Photos taken on the night my friend Corin celebrated her birthday.
Hélène Cixous writes of “stigmatexts”: “texts collected and stitched together sewn and resewn” in order to “share the trace of a wound.” They are texts made to mark and suture, and in this way, stigmatexts are common.
All of literature, all of language, is “scarry” in this way, she adds. Literature “celebrates the wound and repeats the lesion.” Every scar “adds something: a visible or invisible fibrous tissue that really or allegorically replaces a loss of substance which is therefore not lost but added to, augmentation of memory by a small mnesic growth.”
But writing itself is contradictory in this way — though it produces scars, sutures, lesions, to write is nonetheless to engage with stigmata: open wounds like those of Christ, which might still be probed and entered into anew. To write is to share one’s stigma. Unlike texts that are closed, finished, the continuing act of writing remakes each wound again and again.
Stigma stings, pierces, makes holes, separates with pinched marks and in the same movement distinguishes — re-marks — inscribes, writes.
Stigma wounds and spurs, stimulates.
Stigmata ooze, excrete, bleed. They are open wounds that wound continuously. If the “scar adds, the stigma digs, excavates.” We might think of it, as Cixous does, as the holding open of a trauma, perhaps even a refusal to heal, or maybe a way of thinking about a wound that cannot clot, that requires constant care and attention; a wound that must be dressed, addressed and redressed.
“I want stigmata,” Cixous declares:
I do not want the stigmata to disappear. I am attached to my engravings, to the stings in my flesh and my mental parchment. I do not fear that trauma and stigma will form an alliance: the literature in me wants to maintain and reanimate traces.
Traumatism as an opening to the future wound is the promise of a text.
The more I have thought about my own wounds, the more I have wanted to turn them into books, into literature, into a narrative that is external to me, to be shared and witnessed by others. I have of course already done this — I have arguably only ever done this — but each book project I undertake seems to dig a little further, excavate more of the trauma at the root of all (my) writing…
I haven’t written anything of substance on the blog since August. I wrote a bit about having insomnia back then, as well as piecing together some ramble about poetry I was reading. These fragmented texts were scars of their own. Unfinished, punctured, but a way of holding myself together. It is strange to read these posts back now, a few months later. They are the products of a kind of mental state I no longer have any contact with. And yet, though I was very much still unwell at that time, I think I was in a better place then than I am now…
The fragment above was drafted as an introduction to a third book, sine transformed into a PhD project, that will attempt to think adoption trauma philosophically, through its cultural ubiquity, but nonetheless as a veiled attempt at self-reflection and meditation. I abandoned it in favour of a chance (and a desire) to heal, to make the stigmata disappear. It was the last thing I wrote; the last response to a text read in my dwindling fever.
For those who missed the unravelling: a few months ago I found myself having an acute and worsening mental health crisis, bookended by two unsuccessful suicide attempts. The second attempt, more serious than the first, and as regrettable as it was, nonetheless led me to be taken seriously by my local mental health services (at least for a time) as well as allowing me to access a substantial psychological assessment and medication review by a psychiatrist (rather than a useless GP).
It is a sorry state of affairs that this is how poor mental health is dealt with in this country. The care needed only seems to appear at the 11th hour, only when you are a clear risk to yourself or others, and only if you manage to fight for it against all other impulses.
I managed it, with the heroic help of some friends — it nonetheless took three months and escalating threats to my own life — and after that emergency assessment, I ended up on an interesting cocktail of drugs for a few weeks, which at first worked wonders, but which were eventually whittled down to just one pill a day: 100mg Sertraline — the now standard offering for staving off depression.
But unfortunately, staving off depression (or its primary symptom at least: low mood) is all this medication has done for me lately. I am still not allowed to hold more than a week’s worth of medication at a time, as if pigeonholed as an overdose risk. I am on a waiting list for some kind of trauma-focused therapy, most likely EMDR. But in the meantime, I fester. I’m left thinking low mood is the least of my problems.
After three months of general insanity, mostly spewed out on the blog, I have had three or four months of “recovery” that I am now coming to understand as a terrifying stasis. Almost immediately, on being discharged from the care of the crisis team, I felt that a manic period of productivity was bound to come to an end. I held onto some hope, however, that with the end of the diary, I would walk into a new period of stability and increasing wellness. Now, looking back on July from the long nights of November, and with nothing changing, I’m left with a familiar sense of desperation returning. I don’t know who or where to turn to. It is all too predictable that such a feeling leads me back to the blog.
It is strange that this lack of any real change, somewhat paradoxically, feels like a deterioration. In the empty time of recent months, I have felt the mind returning disastrously to what it knows, what haunts it, as I start to act out old traumas. I catch myself doing it only tonight, and only when it is too late. Relationships are floundering as I just try and hold my shit together, struggling with the creeping suspicious that my mind is atrophying, isolating myself. All I do at the moment is sleep.
It’s interesting to feel besieged by this narcoleptic drag, when I’ve previously struggled to sleep much at all. A few months ago, I was given all manner of sedatives to help with this, as sleep was identified as being so important to my recovery. But am I still recovering? Sleep seems to solve nothing. Intrusive thoughts experienced whilst awake give way to nightmares when asleep. The sense of continuity, of stigmata probed without unconscious suturing, exhausts me. At this point, how am I supposed to take each hollow night as a time of healing? It feels more like an unchanging state of agitation. It feels like PTSD.
I feel increasingly paranoid and ill at ease in my own home, where I compartmentalise parts of my being. I don’t leave my room. I don’t cook in the kitchen or use my own bathroom. I only feel safe in my room. I go out when I can, but accomplish little. I fall back into habits picked up when I last lived at home, in 2014, regularly abused by my mum. I either stay in bed or wander the city alone, wearing a smile if I come across friends, but generally feeling hollow or drunk.
If ever there was a viable case study for the repetition compulsion, I am it right now. It feels good to realise it, if only the social damage hadn’t already been done.
A few weeks ago, I told my friends I wasn’t feeling myself. I scared a few people, but all I meant to do was send up a flare. The ripples of communal stress beat me backwards and I retreated into my room. I attempted to go out anyway, and managed to socialise some. They seemed relieved, some annoyed, as if I caused worry for nothing. A friend tries to make me laugh when we bump into each other at the pub. Concerned, they asked another friend, who had seen me more recently, how I appeared: it was suggested that I was “a bit flat, but not insane” this time round, as if confirmation were needed of just how unhinged I was acting a few months ago.
But in appearing somewhat fucntional, somewhat able to leave the house, I feel I do myself a disservice in keeping up appearances. Of course, I don’t want another descent into madness. Still, friends complain about my absence in one way or another, or my poor communication of late. I am asleep most of the day, I tell them, and I’ve yet to find anyone to help me do anything about it. As far as mental health problems go, it feels utterly mundane; an inconvenience rather than something to worry about. But I am worried. It feels like dangling on the edge of something far more serious — and I’ve been dangling for months now. In fact, if I have at all recovered from the mental collapse that has defined much of this year, I have not yet been given the opportunity to regain a firm grip on reality. What purchase I have is at my finger tips. If my unwellness was defined by a sort of frantic scrambling, now all my energy is expended on just retaining a weak grip.
I just wish I could write (he says, writing…) I just wish I could go on the kind of a readerly journey I was engaged in every day at the height of my unwellness. Though the product of a certain mania, no doubt, it kept me going. I made me feel like I had purpose, and it kept me distracted from everything else going on around me.
Now I feel unable to write; or rather, unable to think. Nothing comes as easily as it once did. This isn’t a cry from a wounded ego, but an unfortunate writer’s blockage. (Another mundane problem, perhaps.) But it’s not just applicable to the writing life, but life in general. Life feels blocked, clogged, fogged. If I try and write down my experiences, I end up writing the same thing over and over. Every text begun is draowned in self-concern. Nothing changes from week to week. Every time I turn to a blank page, all I want to write is some sort of status update, just describing how I feel right now. But it’s ultimately insignificant, a low-level discomfort, and always exactly the same. It feels pathetic.
And hey, at least I’m not suicidal…
My current situation is, for the most part, just boring. But it also feels like some kind of sick joke. Some cruel dystopian torture from a cyberpunk future of chemical dependency. I take my happy pill every day and go about my business as best I can, but I’m left feeling utterly numb.
The sertraline seems to working as intended, in that regard. My mood, for the most part, cannot bottom out. No matter how shit everything else is — and life keeps throwing curve balls my way — there is a kind of stopgap in place that stops me falling further than I might have previously been capable of. But the surreality of my current mental state is that it is only my low mood that feels treated.
It is, in this sense, a grotesquely partial treatment. Although I discovered, to my horror, that effective care was only really available to me in moments of abject risk and crisis, in treating a suicidal tendency alone, I am left with a nauseating discomfort in other areas.
To make questionable use a “physical health” analogy, it feels like I have broken my leg and been given morphine to treat the pain. But I have been left with my leg broken. The bone has not been reset. I simply pop a pain pill every day and then hobble numbly around on some useless limb that might not be causing me agony at the moment, but isn’t much fit for purpose either. The stigma is shrouded; not even I can probe it with any force or intent. It is less stigmata than a mundane abscess. It is hollow. Any attempt to excavate brings nothing new to the surface.
That’s how my brain feels. It feels numbed but it is still not working correctly. And the daily awareness of this fact is only dragging me back to a precipice, albeit one that feels disastrously unproductive. There is no forward momentum, only a slow retreat. I’ve been left in an excruciating limbo, in which I am existing on waiting lists but incapable of really living. I feel like giving up on my medication altogether, so that I might at least be able to say, think or feel something else.
Just when my low mood was feeling treated, I’m left with a quiet fury and impatience, and a constant questioning of whether this life I’ve been left with is worth all that much to me.
I want to write again. Writing was preferable to this: to the months of silence. But at what cost? What use is this “health” that feels like another kind of death? How to live again and break the cycle, without breaking everything else along with it?
Better a stigmatext than a statictext. But the stigma is shrouded; not even I can probe it with any force or intent. It is less a stigmata than a mundane abscess. It is hollow. Any attempt to excavate brings nothing new to the surface. Sometimes hell is better than purgatory.
Two hours spinning records from my collection of seven-inches on Slack’s last Sunday. Some classics, some oddities. Some mine, some my Dad’s. Lots of silly love songs. Thinking about tactility, tenderness, sonic affections, radio transmissions, touching at a distance. Shout out to Rosalia Tsikandelova for the studio snaps.
A huge thank you to everyone who came down to the Lubber Fiend over the other weekend to attend or otherwise take part in our For K-Punk celebrations. Though our all-dayer took place on Saturday, for those of us organising and hosting it turned into an extra-long weekend of conversations and reflections. (For me, this began almost as soon as I touched down from Unsound in Kraków, and went on until Tuesday, so it has been non-stop but I’ve loved every minute of it.)
Below are all the photos I took from Friday to Monday, from our initial meet-ups to the Incursions walk around Newcastle, reflecting on the city’s architectural lost futures, with some recovering with friends old and new at intervals in between.
Also included are recordings from the For K-Punk day itself, which were broadcast on Slacks Radio.
‘Distribution of Power’
[I didn’t get any photos from the book discussion, on account of the fact I was helping to chair it. But we had food after and lots of pints.]
Listen to Pennelope’s set, as broadcast on Slack’s Radio, below:
Listen to AJA’s set, as broadcast on Slack’s Radio, below:
Listen to W.H.Y.’s set, as broadcast on Slack’s Radio, below:
As previously mentioned, I was recently invited to Kraków to run a reading group as part of this year’s Unsound festival. The theme of the festival was “bubbles”, and the sub-theme I chose to respond to was “displacement”, presenting some of my current PhD research on displaced children, as read through philosophical readings of Oedipus and Antigone.
It was a fleeting visit, as often happens when doing talks abroad, and I was only able to spend (just under) twenty-four hours in the city. But it was a wonderful opportunity. Thanks to everyone who came along, and thank you for being so engaged during what I imagine is a jam-packed week of successive hangovers .
Below is a sort of exploratory and explanatory preamble that I wrote to unpack the two short excerpts I chose for the reading group: the final two paragraphs of the chapter “Savages, Barbarians, Civilised Men” in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (London: Bloomsbury Revelations, pp. 309-311) and the concluding argument of the first chapter of Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim (New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 21-25).
Below that, I’ve thrown in some photos taken during my stay.
Choosing Anti-Oedipus for a reading group at Unsound feels like a bit of a cliché. From the Mille Plateaux label to Deleuze and Guattari’s general popularity in experimental music circles, they almost seem a bit old hat. But I think there are some further points to draw out of this text that can further comment on how we relate to one another and how we produce culture, or even break free of cultural norms, today in the twenty-first century.
My own research at the moment is focussed on this through their analysis of children, or the figure of the child as a kind of metaphor for a kind of free agent that is nonetheless beholden to a lot of sociocultural restrictions.
Deleuze and Guattari introduce this point here by first going back to Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation. They write how, for Marx, “Luther’s merit was to have determined the essence of religion … as an interior religiosity”. What they are referring to here is arguably the tandem emergence of Protestant Christianity and our very conception of the individual during the Renaissance. Though it’s hard to think otherwise today, we did not really have a sense of what it means to be an individual before this point – at least not in the same way we do today. But Luther changes this. His protests against the Catholic Church were driven by his hatred of the Church’s corruption, whereby the rich and powerful somehow had an inopportune amount of sway of their own salvation, relative to the rest of the population.
At that time, it was as if the Church offered a kind of “cash for absolution” deal, whereby the wealthy could donate to the Church and that made them more pious in the eyes of God. Luther disagreed with this, and argued that the Church had no such power. Our salvation before God is our individual responsibility – it cannot be bought, and it cannot be adjudicated by social institutions. The Church, for Luther, was meant instead to be a social space for individual actualisation.
But the problem that later emerges is that, following the rise of capitalism, this critique was reabsorbed within our social institutions themselves, giving rise to what we now call the “Protestant work-ethic”. This allowed capitalist institutions the opportunity to disregard their own social responsibilities. In a contradictory perversion of Luther’s protestations, economic salvation became the responsibility of the individual alone, and could not be adjudicated by overarching institutions, so it is down to the individual worker to realise their own emancipation by working hard and diligently.
This gave rise to a further and even more peculiar contradiction, whereby a critique of certain institutions was internalised by those institutions themselves, not so that they could change their ways but rather so they can relinquish their own sense of collective responsibility. As Deleuze and Guattari write, “capitalism is without doubt the universal of every society, but only insofar as it is capable of carrying to a certain point its own critique — that is, the critique of the processes by which it re-enslaves what within it tends to free itself or to appear freely.” Put another way, capitalism makes every worker feel like they are masters of their own fate, and that they only have to work hard to gain their own freedom, but this insistence upon hard work is, of course, the foundation of capitalism’s capture, and so, though we enter capitalist society buoyed by an ideological sense of our own agency, we ignore the reality of our own enslavement to capitalism’s norms and desires, which are not inherently our own.
Deleuze and Guattari extend this same problem to Freudian psychoanalysis. They note how Freud only replicates this problem within his analysis of the family and its psychosexual dynamics.
Freud takes this “interior religiosity”, as the “abstract subjective essence” of Protestant-capitalism, but “still relates this essence to the family as the last territoriality of private man”.
This is made obvious when we consider the story of Oedipus Rex – as told by Sophocles, for instance – in its entirety, and do not restrict ourselves to Freud’s reductionist reading. In the original play, Oedipus is given up at birth, because his parents are told a prophecy that he will be their downfall. They abandon him and place him outside of the family, leaving him to die. But Oedipus doesn’t die – he grows up and drifts around his world, untethered from the family as an institution. He grows up an orphan or adoptee – a displaced child. But Freud then takes Oedipus’s fate for granted, universalising it.
Though this may be encouraged by the tale itself, insofar as Oedipus cannot escape the prophecy told and is therefore fated to return to the familial fold, we can just as readily imagine another life for him, and consider what it is, socially or culturally speaking, that draws Oedipus back into the family that abandoned him. Indeed, this is the tragedy of Oedipus – that he was fated to kill his father, marry his mother, and have numerous children by her. But this is what Deleuze and Guattari call Freud’s “familialist reduction”, which he takes as a given, against Oedipus’s earlier life, when he instead symbolised “the drift of desire.” By taking Oedipus’s fate as a given, Freud cancels out this drift and forecloses it, just as capitalism does to the free individual, enabled by Protestantism.
My own interest in this story comes from how, in other tales of familial displacement, we do not take Oedipus’s fate for granted at all. In fact, stories of displaced children are ubiquitous in our culture. In terms of the English-speaking world, or the West more generally, there’s Moses, Hercules, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Jesus Christ himself, Oliver Twist, Pip from Great Expectations, various characters in David Copperfield — probably a dozen Dickens characters in just as many books, come to think of it — Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Harry Potter, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Luke Skywalker, Worf from Star Trek, Eleven from Stranger Things, K from Blade Runner 2049, Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, most of the X-Men, the young King Arthur with his sword in the stone, that devil child from The Omen, the baby in Rosemary’s Baby — both birthed and held but also given up to or taken over by forces from outside the nuclear family bond — Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Pinocchio, Tarzan, Cinderella, Matilda (in her own way), Mowgli in The Jungle Book…
It is of course notable that many of these figures are male, with the pressure of escaping the family but also reproducing the family (at least socially if not biologically speaking), being left up to men, as if they are the only ones with much of a choice in the matter. But as we’ll come onto in a bit, I think female examples – and especially queer examples – are much more interesting.
(It is also worth noting how the archetype of the displaced child is not limited to human offspring either. There’s Harry from Harry and the Hendersons, Bambi, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Grogu from The Mandalorian, and so many dogs, so many anthropomorphised and alienated strays…)
This tension within our cultural representations of the limits of the family and its outside are framed by Deleuze and Guattari in an interesting way. They argue that
the family must appear in two forms: one where doubtless it is guilty, but only in the manner in which the child lives it intensely, internally, and where it is confounded with the child’s own guilt; the other where it is a tribunal of responsibility, before which one stands as a guilty child, and in relation to which one becomes a responsible adult (Oedipus as sickness and sanity, the family as an alienating factor and as an agent of dealienation, if only through the way in which it is reconstituted in the transference).
What Deleuze and Guattari later insist upon, however, is that we break out of this individualising tendency. They argue that we must “discover beneath the familial reduction the nature of the social investments of the unconscious.” This is still where the displaced child is an interesting metaphor, I think. Indeed, the stories about these kinds of individuals, listed above, are so culturally ubiquitous that they surely cannot be reduced to the “familialist reduction” and instead must speak to those “social investments of the unconscious.” In these stories, though the actual social experiences of displaced children are very specific, we nonetheless can find a tension we’re all enthralled by – the pressure to reproduce the family for ourselves, once we have escaped its bounds into adulthood, but also our innate desire, that we carry onwards from childhood and adolescence, to be free of its restrictions. It is as if these stories acutely dramatize a collective unconscious fantasy to deal with the conflated pressures of the family and its outside.
It is this same tension that Judith Butler takes up in her 2000 work, Antigone’s Claim. Indeed, the very first line of the excerpt I’ve suggested for this reading group articulates the problem that lies at the heart of Freud’s reading of Oedipus. Just as Deleuze and Guattari argue, in looking more generally at Oedipus’s fateful journey, in reading Butler we can just as well “concede that desire is radically conditioned without claiming that it is radically determined” – which is to say, we can accept that there are social structures that tragically draw us back to the family from which we escape, as happens to Oedipus, but these are conditions of influence rather than determinations of fate.
And Butlerlikewise makes reference to that peculiar double bind of capitalism (and the Freudian family) as well, in that these structures paradoxically affirm our escape from their bounds if only so that our reterritorialization within them is more affecting. This is what she is referring to, I think, when she argues we can acknowledge that “there are structures that make possible desire without claiming that those structures are impervious to a reiterative and transformative articulation.” We are more than capable of acting otherwise, if we can keep one foot outside of these processes of structural reterritorialisation.
Butler turns to Oedipus’s daughter to make this point – and it is worth noting that she is not the first person to do so; Antigone is just as significant a literary figure in the history of philosophy as Oedipus himself.
Antigone’s story is complicated, perhaps even more so than Oedipus’s. Her story begins following a civil war in Thebes. Two of her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, also incestuous offspring of Oedipus and his mother, Jocasta, are killed in battle. Following Oedipus’s self-banishment, when he discovered the truth of having married his mother, blinding himself and going into exile, his two sons nonetheless each had a claim to the Theban throne. Each led opposing sides in the resultant civil war, but they only ended up killing each other. Following their deaths, Creon becomes the king of Thebes, but he takes the side of Eteocles, declaring that he will be honoured in death whilst Polynices will be shamed and left to rot. And so, Creon buries Eteocles but leaves Polynices’ body on the battlefield, forbidding anyone, by king’s decree, of burying him.
Antigone ultimately finds herself outside the original familial (and now political) quarrel, and decides to go against the new king’s wishes and bury Polynices under the cover of darkness. News gets back to the king that Antigone is responsible for burying her brother and he sentences her to death.
The fallout of the drama is complicated and considerable. The city mourns Antigone’s imminent execution, and Creon’s son Haemon tries to get his father to spare her as well. But he refuses. What we find, as a result, in Antigone’s tale, is perhaps the inversion of the Oedipal drama . Whereas Oedipus is reterritorialized, with his return to the family making him king and therefore the head of state, Antigone instead slips into some indeterminate place in between. On the one hand, she defies the state in favour of her family, but with her family already being so embroiled in the state itself, by betraying the state she also seems to escape the familial structure as well. She acts against both, her loyalties comingling and seemingly cancelling each other out – by welcoming death, of course, she also dooms her family’s continuing genealogical line – until she finds herself in an obliquely transgressive position that emerges from a respect for her family but which rejects the processes of social production and genealogical reproduction that fall on her following the civil war.
Butler draws our attention to this in discussing Antigone’s name, translating it as “antigeneration”, or perhaps “antiproduction” in Deleuzo-Guattarian terms. She becomes a kind of paradoxical figure, who is representative of an escape from the family as a structure of representation.
Bringing Antigone into the twenty-first century, then, as Butler notes, we can see how the idealised image of the family has been repeatedly challenged and undermine by other ways of living. She adopts Antigone for this purpose, as a representative of those children who,
because of divorce and remarriage, because of migration, exile, and refugee status, because of global displacements of various kinds, move from one family to another, move from a family to no family, move from no family to a family, or in which they live, psychically, at the crossroads of the family, or in multiply layered family situations, in which they may well have more than one woman who operates as the mother, more than one man who operates as the father, or no mother or no father, with half-brothers who are also friends…
Antigone becomes the preferential figure for us to consider then, against the Freudian universalisation of Oedipus, because we live at “a time in which kinship has become fragile, porous, and expansive.” And so, Butler continues,
Antigone figures the limits of intelligibility exposed at the limits of kinship. But she does it in a way that is hardly pure, and that will be difficult for anyone to romanticize or, indeed, to consult as an example. After all, Antigone appropriates the stance and idiom of the one she opposes, assumes Creon’s sovereignty, even claims the glory that is destined for her brother, and lives out a strange loyalty to her father, bound as she is to him through his curse. Her fate is not to have a life to live, to be condemned to death prior to any possibility of life. This raises the question of how it is that kinship secures the conditions of intelligibility by which life becomes liveable, by which life also becomes condemned and foreclosed.
Now, I suppose my questions for you, in bringing these two texts together, is how we might think this kind of shift otherwise, or in a more expanded context. Deleuze and Guattari focus in particular on how the family reproduces the processes of production that are enforced by capitalism at large, but they make this argument following Michel Foucault, who had a more expansive sense of how our institutions of discipline and control – the family, the prison, the school, the hospital, etc. – all borrow mechanisms from all the others, producing a kind of abstracted Fordist production line for the individual within society. Since we’re at a music festival renowned for celebrating the experimental and the avant-garde, we might consider how the production (or anti-production) of culture is possible in its fraught relationships to governments, arts institutions, norms of good taste, artistic genealogies and canons, etc.
Some of you may know some of my work already, which has been predominantly related to the work of Mark Fisher, who wrote about the death of rave, for instance – the ways that rave, as a kind of outsider culture is caught between the cultural desires of the social and the controlling impetus of the state, much like Antigone. In the UK in particular, we have a narrative of rave being quite literally put to death by Margaret Thatcher’s government, which outlawed the playing of repetitive beats. Rave, for all it represents on the outside of culture, is – again, like Antigone – fated “not to have a life to live,” but instead “to be condemned to death prior to any possibility of life” – or, we might say, any possibility of our living otherwise, or organising ourselves communally in other ways.
Death hangs over this framing, but in a manner that is more symbolic than actual. As Butler argues, “death signifies the unlived life”, but where we differ from Antigone is that we remain haunted by that other life’s possibilities. In “serving death”, as Antigone does, under Oedipus’s curse, her life may be foreclosed but she also affirms this foreclosure in turn. The solution, for her, is not to acquiesce and do as she is told, but rather to defy the state and the family, to serve death in her commitment to another way of life that is denied her but which she refuses to give up. She affirms, as Butler writes, “the deathlike quality of those loves for which there is no viable and liveable place in culture.” And so, “Antigone refuses to obey any law that refuses public recognition of her loss”. This loss can be literal – as it is for Butler, who makes the analogy to queer communities decimated by the AIDS crisis – but it can also be symbolic: do we, as attendees of Unsound, similarly refuse to obey any law that refuses the public recognition of our cultural losses, our lost futures, etc.?
I’ll be speaking alongside Tariq Goddard, Siobhan McKeown and Sophie Sleigh-Johnson at Goldsmiths, University of London, on October 20th to celebrate the reissue of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism.
The new edition features a new forward by Mark’s wife, Zoe Fisher, as well as an introduction by Alex Niven and an afterword by Tariq Goddard.
The talk will be chaired by Emily Rosamund and take place in person from 5-7pm in the Prof Stuart Hall Building, LG02 (Lecture Theatre on the Lower Ground Floor) on Goldsmiths campus.
As a panel, we will explore the significance of republishing this text in 2022 and how it can illuminate our understanding of contemporary political climates.
The talk will also be streamed online (details TBC).
You can register for the free talk here.
Early October edition of my New Tenderness show on Slack’s. Recommend listening in the bath.
The full lineup has now been announced for our For K-Punk all-dayer at Newcastle’s The Lubber Fiend. Read on for a full breakdown of the acts performing and feel free to share any of the posters below, beautifully designed by Joe Munsey.
The event has been organised by Sam Booth, Kitty McKay, Megan Johnston and myself, and we can’t wait for what is going to be a jam-packed day celebrating and extending the themes of Mark Fisher’s recently reissued second book, Ghosts of My Life.
Please note: the day is divided up into three segments, for which you can either buy separate tickets or certain combinations of ticket. More information on where to buy these tickets can be found below.
Distribution of Power
From 1pm to 3pm, artists Raf Alero and Zara Truss-Giles will lead a workshop focused on the exploration of modular and hardware synthesis.
It will be a session for experimenting and workshopping ideas and probabilities combining text, research, the voice, field recordings and archival documentation with synthesisers as a way to question, problem solve and highlight the accessibility barriers of these instruments and the learning limitations that are often attached to this art field.
Participants are encouraged to bring along synthesisers, but all participants will be able to use the equipment provided by Zara and Raf.
Raf and Zara share an interest in the history and research of marginalised (queer, female, non-binary and or black and brown) pioneers of experimental and minimalist music and performance art such as Julius Eastman, Eliane Radigue, Daphne Oram, Delilah Derbyshire, Rose Kalall and Drexciya.
The ‘Distribution of Power’ programme is open to all but specifically aims to carve space and prioritise participants who identify as having visible and invisible disabilities, being neuro-divergent, female, LGBTQI+ identifying and carers. Their focus is to diversify access and learning probabilities for those who are curious to learn how synthesisers sound and behave and access resources, research and reading materials connected to themes of community, identity and sound.
Tickets: Spaces for the workshop are limited and are sold separately to the rest of the day. There are two price options — £6 and £10 — with a reduced rate for those who may benefit from it in order to make the event more accessible to those on lower incomes. You can purchase tickets here.
The second part of the day will take place after the workshop and will involve a discussion of Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life led by Megan Johnston and myself. Specifically, we’ll be reading the chapter entitled “Another Grey World: Darkstar, James Blake, Kanye West, Drake and Party Hauntology”.
This part of the day will last from 3.30pm to 5pm and it is free and open to all.
Using unsettling noise, distressed screams, handmade electronics and found objects pushed through pedals, Aja Ireland’s industrial beats and distorted drone, combined with a psychosexual, intense performance, challenges the audience by breaking down barriers and pushing limits sonically and visually.
Listen to Aja’s 2021 album Slug here.
Penelope is a UK-based, Australian-born vocalist, musician and ethereal soundscaper who spent 2016 writing and recording what would become Penelope One in a small piano studio in East London. Composed of mostly percussionless, reverb-heavy, haunting atmospherics with dystopian themes, the LP was released via Optimo Music in 2017.
Penelope signed to the stellar Houndstooth label and released her sophomore LP, Penelope Two, in 2018 — a minimalist, ethereal album built around field recordings, meditations, guitars, piano and reverb, which deals with mortality, predestination and empathy.
The release of Penelope Three in 2021 marked the final instalment of Penelope Trappes’ quietly mesmerising and critically acclaimed trilogy.
Tickets: Similar to the workshop event, there are two tiered ticket prices, with a reduced rate for those on low or no income. These are, again £6 and £10. Tickets on the door are £15. You can purchase tickets in advance here, with the additional option of a joint ticket, which includes entry to both the gig and its afterparty.
After the gig, we’ll dance late into the night with sets from a number of local and out-of-town DJs. These include:
A prolific producer releasing music that straddles various genres, including noise project White Nurse and glittering rave EP Flash On, Jennifer Walton is a touring member of Kero Kero Bonito. Her most recent project is a collaboration with KKB frontwoman Sarah Bonito, and together they released their debut EP Icarus under the name Cryalot.
Originally from the north-east, Walton has melted Newcastle faces on a few occasions recently and we are so excited to have her back for this event. She is not to be missed.
London-born Jacklyn is a techno DJ, producer and record collector who grew up in the south of France.
Always inspired by Detroit techno — the original techno that took the world by storm and thus where all other techno came from — her productions follow this style and so do her DJ sets.
Lubber Fiend resident and Slack’s radio founder Jon Cornbill joins us for a set. When wearing his artist hat, Jon dissects questions of “community, purpose, value, space and time”, and this is something he carries over into his work at the Lubber Fiend and as a DJ. Don’t miss.
Kitty b2b Xenogothic
Kitty McKay, Slack’s radio resident and one half of local sociogeography duo Incursions, goes back-to-back with Xenogothic (that’s me). Kitty is a regular DJ around Newcastle and a storming junglist. Since moving up to Newcastle in March 2022, I’ve had the pleasure of playing a lot with her (mostly in her kitchen). This will be our second proper b2b outing, and we have so much fun playing together, we cannot wait.
Following the afternoon’s Distribution of Power workshop, Zara Truss Giles will be debuting her new live A/V project, performing live as W.H.Y.
“The project archives activists, political figures, theorists and celebrates those that have and continue to prop up community and social / human rights movements, from Audra Lorde, me mam and her mum, witches to the working class and every teenage parent who was told that they would never amount to anything and, despite the shit chat, held tight, sat patiently, and tried to make this hellhole of a world a lil better for all of us.”
Having hopefully used Sunday to recover from a loaded day of music, Kitty McKay and Archie Smith will be leading a special city drift around Newcastle, “interrogating a neoliberal cityscape, haunted by futures that failed to happen.”
Open to all and free to join, simply show up outside the Laing Art Gallery in central Newcastle at 12pm on Monday 17th October.
The theme for Unsound Kraków 2022 is BUBBLES. On the one hand, the word evokes the idea of celebration – as this year the festival is celebrating its 20th edition, between 9th-16th October. BUBBLES might evoke a glass of champagne, a cluster of colourful balloons floating up into the sky. BUBBLES also refers to the way that different communities are isolated from one another and connected, whether through social media, geography or politics.
But the theme also has roots in the theories of economist Hyman P. Minsky, who developed five stages in the concept of a speculative bubble: Displacement, Boom, Euphoria, Profit Taking and Panic. Although the world is rife with financial speculation – from property to stock markets to crypto – we intend to largely riff on these words as sub-themes, tapping into broader ideas they might evoke in relation to music, culture and society, in ways both light and dark.
I’m very excited to be traveling to Kraków in two weeks’ time to run a reading group at this year’s edition of Unsound.
The session will take place at 13.00 on October 13th in the Pałac Potockich. I’ll be reflecting on some new research of mine, with attendees invited to read two short texts — one by Deleuze and Guattari, another by Judith Butler — before we explore themes of family, kinship, escape and displacement in the context of the festival itself and the present in general.
Below is a short abstract for the session:
Drawing on two short excerpts from Deleuze and Guattari’s 1972 work Anti-Oedipus and Judith Butler’s 2000 work Antigone’s Claim, this reading group will offer a space to consider modes of kinship through experiences of displacement.
In their critical reading of Freud, Deleuze and Guattari argue that Oedipus – the mommy-daddy-me triumvirate structure of the nuclear family – is an enclosure where desire goes to die. But contra Freud, the tragedy of Oedipus, as told by Sophocles – his alienation from the family and his re-engineering of his fated enclosure despite himself – is replicated at every level of capitalism itself. Theirs is a story of how our desires are captured and resubordinated by that which we continuously push against.
Judith Butler moves from Oedipus to his daughter, Antigone, who is sentenced to death for betraying her king and burying her treacherous brother on the battlefield. She finds herself caught between the family and the state and moves diagonally, acting otherwise, both with and against her kin. Antigone, for Butler, is representative of our contemporary displacement, who becomes an icon of refusal against a multiplicity of fates.
In taking these two short texts together, we will discuss how displacement – whether we find ourselves alienated from families, homes or broader social structures – helps us also act otherwise, against our capture by the frenzied stasis of late-capitalism – its production (and reproduction) of society and its cultures – in order to produce a truly post-capitalist avant-garde.
We’re throwing a big all-dayer at The Lubber Fiend in Newcastle city centre on 15th October 2022, to celebrate the reissue of Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life from Zer0 Books.
There’ll be bands playing, DJs into the night, food, a discussion of the book, with all info to be announced in the coming weeks.
The first part of the day will be a modular synth workshop run by artists Raf Alero and Zara Truss-Giles. For more information and to by tickets for this first part of the day, click here. (Spaces are very limited.)
Save the date and watch this space (or the Lubber insta) for more announcements to follow.