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Weird Sunday; Thought Gang

I was listening to Thelonious Monk earlier, engaged in a kind of Jazz haze of the kind typical of a Sunday morning when a small reminder crossed my computer screen somewhere that an album had come out by “Thought Gang”. I was vaguely aware of this, Thought Gang being this name under which a few collaborative tracks had been recorded between David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, cropping up on the soundtrack to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and the recent third season of Peaks as a few slices of bizarro-world jazz one might expect from a Lynch-infused project. Here was a fully realised album of material under the name, one that apparently had been made a long time ago, but languished unreleased until now, fulfilling the prerequisites of what we might call a “lost” album, though in truth this is a bit of a misnomer.

Lynch has released two albums of music under his name by this point, both being highly atmospheric affairs and engaging in exactly the kind of sound-play one might expect from the man knowing his other work. This thought gang album, though, is a different kettle of fish. A couple of tracks on it have been heard before, prominently “A Real Indication” and “The Black Dog Runs at Night” from the FWWM soundtrack, the former, when I first heard it coming across distinctly like some long lost Tom Waits song, but a good deal of the material here is seeing the light of day for the first time, and boy is it worth it. 

Far from the dreamy atmospherics of Lynch’s solo work, Thought Gang delivers some truly strange excursions through avant-jazz, electronic manipulation, noise infused ambient soundscapes, even at a certain moment becoming reminiscent of the rhythmic stabs of early Swans. The formal deconstructions of jazz meld with sinister atmospherics to produce a marvellously disconcerting collage of fractured sounds culminating in two drawn out pieces probably the most reminiscent of Badalamenti’s later soundtrack work. The Lynchian usually entails a deep structural confusion, solidity dissolves into a psychedelic folding of reality, and this Thought Gang album is suffused with that essential deformation, careening in a subconscious fashion from sound to sound and coalescing into something that works excellently as its own piece of surreal jazz experimentation. Perfect for your inter-dimensional nightmarish Sunday excursions.

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Post-ironic Metamorphosis; Detachment, Horror, Collapse

“Prophesying catastrophe is incredibly banal. The more original move is to assume that it has already happened.” -Jean Baudrillard

If there’s one thing that we have to come to terms with, in this cornucopia of conflicting multiplicitous simulations, it’s undoubtedly that reality is an infinite pit of horrors. The reality, that which underlies our normalised interactions, the everyday, banal, surface-level minute to minute second to second, episodic temporal order, threatens to collapse our understanding into itself. It lies underneath everything, this seething weirdness, it bubbles to the surface occasionally, an unseemly reminder of all that is uncertain and fragile about our precarious social existence. We surround ourselves with normality, inculcate ourselves into a numbing process of repetition and ritual, a shroud of removal.

Because ultimately, what is horror but a pseudo-Heidegerrian encounter with being? We often encounter it as an invasion of the other, some insidious terrifying threat from the outsider, but does this not belie a realisation that we are entangled in an eternal dance with this other? That these demons and apparitions may have existed as part of this reality all along, we just refused to acknowledge them seems to underlie a lot of our search for abjection in entertainment, a place of safety in which we can run a simulation of truth, test our reaction to the all consuming threat of the real. Like Lovecraft’s story Pickman’s Model or the Man Behind Winkie’s in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive the terror arises not from invasion, not from some outside force, but from the breaking down of logics and realities. We realise that what we previously considered fiction is reality, that what we spent so much time explaining away, hand waving as some immaterial nonsense, is confronting us directly as a manifestation of being. This denial, this othering of aspects we don’t wish to confront, defines to an extent the violence and fear that have dominated our limited lifespan as a species. We do not wish to encounter the reality of our own situation, so we go to untold lengths to prevent that happening, from simply lying to outright bursts of violence. We pathologically avoid being.

And this is the background against which we find the proliferation of ironic detachment. We situate ourselves within something of a “postmodern” [though that term is nigh useless so I will try not to use it too much] capitalist landscape of economic hand-wringing and corporate platitudinous simulation undeniably laid upon a backdrop of unmitigated exploitation, violence, and, most prominently, ecological collapse. We live within a paper thin surface-ideology that works tirelessly to hide the blood and viscera underneath, and what’s more, it’s unsuccessful.

Yes, you heard me, it doesn’t work. The fact is, we all know about what lies underneath the shroud of capitalist idealism that governs the banality of our lives, we are, for the most part, aware that we are being lied to, not shown the whole picture, that the door is being held shut lest the horrors of the other pour through, and yet we find ourselves doing nothing. Some of us respond by simply diving headfirst into the neoliberal promises made to us, just strapping on the blinkers and getting on with the task of reinforcing the wobbly appendages of capital’s outer reaches, but many more of us begin to approach life with a ever-amplified sense of irony. When I say irony, I don’t simply mean irony in the sense that it might be employed in a  comedy routine or a novel as a contextual device, but an entire attitude, a worldview necessitated by the denial of the real that becomes a cultural touchstone. In everyday conversation, we run away from it not by avoiding the topic completely, but by talking about it with a wry smile and a wink. This thing isn’t real, it is merely a simulation of the future, one of many, one of the many topics available to us, like the weather, football et al. 

Confronting Collapse

Ironic detachment is also entirely understandable. It seems the only meaningful way to get though the day without utter despair, and we fear the alternatives. Indeed, we often see obsession with the horror of the world lead decent people down a dark path of total and complete devastation of their own well-being in the face of an all-consuming hopelessness. Left Wing Melancholy is a term used to describe this distinct sense that there’s nowhere to go, not chance of success, change, simply no hope, no way out. The current ruling framework does indeed often seem inescapable, its horizons constricting and limiting, the cogs seemingly endless and constant, and yet one approaching entity, a “Hyperobject” as Tim Morton would describe it, seems to break through all of it, and that is the similarly implacable, acentered, Rhizomatic effects of human-induced ecological catastrophe, something that over-everything takes on the mantle of the real. All other priorities pale in comparison to the possibilities of the ravaging of global warming and mass extinction, and in some sense it can be seen as a direct mirror of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism. Our ruling ideology examines itself in the mirror to find a malignant, twisted, fucked-up reiteration of its own idealistic vision staring back at itself. It is a self induced nuclear blast, the oncoming disintegration of every carefully constructed theological and philosophical construct that tried to reach beyond its unfathomable depths.

So surely, when we look towards this unthinkable horror, we laugh or turn away, we consider it with a nervous laugh, make fun of it, we detach ourselves from its reality… Is this our only recourse? While I’ve presented this as a distinctly macro issue, one of social devastation and world collapse, it is simply, to some degree, a scaling up of our own existential drowning in the waters of irony, a continuous attempt to avoid reality and subsist on simulation, in a world in which simulation has become an order far beyond what Baudrillard could have predicted. From something so vast and impossible to conceive, we can look under the hood of our own sensibilities and consider the micro effects tied into the macro umbrella. We can consider this not only as an adaptation to catastrophe on the widest possible terms, but something into which we are inevitably tied.

This is not the same as considering collapse and systematic issues as a problem connected to individual action, something that has become all too prevalent and tied up in the mechanisms of late capitalist irony that give us our existential coping mechanisms. In truth, part of our individual confrontation must be to recognise that ultimately no matter how many straws we don’t use, how much plastic we recycle, how much we buy the right products, undergo all the government-ordained and corporately managed ecological procedure, ecological collapse will still bear down upon us in the same way it has been for decades now, being not a consequence of individual decision-making, but the very structures into which the idea of individual culpability is baked. We have seen the very source of the horror we are now ensconced within and try desperately to avoid or mitigate try to sidestep its own central part in this cosmic comedy of errors in a gigantic exercise of what we might term in some sense as victim-blaming. 

I say here, and without any sense of metaphor or mediation, that what is necessary is a direct, horrifying, unfiltered confrontation with being. We can simply no longer afford to wallow in ironic detachment, and must find an alternative. The closer we come to realising the sheer tenuous nature of our situation, and the more we realise that we in fact exist in some sense as part of a post-apocalyptic landscape, instead of continuously awaiting said apocalypse in anticipation of fighting it, the more we need another recourse. Irony becomes a poor bedfellow when we come face to face with the unstoppable disintegration of extinction. We must find some spark, some catalyst for metamorphosis, beyond simply opining for revolution in some retrospective greatest hits compilation of radical politics, we find in this necessary confrontation with an ultimate abjection a need for some kind of new process and new mediator, whether this be found simply in the folds of unbound pessimism or something more, something more… other. 

This is, when we come to look at it in the cold light of day, the moment for the new and, if any point in history calls for a reconfiguration of every priority and axiom of culture, this is it. Any kind of futurism ultimately must, and this is a must I cannot place enough emphasis on, do two things; 1 – Abandon the ironic detachment from the horror of out current situation, and 2 – Adapt its precepts to the immediacy of catastrophe. If there’s one constant annoyance I find with predictions of the future, often ones with a technological bent, it’s that they consistently present a vision of humanity or posthumanity divorced from the collapse of values and progress currently on the definite horizon. If, for instance, we are to see a world overtaken by the engines of technology, machine incarnate, we would have to entirely ignore the disintegration of technological progress and capital itself that can be witnessed alongside that of the surrounding ecological systems that govern it. There simply isn’t a possibility of eternal progress to fuel the visions we so often pine for, it will, and I believe we can say this with a good degree of certainty, have to encounter the material effects of its own deficiencies. How ironic.

Irony does not cancel reality

For irony, ultimately, is as much a source of misery, perhaps more so, than its counterparts. Irony pervades so much of our consciousness that we find ourselves unable to enjoy, in any sense that isn’t mediated or removed from ourselves. Oh this song? I don’t actually like it, I just like it ironically. This hat? Of course I’m wearing it ironically, I wouldn’t wear something like this sincerely. This racism? Can’t you tell it’s just ironic?

Ok, so that last one might strike a chord with anyone who’s ever come across the cesspit of online racism cloaking itself under the pretence of fooling around, of edgy humour. The alt-right and associated branches often hide behind a heavy shield of irony when questioned on the deeply unsavoury nature of their words and actions, and while this may seem different to the simple act of claiming to like a song ironically, it works in pretty much the same way. This is the key thing to bear in mind when encountering the irony practiced by “provocateurs” to justify promoting or amplifying racist or otherwise morally defunct worldviews; Irony does not cancel reality. We find it, in this context, to be an entirely ludicrous excuse, as if a murderer had just told us he butchered someone as a joke in an attempt to escape the law. No matter whether we did something “ironically” or not, the fact of the matter is the result is the same, the irony here is imply a flimsy shield against accountability, and easy to recognise as such.

Ironic detachment as a way of approaching the world seems to change reality while leaving it pretty much untouched, it facilitates simulation in a way that is entirely non-conducive to our own happiness and simply leads into an ever increasing and expanding pool of cynicism; detachment coupled with deep disdain and elimination of connection, with the end result of a deep distrust of our own being. Ultimately the result is not exactly replicated between us, but it becomes apparent that this problem, that we seem unable to function without a layer of irony protecting ourselves from reality, permeates our social and political undertakings.

What?

What of it then? Can we even look beyond irony in this case? If anything, it might already be occurring to ourselves that in the face of collapse ironic detachment proves an entirely ineffectual salve, nothing but a pathetic sticking plaster to protect the small and vulnerable being of our own egos. The issue is one of translation from micro to macro, from the existential to the political, where we realise that not only do we have to shift our own priorities, search for new horizons and new possibilities allowing us to adapt to whatever this all-consuming collapse has in store for us. We may have to try, to whatever extent it is possible, to confront before we can move on, whether this takes the form of a theological, a philosophical, a political paradigm shift, or all of the above, as tied together as they invariably are. We must, on some level, try to push our fingers through the veil into the uncertain otherness we fear so much and in some way to tear it, to visualise the beyond and to venture forward into it, not only because its advisable, not only because of our drive to uncover it, but because it is upon us, because, on some fundamental level, we know this confrontation is now unavoidable. We already live in a post-ironic future, it’s simply a matter of navigating it without disintegrating.

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Terra-forming the Infinite 𝟘

The unfathomable shard pierces the fog around it, erupts from the gently billowing forms to loom over its surroundings in the most unsettling way. It is formed from some inky black material within which can be seen the beginnings of the infinite, drifting away into a non-horizon. It resists the penetration of our gaze, the probing of our feeble constructs of rationality, writhing away and slithering into the darkness whenever any definition was within grasp. With every step it expands ever inwards to evade us. Shapeless horrors intersect with pure wonder as paradox is synthesised into singular form, defined yet entirely absent. It appears we have lost our way.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the unknowable recently. It might have something to do with the fact I’ve been brushing up on my knowledge of Kant and Transcendental Idealism, but in truth that’s probably more of a symptom than a cause, as I’ve been lead backwards from thinking about the limits of possibility and knowledge in relation to both political, philosophical, ecological and creative ends, towards reconsidering Kantian Metaphysics and various other thoughts that had been gathering dust somewhere in the vaults. Tying all this together, I think, are my thoughts on our idea of Horizon. 

Horizon is something that in physical space we can see, measure and represent relatively accurately. Look out of any window, and you will likely see some measure of horizon, some point where things recede from view. At its most simple definition, the horizon is the point where we can see no more. The two common dictionary definitions of horizon; 

  1. The line at which the earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet.
  2. The limit of a person’s knowledge, experience, or interest

Both roughly get at the same phenomenon, and the visual, spacial horizon often provides us with a handy metaphor to consider its more difficult to place counterpart. Is, however, the visual horizon a sufficient means to describe mental, ontological and epistemological horizons, in other words the limits of our understanding, and can these more elusive horizons really be defined as limits at all?

I am drawn to ask this from an exchange within the first episode of Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, which, by the way, is wonderful and I wholly recommend. Towards the beginning of the episode, a question is asked about the supernatural, to which the response is that there is no such thing. The idea here is that, contrary to our idea of there being a natural and a supernatural; things that are natural phenomena, and things that are not, there are only things we do not yet understand. Within the context of the show, this exchange also contains the arrogant assumption that these things can in fact be known, and are simply phenomena waiting to be conquered by reason.

For if these things are simply natural phenomena waiting to be accounted for, this goes on to imply the horizons of knowledge are constantly shifting but all can be overcome, that there are, even in a universe of infinite possibility, no limits. This is maybe something that comforts us or feeds into our sense of rational superiority, but it seems to ignore entirely the possibility, the lurking presence of the infinite, the unknowable and the indefinable. To think wholeheartedly that our horizon is 1.definite and 2.encompasses the entire possibility of knowledge seems to ignore the fact that we are operating from a position of marked limitations, that in effect however much we push into the unknown, however much we rationalise phenomena, this expansion of horizons is achieved over a world distinctly unknowable to us, a world of things removed from us, without us, an ontology without humanity. 

Here I have reached the horizon of much of my own understanding in some sense, as I have yet to read some of the key texts leading towards object oriented ontology and the anti-correlationist view often defined under the umbrella of speculative realism, but so far I have my own thoughts on how this could be visualised. The realism of the knowable overlying the unknowable thing-in-itself, perhaps even, as Eugene Thacker might say the world-in-itself, is in some sense the act of terra-forming the void. We push further into the unknown, and thereby we form a kind of layer, a layer of form onto the formless beneath. The understood world is in some sense a kind of actively formed ontological landscape, into which we drill and dig, carving out new caves and quarries into the cliff-faces and hills, but never penetrating into the unknowable underneath. 

In this sense, the horizon becomes something far more difficult to place, less a horizon at all than a shifting plateau into which our perceptions of objects, our processes of exploration constantly uncover ever increasing horizon. Expeditions into the unknown linger just above the unknowable, they probe into the depths, but as is the nature of the infinite, only more is to be found. I’ll probably disagree with myself in a few posts or so, so take all this with maybe a little bit of salt, but this stuff has been too potent in my mind recently for me not to blog about it. 

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The Intimacy of Space

After seeing First Man recently, and finding it a far more intense experience than I anticipated on both an emotional and cinematic level, I naturally rushed home to write up some thoughts on it. Like many have said, it is less a presentation of the majesty of space, the enormity of human achievement, or the abstract inhumanity of national progress or patriotic jingoism; indeed this is what may have inflamed the collective egos of American conservatives upon finding out that the film does not [horror of horrors] feature a scene wherein the American flag is planted on the moon. 

Indeed this call to feed the ugly, inflated sacs of empty nationalistic pride is precisely what First Man flouts so magnificently. Upon hearing a film is being made about Neil Armstrong and the moon landing, the immediate fear [or hope for some] might be that we’re getting either a dry, unexciting recounting of historical events or an overly sentimental jingoistic affirmation of American cold war patriotism. What Damien Chazelle does is sidestep both of these pitfalls magnificently by focusing on the “Man” of the film’s title. This is not some story of grand collective achievement as much as it is a personal study of trauma, grief, the drive to confront our fears, emotional repression, and, overall, intimacy. 

Where similar films have in the past chosen to represent space through this lens of awe and majesty, offering us the classic Kubrick-esque outer shots of spaceships slowly docking, of gigantic objects floating gently through the void, First Man forgoes this approach almost entirely until we reach the moon itself, presenting itself almost in the manner of a home-made film in how the hand-held camera intimately focuses on surroundings and people, shaking, almost to the state of complete abstraction, during the most white-knuckle scenes of space-born malfunction and flight. From within the small metal box hurtling through the cosmos we are with the astronauts, being thrown around and shaken to pieces.

The effect is one of bypassing the inhuman machines of national accomplishment, churning cold war politics, the infinite void beyond that small window, and leading us crashing into the painful and poignant realities of the human. The heart of the film are points like the early brief scene where Armstrong draws the curtain to cry so nobody else can see him, and running through it is his personal attempt to consolidate his feelings of grief and loss with the stoic, emotionless figurehead he’s asked to be, the effects of all this on his wife and family, the human cost of the space programme, the gigantic feats of engineering and impossibly expansive context and ambition viewed from a perspective of total intimacy and tenderness. Armstrong’s journey to the moon is framed against his own attempts to confront his own emotions, get past the divide he has erected between himself and the people he loves. The visor of the space helmet becomes his shield from others, and ultimately the “giant leap” of the famous line becomes his, not mankind’s , first and foremost, inverting an abstractly vast human feat into one man overcoming his own emotional obstacles. 

This is, in some ways, the film about the moon landings that I didn’t know I desperately wanted, rendering the intimacy of space, reducing our perspective of the event from these statistics, numbers, footage, just some event we know happened, we know is important but have no real conception of, to the eyes of one man, wracked with fear and grief but unable to show it, to one woman, terrified that her husband might not make it back, to a personal tale of loss that renders the intimate humanity of our torment as a cosmic achievement, the drive to uncover new horizons becomes our own, the rocket, blasting towards a white dot in the sky, becomes an emotional journey. Space becomes the other we must confront, the horizon we must reach to consolidate the feelings that terrify us but reside within us. It is one of the most intensely beautiful things I’ve seen this year.

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The Vampire’s Excuse

It hangs over us, the unrequited spectre of our own cataclysmic undoing. We envision before us a wasteland. Pockmarked and barren, abandoned ruins chequered across its surface with the few haggard survivors eking out a living somewhere on the boundaries of existence. We envision this perhaps because it entails a certain romantic pull, a more attractive alternative to utter annihilation and definitely more imaginable. On some level we already live in that world we created, within this mirage of the handsome, scarred post-apocalyptic survivor, the hunter-gatherer, the return to our roots, to our inner self. We exist within that un-made future when we toil under its assumptions, trapped in an ennui of human experience that we desperately want to escape.

In that regard, does the apocalypse not become a dream of hope? A dream of transcending the boundaries of this experience? The visions of social collapse, of planetary breakdown and confusion provide some escape, some idea of an exit. We become enslaved to our own destruction, a thrall to our certain fate, and we live its truth, move towards its ends, wilfully ignoring its warning signs. Environmental collapse becomes our collective death drive, a push towards complete erasure, and as we become more and more aware this temporal disintegration, this collapse of known measurements looms before us, it becomes ever more evident that we don’t know how to describe it. 

We have no way to talk effectively about what is beyond the veil of death, just as we have no way to envision what lies beyond our own destructive path. We see it advancing on the horizon, but we can barely make out a blur, a formless haze; we have no idea what we’re dealing with. We talk about it, we forewarn it, but we have no true conception of what it entails, merely a simulacrum of collapse, a mirage of annihilation. The consequences we surely know from countless warnings and broadcasts, but as much as we hear them, it never becomes real, until it does. 

Environmental disaster has become a terrifying unknown, an “other”, that informs and hangs over our actions like a malign spectral sheet. Yet we seem to do nothing; simply freeze to the spot, maybe buy a reusable coffee cup here, refuse a plastic bag there, even recycle every day, but it continues advancing, keeps getting worse, and as Thanatos comes knocking at our door those operating the machinery responsible while sitting on the backs of unbound exploitation and destruction proceed to lecture us on how we’re all to blame, how their technology will save us, provide an exit from the vengeful deity we’ve conjured.

You probably know of Elon Musk’s follies, so I won’t bore you with them here save to widely point out that he feeds wholly into the woefully mistaken idea that individuals with gargantuan amounts of money can save the world. If it isn’t evident, this angle, as I will further elucidate with Bill Gates, seems to be nothing more than some way to shift guilt away from these super-rich behemoths of industry and finance, the modern equivalent of the Bourgeoisie Marx compared to Vampires, onto each individual, the idea that we all caused this, and Elon Musk is coming to save us from ourselves, pull us out of the burning house we created. We become a scapegoat, and hence a sacrifice in this regard, and in the case of some eagerly await our allotted fate.

Bill Gates is, in some ways, more interesting. It needs not be said that he’s rich, astoundingly so. Like others in his exclusive club, he has more funds than most of us will see in our lifetimes. The obscenity of this degree of wealth need not be expanded upon here, but suffice to say that it can only truly be achieved, wilfully or not, off the backs of others, at the expense of hundreds, thousands far worse off, dying somewhere in third world countries in crowded factories. The web of exploitation surrounding wealth is an expansive horror show that once we begin exploring we may not see an end to, but suffice to say individuals such as Gates, and the apparatus’s they run, have far more blood on their hands, even, feeding into their machines, than they will ever be happy to let on. They are in some respects literally bleeding the world dry.

But surely, we might protest at this point Gates is a humanitarian, he gives to charity and has connected himself to a number of distinctly humanist and well meaning organisations. I might respond by asking how this in any way lessens the issues he is part and parcel of. I present this extract from Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism; 

“It’s striking how the practice of many of the immobilizers is a kind of inversion of that of another group who also count themselves heirs of 68: the so called ‘liberal communists’ such as George Soros and Bill Gates who combine rapacious pursuit of profit with the rhetoric of ecological concern and social responsibility.”

The idea that the very engines that breed and exist on the back of exploitation and unfettered profiteering, namely the issues at the heart of catastrophe, can solve those very problems, is, to put it bluntly, laughable. 

Yet there is more to Gates, and that makes him worth talking about, and this is the phenomenon of contrarian optimism that has sprung up in certain circles, the downplaying of contemporary issues to turn around and proclaim that “actually if you look at the averages things are better than they’ve ever been”, something that is of little solace, even downright insulting, to the factory worker in China choking on toxic fumes to produce the parts used in our smartphones. Pop-science/psychology writers like Steven Pinker, of which Bill Gates happens to be a huge fan, predicate their entire idealism on ignoring issues and inflating positives, on using averages to point out the norm, a skewed methodology that ignores the fact that given gigantic disparities an average will be anything but an accurate representation of reality.

This form of distorted, bloated optimism is one facet of shifting the blame, a particularly underhanded way of saying we’ve got it all wrong, that we’ve been labouring under the misapprehension that things are as bad as they seem to be, that they have the answer. Look at our stupidity! Seeing the world collapsing around us and coming to believe that it may actually be collapsing. This excuse though, pales in comparison to another, long-evoked idea that I recently found Gates fully advocating in an interview with journalist Ezra Klein for Vox. That of overpopulation. 

Apparently, for Gates, the issue is that Africa’s population is growing too fast. You might have thought it would be rampant profit-seeking at the expense of the environment, unprecedented wealth inequality, and indeed a study recently found that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, but no. Apparently;

“decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling. This is because the poorest parts of the world are growing faster than everywhere else; more babies are being born in the places where it’s hardest to lead a healthy and productive life”

-as put forward in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual “Goalkeepers Report”. Here we see something of the ugliness underlying the optimism Gates claims to love so much. This is nothing less than a direct apportioning of blame to the very individuals the systems he stands in direct benefit from exploiting to the maximum degree. Besides the overpopulation card’s long history as a little more than a respectable way to talk about Eugenics, this is a staggering excuse, the vampire blaming his victims for being full of blood. One might ask what he might do based on this information, and just as the vampire might pick off his prey to solve the issue of too many fleshy humans running around his castle,  the logic of the Gates’s proclamation would suggest either a programme of sterilisation, or just killing. Needless to say, the issue is not and has never been, overpopulation, and this line of reasoning is at best a way to distract from the bloodsucking monster’s propensity to suck blood, and at worst a step on the path to genocide. 

Whether you actually believe Thanatos has arrived, that we are now facing the end, the jaws of destruction, we can do better than believe the excuses of the vampire who seeks to drain us. In many ways, we could say Gates is only a flea, a speck in service to the “abstract parasite” of capital, and this to a certain extent holds very true, but in that case, we cannot buy into the idea that people like this will somehow buy their way, or allow us to buy our way, out of the apocalypse. Whether it is possible or not, we won’t exit this inferno by consuming the right things, through a comfortable act of reusing a coffee cup or a plastic bag, by giving to charity or through the products of a billionaire. To really seek an exit, we must start by unmasking the parasites themselves. 

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The Great Immobiliser

“Social media is bad and it’s ruining your attention spans” right? Done, nothing more to be written, the topic has been roundly tied off and thrown into a ditch. We may laugh or sigh at such proclamations by this point, so often are they wheeled out, often with the air of “when I was younger we used to go outside, things were so much better then” God, we know already, get off our backs. Because warnings about the addictiveness of social media tend to come with a side-order of finger wagging and moralising, indifference seems to be the widespread response, like kids ignoring the advice of a teacher because, well, it just isn’t cool to care.

Indeed, we can’t exactly just roll back the project, undo what has become such an integral part of people’s lives by this point. In many ways social media is now baked into the way many of us experience not just the internet, but life. We are told if we want to increase our publicity, we need a social media outlet, social media manager is not an uncommon position, and most events and get-togethers are now organised through the social media channels specifically designed for that purpose. While we could just sign off entirely and consign ourselves to more old-fashioned ways of organisation and information dissemination, there’s a distinct sense, and it’s not entirely unjustified, that by doing so we are losing out on a useful tool. Indeed, the only reason I still have a facebook account, when it comes down to it, is it’s usefulness in a communication and information capacity.

And if this is where it finished, as a tool, social media wouldn’t really be an issue. Indeed, was this not the primary purpose of social media, as something useful, a way to keep in touch with people, a tool to augment life… the issue is where we cross the boundary from an augmented reality towards a virtual one; we find ourselves in a rhythmic limbo of notifications, auto-playing videos, vaguely “relatable” status updates, quibbling, nitpicking, self-aggrandisement..

I myself was lead to write this after spending about half an hour browsing Facebook before realising I hadn’t really seen anything interesting in all that time. It was the anticipation of seeing something interesting that drove me, the expectation that something might happen, against the odds. I had just been sitting there scrolling through nothing, and it struck me how this is precisely where Facebook, Twitter et al want you, sitting there motionless scrolling through a small rectangle, willingly or unwillingly falling into an experience of pure banality. Completely immobilised. We begin craving the small dopamine rush of receiving a notification and so we continuously check, a fear that something might have happened while we were looking in the other direction. It is, as cliched as this might seem, a form of addiction, one that can be extremely difficult to kick, removal from the matrix leading to a constant twinge to pick up the phone, log in, check once more, one more click. 

There was a Facebook advertising campaign, I’m not sure if its still running, called “Let’s Get to Work”, featuring a montage of people going about a variety of jobs; butcher, barber, candestickmaker, you get the jist, and I remember first seeing the ad in a cinema and openly laughing when the Facebook logo appeared at the end. It was a similar [if not quite as strong] surreal disconnect I noticed in that infamous Sainsbury’s Christmas advert clumsily welding their logo into the end of a tearjerking and well made short about the first world war. We have footage which over-bearingly signals that this is genuine, real, and that you, your small business, your life, is at the heart of it, and then a logo is imposed onto this footage of a company we know has no such concerns. Not only this, but the genuine-ness signalled in the advert is starkly at odds with the unprecedented levels of facade we encounter on the platform itself. 

Facebook had pulled that old advertising trick of trying to convince you that they are the exact opposite of what they represent, something they are pulling again in the wake of data scandals and evidence of their untrustworthiness by trying to convince us that we’re in safe hands, that there’s nothing to worry about. What this particular campaign, maybe unintentionally, put across to me however was a conflation between the reality being shown and the reality we encounter on Facebook, as if one was the equivalent or the same as the other. In showing nobody within the advert actually using the platform, no hints of information technology at all in fact before unveiling the logo at the conclusion, the advert seems to engage in a kind of bait and switch, leading us down one path and at the last second pushing us back in the opposite direction.

Social media relies on this confusion, a contradiction between the fake and the genuine, the direct and the distant, until we dull our ability to distinguish, between fake-genuine and genuine-fake. When one refers to Baudrillard’s popular term Hyperreality in regard to social media, many might assume what’s being talked about is social media as a wholly alternative reality, something you plug into the back of your head and phase into. If it were that simple. What we have is the ultimate development in postmodern condition, the next step in the great immobilisation. Think of politics, and the endless spats, call-outs, and arguments that constitute its  presence on social media. To put it bluntly, if people are busy quibbling endlessly online, they aren’t organising, and if you’re spending hours scrolling through vapid newsfeed posts, you’re not doing something constructive, but we see these things somehow as constructive themselves, we begin to find the distinction dissolving between uses of time, between interactions, the very fabric of reality becomes a digital smokescreen. We look at the world and only see something to post online, something to further our digital augmentation. Social media hasn’t simply become a reality in-itself as much as reality itself. 

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Echoes of a Fractured Hologram

There’s been a curious development in modern music characterised by the offset retro leanings of vaporwave and its multiple offshoots. A very specific sense of wistful melancholy is distilled into a particular musical form, a single line from a piece of 80s Musak slowed down, distorted and repeated until it forms something redolent of a suspended, repeated mutation of the past. You might find yourself wandering into a computer generated representation of an 80s shopping mall, or what we imagine such a place would be like, empty and inhuman save for the same line of cheesy pop music repeating itself infinitely, digitally enshrined, protected from degradation but degrading through the very act of repetition into an audible rhythm indistinguishable from your own heartbeat. It is the music of a suspended degraded future, where the spectres of gothic fiction are replaced by flickering holograms, and, in the words of David Byrne, nothing ever happens.

Clarence Clarity’s music explores similar territory, insomuch as he re-appropriates the sounds of pop, R&B, soul, electronic music and everything in between and repeats it, fractures it and builds it into a digital cathedral of maximalism and broken down realities. His last album, No Now encapsulated this fever dream of images appropriated again and again before being twisted and distorted, a portrait of the postmodern condition as a sense that there is No Now. The multilayered production and strange glitched mutations of pop music found there presented however a distinctly futurist statement amid a time where the mainstream places all its bets on the industry of nostalgia and recreation. The version of pop music found here was a thrillingly unique and bold fusing of multiplicities that pushed beyond the hologram, fracturing it and hacking the mall systems to play all music at the same time. 

On Think:Peace , his new album, CC runs further with this while at the same time distilling the maximalist ambitions down to a series of often more contained pop tunes. The climax of the album in many ways is a piece called Same?. If through the course of the album we find ourselves wandering through the empty shopping mall, finding it breaking apar around us, trying to reach somewhere beyond a sense of digitised ironic detachment, this track ties directly into an earlier one, titled Naysayer, Magick Obeyer, on which notably he sings “make me feel like you feel good” [the implications of this, that the reality of the situation no longer matter, the illusion is more important, a line about the maintaining of illusion in lieu of the resignation of searching for real experience]. This exploration of the importance of illusion returns on Same? a mind-bending piece of music that starts in a different place but quickly morphs over its run-time to become a repeat of the earlier song, the album becoming a circular repetition of appeals to illusion.

Think:Peace is one of the most current, cutting-edge and thought-provoking pop albums from one of its most unique underground voices. It is no longer a digital cathedral, but the fractured memories of a hologram compiled into a new form, something that rather than simply repeating the sounds of he past creates a hyper-realised image of them and mutates them into new forms, echoes from the shopping mall of the past gathering into a symphony of mechanised harmony, warped, spiralling into an uncertain future. This is a journey into the tenuous links between illusions, a demonstration that pop music can be anything but shallow, indeed can be an exploration of shallowness in the most interesting way possible. 

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Traversing the Fog of Perception

Oh my, where to start. I guess somewhere within the last few years, during my years at art school, that place where I simultaneously found myself learning the most important practical lessons of my life and miring myself somewhere out in the swamps of absolutism via the misguided will’o’the wisps of contrarian bullshit. I became the enemy of my youth, those stuffy, moralising suited old men telling you what to do with your life. Those “careers advisors” I had met in college who laughed at my desire to go to university and study art, purveyors of stifling oppressive corporate normalisation into a system of ideological presumptions I wanted nothing to do with. 

To be honest, I think I was depressed. I never became suicidal per se, and I was always [read: mostly] able to smile and chat and pretend I was enjoying things even if under the surface it was a fucking quagmire of anxieties and uncertainties. I retreated from reality because I didn’t want to engage with it. I found it overwhelming and the only way I could get past it was to find some strange solace in getting angry, not even at anything sometimes, I just wanted to work myself up, tell myself things were certain, worked out, feel something other than the constant disconnection that was building up increasingly towards the end of my Masters course. Disconnection to myself, to my work, to the world, to those around me.

That’s what bothers me most looking back on that time, the effect it had on those I care about and am close to. I’m aware I’m not disposable, and indeed have tried to focus far more on maintaining my health after coming out of this state of abjection, but thinking about how the state I got into ultimately pushed people away, hurt them and affected them bothers me far more than the emotional anguish it caused me. I came out of being lost and alienated and became more and more insular, irate, closed-minded and generally unpleasant to be around. I genuinely hate what became of me during that time. Here’s where we get to the exorcism.

At some point, like Agent Cooper trapped in the black lodge, I embarked on an odyssey back to Twin Peaks. Something snapped in my brain, the curtain parted and I found my way back from this waiting room, this stuffy old mask of penitence I’d been forcing myself to wear. And like Agent Cooper, the way I got there was far from conventional. Something that defined what I did to myself over this time was a suppressing of my taste, some attempt to prove something to others. Put simply, I like weird shit. I always have honestly, something to do with me being an outsider, a bit of a weirdo through my school, college and majority of university years. I wasn’t really “in” with the cool kids, or anyone else, for that matter.

I like Stockhausen, godammit. Not exclusively, that’d be a bit much, but the point is I grew to like a huge variety of strange, avant-garde, off-the-beaten-track music and films, and this connection to the weird, to the outside, the other became important to me. I’m not trying to brag here about how “cultured” I might or might not be, even if it sounds like that, but the fact is I always had a special place in my heart for the kind of stuff that lay outside the mainstream, that defied conventions and “pulverised forms” to paraphrase Alan Moore. My biggest source of emptiness during my year of bulshittery was my forsaking of this element. Save David Lynch’s work [a constant companion without which frankly I might have entirely driven myself up the walls], which managed to stay with me to a certain extent, and some things that seeped through the cracks, or that I enjoyed in secret, the weirdness I unapologetically revelled in was sidelined and absent.

So I found my way back to myself, through suitably strange channels, through meta-referential temporal distortions and allegorical arcs of scattered historical landmarks. I won’t tip-toe around any longer, I read Gravity’s Rainbow and it changed my life. I entered the deeply obscene, beautiful, profound, hilarious, disturbing, confusing and multi-sensory overload of Thomas Pynchon and it practically realigned my brain, poking around in there and unearthing stuff I hadn’t noticed. It acted as a intellectual literary pressure-washer to the cerebral cortex pushing me into a journey through the outer limits of perception I’m still very much enjoying today. 

More recently I’ve found my way back to writing in a big way, largely through finally delving into the work of Mark Fisher and finding a vast web of varied explorations throughout the radical fringes of philosophy and cultural theory. There’s a whole world of material out there I’ve only just started thinking about in the scheme of things, but it feels like a jolt of electricity to my increasingly zombified interest in philosophy, travelling into a strangely compelling yet terrifying dimension of abstract manipulations of cause/effect phenomena, a Lynchian ontological collapsing of space, a blurring of reality-perception. Question my sanity perhaps, but I find the whole thing immensely enjoyable. Simultaneously, through the nexus of Fisher, I have rekindled my love of music and its power to transgress the normal in so many ways. 

So I started this blog, right here, a kind of blank slate from which I intended to chronicle a new process of thinking. I accept that some of my preliminary writings here might be sketchy [preliminary, in other words], I might misinterpret some things, whatever, but what was important to me was this form, this ability to think and write on the fly, something I have started to find increasingly exciting and hopefully can improve my own use of in time as I read myself further into these arcane avenues. 

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Aphex Twin Collaps[e][ing] again

Aphex Twin’s latest EP, titled Collapse is the most forward thinking release from him since the 2001 two-disc monster Drukqs. Since Richard D James’s concrete return to the Aphex Twin name back in 2014, it’s been nice to hear him back creating the sounds he’s known for, but it’s all been lacking something of the crackling psychedelic energy much of his groundbreaking and disruptive early material exhibited. 

Aphex Twin was always connected both to a blind playfulness of aesthetic and a certain relishing of breakdown. Increasingly through his 90s output the beats became more fractured, more hellish, more difficult to pin down, and even more difficult to dance to. By the time we got to Drukqs territory we were staring out at a beautifully broken, Ballardian landscape of cybernetic distortion and yelped hints of humanity lurking behind jagged rhythmic perversions of form. The link was created between the John Cage-esque prepared piano compositions and some of James’s most minimal pieces yet, with the hyper-stimulation and abrasive acceleration of the senses found as much in many of the track titles as the dense and uncompromising audio barrage of the more intimidating tracks. Not only were these presented on the same album, but one led directly into the other, flipping perception on its head and compiling the shear of atmospheres into a distinctly psychedelic breakdown of audible reality.

This game of contradictions is one RDJ played masterfully, creating both some of the most beautiful slices of electronic music out there in tracks like Alberto Balsam and Xtal, as well as some of the most abrasive (Ventolin and Come to Daddy) under the same name. Contradiction presented itself in the confounding of taste and expectation in the visuals, the twisting of bling era hip-hop aesthetics in the Windowlicker video and his many other collaborations with Chris Cunningham, many of which proved simultaneously nightmarish and hilarious in their absurdly disturbing imagery.

Contradiction, disruption, breakdown.. collapse? This latest EP seems to bring back the element of post-apocalyptic experimental abandon much of his post-comeback material seemed to be lacking. The 5 tracks on Collapse contain some of the most complex, layered Aphex Twin material in quite some time, and incorporate a level of electronic glitch and distorted tone that I was surprised not to hear in his more recent work before now. Taking the dense layers of electronic sound he pioneered as a producer and transplanting a digital virus into their heart, in the first track alone the EP folds the sonic landscape into itself, layer upon layer, to coalesce into a marvellously exciting and driving piece of experimental electronica only increasing in psychedelic intensity when viewed alongside the track’s video, a literal collapsing of digitally projected architecture, landscape, and unsurprisingly Richard D James’s own face.

What this EP achieves is a sound that suddenly retains something current, a return to a bold re-invention of electronic sound and a folding, a decay, of sound into new possibilities. It’s the first Aphex Twin release in quite some time that synthesises and combines contradictory and multifaceted elements in the manner of his best work, lurching from sound to sound in an unimpeded rampage of sonic warfare upon tradition and sensibility that almost reads as a middle finger to the prudes and conservatives who might turn their noses up and sniff at the “cult of ugliness”. At the heart of a digital storm of garbled wavelengths, compressed voices and the intricately controlled chaos of chattering and sputtering beats, such comfortably expressed terms of aesthetic absolutes are shorn of meaning.

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Machine Horror

The door slides open with a hiss and an uncertain scraping sound, and you step into a cavernous tunnel, extending into a gradual arcing trajectory as it bends in on itself. Pipes extend from pulsating nodules and cables hang from metal vertebrae, the entire construction somewhat resembling the carcass of a dead whale, a machinic leviathan abandoned and rotting, dead code, useless beings suspended.

I wrote many drafts of something approaching what you’re about to read, and each time it broke down from neatly organised blog entry to something else, something less defined and scarier, something more akin to unrefined chunks of my consciousness scattered over a page.

Inside the machine, becoming the machine, using the machine, controlling the machine, submitting to the machine. The machine is a beast, a leviathan, a cold inhuman monolith of production with pinpointed and telegraphed desire in every piston, every line of code, every polished chrome plated part or harsh glowing rectangle. The desire we implant within its algorithmic inner workings, the libidinal push towards learning, ascended consciousness, transcendence, an uncertain but defined future. The future is contained within this construct of rhythmic apprehension, the envisioned future can be seen reflected in its design, a future of satisfied desire never attained. For the machine is not a mechanism of desire, but a generator of it, an endless stream of things, connected things, an internet of things. 

The internet of things, the connected home. The future is here, now! An unprecedented connection to billions of streams of information, code, images, text, pouring out of devices into one another. Desire, generated at a volume unheard of, and satisfied time and time again, and yet we are not satisfied. Wanting more, we approach the machine, we find ourselves within its clutches, turning to it for advice. Dried of possibilities in the face of endless choice, we have nothing to say. The machine could tell us, but it is only a machine, and has its own business to take care of. Our business is none of the machines concern, built as it was to supplant the desires we now find empty.

For this leviathan is empty, dormant, the echoes of machinery heard from within its bowels suggesting and obscuring movement. We find not the future, but a facsimile, a banal flat metal surface meeting our gaze, mechanised corporate nihilism. 

We live inside such a machine, one that generates flat images of desire, in built with the promise of 3 dimensional engagement, providing only the horizontal plane of business, of capital. The machine is abstract, uniformly plastic, shifting to form itself around our libido, the shape-shifting T1000 Terminator in hot pursuit, a constant state of unrest, of unease. The machine moves around us so as to be inescapable, and a sense of hopelessness envelops us as we see no exit, of horror as we contemplate our fate within the metal corpse, link sheared with our communities, alone. Machine horror, the feeling that, fundamentally, there is nothing else, only the machine, the inhuman, the flat walls of metal. 

All that remain are perceptions of the past future, the future is lost to the regurgitated pellets the machine presents to us. The end of history as Fukuyama once put it, a stalling of progress, the death of the future. Anything outside the machine slowly becomes the unknowable horror to the comfort of its insides as we become accustomed to the acrid smell of metal as the smell of home, of comfort. Finding an exit becomes the unthinkable , a manifestation of the Lovecraftian eldritch terrors beyond our imagination. So pre-occupied we become with the horrors of the beyond we begin to internalise the horror of our very environment.

The more adaptable among us distance ourselves, make excuses, even start attempting communion with the beast, speaking the language of codes sputtered out by the information tunnels criss-crossing its sharpened vertebrae. Eventually, we start to become the machine, we hybridize, link our neurons to its circuits and speaking the machine language more fluently than our own. We speak in code, receding further and further from the outside possibility until it is a myth. Some mutter of its possibilities but are dismissed as  lunatics, utopians, fools. The hypersimulation takes hold and confusion takes root. The fundament looks different now, we see in it the glittering potential of the machine, and we no longer know whether our libidinous energy stems from its apparatus or ours.  

What if we could reach beyond the machine? Could there be a beyond, and could it be found within the machine’s code itself? If we reach beyond our traditional concept of reversal and negation, approach a concept of the machines recycling and re-using of our own resistance, and use the libidinal desires encouraged by the machine’s adherents to hijack its apparatus, could we reach past the suppression of  progress, the halting of the future, escape the end of history? This is something that, frankly, I’ve only just begun thinking abut to any meaningful degree, but over however long it takes me, I intend to scour the information networks for concepts, plans of action, and hints of post-capitalist potential that signal some form or move away from the stifling currents of capitalist realism outlined so expertly by Mark Fisher in his book of the same name. For as far as I see it, only a move beyond the repetitions of the past towards and imagination of the future can we sufficiently fight this machine horror.

Imagining a beyond, the preserve of science fiction writers, theologians, occultists, philosophers, political activists, artists and scatterings of hopeful amateur thinkers for so long, must now become the barrage of the moment, the push into some un-fathomed land, the “thar be dragons” hinterlands on the map. The tradition of science fiction, of speculative critique transplanted into an imagination of other realities must, in some way be interpreted by the anti-capitalist sentiment if it wants to reach any kind of beyond, any kind of communion with the other. The unfortunate relegation of the left’s thought processes to the recycling of past visions is unhelpful, a relic destined ultimately to the continuation of past failures. The alternative is uncertain, but it must on some level involve a reclamation of the new, of the “innovative” from the mouths of the machine cultists. A second necessity is the use of the technologies that have become so central to our everyday existence. We must surely utilize the tools of desire themselves to advance? A reorganisation of structure without technology is no reorganisation at all if we are to recognise that the very organisation of contemporary bureaucracy itself exerts itself throught the screens of our smartphones as much as any government institute. 

Finally, I will note the importance of entertainment. Far from the stifling and frankly, boring requests of many old-school Marxists to renounce all items of capitalism as being somehow “counter-revolutionary” I reject this idea wholesale as a contradiction and a hypocrisy. I feel it necessary to end on this note if the above strikes you somehow as a call to suppress anything created by capitalism (for the purposes of entertainment) for two main reasons:

  1. That is impossible, as capitalism permeates our lives and thoughts, we can’t simply opt out without feeding back into the infinitely plastic and abstract form of capital.
  2. I would never dream of suppressing the very things that keep us sane in this corporatised dystopia. Music, films, art and culture are important to our mental being in the same way the systems that often birth them are bad for it. Calling for people not to “buy into the entertainment industry” is, furthermore (yes I know this is a third reason but forgive me) a conceptual submission to the ideological tethering of art to capital, as if creativity cannot exist independently of the “creative industries”, and art cannot exist if it is not being made for the purposes of generating capital. This is capitalist realism of the first order and although those telling you it might think otherwise will simply break you more. Enjoy art, because its a respite, don’t suppress it out of some misguided revolutionary zeal. 

Now that’s out of the way, I will conclude by saying I have a whole lot more research to do on these topics, and in many ways have only just begun. I will keep a running chronicle of my findings on here, inter-cut on a regular basis with music recommendations and whatever else takes my fancy, often tying back into philosophy or cultural criticism. If you happen to be one of the few disparate people who might have found their way here, I hope you found something of value, and I shall leave you with a playlist of music that in some way ties into the content you have found here.