Nerve Ganglion of Capital

Sat navs do not like Felixstowe. It has taken us three attempts to get here.

The first attempt, tried some months ago, was done by sight alone as we made a slight detour to Felixstowe on our way back to London. After driving around back streets and turning down too many roads we were evidently not meant to go down, we gave up and said “next time.”

This time, putting the official “viewing point” into Google Maps, we were still taken directly into the Port of Felixstowe. Messaging a friend who works on ships and has spent a lot of time there, we were informed that we were indeed lost — not that we needed that confirming — circling around “Berths 8 & 9”.

He told us that, in fact, we shouldn’t have been able to get that far without a security check. Nevertheless, we found all the lorry drivers very courteous as we fumbled our way around stacks of shipping containers and disintegrating office blocks…

We eventually made our way to the appropriate viewing spot, looking out over that major “nerve ganglion of capital” as Mark Fisher and Justin Barton refer to the Port in On Vanishing Land. It was strange being quite so close and yet so far away from it. Standing on the stunted beach, it felt more like a shoreline of undeveloped land rather than beach by the sea. It was like spatial polarities had been reversed.

From this strange vantage point, the Port’s main offloading point was a literal stone’s throw away, and yet nothing looked to scale. It’s difficult to wrap your head around — the sheer size of the operation perpetually unfolding and the labour hours and wealth of commodities being moved back and forth through this city and around the world and the rest of the country.

As if to drive all this home with a healthy dose of eerie, I picked up a flyer as we left the viewing point cafe — they did a good mushroom soup — that was advertising a children’s Hallowe’en event at Landguard Fort, right next to the Port viewing point.

I was half-convinced the event it was advertising was real. Before finding the ad we had just been discussing the eerie nature of these huge and anonymous containers. What is inside them? Do they ever get lost? The flyer read:

A strange artefact known as the Mask of the Dead that was unearthed at the G’harne excavation site in Africa — and then mysteriously stolen — has been found in a container at the Port during a customs check. As a security measure the artefact has temporarily been moved to Landguard Fort for safekeeping before been taken to the British Museum in London.

The mask was reputed to have legendary powers. The wearer could raise an army of the dead, and his enemies would grow weak and die just looking at it. The mask disappeared centuries ago until its recent discovery.

Due to the interest it has generated, for one night only, you are invited to attend a special Open Evening at Landguard Fort on Saturday 26 October — where the mask will be revealed and an expert archaeologist will be present to answer questions.

I thought, in my cultured ways, that the G’harne excavation actually sounded familiar. It turned out this was not my latent knowledge of the African continent, however, but an echo from the Cthulhu mythos.

How wonderfully appropriate to finish our Suffolk trip here, with capitalist and Cthulhic tendrils entangling with one another before the drive back to London.

We’ll be coming back later for another weekend away in a few weeks. Immediately the return to London has brought back the constant anxious hum and chest-tightness that defines every day in this city. We’re so grateful to have friends that will allow us to escape and visit whenever we like. They are a lifeline.

I need to get out of London permanently soon, I think. I’d rather face Cthulhic horrors and natural emptiness than the perpetual buzz of this city for much longer. I’m at a risk of starting to sound like Lovecraft himself, although it’s the landlords and bad drivers that I hate, not some racialised cult of subalterns…

Sutton Hoo Eerie

Sutton Hoo is an eerie place but not like I was expecting. It’s eerie in a strangely material sense.

Its failures of presence and failures of absence define everything about it. Myths and legends, loans and leases, geologically and archaeologically.

At first, it’s all a bit tragic.

The greatest archaeological find in British history was discovered on this site in the late 1930s. The Sutton Hoo ship burial. Echoing the plot of an Indiana Jones film, the final resting place of the Anglo-Saxon King Rædwald of East Anglia was uncovered on the eve of war in 1939. He was buried along with his ship and a host of treasures, much of which remained perfectly intact and undisturbed. (Everything inorganic at least.)

The find was so significant it was later gifted to the British Museum, where it remains. At Sutton Hoo itself, you’ll only find — nonetheless ornate — replicas of King Rædwald’s glittering stash. The museum seems to have undergone a huge recent refurbishment recently and, having worked in museums, I reckon the redevelopment has been done to such a high standard with the eventual goal being to return the treasures to their home. (Loaning anything from the country’s biggest institutions is almost impossible unless you’re able to match their own conservation standards, creating something of a catch-22 for less well-funded sites.)

So the treasures were here but they’re not here now. You can see their heavily documented traces but we’d need to go back to London to see the real thing. It’s a shame, and also not really a big deal, but it feels like the tip of an eerie iceberg as far as faltering presences are concerned.

Inside one of the site’s buildings, displays are given over to the context in which the ship burial was first discovered, with comments from curators and archaeologists past and present, commenting on the history of the place and the fascination it still provokes within various archaeological fields.

On one display panel there is a quote taken from testimony given by Mercie Lack, a photographer who documented the initial excavation process. She explains:

The impression of the ship, alas, was of a fleeting nature, a kind of ghost-ship, revealed for a short time during which it was possible to make records, photographs and sketches and then the original was gone for ever.

At first, I didn’t think much of this, but later, going on a guided tour, we were informed by our guide that the ground around Sutton Hoo is highly acidic. Anything organic buried here is dissolved completely — well, almost completely….

Corpses buried create “sand bodies” — imprints of matter which preserve the shape of an previously present organic object but which crumble and dissolve like old sandcastles at the slightest encouragement. Bone or bark: it leaves only a trace. Having been used as a spot for executions a few hundred years after the death of King Rædwald, there were plenty of sand bodies at Sutton Hoo, but what can you learn from sand? It turns out a lot but, to the layperson such as I, it seems like chasing smoke.

In this sense, what the fortuitously-named Lack was documenting was precisely a succession of ghosts. Her description is far less poetic and analogous than it sounds. There was no corpse of the King and no wood from his ship. Just geological echoes, hastily copied and documented before the inevitable.

This elusiveness is everywhere. Out by the burial mounds, even these have been partly reconstructed, with their prior stature eroded by the weather. A multi-storey viewing platform was being constructed whilst we were there — the mounds appear far more pronounced when seen from above, we’re told — but, to the untrained eye, you’re in a lumpy field. This is only unusual relative to the absolute flatness of the majority of the Suffolk landscape. Intriguingly, surrounded by such emptiness, even traces and echoes are deliriously enticing, something M.R. James demonstrated well in its Suffolk ghost stories.

Sutton Hoo is beautiful and mysterious and the story of its discovery is like an adventure, with curses and deaths and drama and war and uncertainty and tragedy. None of the above is a critique of its management. I loved it all the more for its sand-through-our-fingers futility. Like at Dunwich and in Sebald, this county’s accelerated sense of the inevitable feels particularly important to the Suffolk mindset.

I think I’m coming to understand this place more as each day goes by.

Dungeness II

A few weeks ago we went back to Dungeness, on something of an explicit Derek Jarman pilgrimage. (The same day we saw The Outside Inn in Rye.)

Far more secure in myself than last time, no panic attacks were had, but we also found ourselves there in the midst of tourist season.

Whereas last time we found ourselves inadvertently thrust into its emptiness, this time we found ourselves near roadkill for ageing motorcycle gangs and motorhomes, providing a horrifying vision of a post-Brexit Britain with bourgeois-twee Mad Max stylings.

There was more to be said here about Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature here which I originally intended to affix to yesterday’s post on selves and outsideness, but too much time has passed now. More thoughts lost to the pressures of book-writing.

Maybe next time. I’m sure there’ll be one.

Ed Berger on Metaphysics of Absence

Following on from Monacelli’s article on patchwork yesterday, Ed Berger has been in the comments of an old Xenogothic post also making me quite excited about patchwork again.

Adding to a post from last year on the metaphysics of absense, Ed writes:

I’ve been rereading Tiqqun’s This is Not A Program recently, and found my mind drifting to this post. I’ve mentioned before how I think that a lot of Tiqqun’s arguments find an interesting compliment to some of the stuff you’ve been sketching — the discussion of secession, understood outside of the traditional notions of secession as state-formation, as a basis for communism (I recently found an essay by John Roberts that (critically) described communization, the theorertical frame that Tiqqun is closest to, as “exit-communism”); their return to Bataille to connect this to absolute heterogeneity, etc.

Anyways, in one of the later chapters of This Is Not A Program is a lengthy discussion of presence. Absence is mentioned only obliquely, it’s rather uhh absent but still haunts the text, and I think there might be an interesting way that what they’re saying might relate to how you’ve described Mark’s acid communism as an ‘eerie politics’ .

They start with some fellow named Ernesto de Martino and his book The World of Magic (looks pretty lit). de Martino suggests two “ages of presence”, one associated with archaic society and the other to the modern. In the modern (I guess now postmodern) condition, presence is presupposed, with a “guaranteed being-in-the-world” which is based on a split between the (stable) self and the world being taken as a given. In the archaic — the titular world of magic — the intrinsic stability of this barrier is recognized at a fundamental level. The self is always subjected to exteriority, and the world is always teeming with that which cannot be assimilated. Magical rites, shamanism, etc. respond to this ‘crisis of presence’ by restaging the crisis as a means to regain control over it. This is the importance of the fetish, which serves as the receptacle or object that stands in for the subject-in-crisis (as an ‘alter-ego’). So the crisis of the interior sense of presence derives from exteriority, or what de Martino calls the “world which makes itself present” leads to the ‘recapture’ of presence via magic and religion.

Tiqqun critique de Martino that seems very similar to your critique of the legacy of Descartes here: they suggest the opposition of presence and the world-which-makes-itself-present is a false one that is stuck within a phenomenological frame of reference; instead, presence and the world-which-makes-itself-present should be understood as process, the latter being what gives rise to the former. The ‘primitive’ or archaic society is intrinsically open to exteriority, and this openness is in fact the ground for magic and religion. The modern, meanwhile, with its given acceptance to the stability of the self/world ‘boundary’, is a closed entity, which induces an impoverished form-of-life.

They go on to argue that we have to historicize presence, or look at the different ways that presence is organized — “economies of presence”. Today there is a “general crisis of presence”, reflective of immense social crisis (i.e. economic, political, ecological, etc) — but this is augmented with take-up of Foucault’s biopolitics as the political management of this crisis. They mention depression and its pharmocological regulation in relation to this, which immediately brings to mind Mark’s insistence on the political character of depression, but biopower is expanded to encompass the welfare state, policy activity, etc. “Biopolitics holds a monopoly over remedies to presence in criris, which it is always ready to defend with the most extreme violence”.

Left politics that seek to grapple over biopower (welfare state social democracy, managerial socialism, etc) don’t seek to abolish it, but instead look to its perfection (elsewhere they indict forms of ‘green’ social democracy, basic income schemes and ‘cybernetic socialisms’ under this critique). Against this they suggest an ‘ecstatic politics’, the aim of which is “not to rescue abstractly — through successive re/presentations — human presence from dissolution, but instead to critique a participitable magic, techniques for inhabiting not a territory but a world. And this creation, this play between different economies of presence, between different forms-of-life, entails the subversion and liquidation of all apparatuses” (apparatuses being the ‘tools’ that the biopolitical regime utilizes).

I’m not quite sure how to square this with the remixing of presence and absence into the weird and the eerie, but the various points of connectivity — the mutual basis in presence/absense, the discourse around biopolitics (particularly in relation to mental health issues), and the similarities between ‘ecstatic politics’ and ‘acid communism’ — seems like there might be an interesting dialogue to form here. Also there’s this, a bit from the beginning of the book, which makes Marcuse sound utterly Bataillean, and also seems to fix precisely with the approach you’ve been articulating:

“Before ’68 brough the dialectic swaggering back — the dialectic as the way of thinking final reintegration – Marcuse attempted to think through this curious configuration of conflict [here they’re talking about the paradox of resisting something that holds itself as having no outside]. In a speech from 1966 entitled ‘The Concept of Negation in the Dialectic’, Marcuse attacks the Hegelo-Marxist propensity to introduce negation within an antagonistic whole, whether between two classes, between the socialist camp and the capitalist camp, or between Capital and labor. To this tendency he opposes a contradiction, a negation that comes from the outside. He observes the staging of conflict within social totality, which have been the defining characteristic of the workers’ movement, is but the mechanism by which they freeze out the event, prevent the actual negation from occurring from the outside. ‘The outside is that which I have spoken is not to be understood mechanistically in the spatial sense, but, on the contrary, as the qualitative difference which overcomes the existing antitheses inside the antagonistic partial whole […] and which is not reducible to these antitheses […] [T]he force of negation is concentrated in no one class. Politically and morally, rationally and instictively, it is a chaotic, anarchic opposition: the refusal to join and play a part, the disgust at all propensity, the compulsion to protest. It is a feeble, unorganized opposition which nonetheless rests on motives and purposes which stands in irreconcilable contradiction to the existing whole.”

There is so much to unpack here but, right off the bat, I’m reminded of Mark’s essay “Digital Psychedelia” in which he writes explicitly on capitalist counter-sorceries. This is certainly a thread that Mark himself was exploring, albeit with different reference points.

I’m going to sit on this for a while and maybe read some Tiqqun for myself. Perhaps a Weird ‘n’ Eerie Acid Communism refresher is on the cards.

The Lost City of Dunwich

Last weekend’s unexpected trip to Suffolk ended up being a bit of a wash out. On the first of our two days in the easternmost English county I had a brain-splintering migraine — the first I can remember having in about a decade — and so spent all of Saturday in bed, napping in between shrouded attempts to watch the second season of Netflix’s geophilosophical time war drama Dark, which I’m going to have to write something about soon. (I never fulfilled my last promise to write about season one.)

Thankfully, after a somewhat wasted day hiding behind black-out blinds in a relative stranger’s house, we did manage to go on an adventure the following day to Dunwich — or what’s left of it at least.

I had wanted to see Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Sutton Hoo and go on a full Sebaldian / Fisherian expedition but with Dunwich a convenient 15-minute drive away it was the only place we had time to properly explore.

Dunwich is a famous ancient site on the east coast of England. Founded during the Roman empire’s occupation of Britain and growing ever bigger throughout the so-called Dark Ages, it was one of the largest cities (and ports) in the country for many centuries. Then, following a devastating storm which accelerated an already steady process of coastal erosion, the city was essentially let go. By the end of the 19th century, all that remained was the church of St. James’ and this last bastion of the settlement at Dunwich was itself gone completely by the 1930s — a process that was heavily and eerily documented.

Today, looking out from the top of the cliff, you wouldn’t know anything had ever been there. Misremembering the state of the city today, I expected to see some anonymous structures or even just the odd bit of wall but, looking out on the site from the cliff edge, we saw nothing but an east coast beach like any other.

Last time I mentioned just how laden this landscape was with all that I’ve read about it and, indeed, all that I’ve seen of it.

There is something of a photographer’s curse is going out to locations that are famous to you. Most often this is the likes of Paris or New York — heavily photographed locations that you may dream of photographing for yourself, only to find the photographs of others inescapable in your mind’s eye.

Looking out over this blank expanse where Dunwich had once thrived, the sight of fishermen on the beach only brought to mind the habitual hauntings of W.G. Sebald’s photography and prose. He describes a similar sight, seen a little further down the coast, in The Rings of Saturn — and he even has a picture of this beach tribe to boot.

He writes:

From the footpath that runs along the grassy dunes and low cliffs one can see, at any time of day or night and at any time of year, as I have often found, all manner of tent-like shelters made of poles and cordage, sailcloth and oilskin, along the pebble beach. They are strung out in a long line on the margin of the sea, at regular intervals. It is as if the last stragglers of some nomadic people had settled there, at the outermost limit of the earth, in expectation of the miracle longed for since time immemorial, the miracle which would justify all their erstwhile privations and wanderings. In reality, however, these men camping out under the heavens have not traversed faraway lands and deserts to reach this strand. Rather, they are from the immediate neighbourhood, and have long been in the habit of fishing there and gazing out to the sea as it changes before their eyes.

The irony of this, perhaps, is that at Dunwich it’s not just the sea in front of you that you have to keep an eye on, but everything you know that exists behind you as well. Having turned their back on the cliffs in favour of the sea, what occurred was inevitable.

It is a given that a change in front of you occasions a change behind. The pebbles they camp out on are the detritus from the moments where both sides meet. This is true of any beach, of course, but the memory of Dunwich still lingers down the generations even though its buildings do not.

Today, only one sign of this particular settlement remains. Tucked away under brambles and behind a fence which warns you of how close the cliff edge is, despite being obscured by overgrowth, is “the last grave”. A sign nearby reads:

This is the last surviving gravestone from the churchyard of the medieval church of All Saints, which lay about 40 metres to the east of this spot. Old bones still occasionally weather out of the cliff face. 

The church was disused from 1758 and fell over the eroding cliff between 1904 and 1920. The last tower buttress was dismantled and rebuilt in the present churchyard of St James Church. 

The gravestone reads: “In Memory of JACOB FORSTER who departed this Life March 12th 1796 Aged 38 Years”

These faded letters and the continued eerie presence of this long lost city bring to mind Henry James’ comments on old Dunwich. He once wrote:

Dunwich is not even the ghost of its dead self; almost all you can say is that consists of the mere letters of the old name. The coast, up and down, for miles has been, for more centuries that I presume to count, gnawed away by the sea. All the grossness of its positive life is now at the bottom of the German Ocean, which moves for ever, like a ruminating beast, an insatiable, indefatigable lip. Few things are so melancholy — and so redeemed from mere ugliness by sadness — as this long, artificial straightness that the monster has impartially maintained. If at low tide you walk on the shore, on the cliffs, of the little height, show you a defence picked bare as a bone; and you can say nothing kinder of the general humility and general sweetness of the land that this sawlike action gives it, for the fancy, an interest, a sort of mystery for there is now no more to show than the empty eye-holes of a skull; and half the effect of the whole thing, half the secret of the impression, and what I may really call, I think, the source of the distinction, is the very visibility of the mutilation. Such at any rate is the case for the mind that can properly brood. There is a presence in what is missing…

If this sounds familiar in its evocation of an eerie Suffolk, we might note that James’ comments (and those of another James — M.R. James — who also wrote so much about this coastline’s haunted melancholia) were central to Mark Fisher’s writings and undoubtedly form the backbone of what he would term “the eerie” — that failure of presence and failed of absence.

Mark would open a k-punk post with this very quote. Titled “Suffolk hauntology (some provisional notes)“, his notes on the lost city are not only a beautiful evocation of a Dunwich Gothic but of a more general eerie Britishness, tangled up with the growing pains of modernity and the phantom limb of feudalism. He writes:

The fate of Dunwich fascinated the Victorian mind. The town had come to public notice in the 1830s as one of the ‘rotten boroughs’ eliminated by the Reform Act of 1832 — until the Act was passed, Dunwich, which then had a population of less than forty, still had the right to elect two MPs. Its notoriety led to a reawakening of interest of the ‘visibly mutilated’ town, and poets and painters — most, no doubt, taking advantage of the East Suffolk Railway, opened in 1851, — rushed to Dunwich to indulge in melancholy disquisitions on the vanity of physical existence. After all, the disappeared port was practically a vanitas painting brought to life — or to unlife; for, if as James notes, all the town’s ‘positive life’ had crumbled away, what is left at Dunwich must be either a negative life or a negation of life.

There is rather more in James’ observations than the penny dreadful piety and mawkishness which Dunwich brought out in many of its Victorians observers. James understood that, for the mind capable of brooding — and he insists, later in the essay, ‘that it to the brooding mind only, and from it, that I speak’ — there is a jouissance to be derived from the melancholy contemplation of what has disappeared, and continues to disappear.

There were major landmarks yet to disintegrate when James visited in 1897. He would have still been able to see All Saints Church — shown above in a photograph from 1904 — but by 1920, it, too, would be ‘at the bottom of the German Ocean’. Twenty years ago, ‘the bones of those buried in All Saints’ graveyard protruded gruesomely from the cliff, and a single gravestone, to John Brinkley Easey, stood in an inconceivably bleak loneliness at the cliff top.’ Now even those traces are long gone. Slow change is a constant at Dunwich. When I visited last week it had changed even in the comparatively short time since I was last there. Paths that were once walkable are now fenced off as unsafe.

Walking around the remains of Dunwich — and Dunwich is nothing but remains — is not, then, only to contemplate a past disaster. Even without global warming to accelerate the process, visitors can be certain that the land on which they walk will soon be consumed by the sea. The destruction of the great port ‘with a fleet of its own on the North Sea’ was dramatic and sudden, but if the erosion which still gnaws away at the coast around Dunwich is more gradual, it is also implacable. Global warming means that oceanic catastrophism confronts us now neither as a possibility that can be quarantined off in Science Fiction, nor one that is unthinkably distant. It was fitting that James should have devoted most of his ‘Old Suffolk’ to writing about Dunwich. Disappeared Dunwich, its churches and cathedrals now lying on the ocean floor, anticipates the near future of the whole county.

This description of a kind of Dunwich Gothic is worthy of a bit more emphasis, I think. It is wonderfully xenogothic in its ostentatious non-existence; xenogothic in that Dunwich offers up the opportunity not to explore a graveyard, that stereotypical Gothic environ, but a graveyard that once was — a graveyard folded in on itself and infrequently spat out of the landscape unceremoniously. It is Gothic not for its ostentatious architecture and grotesque ornaments but for its emptiness. It is xenogothic in the way that the Gothic lingers absently.

There is an affinity here in that this point on the coast of East Anglia, that great protrusion, serves as a painful reminder of so much of that coastline. Sebald writes, at the end of his own recounting of Dunwich’s history: “The east stands for lost causes.” I’m unaware of any town on England’s east coast, at least from Felixstowe northwards, that would not feel a pang of painful recognition in reading those words.

Sebald emphasises this point in his own globe-trotting account. He notes how the residents of Dunwich who lost their homes and sought refuge elsewhere would move westwards. West was the direction of new hope. He points out that this is true around the world for so many displaced communities.

In Brazil, to this day, whole provinces die down like fires when the land is exhausted by overcropping and new areas to the west are opened up. In North American, too, countless settlements of various kinds, complete with gas stations, motels and shopping malls, move west along the turnpikes, and along that axis of affluence and squalor are unfailingly polarized. I was put in mind of this phenomenon of flight by Dunwich. After the first serious disaster [the storm of 1285], building began on the westernmost fringe of the town, but even of the Grey Friars monastery that dates from that time only a few fragments now remain. Dunwich, with its towers and many thousand souls, has dissolved into water, sand and thin air.

The monastery that Sebald speaks of feels wholly distinct from the city of Dunwich that is now lost to the sea but it is an intriguingly well-preserved monument, appearing behind the woods that line the cliff edge as a small building — although archeological excavations suggest there were many others — in the middle of an abnormally broad expanse of land.

Our guide — my girlfriend’s godmother — tells us that many of the local retirees who now populate the small village of Dunwich to the west (and very much inland) of its former namesake, have taken up the occupation of “ruin polishers”, making sure that these decrepid old structures last until at least the sea takes them as well.

The Grey Friars monastery is a case in point, reenforced at every opportunity to appear more like Victorian folly than original mediaeval structure.

Dipping into the local museum, it seems as if the village is now torn between god-fearing citizens and part-time archaeologists. Looking over the impressive collection of artefacts and coins from as far back as the Roman times that have been collected from the cliff’s various vomitings, I overhear a woman who tells the man running the museum, with great enthusiasm, about the large attendance at the new church of St. James that Sunday afternoon.

Sebald, again, describes the Christian heritage of this settlement.

There were more than fifty churches, monasteries and convents … The parish churches of St James, St Leonard, St Martin, St Bartholomew, St Michael, St Patrick, St Mary, St John, St Peter, St Nicholas and St Felix, one after the other, toppled down the steadily receding cliff-face and sank in the depths, along with the earth and stone on which the town had been built.

In the museum, there is documentary evidence of various Catholic pilgrimages taking place in the name of St Felix in particular. St Felix was the first bishop of East Anglia, supposedly establishing a church in Dunwich around 633 AD. He lived and died there and his remains no doubt ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

Still, why so many churches? Was it just a sign of the times? Or are the residents of this town who continually face their own doom more god-fearing than most?

I’m reminded of Nick Land’s equivalence between annihilation and religion along the coasts of the world.

Is not transcendental philosophy a fear of the sea? Something like a dike or a sea-wall?

These are places in far more need of theodicy than most, we might argue. Land continues, in what is probably my favourite passage from his Thirst for Annihilation:

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.

Incipit Kant:

We are not amphibians, but belong upon solid earth. Let us renounce all strange voyages. The age of desire is past. The new humanity I anticipate has no use for enigmatic horizons; it knows the ocean is madness and disease. Let me still your ancient tremors, and replace them with dreams of an iron shore.

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.

Serendipitously, on our way back from Dunwich and London bound, we passed a second-hand bookshop in an old church in the village of Westleton. Heading straight to the philosophy section, I found it lacking but was very much entertained by the “sex + erotica” section on the shelf below. Alongside the usual vintage sex romps was an enormous edition of works by the Marquis de Sade.

In particular, I bought it for an introductory essay by Pierre Klossowski which resonated with these thoughts already had on the beach at Dunwich. Titled “Nature as Destructive Principle”, Klossowski emphasises the Sado-Bataillean-Landian trajectory of an “atheistic and asocial philosophy of Nature and a moral system based on the idea of Nature as perpetual motion.”

Here the excessive religiosity of Dunwich truly does feel like a sea-wall for a conscience ravaged by the sea. Klossowski writes that, for Sade,

the substitution of Nature in a state of perpetual motion for God signifies, not the arrival of a happier era for humanity, but only the beginning of tragedy — the tragedy of man’s open and conscious acceptance of change. Here we can detect the Nietschean theme which opposes to the sufferings of the innocent a consciousness which agrees to endure its guilt because the guilt is the price of feeling alive. This is the hidden sense of the atheism which differentiates Sade so clearly from his contemporaries. To admit matter considered as perpetual motion as the one and only universal agent is equivalent to agreeing to live as an individual in a state of perpetual motion.

The absence of God leads to a becoming-sea of consciousness and undoubtedly the religiosity of Dunwich represents an over-compensation for this tempting lack, or for their own guilt at having turned their back on a Christian city of blessed land, polishing ruins to placate themselves.

Further down the coast, in Felixstowe, this relationship to the sea seems wholly different. Our navigational skills being severely lacking, I didn’t get much chance to look around the city Mark Fisher once called home. I wanted to see the shipping container port, which Mark describes in The Weird and the Eerie as “loom[ing] over the declining sea town, the port’s cranes towering above the Victorian resort like H.G. Wells’ Martian Tripods.”

Watching the container lorries and the ships do their work, or surveying the containers themselves, the metal boxes racked up like a materialised version of the bar charts in Gibson’s cyberspace, their names ringing with a certain transnational, blank, Ballardian poetry — Maersk Sealand, Hanjin, K-line — one seldom has any sense of human presence. The humans remain out of sight, in cabs, in cranes, in offices. I’m reminded instead of the mute alien efficiency of the pod distribution sight in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

We were unable to find a good vantage point at which to stop and get out of the car, instead driving around the bare roads of industrial dockland and the grid-like Victorian lanes by the seafront. Tired, we elect to try again another time, but my impression from the car is enough to satisfy a curiosity.

Mark is right, of course — the container port is a striking addition to what is otherwise your bog-standard east coast seaside town. I’m reminded of my own home town in Hull, where the old docks haunt a city who sees nothing but dead industry, whilst the oil refinery outside of town glistens at night like the mirage of a cyberpunk city — Saltends Chemical Park is its official name, a site run by British Petroleum; “BP City” is how it is best known locally.

The strange spectre of eerie depopulated industries at the edges of these otherwise “post-industrial” cities emphasises “the triumph of finance capital” that Mark describes but we might also say it signals an embraced relationship with the sea. Driving along the seafront we see that familiar sight of penny arcades, casinos, pubs and amusements. In Felixstowe, there seems to be a much more conscious emphasis on gambling rather than just weekend entertainment for all the family.

The ebb and flow of penny slots share only a weak affinity with the sea, being so motorised and always feeling rigged. The casinos and their hidden depths of chance feel far more fitting as a sort of Sadean coastal debauchery.

“The Sadean man”, Klossowsky writes, “will arrive at a point where he considers himself a microcosm of Nature, suffering, like Nature, from his own activity.”

Back in Dunwich, there are signs — some endearingly home-made — that, despite their futile situation, the residents still retain a reactionary sense of being holier-than-thou; resistant to the change that has for centuries defined them. An unending hubris.

Mark Fisher & Justin Barton, “On Vanishing Land”

There have been murmurings about this for a while now and it’s finally here: Mark Fisher and Justin Barton’s On Vanishing Land is getting an official release next month on the new Hyberdub sub-label, Flatlines.

It’s really great that this is finally coming out. Previously, much like londonunderlondon, the audio-essay has only been played infrequently in public in order to encourage the practice of collective listening. In that context, I think I’ve heard it half a dozen times since Mark’s death in January 2017 — Corsica Studios and the one we organised for The Fisher-Function being particularly memorable — and I’ve played a clip of Mark reading out a passage from J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World at two of the For K-Punk nights since then. All this is to say that I’ve come to associate it more with Mark’s legacy than anything else.

Hearing his voice is always a strange experience these days but for some reason that’s especially true in a club…

This is worth mentioning because I think On Vanishing Land performs the psychedelic collectivity Mark wanted to encourage with his work far more than any other posthumous document of his activities and, in being a sort of collaborative audio-collage, it retains so many of the important links to Mark’s communal thinking that the post-humous lionisation of his work has inevitably diminished. (Both in terms of its content and, now, in being put out by Steve Goodman.)

Justin has spoken about this forthcoming release on a couple of occasions, in private and in public, and each time he has noted just how fitting this release is. Unlike it’s counterpart, londonunderlondon, originally made for radio, OVL was constructed in two distinct parts and so the vinyl treatment actually makes sense. We might even say this was how it was always intended to be experienced… So long as each spin occasions a drowned world listening party.

This is not to be missed.

You can preorder the record, out July 26th, on vinyl and digitally from Bandcamp and the Hyperdub website. Read the press release below:

Hyperdub launch new sub-label, Flatlines, for the vinyl and digital release of On Vanishing Land, an audio-essay by Justin Barton and the late Mark Fisher. OVL evokes a walk along the Suffolk coastline in 2006, from Felixstowe container port (“a nerve ganglion of capitalism”) to the Anglo-Saxon burial ground at Sutton Hoo. A walk under immense skies, through zones of deep time and within sunlit, liminal terrains, into the eerie. 

Everywhere there are charged atmospheres, shadowy incursions, enigmatic departures. A derelict radar base, coastal heathland, drifting thistledown, towers of overgrown shipping containers – music haunted by wider levels of reality, narrations about rarely visited zones and potentials, voices of dreams and stories. Newly composed tracks by John Foxx, Gazelle Twin, Baron Mordant, Raime, Pete Wiseman, Farmers of Vega, Skjolbrot, Eerie Anglia, Ekoplekz and Dolly Dolly; and, alongside these, views toward M.R. James’s Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad (1904), Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967), and Brian Eno’s On Land (1982). Beyond the surface of the day something becomes visible, a way forward, an escape-path from capitalist reality. On Vanishing Land is about following the lines of terrains and dreams. It is about a micropolitics of escape, of disappearance. A micropolitics of waking the faculties. 

“It is April, but it feels like summer. They turn left onto the seafront […]” 

On Vanishing Land was initially part of an exhibition commissioned by The Otolith Collective and The Showroom in London, and after londonunderlondon (2005) it was the second audio-work collaboration by Justin Barton and Mark Fisher. The LP cover features photos taken by Mark Fisher and a short essay by Justin Barton. 

Cascading Adolescence (Part 1): Adolescent Outsideness

In the introduction to his book England’s Hidden Reverse, David Keenan considers the sense in which England’s “esoteric underground” — of which “the formation of Throbbing Gristle in 1975 [was] year zero”[1],[2] and which was exemplified by the bands Coil[3], Current 93[4] and Nurse with Wound[5] — by predating punk — was the first genre to take up the inherently adolescent energy of “classic” rock ‘n’ roll, following its 1960s “Golden Age”.

Keenan’s sense of adolescence is broad. For him, it is a word that should not refer solely to a disparaged naivety or immaturity. Instead, it should be seen as an integral part of human cultural experience — and an experience which does not simply “end” with an escape into your 20s and the settling of unruly pubescent hormones.

Perhaps surprisingly, Keenan’s conception of adolescence stretches as far back as 40,000 years ago. He cites R. Dale Guthrie’s 2005 book The Nature of Palaeolithic Art to describe an adolescent cultural production that transcends not just our modern sense of the “teenager” — which arguably refers to little more than a socioeconomic demographic[6] — but even beyond our historic sense of civilisational belonging.

In his book, Guthrie, an anthropologist, puts forward the thesis that Palaeolithic adolescents were as obsessed with sex and violence as our modern-day teenage tearaways. He argues that the cave art from this era that survives around the world — depicting hunts and battles as well as the occasional disproportionate phallus — was most likely drawn by adolescent males; pubescent teens passing through the very same evolutionary hormone-fuelled phase-shift defined by a reckless exploration of the world and a preoccupation with its darker corners that we are all already familiar with.[7] For Guthrie and Keenan, then, the suggestion seems to be that these caves served the same function as the graffitied bus shelters, underpasses and bathrooms of our contemporaneous shadow-lurking youth.

Having exploded this sense of adolescence, Keenan — taking a view that is less explicitly masculine and anthropological — goes on to compare prehistoric art to the burgeoning noise and industrial music genres of the 1970s and ‘80s, specifically the music of Whitehouse — that notorious project captained by musician William Bennett — which he describes as a xenorock that rolls beyond the limits of the genre’s eventual social acceptance following the various social panics it originally provoked in the public imagination from the 1950s onwards.

Keenan writes:

Whitehouse, formed by William Bennet in 1980, … effectively birth[ed] noise music—or ‘power electronics’ as Bennett dubbed it—as a genre while making consistent and inexplicable use of extreme imagery, naming albums after concentration camps, like 1981’s Buchenwald, dedicating albums to notorious serial killers, as on 1983’s Dedicated To Peter Kürten Sadist And Mass Slayer, and using self-consciously atrocious track titles like ‘Tit Pulp’, ‘Shitfun’ and ‘I’m Comin’ Up Your Ass.’

So far, so very adolescent, right? But we need to be very careful when we use a term like ‘adolescent’ in a disparaging way. What do we mean?

Rock ‘n’ roll is an adolescent art form. It derives most of its energy from adolescence. If we’re going to damn music for being adolescent we’re going to have to write off all of the best rock ‘n’ roll, all of the music that we love. But as an adolescent art form the kind of grotesque, violent, hyper-sexualised imagery that Whitehouse dealt in can never be far from the surface.[8]

From here, Keenan contrasts Whitehouse to the way in which, for example, Elvis first shocked the world, infamously filmed only from the waist up on the Ed Sullivan Show so as not to offend or over-excite those tuning in; later, he notes how the Sex Pistols caused great offence with their caricatured Nazism and cartoonish hyperviolence on puerile songs like “Belsen Was A Gas”, but Keenan also notes that both these artists are now widely accepted cultural institutions and so “rock ‘n’ roll can also be seen as a safety valve, in a sense, a way of containing these inchoate powers, which is how Throbbing Gristle saw it, as a system of control.”[9]

Positioning themselves in opposition to this kind of cultural production and assimilation, noise and industrial musics don’t romanticise or aestheticise their subject matter but try to traumatically reflect the darkest corners of reality as they actually exist. They don’t want to function as an affective dam for libidinal desires but as a virulent amplifier. Keenan writes:

Noise and Industrial music function as the night time to pop music’s day. Where pop music exists as a soundtrack to nine-to-five work and consumption, noise provides the cover of night that facilitates transgressive activities, liberating suppressed personas and jamming the wavelengths that consensual reality broadcasts on. Crime calls for night; noise is no longer music as entertainment.[10]

Today, this disconnection between noise and pop — both broadly defined — persists. Noise musics, however, are still routinely derided and attacked for their aesthetic promiscuity. Pop is today broadly progressive if nonetheless somewhat innocuous. Black music’s continued dominance of the pop charts, increasingly comfortable with its own politicisation, has brought the politics of a minoritarian existence and experience into everyday life. Beyoncé’s tribute to black politics past and present at Superbowl 50 in 2016, for instance, ungrounds the suggestion that pop cannot facilitate transgression for some. However, whilst it might rupture everyday political discussion, it remains the soundtrack to work and consumption. Noise, in occupying the night, finds itself more readily associated with another kind of transgression, one which does not occur in plain sight, and which, perhaps due to pop’s own grasp of progressivism, is easily associated with a darker side of politics also.

Contrary to this, Keenan argues that the music of Whitehouse is far less (politically if not aesthetically) offensive — or should be — than the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for instance, whose song “Mladić”, from their 2012 album, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, he highlights as a cinematic and even romantic track, supposedly about (or—as Whitehouse might describe it—“dedicated to”) the Bosnian Serb war criminal Ratko Mladić.[11]

Keenan claims that the sublimity of their neoclassical, post-rock sound can be far more easily interpreted as a romanticisation of the man in question, in being somewhat neo-Wagnerian perhaps. The track throws together an often atonal mix of folkloric melodies, raucous guitars and walls of feedback — it is certainly “noisy” if not quite “noise” — but in doing so it seems to capture the spirit and energy of a war-mongering nationalism in its melodic delirium. For Keenan, this is far more problematic than the slabs of noise that constitute Whitehouse’s stylistically provocative discography. However, Keenan notes that the intention of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s aesthetic onslaught is never questioned due to their extramusical clarifications in interviews and elsewhere as being self-described “left-liberals”.

The unrelenting noise of Whitehouse stands in firm opposition to such a response. There is no attempt at aestheticising the chosen subject matter. If anything, for a project like Whitehouse, talk is cheap. Instead, Bennett’s project attempts to hold a mirror up to the worst of human society and re-present it as it actually appears to us — that is, abhorrently. We can consider the project, in stark contrast to the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as an attempt to grapple with that which is beyond words, beyond classical understandings of form and expression.

Whitehouse, in being named after the infamous moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse[12], can be seen as an inversion of Mary’s own raison d’etre, attacking the news cycles and mundane ideologies that do far more to normalise the worst acts we humans are capable of by confronting the listener with that which is so hard to comprehend about the human condition rather than censoring it. To transduce this into the normality of “classical” music — in the broadest sense of the term; “music” that is easily appreciable as such — is, then, for noise musicians, a dangerous game.

In this sense, the music of Whitehouse can be aligned with Georges Bataille’s concept of l’informe, or formlessness. In contrast Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s neo-Wagnerian overcoming of the folkloric, Whitehouse demonstrates an approach “that serves to bring things down in the world.”[13] As Bataille would write, at his most cosmically pessimistic:

What [formlessness] designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.[14]

Despite framing the reality of human depravity and its abject meaninglessness in these non-terms, it is bizarre to Keenan that it is instead the likes of Whitehouse and not Godspeed You! Black Emperor who must emphatically defend their artistic practice against accusations of fascistic sympathies.[15] Because, ultimately, as Keenan writes, “there is no poetry here.”[16] And that’s the point. There is no poetry in genocide or serial murder and so this music is offered up as a way to begin to process the darkest crevices of the human condition through a consciously paradoxical process. How to create a sound in the world’s image? It’s “true” image? How to attend to these travesties in a way that does not hide from the reproductive reality of their implications? It asks the question: to what extent are we willing—or even able—to withstand that which mirrors the worst side of ourselves in all of its abject difficulty?

The elephant in the room here, of course, is that much of the anxiety surrounding these movements in the present emerges from the fact that there are various creators of extreme musics who do attempt to glorify and embolden an “extreme” — in the sense of a violent, aggressive and propulsively right-wing — politics.

Death In June are the most notorious group of this kind, perhaps. Beginning in similar post-punk and industrial territory when they formed in the 1980s, and once self-described far-leftists, members of the group later found themselves influenced by the ideologies of National Bolshevism and Strasserism, both ideologies which implicitly inject far-left structuralist critiques with far-right sentiments. Strasserism, in particular, is best known as a call for a brand of Nazism which is birthed from proletarian revolution; a sort of faux-Marxism which conflates critiques of capitalism with the economic conspiracies of antisemitism.

These ideological turns are regularly denounced, and rightly so, but far too often the argument is to denounce the very grounds from which they emerge. As Keenan suggests, to denounce adolescence absolutely is surely misguided. What is necessary, instead, is that we critique our inevitably conditioned approaches to such topics. For instance, are we to treat adolescence as the demonstrative ground for all creative activity and existence? Of course not. Adolescence is a process, a becoming; a period of development, of chance. It is, biologically and creatively speaking, a generative vector for the production of the new. (And it is not the only one either.) To denounce it outright is as impossible as an apparent commitment to — which is to say, an ideological packaging of — its processes.

This series will consider a confluence of such generative but likewise controversial vectors, with adolescence chief among them — but also “death”, “nature” and “mythology” — which emerge as integral gears of the adolescent process. These topics, like adolescence, can appear dangerous when isolated, but they are not antithetical to positive and generative processes in and of themselves. To demonstrate this we will consider a particularly “bad” example of an “adolescent” music scene, which — whilst initially intensely generative — collapsed in on itself, caught in a spiral of murderous intent all of its own making: True Norwegian Black Metal.

To be continued…

[1] David Keenan, England’s Hidden Reverse (London: Strange Attractor Press, 2016), viii

[2] Formed by Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson in 1975, Throbbing Gristle were known for their prolific and subversive activities, straddling a fine line between rock band and performance art, the main impetus of which was to always confound their audience’s expectations, no matter what. They are best known for their albums The Second Annual Report (1977) and 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979), and are widely recognised as the progenitors of so-called “Industrial music”, named after their independent record label Industrial Records.

[3] Formed by John Balance in 1982 and later joined by Throbbing Gristle’s Peter Christopherson, Coil would push against the edges of post-punk and post-industrial music, dragging an already esoteric sound further into its outer limits. They are best known for their albums Horse Rotorvator (1986) and Love’s Secret Domain (1991), with the latter incorporating the contemporaneous sounds of Acid House with the industrial music on which they cut their teeth.

[4] Formed by David Tibet in 1982, Current 93 likewise took Industrial music in new directions, exacerbating the occultism that was of interest to late Throbbing Gristle and incorporating folk influences into their sound.

[5] Nurse With Wound is a project heralded by Stephen Stapleton and formed in 1978. They are arguably the most disturbing of the three groups that Keenan considers in England’s Hidden Reverse, having subsequently had a major influence on noise, drone and demonstrating a mastery of the aural uncanny.

[6] It is worth noting, in light of Keenan’s references, that the “teenager” is a very modern concept. Indeed, there is an argument to be made that the teenager was a concept “invented” by marketing companies in the 1940s, when young people in the throws of adolescence were identified to be an lucrative economic demographic. See, for example, Dwight MacDonald, “Inventing the American Teen-Ager”, The New Yorker, 29 November 1958: <;

[7] See: R. Dale Guthrie, The Nature of Paleolithic Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005)

[8] David Keenan, England’s Hidden Reverse, viii

[9] Ibid., ix

[10] Ibid., vii

[11] Sentenced to life in prison in 2017, Mladić (also known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”) was convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at an international criminal tribunal which investigated atrocities committed during the Yugoslav Wars, largely ethnic wars of independence held throughout the 1990s which led to the breaking up of the state of Yugoslavia into six separate nations: Slovenia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro.

[12] Mary Whitehouse a social conservative and reactionary who was famous throughout the UK over a number of decades for her “moral campaigns” waged against the mainstream media and popular culture due to what she saw as the endemic promotion of bad language, sex and violence during the 1960s to the 1980s. She was known as an opponent of progressive politics in all its forms during her life time, particularly regarding issues of sexual liberation and gay rights. Although widely mocked in the media, she is said to have greatly influenced the premiereship of Margaret Thatcher and a number of censory laws introduced during her tenure, perhaps most notoriously the Video Recordings Act of 1984, legislation brought in to tackle a moral panic orchestrated by Whitehouse regarding so-called ‘video nasties’—a phrase it is said that she coined herself. Many famous and critically acclaimed films were cut or outright banned in the UK in cinemas or on home video due to this legislation, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th and Suspiria. Many of these films did not see an “uncut” video or DVD release until the late 1990s or early 2000s.

[13] Georges Bataille, “Formless” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, ed. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 31

[14] Ibid.

[15] See: William Bennett, “Personal Statement”, William Bennet (blog), 19 March 2013:

[16] David Keenan, England’s Hidden Reverse, xiii

Capital as Noun, Capital as Entity

Heard joke once:

Entity goes to doctor. Says it’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says it feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain.

Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great economic system Capitalism is in town tonight. Go and see it. That should pick you up.”

Entity bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Capitalism.”

It’s been a while since we’ve had a blog post chronicling a Twitter hellthread but this was a good one.

After S.C. Hickman tweeted (and I retweeted) a quote from Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie in which he writes that capital “is at every level an eerie entity: conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity”, an all too familiar argument started.

@brightabyss weighed in:

Gigantic yawn. Reification turned subconscious glorification does absolutely nothing for an ontography of power and influence. [1]

Skipping over the Twitter vitriol, I argued that “Fisher, throughout that whole book, is implicitly pointing to the ways in which the human subject’s struggle with Marxist reification can be seen as emerging through cultural production”, but this isn’t what has got Michael’s goat. It’s that age-old annoyance over people saying capital is a thing. He says later:

Capital is not an entity. Capital exists as a relation between valuating agents & normative systems of distinction. Reifying those systems & relations is poor ontology. [1]

Many around the Twittersphere may be aware of @brightabyss and his frequent dismissal of a tendency some people apparently have to give too much agency to capitalism. This is a pet peeve shared by many others also. Making capital a “thing” — a concrete, reified object — or, worse still, a subject with its own agency — is a misstep brought about by too much exposure to Lovecraftian sci-fi and a tendency towards the theological.

I’ll skip ahead to a tweet that seems to encapsulate the overall argument:

The word entity denotes a thing. A fucking noun. Calling it eery is just like calling it a hyperobject. But should Capital be considered a noun? I don’t thing so. It’s more of a power relation instantiated by other systems. Real nouns. [1]

Now, I don’t want to recount the argument that took place around all of this in too much details, because it’s not that interesting. @brightabyss’s analysis has always been really lacking in this area as far as I’m concerned and it seems to come from a misunderstanding of what “entity” means, specifically in this context, as an explicit product of Fisher’s Spinozism. This article is a really good summary of this in Spinoza’s thought I think, which quotes Spinoza as saying, in describing his use of the word ‘entity’: “I think it is such a thing, its essence contains existence, or its nature can only be imagined as being.”

Admittedly, this may not be the clearest definition but it is worth pointing to as the implicit context from which Fisher is getting his sense of “entity”.

Capital itself is already a noun of course and even this basic function of language is something that BA has a problem with as well, arguing that Marx’s use of the definitive article, in naming his book Das Kapital, is

where this shit show of a (cognitive) reification party started. Karl started a tendency that had plagued Marxists for decades and truly fucked our ability to create arguments for the augmentation of the function of monetary exchange. [1]

At this point, in wanders @enkiv2 with the clearest exploration of this point, its history and its increasing relevance throughout the process of technological development that I’ve seen on Twitter — and that’s saying something considering just how many times this has been debated — so I felt like it was worth saving here for posterity:

Capital makes sense as a noun, in a marxist context: it’s a system (in the cybernetics sense), and therefore amplifies certain behaviors while damping others by its own internal logic. [1]

Marx, performing arguably the first thoroughly systematic analysis of economics decades before the terminology around cybernetics was invented, needed to take advantage of anthropomorphism to get his point across & avoid individual-centered analysis. [2]

An anthropomorphic view is lossier than a cybernetic one, but it’s way better than an individualistic view (where systemic bias contrary to individual desire is literally unthinkable). [3]

[…] If you come to Marx with a cybernetic POV it becomes a better model for the social-economic complex.

Some Marxists get misled by the absence of typical cybernetic terminology & lean into an anthropomorphism that isn’t justified. [4]

How many marxists do this these days, though? Not so many, because of the popularization of systems thinking. Folks are used to thinking through feedback loops these days, so it becomes more clear that Marx isn’t portraying Capital as an animal but as a self-regulating machine. [5]

Ed Berger also makes a good point on this in the thread too, pointing out:

It’s self-regulating because human social life is structured via the law of value and its reproduction. The analysis of reification presupposes this, not the other way around (material -> consciousness, not the idealist movement consciousness -> material) [1]

“…this fetishism of the world of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the labour which produces them”. [2]

@enkiv2 continues:

It’s a machine made of people. Like any large-scale persistent system, it contains error-correcting logic to render irrelevant whatever components do not correctly follow its mode of operation. (That is what defines its mode of operation: what direction deviations are pushed.) [1]

“The function of a system is what it does”

The anthropomorphic error is to assume design. Really, even the capitalist class is a victim of capitalism — simply a more comfortable victim. Capital organizes itself because it is a stable spot in possibility space. [2]

Now, sure: capital is not a physical object. It’s a social construct. That makes it no more real than money (something else we refer to as a noun & do a lot of math to understand), or government (something we anthropomorphize all the time). [3]

To bring this full circle:

Something every social construct has in common is that, because its rules are enforced by people instead of physics, how things seem has more influence on behavior than how they are. This means rapid thrashing as illusions appear & disappear. [4]

In other words, social constructs are eldritch (in the sense of ‘pertaining to elves’: all money has the characteristic of faery gold, disappearing suddenly as some representation of value elsewhere in the system changes). [5]

I haven’t read Fischer’s essay here so I’m not sure if this is the same as what he means by eerie, but from that quote it sure sounds like there’s overlap. [6]

I think this is absolutely true and there is considerable overlap. Capital is eerie for Fisher in the sense that it is not “real” (as @enkiv2 describes) but you can see its effects everywhere — it is a “failure of absence” and a “failure of presence”. In seeing those effects but not seeing its “form”, just like in the case of Fisher’s exemplary “eerie cry”, we have a tendency to imagine its “vocalic” — or perhaps, more accurately, in this case, “affective” — body which may only exist in the imagination but nonetheless assists us in thinking this process of “operative abstraction” (to borrow from Ed again) as it unfolds around us.

This thread continued on at length from this point and went in various directions that I ultimately lost track of so I’d rather not excavate those. It’s far too knotted. It was a good chat though if you want to explore it for yourself.

For more of Spinoza’s relevance to The Weird and the Eerie I’d recommend this old post of mine called “Weird Immanence“.

Update: @cyberpyre rightly adds:

I think the Deleuzian concept of virtuality clears most of this up; Capital is not an actual entity, but by means of material (non-virtual) relations, a space of difference is created which produces actuality. [1]

“[…] a nonnumcrical multiplicity […] plunges into another dimension, which is no longer spatial and is purely temporal: lt moves from the virtual to its actualization, it actualizes itself by creating lines of differentiation that correspond to its differences in kind.” [2]

There’s lots of different ways of saying it. The point is that people so rarely get it, it’s great to have an accessible breakdown.