It’s been about eightmonths since we last heard anything from the Seasteading Institute. It looks like the project is properly dead in the water.
If you’ve no idea what I’m taking about, here’s a very brief recap:
Back in 2018, when patchwork was the big topic in the blogosphere, seasteading was this tiny beacon of hope where it seemed like there was potential for a new kind of experimental politics to be tried out at sea on a new oceanic frontier. Unfortunately, it was all about deregulating capitalism and having a go at some weirdly anachronistic kind of neocolonialism.
Instead, what initially had potential to be a sort of bipartisan experimental project where new and sustainable technologies for living could be tried out in politically autonomous zones very quickly became this pathetic attempt to territorialise the oceans by neorandians, Bioshock-style.
Nevertheless, it did generate a lot of really interesting engineering innovations and it also contained seeds of a sustainable and new way of living but then some idiot wrote some self-published libertarian book about the whole thing and rather than bury it like any self-respecting person would they showed their true colours by making him their official spokesperson and from there on out it was gaff central and embarrassing for everyone.
I still find the whole thing really interesting though and I have a tendency to moan about it on the blog because it could be fantastic if these schmucks weren’t the ones pursuing it.
If there is anything interesting about these sorts of projects from a political standpoint it is that they could potentially offer up opportunities to try something genuinely and radically new, if the right people were involved — new forms of government, of life, of trade, etc. etc. Unfortunately, working so hard to innovate in that area only to make tax havens out of these newly autonomous zones is a woeful failure of the imagination.
Perhaps they realised this after they had a load of mishaps. Maybe that’s why the whole project went quiet…
Lizette Chapman writes for Bloomberg that former captain of the good ship Seasteading Institute, Patri Friedman, has launched a new venture which hopes to do basically the same thing as the last one by replicating all the same problems:
Pronomos Capital, which Friedman incorporated in August, is supposed to bankroll the construction of experimental cities on vacant tracts of land in developing countries. Pronomos is set up like a venture fund, making investments in local organizations that do the work of securing government approvals, finding tenants, and hiring retired U.K. judges to enforce the new legal framework, to be based on British common law. The firm says it’s discussing semi-autonomous cities of varying sizes with foreign and local businesspeople in countries where officials have seemed receptive to exempting them from area laws, including Ghana, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Nigeria, and Panama. A given community could start as small as an industrial park, Friedman says. Most will be aimed at foreign businesses seeking friendlier tax treatment.
While other organizations with names such as Free Private Cities and Charter Cities Institute are advising similar efforts around the world, Pronomos is the only one with seed money from boldface names including Thiel, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Bitcoin evangelists Roger Ver and Balaji Srinivasan. In describing his new firm, Friedman isn’t shy to use seasteading as a reference point. “I’ve been putting these ideas out there for 20 years, and they’ve grown and compounded,” he says, sipping well water at his mountaintop compound south of San Jose. “What we get excited about is the ability to do this repeatedly.”
Why the colonial-sounding framework, right down to the old British laws? Dressed in a well-loved Slytherin sweatshirt, Friedman says it’s the best fuel for a fledgling economy and property values, and to assure global investors that their money will be safe in Pronomos projects. The justice system is more important than the tax breaks, he says, citing research that suggests faith in a functional code of laws is a leading indicator of a region’s economic success.
That’s been less than reassuring to politicians and residents leery of ceding land to unaccountable foreigners, in exchange for theoretical network effects. Fierce local opposition has halted a plan to create an independent area on a stretch of coastal land in Honduras, for example. The proposed tax incentives and other benefits for foreign investors were about as popular as you’d expect. “That land belongs to someone,” says Silvio Carrillo, the nephew of assassinated Honduran rights advocate Berta Cáceres.
Pronomos “will only go where we are wanted,” according to Friedman. He also says, with a straight face, that if Pronomos can get local officials to agree to its plans, “we have a credible shot at eliminating poverty.”
What it sounds like they are describing is the City of London — that financial city within a city — except it can do what it wants… Truly innovative stuff. As anyone who listens to grime will know, the City’s wealth doesn’t magically leak out over the surrounding neighbourhoods. All you get is incredibly stark inequality.
(Also, can we take a moment to appreciate the “well-loved Slytherin sweatshirt” comment… Jesus…)
What I think is hilarious about the seasteaders’ shift to land is that it makes the holes in their ideological model all the more apparent. The phrase “landsteading” begs comparisons with “homesteading” and, whilst the colonial hangovers here are strong, at its very best, homesteading is, to my mind at least, a call for the sort of “universe” Gilles Deleuze described in his essay on Herman Melville:
The American is one who is freed from the English paternal function, the son of a crumbled father, the son of all nations. Even before their independence, Americans were thinking about the combination of States, the State-form most compatible to their vocation. But their vocation was not to reconstitute an “old State secret,” a nation, a family, a heritage, or a father. It was above all to constitute a universe, a society of brothers, a federation of men and goods, a community of anarchist individuals, inspired by Jefferson, by Thoreau, by Melville.
Friedman’s fatal flaw — and he apparently says himself in Chapman’s article that he’s been trying these things out for twenty years so he really should have realised it by now — is that he is trying to replicate the end of the frontier. Every time, he’s trying to replicate a fleeting moment within the American West’s territorialisation, between the anarchic freedom and the recoding of English capitalism. He’s trying to capture and hold open the death of something, and then every time he gets close it realising it — surprise, surprise — it just dies…
If he wants to have any sort of success, he needs to displace a whole lot more than just tax laws.
Dionysus being this figure of chaos and unruly desire feels like a bit of a cliche. Invoking him is too often a Nietzschean hangover, all too loosely applied to sound a bit high and mighty. However, reading Bernard Knox essay on “Greece and the Theater”, I found this description that makes Dionysus out to be, to my mind, and quite explicitly, a sort of patron saint of rave, spirit of the Home Counties, spectre beyond the M25:
Dionysus was a god whose territory was originally not in the city at all. He was a god of the country but not of the level plain that surrounds and feeds the city; he and his Maenads, ecstatic women who followed in his train, belonged to the wild — on the vases where we see them painted they range through the pine forests of the high slopes. The mythic accounts of his coming to Greece all tell the same story: his rites disrupted the normal pattern of city-state life, and the authorities acted against him, only to be subdued by the god’s irresistible power.
Not only that, but Knox also characterises Dionysus’ relationship to nature — via Dylan Thomas — that doubles up beautifully as a description of Nietzschean Will:
Dionysus is the life-spirit of all green vegetation — ivy, pine tree and especially the vine; he is, in Dylan Thomas’ phrase, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”
Nothing to add beyond that… I’m reading Sophocles’ Theban plays and also Hamlet and Macbeth at the minute on a weird side quest out from my Deleuzian Virginia Woolf phase (but also via Nietzsche) trying to go deep with some stuff about time and fate. I’ve never been one to go anywhere near classics since doing English at school but I’m getting a kick out of it this December.
I didn’t expect these things to resonate quite so profoundly with a project I’m working right now. Always nice when that happens.
I keep coming back to a moment when Deller mentions the paranoia associated with the countryside today. He connects the impositions brought against rave culture to the Inclosure Acts of the 19th century and the feeling which remains today that you can’t walk about in nature without feeling like you’re doing something wrong.
This reminded me of a YouTube series I’ve been watching unfold over the last couple weeks in which a man attempts to walk across Wales in a perfectly straight line.
It’s funny and ridiculous in equal measure but I’m constantly struck by his perpetual terror and paranoia. It is constant — so much so that the endurance factor of his adventure becomes secondary to the stress of him feeling like he’s doing something he shouldn’t. Interestingly, the camouflage offered by his standard-issue British Army gear is as practical as it is authoritative. If you’re afraid of breaking the law, make like you’re above it.
If you want an idea of how even the UK’s wide-open areas are enclosed within the mind, look no further than this.
He’s lost control of the nightclub. There’s been a coup.
There’s been a lot of talk online about Jeremy Deller’s new Acid House documentary, aired on the BBC last week. I finally got round to watching it after seeing David Stubbs‘ glowing praise on Twitter — high praise too from a legendary music writer whose recent Mars By 1980 is an excellent history of electronic music as a whole.
I’m left feeling giddy after watching it. It sent me on this weird trip down memory lane, thinking about all the chance cultural encounters had when I was growing up, their age and younger. If Jeremy Deller had shown up in my classroom to talk about rave culture in this way, it would have been like throwing gasoline on these teenage temperaments. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those kids pop up on the forefront of something a few years down the line. It makes a strong case for this sort of arts education being introduced into mainstream curricula — although I won’t hold my breath for state education to get state-critical. That’s the sort of thing you only get — and even then, only if you’re lucky — once you get to art school.
“Everybody in the Place: an Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992” is as brilliant as everyone is saying it is but there’s an obvious change here in how Deller is presenting his particular brand of cultural history. I’ve been to Deller’s exhibitions and seen his other films. This isn’t like those. This isn’t just an hour of expertly curated archival material made with the art world in mind. Here, the sort of psychedelic rave documentary (no less brilliant) pioneered by the likes of Mark Leckey, is being given a much-needed deconstruction.
Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore remains the blueprint for so many films about underground British culture. It is a time capsule that nonetheless contains within it a certain timelessness, due to the way in which the “subjectivist fuzz” of a particular time and place gets dissolved in its own euphoria. It’s the sort of approach to cultural work that we can still see echoes of today in, for example, Paul Wright’s recent film Arcadia.
Here, however, Deller’s documentary is presented through a very different structure. We begin — and remain throughout — in a typical London classroom. (And the London centricity is important here.) Deller is, essentially, giving a lecture to teenagers who look to me like GCSE students — 15-16 years old — about the rise and politics of Acid House and there is a subtly about the presentation here that I found really affecting.
I can’t claim that this “typical” classroom is anything like mine was. London, in general, is so much more radically diverse than the rest of the country. I went to a school just outside of Hull where I could count the non-white students in my year group on one hand. Casual racism and the associated “banter” were commonplace. The old adage that kids always pick up on difference was writ large then. It felt like if you were into or wanted to find diverse cultural experiences, the last place you’d look would be in the people around you.
Coming of age during the retromania of mid-00s Northern indie bands, my “Northern Soul” moment was disarticulated from any local club scene — despite every kid having a shoulder bag swearing allegiance to a scene that no longer existed for us. I’ve never really enjoyed the tracks that epitomise that subculture– the standards of the scene have always represented a sort of exoticised aesthetic conversatism to me: we like this because it’s so different but we only like this very particular kind of different — but I do understand the delirious confluence of sentiments found in dancing to Motown on amphetamines down the local conservative club.
I remember seeing an advert on the TV for the 2004 compilation Superbad when I was 14 and being haunted by the earworm of WAR’s “Low Rider” for weeks, as a track that is explicitly grounded in another culture, but which also strangely made sense jaunting around country roads at the mouth of the Humber estuary as you escape the city and hit the ocean wall.
“Take a little trip, and see” is a message to carry with you anywhere — no matter what kind of trip you’re after. I asked for that compilation for Christmas that year, much to the bemusement of my parents, and it blew my prog-dominated world wide open.
That was a gateway into a whole new way of existing for me. It was a gateway into a libidinality and form of expression that was wholly other to my own and, whilst it’d be disingenuous to deny a certain sense of exoticism in discovering the history of Black music whilst living my white British life, it ignited an autodidactic obsession in tracing the lines between the local culture I knew and that which seemed so radically culturally different.
Black music quickly became associated with the rhizomaticism of online cultures for me. The first hip hop track I ever heard was A Tribe Called Quest’s “Excursions”, selected as the opening tune of a mix CD I got sent from the US after taking part in a mixtape swap organised on a forum I used to post on.
If the title of the track didn’t already capture that “take a little trip and see” mentality, the lyrics disappear down a rabbit hole of references, genres, names, etc. It’s intoxicating if you’re already a hip hop head — imagine hearing it for the first time as a 15 year old white kid from Yorkshire.
What I like about it is that it captures the very autodidactic essence of adolescence whilst doubling down on the cartography of the band’s eclectic but loyal approach to sampling and culture with a four-minute extended verse flow that starts with the jazz-hiphop lineage in the first verse:…
Back in the days when I was a teenager Before I had status and before I had a pager You could find the Abstract listenin’ to hip-hop My pops used to say, it reminded him of Bebop I said, “Well, Daddy, don’t you know that things go in cycles? Way that Bobby Brown is just amping like Michael”…
… and then ends beyond the sleeve notes with:
What you gotta do is know the Tribe is in the sphere The Abstract Poet, prominent like Shakespeare (Or Edgar Allan Poe, or Langston Hughes, or…)
I mention all this because Deller has built an entire career on making these sorts of connections between cultural moments and there is always a sense that whiteness or white Britishness is the underlying thing being probed here. I’ve always particularly enjoyed his work connecting Acid House to mining bands, having enjoyed both a good rave and once playing lead cornet in a brass band when I was the same age as these kids.
Even this existence would be probed by strange outside forces: I remember taking a lesson from my trumpet teacher in his garage out towards Howden in East Yorkshire where he had a hoard of jazz memorabilia and a collection of battered VHS tapes that were on the verge of technological redundancy. He put one on of a live performance by Rahsaan Roland Kirk which felt like watching Top of the Pops beamed in from another dimension but every time you saw him outside the comfort of his own studio it’d be playing standards at the school BBQ.
This is to say there is a strange frequency to these encounters. They’re alien and mind-blowing but happened so often its strange now to remember I once thought they were so disparate. You feel enclosed in your own immediate community at that age but things only appear that way because the State has done it damndest to compartmentalise forms of expression along economic, racial and geographic lines. Some people never escape them.
This is reflected in the documentary. It’s interesting that, beyond the music, many of the Asian students on screen seem more curious about the miners’ strike and its relationship to a music they might be more familiar with through their friends and relatives. If I’m talking about my own experiences here, it’s because I had never thought before about the extent to which these perspectives mirror each other, precisely in the sense that they gaze back at each other over an apparent line of state-sanctioned difference.
They talk about the miners’ strike in the same way I’ve heard kids talk about the Troubles in Northern Ireland: everyone knows it was significant but today no one can make sense of the arguments for or against. Deller does it for them and all in the context of the rave scene as this underground web that connects London to Glasgow to Birmingham to Stoke-on-Trent to some unnamed field in Wales; how the scene spread outwards from the neighbourhoods these kids know today and into the outsideness of the Home Counties, tapping into a broader and more material sense of disenfranchisement felt nationwide.
When Deller begins to talk about this relationship to the countryside and to the historic libidinality of rural areas — again, in line with Wright’s Arcadia and Mark Fisher’s excellent essay “Baroque Sunbursts” — he discusses with one student this two-way alterity of how, today, the countryside is an alien place to inner city youth and, likewise, inner city youth are alien to rural areas. Deller’s aim, it seems, is to bridge this gap — and others — for a new generation.
Watching “Everybody in the Place”, where Deller is getting teenagers to read quotations from Karl Marx, Derrick May and Juan Atkins, list famous clubs from around the country, and letting them play with synths and samplers, regrounds these discrepancies in precisely the place they should be and indeed are explored, albeit indirectly. Teaching a classroom full of kids about rave culture feels, at first, like a radical gesture but quickly the novelty wears off and we see a group of kids beginning to understand the relevance of an underground scene to their more standardised education. It’s his way of saying, here’s how what they teach you in school connects to what they don’t.
In this sense, there is an unspoken affinity between these arguably by-gone cultures and the cultures these kids are no doubt immersed in when they go home at night. The anger and virality of drill music, so often in the news like rave was, the latest teenage moral panic on London’s streets, starts to appear like an explicitly 21st century form of stunted libidinal expression, caught in the bottleneck of inner city pressure.
This is arguably why rave culture did so well for itself. It was a culture that had a geographic outside to escape into, and Deller is not the first to claim that a reconnection with such Outsides is necessary if we’re to tap into these potentials again.
The importance of this for our sense of national and international identity is huge, and the key to this documentary’s approach, I think, is that it sidesteps the heady melting-pot euphoria of most rave documentaries. Deller, at one point, asks who in the class identifies as British and is met by complete silence. And so he goes on to challenge the unruliness of identity that has always haunted these lands — the folk traditions that might now be fatally associated with whiteness in their minds but which were just as antagonistic to the English state at large as rave and the subcultures of today.
Because of this approach, Deller succeeds in not fetishising the importance of a trans-Atlantic Blackness to cultural trends. He sidesteps the sort of wide-eyed wonder and hackneyed admiration that someone like me no doubt continues to fall into when talking about Black musics. It holds white and Black both up and says, “Look at the crazy shit all these people were doing and look how important it is to everything we love today.” Look how important Kraftwerk was to Detroit techno and look how important Detroit and its industries was to them. Look at how important Northern class politics is to 21st century inner city pressure… The difference is that the latter is generally framed negatively. All we hear about is how the white North has lost out to the racially diverse urban centres and London in particular. But London isn’t a happy place either and there’s a reciprocal relationship to be rebuilt here.
Deller’s tactic has long been to rebuild these relationships through the mapping of cultural rhizomes, and there are plenty of others we could still explore. After watching this documentary I’m left wondering: What’s the six degrees of separation between voguing and morris dancing? But the more important question is: what does the making of that kind of connection do to how we think about ourselves and how we encounter each other?
The issue with us, as ~diverse~ publics, seeking representation as a singular end goal, is that it is fundamentally a liberal position. That is: it does not seek to overhaul, change, disrupt or dismantle. Rather to preserve; to move within the current structures that exist, that it recognises as broken, exploitative and oppressive, and expects to have a minority of that already excluded minority succeed within these busted frameworks. It does not look to change for all, only for a few. In forcing an excluded minority to funnel through the existing structures around us, this system ensures an assimilation into the cultural values that created the existing structures, and precludes those unwilling to buy into this assimilationist narrative from succeeding within it. In short; it believes in exceptionalism. The institution ensures its survival at all costs by absorbing the critique that hits it, bc it can point to a few success stories that have conformed to its requirements. This drive for representation within that system runs off of a politic of lack, and in that lack, it opens the door to neoliberal ideologies; of creating new markets to exploit and harvest for value. In our quest for representation and visibility through existing structures and channels, we will see ourselves consumed as a sellable commodity ourselves.
This is the resonant heart of Deller’s movie for me and likewise various politics explored on this blog. Dellers’ incomplete history of Britain is knowingly selective but it shows how cultural praxes of disruption are available to everybody in the place. The politics of Black musics and stereotypically white mining communities share a common — notably Marxist — grounding of seizing the means of production, whether that be national infrastructure or making tunes in your bedroom, each having the potential to influence people around the country and, indeed, the world, and explicitly without the exceptionalism required for your own continual state-sanctioned existence.
These “worlds” speak to each other more than we are encouraged to recognise and it demonstrates the innate flaws of this liberal position when talking about rave and mining in the same breath in a modern day classroom can look like a radical act. In reality, all Deller is doing is showing how two events that happened in spatiotemporal proximity to one another are related. It’s the sort of thing these GCSE students would be asked to write about in a History exam. The flaw of British education is we don’t do this for ourselves unless we’re talking about how we won the war.
Deller disrupts the “old” but nonetheless still contemporaneous order of things by reconstructing (through historicization) tandem lost potentials which remain buried in the future. I hope it’s these kids that go and dig it up.
Boris Johnson is prime minister of Great Britain and what shocks me most is my lack of shock. I have no troubled desire to pinch myself.
There has been a big cloud of trepidation trailing Johnson’s bizarre rise to power in recent weeks. On the one hand, many have been anxious that Johnson is walking into the most complex problems of national and international relations since the Second World War. On the other hand, many have been anxious that Johnson is the most complex problem for national and international relations since the Second World War.
The fact is that — as with Trump across the Atlantic — Boris is just one more 21st century political paradox, both symptom and product of his time; a 21st century politician incapable of addressing any 21st century problems… Because he is one…
The ins and outs of Johnson’s well-documented incompetence have been incessantly autopsied in recent days. Most interesting to me was James Butler’s article for The New York Times in which he declared that Johnson’s “premiership could bring about the end of Britain itself.”
This seems less like a doomsday prediction and more like a commiserating nod to the inevitable — and it is a statement that has since been echoed frequently across the mainstream media in this country — I noticed half a dozen BBC correspondents echoing this line without even a grimace the other day — but it would be wrong to give Johnson all the credit.
After a ship has already hit an iceberg, it would be silly to declare a change in captain as responsible for any worsening of fortune.
Johnson, in this somewhat tired analogy, feels like little more than a bit of light relief. Many of the Conservative Party members who voted Johnson into the top job seem to agree that we’re sinking but, rather than do anything about it, like readying the lifeboats, they’ve instead resigned themselves to their fate and seem to think that at least the new captain has a slightly more entertaining bedside manner than his predecessors and critics.
It’s Trump without any expectation that he’ll make the country great again… Which is sort of refreshing?
Butler, in The New York Times, writes in detail about the national situation that Johnson is now tasked with “fixing”:
The state of the United Kingdom, a constitutional compact founded in 1922 and stretching back, in one form or another, for centuries, is severely strained. Though Brexit is primarily driven by English passions, two of the four territories in the Union — Northern Ireland and Scotland — voted to remain. Both present immediate problems for Mr. Johnson — and for the future of Britain.
In Scotland, rancor at the sense that the country’s vote counted for little and subsequent repeated bouts of parliamentary chaos have led to renewed calls for a second independence ballot. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, insists Scotland will hold one if Brexit takes place. One of the most adroit politicians in Britain, Ms. Sturgeon knows that despite widespread misgivings about Brexit, the majority needed for independence does not currently exist. But recent polling suggests a Johnson government might tilt the scales in her favor. An independent Scotland may be conjured out of the chicanery of Mr. Johnson’s rule.
In Northern Ireland, Mr. Johnson is beholden to the Democratic Unionist Party, a hard-line Northern Irish Protestant party on which he will depend for a majority in Parliament. That severely curtails his room for maneuver as he attempts, one way or the other, to take Britain out of the European Union. The D.U.P. will not countenance separation from the rest of the United Kingdom — hence why the so-called backstop, effectively an insurance plan to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and its southern neighbor, fatally scuttled Theresa May’s thrice-rejected deal. It is hard to see how Mr. Johnson can extricate himself from this problem, whose protraction may have a decisive effect on the country’s internal politics. Calls for a United Ireland, encouraged by demographic change and the waning of unionist sentiment, appear to be gathering more support.
The threat of the break-up of Britain has been a spectre many have sought to ignore since at least the 1970s… Indeed, since the EU itself became a seemingly intractable part of our international lives. Following Butler’s diagnosis, the patchwork predictions more or less write themselves. Johnson was an utterly hopeless bull-in-a-china-shop Foreign Secretary who left many a diplomatic headache in his wake. Undoubtedly his tenure in the UK’s highest office will likewise end with a few more fractures in the porcelain constitutions of many a modern nation-state.
With all of this doom-and-gloom floating around, it makes a post about Johnson’s “election” — if you can call it that — seem a bit superfluous. There’s little more to be said that hasn’t already been written down in countless op-eds around the world. And no one would be surprised to hear that Xenogothic is quite excited about the prospect of the UK’s consolidated power finally being broken down and better distributed. Heck, it feels like patchwork Britain is about to go mainstream!
Beyond all that though, what made Tuesday 23rd July most interesting was that it coincided with a listening party for the official release of Mark Fisher and Justin Barton’s On Vanishing Land, held at the Castle Cinema in Homerton, north London.
Having got the start time wrong and arriving far too early, I had the opportunity for a quick catch-up with Steve Goodman before the event began. He was quick to highlight the sad irony of it all — an already very familiar feeling at this point whenever there’s an event that Mark should be at but isn’t; should be writing about but can’t.
But On Vanishing Land was the perfect consolation prize, in many ways, not only as an eerie memorial to Mark’s strange relationship with this weird isle but also for its resonance with a disturbingly precarious vision of the United Kingdom that Johnson’s premiership was now exacerbating.
In particular, the audio-essay’s frequent echoes of M.R. James’ ghost story Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad! became almost humorous to me. A story about an eccentric old establishment don unearthing a dog-whistle on a ruinous Suffolk beach and being haunted by the eerie entity it summons?
M.R. James’ conservatism was well-explored by Mark, particularly in The Weird and the Eerie. As much as he enjoyed his stories, he was always keen to note how afraid of the outside James was — contrary to another Fisher favourite, Joan Lindsey’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Mark would write James’ various “warnings to the curious” declare the outside to be a perilous place where the deep past is waiting for any opportunity to enact its revenge on the present.
Justin’s ethereal tones, which dominate On Vanishing Land, nonetheless betray a Jamesian anxiety. Looking out on the “nerve ganglion of capitalism” that unfurls into sea from the port at Felixstowe, the wandering pair sense that something out there that seems to have “gotten away with something.”
However, we should remember that “terrors are not all there is to the outside,” as Mark would also write in The Weird and the Eerie.
What has gotten away with something is, undoubtedly, capitalism itself — but that suggests that what haunts is related to what capitalism has failed to fully overcome. This was important, no doubt, to Mark because the terror felt by James, read today, is immediately engulfed by class conflict.
Similar in tone to Lovecraft’s racism, the horrors that emanate from James’ outsides feel feudal and nomadic — destratified curses unleashed by coastal erosion lie in wait, hoping to attach themselves parasitically to the well-to-do of modern society.
As such, so many of James’ stories reveal Cambridge toffs — like James himself — so rooted in the nation’s intellectual and political establishment — to be little more than fragile men of the bourgeoisie. It is a surprise that they ever make it outside their dorms without keeling over in fright.
By contrast, the English coastline becomes the relative wilderness that embodies lost worlds and incursions from the outside. The fishing industries of England’s coastal settlements become synonymous with bold travellers of the unknown, hard for James’ academic brain to fully compute.
(This is an accurate sentiment for many on the UK’s harsh east coast. Growing up in Hull, I was always fascinated by the perverse pride taken in a brutal industry that claimed countless lives. Like the miners elsewhere in Yorkshire, the tension of a community grounded in treacherous and terrifying labour creates a very special kind of subjectivity. This is something beautifully explored by Justin Barton in his 2015 book Hidden Valleys.)
This is not to say that James’ anxiety is singular and unexpected. In fact, it is an open acknowledgement of a shared Jamesian terror that gives On Vanishing Land such an air of a distinctly working class bravery before the shrouded face of unknown pasts and futures — each, notably, as ruinous as each other in the Suffolk mind.
Caught in between the two, a subtext emerges that perforates the eerie soundscape of On Vanishing Land which declares that we should not wait for our ghost ships to come in but rather row out and meet them.
This is likewise a sentiment worth holding onto this week as Boris Johnson drags a weight of uncertainty onto the nation-state’s future. It is a sentiment perhaps best expressed in Justin’s conclusion to his 2015 book, Hidden Valleys:
To travel into the unknown is a sober-joyful process of gaining energy by overcoming self-importance, and by eradicating all forms of self-indulgence — and it is a development of the ability to have effective, creative comradeship-alliances with other human beings. It is a process of perceiving — and dreaming — a way toward wider spaces of existence.
Beyond the ongoing disaster of ordinary reality is the second sphere of action.
On Vanishing Land arrived in the post yesterday and it’s a beautiful thing. Justin’s short essay in the gatefold is great. Go get it.
It seems the jury is still out on Nick Land’s latest essay for Jacobite. Is it further evidence of his return to serious philosophy? If it is, recent Twitter activity has nonetheless ensured his contemporary reputation sticks firmly in place.
However you want to think about Nick’s conduct online — I’m in the camp of “a succession of (nonetheless grotesque) masks” — there’s no denying the impact on the rest of his genuinely interesting work which doesn’t go in for trying to upset as many people as possible.
I say this only because I’ve been interested to read more responses to this latest essay which seem to read Land’s Twitter personas into his conclusions even when they’re not there. Personally, I found “@Outsideness” totally absent from this latest “Nick Land” essay, and enjoyed it all the more for it. (More @UF_blog with @deadliner subtext.)
Land talks about the homogeneity that entropy brings to a system, he talks about the smothering of it, and from there builds an argument for what it actually is [–] isolationism, in defense of diversity. It is duly just a defense, by magical words and a misunderstanding of thermodynamics (it is all a metaphor, until it doesn’t work as metaphor), of some sorts of nationalism, apparently without racism, or not your usual kind of racism.
Lain’s critique of Land’s grasp of thermodynamics aside — I don’t really see how “the universe is too broad and unbounded a system for me to care about so I’m going to reintroduce the parochialism Land was originally critiquing back into his metaphor” works as an argument — this reading of its apparent isolationism seems like a complete misreading of what the essay is drawing on. It is precisely the isolationism of “reason” that Land is attacking here.
I think a better understanding of Land’s critique of entropy can be found through a consideration of his prior geophilosophy.
We can begin, as so many do, with a cliff face — the strata of civilisation rising high into the air, everything compressed into a rigid and monolithic geological system.
Then we have entropy.
Entropy as a force and a process can take many metaphoric forms but for now let’s call it the sea. It encroaches on the land, disintegrating it — the land that Kant calls “the terrain of pure understanding”.
Land would quote Kant on the sea and this terrain in The Thirst for Annihilation. Kant writes that:
This domain [of reason] is an island, enclosed by nature itself within unadulterable limits. It is the land of truth — enchanting name! — surrounded by a wide and stormy ocean, the native home of illusion, where many a fog bank and many a swiftly melting iceberg give the deceptive appearance of farther shores, deluding the adventurous seafarer ever anew with empty hopes, and engaging him in enterprises which he can never abandon and yet is unable to carry to completion.
Land infamously responds to Kant’s isolationism as follow:
Is not transcendental philosophy a fear of the sea? Something like a dike or a sea-wall?
A longing for the open ocean gnaws at us, as the land is gnawed by the sea. A dark fluidity at the roots of our nature rebels against the security of terra firma, provoking a wave of anxiety in which we are submerged, until we feel ourselves drowning, with representation draining away. Nihil ulterius. […]
Reason in its legitimate function is a defence against the sea, which is also an inhibition of the terrestrial; retarding our tendency to waste painstakingly accumulated resources in futile expeditions, a ‘barrier opposed to the expenditure of forces’ as Bataille describes it. It is a fortified boundary, sealing out everything uncertain, irresolvable, dissolvant, a sea-wall against the unknown, against death.
The sea, for Land, and countless others, is most representative of the death drive. It is what Sandor Ferenczi called that “thalassic regressive undertow”. It is from whence we came and where we will eventually return.
It is here we see exactly why Land is rejecting the “closed system” of reason that Lain is calling for. Even the closed system itself, from Land’s cosmic perspective, is (or will one day be) redshifted into unreason. Lain’s reasonable restrictions are just such a sea-wall, and it is precisely the false reason of this sort of attempt to stay in the middle ground that demands a critique of the leftist paradox of a differential universalism.
To return to our geological metaphor, the conditional welcoming of the entropic sea leads to the breakdown of the monolithic cliff-face. Molecules break free. The great compression breaks apart and atomises. Each grain is free to roam but is not free from the cycles of entropy that freed it in the first place. Individual grains of sand, each unique and destratified, nonetheless gather to form a terminal beach. Entropy leads to homogeneity — a homogeneity that is arguably even more homogeneous than the jagged strata from which it came.
If we’re to think of the sea — as perhaps Land does himself — as being analogous to capitalism-as-critique, we can see why Land likes it. The void on the other side of capitalism becomes far less interesting than the process of disintegration in itself. His loyalty lies, forever and always, with the sea itself, rather than the potential beaches it might create.
This is, likewise, in line with the patchwork of Deleuze and Guattari, for whom “the sea is the spatial field par excellence that brings out smoothness and striation.” How a contemporary subject can navigate such a space and remain in tact remains unknown — it may even be impossible.
Elements in a quantal world: The terminal beach. The terminal bunker. The blocks.
The landscape is coded. Entry points into the future=Levels in a spinal landscape=zones of significant time.
August 5. Found the man Traven. A strange derelict figure, hiding in a bunker in the deserted interior of the island. He is suffering from severe exposure and malnutrition, but is unaware of this or, for that matter, of any other events in the world around him…
He maintains that he came to the island to carry out some scientific project — unstated — but I suspect that he understands his real motives and the unique role of the island… In some way its landscape seems to be involved with certain unconscious notions of time, and in particular with those that may be a repressed premonition of our own deaths. The attractions and dangers of such an architecture, as the past has shown, need no stressing…
August 6. He has the eyes of the possessed. I would guess that he is neither the first, nor the last, to visit the island.
Unqualified Reservations closed its doors in 2016. From its ashes two apocryphal schools were born. First of all, the so-called alt-right, which appropriated many Moldbuggian terms and theses, and then ended up happily merging into the various reactionary movements that hit all the major Western democracies. Secondly, a sort of esoteric school of accelerationists, communists, weirdos, Stirnerians or simple bastians appeared, confirming the Landian prophecy, which decided to burst the contradictions of the Moldbuggian proposal, transforming patchwork into a metapolitical model of social disconnection, capable of blowing up the capitalist there is no alternative and freeing up possibilities of emancipation that are currently unthinkable.
Although I read it via Google Translate, it’s very good and contains a very nice shout out to Xenogothic.
Most importantly, it contains a very nice distillation of how more leftist blogs — or at least this one — have adapted Moldbuggian geopolitics for their own ends:
The traits that distinguish this esoteric school [from the alt-right] are essentially two:
1) a strong criticism of social-Darwinism and the libertarian tendencies of the neo-reactionaries. In other words, these apocryphal interpreters of Mencius Moldbug have no intention of creating a market of power, based on the law of the strongest, but a series of temporarily autonomous zones in which to implement radically divergent life forms.
2) Radicalize the exit option perspective. If, in fact, for Moldbug, the exit option was simply a safety valve to defuse social tensions and bring down the malfunctioning power structures, in this new reading the exit option becomes an escape route, in which to re-imagine politics as a space of experimentation and permanent revolution.