Pulp-Geomancy and other Failures

I discovered recently to my great [pleasant] surprise that Simon Reynolds over at blissblog had shouted out this very site in his recent brief reflection on a remarkable 18 years of blogging and the final winding down of Bruce Sterling’s long-running Wired blog Beyond the Beyond. It’s taken a while for whatever I do here, and it is probably somewhat correct to call it a kind of public notebook, to find a voice that doesn’t simply feel like a stolen echo of others, but at the risk of being wrong in another years time, it’s starting to seem that way. A few posts ago I spoke somewhat ambiguously about the relative failure of the blogosphere, or at least its descent into undeath, and this has brought be back to those thoughts.

Like SR I too have to confess to a continued belief in the blog. Not so long ago on this site I wrote a perhaps ambiguous reflection on the successes and failures of the blogosphere, and it still stands, but I will reiterate that I think blogging is worth it. This is true for me, personally, and I like to hope it is more broadly, as a form which enables more than any other the ability to sketch and engage with ideas with a more freewheeling and discontinuous sensibility than the academy may allow. It might be true that the earliest posts on here are a matter of embarrassment to me now, and I doubt they contain much I’d release into the ether today, but I’m in no doubt that I would never have encountered and engaged with a great number of avenues without this place in which to publicly “dump” them. Keeping up a blog, even when it hasn’t been as regular as I’d like, has allowed a kind of slicing, copying, and pasting together a great deal more interesting an invigorating as a way of “doing theory” than the more reserved methods I’ve attempted before. The blog allows us to scout out territories that might otherwise remain closed off to us. At least, when it works.

If there’s something that I think has reminded me of this lately, and if I’m honest the reason I took an interest in all of this stuff to begin with, it was listening back to Robin MacKay’s lecture “On the Possibility of a Pulp Philosophy” for the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy. Mark Fisher’s notion of a pop, or pulp modernism, has become a key discursive leitmotif for me, something that draws a lot of my specific interests and writings together. This was heightened for me via this particular lecture, especially after reading through the discussed Dialectic of Pop by Agnes Gayraud around the new year. The notion of pop’s vicissitudes, and the heretical but powerful notion that rather than watering down or simplifying complexity or strangeness, pop can heighten or intensify it, feels like a kind of subterranean thread that’s followed me for sometime, but that I’ve only really been able to draw out in the last two years or so.

It is however, beset by tension. There is, at least I like to think so, a difference between what I’d like to achieve and Alain De Botton’s “philosophy as glorified self help” method, in which not only philosophy, but culture, is championed as a form of meditation, a way to escape your problems and find meaning in life. The problem here is obvious; not only does it flatten theory and culture, jettison the parts of it that might rub us the wrong way, but it frees us of the necessary obligations that these concerns provide. It is when something becomes kneaded ruthlessly into the doughy truth of timeless wisdom that it ceases, ironically, to be of much help to the problems at hand. This is where the concept of “inquietude” becomes a key ingredient, the notion that, rather than a calming lake of truth, philosophy is here as a churning ocean of malfeasance, something that might pick apart our brains rather than put them back together.

This goes beyond making fun of School of Life however; at some point a few months back I was watching a long conversation between Ian Hamilton Grant and Ray Brassier, and a brief comment from Brassier stuck with me, where he succinctly described Liberalism as the belief that all antagonisms can be resolved. In the midst of a dense [but worthwhile] exchange on Hegel and Schelling, this stood out, not just because of it’s simplicity, but because it acknowledged so effectively the link between ontology and politics. This is of course an area of great conflict, and it wouldn’t be amiss to point out here that there is an ongoing problem with ontology being conjured out of politics. To link ontology and politics is merely to acknowledge that our ontological and political positions can’t exist autonomously from one another, that the latter must, in some way, lead on from or line up with, the latter.

So, to lead on from Brassier’s brief remark, Liberalism revolves around a distaste for conflict and the notion that every problem arises from antagonism. The issue of Racism for example, is simply an issue that can be smoothed away if we all just act a bit nicer to one another. Politics should be less tribal, we should solve political issues through rigorous debate and win people over to our side. All of these are preceded by the ejection of real conflict, the assumption that underneath the political we really are all in the same boat, that there are no discernible material conflicts beyond the fact that one person dislikes another, Left and Right are just words, it’s all relative, one pure, smooth continuity; the existential arguing of politics out of existence.

Central to all of this is the break, the fracture, tension and disquiet; in effect, there is a potential in culture and philosophy to exacerbate these fractures rather than simply paper them over, to pass into and through manias and conflicts rather than slicing them out of the picture. Take them away, and you are left with said soft, doughy substance, something that seems profound but just sits there provides some kind of solace. Life doesn’t change, it just goes on, the most we can do for you is make it more bearable. Rather, I strive to exacerbate and transform those unbearable seams of discontent, twisting them into a kind of fractured pulp geomancy, a conjuring built from a bolting together of disparate figures, philosophies and traces.

This is, in part at least, the benefit of writing in the perpetually unfinished, fragmentary form of the blog. It allows you, at its best, to conduct a kind of massive online derive, a slicing through boundaries and reconstituting the chronologies and navigation, opening up close channels and reigniting dulled flames. The reason we might still champion the blog is similar to the reasons philosophers have often championed the aphorism, the value of journals and magazines, in any format in which we find some kind of loosely “curated” [though I’m loathe to use that term] crossover of articles and sections. The benefit of the blog however is that, as a kind of public sketchbook/diary/chronicle it is never beholden to the same rules.

Is it a failure? It’s true enough that the blogosphere somewhat appears to have disintegrated, and it’s more tempting now to identify a loose collection of separate blogs than confidently assert that they constitute some kind of textual rhizome in which ideas are thrown around and exchanged. Perhaps however, it is correct to say this is more to do with a kind of mutation of internet sensibilities than anything, in which the blog has often become increasingly sidelined. Blogging, unfortunately, can also lead to a kind of blog-solipsism in which we accrue and attribute a host of reflexive assumptions, or attempt to jam everything into the framework of a blog-post whether it fits or not. This is definitely something I’ve struggled with at times and the reason I’ve held back on posting something I initially thought a great idea. Regardless, I think the blog still holds great value and promise regarding my own ideas and trajectory and I still gladly espouse to anyone who wants to listen the benefits of having this place to write beyond yourself and hash out your wildest imaginings…

I hope to delve into some music-based posts soon, but before then I felt like getting this out of my system, and last but not least expressing my thanks to those who consider what I do here worthy of some kind of attention.

Current Affairs Updates

Quarantine Dream

“Well this was unexpected” I say to myself in strangely vertiginous moment of calm. But then this exclamation is followed by a doubt, a question, was it? Was a global pandemic like this ever actually that far away, isn’t it true that for some time now it has been reasonable to suspect a crisis of some magnitude to befall the global economy, virus or no virus? The possibility of a normality-shattering crisis has lain at some indistinct moment arguably for a decade now. It was a question of when, not if it would arrive.

This doesn’t really do as much as we’d like to think to prepare us for its moment of arrival. As Jodi Dean observed poignantly on Twitter, no amount of dystopian fiction prepares you for the sadness of collapse, and in this vein no amount of theory prepares you for the events of history to play out in front of your eyes. Perhaps there is something of this to the immediate and widely derided responses of various theorists, from Agamben to Badiou, not to mention the almost impossibly fast announcement of a new book by Zizek on the coronavirus pandemic. Where do these academics of varying fame find themselves in the progression of events? Arguably, nowhere. They, like the rest of us, are simply swept up within them, whether they are pantomime performer or lecturer. Their comments, while previously more welcome, now have a tendency to come off as hackneyed, detached responses from people who have spent too long staring at the same piece of paper. Sure, we could apply the analysis that holds the virus as the confrontation of capital with its suppressed Real, and perhaps it holds, but in some sense, it all seems to be a bit obvious, and more to the point it tells us nothing of how to handle it, how to proceed from this moment, even the minutiae of living under it.

Part of the problem with tackling events this time around is quite how simultaneously real and unreal they seem, evoking in one breath a million fictional pandemics, zombie outbreaks and collapse scenarios, but in its horrifying, alienating reality outstripping any of them. Only a month ago, the idea Europe would now be in an effective quarantine scenario would have sounded outlandish, more like some kind of alternative history series than current affairs. The notion that nothing really happens here, that epidemics, wars, social collapse are things that happen in other places, the “third world”, had set in deeper than we could possibly imagine, a bubble of western exceptionalism that was inexplicably supposed to keep us safe from the ravages of the world. There was never really any reason to think that “normality”, as in the rhythms and flows of daily life, would continue unabated indefinitely, even if its sudden imposition means that the eventual disruption was nigh impossible to plan for.

All of this means in all likelihood that a lot will have changed on the other side of this crisis, the co-ordinates will shift, in fact they already have [What Brexit?] but it’s entirely unclear at this stage to whose benefit and to what end. It’s possible, yes, that the floor may be opened for a number of previously maligned socialist policies and ideas, but just as likely, indeed the pessimist in me suggests more so, that the far right will gain more from all this. It’s not hard to see how an argument for hard borders can be constructed from the emergence of the pandemic, as much as for UBI or other measures. The left should be careful in our pronouncements, and remind ourselves of the current stakes of power. While the virus and its reaction is demolishing our unchecked notions of capitalist normality, in some quarters it only seems to be more fuel for the fire of anti-leftist contempt. In light of all this, before any grand calls for building a utopia from the ashes, I will hold my tongue. Reality is too violent and mercurial to fashion as we would wish.

And so I’m left to read through the rest of Adorno’s Minima Moralia, a text that I’m finding takes on a strange relevance at a time like this. Adorno’s famous miserablist outlook, aphorism after aphorism, seeming to make a morbid degree of sense in the current climate. That famous quote of his from a Spiegel interview has come back to me repeatedly. Two weeks ago, the world seemed in order, well, not to me… I don’t mean, and I doubt Adorno did, to single myself out for some kind of special awareness here, but something Adorno really strikes at, more than a lot of Marxist thinkers I’ve read, and even in his most questionable moments, is the horror and death that not only lies underneath but facilitates our comfort. It’s why, while I understand our wish in these situations for a return to normal, that it would all go away, this wish is also predicated on a kind of exceptionalism. We expect to live in a bubble for which others must die. Not only this, but their deaths are invisible, buried, easily ignored. The kind of stark inequality and societal violence that oils the cogs in the quotidian monolith of capitalist routine becomes a horror we can’t collectively turn away from at times like this. Society returns with a vengeance in conditions of isolation.