Dominic Fox, whose book Cold World I bought shortly after writing that post (and I enjoyed it very much), pointed to some further posts of his own exploring Black Metal and its resonance with weird theory discussions from around 2007.
Back in October, on a Xasthur kick, I pulled together some old K-Punk posts where Mark was drawn into a discussion about Xasthur’s album Subliminal Genocide after one commenter referred to it as being hauntological.
I can’t go along with attempts to christen this stuff “metal’s own Burial” — it’s too saturated and airless for that. Black metal is relentlessly entropic, committed to a one-way temporality in which intensities run inexorably down to zero and stay there, forever; there are no ghosts in this house, only cupboards full of corpses. The state of mind suggested by Subliminal Genocide is one of trancelike contemplation of the ashes of the cosmos — the logical end-point of Xasthur’s misanthropic individualism.
If there is anything “out of joint” here it is space (relations of pitch) rather than time (rhythmic patterning). The wide chorus effect used on the guitars during some of the album’s quieter moments makes them sound curdlingly out-of-tune with themselves, while the frequent harmonic shifts between distantly-related minor chords suggest a tonal universe in which there is no progression, only substitution – a universe of perpetual suspension, in which resolution can never arrive (and would have no meaning if it did). It is in perhaps this spirit that Xasthur’s frosty logo evokes the endless winter desired by Narnia’s Ice Queen, the “cold world” of dejection.
He follows up with “Genertic Misanthropy (i)” and “Genertic Misanthropy (ii)“, which explore some of the uncomfortable tensions between Black Metal’s reputation for misanthropy and racism, in which he asks the question: “Is a consistent and thorough-going hatred of all humanity possible?”
I’ve been drifting in and out of sleep with Xasthur on the headphones on the train to and from work for the past few days; it’s probably just as well that subliminal programming doesn’t really work, or my unconscious would undoubtedly be in a bad way by now. All the same, I don’t think that it’s only the titles that index Xasthur’s nihilism: that “swampy viscosity” of sonic texture envelops a decidedly warped tonal language, quite at odds with the unthreatening diatonicity that much “ambient” music seems to have inherited from the minimalism of Steve Reich and Terry Riley.
I had my own experience of this, falling asleep to Subliminal Genocide on an early morning bus journey from London to Bristol last summer. I was very surprised how not-terrible the whole experience was. I think I had quite pleasant dreams.
Thanks to Dominic for sharing these posts. Evidently codepoetics is a blog I need to dig back much further into.
The central horror of these films revolves around there being something supposedly absorbent about the American landscape. The importance of burial grounds being “Indian” is the most unsubtle of nods in this direction. Such a comment seems to infer there is some sort of curse placed upon the dead by the living — a sort of classically Orientalist superstition we see projected across the American West to places as far afield as Ancient Egypt — but it is a suggestion that also contains the echoes of untold horrors that Native Americans were subjected to the colonising Europeans.
In The Shining, however, things seem more complex.
Far more resonant than the “Indian burial ground” suggestion is the film’s opening sequence. As the Torrance family meander through the American wilderness, entirely in the jaws of the landscape, they discuss the Donner Party.
Shirley Torrance wonders if they’re close to where the fated homesteaders were snowed in but Jack says it was further out west. When little Tony Torrance asks what the Donner Party was, Jack tells him — with a father’s corrupting glint in his eye — that they were settlers who, when snowed in, resorted to cannibalism.
Shirley seems wary of the topic, perhaps because she doesn’t want to give Tony nightmares. He protests. “I know all about cannibalism — I saw it on TV!”
“See, he saw it on TV,” responds Jack, somehow proud yet cynical.
I think The Shining, in various subtle ways, offers us a way into the American psyche that I want to explore it in this series. The Donner Party didn’t happen here but the cultural memory of the American West foreshadows the psychological changes that the family will undergo as the film progresses.
Originally, in my brief introduction to this series, I said I want to explore Westerns — and that remains the overall purpose here — but this exploration includes the ways that the American West lingers and haunts other genres.
A common thread I’ve noticed recently is how the West haunts the pop-cultural figure of the writer especially — the prospective author of the Great American Novel.
Jack Torrance, in becoming the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, intends to spend his spare time writing. Many scenes depicting his escalating madness show him sat in the hotel’s great hall, plucking away at his typewriter. Writers, it seems, are even more susceptible to channelling the remnants of other worlds and other lives embedded within the American landscape.
This is something that Mark Fisher notes when discussing Westworld, central to the original Western posts on this blog. He notes how the robot “host” Dolores, in the series, “is increasingly subject to flashbacks, which we must understand not as glitches but as the first stirrings of memory, a recollection of her previous iterations.”
In my reading, this is something common to the American Western as a whole, and American horror and sci-fi too — the haunting of previous iterations. This is something that has only become more and more explicit as the decades have gone by. No Country for Old Men (2008), for instance, is a particularly notable film in this regard, wherein two iterations meet with violent yet impotent consequences.
In The Shining, Jack too is haunted — and even possessed — by his previous iterations. The revelation that he has “always been the caretaker” says less about him as a singular man and perhaps more about the archetypal “man” which he represents — stoic, closed off, but never far from “going Native”; an archetype reiterated last time via Leslie Fiedler concept of a “Higher Masculine Sentimentality”.
Here, across genres, memory and pop culture become almost interchangeable. Here, nostalgia is not a conservative pleasure but the reality of being possessed by an unruly dead spirit — the “spirit” of the near-mythical American West.
Recently, I watched another Stephen King movie — Rob Reiner’s 1991 adaptation of Misery. This film, too, shares many of the same subtle motifs explored in The Shining, and likewise dramatises supposedly disparate iterations of American life coming together with disastrous consequences.
The film begins with Paul Sheldon, a successful writer, finishing off his latest manuscript. He is the author of a series of romance novels about a young woman named Misery Chastain. They’ve brought him great success but he’s bored of the character and decides to kill her off — in childbirth no less — so that he can move onto other things.
Driving to the city to deliver the manuscript, he crashes in a blizzard only to be rescued, near death, by a woman named Annie Wilkes. Together the pair are their own two-person Donner Party.
It transpires that Annie is Paul’s “biggest fan”, finding him in the snow only because she was stalking him. She nurses Paul back to health but, on reading the final Misery manuscript, things take a turn a terrifying turn. She’s appalled that Paul would led Misery die, forcing him to burn the finished manuscript and write an entirely new one. Not one to revise what has come to pass, however, this novel must start where the last one ended.
Contrary to the tradition outlined by Fiedler, it is Annie, the deeply repressed and conservative WASP who “goes Native”. She has a pathological aversion to the new, it seems — to the extent that, in the film, it is revealed she was found culpable for a spate of cot deaths whilst working as a nurse at a hospital. She embodies a stereotypically social role as a nurse but it is as if childbirth itself is an abomination to her; a symbol of life’s inevitable evolution and progression.
As such, she is enthralled by the Misery novels because they represent another time; a lost time. To take that time away from her, through childbirth in particular, is unthinkable.
What I find particularly interesting here, and what will lead us onto our first Western proper, is Annie’s aversion to revision — the scene above demonstrating her commitment to what has already happened, even if it is not to her satisfaction.
It is this terror that I’d like to address in our first look at a proper Western, particularly a Western which is part of that subgenre known as the “Revisionist Western“.
In line with the tide change which occurred in the academy around the same time, when Turner’s famous Frontier Thesis was re-evaluated as reductive and biased, new perceptions of the American West emerged in which cowboys were not all heroes and Indians not all villains. Likewise echoing the national self-reflection that grew around the Vietnam war, the Western anti-hero was born and with it a more nuanced view — relatively nuanced anyway, it’s still Hollywood — of this period of American history.
It is here, it seems to me, that the seed of modern American cinema was planted — in this tension of past iterations both actual and pop-cultural.
If there is a gateway to hell, a portal from the underworld used by demons and witches to wreak their evil havoc on humanity, then it could be in a small east Midlands cave handy for both the M1 and A60.
Thanks to @qdnoktsqfr for sharing this #CaveTwitter tip-off.
The Guardian reports that, in the town of Creswell, between Sheffield and Mansfield, two cavers have discovered “the biggest concentration of apotropaic marks, or symbols to ward off evil or misfortune, ever found in the UK.”
The two keen-eyed cavers thought there were perhaps two or three markings; it soon became clear there were dozens and then on further investigation up to a thousand. And counting. “They are everywhere,” said Baker. “How scared were they?”
I spend a lot of time in this part of the world, home as it is to my in-laws, so here’s hoping we get a Xenogothic field trip out to the crags sometime in the future. In fact, there are a lot of areas like this in the area. The Devil’s Arse at Castleton, for instance, has a very similar atmosphere, by the sounds of it.
John Charlesworth, the caves’ heritage interpreter, said natural landscapes were once regarded as scary places. “These are places where supernatural forces in an untamed non-human environment could be at work. Local people are in the jaws of this monstrous landscape.”
I’d never quite thought of this before, but it’s very true. Castleton is likewise famous for Mam Tor, on its outskirts, a Bronze Age hill fort high up on the nearby “shivering mountain”. These hilled areas are exposed and must have been tough places to live, but at some point these settlements moved down from the hills and into the valleys, and these valleys are intimidating landscapes. Snake Pass is out in the open air but its steep descents makes you feel like you’re entering the bowels of something.
The article continues:
Up close the walls are a remarkable frenzy of marks. Everywhere you point a torch there are overlapping Vs, a reference to Mary, virgin of virgins. There are also PMs, as in Pace Maria, and crossed Is, referring to Jesus on a cross, and odd-shaped As.
Alison Fearn, a Leicester university expert on protective marks, recalled first shuffling on her backside in to the cave and realising what she was looking at. “I think I said a very naughty word.”
The letters and symbols were Christian but should not be looked at in that context, she said. From the 16th century to the early 19th century, when people made witches marks, there may have been a lack of association with religion, such as today when people might cross fingers or say “oh god”. She said: “It just becomes a protective symbol. It was a mark you always made to protect yourself.”
What the marks were keeping out, or in, can only be speculated on. “It could be fairies, witches, whatever you were fearful of, it was going to be down there.”
The Siberian Times reports that locals in the Russian cities of Prokopyevsk, Kiselyovsk and Leninsk-Kuznetsky are reporting black snow falling from the sky and covering the landscape.
Pictures shared by locals show alarming black winter scenes with one comment reading: ‘Is this what snow looks like in hell?’
Others have claimed there is a beauty in the bleak snowscapes.
Local media have blamed the gloom on local plants processing coal.
Whilst pollution is one solution, the locals might also do well to consider the geotraumatic influence of the Channel Zero black snow cult.
As long as the local media continues to report on the phenomenon, things must be okay. It’s when things go quiet that we should start to worry.
In the words of Blind Humpty Johnson: “Nothing comes out of the black snow.”
Nothing comes out of the black snow / Nothing comes to you through Channel Zero / Coming to you unlive / Coming to you unrecorded…
Zeroing in on you
That’s what we foresee / A wave of black snow / An impending absolute collective blindness / And from among the tatters of electromagnetic shadow / Seething out of the lost signal / Pour the chaotic myriads / To return the earth to its sub-primordial state.
I’ve been struggling with a cold for a week now and it’s mutated into a horrible throat infection so the Reza posts are on hold until I feel like I’ve got the brain power to move forwards with them.
However, speaking of mutating viruses, Resident Evil 2 has arrived in the post and I’m gonna be sinking the limited energy I do have into that game over the next week or so whilst these antibiotics kick in.
I wanted to write about it because, before this cold got worse, I’d promised to stream it. I’ve decided against that now because I can’t talk and don’t want to hold off on playing it for the sake of a video I’ll probably never finish so I thought I’d be better to write up my thoughts on the blog instead.
(I’ll get round to finishing one of my gaming video essays one day — the Bloodborne one stalled months back but it remains promising…)
I’ve had a bumpy relationship with the Resident Evil games. I was reminded of my love for them when I was back at my home over Christmas, digging around all my long-forgotten childhood things and finding a complete run of Resident Evil games released on the first and second generation PlayStation consoles: that’s the first game, the “Directors Cut”, number two, number 3, Survivor, and Code Veronica.
Not counting the Gamecube remaster of the original game, there is an abrupt stop in my engagement with this franchise after this point.
This abrupt stop is no doubt down to the PS2 becoming the console for Silent Hill games whereas Resident Evil had ruled the PS1. The first Silent Hill on the latter platform was mythically horrific to my childhood brain and I didn’t play it until a few years after it came out — when I felt “ready” for it. I remember gaming magazines would talk about it in the same sort of terms as a snuff film. What’s even more memorable is that, when I finally did play that first Silent Hill game, I remember it far exceeding the horrors conjured up by my imagination. It was, at that time in my life, quite literally more terrifying than I could imagine.
It scared me in a way that the Resident Evil games had never managed to do. Zombies were fun and they remain my favourite pop horror archetype but Silent Hill got deep inside my head. And so, Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 ruled my PS2 from there on out because all Resident Evil games after Code Veronica were trash as far as I could tell and they never got a look-in. (Although I regret that I’ve still never played Resident Evil 4.)
I think things went sour for me after the release of the Resident Evil movie adaptation. Stylistically, the film was grotesquely over-influenced by The Matrix. I remember leaving the cinema (having snuck in underage to see it) and feeling like I had recognised nothing of the experience I hoped to see replicated. And then the games following the movie seemed to echo its approach to the franchise’s universe.
However, my distaste for this overly influential cinematic divergence might also be down to the fact that, in my head, I’d always downplayed the role of the Umbrella Corporation — that’s the evil pharmaceutical company at the heart of the franchise, responsible for creating the zombifying T-Virus as a bioweapon to make invincible soldiers which leaked out from their headquarters beneath Raccoon City, seemingly going on to infect 95% of the local population. If that makes Umbrella sound like a hard thing to ignore in this series, you’d be right, but I’d nonetheless get fixated on the environments and the zombie killing and ignore the story all together, as is a no doubt common tendency amongst kids playing way below the advised minimum age limit on their games. For me, back then, the story was background noise to the thrills I was there to receive.
Don’t get me wrong though: I think the idea of a mutated virus is good. It’s noumenal and taps into a historic human fear — a kind of Black Death irrationalism where illness is, in many ways, seen as a haunting inevitability and the things done to resist it are rooted more in superstition than medical science. It’s where that lines blurs that zombie apocalypse movies really hold their own and so of course it’s the most common cause of zombie apocalypses throughout popular culture. (The Walking Dead‘s first seasons captured this atmosphere and its existential despair best, if I remember correctly.)
However, whilst making the source of this noumenal virus the stupidity, greed and recklessness of corporate America isn’t a bad message in and of itself, it always felt really lame to me; cartoonish and unnecessary. Zombies are, on their own, more than enough. Adding Big Pharma to the equation both waters down and constipates the symbolism. It makes Umbrella a largely unseen enemy, reducing the zombies themselves to an eternally irritating smokescreen that persistently distracts you from the threat at large. You can’t get to Umbrella because you’re constantly hampered by the mess they’ve made. In this way, the series downfall was always inevitable. It set itself up for a fall into lame action archetypes when it made its main enemy largely untouchable — an unsustainable premise in the long run: the games had to become more corporate in themselves.
Saying that, Resident Evil 7 was an incredible experience, playing up to the haunted house vibe that made the original so good and making the Umbrella-infused finale far less like corporate espionage and a lot more Lovecraftian, making it feel like a genuinely satisfactory and supernatural conclusion, resisting the errors of previous instalments which made Umbrella the central part of the plot overall.
However, even today, the very existence of Umbrella just disinterests me. Personally, I don’t need to know the cause of the terrors on screen. It’s the not-knowing that makes it so unnerving in the first place and I don’t actually want that taken away from me. Plus, building a franchise around the outbreak’s narrative cause — the military-industrial complex no less — was always a weak move in my opinion that reeked of bad Hollywood action movies. (It’s the same reason why Aliens is the worst Alien movie — don’t @ me — there’s just something about a premise of “mindless drones versus mindless drones” which doesn’t appeal to me.) I’m not here to have my masculinity massaged by my undead killing spree, I’m here to have my very sense of humanity unsettled.
That’s what’s so interesting about the premise of the very first Resident Evil game. You have a very (very) stereotypical 80s/90s Action Hero cast — made up of precisely the kind of testosterone bozos found in James Cameron’s attempt at a Big Dick Energy Alien movie — who are then thrown into what is a very Japanese haunted house scenario; a place where folklore and modern society rub up against each other uncomfortably.
There is a sense that these bum boils of American masculinity travel through a kind of time warp and that was what made the game so scary: this sense of utter displacement — the silent, arcane, folkloric mansion being intruded upon by a cyberfascist futurity (– that’s in reference to both the goodies and the baddies, FYI.)
In many ways, it feels reminiscent of 1977 cult classic Hausu, the Japanese haunted house horror film directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Obayashi was primarily a director of film and television ads before making Hausu, and the film would be nowhere near as surreal were it not filmed in the cinematographic language of advertising. Resident Evil is the same — transplanting the language of the American action movie into the Japanese haunted house for a similar effect.
These games have always been fun to play despite these very personal plot issues that I have with them, so generally it always feels overly nerdy to get hung up on them. I only mention all of this now because the remake of Resident Evil 2 is the first game in this franchise not to make me cringe when Umbrella becomes the main plot focus over and above your own basic survival.
Umbrella remain a constant presence during the game’s final two thirds, but something about the presentation here changes things. Whether this is rose-tinted (read: HD) nostalgia, an improvement or just a long-held grudge with this series thawing out, there’s something really interesting about this game and its plot — particularly what its bizarre cultural cross-pollination has to say about the world(s) in which it is set. Whereas the Silent Hill series was set in various quintessentially American locations, probing the inside of the American psyche in the process, Resident Evil 2 transplants what feels like a quintessentially Japanese perspective into an American(ised) location where it jars in fascinating ways, precisely because you have this same transplanting of fears, conspiracies and cultural signifiers across cultures.
Now that I’ve got those nostalgic reflections out the way, in the next post I want to talk about just what this remastered perspective says about this seminal Japanese view of an Americanised crisis; of a sovcorp dissolved into a zombie nation…
UPDATE: I sort of want to eat my words from yesterday. When I wrote that post, I was in bed, having just completed the first four hours of the campaign and about to play as Ada in the sewers.
Now, having just completed the sewers. I’m left with a gross taste in my mouth.
I was slightly taken aback by this sequence because I remember hearing something somewhere about Ada’s character being “fixed”. Perhaps that’s just because of this initial costume teaser.
What appears like an improvement on paper comes across as a hamfished film noir homage in reality and then deteriorates from there onwards when, after entering the sewers, she loses the coat and ends up navigating shit streams in a very short and very tight red party dress and a choker…?
We’re all used to seeing women on screen in action roles wearing high heels throughout the entirety of their ordeals, magically without breaking any ankles, but this was really gratuitous, especially during the scenes where she was side by side with Leon, the rookie, with all hip pouches, tools and weapons. Ada is meant to be this superior and mysterious FBI agent but she comes across like some really bad cosplayer.
Then, when Leon and Ada seem to fall in love as they enter the belly of the beast, the cringe peaked. It’s the sort of bad dialogue that you expected from these games in the late 1990s but updated to this level of technical and aesthetic beauty, the outdated narrative comes across even worse than before — even in 1998 you could at least laugh at it.
Hears hoping my play-through of Claire Redfield’s narrative is more palatable.
UPDATE 2: I finished the game in a reasonable 6.5 hours from my sick bed. Unfortunately, I still agree with my childhood self — the police station is one of the best survival horror locations ever and, whilst the gameplay remains fun, the locations that follow it aren’t a scratch on where you start. All in all, a bit disappointed.
Questions seemed to be fired at Reza almost immediately after he signed in and much of what ended up going down over those few days of Twitter hyperactivity was — for me anyway — mind-boggling.
(Reza went on to deactivate his account, citing early onset symptoms of Twitter addiction, and sadly, as a result, all of his responses to his curious and/or hostile interlocutors have now been deleted. Thomas Murphy takes credit for dealing the final blow — watch out, y’all!)
I must confess that, instead of approaching Reza with questions of my own, I ended up sitting back and spectating for the most part. I felt incredibly stupid, wandering through various hellthreads, feeling like a prisoner of my own “liberal arts college” education — or whatever the UK equivalent of that is. It felt like Reza and others had suddenly begun to speak a very different language.
(There’s a whole other post to be written about how useful, sobering and enlightening that kind of intellectual experience is but this is not that post.)
Part of what kept me on the edge of my seat as a spectator during these conversations and arguments was that, whilst I felt like I was having to decipher a new language, I also felt like I was beginning to see the true correlation between the problems being tackled. Whereas previously I had felt there were chasms between many of us, it gradually became easier to trace the roots of various positions back to a common ground and goal.
So, I decided again to try and chat to Reza in private — tabula rasa — and see if we couldn’t try and assemble a platform in good faith for starting a new conversation out of more than hyper-condensed tweets, Facebook comments and rattled-off blogposts.
So here’s a rattled-off blogpost… (Or two…)
But also here are some blogposts which I hope will open a new chapter for a 2019 patchwork blogosphere.
My main reason for wanting to reach out to Reza in particular was that, in many ways, he was my first philosophical focal point when I began my deep dive into this blogospheric realm of niche philosophies. Over the last 10 years or so, I’d read a lot of Ccru stuff, some Deleuze & Guattari, some Heidegger, some Foucault, some Nietzsche, other stuff here and there, but — looking back — I can’t say I really got a lot of it. I put this sheepishly down to having never studied philosophy formally before. I had no real conception of the history of philosophy, its various images of thought or an understanding of how all these different things connected together. My aim was simple and not so studious: I just wanted to understand weird music better.
Starting a Masters degree in late 2016, I still felt like no more than a hobbyist (and I still do, in some ways). I knew I had a lot of catching up to do but I did pretty well for a twelve-month crash course in contemporary art world theorising. (It wasn’t as horrific as that may sound.) Prior to embarking on this course, for the sole purpose of filling in some of the glaring blanks in my knowledge, I spent a whole year working my way through a Hubert Dreyfus course on Being & Time — then I just hoped for the best. However, rather than go hard on Kant’s Critiques or some Hegel or whatever other canonical cornerstone might have been advised when starting a formal philosophy degree, the only text we read with any obligatory closeness Reza’s first book Cyclonopedia, which was read in excruciating detail for a class piloted by Kodwo Eshun in 2016/17…
Looking back, I’m surprised I made it out with my sanity (relatively) in tact.
Kodwo’s class was an “experiment in decelerated reading”, during which, for fifteen weeks, we read Cyclonopedia one sentence at a time, pulling at every thread encountered, unravelling it and ourselves, feeding our minds to the Lovecraftian abyss of hyperactive and contradictory philosophy that Reza had given to the world, sketching out a history of unruly thought as we sought to better understand this strange book and its relationship to philosophy proper, taking it to be the occulted manuscript that it truly appeared to be to so many. (I ended up getting really into Bataille as a result.)
Later, we used the US presidential election as a sort of grounding-ungrounding point for considering, in particular, the polytical legacy of the term “hyperstition”.
Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time with Reza’s work during this time, particularly his earlier, more Bataillean texts — “The Corpse Bride” being my favourite — and that experience has remained in the background of all my other readings ever since. But this has always been coupled with an awareness of the fact that Reza himself has moved on from this book, now a little over a decade old (in book form at least).
I’ve been back in this headspace in recent months, attempting to decipher Reza’s new book, Intelligence & Spirit, from this very position as a recovering Cyclonopedoid — which is to say, as someone with a decent knowledge of his previous work but not the references he is currently deploying.
At the same time, I have been revisiting many of his older essays as I help put together his forthcoming Urbanomic collection, Abducting the Outside, has only intensified this experience of charting two Reza’s in tandem.
I have the feeling that this collection will help many make sense of Reza’s trajectory, but at the same time, maybe not. Has Fanged Noumena clarified the events of Nick Land’s life that led him towards neoreaction or has it only further complicated things? Perhaps the issue is the format of the collection in itself as a record of the wilderness years between Cyclonopedia and Intelligence & Spirit; as a record of all the other roads travelled in the interim.
This is a common problem when dealing with philosophers who have, at some point, been digested by the spectre of the Ccru. Both Reza and many of his previous interlocutors are now most often understood by their distance from one another rather than from a more productive rhizome of divergent philosophies. The post-Ccru milieu today is made up of Landian hangers-on, neorationalists and a scattershot of other vaguely Accelerationist trajectories that have found themselves embedded in a cork board of new pop / pulp modernisms. In the distance lie the decaying corpses of various speculative -isms. Deciphering it all is a seemingly impossible task to the casual reader.
Perhaps the most pressing issue for me is that this otherwise admirable disparateness, which continues to define a vague collection of people who remain largely resistant to historicisation, is that this may now be detrimental to the philosopher that Reza has become. Like so many other people who have followed Reza since his orbit of the post-Ccru blogosphere, the disorienting sensation of having no idea what has led him to this point is quite palpable — until very recently, anyway…
Perhaps 2019 is the year when the story gets set straight.
The irony is that this shift in itself has compounded matters for understanding Reza’s intellectual trajectory. Lest we forget that, when Cyclonopedia first came out, many assumed Reza was a Ccru avatar. He remains, in this respect, the living embodiment of hyperstition — he is a fiction that made itself real.
However, rather than being a product of Nick Land’s drug-addled cerebellum, as so many assumed, Reza’s shadowy profiles were more the result of his position as an Iranian citizen, for whom online anonymity was less the fun LARPing of English grad students in masks and a more general necessity of his existence on social media.
To go from this spectral persona to someone who is very active and open online — particularly on Facebook — is undoubtedly a strange and unruly phenomenon to contend with, philosophically and personally, and I think that is particularly relevant to the process that so many are currently faced with: making-sense of these new matters of mind.
The posts in this series — “Patchwork Epistemologies” — have been constructed out of a labyrinthine email conversation that I had with Reza during the last few months of 2018, as I tried to make sense of some of the more recent schisms and divergences opened up and revealed by (particularly patchwork-oriented) conversations online.
As a warning, and due to the nature of my initial reaching-out, many of these issues are selfishly posed in the context of my own personal interests and experiences, as well as the general interests of this blog. Personal tangents and expansions abound from here on out, partly because this wasn’t intended to be a blog post but rather a personal attempt to inquire and find a “way in” to a different kind of interpersonal conversation, and also as a nice attempt to get to know each other as I helped work on Reza’s next book.
So let it be known: if I go on at length too much, as I already have done, my excuse is that this is an exercise in making sense of things for myself rather than trying to dominate and override what was, in private, a really enjoyable and generous conversation.
The only reason you’re reading this now is that I think much of what was discussed between us in our tennis-like exchange may be interesting to others who have orbited this corner of the blogosphere over the past 12 months.
That is the primary intention here. My quest was then — and remains — to better understand “how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”, if I might borrow, straight away, from Reza’s own vocabulary.
Whilst this recent Urbanomic document is a wonderful intro to Intelligence & Spirit and Reza’s more recent trajectory, this is instead something of a Xenogothic primer to a Patchwoke Reza in 2019. (I’m joking… But also I’m not really.) If an intro to Intelligence & Spirit is all you’re after, better to start there and come back here later — or maybe don’t come back here at all. Much of this is embedded in blog chat and, whilst I try to provide context for everything discussed, that doesn’t make the conversation any less… “niche”.
Almost as hellthreadish as the fragmentary Twitter conversations this blog occasionally attempts to document, taking on the archivist’s task of untangling topics and overarching points which can get lost in the debris of the convivial aftermath, this series is formatted as a series of loosely connected topics, but it is worth keeping in mind that, during our back-and-forth, all of what is to follow was very much entangled up within itself.
I’m very happy to say that, despite all that has happened online in the last twelve or so months, I found myself at a point, not long before Christmas, with nothing more to add — for the time being, anyway — feeling in total agreement with Reza as our conversation turned to communism, regarding a general approach to philosophical and political thought in this very strange decade.
Over the course of putting this series together, however, many further threads have emerged that it would be nice to pursue and answer at a further date. And, of course, there are numerous moments throughout where my own knowledge and internal library fails me but these moments are purposefully left to dangle as threads to be followed up on later. The preliminary first two parts of this conversation may just be the beginning…
Such is the way of the blogosphere.
It has taken a number of weeks to disentangle this conversation and make it readable for the blog so please forgive my current exhaustion with these posts and the occasional moments where it wanders off, lost, noticeably underdeveloped. (I am breaking this mammoth post up into various chunks to try and rectify this but a conversation about patchwork with Reza could be a book in itself, honestly.)
If you are left dissatisfied by any path left here, I strongly encourage picking up a topic for yourself on your own blog, on Twitter or in the comments, and we can continue the conversation, hopefully with Reza’s own input too, later on.
But, rest assured, whilst this series may already be very long, it has a happy ending… A happy ending which I hope will function as a jumping off point for the blog-months ahead in 2019…
Robin over at Urbanomic sent me a Toy Model AGI Playset just before Christmas. I decided to make an unboxing video for it to demonstrate how it can help you better understand Reza Negarestani’s highly-anticipated 2018 book Intelligence & Spirit.
The new joyful festive season Netflix movie Bird Box is quite the trip. Apparently it was a surprise hit amongst families on Christmas Day. I bet that was fun for people…
I’m just now settling down to watch it, as I get ready to leave the in-laws and try to swallow down the usual dread that comes from heading back down to London. Immediately I’m struck by its quasi-Lovecraftian set-up. It’s all too familiar. Not to mention unsubtle.
We meet Malorie, played by Sandra Bullock, a seemingly determined, stern, no-bullshit woman who is shepherding two kids through the American wilderness. They’re all blindfolded. Led to a river’s edge, they charter a rowing boat blind and begin the steep curve of their Kurtz-gradient into the unknown.
We’re soon given a flashback to five years earlier, before this strange non-apocalypse took hold. Malorie is painting in a studio. Her sister arrives and tells her to put on the TV.
The news media are reporting mass suicides all over the world but Malorie isn’t interested. She’s a painter, perpetually distracted by herself and her work. She’s also very pregnant but she’s choosing to ignore that fact also. Her sister drags her to an ultrasound check up and, as she leaves the hospital, she sees a woman smashing her head against a window, like a zoo animal experiencing captivity psychosis.
She doesn’t do anything. but then she is pregnant. She just leaves, jumping into a car, her sister sat in the front seat waiting for her outside. She tells her, the fear audible in her voice, to just drive.
The world very suddenly falls apart all around them. Malorie’s sister tells her that she’s going to stay with them until whatever this is blows over. “But I have nothing to wear!” Her sister chastises her. Malorie apologies — in times of crisis, she tends to focus on what’s not important to distract herself, she admits.
It’s one of many unsubtle glimpses into Malorie’s character and there is plenty more where that came from. Every insight into every character’s backstory in this film is like a scripted sledgehammer.
True to her own absentmindedness, Malorie only survives at first because she is distracted looking for something in the back seat of her sister’s car. As she reaches and fumbles around for whatever she is looking for, Malorie fails to see whatever her sister sees. Her sister’s eyes are where they should be, on the road, but now welling up and changing her in an instant from those of a concerned relative to a suicidal lemming, trying to plow the car into whatever is in front of her.
Eventually, she’s successful, rolling the car with them both inside it.
What does it mean to be mentally healthy in a world gone mad? Sirens are blaring, lights are flashing, and we have been whisked out of the territory of metaphor onto the hard ground of fact. The rise to power and election of Donald J. Trump is the sick recrimination of a society shriveled by anger and anxiety, and the response from deep within the psyche of the same society has been various degrees of panic, depression, and grief. Illinois suicide hotlines have been overwhelmed since the election, with calls up 200 percent, according to Chicago public health officials. A mental health asteroid has smashed into the carapace of a culture already calcified with anxiety and ambient dread. Major newsrooms are rumored to have hired in therapists so their journalists can continue to work. Everyone is wondering what this crisis will mean for their future, for their families, trying to work out how they’ll cope. Some coping strategies, however, are more dangerous than others.
When I wrote about this article previously, I wrote about the “territories of metaphor” that had led us up to this point — The Walking Dead and The OA in particular are two shows that have dealt with the “end of the world” as a huge psychological event. Now, two years later, here it is. No biopolitical (or necropolitical) metaphors here — not really. There’s external threat, sure, but it’s not seen by us. The lack of a tangible “monster” makes it all the more powerful and real here. Mental illness is a threat unto itself.
After her sister crashes her car with her inside, Malorie is taken in by Greg, a man whose house has become a shelter for a band of thrown-together survivors with whom we spend the majority of the rest of the film. They immediately start to speculate as to what it is they’re dealing with.
“This has a classical biowarfare signature,” says John Malkovich’s character, Douglas. “North Korea or Iran.” Except there’s nothing biological about it. It’s psychological all the way down. In tune with this, next there’s Charlie, a local supermarket worker. For him the threat is surely demons or spirits of the final judgement, taking on the form of your deepest fears or sadnesses.
Other people suggest other things as they try to make sense of what is happening to them. Eventually, the creatures are given form indirectly through the drawings of someone who can look at the creatures without wanting to kill themselves. The noumenal distress of others is given Cthulhic form in the very few representations we see of them — vague bulbous cephalopod heads with face tentacles too. We only see them secondhand. They are Lovecraftian horrors beyond perception. As such, since they remain unseen directly, for the viewer they are the beating heart of the film’s psychic infrastructure.
Internet theories have abound as to what these monster really are, of course, with clickbait explainer videos on YouTube, but who really cares? I watched a few and the joke seems to be on those people who spent so much time making 10-minute videos about folklore and parables about finding yourself. To focus on all that seems to be blindly following Malorie’s own logic: focusing on what’s ultimately unimportant to distract yourself from the very real horrors in front of you. And those concrete horrors are, just like in Lovecraft’s own stories, human detritus and the mentally ill…?
That’s the cold hard fact of this film. What is affecting the world is a pervasive mental health crisis: depressive mass hysteria. Even those who don’t kill themselves, resisting the urge to “look”, are soon afflicted by a neurotically individualist paranoia. Mental illness is both the outside threat and it’s also the film’s pervasive reality. Either you’re abjectly depressed or neurotically repressed. The middle ground is you already knew you were crazy.
This is made most clear later on in the film when, once cabin fever has more or less set in, the survivors let an Englishman into the house called Gary. He explains he’s been chased by the mentally ill from a local asylum for the criminally insane — eye roll — and seeks shelter so he can throw them off his trail. The insane don’t need blindfolds, he says, and what’s worse is that they want people to see. The truth of their socially unacceptable mental experiences has now been affirmed, making them even more of a threat to society. They are the Cthulhu Cult to the film’s demonic projections.
… But wait, hang on, let’s back track a minute — what’s the message here? If it looks like the world might be ending, keep your eyes down, don’t go outside, don’t look, what you don’t see can’t hurt you. But look at what exactly? These depression demons are like the Gatwick drones. Vivid figments, assuaged by a paranoid inattention.
This is like someone managed to make a good film out of a really terrible idea. Maybe I’m just being cynical but the message that’s driven home throughout the film seems very clear to me. Take Douglas, for instance. He is Greg’s neighbour and one of the first to reach his house once the crisis starts. In fact, he may have already been there when everything started. It transpires that, before everything happened, he was suing Greg. In one scene, Malorie asks him why.
“Because they want to tear down this part of their house and built some glass monstrosity. His husband’s an architect.”
“It’s his property. Why do you care what he builds?”
“Because I have to look at it.”
The dialogue we witness between Malorie and the other survivors is just as on-the-nose. Sight is made into a voluntaristic and moralising affliction. Yeah, Malorie is disconnected and cold but that’s what ultimately leads to her survival. The characters are defined by their desire not to look at what they judge to be wrong and then, with some twisted irony, this habit is what saves them. At the end of the world, ignorance is bliss, knowledge is death. This is taken so far that, at the film’s climax, when Malorie and the kids reach their safe haven, they discover it’s a former school for the blind. Yep, if you want to survive in this new world, your best bet is being medically blind. That should do it.
After her conversation with Douglas, Malorie later talks to Charlie, the man with the theory about Boggart-like creatures in the sky. He’s writing a novel, of course, when not working the supermarket shop floor.
“It’s about the end of the world. My novel. But it’s not one of those kids’ stories where they’ve all got crossbows running around and they’re killing each other in survive or running around some giant maze. No, this story’s gonna be real.”
“Did you ever think it was gonna be anything like this?”
He doesn’t respond. The irony seems to be that no one knows what “real” is. Everyone’s knowledge of the world seemingly comes from the internet, which Malorie is silently cynical about on numerous occasions. Charlie’s conspiracy theories are 4chan fodder, and another character, also pregnant like Malorie, seems to get all her medical advice from the internet too. What’s the message here? Your truth is fake news, sucker, but the real truth will make you kill yourself… So… Gouge out your eyes maybe, I dunno… Shit’s hopeless.
Malorie and Douglas become unlikely friends around the mid-point of the film, bonding over their lack of self-awareness and cynicism. Douglas’ declaration of “making the end of the world great again” is certainly another unsubtle jab at the present, and it leads to a great eye-rolling amongst the house-bound group too, but ultimately they remain trapped between their realisms — the dual “realisms” of “I-know-best” individualism as found on both sides of the political divide. Judgement from all sides. That great modern affliction where “common sense” is reasoning unexamined from beyond the boundaries of your own belief system.
We should remember that all of this clunky exposition is peppered by flashes of the journey up river. Malorie sails blindfold for two days into the heart of darkness with the two children in her charge, but what kind of Kurtz-gradient is this? Is it inverted? Neutered? Is this not the logic of Penny’s mental health asteroid? The belief that the political singularity of Trump is the very edge of reason? Kurtz has been elected to the Oval Office through inattention. We’re not down river, we’ve been up river for decades. It’s time to strap on your blindfold and head back down now. This is Deliverance in reverse with added airborne depression. And to look at the reality of this situation is to depress yourself into self-annihilation, so now let’s head back to cold comfort with our fingers in our ears along the way.
To return to Penny’s article, she poignantly writes, in light of this film’s plot:
There are none so blind as those who won’t see — specifically, those who have been conditioned through generations of history lessons and Hollywood propaganda to be suspicious of authoritarian strongmen and yet still refuse to recognize an actual fascist when he struts into the White House with a Suicide Squad of goons. […] What was it actually like to be an ordinary German in 1933? What were people feeling, listening to the state wireless whine out the workings of the new world order? How many were pleased to see the blackshirts on their streets — and how many were simply keeping their heads down, telling themselves that they’d been through worse, that they should give the new guys a chance and see if they really meant what they said? How many tried to normalize the utterly unconscionable, because the alternative was despair?
When has “keeping your head down” and not looking outside been seen as a viable survival strategy in light of this mess from history? Nevertheless, we see it today. Penny continues:
So you tell yourself that you survived Bush and Blair. Surely you can survive this, too. If you keep your head down. If you give the new order a chance. If you don’t make any strong statements. If you trust the government not to run the train off the rails. There will be attempts to reason with the abuser. To make him less of an abuser, because it is in fact hard to accept yourself as a victim. In the face of a sea-change in the sociopolitical order, you shut yourself tight in your shell and seal yourself off against everything that disturbs you. This might be thought of as the clam before the storm. And this is how it happens. This is how the bad guys win.
Laurie Penny is rejecting bargaining here, of course. It’s the fucking title of the essay after all. She’s rejecting the mental gymnastics that avoid confrontation or attempt to reason with an abuser or even with death.
The message of this film, in light of a pervasive mental health crisis, is there is no reasoning with those who want you to open your eyes. It’s as if Penny herself, as she writes here, would be an enemy in a film like Bird Box. Don’t take advice from those who lived with depression before the fall, allow the blind to lead the blind!
The real freedom is the foster child we routinely abused along the way…?
A few weeks ago I wrote about the marvellous Acid Communism reading group I’ve been attending these past couple of months at Somerset House, led by Dan Taylor and Laura Grace Ford. Tonight I was really honoured to accept an invitation from Dan and Laura to lead a session.
Dan asked that I pick the week’s readings as a way of introducing some of the concepts found in The Weird and the Eerieinto our reconstructive readings around Acid Communism. I suggested we all read “…The Eeriness Remains” — the final chapter of The Weird and the Eerie — and “Practical Eliminativism: Or, Getting Out of Our Faces Again” — a short talk Mark gave that was featured in the Speculative Aestheticsedition of Urbanomic’s Redactions series. (I also suggested my own “Reaching Out Beyond to the Other” essay as a here’s-some-connections-I-made-earlier intro for generating discussion around two very different texts.)
Before getting into things, I wrote a little intro which I read out at the start of the session, presented below.
(Note: many of the references in here are regurgitated from various posts on this blog, written over the last year, so it might all be familiar to regular readers, but this is a presentation for a new context and a new audience).
I want to start by thanking Laura and Dan for inviting me to pick the readings for today. I’m hoping this means I’ll talk less than I do most weeks rather than more…
That being said… I’ve written a roughly ten-minute intro to start off with, if no one minds listening to me ramble for a little bit… Not that you really have a choice either…
A lot of what we’ll find in these two texts resonates with the discussions we’ve already been having in recent months, I think, but they are also of a distinctly different tone to those other texts that we’ve read so far. I don’t want to say too much about the texts themselves and leave that up to us all to discuss as a group but I would like to contextualise why I’ve chosen them and, specifically, why I think an acknowledgement of their ton;e is important to our fortnightly pursuit and exercise of collective joy, even though the affects articulated may seem antithetical to this. Whilst the likewise of Jeremy Gilbert have bastardised an Acid Communism, emphasising a affectless positivity, it has to be acknowledged that Mark’s project, like all his work, was reaching out beyond the pleasure principle…
This is a complex suggestion, however, so I’d like to spend a bit of time unpacking this using a few more unusual but perhaps accessible references.
Back in 2017, a few months after Mark died, I was part of a reading group much like this one. We were all Goldsmiths students and staff, many of us already friends with each other, but we were nonetheless a thrown-together bunch, each with our own distinct experiences of and relationships to Mark and his work.
Mark’s death and the release of The Weird and the Eerie felt like tandem occurrences at that time. One thing entered the world just as he left it. Holding the book close and closed, we all shared an anxiety over the prospect of reading it in isolation, and so we decided to do it together, to share the weight of it in that moment.
We would read a chapter a week, going round in a circle, tackling the book a paragraph at a time, before attempting to unpack its concepts and attend to its more puzzling moments, but more than anything we just wanted to spent time together with Mark.
Our group was initially a support group, an assembly, a weekly opportunity to touch base with each other and our grief, and so, as we made our way through the book over a period of a couple of months, many struggled with the shifting dynamics within the group itself, as we inevitably moved away from this affective grounding.
Some weeks philosophizing would overtake our looking out for each other. Other times reading the book was secondary to checking in on each other’s wellbeing. For me, personally, I never wanted the two things to be distinct. The book felt like a vector through which we could process the horror we were facing, aesthetically rendered through the ghost stories and science fictions that Mark so obviously loved.
The final paragraph of the book, however, pulled this already rickety scaffolding down and made the book feel, for one sullen moment, like a suicide note.
As Mark writes about the ways in which Marion and Miranda, two characters in Joan Lindsey’s 1967 novel The Picnic at Hanging Rock, “are fully prepared to take the step into the unknown … possessed by an eerie calm that settles when familiar passions are overcome”, I couldn’t help but think about Mark himself, putting the finishing touches to his final book as he struggled through that dark December, preparing himself for what was to come.
Once Marion and Miranda disappear, their absences, Mark writes, leave “haunting gaps, eerie intimations of the outside.” Mark’s absence, too, from the Visual Cultures corridor at Goldsmiths, was experienced in very much the same way.
This was a reading overly influenced, no doubt, by the horror of that time. Looking around the room, expressing my own discomfort, I felt like I was saying what everyone else was thinking but what no one wanted to hear, and it made my stomach churn. I immediately regretted voicing it, because it is all too easy to imagine Mark somewhere, fuming at the thought of such melodramatic projections being allowed to stain his work. In light of this mental image of an angry Mark, a short while later, my reading less coloured by melancholy, this ending began to feel less like a full stop and more like a challenge to the experience of grief and melancholy in itself.
But then again, aren’t both of these readings inherently and fatally entwined?
His Mount Eerie project found a much wider audience last year with the release of its eighth studio album, A Crow Looked At Me, a solitary and diaristic singer-songwriter affair about the grief of losing his wife to cancer in 2016. The first verse of the first song, “Real Death”, lays out the paradoxes the album intends to explore with a heart-wretching but also almost humorous frankness, attending to the ironies and contradictions of death felt so closely by those that keep on living. Elverum sings:
Death is real
Someone’s there and then they’re not
And it’s not for singing about
It’s not for making into art
When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb
When I walk into the room where you were
And look into the emptiness instead
My knees fail
My brain fails
The album hits like a hammer, transposing the tandem representations and obliterations of Elverum’s ever-shifting inner experiences.
Subject matter aside, the album is, in some ways, a return to an older performance style for Elverum, whose output over the previous ten years has been increasingly shaped by the sonic influence of US Black Metal. Big guitars. Big bass. Big drums. Encapsulating a very Black Metal kind of sonic solitude, distinct from that of your typical singer-songwriter in its attempted sonic gutterings of the ego.
However, in the article for Invisible Oranges, Elverum writes how, following the death of his wife, he had struggled with his love of this aesthetic darkness, particularly in its original Norwegian form. How does a music scene defined by death-obsessed, satanist-LARPing teenagers hold up to any scrutiny under the light of an experience of Real Death, he wonders.
In a lot of ways, the defining aspect of this music for most people, its “evil”ness or whatever, is not something I think about at all. It seems so clearly a joke or a performance. Even with the early Europeans who killed each other, I don’t see them as evil but just confused and carried away. The black is just a costume. It’s Halloween. It’s cool, I love Halloween. But also honesty is important to me, and there’s something embarrassing and facetious about that performative darkness, living in it too much.
Then, on the day of his wife’s funeral, Elverum writes about his decision to play the song “Prison of Mirrors” by the one-man US black metal band Xasthur as loud as he can before her memorial service took place. Following his immersion in Xasthur’s “shredded screaming, extreme sorrow”, he says that, then, “the room felt ready.”
It felt like “ah, yes, this is the use of this music. This is the moment, once in a lifetime hopefully, or maybe never in a lifetime for people who are fortunate enough to avoid experiencing devastation like this, this is the moment where music this extreme can tear through the veil of the difficult present moment and reveal something beyond.”
If this feels like a strange and extended tangent to take here, I mention this article only because I feel it articulates, better than I ever could, my own experience of embracing Mark’s Gothic mode after his death. I worried about living with his darker texts too much, as if it appear I was romanticising what happened to him, the mode of writing I’d always enjoyed the most now inevitably facetious. However, I found that Mark’s own work — The Weird and the Eerie especially — provided a vector of intensity through which to navigate the difficult then-present moments of 2017 — and there were plenty of those… — and reach into something beyond.
The earlier text presented here, “Practical Eliminativism”, articulates an almost cosmic pessimism which treats “death” as a sort of line in the sand of experience, and nothing more. It is Mark’s “astropunk” sensibility writ large. Yes, Mark the Spinozist might have argued for a freedom from sad passions, but this is not, as he writes on the Hyperstition blog, “the end of the story if it is at the price of a ‘happy’ passivity, a blank-eyed disengagement from all Outsides, as all (your) energy is sucked up by the ultimate interiority”. Joy, in this sense, is not a guard against suffering. We know this. I’m sure none of us are under any illusions that the sheer English repressiveness of a ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ attitude is the epitome of a forced and petrified happiness. To quote Mark: “The price of such ‘happiness’ — a state of cored-out, cheery Pod people affectlessness — is [the] sacrifice of all autonomy.”
But does all this really mean we that we have to revel in horror? No, I don’t think so, but horror is certainly this thoughts most effectively affective mode. Horror is a libidinal short-circuiting towards action, towards fight and flight, towards rebellion and emancipation. This is likewise not to will bad things to happen, but when they inevitably do, in some form or other, we can affirm that terror and find its beyond.
In light of this, we might also think about Fisher’s conceptual deaths as a return to — or even an extension of — his first “book” that remains bootlegged but officially unpublished — his PhD thesis: “Flatline Constructs”. Here Mark formulates a Gothic Materialism, orbiting “death” in the Nietzschean sense of just another form of life. Whilst he writes, in 1999, that his Gothic Materialism is a way to jettison the “supernatural, ethereal or otherworldly” from our conceptions of the Outside, in favour of a radical plane of immanence, The Weird and the Eerie nonetheless demonstrates the return of these elements to the heart of his thesis, rehabilitated as prime cultural examples of our perpetual grasping at other ways of being.
The paradox of doing this is an echo of Elverum’s wrestling with grief. As Mark writes in a separate essay, written for Pli, Warwick University’s journal of philosophy, called “Gothic Materialism“: “It is not a matter of speaking the unspeakable, but of vocalising the extra-linguistic or the non-verbal, and thereby letting the Outside in.”
In this way, the speculative aesthetics of death, with their provocations of horror, can assist us as we look — even reach — beyond ourselves and the abject interiority of the neoliberal subject. “Death” needn’t be an end — rather it is a cognitive challenge that forces us to engage with a necessarily difficult thinking that can only ever be speculative until we’re ready to throw off, as Mark writes, the “petty repressions and mean confines of common experience”.
This is a thinking that is not just the navel-gazing of a depressed and dejected contemporary subject. It is a thinking echoed in the thought of Donna Harraway, Eugene Thacker and Thom Van Dooren in their writings on the possibility of thinking extinction, whether our own or that of another species. If we are to reengage with the end-of-the-world thinking that Mark made his name writing about in Capitalist Realism — that is, the suggestion that “the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism” — we have to confront collective death at the same time as collective joy. Both are increasingly necessary for thinking about and challenging the politics of our time, from austerity and the implications of well-spread mental ill-health, from artificial intelligence to new materialisms, from climate change to an expanded species-consciousness.
Picnic at HangingRock, in light of all this, becomes a pulp-modernist fable of exit from the corsets of a moralising and — most importantly — gendered subjection, enforced under the preparatory pretensions of Australia’s well-to-do high society. “Practical Eliminativism”, with Mark wearing his more explicitly philosophical hat, likewise tackles the subjective capture of high modernity at the absolute limit of experience itself. Whilst its talk of Kantianism and subjectivity might frighten off the more casual reader, what Mark is discussing here has become an central concern of pop culture in recent years.
If anyone here has seen The OA or The Walking Dead or Games of Thrones or the return of Twin Peaks or Westworld or any number of other shows — I have no doubt this list could continue endlessly — you will have seen these same questions and their stakes played out in innumerable ways, where the question of another world and another life are two-fold, each encompassing the other, with the end of the world and the death of the individual held up as interscalar contingencies rather than absolute limits. It is my view that Mark’s own death shouldn’t undermine this thinking but intensify the necessity of its immanence for thought. It is necessary to recognise all that happened to Mark, all that led to his death, and render it impersonal, as he would have done, as obstacles to the instantiation of an Acid Communism which we must fight against.
I’ll end here with some questions posed by Mark himself, in a K-Punk post he wrote in 2009 after an event at Goldsmiths called “Militant Dysphoria“. He writes:
There’s an special urgency and poignancy about the concept of militant dysphoria just now, when dejection is so widespread amongst the young. The regime of anti-depressants, CBT and relentlessly upbeat pop culture enforce a compulsory positivity which treats the negative only as failure and pathology. Dejection is not an extreme state so much as a generational condition, as invisible as it is ubiquitous, sometimes treated as a medicalised disorder, sometimes condemned as a depoliticised apathy, often not acknowledged at all, but normalised as an existential horizon of lowered expectations and minimal hope. If, from the perspective of a vitalist commonsense, militancy and dysphoria is an impossible collocation, then the dejected young (and among them, all those who aestheticise their dysphoria, such as Goths and the devotees of Black Metal), must simply be abandoned as depoliticised, unpolitical or — at best — pre-political. But as Dominic [Fox] put it in his own comments box recently, “Dysphoria is ‘militant’ when it refuses to be framed as a personal mishap, and instead poses itself as a question and a challenge to the society in which it occurs.” […] What can politics learn from the perspective of the “abyss that laughs at creation”?