Real Simulations: Notes on the Matrix Trilogy

I spent my Friday / Saturday watching the Matrix trilogy for the first time in many, many years. The first one was still good! The second and third ones weren’t so much…

Invited to talk about simulations for “Simulations Like Us”, a conversation of sorts hosted by Enrico Monacelli as part of Turn Us Alias, an online music festival organised by Saturnalia, I wanted to read the films via Ray Brassier’s critique of the philosophy of Alain Badiou.

Neo, to me, is Badiou. They both proclaim to see the world through a mathematical ontology but both fall back on a strange kind of affirmative quasi-Christian philosophy, in which they simply will their way past the new capture that undoubtedly results from becoming one with the very thing you hope to critique. For Brassier, it seems like Badiou’s inability to account for this is a major stumbling block in his philosophy… I’m not sure I can confirm or deny that but it is definitely true of the Matrix trilogy.

Anyway, in the end, I ejected all the Badiou chat from my talk and just spoke about the Matrix. Thanks to Enrico for the invitation and for the really excellent discussion afterwards. I don’t know if it was recorded or anything but here’s my contribution below anyway.

Also thanks to those who set up the excellent Minetest server to host further discussion. I had a lot of fun in there. At first, I just collected loads of free drinks tokens. Then I took acid and killed a horse. Then I had a go at a parkour challenge but fell in lava but then I also glitched out so I couldn’t die. My Sonic the Hedgehog avatar (because you gotta go fast) is probably still in the lava pyramid somewhere… Anyway, it was a truly unique Minecraft experience. (There are two screenshots from my adventures at the bottom of this post.)

Thanks to everyone who came by and asked questions.



Real Simulations: On the Matrix Trilogy

Today, declaring that “the world is a simulation” has all the profundity of ending a story with the words “it was all a dream.” But that our outlandish stories sometimes turn out to be dreams isn’t a problem in and of itself. The problem with saying “it was all a dream” is that this often undermines the fact that dreams are really cool. They’re mysterious and fascinating and question-begging. They are starting points, not points at which to end.

In this sense, dreams and simulations share something in common.  They are situations: sets of circumstances in which we might act. Discovering what our circumstances are necessitates the question of what we do with them. As such, to say a story was all a dream is as laughable an end to a fiction as “it was all a life” would be to an obituary. It undermines the content and its affects, because knowledge of the conditions under which we engage with the world are important foundations, not conclusions. To discover something is a dream or a simulation doesn’t answer questions, it only begets more of them. This is because it is only at the point of realisation that we can truly choose how to act. It is only after discovering the true nature of an event that we can act accordingly and with fidelity to its truth.

It’s for this reason that, when talking about simulations, I think a film like The Matrix remains an interesting talking point. By now, culturally speaking at least, it is an example so far beyond cliché as to almost become interesting again. Much like a story that ends with the words “it was all a dream”, it has become something like an essential archetype that tells us a great deal about ourselves and the limits of our imaginations; limits which we’d perhaps prefer to just ignore.

Personally, I think the first film still stands up as a classic science-fictional exploration of our late-capitalist world and its contradictions. It is no surprise, however, that that allegory has been betrayed by the very system it sought to describe.


The disjuncture between the nature of reality and the nature of simulation is the Matrix franchise’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. At first, the potentials offered by the characters’ shared ability to lucidly dream within this simulation we call ideology seems to be infinitely productive but are these potentials not then betrayed by the characters’ dogged pursuit of the end of the dream as such? Is this even the case? It seems like a given, in the first film, that to destroy the machines is to destroy the Matrix, but just as the film’s sequels superficially address the symbiosis between man and machine, irrespective of the war raging between the two, it later becomes apparent that this symbiosis extends also to the relationship between reality and simulation. Here the true philosophical question at the heart of the Matrix begins to emerge. Are we at all capable of talking about reality and simulation in themselves? Or are we doomed to a restricted perspective that can only ever comment on the relationship between the two? A relation that is always making attempts to obscure itself, due to its being conditioned by the circumstances of late capitalism.

For example, in the first film, Neo’s desire for truth within the Matrix is mirrored by his desire, in the real world, for the destruction of the lie. But Neo immediately slips onto a paradoxical plane where an understanding of his own emancipation from the simulation is only possible in the context of his continuing non-freedom in reality. As such, if Neo is help humanity to transcend the Matrix, he has to become one with it. When Neo first gets a load of martial arts training uploaded directly into his cerebellum, the pun is obviously intended when Tank tells Morpheus he’s been going for ten hours straight. “He’s a machine!” he says — and necessarily so. Neo has to see like a machine to beat the machines. He has to become a better dreamer in order to dream differently. But when Neo’s powers later become useful outside of the Matrix, in the sequels, what does that say about reality itself? At what point does Neo’s oneness with the world and its representation just become another form of capture?

This tension in the first film is best explored through the character Cypher, who betrays his emancipated cohort to the machines because he wants to return to the lie and forget the truth. He is sick of the questions; for him, “ignorance is bliss.” His betrayal is presented to us as the selfish reasoning of a man who enjoys his own oppression. But Cypher’s reasoning makes a lot more sense than Neo’s utter lack of criticality, which is to say that Cypher’s unbelief, even if exercised through evil, seems far more rational than Neo’s techno-Christian evangelism. In this sense, Cypher is a nihilist but he is also much more of a realist than those who declare themselves to be on the side of the Real. This is only exacerbated in the sequels, when the militarised religiosity of the freed peoples of Zion feels even more ideologically unhinged than the somnambulist behaviour of those trapped within the Matrix.

This begs the question: do the characters in the Matrix really want what they say they want? Intriguingly, in the first film, the dichotomy between necessity and desire appears to be wholly absolute. The real world is necessarily a world without seduction. The slop that the characters eat, for instance, is described as this perfect substance that contains every mineral, protein and amino acid that the body needs, but it is still slop. The character Mouse claims that this slop, then, evidently doesn’t supply everything the body needs. He then changes the subject to talk about the Woman in the Red Dress — a programme he has written into a training simulation for the Matrix — a simulation of the simulation – in which she is meant to distract the dreamer. The Matrix is clearly the world of desires but we might interpret the lesson provided by the Woman in the Red Dress as being that your desires aren’t always going to make you act in our own self-interest.

Mouse’s more immediate insinuation, of course, is much more superficial. He seems to be making the point that the body also needs sex. But the Woman in the Red Dress isn’t somehow sex personified; she’s still just a sexy image. She’s seductive, like the Matrix itself, but she’s nothing more than that. She’s a centrefold, ripped out and stuck to the digital façade. She has no lines. She walks on and walks off. But there is a deeper psychoanalytic point made here. The fulfilment of all our basic needs is nothing if we can’t also tickle our libido but the Matrix has monopolised desire so absolutely that the real world is one even more devoid of an imaginative sexiness. In this sense, the Matrix is a libidinal sandbox. Anything you want you can have. In the real world, the opposite is the case. There is nothing to want. You do what must to survive and little more than that. So which world is more real in that respect? Mouse says: “To deny our own basic impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.” So what good is the real world, then, if it is a world without desire? Or rather, what is the real world if it is devoid of things to be desired? So surely we can acknowledge that, despite its irreality, the characters all like the Matrix to a certain extent? Yes, the human battery farms are horrible and the world is a hellscape and unplugged humanity lives underground fearing for their lives, but in the Matrix Neo can fly!?


This strange tension between reality and simulation, necessity and desire, isn’t just highlighted by the plot holes of the later sequels, however. It is readily apparent in Morpheus’s own mind games, which he uses to awake Neo to the possibilities of his newfound agency within the Matrix.

For Morpheus, the real world and the simulation are hardly that empirically different. Morpheus makes this clear when he first reintroduces Neo to the old world. Neo is aghast, running his hand along the back of a wore leather armchair in a pure white void.

“This isn’t real?”

“How do you define ‘real’?” Morpheus replies, smugly. “If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” This is true enough. And yet, whilst this may explain the Matrix, it hardly grounds what Morpheus, in the previous scene, calls “the real world” upon any sort of superior truth. Are we supposed to believe that the real world is the real world simply because it is the worse of the two? And how does this explain Neo’s emergent ability to use his superhuman powers in the real world as well as the Matrix? If the real world is as much of a simulation as the Matrix is, then isn’t the Matrix just as real as the world in itself? If that’s the case, then what is anyone fighting for?

From the vantage point of the end of the trilogy, Cypher’s betrayal in the first film only becomes more interesting in this regard, as we consider the extent to which it mirrors the Wachowski sisters’ meta-betrayal of their own franchise. Do they want what they say they want? Are they not also seduced by the very thing they want to critique? Their hypocrisy is plain to see in the later films, when the critique is so bloated on steroids that the visual effects go into hyperdrive at the expense of the story. As a result, the trilogy is robbed of all punch and satisfaction. In the end, the Matrix is rebooted — hurray!(?) — but the character’s sacrifices carry no weight now that we have overdosed on the very spectacle that the film sought to question. We are left flirting with our own impotence as an initially good idea is extended outwards into a trilogy of bad ones — a trilogy that leaves us on a cliffhanger with Neo — and, indeed, the new itself – left for dead whilst the Matrix supposedly starts over again, having successfully reterritorialized the threat to itself. Agent Smith, the true deterritorialising agency, unhooked from the rules and regulations of the computer mainframe, somehow becomes the ultimate villain, as if, as far as Neo is concerned, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and so reality and simulation enter a new period of peace; a new stasis. Bizarrely, it seems that, somewhere along the way, we have been left with the suggestion that this utter dissipation of the first film’s potentials is meant to be something to celebrate. In truth, it only leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

And so, The Matrix franchise ends precisely where it began. This is all a dream, the first film tells us, in its opening scenes. The final scenes of The Matrix Revolutions tell us much the same thing. This was all a dream, a recurring one at that, and wasn’t it fun. Maybe you’ll have that same dream again one day. With all of this in mind, the first Matrix film becomes a perfect allegory to the nature of neoliberalism’s cybergothic capture of human subjectivity. By contrast, the film’s sequels are an ironic demonstration of how capitalism reterritorializes all of the critiques we might lay at its feet into a sickly postmodern confusion.

The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism — Course Out Now!

Following our one-hour promo chat from the other day, I’m very excited to announce that The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism, a collaborative course written by James ‘@meta_nomad‘ Ellis and myself is now live at teachable.com.

The course is a two-parter, with James covering the philosophy of accelerationism and me on politics. (I’ll put the full course outline after the jump…)

We’re both very excited to be coming together on this. The course comes in three tiers. Tier 1 (£100) gives you access to all the course materials — almost seven hours worth of video + audio + lecture transcripts; Tier 2 (£150) is the course materials and the opportunity to take part in two seminars with James and myself; Tier 3 (£200) is all of the above and you also get a one-on-one seminar (or more like a threesome) with James and myself as well.

As we discussed the other day, we’re both very excited about the kinds of conversations that the course might generate — Ed Berger has already written a genius blogpost in response to the promo chat. So please join us for what we think will be a really exciting set of conversations.

Continue reading “The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism — Course Out Now!”

The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism — Course Promo

Meta-Nomad very generously asked me to collaborate with him on a course about accelerationism six weeks ago. He suggested that he’d cover the philosophy of accelerationism and I could cover the politics of accelerationism. I thought this was a really interesting idea. The result is a load of content that we’re going to be releasing this Friday (24th July 2020) via his Teachable page.

I don’t want to give away too much — we’ll be sharing more info later in the week, including course outlines and costs — but we have recorded the above chat which begins a particular conversation that we hope this course will go on to further develop.

A promotional video for the second Hermitix course called The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism, a collaboration with Matt Colquhoun (www.xenogothic.com). The course will be a paid course consisting of 10 lectures and transcripts, with optional seminars and one-on-ones. James Ellis (Meta-Nomad) will cover the philosophical aspects of Accelerationism and Matt Colquhoun will cover the political aspects.

Enjoy!

Simulations Like Us @ Turn Us Alias

This Saturday I’ll be taking part in “Simulations Like Us”, something of a conversation between myself, Reza Negarestani and Enrico Monacelli, which is running as part of Turn Us Alias, an online event organised by Saturnalia.

00:00 25/07/20
https://discord.gg/m2KwfZG
voice channels — caffè letterario

From the 90s onwards, the idea of a simulated environment has become a pervasive, intrusive thought. From the hype surrounding the Matrix trilogy to contemporary neuroscience, which has transformed our cognitive abilities into a series of functional simulations of the outer world, from Philip K. Dick’s techno-gnosticism to the VR-craze of the past ten years, the idea that we are stuck in a fake and controlled world has become the metaphor for our contemporary predicament. What once was a cyberpunk metaphor is now almost a lived and urgent fact of our day to day life.

Come join us on Turn Us Alias festival to see how deep the rabbit-hole goes, as we discuss through the lags, the glitches and the hiccups of a post-lockdown Discord server, the future and the fate of this idea.

I think this is going to be a lot of fun. Swing by and read more about Turn Us Alias below, including what you’ll need to do if you want to play.



Turn as alias is a video game and a 24hrs music festival, following the tradition of our beloved Saturnalia.

Join us on Minetest to access music stream and play to find the hidden secrets of digital Viale Molise.

As Macao in Milan, this space is open to everyone, celebrating the freedom of expression of any kind, so respect all other players online as you would do irl.
Turn Us Alias supports Brigate Volontarie per l’Emergenza, you can do it too 🙂

(ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧

https://bit.ly/BVEsolidalioltreemergenza

✧゚・: *ヽ(◕ヮ◕ヽ)

They’re a group of volunteers based in Milan, formed during Covid lockdown to help people in need.

To play, first download Minetest:

WINDOWS 7, 8, 10: https://www.minetest.net/downloads/ → .exe is in the bin folder
MAC OS: https://github.com/krondor-game/minetest/releases/tag/2020-01-19
LINUX: https://www.minetest.net/downloads/

You can also play with Android mobile, you’ll get Minetest from the Google Play Store.

Once you open the game, click on “join game” and search TURN US ALIAS. Enter by clicking on the server then choose your name and password and connect.

First time you enter, you have no privileges — you’ll gain them by playing.

If you need help, want to chat, ask something or take part in the talks, join our Discord server here: https://discord.gg/Rg92yUw

If you’re not into games, you can attend the festival watching us live on Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/turnusalias

Good game — Have fun!

Prime Astrology

The current tension between astronomers and astrologers over Ophiuchus sums up 2020 pretty hard. Something this mundane will be the final death of us, I’m sure.

The confirmation that astrologers pick and choose what they want from the stars, appealing to a exotic cosmology that has been restricted so that it better fits in with the dominant form of Gregorian calendar, is all sorts of levels of irony. That astrologers are upset about this is an extra layer thrown in as a treat.

NASA’s reassurances to those people who are upset is also pretty funny. “We didn’t change any zodiac signs, we just did the math”, they say, which to my ear has a ring of passive-aggressiveness.

According to NASA, the math tells us this: there should be thirteen months in the year. We can very easily divide up the thirteenth months of the year into fifty-two weeks with every month having twenty-eight days. They don’t say this, of course, but it is interesting to point out that they’re not the first to do this math, and you don’t have to go back to the Babylonians to find the last instance.

Interestingly, there used to be such a thing as a “positivist” calendar which does have thirteen months and would be a better fit with this. Auguste Comte created it and put forward his proposal in the hope that it would be accepted as a suitable reform for the Gregorian calendar. The problem with this is that it throws out all of the hard-baked theology that remains attached to our tracking of the seasons. For instance, he even swaps out the names of the months for historical or literary figures — Aristotle, Archimedes, Descartes, Shakespeare; Moses and Saint Paul still get a look in too, of course.

The main objection to this reform came from the main Abrahamic religions, who insisted that they had to retain their holy days. The seventh day of each week wouldn’t always be a Sunday, for instance; it would change every year. It would also lead to massive reform in terms of how we measure our own lives. Birthdays would have to be recalculated and the year could no longer be nicely divided up into quarters.

It could simply be the result of our deep superstitions around the number thirteen (a similarly Christian superstition; it’s lucky in plenty of other cultures) but this, in turn, could be related to the fact that it is a prime number. It is hard to imagine a life governed by a prime but the systems we have instead are far more god-fearing than rational. Astrology, even in its currently secular guise, is no different.

Welly and the Polar Bear, Hull (RIP)

The announced closure of Hull venues The Polar Bear and Welly, presumably due to loss of revenue during the Covid-19 pandemic, is truly heartbreaking. I’m sorry to say that it has been years since I’ve been to either — I don’t get up to Hull nearly as much as I’d like anymore — but they both defined so much of my teenage years and mid-20s.

Welly was the first club I ever went to. First to their under-18s nights and then numerous times afterwards as “an adult”. It went through a lot of changes over those years — first as a haven for emo kids, scene kids, drum’n’bass kids, goths, punks, and then it was eventually just the go-to student venue.

I remember the first time I was there I was 16 and someone put a cigarette out on my arm in a mosh pit. One of those lung-ruining nights before the smoking ban in 2007. This gurning girl just turned to me and said, “Err ner, ‘ave put me ciggie out on yur aaarm.” To which I said, “Yes,” and then she just walked away — a fond memory, for some reason. The mosh pits in there used to be rough too. It was a weird vibe when these men, that were evidently a lot older than the target clientele, would show up and start swinging fists. They were oddly part of the fabric though. There was a sense of danger at those nights (evenings, really) that was all part of the charm.

I don’t remember any of the songs they used to play in there. A lot of chart stuff. A lot of pop punk. Occasionally, they used to throw out “Out of Space” by the Prodigy and that would always drive me mental. As rare an occasion as this was, it always makes me think of Welly.

I was also in Welly the night that Michael Jackson died. I was stood at the bar leading out to the smoking area when the news filtered around from person to person to person. It was surreal watching the information travel through the throng. Once it eventually reached whoever was on the decks they didn’t play anything but Jackson tunes all night. That was special. (I’m not sure it would have the same effect now, child abuse allegations considered, but it was back then.)

I had a few birthdays in there too. I can’t remember which ones… I’m pretty sure I turned twenty-three in there, along with a couple of ages either side of that. One year, we were stood in the queue for hours on Boxing Day. My friends Will and Louis decided to do a very conspicuous piss each against a nearby wall and got caught by the bouncers who threw them out. I thought that was a birthday ruined. Instead we just had another hour in the queue. He’d forgotten about them by then.

There was also the night we went and then had a house party afterwards somewhere on Princes Avenue. I’d gone back a bit earlier with some friends and a few of us kept drinking quietly in the living room. Someone had loudly advertised the party at closing time, however, and I’ll never forget the sight of a few hundred people trying to pile into this tiny flat above a kebab shop. That night, the lads who ran the local indian took over the streets at sunrise and started a cricket tournament in the middle of the road at 5am. We cheered them on from the roof. That was the last time I went to Welly and didn’t feel old as fuck.

The Polar Bear, by comparison, hardly feels like it has been open long at all. When the Sesh moved there from Linnet & Lark, and when my friend Dan started working there, I’m pretty sure I went every Tuesday whilst I lived in Hull from 2013-14 and again in 2016.

The last time I was there was in March 2017, I think. I saw a Blackest Ever Black DJ set as part of the COUM Transmissions retrospective events. That was special too.

Too many memories. Below are some photos taken at various points over the last five years or so — mostly in the Polar Bear but the last one is from a night at the Welly.

Best wishes to the owners and events organisers. I hope this isn’t really the end. I’m sure those involved will find other ways to keep Hull interesting. I daren’t think about what that city will become if they don’t. So much time and energy has been spent building up Hull’s music scene to be something that the whole city can be genuinely proud of and the team at the Polar Bear have been a massive part of that. This could be a major set back, not just in terms of culture but also for morale. It’s not a city that deserves it.

RIP.

Freed From Desire

I had such a lovely evening yesterday. The wonderful Natasha Eves has moved just down the road from me and, after a few months of strange isolation in the big city, surrounded by people but talking to no one, a developing weekly habit of going round for dinner and drinks has been much welcomed.

Last night we ate enchiladas and talked about music for hours and hours. I was reminded of a brief obsession everyone had in 2017 with GALA’s “Free From Desire” — an anthem for Acid Communism if ever there was one, and particularly Fisher’s Lyotardian left-accelerationist version, where “breaking free from desire … doesn’t mean to withdraw from our capacity to desire but to let go of the distinction of what is the pleasure in desire and in suffering”; an trip beyond the pleasure principle.

This feels like an oddly prescient suggestion at present. As my social life slowly starts to recover, it is interesting to hear what people want to do next. No one I know seems to want to go back to the pre-lockdown lifestyles. People are taking up new habits and hobbies — some of which they never previously enjoyed; others that they enjoy but feel guilty about enjoying. I certainly feel strange, considering all I’ve written about community in recent years, being driven by a desire to go live a quiet life somewhere else.

In light of a life under lockdown in a densely populated city like London, I am aware this desire is driven by a slightly intensified misanthropic tendency. At the same time, I want to recalibrate my communities and find the joy in them again — rediscover community freed from desire.

Beachy Head

We drove out to the south coast to eat ice cream and read on the beach. It was busy and we were still not used to crowds.

Arriving at Birling Gap and Beachy Head felt like ticking off another spot on my Throbbing Gristle map of Great Britain. Poorly recreating an album cover made me very aware of coastal erosion. The beautiful scenery nevertheless felt wholly detached from this spot’s notoriety as a suicide hot spot, just as it does on the cover of 20 Jazz Funk Greats.

I sat in the brush, getting bitten by ants, reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian — “not again in all the world’s turning will there be terrains so wild and barbarous to try whether the stuff of creation may be shaped to man’s will or whether his own heart is not another kind of clay.”

Stray thoughts and observations entered my mind to make up for the gap. Peri-glacial deposits resembled malformed vertebrae down on the shoreline. A Spitfire flew overhead out of time. Burnt-back heather spiralled charred. New growth now rises. We parked for free with our National Trust membership cards. I’m pretty sure there used to be a house here.

A Note on the Abuse of Esotericism

I’m still receiving messages about the drama surrounding two of my recent posts (here and here). A few DMs just didn’t get what all the fuss was about. One email said it was all wishy-washy vagueness without any real point or critique made and therefore it was bad philosophy.

It is clear that, as much as the original argument is over, plenty of people are still pushing for further clarification. I’ll simply say this:

If those blogposts were confusing to you, I don’t know what more I can say. My initial reason for writing the first one was that I found great irony in the invocation of a “principle of charity” from someone who has exhausted that principle in a lot of people I know. As such, there appears to be a gulf between the person and the work. The problem is that, given the liminal nature of the gulf, all critique falls back onto anecdotes that would be inappropriate to repeat. I acknowledged this whilst still trying to engage at the level of philosophical discourse. It was a position doomed to failure. It was never going to convince anyone who wasn’t already aware of the particulars.

Because of this, I do understand the outrage expressed from some corners who would prefer to protect the accused’s plausible deniability against the nonexistence of hard evidence. I also understand how these posts may seem like an unnecessary assault on a person. In a somewhat related conversation the other day, someone said to me: “There’s a line I dimly remember from Herman Hesse about how it’s a kind of unforgivable assault on someone to try to pull the mask off their face…” I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I wonder if the question of whether or not to pull off another’s mask in this day and age, and on the internet in particular, is the defining gesture of cancel culture. To be cancelled is to have a self-constructed image torn down absolutely. For some, it looks like doxxing; for others, it’s just calling time on their bullshit.

In another conversation, someone else was recently explaining the alt-right’s Straussian tendencies to me. This brought to mind Strauss’s explorations of esotericism in philosophy — the use of esoteric writing (knowing contradictions, elusive complexity, impenetrable prose) to retain philosophy’s distance from politics so that the two do not corrupt one another. This sounds all well and good until we consider who has relied upon such a principle the most over the last decade.

The disarticulation of philosophy from politics today is most often sought by those who wish to obfuscate the material consequences of their words. I’d argue esoteric writing is impossible today because of this. Many still engage in it — and it has been telling that many of those best known for doing so have signalled their support for those who’ve supposedly been cancelled — but esoteric writing does not exist today in a space outside of the mainstream. It is the mainstream. Nothing defines our “post-truth” moment more damningly than the co-option of esoteric writing or speech by neoconservatism.

In this conversation, this charge of esoteric edgelording was place firmly at the feet of Bronze Age Pervert — an unambiguous example if ever there was one. But I see it reflected in the writings and interests of Nina Power and DC Miller also. (When DC rejects labels like “fascist” and “neo-nazi”, for instance, and instead describes himself as a “surrealist”, this is why.)

Many on (or adjacent to) the alt-right live on this foggy plain of plausible deniability. To still call it “esotericism” is a misnomer, of course; it is little more than dog-whistle philosophy. This is why the insistence upon a “principle of charity” was offensive to me — because that is precisely what an alt-right MO depends upon to function. It requires a pliable audience to manipulate and convince of their virtue against the unthinking leftist pitchfork-wielders. But are those who denounce them really just reactionary philistines? Or do they see through the fog? I certainly feel like a fog has been lifted. It’s like Trump screaming fake news to cheering crowds of blind admirers. Many might see it for what it is but plenty don’t. Why do so many people trust a liar’s accusations that others are lying?

If you think that’s what I’m doing too, congrats, you have entered the hall of mirrors. But I do have reasons to question the narrative. The reasons for sharing this now are, for Nina, no doubt careerism or virtue signalling for likes. I have little interest in either. This isn’t a tell-all book written about the ineptitude of a regime; “once wrote a blogpost denouncing Nina Power” isn’t going to boost my CV. Nevertheless, the response is the same. Anyone who opposes a muddying of the waters of thought in paranoia is seen as being against their right to rational dissent and walking blindly into agreement with the hoard. I think these are little more than delusions of grandeur. I shared a public warning to compliment the many private ones I’ve received. It wasn’t fully packaged as a scorching philosophical critique or a outright trashing of another person because it was never my intention to construct such things. Indeed, to do so would be impossible. My point is simple — don’t trust them or the narratives they peddle. If that isn’t detailed enough for you, it’s because it’s Twitter. To get down and dirty in the particulars is an ugly process that will lead to mud getting on far more people than those directly concerned. As such, I’m limiting by disavowal to an expression of resentment; I resent the game being played.

Is this going to have any real impact beyond upsetting someone who assumed I was a friend? I doubt it. I’ve skirted the edges of cancellation for far too long myself for anyone to take me as a moral authority on anything. Furthermore, I doubt my little blog is going to have any impact whatsoever on the standing of an opinion piece published in a national newspaper. (Whilst some may disingenuously quibble about bullying, given the size of the platforms in question this is unmistakably an instance of punching up.) If I want to “cancel” anything, in the sense provided by Nina on Twitter — “late 14c., ‘cross out with lines, draw lines across (something written) so as to deface'” — it is my own previous defences of her reputation. That is all. I would happily cross out those words of support.

This act may be meaningless to many and cruel to some but it feels important and right to me. It has become clear that, for a blog that contains so many writings written in emphatic support of trans people in general and my trans friends more specifically, the lack of a retraction has been unfortunate as Nina’s TERFy tendencies have become less and less ambiguous.

The article about JK Rowling felt like as good an opportunity as any to kill two birds with one stone and make my own position clear after a few elusive years of my own: fuck TERFs; fuck manipulative appeals to ethics.

A Realism that is Still Speculative: A Comment from Terence Blake

Following my recent post on the waning of the speculative realist blogosphere, Terence Blake has posted a thread on Twitter in response which I think adds some necessary further context, laying fault not at the feet of the bloggers themselves (or their audience) but, perhaps, with the market. Terence writes:

A very interesting thought-and-mood piece by @xenogothic about a feeling of stagnation and disappointment in contemporary philosophy and its online passion-bearers. [1]

I share @xenogothic‘s analysis of the progressive decline of Speculative Realist oriented philosophical blogging and also the feeling of disappointment in its undead perpetually self-cloned “successes” and in the surrounding vacuum. [2]

But I cannot fully agree with my own feeling, as I consider The Immanence of Truths (2018) Badiou’s third volume in his Being and Event trilogy his best. [3]

Laruelle’s Tetralogos (2019) is also among his best. [4]

Bernard Stiegler’s research programme is still going strong, and he and his team have just published: Bifuricate: There Is No Alternative. [5]

Here Terence links to two illuminating articles on his own blog that summarise and explore the two works mentioned by Badiou (here) and Laruelle (here).

These books are all still untranslated, so the feeling of stagnation in Anglophonia is perhaps more commercially orchestrated than realistic. The market is depressed and we are responding to that. [6]

He continues with a few more examples of interesting recent works that are SR-adjacent:

Žižek is producing very interesting work in English. This year has seen the publication of Sex and the Failed Absolute and Hegel in a Wired Brain. In addition, the constellation of thinkers around Žižek are quite active.

Bruno Latour is coming into his own with the spinoffs from his An Inquiry into Modes of Existence research programme, attesting to the fecundity (despite its flaws) of the initial project statement

Here again are two more articles from Terence’s blog on Žižek and Latour.

So I wonder if this intermittent conceptual melancholy is due less to philosophical slump than to manufactured scarcity — slowness of publication, phase-lag in translation, foregrounding of superficial dead-end thinkers to the detriment of deeper and more open-ended heuristics.

I think this analysis rings true, and it is an interesting one that places the shoe encouragingly on the other foot. Whilst Brassier’s infamous disavowal — that the speculative realist movement “exists only in the imaginations of a group of bloggers promoting an agenda for which I have no sympathy whatsoever … whose most signal achievement thus far is to have generated an online orgy of stupidity” — may still make many shudder in fear at their own complicity in a wider acceleration of thought that leads to swift but flawed answers to some of our biggest questions, it is similarly the case that the gargantuan publishing machine has the opposite affect in many respects.

Slowness is calm, cool, collected; intimate and patient. Slowness is sexy. The speed of the blogosphere is often derided as a teenage fumble in the dark. But wasn’t part of the original thrill of the blogosphere? Its defiant sidestepping of the slow drag of industry? Plenty is lost in the process but so much is also gained. There’s much still to be said for that hyperactivity in the present; for the blogosphere’s cascading adolescence.

That being said, I’m going to go and buy some of these books.



Update: Terence has added his own blogpost here.