Spinoza and Kubrick: From the Exo-k-punk Archive

I feel like I should make clear that I don’t have anything to do with the k-punk Twitter bot. I think, given my predilection for Twitter bots (I’ve owned a few), some people assume it to be one of mine, but it’s not. It’s a very useful tool nonetheless, always digging up some choice pull-quotes from the k-punk archives that warrant revisiting. It is a top-notch k-punk aphorism generator.

The tweet above, for instance, led me back to a great post from around that time, in the late summer of 2004, when Mark was writing a lot about Kubrick and Spinoza. This eventually lead to his brilliant double-bill, “Psychedelic Reason” and “Psychedelic Fascism” — two of my all-time favourite k-punk posts, both very useful posts for anyone interested in where Acid Communism was coming from.

The post highlighted by the k-punk bot was posted a few weeks before those, however. It’s called “Emotional Engineering” and, at the end, Mark points to a few discussions previously had around Spinoza and Kubrick in online spaces, particularly on the AMK forum (or alt.movies.kubrick).

I last read this exchange around 2017, but I remember that the link looked a lot different back then… This is no doubt what happens when old ephemeral communications get caught up in the latest UX updates… But it made me quite aware that this little exchange might be lost to the ether sooner or later, and that would be a shame, because, as Mark says himself on the k-punk blog, “this thread contains one of my proudest moments ever — gaining praise from Gordon Stainforth, who edited The Shining.”

(Mark later posted this exchange on k-punk for himself, in 2005, but in a somewhat truncated and sanitised form, cutting out the chaff and the trolls. I personally think the original discussion is a much more entertaining read.)

There is also a fair amount of insight here into how Mark viewed the distance between Kubrick the person and Kubrick the body of work: an interesting cold rationalist approach that some people should pay heed to in considering the gap between Mark and Mark’s writings (recently mentioned, in a footnote, here).

So, below is the thread in question. I’ve tidied it up a bit and edited the format considerably to remove typos and account for abbreviations but also so that the conversation flows a bit more naturally rather than being stunted by the quote-replies embedded in quote-replies embedded in quote-replies. I’ve followed threads of discussion through to their end before they they jump back to consider another line of questioning. Hopefully it still makes sense and is easier to read than a direct copy-paste of the original formatting would be. Enjoy!

Oh, and on a final note: Mark is, of course, writing under his old Ccru alias here: Mark de Rozario.

Lord Bullingdon: I have always pointed out that

Kubrick’s work has a sense of detachment, of bloodlessness; he likes to take organic subjects and disassemble them as if they were mechanical. It’s not just that he wants to know what makes us tick; what’s compulsive is his conviction that we do all tick.

But people at AMK seem to disagree with this. Maybe they feel this is negative criticism, something against Kubrick as an artist and as a human being. But I think this observation reveals the core of Kubrick’s view of the world. This is what makes his movies original, daring and profound.

Dave Corcoran told me it’s absurd to call Kubrick’s work “slow and cold”. But I think his opinion is just a simple negation, he is not trying to see the whole truth.

I don’t think Kubrick’s movies cause a strong feeling of empathy for their characters. You are forced to look at them from an intellectual, vouyeristic point of view. What gives you the “emotional kick” is the power of the images, the beauty of the compositions, the music, and the ideas expressed (men’s rebirth as Gods in 2001, etc.). Of course, beauty and art can cause emotional responses on the viewer, but that is YOUR response to the aesthetics of what is shown. It is different to say that the emotions of the actors made you feel empathy for them.

I hope you’ll have the courage to agree with me. I’m sure most of you do, you just feel embarassed to say. Katharina won’t be angry, believe me.

Jacques Clousseu: Fuck off, you prick.

Dave C: Actually, L.B. I have the courage to disagree with you! You will note I’m not degenerating into any of this silly “troll” name-calling stuff — I just happen to believe that you are incorrect about this. I agree with all your comments about the power of the images, beauty of the compositions, music, and ideas expressed. I would also comment that Kubrick does not tend to put the viewer into the POV of the characters, or get them to spout tons of blatantly expository dialogue (the cheap ways of getting audience empathy).

BUT — he gets amazing performances from his actors, in terms of body language and facial expressions, which, at least for those of us who are tuned in to such things, speak volumes about the internal mental states of the characters. (How do you become empathic to someone in the real world? If you think it’s dependent on them explaining their situation verbally, then you haven’t actually succeeded in tuning in. Furthermore, cinema audiences treated to POV shots tend to put themselves into the protagonist’s situation, rather than achieving a real understanding of the character’s motivations and situation)

If you’re watching “Barry Lyndon” on a small TV set, you’re probably missing much of this. You’ve got to have seen Kubrick’s films cinematically, well-projected, in order to fully appreciate them.

I really wish that I could watch these films with you, and discuss them with you face-to-face.

Lars Ollson: No, you don’t.

Lord Bullingdon: It would be nice, sure. Which day?

Mark de Rozario: I absolutely do agree, LB.

I wonder why it is that ‘cold’ and ‘slow’  are automatically deemed to be negative.

It is precisely Kubrick’s coldness and slowness that are missed in a contemporary culture that is so obsessively ‘warm’ and  ‘fast’; ingratiating, emotionally exploitative, relentlessly fidgety. Kubrick took us out of ourselves: not via the transports of ecstatic fervour, but through the icy contemplation of what drives and traps us, and the vision of a universe indifferent to our passions. To see the mechanical deathliness of the human world from the perspective of that indiffferent universe: that is what Kubrick offered us. A vision of God (which is also an approximation of God’s vision).

Kubrick returns — why deny it? — to an essentially religious sensibility, although his religion is “atheistic” in the same sense Spinoza’s was. For Spinoza, God = immanence, matter in itself, the gloriously dispassionate, desolated cosmos. Kubrick evokes the desubjectified affects of awe and dread, rather than the compulsory, socially-endorsed, ‘warm’ emotions of empathy / sympathy, as homage to a universe whose indifference entails not pessimism, but freedom: freedom from the miserable prisonhouse of the human.

Wordsmith: Beautiful! May I buy you a drink? 

Mark de Rozario: As long as it’s a cold one. 🙂

Gordon Stainforth: Brilliant comment, Mark, and I believe a very accurate summation of Kubrick.

Mark de Rozario: Thank you very much, Gordon.

Gordon Stainforth: I think the main characteristics of Hollywood style at the moment are: sentimentality, speed, and noise. (i.e puerile sentimentality, high speed cutting, and an excessively loud bang or explosion every few minutes). Example: Spielberg’s immensely disappointing Minority Report — where the audience, bombarded by technical wizardry, ends up having to watch people crying, with little idea or interest in what they are crying about.

Mark de Rozario: Couldn’t agree more. I guess what’s interesting about this is the tension between the quick-cutting and the sentimentality: the quick-cutting gives films a disocciated, schizophrenic quality (I’m thinking of Jameson’s observation that postmodern subjectivity is ‘schizophrenic’ in that it is unable to synthesize a coherent sense of time), which is so abstract that you would imagine it was evacuated of any emotion. I guess the sentimentality is what ‘glues together’ what would otherwise be a experience devoid of much connecting thread.

Gordon Stainforth: An even sharper point. I would only disagree that the sentimentality “glues together” the fragmented, schizophrenic form — I think it merely gives the appearance of gluing it together. It’s like icing covering a hollow, emotionally evacuated, incoherent interior.

Thornhill: “Miserable prisonhouse of the human”? Is that the bottom line with Kubrick? When you look into the mirror of his work, or hear the phrase, “What’ll it be?,” do you perceive only the human miserable?

Mark de Rozario: Not at all. I think Kubrick offers an alternative to the “human miserable”, precisely by offering a nonhuman perspective upon it. And this is in part because his films — whilst often about mirroring — are not themselves mirrors. They do allow us see ourselves, but from outside.

Thornhill: You seem to make a point, then undercut it.

Mark de Rozario: How so?

Thornhill: Kubrick’s films are, consciously, as much about his audiences as about the characters and subjects he presents.  To some degree, his work seems to me as a guided tour of darker humanity by a kind of cinematic Virgil, and for the benefit of his audience, Dante.  We look upon this world, often engorged with the dreaded and awful*, fury and blood, but, with nothing more than a touch, the heart of the film says, “This is what it is to be human. Maybe we can do no better….but, it is necessary to SEE!”.

Mark de Rozario: I’m not averse to this comparison, but how does it work? If Dante the author is also the audience in the Divine Comedy, who is the equivalent of this author-audience figure in Kubrick?

Thornhill: * or, maybe it should be spelled “awe-ful.”  What does awe have to do with religion, or a religious outlook?  Spiritual, yes, maybe, but what need for yolking awe to “religion”?  Sometimes ‘ugliness’ is deeply ‘beautiful’, and there can be awe, too.

Mark de Rozario: I prefer “religious” — in the qualified, atheistic sense I presented before — because I’m a materialist and do not want to be committed to the existence of some non-material substance such as “spirit”. I’m not particularly attached to the term, though. What I’m interested in is a cosmic perspective, beyond the human and its interests. (Interesting, BTW, that you chose to compare Kubrick to a religious text.) Yes, the ugly beautiful — isn’t that the sublime? What escapes our capacity to adequately represent it, what confounds our conceptual categories: there’s a lot of that in Kubrick, too.

Thornhill: I suppose this “debate” comes down to the difference between experiencing this “touch” as either cold, or as warm, and therein applying value, as it goes.

Mark de Rozario: Yes, I think there’s more than an element of this. One can either resist the familiar accusation that Kubrick is cold, or accept it and re-evaluate the meaning of “cold.” As is clear, I prefer to do the latter.

Thornhill: Most of the other “warms” are usually, and emotionally, cheap, ingratiating, and fraudulent, and return little more than a moment’s escapade. The surgeon Virgil has different business, though. The glinty cold steel implements in his case are there, necessarily, to “hurt” in order to heal.

Mark de Rozario: Are we “hurt” by Kubrick though? I agree with Lord Bullingdon; I have never cried at a Kubrick film. I have been “moved” — taken out of myself — but not in the emotional sense.

Thornhill: This is also the job of fine satire, which is (at the deep heart’s core), a thing of warmth and decency, humility and profound caring.  This simple recognition is absent for many, and that absence, particularly with regard to Kubrick, is a great pity.

Mark de Rozario: Some satire can be as you described, but I should have thought that some (Swift, for example) can be pretty misanthropic. I used Spinoza as a comparison to Kubrick because Spinoza does very much what you suggest Virgil does, in the respect of offering detailed diagrams of the way human beings systematically trap, impede, and destroy themselves. “Why do human beings love what makes them miserable?” is the question Spinoza — in anticipation of Freud — relentlessly poses. For Spinoza, passions are correlated with passivity; freedom consists in leaving behind emotions, and achieving an attunement to a cosmos that is — in the best sense — pitiless. (“God is affected with no emotion of joy or sadness.”)

Padraig L Henry: While much of what you write here is extremely insightful about distanciation “within” the Kubrickean universe, are you not also, seemingly, making the same mistake so indefatigably parroted by Lord Bullingdon of conflating Kubrick’s aesthetic cinematic strategies with his own personal sensibilities, his own humanity?

Mark de Rozario: I sincerely hope not. Call me a post-structuralist, but I’m only interested in Kubrick the “author” insofar as “he” is manifested in the work. 🙂 I make no judgements whatsoever about Kubrick’s personal sensibilities or humanity. For “Kubrick”, read “Kubrick’s films.”

Padraig L Henry: Yes; unfortunately, the poster you were originally responding to, Lord Bullingdon, does make such judgments — all the time (that’s why there’s now an Lord Bullingdon FAQ, the link for which Steve O’ Keefe tirelessly keeps posting here), confusing his personal sensibilities (like so much of the media used to) with his cinematic ones.

Mark de Rozario: Well, when I initially said I “absolutely” agreed with Lord Bullingdon, I was overstating the case. I essentially agreed with his first paragraph: about Kubrick disassembling organic subjects. I certainly wouldn’t want to reinforce the — to me baseless — suggestion that Kubrick “himself” was “cold.” How could I possibly know? And in the best way, I’m not particularly interested.

I also do not support what seems to be Lord Bullingdon’s formalist and aestheticist take on Kubrick — while there are clearly elements of this in Kubrick, I think they are in the service of something more than the production of beauty for its own sake.

Gordon Stainforth: Mark, I think you are absolutely correct here, yet again! Stanley certainly believed that he as author / artist should only be judged by his work, and that it had little or nothing to do with his personal humanity. The irony, of course, is that he was a surprisingly warm man at a family / domestic / social level. (In my experience, almost like a different personality once we were outside the cutting room.)

Padraig L Henry: Yes, sure; so you do then subscribe to the auteur theory, as originally propounded by the Cahier du Cinema debates of the 1950s? He’s certainly “manifested” in the work, all the work, all right!

Mark de Rozario: Do I believe that there are recurrent semiotic traits, technical strategies, and thematic preoccupations which can be tracked across the films attributed to Kubrick; that those films can be treated as a plane of consistency? Yes. Do I believe that there is some transcendent figure “responsible” for those semiotic traits, strategies and preoccupations? No. The proper name “Kubrick” — so far as I am concerned — designates those traits, that set of affects, that “brand”; the private Stanley Kubrick, Kubrick the person or subject, shared a name with the brand, but they are not the same thing.

As you’ll see from the above, my use of the term “manifested” was incorrect, profoundly misleading. There is no pre-existent author who manifests “himself” in the work; rather, the work produces certain consistent effects which can be labelled with a proper name.

Padraig L Henry: Excellent distinction, and one that continues to remain richly complex, aided and abetted by the need for large dashings of Napoleon brandy in order to preserve and propagate the “Kubrick” auteur brand in the cinematic canon …

Mark de Rozario: 🙂 So does this mean you subscribe to the auteur theory? I’m never sure if what I said above means that I do or don’t.

Padraig L Henry: Why do you classify contemplation of human folly and what might redeem or transcend it as “icy”?

Mark de Rozario: Good point. I guess because of the association of passions with ‘heat’ — by icy here I simply mean ‘dispassionate’ (in the Spinozist sense).

Padraig L Henry: And, presumably, freedom from fatalistic conceptions of the human, and from the “miserable prisonhouse” of human indifference 🙂

But, again, you are invoking two apparently contradictory notions of “warm” above: one as ingratiating, emotionally exploitative, relentlessly fidgety i.e. the Hollywood mainstream; the other as denoting emotions of empathy / sympathy, however supposedly compulsory their social endorsement may be.

Mark de Rozario: Are they really contradictory, though? I agree there’s a less patently exploitative rendering of sympathy / empathy possible — but I wonder if this isn’t just a more sophisticated version of the same thing.

The question of empathy is a fascinating one, and calls to mind Worringer’s distinction between abstraction and empathy — empathy is the emotion correlated with ‘organic’ or representational art (which reflects the subject back to itself); abstract art, by contrast, is mechanical, devoid of a sense of empathy (confronting the subject with something irrevocably unassimilable). The two fuse in what he calls the Northern line — essentially, Gothic art culminating in the German expressionist tradition — in which there is “a requisition of our capacity for empathy (which is bound up with organic rhythm) for an abstract world which is alien to it.” I think there’s more than a hint of a continuation of this Northern Line in Kubrick.

Padraig L Henry: The latter “notion” of “warm”, though largely absent from a film like 2001 (the film upon which much of your conception of Kubrick’s cinematic world rests), actually becomes central to such later work as Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut.

Mark de Rozario: Good point. 2001 is the film which most obviously fits the description of the Kubrick oeuvre I gave; not so much, I think, because of its absence of sympathy / empathy in it, but because of its awestruck vision of the cosmos, which isn’t quite so evident in any of his other films, before or after.

Padraig L Henry: Are we getting “warm” yet?

Mark de Rozario: Let’s hope not. 🙂

Padraig L Henry: In that sense, we could say that Barry Lyndon is, in part, an awestruck vision of the earthly past 🙂

Mark de Rozario: Yes, absolutely; and I don’t think we need to oppose earthly to cosmic.

I think we must distinguish the depiction of emotion in a film from the emotion it stimulates in the audience — and from a film’s emotional ethic (the kind of emotion a film, implicitly or explicitly, recommends, privileges or endorses). In “Hollywood”, the first two tend to collapse into each other, and the emotional ethic is usually an invitation to wallow in a drippy sentimentality. With Kubrick, there is a clear distinction between the emotions his films depict and the reaction the audience has: the distanciation-effect you talked of before, which not only happens within the films, but between what the film is showing and how the audience responds to it. All of Kubrick’s films depict passions, but none of them is “passionate”: they are about emotions, not “emotional.” This is as true of Eyes Wide Shut and Barry Lyndon (and The Shining, for that matter) as it is of 2001. Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining all anatomize human emotional folly; all three are about problematics of empathy / sympathy; but it’s not clear that they make us feel sympathetic or empathic. It’s not clear, for instance, that we identify with Dr Bill or Barry.

The fascination lies in the ambiguity of Kubrick’s emotional ethic: what does “he” want us to feel? This isn’t clear, to say the least, since, thankfully, the films refuse to corral us into a simple response. Evidently, that’s why some choose to read the films as cold (in the “normal”, “bad” sense), pessimistic, or disdainful and misanthropic: I prefer to read them as attempts to simulate the dispassionate perspective of the Spinozist “God” — a perspective which, because it feels “neither joy nor sadness”, can liberate us from our own “joys and sadnesses.”

Gordon Stainforth: I think we are actually getting very warm here! — in that this Spinozistic analysis of Kubrick’s view of the cosmos is, I believe, about as close as we’re going to get to his true position (IMHO). A very, very useful reading, Mark.

Wordsmith: Mark, the more I read this, the more I like it. Kudos to you for encapsulating the idea so well. Spinoza and Kubrick truly go hand in hand. And there’s no better film in his canon than 2001 in evoking release from the prisonhouse you mention. Thank you so very much.

Padraig L Henry: The Spinoza connection you make is interesting. There is also the Brecht (he too was considered “cold” and “clinical”) connection, however, as it was Brecht who first experimented with notions of distanciation, with arresting any subjective emotional identification between characters and audience (much of what Spectator Theory now deals with), and this is especially so in A Clockwork Orange (there have been many past threads at AMK discussing all of this).

Mark de Rozario: OK, I’ll try and track those down ……

Padraig L Henry: Kubrick’s dispassionate aesthetic frequently manifested itself via the meticulousness of shot composition and the omniscience of his camera movements (from anxious steadicam to slow, grand zoom-outs), which served to draw our attention to the very form of the film itself. 

Mark de Rozario: Yes, but not so much in that post-Brechtian alienation-effect way that’s become so hackneyed in self-referential postmodernity. Although there’s a distance, Kubrick’s films are always involving, hypnotic; it’s just that their involvement doesn’t go by way of an identification with a character.

Padraig L Henry: Absolutely, and, indeed, even those very occasional, more “hackneyed” self-references in his films (2001 soundtrack album in A Clockwork Orange, Sellers’ Spartacus in Lolita, CRM/Serum in A Clockwork Orange, Ludovico in Barry Lyndon, ape costumes in Eyes Wide Shut, etc) are usually discrete and multi-layered…

Mark de Rozario: It’s partly because those are such unobtrusive signatures, such tiny brush strokes in compositions that are so vast; they are not the sole point of the exercise, as is the case in self-regarding, self-congratulatory PoMo —

Padraig L Henry: …No, “distance” in Kubrick’s cinema revolves around, is routed in, considering — respecting — the audience as the self-reasoning, interpretive arrow rather than, as in most movies, the objectified target of the film-maker’s rhetoric …

Mark de Rozario: Yeh — and doesn’t that bring in another sense of cold / cool — McLuhan’s? Kubrick’s films are cool media because they treat the audience as participants. That accounts for the apparent paradox of why Kubrick’s films are simultaneously so demanding and so involving; ‘we’ are the missing piece.

Padraig L Henry: For instance, the steadicam shots in The Shining appear to create an un-seen character in the film. Such shots, somewhat like the numerous slow zoom-outs in his other films (Barry Lyndon and Full Metal Jacket particularly), are — in the post-Lacanian sense — “unsutured” point of view shots. The camera moves much as we would expect a typical POV shot to move, only we never obtain the suturing reverse shot, revealing through whose eyes we are “meant” to be observing. In The Shining, Kubrick denies us such a point of identification. Though nothing much happens during those shots following Danny on his tricycle around the labyrinth that is the Overlook hotel, they are still deeply disturbing, because we know that somebody is observing — film grammar tells us so, but we are left in the cold, the expected observer is never revealed to us. Consequently, it is Kubrick’s camera and we the spectators who haunt the Overlook, dispassionately omniscient, but seemingly anxious and confused: we don’t know who we are …

Wordsmith: Kubrick’s asymmetrical suture is unnerving indeed. (Sidebar: There’s something similar in Chaplain’s City Lights. At the end, when the blind girl is given her sight, we only see the Tramp smiling at her affectionately; we don’t see a reaction shot of her smiling in reply, or the happy couple walking off into the sunset.) Kubrick perpetually hides the camera, and we, the spectators, are as transparent as ghosts.

Mark de Rozario: [in response to Padraig] What a fantastically evocative and wonderfully written paragraph … The Overlook is not occupied by ghosts; it is itself the ghost-Entity, that which haunts. This point, too, is thoroughly Spinozistic; since Spinoza thought that anything capable of affects (of affecting and being affected) is an Entity, regardless of whether it was ostensibly “natural” or “artificial”.

It should be clear that the plane of immanence, the plane of Nature that distributes affects, does not make any distinction at all between things that might be called natural, and things that might be called artificial. Artifice is fully a part of Nature, since each thing, on the immanent plane of Nature, is defined by the arrangements of motions and affects into which it enters….” [Deleuze on Spinoza]

All of which points to Kubrick’s hypernaturalism: a diagonalization of the naturalism / supernaturalism dichotomy, marked by the persistent privileging of Environment over human subjectivity….

Padraig L Henry: More ice, anyone?

Mark de Rozario: Always.

Wordsmith: Naw. My cup runneth over.

Padraig L Henry: Actually, on a different note, you also mentioned Frederic Jameson and his idea of the splintered nature of postmodern subjectivity in a previous post; his other notion of “postmodern hyperspace” might also be seen to  apply to Kubrick’s conception of The Overlook in The Shining. Jameson argues (in “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” from The Cultural Turn [1998]) that the physical spaces within the postmodern world have “finally succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organise its immediate surroundings perceptually, and to map cognitively its position in a mappable external world.” Jameson may be speaking of contemporary architecture (the original of the post-mod species), but his observations might equally apply to the overwhelming conceptual spaces of  The Overlook and its mazes — and, indeed, to those other, newer spaces generated by numerous more recent films, such as The Matrix, The Truman Show, eXistenz, Mullholland Drive, etc. This is all now a bit ironic, given Jameson’s earlier unflattering review of The Shining.

Mark de Rozario: Well, Jameson’s remarks are based on a hotel 🙂 I’d like to hear you say more on this. “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” is one of the essays I’ve come back to time and again over the years, but oddly I’ve always glossed over the mention of “hyperspace”. In what ways do you think The Shining and the more recent films generate hyperspace? (I ask this partly because, having read the Jameson passage again, I find the concept tantalisingly unclear, but intriguingly suggestive.) Certainly, the Overlook always reminds me of Gibson’s brilliant description of cyberspace: “a collective hallucination.”

One interesting aspect about The Overlook of course is that it exemplifies another of Jameson’s theses: the spatialization of time. There’s a wonderful line in King’s novel about the Overlook’s “corridors extending in time as well as space.” For isn’t, ultimately, The Shining a film about time travel?

Padraig L Henry: Where to start! Hyperreality?

Well, let’s start with the general malaise often regarded as the central feature of postmodernism, what Featherstone terms “the fragmentation and overproduction of culture – the key-feature of consumer culture”. As Jameson says, “in postmodern culture, ‘culture’ itself has become a product in its own right; the market has become a substitute for itself and fully as much a commodity as any of the items it includes within itself”. In the “cultural logics of late capitalism,” Jameson’s code-phrase for postmodernity, what is commodified is not simply the image, which has acquired the central role in contemporary culture, but lived experience itself. As Guy Debord diagnoses in The Society of the Spectacle, “everything that was lived directly has moved away into a representation”. Baudrillard, as Friedberg notes, also talks about “the same phenomenon-representation of the thing replacing the thing — and extends it into a mise-en-abīme of the ‘hyperreal,’ where signs refer only to signs. Hyperreality is not just an inverted relation of sign and signifier, but one of receding reference, a deterrence operation in the signifying chain”. Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere [in the Overlook hyperspace labyrinth].

A part in this process of the commodification of the sign and the derealization of the real has been played by media technologies, especially electronics, as Vivian Sobchack points out:

The postmodern and electronic “instant” … constitutes a form of absolute presence (one abstracted from the continuity that gives meaning to the system past / present / future) and changes the nature of the space it occupies. Without the temporal emphases of historical consciousness and personal history, space becomes abstract, ungrounded, flat — a site for play and display rather than an invested situation in which action “counts” rather than computes. Such a superficial space can no longer hold the spectator / user’s interest, but has to stimulate it constantly in the same way a video game does. Its flatness — a function of its lack of temporal thickness and bodily investment — has to attract spectator interest at the surface. …In an important sense, electronic space disembodies.

Oh yes, hyperspace here we come: “All dull and no work makes Jack a play-boy” etc, etc, etc.

Mark de Rozario: I’m not sure that simulation is form of representation for Baudrillard. Signs do not represent reality: they actively engineer it. Whereas a representation just stands in for an object, a simulation does its work. Postmodern capital (the ultimate sign without a referent) would be the classic example.

I guess I was interested in 2 things which haven’t really come out yet: (1) the extent to which The Shining is hyperspatial / hyperreal / postmodern — because in many ways it strikes me as very modern/ist; and (2) the specific meaning of hyperspace (as opposed to hyperreal and all the other key postmodern terms).

I think (2) has come out a little in the Sobchack quote, though for me Jameson’s account of hyperspace — wandering around the Bonaventure hotel and encountering that dizzying flatness in which it is “quite impossible to get your bearings” — resembles my experience of walking around shopping malls rather than playing computer games:

To return to (1) for a moment: the Overlook labyrinth isn’t the endlessly receding PoMo maze of signs referring to other signs — is it? It might be worth referring here to Brian McHale’s typology of modernist and postmodernist fiction. For McHale, modernism is organised around an epistemological problematic — is what is being described real or not? Postmodernism, meanwhile, is organised around an ontological problematic — what is reality, and what is the reality of this text? Metafictive strategies which self-consciously question the reality (or otherwise) of the text are exemplary of the Postmodern, according to McHale. For me, The Shining belongs very firmly in the first category: witness the animated debate on AMK about whether it The Shining resolves into the marvellous etc, a classic epistemological concern.

BTW is Jameson’s essay on The Shining online anywhere?

Padraig L Henry: Not that I know of, but hypertext has been known, on occasion, to have some strange ways of rendering itself hyperreal.

Mark de Rozario: Incidentally, since you mention Mulholland Drive: I was interested in some of the recent comparisons of Mulholland Drive with Eyes Wide Shut on AMK. I only saw Mulholland Drive recently — I lost patience with Lynch after the empty conceit of Lost Highway — and felt there were strong connections with Eyes Wide Shut. In both cases, I’ve been dissatisfied with what appears to be the standard interpretive line — the “it is all Bill / Diane’s dream” reading — which for me never even gets close to the entrancing power of either film — or to what is at stake in dreaming for that matter —

Padraig L Henry: Yes, whole lives are at stake, for that matter …

Further Notes on an Ethics of the Dialectic

I’m in research mode at the moment and going in deep on the relationship of psychoanalysis to philosophy. It’s been fruitful so far, although it has led me to read more closely a few thinkers who I’ve never previously paid too much attention to — specifically Lacan and Žižek.

I’d sort of skim-read Žižek‘s The Sublime Object of Ideology a few years ago and really enjoyed it but rereading his preface to the book tonight I found the notion of dialectical conversation — previously just waffled about to Kantbot — becoming more and more concrete.

The purpose of the book, Žižek reflects, was to explore how the two supposedly discredited theories of “psychoanalysis and Hegelian dialectics may simultaneously redeem themselves, shedding their own skins and emerging in a new shape.” The use of this for Žižek seems to be that both Hegelian dialectics and (Lacanian) psychoanalysis share a process of simplification. (Just as the dialectic reduces a thing to its “unary feature”, Lacan draws the same process out from Freudian psychoanalysis.) Žižek explains:

The dialectical approach is usually perceived as trying to locate the phenomenon-to-be-analysed in the totality to which it belongs, to bring to light the wealth of its links to other things, and thus to break the spell of fetishizing abstraction: from a dialectical perspective, one should see not just the thing in front of oneself, but this thing as it is embedded in all the wealth of its concrete historical context. […] Hegel’s formulation is here very precise: the reduction of the signifying ‘unary feature’ contracts actuality to possibility, in the precise Platonic sense in which the notion (idea) of a thing always has a deontological dimension to it, designating what the thing should become in order to be fully what it is.

I liked this, and thought about it in relation to many things. Accelerationism came to mind first.

Reduced to its “unary feature”, Accelerationism becomes, for many, a desire to “go fast.” This is certainly the “kind of epitomisation by means of which the multitude of properties is reduced to a single dominant characteristic” that Žižek describes, but it also rejects its embedded position within contemporary thought more generally. The question, then, for many of us, becomes: “How do we continue to work in this area of thought whilst simultaneously rectifying this popular understanding?”; “How do we shift the narrative from an inaccurate certainty to a more accurate potentiality?” Because potentiality is the concern, in every guise that Accelerationism takes, isn’t it? Accelerationism, no matter which qualifier it carries with it, asks: “What is the potential that arises out of a subjugated capitalist subject?” The Accelerationist formation of Žižek‘s question, more specifically — “What must the subject of capitalism (be that human or otherwise) become in order to be fully what it is?” — also contains appropriately Promethean overtones.

I also thought about this sense of the dialectic is relation to D.H. Lawrence and some of those others modernist figures previously discussed with Kantbot. You would think that a writer, long dead, is only who they are (or were) and has no more becoming to do, but that does not seem to be the case for Lawrence, whose works, to my mind, often in spite of themselves, have a fascinating resonance in our contemporary moment. The question then becomes: “What does Lawrence have to become in order to be fully what he is today?”

It is this process that I was describing with that transgressive holy trinity — Nietzsche, Bataille, Land. Each successive work on the latter’s thought seems to do this absolutely. Each is dragged into a present that updates them for now whilst nonetheless staying true to their defining trajectory.

In the comments of my previous post, an argument broke out about this between myself and Dominic Fox. Dominic seemed to interpret this function — which I linked to Blanchot’s “infinite conversation” — as some sort of suspension of judgement — something which wasn’t in the spirit of Mark Fisher’s often barbed judgements on music, ideas, or people at all. Rejecting this apparent lack of judgement, Dominic argued: “I don’t think it’s illegitimate to pick and choose from among the different manifestations of Mark as a thinker and a person.” It is possible to “accept and recognise the whole inconsistent bundle without affirming everything in it simultaneously.”

I remain bemused as to how this ended up being the reading gleaned from the previous post but I doubt any progress is possible in that regard. More to the point, I have no interest in trudging up the particulars — it didn’t seem to really go anywhere — but the above, as explained last time (or so I thought), is what I have sought to do with Mark‘s writing. And that’s explicitly involved judgements of various kinds. Is it wrong to hold the door open a crack, on the off chance my judgement changes?

It is only in this sense that I defer making a final judgement about him or others. If this is emphasised, on occasion, it is because it is already clear that, in some ways, our collective imagination has already selected the parts of Mark’s thinking that will be carried forwards. Often, these parts are little more than glib understandings, in the sense that any popular understanding of a person is always ill-fitting and inaccurate, even when dressed up in a fluency with their own terms and concepts. They’re broad strokes, because that’s all the average person has any interest in. But they are nonetheless informed by certain dominant voices.

There is a responsibility that comes with determining these strokes, I think, and people should be more careful about the strokes they’re adding to the picture. Similarly, I think observers should be more vigilant as to what motivates a final picture — particularly one still being posthumously constructed — taking on certain contours.

A few examples:

Is Acid Corbynism really representative of what Mark Fisher’s thought? Or is it an abomination? Is it a self-serving attempt to grab hold of a developing narrative? Or is it just a half-baked populist philosophy, innocuously hollowed out of the ways in which Mark’s Acid Communism was to be vital?

Was Mark really someone who undermined his own politics of group consciousness by being grumpy online? Or was his coldness to the thought of some interlocutors commensurate with his vague desire to abolish the individual? Are either of those questions even relevant? Or is it all just a few disgruntled former friends getting a final dig in?

Is there any real communal momentum left over from Fisher’s life? Or is a book like Egress just wishful thinking? Is there a political project to be affirmed despite Mark’s death? Or is it the shadow of an ideal kept buoyant by lingering grief?

It is inevitably true, to whatever extent, that in each instance, each person in question requires Mark to become something specific and — in the sense of his still-yet-to-be-established “unary feature” — new, so that they might process who he was or might have been. In that sense, mourning is integral to each example above, and the fraught nature of mourning is what keeps the truth from being uttered and the hardest questions from being asked.

I know how I feel about these questions, personally. Regardless, the fact is that time will tell, and I hope that, later down the line, these questions get replaced by new ones. The point is not to suspend judgement but, in most cases, to affirm the potentiality still left in a body of work and the associations that become attached to it. I’m sure the Acid Corbynistas take refuge in the fact that, regardless of its fidelity to what Mark was working on, it is a positive project. I feel the same way about my book — a book which makes that very process explicit. For me, the heart of the Fisher-Function — “a need to ensure this is a moment when the force [Mark] brought into our world is redoubled rather than depleted” — when translated into these new terms, becomes: “What needs to be added to Mark’s legacy so that it is able to become what it fully is?”

There were other comments made in orbit of this previous argument. Apparently, Mark thought Blanchot was boring and that Bataille was silly. That’s okay. In that sense, the line between his thought and mine is clear. More to the point, it makes the detachment and assertion of a positive project more explicit, in that it makes additions. This is the gesture that I feel stays loyal to Mark’s thought, even if the references themselves do not.

All this is to say that, despite what some of his former interlocutors might like to think, Mark persistently transformed the arguably hypocritical and vampiric qualities of his negative critiques into a series of positive projects. He remained wedded to his thoughts, in sickness and in health, which is to say that the consistency of his arguments is impressive even if the tone was variable and sometimes problematic. There is nonetheless something to be affirmed here.

The initial barbed assault might have been an inadvisable approach — a scorched-earth strategy, as it were — but Mark always reemerged later with the same critique made positive. The unfortunate thing was that many remained more concerned with the previous mess or bridge burnt than the eventual strength of the end result. (Another aspect of this deontological tendency, perhaps, that is hard for some to stomach or acknowledge.) Everyone has read “Exiting the Vampire Castle”, for instance, but who has read “No Romance Without Finance” and made the connection? Both are concerned with a project of group consciousness raising that rejects and supersedes an identity politics corrupted by neoliberalism’s mandatory individualism, but only the negative critique is remembered whilst the positive project is left to the margins.

This isn’t just true of Mark. Mark, as ever, is simply the most readily available reference point. I’ll move on from him at some point, I’m sure, but not from this central gesture. That is the main way in which Mark continues to inspire me, despite the persistent announcements of his interpersonal flaws, supposedly to the contrary. He always came to realise, within his own writing, what needed to be added or transposed so that the potential of his argument could become what it fully was in actuality. Sometimes, the end result fell on deaf ears. But the stakes of an infinite conversation, as far as I am concerned, rest in the continuation of that project, especially when the other person has dropped it — through choice or through death.

This is what I find most palpable and poetic in Blanchot’s project (whether Mark liked it or not): in the persistent plurality of our voices, tomorrow is always what is at stake. That remains true whether you, personally, have a tomorrow or not.

Is that a deferral of judgement to another day? Or are judgements instead being made that keep the horizon in sight?

Notes on Dialectical Modernism

Before having this really excellent conversation with Kantbot on his podcast the other day, he had told me in advance that he really want to talk about dialectical materialism in relation to the book. My initial response was one of terror — I thought, fuck, that’s interesting, but I am not sure I am remotely capable of getting deep with that on the fly… So, about an hour before we started talking, I wrote my initial rambling response down in a txt file.

I thought this would end up being a small part of our conversation but, in reality, it ended up being the persistent crux that we kept coming back to, and it articulates a function of Egress that no one else has yet got close to articulating — myself included — so I’m really grateful to Kantbot for having me on his podcast and asking such pertinent questions.

Suffice it to say that we covered a lot of what is below in our conversation so, if you want the fleshed-out and less garbled version, go listen to Kantbot’s podcast. But I’m still quite glad to have gotten this down in writing, so take this as some notes or a podcast teaser, if you want.

Dialectics, as far as I can tell, is popularly understood as a process of simplification whereby contradictions or tensions find a moment of equilibrium and then we move onto the next thing.

That’s incorrect, obviously, but that’s what I hear when people talk about Marxian dialectics.

There’s an irony that emerges here in the fact that dialectics seems like a particularly complicated concept. You’ve got your Marxian and your Hegelian and your Nietzschean dialectics and there doesn’t seem to be a dialectic for these dialectics, at least not in the sense that most people seem to use the term dialectics…

In a Hegelian sense, we don’t seem to see a whole lot of proper synthesis going on, just a populist tendency towards compartmentalisation and misattribution and just a general mess of incoherency. In reality, synthesis is an ever-complicating process, not one of tidying up contradictions.

Modernism, as I see it, is the sort of cultural impact of this kind of theory emerging — which is to say, in brief, that Marxism leads to modernism. (And, lest we forget, that Mark Fisher was a persistent advocate, following Fredric Jameson, for the return of a “popular modernism”.)

Take someone like Virginia Woolf, who I’ve been obsessed with for much of the past year. I find a novel like Mrs Dalloway a really interesting exploration of dialectical materialism in this regard. Plot summary: Mrs Dalloway, the wife of the fictional Prime Minister Dalloway, is throwing a party and goes out to buy flowers, and then there’s Septimus Smith, a war veteran out for a walk who is thinking about killing himself, and these two characters loom large in a story also filled with all kinds of voices and violences.

Does the existence of Mrs Dalloway and Septimus Smith resolve itself into a utopia finally sprouting within the city of London? No. Because nothing has ever died of its contradictions. Septimus is committed to an asylum and kills himself, and when Mrs Dalloway happens (through sheer chaotic coincidence) to hear about his death she comes to admire his act and chooses to affirm the life of this man she’s never met.

But originally, Woolf hadn’t intended to include Septimus in the book at all, and it was Mrs Dalloway who was going to off herself at her party. So Woolf comparmentalises two mental states but, in doing so, and by giving them the superficial appearance of opposites, what she really does is make these two minds echo back at each other, like two mirrors facing each other. They don’t cancel each other out, they multiply each other to infinity and make you feel like you’re on the edge of some Lovecraftian hellscape of abject interiority unfolding into outside.

That’s what I like about Woolf. Her novel The Waves does this even more explicitly. She skirts the edges of some sort of high society classic bourgeois novelist — and she is, in one sense, precisely that — but there’s this horror that perforates through the pages that betrays her fascination with the darkest regions of the mind. (It’s not a coincidence, after all, that Hogarth Press, which first published all her novels, was also the publisher to originally publish the complete works of Sigmund Freud in English translation.)

This is also what I’ve also been loving about D.H. Lawrence recently. His novels explore this really explicitly too and in a way that is less stylistically transgressive but is really transgressive in its content. He’s like the British Bataille, with all the particular neuroses that would entail.

And this is relevant, for me, because its like this popular dialectics just diminishes the great stature of these projects. The complexity of their very selves, Woolf and Lawrence’s, is reduced by some compartmentalisation of their transgressive natures. These implicitly emancipatory literary projects are shorn of their limbs and either they’re thrown on the trash pile for not always affirming the “right” kind of emancipation, or they’re otherwise stripped of their vitality and talked about in truly lifeless terms.

The particular insights of D.H. Lawrence get absolutely shredded by fickle culture studies departments, for instance, and a revolutionary anti-capitalist novel that sexually embodies a process of dialectical materialism like Lady Chatterley’s Lover becomes nothing more than “the Fifty Shades of Grey of its day”.

If you’re not really into your literary modernism, think of Nietzsche instead. He was the most famous victim of this kind of moronic thinking. His absolute unconditional attempt to emancipate himself from the very foundations of Western civilisation — Christian morality most famously — led to him being called just about everything under the sun during his lifetime and afterwards, and it took about a century of hard persistent work by all sorts of people to rescue his thought from a second-hand impotence.

The great irony of this is that this probably fits into a kind of Nietzschean dialectics… His dialectic being rhetorical, a kind of conversation, and there is a thread of this in my book that is very implicit but comes from the frequent references to Blanchot.

Blanchot’s book The Infinite Conversation contains a sort of proto-ethics of psychoanalysis — in being pre-Lacanian at least — where he writes on the process of transference that Freud talks about. Psychoanalysis thinks of itself as a kind of rhetorical dialectic — you know, if you talk stuff out with another person, then this very act of conversation will settle your neuroses, but transference, in which the analyst becomes a sort of screen onto which emotions are projected, calls bullshit on this. And Freud, as far as Blanchot is concerned, didn’t seem to understand the real implcations of this. So the true task of psychonanalysis is a practice is both accounting for and resolving this process of transference, infinitely. What is the analyst, in themselves? What are your projections? What are your projections in themselves? Mapping this out is all part of the work but, of course, the work never ends and it shifts as life shifts and experience shifts and continues.

If you want to see this process today, philosophically, you can read three books. Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, Bataille’s On Nietzsche, and Nick Land’s Thirst for Annihilation. This is a radical conversation that spans generations, where Nietzsche, following the insights of German Idealism, has conversations with himself, leaves his self behind and also takes his self to its absolute limit, and then, decades later, Bataille enters this conversation with Nietzsche and tries to take himself to his absolute limit, and then, a few decades later still, Land enters this conversation with Bataille and tries to take himself to his absolute limit.

Who would dare write an On Land today? It seems like an impossible task, and is easy to become alarmist over because Nietzsche, Bataille and Land are so scary. But there is a very real ethics on display here, where we take the complexities of a person to their limit and set ourselves beside ourselves and fully enter into another mind, finding the projections we bring to the table in our contemporaneity, and extending this original project beyond the limits that were imaginable to its originator. It’s a sort of project I am fascinated by and whoever will be capable of continuing this conversation will be of a wholly different species to the kind of intellectual we know today…

Now, what I’ve done with Egress isn’t quite such a leap forward into the outside of contemporary philosophy, but, if I might be so bold, it is nevertheless my On Fisher — or, Sur Fisher, to get really pretentious about it. It is an attempt to take the complexities of Mark’s thinking on community, pop culture, capitalism and communism to their limit within a certain timeframe, which is the aftermath of his death. That limit is a limit already contained within this thought itself, but Mark’s death gave us the opportunity to exceed them.

A death is one of those moments — if not the only true moment — where a person’s thought really starts to come apart from within. Without a self to maintain the boundaries, all sorts of things start flying out of it. And what we see emerging on the left, when faced with Mark’s posthumously rendered thought in particular, is either an attempt to cancel Mark outright or instead just a sheering off of his work’s unattractive bits. Either Mark doesn’t deserve any attention whatsoever because he wrote an essay like “Exiting the Vampire Castle” or we shouldn’t talk about that essay and just focus on the nice bits about party political organising.

Mark was so much more than either of those things. And this isn’t just because Mark was some great and complex thinker but because he was human. This kind of complexity is present within everyone. But today we live in a culture that rejects this absolutely, on the most mundane level which, I think, is the most damaging. Like, most will reject an argument like this with alarmist examples like the fact someone can be a member of the communist party and they can also be an abuser. That’s a alarmist contradiction of a certain type and one that must be cut out without a second thought. Of course I agree that abusers and bullies are really bad, and I have no interest in affirming their existence, and I’d be quite content bullying them out of the things I hold dear, but today we find people can be excommunicated for having far less troublesome contradictory thoughts than these. You can find yourself socially shadowbanned for simply not following The Narrative, and the people who will deplore this kind of whingeing the most are, of course, those involve in the sorts of institutions that maintain the narrative, whatever it may be.

I’ve felt this myself, in a sort of ambient way, in a few of the reviews that the book has had so far. The “biggest” reviews, as it were — the ones most likely to be seen by the most people — have failed to really articulate what it is they don’t like about the book. No one can really say why. They settle on the fact my writing is occasionally cliched or clumsy or maybe a little bit too academic or they just attack a wholly reductive version of Mark instead. Neither kind of review — one that dislikes Mark or my writing — seems to address what the real problem is, but what I see under the surface of these reviews is a discontent with the fact that this book about Mark Fisher, which is so thoroughly evidenced with instances from his life and his work, does not fit the still-emerging popular narrative of who Mark was.

And so I find it really interesting that Kantbot would ask about dialectical materialism in relation to the book on his podcast, given the podcast’s dedication to “bad thought” or “wrong thought”. Bad and wrong thought is the only thought I care about, but not in the correct sense of what is “bad”. The frustration I feel with my blog at the minute is that I spend all of my time explaining how the “good” thinking about Mark or Land or Accelerationism is all incredibly dumb and inexplicable. And I end up getting incredibly angry about it — it’s becoming a real neurosis for me at the minute. The consensus is wrong and so I feel like I’ve become stuck in a self-righteous hobby of fuelling a furious dissensus about the complexity of these people’s lives — a complexity that has so much left to teach us if we take the time to deal with it on its own terms rather than in search of some Cliff Notes summary of what x meant when they said y. This isn’t an attempt to devolve all political philosophy into a Derridean indeterminacy but rather an attempt to affirm the chaos within these poor compartmentalisations so that the free radicals that result allow them to interconnect. It is to engage in a dialectical materialism proper. It’s not a cave allegory in which I want everyone to see the light of nature’s complexity but the opposite.

This is something that Virginia Woolf said about her own characters. She wondered how she could

dig out beautiful caves behind my characters; I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humour, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect, and each comes to daylight at the present moment.

That’s the only ethical approach worth pursuing in the present for me. As far as I’m concerned, everything else tends towards bullshit. I want to engage in an infinite conversation with Mark or Blanchot or whoever, or not at all.

Saying that, I know we’re on a time limit so I’ll happily grant you a concise conversation that is listenable just this once…

Front Window #8: Wonderlust

Whilst I’m aware that commenting on every comment made about Egress is going to start looking pretty myopic and self-involved soon enough — if it doesn’t already — I’ve nonetheless been really intrigued by some of the more consistent comments made about it as it has settled into people’s hands and been read by strangers, particularly those who have deemed its idiosyncrasies to be flaws rather than purposeful features of the text.

Frankly, it’s hard not to use a public notebook to think about these things, even if such things aren’t typically made public, but that’s what blogging is after all — socially sanctioned over-sharing. (I’m still holding back, nonetheless: the pressure to not stick one’s head above the parapet after having pUbLiShEd A bOoK is real. Every thought had and written down feels like the crossing of some great line of professionalism but let’s not pretend like this blog has been a routine exercise in doing anything other than this so far — so suck it up.)

I want to write about these things because it has so far been a hugely constructive experience. As I work on a new manuscript that feels vastly different in terms of its style and presentation, I am very much aware that the new things I’m working on appear, to me, like a reaction to what has been said so far about this now-finished three-year project.

Most interesting to me are the blatant stylistic habits I’ve picked up from my own influences that perhaps go unacknowledged or read like bad form despite the intention very much being to present my ideas in a certain way.

For instance, similar to comments made about the book’s unfolding of Fisher’s folds, many readers have been correct in pointing out that it is a “meandering” affair; a “restless and shifting” read. In some instances, this reads like a compliment; in others, a criticism. To each their own, of course, but I’d like to affirm that the book is intentionally presented this way.

Although Mark Fisher wasn’t a fan of W.G. Sebald — something I finally understood for myself last year after travelling to Lowestoft for the first time (whilst making the final edits to the Egress manuscript no less) — I have personally always loved the style of The Rings of Saturn, as a mediation on both inner and external experience, creating a meandering sort of auto-fiction that is somewhere between the two.

That’s what it is for me: auto-fiction. To call it “psychogeographic” feels reductive and cliche considering its scope. It is a label that only helps to flatten its contours. It is about as “psychogeographic” as Proust is, but there is far more going on in these works besides a wandering through landscapes real and imaginative. It is in this sense, however, that Sebald has a lot to answer for. He was certainly guilty of flattening the contours of the landscapes on which he walked, reducing them to a shadow of his melancholic mind, but the journey he takes through history is nonetheless inspired. Often, just for fun, I will read that book’s first chapter. I won’t bother to follow the book through to its end unless I’m really in the mood. Sometimes I just want to get a quick hit of that labyrinthian wanderlust through the life of the mind-body. It is genuinely addictive; a sort of purely distilled escapism for the European misanthrope.

This is a kind of auto-fictive writing very much in vogue at the moment, which is partly the reason why I feel quite vigilant about it now. When talking about my book with Guy at Tank Magazine, for example, I mentioned the influence of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts on Egress. I’d read that book two or three times in 2017 alone and the way she navigates lived experience and philosophy inspired just about everyone else who picked it up during that same time period. Of course, having read something so acclaimed does not warrant the same thing for my book, but it is interesting that the more personal parts of Egress feel far more accepted and palatable to people in The Argonauts‘ aftermath. The Argonauts made such an impact — for better or for worse — because it expanded the possibilities of life-writing for a new generation, and it no doubt quickly became a cliche when mentioned within writer’s classes now as a result.

Perhaps a nod to The Rings of Saturn is a more productive nod to make but it is also a book that has had a very similar impact on a certain generation of reader, to the point that Sebald Studies is now a somewhat dry and uncritical cottage industry surrounding a book too universally acclaimed for its own good. Indeed, to the extent it tends to replicate a classist unconscious within the mind of many a Guardian columnist to this day: a fact obvious, I think, to anyone who travels to the Suffolk coast unblinkered by a love of Sebald.

This was the flaw at the heart of Patience After Sebald — a documentary a little too high on its own supply. It is a project that is (in a sense more literal than most) hauntographic rather than hauntological. Sebald is great for the ways in which he inhabits the latter; those who make work about him reduce themselves to the former. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I wrote about this fine line here.)

As a result of all this, it is also the case that Sebaldian writing becomes defined by the landscapes through which Sebald walked rather the critical approach to European history he brought along with him. His narration in this regard — in The Rings of Saturn and in Austerlitz — is utterly addictive and compelling but I don’t think I can bring myself to read another melancholic ramble about the coast or a Macfarlanesque burrowing through the English overgrowth by anyone else who lacks the same navigational prowess. Thankfully, there are others who have not fallen victim to their own legacies. Iain Sinclair still resonates, thankfully, and is inimitable precisely because his trajectory is often so weird and wonderful rather than amounting to little more than a wistful pop-anthropology.

But I think there remains much to be said for a kind of literary journey like that — one that wanders through an author’s thoughts like a landscape, replicating and capturing the contours and non sequiturs of a developing line of flight with the flair and subtle objectivity of a cartographer and diarist. This is a rare skill, and one I can only hope to acquire as I keep writing and learning to write.

Not to downplay my own abilities but, whenever I find myself taking too sharp a critical scalpel to my own output, I have to remind myself that I have only been writing with any seriousness for the past three years. Prior attempts to be published and sustain a writing blog alongside a photography blog — between the years 2014 and 2016, quite explicitly — amounted to nought, but even then I was aware of the pratfalls that were interchangeable between the medium I was trained in — photography — and the new one I was trying on for size.

We used to agonise, as photography students, over our own influences and we would openly ridicule those posh enough to be able to afford to travel to the great photographic cities of the world. The irony of photographic travel, of course — and one later acknowledged by the guilty parties — is that when you are a trained photographer who goes to a city over-photographed like New York, Paris, London, or Tokyo, you find yourself inadvertently recreating the images etched into your art historical unconscious. It becomes increasingly difficult to be original; to meander in your own way without falling into the rhythms and footsteps of those who have come before you.

It is an interesting condition, I think, and one far more recognisable when rendered photographically. We like to meander, but only in ways that are already recognisable to us. When that is the case, how much are we really meandering?

(This was in around 2012 and much of this agonising was no doubt informed by the critical trends of the day around photography and memory, for which Sebald himself was an indirect catalyst — I still own copies of Searching for Sebald or Daniel Blaufuk’s Terezín somewhere, both of which I bought around that time…)

It’s something I find myself ruminating one far more frequently at the moment, having not left the square mile surrounding our flat for over a month. I am left with an itch to see more of this city than present circumstances allow, wanting to finally visit certain neighbourhoods precisely because they won’t be swollen with the usual traffic and crowds. In this sense, I am finding myself drawn back to the symbolic London of our collective imagination, rereading Mrs Dalloway again or, much closer to home, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent or Iain Sinclair’s London Overground.

Robin sent me his copy of Sinclair’s book a few months back when doing a clear out and I am incredibly grateful for it right now. As I sit in bed, facing out the front window, typing this post out, the empty corona carriages of London’s overground trains pass cleanly along the top edge of my laptop screen, still heading for New Cross station, despite the great diminution in demand for public transport. It helps to imagine Sinclair, tucked in the corner with his notebook, even under these circumstances.

If I can’t leave, I’m glad to have the wanderlust of others — as much an intellectual wonderlust as a physical one — to help me stretch my mind-legs.

If Egress is a meandering book of its own, its because it too hopes to initiate this wanderlust in the mind of the reader: to make egress as possible through reading it as reflecting on it later.

Although the subject matter will change drastically, I don’t think I’m going to relinquish this intention any time soon. I can only hope I get better at it.

Looking for an Exit — XG for the Blue Mountain School

This is a view of psychedelia that still needs to be affirmed. It is its function, in this sense, rather than its form, that remains relevant to us today: the way it connotes the manifestation of what is deep within the mind, not simply on its surface. Capitalism is very good at this too, but it cannot be allowed to hold the monopoly on our desires. There are alternatives and they are waiting to be excavated.

I was really, really excited to be asked to contribute something to the Blue Mountain School during the first week of corona quarantine. Working on this kept me sane.

I had read David Keenan’s piece for them just a few weeks ago and quickly explored the rest of the playlists there. To have my own piece in such spectacular company gives me big imposter syndrome vibes.

Many thanks to George Hields for the invitation and I hope, once this is all over, I’ll get the chance to swing by Shoreditch to see the School in the flesh. It’s an incredibly beautiful building.

You can read the full text here.

I was tempted to do a mammoth playlist of deep cuts and weird things. Instead, “Looking for an Exit: Sonic Coordinates for Egress is a collection of written fragments, as if excavated from a life-long listening diary. It’s a short hop, skip, jump from 1966 to 2020, sketching a psychedelic line of flight from The Beatles via Led Zeppelin and D’Cruze to Lee Gamble and Nazar.

I’m very aware of the length of the jump made here, clean over the 1980s, and whilst working on this I was very tempted to take detours via Fred Frith and the Supremes and Throbbing Gristle to try and make this a more consistent journey through the songs that have made me look at the world differently but the length of the text ended up dictating to brevity of the mix.

Anyway, I think the fact it isn’t a clean genealogy is probably more fitting to the point being made. Cut through canons and do your own autopsies, particularly of pop culture because there’s so much hidden in plain sight.

As a bonus, here are a few other tracks I wanted to include but which I realised were only additional nodes to what was already a pretty concise (for me at least) argument.

The Capitalist Realism of “Capitalist Realism is Ending”

Following the latest flurry of accelerationist fear-mongering and hypocrisy (previously discussed), no one has pinpointed the cognitive dissonance being displayed across leftist social media with more accuracy than Alexandra Chace.

Their immaculate tweet shall be pinned here for posterity:

I’m sure everyone has seen the “capitalist realism is ending” cheerleading on social media by now. It’s everywhere — and not just in Mark Fisher meme groups. To be honest, I’ve been surprised Mark hasn’t been trending with the amount of mentions Capitalist Realism has been getting across various networks in the current crisis.

The kernel of the observation is correct, of course — at least to an extent. These sorts of events and tragedies have repeatedly shone a bright light through the cracks in the system, but pointing at that and cheering can be just as much a part of the problem if you’re not careful. Indeed, as Alex makes so clear: it’s the very same attitude that many of the left will then go on to chastise the right for in the next breath.

This is what we were all talking about back in 2017. After Mark died, from Trump’s election to Grenfell and beyond, the cracks in the system were harder to ignore than they had ever been before, and we all talked about what Mark might have said about it all every minute of every day. Capitalist realism was crumbling all around us and he wasn’t around to see it. We watched as Fully Automated Luxury Communism became a meme (something Mark had already enjoyed a great deal) and then, the next year, Ash Sarkar called herself a communist on national TV. Discussions around the left’s preferred alternatives to capitalist hegemony were entering the mainstream — whether they were taken seriously or not is another matter but that’s less important in our present moment than actually establishing the idea of another world being possible in the minds of the general public.

By definition, that is all it takes for capitalist realism to end: the waning of a faith in capitalism having all the answers over anything else. In this sense, capitalist realism has been ending since the financial crash of 2008 and that seed has finally started to bear some mainstream ideological fruit. But there’s still a way to go: simply pointing at capitalism’s failures does nothing unless you’re filling its (and our) lacunae with alternative forms of action.

This is to say that the left has done alright at pointing out capitalism’s contemporary limits in a crisis but it has also struggled to capitalise — no pun intended — on the territory it has gained when things settle down a bit. (The election of Sir Keir Starmer to the Labour leadership in the UK the other day certainly seems to have placated an establishment that has been increasingly desperate to get back to neoliberalism-as-usual without all this ideological disruption all the time.) As such, for someone who first thought this three years ago, coming to terms with the reality is disheartening: we just keep talking about the end of capitalist realism and then pointing at it, talking about it and pointing at it, to the point that now it feels like that’s all anyone is capable of doing.

If we read beyond the first page of Capitalist Realism, we discover that shouting “capitalist realism is ending” and leaving it at that is just another form of reflexive impotence. Meanwhile, the system itself adapts and holds steady, in its “frenzied stasis”, just as it always has done. “Capitalist realism is ending” becomes the new capitalist realism.

This is my central problem with the popular readings of Mark’s work. They internalise the catchphrases that were so powerful in hooking people’s attention but then they ignore all the rest of it. They perpetuate the problem Mark was critiquing in Mark’s own name.

The truth, as the last three years have taught us, is that capitalist realism isn’t ending — it’s adapting to the times, as are we under its influence. The response from leftist social media in this regard is as impotent as the rightist fever dreams the left tries to “critique”, betraying a complete lack of engagement with the real critique that lies within Mark’s thought.

Reading Mark’s later work in particular, the accusation is clear: your touchscreen capture only entrenches the system even more.

Other modes of communality in cyberspace are possible and our current quarantine offers us the time and resources to imagine them — even make them happen — but your Facebook groups are far from an instantiation of that “digital psychedelia”. (I’d argue the schizoid nature of Twitter, at its best, gets close sometimes but I’m biased.) In fact, it’s interesting to remember Mark’s basic critique of Facebook, following his exit from the experiment that was the “Boring Dystopia” Facebook page:

Fisher casts Facebook as a distorted reality following an alternate sense of time, where old news is endlessly recirculated and human nature is subject to automated processes. The filter bubble is more developed and distracting than ever before: reality is being rewritten by what companies pay for us to see. Fisher sees it as a microcosm of “capitalist cyberspace,” perhaps even of capitalism as a whole. The endless production of information from users ceases to be useful when that information is biased by use of Facebook itself.

The punchline to the Boring Dystopia group is that by using Facebook in the first place we are likely already too boring to appreciate it.

Mark expanded this argument in far more detail (and more impersonally) in his essay “Touchscreen Capture” and, in our current moment of quarantine, where the importance of social media within all our lives has only grown, the relevance of that essay has only grown along with it. Mark writes:

One trap laid by communicative capitalism is the temptation to retreat from technological modernity. But this presupposes that frenzied attentional bombardment is the only possible technological modernity, from which we can only unplug and withdraw. Communicative capitalist realism acts as if the collectivisation of desire and resources had already happened. In actuality, the imperatives of communicative capitalism obstruct the possibility of communication, by using actually existing cyberspace to reinforce current modes of subjectivity, desocialisation and drudgery. 

This has never been more true than under our current circumstances. A captured subjectivity, cybernetic desocialisation, work-from-home drudgery: these are the defining qualities of life under quarantine; an intensification of business as usual, which has only made the lacunae of our daily lives even bigger.

Take Zoom, for example: what are the implications of us trying to (re)build a sociality through a “conference call” app? It would be a great irony for these tools to be repurposed for the establishment of a newly collective subject but, at present, the reality is that conference calls become the basis for a new kind of connection. If anything, it undermines the modes of connection we relied on pre-Covid.

This is to say that, whilst you cheer what appears to be the final death knell of Capitalism Classic, new Capitalism Zero (better known as communicative capitalism) intensifies and continues it’s ascendancy.

Maybe we should reflect on that contradiction and its accelerationist implications — how the intensification of this communicative system is changing our very nature — instead of batting back and forth the same misreading of accelerationism that the dumb left invented for the dumb right to adopt.

My two cents are already out in the world. After all, we saw all this happening in 2017 too and wrestling with these questions is precisely what Egress does. In fact, I’ve been struck in recent weeks that many nice messages I’ve received about the book have started with: “I was really wary of it at first but…” I know why people are wary; I know the book on Mark Fisher that people are expecting (and which some people would even prefer). Egress is a preemptive strike against that book whenever it emerges: a book that clutches onto an incomplete snapshot of Mark’s thought and ignores the ways he adapted his thinking with the times. If he can’t do that anymore, it’s up for us to do it instead, otherwise our preoccupation with Mark’s legacy will keep us stuck in a moment when he was alive.

A case in point: the questions we had in 2017 remain pertinent in 2020: How does the truism of capitalist realism — that our system is broken — transform its actual affect — pervasive melancholy — into action? How can we ensure that this moment, in which the “lacunae” of capitalist realism are more visible than ever before, is sustained long enough for us to have an impact? How do we stop ourselves from being nothing more than rabbits in the headlights of a self-fulfilling prophecy? How do we make ourselves worthy of the process unfolding around us and make sure the growing gaps are filled with more and more alternatives?

Ask yourself that instead of prematurely celebrating the stumbling of a zombie when you’re not even aiming for the head.

Update #1: An addendum.

CTM 2020: On & After K-Punk

Recordings of the two k-punk sessions from this year’s CTM Festival are now online.

The first panel, “On k-punk: Egress and the Fisher-Function”, featuring Lisa Blanning, Steven Warwick and myself, can be heard here:

About the panel:

The late Mark Fisher’s work, like all philosopher’s work, oscillated through different stages throughout his life. Starting in cultural-studies, to philosophy under the CCRU, to cold rationalism to anti-capitalist critique, Fisher’s work was a project of constantly trying to come to terms with a world that begged belief, as is the case with the evolution of any intellectual worth their salt. There was throughout all of this a constant undercurrent indebted to psychoanalysis.

For Fisher the idea of world-building came with responsibility, something his work takes into great consideration with very sincere care. As he described in his later writings, the socio-political disease of our time is that of pervasive stasis in a rapidly accelerated culture. If we take the liminal as that which can occupy either side of a boundary, that which acknowledges complexity, then we see an opportunity perhaps to the deadlock of binaries presented by the worst trapping of the contemporary right and left.

This panel takes as its kernel the concept of Egress, a word used by Fisher to describe the exiting of the current cultural malaise through analysing the politics of teleology and collectivism. Liminality itself must be critiqued with the urgent need for determinacy in mind. Perhaps a solution to the pitfalls of liminality is that of determinacy, that cultural production must operate within a strong pedagogical model if it is to make its way out of its liminality. Fisher postulated that what was required for real transgression was a reprisal of the spirit of a world that could be free, to go beyond the beyond the pleasure principle.

The second panel, “After k-punk: Labour, Death and Cultural Artefacts”, featuring Dhanveer Singh Brar and Dane Sutherland can be heard here:

About the panel:

The dominance of certain cultural logics are an interesting point of departure from which to analyse the landscape of cultural artefacts and what’s at stake in maintaining them, given that these artefacts themselves produce their own logics, both good and bad. They might be physical spaces that foster new communities, scenes that evolve styles, or anything that propels music as a distribution of intelligence.

What kind of cultural logic produces a turn? With evolution comes culture, and with culture comes cultural logic, and with cultural logics come fields of knowledge—ones that compete against one another. And it is in the delineating of these lines, and perhaps even producing them, through clarifying complexity, that perhaps cultural criticism needs to take its next turn. How can we splice the DNA of cultural production and criticism in an age where music’s turns are emergent and occupy a complex horizon of possibility?

Throughout the K-Punk project, we find cultural artefacts analysed with a sense and appreciation of compulsion and pathology, both adopted and generated. Given Mark Fisher’s now seminal examinations of the capital’s cultural logic through to his desire that mass culture return to being a terrain of struggle rather than a dominion of capital, this panel attempts to draw preliminary lines across what cultural logic can do and how, what it cannot do and why, and what would be needed to change these conditions.

Both panels were organised and moderated by Terence Sharpe.

I did a write-up about the whole experience here back in February. CTM was an amazing time and it’s great to finally have these recordings up. Enjoy!

Music Journalism Insider: XG Interviewed

For those that don’t know, Todd Burns runs an excellent newsletter called Music Journalism Insider. It’s an amazing resource for music journalists and music journalism fans alike.

I’ve been a subscriber for a few weeks / months now — what even is time right now anyway? — so I was honoured when Todd popped into my inbox asking if I’d like to be interviewed for the newsletter.

As of yesterday, the interview is now live. You can read the full thing here — it’ll be live for two weeks and then go behind the paywall — and the rest of the newsletter here.

I talk a bit about how I got to this point in my life, trying to be a photographer for a bit and why I stopped. I talk about how that connects to my new book Egress and about the context from which the book emerged. Elsewhere in the newsletter, I recommend some stuff I’ve been reading and listening to recently and I also offer up a tip for would-be music writers (which is probably a bit rich coming from me because I’d hardly describe myself as a music writer — I’m a writer who likes music and other people’s writing about music — but I hope it’s of interest nonetheless.)

If music journalism is your passion — whether you love reading about the latest stuff or you want to get involved or you’re already involved but want to feel connected to a wider community — I really recommend signing up for the full version of Todd’s newsletter. It is a weekly inbox highlight for me and a truly formidable one-man magazine — the sort of thing this blog tries to be and which is, frankly, a dying breed.

Unfolding Folds

I’ve been reflecting a lot under quarantine — what else is there to do? — particularly about writing. I reflect on writing often, and often on this blog.

At the moment, I’m thinking a lot about how the writing I like to read is not the same as the writing I like to write, and figuring out the balance between the two is often a very conscious process for me. Following a recent review of Egress, I’ve been thinking about this even more.

I keep thinking about Deleuze too. I need to dig it out again but I remember reading something once — I think it was in that Intersecting Lives joint-biography of D+G — where the author comments on the shift that occurs between Deleuze’s writings on other writers and then the sheer torrent of energy that erupts once he shelves that habit and starts to write for himself. I’m feeling that at the moment. I’ve plotted out the entirely of my next book and, to be honest, it’s probably far too ambitious a project right now, but I feel like the sky is the limit. It is going to be my book proper. Not a comment on someone else but an expansion of my own ideas. That’s liberating right now.

I’m also excited about it because I think it will allow my own writing to be considered on its own terms. I have lived very consciously under the shadow of Mark Fisher for a few years now but I have long been looking for an exit. That’s not to dismiss the achievement that is Egress. The book means a great deal to me, but that’s almost four years of my life, and the book is finished and out in the world, and now I’m eager to take what I’ve learned and start the next chapter.

More books about Mark will no doubt come out in the mean time, however. As said on Twitter the other day, that one review of my book seemed to want the sort of book about Mark that I dread to see — a book about Mark that tries to imitate him — but also a book that reduces him to his three slim volumes.

This is the main problem for me, going forwards, and it was even one predicted during the Egress‘s gestation. I have many problems with the space into which this book has entered: the one-dimensional landscape on which Mark’s works are generally discussed.

This landscape colours everything. It is at once superficial but also heavily weighted. In the midst of our current apocalypse I’ve been reading D.H. Lawrence’s book Apocalypse and it is interesting to read him talking about the Bible in its early pages:

The Bible is a book that has been temporarily killed for us, or for some of us, by having its meaning arbitrarily fixed. We know it so thoroughly, in its superficial or popular meaning, that it is dead, it gives us nothing any more.

That’s a comment that could apply to any number of things in this corner of the internet, where the war between pop culture and underground is never-ending, but it’s particularly true of Mark’s work for me, especially since his death. Mark has been transformed from a man who desired another way of life, for himself and others, into the cornerstone of a new faith. That’s a second death for Mark as far as I’m concerned. It’s in this sense that Egress is a book about life and death, and also second lives and second deaths. Resisting Mark’s second death is what I have been neurotically pursuing for years now.

It’s nonetheless quite hard to resist. The popular meaning of Mark’s work creates a pressure to write as Mark, but who would dare — or want — to write that book? I’m not sure, but it’s clear plenty of people want to read it. You know it is on the way because, whatever itch within the market my book fails to itch, someone else will fill in the gap soon enough.

I couldn’t have written that book, nor would I have wanted to. When I wander into forums or Facebook groups dedicated to Mark’s work, I don’t recognise the Mark I find there. I see this weird-looking posthumous Mark reduced to his catchphrases. I find it vulgar and repulsive.

However, when I do wander through these places, I also see lots of inquiring minds asking about Mark’s various takes on other topics. “What did Mark Fisher think about x or y?” The desires driving such questions are likely suspect, compounding this problem, as if the right response to any situation must be the Mark Fisher response. The funny thing, however, is that many of these enquiries do indeed have responses, buried in Mark’s diverse array of essays and blogposts. I think it was Mark’s hope, however, that people would find these things for themselves.

The Mark that wrote those slim books for Zero and Repeater was — I think quite consciously, on his part — just the tip of the iceberg. His books are so thin to be accessible, yes, but also to be bait into a deeper and more disturbing world of philosophical heresy and cultural production.

Take Capitalist Realism, for instance. Here Mark frequently sprinkles his political arguments with repeated references to the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and he does this without really taking those references anywhere — he doesn’t really quote Spinoza and he certainly doesn’t preface his references with any broader intellectual context — but I’m sure that’s because Mark felt he didn’t need or want to. Nevertheless, I doubt Spinoza is the kind of figure most casual readers will be familiar with, but there he is, again and again, as if Mark is a DJ throwing in a deep cut for the ‘heads and for the curious.

I’ve heard numerous people criticise Mark’s lacklustre use of Spinoza in this regard but the more generous reading is to call these references breadcrumbs. (For what it’s worth, Spinoza’s influence on Mark’s writings is far more explicit on k-punk than anywhere else.) He sprinkles just enough Spinoza into the mix so that the name jumps out at you but he doesn’t get stuck into the particulars of his thinking. Spinoza is not allowed to get in the way of the argument being made. It’s a risky gamble but one that Mark was very good at, perhaps because of its connection to a wider philosophical thinking that he was well versed in.

This is one way of saying — implicitly — that Mark’s books are interesting examples of Deleuzian folding. “There’s no inside except as a folding of the outside,” as Mark wrote in The Weird and the Eerie, and that book, in itself, is the perfect example of his folding/unfolding skills in full flow. It is another book that is, of course, incredibly concise — at times even too concise for its own good — but, as we discovered when we turned our support group into a reading group at Goldsmiths in 2017, when you start to unfold it, it becomes infinitely more complex.

That’s the relationship to Mark’s work that I wanted to share, in Egress and on this blog. The joy, for me, is in the unfolding; in making the connections. Mark’s legacy is a jigsaw puzzle and, once you find the connections between the pieces, a whole new world starts to emerge before you.

As a case in point, I ended up reading Simon O’Sullivan’s essay on “the fold” in Deleuze’s thought whilst writing this post and it demonstrates what I’m gesturing towards with far more clarity than I could muster right now. More importantly, however, read with Mark in mind, you can feel him in there, in the concept itself. He doesn’t need to explain it because he inhabits it.

This is similarly something I wanted to get across in my essay for The Quietus in which I unpacked hauntology using Deleuze’s concepts of the critical and the clinical, undermining the deadened popular understanding. This wasn’t meant to be an exercise in academic complication but rather unfolding, making more explicit the connections within. When reading Mark, whether we’re familiar with Deleuze or not, it doesn’t really matter. Mark lived it implicitly rather than explicitly scaffolding his work with borrowed concepts. Instead, he made his own. Like Kodwo Eshun, he was a “concept engineer”.

And that’s part of the joy of Mark’s work but also the frustration. The implicit nature of his writings on philosophy lends itself to popular reduction. Nevertheless, the mark of Deleuze left imprinted on his thought is plain to see if you know what you’re looking at. That’s what I find fascinating in Mark’s writing. He openly referenced Deleuze far less often than one might expect but these vectors are nonetheless there.

It reminds me of a comment Mark made in his very first Post-Capitalist Desire seminar. He commented that the lack of Deleuze and Guattari on the syllabus was shocking, even to him — and he’d written it — but they were still there as the thread that ran in the background, as if they were all the more important precisely because they had been omitted.

The question becomes: How do you approach a thinker like that? Like Mark? Diminish these conceptual echoes to Easter Eggs for the theorybros? Or dare to unpack them far more than Mark did himself to probe the under-explored depths of his writings?

Personally, I’m not the sort of writer who goes in for subtle omissions. I’m far more neurotic a writer than Mark was in that regard. I like to unfold everything and lay it out nicely and make connections explicit. Is it an academic hangover? I don’t think so. I only spent one year studying this stuff formally. I arrived with that neurotic desire to unfold already embedded. I’ve done the implicit signalling enough with photography, and spent years being frustrated when no one picks up on it. Writing is where I get to let loose instead.

Of course, this is the complete opposite of the style deployed by the Ccru, who compress and compress concepts until they reach a point of nuclear reaction, but that’s fine with me. I like to read that stuff but I don’t think I’m very good at writing it, and I don’t think the reasons for that are all that deep.

Again, what’s better: affirming my own preferences or producing a pale imitation? The former, I think, but it’s certainly not the easy option.