Categories
Archaeology of Cultural Space

Where is the Underground?

There is something of an autobiographical line following me in my work. Indeed, despite everything, I increasingly find that it is this element that anchors and grounds what I do, write and produce; not in the sense that everything begins to revolve around me, the pure individual me that’s supposed to exist within the human shell, but the environment, events, people and places that have informed and pasted it together.

I could go back to the point where as a child I travelled over to Britain from Germany, something that I am not old enough to remember but I have been acutely aware of, especially in the bureaucratic sense that I have grown up entirely in a place of which I am not a “citizen” on paper. This strange position where the only place I’m overly familiar with is somewhere where I’m on the verge of non-existence, where I cannot partake in general elections for example, and the ongoing issue of Brexit has only served to heighten that neither here-nor-there sense, that strange paradoxical feeling in the peripheries of my experience. The general sense is that I am being somehow exorcised from the body I have for the longest time acted within without recourse or thought, a cell within the bloodstream.

So my relationship to space has constantly been haunted by this transition; not only have I often been confronted by my own state of semi-erasure on paper, but the cultural and social centre of the 2000s and early 2010s struck me as something I didn’t want to be a part of, and so I actively, and no doubt often obnoxiously tied myself to the margins of taste. The reason for this still hadn’t become clear by the time I became somewhat attached to romantic images of intellectual post-war Paris in art school, or heavily invested in the militant experimentation of punk and post-punk after picking out a CD of Siouxsie and the Banshees Juju in HMV. It was a constant striving towards something other than the cultural objects offered on a platter, about as appealing as rotten fish. I didn’t realise all this time of course that there was something of a flickering strand connecting all these obsessions and interests, one connected it seems irrevocably with the empty core of postmodern cultural irony, the encroaching ubiquity of privatised capital and eventually the precarity of survival beneath it. What this strand represents was a yearning for a space that was constantly eluding my grasp; the post-punk period, post-war Paris or a host of other locuses of interest represented these spaces that I could not access, but which I frankly fantasised about. These were spaces soaked in the juices of an exciting experimental momentum where around me all I encountered were the encrusted delibidinizing icons of rock n roll, the uninspiring heritage roundabout where even interesting artists and musicians were reduced to a pastiche of veneration. These were all spaces of an underground which I wanted so desperately to find, but which seemed to only exist within the haze of times past, glances in the rear-view mirror as I drove forwards into the nerve-jangling grey metropolis.

So everything I do now seems to revolve somewhat around the question; where is the underground? Does it still exist in a meaningful sense or has it by now been entirely expunged and pressed out of the urban environments via endlessly replicating programmes of privatisation, gentrification, reduction, and corporate PR? I live in the city of Norwich, a curious example of a place which I would argue has long had an alternative with no underground. What I mean by this are the local music/art/other scenes that define themselves as being outside the centre, as being the “alternative” to mainstream fare, but which themselves are possibly even more repetitious and banal than the popular forms they avoid. In my experience, while its not that there’s nothing of any value in these spaces, its notable that there is no real underground behind it, no space of experimentation or militant forward momentum, no sense of an actual engagement beyond the typically painful ennui of postmodern detachment. What bleeds through is the struggle of detachment itself; we become unable to honestly immerse ourselves in anything, commit to it, without the self-reflexive wink that must surely follow, like the lover who can’t profess their love without first disowning it. We become terrified of the very possibility of ridicule so any expression must be filtered through a potentially infinite number of mediations, amplifications, walls… this isn’t to say that the only true culture is an unmediated one, the authentic spontaneous expression, which becomes a mere fetish object itself, but that culture effectively dies, grinds to a halt, at the point where the barrier to entry is reinforced. It reaches the point where all the alternative represents is a group of people trying desperately to make money from what they do, and cultural production as something that has the potential to change, move forwards, excite.. simply vanishes.

I realise this sounds like a grim prognosis without respite, and I’m not going to refute that; it is, and its supposed to be. Most rejections of such a picture I’ve seen come from the point of “there’s still innovative/good stuff out there!”, but that isn’t the point. Not only must we look beyond the mere metric of “good” or even “innovative”, but holding up a specific act or artist as if they immediately mean a trend is reversing tends to be a poor substitute for looking at cultural space itself. The point is that the space within which communes, collectives, and simply projects could once gather, the cracks and folds in the social fabric where artist squats and communities intersected with the dispossessed to form something we can meaningfully call an underground has been brutally suppressed. For capital, the underground has always been an inconvenience, the lingering idea that there could be something out there that was better, that we could in fact, have some kind of agency, could not stand.

The symbolic power of capital has never come from its capacity alone, the thing to realise is that there is no great enthusiasm for the mediocrity it provides. One of the most powerful parts of Mark Fisher’s Acid Communism introduction is the reversal, from anti-capitalism to the need for capitalism to systematically undermine its alternatives “with all its visored cops and tear gas”. This immediately puts into perspective the struggles of the past few decades of the underground to maintain itself against the distaste of the centre, from the onward march of gentrification to the creeping sprawls of luxury apartments which seem to be bit by bit replacing every empty spot, every space of potential, every last vestige… The mistake that we make is to assume that in our every day existence, in the culture we consume and produce and the way we navigate the space in which we live, the most banal details, that we don’t have to “pick sides”; the illusion, far beyond the halls of Westminster, is that peoples lives are a neutral centre, when we have to realise that it is precisely lives that are at stake, that are the site of conflict. When we move from country to city, we do more than search for “success” or “prosperity”, we submit ourselves to a process of human movement, what Braudel termed “Transhumance” that forms the shifting boundaries and territories of the space itself, and ultimately the drawing of battle lines between the centre and the peripheries.

Lefebvre uses the phrase the Dialectic of the Lived and the Concieved, and at the beginning of her book on the Paris Commune Communal Luxury Kristin Ross emphasises how within this action precedes thought, that it is “the creative energies and excess of the movement itself” that dreams and ideas are generated. Therein lies the importance of Spatial Practice; Lefebvre states –

“The spatial practice of a society secretes that society’s space; it propounds and presupposes it, in a dialectical interaction; it produces it slowly and surely as it masters and appropriates it. From the analytic standpoint, the spatial practice is revealed through the deciphering of its space.”

Here we have both this preceding of thought via action and deciphering of action via thought that co-exists with space. Passing through this refraction we can see in sharp relief how the stark realities of class conflict might emerge through the vicissitudes and violence of every day life, in ritual and attitude. The way in which our co-dependency and co-creation in the name of Capital produces the battlefield within which any kind of slippage is quickly stamped on, sliced off the whole if it cannot be incorporated into it. It is these abstractions that exist at a somewhat unconscious level through which the violence of destitution and homelessness, of dispossession and loss of life are generated. We produce the space of capital even as it produces us.

So here it comes to space, and the necessity of a space for an underground culture to inhabit. Where are we to go when we seek something else, where indeed when we want to find people who share our passions, or when we want to combine forces, to experiment? Much has been said about the value of boredom regarding culture, the importance of suburban existence in generating the militant expressions of post-punk for example, but the point here rests upon there being somewhere to go. While the boredom of a suburb, or even a village, may drive us towards underground expressions, a search for something to break us out of the loop, increasingly the space to conduct these expressions simply isn’t there, or cannot be found. For a moment I myself thought I’d found something like it online, but after some time it fell apart into a pile of orthodoxies. The issue here may be the attempt to create an underground subculture without the space to really maintain it. And so we return to Lefebvre’s point that an alternative system cannot come into being without an alternative space, and this in turn without an alternative spatial practice.

So is this ultimately a search for an underground or do I intend to issue an injunction to bring it into being? The truth encompasses both, and leads into the notion that’s become increasingly potent in contemporary futurisms and discussions around alternatives that the future we want to create is not so much a potential in time, but in space. Jameson’s characterisation of Utopia in the final paragraph of Valences of the Dialectic comes to mind –

“It would be best, perhaps, to think of an alternate world— better to say the alternate world, our alternate world—as one contiguous with ours but without any connection or access to it. Then, from time to time, like a diseased eyeball in which disturbing flashes of light are perceived or like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one, we are reminded that Utopia exists and that other systems, other spaces, are still possible. “

This other space in this context is something I’d er away from calling a Utopia, but the move from the temporal to the spatial here is important in our capacity to not only excavate and discover but build an alternative. If we are to rediscover a sense of subculture against the all-consuming high rise corporate battalions of the contemporary city, it can be thought of not as time travel, but as archaeology, the unearthing of something that lies under the paving stones, the back alleys, the cracks in the concrete. In the traces found around us we can feel our way out of the decay, and even move towards something of a re-purposing and warping of the ruins, subterranean distortions that re-orient our bearings and create a new way of acting and being, a future urban practice and cultural underground, the imperative again to re-invent, to destroy itself, to revolutionize. Perhaps, in the reflections and immaterial forms perceived in empty shop windows, or the decay of abandoned lots, the echoes of the revolution can still be heard...

An eerie cry from another world mingles with the silence of a dead city, the motionless forms stand, empty vessels..

Categories
Uncategorized

Beyond Capitalist Horizons: Future Interfaces

2D46J copy

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.

 

Categories
Uncategorized

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.

Categories
Uncategorized

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.

Categories
Uncategorized

Machine Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Uncategorized

DISRUPT

Don’t hate the media; become the media 

Jello Biafra, The Dead Kennedys

Noise. It’s just noise, shouting, it’s ugly, it’s not music. These sentiments have grown so long in the tooth through constant repetition that they have in some respects been reduced to an exaggerated cliche, something that an older family member might exclaim stumbling upon you listening to some modern, avant-garde, transgressive, even trashy or popular music. These cultural objects are often ridiculed or sidelined, thought of as distasteful, strange, pretentious, simply outside the boundaries of what is considered acceptable at the collective dinner table. This transgression of aesthetic form is, to a certain extent, inevitable. Once a standard is set, it will be flaunted, and once a culture is established, given the room a counterculture will thrive. This is a distinct push and pull that established itself probably most prominently in the twentieth century, from the rebellion of rock and roll, the breaking down of musical form in jazz, the wacked out drug haze of the 60s, the telegraphed chaos of punk, the wild inventiveness of the post-punk 80s leading all the way to the establishment of hip-hop, in many ways a natural bedfellow to the punk and post-punk underground. But what if this narrative/counter-narrative we have come to be familiar with no longer holds true? What happens when the counterculture becomes culture and the rebellion splinters?

This is why, perhaps, some have noted the lack of a notable current of counterculture in the 21st century. It is not, as I will be only too happy to point out, that punk is dead, that there is nobody out there treading the furrow of resistance or stepping off the beaten path, but something far more embedded within the aesthetics of information and our relationship with the past and future. The wild abandon with which we once tried to strike out into the unknown has, at some stage, dwindled and stammered to a halt, and culture now appears somewhat horizontal. Rather than a bold gathering of souls excavating for unrefined nuggets of untested sound and vision, we have arrived at some kind of impasse, a cavern of riches at our feet, but no clear path forward. We are left to do what we can in this space, but there is a pervading sense that the immediacy felt during that initial push through the rock face is no longer with us.

The term Hauntology was coined originally by everyone’s favourite post-structuralist Derrida in his work Spectres of Marx, referring to a disjunct, a haunting of something that seems to be by what was and will be, in the same way a word in a sentence cannot be understood fully without referring to the words, grammatical structures and punctuation immediately preceding and following it. Mark Fisher developed this idea to concern our obsession with nostalgia and the idea of a “slow cancellation of the future” under neoliberal, postmodern society, which leads to a certain “suspended” vision of future worlds. In this view, society is being “haunted” by past versions of its future, a future it failed to deliver but to which we still cling. It is a sense that instead of envisioning new futures, we become engaged in a cyclical repetition of our past; while technologies progress to unprecedented levels, they are simply leveraged to reproduce the past in new and more advanced ways.  

How does this relate then, to the lack of immediacy in contemporary counterculture? Simply put, that excitement and sense of new-ness that defined a lot of the most daring counter-cultural moments has dissipated with our drive for the future. Admittedly I am too young to have experienced this era myself, but listening back to the sounds, getting a sense of the atmosphere that hung around the uniquely alien experiments of post-punk bands and collectives, it feels as if, almost in an ironic response to the sex pistols lyric, there absolutely could be a future, one that we built. The futures of cataclysmic and deconstructed soundscapes generated during this period however cascaded from the nexus of punk just as the aesthetics of counter-culture more obviously began a decent into trite commodification. The image many conjure when one mentions punk is one that has become comically ironic in its subservience and appropriation by the capitalist hierarchy it supposedly raged against. It is perfectly encapsulated by a story I remember the marvellous St Vincent telling during a concert on her encounter with Mark Stewart, the lead singer of post-punk avant agitators the Pop Group. He hands her a hair brush modelled on Sid Vicious, and says “This is what’s become of punk”.

The Sid Vicious hairbrush is in many respects a perfect analogy for the appropriation and commodification of counter-culture aesthetics. The kind of revolt one might find in an art gallery is often a revolt in appearance only; one might see in it the words “fuck the Tories” or purposeful scribbling on top of beauty magazines, or some such gesture, but ultimately this is counter-culture designed to feed back into the culture it counters, a cavalcade of imagery that is vaguely reminiscent of punk and rebellions of the past but stops there, refusing to forgo the appeal of the mainstream and aiming itself squarely at the feet of suited businessmen looking to pick up on the “next big thing”. Similarly one might point to the punk aesthetics now found in many brands and fashion accessories for sale on the high street. This is punk de-fanged, rendered harmless by the shifting unknowable of capitalist ideology and put to use in the machinated cyber-cacophony of modern consumer ontology.

Is all lost then? Is counter-culture, as they say, dead? Have they found the body? If so, when will they conduct the postmortem, find the cause of death? Was it suicide or murder? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and assume something is dead merely because we can’t make out its outline in the darkness. Counter-culture, as I hinted earlier, is still very much alive, it must simply take on other forms in lieu of its splintering and subsummation, and the loss of hope in further worlds beyond capitalism under the neoliberalist program. It seems to us that culture has somewhat flattened out in this moment, suspended in animation and haunted by constantly repeated echoes of its past. “Is there anything new on this earth?” we are tempted to ask in a world of revivalism and re-appropriated images of lost worlds. 

In light of this question, I think it’s prudent to remind ourselves that the Sex Pistols, one of the most revered groups of Punk, forming almost a shibboleth of the movement in their adoration, were manufactured. They may have struck upon a counter-cultural current, but a large part of their aesthetic and their actions were no more “sincere” than the generated backstage banter of a boy band. They were in some respects (some might take some serious issue with this, but I’ll just take the heat) the Monkees of the punk generation. The commodification of counter-culture, its use to generate capital rather than rebel against its apparatus, is no new phenomenon, and in many ways has simply become easier with our removal from the immediacy of its origins. Our focus on 1977 has cast an immense shadow on the almost more exciting sounds of proto and post-punk, as well as some of the work being done by recognised but far less influential figures on both sides of the Atlantic.

What to do now, in this suspended time, this horizontal plane? In this age of seemingly unlimited digitisation, technology, information, connectivity, we almost are trapped in a cybernetic extension of reality and placated by our own access to these riches. Our connection to these streams seems somehow to introduce a distance between us and any real sense of urgency, as if we begin to think of time as limitless. Of course what we see before us is never limitless, but given the illusion, it’s hard to think there’s any kind of immediate need to fight back, to push forward into the unknown, to confront the void. We sit back and happily consume as if the vast stretches of eternity lay before us, thinking always “I’ll do that tomorrow” “We’ll do that tomorrow”. Information technology becomes, in a way the perfect acceleration of neoliberalism, atomising us to almost unprecedented levels, placing each of us within our own suspended reality, an augmented cyberspace acting as an extension of ourselves. We feel connected yet each of us sit staring at our own screen in our own room somewhere. We are more connected than ever in theory, but more alienated from each other in practice, a contradiction that serves the politico-economic interests of our time. 

The difficulty comes from trying to reach past this and achieve a sense of immediate connection with this fractured, splintered mess that is the modern world and salvage the exploded shards of our past ideals to disrupt the flow of information anew. If there’s something good that can be said about the recent waves of political unrest, it has, if all goes well, provided something of a reality check for many of us who were under some impression that the world would simply carry on as it was, problems would be ironed out, that capitalism might actually deliver on this future it had been promising us since the tail end of the 80s. This illusion was, for many of us, shattered, as soon as the neoreactionaries made themselves known, as soon as the distorted, surreal ascendancy of a blundering puppet to one of the most powerful seats on earth. That it took these things to happen for us to realise political action and criticism of the capitalist orthodoxy were necessary speaks to how strongly the atmosphere of capitalist realism embedded itself in our lives, how much we took solace in illusions and mirages that continuous progress was a given, that the future would arrive, one day.

An urgency of some kind can now be felt again, to some degree, though if it can be maintained is another matter. It is doubtless the case that for a meaningful disruption of the core to happen, we would have to take our actions beyond the confines of social media melancholy, but aesthetically it’s my belief a real pushback could occur in the coming decades. While many still hold that despite all the negatives, this must be the best we have, and much of the left of this persuasion are mired in outdated concepts of revolution, I think creatively we have all the tools at our disposal to counter the ideological apparatuses that exploit, divide, trap and isolate us. Those of us who create, who experiment effectively have the ability to disrupt the radio signal, to counter the stifling inanity of this suspended corporate version of society with noise. As potential critics of this consumerist ontology, we can be the ones to counter it, to point out its absurdities. Noise is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than a simple rejection of taste, it is a tool of resistance. An aesthetics of capitalist banality, of unending repetition and cyclical generation of norms, must encounter an aesthetics of disruption.