Not out of some morbid desire to emulate him but rather because his articulation of how he was able to write so much on his k-punk blog is something that I think about often.

I’ve quoted this multiple times here before but it always bears repeating:

Folks have asked me recently how I am able to write so much.

The answer is that it isn’t me who’s writing.

Modesty? Metaphor? Or (lol) post-structuralism?

No. A strictly technical description of how this body has been used as a meat puppet for channeling uttunul signal.

It’s only when the writing is bad that ‘I’ have produced it. When it’s good ‘I’ am just a space through which Lemuria speaks.

The writing is already assembled on the plane and all ‘I’ can do is bodge it by introducing subjectivist fuzz.

(It’s very telling, I think, that he was so prolific on his blog but his books were, by contrast, always very slim volumes.)

Posts that I labour over — like my recent post about CTM Festival, for example — are labours of love for me in the sense Mark talks about when he says they are things that he feels like he has explicitly written — which is to say, I am aware that this sort of post isn’t very good. They are pieces of writing that I don’t feel particularly proud of once they’re out in the world. I think there’s good stuff in them, for sure — otherwise I definitely wouldn’t post them — but I’m aware that the chaff weighs them down. It is as a result of this that I feel I am able to write and keep writing, and this is something that I’m pretty much okay with that. I don’t really care about writing shit occasionally. The better stuff always rises to the top and I am comfortable with the fact that what people often think is good is largely beyond my control.

My recent post about accelerationism, desire and the “anti-ego” is the perfect example of this. It took off, perhaps because it addressed something a lot of people were talking about on Twitter at that time, but it was, for the most part, a load of word vomit that I threw down on the page and then cut down to its main argument before then sending it out into the world. I wrote it in an hour before bed, then woke up to it doing numbers, and was surprised by that fact.

I tend to admire other people who do this a lot also, although I’m no less surprised when they self-deprecating articulate having a similar relationship to their work. I was reading an interview with Jim O’Rourke the other day, for instance, whose album from 2019, To Magnetize Money and Catch a Roving Eye, I’ve finally taken the plunge with. (I listened to it constantly whilst traveling to, from and around Berlin the other week. It’s an incredible album.)

Jim O’Rourke is someone who occupies various different scenes with ease. He can make the most pristine pop albums — Eureka and Halfway to a Threeway haven’t left the rotation of my regular listening for years and my girlfriend also likes when I play him in the car, particularly his amazing Ivor Cutler cover — but what I love most is that he can write albums like this and then also be a very comfortable improviser. However, his articulation of his relationship to his own work was really surprising to me.

Asked by Stereogum about his older albums and which albums of his — partly because he is so prolific — he wishes people had more of an appreciation for, he responds:

I don’t know directly, but I hear from folks that people still listen to ‘em. Eureka, I’ve got too much on the record about my feelings about Eureka, I’m happy when someone says they like Insignificance ’cause that one came up pretty well considering how quickly I made it. […] I’m waiting for people to like The Visitor. If there’s anything, that’s the one I’m hoping someday people will like because I worked really hard on that one. That’s the one I probably feel the most least uncomfortable about. That one got really close to what I wanted to do. And I learned to play trombone.

This is also something I really admire about a lot of UK producers at the moment, particularly someone like AYA, whose infrequent Bandcamp releases, consisting of seemingly half-formed, throwaway ideas and club edits — often made with friends in mind, it seems, and (I want to emphasise) no less amazing despite their “demo” nature — demonstrate an active relationship to the scenes she is immersed in, and I think this is a product of a really interesting development following Bandcamp’s increasing popularity.

Kevin Drumm is another artist worth mentioning here too — given the prolific nature of his Bandcamp page, which I’m proud to say I subscribe to — and you should to. He feels like a new kind of musician for the twenty-first century, who has well and truly embraced a sort of blogger’s mentality within his music-making practice.

I wish more people did this. It feels like a throwback to a 2000s moment when some musicians used to have Blogspot platforms on which to share their demoes and ideas. Bradford Cox is a particularly memorable example.

The way he’d share his demoes on his blog was so inspiring to me as a teenager and I used to do much the same thing, sharing song ideas and covers of songs I recorded in my bedroom through a headset mic. A lot of people did this on MySpace in Hull at that time. Most of the bands I grew up with in that city started off in much the same way. Low Hummer, for instance, currently being treated as new kids on the block by the indie blogosphere, are led by Dan Mawer who I met fifteen years ago specifically through that kind of online prolificness. We all shared a love of lo-fi recordings and the ease with which we could create a scene for ourselves around our MySpace pages. We gigged a lot, locally, off the back of that relationship to blog technologies, and even ended up in the bedrooms of friends who had decent recording gear.

(Tentatively shared Bon Iver cover that I became quite well known for — locally at least — below…)

What I think is important about this now — this sort of “anti-ego” approach to sharing whatever comes into your head on a particular evening — is that it encapsulates, in its own way, the sort of popular modernist sensibility that Mark mourned so publicly.

I was reading Justin Barton’s Hidden Valleys earlier this evening — specifically with my forthcoming undergraduate course in mind — and Justin captures this sensibility really well I think (albeit through a somewhat cumbersome theoretical language). He writes on the book’s first pages, for instance, about the ways in which:

Modernist writers enact a lucid awarenesss of the body without organs, but the exact extent and nature of this dimension tends to be left open. Aspects of the oneirosphere of the human world can be suggested — as with Shakespeare’s inorganic beings having a contact with India that does not involve travel in any ordinary sense — but a modernist dreaming in invoking the body without organs lightly suggests its existence, but does not firmly map its extent or aspects.

Prior to this, he defines modernism as a kind of “eerie arcadianism”, which I interpret precisely to be a way of thinking about your own life and immediate environment through a sort of “anti-ego”; through making your self a conduit for outside forces; making yourself half-present. He writes that “the world of modernism is always transected by an anomalous dimension inhabited by forces that are both positive and negative, and can recurrently prove to be at a higher level of power than the forces of the ordinary world.”

I know for a fact that Justin shares my love of Virginia Woolf — the way in which she wrote so effortlessly without a face, and gave a language to these outside forces more explicitly and lucidly than anyone — and he mentions her book The Waves in this context, noting how two of the characters, Rhoda and Louis, “stand, gazing toward the fluidities of the anomalous dimension” — that is, toward the body without organs; towards the anti-ego that infiltrates a self and its communities.

Justin refers to this anomalous relationship to the world — that is, a relationship that reflects the anomalies it seeks — as a kind of “lucidity”. This relationship is capable of turning an “extraordinary lucidity and courage in the direction of the white wall” — Justin’s phrase for a quotidian form of the transcendental; “a kind of white wall which is pretending here to have nothing much beyond it” — “attempting to see what could be happening, given that there is nothing but ordinary reality, and given the insistent disturbing aspects of the human world.” It is a relationship with the Outside — and, we might note, as Mark put it, “to find ways out is to let the Outside in.”

It is a kind of anti-ego that, even if later articulately through an “I”, is capable of allowing itself to be a conduit for transgressive desires — transgressive in the sense that they permeate, as Justin writes, “across the fundamental religious (oneiric-metaphysical) dreaming and thought-systems of the social field in which [we] find ourselves”.

Here, Justin is discussing Barbara O’Brien’s incredible text Operators and Things — an odd biographical text written by O’Brien in the midst of a very real schizophrenic episode. (I’m not sure how readily available this text is — I read it when it was shared with me in 2017 via a Google Doc link, which felt very appropriately occulted.) However, there are still plenty of other examples of such tales in popular culture.

Whilst sorting through my Discogs inventory earlier, I watched the new Netflix film Horse Girl, starring and co-written by Alison Brie. Brie apparently drew on her own family’s history of mental illness for the story and it is incredibly well done, I think.

Brie plays a shy woman who works in an arts and crafts store and has a neurotic obsession with a horse she rode at a local stable as a child called Willow. The film follows her quotidian existence with a sort of mumblecore vibe until she starts to succumb to a schizophrenic episode that she finds meaning in because she is wholly aware of her mother and grandmother’s previous struggles with mental illness. (It is this same awareness of seemingly hereditary mental illness that Brie drew on for her co-writing credit.) She starts to believe that she is her grandmother’s clone and her nightly dreams of alien abduction, intensified by experiences of lost time and an unconscious penchant for sleep walking, lead her to believe her abductions are very much real experiences, particularly because these are experiences that her grandmother also spoke of. By the end, the film descends into a sort of waking-dream sequence in which we watch Brie’s character living out her delusions with disastrous consequences.

I was really impressed by this film, particularly because Netflix has been incessantly recommending I watch Girl, Interrupted recently — a film I have already seen multiple times and which I have long hated for its high-school-drama-meets-One-Flew-Over-The-Cuckoo’s-Nest plot which romanticises time spent on a women’s psychiatric ward full of big lunch-hall egos.

The difference between the two films, I think, is precisely this sense of “anti-ego”, which Girl, Interrupted infuriatingly lacks. Brie’s character knows, to an extent, that she is “crazy” and that her thoughts are delusional, but she is incapable of wresting herself from the grasp of her schizophrenia whilst she feels it affords her a palpable connection to her immediate family’s prior experiences. She does not feel that she is experiencing something unique and instead feels herself becoming part of an intensive continuum. In the end, she sheds her self entirely, believing that she is not a “clone” of her grandmother but that she is her grandmother, and this alien-familiarity manifests for her as an surreally believable lucidity. These are not anomalies from within her own mind that she is experiencing but rather an anomalous world that others are also plugged into.

The impetus behind Justin’s elucidations on modernism emerge from a similar place. The subtitle to his book — “Haunted by the Future” — resonates with Horse Girl’s dramatisations of a strange templexity in which Brie’s character feels she can perceive the future but also is the future for the alien-subject that is her anomalous and almost mythical grandmother. It resonates profoundly with the conclusion to Justin’s book — which I also use as a chapter epigraph in Egress — which reads:

To travel into the unknown is a sober-joyful process of gaining energy by overcoming self-importance, and by eradicating all forms of self-indulgence — and it is a development of the ability to have effective, creative comradeship-alliances with other human beings. It is a process of perceiving — and dreaming — a way toward wider spaces of existence.

Beyond the ongoing disaster of ordinary reality is the second sphere of action. You don’t get to be there on a sustained basis unless in some sense you are part of a group, and a group can only form (no plan is possible, only continuous improvisation) if you have learned to let yourself be swept away into the intent-currents of Love-and-Freedom that run through the world — intent-currents that take you South, into the Future.

This is a lovely point to end on, and I am fighting a temptation to end this post here also, but I can’t help but want to affirm the very difficulty of enacting this sentiment in day-to-day life.

Because it is so easier said than done, and it is also, frankly, a terrifying process. Justin’s invocation of “intent-currents that take you South” feels like an explicit reference to the horrifyingly liberatory journey that Kerans undertakes in JG Ballard’s The Drowned World, and this is hardly a “sober-joyful journey” into the intensities of community — unless you see lizard–brain people as constituting a kind of intentional community.

And in a way, that is a community of the anti-ego, quite explicitly, and whilst Ballard whilst emphasises the horror of it, the horror is nonetheless an important consideration, because that horror is the horror of giving into alien-familiar desires that take one out of one’s self.

I don’t think I know anyone who is really committed to this sort of communal, body-without-organs thinking who doesn’t find its innate sociality difficult to bear. Maybe that says something about it… Most optimistically, it is a concern for those who feel most stultified by their ego and by its inescapability. That’s certainly how I feel. The question becomes: How can this be enacted in a way that is just an exercise in positive affirmations?

I’m reminded of Simon O’Sullivan’s essay about this, which also features in Egress briefly, in which he articulates the importance of thinking Deleuzian communities precisely because, he says, friendships have never come easy. That essay is a feature because I feel that way too, and the tragic irony of these concerns is that simply having them — over-thinking them — is often an obstacle to enacting them.

Accelerationism and Hubris

“We must all die as egos and be born again in the swarm…”

Today the internet has been infuriated with “The Anarcho-Accelerationist”. Earlier, they posted a weird tweet and it instantly became a meme:

Please stop asking me philosophy questions. I have never cared about philosophy, I haven’t read whatever philosopher you assume that I have, I have no plans to read them either.

I became a major acc thinker without reading any Deleuze. I assume philosophy just isn’t important.

Whilst the experience of a Twitter pile-on is never great, it is rare for anyone around these parts to get ratio’d like this, and there’s arguably a lesson to be learned from the wreckage.

“The Anarcho-Accelerationist” has interpreted the lesson of their own ridiculing to be that people don’t like to hear that philosophy is useless, but most instead seem to be ridiculing their self-aggrandising position regarding accelerationism and the online discourse surrounding it.

There’s potential to see the reactions to this as bitter gatekeeping but I think there is more to it than that. I’d say it’s true that you don’t need to read any specific thinker to understand what accelerationism is getting at but, in their case, it’d probably help… A lot.

One of the central threads that runs through the two works that constitute Capitalism & Schizophrenia is the idea of an “anti-ego”, and this is primarily where Anarcho-Accelerationism falls repeatedly on its face, for me, as a political project. Take, for instance, these two bullet points, supposedly articulating interpretations of my own work on accelerationism through an anarchist prism:

• There is a war against the imagination. Fight back.

• You are not significant. Seek your own freedom, do not futilely try to change the entire world.

I sort of see what they are getting at here but there’s a sentiment that is wholly absent from this and it is, ironically enough, the sentiment of acceleration.

Yes, there is a war going on against the imagination, but you don’t remedy that by disappearing up inside yourself in search of “your own freedom”… That’s okay though — all is not lost! In fact, Deleuze can help you with this.

On reading the point about “seeking your own freedom”, I was reminded of a passage from the sixth plateau on making yourself a Body Without Organs in which D+G write:

Where psychoanalysis says, “Stop, find your self again,” we should say instead, “Let’s go further still, we haven’t found our BwO yet, we haven’t sufficiently dismantled the self.”

This process of going further still is the process that accelerationism is arguably most concerned with. It is the acceleration of ego-dissolution that capitalism itself, in piggybacking on our own desires, encourages despite itself.

Here, the ego is the “I”, the monolithic subject — total; holistic, just as The Anarcho-Accelerationist seems to view capital itself. For D+G, however, the fundamental problem with the ego is that it is a scalable entity, applicable to the self, the family, the state, the world itself. What they argue for, instead, is its dissolution at every level.

Every so-called accelerationist that has bastardised this philosophy’s ideas, whether violently or innocuously, always seems to miss this point.

Alex picked up on this in perhaps the most brutal dismissal of the Anarcho-Accelerationist’s grandstanding when they tweeted: “No offense but even the New Zealand shooter is a far more major acc thinker than this guy.” There’s a darkly prescient point to be made with this burn.

Repeatedly the point has been made, by numerous people, that the tragic irony of the Christchurch shooter’s affiliation with 4chan Accelerationism is that he was, in fact, the very subject that accelerationism initially sets out to critique: the sort of subject that, when feeling trapped within the pressure cooker of modernity, lashes out in a violent attempt to demonstrate the strength of their own identitarian category. (Think: “You will not replace us.”)

Bolstering your own desires by simply affirming them out loud is a bad look whether you’re on the right or the left — even more so if you’re in your own individualised political quadrant. (“De-individualise” was Foucault’s advice for leading a non-fascist life, in light of Anti-Oedipus, lest we forget.) Instead, it is precisely the hunkering down underneath your own ego when under threat that constitutes the insignificance of the modern subject and it is this which constantly undermines the Anarcho-Accelerationist’s project. Even when it seems to hit all of the right notes and pay lip service to all the right ideas, something still stinks about it — and it has been clear for a while that this is an over-abundance of ego.

If you want to get accelerationism, pay closer attention to these moments of hubris when they’re pointed out to you. Reading Deleuze and Guattari — both for the philosophical content of their works and the actual experience of reading it — is still the best place to start if you want to take a scalpel to your ego.

That’s not useless. For The Anarcho-Accelerationist in particular, it’s essential.

Gruppo di Nunhead

We had the Gruppo di Nun staying with us over the weekend, having flown over from Italy to attend the Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture. Of course we had to take them to Nunhead cemetery the day after.

If you haven’t read their work, fix that for yourself with the links below. You won’t regret it… Or you might… As always: rituals practiced at summoner’s own risk…

“Under the Sign of the Black Mark” — Interview with Dustin Breitling
“Catastrophic Astrology” — Vast Abrupt
“A Manifesto for Revolutionary Demonology” — Nero

Accelerationism and Acid Communism: Notes on Theory and Praxis

The other day I made the uncharacteristic decision to join a bunch of Mark Fisher-related Facebook groups. I don’t really use Facebook or like it very much but after some people shared posts about my book Egress in a couple places, I thought it’d be nice to say thanks and hang around their scenes for a bit.

It wasn’t long before I became embroiled in a comment thread about violent far-right Accelerationism.

I’m too far past the point of caring to claim that this violent “accelerationism” isn’t accelerationism proper. That doesn’t do anything to help anyone. But when I saw it said that Mark “wasn’t himself taken in by the right aspects of Land’s thought, neither was he particularly an accelerationist”, I felt like throwing in my two cents.

I don’t want to just rehash a Facebook debate here, however, or pour a load of scorn on someone commenting in good faith — this shouldn’t be read as being aimed at any one person — nor do I intend to “grandstand” a brief discussion by making it all one-sided.

The real reason for putting this here is that I felt something else coming through whilst I was adding a long and over-blown Facebook comment to that thread. I started to articulate something I’ve been thinking about for a while now — somewhat related to how I have never managed to connect with how Mark’s work is read and written about on Facebook — but haven’t actually managed to satisfactorily write down anywhere…

So here goes…

It’s no secret that I despair at the Jeremy Gilbert Zero Books Facebook school of Acid Communism — a sort of amorphous, transatlantic Breadtube-adjacent cottage industry that I think does a great disservice to Mark’s work rather than extending it in any meaningful sense.

The view of Mark’s work that I associate with these corners of the internet speaks to the two ways that, in my experience, it often seems to manifest:

  1. From the UK, it takes Jeremy Gilbert’s smattering of posthumous articles on Acid Communism and Acid Corbynism as being somehow representative of Mark’s planned project (instead of just being representative of Gilbert’s own under-developed ideas). [Addressed here.]
  2. From the US, it sees Acid Communism as some sort of grand political do-over at the end of Mark’s thought, taking it as an opportunity to erase the more “problematic” elements of his writings whilst injecting a sort of cultural studies malaise that I reckon Mark would have been bored to tears by. [Addressed here.]

The claim that Mark’s Acid Communism was a stride away from Accelerationism felt like an example of #2 to me — an attempt to sanitise his thought based on a misunderstanding of that thought in the first instance. This position was further clarified in the Facebook thread as being a separation between theory and praxis: Acid Communism was to be a plan of action whereas Mark’s involvement with Accelerationism was just philosophical musing. This, again, is something which I think Mark would have baulked at.

What this framing does is fall into the usual trap of conflating and separating various strands of Mark’s thinking in order to construct some relatively consistent and unproblematic vision which cherry picks and lessens the critical impact of his work on both the political left and right as it exists today.

To be clear, I think describing Acid Communism as a sort of “plan of action” is absolutely correct but to suggest that all of Mark’s prior theorising wasn’t implicitly baked inside that plan leaves his work open to precisely the sort of posthumous revisionism we’ve seen run riot across social media over the last three years. Put another way: I think Acid Communism was going to be Mark’s attempt to describe a course of (cultural) action in a way that he had not done previously (at least not in book form), but his desire to do this does not negate the importance of any of his previous theories and neologisms which would have likely found themselves brought together explicitly for the first time.

This sort of compartmentalisation has happened repeatedly within the reception of Mark’s work. Neither hauntology nor accelerationism, for instance, were formulated by Mark as plans of action. However, that has not stopped bad readings of both overwriting what was said in Mark’s texts themselves, turning them into approaches to culture and politics rather than attempts to describe tendencies within those subjects that we should try to escape from.

It has long been necessary that we learn to — as Simon Reynolds put it in his Memorial lecture — “bridge the chasm”.

Capitalist realism has notably managed to avoid this fate, which probably speaks to its absolute clarity in Mark’s thinking. The other two terms were somewhat collective coinages and this may have something to do with their persistent unruliness. It is worth emphasising here, for instance, the fact that accelerationism, in particular, was not Mark’s concept alone but he was supposedly the first to embrace Benjamin Noys’ scathing -ism and affirm it as a philosophical identity. In this sense, we can argue that Mark was probably more responsible than most for confusing the discourse around it with regards to the practical implications of its theses.

The same is true of “hauntology”. Whereas Derrida used the term to explore how Marxism haunts from beyond the grave, as a sort of positively conceived poltergeist, Mark’s use of the term — subtly different to how others were using it at the time — seemed to contain a similar sense of appropriative irony, allowing him to continue decrying the effect of postmodernism on popular culture that he’d been doing since his days at Warwick with the Ccru.

For example, in the essay “Pomophobia”, written in collaboration with Robin Mackay, Mark rails against the in-growth of hauntology within Derridean postmodernism, as a zombifying pathogen fuelling a contemporary academic impotence that was only serving to exacerbate the very haunting that Derrida was attempting to describe.

Describing this situation with an unmatched feverishness, Mark and Robin write:

Fed on the endlessly regurgitated brains of dead philosophers, post-structuralism degenerates into the spongiform Hegelianism it always-already was, proudly dwelling on its own desolate but strictly delimited ground while barely concealing its delight that we can’t escape from the narratives of modernity. Theory remains tethered to the “post”, given over to interminable rumination on what is superseded but, supposedly, never overcome. All texts are pre-texts — also post-texts — flimsy tracing papers colonially irrigated and preemptively captured by reassuringly dull, appropriately academic, subtitles. Pun colon verb definite article academic designation. “Jacquing off, Offing Jacques: Derrida, Lacan and the Self-referentiality of the Academic Subject.”

Rapid response is rendered impossible, the danger of embarrassing oneself by saying something that has not been rigorously automonitored, ruminated over for a punitively extended period of scholarly detention, is too great.

Nietzsche’s critique of the clogged digestive system of the West’s Last Men, itself often perversely interpreted as a metaphor, expresses all too acutely the constipated Eurocontinence of these constricted bodies, themselves minor fascicular elements of a resonant system of transcendental miserabilism disseminated across all levels of culture.

The dreary textocratic dribblings of post-theory are merely the transcendental idealist counterpoint to the empirical realism of postmodern culture. Kurt Cobain embodied what theory disembodies, the raging stomach pains which plagued him finding their disintensified correlate in the the chin-rubbing, brow-furrowing protocols of urbane academic anxiety. Smells like Hegelian Spirit.

Here we uncover the true dangers of Mark’s thinking — for others and for his own legacy. Like the contemporary political right, Mark had a penchant for appropriating and mutating, for his own academically perverse purposes, the terms deployed in earnest by his enemies. However, as interest around his ideas grows and the theory-curious look for Facebook group Cliff Notes, many often end up confusing Mark with those he sought to vanquish.

What must be remembered and affirmed here is that all of Mark’s most (in)famous philosophical associations — capitalist realism, hauntology and accelerationism — are attempts to describe the current circumstances within which contemporary capitalist subjects are formed and, to an extent, trapped. The lesson that the vast majority of people interested in Mark’s work have repeatedly failed to learn, however, is that to deploy these concepts and neologisms as forms of action is only to exacerbate the traps they seek to describe, just as the pomo academics did with Derrida before him. This happens as a result of people conflating these overarching concepts with other tendencies visible throughout Mark’s work.

Mark’s version of hauntology, for instance, is often explored today through the fetishisation of a late capitalist aesthetic that Mark made famous through the Facebook group “Boring Dystopia”. Mark’s attempt to wrest people from their complacency by drawing attention to the eccentricities of late capitalism — think of the world-weirding that takes place in Inception when “the dreamer becomes aware of the nature of the dream”, leading to its collapse — has instead been co-opted by the networks of communicative capitalism to simply perpetuate its arresting functioning. The zombifying pathogen that had previously infected humanities departments throughout the West, reducing cultural production to an impotent Cultural Studies, has now taken hold of Facebook groups across cyberspace.

(I have a section on this in Egress, for what it’s worth, in which I explore the way that hauntology has been reduced by many well-meaning commentators to be little more than a “hauntography”.)

Similarly, regarding the contemporary and popular understanding of accelerationism, I think the present state of the discourse is a result of the same process. It also seems to emerge from a scattershot reading of Mark’s works that conflates concepts and topics together, erasing their productive differences.

Take, for example, “Going Overground” — Mark’s much-loved post on popular modernism and The Jam. Reading it now, it sounds accelerationist — at least if you go by the typically leftist definition of what accelerationism is about and/or for. Mark writes:

The Jam, like The Who before them, drew their power from an auto-destructive paradox: they were fuelled by a frustration, a tension, a blocked energy, a jam. Discharging this tension in catharsis would destroy the very libidinal blockages on which the music depended – and this self-cancelling logic of desire reached its necessary conclusion in The Who’s smashing of their instruments.

Mark continues on this jam’s productive potential, adding:

We can apprehend yet another paradox here. What made this music culture so positive was its capacity to express negativity — a negativity that was thereby de-privatised as well as de-naturalised.

Here Mark is describing a paradox that is not contained within capitalism itself but within the capitalist subject. There is a certain reciprocity at play here, of course, but what is interesting for Mark is that, whilst capitalism itself might continue to perpetuate a paradoxical auto-destructive relationship, this has (relatively speaking) been exorcised from popular culture altogether.

Here again, the popular understanding of an Accelerationist praxis falls apart. Even if capitalism were capable of dying by its own contradictions, we haven’t been able to express our own for decades. Instead, rather than being in tune with this paradox as it exists within ourselves, we focus on other things, completely ignorant to the capitalist dreamwork of now, instead fetishising our awareness of it in the past through the very mediums that perpetuate its hold on us in the present. Again, Mark sought to draw attention to what we have lost and how we might regain it, not perpetuate a tone-deaf new age mindfulness through nostalgic psychedelic imagery.

This is to say that self-awareness itself is capitalism’s new hot property. Rather than address this, we simply demonstrate our own deficiencies.

Mark concludes, echoing this sentiment: “If popular modernism’s attempts to resolve the paradox of political commitment and consumer pleasure now seem hopelessly naive, that’s more a testament to the disavowed depressive conditions of our current moment than a dispassionate assessment of the possibilities.”

Here we must emphasise that pop modernism is a potential antidote to the crisis that accelerationism continues to describe. It is a description of one moment’s radical response to a sensation that has never gone away. It is a description of an unconscious tendency that has since been exorcised from popular culture. The problem with left-accelerationism, then and now — and, by extension, the Jeremy Gilbert Zero Books Facebook school of Acid Communism — is that it’s response to a post like “Going Overground” is less an interrogation of our current pathologies and more a rallying call for a bunch of Jam cover bands. It is YouTube essays and Facebook groups filled with inspirational posters featuring Terence McKenna quotes rather than any attempt to actually understand the paradoxes of the present and how they manifest in our political-aesthetic activities on sites like Facebook.

This is an irony shared by a lot of the violent far-right “accelerationists”. Their responses to the sensations the theory describes only demonstrates the ways in which they themselves are the subjects that accelerationism as a philosophical theory first predicted the emergence of and sought to critique. The elucidations of a thousand leftist Facebook groups only serves to demonstrate the same thing but from the other side of a political coin.

I should say that this isn’t intended to be a “wake up, sheeple” dismissal, as if I am coming to you from some privileged space of late capitalist enlightenment. It does, however, have something to do with the prevalence of a superficial ’60s aesthetics over any sort of cold rationalist self-assessment of contemporary habits and tendencies. We need to stop fetishising the aesthetics of a radical politics of the past at the expense of a cold rationalist interrogation of why the left is failing in the present.

This was why Mark still had time for Nick Land as a thinker. Land’s own pathologies are another topic for another time but his work nonetheless presents the left with a hard, cold mirror through which it might take a closer look at itself.

Mark wrote about this explicitly in his essay “Postcapitalist Desire”, in which he argues that it “is worth the left treating [Land’s] texts as something other than anti-Marxist trollbait … because they luridly expose the scale and the nature of the problems that the left now faces.” He continues by noting that they also “expose an uncomfortable contradiction between the radical left’s official commitment to revolution, and its actual tendency towards political and formal-aesthetic conservatism”. They also “assume a terrain that politics now operates on, or must operate on, if it is to be effective — a terrain in which technology is embedded into everyday life and the body; design and PR are ubiquitous; financial abstraction enjoys dominion over government; life and culture are subsumed into cyberspace…”

This is the danger of sanitising Mark’s thought of Land’s influence. Land is, in effect, the arch-realist capitalist. He watches the ways in which capitalism corrupts its subjects with glee, and the left’s impotent fetishisation of acid trips in Facebook groups becomes the embarrassing mirror image of an impotent far-right terrorism.

They are two sides of the same coin, woefully at the mercy of the forces they claim unconvincingly to attack.

The main thing to remember here, I think, is that it’s generally accepted that the course outline for Mark’s final postgraduate module at Goldsmiths — also called ‘Postcapitalist Desire’ — was to function as a testing ground for each chapter of his next book. It certainly reads that way in hindsight.

The introductory session was, essentially, a summary of the Acid Communist intro, in which Mark believed the key to a leftist future was the eradication of political melancholy through consciousness raising, popular modernism, and the speculative elucidation of a collective subject.

Week by week, he intended to explore the ways that this goal had become maligned, beginning with the central question surrounding May ‘68 — why do we desire our own oppression?

Then he was going to explore, via the technopolitical developments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, how this project has repeatedly failed but never died, from the violent suppression of the Allende government in Chile due to its interest in a cybernetic socialism to the communicative capitalism of our present touchscreen capture. Mark intended to end up writing about accelerationism and xenofeminism, considering what they had to say about our present moment and preempt the ways that capital reappropriates all critiques against it, instead looking at how these two modes of thought, with a radical self-awareness of their own alienation, might be able to help us stay one step ahead of capital’s cooptive curve.

Unfortunately, much of the discourse around Mark’s work fails to grasp this, because much of this is still not widely known. Instead a Mark Fisher caricature traipses from thread to thread, only serving to demonstrate how ruthless capitalism is and how we — and now Mark’s thought itself — is so susceptible to its capture.

Chant Down Babylon: Notes from the 3rd Annual Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture

Everyone who played at for k-punk 2020 was incredible. The energy was so high and the sound so good and the crowd so up for it. I don’t think there is any combination of words that can do it all justice.

Mark Leckey alone, as the first act of the night, played everything from Meredith Monk-esque vocalisations through to Throbbing Gristle and a gabba explosion. It felt like such an eclectic hour but it also like a microcosm of the sonics to come, shifting from Tetine’s mutant tropical funk-punk through to Jennifer Walton’s hyperplastic edit fest.

“Write about this!” was Natasha’s challenge towards the end of the night, as if to say “I bet you can’t”, and she was right.

But then, have I ever? A run down of the Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture is a given and it is inevitably the lecture alone that gives context to the amorphous love-in that is to follow. This year’s presenter, Simon Reynolds, was no exception. Simon sparked off so many thoughts that were both discussed and danced through in the Goldsmiths SU shortly afterwards.

The theme of the lecture was pop’s ability to instigate political change but, as Simon himself conceded, that’s hardly a question to which anyone can give a quantifiable answer. However, that’s not to say there aren’t dozens of very explicit examples of pop music instigating a political consciousness raising.

In the unfinished introduction to Acid Communism, of course, Mark revisited the pop of the 1960s and ‘70s and the explicit political messages contained within many of the hits of the day; the usurping of capitalist realism that lay in the verses and choruses of tracks from the era that still reverberate down the years.

Simon discussed Sly and the Family Stone at length in this regard, as perhaps the most tumultuous and infamous example of Black protestant funk finding itself under the weight of militant politics and mind-altering drugs. He adeptly plotted their trajectory from “Sesame Street to revolution” — from the music-by-numbers breakdown of “Dance to the Music” to the “broken and dispirited” sociopolitical rock-and-a-hard-place of There’s a Riot Going On…

(No conceivable shade cast upon Sly and the Family Stone but if you like your “Sesame Street to revolution” funk bands without the browbeaten dejection and hard drug abuse, then might I point you towards one of my favourites: the intriguingly named Stark Reality.)

Rather than simply echoing Mark’s reference points, Simon demonstrated his passion for YouTube archaeology by sharing his own selection of clips and videos. It was surprisingly thrilling, like watching a blissblog post unfold live before your eyes.

Whereas Mark loved the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack”, Simon drew attention to the Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind”. I liked his analysis of the song’s penultimate verse a lot, noting how the lyrics might contain a powerful anti-capitalist sentiment but, at the same time, there’s a deferral of revolution to another day, perfectly encapsulating the strange tension Mark was fascinated by in the counterculture in his final years:

Do the five day grind once more
I know of nothin’ else that bugs me
More than workin’ for the rich man
Hey! I’ll change that scene one day
Today I might be mad, tomorrow I’ll be glad
‘Cause I’ll have Friday on my mind

Whereas Mark talked about The Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping”, Simon focused on John Lennon’s “Nutopian International Anthem”. He also drew attention to an interview Lennon gave in Red Mole magazine — a surprisingly erudite and impressive conversation that counters Lennon’s reputation today.

(My impression has always been that Lennon was just a blundering artist without any real critical faculties, too alienated by his unimaginable stardom to create the timeless tracks that populate Paul’s solo outings, for example. It’s quite nice to be proved wrong and find a man deeply concerned with the class politics of his own position and an engagement with the here and now.)

Whereas Mark wrote about the Jam’s strangely modernist social realism, Simon spoke of the paradoxical fun of the Sex Pistols’ cover of the Stooges’ “No Fun”. A libidinal delibidinisation.

I really liked what Simon had to say about punk’s embrace of a wholly nihilistic place in society, knowingly embodying the corrupt adage of “children are the problem” rather than the ’60s whimsical “children are the future”. (Kudos where due to Greta Thunberg for simultaneously channeling both positions and upsetting all the boomers.)

The paradox at the heart of the Jam was also particularly interesting to me. (It came up again over dinner last night.) Speaking of the Jam and the likes of, say, Joy Division, Simon made the distinction between post-punk and new wave as being a distinction between modernism and realism. Whereas Ian Curtis was heralded as defining the sound of Manchester in that moment of late-70s / early 80s transition, the music itself was also hugely dystopian and otherworldly — it was the sound of another Manchester, a future Manchester but also a present Manchester, lurking in the depths of the post-industrial unconscious. It was a sonic modernism as new and radical as its previous aesthetic instantiations in literature, painting and architecture. By contrast, Simon explained, “Paul Weller sought to escape his situation by describing it.” The new wave bands like him took the kitchen-sink social realism of a previous era and made it pop — “describing things too humdrum to enter pop previously”, as Simon put it. Mark’s great intervention in this blogosphere debate was to encourage a cross pollination of the two.

(Later I mourned how this surely blatant and powerful precursor to the political and cultural tensions explored around Speculative Realism blogosphere could today be reduced to Graham Harman wondering about whether his dog is a Great Old One or about the politically impotent ontologising of material science.)

Moving swiftly up the decades, Simon went on to speak about jungle and the calls to arms sampled from reggae and its various sub-genres, repurposed for a new generation and giving rise to so many resonant attempts to chant down Babylon. (Soundbite of the night for me: “‘Babylon’ is a far more powerful word than ‘neoliberalism’.”)

But then we came to grime and the problem of modern day hip-hop.

A notion that came out of the Q&A I found quite haunting was the suggestion that hip hop, as the most important and innovative popular music genre of the last few decades, by constantly bringing the new to the ears of the masses, is also, at least in its lyrical content, an integral vehicle for upholding the illusionary status of capitalist realism.

(Mark’s intervention was to write surprisingly glowing endorsements of Drake in Ghosts of my Life, drawing attention to “the secret sadness of the 21st century” that undermines the aspirational politics of capitalism’s emphasis on individual — rather than collective — advancement.)

Grime doesn’t do this to the same extent. Or does it? Grime, in the first instance, for Simon, seemed to be wholly devoid of any political consciousness. As grime has found its feet, this has changed noticeably. It is a genre that echoes many of the tensions of inner city black experience in the UK but still, beyond the political endorsements and lyrics of someone as outspoken as Stormzy, can we still say that grime is a political genre?

It’s a trick question. The answer is “of course” but that doesn’t meant you can quantify it. Grime, like hiphop, is innately political simply given its nature “as a social force” and as an “aesthetic vanguard” — that was Simon’s argument — and this was the sentiment carried over into for k-punk 2020 for me on Friday night.

Is what we’ve done political? Not really; not on the whole; not explicitly in terms of its overall content… But as a social force, I think so, absolutely.

We’ve been doing this for three years now and so there is a sense of tradition setting in, but in the most beautiful way.

I realised that there are a number of friendships I now cherish dearly that were born on these nights. People I adore and who now feel like a major part of my social life were met in or around the Mark Fisher Memorial Lectures in 2018 and 2019. Others I only ever seem to see at for k-punk nights. They are part of its fabric simply as repeat attendees who choose to come up and say hello.

At the first for k-punk night, for instance, I met some of Cave Twitter in person for the first time. The second year I met Lucy and over the year since we’ve been for drinks and to gigs and I joined her and her partner-in-crime Sean to record an episode of their Wyrd Signal podcast. This year we had members of Gruppo Di Nun staying with us, and it felt extra special to have the memorial lecture feel like a truly international event. (They were not the only ones, I later heard, to fly over to the UK for the occasion.)

Each year has not only been an opportunity to engage with people on the dancefloor but it has also been an opportunity to invite people who have otherwise emerged as fellow travellers to join us in our remembrance. Whether someone knew Mark or not is somewhat irrelevant. If they understand the importance of what they and others around them do as a social force, then they’re in. This year’s lineup was, I think, the perfect testament to that sentiment. (Not bad for another year organised with no actual knowledge of the content of the lecture.)

A huge thank you to everyone who came and danced with us and who came to the lecture. An enormous thank you to Mark Leckey, Bruno Verner, Eliete Mejorado, Chooc Ly Tan, Robin Buckley and Jennifer Walton for playing for us and making it such an incredible night. Thank you to everyone who made the effort to travel and who came to the fundraiser last year and who bought my book in the lobby afterwards and everyone who said hello.

The other thing to be said about Friday night is the strange wealth of emotions floating around. As each year goes by, and as we travel further and further from the initial event of Mark’s death, the more bizarre the emotional landscape becomes. I found myself overwhelmed by sadness and joy in equal measure on the dance floor that night. Not all at once but the pendulum swing was sharp and rapid; the root obvious but also indeterminate.

I missed Mark. I was also just exhausted. I am grateful to everyone — performers and attendees — for so skilfully blasting away all fatigue and melancholy and creating a night that was so seamless and enchanting I went home feeling lighter than air.

Bring Back the Music Blogosphere

If you were young and wanted to be a music writer in the 2000s / 2010s, you had to have a space online where you could prove that you were at least as good as an algorithm. Ear to the modem, you had to be able to say who someone sounded like, doing the work of the laziest A&R bots around.

And yet, amongst the clones, there were flashes of greatness within the music blogospheres of that era. Blogs and forums were symbiotically in tune with one another and it seemed like a few clicks was all it took to find the strangest new volleys from city scenes around the world. Blog house became an early meme but I mostly remember it as an era of “neo-psychedelia”.

(I’ve been revisiting quite a bit of this stuff recently and finding myself surprised by how much I still like it — Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, for instance, or remembering just how incredible Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead was or, woah, we didn’t deserve witch house.)

It was an exciting moment. I had a music blog back then too — obviously — and started around 2006 when the likes of 20jazzfunkgreats and GvB were fast becoming major influencers on the big press machines. I remember Pitchfork, for instance, used to regularly cite those blogs in its bylines as the origins of stories or tracks or ones-to-watch. 20jfg was blogging about Oneohtrix Point Never, for instance, long before the hype and GvB was where I first discovered Grouper. And what’s more, these people were approachable. I’m fairly certain that, as a kid in my bedroom, I was having conversations online with these blogs that, when I turned my back, suddenly exploded into big ventures. (I’ve never been able to confirm this or eradicate the suspicion tha my memory is off, but Eat Your Own Ears — the promoters — started off that way I’m sure?) We were the blogspot crew and then, suddenly, the landscape shifted and we seamlessly entered the age of big corporate websites.

Before anyone seemed to know what was happening, these blogs just became irrelevant overnight. Maybe it was just because our collective tastes changed and they couldn’t keep up, falling off the wave of influence, but I always suspected there was some corporate wangling going on behind the scenes. The clampdown on file sharing undoubtedly hurt the MP3 bloggers a lot but then it was also competing with the cut-and-run journalism of these other websites, copying just enough of the working model from celebrity gossip magazines to rake in the ad revenue whilst still appearing cool.

Pitchfork was the US’s main outlet in this regard, unavoidable for its constant news dripfeed but also infamous for its terrible writing and reviews. (That didn’t stop it.) FACTmag emerged as a major British counterpoint to this, still pushing a daily feed of news out into the world, but at least it was over the heads of a core staff of young and exciting reviewers.

Thankfully, other interesting writers also managed to work their way into these places and influence their output. The Quietus must be recognised for influencing a wider scene in this way, helping lots of writers make their mark, but even they could not escape the necessity of a rolling news feed to keep the ad revenue coming in.

Now it seems the landscape is about the change again as not even news is enough to keep yourself afloat these days.

Written content is getting the axe.

Like a number of other outlets who announced similar cutbacks earlier this year, it is being reported that FACT will no longer be commissioning written content, putting more time and effort into videos. I’m sorry to say, from here, it’s not surprising in the slightest. (I’ll explain why in a moment.)

Amazingly, however, the response to this has been beautifully counter-intuitive.

Gabriel Szatan — a writer I’ve been actively following for some time who has written some brilliant pieces for various places over the years — recently tweeted the following:

And of course my eyes widened. Of course a grin spread across my face. I’m the biggest advocate for blogging I know and have ridden the various waves of popularity and unpopularity, through various different monikers, since the first blogger’s haçienda came together in the 2000s. As soon as someone says, “up the blogs!”, my heart swells and I fall in love with the world again.

But it is nonetheless a counterintuitive move to make because the rise of video content has been unstoppable for some time. It’s already hit this part of the internet — that is, weird theory internet — and hard. In fact, we’re already in the midst of the backlash. Countless people are now cynical about Breadtubers, for instance, where accessible content related to philosophy and politics has turned into an Adam Curtis echo chamber and an arms race of production values and eye-watering Patreon hustling, all whilst overall content quality has gone way, way down.

Dare I mention the hellscape that is the Zero Books YouTube channel? Now there is the perfect example of a shift to quick-buck video content resulting in a mind-blowing fall in written substance.

Because that is where the money is. You want to make quick money from online content? A monetised YouTube channel will bring you more viewers and revenue than any WordPress blog ever could.

“Why don’t you do it, Xenogoth, instead of complaining?” I hear you cry… Because I vomit these posts out in a few hours for you people. I don’t have the neuroses necessary to spend months working on a single video. Gotta go fast!

That’s not to say that I don’t recognise the fact that people prefer watching and listening to stuff than reading about it. I’ve dappled with radio and video before for this very reason. Accessibility is good and the normalisation of streaming services (or “rent to listen”), more affordable equipment and better wireless connectivity have normalised the consumption of those mediums in our day-to-day lives and increased our desire for them above all else whilst we’re on the move or at home, and this has offered up a viable revenue stream for big companies to capitalise on.

But still… Give up on writing? Really? Call me a Luddite but I don’t care about supply and demand. Personally, I’d rather have a long read. Bend to my individual preferences please! I’m joking, of course. (And yet...)

In fact, what I really think is that this is a blessing in disguise.

I might be painfully biased but, if you ask me, the best music writing these days isn’t just concentrated to a few publications but to a few individuals, a few freelancers who — more often than not — seem to jump around whilst the companies they work for take them for granted, emulating the trends of the industry on which they want to report without any criticality. As a result, the industry will now no doubt fail to work with what it’s got, cowing to market trends at the expense of encouraging (but also nurturing) obvious talent.

Video content isn’t going to go away but here is an opportunity — an opportunity to disengage with the infernal machine and take a little time out of your day to publicly nurture your craft. This isn’t a euphemism for “work for free”. I genuinely believe that this sort of widespread grassroots self-exploration might reinvigorate an industry still just barely treading water after the failed revolution of the dawn of the digital era.

And this only sounds risky now because we should have seen this coming. The fact that these sites are dying whilst Zane Lowe continues to exist like a sycophantic cockroach turning the “music press” into its own streaming service with three-hour long colonoscopies of Kanye West shows that blogs have surrendered without putting up nearly enough of a fight. But, just because the age of the “MP3 Premiere” is over, doesn’t mean that good music writing doesn’t have its place. The problem of monetising this — that is, allowing people to do this work without struggle — will no doubt remain but a diversity of writing styles and topics is something worth fighting for regardless.

I think a widespread return to the blogosphere could do the trick in terms of diversifying talent and approaches to writing about sound that we have needed for some time. It could also make people fight harder for the bloggers’ principles that made music blogging so exciting in the 2000s before the music press followed the music industry itself up its own arse.

Ruth Saxelby said it best:

Update #1: Shout-out to @thejaymo for already penning this call-to-arms at the end of last year.

Continue reading “Bring Back the Music Blogosphere”


Yesterday’s post triggered the first hellthread of 2020. Did you miss it? Do you wish you had?

It was a hellthread dripping with irony. Last year was dominated by too many posts written here declaring that “speed up capitalism until it breaks itself” is not and never has been the accelerationist argument. (Some good came out of doggedly defending this position, so I won’t be too harsh on myself.) Similarly, yesterday’s hellthread emerged from a small group arguing that what I was pointing to as a potential antecedent to the thinking of the 2010s Dark Enlightenment absolutely was not no way get the hell out of here.

The adamance of their position was really quite telling. As was suggested yesterday, the kneejerk tendency to reject any and all things that were not born of and are not exclusive to your ideas is something best left in 2019… It is not a good look.

Rather than undermining their arguments, however, my main intention was to point out the irony that this earlier use of the phrase goes some way to articulating a contemporary rightist pathology. (@ne0agent1c was really upset that this and proceeded to do a lot of Banepoasting.)

Vince dropped by at some point to seize authority over the incoming destruction and — speak of the devil… — it was one of Vince’s old posts that I had in mind at that moment. Vince once wrote that:

To trace the genealogy of accelerationism is thus fraught with problems. On the most superficial level, accelerationism has existed for about a decade. At its unspoken core, it is impossibly ancient. Different focuses will yield wildly divergent results.

We might say the same of the Dark Enlightenment — which is already adjacent to accelerationism, of course. Vince continues:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is best not to think of accelerationism, in the first instance, as a set of ideas at all. Land has described what he terms ‘libidinal materialism’ as more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines. Accelerationism is not identical with libidinal materialism, but the same observation seems abundantly to apply to it. With the appropriate historical sensibility, modulations of accelerationism soon well up in widely divergent contexts, all over the world, advancing along the storm-front of industrial capitalism. It emerges as a sensation of the acceleration characteristic of modernity itself, expressed in different ways by Marx, Hirato, Baudrillard, and plenty others. The drive to posit this expression in specifically philosophical form is perhaps peculiarly influenced by Western tradition. The sensation itself is not.

Again, the same can be said for the Dark Enlightenment, although, at present, it has done very well for itself in keeping its ideas cloistered within an in-group — one of the benefits of being a sub-ideology within a broader movement. It seems evident now that it has taken its inoculation against historiographic complexity for granted.

Ironically, this wasn’t even my agenda yesterday. I’ve just been reading a lot of Freud lately and the phrase “Dark Enlightenment” kept coming up again and again. At some point I stopped chuckling to myself about it and decided to take this coincidence all too seriously. Call it an exercise in “coincidence intensification” if you want.

It seems that intensification was not well weathered.

Towards the end of the hellthread, Uri jumped in with a few tweets that were sympathetic to the opposition — and understandably so: he’s better versed in that part of the Landian blogosphere than anyone else I know. He pointed out that I wasn’t addressing any of the specific details found within Land’s essay — although I don’t see why I’d need to — or the work of others and, also, I forgot the Great Humiliator who is of the most importance to the contemporary Dark Enlightenment movement — Darwin.

Forgetting Darwin was an oversight on my part but he still fits into the argument being posited. Darwinism, in its various modes, is so often deployed by figures on the right to embolden and affirm natural selection as “the survival of the fittest”. (“The rich are rich because they’re the best of us.”) But Darwinism as natural selection is, of course, far more chaotic and it was this that the Dark Enlightenment sought to introduce into this conservative conversations. (As Uri put it: “A lot of the Dark Enlightenment is ‘there’s too little death.'”) However, for the Dark Enlightenment, this survival-of-the-fittest process is not fuelled by capitalist ambition (alone) but by drives that are far more occulted. The links proposed in yesterday’s post speak precisely to this shared interest in what is occulted in our knowledge of ourselves. The Freudian death drive is individualistic but nonetheless scales up to society as a whole. We might argue that Darwinism calls this same tendency something like “cosmic entropy”.

Uri, eventually seeing what I was getting at, started to join the dots and brought up a few posts from Outside In that demonstrate this in interesting ways. One particularly segment that I found interesting was the following from Land’s post “On Chaos”:

The question Outside in would pose to NRx is not ‘how can we suppress chaos?’ but rather ‘how can we learn to tolerate chaos at a far higher intensity?’

This is an ethical response — in its wilful collectivity — that I absolutely agree with. It is possible for a leftist reassessment of the Dark Enlightenment’s sentiments to reach the same conclusion. Indeed, it is absolutely necessary that the left does so. It is undeniably true that the left at present is woefully ill-equipped to tolerate chaos at its present levels of intensity, never mind any future ones.

This is the U/Acc position. “Make yourself worthy of the things that happen to you.” Or, as Land puts it here: “Entropy is toxic, but entropy production is roughly synonymous with intelligence.” The left is not entropically productive. It all too often attempts to suture the egresses in its hard-won worldview rather than prising open the gaps to introduce the new — that is, the new it consistently says it wants. (It has been making more of a go of it recently, admittedly, but cannot withstand the push-back.)

This “new” is obviously not the same “new” that the online Dark Enlightenment was aiming for but the goals are fickle and irrelevant. I’m interested in the ways that what is being responded to, in each instance, is largely the same. Call it Thanatos, Dionysus, the Gothic, anima and animus, Gnon… There is an occulted side to the Enlightenment — then and now — and all sides still resist taking it into account within their politics. The right may affirm it but affirmation and tolerance are not the same as a resistance to or the control of its flows. Land knows this. Few of his acolytes seem to. The Dark Enlightenment, as a political movement, is still susceptible to the occulted side of the machine within which it attempts to act. And that is something that any one who puts themselves in opposition to the right should take heed of. It might present you with an opportunity.

Nyx demonstrated the stakes here most succinctly when she tweeted:

If right-DE is failing to compete in the ideological marketplace, it should be a cause for assessing its apparent lack of fitness. If it isn’t failing and Xeno is just writing a post speculating on the genealogy of DE, you have nothing to fear.

@ne0agent1c and co.’s fury was all too suggestive of which scenario is currently unfolding…

Contra Retroprogressivism

Tiziano Cancelli’s new book How to Accelerate: Introduzione All’Accelerazionismo is out now on Tlon and today Nero have published an excerpt from the book about U/Acc, featuring some quotations from my old blog posts — particularly my fragment on the event of U/Acc, a short post that still means a great deal to me and which I’m really happy to see recognised here — before going into the classic U/Acc posts written by Vincent Garton and Ed Berger that were so influential to so many of us in the first instance.

It’s a great essay on where U/Acc has gone and gotten to and it also does really well to land some well-earned punches on the “hi-tech retroprogressivism” of L/Acc and the “reactionary sewer” of R/Acc.

Go check it out and, if you can speak Italian, go get the book. As ever, I’m left frustrated by my English monolingualism in the face of the Italian weird theory contingent’s amazing contributions to the discourse.

(2020: the year I download Duolingo in an attempt to inaugurate myself into the Gruppo di Nun?)

Mall Goth II: American Culture and the Reterritorialisation of Class Struggle

I have a further controversial opinion to tag onto my previous post — a post which caused quite an entertaining debate in the XG Discord. The cynicism I directed towards My Chemical Romance was not shared by others in there… (See meme from @geekycoconut.)

This cynicism, however, is little more than an addendum to a hot take I’ve been nursing for some time now. Unfortunately, it seems to me that Americans are terrible at navigating cultural expressions of class and class struggle.

Nothing has epitomized this more absolutely for me recently than the bizarre adjacency of someone like Donald Glover, championed for his relatively recent turn towards an explicitly politicized cultural production, engaging in a deeply embarrassing love-in at the BAFTAs for Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Before I completely put my foot in my mouth, I want to stress that this isn’t some anti-American call-out post but just a few observations about our cultural schism — a schism that often seems to come from a lack of awareness regarding Britain’s national class anxieties and a tendency that even America’s most politicised entertainers have for reterritorialising our media class struggles when they import them to their own shores.

BAFTA is very well versed at this and, perhaps surprisingly, this is something of which I have first-hand experience.

Here’s a fun and previously undisclosed fact: I spent almost two years working at BAFTA in their exhibitions department from late 2017 to earlier this year. It was nice there but the majority of that office was Fleabag‘s target audience — outside the production department where I lived, it was lots of privately educated horsey girls. So it comes as no surprise to me that their LA office would throw a Britannia Award at Phoebe Waller-Bridge so soon into her career. It feels a bit like giving Obama the Nobel Peace Prize just for winning an election and without any foresight for the indiscriminate drone-bombing and neoliberal world order he would continue to perpetuate.

Without expressing too much hostility towards my former employer — I actually had a lot of fun working there although I did spend most of my contract in a deep depression — I mention this only to stress that there have been many embarrassing examples at home of our own cultural shortsightedness. So this is not a stone thrown ignorantly from a glass house. After all, who could have ever imagined, ten or twenty years ago, that, for example, the NME — the NME — would publish something as grotesque as this.

Nevertheless, there has also been a fairly vocal and classically British backlash against the outdated cultural elitism that Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s cultural dominance represents. She is, in a way, also like Freddie Mercury (as previously discussed). Edgy, maybe, for a posh lady, but she remains the embodiment of a cultural BBC ‘received pronunciation’ establishment that infected the minds of the population by declaring a “standard” in its own aural image.

Fleabag is a kind of cultural recuperation of this long fought against establishment, constituting nothing less than a reterritorialisation of poshness for the present era.

This is to say that, whilst there have been many previous attempts to dismantle this establishment through a slow-moving cultural deterritorialisation — the eradicating the BBC’s embargo on regional accents being the most noticeable inter-generational example — Fleabag nonetheless remains representative of the upper classes’ attempts to preserve their own relevance within our media.

Beyond the nostalgia of shows like The Crown, Fleabag tries to make the posh cool again by eschewing any previous Victorian propriety and instead being a bit more open about all the risky sex and drugs they can afford to do.

Aimee Cliff recently wrote an excellent article about all of this for huck, about what PWB represents for so many, including an insightful nod towards America’s tone-deaf expressions when it comes to class. She writes:

Phoebe Waller-Bridge doesn’t need to apologise for being posh. But she also doesn’t need to have a “struggle” story, nor does she need to represent Britain in its entirety, nor be “changing the narrative” for women, in order for Fleabag to be considered good. As she becomes an international success story, we should be questioning US media’s positioning of Waller-Bridge as an unlikely champion, and interrogating the use of her to ‘punch down’ in sketches about the working class. How Waller-Bridge is presented to the world shouldn’t be divorced from the reality of the creative industries in Britain right now — which is to say, we have an epidemic of poshness.

What Donald Glover’s speech championing PWB demonstrates, in line with all this, is how, time and again, Americans are even more susceptible to falling uncritically for British posh foppishness than we Brits are!

To be fair, Cliff’s article included, all of this speaks to a broad cultural awareness that has only really (re)emerged over the last two decades. The publication of Owen Jones’ book Chavs remains the major consciousness-raising moment to my mind, stoking a rejection of New Labour’s repudiation of the very existence of class struggle and almost single-handedly culling the word “chav” from what was then widespread pop-cultural usage.

This has, very noticeably, not carried over the pond, however. (I’ll always remember the out-of-touch NYT review of Jones’ book beginning with this weird view of its opening scene, as if Jones is some member of the European literati, reimagining Madame Bovary for the 21st century.)

I can’t claim to be any expert on America’s class structure but its bloated middle is seemingly unique to the Anglophone world and has much to do with the pervasiveness of this sort of tone-deaf response to the class struggles of others. Indeed, having spent a lot of time with Americans who have moved to the UK (usually to study), their encounters with Britain’s class structure are always eye-opening if not utterly mind-boggling. They don’t know how to deal with it — and will reluctantly admit to this when pushed on it, usually a few months into their residence.

This is surprisingly true of Europeans as well — I remember having a frank conversation about class with a German friend of mine recently and I was surprised, considering our cultural similarities, when they too admitted that they found Britain’s particular class structure a difficult thing to navigate — but it is America, most damningly, that represents the recoding of the European bourgeoisie on the world stage, representing to so many over here the ultimate success of an “I don’t see class” approach to life, diluted by the American dream as a capitalist commandment passed down from God and the State.

Perhaps this is because they have enough on their plate already. The British public lacks a relative understanding of racialised experiences in much the same way. But, in this corner of the internet, with its often hard-line Marxism, these class discrepancies are often far more egregious. In fact, I think it is interesting how many Americans conflate the Anglophonic internet to something resembling their own cultural image and will Yank-splain accordingly.

This is something I’ve noticed as being prevalent even among Acc Twitter’s supporters and detractors and I was reminded of this the other day whilst reading a blogpost from Totalitarian Collectivist that contains a few half-way self-deprecating jabs at what are supposedly the accelerationist aesthetics of an NYC Nike store. The weird (and notably working class) Englishness of Burial and Lee Gamble collides with smog, anime and video games collides with bombastic American consumerism. The music’s cultural context is explicitly removed in a way that I can’t imagine happening here.

It’s a really lucid expression of a contemporary anxiety and a great post, capturing the Catch-22 of criticising capitalism through its predominant aesthetic forms and communicative channels. And yet the experience described is completely alien to me. I recognise none of it.

The conflation of disparate cultural signifiers from here and there is, to my mind, an acutely American phenomenon. Although it’s not entirely unfamiliar. The internet, in particular, seems like a black mirror monstrosity of pseudo-American corporatism, and the effects of this are most resonant in the post’s conclusion:

Radical politics for creatures like myself (and probably you as well, if you’re bothering with a wordpress blog) is experienced as the rightful rage/despair/shame/hatred and then immediately mediated through online communication until it reaches its logical end as the ultimate combination of curatorial art/identiy creation and consumerism: the amazon wishlist.

It’s the fraught complicity of Jodi Dean’s “communicative capitalism” writ large but there is nonetheless something amiss in their otherwise lucid description of capitalism’s aesthetic melting pot and I think it is a lack of self-awareness around how this pot is an explicitly American export.

This is most visible here in the UK when we consider the fetishism with which America’s glossy clinical aesthetics are treated by the British televisual tabloid media. Morning news programmes, once appropriately shabby and innocuous, mirroring the pre-coffee malaise of the average British living room — or, perhaps more accurately, dentist waiting room — have been transformed into aggressively glossy American-esque talk shows in recent years. And it is wholly unnatural, jarring with the national aesthetic that Mark Fisher described as “boring dystopia”.

(I’ve talked about this a little bit before, in a post that is actually very relevant — in sentiment at least — to this one…)

This overlay of gloss has only happened over the last decade or so and it is bizarrely Piers Morgan who has led the way. The Brit who absconded from the UK following the hostility he faced over the phone hacking scandal, who made his name anew in the US, slotting far more easily into their aggro news cycles, and then attempting to bring that attitude back with him when he arrived on our shores like a prodigal son returned that we all rather wish we’d had aborted.

In this sense, Morgan represents the lowest rung of UK/US bourgeois collaboration. The triumvirate of Trump-Farage-Boris is a little further up the ladder. Together, they epitomise a cross-pollination of sensibilities that we, over here in the UK, see explicitly as a US style of self-representation. They are a series of square pegs in our cultural round holes. We recognise them and their habits but they don’t necessarily fit with our own worldview. It is a novel export that hasn’t been culturally ingratiated into the collective consciousness, like sickly American cereal or private health care.

Nevertheless, the post does take (tentative) aim at British culture in this regard and questions the UK’s apparent political nostalgia in terms that are supposedly comparable to American electioneering:

The current UK leftist (or twitter leftist, I have no clue what it’s like there beyond what I see online) obsession with utopian imaginaries and paths not taken are a part of this retro-futuristic aesthetic cultivation. Raves and the miner’s strike, science fiction and critical theory were woven together in Fisher’s writing in a way that is another kind of propaganda, though one far more appealing than the edgelord brutalism of the cybertruck or the crude casino-Fordism offered by MAGA.

This is surely only propaganda to the uninitiated? Raves and the miner’s strike are “retro-futuristic” only by their nature as cultural life rafts for the British working class, necessary for anyone under the age of 30 to deal with. It is less nostalgia and more a form of “post-memory”. These images remain pop-culturally resonant because we continue to live palpably in their aftermath and would do so without the very real electioneering surrounding the Corbyn Continuum. Indeed, Corbyn is just a symptom of a national cognitive dissonance.

Films like Billy Elliot or The Full Monty or Pride demonstrate this pop-cultural continuum whereby the trauma of the miners’ strike and its adjacent cultural deviations remain a strong part of the national consciousness. They represent a tendency that has been doggedly preserved against all the odds. Whether pop- or subcultural, these media examples speak to a form of working class experience where populations still palpably live in the aftermath of these socioeconomic traumas, and where communities have long held onto an often unarticulated sensibility of the Bakhtinian carnivalesque as a result of these poorly sutured wounds.

The present “radicalisation” of the Labour Party, in this sense, can be read as a result of that post-chav reevaluation of who we are as a nation. Corbyn deconstructed the veneer of neoliberal propriety — at least enough to scare the establishment — and forced the media establishment to begin broadcasting a disenfranchisement that has never really gone away.

To live on the corpse of former industries is perhaps something that is instead compartmentalised within the American psyche to the maligned lumpenproletariat of Appalachia or inner city Blackness, as in Detroit, itself the birthplace of a strong working class (now retro-?)futurist counter-culture.

In Britain, perhaps due only to our relatively diminished size, there is no space for such compartmentalisation. The North is still defined — aesthetically, we might say — by dead industries; by rotten harbours, mills, and factories. It is these spaces that are reclaimed and repurposed for their rave potentials, even today. It is not propaganda but part of the material fabric of a society that an establishment continues to try and repress.

All this is to say that, whilst Totalitarian Collectivist‘s vision may make sense for someone on the other side of the pond, from here the conflation of all these things together feels exemplary of American pop culture’s particularly one-dimensional nature — something the country has nonetheless tried to export, somewhat successfully.

Ironically, it is this that is described as some sort of accelerationist problem. They later quote from an article by Toby Shorin called “Haute Baroque Capitalism” which lays this problem strangely at accelerationism’s feet.

I don’t find this strange in that familiar form of “that’s not ‘actually existing accelerationism’ actually” but rather that it seems to encapsulate another explicitly American version of this phenomenon. America’s Accelerationist vision does not coincide with that of its European cousins or elsewhere in the world — and this is as true of the violent alt-right as it is of the reductive new left — because it is America, above all other nations, that attempts to reduce everything to glossy spectacle.

(Indeed, isn’t the main issue with the Tale of Two Accelerationisms a war between a European and an American variety? The latter doesn’t seem to be a part of our sub-political discourse at all.)

Shorin begins by describing the new baroque grotesqueness of Trump-style property development in these terms, as well as the art-historical vomit of various skyscraper projects supposedly being proposed or in development, going on to reference an article by Gean Moreno that connects this to an unfamiliar accelerationist discourse:

Moreno looks at the lasting popularity of the so-called “grey goo” problem, an imagined scenario in which self-replicating, biovorous nanobots consume the world, leaving behind nothing but a gray sludge of nano-material. He notes that the nanobots are evocative of another non-human entity: capitalism as an “Alien monstrosity, an insatiable Thing that appropriates the energy of everything it touches and, in the process, propels the world toward the inorganic.”

Something clicked when I read this. The pure expression of capital was exactly what I had been thinking about, but unlike Moreno’s “slimed and dead world” I was noticing the twisting forms of MFGA [Mark Foster Gage Architects], the “encrusted” capital inside Trump’s offices, and the seemingly self-powered explosion of 9 Dekalb Ave out of the Dime Savings Bank. Accepted as a creative point of origin, it turns out that capitalism still subsumes everything. But it does so by blossoming into evermore absurd stylistic forms, intricate angel sculptures, and shimmering copper cluster columns.

It’s the sort of analysis that begs a history lesson — for Moreno if not Shorin. The analysis itself isn’t new in the slightest and, in fact, can be found — where else? — in the arguably proto-left-accelerationist writings of Felix Guattari, who writes in his book Three Ecologies about the way in which this goo reaches its zenith in American society, and he expounds at length on the contentions that Moreno, Shorin and others supposedly have about the superficiality of cultural production and aesthetic theory in relation to material praxes. He writes:

Now more than ever, nature cannot be separated from culture; in order to comprehend the interactions between ecosystems, the mechanosphere and the social and individual Universes of reference, we must learn to think ‘transversally’. Just as monstrous and mutant algae invade the lagoon of Venice, so our television screens are populated, saturated, by ‘degenerate’ images and statements [énoncés]. In the field of social ecology, men like Donald Trump are permitted to proliferate freely, like another species of algae, taking over entire districts of New York and Atlantic City; he ‘redevelops’ by raising rents, thereby driving out tens of thousands of poor families, most of whom are condemned to homelessness, becoming the equivalent of the dead fish of environmental ecology. Further proliferation is evident in the savage deterritorialization of the Third World, which simultaneously affects the cultural texture of its populations, its habitat, its immune systems, climate, etc. Child labour is another disaster of social ecology; it has actually become more prevalent now than it was in the nineteenth century! How do we regain control of such an auto-destructive and potentially catastrophic situation? International organisations have only the most tenuous control of these phenomena which call for a fundamental change in attitudes. International solidarity, once the primary concern of trade unions and leftist parties, is now the sole responsibility of humanitarian organisations. Although Marx’s own writings still have great value, Marxist discourse has lost its value. It is up to the protagonists of social liberation to remodel the theoretical references so as to illuminate a possible escape route out of contemporary history, which is more nightmarish than ever. It is not only species that are becoming extinct but also the words, phrases, and gestures of human solidarity. A stifling cloak of silence has been thrown over the emancipatory struggles of women, and of the new proletariat: the unemployed, the ‘marginalized’, immigrants.

It is this which both confirms and reevaluates the accelerationist disavowal put forward by Shorin that “most arguments for accelerationism rely not on reason but on compelling visual metaphors.” Guattari’s ecological thinking explains why.

I wouldn’t limit this disavowal to the visual, personally, but I absolutely see the value in inventing new forms of metaphor for collective solidarity and the workings of an increasingly para-organic (or at least non-anthropocentric) world. (Totalitarian Collectivist does this too, of course, in their bug communist writings.) For Guattari specifically, he imagines a world in which institutionalised forms — for him, most specifically, the apparatuses of Freudian psychoanalysis — “must be played with, rather than cultivated and tended like an ornamental garden!” This sort of praxis is far more familiar to a British cultural sensibility, I think. But of course, I’m biased. America, instead, has a reputation for treating the rest of the world like its own ornamental garden.

No wonder those over the pond have such little faith in calls for cultural subversion and reinvention. On their home soil, this takes the form of an EPCOT cultural imperialism that bastardises everything it touches. But just because it is bastardised in the US does not make its bastardisation so widespread elsewhere. Thankfully, though America’s influence on the world is second to none, many nations have nonetheless resisted its less palatable day-to-day cultural norms. This is to say that, in my experience, America’s own lack of cultural potentials and its capitalist recoding of the cultural potentials of others do not translate well when brought back home to the UK. They appear as bloated and hollow as everything else that defines the nation’s particular brand of “haute baroque capitalism”. Their treatment of Burial — and the history of rave culture more generally — is unrecognisable to us over here because they have radically transformed — or otherwise ignored — the material realities from which those sounds emerged.

With all this in mind, it is unsurprising that the “baroque sunbursts” brand of accelerationist discourse has far more traction outside of the US than inside it. Its American detractors do not seem to know any different than what they have been lumped with and so tar all other discourses with the same brush. Thankfully, their situation does not resonate with the material fabric of our realities abroad and so we continue unabated.

I’m not going to patronise — any further — regarding a necessity to unpick why it’s probably best the Americans consider themselves more closely, paying particular to the specificity of American grey goo, and its particular success at dissolving cultural solidarity. It is a goo that absorbs everything, yes — like capitalism, yes — but it also absorbs the Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s of this world with a distinct lack of criticality that is, they would do well to observe, far more prevalent at the source.

In some strange inversion of the Boston tea party, today we’re very vigilant about what the USA’s elites try to export to us. We might have a better chance of building solidarity if the US were as vigilant in this regard too.