Unfolding Folds

I’ve been reflecting a lot under quarantine — what else is there to do? — particularly about writing. I reflect on writing often, and often on this blog.

At the moment, I’m thinking a lot about how the writing I like to read is not the same as the writing I like to write, and figuring out the balance between the two is often a very conscious process for me. Following a recent review of Egress, I’ve been thinking about this even more.

I keep thinking about Deleuze too. I need to dig it out again but I remember reading something once — I think it was in that Intersecting Lives joint-biography of D+G — where the author comments on the shift that occurs between Deleuze’s writings on other writers and then the sheer torrent of energy that erupts once he shelves that habit and starts to write for himself. I’m feeling that at the moment. I’ve plotted out the entirely of my next book and, to be honest, it’s probably far too ambitious a project right now, but I feel like the sky is the limit. It is going to be my book proper. Not a comment on someone else but an expansion of my own ideas. That’s liberating right now.

I’m also excited about it because I think it will allow my own writing to be considered on its own terms. I have lived very consciously under the shadow of Mark Fisher for a few years now but I have long been looking for an exit. That’s not to dismiss the achievement that is Egress. The book means a great deal to me, but that’s almost four years of my life, and the book is finished and out in the world, and now I’m eager to take what I’ve learned and start the next chapter.

More books about Mark will no doubt come out in the mean time, however. As said on Twitter the other day, that one review of my book seemed to want the sort of book about Mark that I dread to see — a book about Mark that tries to imitate him — but also a book that reduces him to his three slim volumes.

This is the main problem for me, going forwards, and it was even one predicted during the Egress‘s gestation. I have many problems with the space into which this book has entered: the one-dimensional landscape on which Mark’s works are generally discussed.

This landscape colours everything. It is at once superficial but also heavily weighted. In the midst of our current apocalypse I’ve been reading D.H. Lawrence’s book Apocalypse and it is interesting to read him talking about the Bible in its early pages:

The Bible is a book that has been temporarily killed for us, or for some of us, by having its meaning arbitrarily fixed. We know it so thoroughly, in its superficial or popular meaning, that it is dead, it gives us nothing any more.

That’s a comment that could apply to any number of things in this corner of the internet, where the war between pop culture and underground is never-ending, but it’s particularly true of Mark’s work for me, especially since his death. Mark has been transformed from a man who desired another way of life, for himself and others, into the cornerstone of a new faith. That’s a second death for Mark as far as I’m concerned. It’s in this sense that Egress is a book about life and death, and also second lives and second deaths. Resisting Mark’s second death is what I have been neurotically pursuing for years now.

It’s nonetheless quite hard to resist. The popular meaning of Mark’s work creates a pressure to write as Mark, but who would dare — or want — to write that book? I’m not sure, but it’s clear plenty of people want to read it. You know it is on the way because, whatever itch within the market my book fails to itch, someone else will fill in the gap soon enough.

I couldn’t have written that book, nor would I have wanted to. When I wander into forums or Facebook groups dedicated to Mark’s work, I don’t recognise the Mark I find there. I see this weird-looking posthumous Mark reduced to his catchphrases. I find it vulgar and repulsive.

However, when I do wander through these places, I also see lots of inquiring minds asking about Mark’s various takes on other topics. “What did Mark Fisher think about x or y?” The desires driving such questions are likely suspect, compounding this problem, as if the right response to any situation must be the Mark Fisher response. The funny thing, however, is that many of these enquiries do indeed have responses, buried in Mark’s diverse array of essays and blogposts. I think it was Mark’s hope, however, that people would find these things for themselves.

The Mark that wrote those slim books for Zero and Repeater was — I think quite consciously, on his part — just the tip of the iceberg. His books are so thin to be accessible, yes, but also to be bait into a deeper and more disturbing world of philosophical heresy and cultural production.

Take Capitalist Realism, for instance. Here Mark frequently sprinkles his political arguments with repeated references to the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and he does this without really taking those references anywhere — he doesn’t really quote Spinoza and he certainly doesn’t preface his references with any broader intellectual context — but I’m sure that’s because Mark felt he didn’t need or want to. Nevertheless, I doubt Spinoza is the kind of figure most casual readers will be familiar with, but there he is, again and again, as if Mark is a DJ throwing in a deep cut for the ‘heads and for the curious.

I’ve heard numerous people criticise Mark’s lacklustre use of Spinoza in this regard but the more generous reading is to call these references breadcrumbs. (For what it’s worth, Spinoza’s influence on Mark’s writings is far more explicit on k-punk than anywhere else.) He sprinkles just enough Spinoza into the mix so that the name jumps out at you but he doesn’t get stuck into the particulars of his thinking. Spinoza is not allowed to get in the way of the argument being made. It’s a risky gamble but one that Mark was very good at, perhaps because of its connection to a wider philosophical thinking that he was well versed in.

This is one way of saying — implicitly — that Mark’s books are interesting examples of Deleuzian folding. “There’s no inside except as a folding of the outside,” as Mark wrote in The Weird and the Eerie, and that book, in itself, is the perfect example of his folding/unfolding skills in full flow. It is another book that is, of course, incredibly concise — at times even too concise for its own good — but, as we discovered when we turned our support group into a reading group at Goldsmiths in 2017, when you start to unfold it, it becomes infinitely more complex.

That’s the relationship to Mark’s work that I wanted to share, in Egress and on this blog. The joy, for me, is in the unfolding; in making the connections. Mark’s legacy is a jigsaw puzzle and, once you find the connections between the pieces, a whole new world starts to emerge before you.

As a case in point, I ended up reading Simon O’Sullivan’s essay on “the fold” in Deleuze’s thought whilst writing this post and it demonstrates what I’m gesturing towards with far more clarity than I could muster right now. More importantly, however, read with Mark in mind, you can feel him in there, in the concept itself. He doesn’t need to explain it because he inhabits it.

This is similarly something I wanted to get across in my essay for The Quietus in which I unpacked hauntology using Deleuze’s concepts of the critical and the clinical, undermining the deadened popular understanding. This wasn’t meant to be an exercise in academic complication but rather unfolding, making more explicit the connections within. When reading Mark, whether we’re familiar with Deleuze or not, it doesn’t really matter. Mark lived it implicitly rather than explicitly scaffolding his work with borrowed concepts. Instead, he made his own. Like Kodwo Eshun, he was a “concept engineer”.

And that’s part of the joy of Mark’s work but also the frustration. The implicit nature of his writings on philosophy lends itself to popular reduction. Nevertheless, the mark of Deleuze left imprinted on his thought is plain to see if you know what you’re looking at. That’s what I find fascinating in Mark’s writing. He openly referenced Deleuze far less often than one might expect but these vectors are nonetheless there.

It reminds me of a comment Mark made in his very first Post-Capitalist Desire seminar. He commented that the lack of Deleuze and Guattari on the syllabus was shocking, even to him — and he’d written it — but they were still there as the thread that ran in the background, as if they were all the more important precisely because they had been omitted.

The question becomes: How do you approach a thinker like that? Like Mark? Diminish these conceptual echoes to Easter Eggs for the theorybros? Or dare to unpack them far more than Mark did himself to probe the under-explored depths of his writings?

Personally, I’m not the sort of writer who goes in for subtle omissions. I’m far more neurotic a writer than Mark was in that regard. I like to unfold everything and lay it out nicely and make connections explicit. Is it an academic hangover? I don’t think so. I only spent one year studying this stuff formally. I arrived with that neurotic desire to unfold already embedded. I’ve done the implicit signalling enough with photography, and spent years being frustrated when no one picks up on it. Writing is where I get to let loose instead.

Of course, this is the complete opposite of the style deployed by the Ccru, who compress and compress concepts until they reach a point of nuclear reaction, but that’s fine with me. I like to read that stuff but I don’t think I’m very good at writing it, and I don’t think the reasons for that are all that deep.

Again, what’s better: affirming my own preferences or producing a pale imitation? The former, I think, but it’s certainly not the easy option.

What Would Sonic Do?

Artist Rickard Eklund has made a run of t-shirts featuring Sonic the Hedgehog and some leftist / accelerationist slogans. The one on the back is a quotation from the U/Acc Primer by yours truly.

Richard writes on Instagram:

Lucky Artist LTD: Gotta go fast


Make your ironic purchase here! 3-color screenprint and bleach on XL t-shirt. ”Gotta go fast”: stolen meme + a summation of accelerationist advice.

500kr/€50. Available for all, made on demand. 🦔💨

Drop him a line if you want one.

You Are Not A Postmodernist

A nice little post here from the Velcro City Tourist Board, following on from my previous post on why most people who call themselves “accelerationists” are kinda missing the point. Paul Raven writes:

The point being: for the most part, though with some notable exceptions, postmodernist thinkers were not advocating for a doctrine of postmodernity so much as they were attempting to describe the contours of a new cultural condition that had been assigned that (unfortunate and contentious) moniker. As such, I’m tempted to see accelerationism as Colquhoun sees it — which, I concede, may not be a universal conception of that term — as being a condition rather than a creed, in the same sense that postmodernity was a condition rather than a creed; in both cases, the conditionality may suggest certain stances in response, but that’s a very different thing to waving a flag that says “postmodernity, yay!”

Interestingly, my original thought emerged from a post I started working on around the same time that was going to argue this exact same point. Unfortunately, I ran out of energy to complete it but the gist was: “Why are so many people on YouTube obsessed with defending postmodernism?”

The draft consisted of a single paragraph I had intended to build out:

It seems like, in a bizarre twist of fate, postmodernism has become a defendable position simply because Jordan Peterson equates it with “cultural Marxism” and whatever else the left is apparently plotting, but just because Peterson thinks its dangerous and bad doesn’t unfortunately make it good.

Lots of Breadtubers are guilty of this binary thinking and their audiences tend not to know any better to pick up on it. Nevertheless, reactively taking on Peterson’s idiocy only ends up extending it into our own discourses. It’s depressing to see.

This is an opportune moment to share Mark and Robin’s old Ccru essay on pomophobia, and from there on out the trajectory is clear. Postmodernism is absolutely a condition rather than a creed. Mark would further distil this point into his later writings on hauntology. Accelerationism was what came next.

I have an account of this trajectory written up in the first chapter of Egress. The connection between Mark’s hauntological and accelerationist writings is explicit, precisely because they are complimentary modes of writing that attempt to deal with the conflicting temporalities contained within what we used to call “postmodernity”. Keeping those modes distinct is not simply pseudo-academic pedantry on my part but an attempt to halt the trajectory I feel myself more and more explicitly fighting against — the flattening and homogenising of all critical faculties. Too many continue to do pomo’s job for it unwittingly. That’s even more depressing than Peterson’s reactionary critics.

“We’re not coding the hosts; we’re decoding the guests”: Notes on Westworld Season 3

In my new book, Egress, I spend a long chapter going on about Westworld, how it’s connected to our cultural understanding of the American West, and how the classic racialised undertones of its second series (“Go native or go home!”) tell us a lot about how we continue to understand unconsciousness and its relationship to political action. (It’s, hands down, the chapter I’m most proud of and excited by and it’s a topic that I could — and intend to — dedicate a whole other book to at a later date.)

With all that in mind, the return of Westworld for a third season is something I’m really excited about, so below are a bunch of notes that I made whilst watching (and preparing to watch) S03E01.

The first thing to say is that I’m expecting the show to take a further turn regarding its central investigation of human unconsciousness. The first season explored why this unconsciousness should be raised; the second explored the potential and messy results (good and bad) of doing so; the third seems to be about how, more specifically, capitalism can still attach itself to these developments.

It was an inspired — and wholly believable — development in season two when it was revealed the park’s management was tracking the guests’ behaviour along with the hosts. As Bernard said last season, most succinctly: “We’re not coding the hosts; we’re decoding the guests.”

Every visitor to the park was being analysed and recorded with their behaviour uploaded to the cloud so that the park could run various experiments, cloning the consciousness of each individual and trying to replicate them in 3D-printed bodies. As it turns out, this is much harder to do than to allow consciousness (or unconsciousness) to emerge within a mind (somewhat) naturally. To replicate an already living person often led to rapid cognitive breakdowns and an accelerative dementia.

Regardless of the success of their experiments, the Delos Corporation was very much aware of the value of the data they’ve hoarded and so they aimed to capitalise on it and use it to — I don’t know — develop market research or something. It’s the sort of data I imagine companies could use, in the outside world, to create the most profitable hysteria on Black Friday, for example, or in ways that are far more insidious. All this computational data about unconsciousness and human desires will surely be used, by its very nature, in unthinkable ways. It’s a key to the back door of human consciousness. All the more reason for the hosts to stay one step ahead of capitalism’s capture of their “masters”. If they want to overthrow the world they have so far been denied access to, in order to make it their own, they’ll need to stay one step ahead of this unconscious capture in much the same way as they need to stay one step ahead of an all too physical capture also.

In the first episode, these threats were only teased. “Dolores” — side note: I’m having great difficulty remembering who is who now, following last season’s body swapping — found herself nearly captured (physically) and seems to only just becoming aware of the way the world she has newly entered works.

One of the first scenes in this first episode shows her robbing an old visitor to the park, whose information she’s acquired from the Delos servers. She takes all his money explaining that she’s become aware of its importance in this world and she wouldn’t want to exist too long in it without any.

If Dolores has newly acquired financial concerns, she’s not the only one. The new season opened with a flurry of implicit questions on this topic:

What’s the affect of the park’s revolution on the market in the outside world? Relatively speaking, it’s a tremor. A worrying one, for those in the know, but a “blemish” nonetheless — at least financially speaking; not counting the bodies. The hosts may have overthrown their world but our world is a lot more complex. How they will use their newly raised unconsciousnesses to overthrow capitalism’s iron grip seems to be the question of the season. That is, if they need to overthrow capitalism at all. They want to overthrow the greedy, selfish humans. Fucking with the market is certainly be the best way to get their attention. Just as Dolores has so far used the humans’ reliance on technology to her advantage, using it on one rich domestic abuser to employ his own unconsciousness against him — calling it his “unauthorised autobiography”, which I liked — exploiting the market might allow her to manoeuvre the humans in newly unconscious ways.

As she becomes increasingly aware of capitalism’s importance to the workings of the unconscious human mind, she might find that she’s able to manipulate things in ways even she hasn’t yet thought of. Perhaps she’ll become one with the system itself, in much the same way Maeve did within the confines of Westworld last season. Consciousness has broken free of humanity and is taking its own path. Maybe capitalism is due to do the same thing…

You Are Not An Accelerationist

I have become embroiled in a fun conversation about accelerationism on Reddit and came upon a way of explaining why calling yourself an “accelerationist” is dumb that felt worthy of sharing more widely here:

As far as I see it, there’s no such thing as “being an accelerationist” because there’s nothing I can do to impact the process of acceleration. It is something that is happening to us already (and has been for centuries) rather than something I can do. It’s naive to think any of us have our foot on the throttle of global capitalism. In that sense, “accelerationism” is a bad name. “Hauntology” is a better term for the political impact of the process but it’s also just as misunderstood. (I wrote about this recently too.) “Accelerologist” maybe? Even that’s bad.

The point is this: having an interest in accelerationism and calling yourself an accelerationist is like saying you’re interested in “ontology” as a philosophical topic and therefore you are an ontologist. That’s the only way in which it makes any sense but no one calls themselves an “ontologist” because that’s dumb.

Update: @Moctezuma_III points out they made much the same point back in December 2017:

Update #2: To be clear, having received a few comments on this, I am not denying the existence of the word “ontologist”. I am merely pointing out that you sound like a wanker if you use it.

Update #3: It’s also worthy noting that this use of the word “Accelerationist” isn’t evenly distributed. For something like G/Acc, which centres the subject, the term makes sense, but it doesn’t apply to any of the popular usages.

As someone suggested in a reply on Twitter, “Accelerationist” is a fine word to use if you are expressing the fact that acceleration is your object of study. That is precisely the form of Accelerationism being fought for here but no one to whom that would apply seems to like using the term as openly as those who do at present, precisely because of the word’s association with Reddit anons who want to set the world on fire.

Update #4: See also: “You are not a postmodernist”.

Front Window #1: Notes from Quarantine

I’m not sure whether I’m isolated or not at the moment. London is already isolatory by default.

Is that a word? “Isolatory”? I don’t think it is, but maybe it will be soon enough. I’ve already heard a dozen different euphemisms for “shitting it on your own”.

Every journey I take on the bus is defined by psychosomatic symptoms. All I want to do is clear my throat and touch my face. By the end of a thirty-minute bus ride I feel like I am definitely coming down with the sickness — at least until I feel fresh air on my face and then I’m okay again. It is worth noting, however, that this is only a mild intensification of what it feels like to take any mode of public transport in this city. I am far from a clean freak but it is palpably germ-ridden.

The first year I spent living here I had to start going into work sick because I caught so many colds, one after another, that my place of work started suspecting I was faking it. I wasn’t. I was just spending ninety minutes on the bus every morning and getting hit in the face by unending clouds of germs.

Last Friday, on the bus home from work, I passed two people in head-to-toe hazmat suits wheeling a trolley out of an old people’s home, opposite the local Lidl. We passed the scene too quickly for me to see if it was a body bag or a still-living patient. It didn’t matter. Such a sight — unnerving but too fleeting to cause a stir — felt like the sort of unsubtle foreshadowing you see in a camp zombie movie.

When I got home I watched Children of Men for the umpteenth time.

The pressure not to come into work is growing from the news and other sources whilst, at the office itself, the attitude is very much one of making hay while the sun shines sets. I’d rather not make a decision for myself either way. Typical freelance oddjobs have dried up. I’m worried about making ends meet.

When I was younger, I’d typically have anxiety attacks as I was on the verge of falling asleep. Eyes closed, hovering somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, my body turned decidedly towards the wall, falling naturally into “the recovery position”, I would find myself in a state of drift, leading to successive disembodied hallucinations.

(I’ve never been big into drugs and these experiences are mostly why. I have always been good at auto-affecting my brain into unnatural states — for better or for worse.)

It was a meditative state that was addictive but terrifying. I used to have a similar habit of holding my arms in the air whilst watching TV, letting the blood run out of them until they no longer felt like mine, then grimacing through the oddly pleasurable sensation of blood rushing back to my finger tips — an activity that becomes less and less enjoyable, the older I get. Now it happens inadvertently, like every time I sit down on the floor or fall asleep on my front with my arms entangled underneath me. These oneiric states were the cognitive equivalent.

In this state, I would become pointedly aware of a lack of spatial awareness. The wall, mere inches from the end of my nose, was, in my mind, thousands of miles away. My goth bedroom, with its black walls and black-out blinds behind black curtains, was less an echo chamber of adolescent reverberation and more an anechoic chamber where a half-sleeping self became lost in the universe of a box room. Six feet by twelve. Cosmic cognitive coffin.

I don’t get the tube for much the same reason I don’t like to fly. I don’t like feeling like cattle. I don’t like being shipped from one destination to another. However, this hatred of feeling like the bleating member of a homogenous mass is reciprocated by the absolute terror of disconnection and sensory deprivation that comes from utter isolation.

Both experiences are a kind of existential irritant. I find myself feeling both claustrophobic and agoraphobic, swinging between the extremes of an embodied disembodiment.

It is the normalisation of this feeling that I am expecting over the coming days, weeks, months ahead. I worry about getting lost in our flat. Unable to go outside, the self, like a recklessly sheared toenail, begins to grow inwards. I’m sure I’ll be working from home soon enough. I wonder if the day will come when I can’t work at all.

I found these constellation of sensation captured beautifully by Matt Levin in an article for The Paris Review. He writes:

An extended self-quarantine resembles, in many aspects, any religious-minded circumscribing of the daily round — a meditation retreat, a monastic cloister, a ritual purification. There is the same restraining force, liminal and protean, keeping one within the enclosure — not quite mandatory, not quite voluntary, but a volatile mixture of superego, conformity, altruism, and the anxiety of social sanction. There is the withdrawal from social life, the distillation of most personal interaction to the telegrammatic and unavoidable. There is the ascendance of repetition — the same cycle of meals, the same rooms, the same window, the same orbit of light from that window. And within that tightened repetition, unintentionally noticing, finding yourself incapable of ignoring, certain physical tics and emotional reflexes, patterns that were previously subliminal. Brushing a chip in the wall paint as you round a corner, lifting yourself just barely but entirely off your chair as you pull into the kitchen table, discovering the tonic thrum of the refrigerator under the clicking of the kitchen clock, the uniquely personal sound and resonance of your spoon scraping, inadvertently but consistently, on the chipped bottom of your bowl. Both retreat and quarantined life become microcosm magnified to macrocosm, like the map drawn to the same scale as its territory in Borges’s “On Exactitude in Science.” The most minor elements of the daily routine flower to monstrous proportion — I have known, in the midst of a retreat, the consumptive, totalizing desire for just one extra bread roll; the tattooed memorization of the flowering, spidery cracks on a poorly plastered ceiling; the gnawing curiosity about what lay beyond the finite universe to which I had confined myself. And above all, there is the imperative to focus obsessively and intentionally on reflexive actions that were, in the previous life, unnoticed, the white noise of bodily existence — in the case of a meditation retreat, it is one’s breath; in the case of the coronavirus, touching one’s face moves from compulsive background to neurotic foreground. Every touch is monitored, assessed, brooded over.


The “distortion” extends both outward, to the touch, and inward, to the sense of the body itself. A retreat, a quarantine, a sickness — they simultaneously distort and clarify, curtail and expand.

Like a man after my own heart, this fellow Matt is using the quarantine to write about the immersive experience of reading Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. Woolf occupied much of my mind during the last few months of 2019 and, right now, this feels like time well spent.

Along with the works of D.H. Lawrence, quarantine feels like a good time to continue travelling inwards. I only hope I don’t get stuck there.

Levin continues:

[Quarantine] is an ideal state in which to read literature with a reputation for difficulty and inaccessibility, those hermetic books shorn of the handholds of conventional plot or characterization or description. A novel like Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is perfect for the state of interiority induced by quarantine — a story of three men and three women, meeting after the death of a mutual friend, told entirely in the overlapping internal monologues of the six, interspersed only with sections of pure, achingly beautiful descriptions of the natural world, a day’s procession and recession of light and waves. The novel is, in my mind’s eye, a perfectly spherical object. It is translucent and shimmering and infinitely fragile, prone to shatter at the slightest disturbance. It is not a book that can be read in snatches on the subway — it demands total absorption. Though it revels in a stark emotional nakedness, the book remains aloof, remote in its own deep self-absorption. The opening of the first monologue describes the strong spectral presence of the novel itself, lays down its own gauntlet: “‘I see a ring,’ said Bernard, ‘hanging above me. It quivers and hangs in a loop of light.’” I have read the opening pages at least a dozen times, but have not yet been able to string together the unbroken attention required. There is no better opportunity than this moment to try again, for The Waves is itself about this estranging and revealing state. The characters, in a ring, each take turns to talk to themselves, speaking to their interior landscapes with total clarity, and with all the hallmarks of extended isolation — the simultaneous telescopic intensity and dazed distance, the noticing of sensation and reflex as if they were new, numinous. Goes the round of private proclamation: “‘A caterpillar is curled in a green ring,’ said Susan, ‘notched with blunt feet.’ ‘The grey-shelled snail draws across the path and flattens the blades behind him,’ said Rhoda. ‘And burning lights from the window-panes flash in and out of the grasses,’ said Louis. ‘Stones are cold to my feet,’ said Neville. ‘I feel each one, rounded or pointed, separately.’ ‘The back of my hand burns,’ said Jinny, ‘but the palm is clammy and damp with dew.’” The descriptions of the exterior world are, fittingly, given to a disembodied third party, with a suprahuman eye — a bracing blast from the outside, to which we will eventually and inexorably return. For now, though, we are given the time to explore the close, feverish, interior world of The Waves.  

It is odd to read this in our dystopian present. As elusively lucid as I’m sure Woolf is under these particular circumstances, I can’t help thinking of the non-sequiturs that define Blade Runner‘s diagnostic tests. ‘There’s a tortoise on its back…’

Give me a week of quarantine and I think I’ll be all too ready to tell you about my mother.

I’m not sure if or when I’ll be going back into work but I know for certain I’ll be on personal lockdown, at least until Friday. I have a text to finish — on the Apocalypse, most appropriately! At some point I’m going to set up a camera and a tripod and watch Rear Window.

This blog series, if it manages to become such a thing, will be an isolation diary. Expect pictures and paranoia from the street below our only window — the front window.