Noise/Fire

anti-oedipusI recently went to see the band Algiers, having had a bit of a long sabbatical over the past year or so from live music tied into my own struggle with the void and related correlates. This was the kind of firecracker of a concert that frankly puts a lot of other turgid re-animations of the past to shame, from one of the most vital bands of our time.

Algiers are a band that I’ve found difficult to accurately summarise to people who ask what kind of music they play. I usually say something to the tune of “well it’s kind of gospel/post-punk/industrial” and this never fails to feel like a disservice to what the band achieves, pulling together disparate influences organically into what feels like a genuinely new sound, something that feels far from the usual retreads of past moments and breaks through into a new reality, capturing through its anguished howls the paranoia, anger and resentment of the current political climate. They marry a political vitality and strength of feeling with sounds that feel just as exciting, just as important. Any trite cross genre explanation I might give on a whim to anyone asking what kind of music they play is bound to fall short of all that.

Algiers are one of those groups that feel like a much needed blowing away of dust. The tired decrepit old avatars of indie/classic rock going through motions and limply gesturing at the crowd through a lens of utter disinterest, the mire of conservative, dull new-averse rock bands putting out the same record for the last 20 years, the hangers on of Brit Pop, the revivals. Beyond these fusty relics re-enacting questionable scenes of youth nostalgia for a youth that never was, one reaches a space where the musical landscape opens up, where re-invention becomes the order of the day. And so it is with a band such as Algiers, who arrive as rock re-formed, the pieces still there but arranged in an alien way, their politics more than a vague gesture and more a fully formed battering ram.

It’s true that their influences call back to that which came before. Lead Vocalist Franklin James Fisher’s background in Gospel shines out full and clear, a clarion call over the industrially tinged rhythms, and stabs of noisy guitar, recalling the fury and the experimentalism of punk and post-punk’s most daring moments. The synthesis of these elements however is what proves so utterly compelling, on their first self-titled album and even more-so on their second, The Underside of Power. Algiers are not a band that are here to give you a warmed over repetition of something you know, they aren’t interested in comforting you, or even I would say in making you feel good about the world. Their performance is a call to action of sorts, a roaring reminder of the injustices of the world and a powerful sucker-punch to the emotional centre. Compared to the constant rotation of unexciting indie bands singing vaguely melodic songs about love, Algiers strike an imposing figure, replete with fire and noise, with Utopian desire and purpose.

What I found in the twisted gospel thunderstorm in a converted church, was a convergence of struggles, a universal call to arms that while deeply resonant with the racial paranoias of the American south, the oppression of the underclasses everywhere, only really makes allusions to specific political causes in the lyrics, which importantly encompass a sense of political potency that is felt across the world. There’s no explicit anti-Trump anthem here, but the blood pumping urgency nonetheless remains, simply disconnected from any spacio-temporal specificity, standing in form as a manifesto of raging emotion rather than a direct political screed against any political party or individual. This is political music, protest music in fact, but it captures in its energy something deeper than the problems of the present, becoming the conjuring of anger, of resentment, of hope.

On the Virus

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A central conceit of Ridley Scott’s poorly executed return to the Alien franchise was the existence of what many have jokingly referred to as the black goo. This strange substance becomes a recurring theme throughout the bloated mess of backstory in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, but if we are to look at the better of the two films [though it is still replete with rather tired biblical references and questionable writing] Prometheus, the black substance takes on something of an interesting role. The film’s best scene is its first, wherein an engineer, this supposed superhuman alien race, seems to imbue some of the strange black substance, upon which we see strands of DNA dissolving and recombining as the humanoid alien falls into the waterfall, body decomposing. The strange liquid is speculated in the film to be some kind of biological weapon, and is seen to be working in the manner of a virus, infecting the DNA of the host and dismantling/reassembling it in some way. In Covenant, the end effects of the substance appears to transform it into a rather uninteresting tool of mass destruction, although its actual effect and purpose becomes rather muddled, but if we focus in on its warping, changing capabilities, it becomes a far more interesting beast.

One of the crew members in Prometheus, having taken some of the black goo into his system, returns a horrifically mutated beast with superhuman strength, and it is here the namesake of the film becomes apparent, the promethean aspiration in the form of an insidious virus, realigning blood and flesh into something else, changing the underlying structure of our biology and transforming us. The black goo as a tool of destruction and rebirth. In Prometheus of course this rebirth has horrific consequences, but is this in effect not the very same action as that proposed by radical politics? Is the aim not, when looked at in stark terms, to realign the very DNA of material society? The alien virus destroys and rebuilds in the same way as an ecosystem, constantly shifting, realigning and adapting in reaction to its inside and outside components, constantly engaged in the process of falling apart and coming back together, an unending process that belies the fixed identities projected onto its mutative surface.

Identity is an incoherent babbling monster, consistently and violently rending itself to shreds, down to the connecting tissue, that which melds and connects, thrives in direct contact and sticky disharmony. This is in some sense why the language of the machine is no longer sufficient to describe the multitude that forms us. While on one hand we and all around us are governed by connection, cause/effect, lines of communication, forming a sprawling computing network, and in this sense we can grasp the basics of programming matter, on the other, if we take a detour we must realise that the complexity of these forms exceed any of our machinic enterprises in sheer weirdness and abstraction. For now, the common understanding of the machine, the robot, the android, is something that on a basic level has a creator. It requires a sophisticated intelligence, usually pooled intelligences, to come into being, and whats more these intelligences must purpose themselves towards the creation of the machine, applying a certain concerted objectivity to the affair, and cementing the limitations of the machine itself.

Ideas of Cyborg are key here not because of their framing of the organic as artificial, or the artificial as organic, but both of these things. Organic=artificial=organic=artificial. In this sense if we look at the Virus we find a key example of a term that encompasses both, viruses. in linguistic terms, infect both other organisms and computers, and so if we link the two uses of the word we bridge the gap between us and the machine and perhaps find encompassed the sticky difference and consistent linkages between the two, the advent of posthuman ecologies.

In discussing the virus in these terms, I wish to avoid two distinct attitudes. The trap of vitalism, of placing into the world some kind of unverifiable “life-force”, and the inverse trap of on-brand-nihilism; by this I mean a kind of thinking that falls back on tired and uninteresting observations regarding lack of meaning, that often comes across more like a teenager who has just discovered existentialism than any kind of creative or valuable interjection into thought. It often seeks to unsettle and yet only ever succeeds in boring me with its ceaseless repetition of banal nihilistic observations of the most shallow variety; tackling the seething underbelly of the seemingly idyllic surface of an ecosystem is far more than a simple acknowledgement of the void, or violence, or even chaos. It is all of these things and more, not necessarily at the same time, but connected in some way, links in an ongoing chain expanding outwards in consistent realignment. This is again, lest anyone read into this more than I’m saying, not some questionable assignment of transcendential forces linking everything, but is something I would conceptualize as a far more materialist phenomenon, something inherent in the dynamics of matter, and something that doesn’t need some pseudo-spiritual vitality to drive it. It is neither a drive to life, nor to death … even to describe it as a drive at all belies its fundamental material nature.

In this sense, I want to return to the virus not as something inherently generating death, nor as something representative of some underlying life but as a process devoid of explicit moral connotation. We tend to fear the virus, something that has taken on connotations, quite understandably, of disease and death, of breakdown. A computer virus an invasive code that breaks down our doors and puts our digital identity at risk, and the organic virus an invasive bacteria entering our bodies and causing havoc within our complex systems. The virus in both instances is defined as an invader, but it is also important to note the difference in effect of different viral organisms, in severity/specific area/direct effect/lingering effect/infectiousness etc … and in this sense, when conceptualising the intervention in human societies, the political movement as a virus, a collective organism spreading itself through, it emphasises the importance of effect, the directness of action as the definition of new societies.

As we move across some kind of threshold into what may be some disconcerting no mans land of unknown potentials it remains important to consider exactly what we want to achieve, the direction in which we want to programme the virus, how exactly we want to infect the body, disrupt its antibodies as they tirelessly transform production and desire into the reanimation of maggot-riddled corpses, the army of the dead to ward off the tendrils of ruination. It becomes increasingly necessary to organise movements beyond the limitations of human quantities, to map out into uncharted territories and move forward as a virus might move into the body of a host, utilizing the parasitic nature of our capital driven ontologies and twisting it into itself, an act of sheering off the branches to encourage new growth, of redirecting the flows of viral infection.

The theme of shifting identity, destroying and regrowing, and the indifferent mutative qualities of the ways the organic combines, recombines and changes itself according to an unpredictable logic lies at the centre of Jeff Vandermeer’s weird fiction tour de force Annihilation and its film adaptation. New growth from self-destruction, the horrific confrontation with the serene, unsettling twisted nature of the unknown, the infection of the land using the latent possibilities within it, collecting, melding, utilizing thoughts, memories, attributes, features, and re-organising them.

This disease, knowing nothing of moral fortitude or transcendential human logics, must operate quite apart from our anthropoid assumptions, a cold entity moving with undecipherable purpose. The virus is the rational disconnect from our assumptions, the affect-action realignment of causes using the inside to encourage outside growth. The logic of the virus is the rediscovery of a lost coldness and negativity, long subsumed by the new-age creative wallpaper paste dynamic of unbridled affirmation. It moves past the language of thanatos, death, the machine, past the virile subjective male libido, the organic/synthetic distinctions, towards a direct engagement with the nullity of reality and the succession of affects that drive it. The virus is the organism moving and changing with a predetermined agency within a causal universe, and so it becomes the potentials of systematic political realignment, the negation of social systems as a strengthening of ecosystem rather than utter destruction.

By all this I don’t mean to propose a distinct system, by no means do I suggest to form some new political movement; “the virus manifesto” – yes, we haven’t had quite enough pointless manifestos recently already [see “hopepunk”, “vitalist manifesto” et al], but as a blogging mechanism I found it useful to expand my thoughts around a certain organism/structure, and how this might pertain to political realities. Certainly I wish to avoid the traps I mentioned earlier, and to focus on somewhat dialectic syntheses instead of utter resignation, collapse-porn or their opposite blind affirmations and new-agey appeals to essential creativity. I may expand on these thoughts in the future, although not necessarily via the framing device of the virus. It is important, moreso now than it has been at any point in the 21st century to consider the future with a lens of possibility, and this means straying away from the empty pathways of “love over hate” or moral proselytising that have proven so utterly ineffectual, and looking for new exits.

The 2018 End of Year Hole

2018 draws to a close, the chattering storm clouds gathering at its edge announcing its eventual dissipation. Swarms of insects shift and stream through the gap between now and then, probosces prod and tremble in response to viscous stimuli, the temporal current bubbling from further, deeper indices. Data, folding and multiplying, copying and expanding, exploding and mutating, shattering and penetrating, tearing and shuddering. Turning in on itself, the corpus of social chains rots into new forms, dissolves and rebuilds structures within the real, extending tentacular feelers into spongey substances. The links in the chain become open doors.

CLARIFICATIONS

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Before I list some things proper, I feel it necessary to clarify the context of this entire list. 2018 was a hell of a strange year for me, one characterised by massive, in some sense violent change; to such an extent that in truth it only feels like it started halfway through. It was the year in which I abandoned my prior pretence of being an unbridled cynic, a disillusioned political centrist, and someone I really didn’t want to be, governed by an increasingly depressive cloud from which I attempted to shield myself via pathetic projections of certainty and blinkered ignorance. I shed the mask of the miserable bastard and found somewhere that I’m actually a Utopian at heart, finding, through some of the things I shall list below, something entirely new but difficult to solidly define. The disillusionment didn’t disappear, it’s simply that I found that continuing to press on despite it was more gratifying than my previous approach of simply giving in and wallowing in the mud of failure. The pushing against obstacles, the overcoming of hurdles, is something I can’t help but think defines not humanity per se, but matter itself. The structure of matter is constant straining, pushing, the paths of resistance, overcome or worked around. This is all why this list will prove a little open ended, including a few things I haven’t finished, or even that I’ve only just started on… 2018 only really got going for me relatively late in the game, and towards its end has been a veritable avalanche of new discoveries. Without further ado, I’ll get the ball rolling.

THOMAS PYNCHON – GRAVITY’S RAINBOW

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Gravity’s Rainbow blew the doors open. I’m not even sure I read to the end, I think I did, and I can’t remember starting, though I know I spent a good month and a bit more buried in this whirlwind of obscene profundities. It had the effect of violently tearing me from my slumber, unfolding the spacio-temporal disjuncture of my condition at the time. The structure of this fable, a careening arc of sexual absurdities, octopuses, a giant adenoid, all coming to a point of eschaton and obsession, pulling apart reality at its seams. It acted on me as a kind of molecular insurrectionist book, seeding itself in my mind and proceeding to shift the boundaries of my thought in a torrent of things I’d never encountered before, an experimental barrage of the unknown with one sweep tearing asunder the thrones of yore and setting in place an oscillating fleshy blob of matter to rule the kingdom on their stead. I intend to further explore Thomas Pynchon’s work, I have an unread copy of Mason & Dixon sitting on my shelf and the Crying of Lot 49 calls out to me, but Gravity’s Rainbow as an event was for me a wormhole of possibilities and a strategically placed bomb.

GHOST – PREQUELLE

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“It’s not metal!” they cried, clutching their copies of Opus Eponymous. They’re right, it’s not, but it’s long been obvious that Ghost’s aspirations didn’t lie in being a pure metal outfit for a long time, and in truth what I find so compelling about the band is their commitment to their cheesy, over the top theatrical stylings. What makes it more than just surface level sheen though is their ability to construct an absolutely wonderful pop song, see Dance Macabre, and refreshingly overblown Ballad in See the Light. They do away with the insistance that everything must be serious, sad, dour and inject some much needed fun into the modern rock landscape, fun here not intending to lessen their serious intent as a band, but to encapsulate a certain rediscovery of the limits of aesthetic expression that in its current iteration on Prequelle finds Ghost traversing a distinct emotional catharsis that lodged the album firmly into my brain for the better part of this year. It’s not metal but is is Ghost, in all their costumed glory.

MARK FISHER – CAPITALIST REALISM

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[See also “Terminator v Avatar: Notes on Accelerationism”] I can’t actually remember where I found Mark Fisher’s essay Terminator v Avatar now, but I don’t find it hyperbolic to say reading it changed my life, as has the rest of Fisher’s work, and it caused me to immediately order Capitalist Realism on impulse, something I usually avoid entirely. If Gravity’s Rainbow blew open the doors, Capitalist Realism gave form to the seething energy beyond them. What I found in Terminator V Avatar was a concise but incredibly formulated piece on the follies of an anti-capitalist appeal to the past, this wish to return to a more “primitive” time, to live of the land, being fully assimilated into capitalist infrastructure, illustrated via looking at James Cameron’s Avatar as an embodiment of this capitalist drive to re-assimilate its own opposition. In Capitalist Realism I found one of the most effective accounts of the Capitalist apparatus I’d read, Fisher’s titular concept making sense of so much of the world around me, and again shifting the boundaries of my perception in a significant realignment. Beyond this, Fisher’s work has helped me immensely, grounded me from a state of drifting apprehension, and without it I wouldn’t have started this very blog. I won’t ramble on too much here, but Fisher finally led me to something resembling my own position, and has been something of a revelation not only in terms of my ongoing interests in philosophy and theory, but in my sense of political vitality and urgency, re-awakening a sense of potential new realities I had long given up on. Read Capitalist Realism if you haven’t already, it’s very short and well worth the few hours it’ll take.

JULIA HOLTER – AVIARY

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The prospect of new Julia Holter is always an unexpected joy, but the vast expanse of Aviary confounded my expectations in the most delightful way, unravelling on first listen into an experimental cacophonous space redolent of its title, seeming to reflect the weirding of the modern world in its creation of an entire sonic ecosystem. At times it screams and wails, at others it echoes, it breathes softly, all these sounds merging into each other and flowing across the bedrock, eventually forming a vast lake teeming with life. It’s long and winding, at times forms fractured rapids and whirlpools, but the separate parts connect into a sublime organism, organic and shifting in tone and mood. It is I suppose a much more difficult, abstract release than her previous album, but in this lies some of her most ethereally beautiful compositions, and if one can spend the time on it, Aviary is one of the most impressive musical projects of the year, one that manages to weave together teeming multitudes into a coherent expression of musical catharsis.

DELEUZE & GUATTARI – ANTI-OEDIPUS

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Disclaimer: I haven’t actually finished reading this yet, I’m just enjoying my time with it too much to pass up mentioning it here. Beyond its rather toothless and vapid interpretations one might find in universities, the Academy’s full tendency to shave the edges off the theory it tackles on display, Deleuze and Guattari present a truly radical work here [I would argue still today] the primary purpose of which is to ask why we wish for our own domination. In other words, this is, as Foucault expresses in his preface to the book, an anti-fascist work, not just on a structural level, but on a molecular level, taking aim at the tendencies of psychoanalysis to defer to control, to institution and tradition via Oedipus, and formulating capital as that which necessarily represses desire. The mistake some make is to think that D/G are presenting either a model, or a symbolic/metaphorical picture with this book. This is to rob their ideas of power, and as they make perfectly clear throughout the book, they are simply not talking in metaphor. The insistence of academics to time and again reduce powerful ideas to a purely imaginary gesture is consistently infuriating. With Anti-Oedipus in particular, while they no doubt use imagery to illustrate their ideas, the ideas themselves are real. When they think in terms of multiplicity, when they say “making love is not just becoming as one, or even two, but becoming as a hundred thousand” this is exactly what they mean. Every time we reduce these statements down to nothing but poetics we turn D/G into a shell of their potential. Taken as a book intended to have real effect upon the world, not just as a theoretical vaguery designed to be dissected in a lecture theatre somewhere, Anti-Oedipus is a remarkable work, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it in the future and to tackling the rather more daunting scale of A Thousand Plateaus.

WIDOWS

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My big question going into this film was “Can McQueen really keep this up?”. The man hasn’t directed a film that’s been anything less than incredible, and I’m happy to report Widows did not break that streak, a heist film on the surface that really digs deep into the social and political surroundings of everyone involved. Not a single character didn’t work, all contributing to the sense of place and political decay in the setting of Chicago, all the parts of the film operating in organic synthesis to paint a picture in the strongest terms, of being forced into a situation through no fault of ones own, of being at the whim of an abstract structure that has anything but your best interests in mind. It’s maybe not quite the stark and uncompromising statement that 12 Years a Slave was, but in its own ambitions it excels, upending the genre standards of heist stories with the greatest attention paid to the emotional resonance of each individual character’s situation. He did it again, this is another must-watch.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

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Confession: I’d never seen a Lynne Ramsey film before I saw this one on the strength of what I’d heard about it. On the strength of this I intend to rectify this situation. Joaquin Pheonix tends to be excellent, so that his performance here fits this description isn’t necessarily a surprise, but Ramsey’s direction really hits home regarding the existential instability of his character, the non-existence of his being. What’s noteworthy about the film’s approach to violence is its uncompromising focus on the aftermath rather than the action itself. The actual heat-of-the-moment combat, the brutality, dissolves into a heap of bodies on the floor, blood pooling, the psychological torment…

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

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Despite this show’s occasional use of cheap scare tactics [though it mostly steers clear of the depressingly familiar twee scary tropes of contemporary horror, preferring to stick to the genuinely unsettling building of atmosphere] it stuck with me, going into some deep psychological territory via a loose adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. Each of the main characters serve as our guides through their own trauma, their own struggle to come to terms with the events of their childhood in a way that transcends the usually rather dull “horror as metaphor for psychology” set-up, something that usually just makes me curse the writer’s inability to have faith in their creation, to become a legitimately stirring existential poem of grief, addiction, empathy and memory.

MANDY

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Nicolas Cage engaged in a chainsaw battle. That caught your attention? Nicolas Cage lighting a cigarette from a flaming severed head. That? This is to sell the film short though. It’s much more than just a “Nicolas Cage goes mad” kind of film, pulling together some of the most visceral and colourfully violent scenes I saw this year as as well as featuring a soundtrack by the late Johann Johannsson, a growling, drone-metal inspired descent into hell. The first half of the film is even a surprisingly slow build up to the second half’s utter insanity. It won’t be for everyone, but Mandy is a remarkable film in many ways.

SUSPIRIA

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Now here’s a film everyone definitely didn’t love. Opinions on Luca Guadagnino’s re-imagining of Dario Argento’s horror classic varied from “masterpiece” to “total garbage”. I will concede that the film is probably too long and over-the-top in many ways, but if I’m being entirely honest this exactly why I loved it. The sheer ambition here, the political overtones of the film, and moments of pure body horror [seriously don’t watch this over dinner] won me over in the best way possible, so when I’d finished watching this film I felt like I’d just greedily devoured a large meal and didn’t regret it one bit, even if it was a tad rich.

FIRST MAN

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Having been significantly moved by Chazelle’s previous two films Whiplash and La La Land, I took an interest in First Man on the basis of this alone, and what I got was again what could have been a flaccid, stifled historical drama transformed into an emotionally affecting exploration of grief, waste of life, being caught in a process you can’t control. On top of this, no film about space travel I’ve seen has more effectively captured the feeling of hurtling through the atmosphere in a small metal box held together with bolts. Elements of this film were like a cinematic immersion tank in how intimate the cinematography was and how Chazelle cleverly eschewed the many wide open space shots that are so tempting when making a film like this. A wonderful film in many ways compounded by a masterful soundtrack yet again from Justin Hurwitz. Oh and lest I forget to mention it, Ryan Gosling IS a good actor, he’s excellent here as Armstrong, and I won’t hear any different.

STAR TREK – THE ORIGINAL SERIES

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Having set myself the task of watching more Trek, having seen frankly shockingly few episodes of it over the years, I decided this year to systematically go through the original series, and despite it being dated in some aspects, looking clearly of its time and the occasional story element really showing its age, I was surprised at how well this series still resonates. It says something to the characters that despite the fact that I know they’re not really at risk and nothing looks quite convincing I still became invested in their fates. Many of the moral quandaries and SF concepts here, while executed around a low budget, are excellent and legitimately fascinating. Of course for various production reasons the third series is … patchy, but I can enthusiastically recommend the first two as wonderful period sci-fi pieces that despite the years of pastiche, ridicule and more still hold their own.

ANNIHILATION [BOOK AND FILM]

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Last, but definitely not least, are both Alex Garland’s film Annihilation and the book upon which it is based, by Jeff Vandermeer. When I originally saw the film, I’m ashamed to admit I was not in the right state of mind to appreciate it, my mind fogged for a number of reasons, so it took a second watch to really cement the film for me as a truly wonderful piece of modern SF/Horror, a film that treads ground I can remember few other films in recent memory touching, bar perhaps Under the Skin, and containing visual and conceptual intrigue far beyond even what Garland’s last Ex Machina [a film I also rather enjoyed, but one with a far greater stamp from its influences] achieved, via some utterly hair raising set pieces and leading towards a conclusion that is stunningly beautiful and uniquely disturbing in idea and execution, exploring the breaking down of identity and self destruction in profound ways.

Much, much more recently, a few days from when I’m writing this in fact, I finally read Jeff Vandermeer’s book, the first in his “Southern Reach” trilogy, and found myself enthusiastically engrossed in its pages, devouring a novel in a way I hadn’t experienced for some time. The book itself, while hitting some similar themes to the film, is a different beast in many ways, unfolding in a strangely dreamlike manner apropros the constant questioning of how much the characters can trust what they’re seeing, the constant muddying of reality via hypnosis and mutation. It reads like a visceral blend of Lovecraft, Phillip K Dick and countless others but simultaneously sets itself apart and is one of the most gripping pieces of weird fiction I’ve read in recent years. All things told, I believe I very slightly prefer the book as an entity, but I would recommend both as supremely interesting, strange and well executed works that stand on their own merits.

CONCLUDING REMARK

Not a comprehensive list by any means, as I can already think of some things I could have easily included, but the most important milestones of my year found their way here, a rough patchwork quilt of my rather strange life in 2018 in the form of films, books and television. Do whatever you want with them, I suppose. Have an INCOMPREHENSIBLE new year.

Beyond Capitalist Horizons: Future Interfaces

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Capitalism; you might have heard of it, you almost definitely have encountered it, and everyone’s talking about it. Capitalism is such a well worn topic by this point that indeed for some it becomes a “cliche”, and at risk of denouncing what is going to be a post discussing capitalism at length, one might be tempted to agree with them. It may indeed sound like a broken record at points; one encounters an issue, poverty, exploitation, catastrophe, collapse, and someone pipes up with “you know the problem? Capitalism”, and because of this it’s tempting to write it off as an annoyance, like an incessantly repetitive noise, an alarm that one might flail at at 6 in the morning in frustration. The thing about that morning alarm however, is that you probably set it for a reason. At that moment it feels like an impolite intrusion on your rest, something you just want to get rid of, but beyond this is the knowledge that it has a point. The alarm to wake you up at a certain time, and anti-capitalism to point out the eschaton of our own system. The annoyance we feel at being repeatedly reminded of our own systematic compliance reflects the child’s annoyance at being commanded to brush their teeth, or go to bed.

So while we might have an aversion to addressing the issue in the same way as we might be resistant to learning mathematics as an act of rebellion towards a teacher, it is necessary, but this brings up the question of how one can break past this program of resistance. The sheer will to capitulate to the capitalist directive of oedipal desire drives us towards a comfortable cocoon of apathy and directly into the maws of capitalist realism, and while there have been moments of rebellion, moments where it looked like something might break through its stifling curtain, it always failed, we always reverted to the manufactured realities of the capitalist future, the simulated innovation of neoliberal enterprise. Something in the attempts to divert course has always fallen short of its aim, this spectre of failed revolution that hangs over the modern left and like nothing else breeds disappointment and inefficiencies, a repetitious melancholia stemming from a lack of ideas. We run short of plans, find ourselves unable to plot a course away from this mess, and in our inability visions of a distinctly more dystopian bent employ the imagery of nostalgia, the cynical wish to return to an idealised past that never was, to capture a sense of vitality with their supporters anti-capitalism has always struggled with, presenting as it does the removal of the safe, fuzzy idealisms its populist alternatives appeal to an intensification of.

I. Anti-Capitalism and Cybernetics

Anti-capitalism then, is faced with both an opportunity, and a long-running problem. The opportunity lies in the weirding of modern politics, the collapse of the “boring dystopia” that is neoliberalism, defined by stasis and repetitions of the past with shinier exteriors, leaves, by definition, an opening, an opportunity for ideological apparatus to step in and fill the gaps. And the problem? To expand on what I’ve already mentioned, it is one of systems, of control and communications. In other words, what we’re dealing with is, according to Norbert Weiner’s 1948 definition [“the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine”] a problem of cybernetics, of systems analysis and of computing. For what are ideologies and fictions in essence bar a series of commands and actions forming an interlinked diagram of ritual behaviour? Deleuze and Guatarri’s landscape of flows, of interlinked machines and desiring-production, is in effect the underpinning of a systematic chain of productions, a cause/effect repetition enacting a circuit of manufacture and communication overlapping and moving between further circuits, linking again to yet further circuits.

Of course D/G were not insignificantly pulling from a Spinozist metaphysics in their materialist conceptions, and in fact looking towards Spinoza’s systematic rendering of freedom is of great help here. According to Spinoza, to be free is to act according to reason – to act according to reason is to act according to one’s interest – to act according to ones interest is ultimately an act of reflection and feedback – all of this = [to reframe this within a modern information driven age] an adaptive operating system, one that 1 – Is capable of consistent feedback on its surroundings and its own capabilities, and 2 – is capable of reacting to said feedback through a patching and rewiring of systems.

To bring this back to anti-capitalism, and the problems it faces in lieu of the recent surge of populist right wing movements, is one of organic communication and of adaptation. Its state of consistent opposition to the dominant circuitry puts it at a disadvantage to those already at work patching new networks into the system; of course new in this sense not really being the operative term, these new networks simply being a facsimile, a tracing of older networks, very old parts being jammed into an old engine in the hopes that it will morph into the shiny retro-engine they envision. Constant negation without a hint of affirmation begets a failure to generate the new, vital components of the system, stymies the process of feedback and evolution required to construct an effective systematic strategy. The anti-capitalists gradually, over the course of the neoliberal end of history, lost their claim over ideas of the new, and of the future, to those interests who begun increasingly to equate “new” with “innovation” with “business”. Anti-capitalist causes begun to look anachronistic, old-fashioned, silly utopians fixated on a past future that never came to be; even the occupy movement never materialised into anything approaching successful anti-capitalism.

So to formulate an anti-capitalism that unshackles itself from the spectre of revolution … from the logic of failed revolt. It requires the programming of an adaptive system that reroutes the libidinal exchanges underpinning the capitalist drive; reroutes them where? Towards the new, and beyond the capitalist horizons that constrain the circuitry of the human motherboard and prevent the patching in of new interfaces, threats to the dominant fiction. We must route the flows of information away from the fuzzy looping of repressed libido, the breeding grounds of political puritanism and despondency, and the death of vital interference. One can see this in evidence though the more humourless ranks of left wing action and thought, through such self-professed “revolutionaries” who consider anything less than total insurgency a concession to reformism, to the countless individuals engaged in endless bickering over specifically acceptable words and actions, reducing, despite the lip-service to such terms, systematic issues down to the faults of the individual alone, effectively feeding the dominant neoliberal fiction, that defined most succinctly through Thatcher’s “There is no such thing as society” maxim. These are all strictly clipped and confined libidinal exchanges, confined to the limits of capital itself through their concessions to its dynamic.

We need to look to our own interest, in Spinozist terms, to our own feedback loops of behaviour and process, and to our own ritual, to successfully reroute the systems of capital away from their preferred stasis and towards a new horizon of possibility, effectively to reclaim the future from its purely imaginative state and engage the processes of adaption, so long a mere PR stunt in the name of capitalist realism, a shiny veneer over what proves nothing more than the reconstituted remains of the past.

II. We are Android [We are DEVO]

Our ideas of the future are dominated by ideas of the posthuman or the transhuman. Long a theme in science fiction, the melding of the human with the synthetic, the humanoid robot, the android, ideas surrounding the development of AI and robotic technologies are reaching fever pitches of hype, funding and media attention in an age supposedly driven by technological development into an increasingly automated, mechanised future. Some envision a day in which we become android, where our limited human interfaces become supplanted by a new, evolved cyber-organisma meshing of organic and inorganic parts. In other fictions, we see a new race of robotic, inhuman artificial beings, the robot uprising, the AI dictatorship supplanting our very own attempts at domination. What all these visions share is a certain eschaton, an immanent progression towards some singularity, some meta-narrative endpoint where we surpass our own existential nightmares in some way shape or form.

As of now, none of these futures have materialised, none of these sexy science fiction realities have made the transition into being reality, or have they? We certainly don’t appear to be living in some hyper-synthetic age of cyberpunk crescendo, we definitely aren’t living out the dark capitalist future the prophets of acceleration envisioned for us and I definitely don’t find myself jacking into a fully simulated virtual reality every day to go about my business. There are a million cool-looking utopian-dystopian fictional prophecies of what the future could have been or could be that haven’t materialised and don’t seem to be materialising in the near or far future. The reality of capitalism is infinitely more mundane.

Here’s the proposal; we are android. The posthuman is already here, and we are its walking, talking participants. The virulent expansion of online networks, the accelerated prominence of portable computing devices [the smartphone, tablets] are more than a simple restructuring of the surface, of the way we engage with the underlying bodies, they are an extension of us, new machines patched into our existing interfaces. As networks have spread across the surface of the earth, forming a kind of mesh, an overlying world-brain, a chain, a circuit, we visualise in a more total sense the interconnectedness that previously we only experienced in a fragmented, singular sense, each of our devices a node, a machinic outlet for what is in some sense a gigantic collective intelligence, a huge iteration of what on a smaller level we would think of as artificial intelligence [something that in general amounts to an aggregate of human intelligences rather than something wholly artificial in any way we might conceive of the term, hence why AI tends to ape human behaviours].

More than this though, our devices are a direct patch onto our human OS, an expansion of systems. To return to Spinoza, we can pick up on his post-Cartesian metaphysics, a radical rejection of dualism to illustrate this. Spinoza rejected Descartes distinction between mind/body along the lines of his conception of God. To quote the beginning of his Ethics;

“I. By that which is self—caused, I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent.

II. A thing is called finite after its kind, when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature; for instance, a body is called finite because we always conceive another greater body. So, also, a thought is limited by another thought, but a body is not limited by thought, nor a thought by body.

III. By substance, I mean that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself: in other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any other conception.

IV. By attribute, I mean that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance.

V. By mode, I mean the modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.

VI. By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite—that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.”

All of these definitions lead towards an understanding of finite matter that ceases to distinguish between an ideal inside and outside in the sense that one does not limit the other. “…a thought is limited by another thought, but a body is not limited by thought, nor a thought by body” … We find a blueprint for our current  tendency to reach beyond our fleshy mainframe and through the coupling of machines expand into the inhuman. We can conceive of our systematic expansion into online realms as a modification of identity, identity as something conceived through something other than itself, that something being found again in the same matter of online information and collective thought – this way we find a circuit, feeding back into itself and recurrently coupling modified versions of its own systems onto itself.

In theory then, in our connected devices, our reservoirs of creativity, thought and feeling we have a program to achieve the inhuman, and indeed in some sense we have achieved this reality. Cyberpunk is here folks, it just isn’t nearly as sexy as we thought it would be. Indeed, in many ways these systems conceived as expansions of our own circuitry are facets of the libidinal capitalist infrastructure, fully engineered towards our desiring-production both in expansion and repression as Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus. The forces of deterritorialization and reterritorialization are at play even in this age of posthuman ascendency, and so we find ourselves in a banal cyberpunk, geared not towards the expansion of concept or the absolute abstraction of the human, but towards systems of control, of repetitious return to the rigid structures of commodity production.

Much is said about the idea that the rhythms of media dissemination and production are, for instance, reducing our attention spans, or increasingly geared towards a version of culture that treats as as gullible idiots, infantilizes us, and is interested in nothing besides surface engagement. While I personally don’t think surface engagement is in all cases the devil it’s made out to be, there’s certainly a truth in the capitalist insistance on our idiocy, the push towards simplistic, memorable forms over complexity and abstraction. I don’t say this in order to denigrate popular media, quite the opposite, I think the focus should be on giving popular media it’s due, treating it as more than just pop, something that actually can be profound, can be complex, can tell us something, rather than the constant insistence that pop culture must be nothing more than blind adherence, fantasy, the distraction from the real. It is possible, as many have demonstrated [perhaps I will expand on this more in a future post].

I’m going to talk about Devo. Devo were/are, in a similar sense to kraftwerk,  as much a concept as a band, and a concept formed around this very topic, where they perceived a devolution, hence the name, and as an entity their themes and content revolved around a dystopian foreshadowing of the process of systematic regression in the culture around us. They were, in essence, a work of science fiction, as much of a prophetic fiction as the cyberpunk of the 90s. Their work stands as a kind of inverted post-human desire, a warning that in some way this move forwards constitutes a move backwards. The truth isn’t quite that, but it’s a part of it. While we have in effect moved towards a further realisation of posthuman futures, and we currently exist within a kind of gigantic collectivised intelligence structure, the influence of capital on this structure facilitates the constant repression that capital requires to flourish. In essence, capitalism is unable to deliver the future, through a simultaneous act of freedom and repression, we wind up in stasis. This isn’t devolution, but it is a necessary halting of evolution, of the new. While a Devo-like criticism of tendencies to dumb down  stands at risk of devolving itself into an old man shouting at clouds rejection of progress, the truth is that the problems Devo recognised are precisely that progress isn’t progress, that the future we are presented with is not in fact a future at all.

III. Beyond Capitalist Horizons

What we have instead of the projected futures of the past is a toolbox of possibilities. Through the patching of new interfaces into the human OS we find ourselves with the tools of production; we carry them around in our pockets, leave them sitting on our desks, wire them into our neural pathways over time so that we become dependant on their use, they become a circuit existing within a circuit, a machine within a machine. The potential of technology under capitalism may have been much exaggerated, but this says nothing of the potential of technology outside it. We tend to see these interfaces as a direct consequence of capital, and yet it is important to point out that it is not necessary to argue against technology per se to be anti-capitalist, just as it is not necessary to argue against desire per se, we must merely invent a concept of what technology and desire even constitutes outside capitalism. We must, to look beyond capitalist horizons and engage in the production of the new, reprogram the present, shift the flows of intensity and redirect the circuitry.

A simple program of negation, something that anti-capitalism tends to fall into far too easily, cannot be the strategy employed, the residue of revolution that hangs over any attempt to conceive of post-capitalism, the spectre of communism, as it were, communism not as Marx and Engels proposed it, but as it looms over our 20th century horizon itself, as it is characterised in the popular imagination. Especially at a time when authoritarian populists [the very existence of which bring to mind the very question D/G ask in anti-oedipus, through William Reich, “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation”] surge forward with simple, distinct proposals for a new, albeit retrograde, nostalgic and impossible, reality, the left cannot afford to reduce itself to an eternal opposition. We must offer positive proposals of our own, a future beyond the hauntings of the past, and if we harness the abstracted networks of desire we find ourselves willingly jacked into, find a way to reroute systems and patch on new realities, we can build a communal future beyond the sterilised visions of capital and the reactionary songs of a simulated golden age.

 

Into the Nerve Cluster

mezzscape

 

[THE CAPITAL]

It is a centre, but not the centre, a heart, but not the heart.We find it as a pulsating spike of intensity in the interlocking diagrammatical mesh of organisms, a glistening mass of tentacular flows, a nervous system spliced into the white hot rock of matter. The city is the hyperspace where we most easily tune into the Deleuzo-Guattarian schizoid imaginings of information driven capitalism, where we find the oscillating gradients and intensification of current through the veins of organic machinations. London is a bubble, but it is not suspended in a membraneous isolation from neighbouring assemblages and affects, but part of a gigantic metastatizing organism of fleshy tendrils stretching across and into fibrous surfaces.

The city never really ends… it is an intensification, a nerve cluster, one that simultaneously attracts and repels its surroundings, keeping them attached to its surface membrane enough to subsume its outside gradually, expand until expansion reaches its inevitable limit. It may be that, as Fisher illustrated in Capitalist Realism the kafkaesque bureaucratic structures of the call centre are the closest we come to accessing capital-in-itself, but the city-at-large is the point where one can most immediately experience its flux, its libidinal excess and screaming contradictions. It is on Oxford street, in the throng of consumers, that one can see in a true sense what one elsewhere experiences as a poetic description, a fiction materialised. Thousands of organisms coexist yet blur into a current, producing endlessly shifting patterns corralled and machinised through the canals and wires transporting current through the cerebral interface.

In many ways, walking through this milieu, the copy of anti-oedipus sitting at the bottom of my bag seems to elucidate itself, make itself clearer, manifesting itself in my surroundings, an encounter with theory more beautiful than anything one might accomplish in the academy, simply going through pages, references, dusty old interpretations. It is here in the outside world that the implications of theory lie, in much the same way as Deleuze and Guattari evoke the “schizophrenic out for a walk” over the “neurotic lying on the analysts couch”. Here, wandering the streets of this organ of intensities, the dusty old corridors of academia break and give way to the active swirling melange of discourse, of nomadic enquiry.

It strikes me that the brute fact of the matter is that I’m reading, and more to the point getting value from more theory now than I ever did when I was a student. Part of this is indeed my own personal shift out of the inky blackness of resignation and cynical capitulation, but on another level it is simply freeing to study outside the reigns of academic writing. It might sound somewhat contradictory, but this unshackled hunger that has emerged from the rigid formulae of the academy is leading me to finally consolidate my desire to move on with academia and to engage with it again on my own terms in the future. This time I would not enter those halls simply because I feel like I have to, or because I have nothing else to do, but out of a genuine wish to grasp the subject matter and pull something out of its chest, a beating heart of something as yet undefined and unformed.

thevoid.jpg

[AGENTS OF THE BLACK HOLE]

Flee from all those rigid monomaniacal tyrannies who would trap you in the fluffy and worthless safety of ignorance, those who wish to prove themselves, the charlatans of nihilist hedonia pushing you to an early grave, playing to your anxious desires. These are the agents of virulent malaise with nothing to give, intent on ruining all about them, latching to the underside of power and riding the wave, those who to spite themselves spite you. There is more outside than the protestations of these insular power-hungry parasites would ever admit, tangled as they are with the monstrous hatred of their own being, the existential terror they face upon the realisation that they may not be the copernican axis of cosmic power.

This is something that might not be self evident about the seemingly sudden wave of angry reactionary sentiment in recent years, and the mindset of those who lie caught in its web, the deep void that lies somewhere behind their veil of belief, the sheer terror that underpins the clusters of grotesquely regressive online communities of ex-new-atheists tooting incessantly on the rusty horn of pop-rationality, a shrill and annoying sound that barely makes it out of the pits they’ve dug for themselves, but occasionally can be heard, an echo of panic in its dissonant tone.

The existential black hole lying somewhere beneath the far right isn’t something that has been addressed nearly enough in discussions around its nature, as its something I feel strikes at its weak spot, the philosophical emptiness of pure negation and the complete shallowness of everything they stand for; not for nothing do many online communities IDing as anti-progressive, anti-feminist, conservative, any number of right wing reactionary positions, couch almost everything they do in an imperceptible construction of irony, the irony of fools that belies the real implications of the ironic action, the lack of conviction in the validity of ones own position, so much that one tries to negate it by reducing it to a “joke”. The reason becomes evident as to why this is no laughing matter however when one realises that ironic action spreads itself entirely unironically, the effect belies the intention even if, and here I’m being very generous, the intention was ironic, not some kind of misguided flailing at the wind, an attempt to mask their own insecurities through a pretence of privileged knowledge.

The appearance of these huddled groups of rage-driven misanthropes is in many ways driven by the same vapid emptiness underpinning the neoliberal enterprise. The conjuring of problems for them presents itself as a scapegoat yes, but for what? Many who tackle this subject fall back on their libidinal capitalist tendencies and stop short of pointing at the entire rotten corpse before them, but in this regard they too wilfully disregard the fetid stench and grotesque appearance of the issue and simply repeat the same tired dogma of reform, a little bit here and there and this will all be better, there’s no need for anything drastic folks, just tweak the settings and your experience will be back to normal.

From the same existential nullity come two different forms of blindness. That of the ego-driven pseudo-rationalist and those of the comfortable centre-liberal inculcated into the libidinal infrastructure. Both do their utmost to ignore the stench of death in the air but both are its very symptom, attempting to ignore for as long as they can this distant memory of anything outside this cosmic PR campaign.

[THE HEART IS EMPTY]

 

 

 

 

 

Notes on Left Hyperstition

I found myself of late digging through old K-Punk posts, Mark Fisher undeniably being a significant reason I started this blog in the first place, and stumbled upon a post in 2 parts titled Left Hyperstition. I thought this particular entry was worth highlighting and talking about, as it contains some interesting angles on ideas of populism as defined by Zizek. Conversely to Fisher’s most known work Capitalist Realism, a book I would without reservation recommend to everyone. It goes beyond an analysis of the methods though which capitalism exploits and maintains its hold, speculating on how it may be overcome. This is largely through the use of the term Hyperstition, one of the most widely used neologisms coined by the Cybernetic Cultural Research Unit, or CCRU [a group of breakaway academics around Warwick university in the nineties, involving a large variety of figures who have produced notable work since, wide-ranging as Fisher, Sadie Plant, Reza Negaristani, Ray Brassier and Kodwo Eshun, as well as “the father of accelerationism” Nick Land, now involved primarily with neoreactionary thinking]. A melding of Hyper and Superstition, it is loosely defined in the CCRU glossary as;

“Element of effective culture that makes itself real, through fictional qualities functioning as time travelling potentials. Hyperstition acts as a coincidence intensifier, effecting a call to the old ones”

Put another way, they are in some sense fictions that effect a sublimation of reality, a substantiation of numbers, diagrams, sigils, abstract mathematical potentials, hooked up to the cerebral cortex, catalysing the manifestation of change through fiction. For more on Hyperstition one’s first port of call might be the CCRU collective writings. If you of course you already had an idea, I’ve just admittedly wasted your time, but I felt the need to provide some kind of rough definition here in the knowledge that many might find themselves reading this asking “what the hell is a hyperstition anyway?”.

What first struck me about this particular post of Fisher’s was how prescient it was regarding its discussions of populism, something that gained a lot of currency in recent years for obvious reasons, but the definition of which for most of us lies somewhere at the intersection of hazy and simplistic. Here he draws on both Lacan and Zizek [is there really a distiction? I kid], later Badiou, to outline an idea of the ways in which fiction works to feed into the esoteric system-matrices of capital, and the ways in which fiction could substantiate a path outside capitalism.

One of the aspects of the term post-truth that bothers me the most is its idealistic reification of past truths. It may not be inherent in any definition, but grafting the prefix post onto a word immediately insinuates that it refers to an aftermath, an aftermath suggesting a past, in this case a past defined by “truth”. It suggests that in some way, there was a point in time, perhaps not too long prior, where truth was more … truthy, when in reality I would suggest we are seeing a veil lifted on what we previously simply accepted as truth. We have reached a point in the history of capitalist social relation where the majority of us are intimately aware that politics is not the domain of truth, but of precariously constructed fictions. What we see are capitalist fictions manufacturing capitalist realities, and true to the mechanisms of capitalist realism and reflexive impotence we proceed to ignore this and accept it as the only state, beyond which there is nothing.

So when Fisher discusses the role of fiction in politics, we look beyond any rather surface level admonishing of “post-truth” posturing towards the more general issues with populism and its discontents. The issue is not so much the construction of fictions itself, but the fictions constructed, the inevitable material results of those fictions and the pull they exert on us. Turning to Zizek’s definition of populism;

“Zizek said, populism is inherently reformist, if not to say reactionary. Its fundamental fantasy is of an Intruder, or more usually a group of intruders, who have corrupted the system. Hence the problem is never the system, capitalism, but the oligarchy, this particular, lazy, exploitative bunch who happen to have control now. Once They are removed, everything will be alright… Hence populism always frame its project in terms of a series of demands addressed to the ruling elite.”

Here Fisher through Zizek hits upon a key point regarding the populist project, whatever form it may take, the fiction that takes the form of a singular ruling class, a monistic cause for whatever issues we want to address the overthrow of which is all that is required. Ignoring the systemic nature of capitalism, not to mention its consistently adaptive, mutative nature as outlined in Deleuze & Guattari, a populist anti-capitalism posits that we simply need to “eat the rich”, oppose the current oligarchs as if we are not all undergoing the very same re-institution of capitalist symbiosis that we see in them. 

This then, may be why the left often seems to remain at a standstill despite furious pedalling, constantly in a state of renewed opposition, this reduction of inherently widespread systemic webs into a singular, tiny aspect; the resignation of a small group of politicians, the replacement of one government with another. The populist “common people vs elites” framework atomizes he universal while negating its own identity by forming the core of its being around the nebulous proletarian ideal. The opinion of the “ordinary person”, the consensus fiction, is anything but a defined position, a mimetically shifting blank landscape upon which the populist imposes a canvas of their design, claiming a unique communion with the ordinary person and a unique opposition to Them. In this way, there can in theory always be a Them to oppose, even when the current group is replaced, populist demands are in essence never met.

Another key part of the piece arrives a little later during the first part;

“we can recognize the current political landscape as inherently populist. It is not only, as Zizek said, that populism (whether it be the ‘progressive’ populism of the anti-capitalist or anti-globalization movements or the reactionary populism of the fuel protesters or the Countryside Alliance) is the complement to administrative post-politics. It is that administrative post-politics is already itself populist.”

We now, in the wake of Trump, Brexit et al, seem to most strongly equate these outpourings of reactionary sentiment with populism, but something that hasn’t been talked about enough is that we cannot realistically restrict populism to these extreme currents, and it seems in the cold light of day that this form of populist current only replaced other populisms, the populism of the centre. For who was more populist than Tony Blair? The entire logic of the neoliberal shift of all parties, the advance of “administrative post-politics” is a populist attempt to demonstrate an affinity with the ordinary person, the bland template of a citizen they have envisioned as the core voting demographic. This is something close to the natural law of capitalism, the monochrome suited blank-faced image of the future, able to project any image it needs to in order to appeal to the majority, a formless fluid monster finding its way into channels and crevasses, squeezing through exits, manufacturing faces at an alarming rate. We are within its grasp through willful compliance, the rituals of libidinal image-production and commodity fetishism maintained through self-propagating fictions. 

So the question that needs to be asked is if there is any sense in which these fictions can be sloughed off, and the answer may at its root seem fairly obvious in a sense, that the way to will new fictions into existence would be to practice them. That to abandon old practices we must start acting out new ones. The key here is sublimation, as Fisher points out towards the end of the piece;

“Fiction ensures that things are not only themselves. Capital is the most effective sorcery operative on the planet at the moment because it is adept at transforming banal objects into a sublimely mysterious commodities. Trans-substantiation. The allure of the commodity arises from the non-coincidence of the object with itself. (cf Zizek’s famous analysis of the ‘nothingness’ of Coke.) Anti-capitalism needs to take the form not only of a demystifying, depressive desublimation but of the production of alternativemodes of sublimation.”

The heart of Fisher’s point here is that through our fictionalised, one might say virtual projection onto the world around us, we affect the underlying planes of reality by elevating them over the sum of their parts or substance. The issue at hand for any cause that defines itself against capital is not to reduce matter down to its purity, to see the world in starkly realist terms, but to alter the fictions we use to process materiality, a somewhat psychedelic conjuring of new forms, separate from the tired old rituals of a+b=c. 

This is the role of fiction in politics, when we strip back the meaningless appeals to authenticity, the blanket populism of the maddeningly boring centrist automata, the us vs them reactionary dynamic, all are fictions, systems of data and abstract images we become so familiar with we trick ourselves into the thought they’re more than they are, they are sublimated into almost divine modes, into entire realms indistinguishable from our own. We may be tempted to see capital itself, in all its fluidity and adaptability, as some untouchable shoggoth, even a god, but this is all to make the mistake of attributing to capital its own sublimation, to mythologise mere social relation and give in to one fiction over another. The deification of capital is a key part of the fictions that underpin it, the elevation of an abstract nothingness into an all-powerful entity through the performance of ritual. The observation that a deity’s existence is simply predicated on how many believe in it proves especially relevant here.

As we might observe, Capitalism doesn’t simply exist as an imposed set of directives from up high, there is no shadowy group of capitalists planning its expansion and evolution. It exists largely predicated on the rituals we perform, the abstract sense that capital is not only a series of apparatus governing the underlying real, but the underlying real itself. Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus how “Machines and agents cling so closely to capital that their very function appears to be miraculated by it”, and it is this fiction, this tethering of the underlying forces to the abstraction of capital, that now more than ever we must try to abandon, not through sheer opposition, or negation, but through acting out a new, different fiction. To cease focusing on the maps we have, the already chartered topologies of society, we must focus our efforts on new abstractions and potentialities lurking behind the tentacular writhing of capital, seen beyond the tears in its membrane. If, at this current moment, we find ourselves passing through a wormhole, over the threshold as it were, the heightening of abstraction, the testing of limits, the creation of new futures, is vital to the current moment. We must act out new fictions, abandon the old ones, and find a new potential.

The Weirdening

After a week of yet further political disarray in this somewhat cursed little island, I attempt to arrange my own thoughts into some uncharacteristically ordered fashion against my better judgement. The nature of these snippets and connections doesn’t really lend itself to clarity of purpose, my instinct is to just sprawl them over a page and mask them in metaphor or some other obfuscation. 

The ludicrous display of Brexit continues, each time it threatens to flatten into a normal state of affairs poking its putrid, rotten head above the parapet and giving us a wave, one of its fingers falling off in the process straight into a previously tempting bowl of porridge. There’s something interesting that’s been manifesting itself for me about our political predicament, and it might just be a symptom of my current concerns, but there’s a heavy dose of weirdness that defines it all. We are now seeing something intruding on a long period of widely perceived safety, where everything seemed to be running on autopilot.

Underneath this of course the forces underpinning the suffering, paranoia and anxiety of the late twentieth century simmered ominously and increased in pressure, and the obvious shortcomings of capitalism continued to broaden themselves as we conned ourselves into apathy. Even the left as a political force had effectively de-fanged and disarmed itself, forgetting its past days of spirited political ideals and eventually settling into an incredibly unexciting and ineffective role of somewhat beige opposition to a blindingly beige Conservative government. This point, arguably, may have been our most Jameson-esque moment, where his vision of a capitalism sliding into a rhythm of banal repetition really hit its peak, as everything mushed itself together into some vague blob of sociopolitical nothingness.

To use a worn out proverb, however, pride comes before a fall, and so it has proved, with the rather rapid collapse of the dangerously perched liberal edifice we happily resided within for a decade or more, faces locked in grins redolent of the assumption that we were headed towards enlightenment. Enlightenment eh? Fat lot of good that turned out to be when the chips were down, indeed the enlightenment itself providing a great deal of succour for those misguided souls who ramble on and on about “free speech” and “classical liberalism”, warping “enlightenment” itself something of a questionable concept, into some strange process of self-deluded ultra-rationality, manifesting itself as a group of people who unlike the rest of us had never passed their new atheist phase, simply transferring the rather shallow contrarianism of that “movement” into the political sphere.

Point is, the crumbling walls of the neoliberal fortress provide glimpses to the outside, and it’s scary out there. It comes leaking in through the cracks and we get a sense of the fragility of everything we have existed within for so long. Soon we get a sense that we will be falling straight into that shifting and uncertain current, and it’s a prospect so different from what we know that many of us are frantically trying to plug the gaps, keep this whole thing afloat despite the best efforts of gravity to pull us under. Let me be clear, the failure of neoliberalism isn’t a cause to crack out the champagne and celebrate, it isn’t some glorious victory and indeed allows just as much horror to creep in as joy, as we witness in the increasing boldness of the far right in recent years. It opens the playing field so wide that anyone can suddenly have a pop, something that america’s current president very much embodies, this sense that now anything can happen, so opportunists will jump at the chance to grab hold of the puppet strings. 

This all contributes to the weirdening of society, of politics, of modernity. There is a very distinct quality to both Trump and Brexit, that a great deal of us assumed they couldn’t happen. They were crossed from our minds as viable events, and so when they happened they were more than just a political or social shift, they represented this distinctly weird challenging of reality. Fixed axioms were blasted out, rules were shattered and a mist of uncertainty descended. A way to describe this would be as a kind of society-wide existential confrontation. We had to suddenly come to terms with the demon we thought a work of fiction standing in the fireplace grinning at us.

And while over time it is true that we almost started to settle, to become desensitised, it is notable that weeks like the last one, where the fragility of our government becomes so glaringly obvious, can even happen. It is terrifying in many ways, simply as we have to come to terms with the fact that our point in history is no more or less secure, important, fixed, comfortable, than any other. We stare into the infinitely complex possibilities beyond our carefully constructed horizons and, like a character in one of Lovecraft’s tales, we can’t comprehend what lies therein.

Strong Bloody Violence, Rebirth, The Inevitable Pull…

Some spoilers, perhaps.

The atmosphere in the cinema after seeing Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 re-imagining of Suspiria was notable.. many seemed entirely bemused, not sure what to make of the two-and-a-half hour art house horror epic, others somewhat stunned, others still engaged in animated and somewhat excited conversation. It very much reflected the intensely divisive reaction the film has been receiving in critical spheres, being both held up as a modern day masterpiece and torn apart as a bloated mess. It seems to be suffering from a particular kind of contagion in some respects, being an exceedingly strange, experimentally exuberant, difficult film that has been thrust into the limelight through being connected to its 1977 namesake and involving a number of high profile actors. Sure enough, people have flocked to see it, but many who wouldn’t usually touch a film like this with a twenty foot pole have wound up confused, maybe even angry or upset.

I should go ahead and say that I loved every minute of it. I fully accept that not everyone will agree with me by a long shot, but I found Suspiria the kind of out-there, bravura film-making many insist doesn’t happen anymore. It may very well be too long and over-the-top, it may be off-puttingly disturbing and violent for many, but the modernist-gothic of the visuals, the heady themes swirling around its centre and the utter creative ambition of it easily place it up there with the most unforgettable films I’ve seen in recent years.

In relation to the original Dario Argento classic, it quickly becomes clear that the term “remake” has been somewhat loosely used here if it applies at all. The film’s most disturbing setpiece involves the central character dancing in one room [and it must be said the choreography is absolutely magnificent] inter-cut with another dancer being violently thrown around the room, twisted and deformed by her movements. Without any real gore to speak of, it’s possibly the most effective piece of body horror I’ve seen in some time, hammered home by a slow shot of the hapless victim lying on the floor, limbs twisted into unspeakable positions. This seems redolent of the film itself, taking the basic skeleton of the original and deforming it, splaying it into a grotesque new form, a violent realignment of anatomy. The violence in the film may indeed seem overdone, especially when we reach the final Sabbath sequence, wherein by its end the screen is practically drenched in blood and viscera, but I think it’s fair to say its integral to what the film achieves.

By this I mean that violence and pain doesn’t just form the visual of the film, but a key element of its thematic thrust. From the political context if its setting [“Six acts and an epilogue set in divided Berlin”] leading towards something more deep-set and uncomfortable themes surrounding collective guilt and the violence perpetrated towards women throughout history. It would be a mistake I think to perfectly and neatly analyse it, cut the film up into nice little chunks to be wrapped up, labelled and understood… it deserves more than that, but the unmistakable thematic layers billow around it, bleeding into the atmosphere and underpinning the kind of feminine, even feminist mystique the film captures. At its very foundations, it subverts the dynamic of horror, placing us within instead of outside the witches coven, and digging into the history of witchcraft as something tied to the subjugation and division of powerful women. Witches, the occult, magic, were the other, inconvenient individuals to be disposed of, challenges to the status quo, and this political core to the history of magic and the occult is something that suspiria masterfully explores in its transposition onto Berlin wall era paranoia and unrest.

There is more, much more; undeniably there’s a parallel between the pain and violence of political change, personal rebirth, rebuilding… as if one were literally that dancer being torn apart in a mirrored room, reassembled, there’s abuse of power, refusal to listen, the value of collective empathy, all combining into one of the most intriguing and in many ways powerful feminist statements I’ve seen on screen, presenting us a feminism that lies beyond the boardroom, beyond slogans, and probes the very violence of being a woman in a world that seems to pay no heed to your suffering. 

I can’t guarantee you’ll like Suspiria, indeed I’m aware a good few people outright despise it, but for my money it was a artful, twisted, ambitious, relevant masterpiece of bravely excessive cinema that has continued to stay with me long after the credits rolled. It’s not something that can easily be laid out and picked apart, turned into a diagram, but it is a heavy and visceral, yet simultaneously patient and touching visual outpouring of feeling, a tribute to and portrait of injustice, violence, femininity, empathy, guilt, pain, beauty… it might not be a spooky Halloween fright-fest, but the fear it does contain is, in some sense, many times more uncomfortable.  

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.

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.