The Met Gala

I really wasn’t going to bother. I bashed this out on my lunch break today, but then Owen said it best…

I don’t really give a fuck about this but I absolutely 100% know the actual living Mark Fisher would have fucking loved someone wearing a swanky dress with a social democratic slogan painted on it — in fact he’d have written a long and faintly horny post about how great it was

I don’t want to pull rank on this issue usually but on this point I’m sorry but you really don’t know who you’re talking about here

the post would have been called ULTRA-LIBIDINAL SOCDEM GLAM KONTINUUM, it would have been both great and embarassing, and none of you would have read it

Originally tweeted by Owen Hatherley (@owenhatherley) on September 14, 2021.

Dominic too:

There is this sort of posthumous flattening of Mark Fisher Thought into, precisely, transcendental miserabilism — everything is always already recuperated! tout ce qui bouge est un subterfuge! — which turns him into a maudlin saint of our permanent defeat

You don’t have to spend all that long in the k-punk archives before it becomes vividly apparent how much he Really Liked certain things, at least as much as (and very much because) he Really Hated certain other things

Originally tweeted by basil’s rokolisk (@dynamic_proxy) on September 14, 2021.

But there’s still so much going on here, I actually think it is quite interesting… And it is an excuse to share what I think is one of Fisher’s most heretical posts. So here it is anyway…

As photos from the red carpet at the Met Gala spooled out over social media — shout out to Lil Nas X, who somehow embodied both a Mecha NRx queen and the superego, ego and id — Enrico tagged me in a meme of a meme of a meme: a picture of AOC’s “Tax the rich” dress, overlaid by a cursed Mark Fisher Wikipedia smackdown, which has been overlaid again with some soyfaced gesticulating. This final version is the one that gets it. This Wikipedia screenshot couldn’t be less applicable to AOC’s gesture. But how to navigate this tension not just in Mark’s thought but in political consciousness more generally?

I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot this year, ever since writing the intro for Caja Negra’s edition of K-Punk, Vol. 3. Most of the receipts backing up Owen’s comment can be found in there. TL;DR: The early 2010s were a battle ground over pop-cultural representations of anti-capitalism. On the whole, no one wanted to see it. Public figures advancing leftist political agendas, if they existed at all, were hounded as sell-outs. If you had a public platform and were using it to critique capitalism — which is surely what had given you a public platform in the first place — then you were a hypocrite.

Of course, that’s nonsense. In my view, it is all a result of a hardening of the line between politics and culture. To borrow an example used in the essay linked above, that Kanye ran for president is more an indictment of our logic of political engagement than it is an indication of the size of Kanye’s ego. He was one of the most outspoken artists of his generation, who used his platform to raise awareness around civil rights issues in a way that few had done for a generation. But he was repeatedly told to leave the politics out of it because he’s not a politician, so he strove to become a politician as well as everything else he is. All Kanye has tried to do is navigate our tendency to compartmentalise the social, cultural and political, and if his attempts to do that are confused and ham-fisted, it says more about the fragmented landscape we’ve created than anything else.

Following the Met Gala, we see that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t:

Im sorry but that AOC stunt is so cringe. You are a serving politician not a celebrity

Originally tweeted by Ciara McShane (@Ciara87C) on September 14, 2021.

This is surely the fallacy of modern celebrity. (Aren’t all publicly recognizable politicians, by definition, also celebrities?) Anyone who is publicly known is too corrupted to be of any use. It doesn’t matter what you’re known for or even the degree to which you can claim celebrity status. You’re held up as a leader, but you can’t lead. You’re held up as an influencer, but can’t be seen to influence. The paradox is surely obvious?! The better known someone is, the more it is expected that they remove themselves from the public sphere. It is what Fisher’s called a “neo-anarchist” framework, which might be militantly anti-individual but in failing to be anti-individualist, it forgets to insert some collectivist perspective into the mix. We denounce the different parts without ever remembering to affirm the whole. It is in this sense that pointing at political gestures within the cultural sphere and shouting “complicit!” only exacerbates our own impotence.

Personally, I think we all become poorer when we dismiss the impact of political sentiments expressed in popular culture. That was Fisher’s feeling too. When writing on the popularity of The Jam, he makes the point that it “mattered that they were popular … because it wasn’t only you and fellow initiates who heard the music; the (big) Other heard it too.”

What we witnessed with punk and postpunk – or more broadly, with the whole efflorescence of popular modernism since the 50s – was an ‘affective contagion’, to use a term discussed in Frederic Jameson’s enthralling new book The Antinomies of Realism. One of the problems with many of the horizontalist models of political action is that they assume that we already know what we think and feel, and we are simply prevented from expressing ourselves by oppressive power structures. Yet mass mediated art could name and focus feelings that were not only suppressed – by ‘internal’ as well as external censoring agencies – but which were inchoate, unformed, virtual. Mass mediation transformed, not merely ‘represented’ these affects; after they were named and brought into focus, the feelings ‘themselves’ were experienced differently.

This is what some people probably take away from Owen and Dom’s tweets above. But Mark was so much more contrarian than most might assume even from reading those. Because we might accept this and then say, well, yeah, okay, that’s cool, but is the Met Gala really the right vehicle here? But on that point, Fisher becomes an even worse person to use to denounce a dress at the Met Gala. (Just had one of those moments, writing that, where you realise just how mind-numbing the things that trigger the discourse are, but onwards we go…) It’s not just that he’d likely love every part of AOC’s dress stunt — the performativity, the artificiality, the bloodyminded insistence to (properly) insert politics into that venue (unlike Delavigne’s lacklustre effort) — it’s that he’d also affirm the glamour of the whole occasion.

Part of the founding principle of k-punk, after all, was a glam-punk synthesis. Being punk isn’t about being crusty and appealing to some sort of false working-class authenticity. That’s a hangover from hippie’s war on sensuality, reborn in the heroin chic of the impotent Nineties. Mark instead affirmed Nietzsche’s aristocratic thinking (to an extent), obliterating all appeals to authenticity. He understood the strangely aspirational drive you acquire in growing up poor. It’s not to say you want to become posh, but you certainly want a life of leisure. Who wouldn’t? So you emulate the value structure held above you and contaminate it with your own sensibilities. It’s A Clockwork Orange or Lady Chatterley’s Lover — yes, yes, he hated Lawrence, but I don’t care. There’s something transgressive and cool in the corrupting of aristocracy with your own desires. There is no pride in being “authentically” working class. That’s just affirming your own suffering, hardship and drudgery, surely? You don’t want to find community in drudgery but community in joy. Consider this post, which I imagine will be deeply controversial to a post-Losurdo Nietzschean community. For Mark, post-punk, and glam in particular,

rectified the genetic fallacy that haunted Nietzsche’s thinking. While there’s no doubt that Nietzsche’s analysis of the deadening effects of slave-moralising ‘egalitarian’ levelling in Beyond Good and Evil and The Genealogy of Morals identified the sick mind virus that had western culture locked into life-hating disintensification-unto-death, his paeans to slave-owning aristocratic culture made the mistake of thinking that nobility could be guaranteed by social background.

Nobility is precisely a question of values; i.e. an ethical stance, that is to say, a way of behaving. As such, it is available to anyone with the will and desire to acquire it — even, presumably, the bourgeoisie, although their whole socialization teaches them to resist and loathe it. More than anyone, Nietzsche understood that, the European bourgeoisie’s deep hostility to ‘the notion of superiority’ concealed a viciously resentful psychopathology.

If Nietzschean atheology says: we must become god, bourgeois secularism says: No-one may be greater than me — not even God.

Everyone knows that there has always been a deep affinity between the working class and the aristocracy. Fundamentally aspirational, working class culture is foreign to the levelling impulse of bourgeois culture — and of course this can be politically ambivalent, since if aspiration is about the pursuit of status and authority, it will confirm and vindicate the bourgeois world. It is only if the desire to escape inspires taking a line of flight towards the proletarian collective body and Nu-earth that it is politically positive.

We might dismiss AOC for even being at the Met Gala in the first place, but how does that final line of Fisher’s peon to glam not epitomize her gesture? She enters the bourgeois arena, but she also surpasses it by reaching into politics proper. That’s not to say the Met Gala is the perfect platform. But unlike some, I don’t think that “Tax the rich” and “Peg the patriarchy” (as was the original phrase on Delavigne’s outfit, pre-memeification) are somehow equivalent statements. AOC’s gesture only makes Delavigne’s look more vacant to me. One is a sort of “etsy agitprop”, the other — no matter how succinct — is still a policy. She’s bringing her political commitments to the party. She’s using her cultural popularity to advance knowledge of her political agenda. This isn’t a vague appeal to pegging in a stab vest (which, as a collection of signifiers, seems internally contradictory to me…) “Tax the rich”, on the contrary, is an unambiguous statement worn at an event synonymous with the rich and famous. Unlike Delavigne’s fatally ambiguous satire, AOC’s message and audience are clear. This isn’t the equivalent of rocking up in a Che Guevara t-shirt, mass produced and made utterly meaningless; a signifier that has no objective and extractable content.

I don’t think Althusser would be a fan of the Met Gala, but on this point, I’m reminded of his summary of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, in which he says that Marx

attached extreme importance to political consciousness: not to the simple subjective consciousness that produce rebellious or embittered subjects, but to the objective consciousness (or ‘theory’) that can attain knowledge of the objective conditions of social life, exploitation and struggle. Slogans about ‘raising the consciousness’ of political activists and endowing them with ‘true class-consciousness’ derive from this terminological tradition.

This is the distinction I see at work in these gestures. One appeals to subjective rebellion, the other to objective social conditions (and a policy that could mitigate them). One works as consciousness raising where the other fails. Delavigne says, “if you don’t understand it, you’re going to have to google it.” No such ambiguity surrounds AOC’s gesture. If we respond as embittered subjects anyway, I’m not sure that’s on her at this point.

Repeater Radio presents:
K-Punk Marathon

This Saturday, on 12th June 2021, Repeater Radio will be broadcasting (over) a day’s worth of K-Punk content. This will include another opportunity to hear January’s For K-Punk event, commissioned by the ICA, rebroadcast in full.

The full line-up is massive — the image below is only part of it — with a lot of new material being created especially for the event. Sign up to Repeater Radio’s mailing list to get all the announcements for this and all future broadcasts.

Don’t sleep.

From the Repeater Radio mailing list:

We are in a fallow period as we plan out our upcoming K-Punk marathon and station relaunch on the 12th of June. The 12th will see us rebroadcast and expand this year’s For K-Punk festivities, a full day’s online extravaganza featuring mixes and music from Oneohtrix Point Never, Time is Away, Iceboy Violet, Incursions, Mark Lawrence and visuals by Sweatmother. The artists will also be in discussion around the idea of postcapitalist desire.

Extending and expanding our overview of Mark Fisher’s work we’ll also have Mark Stewart’s Nun Gun, an original piece by Thomas Nordmark meditating on Fisher’s legacy, Pulp Modernism: Julia Toppin, Eddie Otchere and Andrew Green in conversation on Junglist, Mark’s Out Of Joint Lecture Hall tribute mix, Cynhia Cruz on K-Punk and Savage Messiah, Mike Grasso and Matt Ellis on “The Slow Cancellation of the Future” from Ghosts of My Life and “What Is Hauntology?,” a collaboration with Acid Horizon podcast, plus lots more still to come.

Save the date and see you then.

Postcapitalist Desire:
XG on Hermitix

I was the first guest on the Hermitix podcast, back in those heady days of late 2018. I am now also the 78th guest. Many thanks to Meta for having me back again, on a podcast that covers such an insane amount of ground, to once again talk about Mark Fisher and, more specifically, the recently released collection of Fisher’s lectures, Postcapitalist Desire. Always a pleasure.

Listen above via YouTube, or over on Podiant. If you enjoy it, make sure to follow Hermitix on Twitter, and subscribe, donate or become a Patreon to help keep the show going!

Knowing the Unknown Knower

Blogs and search engines are different approaches to the same problem, different occupations of the same place. They point, though, in different directions. Faced with the challenge of providing a trusted guide through a chaotic, indeterminable, changing field, search engines say “trust the algorithm”. In contrast, blogs say, “trust doesn’t scale.” So while the former offers a reliability based in equations and crawl capacities, the latter says, know the knower. It focuses on the person providing the link, offering the searcher the opportunity to know this person and so determine whether she can be trusted. Social network sites refract the problem of truth yet again: if the issue with blogs is the credibility of the guide or writer, the issue for social network sites is trust in the audience, in the others who might be following me.

In her 2010 book Blog Theory, quoted above, Jodi Dean gives us a snapshot of online trust at the start of the last decade. Reading it today, at the start of a new decade, illuminates just how much has changed.

“Knowing the knower” is the foundation for blogging’s value. Dean explains how early blogs were little more than curators of links on a radically disorganised and decentralised internet. Knowing the blogger, respecting their opinion, shaped your experience of navigating the World Wide Web, that may have otherwise been utterly and hopelessly formless.

In many respects, the purpose of blogging today remains the same. In others, however, it has been inverted. All too aware of its own value, the blogger has further gone underground. Knowing the knower is now, in some cases, impossible — and that is often the attraction of a blog’s output. Though there is an abundance of content, scarcity of self is exacerbated. This is no doubt because the idea of an “authentic online self” has been undermined absolutely by capitalist capture. The more authentic you are online, the more attractive you are to capitalism, because your trust can be commodified and transformed into marketing gold. Just look at Instagram — anyone who has been on that platform long enough will have likely seen a fun account, run by an extroverted someone just sharing their day, perhaps pursuing some niche interest or occupation. (Case in point, my girlfriend and I follows a couple shepherdesses.) Suddenly breaking into a new zone of visibility, their authenticity is easily hijacked by corporations who then pay the authentic blogger to advertise and/or recommend their product.

This transformation is often bittersweet. Those who let capitalism in are likely those who could use the financial boost, selling a self they may have shaped over the years in the service industry, in an environment where the self is often all you have to give, and where putting on a smile is the best way to gain tips. Though their authenticity is immediately undermined, such is the paradox of needing to pay your rent and having little else to give. In the social media age, personality can become a useful commodity.

In the theory blogosphere, hiding behind aliases and avatars was once seen a way to challenge this norm. “Getting out of your face again” was a rejection of the new face of capitalism and a way to seed knowledge on the peripheries of its libidinal circuits. This tradition continues to this day. The knower is, more often than not, hidden. But the reasons behind the donning of a cybermask are long outdated. Now, there is a problem: the unknown knower is just as susceptible to capitalist capture as their more visible rivals have long been.

The unknown knower sells their inauthenticity just as the authentic poster sells its opposite, albeit in a more clandestine fashion. The anon’s profile supersedes the authentic self, easily accruing more followers and more influence than their more visible counterpart, all because they are seen to be in possession of forbidden knowledge. Rather than putting their own face out there because they have something to gain, the anon hides their identity and corrals a sense that they may have something to lose. To hide is made brave, cowardice is inverted. A crowd gathers to listen to the untainted prophet.

The encouraged assumption that the unknown knower has more to lose is, in my experience, very accurate. But this is not because they are bearers of inconvenient truths. It is, more often than not, the establishment, the reactionaries, the conservatives who hide their faces online. They get off on its clandestine networks of tradposting. They go underground, only to disguise any chinks in their overground armour. All the while, those with something to say should go overground with more ferocity. Recognising that the right’s burrowing underground is down to their vulnerability overground suggests now is the time to rise up. Mark Fisher’s argument from 2014 is argubaly more resonant now than it once was:

Perhaps now is the moment when New Times can finally happen – if we can emerge, blinking, from our barricaded (but now extensively connected) cellars, and step out into the desert of a destituted public world, into a mass culture reduced to bland hedonic homogeneity by corporate depredation. Yes, this is hostile country, occupied territory. But how well defended is it? What possibilities are there for us here, now? What could happen, that is to say, if we go overground?



Update: Irony of ironies, the day after posting this I was tagged in a Twitter thread by someone’s burner Twitter account about former NRx blogger, Bryce Laliberte, doxxing his friend to a journalist.

I’ve had Bryce blocked since he had an almighty tantrum in my mentions over a post I wrote about Freudian antecedents to the so-called “Dark Enlightenment”. So I’m not sure why this person thought I’d care, but the hypocrisy of it is demonstrative in the context of this post.

Alt-right anons telling on alt-right face-posters who doxx their secretly alt-right friends sums up the whole circle jerk that is the alt-right mask economy better than I ever could. Most people don’t care, because it is clear that all they’re capable of is generating inconsequential outrage over an establishment that is guilty about protecting its own self-interests.

And someone’s shocked that alt-right solidarity is paper thin?

“Countercultural Bohemia as Prefiguration”:
Time is Away on NTS Radio

Elaine Tierney and Jack Rollo, aka the amazing Time Is Away, have shared their commission for our January For k-punk event as the March installment of their monthly NTS show. Read the intro and listen below:

This programme was commissioned by the ICA as part of ‘For k-punk’, an online event to mark the publication of Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures of Mark Fisher by Repeater Books. ‘For k-punk’ invited five artists and musicians to respond to the themes and provocations of Fisher’s final lectures. In ‘Countercultural Bohemia as Prefiguration’, the second lecture in the series, Fisher harnesses the psychedelic possibilities of consciousness-raising, as a process for feminists in particular, to propose ‘the abolition of the family’, a once-popular and recently resurgent feminist goal. Time is Away extends Fisher’s proposition by listening to the voices of people who explored alternative visions of how to live together.

We’re hoping to rebroadcast the whole suite of commissions again in a few months. Watch this space. For now, get lost in this really beautiful mix/collage/essay:

“Giving Up the Ghost”:
Postcapitalist Desire in the LA Review of Books

Few are mourned by the post-millennial left like Mark Fisher. If you know anything about us, then it makes perfect sense. We are a weird bunch, displaced on every level, living in a world terrifyingly different from the one we were prepared for. Between climate change and a rising far-right, our future diminishes daily. Fisher’s work speaks to us through this lens, this alien language of existential displacement.

A nice write-up on Mark Fisher, his legacy, and the recent Postcapitalist Desire collection I edited in the Los Angeles Review of Books, written by Alexander Billet. Check it out here.

“The critical legacy of theorist Mark Fisher is
a creative springboard for a new wave of musicians and thinkers”:
For k-punk reviewed in The Wire

There’s a storming review of January’s For k-punk event in this month’s Wire magazine. Commenting on both our event and the fourth annual Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture, which was given by Test Dept this year, Ryan Meehan writes:

The originality of these two events, and the variation between them, speak to the durability of Fisher’s ideas as cultural source code, and the potential they have — with growing institutional support — to engender crosscurrents and modes of production as yet unforeseen.

He notes that Test Dept represented, for Fisher, a form of “‘popular modernism’, that point of contact between mass audiences and the avant garde”, adding:

If popular modernism was an aesthetic for the advancement of the proletariat, then hauntology is the aesthetic that keeps this new precariat hanging on. For K-Punk: Postcapitalist Desires at the ICA offers variants on this uncanny mode and mood, in which the irrepressible spirit of utopian optimism is held in a melancholy tension with a future of surveillance, exploitation, and climate catastrophe.

The overview of the sets is really positive, but Iceboy Violet was the highlight for Meehan:

The programme’s crescendo belongs … to a live set by Iceboy Violet. An adept sonic contortionist with a bracing, confessional speak-song, they address the knot of all too contemporary anxieties that their rhythm strains to untangle.

He concludes:

For Mark Fisher, the future was something to be excavated. What those that come after him will bring to the surface remains to be seen. But their numbers are growing.

It’s an excellent write-up that I think clarifies the generative but nonetheless Baudrillardian tension within Mark’s legacy brilliantly. Go check out the full review in issue #446. It’s been fantastic to see the event being so well-received. We’ve already got ideas for next year…

Repeater Books x The Neon Hospice — Hallowe’en Special

This Hallowe’en, Repeater Books are teaming up with the Neon Hospice to bring you almost 12 hours of live-streamed spooky goodness. There will be live sets and mixes from — as well as conversations with — Leila Taylor, Kemper Norton, English Heretic, and Claire Cronin, and more!

I’m going to be presenting an introduction to the eerie, considering how Mark Fisher’s final book The Weird and the Eerie relates to his capitalist critiques, before we broadcast a rarely-heard “eerie mix” by k-punk himself.

You don’t want to miss this! Follow Repeater and the Neon Hospice on Twitter to stay up to date and also keep an eye on the stream’s website here.

See you on Hallowe’en…