DJ Huysmans’ Unsound Methods

To celebrate the release of AUDINT’s Unsound : Undead, DJ Huysmans has put together an audio trailer which “features some of the sonic phenomena explored in the book, and pays tribute to some other spectres still close to us.”

There’s also a field recording by yours truly in there at the end.

See the full tracklist here and listen below.

The Pineal Eye Sleeps on Bodmin Moor

In the early stages of L.T.C. Rolt’s short story ‘Music Hath Charms’ (1948), two companions view the landscape from the train: ‘they saw the majestic shape of St Michael’s Mount framed in the carriage window’. The scene is pictured, ‘framed’, as a distant view, stripped of any other senses, as is characteristic of ‘the tourist gaze’. In this case the journey is from London to Cornwall, as it is in other gothic fictions by authors across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ranging from Wilkie Collins’s Basil (1852) to Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903) and several of E.F. Benson’s ghost stories (from 1912 to the 1930s). In such stories Cornwall — along with Yorkshire, Cumbria and other rural regions with coastlines — operates as a peripheral location at the edge of England.

A narrative pattern in these stories is the progress from distant, window-framed views of landscapes, laid out in front of their viewers like the page of a book, to an increasing immersion in the sounds of unsettling, sometimes dangerous environments.

Shelley Trower, “Peripheral Vibrations”

The eye, at the summit of the skull, opening on the incandescent sun in order to contemplate it in a sinister solitude, is not a product of the understanding, but is instead an immediate existence; it opens and blinds itself like a conflagration, or like a fever that eats the being, or more exactly, the head. And thus it plays the role of a fire in a house; the head, instead of locking up life as money is locked in a safe, spends it without counting, for, at the end of this erotic metamorphosis, the head has received the electric power of points. This great burning head is the image and the disagreeable light of the notion of expenditure, beyond the still empty notion as it is elaborated on the basis of methodical analysis.

From the first, myth is identified not only with life but with the loss of life with degradation and death. Starting from the being who bore it, it is not at all an external product, but the form that this being takes in his lubricious avatars, in the ecstatic gift he makes of himself as obscene and nude victim — and a victim not before an obscure and immaterial force, but before great howls of prostitutes’ laughter.

Existence no longer resembles a neatly defined itinerary from one practical sign to another, but a sickly incandescence, a durable orgasm.

Georges Bataille, “The Pineal Eye”

‘Nothing stands in the way of a phantomlike and adventurous description of the universe’, wrote Georges Bataille. And then, in keeping with his ocular fetishism, he conjured up the pineal eye — a primordial eye seated at the top of the human skull that contemplates the sun, then immolates the head like ‘a fire in a house’, causing the ecstatic sufferer to spend life’s currency without count. Bataille’s speculation on the pineal eye was no doubt a ‘subversive negotiation with the impossible’ — a delirium entangled with myth, a myth ‘identified not only with life but with the loss of life — with degradation and death’. The pineal eye forges the very image of Bataille’s notion of expenditure.

But Bataille failed to extend his speculation to the aural domain. Beholden to vision, Bataille was oblivious to the advent of the pineal ear.

Brooker Buckingham, “The Pineal Ear”



Two of these quotes are taken from the new AUDINT book, Unsound : Undead, which I’m really proud to have worked on as editorial assistant at Urbanomic. It’s out now.

Picture Wizard

As I have repeatedly mentioned on Xenogothic — perhaps one day to my peril — there have been many blogs in my life prior to this one. The longest running blog I’ve had was a 5-year photoblog which I culled in a deep depression at the start of 2016 and, despite the occasional lacklustre attempt, it never got started again. There were a few abortive attempts at writing-only blogs and some that were more hybridised between text and image but they never really worked out. Then Xenogothic was born and it feels like the best platform I’ve ever built for myself online.

Before that, however, I used to call myself “Picture Wizard”…

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The sentiment of this blog, despite appearances, was very much the same as Xenogothic. It was an attempt to document the occasional vibrancy and humour and beauty of our “boring dystopia”. A diary of the few things that would make me happy throughout an otherwise hollow and melancholic existent. I really fucking loved that blog.

More recently, as Xenogothic has settled into its own rhythm, and I have become less paranoid and reluctant to associate my meatself with my cyberself, I’ve started to feel less bitter about the bridges burned with these former selves, and Picture Wizard was such a long-running labour of joy that it would be a shame not to let some of these projects that I’m most proud of slip back in under this moniker.


On this old photoblog, I used to collect up all the best photos from each year and make them into print-on-demand books. I’ve tried to post a few things like this on Xenogothic here and here — but they are few and far between because, much to my own disappointment, I’m out of the habit of taking photos every day.

But I’m still really proud of these books. They encapsulate the love I had for looking at things that I refused to let my undergraduate degree take away from me. Rather than unlearn stuff later on, I decided to double-down on this enthusiasm and let it guide me, unpretentiously, letting photography be a way of processing the world like any other, not wanting it to be infected by a egotistical romanticism that came to define a lot of my peers. (My post-postgrad existence feels driven very much by the same wonderfully aimless energy.)

As a result, I never did make much of a go at being a “professional” photographer — although I had a few fun experiences in that industry, working at music festivals most memorably — but, very much in line with the ethos of this blog, I thought: why should I try and shape what I was doing for the sake of an exhibition when I could just do what I wanted on my blog? I don’t care about impressing people. I just wanna express myself. *hair flip*

The problem with this is that, if people think you’re nonchalant about monetising your work, they won’t hesitate to do so for their own gain. I had my photographic fingers burnt a few times…

These Picture Wizard annuals became a way of addressing this. The blog was added to with fervour and enthusiasm but, at the end of each year, I would take all the images and edit them rigorously into a cohesive sequence over many months, creating a vibrant visual journey that takes you through 12 months’ worth of form and colour.

There are two volumes in this series, documenting 2013 and 2014 respectively, and I remain immensely proud of them. A sequence for the third was completed but the cover art never got finished and then it fell into archive dormancy. Maybe I’ll get it out one day. Whilst my Blurb account is still live, Picture Wizard #01 #02 might as well be allowed to migrate over here as a glimpse into a past life when I took 1000s of pictures a week rather than writing 1000s of words.

You can see flick-through videos of the books and links to their pages on my Blurb shop over on my now-updated Books & Zines page.

Community Remains

A text commissioned in 2017 for the final degree show publication of the BA(hons) Photographic Art course at the University of South Wales in Cardiff, which I was a student on between 2010-2013, prior to various course cancellations and institutional mergers.

The degree show took place in a repurposed old warehouse in the Cardiff Bay area on 9th June 2017. I didn’t share this at the time because I didn’t have a blog but it’s an essay that captures a very personal moment in my thinking about community that I’d now like to share.



In 2014 I was asked to write an afterword for the BA (hons) Photographic Art degree show publication, Leaving the Building. I wrote about “experience” and what that word means, negotiating its limits in relation to the illusory role photography plays in helping us grasp ungraspable experience as it unfolds all around us. At that time, I had survived the dreaded first year out of university and felt I could relate to the myriad experiences of the following year’s graduating students. What was looming for them on the horizon, terrifying in its unknowability, was, for me, starting to show its shape; shifting from abstract experience into an experience.

Now, three years later, as the assimilation of the University of South Wales’ photography courses reaches its completion, I have been asked to return to this topic again. Unfortunately, the experiences of this year’s graduating students are unknown to me. This unknowing is not a bad thing — I am excited to see what they have been up to. However, I wonder, as I write these words in another city and at another university, am I still in a position to say anything meaningful here? How can I write about experience again without having a tangible experience in common?

What we do have in common is the influence of Peter Bobby, Eileen Little, Magali Nougarède & Matt White — not to mention the guidance of those previously a part of this team and their many invited guests. Each of them has been along for the ride with us, no more certain of what the future holds, repeatedly adapting to changes both inside and outside of the university. So what of their experiences? How do they collide with the experiences of we students and alumni?

What we share, if not an experience, is a community — and I do not mean this in the sense that we will soon be receiving the same alumni emails. The typical definition of the word “community” fails here. When asked how to define the “Photo Art” course (as it is affectionately known) I have often said: it is an arts course that takes photography as its starting point. It has produced works of photography, audio, sculpture, video, performance, and everything in between, and so to define our community through a common interest is reductive. Likewise, having moved from Caerleon and Newport to Cardiff, this community cannot be reduced to a shared space either. Rather “community” here refers to something beyond what the word itself describes.

These demands on the word “community” are central to experiences of the modern university — a space that must be ruptured for creativity to take place (even when the university itself paradoxically instigates the rupturing). Stefano Harney and Fred Moten ask, in their book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, what is the work of the modern university and what is its social capacity for producing a certain fugitivity from its controls?

If one were to say teaching, one would be performing the work of the university. […] It is not teaching that holds this social capacity, but something that produces the not visible other side of teaching, a thinking through the skin of teaching toward a collective orientation to the knowledge object as future project, and a commitment to what we want to call the prophetic organization. But it is teaching that brings us in. Before there are grants, research, conferences, books, and journals there is the experience of being taught and of teaching. [1]

They go on to describe a “beyond of teaching”: a social praxis of pedagogy that does not simply transmit knowledge to the consumer-student but encourages an acephalic community of independent thinkers; a community of a shared secret that is fugitive to bureaucracy.

This “community” is not something worked towards and achieved but rather something experienced in itself, outside of regulation — the kind of community that Jean-Luc Nancy and Maurice Blanchot have respectively referred to as “inoperative” and “unavowable”. It does not exist for the sake of networking or profit or climbing the ladder of industry — the pursuits of the individual — but as a way of being that requires a collective subject in order to sustain itself. Jason Kemp Winfree, discussing “community” in the thought of Nancy, Blanchot and Bataille, writes that:

Community is not, therefore, an extant division or willed unity within the social order, but a configuration of luck and chance where one being opens onto another and is what it is only through this opening. […] Community is constituted in the overlapping of wounds, the sharing not only of what cannot be shared, but the sharing of a suffering that is neither mine nor yours, a suffering that does not belong to us, but which gives us to one another, and in doing so both maintains and withdraws the beings so configured. [This community is] an exhilarating affirmation of chance, the will to be what befalls it but that its will could never produce. [2]

The word “suffering” looms large here as something abject in its negativity but it speaks to a wider experience that is folded within life itself; within the good and the bad; the trivial and the profound. (One of Blanchot’s primary examples is, hearteningly, “the community of lovers”.) From debt and dissertation stress to the political uncertainty that looms large over the institution and the world at large; from class trips and nights-out to exhibitions and those life-affirming moments of inspiration, the Photo Art community is one that exists through the necessity of navigating these various trials and triumphs together, starting with photography and moving continuously towards its outside. As such, this is not a photography course that wants to simply document the world and be cold to it — rather, it aims to make a world for itself to live in.

Maurice Blanchot, ending his book The Unavowable Community, asks if his thoughts have been worthwhile and I ask myself this question too, “given that each time we have talked about [this community’s] way of being, one has had the feeling that one grasped only what makes it exist by default? So, would it have been better to have remained silent?” [3] Not at all: this question of community — unique in each instance — must be asked so that it may be entrusted “to others, not that they may answer it, rather that they may choose to carry it with them, and, perhaps, extend it.” [4] It is here, in these requisite extensions, that Photo Art truly reveals itself.

Hopefully the event at which you will be holding this publication in your hands for the first time will be a testament to this, surrounded by students past and present who have travelled far and wide to say goodbye to a course that has shaped them far beyond the remit expected of any university course. It shall be missed… but this is not the end.

The community remains. The experience continues.



[1] Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. “The University And The Undercommons”. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013), pgs. 26-27. Harney and Moten write specifically on the role of the black radical tradition in this “beyond of teaching”, a foundation I do not wish to erase. What they refer to as the “undercommons” is a community of figures displaced and dispossessed within the particular systems of the modern American university. Whilst this resonates most explicitly on the fragile ground of contemporary black experience, to invoke their criticality here more generally, on the occasion of the final degree show and dissolution of this course, nonetheless feels appropriate.

[2] Jason Kemp Winfree. “The Contestation of Community” in The Obsessions of Georges Bataille: Community and Communication, eds. Andrew J. Mitchell and Jason Kemp Winfree. (New York: SUNY Press, 2009), pg. 41

[3] Maurice Blanchot. The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris. (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1988), pg. 56

[4] Ibid.

“Acid Communism”: New Essay in Krisis Magazine

‘Acid’ is desire, as corrosive and denaturalising multiplicity, flowing through the multiplicities of communism itself to create alinguistic feedback loops; an ideological accelerator through which the new and previously unknown might be found in the politics we mistakenly think we already know, reinstantiating a politics to come.

I was invited to write an essay for Krisis, Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, back in January.

Their latest issue, “Marx from the Margins”, is an A-to-Z exploration of all the strange places Marxism has spread to in the 200 years since Karl Marx’s birth back in 1818 in the German city of Trier.

Specifically, I was asked to write a short entry on “Acid Communism”, Mark Fisher’s corrosive play on Marx’s original manifesto and it has finally gone live.

I’m really proud of this one. You can read it here.

Continue reading ““Acid Communism”: New Essay in Krisis Magazine”

Points of View: New Essay on ŠUM

By embracing the vagaries of human life and the self-objectifying production of the sign of the subject, we can succeed in dissolving ourselves into something altogether new.

I have a new essay on ŠUM entitled “Points of View: On Photography & Our Fragmentary, Transcendental Selves”. You can read it here.

I first started writing this essay back in 2015. Very little remains of the first version but it feels very surreal to finally have this out in some form after so many attempts at it. I’m happy to have persevered.

Shout out to everyone in Ljubljana. I want to say a huge thank you to Marko Bauer and Andrej Škufca for reaching out, and Miha Šuštar for taking the time to proofread and edit it. I had a lot of fun doing this.

 

Outside-Worship at the Vast Abrupt

This is how time’s story ends

In the untimely history of zero, intelligence finds its ultimate horizon in absolute risk. An abysmal, divaricating threat defines the game. Titan shadow of the dealer in the fog. There is only one way out: to go all in.

A spasm shakes the frame.

You find yourself inside an empty theatre, but the dimensionality is wrong. The ground warps around your steps, stage lights refract off impossible surfaces. Alien lines splinter and reform. You see yourself stalking behind the wings and reach out to connect, but space isn’t responding how it should. You’re losing your grip. A waveform uncoils, oscillates between you and the double across a nightmare terrain of molten geometry. Differentials dance in the intervals, an infinitesimal conflict that betrays the closeness of infinity. The double points behind you and your arm returns the gesture―but it’s the wrong hand. Metrics collapse into chiral discrepancy. A tragic click initiates a cascade of involuting echoes that fuse with the light, refined by feedback into a trans-spectral howl that tests the limits of the theatre’s manifold.

When the echo finally disintegrates, the thing that was you understands this is because it has beached space on time. The vast abrupt: sprawling and compressed, black infinity seared to a singular point―zero gnawing at the lip of elanguescence.

Antimemory floods the system. Something mouths, ‘What happened?’

EXIT


If you haven’t already seen it, the Vast Abrupt has recently ripped a hole in the blogosphere. All those who have gazed into it have been as repulsed as they have been entranced.

Thomas Moynihan’s seven days of Cosmic Dyspepsia is as intoxicating an induction as you could ever be force-fed (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Justin Murphy’s Atomisation & Liberation, Uriel Alexis’ Skins and the Game, and Edmund Berger’s introduction to Synthetic Fabrication have all provided various other fascinating twists and turns around the hive mind of Cave Twitter’s troglodytes.

Yesterday it was my turn. You can read my essay Reaching Beyond to the Other: On Communal Outside-Worship here.

Don’t turn your back on the void for a second. You might miss what it spits out at you next.