I’ve been watching the Chernobyl miniseries these past few days and, after finishing it the other night, I have been left with a particularly spicy (if medium-rare) hot take.
The series chronicles everything from the moment the core of the power plant explodes to its prolonged aftermath. And yet, the dramatised consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown unfold surprisingly quickly.
I always assumed the thing failed and everyone just got the hell out of there. I was surprised how wrong I was.
Whilst most of the “action” takes place over a 48-hour period and is followed by a few weeks of controlled collapse, during which the city of Pripyat is evacuated and a major clean-up operation begins, it is hard to calculate how many lives were lost following the disaster and its mismanagement — particularly those who knowingly (and unknowingly) sacrificed their lives to try to limit the full extent of the fallout.
It’s all incredibly depressing.
Workers are, as ever, the first to go — plant workers and skilled labourers brought in to handle the clean-up are sacrificed and die horrifically within days, quite literally melting into pools of irradiated goo. The bureaucrats and apparatchiks — or some of them at least — are like captains going down with their ship, accepting the inevitable if anticipating a slower demise.
Beyond this, we are shown every detail. Most harrowingly, one episode follows a group of soldiers tasked with clearing out the post-evacuation influx of stray irradiated dogs. Too adorable to want to kill, too irradiated to allow to wander the landscape freely, it’s a truly thankless proto-apocalyptic task.
All in all, the events on display make the Soviet Union look like a real shitshow. So concerned with their reputation on the world stage, the higher-ups who are out of harm’s way nonetheless endanger countless more lives in the future for the sake of saving face for five more minutes.
It is undeniably a particularly Soviet sort of mess but what surprised me was that it was not wholly unfamiliar.
The two years over which the series takes place starts to feel like a rapidly accelerated state collapse, foreshadowing the Soviet Union’s final death knell which would sound only five years later. But this sort of multi-dimensional incompetence nonetheless echoes the time in which we live and, perhaps more accurately, the times to come.
Who would have thought a television series about the past could feel so horrifyingly speculative…
As the 2020s loom on the horizon, the decades ahead feels poised to define themselves through a similar sort of gross state incompetence. Today the West, increasingly unsure of itself and its relationship to the truth, is mismanaging the unfolding climate crisis just as criminally as the Soviet Union mismanaged the Chernobyl disaster. The only difference is that the collapse which took the Soviet Union a decade is taking the West five times as long.
Still, our disaster — our climate Chernobyl — can’t be too far off. The unbearably dry heat of this year’s London heatwave makes that very clear.
In this way, it is blinkered to view Chernobyl as only a series about how ridiculous Soviet Communism was — especially when we consider that, in recent years, we have begun to treat our experts with just as much contempt and our labourers with just as little empathy as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The inconvenient truth at the heart of the series it that all state-forms are just as embarrassingly suicidal — if you give them the time and the opportunity.
There are still lessons to be learned within it for us all.
In the introduction to his book England’s Hidden Reverse, David Keenan considers the sense in which England’s “esoteric underground” — of which “the formation of Throbbing Gristle in 1975 [was] year zero”, and which was exemplified by the bands Coil, Current 93 and Nurse with Wound — by predating punk — was the first genre to take up the inherently adolescent energy of “classic” rock ‘n’ roll, following its 1960s “Golden Age”.
Keenan’s sense of adolescence is broad. For him, it is a word that should not refer solely to a disparaged naivety or immaturity. Instead, it should be seen as an integral part of human cultural experience — and an experience which does not simply “end” with an escape into your 20s and the settling of unruly pubescent hormones.
Perhaps surprisingly, Keenan’s conception of adolescence stretches as far back as 40,000 years ago. He cites R. Dale Guthrie’s 2005 book The Nature of Palaeolithic Art to describe an adolescent cultural production that transcends not just our modern sense of the “teenager” — which arguably refers to little more than a socioeconomic demographic — but even beyond our historic sense of civilisational belonging.
In his book, Guthrie, an anthropologist, puts forward the thesis that Palaeolithic adolescents were as obsessed with sex and violence as our modern-day teenage tearaways. He argues that the cave art from this era that survives around the world — depicting hunts and battles as well as the occasional disproportionate phallus — was most likely drawn by adolescent males; pubescent teens passing through the very same evolutionary hormone-fuelled phase-shift defined by a reckless exploration of the world and a preoccupation with its darker corners that we are all already familiar with. For Guthrie and Keenan, then, the suggestion seems to be that these caves served the same function as the graffitied bus shelters, underpasses and bathrooms of our contemporaneous shadow-lurking youth.
Having exploded this sense of adolescence, Keenan — taking a view that is less explicitly masculine and anthropological — goes on to compare prehistoric art to the burgeoning noise and industrial music genres of the 1970s and ‘80s, specifically the music of Whitehouse — that notorious project captained by musician William Bennett — which he describes as a xenorock that rolls beyond the limits of the genre’s eventual social acceptance following the various social panics it originally provoked in the public imagination from the 1950s onwards.
Whitehouse, formed by William Bennet in 1980, … effectively birth[ed] noise music—or ‘power electronics’ as Bennett dubbed it—as a genre while making consistent and inexplicable use of extreme imagery, naming albums after concentration camps, like 1981’s Buchenwald, dedicating albums to notorious serial killers, as on 1983’s Dedicated To Peter Kürten Sadist And Mass Slayer, and using self-consciously atrocious track titles like ‘Tit Pulp’, ‘Shitfun’ and ‘I’m Comin’ Up Your Ass.’
So far, so very adolescent, right? But we need to be very careful when we use a term like ‘adolescent’ in a disparaging way. What do we mean?
Rock ‘n’ roll is an adolescent art form. It derives most of its energy from adolescence. If we’re going to damn music for being adolescent we’re going to have to write off all of the best rock ‘n’ roll, all of the music that we love. But as an adolescent art form the kind of grotesque, violent, hyper-sexualised imagery that Whitehouse dealt in can never be far from the surface.
From here, Keenan contrasts Whitehouse to the way in which, for example, Elvis first shocked the world, infamously filmed only from the waist up on the Ed Sullivan Show so as not to offend or over-excite those tuning in; later, he notes how the Sex Pistols caused great offence with their caricatured Nazism and cartoonish hyperviolence on puerile songs like “Belsen Was A Gas”, but Keenan also notes that both these artists are now widely accepted cultural institutions and so “rock ‘n’ roll can also be seen as a safety valve, in a sense, a way of containing these inchoate powers, which is how Throbbing Gristle saw it, as a system of control.”
Positioning themselves in opposition to this kind of cultural production and assimilation, noise and industrial musics don’t romanticise or aestheticise their subject matter but try to traumatically reflect the darkest corners of reality as they actually exist. They don’t want to function as an affective dam for libidinal desires but as a virulent amplifier. Keenan writes:
Noise and Industrial music function as the night time to pop music’s day. Where pop music exists as a soundtrack to nine-to-five work and consumption, noise provides the cover of night that facilitates transgressive activities, liberating suppressed personas and jamming the wavelengths that consensual reality broadcasts on. Crime calls for night; noise is no longer music as entertainment.
Today, this disconnection between noise and pop — both broadly defined — persists. Noise musics, however, are still routinely derided and attacked for their aesthetic promiscuity. Pop is today broadly progressive if nonetheless somewhat innocuous. Black music’s continued dominance of the pop charts, increasingly comfortable with its own politicisation, has brought the politics of a minoritarian existence and experience into everyday life. Beyoncé’s tribute to black politics past and present at Superbowl 50 in 2016, for instance, ungrounds the suggestion that pop cannot facilitate transgression for some. However, whilst it might rupture everyday political discussion, it remains the soundtrack to work and consumption. Noise, in occupying the night, finds itself more readily associated with another kind of transgression, one which does not occur in plain sight, and which, perhaps due to pop’s own grasp of progressivism, is easily associated with a darker side of politics also.
Contrary to this, Keenan argues that the music of Whitehouse is far less (politically if not aesthetically) offensive — or should be — than the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for instance, whose song “Mladić”, from their 2012 album, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, he highlights as a cinematic and even romantic track, supposedly about (or—as Whitehouse might describe it—“dedicated to”) the Bosnian Serb war criminal Ratko Mladić.
Keenan claims that the sublimity of their neoclassical, post-rock sound can be far more easily interpreted as a romanticisation of the man in question, in being somewhat neo-Wagnerian perhaps. The track throws together an often atonal mix of folkloric melodies, raucous guitars and walls of feedback — it is certainly “noisy” if not quite “noise” — but in doing so it seems to capture the spirit and energy of a war-mongering nationalism in its melodic delirium. For Keenan, this is far more problematic than the slabs of noise that constitute Whitehouse’s stylistically provocative discography. However, Keenan notes that the intention of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s aesthetic onslaught is never questioned due to their extramusical clarifications in interviews and elsewhere as being self-described “left-liberals”.
The unrelenting noise of Whitehouse stands in firm opposition to such a response. There is no attempt at aestheticising the chosen subject matter. If anything, for a project like Whitehouse, talk is cheap. Instead, Bennett’s project attempts to hold a mirror up to the worst of human society and re-present it as it actually appears to us — that is, abhorrently. We can consider the project, in stark contrast to the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as an attempt to grapple with that which is beyond words, beyond classical understandings of form and expression.
Whitehouse, in being named after the infamous moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse, can be seen as an inversion of Mary’s own raison d’etre, attacking the news cycles and mundane ideologies that do far more to normalise the worst acts we humans are capable of by confronting the listener with that which is so hard to comprehend about the human condition rather than censoring it. To transduce this into the normality of “classical” music — in the broadest sense of the term; “music” that is easily appreciable as such — is, then, for noise musicians, a dangerous game.
In this sense, the music of Whitehouse can be aligned with Georges Bataille’s concept of l’informe, or formlessness. In contrast Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s neo-Wagnerian overcoming of the folkloric, Whitehouse demonstrates an approach “that serves to bring things down in the world.” As Bataille would write, at his most cosmically pessimistic:
What [formlessness] designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.
Despite framing the reality of human depravity and its abject meaninglessness in these non-terms, it is bizarre to Keenan that it is instead the likes of Whitehouse and not Godspeed You! Black Emperor who must emphatically defend their artistic practice against accusations of fascistic sympathies. Because, ultimately, as Keenan writes, “there is no poetry here.” And that’s the point. There is no poetry in genocide or serial murder and so this music is offered up as a way to begin to process the darkest crevices of the human condition through a consciously paradoxical process. How to create a sound in the world’s image? It’s “true” image? How to attend to these travesties in a way that does not hide from the reproductive reality of their implications? It asks the question: to what extent are we willing—or even able—to withstand that which mirrors the worst side of ourselves in all of its abject difficulty?
The elephant in the room here, of course, is that much of the anxiety surrounding these movements in the present emerges from the fact that there are various creators of extreme musics who do attempt to glorify and embolden an “extreme” — in the sense of a violent, aggressive and propulsively right-wing — politics.
Death In June are the most notorious group of this kind, perhaps. Beginning in similar post-punk and industrial territory when they formed in the 1980s, and once self-described far-leftists, members of the group later found themselves influenced by the ideologies of National Bolshevism and Strasserism, both ideologies which implicitly inject far-left structuralist critiques with far-right sentiments. Strasserism, in particular, is best known as a call for a brand of Nazism which is birthed from proletarian revolution; a sort of faux-Marxism which conflates critiques of capitalism with the economic conspiracies of antisemitism.
These ideological turns are regularly denounced, and rightly so, but far too often the argument is to denounce the very grounds from which they emerge. As Keenan suggests, to denounce adolescence absolutely is surely misguided. What is necessary, instead, is that we critique our inevitably conditioned approaches to such topics. For instance, are we to treat adolescence as the demonstrative ground for all creative activity and existence? Of course not. Adolescence is a process, a becoming; a period of development, of chance. It is, biologically and creatively speaking, a generative vector for the production of the new. (And it is not the only one either.) To denounce it outright is as impossible as an apparent commitment to — which is to say, an ideological packaging of — its processes.
This series will consider a confluence of such generative but likewise controversial vectors, with adolescence chief among them — but also “death”, “nature” and “mythology” — which emerge as integral gears of the adolescent process. These topics, like adolescence, can appear dangerous when isolated, but they are not antithetical to positive and generative processes in and of themselves. To demonstrate this we will consider a particularly “bad” example of an “adolescent” music scene, which — whilst initially intensely generative — collapsed in on itself, caught in a spiral of murderous intent all of its own making: True Norwegian Black Metal.
To be continued…
 David Keenan, England’s Hidden Reverse (London: Strange Attractor Press, 2016),
 Formed by Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni
Tutti, Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson in 1975, Throbbing Gristle were
known for their prolific and subversive activities, straddling a fine line
between rock band and performance art, the main impetus of which was to always
confound their audience’s expectations, no matter what. They are best known for
their albums The Second Annual Report
(1977) and 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979),
and are widely recognised as the progenitors of so-called “Industrial music”,
named after their independent record label Industrial Records.
 Formed by John Balance in 1982 and later
joined by Throbbing Gristle’s Peter Christopherson, Coil would push against the
edges of post-punk and post-industrial music, dragging an already esoteric
sound further into its outer limits. They are best known for their albums Horse Rotorvator (1986) and Love’s Secret Domain (1991), with the
latter incorporating the contemporaneous sounds of Acid House with the
industrial music on which they cut their teeth.
 Formed by David Tibet in 1982, Current 93
likewise took Industrial music in new directions, exacerbating the occultism
that was of interest to late Throbbing Gristle and incorporating folk
influences into their sound.
 Nurse With Wound is a project heralded by
Stephen Stapleton and formed in 1978. They are arguably the most disturbing of
the three groups that Keenan considers in England’s
Hidden Reverse, having subsequently had a major influence on noise, drone
and demonstrating a mastery of the aural uncanny.
 It is worth noting, in light of Keenan’s
references, that the “teenager” is a very modern concept. Indeed, there is an
argument to be made that the teenager was a concept “invented” by marketing
companies in the 1940s, when young people in the throws of adolescence were
identified to be an lucrative economic demographic. See, for example, Dwight
MacDonald, “Inventing the American Teen-Ager”, The New Yorker, 29 November 1958:
 See: R. Dale Guthrie, The Nature of Paleolithic Art (Chicago: University of Chicago
 Sentenced to life in prison in 2017,
Mladić (also known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”) was convicted of genocide, war
crimes and crimes against humanity at an international criminal tribunal which
investigated atrocities committed during the Yugoslav Wars, largely ethnic wars
of independence held throughout the 1990s which led to the breaking up of the
state of Yugoslavia into six separate nations: Slovenia, Croatia, North
Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro.
 Mary Whitehouse a social conservative and
reactionary who was famous throughout the UK over a number of decades for her
“moral campaigns” waged against the mainstream media and popular culture due to
what she saw as the endemic promotion of bad language, sex and violence during
the 1960s to the 1980s. She was known as an opponent of progressive politics in
all its forms during her life time, particularly regarding issues of sexual
liberation and gay rights. Although widely mocked in the media, she is said to
have greatly influenced the premiereship of Margaret Thatcher and a number of
censory laws introduced during her tenure, perhaps most notoriously
the Video Recordings Act of 1984, legislation brought in to tackle a moral
panic orchestrated by Whitehouse regarding so-called ‘video nasties’—a phrase
it is said that she coined herself. Many famous and critically acclaimed films
were cut or outright banned in the UK in cinemas or on home video due to this
legislation, including The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th and Suspiria.
Many of these films did not see an “uncut” video or DVD release until the late
1990s or early 2000s.
 Georges Bataille, “Formless” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings,
1927-1939, ed. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
I really like these comments from Barton below, encapsulating the very feeling which this blog was built on.
In a sense, there is no word for the other side of the eerie, this dispassionate positive side of the eerie is precisely what’s been edited out of the world. […] I think it’s really important to get this right, it’s fundamental to see that with M.R. James, the problem is that you have something which is an expression of the birth of Gothic horror in the modern world. And the modern world loves gothic, it loves horror, but it absolutely has a shutdown on the opposite dimension of the eerie, because that’s the way out.
Basically, gothic horror just in the end plays into Christian — or Judaic or Islamic — entrapment metaphysics, with its violence of transcendent maleness. Because in the end it just frightens the hell out of people, points out that horrific things happen if you open yourself up in the direction of the unknown, and people are likely, in the end, having just frolicked around as critique-freaks in the zone of the gothic, to go precisely nowhere, and to have played into the hands of people who say, yes, there’s something out there other than the material world, and be afraid, be very afraid — if you genuinely open yourself up to the unknown, you’re going to go to hell to be roasted by M.R. James’s demons. Which means it’s the last great attempt to defend Christianity — M.R. James was a Christian, he read his stories out at Christmas! In Cambridge, a bastion of traditional Christian values.
So that incredible attempt by the religious system to defend itself by scaring people, which in fact goes on all the way through the twentieth century and is still going on as strong as ever, and which is gothic horror, has got to be fended off. Because the opposite direction is what’s been edited out. It’s really important to see that. Unless you get to the thought of an intent towards absolute deterritorialization — dispassionate movement towards absolute intensification, absolute freedom — you haven’t seen what’s at stake in all of this. And the gothic keeps you staring in completely the wrong direction, keeps you staring in the direction of the old Christian myth system.
I’m sick this week but trying to power through and tackle a bunch of deadlines. There’s a considerable blog backlog building but I won’t have chance to get back to this until next week so here’s a quick one whilst I take a break from eye-destroying admin.
My days this week are all largely the same. I am existing wholly on a sofa-turned-sickbed next to a bin full of snotty tissues, working on freelance stuff with YouTube on the TV in the background. Today’s algorithm has been interesting. It went from Hot Ones interviews to a Vice on HBO short about dark matter and then onto this video from The Economist — of all places — about the science behind the concept of a multiverse.
(When did The Economist start going deep on contemporary issues within the philosophy of science? The Economist!)
Watching this, I discovered I knew absolutely nothing about what is meant by the “multiverse” but found it to be not as controversial as a suggestion as it is often made out to be — I guess, primarily, by scientists.
It seems like a theory that, yes, exists somewhere between the worlds of science fact and fiction but only by nature of it being philosophically speculative. It presents a view of the universe that is straight out of Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of Our Planet, asking the question: What is a universe-without-us?
I hadn’t thought about this before — at least not at this scale — and maybe that’s because I’m just not that well versed in this stuff — but one scientist in this video describes with great clarity how our popular understanding of the universe is wholly anthropocentric, empirically speaking. He seems to argue that the multiverse is a Copernican concept as the next level up from our understanding of what it is to exist in this reality… And that is a scale where terms like “reality” and “existence” and whatever else already start to feel woefully parochial.
He explains that the universe is basically defined as an event-horizon beyond which no light that has yet reached us. There may be many galaxies and stars far beyond those that we can currently see but because their light hasn’t reached us yet we can’t see them and have no way of knowing that they are there. The question, he points out, is not that this is true but rather to what extent it is true? Just how much universe is out there that we cannot see?
Perhaps that’s obvious but the way it is framed in this short video is interesting to me for how it conjures up an almost gothic image of our place within the void. I started imagining someone walking through a dark forest with a lamp — conjuring up memories of my own favourite stoner spot on the banks of the river Humber that could only be reached by a 10-minute walk through a dense wood. You have no light from the moon or the stars. You are limited by the light that emanates around you from a source that is woefully attached to your own position. It’s not a torch, projecting out into the far reaches, but a halo around your own existence.
Now, this is what I had never thought of before: I assumed — thanks, no doubt, to sci-fi misunderstandings — that a multiverse is not different to the concept of multiple dimensions. There are multiple universes that are probably like our own or they are quantum universes whre different cosmic events have played out from the same moment of the Big Bang. And, in a sense, that is not wrong, but rarely have I heard this argument suggested where it is human experience and perception which is held up as being wholly inadequate, in a sense that is radically beyond our sense of space and time, but by virtue of some complex layering, but simply by virtue of our empirical stuckness.
This video instead frames the problem in a radically simple way: if the universe is understood as an anthropocentric halo limited by our own position and modes of perceptions within the seemingly infinite expanse of space, the multiverse becomes an understanding of this expanse from various different viewpoints.
Physics continues to expand its predictions far beyond what we are presently able to prove — that is, empirically witness — and this sense that we can no longer limit a standard model to that which we are able to observe is perhaps widely accepted, if nonetheless still contested. But if the multiverse is then simply a challenge to our own empiricisms, the inverse problem of the multiverse seems to be: what other empiricisms are possible? These are judged not only sensorially, but by our fundamental position within the “entirety” of (our) space-time.
What does the universe look like from a somewhere else? From somewhere entirely foreign to our own field of view? Not just in the sense of there being aliens on Mars but viewpoints wholly beyond the realm in which we are able — and, even then, only to a certain degree — to accurately predict events.
We quickly end up in territory that is recognisably Kantian but expanded at an apparently radical and new scale of thinking.
This is what’s melting my cold-addled, snot-blocked brain today.
Update #1: Blessed connections being made in the new XG Discord (accessible via the Patreon).
[Engineers] also never see reality in any sense as a flat universe, they see it as vast and deeply multi-scaled structure. In order to concretely intervene at any level of reality we must not only have a multi-level view of the reality but also know which methods, models or tools should be implemented, and at which level.
And I didn’t get it and felt even more out of my depth, but @total_exit was nice enough to expand with some interesting context relevant to the topic at hand:
David Lewis was a great australian philosopher who took a very reasonable-sounding premise (true statements are true because they pick out factual things) to a very unreasonable-sounding conclusion (all possible universes actually exist. like ACTUALLY exist.) 
so when I say, “if I’d gotten the train, I’d be late”, for Lewis the only way to make sense of this is if it picks out an actual universe, somewhere beyond the limits of our visible universe, which is EXACTLY like ours except i (1) got the train and (2) am late 
analytic philosophers tend to confine themselves to very mundane examples involving catching trains and whether Nixon is alive, but this position gets wilder and wilder in proportion to what you think of as ‘possible’ 
Boscastle is an unusual place. Rather than feeling contained to an area, like your average “settlement”, it sort of trickles down the hill, staggering along the edges of a slipstream to its eventual harbour.
It is as idyll and precarious as it sounds, with the two sensibilities seemingly at war with each other. In 2004, the latter won out when the village was devastated by a flood. The villagers have since rebuilt the place and, bar the occasional doorway flood gate, you wouldn’t know anything so horrific could have happened here.
The God-fearing might assume that Boscastle came in for such bad luck due to its history as a epicentre for the spread of modern witchcraft. That’s what brought me here as well.
Since 1960, Boscastle has been the home of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, founded by local mystic Cecil Williamson. Williamson was interested in Wicca and a practicing witch himself but he also found the distance between the neo-pagan witches of this marginal religion and the folkloric perception of witches in the popular imagination to be a fascinating contrast.
And so he set up the Museum, hoping to present modern witchcraft as something in between, with exhibits occulted and sinister for the morbidly curious but also faithful and in-depth for the modern Wiccan.
Throughout this week, I’ve been looking into contemporary Cornwall’s various occulted corners — with Troy Books being my favourite discovery so far: I picked up Gemma Gary’s The Devil’s Dozen earlier this week in Penzance and have been thoroughly enjoying it — and what I’ve found has continuously evoked that oft-quoted line from Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy?:
To think is always to follow the witches’ flight.
The Museum in Boscastle is essentially a cabinet of curiosities exploring various outsider and occulted practices throughout history that walk this strange tightrope of “thought” — from thought as the embodiment of the individual Will to the collective thought of myth-making and superstition. It presents witchcraft, then, as a mode of thinking which plays on and acts through both vectors together — the power of the individual (particularly the outsider) in shaping and disrupting common sense; our “social sense”, as Bergson called it.
Indeed, witchcraft, as present by the Museum, becomes a mode of thought which takes what it can from a very broad arsenal of perceptions about cognition, from religious practice and mysticism to unsanctioned rationalisms and scientific play.
I have lots more to say on this but, having discovered in the gift shop that the Museum has its own research journal, I think I’ll try write something for the Museum itself. So watch this space for that.
For now though, in the spirit of this whole week’s What I Did On My Holidays blog takeover, here are a few of my favourite things found in the museum.
One of the most fascinating (and strangely DeleuzoBataillean) of objects is this taxidermic fox with a woman’s death mask affixed to it, supposedly commissioned by a witch who wanted to become one with her spirit animal — a becoming-animal in death.
Around the corner from this macabre amalgamation is the obligatory witches’ dildo. Whilst there are apparently many documents which speak of orgies with the Devil himself, the museum digs beneath the euphemism:
Several historians have surmised that due to the large amount of coven members often present at Sabbath meetings, it may be that an artificial phallus was used during the rites and this is why the Devil’s member was often described thus, “As cold as ice within me”….
Elsewhere, the Museum explicitly suggests that the orgiastic meetings of your local coven were more likely engaging in a communal exercise of feminine satisfaction, explicitly shunning their husbands for their inadequacies, with one document effectively gloating about how the Devil’s phallus is bigger and more fulfilling than any man’s.
There was a whole cabinet dedicated to Mother Shipton — shout out Yorkshire’s premier witchin’ cave-dweller — and also a load of texts straight out of English folk horror. So many daemonologies!
There are also voodoo dolls — from the commercially available (Hitler and Stalin pin cushions) to the home-made — as well as a cabinet full of mummified cats. Each one was excavated from within the walls or under the entrances to houses in the UK, said to be a superstition or charm that if you bury your dead cat in your house you’ll ward off all mice and rats.
There was also a collection of scrying mirrors (better known as “black mirrors”) and various other home-made objects that I’m tempted to try and make myself.
If I’m not careful, this blog might birth another side-series where I have a go at making magical artefacts and goth-looking ornaments.
A final museum feature worth noting is a lovely memorial wall at the end of your route, to your right just as you exit through the gift shop. It was home to various portraits, messages and obituaries for various patrons and donators to the Museum but one in particular caught my eye.
Jhonn [Balance] was a founder member of the magical rock band COIL, and was a magician, shaman and collector of all things magical, especially anything related to Austin Osman Spare, who’s art and philosophy he had championed for almost 2 decades. […] Jhonn was talking about lending or copying items from his immense collection of occult art for display at Boscastle in 2005 — when he heard about the flood he was distraught — but tragically that never happened; in November 2004 he fell from a balcony at his home, sustaining severe head injuring from which he did not regain consciousness. […] Much missed.
That night, I ended up drifting off to COIL’s Time Machines album after dipping back into England’s Hidden Reverse.
If I wasn’t already engrossed in the weird subcultural entanglements of this country’s modern occultist traditions, that has only be redoubled now.
I began this year with a long — and sort of shit — series of posts that I built out of an email conversation I had with Reza Negarestani. With his long-anticipated book Intelligence & Spirit finally out, and having been working on his career-spanning collection Abducting the Outside with Robin, I wanted to understand how his old work (which I felt familiar with, as an emphatic DeleuzoBataillean) was connected to his new work (which broadly went over my head in its references to the likes of Carnap and Sellars). So, I wanted to ask where he was now at and hear how he saw his own trajectory.
In hindsight, I don’t think I was very successful in transposing what felt was a genuinely productive conversation into blog form.
However, last night, whilst reading Edia Collone’s essay, “The Missing Subject of Accelerationism: Heavy Metal’s Wyrd Realism”, in the book Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory, I found a side to Reza’s thought that I hadn’t previously considered and I think, in the process, I found the link between his rationalism and his gothicism, laid out right in front of my nose.
Negarestani, the current exemplar of that dry rational/technological Prometheanism promoted by the Reader, betrays an intimate link between black metal theory and accelerationism, whose ‘missing subject’, it would seem, is nothing more, or less, than what I would like to term, heavy metal’s wyrd realism, its ‘art of making reality, of knowing reality, and knowing how to make reality’ through its ‘aesthetics of inevitability’…
The link between old and new Reza is here, I think, in this knowing and making of reality — and, specifically, knowing and making it wyrd. In a way, we might consider the phrase “wyrd realism”, as far as Reza’s work is concerned, to have a shifting emphasis. We might tentatively frame Cyclonopedia as a theory-fictional attempt to make the wyrd real, by grounding Lovecraftian horror in philosophy. Intelligence & Spirit, on the other hand, could be seen as an attempt to make the real wyrd, in precisely the mode that science wyrds the world in our “understanding” of it on a daily basis.
What I mean by this is the wyrdness of, for instance, the first image taken of a black hole, which I wrote about the other day. The sense in which science has to bend over backwards and expend an enormous about of energy and resources just to make its discoveries visible to us.
I feel like an awareness of this is a consistent presence throughout Reza’s thought — that is, the ways in which science — but also politics, art and philosophy — all wrestle with their increasing (rather than diminishing) insufficiency with regards to giving anthropocentric form to their discoveries. The question becomes: How are we, at the level of the social, of the spirit, able to comprehend that which is, by its nature, not-for-us, especially when it is rendered somewhat (but — in the case of the black hole — barely) legible? Furthermore, what are the implications of our scientific (or other) frontiers being moved so much further outwards from what we can, cognitively and sensorially, process and be aware of?
These are questions that have always been central to philosophies of mind but I found it interesting to see the seeds of an old Batailleanism still embedded with Reza’s prose. For example, I think this is a key passage related to this from Intelligence & Spirit:
While the history of intelligence begins from death as a condition of enablement, it extends by way of a view from nowhere and nowhen through which completed totalities are removed and replaced by that which is possible yet distant, and that which seems impossible yet is attainable. […]
The only true nihilism is one that is advanced as an enabling condition for the autonomy of impersonal reason […] True nihilism is the beginning of reason, not its end. It is not something that can be libidinally yearned for or intellectually invested in: not only because it is neither a belief nor a desire — since the identification of nihilism as a belief or desire leads to pure aporia — but rather because nihilism can only be affirmed as that which renders our temporal beliefs and desires obsolete once it is maturely seen as the labour of truth through which the fleeting appearances of totalities — of states of affairs, beliefs, desires, and values — are destroyed. This is truth as the atemporal reality of mind, spirit as time.
Here we find the black metal theory of Reza’s philosophy of mind. Here we find the horror, the nigredo, of a truly philosophical science.
After much hype and fanfare, scientists have unveiled the first image of a black hole — and, as predicted, it’s not much to look at.
… But then, why should it be?
What is fascinating about this story, when you dig down into the science, is that we have essentially found a new way to image that which is imperceptible. By digging down and confronting what exactly this smudge represents (and how), we might even find something that vaguely resembles horror.
Produced using an algorithm written by MIT grad student Katie Bouman called CHIRP — which stands for “Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors” — the image is, in essence, a spatio-temporal cosmic collaboration, made by collating data from various radio telescopes around the world. It is, considering the scale at which it has been produced, a kind of planetary algorithmic vision.
The algorithm traditionally used to make sense of astronomical interferometric data assumes that an image is a collection of individual points of light, and it tries to find those points whose brightness and location best correspond to the data. Then the algorithm blurs together bright points near each other, to try to restore some continuity to the astronomical image.
To produce a more reliable image, CHIRP uses a model that’s slightly more complex than individual points but is still mathematically tractable. You could think of the model as a rubber sheet covered with regularly spaced cones whose heights vary but whose bases all have the same diameter.
Fitting the model to the interferometric data is a matter of adjusting the heights of the cones, which could be zero for long stretches, corresponding to a flat sheet. Translating the model into a visual image is like draping plastic wrap over it: The plastic will be pulled tight between nearby peaks, but it will slope down the sides of the cones adjacent to flat regions. The altitude of the plastic wrap corresponds to the brightness of the image. Because that altitude varies continuously, the model preserves the natural continuity of the image.
CHIRP effectively collates various kinds of data recorded about something which is, by its own nature, invisible and infers a visual “continuity” from that data. The fact that it looks like a light as seen through frosted glass is to be expected then and this kind of imagery will be familiar to those with any knowledge of the history of scientific imaging. For so long now, we have regularly found ourselves confronted by splodges. We might even recognise in this image the true, formless nature of photography and our photographies-to-come.
Unimpressed by Barthes’ mournful, romantic and downright “wet” prose — which fails to take into account its own obfuscatory nature — Elkins instead looks to the true phenomenological limits of the photographic image, and of sight more generally, considering images of translucent, microscopic and transformative organisms and materials as his models for the photograph and photographic experience. These images are, as far as science is often concerned, objective and full to the brim of data, and yet to us, as aesthetic beings, they are empty; even “bad”. Elkins writes:
Through a selenite window, a sharp bright day will appear fractured and broken; in lake ice, everything beyond the surface sinks into night; in rock salt, the photograph is just a reminder that something cannot be seen. […] These are all failed looks into or through something. In them, the world is fractured, folded, faint, undependable, invisible, more or less ruined. Photography doesn’t work, the way it does for Barthes, diligently supplying memories, faces, love, and loss.
At its most aesthetically pleasing, Elkins’ book considers rapatronic images of nuclear explosions, and yet he still emphasises the formless nature of these images. It is nothing but a human habit to see (and seek) form where, materially, there is none. We see a world where there is, in fact, only annihilation. Scientific imagery, in this sense, far more successfully than any other kind of photography, captures the formlessness of the universe, where scientific “meaning” ruptures semiotics with its avisual taxonomies of the void. And yet, at the same time, such images are only produced in order to attempt to satisfy that innate human desire to give things form-for-us.
Photography, for Elkins, is an often myopic medium in this regard, romanticising and humanising its own practice far more than it perhaps should. We wrest it on our all too human laurels, wishing it show us the world as we know it, with any photograph that is “unfamiliar” deemed to be a failure.
We might reconsider our “bad” photography afresh in the decades to come, more so than the public imagination has so far become accustomed to. The further out into the imperceptible universe we reach, the quicker we must get used to seeing images which are obstensibly not-for-us. But maybe that too is just wishful thinking.
We will never be happy with these images. Not really. Not as long as we strive to give shape to that which resists all form. As Bataille writes:
… for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.
Increasingly, we might expect ourselves to find these “mathematical frock coats” — which this new image of a black hole is most explicitly, whilst nonetheless still being a truly awe-inspiring scientific achievement — do not satisfy our sensibilities. And how can they? Elkins writes:
After all, from a phenomenological perspective, how could such a photograph fail to be seen as if it were human-scaled both in time and in size? Indeed, what can be apprehended — in Kant’s sense of that term, in which it is opposed to comprehension — without being taken as an image made to our own measure?
In imaging a black hole, we reduce that which is beyond experience, beyond perception, beyond us, to warm spit. Of course Twitter is disappointed.
Recommended by Robin via his son. A 16-part Let’s Play series which explores a strange and seemingly unfinished PS1 game called Petscop, in which you play a cop who catches pets… At least, that’s the initial set-up until you find the way into the netherworld.
As one YouTube commenter suggested, this is Animal Crossing meets Silent Hill — and it’s glorious.
If this post appears somewhat fragmented, that is because I’ve built it out of some stuff that got discarded whilst I was working on my #WYRDPATCHWORKSHOP talk a few weeks back. I’d recommend giving that a read first for some broader context but it’s not essential.
Patchwork, in the work of Nick Land in particular, is seen as a geopolitical desire that is, explicitly, strapped onto the branch of contemporary political philosophy known as Accelerationism. For Land, it seems, “accelerating the process” patchwise, in a way that is socioeconomically affective, relates to cutting out the middleman when it comes to capitalism’s influence.
Rather than having governments hire corporations, just accept that governments can’t keep up with the new techonomic world and, instead, let’s have a do-over.
This is a major generalisation, of course, and it is one which favours a particularly dystopian vision of the world from the left. However, whilst many see Land’s arguments as being associated with the “sovereign corporations” of Mencius Moldbug, hard to favour in light of contemporary inequality and the rampant ineffectuality of privatisation, there are also arguments to be made for a patchwork that could likewise resemble a fragmentary socialism where the “nationalisation” of industry is not just the further consolidation of state power. It could be seen less as the absorption of all business into the state and instead the absorption of the state by local business. This too is a generalisation — I’m trying to be brief — but suffice it to say that the overarching point of patchwork is that, regardless of where your politics lie, what comes under fire is the modern state form as the most formidable barrier to new political imaginaries.
This observation might sound all well and good but, predictably, patchwork ends up coming up against many of the same problems that accelerationism has in recent years. To enforce any particular left or right variant is sort of antithetical to what patchwork as a mode of thought is trying to attune itself to. This is not to simply hold up multiplicity as an end unto itself but rather to better account for the ground from which various contemporary tendencies move outwards from.
I recently published a primer on this intention as it is found in the discourse around unconditional accelerationism. Unconditional accelerationism, in contrast to a left or right accelerationism (and a dozen other variations of this philosophy that proliferate online) attempts to describe a process which unfolds beyond the realm of politics. This is not to ignore politics but rather to acknowledge that politics itself is expressed from within an overarching process from which it is not, in itself, distinct. We could even say that politics is dependent on this process — to quote a recent Ed Berger tweet: “the conditioned is dependent on the unconditional“.
As far as I am concerned, patchwork thinking is the real-world political arm of this analysis. It says: Here is the tendency that we see unfolding across decades, even centuries — that is, the unruly spread of capitalist nationhood, symptomatic of an attempt to quieten a certain ‘jangling of nerves’ — and here are a series of speculative geopolitical predictions which we see as worthy of encouragement if we want to effectuate real change from within the midst of this process rather than be mindless slaves to its affectations.
This makes patchwork a sort of antistatecraft. Just like capitalism, the territorialisation of the state, in its restlessness, opens doors for us which reveal new ways of geopolitical organisation, and patchwork attempts to provide a way of thinking them which are beyond the conditioned imaginary of the modern state form. It is an attempt to chart the unruly development of the state form itself to reveal its contingency as just one of a plurality of possible forms of interrelation between peoples and peoples-to-come. It is to follow the innate line of flight of the “state-form” we know in order to produce other kinds of state.
I sort of discussed this during my first #WYRDPATCHWORKSHOP talk, when I talked about how the Wyrd Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth offer us an example of an occulted, minoritarian outsideness, but one that is also strangely fatalistic. The fatalistic nature of this example has continue to be a issue in my mind and so the question lingers: when we talk about processes of deterritorialisation — innate entropic death drives within systems which pull towards their own demise — to what extent does this betray a deterministic approach to capitalism or geopolitics — that is, a sense of inevitability, or fatalism.
I wrote the U/Acc primer in part to try and address this problem as it is found in accelerationism. I was frustrated that accelerationism was being frequently reduced to the belief that we need to somehow speed up capitalism’s downfall no matter the cost — as if we have any real say in the matter — but I was also frustrated by a tendency to equate this determinism with a straight-up delusional religiosity which is betrayed by an interest in sci-fi or weird fiction; or narrative, fiction and myth more generally.
For me, the implicit reason for enjoying this approach is to suggest that we can read something like H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu, for example, and rather than just do the Cultural Studies thing of saying what the text is doing in the most boring way possible, we can instead try to tap into the power of that story and replicate the power of that mythos for our present moment, by putting into the very process of cultural production an occulted thinking that these sorts of stories bring to light at the limits of our conditioned realities. So, we shouldn’t just analyse culture in this way but actively try to produce it in its own outsider image.
Despite this, for some, this approach is reduced to such dumb dismissals as “Accelerationism is a sci-fi Cthulhu Cult that believes a giant dead octopus at the bottom of the ocean controls the world’s economy and doesn’t care about real-world affects and risks”…
And yet, in contrast to accelerationism, patchwork has never quite had to deal with this kind of critique, at least not to the same extent, perhaps because we’re a lot more familiar with thinking about the state in this way. Thomas Hobbes, for example, way back in 1651, wrote Leviathan, in which the state is presented to us in abstract, evoking the spectacle of a great whale, a kraken, a sea monster, albeit one cast in a positive light. Leviathan — used to give an image to a strong, undivided government — is, for Hobbes, despite the innate horror of the image, something to strive for.
Vincent Garton, on the Urbanomic website in 2017, wrote a marvellous essay — and a key patchwork text — in which he critiques Hobbes’ use of this image and calls, instead, for the formulation of “an Anti-Leviathan” — Leviathan Rots. Vince writes that what we need is “an enthusiasm that will be absolute, not relative, comfortable in its disjuncture, a theoretical orientation that is not dependent on a praxis of repetition of hegemony, but is open and expectant towards the processes that are ripping up the Leviathan — divesting it of its oceanic pretences, and drowning it in the expansive flux of the deep, green sea….”
Vince is a very interesting character within all of this, and a key contributor to these ideas. Between 2016 and 2017, he had a persistent online presence and was known for being a prolific and authoritative blogger on the topic of “unconditional accelerationism”. Then, at some point, he disappeared.
Vince’s last blog post, at this time, published on his Cyclonograph blog in July 2017, discussed the potential excavation of the antecedents of accelerationism — accelerationism, he writes, is, on “the most superficial level”, only about a decade old but it is also, at “its unspoken core … impossibly ancient.” This is because, he continues, accelerationism is “more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines”. It can be traced back through many paths and many cultures. Acceleration is, he says, a “sensation”, perhaps described most frequently by those in the West but it is nonetheless felt around the world. To reduce this tendency to any singular canonical trajectory is to reductively construct a bad genealogy. To relativise it is a mistake. Just as he calls for in Leviathan Rots, we need an “Absolute” approach to accelerationism — an unconditional approach.
We might say that accelerationism, then, is a philosophy which attempts to describe the unruly nature(s) of the politics we see erupting out of modernity and treat them accordingly, rejecting the consolidatory tendency of the state form and its striving for a total(itarian)ising theory which is innately false, only choosing to acknowledge a select number of the inputs that give it its form — that is, ejecting that which betrays the system of nation-state or capitalism as insufficient. As such, Vince writes, ending his previous blog on something of a cliffhanger: “When it is written, then, the intellectual history and genealogy of accelerationism must look beyond the contingencies of its present expressions.”
A year later, in July 2018, Vince returned, with a new blog, Cyclonograph II, and a seemingly new focus. His first piece of writing published around this time was an essay for the online magazine Jacobite entitled “Catholicism and the Gravity of Horror“, detailing his Catholicism and the horror integral to such a religious position, which many seemed to read, on the one hand, as a retraction of past political dalliances, or, on the other, as a conflation of Accelerationism with Catholicism itself. (Not a manoeuvre attractive to many tech-savvy secularists.)
But what Vince is describing here is the way in which the Church have followed the lead of the State in consolidating itself into an authoritative institution despite the ways in which its “ground” suggests an antithetical approach. He is putting forward a Catholicism which looks beyond the contingencies of its present expressions. He writes:
The Church today, mystical body of Christ that it remains, is not the ideal Church. Across its history it has been all too easy to founder, driven to despair by its mysteries or — far more common today — losing sight of them entirely, falling into a simplistic world of smooth and total immanence and giving up the commission of self-surrender. The theologian walks a precipice, and must take care neither to collapse, like Luther, into the oppressive darkness of a fallen world, nor to dissolve in the false light of an insipid liberalism that averts its gaze because it has forgotten how to fear.
What I find here, in connecting Vince’s past and present blogs, is a favouring, perhaps, of one particular “jangling of the nerves” — an unconditional one — and, as such, a jangling which, again, looks beyond contingent expressions, leading him to acknowledge the ways in which “modern philosophy, particularly aesthetic philosophy, driven for centuries with all its enlightened instincts away from religion, comes at its edge once more and continually into contact with theology.”
This is because what transcendental philosophies — and even transcendental politics — share with modern religion is a (somewhat performative) attempt to commune with that which is outside themselves. It considers its conditions of existence, establishing an outside of which it can say nothing. This has been the effect of Kantian philosophy on the world as we know it. What we find in Kant is precisely an attempt to give thought its conditions; to sketch out its edges, the areas beyond which thought itself cannot go. We find this within most popular conceptions of accelerationism too, placing conditions on politics in order to adequately describe their limits. As such, whether we call this radical Outside “Nature” or “God” or “the thing-in-itself” or the “Other” or “Cthulhu”, what we find is the acknowledgement of a process which is beyond ourselves but of which we can say nothing in particular. So, for Kant, everything we experience is conditioned by perception. We cannot speak to the world as it would be without us. We cannot even speak of ourselves understood outside of perception and it is from here that we find the limit of Lovecraftian horror and Catholic reasoning.
But the story does not end there. To finish the story with our terror before the unthinkable and unimaginable is, arguably, to accept impotence, failing to consider the thought that has emerged after this.
This is something I’m researching at the moment — the development and critique of Kantian thought to be found amongst the Post-Kantian German Idealists. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, in particular, emerges as an important figure who attempts to address the recursive nature of Kant’s position. Yes, we can say nothing of the “Outside”, but at the same time we must acknowledge that we ourselves are a product of it. Just as Judeo-Christian theology insists that we have been made in God’s image, we find a Post-Kantian thought which finds that whilst “Nature” may be inaccessible to us “in itself”, we also are nature-in-itself, and so thought becomes a way in which nature thinks itself. As Iain Hamilton Grant writes in his book Philosophies of Nature After Schelling:
… the grounds of the finitude of transcendental reflection are not simply logical, as Hegel will present it, but rather physical, and concern the relation between productivity and product. The transcendental is productive in the pursuit of conditions, but, having established such conditions as conditions, mere product when it accordingly determines a thought as thus conditions. There is an energetic cost, in other words, to thought about thought.
Now, I won’t pretend have any authoritative grasp on this as yet — this is an ongoing area of research for me, and new terrain to boot — but as I understand it, this manoeuvre in naturephilosophy is an attempt to rebuild the subject, in particular, as the product of a productive natural history by reversing through the strata of the subject to find its unconditioned core; its “nature”. But, if thought is nature thinking itself, then what is the ground of nature? And what is the ground of that ground? What is nature understood unconditionally? This is something which is likewise developed by Deleuze and Guattari, and whilst their Kantian thinking is often explored by philosophers, the influence of naturephilosophy on their ideas seems to be a lot less prevalent around these blogospheric parts, but there are some who have explored this in great depth. I know that Ben Woodard is soon to publish a book on Schelling, for instance; Thomas Murphy is incredibly knowledgeable about this period in the history of philosophy; and, last but certainly not least, there is also Thomas Moynihan’s forthcoming book Spinal Catastrophism (recently announced and out in September) which pursues these ideas with an explicitly post-CCRU bent.
It is via the CCRU that we can see the retention of a predilection for Gothic horror in naturephilosophy. In considering Schelling’s interjection of the human subject as nature which thinks itself, I’m reminded of the opening scene from Begotten, for instance, where we see God disembowel himself. Such is deterritorialisation, and the ultimate horrific impact of a Nature which performs persistent biopsies on itself. As such, there is a sense that, in hoping to understand Nature, we have to delve inside ourselves as we already are and so the energetic cost that is spent is nature itself; is us.
But, of course, in the film, out of the bowels of God emerges Mother Nature. Nature begets nature begets nature, each time in a new and appropriately unholy form.
And so, as Iain Hamilton Grant continues, in a chapter of his book which is notably titled “‘What thinks in me is what is outside of me'”:
It is in consequence of the derivative nature of the product with respect to productivity that Schelling’s transcendentalism begins with the assertion ‘nature IS a priori‘, but immediately raises the problem of how a nature can be thus a priori and, at the same time, ‘unconditioned’. Accordingly, Schelling completely reinvents a transcendental philosophy that must reverse through the series of conditions until it discovers either the ‘unconditioned is nature’ that ‘cannot be any thing‘, or that nature is unconditional.
This seemingly proto-structuralist account of nature is likewise taken up and taken to its extremes by Deleuze and Guattari in their call for a geology of morals. Their question, “Who does the earth think it is?”, might be qualified with a small addition: “Who does the earth think it is unconditionally?”
What becomes critical here, and which I’ll hopefully explore more in future, is the way in which, as already suggested, this geological approach to nature likewise produces new natures. By digging down, new matter is brought to the surface.
As Grant writes at the start of his book, introducing Schelling and his naturephilosophy:
Philosophy does not, according to Schelling, consist in a redescription of otherwise available phenomena, but launches ‘thought-operations’ in the ‘medium of the universal and the impersonal’. It is ‘not [a] demonstrative, but [a] generative‘ process through which productive nature itself acts on, or produces, itself: ‘to philosophise about nature means to create nature’.
We might do well to think of accelerationism and patchwork in much the same way.
I get asked for film and TV recommendations a lot on CuriousCat and I’m never really sure what to say. More often than not, I ignore them, because it ultimately feels quite arbitrary.
I watch everything. Or try to. I used to literally watch everything and my threshold for liking things was low. I paid my dues with French New Wave or Polish Slow Cinema or whatever else. My favourite directors were Kieślowski, Bergman and Lynch but I don’t really want to be the guy who still recommends that stuff at the drop of a hat into his late 20s. (Although, of course, I still think they’re all great.)
If 18-year-old Film Bro me was to give you a list of films that were really influential for me, it would look like this:
I’d still stand by that list, I reckon, but I’m wary of saying it is definitive because I haven’t seen most of these films (except The Thing, which still gets frequent outings) within the last 5 years — 10 years for some. As such, I could just keep going. I’ve seen a lot of films and I’ve liked a lot of films because I was a teenage sponge and there comes a point where a list just becomes redundant because it’s whatever comes to mind first. I don’t want to equate my taste with the effectiveness of my memory. Nowadays, if I watch something and it makes me feel something out of the ordinary, I’ll probably find something to write about it right here.
I could have just said all this when an anon asked earlier if I could recommend some “Gothic media essentials” and, whilst I’d otherwise be happy to, it felt like a good opportunity to offer some broader thoughts on tastes and xenogothic media. Because not all these things are recognisably Gothic and making a list doesn’t really do enough in terms of clarifying that I actually think about the Gothic (and why this blog is called Xenogothic).
I like finding the Gothic in all the telly I watch. My view of the Gothic isn’t that normative because I don’t think the Gothic is — or, rather, it shouldn’t be — that normative. At its best, it ruptures itself. The best examples of the Gothic, for me, are often thrillers and murder mysteries rather than horror movies. More often than not, I end up chatting about the latest murder mystery on Netflix than the latest jump-scare-athon. I’m a big fan of Robin Mackay’s writing on yarnwork in this regard and Robin might be the person I talk to about TV and films the most. (In fact, we shared a folk horror kick last year, watching Blood on Satan’s Claw at Urbanomic’s Cornwall HQ.) He once wrote:
The international thriller and the detective story … present us with a localised object or event that stands out from the ground of normality, suggesting forces as yet unaccounted for. At the same time they transform that vision through abrupt shifts in perspective — the ‘plot twists’ that are the stock in trade of such narratives. This continual interrogation appeals in part because it models the predicament of finite, situated cognition and its aspirations toward universal purchase.
Gothic media essentials are, then, a misnomer for me. It’s about rupturing normality, not finding the best examples of a norm. What I’m interested in is being attuned to the weird as we can find it in the here and now, and the now and then. And there are plenty of examples of media that do that, albeit not being readily seen as “Gothic”. “American Horror Story” never quite got my vote, for example, because it felt so invested in heavy-handed genre tropes. I much prefer the neo-baroque of “Hannibal“, for instance, or, most recently, I liked that new adaptation of “The Haunting of Hill House“. Another series I can’t stop thinking about is “Children of the Stones“, particularly for the way that Mark wrote about it on the Hyperstition blog, tapping into a vigilant and militant dysphoria.