Possible Hope

Various photos from July 2022.

The Demon of the Continent:
Notes on Prey

I watched Prey, the new Predator “requel”, on Disney+ the other day, signing up briefly to see what the platform had to offer (not much). I enjoyed the film well enough, but found it lacking, or at least undeserving of all the handwringing discourse it has spawned.

On Twitter, I wrote a short thread about it. I only watched the film because it was a main topic of discussion online that day. Some predictably complained the film — and the Predator franchise more generally — had “gone woke” in casting Sioux actor Amber Midthunder in the role of Naru, a toyboyish member of a Comanche tribe who wants to be a warrior and hunter, rather than a stay-at-home medicine woman, but who is dismissed by many of the men around her.

Most half-baked complaints described Naru as a “Mary Sue”, an idealized female character who is boring for her lack of flaws. It’s an unfair description, though there is something to be said for how underdeveloped the character is, but this is a Predator movie, after all. Was Arnie much more than a hunk of angry man-meat in the original? Relatively speaking, Naru is a far more three-dimensional character, but this is still little more than a fun game of cat-and-mouse. We needn’t inflate her character beyond the simple role she ultimately plays in the conflict.

Other complaints were concerned with the predictable success of the protagonist against this alien foe, as if it were unrealistic that the “primitive” Comanches could really take on and defeat the Predator, a technologically advanced member of a predatory alien species. But this too is a strange critique, particularly concerning the Comanche tribe, who were perhaps the most resourceful of warriors, adapting with apparent ease to the new technologies brought over and used against them by various colonisers.

The critiques are ill-founded and warrant plenty of pushback, but I found most of the counter-arguments giving the film a little more credit that it was due. It still wasn’t that great. And I think, for me, what I struggled with wasn’t the fact the film had “gone woke” but rather that — beyond a great deal of effort going into accurately representing Comanche culture — it made a bit of a mess of the political subtext of the originals.

Like Alien before it, the titular predator of the franchise has always been coded as black. It is tall, dreadlocked, wielding weapons and wearing armour carved with an alien language that looks like Nahuatl script. For me, this dreadlocked villain, still coded as black, hunting both Comanche and colonisers, makes the film’s political subtext all kinds of confused and anachronistic.

In the original film, set during the Vietnam War, the predator was clearly inspired by the Viet Cong, not so much “technologically advanced” than its prey as simply more at home in the jungle, able to use it to its advantage in a way that the white man could not. But Prey is set on the American frontier, and there the Predator becomes a kind of free-floating Other, lacking any real tension. The environment provides no real advantage; the Predator has no real upper-hand beyond its brute force and habit of invisibility.

I’m reminded of Arthur Jafa’s comments about the original Alien, in which the alien predator was played by Bolaji Badejo. He discussed the film in many interviews and made a number of artworks about it. As relayed by 032c magazine:

Describing the famous chest-burster scene in Ridley Scott’s Alien, filmmaker Arthur Jafa zeroes in on the moment where Parker (the Black engineer played by Yaphet Kotto) stares face-to-face with the monstrous baby alien. He describes it as a moment of recognition between two archetypal black men — the “good” one who works for the company and the “bad” one who has come to rape and pillage. But this constellation of recognition works three ways. As Jafa himself recalls: “The first time I saw it, I realized that I was that alien.”

A positive reading of Prey could argue that the same moment of recognition happens in the film. But this same sense of good and bad, of two kinds of alienation facing off against each other, never quite makes itself known. There is no moment of recognition. It’s just a free-for-all, with Naru even teaming up (albeit far from consensually) with the colonists to fight off a common enemy. Does this make her the “good native” in that regard? Is she really as “woke” as the film’s detractors make out? Nothing seems that clear cut.

As a result, the appearance of the colonisers ultimately dilutes the narrative. It would be a far more obvious “woke” film without them. Indeed, the tension between hunter and hunted would have been much more obvious too, even a little on-the-nose, had the Comanche faced off against the Predator without that additional threat. Indeed, how is the Predator any different to the colonisers? It isn’t really. But then what are we to make of the Predator’s annihilation of this other colonising evil, its indifference to the political potentials of the present it finds itself within? Are we to take away from this film that there is always something bigger or worse out there? That there are still “bad” Others to contend with, with the colonisers just a second-order villain ripe for mockery rather than the abject fear the Predator inspires? I don’t think the film goes that far, but at best it transforms the colonisation of America into scene-dressing; a backdrop against which to tell an all too familiar story, from which all the original political subtext is obscured.

Prey is a proper postmodern reboot in that regard. It offers an interesting viewpoint, but doesn’t ultimately say anything with it, which is weird considering how Westerns have so often been used to pass comment on the political tensions of their day. Indeed, many Acid Westerns in the 1970s complicated the “cowboys versus Indians” trope of classic Hollywood to interrogate the disenfranchisement that many felt during and after the Vietnam War, adding a great deal of nuance to the perspectives of both homesteaders and Native Americans. But Prey seems ignorant of all of that.

I’m reminded, as ever, of Leslie Fiedler. In his book The Return of the Vanishing American, he begins with a quote from D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in American Literature:

The moment the last nuclei of Red life break up in America, then the white man will have to reckon with the full force of the demon of the continent … within the present generation the surviving Red Indians are due to merge in the great white swamp. Then the Daimon of America will work overtly, and we shall see real changes.

Lawrence’s outdated language aside, his point is that the integration and sublimation of Native American life into contemporary American “reality” will defang the role of the Other that Native Americans have often played in its cultural artefacts. On the one hand, this suggests an end to the alienation of Native American life in mainstream culture, but on the other, it suggests that, without the caricature’s scapegoat to draw upon, white America will finally have to face up to the demon within, rather than the “demon of the continent” being externalised as an Other. And so, writing in 1968, Fiedler adds:

Fifty years ago, the demonic future which Lawrence foresaw seemed only the troubled dream of a foreigner never really at home on our soil, a fantasy for poets to exploit and serious scholars to ignore; but suddenly his then is our now, and all of us seem men possessed.

What is the Predator in Prey if not the clichéd “demon of the continent” set loose on those it symbolically represented? It is not an Other nearly internalised as white, nor is it — despite its appearance — suggested to be a racialised other in the context of the narrative. What is it then?

There’s a positive interpretation of the film to be excavated from this cleft, as outlined by Jafa, but I don’t think Prey warrants it. Being generous, we can see in discussions of Naru’s initiation ritual — in which she must successfully hunt something that is hunting her to become a true warrior — as the kind of moment of recognition that Jafa talks about. The name “Comanche”, after all, roughly translates as “enemy to all”. They were a warrior people who fought tooth and nail against other tribes and other colonisers. (In the film, it appears that other members of the Comanche tribe become attracted by the horses owned by the French; in reality, the Comanche stole and then bred horses from Spanish colonisers, allowing them to leave the mountain regions they had originally called home and conquer the plains of the soon-to-be southern states.) Does Naru, then, see herself in the Predator, as that other enemy to all? A creature that, we might imagine, has come to Earth to complete an initiation ritual of its own? Perhaps. But does she not also see herself, inevitably, in the eyes of colonisers, who are reduced to another form of prey?

These questions suggest a certain kind of tension hard-baked into the film. But in truth, I felt none of it. All that is left is a trace of other more politically astute Westerns, but politics of Prey seem to rest solely on an accurate depiction of Comanche life, with little else actually taken into account. The film doesn’t have to do this — it is a lot to ask of a blockbuster streaming (in the UK at least) on Disney+ — but then what are all the commentators reading into exactly? The film becomes culture war fodder, and its superficiality is less a fault of the film itself than the discourse it has been catapulted into. It is the conversation around the film itself that is anemic.

So what is the history that Prey, whether consciously or not, falls into? To my mind, Naru is not a Mary Sue; if anything she is a postmodern example of what Fielder calls the “anti-Pocahontas”.

The story of Pocahontas that we are all familiar with — the forbidden love affair between Native American woman and a colonising Captain — is a familiar trope, where the Native American woman becomes, in the words of Otto Kahn, “the mythological nature-symbol … chosen to represent the physical body of the continent or the soil.” But in the nineteenth century, Pocahontas as nature-symbol was not simply a humanised analogy for the white man’s conquest of land.

Fielder notes that, eventually, “Pocahantos became somehow a symbol of patriotic pride to all Americans, as well as our first mythic Indian and a subject of sentimental interest to women”; she was “the first symbol of the United States, representing the Western wilderness reclaimed by civilisation.” She wasn’t simply something to possess but something to be — a literary subject, an literary Other, for white readers to internalise; not so much representative of the acquisition of land but its bounty of possibility. Her becoming-woman was adopted by all, but especially white women. It was only later that the tale was reframed as bringing nature to heel; it was only later she was reframed as a woman that must obey rather than a woman representative of the free spirit of the New World.

At every turn, the likes of Pocahontas, and other mythologised Native American women like Sacagawea, are framed in conflicting ways, but always through the eyes of whiteness:

Not only in the United States, but on its border as well, the legend of the redemptive Indian girl has been adapted to local conditions and to other myths already shared by the peoples involved. Both Pocahontas and Sacajawea are, of course, Protestant versions of the encounter with the Indian, WASP fantasies of reconciliation in the wilderness.

Is Naru any different? The film has been lauded for its accuracy in representing Comanche culture, language and beliefs, but is the story itself not still underpinned by a Protestant redemption arc? This makes the story of Pocahontas little more than an exoticized Cinderella story. She is an individual whose “degradation” allows for “her later miraculous success”, making “her legendary”.

Naru, of course, differs from Cinderella in that her virtue is not concretized by her willingness to marry the white man. But she is nonetheless othered by her own kin, seen as aberrant in her flaunting of gender roles that were arguably not so firm in Comanche culture proper. Over time, following Pocahontas’s reduction to a nativized Mary Sue, she was reclaimed by many women, who insisted, in Fielder’s words, “that their essential fable be not obscured by such irrelevant male concerns, that the story remain true to their central vision of their lot and be projected in terms of their own sort of heroine: a strong but immensely ordinary woman — preferably a mother — who is confronted by a male antagonist and, finding no male champion, must deliver herself.” But the problem here is that these women were almost always coded as white; in many earlier stories, in fact, she was often white explicitly, kidnapped by Native Americans only to embed herself in their culture and turn against white patriarchy. It is this shift that allows these women to “constitute the true anti-Pocahontas: our other — alas, realer — mother, the Great WASP Mother of Us All, who, far from achieving a reconciliation between White men and Red, turns the weapon of the Indian against him in a final act of bloodshed and vengeance.”

It was this tension that fascinated many early American writers. Fielder notes how Thoreau, for instance, believed that “the subject matter of the new American mythology has to be: the Indian at the moment of first contact with the White invader.” Many writers later struggled against this recentring not only of Native tribes but also of women. Ernest Hemingway comes in for ample ridicule by Fiedler in this regard, who replaces “nostalgia with parody, sentimentality with mockery, polite female masochism with gross male sadism.” This reactionary trope never quite found its footing, however. Audiences were already prepared to move beyond this chauvinism by the time it made its stand. By the 1960s, it was “dusky sex queens which the age demanded, and seedy clowns in full Western regalia to act out for laughs the death of the West”.

In Prey, this is, in part, what we are left with. The French colonisers are hapless, sadistic figures, overconfident in a new land and doomed to fail because of that. (The new right, of course, hates this.) But Naru herself, though far from sexualised, still remains tied to the ideal of a WASPy heroine. She rejects her place in her own order, which is less Comanche than Protestant, and becomes the arch individual heroine of the tale.

The specificities of indigenous life, then, though signalled too, are ultimately dissolved and made synonymous with white narrative tropes.

Perhaps this reading is a little too cynical and unfair, but what we find in Prey, I think, is an uncomfortable middle ground that is ripe for discussion in the culture wars. On the one hand, a new right stereotypically and ahistorically rejects the film for the ways it subverts a chauvinism that has not been in vogue for almost sixty years; on the other hand, what more liberal cultural commentators observe and champion are a set of tropes that, underneath the attempts at historical and cultural accuracy, are nonetheless firmly couched in a white literary tradition.

In this regard, Prey is far from an innovative tale. Seemingly unbeknownst to itself, it smuggles in tropes that have been around for decades, which do not make it “woke” or “subversive” in any meaningful way. Its political significance is projected onto it from without, as cultural discourse champions the care given to a politics of representation. And this is not something to dismiss, but it is, realistically, all that is there. Attached to a lineage of narratives that stretch back to the founding of American literature, it says more about how confused contemporary American identity is; how amorphous and unsettled it is from its own mythologies. This, in itself, is interesting to a point, but there is little in the film that points a way forward to the sort of new mythology that American culture might need. It languishes in political confusion, and it is this same confusion that the discussion around the film makes painfully apparent.

Researching Sleep:
Writing Lacunae

I remember when my mum first got sick, she woke up from spinal surgery in a fury. The doctors said this reaction was uncommon, probably a side effect from the steroids, but one they only tended to see in alcoholics. “Is your mum an alcoholic?” I didn’t think so at first, although she had always loved a petit rosé

When I later learnt to drive and adopted her car in the midst of her sickness, I found tiny bottles of optics, shots of wine, sequestered in the glove compartment, in the side panels, underneath the seats.

She’d been anaesthetised for hours. Was it really because of the drink that she’d passed through the veil?

She was a terror on the ward. She was surrounded by old women with broken hips and slipped disks. Her illness and the company she was forced to keep made her feel older beyond her years and she hated it. She screamed whenever she was awake. She accused the orderlies of raping her. She would show the world where they touched her, uncovering herself no matter who was present, revealing her vagina from under her gown, screaming into her vulva like a crime scene. No one believed her. There was something else in her eye. They were paranoid delusions, they said. I never knew whether to believe her or not. She didn’t want to be there, that much was clear. Who would? She felt unsafe. Was her fear exaggerated to the point of visions?

It was never clear, in the end, whether this fear was real or imagined. It changed shape. Tales of rape in the night shifted to daylight murder plots. She said so much but was never heard.

When she was moved to the psychiatric hospital, her fury did not subside. It was a calm space. The ill were quiet, ghostly, dragging their feet and constantly rolling cigarettes. The air around them itself felt medicated. They wandered the halls whilst she stayed in her room. You could always hear her. Or at least she made herself known whenever she was told that we had arrived. Our arrival prefigured our leaving and she did not want us to leave her there. It was often the case that we were forced to leave after barely saying more than “hello”. Indirectly, our concern, the duty we felt to visit, always caused undue disruptions.

She was discharged back home after a few weeks, not because she had improved but because her madness was an obstacle to the recovery of other patients. She was like a patient from a film, with no interest in her own recovery; the only one who had truly flown over the cuckoo’s nest. Her madness was a cliché that could not be tolerated. The ward was not a space of respite whilst she was in it. She was too unwell to be hospitalized.

I am reading Emma Holmes Coleman’s The Shutter of Snow, her fictionalized account of her own stay on a psychiatric ward in the early twentieth century. I keep being drawn in by her references to sleep, to sedation, set across from her intense desire to write, to express herself, to sing and be heard.

The nurses will not let her husband visit her.

You will have to learn to sleep before you can see him.

How could they expect her to sleep when she was going through all of it? They didn’t know. She had swung about the room from the ceiling and it was a swinging from the cross. There had been the burial. She was lying quietly in the bed and being covered over her face. She was carried quietly out and put in the casket. Down, down she went in the rectangle that had been made for her. Down and the dirt fell in above. Down and the worms began to tremble in and out. Always she had kept telling of it, not one word of it must be forgotten. It must be recorded in sound and after that she could sleep.

She must recall everything.

Marthe Gail, the protagonist in The Shutter of Snow, is so disconcerting to me. Her fixations: always asking after her husband, incessantly; always the assumption that whoever is near her plans to kill her. I see my mother in Marthe Gail. I wonder if she saw the world, the ward, as poetically and disturbingly as Holmes did. I am left somewhat grateful that, unlike Gail, my mother did not see Jesus Christ in herself.

My nana called me. My cousin had told her I was unwell. I haven’t been to see her since I moved up to Newcastle. She’s only a short Metro ride away in Sunderland. But I hadn’t thought about her since I lost my head.

“I don’t go out anymore”, she said. My cousin had taken her out recently, however, to buy a new pair of slippers. But that was it now. The rest of her shoes were taken away and given to a local charity shop. “One less hassle when I finally pop off.”

Always so candid about her own death. She’s in her eighties now. Her hips are bad. So many of her friends are dead. She is stoic in the face of her dwindling years. But she is less candid about me. We skirt around how unwell I’ve been, or indeed how exactly it is that I have been unwell. I didn’t tell my cousin much, but gossip always travels fast in this family. Maybe my dad told her.

“Just as long as you’re still here”, she says tellingly before hanging up. There it is. A glimmer of candour.

She never liked my mum. “We tried to warn your da”, she always says when the topic of mum arises. “Just before he walked down the aisle, your granda said he could get out before it was too late.”

They always knew she was mad. Well, now so am I.

The crooks of my books all have tobacco in them. When I am gone, there’ll probably be enough for a cigarette. Have one on me.

Going outside makes me anxious but I weather it. I feel hyperalert beyond the threshold. It punctures the surface of lethargy, of the cloak I wear in daylight; an insomniac shawl, all numbness. I fear enemies round corners who would make me ill. I don’t know what they look like. Some I do know. I know fear.

I sit outside the Cumberland and wait for some friends. People pass by in a river of faces. I worry what other bodies, other monstrosities, might be carried by the current.

I’m almost two weeks into my present insomnia. Nothing helps. I get to sleep but only sleep for a few hours at a time. I woke up this morning and have never felt so heavy. My body felt like rusted steel, impossibly. My mind thick, waterlogged.

I can still write through it, thank fuck, although reading takes a bit more effort. When I do write, I find it is harder to connect up the images. An already fragmentary writing feels even more fragmentary.

I think about that film, The Machinist, with a skeletal Christian Bale. I haven’t seen it in many years but remember its atmosphere, the constant sliding between dream and waking, the mechanical working-through of life, body all joints and stiff movement, affectless, numb.

I am caught on that phrasing: “dream and waking”. How do those verbs function? Are they both verbs? I could have said, “between dreaming and being awake”, but then awake-ness is set across from dreaming, made into a stable state of being rather than a process unto itself. It is a word that can’t be written, feels wrong, without some sort of qualifier. Could I be between “dream and awake”? The syntax feels jagged. “Awake” feels so final, complete. One word mirrors the other, five letters each, but functioning differently regardless. Right now “awake” doesn’t feel stable, as dream lures me back at intervals.

“Dream and waking”, as if “dream” is at once a place, a process, an environ that is passed through; as if “waking” is also a process in itself, never completed. I never stop waking up, until the slide back to dream begins again. A problem of grammar lived and felt.

I decide to read some Derrida, feeling newly receptive to the problems he explores. I’ve been reading a lot of Judith Butler as well, feeling suddenly the gap in my knowledge, or rather the ambient knowledge of their texts only ever gathered second-hand.

I remember when I first read volume one of Marx’s Capital, the slog of reading its first hundred or so pages, the feeling of being bored by it, not so much because the text was uninteresting but because I realised how much I already knew, how a Marxian framework had already been inscribed on my knowledge of the world, how commonplace this once world-changing prose had become.

I feel the same way now in reading Gender Trouble, newly aware of the ways that Butler has been a shadow over so much I have already read. But what a striking feeling of influence, to feel that ambient knowledge already about a book that is no older than I am. But then also how much is lost, how specific the text can feel, how loose its ambient application outside of itself.

The popular understanding of Butler’s “gender performativity” is often acknowledged as lacking what she explores in her text. Gender is not performative in the sense it is an identity adopted and acted out, like a character. Her sense of performativity is a little more nuanced.

For Butler, performativity is instead an instability. “Gender ought not to be construed as a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow”, she writes; “rather, gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts.”

Gender as the stylization of the body becomes a kind of gendered and embodied grammatology; a body-language learned but ever shifting, malleable, capable of rupture in poetic acts of expression; the translation of a body into a predetermined “social temporality“, mimicking only but never actualizing an apparent truth, like thought rendered in speech turned to text, articulated but often limited by the constraints of a common sense, the truth of one’s self reduced to a trace, fading, barely visible.

Butler wrote a new preface for Derrida’s Of Grammatology, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of its first translation into English by Spivak, in which she wrestles with the apposite difficulty of translating a text so concerned with the elusivity of language. “If the problem of writing, the central problem of Of Grammatology, depends on a generative collapse of the mimetic ideal mandating that writing reiterates the sounds of speech, and if translation engages this same problem — the generative collapse of mimesis — then we should perhaps check the inevitable lamentation over the loss of the French in the English, precisely as we learn why it might be wise to question the lure of translation as a faithful sonic reincarnation.”

Butler’s own work on gendered mimesis echoes throughout. How to translate Derrida into her own works? Perhaps she has already done this, implicitly, walking through the ruin of deconstruction and finding gender there unravelled. So much else too, of course. Life in general, lived and dreamed.

Language, for both Butler and Derrida, is made to be broken, is always its own ruin. So too is the body that speaks and writes and gestures towards the stuttering utterances of the unconscious mind.

The other night I went to bingo with a friend. We spent a lot of the preamble, up until the quick-fire games, drinking cheap drinks and talking about our sleep. We talked about Jung, about our nightmares, about the surrealism of recurring dreams, the doubt that arises from dreamed mimesis — am I dreaming this dream again? or has one dream made such an impression on me that I only feel its echo, a kind of unconscious déjà vu, not the strange sense of an already seen but an already dreamt?

She shows me a dream map from Reddit, documenting the most common dreams in each country of the world. In the United Kingdom, we most often dream about our teeth falling out. Predictably so, perhaps, since our bad teeth are a stereotype of my waking selves as well.

In neighbouring Niger and Nigeria, the latter dreams most of sex, the former of death.

The persistent nightmares of the mentally ill are a sorry affliction. No matter how we may feel during the day, coping and managing with our fractured synapses, the unconscious is always there to remind us, to score further the anxieties that linger beneath the waking day, as if there is only truth in dream, but a truth no one can fully grasp.

I show her my dream diary, @matt_mjlc — years of tweets summarising the night’s unconscious encounters. They lack detail, given the character limit, and I am struck by how few of them I remember long after they were written down.

There are considerable gaps between the dreams of late. It is rare, at the moment, that I remember my dreams vividly enough to translate them on waking.

The problem of translation feels ever present. Shifting from one language to another is explicit, but how to translate affect into words? How to translate dream narrative into waking plot? “The Question”, adapted from Butler: “How does the translation intervene in [consciousness], even transform the relationship, the missteps and anachronisms, which seem always to be happening between [dream] and [waking]? What is lost, what lives on, and how does that living on happen?”

What is the relationship between dream and waking existence? Why does the mind proceed in such a jumble? Why does it not mimic waking experience more lucidly? Perhaps it does. Perhaps this world is nothing more than fleeting signs and symbols, effects and affects, that we piece together on the fly, with space-time nothing more than an illusion, a ruin, a problem of translation.

I remember talking to my ex’s dad about imaging our dreams. I was reading Heidegger’s Being & Time at the time.

In various sci-fi films, we see examples of mental imaging, where a machine learns to code the brain’s processing into images imagined. One film I saw once, which I appropriately cannot remember the title of, shows dogs, hands, mothers, an American dream rendered in a matrix-like stream of code given sly form and shifting shape. He says this is impossible, at least for now. It is a process of digital translation we have not yet figured out. He likens it to the recoding of film footage. We can record the raw data, but how to turn it into an MP4? We do not yet have the capacity for that yet. Perhaps we never will.

Digital imaging is first made possible, we might argue, through our understanding of the chemical and material processes of photography. Not a coding of data, as such, but an understanding of a chemical reaction: light rendered on paper as if by magic. It is photography, rather than sight itself, that is translated into the digital realm, as negatives are recorded in a new format.

Neural imaging seems distinctly non-visual. Pattern recognition does not give rise to mimetic representations of the images of thought. What are mental images anyway? We translate thought into visual metaphors, but is this really how the mind’s eye sees? Does the brain not translate itself into metaphor in this way on our behalf? I met someone a few months ago who does not think this way, whose mind’s eye is blind, who does not think in images. It is not a prerequisite to thought. I wonder, how much is lost in the visualisation process? What is retained? The mind gestures towards habitual sight, but putting this habit to one side, can we describe otherwise how the brain “sees”?

Out in the garden, I sit at my laptop and type. I leave my notebooks to rest for a while, thinking faster, some days, than I can write by hand.

As the battery dwindles, so do I. The screen dims, entering battery-saving mode. I carry it back to my room to recharge and take the opportunity to do so myself.

These days, I nap when my laptop does.

Marthe Gail, the protagonist in The Shutter of Snow, is not allowed to write, like so many women who were hospitalised at that time. She is hospitalised following a psychotic break after the birth of her child, through which she herself feels reborn, reincarnated as Christ.

The novel is described as an example of “magic realism”, but what is captured most beautifully is the line erased between dream and waking by madness.

She smuggles a pencil and scrap of paper into her room, desperate to write, to tell her husband where she is — she presumes he doesn’t know, but surely he must. Her words don’t so much come from within as from without. Dreaming is external, hallucinatory. It is not the translation of some interior landscape, at least as far as she is concerned, but an attempt to mimic the strangeness of the world she now exists in. She does not sleep. She must record, pinning the world to the page like an etymologist turned entomologist.

The words unfolded and came out on the paper. They slid up and floated and came down and stood in a line. She was making them, she was saying things with a pencil on a small piece of yellow paper. It was a letter to her father and there were the words, the words that she was capturing out of the red lights and pinning under her pencil like squirming moths. The moths had yellow tails and pulled desperately away from the pencil.

A Freudian slip… In writing out the final sentence, it is mothers who have yellow tails and pull desperately away from the pencil. I correct it, but the error is telling.

In many countries, dreams of pregnancy are the most common.

I used to analogously describe the publication of my first book like a pregnancy. It was an analogy that always felt presumptuous, stereotypical, perhaps even a little sexist. I’m not sure. But the feeling was striking, the metaphor resonant. The book felt like a child, birthed through a protracted labour, then set loose on the world to live a life of its own, wholly separate from my own, despite the fact I felt like so much of my life was contained within it.

It was a process of separation that I found traumatic. It was a kind of empty nest syndrome. Or perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps it was only a shadow of that more profound of processes. But I could not think how else to translate the feelings into something more commonly appreciated and understood. Perhaps this oft-repeated metaphor was a mistake, a “faux amis” uncovered through a false translation. I don’t use that metaphor anymore.

Anne Carson on Aristotle and error:

In his discussion of metaphor in the Rhetoric
Aristotle says there are 3 kinds of words.
Strange, ordinary and metaphorical.

“Strange words simply puzzle us;
ordinary words convey what we know already;
it is from metaphor that we can get hold of something new and fresh”
(Rhetoric, 1410b10-13).
In what does the freshness of metaphor consist?
Aristotle says that metaphor causes the mind to experience itself

in the act of making a mistake.
He pictures the mind moving along a plane surface
of ordinary language
when suddenly
that surface breaks or complicates.
Unexpectedness emerges.

Butler quoting Derrida’s article, “What Is a ‘Relevant’ Translation?”:

“…translation in the strict, traditional, and dominant sense of the term encounters an insurmountable limit — and the beginning of its end, the figure of its ruin.” Then he adds in parentheses that seem to bear an inverse relation to the claim they contain, “(but perhaps a translation is devoted to ruin; ruin is perhaps its vocation and a destiny that it accepts from the very outset)”…

Carson on the unexpectedness of metaphor and the strange:

At first it looks odd, contradictory or wrong.
Then it makes sense.
And at this moment, according to Aristotle,
the minds turns to itself and says:
“How true, and yet I mistook it!”
From the true mistakes of metaphor a lesson can be learned.

Not only that things are other than they seem,
and so we mistake them,
but that such mistakenness is valuable.
Hold onto it, Aristotle says,
there is much to be seen and felt here.
Metaphors teach the mind

to enjoy error
and to learn
from the juxtaposition of what is and what is not the case.

“If ruin is there from the word go, then so, too, is mourning, prior to any nameable loss, which is surely why Derrida confirms that translation is a work of mourning, more of a task than a given.” Translation is always an act of remembrance, from which “there is nothing outside the trace”. This means, Butler continues, “we start to refer to what something is, or we start to explain what the original text is prior to any translation, any derivation, when we write not only as if the origin were thinkable without the derivation, but also as if the past could appear without being occulted or eclipsed by the very means by which it signifies.”

Translation, even writing itself, is the Search for Lost Time. Is it any wonder Proust begins his recherche — not just a “Search” in French, but always also a “research” — with a scene of falling asleep whilst reading?

For a long time, I went to bed early. Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself: ‘I’m falling asleep.’ And, half an hour later, the thought that it was time to try to sleep would wake me; I wanted to put down the book I thought I still had in my hands and blow out my light; I had not ceased while sleeping to form reflections on what I had just read, but these reflections had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was what the book was talking about…

I’m not drinking. Not really. Of course, I still drink sometimes. I am sleeping all the time and cannot quench my thirst. I drink a beer just to drink something different. But it tastes different too. The last pint I had caught my tongue off guard. Every first couple of sips leaves a lingering rot, as if I could taste a hint of putrification, as if I could taste the beer’s beginnings, an echo of the process of fermentation, the ferment of euphoria. But I don’t drink enough to get drunk. Always the depression that follows at the moment. The effects of alcohol are now all too predictable, simplified. I taste the brew and brood.

…we expect that where there is a trace, there is something prior to it that has left it — the trace of a life, a book, a thought. But if the trace is the means through which what is prior is marked, then it is at once lost and found in the course of that marking. In this sense, the trace is the origin of the origin. But when we make a claim like that, we distinguish between the origin of a sequence, understood as a cause or primary movement, and what originates that very way of thinking about origins, its condition of possibility…

Writing is always acausal. It is, “Derrida argues… invariably retroactive.” Where does writing come from? What is its origin? Experience? What is experience? When is writing not still the translation of experience? The present remains elusive but always full of possibility. “Whatever origin we find is constituted and erased by that retroactive form of positing.”

Whats back of that door? Its the Day Room, when you get better you can go there. What do they do there? They sew in the afternoon. O do you suppose they would let me sew? Let you said Mrs. Welsh, theyll make you.

Anne Carson in a poem to Emily Dickinson:

Save every bit of thread.
One of them may be
the way out of here.

In The Shutter of Snow, Marthe eats threads in the asylum.

Mental Health is (Still) a Political Issue:
On Mark Fisher’s Lost Futures
at the Moth Club

I’ll be in London on September 11th to give my first IRL talk on Mark Fisher’s work since 2020. Hosted by Deeper Into Movies at the Moth Club in Hackney, it’ll be a talk about mental health and capitalism, and how to continue thinking about their relationship through Fisher’s work.

You can find more information and get tickets via DiceFM here. Abstract below:

Mental Health is (Still) A Political Issue: On Mark Fisher’s Lost Futures

A talk by Matt Colquhoun

This talk will reconsider Mark Fisher’s notion of “lost futures”, its relation to capitalist realism and his work as a whole, and how the concept may be rethought positively, rather than depressively, after his death. Focusing less on Fisher’s own suicide, which now casts a long shadow over his work, we will consider the suicidality of capitalism as a socioeconomic system in general, and reaffirm why, as Fisher himself insisted, “mental health is a political issue” that must be addressed if we are to reclaim the futures that capitalism denies us.

Notes on Estrangement:
Decreation and Ekstasis

Simone Weil talks of “decreation” as a kind of divine renunciation. Decreation, she says, is not the same as destruction. The latter subtracts away to nothingness; the former lets “something created pass into the uncreated.”

It is Weil’s way of explaining God’s apparent indifference to us. “It is God who in his love withdraws from us so that we can love him”, she writes. Renunciation, then, is removing ourselves from the world as God did. It is the “[i]mitation of God’s renunciation in creation.” If “God renounces being everything”, then we too “should renounce being something. That is our only good.”

Weil’s position reads to me like a kind of narcissism — not the pop-pathological variety, but that original kind: a transformative self-love; that of Ovid’s Narcissus, who undoes himself like nature in winter, only to be reborn as a symbol of spring. “We participate in the creation of the world by decreating ourselves”, Weil continues.

Though this sense of decreation grounds Weil’s sense of a “Catholic communion”, I read in her writings a kind of perverted Stoicism, the inversion of a twentieth-century Spinozism, but I also hear the echo of her conversations with the likes of Joë Bousquet, who accepted his wound, renounced the world and made a new one. It makes for a complex worldview. On the one hand, her writing is shot through with a kind of Catholic guilt, a kind of affirmation of human suffering; but on the other, it recognises this suffering only to renounce it, or at least to renounce it as a “sad passion” that may define our beginning but must be rejected if we are to reach the end. It is in this way that we can “only possess what we renounce; what we do not renounce escapes from us.”

What attracts me to this kind of philosophy, which I have discovered in so many places of late through a persistent serendipity, is perhaps its bloody-minded refusal to self-pity and instead step forward into fear and unknowing. It is to face up to the crippling misery of the modern world that prefigures one kind of death and to instead ask for another. If we find ourselves in a depressive position, where engaging with the world as it is seems pointless and insufficient, then we should do what we can, and live in some way, that makes demands on that world to change. As Weil writes:

The extreme difficulty which I often experience in carrying out the slightest action is a favour granted to me. For thus, by ordinary actions and without attracting attention, I can cut some of the roots of the tree. However indifferent we may be to the opinion of others, extraordinary actions contain a stimulus which cannot be separated from them. This stimulus is quite absent from ordinary actions. To find extraordinary difficulty in doing an ordinary action is a favour which calls for gratitude. We must not ask for the removal of such a difficulty: we must beg for grace to make good use of it.

In general we must not wish for the disappearance of any of our troubles, but grace to transform them.

Here again, the echo of Bousquet: “My wound existed before me; I was born to embody it.” She continues:

For men of courage physical sufferings (and privations) are often a test of endurance and of strength of soul. But there is a better use to be made of them. For me then, may they not be that. May they rather be a testimony, lived and felt, of human misery. May I endure them in a completely passive manner. Whatever happens, how could I ever think an affliction too great, since the wound of an affliction and the abasement to which those whom it strikes are condemned opens to them the knowledge of human misery, knowledge which is the door of all wisdom?

I think about Antigone, who did what was, in the eyes of her king, so deeply wrong because she could not bear to renounce her kin. But this refusal seems to be born of a sense that she would not wish her suffering on another, and so she makes a stand, renouncing instead a higher power, her king, to preserve what feels sacred in her suffering and beyond the injustice of this world. Her family has been cut down, she has been uprooted, unborn, but she carries something core with her and challenges the world as it exists around her. She has been uprooted by forces beyond her control; all that is left is for her to uproot herself. As Weil writes: “It is necessary to uproot oneself. To cut down the tree and make of it a cross, and then to carry it every day.” Antigone is crucified on the cross she makes herself.

My Dad came up to visit a couple of times recently. It’s hard to watch him age. His second visit coincided with an old school friend coming to stay with my flatmate and I for a few days.

The three of us were really close once. We still are, in lots of ways. They weren’t just my friends but family-friends. We’d go on holiday together and hang out at school every day. There’s a comfort that comes from that kind of deep-seated familiarity. No matter how many years have gone by in silence, there is always still love there.

It feels so strange. I’m quite bad at staying in touch with people who aren’t in my immediate vicinity. These few days of reconnection are not down to any effort made on my part but a closeness more actively preserved by others that I feel I have remained near to unexpectedly. Some relationships just endure regardless. I see it in my Dad’s eyes. He knew us all as kids, and has not spend time with us all together in almost twenty years. We go for lunch together at the seaside as adults. I think he really enjoyed spending the day with us all. It was like twenty years hadn’t passed but I couldn’t stop thinking about how old we are now.

So much has changed recently. Life is almost unrecognisable. I feel like I am currently rebuilding my world anew. The world we share now is so markedly different to the one we grew up in. But still old faces remain; a love remains that will never falter.

I try to think about all that has changed, about how I have so often described myself as estranged from former lives, from childhood, from family. More recently, some of those connections have been rebuilt, tentatively, or have rather continued into a space that I thought, until recently, was barren. It is in my sense of renouncing that they endure regardless. The distance between us feels vast, but still an undeniable connection. I still feel on the outside of everything, but I am surprised every day by those who reach a hand out into this feeling of abyss.

It feels like life has started over. I live in a new city with a relatively new group of friends, and though I find myself spending a lot of my time with people I’d hardly say I knew well a few months ago — and in many cases, with people I categorically did not know at all — there are these strange hangovers of continuity that make time feel twisted. There is an acceptance from others that has been fostered over decades. I feel that same acceptance from some that has been fostered in just a few months.

In September, I am due to put the finishing touches on my next book. The feedback so far has been predictable for the first draft of something. The book does not quite fit together as it may have done in my mind, and with it having now been read by another, the response has been that the book either needs a bit less or a bit more. Some paths must either be curtailed or followed.

I was not sure how I re-enter the text at first. In talking to friends about it, I felt oddly like the thing had been written and was therefore done with. Though I knew there would be more work to do in submitting the manuscript, to offload it from my own private space of reflection left me with a feeling that I had cauterised the project in my mind. I was ready to move onto the next thing, despite the knowledge that the last thing was not yet completed.

This sense of cauterisation feels like a kind of renouncement. Life has changed remarkably since I first sent off the manuscript. But the breakdown I suffered in the aftermath, I am coming to realise, was a sort of misstep. A book about narcissism, about the decreation of the self, was superseded by a period of depression, a sorry fixation on the destruction of the self. Transformation gave way to nothingness; the process affirmed was renounced after being written about, but before it had been actualised for myself.

There is a fine line between destruction and decreation. I know too many who have written about the latter only to stumble into the former. Many of those I write about in the new book meet the same fate, despite themselves. I find the line and our stumbling over it described most eloquently by Anne Carson, in her essay on “decreation” in her collection of the same name. She writes on Sappho, Marguerite Porete and Simone Weil. In Sappho she finds the narcissism of Narcissus, describing herself in a fragment of poetry that places her traumatically in accordance with nature:

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and dead — or almost
I seem to me.

Which is it? How close death and greenery seem to be. Ego-death is held precariously at a distance from real death, but the distance also seems so slight. She teeters on the end of “ekstasis, literally ‘standing outside oneself,’ a condition regarded by the Greeks as typical of mad persons, geniuses and loves, and ascribed to poets by Aristotle.” But what tethers one death to the other is a peculiar force in Carson’s assessment: it is love. Rather than clarifying the relationship between the two deaths, love itself is called into question. As Carson writes of the poet of Lesbos:

We see her senses empty themselves, we see her Being thrown outside its own centre where it stands observing her as if she were grass or dead. At which point a speculation occurs to me: granted this is a poem all about love, do we need to limit ourselves to a reading of it that is merely or conventionally erotic? […] Perhaps Sappho’s poem wants to teach us something about the metaphysics or even the theology of love. Perhaps she is posing not the usual lovesong complaint, Why don’t you love me? but a deeper spiritual question, What is it that love dares the self to do?

Carson believes Sappho’s answer to be one of decreating the self: “Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty.”

I have often thought that this way of loving was a malformation of emotional attachment. I have found that, in my own personal relationships, I have a tendency to give my all. I offer myself up to another person absolutely, placing my life in theirs. When love ends, it is not so much that I am heartbroken by another’s absence, but the absence of myself. I forget myself, I feel detached from my own inner resources, I fall back on a ground that is hard and barren. It feels like a death. The decreation of the self through love gives way to self-destruction when love evaporates.

I try to love differently, or not at all. I enter new relationships tentatively, holding myself back, but find that connections are missed or unsubstantiated. I linger in the background, holding onto some part of my self, turning to writing and my own thoughts like a life raft in turbulent waters, remaining at the surface, gliding over the superficial, never sinking in, only describing the view below that I float above.

This is fine too, of course. Best not to offer yourself up to someone so immediately in the euphoria, the ecstasy, the ekstasis of new affections. (This is, at least, the intent, even if affections can sometimes proceed otherwise.) Best to preserve something, to keep something in reserve. But beyond the trials of romance, how to engage with the world at large in such a way? It seems less sensible, less liberating, to hold something back in one’s love of the world. The joy of living is found in leaving oneself behind as the world washes over you. For the women considered by Carson, this is the only way to experience the grace of God. Marguerite Porete, for instance, “understands the essence of her human self to be in her free will and she decides that free will has been placed in her by God in order that she may give it back.” Love, religious ecstasy, is driven no less by the will’s desire “to depart from its own will and render itself back to God with nothing left over.”

For the surrealists writing at the same time as Weil, who are less concerned with God than other unknowable forces, particularly the psychoanalytic sense of the unconscious, will departs from will in much the same way. It is a kind of nihilism, through which, as Porete writes, the Soul “sees her nothingness by means of the abundance of divine understanding, which makes her nothing and places her in nothingness.” But this nothingness is not a place of despair. Carson writes that Porete “recognizes poverty as an amazing and inexpressible kind of repletion”; an “absolute emptiness which is also absolute fullness”, spoken “in erotic language”. To be all and nothing in gravity and grace.

Carson notes how this decentring and decreating is found not so much in a consenting relationship between two lovers but the consent given and discarded in a love triangle, the scorching of a lover’s jealousy, like the singed edges of old love letters burned when love is renounced at the height of an intensity betrayed.

For the jealous lover must balance two contradictory realities within her heart: on the one hand, that of herself at the centre of the universe and in command of her own will, offering love to her beloved; on the other, that of herself off the centre of the universe and in despite of her own will, watching her beloved love someone else. Naked collision of these two realities brings the lover to a sort of breakdown … whose effect is to expose her very Being to its own scrutiny and to dislodge it from the centre of itself. It would be a very high test of dialectical endurance to be able to, not just recognise, but consent to this breakdown.

I thought my own breakdown was unreasonable, I denied it as a silly affectation, a mistake, a symptom of a love given too freely and then discarded, triggering a cascade of traumatic reflections, a sense of abandonment felt after having been brought into this world, and the abandonment that is echoed when others, by their own free will or otherwise, have made their own exits.

I tell friends how I feel, how unreasonable I know I am being, fighting a war against feelings I do not want. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, I say, but I feel it all regardless. I become mad in the renouncement of something I cannot shake off. I find love left abandoned, like a corpse, an effigy of myself lain before me, distinct and disconnected if still somehow mine. I want to bury it. But friends affirm my feelings regardless. They say it is all so understandable. I feel I cannot dig a grave deep enough, but then realise I have misunderstood the task at hand. What is necessary is not a discarding of a gift unduly given, but its reintegration into the self, the decreation of something outside myself than must then be consumed and placed back within. The best remedy for a broken heart, they say, is to open your heart again. The wound must be reintegrated, transformed into a door that opens out again onto another world.

I retain a deep affection for my ex-girlfriend, who I spent ten years with. I think about how I have sought to publicly rebuild my life, document and affirm a life lived without her, narrating a new mode of existence. At times, this feels cruel. I hope she does not read it. But also, I remain in her debt and hope that no document of my continued existence is experienced as a kind of disavowal of our separation. On the contrary, I want to affirm how our separation was hard but it was tender. To think of it fills me with sadness, but not jealousy. That phrase always comes to mind — the celebrity euphemism of a divorce undertaken under the rubric of late-capitalist wellness: a “conscious uncoupling”. But that is what it was. It was tender, it was gentle. It was not the destruction of a life lived together but its willful decreation; the separation of one life into two that will always, nonetheless, retain a certain oneness. It was a process of getting out of each other’s way. Could this be described as a kind of “dialectical endurance”? It was certainly endured, but I feel all the better for it. It was felt so absolutely, but with so much space given to the processing of our feelings for each other, the processing of a love that did not go away but nonetheless could not continue. If only all renouncement was undertaken so gracefully.

Carson turns, finally, to Simone Weil. “‘To undo the creature in us’ is one of the ways she describes [her] aim.” It is necessary that one moves oneself out of the way to feel the grace of God’s love (or, indeed, love in general). In Weil, as with the others, we find a series of affectations that go far beyond those exchanges between individuals. “The erotic triangle Simone Weil constructs is one involving God, herself and the whole of creation”. Weil’s romantic analogy is at once tender but self-destructive. She writes:

I must withdraw so that God may make contact with the beings whom chance places in my path and whom he loves. It is tactless of me to be there. It is as though I were placed between two lovers or two friends. I am not the maiden who awaits her betrothed but the unwelcome third who is with two betrothed lovers and ought to go away so that they can really be together.

But what a thing to endure. I almost hear echoes of an eco-fascism, a sense that humanity is a third wheel caught between God and nature. But like Spinoza, she affirms their unity. It is a mistake to understand this will to decreation as a kind of self-destruction. To remove ourselves from such a union is not to die but to step aside. As Carson writes of Porete, “the people are not the problem here. Withness is the problem.” So Weil writes of a kind of disconnection necessary to exist alongside deus sive natura: “If only I could see a landscape as it is when I am not there. But when I am in any place I disturb the silence of heaven by the beating of my heart.”

Concluding her essay, Carson writes of the “inconsequentiality” of these three women, who writes themselves through the decentring of the “I”:

To be a writer is to construct a big, loud, shiny centre of self from which the writing is given voice and any claim to be intent on annihilating this self while still continuing to write and give voice to writing must involve the writer in some important acts of subterfuge or contradiction.

But contradiction is where worlds are created and decreated, simultaneously. “Contradiction alone is the proof that we are not everything”, Weil writers. “Nothing and something are two sides of one one coin”, Carson adds. Our estrangement from ourselves, from others, from the world, is precisely a making strange: to encounter something where there should be nothing; nothing where there should be something. Always, as Gertrude Stein writes, “there is no there there.” Decreation is not the transformation of something into nothing, but something and nothing existing simultaneously. We wonder what exists in between; for Carson, it is the writer and their writing: “to leave us in wonder is just what such a writer feels compelled to do.” This compulsion, she continues, is to be “moved to create a sort of dream of distance in which the self is displaced from the centre of the world and the teller disappears into the telling.” To write personally is to decreate one’s person; to render the personal productively impersonal.

I feel haunted by a line from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons: “A whole centre and a border make hanging a way of dressing.” The meanings between words are decreated but something about this phrase has been etched on my soul like a future epitaph.

New Tenderness

The first episode of my new radio show, New Tenderness, will be broadcast on slacks.world at midday (GMT) today. Tune in!

First thought, best thought… For my first show on Slack’s, I wanted to share part of a mix I made shortly after moving up to Newcastle back in March. It was trialed in friends’ kitchens and at home after work, with a new community of people giving me a reason to listen to my own music again, having left it to gather digital dust during lockdown. It was a lot of fun to make. In the future, more tenderness.

Update: You can now listen back to the show here:

Synchronicity and the Will-To-Chance:
Notes on the Ruptured Space-Time of Trauma

In every story I tell comes a point where I can see no further. I hate that point. It is why they call storytellers blind. It is a taunt.

— Anne Carson, “Short Talk on Homo Sapiens”

Carl Jung’s paper on synchronicity functions as a kind of astrological experiment; an attempt to bridge his now seemingly disparate interests in Einsteinian physics and parapsychology; an attempt to give some scientific grounding to “so-called occult phenomena.” He himself believed he had had a vision that foretold the advent of the First World War — a vision of “a terrible flood that covered all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps.” For years, even decades, Jung was reticent to put his theory into words, but he eventually did so, publishing it in 1952. He was not unaware, however, that such a book would “make uncommon demands on the open-mindedness and goodwill of the reader.” But in his work as a psychoanalyst, as well as in his own life, Jung felt he had experienced too many instances of an “acausal connecting principle” to let it go wholly uninvestigated.

What struck Jung was the scientific formulation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which made it understood that the natural laws of physics are only “statistical truths, which means they are completely valid only when we are dealing with macrophysical quantities.” At the level of the microphysical, however — what we might now call the quantum level of physics — or even at scales so large that they are still difficult for us to quantify — “prediction becomes uncertain, if not impossible.”

This has implications for our understanding of cause and effect, where certitude is ungrounded, rendered statistical and relative. Non-causal relations are nonetheless hard for us to imagine, slipping into mystical and paranormal territory, but “that does not mean that such events do not exist”, Jung argues. “Their existence — or at least their possibility — follows logically from the promise of statistical truth.”

Here Jung enters “the world of chance, where a chance event seems causally unconnected from the coinciding fact.” Thinking rationally, empirically, we can argue that such an event “is only called ‘chance’ or ‘coincidence’ because its causality has not yet been discovered yet.” But this is hardly a conclusion to rest upon — instead, it only further illuminates the limits of what we currently know or can prove.

It is this sense of illumination we might call, as Jung does, “a case of meaningful coincidence, i.e., an acausal connection.” The coincidences themselves might be explained away by a fluke of probability, but what fascinates Jung is the way that such a “run of events” might make “a considerable impression on me”, allowing them to possess “a certain numinous quality.”

Jung’s analysis quickly descends into an overview of various parapsychological and psychical research experiments — experiments with which we will all be ambiently familiar from popular culture: subjects guessing symbols on a series of cards unseen, for instance. He notes how many experiments of this kind produced results that “were distinctly above probability”, meaning that guesses were accurate more frequently than an prediction based on statistical probability would suggest. Though nothing concrete is proven by such experiments, to Jung’s mind at least, their indeterminate findings make these occult phenomena worthy of further investigation. Such meaningful coincidences, he says, are interesting because they “cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity.”

What remains interesting in Jung’s analysis, no matter how far it might slide into a study of paranormal activity, is his belief that, following Einstein, the space and time of the psyche, of the unconscious, are no less “elastic” and relative than space and time as they are perceived in our phenomenal world. He continues:

In themselves, space and time consist of nothing. They are hypostatized concepts born of the discriminating activity of the conscious mind, and they form the indispensable co-ordinates for describing the behaviour of bodies in motion. They are, therefore, essentially psychic in origin, which is probably the reason that impelled Kant to regard them as a priori categories. But if space and time are only apparently properties of bodies in motion and are created by the intellectual needs of the observer, then their relativization by psychic conditions is no longer a matter for astonishment but is brought within the bounds of possibility. This possibility presents itself when the psyche observes, not external bodies, but itself.

In my own experiences, the Jungian idea of synchronicity hardly seems wholly pseudoscientific. I first came across it whilst reading Nancy Newton Verrier’s The Primal Wound, her self-help book (of sorts) for helping the reader understand the adopted child. In reflecting on Jung’s concept, I remembered, for instance, how my biological mother and I both shared an escapist fantasy of packing up our bags and moving out to the American Midwest to become storm-chasers. As a teenager, her favourite pastime was ice skating and she played for a local women’s ice hockey team; before puberty trapped me in an ungainly and ungraceful rugby player’s physique, my favourite hobby was figure skating and going to roller discos. We found the synchronicity of these fantasies and passions between us both unsettling and amusing in their seemingly impossible specificity.

These coincidences felt like an uneasy ground upon which to build a new mythology. But how to tell these stories to others without losing faith or without provoking ridicule? How to tell these stories without slipping into fantasy and spirituality? How to rationalise an experience that feels, at its core, so irrational and mystical? At the same time, how to accept that these synchronicities are nothing more than coincidences? Or mundane experiences given undue weight by later reflection? To read into these stories in passing is no more rational than reading the stars, but the meaning gathered nonetheless is deeply affecting.

Still, I find ways to explain these coincidences away, as if to protect myself from falling too deeply into this mystical connection. In Hull, for instance, ice skating is hardly an uncommon pastime, with the city boasting the only Olympic-sized ice rink in the region. The city also has a long history of success in ice hockey, with the Humberside Seahawks becoming national champions in 1988 — an incredible achievement considering this was the very same year the team was founded. This success greatly popularised the sport locally, in a city better known for its rugby teams, during my mother’s adolescence and during mine. At the same time, my fascination with tornadoes no doubt comes from a childhood spent watching the 1996 film Twister over and over again — a film that was pop-culturally significant for many. But there is also something symbolic in this fascination, coming from a sense of awe at the destruction and confusion brought to communities under certain atmospheric conditions. I feel like I can identify with tornadoes, keen to study a thing of mystery and beauty that can nonetheless leave so much devastation in its wake. I remain certain that any psychoanalyst would have a field day pondering the shared significance of these dreams of ours.

But perhaps all of this can all be explained away by our cultural proximity, or simply growing up in similar social conditions? (There is only fifteen years between us, after all; barely a generation.) I would likely not think much of these coincidences were they shared with a total stranger, but they mean something to me nonetheless. They help populate a fiction, a mythology of life, and there is a great deal of joy to be experienced in telling some of these stories anyway, even if their veracity or significance is overplayed. They constitute a further mythologisation of a life lived in uncertainty and discontinuity. Sometimes such unavowable experiences can only be expressed through mysticism and poetry.

Though it is hard not to hold Jung’s thought before oneself with a healthy scepticism, the traumatised mind knows all too well how meaningful coincidence can dismantle its own functioning. Jung’s theory of synchronicity, no matter how forcefully he may attempt to back it up with science, is surely mad. But madness is the perfect domain in which to make use of it, where connections between events are made unconsciously all the time, and where “numinous effects”, as Jung says, often “express themselves as affects.” Indeed, what is trauma, as a kind of psychic wounding, if not a free-floating and acausal affect, wherein past events are echoed inexplicably in present ones, not necessarily connected through space and time as it normally appears to us, but through the warped space-time of the damaged unconscious. A post-traumatic experience, in this respect, may not even refer to an event that is consciously remembered but simply emits itself from a tear in the fabric of the unconscious mind. Indeed, trauma is a wormhole, a shortcut between events that collapses thought under its density.

I try to think this through my recent unwellness, through which excessive feelings were brought forth by events that had no immediate impact on my life; or the subsequent detachment and dissociation, through which the mind, in an apparent attempt to protect itself from itself, denies the emergence of any affect whatsoever, allowing only a numbness that separates the unconscious from the lived experiences of a more conscious mind, transforming life into the shadow of a bad dream.

What is left to affirm, through such difficulty, is our own will. The will to overcome, perhaps, but also the will to chance; the will to face life in all of its possibility, for good or ill.

In On Nietzsche, Bataille explains how the mad philosopher “was horrified by the idea of subordinating his thought to a cause.” The sense (and tense) given here is one of present and future — a nod to the idea later quasi-actualized by Nietzsche’s sister, attaching his philosophy to Nazism like cart to a horse. But we also find in Nietzsche an expressed affirmation of indeterminism, reaching far into the past as well.

“Did my ‘a priori‘ want this of me?” Nietzsche exclaims in the preface to On the Genealogy of Morality. His thought often considers how it is we have come to think and reason thus. He later asks, however, time and again, how we might still come to think otherwise, through our own sheer force of will.

But the will is a complex thing. It is not so easily contained by how we might otherwise imagine it: a linear direction of thought, thrust ahead of us like a sword; the sovereignty of thought and action combined into some unitary entity. On the contrary, at the level of what we might call the microphysical, will is multiplicitous, schizophrenic, polyvocal, making connections wherever it pleases.

Deleuze makes reference to this explicitly in his book Nietzsche and Philosophy. He writes that the “being of force” — any force — “is plural.” It is never a case of a singular force acting upon some indifferent object. (Jung’s interest in the relation between contemporary physics and the unconscious mind returns here.) “Every force is thus essentially related to another force.” It is Newton’s first law of motion: there is no inertial observer within the interplay of forces. As Deleuze continues, there is always a “hierarchy, that is to say the relation of a dominant to a dominated force, of an obeyed to an obeying will.” He adds: “The sense of something is its relation to the force which takes possession of it, the value of something is the hierarchy of forces which are expressed in it as a complex phenomenon.”

“Sense” might be understood here as the “truth” of something, or rather another kind of “essence”, which is not so much intrinsic to force but how a force is relatively understood. For something to “make sense” to us, then, we must first recognise certain familiar signs that are perceptible to us within it. Signs, it must be said, can be objective or subjective. We must all learn the signs that mark our roads if we are to drive, for instance, attuning ourselves to a common sense, but we can — and, indeed, do, whether we like it or not — also develop ways of being that are wholly our own, formed by the chance repetition of other signs that accost us.

When Jung writes of meaningful coincidences, he writes of signs that he alone (perhaps) has attached a certain significance to. He writes of repeatedly coming across fish, for example, in actuality and symbolically, as he undertakes a study of the symbolism of fish throughout history. We can explain this away by saying that he is simply more sensitive to the appearance of the fish sign in his studiousness, but he is also only studying fish because their symbology seems oddly ubiquitous to him, in various cultures and their histories. He finds himself not in a relation of cause and effect, but a symbolic feedback loop, where experience gives rise to metaphor and metaphor, in turn, comes to shape experience. It is not, then, so simply a case of cause and effect but, as Jung himself writes, of things “falling together in time.”

It is perhaps in this same sense that we can understand Deleuze’s comment, when writing on Marcel Proust, that signs “are the object of a temporal apprenticeship, not of an abstract knowledge.” Signs are themselves multiplicitous, resistant to a compartmentalisation into a general system of knowledge. He writes:

From one moment to the next, [signs] evolve, crystallize, or give way to other signs. Thus the apprentice’s task is to understand why someone is ‘received’ in a certain world, why someone ceases to be so, what signs do the worlds obey, which signs are legislators, and which high priests.

Jung seems to understand this intuitively, but still he attempts to fold the non-sense of synchronicity into a general theory of the collective unconscious. But the unconscious, whether collectively or individually understood, surely always remains multiplicitous. Jung’s sense of the “collective” becomes paradoxically unitary, as he places “meaningful coincidences” — “to be distinguished from meaningless chance groupings” — on top of what he calls “an archetypical foundation.” In his assessment of an “acausal connecting principle”, he nonetheless subordinates his thought, and that of his patients, to a set of primitive and unconscious causes — acausal causes that are acausal if only because they have been lost to time.

In his attempt to account for time lost, Jung defers to a natural — we might even say genealogical — set of relations lost to the conscious mind. But as Deleuze writes, “when we posit the unity, the identity, of the will we must necessarily repudiate the will itself.” The will’s multiplicity is lost. The acausal is restricted to causes forgotten, in the past, rather than a future unknown towards which any will must surely strive, even in its roundabout way. Perhaps this is inevitable, even a logical conclusion to draw — one arrived at despite all of Jung’s interest in the seemingly illogical and paranormal — but it also seems to undo Jung’s own interest in the relativity and unknowability of unconscious time.

Here, the usefulness of Deleuze and Guattari’s more geological sense of the unconscious in A Thousand Plateaus becomes far more explicitly useful. “We are never signifier or signified. We are stratified.”

With the stratification of the unconscious in mind, we can turn back to Deleuze’s study of Proust, which begins with the question: “What constitutes the unity of In Search of Lost Time?”

We know, at least, what does not. It is not recollection, memory, even involuntary memory… the Search is not simply an effort of recall, an exploration of memory… Lost Time is not simply time past; it is also time wasted, time lost track of. Consequently, memory intervenes as a means of Search, of investigation, but not the most profound means; and time past intervenes as a structure of time, but not the most profound structure.

There is no unity, then, between the Search and the time that is lost. Rather, there is only a multitude of orientations facing off against each other; a multitude of dimensions interlaced. It is in this way, as Deleuze writes at the start of Logic of Sense, that the central characteristic of the “simultaneity of becoming” — we might even say its synchronicity — “is to elude the present.” In this way, “becoming does not tolerate the separation or the distinction of before and after, or of past and future.” This is nowhere more apparent than in Proust, whose Lost Time may be behind him, but whose Search is nonetheless an activity oriented towards the future. To search for lost time is a paradox, an ouroboros, in plain sight, encapsulating the synchronous dimensions of becoming.

It is in this sense that “memory intervenes only as the means of an apprenticeship that transcends recollection both by its goals and by its principles.” It is less a process of recollection than it is an active and always unfolding reflection, of two dimensions of becoming — the first: “that of limited and measured things, of fixed qualities, permanent or temporary which always presuppose pauses and rests, the fixing of present, and the assignation of subjects”; the second: “a pure becoming without measure, a veritable becoming-mad, which never rests” — seeing themselves in the other. This tandem movement is complex, paradoxical, unconscious, but it is nonetheless legible, with the right training.

This is to say, as Deleuze does of Nietzsche,

that genealogy does not appear on the first night and that we risk serious misunderstanding if we look for a child’s father at the birth. The difference in the origin does not appear at the origin — except perhaps to a particularly practised eye, the eye which sees from afar, the eye of the far-sighted, the eye of the genealogist.

The eye, that is to say, of the semiotic apprentice of time; the eye that conducts the Search for Lost Time.

Diary Fragments

On Saturday, I plan to relax and then go out to see a friend DJ at a club in town. A post-punk night, she is restricted to only playing music released prior to 1989.

I sleep most of the day instead and don’t make it out.

On Sunday, I do not feel rested. I head to a coffee shop in Heaton to read and write. It rains periodically, clouding the neighbourhood in a fine mist. I set up at a wooden table outside regardless so I can smoke. The table is covered in a green film — some sort of moss or algae — which is activated by the moisture in the air. If it wasn’t so dark, it would be neon. It rubs off on my fingers. I rub it off but still end up with the taste of it, the grit of it, in my mouth somehow.

I try to read but feel nauseous, a little dizzy. My eyes feel untethered, oscillating drunkenly around the page. I start to write instead and the nausea subsides, my eyes more able to focus on the words as they appear, rather than the lines already inked to the page.

My hand cramps up almost immediately, but I write through the discomfort — a further distracting kind of pain.

I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination — so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it.

More than that, I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself wasn’t enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it.

Imagining life without the diary, even one week without it, spurred a panic that I might as well be dead.

Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness is a diary of a diary, or a diary of a diary’s end. She explores the same condition I am wrestling with and translates it into a kind of prose poetry, fragmentary and circling towards a void, where writing is finally, maybe, to be denounced.

Hypergraphia, the overwhelming urge to write. Graphomania, the obsessive impulse to write. Look up the famous cases if you’re interested. Nothing about them ever helped me with my problem.

I talk to my friend, who says I have inspired in her a similar compulsion. She flatters me but all I think about are the negatives. I am a lonely person to live with, I confess. I know that to be true. It has been said repeatedly. Home is where I write, or where I flee from when the compulsion takes me — either way, if there is not an event or social occasion to be engaged with, I sit with pen in hand or sleep.

I need to write, I tell myself, to make writing my life, because life itself feels so difficult to understand on its own terms. Writing grounds me. But in the same way that the sating of any addiction does not always lead to a healthy lifestyle, I am often aware of the things that writing keeps me from, the other ways that life might be lived.

Manguso: “I write the diary instead of taking exercise, performing remunerative work, or volunteering my time to the unlucky. It’s a vice.” She continues, explaining that she “started keeping the diary in earnest when I started finding myself in moments that were too full.” This too resonates. Writing as a way of grounding against nausea, against the overwhelm, that existential nausea of life felt too intensely (or perhaps life felt at all).

On the table next to me, the complete translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in all of its 800-page density. I want to read what she has to say about D.H. Lawrence, some 200 pages in, but struggle to contextualise her argument by dipping in halfway through. I start at the beginning, but it only compounds my nausea. The gravitational weight of the book, intellectually and as an object, pulls me apart, like a body drifting toward a black hole. This treatise on becoming unbecomes me.

I wonder how she wrote it. Was its enormity fuelled, like Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, by amphetamines? Was it the writing drug that fuelled the production of such density, of thought’s fullness rendered in its entirety? The book feels like the aftermath of a writerly explosion, that moment when the voided space of fiery experience refills with the back draft of solid air. It knocks you over, obliterative, a hard block of time.

A person’s diaries, if maintained long enough — Manguso says hers is 800,000 words long — would surely be even denser. But here time is recorded in another way, drifting, fragmentary, unhardened even when printed out. It captures, in Manguso’s word, an ongoingness.

Such an enormous tome, exploring the becoming of woman, the limits placed upon such a becoming by the social, the social conception of the body, the body of the work weighted, not so much becoming in itself but dragging me down, my back aching, too many books lugged around, this one the biggest, the weight of experience even heavier, nauseating.

I am nauseous because I am tired, I tell myself. I am due at my friend’s house for dinner in two hours. The coffee shop closes at four. It is four now.

I go to a pub up the road and nurse a pint, wondering whether I should go home and briefly nurse myself. I worry I won’t get up again. I worry I will have depleted myself and not make it home from dinner.

Writing again, the nausea again subsides. I feel it leaking out of me in other ways. The beer makes me sweat, my stomach cramps, but at least my head is clear, distracted, no longer spinning. Writing fills up the time of the present. The present is written and avoided. It bubbles up inside me, feels like wind. I belch but feel something solid hitching a ride. I fart into the mottled felt of the bar’s furniture. My body is working away at something unseen. It is bloated, a food baby from a pregnant moment, constipated time flowing irregularly. What a burden a body can be. Let me live, I think, to the body, keeping a frustrated silence, annoyed and not speaking to the mind.

Ninety minutes left to go.

Ninety minutes filled with the Women’s Euro finals. England versus Germany. So many blonde ponytails bouncing around the screen. Still the cantankerous old man holding court at the bar. The referee makes a call that is not in England’s favour. Impassioned but still himself, she’s a “useless old tart”. The German team are all “dirty krauts”. He cheers on the nation, on the women’s football team, with a broadcast that is perhaps the biggest platform the women’s game has ever received. I can’t help but laugh at how he slots this new experience into his hardened thoughts and way of life. It is fun to hear him so invested in the match, even if his nationalism and sexism is only partly dented in response. No new tricks for the old dog.

Dinner is lovely. I’m elated and a bit tipsy. I get the last bus home and sleep, but wake up on the hour every hour from 3am through to 4am, 5am and 6am. From 6am to 10am, I dream.

Some months ago, I dreamt that I was in Amsterdam, but it looked more like Miami Beach. I was staying in a beautiful-looking hotel with my Dad, but the room was exactly the same as my London flat. It had a stunning bar on one of the top floors where I’d go for cigarettes. But despite all of that, I felt really oppressed by it. I found the architecture stressful, the glamour of the place intimidating. I couldn’t enjoy it, feeling like an imposter or an anxious squatter who has found a spot to rest but knowing they shouldn’t really be there.

In the dream, I couldn’t sleep. There was a school group of teenagers staying on our floor of the hotel and they kept me awake all night with their antics. I’d go into the corridors to scowl at them. Lying awake in bed, I saw a man jump from the bar above and plummet past our window.

It was, in the end, a very disturbing dream, combining all of my anxieties around travel and sleep and death. But I forgot about it completely. It was not a dream that, I thought, had stayed with me.

Last night I had another dream about being on holiday. I bumped into a girl I used to date at university, along with her twin sister. It had been a decade since we’d last had a conversation and so we fell into that ripened familiarity, candid and cajoling, returning to a prior mode of relation, the frayed edges of which were protected by the distance of time.

They were going on holiday again soon, they said, to Amsterdam, and described a hotel in a region of the city that sounded familiar to me. I began recanting my previous dream in this one, then found myself suddenly before the hotel in question, which was named “Chaza”, and through which I suggested I could give them a tour.

Recalling the moment the body fell, I decided against it. I left them and went to the sea, and in the sea I woke up.

A Note on The Madwoman in the Attic

I went into Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination without too much expectation. I’d heard of it and was intrigued by their focus on the Brontë’s and Emily Dickinson. I’d heard it was pretty seminal. I didn’t expect it to be quite so outdated.

Lots of critiques have been written about the book over the years — many focusing on the familiar second-wave-feminist stumbling block of an overreliance on biological essentialism and other sorts of blinkers — and the authors try to address a few of these critiques in the second edition’s introduction, where they each herald themselves as a “madwoman in the academy”. For a piece of writing written in the year 2000, introducing a book first published in the late 1970s, it is striking how so many of their arguments (and the style of their arguments too) echo those that various TERFs now use to hold much of the mainstream media to ransom.

In considering their critics’ various positions, but taking particular issue with the poststructuralists that would soon surpass them, the pair argue that

the attack on the paradigm of The Madwoman could and did go beyond the content of [their original] metaphorical model (of the rebelliously diseased woman writer struggling to gain independence) to a post-structuralist rejection of any formulation that would lend credence either to the term “woman” or to the category “women writers”, a disavowal that necessarily makes it difficult indeed to do feminist work in a literary historical context.

This is seemingly to say, in a now-familiar TERF nomenclature, that you can’t even say what a woman is anymore. (Judith Butler predictably comes up a few times to receive some vague scorn.)

This point falls shortly after a repudiation of the work of Michel Foucault and his argument about how the self more broadly is formed. For Foucault, they write, “what replaces the self as a source of power are institutional regimes whose social forces shape people laboring under the delusion of individuality.” As a result, the ways that “[n]ineteenth-century literature repeatedly refers to the creation of the self … actually achieves — for poststructuralists — … the naturalization of this historical concept.” The self is a concept, an invention, which art historians in particular, many decades before Foucault, trace back to the Renaissance and to the trickle-down influence of a courtly despotism. (Jacob Bruckhardt argued this way back in 1860, in fact, in The Civilisation of the Renaissance, giving his name to what is now known as the Bruckhardt Thesis.) It is a clear product of liberalist thinking, and one they daren’t see critiqued.

Though they may reject this line of thinking, it is striking to me that so many of the women they later consider (in the book’s three-part sequel, No Man’s Land, that I’m yet to read, which focuses on women in the twentieth century) seemed far more on board with it, arguably inspiring — albeit under the still-obfuscating influence of patriarchy — the theoretical work that was to come. (Deleuze and Guattari may only rely on Woolf, but she is foundational all the same.) Gilbert and Gubar cannot see this. It makes the book very surreal now to read.

The book begins, for instance, with a quote from Anais Nin, who I have been interested in of late for her championing of an androgynous writing. But Gilbert and Gubar seem to reference her whilst wholly ignoring her interest in an androgynous literature, even quoting critics who would perhaps find such a writing abhorrent. John Irwin, for example, in Doubling and Incest, is quoted favourably for having said that

the relationship “of the masculine self with the feminine-masculine work is also an autoerotic act… a kind of creative onanism in which through the use of the phallic pen on the ‘pure space’ of the virgin page… the self is continually spent and wasted…

This may describe the chauvinistic work of Henry Miller quite well, but Nin’s too? They would probably argue she is just reproducing masculine tropes in her work, as Miller thought himself. But to my ears, this starts to sound a lot like the transphobic work of someone like Ray Blanchard, with his pathology of “autogynephilia”.

Intriguingly, despite this, they quote Leo Bersani’s A Future for Astyanax, in which he argues that “language doesn’t merely describe identity but actually produces moral and perhaps even physical identity… We have to allow for a kind of dissolution or at least elasticity of being induced by an immersion in literature.” So the question must be asked more forcefully: what is produced by a far more androgynous literature? Is this not the primary legacy of women’s writing under modernism which — as Virginia Woolf herself wrote, in what they too acknowledge as perhaps the founding text of “women’s studies”, A Room of One’s Own — calls not just fiction but woman herself into question? How is it not painfully obvious to Gilbert and Gubar that so many of the seminal “women writers” of the last two centuries would squirm under their own characterisations of what it means to be a woman who writes?

None of this makes it impossible for us to talk about a “women’s writing”, however, despite the pair’s fears. Surely it only makes the concept more interesting, for the ways that it changes literature as such more broadly, incapable of remaining a distinct subculture, as Gilbert and Gubar believe it to be, but having a clear influence on the literature in general, precisely by producing the elasticity of (gendered) being that Bersani calls for.

It is a sad and familiar story, which now feels even more overbearing in our popular discourse than it once did: yes to elasticity, they say, only to complain that now the rubber band of subjectivity has been stretched too far…

Sod it. Let’s keep stretching.

Storm Crow

There’s a new Mark Stewart track out, appearing on a forthcoming compilation from On-U Sound. Niall McCann has made the video and it has served as a bit of a soft announcement of a project McCann has been working on for a few years now — a documentary about Mark Fisher called Lost Futures.

I’m excited for this project to come out. I was interviewed for it way back in March 2020, just before the pandemic, at the launch for Egress at the ICA in London. I’ve seen a few clips already and it looks like it is going to be amazing.

Read more from the video’s press release below:

‘Storm Crow’ by Mark Stewart is a track made for ‘Lost Futures’, the forthcoming film in development about the life and work of the influential writer and theorist Mark Fisher, and is also featured on the compilation ‘Pay It All Back Vol. 8’, the latest volume in the acclaimed series of samplers from Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label.

“I first met Mark Stewart through the film we are making about the life and work of the writer Mark Fisher. Tariq Goddard (the writer and head of Repeater Books, which he founded with Fisher) had given me the names of people we should speak to and Mark’s was one of the first names on the list. As Mark Stewart and I began discussing the film and I told him I wanted to use some of his music in it because Fisher loved the Pop Group, he suggested we collaborate on a music video for a new track of his, ‘Storm Crow’. It seemed like a perfect fit, a chance to experiment and also a way of getting the news about the film we are trying to make out into the world. We are in the process of financing the film which can be an arduous process. We’re always on the look out for collaborators and champions for the project and if people who read this feel they can help in some way we would love to speak to them.

The ‘Storm Crow’ video is an attempt to visualise the ideas of Mark Fisher and combine them with music with a similar perspective. A playful experiment in matching his ideas to the music of Mark Stewart, recontextualizing old tv advertisements (which both Marks would have grown up watching) zombie movies, along with pivotal social and political moments which helped bring us to what Fisher called “Capitalist Realism” which is the idea that it is now easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

The vast body of work Fisher left behind explores Capitalism’s unassailable role in our lives, the closing off of any sense of a future different from the present, and the effects of this on us as individuals. His writings lifted up the veil and showed the world afresh to his readers, and that’s what is the core idea in the music video.

The film itself revolves around something which is central to Mark Fisher’s work: the future. When I was young the future was everywhere. It could be anything, it seemed rife with possibilities, for something better. Now, it’s only talked about as a more terrifying version of the present. This is a film about the futures we have lost and how we might start imagining new ones again.

We will use Mark Fisher’s life and his brilliant ideas as a guide through some of the most urgent questions of our time.”

Rizosfera has some more info too, with further comments from Mark Stewart, Obsolete Capitalism and Bobby Gillespie, who have also contributed to the soundtrack.