Boscastle is an unusual place. Rather than feeling contained to an area, like your average “settlement”, it sort of trickles down the hill, staggering along the edges of a slipstream to its eventual harbour.
It is as idyll and precarious as it sounds, with the two sensibilities seemingly at war with each other. In 2004, the latter won out when the village was devastated by a flood. The villagers have since rebuilt the place and, bar the occasional doorway flood gate, you wouldn’t know anything so horrific could have happened here.
The God-fearing might assume that Boscastle came in for such bad luck due to its history as a epicentre for the spread of modern witchcraft. That’s what brought me here as well.
Since 1960, Boscastle has been the home of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, founded by local mystic Cecil Williamson. Williamson was interested in Wicca and a practicing witch himself but he also found the distance between the neo-pagan witches of this marginal religion and the folkloric perception of witches in the popular imagination to be a fascinating contrast.
And so he set up the Museum, hoping to present modern witchcraft as something in between, with exhibits occulted and sinister for the morbidly curious but also faithful and in-depth for the modern Wiccan.
Throughout this week, I’ve been looking into contemporary Cornwall’s various occulted corners — with Troy Books being my favourite discovery so far: I picked up Gemma Gary’s The Devil’s Dozen earlier this week in Penzance and have been thoroughly enjoying it — and what I’ve found has continuously evoked that oft-quoted line from Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy?:
To think is always to follow the witches’ flight.
The Museum in Boscastle is essentially a cabinet of curiosities exploring various outsider and occulted practices throughout history that walk this strange tightrope of “thought” — from thought as the embodiment of the individual Will to the collective thought of myth-making and superstition. It presents witchcraft, then, as a mode of thinking which plays on and acts through both vectors together — the power of the individual (particularly the outsider) in shaping and disrupting common sense; our “social sense”, as Bergson called it.
Indeed, witchcraft, as present by the Museum, becomes a mode of thought which takes what it can from a very broad arsenal of perceptions about cognition, from religious practice and mysticism to unsanctioned rationalisms and scientific play.
I have lots more to say on this but, having discovered in the gift shop that the Museum has its own research journal, I think I’ll try write something for the Museum itself. So watch this space for that.
For now though, in the spirit of this whole week’s What I Did On My Holidays blog takeover, here are a few of my favourite things found in the museum.
One of the most fascinating (and strangely DeleuzoBataillean) of objects is this taxidermic fox with a woman’s death mask affixed to it, supposedly commissioned by a witch who wanted to become one with her spirit animal — a becoming-animal in death.
Around the corner from this macabre amalgamation is the obligatory witches’ dildo. Whilst there are apparently many documents which speak of orgies with the Devil himself, the museum digs beneath the euphemism:
Several historians have surmised that due to the large amount of coven members often present at Sabbath meetings, it may be that an artificial phallus was used during the rites and this is why the Devil’s member was often described thus, “As cold as ice within me”….
Elsewhere, the Museum explicitly suggests that the orgiastic meetings of your local coven were more likely engaging in a communal exercise of feminine satisfaction, explicitly shunning their husbands for their inadequacies, with one document effectively gloating about how the Devil’s phallus is bigger and more fulfilling than any man’s.
There was a whole cabinet dedicated to Mother Shipton — shout out Yorkshire’s premier witchin’ cave-dweller — and also a load of texts straight out of English folk horror. So many daemonologies!
There are also voodoo dolls — from the commercially available (Hitler and Stalin pin cushions) to the home-made — as well as a cabinet full of mummified cats. Each one was excavated from within the walls or under the entrances to houses in the UK, said to be a superstition or charm that if you bury your dead cat in your house you’ll ward off all mice and rats.
There was also a collection of scrying mirrors (better known as “black mirrors”) and various other home-made objects that I’m tempted to try and make myself.
If I’m not careful, this blog might birth another side-series where I have a go at making magical artefacts and goth-looking ornaments.
A final museum feature worth noting is a lovely memorial wall at the end of your route, to your right just as you exit through the gift shop. It was home to various portraits, messages and obituaries for various patrons and donators to the Museum but one in particular caught my eye.
Jhonn [Balance] was a founder member of the magical rock band COIL, and was a magician, shaman and collector of all things magical, especially anything related to Austin Osman Spare, who’s art and philosophy he had championed for almost 2 decades. […] Jhonn was talking about lending or copying items from his immense collection of occult art for display at Boscastle in 2005 — when he heard about the flood he was distraught — but tragically that never happened; in November 2004 he fell from a balcony at his home, sustaining severe head injuring from which he did not regain consciousness. […] Much missed.
That night, I ended up drifting off to COIL’s Time Machines album after dipping back into England’s Hidden Reverse.
If I wasn’t already engrossed in the weird subcultural entanglements of this country’s modern occultist traditions, that has only be redoubled now.
If this post appears somewhat fragmented, that is because I’ve built it out of some stuff that got discarded whilst I was working on my #WYRDPATCHWORKSHOP talk a few weeks back. I’d recommend giving that a read first for some broader context but it’s not essential.
Patchwork, in the work of Nick Land in particular, is seen as a geopolitical desire that is, explicitly, strapped onto the branch of contemporary political philosophy known as Accelerationism. For Land, it seems, “accelerating the process” patchwise, in a way that is socioeconomically affective, relates to cutting out the middleman when it comes to capitalism’s influence.
Rather than having governments hire corporations, just accept that governments can’t keep up with the new techonomic world and, instead, let’s have a do-over.
This is a major generalisation, of course, and it is one which favours a particularly dystopian vision of the world from the left. However, whilst many see Land’s arguments as being associated with the “sovereign corporations” of Mencius Moldbug, hard to favour in light of contemporary inequality and the rampant ineffectuality of privatisation, there are also arguments to be made for a patchwork that could likewise resemble a fragmentary socialism where the “nationalisation” of industry is not just the further consolidation of state power. It could be seen less as the absorption of all business into the state and instead the absorption of the state by local business. This too is a generalisation — I’m trying to be brief — but suffice it to say that the overarching point of patchwork is that, regardless of where your politics lie, what comes under fire is the modern state form as the most formidable barrier to new political imaginaries.
This observation might sound all well and good but, predictably, patchwork ends up coming up against many of the same problems that accelerationism has in recent years. To enforce any particular left or right variant is sort of antithetical to what patchwork as a mode of thought is trying to attune itself to. This is not to simply hold up multiplicity as an end unto itself but rather to better account for the ground from which various contemporary tendencies move outwards from.
I recently published a primer on this intention as it is found in the discourse around unconditional accelerationism. Unconditional accelerationism, in contrast to a left or right accelerationism (and a dozen other variations of this philosophy that proliferate online) attempts to describe a process which unfolds beyond the realm of politics. This is not to ignore politics but rather to acknowledge that politics itself is expressed from within an overarching process from which it is not, in itself, distinct. We could even say that politics is dependent on this process — to quote a recent Ed Berger tweet: “the conditioned is dependent on the unconditional“.
As far as I am concerned, patchwork thinking is the real-world political arm of this analysis. It says: Here is the tendency that we see unfolding across decades, even centuries — that is, the unruly spread of capitalist nationhood, symptomatic of an attempt to quieten a certain ‘jangling of nerves’ — and here are a series of speculative geopolitical predictions which we see as worthy of encouragement if we want to effectuate real change from within the midst of this process rather than be mindless slaves to its affectations.
This makes patchwork a sort of antistatecraft. Just like capitalism, the territorialisation of the state, in its restlessness, opens doors for us which reveal new ways of geopolitical organisation, and patchwork attempts to provide a way of thinking them which are beyond the conditioned imaginary of the modern state form. It is an attempt to chart the unruly development of the state form itself to reveal its contingency as just one of a plurality of possible forms of interrelation between peoples and peoples-to-come. It is to follow the innate line of flight of the “state-form” we know in order to produce other kinds of state.
I sort of discussed this during my first #WYRDPATCHWORKSHOP talk, when I talked about how the Wyrd Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth offer us an example of an occulted, minoritarian outsideness, but one that is also strangely fatalistic. The fatalistic nature of this example has continue to be a issue in my mind and so the question lingers: when we talk about processes of deterritorialisation — innate entropic death drives within systems which pull towards their own demise — to what extent does this betray a deterministic approach to capitalism or geopolitics — that is, a sense of inevitability, or fatalism.
I wrote the U/Acc primer in part to try and address this problem as it is found in accelerationism. I was frustrated that accelerationism was being frequently reduced to the belief that we need to somehow speed up capitalism’s downfall no matter the cost — as if we have any real say in the matter — but I was also frustrated by a tendency to equate this determinism with a straight-up delusional religiosity which is betrayed by an interest in sci-fi or weird fiction; or narrative, fiction and myth more generally.
For me, the implicit reason for enjoying this approach is to suggest that we can read something like H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu, for example, and rather than just do the Cultural Studies thing of saying what the text is doing in the most boring way possible, we can instead try to tap into the power of that story and replicate the power of that mythos for our present moment, by putting into the very process of cultural production an occulted thinking that these sorts of stories bring to light at the limits of our conditioned realities. So, we shouldn’t just analyse culture in this way but actively try to produce it in its own outsider image.
Despite this, for some, this approach is reduced to such dumb dismissals as “Accelerationism is a sci-fi Cthulhu Cult that believes a giant dead octopus at the bottom of the ocean controls the world’s economy and doesn’t care about real-world affects and risks”…
And yet, in contrast to accelerationism, patchwork has never quite had to deal with this kind of critique, at least not to the same extent, perhaps because we’re a lot more familiar with thinking about the state in this way. Thomas Hobbes, for example, way back in 1651, wrote Leviathan, in which the state is presented to us in abstract, evoking the spectacle of a great whale, a kraken, a sea monster, albeit one cast in a positive light. Leviathan — used to give an image to a strong, undivided government — is, for Hobbes, despite the innate horror of the image, something to strive for.
Vincent Garton, on the Urbanomic website in 2017, wrote a marvellous essay — and a key patchwork text — in which he critiques Hobbes’ use of this image and calls, instead, for the formulation of “an Anti-Leviathan” — Leviathan Rots. Vince writes that what we need is “an enthusiasm that will be absolute, not relative, comfortable in its disjuncture, a theoretical orientation that is not dependent on a praxis of repetition of hegemony, but is open and expectant towards the processes that are ripping up the Leviathan — divesting it of its oceanic pretences, and drowning it in the expansive flux of the deep, green sea….”
Vince is a very interesting character within all of this, and a key contributor to these ideas. Between 2016 and 2017, he had a persistent online presence and was known for being a prolific and authoritative blogger on the topic of “unconditional accelerationism”. Then, at some point, he disappeared.
Vince’s last blog post, at this time, published on his Cyclonograph blog in July 2017, discussed the potential excavation of the antecedents of accelerationism — accelerationism, he writes, is, on “the most superficial level”, only about a decade old but it is also, at “its unspoken core … impossibly ancient.” This is because, he continues, accelerationism is “more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines”. It can be traced back through many paths and many cultures. Acceleration is, he says, a “sensation”, perhaps described most frequently by those in the West but it is nonetheless felt around the world. To reduce this tendency to any singular canonical trajectory is to reductively construct a bad genealogy. To relativise it is a mistake. Just as he calls for in Leviathan Rots, we need an “Absolute” approach to accelerationism — an unconditional approach.
We might say that accelerationism, then, is a philosophy which attempts to describe the unruly nature(s) of the politics we see erupting out of modernity and treat them accordingly, rejecting the consolidatory tendency of the state form and its striving for a total(itarian)ising theory which is innately false, only choosing to acknowledge a select number of the inputs that give it its form — that is, ejecting that which betrays the system of nation-state or capitalism as insufficient. As such, Vince writes, ending his previous blog on something of a cliffhanger: “When it is written, then, the intellectual history and genealogy of accelerationism must look beyond the contingencies of its present expressions.”
A year later, in July 2018, Vince returned, with a new blog, Cyclonograph II, and a seemingly new focus. His first piece of writing published around this time was an essay for the online magazine Jacobite entitled “Catholicism and the Gravity of Horror“, detailing his Catholicism and the horror integral to such a religious position, which many seemed to read, on the one hand, as a retraction of past political dalliances, or, on the other, as a conflation of Accelerationism with Catholicism itself. (Not a manoeuvre attractive to many tech-savvy secularists.)
But what Vince is describing here is the way in which the Church have followed the lead of the State in consolidating itself into an authoritative institution despite the ways in which its “ground” suggests an antithetical approach. He is putting forward a Catholicism which looks beyond the contingencies of its present expressions. He writes:
The Church today, mystical body of Christ that it remains, is not the ideal Church. Across its history it has been all too easy to founder, driven to despair by its mysteries or — far more common today — losing sight of them entirely, falling into a simplistic world of smooth and total immanence and giving up the commission of self-surrender. The theologian walks a precipice, and must take care neither to collapse, like Luther, into the oppressive darkness of a fallen world, nor to dissolve in the false light of an insipid liberalism that averts its gaze because it has forgotten how to fear.
What I find here, in connecting Vince’s past and present blogs, is a favouring, perhaps, of one particular “jangling of the nerves” — an unconditional one — and, as such, a jangling which, again, looks beyond contingent expressions, leading him to acknowledge the ways in which “modern philosophy, particularly aesthetic philosophy, driven for centuries with all its enlightened instincts away from religion, comes at its edge once more and continually into contact with theology.”
This is because what transcendental philosophies — and even transcendental politics — share with modern religion is a (somewhat performative) attempt to commune with that which is outside themselves. It considers its conditions of existence, establishing an outside of which it can say nothing. This has been the effect of Kantian philosophy on the world as we know it. What we find in Kant is precisely an attempt to give thought its conditions; to sketch out its edges, the areas beyond which thought itself cannot go. We find this within most popular conceptions of accelerationism too, placing conditions on politics in order to adequately describe their limits. As such, whether we call this radical Outside “Nature” or “God” or “the thing-in-itself” or the “Other” or “Cthulhu”, what we find is the acknowledgement of a process which is beyond ourselves but of which we can say nothing in particular. So, for Kant, everything we experience is conditioned by perception. We cannot speak to the world as it would be without us. We cannot even speak of ourselves understood outside of perception and it is from here that we find the limit of Lovecraftian horror and Catholic reasoning.
But the story does not end there. To finish the story with our terror before the unthinkable and unimaginable is, arguably, to accept impotence, failing to consider the thought that has emerged after this.
This is something I’m researching at the moment — the development and critique of Kantian thought to be found amongst the Post-Kantian German Idealists. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, in particular, emerges as an important figure who attempts to address the recursive nature of Kant’s position. Yes, we can say nothing of the “Outside”, but at the same time we must acknowledge that we ourselves are a product of it. Just as Judeo-Christian theology insists that we have been made in God’s image, we find a Post-Kantian thought which finds that whilst “Nature” may be inaccessible to us “in itself”, we also are nature-in-itself, and so thought becomes a way in which nature thinks itself. As Iain Hamilton Grant writes in his book Philosophies of Nature After Schelling:
… the grounds of the finitude of transcendental reflection are not simply logical, as Hegel will present it, but rather physical, and concern the relation between productivity and product. The transcendental is productive in the pursuit of conditions, but, having established such conditions as conditions, mere product when it accordingly determines a thought as thus conditions. There is an energetic cost, in other words, to thought about thought.
Now, I won’t pretend have any authoritative grasp on this as yet — this is an ongoing area of research for me, and new terrain to boot — but as I understand it, this manoeuvre in naturephilosophy is an attempt to rebuild the subject, in particular, as the product of a productive natural history by reversing through the strata of the subject to find its unconditioned core; its “nature”. But, if thought is nature thinking itself, then what is the ground of nature? And what is the ground of that ground? What is nature understood unconditionally? This is something which is likewise developed by Deleuze and Guattari, and whilst their Kantian thinking is often explored by philosophers, the influence of naturephilosophy on their ideas seems to be a lot less prevalent around these blogospheric parts, but there are some who have explored this in great depth. I know that Ben Woodard is soon to publish a book on Schelling, for instance; Thomas Murphy is incredibly knowledgeable about this period in the history of philosophy; and, last but certainly not least, there is also Thomas Moynihan’s forthcoming book Spinal Catastrophism (recently announced and out in September) which pursues these ideas with an explicitly post-CCRU bent.
It is via the CCRU that we can see the retention of a predilection for Gothic horror in naturephilosophy. In considering Schelling’s interjection of the human subject as nature which thinks itself, I’m reminded of the opening scene from Begotten, for instance, where we see God disembowel himself. Such is deterritorialisation, and the ultimate horrific impact of a Nature which performs persistent biopsies on itself. As such, there is a sense that, in hoping to understand Nature, we have to delve inside ourselves as we already are and so the energetic cost that is spent is nature itself; is us.
But, of course, in the film, out of the bowels of God emerges Mother Nature. Nature begets nature begets nature, each time in a new and appropriately unholy form.
And so, as Iain Hamilton Grant continues, in a chapter of his book which is notably titled “‘What thinks in me is what is outside of me'”:
It is in consequence of the derivative nature of the product with respect to productivity that Schelling’s transcendentalism begins with the assertion ‘nature IS a priori‘, but immediately raises the problem of how a nature can be thus a priori and, at the same time, ‘unconditioned’. Accordingly, Schelling completely reinvents a transcendental philosophy that must reverse through the series of conditions until it discovers either the ‘unconditioned is nature’ that ‘cannot be any thing‘, or that nature is unconditional.
This seemingly proto-structuralist account of nature is likewise taken up and taken to its extremes by Deleuze and Guattari in their call for a geology of morals. Their question, “Who does the earth think it is?”, might be qualified with a small addition: “Who does the earth think it is unconditionally?”
What becomes critical here, and which I’ll hopefully explore more in future, is the way in which, as already suggested, this geological approach to nature likewise produces new natures. By digging down, new matter is brought to the surface.
As Grant writes at the start of his book, introducing Schelling and his naturephilosophy:
Philosophy does not, according to Schelling, consist in a redescription of otherwise available phenomena, but launches ‘thought-operations’ in the ‘medium of the universal and the impersonal’. It is ‘not [a] demonstrative, but [a] generative‘ process through which productive nature itself acts on, or produces, itself: ‘to philosophise about nature means to create nature’.
We might do well to think of accelerationism and patchwork in much the same way.
Ultimately, everything concerns the micropolitics of Departure. The micropolitics of departures and disappearances across thresholds of existence — thresholds of waking, of becoming-active. Art is hopelessly mis-constructed unless it is understood as providing outsights toward the escape-path, the second sphere of action, the body without organs, and the ongoing disaster within the human world — but, of course, most crucially, the escape-path. All of these outsights are toward the transcendental-empirical, but the question of the primary focus is vital: if attention is turned toward the human disaster then there is a danger of entrapment either within the ‘tragic,’ or the ‘gothic.’
I really like Justin Barton’s blog scanshifts and, for some time now, he has been using it to serialise his new book (following 2015’s brilliant Hidden Valleys).
This post, in particular, was pointed out by Robin the other day, articulating the intention (and warning) behind Xenogothic even better than I could.
I’m back on deep assignment in Cornwall this month with various excursions planned whilst I’m temporarily (and I hope it is only temporarily) free from regular employment, so expect more pictures than writing this month as I absorb all the weird and eeriness that Cornwall has to offer.
On the way down to the England’s utter southwest, we stopped by Stonehenge today — an overdue pilgrimage captured by Robin.
It was great. I’ve seen some serious megaliths before — the region around the Carnac stones was twice a destination for the annual family holiday when I was a child — but the very fact that this monument has been unquestionably designed, and its design remains mostly in tact, is awe-inspiring.
Way back in October, I spent another week away in Cornwall, although this time with my girlfriend rather than on “deep assignment” at Urbanomic HQ.
For the first half of the week, I was sick with my first cold of the season. The second half of the week, it was my girlfriend’s turn… We got up to lots nonetheless but that dual autumnal burn-out was a very difficult one to get over. It lasted for most of the rest of the year, in fact, and it was so mentally corrosive that I ended up completely forgetting I’d even started this post in the subsequent haze.
As such, it’s a bit of a futile endeavour to try and finish it. I wanted to write about things whilst they were fresh but now it’s almost 6 months ago. Nevertheless, reshaping what was already here will no doubt be useful. I really want to write something long-form on Cornwall at some point and this is not it. I suspect there are far more conversations needed with Robin before something more substantial can coalesce between us but there is certainly something there, waiting for its moment. (There is another Cornwall visit on the cards so we’ll see what happens then.) For now, this is an attempt to write down a couple of things before they fall completely out of my mind-sieve.
Here’s what I (can remember that I) did on my holidays…
My old post, “Lovers Flight“, on the Yorkshire Gothic and Deleuzean patchwork, has continued bubbling in the background on this blog since I first wrote it. It was the most important post of last year for me. It galvanised something in my thinking — much more than its precursor: “State Decay“, despite that post being considerably more popular — and so I’ve been trying to extend this out into something much more long-form and rigorous, taking in some of the other areas of the UK that share a natural and cultural affinity with the Gothic, but it’s not happened yet. It’s a project that feels so big I think it will have to be book number two. But I really need to finish book number one first…
Daphne Du Maurier has felt like the next literary genius worthy of consideration within this project but linking the Yorkshire and Cornish moors felt like a pretty tenuous leap to make, at first, without enough to justify ignoring their 300-mile disconnection. However, walking through a collector’s fair in St. Ives back in October, I came across a second-hand book stall which was selling about six different editions of a book by Du Maurier herself called Vanishing Cornwall, an exploration of her adopted home that poignantly made the Brontë connection for me. She writes:
The four surviving children, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and the brother Bramwell, had a Cornish mother whom they barely remembered, and a Cornish aunt to instruct them in their most formative years. This heritage played an undoubted part in the development of later genius, and if Emily Bronte, and Wuthering Heights, will always be associated with the Yorkshire moors it must not be forgotten that both her mother and her aunt had on their own doorstep, through childhood and adolescence, the wild moorland scenery, the stories and the legends of West Penwith.
Whilst I cannot profess to have any Cornish relatives to instil me with a moorland mentality, my mother, whilst she was still lucid, would obsess over Du Maurier’s book Rebecca. (Until last year, I didn’t think Du Maurier was “cool” at all because my Mum liked her so much. How wrong I was!) My main memory of going to Cornwall, as a kid, aside from listening to lots of Limp Bizkit, is going to see “Manderley” — although, in the most wonderfully disorientating fashion, I’ve since realised that this visit has become an oneiric entanglement of fact and fiction. I vividly remember the feeling of seeing “Manderley” in the flesh but the vision of the house in my mind’s eye is very much confused with the images of the place conjured up by Alfred Hitchcock and whoever did the set design for a stage adaptation my Mum dragged me too one time at the Hull New Theatre.
So, as much as I have previously played up a kind of tongue-in-cheek Yorkshire nationalism on this blog, in orbit of the prospect of an independence movement, it must be said that what has stuck me most about my various jaunts around this weird little island is that Yorkshire shares many strong affinities with other counties and countries, that are all rooted in the futile Celtic resistance of English imperialism. (Yes, at “home” as well as abroad.) The attraction of moors and the eerie countryside more generally seems, to me, to be based in a Gothic refusal to conform to a consolidated sense of Englishness. As such, my affirmation of my home’s difference is most important to me because it is a difference shared.
The affinities that Yorkshire shares with other territories around the United Kingdom are precisely rooted in this Hobbesian horror — darkened corners of this kingdom that may not have identified with but nonetheless live in the shadow of leviathan, moulded to its shape over centuries by state oppression and class war. The combined heritages of neglect and, in particular, mining mean these affinities go back a long way. I remember feeling this most intensely in Wales. In fact, many other Yorkshire folk I met whilst I was living in Wales a few years back spoke of a very similar natural affinity to its landscape and cultural identity, and people I’d meet in Wales who’d been to Yorkshire would acknowledge the same thing.
These anti-English, or more broadly anti-imperialist, folk traditions — which is to say, folk traditions that survive today as an indirect but no doubt conscious two fingers up to English cultural erasure — are directly linked to the occult, and this is likewise an attraction I have felt existing between Wales and my Yorkshire home — I lived down the road from the Welsh birthplace of Arthur Machen, for instance — and also to Cornwall.
This is to say that, everywhere I’ve lived — except London, notably — it always felt like class consciousness and an affinity with the occult have gone hand-in-hand and Cornwall is no different. Its history of tin mining collides with its various archaeological sights and the mists of its moors. In Cornwall with Robin, this sense of an occultural weather was felt most prominently as we trekked across moors in thick fog and fine drizzle, in search of a crop of standing stones with only an Ordinance Survey map for guidance, carving out a meandering path, avoiding the map markers for abandoned mine shafts.
With far less fog on this October trip, our situation was less moored and more marooned. We found the various standing stones and outcrops with ease and, with the sun blaring down on us, we instead elected to spend a lot more of our time along the coast.
However, it is worth noting that, with visibility high, you get a sense of Cornwall’s illusory island mentality when, from some vantage points on the moors, you can see the whole Cornish peninsula stretch out in front of you with the sea encroaching on both sides. At Land’s End, where we spent one of our days, this sensation is heightened further still, with the expanse of the sea in front of you taking on the weight of the whole of this weird little nation as it unfolds for infinity behind you.
You feel like you’re at the absolute ends of the earth, with the land not stopping, transitioning from earth to beach, but petering out as jagged rock, as if the land forgets itself, dissolving into the abyss like everything else.
A little further round the coast at Lizard Point, the feeling is much the same. Whilst Land’s End is the furthest flung extremity of England, Lizard is its most southernly point. Rather than visit it for this fact alone, it was the first coastal spot on a secret musical sightseeing tour.
Countless times I had listened to Brian Eno’s track of the same name, thinking what this place might actually be like. It did not disappoint as a treacherous bit of coast littered with shipwrecks, caves and seals, although the wealth of tourist activity did dilute the mystery somewhat.
This was the case at a number of other musical spots as well. We went to Logan Rock too, for instance, looking for the Logan Rock Witch but found nothing but a quaint dock and a picturesque sun trap.
However, as is the case with many other popular tourist spots in Cornwall, there is a sense that you would find the atmosphere you were looking for if you were to return at a less sociable hour. It felt like, to see Cornwall properly, when it wasn’t trying to sell itself, you had to see it at night.
St. Michael’s Mount was another Aphex Twin tourist landmark but this one, at least, retained the wonder of its spectacle. It also had an intriguing and potent Gothic history.
On a wall in the visitor centre, it says:
In medieval times, St Michael was thought to determine whether the souls of the recently dead went to Heaven or Hell.
Holy places on hills and mountains were often dedicated to him as the mediator between God and man, which was the case with St Michael’s Mount. We still honour this tradition.
It is surprising, reading this, that there are no other St Michael’s Mounts in Cornwall. It is a part of the world drenched in the sublime. This is felt in equal amounts of terror and wonder. Indeed, there were times when these coastal settlements felt somewhat like they were trying to harness something not of this world, sometimes against better judgement.
We visited one hamlet, for instance, that was nothing but a dock and a few cottages. New houses and a caravan park had been recently built not far away but there was a sense that the original settlers here had not wanted to be bothered. They were tucked very much into the landscape.
It felt like Innsmouth, with the harbour only there to keep up a pretence whilst they communed with something from below. Because the harbour didn’t go out to sea. It simply added a further barrier to something from within an already cloistered cove, embedded within an already existing natural frontier. It felt like something untoward was being kept out. But you couldn’t say what.
We spent a lot of time finding places such as this along the coast. I took hundreds of pictures of them. Too many to fit in this post. One other particularly notable example of this kind of sublime communion, however, was the Minack Theatre — an open-air theatre built over a 50-year period directly into the cliff face.
It was built, originally, to perform Shakespeare on during and after the war. If I remember correctly, one of the first plays performed there was The Tempest and what a perfect play to perform on this coastline of all coastlines.
Further examples exist inland. There are standing stones and stone circles everywhere. Walking through them, you might feel something pass through you. Everyone seems to be built on the perfect spot where land and sky fold into one another.
This is something felt more profoundly than anything on this trip. Of course this strip of land is littered with the archaeological detritus of sun worship.
I’m reminded, at every turn, of Bataille’s text The Solar Anus, describing this great entropic churn back to the plane of immanence. The Cornish coast feels attuned to it. It is the land’s end, England’s end, and it knows it. It loves it. Cornwall is born where England comes to die, its corpse tossed around by the tide.
Plants rise in the direction of the sun and then collapse in the direction of the ground.
Trees bristle the ground with a vast quantity of flowered shafts raised up to the sun.
The trees that forcefully soar end up burned by lightning, chopped down, or uprooted. Returned to the ground, they come back up in another form.
But their polymorphous coitus is a function of uniform terrestrial rotation.
The simplest image of organic life united with rotation is the tide. From the movement of the sea, uniform coitus of the earth with the moon, comes the polymorphous and organic coitus of the earth with the sun.
But the first form of solar love is a cloud raised up over the liquid element. The erotic cloud sometimes becomes a storm and falls back to earth in the form of rain, while lightning staves in the layers of the atmosphere.
The rain is soon raised up again in the form of an immobile plant.
Animal life comes entirely from the movement of the seas and, inside bodies, life continues to come from salt water.
The sea, then, has played the role of the female organ that liquefies under the excitation of the penis.
I get asked for film and TV recommendations a lot on CuriousCat and I’m never really sure what to say. More often than not, I ignore them, because it ultimately feels quite arbitrary.
I watch everything. Or try to. I used to literally watch everything and my threshold for liking things was low. I paid my dues with French New Wave or Polish Slow Cinema or whatever else. My favourite directors were Kieślowski, Bergman and Lynch but I don’t really want to be the guy who still recommends that stuff at the drop of a hat into his late 20s. (Although, of course, I still think they’re all great.)
If 18-year-old Film Bro me was to give you a list of films that were really influential for me, it would look like this:
I’d still stand by that list, I reckon, but I’m wary of saying it is definitive because I haven’t seen most of these films (except The Thing, which still gets frequent outings) within the last 5 years — 10 years for some. As such, I could just keep going. I’ve seen a lot of films and I’ve liked a lot of films because I was a teenage sponge and there comes a point where a list just becomes redundant because it’s whatever comes to mind first. I don’t want to equate my taste with the effectiveness of my memory. Nowadays, if I watch something and it makes me feel something out of the ordinary, I’ll probably find something to write about it right here.
I could have just said all this when an anon asked earlier if I could recommend some “Gothic media essentials” and, whilst I’d otherwise be happy to, it felt like a good opportunity to offer some broader thoughts on tastes and xenogothic media. Because not all these things are recognisably Gothic and making a list doesn’t really do enough in terms of clarifying that I actually think about the Gothic (and why this blog is called Xenogothic).
I like finding the Gothic in all the telly I watch. My view of the Gothic isn’t that normative because I don’t think the Gothic is — or, rather, it shouldn’t be — that normative. At its best, it ruptures itself. The best examples of the Gothic, for me, are often thrillers and murder mysteries rather than horror movies. More often than not, I end up chatting about the latest murder mystery on Netflix than the latest jump-scare-athon. I’m a big fan of Robin Mackay’s writing on yarnwork in this regard and Robin might be the person I talk to about TV and films the most. (In fact, we shared a folk horror kick last year, watching Blood on Satan’s Claw at Urbanomic’s Cornwall HQ.) He once wrote:
The international thriller and the detective story … present us with a localised object or event that stands out from the ground of normality, suggesting forces as yet unaccounted for. At the same time they transform that vision through abrupt shifts in perspective — the ‘plot twists’ that are the stock in trade of such narratives. This continual interrogation appeals in part because it models the predicament of finite, situated cognition and its aspirations toward universal purchase.
Gothic media essentials are, then, a misnomer for me. It’s about rupturing normality, not finding the best examples of a norm. What I’m interested in is being attuned to the weird as we can find it in the here and now, and the now and then. And there are plenty of examples of media that do that, albeit not being readily seen as “Gothic”. “American Horror Story” never quite got my vote, for example, because it felt so invested in heavy-handed genre tropes. I much prefer the neo-baroque of “Hannibal“, for instance, or, most recently, I liked that new adaptation of “The Haunting of Hill House“. Another series I can’t stop thinking about is “Children of the Stones“, particularly for the way that Mark wrote about it on the Hyperstition blog, tapping into a vigilant and militant dysphoria.
Dominic Fox, whose book Cold World I bought shortly after writing that post (and I enjoyed it very much), pointed to some further posts of his own exploring Black Metal and its resonance with weird theory discussions from around 2007.
Back in October, on a Xasthur kick, I pulled together some old K-Punk posts where Mark was drawn into a discussion about Xasthur’s album Subliminal Genocide after one commenter referred to it as being hauntological.
I can’t go along with attempts to christen this stuff “metal’s own Burial” — it’s too saturated and airless for that. Black metal is relentlessly entropic, committed to a one-way temporality in which intensities run inexorably down to zero and stay there, forever; there are no ghosts in this house, only cupboards full of corpses. The state of mind suggested by Subliminal Genocide is one of trancelike contemplation of the ashes of the cosmos — the logical end-point of Xasthur’s misanthropic individualism.
If there is anything “out of joint” here it is space (relations of pitch) rather than time (rhythmic patterning). The wide chorus effect used on the guitars during some of the album’s quieter moments makes them sound curdlingly out-of-tune with themselves, while the frequent harmonic shifts between distantly-related minor chords suggest a tonal universe in which there is no progression, only substitution – a universe of perpetual suspension, in which resolution can never arrive (and would have no meaning if it did). It is in perhaps this spirit that Xasthur’s frosty logo evokes the endless winter desired by Narnia’s Ice Queen, the “cold world” of dejection.
He follows up with “Genertic Misanthropy (i)” and “Genertic Misanthropy (ii)“, which explore some of the uncomfortable tensions between Black Metal’s reputation for misanthropy and racism, in which he asks the question: “Is a consistent and thorough-going hatred of all humanity possible?”
I’ve been drifting in and out of sleep with Xasthur on the headphones on the train to and from work for the past few days; it’s probably just as well that subliminal programming doesn’t really work, or my unconscious would undoubtedly be in a bad way by now. All the same, I don’t think that it’s only the titles that index Xasthur’s nihilism: that “swampy viscosity” of sonic texture envelops a decidedly warped tonal language, quite at odds with the unthreatening diatonicity that much “ambient” music seems to have inherited from the minimalism of Steve Reich and Terry Riley.
I had my own experience of this, falling asleep to Subliminal Genocide on an early morning bus journey from London to Bristol last summer. I was very surprised how not-terrible the whole experience was. I think I had quite pleasant dreams.
Thanks to Dominic for sharing these posts. Evidently codepoetics is a blog I need to dig back much further into.
If there is a gateway to hell, a portal from the underworld used by demons and witches to wreak their evil havoc on humanity, then it could be in a small east Midlands cave handy for both the M1 and A60.
Thanks to @qdnoktsqfr for sharing this #CaveTwitter tip-off.
The Guardian reports that, in the town of Creswell, between Sheffield and Mansfield, two cavers have discovered “the biggest concentration of apotropaic marks, or symbols to ward off evil or misfortune, ever found in the UK.”
The two keen-eyed cavers thought there were perhaps two or three markings; it soon became clear there were dozens and then on further investigation up to a thousand. And counting. “They are everywhere,” said Baker. “How scared were they?”
I spend a lot of time in this part of the world, home as it is to my in-laws, so here’s hoping we get a Xenogothic field trip out to the crags sometime in the future. In fact, there are a lot of areas like this in the area. The Devil’s Arse at Castleton, for instance, has a very similar atmosphere, by the sounds of it.
John Charlesworth, the caves’ heritage interpreter, said natural landscapes were once regarded as scary places. “These are places where supernatural forces in an untamed non-human environment could be at work. Local people are in the jaws of this monstrous landscape.”
I’d never quite thought of this before, but it’s very true. Castleton is likewise famous for Mam Tor, on its outskirts, a Bronze Age hill fort high up on the nearby “shivering mountain”. These hilled areas are exposed and must have been tough places to live, but at some point these settlements moved down from the hills and into the valleys, and these valleys are intimidating landscapes. Snake Pass is out in the open air but its steep descents makes you feel like you’re entering the bowels of something.
The article continues:
Up close the walls are a remarkable frenzy of marks. Everywhere you point a torch there are overlapping Vs, a reference to Mary, virgin of virgins. There are also PMs, as in Pace Maria, and crossed Is, referring to Jesus on a cross, and odd-shaped As.
Alison Fearn, a Leicester university expert on protective marks, recalled first shuffling on her backside in to the cave and realising what she was looking at. “I think I said a very naughty word.”
The letters and symbols were Christian but should not be looked at in that context, she said. From the 16th century to the early 19th century, when people made witches marks, there may have been a lack of association with religion, such as today when people might cross fingers or say “oh god”. She said: “It just becomes a protective symbol. It was a mark you always made to protect yourself.”
What the marks were keeping out, or in, can only be speculated on. “It could be fairies, witches, whatever you were fearful of, it was going to be down there.”
The Siberian Times reports that locals in the Russian cities of Prokopyevsk, Kiselyovsk and Leninsk-Kuznetsky are reporting black snow falling from the sky and covering the landscape.
Pictures shared by locals show alarming black winter scenes with one comment reading: ‘Is this what snow looks like in hell?’
Others have claimed there is a beauty in the bleak snowscapes.
Local media have blamed the gloom on local plants processing coal.
Whilst pollution is one solution, the locals might also do well to consider the geotraumatic influence of the Channel Zero black snow cult.
As long as the local media continues to report on the phenomenon, things must be okay. It’s when things go quiet that we should start to worry.
In the words of Blind Humpty Johnson: “Nothing comes out of the black snow.”
Nothing comes out of the black snow / Nothing comes to you through Channel Zero / Coming to you unlive / Coming to you unrecorded…
Zeroing in on you
That’s what we foresee / A wave of black snow / An impending absolute collective blindness / And from among the tatters of electromagnetic shadow / Seething out of the lost signal / Pour the chaotic myriads / To return the earth to its sub-primordial state.
Robin asked, poignantly, addressing the deep-time scale of much of what Intelligence & Spirit attempts to address:
If the book essentially stands against both nihilistic resignation and the idea of a magical revolutionary emancipation, and configures the task of emancipation as one that extends way beyond our individual life spans, then what part can any of us hope to play in that? And what part do you see yourself, as a philosopher, playing in that emancipation of intelligence from its cage, and from the shortcomings of actually existing human intelligence?
[F]or me as a philosopher, the most important thing is the idea of education. Education is always and all the time connected to the philosophy of intelligence and the philosophy of mind. And by that I do not mean higher education, I mean the broad spectrum of education, from nurturing to developmental psychology, and so on. If we don’t take this idea of education seriously as the basis of what we can do here and now, then any kind of future emancipation is going to fail.
We get overexcited by our revolutionary paradigms, by what we have achieved, but then we see, two days later, twenty years later, that we are back to square one, if not worse. Education is absolutely, for me, the most concrete contribution I can make. And the idea of education, right now, not only in Western countries but across the globe, is fundamentally pathological. Why are the so-called revolutionaries not talking about education anymore, as something that is deeply, fundamentally tied to the history of intelligence and to concrete political change?
This really resonated with me. I think about education a lot.
If you’ve been following this blog, you may have realised I have a neurotic’s obsession with archiving and documentation — this series in itself being a case in point — but rather than this being an anal inability to let anything go, I think instead that documentation is just how I learn. Watching, listening, waiting to find a way in and producing something that is very much my own out of that process, but which can likewise help someone else better understand something. And this is what education should be marked by, surely, rather than the atomism of competitive pissing contests?
It was formally studying photography, from the age of 14 onwards, that made me interested in this understanding of teaching. I was allergic to any kind of timed performance-based testing as an overly anxious student but photography showed me the benefits of a more relaxed education and allowed me to find education everywhere. It became a social experience — social in a way that I’d never previously found in the didactic realm of the classroom.
I’ve written about this sort of thing before, particularly related to photography and also to Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s book The Undercommons. In my essay “Community Remains“, for instance, which was commissioned by my old undergrad course, I highlight how Moten and Harney “describe a ‘beyond of teaching’: a social praxis of pedagogy that does not simply transmit knowledge to the consumer-student but encourages an acephalic community of independent thinkers; a community of a shared secret that is fugitive to bureaucracy.” What Moten and Harney describe is, in effect, an extracurricular consciousness raising.
(Also, s/o to lēves who turned me onto Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppresseda while back. That’s a great book that warrants a mention in this context.)
However, in the UK, a lack of interest in the revolutionary power of education becomes entirely understandable when the trips to the pub after class are seen less as an outside to pedagogy and instead just a necessarily shared drowning of sorrows.
This is the effect hidden behind the headlines. Teaching is a profession that has infamously been through the wringer under a Tory government in this country but the form of education that really matters has never been done in those classrooms anyway. Not really. The biggest tragedy of keeping the nation’s educators in a state of perpetual burn-out is precisely that it is an undercommons, a beyond of teaching, that suffers. It is, as Moten and Harney make clear, a bureaucratised capital-T “Teaching” that reduces our very capacity to teach proper.
Having watched this process unfold at a most relentless pace over the last ten years in particular, via friends who teach and who have been taught, I’ve been wholly disillusioned from the idea of teaching at any level for myself. (I applied to be a secondary school trainee teacher thing last year, actually, but didn’t get through the weirdly Apprentice-like selection process, which really didn’t help settle my bubbling disenfranchisement.)
It also doesn’t help that this pathological element that Reza describes only gets worse the higher up the system you climb.
Despite present frustrations, art education remains the context in which I have learnt the most and, most importantly, learnt how to think critically.
Arts education here becomes shorthand for a loose, community-oriented, outside (in both a figurative and literal sense) education which happens already within the world rather than being sold as some kind of preparation for it. It is an education that necessitates a collective thinking about the world as it is and how it could be. It may not be, in this respect, quite so rigorous — although proper study is, of course, a very important part of it all the same — but despite being a lot less well read than many of my interlocutors who have formally studied philosophy for longer, it is also evident to me, from just a few years on Twitter, that an ability to “think” and “read philosophy” are not mutually exclusively skills…
What’s important about this kind of informal arts education — if you’ll excuse the brief continuation of this extended reminiscence — is that, for me, communication is (or should be) at its heart. (This is a very important point that we’ll return to later on in this series.) Arts education is a form of education that is predicated on communication. Without it, it fails. You can’t learn about this stuff in a vacuum. Not really. Culture is inherently communal.
Photography education — which is my background and the industry in which I continue to work in (or, more accurately, on the periphery of) — was, for me, an especially wonderful example of this. It is a scientific and technological process; an art form; a ubiquitous media; it’s journalism; it’s surveillance; it’s a fun hobby; it’s whatever. Photography is the most complicated media that we are all, to some extent, familiar with. Unfortunately, we treat it flippantly, but I think to understand its promiscuity is to understand much of the modern world and, particularly, how we might tinker with its image.
Jason Evans, for example, was a former mentor of mine when I was a photography student — who taught me as much in three months from his living room as I learnt in the entirety of my three-year degree — and his most recent project is the perfect example of what this kind of education might look like.
It’s called The Garden Gate Project and involved working with a horticultural charity, using photography as a way to both further engage with and document the gardeners’ own work.
From experience I can tell you that Jason is an incredible teacher. It’s like a magic power he has. He teaches seemingly through intuition. You simply watch him and find yourself learning a bucket load. His openness to play is infectious and he opens up everyone he meets to new worlds.
In this interview with Pylot Magazine, in which he is asked what he thinks his participants have gotten out of this experience, in the sort of way a university might ask its staff to self-evaluate, he poignantly says:
I am not sure how you assess learning; it’s not a straight forward transaction like reciting the alphabet. The workshops were an opportunity to experiment in a supportive, non-competitive environment. When you try something new, neural pathways are being opened, habits are being challenged. If nothing else we had fun, and I think it is useful for everyone to have some time to play.
I am open to being corrected if I am way off the mark here but, to me, this resonates with the processes described in Intelligence & Spirit. How do you assess (or even access) learning?
Education isn’t, as schools perhaps like to think, a rote form of cognitive upload. We might joke about the “uploads” of knowledge shown in The Matrix but, as Jason says, education is the overwriting of neural pathways; the challenging of habits. Neo doesn’t unlearn via red pill and he doesn’t learn by cognitive injection, even if that’s what the narrative tries to imply; he learns by testing out what he thinks he knows about himself on Morpheus and having his self-belief and knowledge challenged by his peers. The technochemical interventions only open up a new stage of possibility. It is the socialchallenge that shapes the brain, not the learning of the knowledge in and of itself.
Ghostbusters is a Film about Academics Caging Spirit
You may very well be asking yourself what the fuck any of this has to do with anything… Well, here’s your guiding light as you chart the trajectory of Reza Negarestani from 2008 to 2018: education. Not a sort of linear education but an education that puts an electric whisk in your ears and flicks the switch.
In reaching out to Reza, I thought that this conception of a socially emancipatory education might be a good jumping off point for us, allowing us to talk about his work and his own experiences of educating and being education.
This exposition above might be oversimplified and wholly disconnected, in form at least, from Reza’s own position to those who are better versed than me but, whilst I am largely unfamiliar with the philosophers he contends with, I felt there is nonetheless a shared goal towards a sort of (un)consciousness raising of the sort that is largely absent from (or, at best, ineffective within) contemporary politics today.
As such, Reza’s book almost begins to take the form of a genealogy of future morals, as being towards a “good” education in (/ for) itself (in a Kantian moral sense), interrogating the social-to-come from underneath the institutions which we currently allow to give form to our formal intelligences, which nonetheless continues to crumble under their own bureaucratisation.
In attempting to explain all of this to Reza — in a lot less detail — what I found encouraging was that, despite my own melt-brained anxiety about engaging in a conversation with someone who I was intellectually very intimidated by, he later suggested at the start of our email exchange that the difficulty in pinning down his own trajectory of thought is perhaps “mostly due to the fact that I, myself, am trying to wrap my mind around some of these problems” — that is, problems of approach and best practice, and I sensed that his willingness to engage and talk with me was likewise coming from a genuine desire to open up and collectivise such problems outside of formal and overly monitored channels.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it was this shift towards — this desire for — a more dynamically public approach that Reza puts down to his disconnection from his own former mentor (of sorts), Nick Land, who was once seen as the inspiration for much of his earlier work.
Without mincing words, Reza wrote to me:
What I no longer have any sympathy for is the Landian position and the way of thinking.
Land’s way has been quite detrimental to thinking and philosophizing. His thinking requires too much commitment to settled ideas and determinations. This is not essentially a bad thing, but I have seen throughout the years that this form of thinking ultimately becomes stifling and prevents one from branching out to new territories and adopting new methods.
I find it quite oppressive that his fixated hatred for some philosophers (eg, Hegel and Plato) makes one dismiss these philosophers and not actually engage with their thoughts without prior biases which can be way too strong. In that sense, yes, I see my new work as a ‘reaction’ to my former more Landian way of thinking. But reaction is not always Oedipal and/or reactionary, it can actually lead to further experimentations with the self and a more expansive reflection on one’s past and possible futures.
The irony of this, I suggested, was that this is precisely why I like and continue to have time for Land. His Twitter boomerisms aside, he has been a kind of gateway-intellectual for me, and many others, allowing us to reach an outside of the stifling academic programmes that seem to be wholly unaware of their susceptibility to thinker-fashions and internally reactionary tendencies. Indeed, rather than being a disconnection, in my experience this is something they continue to have in common — such is my present experience of reading (and reading around) Intelligence & Spirit.
The point, perhaps, is this: I don’t mind that Land has his own preferences and bugbears but anyone who reads him would be missing the point, surely, if all they did was stop where many perceive him to have stopped. (This is a trend exemplified, of course, by numerous NRx Twitter accounts refusing the follow anyone that Land himself does not follow on the platform, but I wouldn’t blame him for their cultish neuroses — although perhaps he does secretly enjoy it.)
Many of those who have been under Land’s influence and have moved on nevertheless succeed in retaining this philosophical vigilance for themselves — that’s certainly true of those that I regularly talk to within the #CaveTwitter milieu. This was my impression of Mark Fisher also and various other post-Ccru interlocutors. Whilst Mark and Nick may have had an infamous falling out on the Hyperstition blog, he continued to teach and discuss his ideas with enthusiasm.
Land’s text “Machinic Desire”, for instance, was framed as a central text for the Postcapitalist Desire course Mark was teaching at the time of this death and he said of his experience of Nick:
[I]n the ‘90s … I was closely exposed to the work of Nick Land, who we’ll look at later, a very controversial figure who developed a form of — I don’t want to say right-wing, exactly — capitalistic accelerationism. His idea was that capital was the most intense force ever to exist on Earth — that the whole of terrestrial history had led to the emergence of this effectively planetary artificial intelligence system which therefore can be seen as retrospectively guiding all of history towards its own emergence — a bit like Skynet in the Terminator films.
Land’s work is this intense poeticisation of the power of capital. It’s interesting that that work came out in the ‘90s at that moment of the high triumph of capital after the collapse of the Soviet system at the end of the ‘80s. Land’s work was really a play on; a development of; a kind of remix of earlier, ostensibly left-wing thought — particularly the work of Deleuze and Guattari and Lyotard — and they tried to imagine a kind of post-capitalism that would try not to retreat out of capitalist modernity but try to go all the way through it.
From this description alone, it is interesting to see that, whilst Reza may have moved on, his project nevertheless seems to follow on from this same trajectory. Cyclonopedia continued such a process of intense poeticisation, telling this same story through the tandem grip of oil (and its industry) and Islamic religions on the Middle East, but I think this influence can still be felt through Intelligence & Spirit — it is just that the nature of this planetary artificial intelligence system has been rethought and reconceptualised.(Indeed, Robin is of the opinion — I’m unsure if Reza agrees with this or not — that the “Robo-Kant” portions of Intelligence & Spirit echo Land’s own project of a Machinic Kantianism quite explicitly.)
So, it seems to me, that even those who have publicly and polemically “moved on” from Land’s work, like Reza himself, surely they cannot deny his influence in this regard, even if they’ve left that initial diversion long behind them? What is most important is being open to the challenge and continuously challenging yourself. Reza replied:
Yes, the real merit of Land is to point out that there can be ways of thinking outside of the academic ambit. And I genuinely respect him for that. I do hate pigeonholed academia and its idiotic bureaucracy as much as him. However, I think […] he let that hatred fester such that he ended up precisely doing some of the academic vices like settling on problems (almost like a tenured professor), recreating a methodological rigidity outside of the academia. But in any case, I still enjoy his work.
Perhaps the problem here is that the Ccru was a perfect sort of flashpoint, holding open an egress between academia and its outside that this amorphous collective of people who fire their mythical thinking through. A particle accelerator, welcoming the university’s infrastructure, all the while threatening to engulf the system with what it produced, reflecting upon the nature of capital’s death drive — it’s tendency to produce that which threatens its own existence. The Ccru swapped capital out for philosophy and tried to give it the same treatment, and it produced a body of “work” that continues to stand the test of time.
Reza’s contemporary project, it seems to me, is not wholly disconnected from this attitude. He too seeks to open up an egress between minds; between conceptions of mind.
On the very first page of Intelligence & Spirit, Reza is emphasises this kind of experience. When he argues in the first sentence that “mind is only what it does“, this seems like a Hegelian swipe at our fixation on what minds do internally and independently, missing the fact that most mental functions exist so that we might let the Outside in, interacting with the world and the other minds that inhabit it — such is the failing of a modern Education system that attempts to atomise students and lecturers alike within an enclosed system of intellectual production.
Understanding this function of mind is integral to any conception of intelligence for Reza. Here he borrows Hegel’s term “geist”, of course, to refer to a form of thought that is “the object of its own consciousness” and which attempts to “comprehend itself in its interpretation of itself to itself.” Spirit, in this sense, might be understood as our attempts to understand our selves. Not the self as a minded subject, but the social as the necessary communication of minds.
Here we might frame Reza’s project as follows: How do minds relate to other forms of mind? This is the problem carried forwards, or perhaps even reverse engineered. The solution is likewise given a few paragraphs later: “The functional picture of geist is essentially a picture of a necessarily deprivatised mind predicated on sociality as its formal condition of possibility.”
From here, the book proceeds by interrogating how our present moment can allow this picture of mind to unfold and take hold, encouraging the sociality that present structures cannot help but diminish.
Rather than this being a wholly different project to Reza’s previous works, as I see it they were wholly intertwined.
Reading Cyclonopedia in excruciating detail with Kodwo Eshun and friends, we would examine each and every “Fuck You” Reza threw at his readers in the introductory chapters of that book. We picked apart every sentence that contradicted the one preceding it and every clue that muddied the waters of the overall picture. Did we find the Reza Negarestani of Cyclonopedia to be some sort of Pepe Silvia? Yes, I think many did, at least in isolation. But read together — as Kodwo argued was the only proper way to read the book — we found the opposite and, as sappy as this might sound, many of us found each other.
Such multiplicitous texts must be read by a multiplicity in turn — like the Ccru before it or even A Thousand Plateaus before them, to take two other examples of formally difficult works that demand a social response to their contents. (It should be of no surprise, then, that Cyclonopedia too began its life as a blog, with much of Reza’s since-deleted content on Hypersttiion becoming fodder for his book.)
In this way, Cyclonopedia is a pretty good crash course in learning how to read philosophy in a way that deconstructs an enclosed sense of self just as proximity to a great teacher, like Land or Evans, seems to do. It is a book that makes you feel both insane (which is fun) and it is a book which makes you feel like you’re having fun (which is insane), and the arguments about what exactly it all means that are to be had amongst your fellow readers and classmates turns the social itself into a blacksmith’s stone for sharpening minds and the various arguments for or against it.
This is the only way of approaching any philosophy, you might say, but not all philosophy is sculpted in such a way as to force your hand to reach out to others in quite the same way. Too much philosophy, in fact, presents itself as the product of a singular mind devoid of social contamination, seemingly priding itself on necessitating a reading group to unlock its secrets — multiple minds being required to get inside one.
This is not the case with Reza. Since he is already several, his readers make for quite a crowd.
I think Intelligence & Spirit — believe it or not — functions in much the same way as Reza’s previous work in this regard. However, rather than whisking up fact and fiction we have instead continental and analytic philosophies, and this playful de- and reconstruction is an education in itself. The vigorous blurring of these lines, however, is not just a novel play with form but a necessary play with mind in itself, arguably combatting the oversimplified divides that are so present beyond the book’s boundaries.
To return to Reza and Robin’s NYC conversation, Reza continues on the topic of education and seems to infer that this splitting, this “bipolarisation” of thought, is today insidiously pervasive. He argues:
Education is market-driven everywhere today. But here we see something far more insidious than the marketization of education. I talk about this a little bit in [Intelligence & Spirit], but not directly in relation to education. We are witnessing a kind of historical bipolarisation as to what education consists of, between the Left and the Right. On the left, we see education as being about the virtues of intersubjectivity, with minimal regard to the purview of scientific facts. But when you go too deep into your subjectivity without the scientific facts, it becomes something akin to methodological individualism where different individual preferences and choices — even though they might be purely psychological — are taken as facts. Whereas on the right we see a different kind of pathology: the minimisation of intersubjectivity and the hyperinflation of facts. But as early as Hume, and in fact even from Plato, there is such a thing as a fact-value distinction. You just cannot conflate them with one another. You always need to triangulate them with regard to one another, and that is a labour of intelligibility. You cannot just have intersubjectivity without scientific facts, nor can you think you can simply derive social values, political values, political paradigms, from mere scientific fact accumulation. These are both pathological.
For me, all of this is just a first step, and I’m just trying to actually work on the details of what would be a system of education, an education in which we can determine the good life of an intelligence which has not yet fully determined what it is, where it is in the world and what it should do; an intelligence which is still in the process of developing its methods of inquiry with regard to its position in the world, so as to cultivate itself by enriching the universe it inhabits.
I agree with this wholeheartedly and here, the importance of photography being a technological and social tool comes back to my mind. Does it count as the most simplistic version of such an education? Because the best photography does triangulate approaches — scientific, aesthetic and social knowledges; intersecting knowledges which are, by the standards of formal Education today, deemed to be disparate and unequal — in order to produce something that is promiscuous in its interactions with the world at large.
No doubt Reza’s conception of education is far broader than this but perhaps this suggests a way into his conception of intelligence that hints at the sort of tasks that we are require to undertake so that we might instantiate it — whatever it is.
The “it”, for me, is similar to that which Mark Fisher refers to in Capitalist Realim as a “collective subject” — that multiplicitous and socialised being or spirit that has continually haunted the background of this blog and the leftwing politics it generally contends with. It is that which is forever demanded but always resists being materialised by the rigid machine of an administrated social and its institutionalised sense of respectability. It is a product of an education — as a relation (which is not, in itself, limited to subjects) — that ruptures a formalised, bureaucratised and obstructive Education.
This formalised Education thrives off of competition. It thrives off of the atomisation of individuals. These things, in and of themselves, might not be evil by default but, as Mark explains in Capitalist Realism, they become nefarious when a hierarchical structure such as that found within systems of Higher Educations passes down a message of “individual ethical responsibility” to the level of the student, lecturer, worker, employee, citizen, whatever, as a way to diffuse any notion of collective responsibility having any purchase the other way.
Individuals are disposable, at both ends of society. Individuals can die or lose their jobs or get “cancelled” without the wider structure in itself taking a hit. And so it is here, in re-cognising a “Geistig” — a functional and deprivatised — model of mind, that we see an avenue of emancipation emerging on the horizon.