My advance copies of Mark Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures arrived in the post the other day. I’m not usually one for book fetishism but the finish on these is absolutely stunning. The photo nerd in me was genuinely blown away by how well the hardback holds the colours in Johnny Bull’s already iconic cover. Repeater Books have outdone themselves with this. It feels incredibly special and I cannot wait for you all to see it in the flesh.
If you want one, there is currently no pre-order but they will be out in January 2021, online and in bookshops. Keep your eye on the Repeater Books website here, where you can currently buy the eBook. (We’re also planning a bunch of online events around the launch so you’re unlikely to miss it once it’s out…)
Adam Harper has reviewed the new collection of Mark Fisher lectures, Postcapistalist Desire, for ArtReview. It’s a lovely text, emphasising the fact that it “was not just his writing that was celebrated after Fisher’s death but his teaching, too, by the lucky few who got to experience it.” It also includes a nod to one strand I expected to be taken more heretically, commenting on Mark’s accelerationism — perhaps even more controversial (and misunderstood) now than it was back in 2016:
Fisher wanted to pose challenging questions about the possibilities of moving beyond capitalism such as: ‘is there really a desire for something beyond capitalism?’ To what extent ‘is our desire for postcapitalism always-already captured and neutralised by capitalism itself’? And, rejecting the idea that a critique of capitalism necessitates a complete rejection of modern life and everything in it, ‘is it possible to retain some of the libidinal, technological infrastructure of capital and move beyond capital?’
Fisher senses that it might be, and so for him, postcapitalism is ‘a victory that will come through capitalism… something that developed out of capitalism. It develops from capitalism and moves beyond capitalism.’ As both Fisher and Colquhoun observe, this hotly debated position has come to be known as accelerationism, and for Colquhoun, Fisher was ‘attempting to describe to his students, from the ground up, a new praxis for a left-accelerationism.’ The question of what can be salvaged from the enemy in the fight against it has been one of the most urgent and controversial in left-wing thought for well over a century.
The review is short and sweet but it is a much-welcomed affirmation of this project. I am so relieved that its strengths shine out beyond its fragmentary and unfinished nature. As Harper concludes:
Postcapitalist Desire is thus very much the course it was originally intended to be: a primer on the topic, with Fisher’s curation and guidance as strident and insightful as ever, but by no means sidelining the exploratory, improvisatory and indeed democratic dimension of the teaching process — as Fisher puts it towards the end of the first lecture, ‘far too much of me talking today’. It was not just his writing that was celebrated after Fisher’s death but his teaching, too, by the lucky few who got to experience it. And with this book, the growing number of readers Fisher has accrued since his death, many of them beyond academia and the theoretical left, have an incisive yet personable (and frequently humourous) introduction to writers as canonical and formidable as Herbert Marcuse, György Lukács, and Jean-François Lyotard as well as lesser known names such as Ellen Willis, Nancy Hartsock and Jefferson Cowie, and key but complex concepts such as the death drive, ressentiment, standpoint epistemology, reification, and even capital and capitalism themselves.
In one of the book’s most densely informative lectures, ‘From Class Consciousness to Group Consciousness,’ Fisher discusses the political strategy of consciousness-raising, its history, and how it gives groups of the oppressed a clearer view of their common struggles. As he talks so relatably through the frustration and absurdity of life under contemporary capitalism with his students, this is precisely what Fisher was doing in the classroom of postcapitalist desire.
Meta-Nomad very generously asked me to collaborate with him on a course about accelerationism six weeks ago. He suggested that he’d cover the philosophy of accelerationism and I could cover the politics of accelerationism. I thought this was a really interesting idea. The result is a load of content that we’re going to be releasing this Friday (24th July 2020) via his Teachable page.
I don’t want to give away too much — we’ll be sharing more info later in the week, including course outlines and costs — but we have recorded the above chat which begins a particular conversation that we hope this course will go on to further develop.
A promotional video for the second Hermitix course called The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism, a collaboration with Matt Colquhoun (www.xenogothic.com). The course will be a paid course consisting of 10 lectures and transcripts, with optional seminars and one-on-ones. James Ellis (Meta-Nomad) will cover the philosophical aspects of Accelerationism and Matt Colquhoun will cover the political aspects.
I’m really excited to be able to tell you all (officially) that my first book, Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy & Mark Fisher, is coming to bookshops near you on 10th March 2020, published by the wonderful folks at Repeater Books.
An exploration of the work and legacy of Mark Fisher, one of the most influential and incendiary writers of our generation.
Egress is the first book to consider the legacy and work of the writer, cultural critic and cult academic Mark Fisher.
Narrated in orbit of his death as experienced by a community of friends and students in 2017, it analyses Fisher’s philosophical trajectory, from his days as a PhD student at the University of Warwick to the development of his unfinished book on Acid Communism.
Taking the word “egress” as its starting point — a word used by Fisher in his book The Weird and the Eerie to describe an escape from present circumstances as experiences by the characters in countless examples of weird fiction — Egress consider the politics of death and community in a way that is indebted to Fisher’s own forms of cultural criticism, ruminating on personal experience in the hope of making it productively impersonal.
There’s more to it than that though.
Egress has been a labour of love lost for me over the last three years. It originally came into the world as an unruly MA dissertation, submitted to Goldsmiths, University of London, in September 2017.
The death of a lecturer might sound like an unusual choice for a dissertation topic, especially since it was written in the immediate aftermath of said death without any distance, but I wrote about Mark because I didn’t know how to write about anything else. Mark’s death had so absolutely dominated all social and academic experiences that year, and challenged the research I had been doing before his death (into Bataillean ethics and the politics of community) so absolutely, that there seemed like no other way to move forward than to grab my grief by its horns and write my way out of it.
As such, it was a very weird dissertation to write but the response to it was hugely gratifying. My academic supervisor and second marker — Ayesha Hameed and Irit Rogoff respectively — were the first to offer their feedback on it and they were more encouraging than I could have anticipated. Both suggested I should keep going with it and let it see the light of day outside the walls of the institution. It was already written with one foot outside those walls and so, with this tentative permission to keep pushing forwards, I thought I might as well take the leap. At first, that’s what this blog was for — an excuse to keep writing after there were no more academic hoops to jump through — but it quickly grew into something much more than a blog.
It has taken a further two years to get it right but now, six times the length it was in September 2017, and with a few more years thought and experience inserted into its initial ideas, the result is something I am immensely proud of.
However, if it was a weird dissertation, it also remains a weird book. As I’ve been warning family and friends who have no idea what I write about here on the blog, “it’s certainly not a light beach read.”
As I write in the book’s introduction, it is as much a product of grief and depression as it is about those two things and so it is a book that slips and slides between registers and references, between personal experience and collective thought, in a way that is both indebted to Mark’s work and the slippery practice of blogging through which he made his name and to which I’ve also dedicated much of my life. It also attempts to connect these practices and projects to the wider philosophies that Mark and his friends were so naturally in tune with. As such, I believe that this weirdness is its strength rather than its weakness.
Suffice it to say, this is not a by-the-numbers summary of Mark’s published works or a biography of the man himself. With Egress being the first work of “secondary criticism” about Mark’s work, I think that’s how it should be.
This is not an attempt to tie up the loose ends he left behind into a neat package. It is an attempt to give an account of his death, written through the experiences of those he left behind, and an attempt to show, through a philosophical rigour and a rhetorical accessibility (and a certain desperation), how the relevance of his work persists even though, at a glance, it may appear to have failed the man who penned it.
I’ve also got a page here where I’m collecting any endorsements and reviews which I’ll be updating periodically.
If you’re in the UK, you can preorder it from Blackwell’s, Foyles and Waterstones. If you’re in the US, it’s available from Barnes & Noble and Penguin and… I don’t know what shops you have over there, but it’s in lots of places. Check your nearest bookstore! It’s global! (Amazon has it too if you’re desperate.) It will also be available to order direct from Repeater here on March 10th.
I’m sorry to say you’ll be seeing a lot more of my face and hearing a lot more of my voice over the coming weeks. I’ve got a bunch of press stuff and events planned so keep an eye out for those. (There will be a book launch in central London on March 11th which I can’t wait to announce — save the date!)
Thanks to everyone for the support over the last few years and to those who have had a more direct hand in keeping me sane and afloat during this book’s gestation. I hope you feel it’s been a worthwhile endeavour.
I have a new essay in a publication put together by Vít Bohal & Dustin Breitling, two of the wonderful folks behind Diffractions Collective and organisers of the Wyrdpatchworkshop sessions I’ve taken part in over the last two years.
The collection is called Speculative Ecologies: Plotting Through the Mesh and it’s now available to order through Littereria Pragensia, as well as Amazon in the UK and US.
Exploring contemporary strands of philosophical praxis orientated towards mapping and theorizing the notion of ‘environment’ as geological, organic and social construct. Upon this ground, it formulates the concept of ‘speculative ecology’ as a transdisciplinary form of discursive practice embedded within materiality. The acceptance of the existence and the imposing limitations of the material world functions as a point of departure for the contributors to speculate and experimentally navigate the topology of their surroundings in various, multi-tiered modalities. The main focus is placed upon exploring the integral materiality through digital projects and aesthetic production and is best encapsulated by the three overarching concepts which also create the publication’s basic thematic framework – Representations, Systems and Speculations. These three concepts provide the envelope within which a speculative form of ecological thinking might best function. The integral materialism of such a speculative ecology retains complicity with the relation of the ‘world’ and ‘figure’ insofar as it understands the material mandate of nature, and in this way tries to open space for tentative post-human design.
Featuring Louis Armand, BCAAsystem, Vít Bohal, Dustin Breitling, Paul Chaney, Matt Colquhoun, Digital Garden Lab, Jana Gridneva, Newton Harrison, Alžběta Kešnerová, Bogna Konior, Kateřina Kovářová, Tomáš Mládek, Udo Noll, P Hydrogenous, Paulo Tavares, Gry Ulstein.
My essay is called “When Things Take Time” and it is an (implicit) exploration of unconditional accelerationism, taking its lead from Maurice Blanchot’s seemingly paradoxical writings on communism, and with a splash of Virginia Woolf to boot:
As Woolf would write from the depths of her novel’s templexity: “How to describe the world seen without a self? There are no words.” What an opportunity for the ever-present xenopoetics of late capitalism, for there is no time here either and, for capitalism, as for us, time is all there is.
A bunch of my photos, taken over the last few years during the gestation of William Doyle’s new album, Your Wilderness Revisited, are featured in the latest issue of Electronic Sound magazine. Go check it out. It’s an excellent feature, and also in good company sandwiched between pieces on Delia Derbyshire and Kim Gordon.
‘Your Wilderness Revisited’ might be [Doyle’s] most accessible record to date. The worlds William conjures, of broken fences, stretched out washing lines and lustreless blocks of flats, is one that’s all around us. On ‘Design Guide’, in his beautifully crystalline vocals, he sings, “I stood still in the cool of the evening / Watched the sun as it skimmed the horizon / Every house silhouetted in unison,” evoking that suburban feeling of removal from the bustling city but also the discovery of your own kind of beauty.
And whilst there may be references to wider academic concepts about space and architecture across the record, it’s there for us to stumble upon if we want to, not forced into the listener’s face. William wants us to find our own experiences in amongst his. Because these songs are personal, but also open to us…
How refreshing to encounter, in the age of algorithmically engineered instant Spotified gratification and an unstemmable torrent of albums that barely demand a single play, a proper old-fashioned grower, intriguing enough to stick with after the first spin, and increasingly rewarding with each subsequent one. The fact that William Doyle’s first commercially available album under his own name (and his third including those as East India Youth) is only a shade over half an hour certainly helps its moreishness, but even more so is the abiding spirit of upbeat stoicism, the knottily nuanced symphonic arrangement and the knack for nagging melody that peppers the entire record.
It’s amazing to see this out in the world, after almost five years spent talking about and exploring England’s strange suburbs with Will and video whizz Sapphire Goss. I get a bit emotional listening to it now, after spending a whole summer a few years back driving around the suburbs of Hull to Will’s first string of demoes. It’s been amazing to hear it grow.
It’s an amazing album — and perfect for the car, which is always a bonus for me personally — and it has been an honour to work on the visuals with Will over the last few years.
You’ll find my photographs on the front and back covers (of both the main and indie-exclusive versions) and in the vinyl gatefold, and I hope you find they encapsulate the album as well as we think they do.
Where to start with a night like last night at the Barbican?
“This is totally normal” was Aya’s comment as she made her way onto the stage to begin proceedings for a night that could not have been more perfectly ill-fitting for the Barbican’s main hall. For anyone who had any inkling of what they were in for, “normal” got checked in at the cloak room downstairs. This was going to be something else.
Anyone who has seen Aya perform before will be familiar with her open commentary on her performances. She treats the DJ booth like an MC treats their trestle table down your local pub’s queer karaoke night — and I must emphasise that this is a very welcome addition to any occasion.
In a small space like a bar or club, this makes perfect sense. Aya creates an atmosphere that is immediately communal. She is effortlessly entertaining. She runs the show but all whilst letting us in on what she’s doing. In the Barbican, I was anxious to see how this would translate. Her approach is familiar but also challenges whatever space she is performing in. Even the Barbican? Even the Barbican. It’s like when Wolfgang Tillmans won the Turner Prize — I’m not sure why this is the reference that comes to mind but it’s early in the morning and, to be honest, Aya has left a thousand things flying around my skull overnight. She turns a DJ set into a tombola of affects. It’s surreal to see life documented in this way, so frankly and so irreverently in spaces of high cultural capital, and it calls into question what is normal and what is radical, challenging perceptions of what can take place in bedrooms and clubs and concert halls, turning all spaces and their temporalities on their heads.
There was an interview I remember reading with Mark Fell once where he commented on why he wore a flat cap and backpack whilst doing a Boiler Room night: to give the impression to all the loitering cool kids behind him that this dog walker couldn’t stay long, sorry, but thanks. It’s a brand of Northern irreverence that always goes down well with me but is too often absent from our main cultural spaces. The first season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK comes to mind, critiqued repeatedly for sanitising a UK drag scene that is a lot edgier than the BBC and Ru Paul’s American formatting is capable of representing. Aya’s style of performance is like this. Brazenly endearing. Cheeky and caring. Criminally underrepresented. As such, she insists on making an impression. It is a way of performing that pulls people in, making you feel welcome, in on the joke, and part of an intimate experience.
It is a testament to Aya’s chops that this sort of approach carries over into a space as large as the Barbican’s main hall.
At first, walking out onto the stage, the self-deprecation started almost immediately, as she took her position on stage behind a heavily stickered laptop, calling out to the sound guy about a dodgy RCA cable, wryly commenting “it’s all part of the show, folks — I’ll buy you a drink after if you help me out”. There was an anxiety underpinning the whole affair and at first I wondered how she would win over this unusually (for her) seated crowd. But Aya brought us into her sphere soon enough.
Interestingly, despite the insane size of the venue, her performance that evening felt even more intimate than usual.
Previously, Aya’s sets have always felt self-reflective and in-the-moment, commenting on her performance as she goes, praising and deriding herself with a self-criticality that, rather than undermining what she does, only helps to suspend her audience’s sense of judgement and open themselves up to the new. This was all the more necessary on Wednesday as her set took an even deeper look into her process — of music making and being, of gender and artistic transition — than any previous performance of hers that I’ve seen.
She is a singular artist who nonetheless wants to share herself openly. There is no cloistered and protective reflex regarding her own scenic novelty. She makes the gaps in dance music’s mainstream more apparent by filling them entirely and it makes her openness on stage breathtaking. At first presenting herself as if picking tracks and A/V works from a sonic scrapbook before laying herself completely bare before an audience already in the palm of her hand as her folded skin and ball sack streams past on the enormous projection screen behind her, reciting poems, lip-syncing to Lady Sovereign edits and with a Pulp Fiction-sampling skit about “deconstructed club” thrown in for good measure.
Later, the word “unseen” dominates the screen and her vocal track. It’s hard to know what this is referring to — is there anything left unseen? It doesn’t feel like it. But, in truth, there always is. As Aya scrapes off her makeup, which has contorted her face into a Gazelle Twin-esque goblin visage, inner experience is loud in its absence. Aya has brought us together in her stand-offish vulnerability but there is so much left unsaid. In a space this large, that is obvious. She may have been successful in reducing the size of the hall, bringing us in close, but in the end we’re left all the more aware of the distance between ourselves, and left with the challenge to sustain the intimacy she has demonstrated to us once its all over.
It’s an inspired strategy. As she walks off stage and the hall returns to its normal size, the desire to remain down Aya’s rabbit hole is palpable. (An analogy that feels unavoidably sexual in the context of this performance but that’s fine.) She ends by reciting a poem on gender dysphoria and bathroom politics and the alienating inner experience of our split selves but after 40 minutes of collective joy the distance between inner and collective experience seems marginal. She leaves open a space of infinite possibilities.
As the supporting act, Aya set the stage perfectly for what is to come.
In watching Holly Herndon and her ensemble walk across the stage after an interval — during which I saw so many familiar faces and friends: it truly felt like everyone in that theatre already knew each other — Aya still reverberating in my ears, I was reminded of Pepper Labeija in Paris is Burning describing the house scene in the 1980s, explaining how a house is like a family for people who don’t have families. A different sort of family. Not a nuclear family but a grouping of “people in a mutual bond.”
Aya’s shape-throwing and on-stage sensibilities are only a short distance from this much-adored subculture but the Herndon ensemble were a welcome contrast to Aya’s solitary performance. What she left open was occupied by this group of seven who embody those nascent possibilities so absolutely — on and off stage.
And yet, watching the Herndon ensemble almost feels voyeuristic. It is immediately clear that on stage is not a band but a family and we’ve all gathered to watch them hang out.
Soon enough, though, they welcome us into the fold as well. Watching Mat Dryhurst in particular, dressed in all black, in stark contrast to the rest of the ensemble’s “technofishwife cyber-Amish electroecclesiastical Hildegardian Mad Max babushkacore” (as Sarah Shin magnificently put it), he stands out, visibly ecstatic to be there and documenting everything like a proud Dad, lurking in the background, vaping and photographing and grinning ear to ear. You immediately feel like you are watching something special — for us and for them.
Colin Self is also a stand out presence within the group, their physical affection for the rest of the ensemble leaking out from the stage.
Sharing a cuddle with different members of the group during the intervals between full ensemble performances is so touching to see. Between songs, where each singer seemingly has their mark, they are quick to dismantle the structured professionalism of a well-rehearsed performance.
And it is well-rehearsed. They demonstrate a collective voice like no other. Each of the voices on stage is a powerhouse in their own right but it is frequently difficult to distinguish what sounds are coming from which person, and which are coming from or being processed by the laptops behind them. They are one and they are many.
Later, when members of London Sacred Harp choir are revealed to be scattered around the audience to take part in one choral piece, the desire to just hug the person next to me became quite hard to ignore. (I resisted.)
Later Holly asks if we will all join Colin in a “call and response” exercise — or “Colin response”, as they put it — so that Herndon’s AI baby Spawn can make an aural map of the audience. She doesn’t have to ask us twice. Everyone around me sings and it is beautiful. I don’t hear a single bum note in the house. Spawn may absorb our voices to map us but we have already absorbed the group on stage and are ready to sing back to them with relish.
It is a show full of details and set pieces. There is a temptation to comment on them all in turn, but it is the overall feeling with which the show left its audience that feels the most important and most difficult thing to define.
After the show, my friend Col Self — her shared name with Colin was an immediate topic of conversation — who I had not seen properly for almost a year, saw me from across the Barbican’s foyer space and launched immediately into a hug. It was the most obvious greeting after an experience such as that.
We went for drinks afterwards in a bar down the road and our conversation turned to magic, “the poetics of the occult”, ritual, the power of radical anti-capitalist unreason in the 21st century, and talk of projects and collaborations abound from there. There was a sense that everyone was deeply inspired by what they’d seen: to hang out, create and be together.
I was reminded of an old essay I wrote for school back in late 2016, “Monastic Vampirism” — an attempt to explore the gothic potentials found within monastic practices, drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s research that suggests early monasteries, before being subsumed into the Catholic Church as a globe-trotting institution, were proto-communist before their forced democratisation.
Herndon’s ensemble does not chime with the gothic image painted previously but they nonetheless seem to be drawing on a rich history of communal ways of life. This sort of thing is often spoken about in the past tense, as a by-gone and extinct way of being, practised only by neofeudalist hippies or anarcho-primitivists, but the ensemble are evidently aiming for something very different to the ways of old.
Leslie Fielder once argues that psychedelia — rather than being a bright, vibrant, tripped-out aesthetic — is instead the opposite of nostalgia. In our present moment, capitalist realism has reduced all alternative ways of life to nostalgic dreams of simpler times but the radicality of the Herndon ensemble’s presentation is that their way of living is adamantly future-oriented. Its nods to past forms feel like nods to the choral ensembles that Herndon has long been fascinated by, a reference to history that is not allowed to languish in the past. Song is inherently communal. Too often the hierarchy of performer and audience makes us forget this. But this is not a reminder — it’s a dream of future versions of ourselves that sing to love and heal.
As our conversation in the pub continued on, Col would insist she wasn’t high, despite her sudden enthusiasm for life, but the show itself was intoxicating. It is an acid monasticism, hallucinating new ways of communal existence, beyond the realms of capitalist normality, that can adapt to the technologies of the present and future.
Before heading home our conversation turned to Extinction Rebellion and the question of why this movement has caught on and changed the conversation but Occupy did not, despite its hype.
“There’s such a thing as the right idea at the wrong time”, said @body_drift, who I was also so happy to see. And that’s certainly true. The immanent threat of the climate emergency is hard to ignore but beyond its strong nostalgic undercurrent of hippie organising there is a sense that we are going through a shift in consciousness that is incredibly timely.
We talked about Ballard’s Drowned World and Kerans’ feeling that he’s not showing the early signs of mental illness but of a cognitive transformation for a new world around him. For him, however, this is brought on by an already irreversible climate disaster. For us, it feels different. The threat is making us prepare ourselves for something new, ahead of time.
This is to say that protesting within the bounds of the system in order to change it is one thing but the work of Holly Herndon and her crew seems to represent something else — something outside the headline-grabbing but nonetheless necessary organising; something that is in tune with the same affects that are fuelling XR’s movement but channelling them into alternative forms of life. This is to say that they represent a kind of mutual bond that is beyond street protest, that is more immediately domestic and attainable, that is already in reach and necessary to replicate. It skewers what Mark Fisher called capitalism’s “mandatory individualism” as one of the major mental obstacles to the futures we desire and it gives us a glimpse of a future that it is hard not to want once it has been demonstrated before us. It’s the sort of life-affirming performance that makes you want to hold all your friends and loved ones at once.
Beyond the songs and the spectacle, that is what I am left with after seeing this tour. The harmony of collective experience, nature and technology in productive harmony. Not just on stage but as a challenge for us afterwards. This tour is something to carry with you. The performance itself feels like only half the story.
Many, many thanks to Tobias Ewe, Max Castle and Robin Mackay for looking over some earlier versions of this essay and giving some much appreciated tips and pointers!
I was honoured to be asked to contribute something to Lapsus Lima way back in November of last year by Mónica and it has taken me numerous false starts to finally end up with something that I’m happy with. Apologies to her for taking so long but her patience and enthusiasm have been very much appreciated!
It’s called “The Primal Wound: An Anti-Oedipal Consideration” and it’s an attempt to bring together various events and philosophies through which I’ve come to terms with — and even tried to affirm — my experiences as an adopted child.
It goes without saying that it’s a very personal essay but readers of the blog will no doubt be aware that this isn’t exactly a step outside my comfort zone. I get the impression that an open and often personal standpoint is something this blog has become known for and, frankly, that’s a very conscious choice on my part — I’ve written about why before. Showing your working and your own intellectual pathway, rather than just presenting the destination, is a mode of writing that can be effective when you’re trying to carve out a way into otherwise difficult issues — philosophical, political or otherwise — but it is, of course, not for everyone…
Undoubtedly, there are hazards when taking this kind of approach. I have been told — both critically and lovingly — that I have a regrettable tendency to comes across as narcissistic in so often centring myself within my texts. This isn’t often something I take to be a problem. It is rather something of an occupational hazard.
More to the point, I think there is a certain power that comes from this kind of narcissistic writing when it is done well. It’s a mode of writing that I admire in everyone from Georges Bataille to Maggie Nelson and it’s a register that I have always admired, always attempting to capture my own version of it as best I can when the moment presents itself.
This is done in order to leave a door open for others, leading — I hope — to a more empathic entry point to various philosophies that are often hard-nosed in their own context and, secondary to this, discussed in ways that are typically academic, with all the repressive rigidity that comes with that.
However, I would want to emphasise that autobiography is not the aim but rather the starting point, opening the “I” outwards, unfolding it and laying its flayed skin over the top of a poetics; an interscalar and even “violent” or “evil” movement — in a Bataillean sense — between the personal and impersonal. The intention is less autobiography and more autobiopsy.
I hope that this essay speaks for itself in this regard but there is one bit of context that I would like to add here on the blog because there’s a dribble of Twitter toxicity niggling at the back of my mind at the moment as I watch this thing go out into the world:
The elephant in the room here is an awareness that some seasoned blogospheric ankle-biters — one in particular, let’s not kid ourselves — take the view that my style of writing is little more than “new-age self-help” and , in hindsight, this essay has emerged as an unconscious response to this. A way of saying, “Okay then, hold my beer…”
Oftentimes I think many of us forget (or even deny within ourselves) the frequency with which people come to philosophy as a kind of last resort.
There is a cliché in those who study psychology often being those most in need of a psychotherapist and I would argue that philosophy shares a similar sort of relationship to thought — especially today, when psychoanalysis and philosophy are often seen as being (theoretically at least) so closely related.
This is not to confuse psychology and philosophy as disciplines but rather to highlight that both nonetheless share an interrogative relationship with our patchwork realities.
In my experience, philosophers and philosophy students often seem to have been through something or perhaps are living with something that weighs on them and which demands interrogation if they’re going to keep going forwards in this world. Rather than looking inwards, however, they look outwards… But we must ask how absolute this orientation really is…
(This is a point that was central to many of Mark Fisher’s writings. His declaration in The Weird and the Eerie that the “inside is a folding of the outside” is a phrase that echoes around my head perpetually and is, perhaps, the ontological manoeuvre that imbues an unspoken paradox and labyrinthine sensibility onto this blog’s unofficial tagline: “Looking for an exit.”)
(I’m also remembering somewhat fondly that the first work of philosophy I ever read was Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus and there is perhaps no better example of all this form of questioning than that.)
In the introduction Ramey summarises his book’s position and reason for existing with a note on Deleuze’s thought that I think must be common to many but often left unacknowledged. It will be a sensation familiar to anyone, I hope, who still remembers the initial (and often prolonged) intoxication of reading philosophy — and this is an experience that is extra persistent within Deleuze’s writings in particular. It is that sensation of, at first, not understanding a word of what you’ve just read but nonetheless sensing something within it; some sort of force which escapes his writing (and which is otherwise missing from so much other impenetrable philosophy).
Commenting on this,
in relation to one of Deleuze’s most often misunderstood influences, Ramey
Deleuze argues that immanent thought, at the limit of cognitive capacity, discovers as-yet-unrealized potentials of the mind, and the body. That is to say, what connects Deleuze to [Antonin] Artaud is the conviction that what matters for life, and for thought, is an encounter with imperceptible forces in sensations, affections, and conceptions, and that these forces truly generate the mind, challenging the coordination of the faculties by rendering the self from its habits.
It is the argument of this book that the power of thought, for Deleuze, consists in a kind of initiatory ordeal. Such ordeal transpires through an immersion of the self in uncanny moments when a surprising and alluring complicity of nature and psyche is revealed.
Ramey’s grounding rings especially true, for me, with this new essay. If it reads like an introduction to DeleuzoGuattarian thought, that’s somewhat intentional. Speaking of initiatory ordeals, this essay conflates two of my own that I have found frequently overlapping — one deeply personal, the other intellectual.
The primal trauma of adoption is my own initiatory ordeal: a problem at the heart of my existence that has troubled me for longer than I can remember, escaping the trappings of cognitive memory and instead lurking somewhere else, somewhere impenetrable. It is an ordeal that psychotherapy has never gotten anywhere near. It is, rather, an experience that can only be accessed via philosophy and, beyond that even, a poetics.
As each term or concept is passed around from group to group, rising to the surface of public discourse by virtue of this promiscuity, we watch with horror as each word tumbles into meaninglessness, where one group’s gospel is another’s shameful misuse. This is a situation we are used to seeing, of course, in various different contexts, but to see it as a central trap from which contemporary politics cannot seem to wrest itself is depressing to many. Indeed, defining contemporaneity in itself as the temporally progressive shoreline of a universalised thinking, we find ourselves in a moment of traumatic untimeliness through which discourses and the concepts that fuel them become fatally entwined in a mutually destructive death-spiral, both seemingly incapable of affecting the other to the degree that we have long been told is necessary, each diluting the structural analyses of the other in the popular imagination. Consensus becomes both weapon and shield for all sides who proclaim possession of the majority’s support whilst ultimately finding it impotent as various positions go to war with one another over minor differences of opinion. We watch helplessly as Overton Windows overlap, creating a disorientating and kaleidoscopic politics.
So, what is to be done? How do we deal with words — with concepts — when their innate lack of consensual meaning is abused with such regularity? How do we stand by the words and concepts we deploy in our conversations, resisting their cooption, whilst retaining their potential for the production of the new? How do we remain true to our broader identifications with the left or the right when both umbrellas are so full of holes?
I have a new essay in the 5th edition of Alienist Magazine on the topic of “Resistance and Experiment”.
This essay was a tough one to write — physically and intellectually — much of it was penned during a fever — so many thanks to the editors with their patience and also for publishing the whole thing. (It’s quite long — I blame fever-reading the brief for ignoring the words “short-ish statement”. Note to self: Don’t say yes to things when your brain is mush — although I am particularly proud of how this came out.)
It’s a product of a renewal of my Blanchot obsession, attempting to make sense of the philosophical conception of “friendship” as found in his work but also the work of Deleuze and Guattari, Bataille and Nietzsche; and it’s an attempt to make their collective conception of the term less alien to our contemporary politics.
I will undoubtedly expand on this on the blog later. It’s a knotted topic and one which I hope is read as challenging thought on all sides of politics rather than being read as an alignment with one side or another (although there is a palpable communist bias.)
Unfortunately, this issue contains explicitly transphobic content which I do not stand beside at all. I did not know who I’d be sharing the issue with prior to publishing but that’s not to say I regret submitting this text. In fact, I think this is the only text I would have been comfortable submitting even if I had known before hand. This concept of “friendship” is not one that I think anyone is very good at embodying in the present — whether on the left or the right; myself included — but whilst the left’s problems are largely self-evident, this issue does well to demonstrate the ways in which the right fails to do this as well.
Friendship, in this sense, is something I’m rethinking with a new vigour at the moment, trying to make sense of how it might be beneficial to our present moment.