“The Pilgrim Fathers … driven by IT.”

Beginning his Studies in Classic American Literature, D.H. Lawrence questions the perceived “childishness” of the old American classics.

The old American art-speech contains an alien quality, which belongs to the American continent and to nowhere else. But, of course, so long as we insist on reading the books as children’s tales, we miss all that.

American literature requires — deserves even — a reappraisal, because it is we who are missing out when we patronise those writers of the new world with new things to say. And yet it is hardly surprising that so many would treat American art-speech so scathingly. Lawrence continues:

It is hard to hear a new voice, as hard as it is to listen to an unknown language. We just don’t listen. There is a new voice in the old American classics. The world has declined to hear it, and has babbled about children’s stories.

As I sat reading this opening chapter on a humid Sunday afternoon, I found my mind drifting to Stephen King’s IT and the notorious scene where the children all have sex with Beverly Marsh as they attempt to leave the sewers.

The scene came under fresh scrunity a few years ago, following the recent film adaptations, which drew more attention to it only by leaving it out.

What does it mean? Why is it included? Is it appropriate?

The general interpretation I see is that the Losers require some kind of end of innocence moment before they return to the outside world. Sex is a doorway out of innocence and childhood. But once they leave the sewers, having defeated IT, the children “regress” to a normal suburban existence; to a normal childhood. Their memories are repressed.

I wonder if King is illuminating the same tension that Lawrence is here, in a suitably immoral fashion. The scene is inappropriate because of the age of the children but, like so many American novels, perhaps the issue remains the same. This is not a children’s book — that is, a book for or about children — not really. America is defined, in its adolescence, by sex and violence; it is fitting, if nonetheless disturbing, that the characters in IT are too.

What the children really require is an end to fear. In defeating IT, they defeat fear, but they are nonetheless disconnected by their ordeal. Desire overwhelms them. The sexual experience reunites them but it is nonetheless contaminated by the drives that brought them there.

For Lawrence, IT is not to be feared but embraced. IT is freedom. Freedom is not doing whatever you like on a whim but “doing what the deepest self likes.” (Interestingly, for Lawrence, the “most unfree men go west, and shout about freedom” — a shout that “is a rattling of chains, always was.”)

IT is the deepest self. IT is our deepest fears and desires both — because, of course, sometimes we fear what we want the most. Indeed, even as Lawrence affirms IT, he paints IT as a horror, as if to fully comprehend it would ruin us, but comprehend it we must. He writes:

If one wants to be free, one has to give up the illusion of doing what one likes, and seek what IT wishes done.

But before you can do what IT likes, you must first break the spell of the old mastery, the old IT.

[…] The true liberty will only begin when Americans discover IT, and proceeds to fulfil IT. IT being the deepest whole self, the self in its wholeness, not idealistic halfness.

That’s why the Pilgrim Fathers came to America, then; and that’s why we come. Driven by IT. We cannot see that invisible winds carry us, as they carry swarms of locusts, that invisible magnetism brings us as it brings the migrating birds to their unforeknown goal. But it is so. We are not the marvellous choosers and deciders we think we are. IT chooses for us, and decides for us. […] We are free only so long as we obey.

The same is true of the Losers. Indeed, when Beverly recalls their copulation in the grey waters beneath the town, her memories are broken up and punctured by birds.

All of them . . . I was their first love.

She tried to remember it — it was something good to think about in all this darkness, where you couldn’t place the sounds. It made her feel less alone. At first it wouldn’t come; the image of the birds intervened — crows and grackles and starlings, spring birds that came back from somewhere while the streets were still running with meltwater and the last patches of crusted dirty snow clung grimly to their shady places.

It seemed to her that it was always on a cloudy day that you first heard and saw those spring birds and wondered where they came from. Suddenly they were just back in Derry, filling the white air with their raucous chatter. They lined the telephone wires and roofpeaks of the Victorian houses on West Broadway; they jostled for places on the aluminum branches of the elaborate TV antenna on top of Wally’s Spa; they loaded the wet black branches of the elms on Lower Main Street. They settled, they talked to each other in the screamy babbling voices of old countrywomen at the weekly Grange Bingo games, and then, at some signal which humans could not discern, they all took wing at once, turning the sky black with their numbers . . . and came down somewhere else.

Yes, the birds, I was thinking of them because I was ashamed. It was my father who made me ashamed, I guess, and maybe that was Its doing, too. Maybe.

The memory came — the memory behind the birds — but it was vague and disconnected. Perhaps this one always would be. She had —

Her thoughts broke off as she realized that Eddie comes to her first, because he is the most frightened. He comes to her not as her friend of that summer, or as her brief lover now, but the way he would have come to his mother only three or four years ago, to be comforted; he doesn’t draw back from her smooth nakedness and at first she doubts if he even feels it. He is trembling, and although she holds him the darkness is so perfect that even this close she cannot see him; except for the rough cast he might as well be a phantom.

“What do you want? ” he asks her.

“You have to put your thing in me, ” she says.

It is the last fear to break: their fear of each other. If it is disturbing in its rupture of adolescence, so be it. So is the American soul forever adolescent, in both its waywardness and its overarching obedience to an ideal. But adolescence is still where America remains most free. Much like the Losers in Stephen King’s novel, Americans aren’t free when IT is dead. They are at their most free when they are fighting IT.

The Will to Deform: The Promethean Gift of Proletarian Prosthetics

This essay was originally published in Insufficient Armour, a collection of essays published in January 2020 by Nero in collaboration with Giorgio Di Salvo’s streetwear company United Standard.

After seeing that Simon Sellars published his story from the collection last week, I thought I’d do the same. I previously posted a video intro to the essay, made over Christmas 2019 with no equipment. You can now read the full thing below. It’s a fleshed-out vision of what I feel constitutes this blog’s namesake: “the xenogothic.”

01. Ontologies of Body Horror

The Gothic is not an aesthetic genre but a prosthetic sensibility. It is a mode of addition, extension and attachment, and one that has taken on many different forms.

To use the word “prosthetic” in such a general way, and in a sense that seems purely adjective, demands some immediate clarification. It is a word that brings to mind “prostheses”: objects and technologies that allow a body to exceed its own limits, as well as the history of their development, from the most rudimentary “hook hands” to state-of-the-art bionic limbs, from ear trumpets to neural-control interface technologies. To call the Gothic a prosthetic sensibility is not to appropriate this understanding but to emphasise the ways in which the Gothic embodies it most absolutely.

The body has always been and remains the Gothic’s primary terrain of interrogation. From the literary body-horror of Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to the make-up and extravagant fashions of late-twentieth-century Goth, at every turn of our civilisation’s cultural development the Gothic has seized upon the prostheses of any given age, extending their relevance beyond the fields of medical science and standardised aesthetics. It is a cultural sensibility that understands by extending the body we also extend our collective conception of what a body can do. To extend one body is to extend the potential of them all.

The “prosthetic”, then, is not simply a medical adjective but an ontological one. This is a framing that has garnered considerable attention in recent decades, and can be found everywhere from sports science to science fiction. It has also been central to modern philosophy. Gilles Deleuze, for instance, commenting on the writings of Baruch de Spinoza, most famously decried our post-Cartesian fixation on the mind at the expense of the body, writing “we speak of consciousness, mind, soul, of the power of the soul over the body; we chatter away about these things, but do not even know what bodies can do.”[1]

Deleuze’s interest in the body was directly influenced by the medical knowledge of his day and, more specifically, his first-hand experiences of certain medical procedures. Like Spinoza before him, Deleuze suffered greatly from respiratory issues, undergoing a thoracoplasty in 1968, and later taking his own life in 1995 having reached a limit with his continuously diminishing quality of life. However, whilst his poor health may have been physically restrictive, he also found it to be philosophically liberating and was repeatedly drawn to philosophers who suffered like he did. For example, throughout his works, he would echo the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud — thinkers who were also plagued by ill-health throughout their lives, both physically and mentally, but who were nonetheless fascinated by the direct impact of bodily suffering on cognitive potential. It must also be said that, for Deleuze, as with these influences, explorations of the body’s limitations were not in themselves limited to its particular anatomy but also included the limitations put upon the body by the state and by hegemonic understandings of the body more generally.

Nietzsche is perhaps the most famous explorer of such a worldview. He wrote at length on society’s deliberate limiting of human potential and championed those who would “tunnel and mine” their way through the strata of daily life, giving a specifically proletarian and industrial agency to the denizens of Plato’s cave, driven by the belief that, as a result of their toil, they will eventually overcome their circumstances — or, as Nietzsche put it, acquire their “own daybreak.”[2] The innately unreasonable nature — that is to say, the madness — of such a pursuit was also championed by Nietzsche who, foreshadowing the thalassic geopsychology of Sándor Ferenczi, saw insanity as something “in voice and bearing as uncanny and incalculable as the demonic moods of the weather and the sea and therefore worthy of a similar awe and observation.”[3] This is to say that, for Nietzsche, madness was not simply a deviation from an otherwise “natural” reason, but rather a powerful undertow of human cognitive activity. To ignore and suppress it, at a societal level, would be the same as ignoring the grandeur of the climate or the sea and its impact on our own shores.

Bataille, heavily influenced by Nietzsche — and sharing with him a traumatic experience with familial mental illness in childhood — also wrote many philosophical tracts on the human anatomy and its “deviations”, writing that “mankind cannot remain indifferent to its monsters” and exclude human anatomical abnormality from any philosophical ontology due to some prejudiced adherence to “the constitution of the perfect type”.[4] He explored the disgust evoked by even the most fundamental and “normal” of human body parts and appendages, describing the mouth, for instance, as “the orifice of profound physical impulses”.[5] Elsewhere, and more famously, he describes the big toe as “the most human part of the human body” and yet deplores its reputation for “the most nauseating filthiness”, believing that man’s “secret horror of his foot is one of the explanations for the tendency to conceal its length and form as much as possible”, describing women’s high heels as an attempt to “distract from the foot’s low and flat character.”[6] He sees the lowly reputation of the human foot, as well as its sexual fetishisation, as an embarrassing measure of how fundamental bodily restriction is to an apparent human civility.

Antonin Artaud’s plays and writings expressed many similar concerns as the writings of Nietzsche and Bataille and he was a particular influence on Deleuze, providing him with one of his least understood concepts: the “body without organs”. As Joshua Ramey explains, writing on the esotericism of Deleuze’s philosophy, Artaud believed that the “decadence and debilitation of twentieth-century Western culture were … linked directly … to the technoscientific apparatus — military, industrial, nutritional, and hygienic — continuously marshaled in the name of God and order to stultify the human body.”[7]

Artaud’s works — his writings, radio plays, and performances — constituted for him a “theatre of cruelty” that was designed to disturb and terrify his audiences but also the stultified human subject as such: “to shock and shatter its organs, and to force the body to react otherwise than in accordance with the habitual limits of sense and sensibility.”[8] Artaud’s theatre of cruelty was, in this sense, a Gothic assault on the sensibilities of his time. Along with the paintings of Francis Bacon, it was to Deleuze as the Dionysian music of Richard Wagner was (initially) to Nietzsche; as the lingchi photographs were to Bataille. Each describes and brings forth “a subtle body accessible at the extremes of experience — in suffering, delirium, synesthesia, and ecstatic states.”[9]

Here we might proclaim Deleuze, Nietzsche, Bataille and Artaud to be Gothic philosophers par excellence. Each has explored the wonder and horror provoked by the unknown capabilities of our own bodies and, as we have already suggested, this is more than familiar territory for the Gothic in its own right. By deploying the evolving signs and signifiers at the edge of what we know and understand about ourselves and the world around us, the Gothic is a prosthetic mode that has consistently extended its own reach, out beyond the horizon of human knowledge and into the weird, the eerie, the grotesque. Whether extending the limits of a body beyond reason, beyond nature, beyond society’s aesthetic standards or, most fundamentally, beyond life itself, the Gothic provides forms with which our imaginations run amok, and it is this tendency that has allowed the Gothic to proliferate through cultures around the world for almost a millennium.

Now one of the oldest and most persistent artistic movements in human history, in being constituted by a virulent unlife we might assume that the Gothic will never truly died. However, this sensibility within the Gothic that pushes towards its own outside is presently under threat and at the constant mercy of capitalist commodification — a process that has already found some success in rendering the Gothic culturally inert.

The Gothic’s contemporary influence is nonetheless pervasive. Indeed, the Gothic is, in some respects, more popular than ever. However, whilst the emergence of the twenty-first century “mall goth” may signify a new Gothic dominance, for many it sounds the death knell of a movement finally thwarted by capitalism’s apparatuses of capture, making the Gothic into a type that has become synonymous with a largely out-dated and aesthetically conservative subculture.

02. The Xenogothic

For the purposes of this essay, in order to keep the Gothic’s present circumstances firmly in our sights, we shall give its prosthetic sensibility a new name, in order to more clearly focus on a specific process at work within the Gothic itself that remains incompatible with the forces of capitalism that have sought to neutralise it. We shall call it the “xenogothic”.

The xenogothic is a term we might use to define a future Gothic form always already contained within the Gothic itself. It is a name not for a Gothic telos but for a “witch’s flight”. It is a term for the Gothic’s escape from itself and the limits placed upon it from outside. It is a form of movement, according to Gilles Deleuze, “that never ceases to change direction, that is broken, split, diverted, turned in on itself, coiled up, or even extended beyond its natural limits.”[10]

Despite the presently conservative nature of a popular Gothic aesthetic, there are still pockets of xenogothic innovation to be found throughout our contemporary subcultures. As has been the case for much of the late-twentieth-century’s dance music and rave scenes, capitalism has repeatedly failed to wholly remove their fugitive power — a power fundamentally incompatible with the structures that close in around it. This Gothic fugitivity has been maligned for some time, and at least since the final decades of the twentieth century when, extending a post-punk commitment to always “rip it up and start again”, the Gothic found itself falling from favour.

“Rip it up and start again” is a phrase borrowed from Simon Reynolds, and the title of his 2005 survey of the post-punk landscape between the years 1978 and 1984. It is a title that, for him, encapsulates the attitude of a smorgasbord of bands “who dedicated themselves to fulfilling punk’s uncompleted musical revolution”[11] by smashing “the boundaries that keep [art] sealed off from everyday life”, adhering to a militant “ethos of perpetual change”. [12]

Writing on Goth specifically, Reynolds highlights the subgenre’s initial inversion of the Gothic forms of yesteryear. He explains:

The original Gothic movement in literature had been anti-modernist. It represented the return of the repressed: all the medieval superstitions and primordial longings allegedly banished by the Industrial Revolution, all those shadowy regions of the soul supposedly illuminated by the Enlightenment. It was only when the dark, satanic mills appeared that ruined abbeys came to be considered picturesque and alluring. Goth was based on the idea that the most profound emotions you’ll ever feel are the same ones felt by people thousands of years ago: the fundamental, eternal experiences of love, death, despair, awe and dread.[13]

This Gothic continuum, despite its penchant for Romantic decadence, began to resonate with the politics of class struggle that were explored far more explicitly by the punks who proceeded them. Reynolds continues: “Goths enjoyed the energy of Oi! and anarcho-punk gigs, but ultimately didn’t really care for either option: lumpen Oi! wallowed in its own oppression, they felt, whilst anarcho-punk seemed dourly didactic and sexless.”[14] Reynolds goes on to explain that Goth’s post-punk credentials were instead found in its desire to redefine punk as an “inversion of values and deviance from norms”, with the movement proposing “a flight from the crushing ordinariness of everyday English life, into a common wildness of ritual and ceremony, magic and mystery.”[15]

Here Goth foreshadowed the return of a Bakhtinian carnivalesque that would explode back into the public imagination with the dawn of rave culture. And yet, once rave reigned supreme, Goth itself seemed to relax into an uncharacteristic complacency. The initial working class despair, and the sonic embodiment of social decay, epitomised (at first) by the likes of Joy Division, The Fall, Throbbing Gristle, and Bauhaus, gradually lost their edge, arguably reflecting the rise of neoliberalism across Western society in post-punk’s aftermath. Class struggle was replaced by a soft existentialism, reduced it to a type that is now marketable across commodity forms. Here the Gothic becomes a darkened prosthesis for capitalism itself — a control value for the release of a tension that capitalism itself creates; of disenfranchisement, depression and hopelessness.

However, all is not lost. Even from the depths of capitalist co-option, there are Goths who continue to glide along the edge of a shifting human frontier, quietly exploring our ontological and aesthetic limits. We might consider the recent work of Gazelle Twin, for instance, the current queen of British Goth, who, on her 2014 song ‘Belly of the Beast’, sings menacingly: “I’ll beat them all at their at own game / Bite the hands and the fingers that feed.”[16] She snarls these words over the infernal bleep-bleeping of supermarket self-service checkouts, bringing a violently Gothic sensibility to the banality of contemporary capitalist consumerism. It is a revolutionary anthem for the unassuming “mall goth” of the twenty-first century and epitomises a xenogothic tendency that may be far less visible today but which has still never truly died.

03. What was the Gothic?

In order to better account for the xenogothic as it exists today, it may help us to ascertain what the Gothic was, prior to its capture by authoritative and, more specifically, market forces. It is only from here that we might better account for the potentials of its prosthetic sensibility in the present. However, such an exercise comes with its own challenges, and these challenges are by no means new.

Beginning his 1911 study of form in Gothic art and architecture, Wilhelm Worringer writes that the “earnest endeavour of the historian to reconstruct the spirit of the past from the materials at his disposal [in the present] is at best an experiment, conducted with unsuitable means.”[17] This is no less true today, over a century later.

Worringer may have been speaking generally of the historian’s eternal dilemma — navigating the impact on one’s own work of an innate contemporary bias — but the Gothic, in particular, with its architectural beginnings, its literary peak, and its sonic finale, presents the cultural historian today with a shape-shifting, disconnected and amorphous “movement” that may be easy to recognise but is, in fact, harder than ever to define.

As a collection of disparate movements and mediums, brought together restlessly under a single banner, this problem at the heart of the Gothic today may seem like an exemplary postmodern affliction in which genre is dissolved within itself, but such an experience has been central to the Gothic since it first emerged as a popular mode of architectural expression in twelfth-century France. This is because the problematic that the Gothic first attempts to contend with is, fundamentally, a problem of time. It is an expression and affirmation of our own fallibility as the inevitably blinkered subjects of a given moment — be that the Age of Enlightenment or capitalist modernity. Indeed, as far as Worringer is concerned, it seems that historiography itself is the ultimate Gothic pastime. After all, the Gothic as a cultural movement, in all of its forms, has always been a creative exploration of the past’s influence on the future from the knowingly flawed perspective of the present.

Describing this same essence more recently in his 2014 book on the genre’s literary and visual aesthetics, Fred Botting writes that the Gothic — contrary to Reynolds’ description of Goth, we might note — is “more than a flight from nostalgic retrospection or an escape from the dullness of a present without chivalry, magic or adventure.”[18] Instead, it is a movement that “remains sensitive to other times and places and thus retains traces of instability where further disorientations, ambivalence and dislocations can arise.”[19] It is from this same position that Worringer begins his seemingly paradoxical evaluation of an historical Gothic.

The solution to this, for him, is to note how the “true” essence of the Gothic is its “will to form”[20] — that is, a will to speculatively give form to the presently formless. For instance, we may note, as Worringer does, that the Gothic’s initial instantiation as an architectural form was an attempt to grapple with the so-called Dark Ages, during which time the style came to dominate the façades of churches in medieval France before spreading throughout the rest of the European continent. For many, this style may have accurately given form to the beliefs of the time, representing another unseen world where dark forces fought for dominance over civilisation’s God-fearing congregations, kept at bay by imagined gargoyles and a community’s liturgical faith. However, as the style was transformed into a popular collection of motifs, the Gothic was later widely dismissed by many for its cheap horror and reactionary affection for darker times. The French playwright and poet Molière, for instance, famously derided France’s “besotted taste of Gothic monuments” in his 1669 poem ‘La Gloire du Val-de-Grâce’, echoing the fashionable opinions of his time, claiming these Gothic façades depicted little more than “odious monsters of ignorant centuries” from which “the torrents of barbarity spewed forth.”[21]

With its initial popularity waning over the centuries following its initial explosion across Europe, many nonetheless continued to find Gothic architecture and, later, Gothic art to be illustrative of a new darkness found at the limits of an emerging Age of Enlightenment; the Age of Reason. Indeed, a recognition of the power of this unknowable darkness is closely tied to one of the founding principles of Enlightenment thought, as found in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, for whom humanity is forever trapped by its own experience; by its own contemporaneity. As Worringer writes of his own historiographic task, echoing Kant, “the exponent of historical knowledge remains our own Ego with its temporal limitations and restrictions.”[22] This is to say that the persistent darkness of the Dark Ages was not assuaged by a new institutionalised reason, nor has it been assuaged today by the domination of capitalism. Gothic darkness remains an important symbolic void, constituting knowledge’s own event-horizon.

Continuing his description of the effects of the Gothic as an art-historical genre on the temporal subject, Botting writes: “In seeing one time and its values cross into another, both periods are disturbed.”[23] The human subject and its ego remain caught in a chaotic middle. However, for the last two decades, much has been written on our present era’s “stuckness” — the hauntological affects of late capitalist ontology. It is a truly postmodern affliction otherwise epitomised by Francis Fukuyama’s declaration that we have reached the “end of history”, a time during which the “future is always experienced as a haunting: as a virtuality that already impinges on the present, conditioning expectations and motivating cultural production.”[24] This is to say that the start of the twenty-first century has been defined by the failure of our own speculative imaginations; our once wildly psychedelic tendency to construct new futures for ourselves. The implications of this situation for the Gothic are particularly unusual. It suggests an abject normalisation of the Gothic mode, used to structure human existence rather than propel it forwards into the unknown. As a result, we might ask ourselves today: Does the Gothic still disturb us as it once did? Has the Gothic not become a victim of its own “will to form”, losing its transgressive essence as it is historicised and consolidated into a recognisable aesthetic mode?

It is here that the Gothic has once again — albeit subtly — shifted its focus. Whereas Gothic expressions of a fear of a post-human subject were once a reaction against rampant technological progress, the speed of which seemed to outpace the intellectual development of post-Enlightenment reason — as dramatized, for instance, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — today, rather than a fear of what we might soon become, it is a fear of our own ontological capture that seems to terrorise the modern Gothic subject. It is our limitations, our susceptibility to control, our prejudices, our addictions and a blind reason that stalks the Gothic subject. Barbarity does not emerge from a deep past but from right here, from the persistent system of capitalism itself. As such, we find that the rapid consolidation of the present into a seemingly final human form has turned the Gothic on its head.

For the contemporary capitalist subject, according to the hauntologists of the early twenty-first century, there is no moving forward. We are passed our best, and if capitalism can achieve anything in the present it is a return to an immediate past, a time of mythical decadence. This hauntological thinking has, thankfully, undone itself, begging the return of a Gothic questioning and a probing of the gulf between the capitalist “truth” of market stability — be that of market economics, market democracy or any other subsection of a neoliberal system that seeks to maintain its own status quo — and the actuality of capitalism’s perpetual unrest.

Today, in response to this, it seems that a new Gothic is emerging once again. Beyond its eventual European capture, occultural movements around the world now ask themselves: Is this all that we are? Is this really the moment we should choose to arrest ourselves, in our self-destructive mediocrity? The current prevalence of the questioning of our own standing is a symptom of both a dormant Gothicism and a maligned progressivism. It is the perpetual simmering of the xenogothic and it is precisely our infinite questioning that pushes us forwards. But forwards into what?

04. Promethean Prosthetics

To recognise the necessity of our own questioning is to recognise our innate will to form, but a will to form must be infinite in its potential adaptations. It is not a will to be formed but an unending process of creation and becoming. Perhaps this is why, as Leila Taylor writes, “fashion plays such a vital role” in the Gothic — “Victorian goths have their mourning drag, the Vampire goths their custom fangs, Rock-a-Billy goths their Bettie Page bangs”.[25] The rapidity of fashion, with its decadent associations and short shelf life, makes it fertile ground for cultural innovation. However, as Taylor warns, this makes it all too “easy to dismiss goth purely as style or an affectation.”[26] Whilst this may appear to be true at a glance, the importance of fashion to Goth instead expresses something entirely to the contrary.

Goth fashion places the body itself as the most potent terrain onto which the Gothic can extend itself. From the classic anachronism of Victorian mourning attire to Instagram’s recent obsession with “health goth” sportswear, fashion is the vector through which the Gothic must continue its own experimental formulation, appreciating but always exceeding its prior developments that, when taken together, present us with an art-historical cyclonopedia of tropes and motifs that all tumble towards the voided mass of the Gothic’s centre of gravity: the ruination of the contemporary subject itself.

Prosthetics are most generally understood as addendums to this damaged subject, a body incomplete. To wear a prosthetic limb is to wear an object that returns functionality to a lost or damaged corporeality — but what of a corporeality-to-come? Prosthetics may also be extensions of an otherwise intact body (potentially challenging Bataille’s appraisal of heels). The cybergothic is heavily associated with this sort of extension — an extension that augments a body woefully insufficient before an ever-expanding social reality, whether capitalist or otherwise, and often involves the installation of digital and cybernetic augmentations, which is to say new connections. In this sense, we might view the stultified body of late capitalism to be breaking boundaries in multiple senses. Not only does it extend the capabilities of the individual subject but also extends that subject itself into a newly collective formulation.

Here the Gothic includes an innately Marxist undercurrent, haunted by the spectre of communism or, we might say, a collective subject beyond the limits of that presently imaginable to the individualised capitalist subject. This is a Gothic worldview arguably introduced by Karl Marx himself, who writes repeatedly of spectres and vampires in his seminal critique of political economy. We may even wonder if the collective subject called for in The Communist Manifesto is not a positive view of the terror that populated the Gothic fictions of Marx’s era. Whereas the bourgeois writers of the day feared the disenfranchised masses and the unreason of the peasantry, Marx sought to cultivate a new proletarian solidarity that might truly frighten the ruling classes. Here the Gothic represents the Promethean gift of proletarian prosthetics.

This kind of unruly and amorphous subjectivity was central to Gothic literature at that time, as Kelly Hurley explains, describing the importance of the body to Gothic literature of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries:

In place of a human body stable and integral (at least, liable to no worse than the ravages of time and disease), the fin-de-siècle Gothic offers the spectacle of a body metamorphic and undifferentiated; in place of the possibility of human transcendence, the prospect of an existence circumscribed within the realities of gross corporeality; in place of a unitary and securely bounded human subjectivity, one that is both fragmented and permeable.[27]

The emphasis placed upon this permeable subject has changed repeatedly over the decades. Today, it is more likely to refer to the ruptured homogeneity of capitalist individualism. We are all individuals. In similar terms, discussing the state of the Gothic a century later, the cult writer Mark Fisher noted how this subjective shift was epitomised by Siouxsie Sioux and her band, the Banshees — a central influence on the tribalism of Goth makeup and dress. In particular, he writes about the Banshees’ track “Painted Bird” from their 1982 album A Kiss in the Dreamhouse — a song based on Jerzy Kosiński’s 1965 novel of the same name — noting how, contrary to the individualist existentialism of a twentieth-century Gothic, it is a song “about the triumph of collective joy over persecuted, isolated, individuated subjectivity”.

Fisher explains how the song takes its name from an encounter the book’s unnamed young protagonist has with a bird-catcher whilst wandering through war-torn villages and towns during the Second World War. Painting the bird with vibrant colours, he throws it back to join its flock. However, no longer recognising the bird as one of their own, the birds attack and kill it. Fisher notes how, unlike the bird — symbolic of Jewish persecution by the Nazis — “Siouxsie’s Goths are not painted by another’s hand; they are ‘painted birds by their own design’.”[28]

For Siouxsie Sioux, as well as Mark Fisher, this apparent paradox of Goth belonging — a hypocritical collective that goes against a herd mentality whilst all looking the same — is still a shot fired across the bow of neoliberalism’s mandatory individualism. Other forms of collectivity are possible! The point is not to be wholly individualist but simply different from a prescribed type. The violence that Goths often wreak upon their bodies is exemplary of this. Fisher writes: “Goth is in many ways an attempt to make good this symbolic deficit in postmodern culture: dressing up as re-ritualization, a recovery of the surface of the body as the site for scarification and decoration (which is to say, a rejection of the idea that the body is merely the container or envelope for interiority).”[29] If body modification is a step too far, the extreme fashion of the Gothic is an ample alternative. “Clothing recovers its cybernetic and symbolic role as a hyperbolic supplement to the body, as what which destroys the illusion of organic unity and proportion.”[30] Here we find Worringer’s Gothic line inverted. The twenty-first century Gothic is not only a will to form but also a will to deform.

To return to the prosthetic ontologies with which we started, it is in this way that the Gothic is the true drive behind Deleuze and Artaud’s call for a “body without organs”. Though it is a phrase that may conjure up images of evisceration, it is also a demand for a body beyond organisation; a body which is defined by the sensation of its own experience and is therefore able to define itself through the intensity of its being rather than through an essentialist adherence to an anatomical type.

For Deleuze, it was the twentieth century expressionist painter Francis Bacon who depicted this body without organs most viscerally. For Bacon, the human form was often rendered as amorphous liquid meat — a horrifying image, perhaps, but a phrase that connects the reality of the human body to its anatomical objectivity. Bacon captures externally the experience of becoming-body and it is this that Deleuze defines as the essence of a Gothic art which “dismantles organic representation” by adhering instead to “a realism of deformation, as opposed to the idealism of transformation.” [31] It is “the manner in which the body exceeds the organism or makes it fall apart.”[32]

This is how the Gothic pulls our contemporary understanding of the aesthetic — which, according to Terry Eagleton, was “born as a discourse of the body”[33] — into new arenas: by generating its own prostheses. The Gothic, then, is always one step ahead, even of itself. Whereas many artistic movements and fashions have come and gone over the last thousand years, now contained within historical periods or momentary aesthetic trends by historians and critics alike, the Gothic has instead undergone nine centuries of extension and reinvention, always mutating the last form to define it in the popular imagination.

There is still a Promethean fire that burns within the Gothic to this day: an outsideness that eschews a commodification by capitalist forces and continues to speak to a prosthetic sensibility that considers capitalism’s ruination of the modern subject and finds ways out of it from within. We must embrace anew this ruination of the modern subject and its insufficient armour against a capitalistic idealism of social transformation. To find ways out is always to let the outside in. Only then will we be in a position to discover what our bodies can really do.

Continue reading “The Will to Deform: The Promethean Gift of Proletarian Prosthetics”

We Have the Unconscious We Deserve: Notes on Resident Evil and the 21st Century’s Machinic Unconscious

It’s funny thinking back to how we used to play video games as kids. When I first started playing games, progression wasn’t really the point. Games — all games, irrespective of their design or style — were what you made of them.

Before the gaming market became overrun by the open-world “sandbox” genre, that’s precisely how I’d play even the most linear of titles: I’d complete a level and clear out all the bad guys, then I’d just hang around for a bit, role-playing, running about and getting to know the level’s layout, exploring every nook and cranny, and making up my own additional narratives whilst doing so. (I’d be curious to know if the often “mature” sandbox genre was not directly inspired by underage players in the way, playing games in ways that undermined developer intentions.)

I remember doing this very explicitly with the Spyro the Dragon series. That was the main thing I loved about those games. When playing the recent remakes, I was struck by how small most of the levels were compared to my memory. I didn’t have the patience to play it like I remembered, spending hours in a single level just being Spyro and pretending I had extra quests or things do to, like he was an action figure for whom I granted an infinitely unfolding internal monologue as I threw him about for hours and hours in the mud.

I only really thought about this difference in playing styles when watching a friend’s child play Mario (and a few other things) recently. It was interesting to see this same approach but from an adult perspective. He was naturally adept at playing the game and using the controls but he didn’t necessarily understand how to read the game’s environmental prompts for progression, instead treating it like a virtual toy box, developing an object-relation with the character on screen and playing out his own story lines as he saw fit, like an illiterate kid “reading” a picture book, making up their own narrative based on the pictures before them, wholly ignoring the worded guide and having no sense of the ways in which they’re usurping the object’s intended use.

Believe it or not, the mansion in the original Resident Evil was another example of this kind of sandbox for me. So was the Raccoon City portrayed in the series’ second and third outings.

It’s weird to think back to these games now in this context — to think that I was playing them at an age when I was young enough still to be toyboxing them — but my parents really did not seem to understand age restrictions. Thankfully, I was also aware of my own limits too. I loved Resident Evil but I left Silent Hill well alone until I was a bit older.

Just like in Spyro, these enclosed and claustrophobic environments felt really expansive within my imagination, and this was only exacerbated by the pervasive sense of fear they provoked. These games were so terrifying that I spent hours trying to buck up the courage to make the slightest bit of progression. The puzzles were also often way out of my league. Somehow, as a kid, I had the patience for playing the game without them.

This is probably why, when my Dad took me to see the Resident Evil film adaptation in the cinema the year it came out, I had no idea what was going on. Where the fuck did all this technology come from? Why was this Gothic adventure, set explicitly in the 20th century, somehow more 2001: A Space Odyssey than Night of the Living Dead?

As familiar as I was with the backstory of the Umbrella Corps’ genetic engineering and supersoldier creation — I loved to draw my favourite “character”: the Nemesis — I just didn’t care about any of that when playing the games how I wanted to play them. I really just liked the mansion and the overrun metropolis. Those were two of my favourite gaming environments ever.

When the HD remake came out on the GameCube — which I recently played again, in its further remastered edition, on the PS4 — I remember playing it a lot differently. After all, I was older; I was a teenager who better understood what he was in for when he loaded up that weird little MiniDisc.

I felt like I knew that mansion like the back of my hand — at least its initial sections — and I remember feeling weirdly disappointed when I got to the point of going underground and entering the Umbrella Corps’ labs. The same was true last year when I escaped the police station and made it underground in the brilliant remake of Resident Evil 2. (As indelibly as the police station was marked on my consciousness, I never made my way passed it in the original PS1 version of the game.)

I remember finding the anachronism so jarring. I remember suddenly being aware that in most narratives like this, the opposite trajectory usually unfolds: you start in the futuristic hi-tech lab and then go down to uncover some ancient conspiracy. This was particularly true when your progress took you underground — doesn’t down mean backwards? The subterranean connoting the past?

This was also the moment of hubris found within just about every action/adventure or horror film I loved growing up: The Thing‘s primordial alien, lying in wait; Indiana Jones combination of Nazis and ancient relics; the Tomb Raider series of films and games also had various storylines in which ancient powers were naively harnessed through modern technologies. There was a similar lesson within each version of this story: the future is not the master of the past; the planetary unconscious is eternal and it will bite you if you try stick a lead on it. But reversing the polarity of this Kurtzian expedition does strange things to that narrative. It doesn’t reverse the lesson; it just convolutes it… The linearity of traveling from present to past does not work in the same way when travelling from past to future. In hopping over the all-important present, the machine jams.

Nevertheless, there are obviously a few great examples of this anachronism put to good use — and it is worth emphasising that these are very much recent affairs. Cabin in the Woods might be the most perfect example for this context; Westworld is another — but Resident Evil still sticks in my craw as a jarring instance that doesn’t work so smoothly.

These games have a very particular way of dealing with their anachronism — a subtly that any and all film adaptations have wholly missed (the Tomb Raider film adaptations have also dealt with this combination of techno-relic pretty poorly, it must be said). They lose the video game’s sense of downwards progression.

I think the absence of puzzles in all film adaptations actually has a lot to do with this. Puzzles in survival horror games aren’t just quaint novelties but function as a vector for this templexity — the templexity of Gothic sliding bookshelf puzzles being made functional by technological cunning.

What does it mean that these haunted house puzzles, that would typically be the hobby of some eccentric eighteenth-century polymath in more familiar media, are instead part of a megacorp security system? It is a small instance where this time slippage makes sense. Puzzles are timeless; keys are universal, but they allow for a seed to be inserted where the polarity of your usual haunted house narrative is inverted.

Maybe this is purely cultural… When I first started thinking about this kind of survival horror anachronism, I thought: is it just a Japanese thing? Or maybe it’s just a Japanese-view-of-America thing? But then I considered the fact that the shoddy anachronisms of their uber American film adaptations are exacerbated primarily because of a shift in medium.

This kind of anachronistic cybergothicism makes sense in a video game, precisely because the medium progresses along with the latest advances in computer technologies. For many, advances in film CGI will never not be an intrusion — nothing will ever look as good as 2001‘s hand-made models or The Thing‘s bubblegum gore. The strength of film as a material for horror is the way in which it expresses materiality. (As a sidenote: of course it was David Lynch who would first make digital cameras work in the context of cinema by affirming their uncanniness in INLAND EMPIRE.)

So, given that video games are inherently machinic — a coded medium — perhaps it makes perfect sense that their horror matches the immateriality of the format itself: if you dig down beneath the surface aesthetics of a familiar Gothic, you’ll find circuitboard hardware and coded software.

But this isn’t Blade Runner, in which robotics becomes a screen — the machinic unconscious of video games is all too immanent. To dig below the haunted house you know into the megacorp you don’t is to reach into the corporation in your head. It is to tinker with the unconscious of now.

It was hard not to think about all this whilst playing through Capcom’s streamlined but lacklustre Resident Evil 3 remake under quarantine last week. What’s more, I was reminded of Felix Guattari’s introduction to The Machinic Unconscious:

We have the unconscious we deserve! […] I would see the unconscious … as something that we drag around with ourselves both in our gestures and daily objects, as well as on TV, that is part of the zeitgeist, and even, and perhaps especially, in our day-to-day problems. … Thus, the unconscious works inside individuals in their manner of perceiving the world and living their body, territory, and sex, as well as inside the couple, the family, school, neighbourhood, factories, stadiums, and universities… In other words, not simply an unconscious of the specialists of the unconscious, not simply an unconscious crystallized in the past, congealed in an institutional discourse, but, on the contrary, an unconscious turned towards the future whose screen would be none other than the possible itself […] Then why stick this label of “machinic unconscious” onto it? Simply to stress that it is populated not only with images and words, but also with all kinds of machinisms that lead it to produce and reproduce these images and words.

There is a intriguingly philosophical reason why all the Resident Evil games after RE4 and before RE7 were shit. RE4’s European adventure had a novelty to it, dipping into the viral cultural-unconscious of European (that is, proto-American) ancestry — a little view of history, no doubt, but a culturally effective on.

However, as soon as the series went to Africa, it stopped exploring that which was under-acknowledged and instead stumbled over a century’s post-colonial tropes of new savagery — ebola zombies in a land left ravaged by America that only America could fix. In this sense, these games dealt all too firmly with America’s conscience rather than its unconscious. It was clumsy and ill-fated.

RE7 brought the original cybergothic intrigue back to proceedings, injecting a contemporary class consciousness and fear of the bayou with a little bit of state military-industrial complex — echoing the rhizomatic unconscious of the Swamp Thing.

But, at its best, this series has always interrogated the new unconscious emerging at the dawn of the 21st century — the unconscious we newly deserved; an unconscious dragged from film to video games and transformed through the process, from screen to codes and circuitry. Once we dig down beneath the old horrors we know, we find they have a new constitution — and it is hypercapitalist, thoroughly corporate, and tellingly computational…

The real horror is that, once you master this, there is no Infinity Rocket Launcher to help you out of it…

Darkness Itself Redux

Long time readers of the blog may remember that I love Chislehurst Caves. A lot of people who know me otherwise will know I love Chislehurst Caves as well. We went two years ago, I blogged about it, and I’ve been talking about it ever since.

My girlfriend had the inspired idea that, for Hallowe’en, we should go back and see if they’re doing anything special for the occasion. It was spooky enough last time, with plenty of ghost stories told on our tour. As we drove out of London for a 10pm tour, we were excited — and then nervous — about what we’d be in for this time.

We arrived in a darkened car park, having driven past the lights of local opulence, to find ourselves loomed over by the only blocks of flats around and quickly headed inside, escaping the autumn cold.

These twenty miles of chalk tunnels under London’s super-rich suburbs find themselves represented by the forebodingly simple tagline: “darkness itself”. But once underground, it is hard to think about anything else. All else falls away.

The tunnels have had a fascinating history but darkness is all you are able to sense down here. It is a blindness with weight and distance. Caught within it, you feel out at sea, knowing to stray from the group would get you quickly lost.

On our first visit to the tunnels, this darkness was kept at bay. Paraffin torches were handed out to those on the tour, our procession well lit with evenly distributed lights and health and safety regulations.

For Hallowe’en, no such torches were offered. Small candles were hung at corners and crossroads, presumably to give the tour guides a sense of direction, but no other light sources were on offer. Such tiny flames did not give much coverage. They would appear in the distance as beacons of false promise. A destination that, on arrival, was still as dark as where you’d just been stood.

The effect of this on the group was palpable. I, for one, love being scared. I laugh through my nerves and enjoy the thrill of not knowing, of being watched, or sensing something else in the darkness. It is recognisably a nervous laughter. It is self-comforting more than any external expression of joy. On our walk, I laughed a lot.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, has always been very clear that “scary” is not her thing. Although this visit was her idea, it was clear she was not having the best time. I had never seen her act as she did as we began the tour. Actors were stationed throughout the tunnels, jumping out of passageways with masks and costumes, lingering in the occasion strobe-lit cul-de-sac, stalking our group from a distance to keep stragglers on edge. My girlfriend’s eyes darted in every direction, her neck craned like a deer aware of the hunt. She would grab me for support, getting caught under my own feet, causing us to trip over each other and slow ourselves down as we sought each other out for a quick escape.

It was a far more endearing reaction than that of the teenagers in our midst. They were a funny bunch. White suburban kids who all looked like SoundCloud rappers. One, in particular, could have been in a Lil Peep costume but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just dressed for the occasion. At first, they were irritating and, when they would blow out the candles on their way through the tunnels, they certainly irritated the tour guide too. He would anxiously get on his radio, loudly berating them as morons to the rest of the crew as he struggled to find the now-extinguished light sources.

In the end, however, I found these teenagers endearing too. They couldn’t help but make jokes at every opportunity. Bad ones. When not looking over my own shoulder or jumping as I bump into fellow walkers, huddling together out of reach of the actors and making ourselves jump like as if we’re living in an episode of Scooby Doo, the teens were high-fiving costumed jump-scarers and sexualising every ghost story with half-whispered comments to their friends.

It felt like they were doing everything they could to undermine the job of the actors and tour guides but eventually it became clear: they weren’t just being rude — they’d paid to be here too, after all — the truth was that they were scared too. Their piss-taking and attempts to spoil the illusion for everyone else were their way of keeping sight of the reality they knew and were desperately holding onto above ground. Because, even though the actors’ masks were ill-fitting and obvious and the costumes cliche, there was no accounting for the darkness itself.

In fact, the jump scares and bad costumes felt like they were part of this reality-checking too. It was all very slapstick and over-the-top. Cheap and cheerful. I was aware that I had been more scared of these tunnels when we first came down into them, without the Hallowe’en pretence, but those tunnels from my memories were still here, lurking behind the pantomime. All the actors did was make it all more familiar and more fun — a distraction from the tricks your minds would inevitably play of its own accord, were you left down here alone.

I could feel these other tunnels lurking behind the facade and I wanted to reach them. I started to feel unnerved by the tactless covering-up of the real terror down here but that only made me want to seek it more for myself and face it on my own terms, not distracted by the noise and movement of the tour guides.

I kept my own fearful fascination to myself for most of our “scream walk” but in the end I could not bear being shepherded any longer. As I laughed along with my friends, my eyes darted around in the low light, looking for a getaway. In particular, I was drawn to the passages where there was no light at all. I felt a pull towards them, even though there was nothing to see. It was almost a gravitational pull. The darkness had a density.

Hanging back, avoiding the rehearsed scares of the jobbing actors the men who lurk at the rear, scaring stragglers into keeping pace with the crowd, their fatigue starting to show on our late-night wander, I managed to sidestep their shepherding and started to see other figures in the darkness.

Off the candle-lit paths, there was another. I got the sense she was a woman, although I’m not sure why. It was just a shadow but I could have sworn I saw a light emanate from her. I tried to take a photograph but the light was not enough to give a clearer image than I had with my own straining eyes.

I gestured to the others but they were preoccupied with what was directly in front of them. From her vantage point, I saw the rest of our tour as she undoubtedly did. They seemed carnivalesque. A hive of activity and noise. Her silence and distance unnerved me more than anything. She felt so removed from it all and, the more attention I gave to her, the more removed I found myself feeling too.

Although the use of phones were prohibited — not that there was any service that deep underground — I slid my torch on in my pocket and used it carefully, trying to follow her. I no longer had any fear of getting lost. The echoing sound of the teenagers, though disorientating as it bounced off every wall, provided an aural anchor as my senses were recalibrated to the quiet pitch-blackness of these other tunnels.

My pupils widened and my feet shuffled onwards, following the glimpses of barely-lit material I caught disappearing around corners, dancing on the air. This was no ghost. In many ways, I felt like she was as I was — a curious wanderer taking leave from her own party. But she wasn’t here for a tour. She was here for something else. With so much space around us, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were other activities going on that night as well. I was right but they were activities of a sort I was not expecting.

I kept my distance but the woman must have known I was on her tail. I felt led as if by a white rabbit. As she rounded corner after corner, I saw that she was becoming slowly silhouetted against a light source in front of her. The light was still low but it was enough to define her form.

She wore a hooded cloak and walked silently. I could hear the sound of water and her footsteps became audible as she crossed the stream. I slowed my pace, knowing I would not be able to cross the water silently. Instead, I backtracked a little and hovered at the end of a long passage, increasing my distance to what I could now see before me.

The tunnel opened out into an enclave, wider than the tunnels we had passed through and with a high ceiling. On the floor, two circles constructed with sticks — the embers of a dying fire in one, wood for an unlit fire in the other. Beyond them, an altar, arranged with items and a strange wrapped bundle.

The woman removed her hood to reveal a mask, more primitive than the loose-fitting sweat-condensed plastic masks of my abandoned tour guides but also more effective. It was an animal. A wolf maybe. It was hard to tell. I think it was made of wood.

She joined a small group of others, already gathered in the chalk clearing, gathered around the dying embers, each with their own masks in turn. They were silent, gazing into the embers in quiet contemplation.

The others silently acknowledged her arrival with a glance in her direction. She joined them, closely the circle, and paused. Then, with a slow and deliberate movement, she raised her left foot and stepped into the circle before turning around and picking something up from the floor.

I laughed to myself. I knew what it was immediately. For all that silent drama, getting caught up in the quietude of this creepy wanderer, she’s going to pick up a broom? Perhaps this was all part of the tour after all. Top marks for atmosphere but woefully predictable props.

Suddenly, the woman took the broom in her hand and brushed the floor around her in a swift circular movement, kicking up a cloud of chalk dust, ash and embers. The air seemed to shimmer for a moment, as if the current of air she had conjured around her had disturbed some previously unseen veil. The embers of the dying fire reignited, calmly, intensifying with the low sound of popping wood. The wood in the other circle began to glow in turn.

One by one, the group stepped into the circle, newly alight before them. They removed their masks but held them aloft, allowing the glow of the fire to pass through them, casting shadows across their faces. It was difficult to see from my vantage point but the effect was unsettling. The shadows seemed to contort the skin on their faces, twisting and pulling apart their humanity like clay.

One of the figures, hood still up, maskless, brought a horn to his lips and blew. It was shimmering white, almost blinding against the dulled chalk around them. Then, the woman I had followed began to speak, as if in prayer:

Harken to the Devil’s Horn
Open ye the Ways within
Awake thy ancient shifting form
Conjure it forth and turn thy skin!

All unfathomable that has of ancient been
Deepest held and further set
By waking sleep and Midnight’s dream
All potential that may be set.

Arise ye unto Midnight’s call
Dreaming beasts awaken en-fleshed
Thy myriad resurrections of ancient all
Spirit and mystery manifest.

By time betwixt and Midnight’s tide
Rouse from the deep, the wild and hidden
By mirror-mask and witches’ hide
By call of horn; summoned and bidden!

The horn sounded again although this time I could not see it held to anyone’s lips. Other sounds began to emanate from the walls around me. Scuttling sounds, scratching sounds. Gruffs and growls. Tiny shadows made the walls pulsate and quiver like the goosebumps on my skin.

The group were unmoved. They continued to stare into their grotesque masks, mirrored in the violent shadows on their faces, entranced by the embers flickering through the eye-holes of their animal familiars.

The woman began to speak again, continuing her arcane rhyme:

Upon this night of Hallantide
The veil betwixt to rend and part
We conjure forth the Midnight ride
By Devil’s Horn and witching Arte.

Spirits of old arise ye forth
Let quick and dead conjoin this night
By the way ‘twixt West and North
Let begin the Elder rite!

I was startled by a shadow approaching from behind. A fox passed me, ignoring me completely, crouched against the chalk wall and peering into this strange ceremony. It approached the group cautiously, closer than I had dared, but stopped short of the light emanating from their ritual, choosing to stay and lurk in the shadows.

I could sense that it was not alone. There were other creatures in the tunnels with us who had left the night above for the one below.

Spirits, beasts and ghostly rade
Open now the Way of the Dead
Wild horde of witch and shade
Open the Way that’s Huntsman-led.

I no longer felt like bearing witness to whatever this was. It was fascinating but, in the lure of their light, I had forgotten where I was and why I was here. I could no longer hear the screams of the tour and felt a sudden need to get back to the group I knew. The spectacle was enticing but I had a feeling that it was better enjoyed from within their circle. On the outside, I might find myself prey to something else.

Not wanting to make a sound or give away my location with the light of my phone, I walked backwards slowly down a side passage, as cautiously as I could, the echo of the woman’s chant following me as I made my retreat.

Cavalcade of Fellows all
Ride ye forth with Devil’s speed
Ride ye forth at Midnight’s call
By Night-Mare’s hoof and spirit-steed.

By flight of moth by bat and owl,
By spirit path and old Corpse Way
By Hunter’s horn and black hound’s howl
By haunted track and ancient Ley.

Her chant was loud. My increasing distance seemed to have no effect on its power. The walls carried it without diminution. I couldn’t be the only one hearing her.

Her words were distracting. As I bent my ears to try and hear the more familiar screams of Hallowe’en thrill, my mind kept focussing back on the meaning of her rhyme. I couldn’t tear my mind away from the call.

Go ye forth in the Old One’s Name
Throughout and about, without and within
By the light of the Devil’s flame
Let the Wild Hunt begin!

I turned and began to walk at pace now. The darkness still slowed me down but, feeling like I was now some distance away, I decided to pick up some speed.

The horn sounded again in the distance and I heard the scurrying sounds of nocturnal creatures again. Holding my hand to the wall to guide my way, I felt something unknown crawl over my knuckles and I ripped my hand away from the cold chalk surface. I wasn’t the only thing in here that was regretting its recent arrival.

Behind me I could hear something new. I turned to see a low light moving towards the end of the tunnel and felt a presence just out of sight. Whatever it was made a noise that was oddly familiar. It sounded like a bull, or a horse maybe — the breathy gesture of a large beast. There were certainly no bulls down here, though. As labyrinthine as it was, this was no Minotaur’s lair.

I heard hooves next but not a cantor. This was a biped. Other footsteps joined it. I assumed the enchanted circle, previously fixated on their atavistic ritual, were no longer so still and distracted.

I stopped for a moment, the cold sweat running down my back halting me in my tracks. The chanting had stopped now too but something was getting nearer. I

n the distance, I heard a yelp, choked by laughter. The tour group was close but I wasn’t close enough. I tried to call out but the words were stuck in my throat.

The horn again. Drums now too. Screams and shouts. My legs are shaking underneath me. I felt like prey and, at the same time, like I am being driven from this place, like a herded lamb being rounded up for the slaughter.

Life had been beckoned into this dark corridor and now death had emerged to chase it out. Soon there would be nothing left, once again, except darkness itself.

In The Tall Grass

I enjoyed the new Netflix horror film In the Tall Grass, watched in chunks over the last week, despite all its flaws.

I live for Netflix in October. And other streaming services too. Horror content is inbound. Might need to renew my Shudder subscription just for this month too.

[Spoilers ahead, obviously.]

In the Tall Grass is part Triangle, part Children of the Corn, with a heavy dose of megalithic astrohorror. The main thing I liked about it was the film’s villain, Ross, played by Patrick Wilson, a real estate agent who gets possessed by dark powers emanating from a megalith in the middle of a field of grass from which the cast cannot escape.

He reminded me of an old post I did about The Haunting of Hill House, and a since-deleted tweet by someone who said that all horror movies, at their core, are about real estate — or, more accurately, the commodified estate of the Real.

It’s an interesting twist on the old racially insensitive trope of the American landscape and its native occupants having their revenge on those who build on their burial grounds. The film’s templexity undoes this, describing a force far older than any of us, but makes capitalist property rights a kind of insidious infection that rises out from the ground beneath our feet.

Is this the latent horror of the first agricultural revolution?

There are subtle hints towards this throughout the film, such as Ross warning his son against running into the grass because it’s “private property”, but everything comes to ahead in orbit of Becky, a pregnant woman caught between her weedy but overbearing brother who seems to have incestuous desires for her, her handsome but unreliable rock star ex who is allergic to responsibility but eventually realises he might want to start a family after all, the creepy young Tobin for whom she becomes a surrogate mother, and her own pregnant body that is working violently against her.

Becky struggles to assert her own autonomy against her social situation and nature itself — be that her own individual autonomy or the autonomy of the world as it exists around her, each always already plugged into the other.

Of course, in the end, the film bails on its own intriguing grassy entanglement. Escaping from the field through a tunnel that leads to a church, Future Tobin stops Past Becky and her brother from entering the field in the first. This strange encounter with the child seems to make her realise that she shouldn’t give up her baby, but her ex — the father? — is still somehow trapped dead within the field where he first went to try and save her.

He becomes the ultimate victim — a victim of his own social elusiveness. Becky, on the other hand, is saved. She does the right thing — reaffirming her property rights, making her claim to the estate of the Real…

XG on the Wyrd Signal Podcast

I had the best time hanging out with Lucy and Sean the other week to record an episode of their Wyrd Signal podcast.

It was recorded in Lucy’s amazing flat on a swelteringly hot August Sunday but it was an appropriately Bacchanalian affair with copious amounts of wine, berries and cigarettes.

As you can see from the timestamp above, we talked for hours about the sprawling mythos of Hannibal Lecter, serial killing in general and the strange relationships we have to these things through culture and queerness.

Give it a listen and go and support Sean and Lucy’s excellent podcast over on Patreon.

A Note on Ed Fornieles and Unconsciousness Raising

Last night, as part of the new day job, I was at a talk given by Ed Fornieles at London’s Anise Gallery.

Giving an impressively cogent overview of his “post-internet” art works to date, I found an intriguing thread connecting two works in particular that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about overnight.

The first work was a “performance” — or “Facebook LARP” — called Dorm Daze for which Fornieles scraped the Facebook data of American college students to construct a community of fictitious characters before documenting their interactions together over a period of time and constructing a twisted coming-of-age drama out of the results.

The second, much more recent work, was Cel — a similarly intensive performance work that lasted 72 hours in which participants were invited to adopted hyper-aggressive patriarchal characters and archetypes drawn from personality profiles scraped from the likes of 4chan and Reddit. The participants would embody these personas completely for the duration of their time enclosed in a cell constructed in Fornieles’ studio.

With a rigorous system of subtle communication for the giving and acknowledging of consent, Fornieles described Cel as a sort of inversion of “second-wave feminist discourses”.

With this in mind, it seemed like each work took on the form of a kind of Artaudian consciousness raising session through which oppressions and violences were acknowledged and considered not through their open and collective discussion but through the open and collective performance of their affects. (You can read more about the project here.)

I asked Ed a question after the talk about the implications of what appears to be a form of unconsciousness raising — something I explored here previously in my posts on Westworld.

With the talk being organised as part of the School of Speculation‘s summer school public lecture programme and orbiting the school’s dedication to “critical design”, there was a sense in which the typical use of these social media platforms — or, indeed, real life spaces — were being used to explore the sorts of “defacialisation” that Mark Fisher would write about.

I wondered to what extend he saw these experiments and explorations of contemporary cruelty and community having an impact on not only how we think about the spaces we inhabit online but also how we might design new ones.

Fornieles has already explored these implications in other art works — particularly Babble and Truth Table for which he has designed such alternative systems of communication — but did not have an immediate answer to what was, admittedly, an enormous question.

So, those questions remains — what are the broader implications of using social media in this way and, even, designing social media platforms that actively undermine the performative Self-consolidation of the likes of Facebook? What is it to actively use technologically to deconstruct and perforate your own sense of self?

Fornieles’ work is, I think, the best attempt I’ve seen at answering these questions, and it gets terrifyingly close with providing us with answers that we might not yet be entirely ready for…

Bodies Without Organs: Deleuze’s Transcendental Materialism, its Legacy and its Antecedents

Yesterday’s post — an introduction I wrote for the XG Discord to the “Image of Thought” chapter of Deleuze’s Difference & Repetitionreceived a comment from Joseph Ratliff, the answer to which became far too long to leave below the comment line. I hope Joseph doesn’t mind me responding to him a bit more publicly.

Joseph asked whether we can say that Deleuze gives a certain “agency” to thought as a way to remove “the organs” of human thinking.

The short answer, I think, is “no” but this is also one of my favourite questions around Deleuze’s thought so I thought instead of something that I’d give a long answer, connecting the infamously misunderstood concept of the “body without organs” to a transcendental materialism that places Deleuze at the end of a controversial philosophical lineage most readily associated with the likes of Nietzsche and Bataille.

Nietzsche was a particularly interesting materialist for Deleuze because it was he who set the groundwork for affirming not only the freedom afforded by materialism but also its restrictions.

Much has been made of this part of Nietzsche’s thought but it is particularly interesting to consider from a biographical perspective.

Sue Prideaux’s recent Nietzsche biography I Am Dynamite! is exceptional on this. She begins, very early on, with a brief account of the life of Nietzsche’s father, his career as a pastor and his various health troubles, particularly in relation to the rest of his family.

Friedrich Nietzsche was famously a very sickly man but he was also from a very sickly family, on both his mother’s and his father’s side. His genes undoubtedly doomed him from the start.

Each member of the Nietzsche family going back generations seemed to be affected by disorders both mental and physical, and Nietzsche’s father was no exception. He is worth focussing on in particular for the affect bearing witness to his father’s demise probably had on the young philosopher.

Prideaux describes Karl Ludwig Nietzsche as a pastor who was “both pious and patriotic” but also as a man who “was not free from the nervous disorders that affected his mother and half-sisters.”

He would shut himself up in his study for hours, refusing to eat, drink or talk. More alarmingly, he was given to mysterious attacks, when his speech would abruptly cease mid-sentence and he would stare into space. […] The mysterious paroxysms were diagnosed as ‘softening of the brain’ and for months he was prey to prostration, agonising headaches and fits of vomiting, his eyesight deteriorating drastically into semi-blindness. […] Karl Ludwig’s sufferings grew worse, he lost the power of speech, and finally his eyesight deteriorated into total blindness. On 30 July 1849, he died, aged only thirty-five. […]

The cause of Pastor Nietzsche’s decline into death has been extensively investigated. Whether the pastor died insane is a question of considerable importance to posterity because Nietzsche himself suffered from symptoms similar to his father’s, before he suddenly and dramatically went mad in 1888, when he was forty-four years old, remaining insane until his death in 1900. The considerable literature on the subject continues but the first book, Über das Pathologische bei Nietzsche, was published in 1902, just two years after Nietzsche’s death. Its author, Dr Paul Julius Möbius, was a distinguished pioneering neurologist who had been specialising in hereditary nervous diseases from the 1870s onwards. Möbius was named by Freud as one of the fathers of psychotherapy and, importantly, he worked directly from Pastor Nietzsche’s post-mortem report which revealed Gehirnerweichung, softening of the brain, a term commonly used in the nineteenth century for a variety of degenerative brain diseases.

The modern interpretation includes general degeneration, a brain tumour, tuberculoma of the brain or even slow bleeding into the brain caused by some head injury. Unlike his father, no post-mortem was performed on Nietzsche and so it was impossible for Möbius or any later investigators to produce anything like a post-mortem comparison of the two brains, but Möbius, looking wider, revealed a tendency to mental problems on the maternal side of the family. One uncle committed suicide, apparently preferring death to being shut up in the Irrenhaus, the lunatic asylum. On the paternal side, a number of Nietzsche’s grandmother Erdmuthe’s siblings were described as ‘mentally abnormal’. One committed suicide and two others developed some sort of mental illness, one requiring psychiatric care.

This information is important not only because it fundamentally refutes one of the most persistent myths about Nietzsche’s life — that he went mad following the contraction of sexually-transmitted syphilis — although he may have had a habit for visiting brothels, it wasn’t the death of him — but it also gives further context to much of Nietzsche’s philosophy, specifically his materialism and infatuation with the concept of fate.

Prideaux gives a thorough account of this also. She notes how Nietzsche was influenced in tandem by the thought of Spinoza but also the scientific advances of his time. She writes that Nietzsche “read Robert Mayer’s Mechanics of Heat, Boscovich’s theory of non-material atoms, and Force and Matter (1855) by the materialist medical doctor Ludwig Büchner, whose bestselling book spread the gospel that ‘researches and discoveries of modern times can no longer allow us to doubt that man, with all he has and possesses, be it mental or corporeal, is a natural product like all other organic beings’.” Nietzsche also read F. A. Lange’s History of Materialism which, she writes, “asserted that man was only a special case of universal physiology, and thought was only a special chain in the physical processes of life.”

Prideaux continues by noting the explicit instances that the newly materialist thought of the day was influencing Nietzsche’s philosophy. The philosopher was very open about this, writing in his autobiography, Ecce Homo, that he was

in thrall to a burning and exclusive fascination with physiology, medicine and natural science. This is what he set out to explore in [his 1881 book] Daybreak: the idea that man is merely a bodily organism whose spiritual, moral and religious beliefs and values can be explained by the physiological and medical. Greater interest at that time was growing in the idea that man might control the future by controlling his own evolutionary development through diet. It is an attitude famously summed up by the philosopher and anthropologist Feuerbach, who had died only a few years earlier: ‘If you want to improve the people, give them better food instead of declamations against sin. Man is what he eats.’

The broader importance of this for Nietzsche’s thought is that he would not only become fascinated by the potentials of materialist “self-overcoming” but also the necessity of a certain amor fati. Man may be what he eats, but Nietzsche would also stress the importance of “becoming what you are, once you know what that is.” And the importance of this for Nietzsche was undoubtedly fuelled by the trauma of not only his father’s and broader family’s sickly demises but also his own perpetual sickliness.

Once we understand the innate sense in which Nietzsche lived with and amongst a knowledge of his own pain, suffering and mortality, we understand the importance of his thought for himself — the importance of not only affirming your limitations but also overcoming them in whatever way you can. For Nietzsche, that was perhaps more philosophical than physical.

It is here that we can see the initial tensions in Deleuze’s “image of thought”. For Nietzsche, this was changing quite fundamentally in his time. Thought was taking on a newly populist and anti-Cartesian bent in that the observations that thought was influenced by (subjectively if not quite bodily) “outside” forces were being given form within scientific understanding.

But rather than this freeing up thought — although it seemed to for Nietzsche — it was rather the beginnings of a new dogmatic image of thought that we still know well today.

We should likewise note, at this point, that this experience of familial sickness and ill-health was one shared by Nietzsche’s greatest philosophical friend, Georges Bataille. In fact, Stuart Kendall’s brilliant biography of Bataille tellingly begins from this point. He starts the first chapter by writing:

In 1913, when Georges Bataille was about fifteen, his father went mad. Joseph-Aristide Bataille’s syphilis was simply running its course. Contracted long ago, perhaps before he had abandoned his medical studies, certainly before he moved the family from Billom, in the volcanic Puy-du-Dôme, where Georges was born in 1897, to Reims where they now lived. Joseph-Aristide had been blind since before Georges’ birth and paralysed for more than a decade. The unhappy conclusion of the disease was inevitable.

Confined to a chair, coursed by tabes, Joseph-Aristide lurched in agony. Decades later, Georges would remember his father’s ‘sunken eyes, his hungry bird’s long nose, his screams of pain, soundless peals of laughter’. And he would remember the degradation of the old man, despite his own attempts to help.

Kendall proceeds by quoting from Bataille’s first pseudonymous novel (as Lord Auch), The Story of the Eye, drawing on what seem to be some of its most autobiographical elements. Bataille writes:

What upset me more was seeing my father shit a great number of times… It was very hard for him to get out of bed (I would help him) and settle on a chamber pot, in his nightshirt and, usually, a cotton nightcap (he had a pointed grey beard, ill kempt, a large eagle nose, and immense hollow eyes staring into space). At times, the ‘lightning sharp pains’ would make him howl like a beast, sticking out his bent leg, which he futilely hugged in his arms.

Kendall continues:

We can imagine the boy aiding the invalid in his agonies. As a youth, Georges loved his father, but as an adult, he found his love unnatural: most young boys loved their mothers, he thought in terms testifying to his recent psychoanalysis. But Georges loved his father, at least early on, even in his father’s degradation.

There are, however, various other allusions throughout Bataille’s writings that seem to suggest his father may have been abusive to him. However, all of these allusions, Kendall notes, are too shrouded in the cloak of fiction for us to draw any real conclusions. What is self-evident is that Bataille’s relationship with his father was deep, fraught and complicated, painting a far more difficult and violently honest picture of the terms of living with an invalid parent than Nietzsche ever did, but nonetheless vicariously illuminating the experiences of both philosophers.

For both thinkers, the experience of seeing parental men of God fall into madness must have been traumatically informative.

Kendall continues with an anecdote that firmly grounds Georges Bataille’s entire life and philosophy — his founding ordeal. This was during the spring of 1913 when Bataille’s father “lost his mind.” Kendall writes:

Georges’ older brother Martial had already moved out of the family home, so Marie-Antoinette bataille, Georges’ mother, sent him to fetch a doctor. He returned quickly. The doctor undoubtedly did what little he could for the raving patient, but Georges’ father was beyond help. When the physician stepped into the next room, Joseph-Aristide shouted after him, ‘Doctor, let me know when you’re done fucking my wife!’

The inexplicable statement seared the son. Years later Georges wrote: ‘For me, that utterance, which in a split second annihilated the demoralizing effects of a strict upbringing, left me with something like a steady obligation, unconscious and unwilled: the necessity of finding an equivalent to that sentence in any situation I happen to be in.’ The statement carries the contagious taint of Bataille’s entire thought and style: it contrasts a split second and a steady and lasting obligation; an unconscious, unwilled or chance event and a necessity and, most importantly, it functions by means of extreme reversals of logic and perspective (what is demoralizing about a strict upbringing?). Everything follows from here.

Joseph-Aristide’s mad accusation ripped the mask off Georges’ youth, off propriety, off his parents’ and doctor’s faces; the respected, beloved faces of order and authority. The odious utterance opened a world of infinite freedom. Forever after, Bataille’s obligation, his necessity, would be to find an equivalent of that phrase in every situation throughout his life: not only in every story and erotic encounter but in every action, every experience, every word, every thought. That which previously has been held on high would be brought low, that which was low would be raised on high. This slippage would characterize every experience. He would submit all of life to a similar trespass, debasement and inversion: an endless irregularity, ceaseless turning and overturning; an endless repetition of the rule of lawlessness.

This is recognisably the very foundation of Bataille’s “base materialism” and here we can see the tension of Nietzsche’s own work struck in even more explicit relief. Becoming what you are, and knowing what that is, as Nietzsche put it, becomes for Bataille an encounter with (and indeed, the very embodiment of) an all too human horror.

This horror, however, is a “truth” — and to affirm it is a challenge necessary for us to undertake, precisely because it ruptures the moralism and restrictions of a wider society. We attend to so many beliefs about the body and what it can do but also what it should and shouldn’t do, and we will find that, despite society’s taboos, are bodies will do things irrespective of the morals of the day. The affirmation of this truth is, however, more nuanced than first appearances suggest.

Bataille’s father’s outburst was no doubt offensive to all present in the moment but, in attending to its root cause as a symptom of his neurological afflictions, we may ask ourselves how we can — materially speaking — “judge” it. It undoubtedly disturbed the young Bataille to no end and yet Bataille’s affirmation of this disturbance is not the same as the act of forgiving an immoral act by deferring to the material reality of his father’s existence as a kind of base-authority.

For Bataille, the task is to affirm the horror of human materiality without such deference. He would write that the challenge becomes not “submitting oneself … to whatever is more elevated, to whatever can give a borrowed authority to the being that I am, and to the reason that arms this being.”

Here Bataille retains the subversion of Nietzsche’s original thinking in the face of a materialist progressivism. Whereas, for Nietzsche, the benefits of a materialist thinking were somewhat naive and sought simply to alleviate a persistent suffering with walks in the mountains and baths in Europe’s spas, in the 20th century the bodily materialism of “you are what you eat” or “what you do” began to carry with it a sort of dietary moralism.

You are what you eat… So eat better! You are what you do… So exercise more! The insistence that you should treat your body like a temple could not be a clearer indictment of the continuation of the religious moralism that Nietzsche despised taking on a new life in the materialism he openly embraced.

Bataille knew of this, however, refusing to give to the matter of which materialism is concerned “the value of a superior principle (which this servile reason would be only too happy to establish itself above itself, in order to speak like an authorised functionary.)” Instead, Bataile would speak of “base matter” as “external and foreign to ideal human aspirations, [refusing] to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations.”

This is likewise the “raving mad” charge at the heart of Antonin Artaud’s vision of a humanity that has “had done with the judgements of God.” For Artaud, as for Bataille, scientific materialism has done nothing but imbue the insights of already well-established spiritualities and gnosticisms with the false authority of an apparently objective “scientific reason”.

Artaud would proclaim, without mincing words, that modern scientists

have reinvented microbes in order to impose a new idea of god. They have found a new way to bring out god and to capture him in his microbic noxiousness.

And so, Artaud sought to liberate humanity entirely from the patronising cruelty of scientific reason, writing:

I have found a way to put an end to this ape once and for all and that although nobody believes in god any more everybody believes more and more in man. So it is man whom we must now make up our minds to emasculate [by] placing him again, for the last time, on the autopsy table to remake his anatomy. […] Man is sick because he is badly constructed. We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally, god, and with god his organs.

It is in this sense, following Nietzsche and Bataille, that Deleuze would further affirm Artaud’s provocation, declaring, in the face of decades of scientific truth and progress, that we still do not know what a body can do.

Joshua Ramey, in his book The Hermetic Deleuze, begins with a wonderfully concise explanation of this point. He writes:

The decadence and debilitation of twentieth-century Western culture were, for Artaud, linked directly […] to the technoscientific apparatus — military, industrial, nutritional, and hygienic — continuously marshalled in the name of God and order to stultify the human body. Artaud’s theatre of cruelty was designed to disturb this docile creature, to shock and shatter its organs, and to force the body to react otherwise than in accordance with the habitual limits of sense and sensibility. As he wrote, “you have made him a body without organs, / then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions / and restored to him his true freedom.” For Artaud, humanity possessed a “body without organs,” a subtle body accessible at the extremes of experience — in suffering, delirium, synesthesia, and ecstatic states.

[…] Extending Artaud’s vision of a renewed sensibility into his own unique vision of thought, Deleuze argues that immanent thought, at the limit of cognitive capacity, discovers as-yet-unrealized potentials of the mind, and the body. That is to say, what connects Deleuze to Artaud is the conviction that what matters for life, and for thought, is an encounter with imperceptible forces in sensations, affections, and conceptions, and that these forces truly generate the mind, challenging the coordination of the faculties by rending the self from its habits.

To return to Joseph’s original question, we should be careful to note that this is not Deleuze’s way of conceptualising an independently agentic thought. Nothing about the processes at play here can be discussed in those terms. In fact, “agency” here becomes the sort of deference to authority that Bataille would routinely denounce. For him, speaking in appropriately scatological terms, this would be like applying agency to a turd when you find yourself needing to go to the bathroom for a bowel movement. The challenge to thought is recognising this movement for what it is, precisely devoid of agency and reason. (Because what is the attribution of “agency” but a way to give something a reason to exist.) (Again, this is something discussed last time — the tandem base-horror and affirmation of acknowledging that “the Queen poops too.”)

From here, we might note that Deleuze’s affinity with this thought was likewise an affirmation of his own fate as another sickly philosopher.

Like Nietzsche, Bataille and Artaud before him, Deleuze’s life was wracked by pain and suffering. Having undergone a thoraxoplasty and having one of his lungs in the late 1960s — in the midst of those months when he was meant to defend Difference & Repetition as his doctoral thesis, we might add — Deleuze was plauged by ill health and weakness for the rest of his life.

We may also note here the sorry fact that Deleuze committed suicide — a significant biographic event which is so often under-considered, perhaps because it cannot (or rather, should not) be thought in terms we are accustomed to when we hear that someone has taken their own life.

There is no evidence that Deleuze was depressed or mentally ill. He was just as physically ill as he always had been and, as an elderly man, aged 70, the mortal barrel that he had long been staring down was getting closer to him by the day.

Rather than allowing his body to have the final say, Deleuze chose to end his life on his own terms. In this sense, his death can be seen as the drastic affirmation of a man who chose no longer to live with the sickly body he had been lumbered with.

Without wanting to romanticise his death, Deleuze’s suicide nonetheless presents us with a fitting example of where a thought such as this libidinal materialism can lead us. Finn Janning would go so far as to call Deleuze’s suicide a “happy death” for the way it encapsulates the power of the Will to exceed the body in which it is contained.

Cybergothic posthumanisms aside, Deleuze pushed up against the edge of what his body could do, finding it at war with his Self and so he chose instead to undertake a spectacularly counter-intuitive attack on his woefully organ-anchored body. Janning writes:

A life worth living is a life that has the power to actualize its will to will. In relation to this definition, a happy death might be seen as the equivalent hereof, i.e. when a life no longer has this will, or simply accept that it no longer can act as becoming worthy of what happens. Such acknowledgement is the closest one can get to the Greek dictum: Know yourself by knowing your position, because such acknowledgement is fully knowing your place in time, knowing what is possible and what is not possible. — Acknowledging your limits in order to justify certain beliefs as being true, for instance, committing suicide as the only positive activity. Thus, let me stress: Know your location or position in life is not knowing your position in relation to pre-defined external categories or systems, like career-pattern, but a life’s position. The unique position of a life within the different forces of life, such a position emerges when encounters are dealt with: either in an active and positive way, or in a reactive and pessimistic way.


Deleuze didn’t kill himself because life was absurd or meaningless — as it obviously is for many who commit suicide. He didn’t kill himself due to a sudden emotional shock, e.g. loss of a child, divorce, et cetera — as it also happens to many. No, he committed suicide because his life had already ended. If life is an offspring of our will to do something, to create and such will can’t actualize itself, then you are not just dying, but already dead. In that sense he became equal of the event. He died with the event

It is from here that the “transcendental materialism” of Nietzsche and Bataille finds its next step in the thought of Deleuze and, later, Nick Land.

Land’s “libidinal materialism” is precisely another form(lessness) for this bodily overcoming, refusing to adhere to the tyranny of human anatomy and the sacredness applied to this flawed all-consuming and shit-producing machine which we insist on saying has been constructed in God’s image.

This all too easily opens out onto a cyberpunk landscape but contending with the abject realities of our present is far more prescient before we drift off into escapist fantasy.

Here Nyx’s gender accelerationism and its call to become a “body without sex organs” can be held up as a brilliant example of the contemporary political stakes of such a thinking.