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Traversing the Fog of Perception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Non-Philosophy Notes 1

I drink a branded soft drink, from one can of billions manufactured worldwide every day, standing a building erected in the 19th century, watching a film made in the 1960s on a smartphone made in 2016. During the day I will consume items and culture from the past and the present and from countries spanning the globe. I will continue to assert some kind of identity through this consumption, some kind of construction founded upon a confusing and heady mixture of information chunks and mental patterns shifting in and out of focus as the world changes around me.

I have an idea of self, but no core, none of us can truly claim such a solid idea of who we are behind the layers of clothing and masks that form what we experience as a reality. This is the postmodern condition, a hyperreality of things where what is true and what is tangible is as difficult to place as where I was on this day six years ago, where hundreds of different identities suddenly mingle shoulder to shoulder and experience the difference of the world in simultaneously greater immediacy. Everything more immediate, more now, and yet immediacy breeds distance, information is here, and yet to process that information is to remove ourselves. Some say, for varying reasons that we are approaching some kind of end point, a level of saturation, and that we should either worry or hasten the end.

What if it has already happened? What happens if we are living within an aftermath of an event we didn’t even realise occurred? We might keep ourselves in a state of constant apprehension and expectation, but what happens if the true event isn’t the altering of our course but the lifting of the curtain. The more heightened things become the more evident its workings become, the more those systems work to cover them, the more we try to distract ourselves, the more we accept the state of events and centre ourselves around a future we are now certain will happen. As the late Mark Fisher once noted “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Capitalism”, and yet why do we seem to automatically assume it is always an end, is this our brain reading understandable patterns onto random occurrences? Is it really easy to imagine the end of anything? Does anything end?

Italian philosopher Emanuele Severino proposed an idea countering the common assumption that all things return to the nothing from whence they came, an Eternity of all Beings, a dismantling of the notion of becoming, a deconstruction of the notion of distance between being and non-being, the proposal that perhaps, being does not come and go, we do not come into being and then dissipate. Being in this model is a constant, a shifting eternal thing, something that can never become nothing. In this most heightened postmodern technological future of constant information feeds and digital preservation this notion seems to gain practical resonance. Of course the digital is the physical, civilization is nature and nothing is eternal, and yet.. even when things dissipate, they remain, ineffable but there, a thread of being.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here but maybe counter to the idea that the eternal has nothing to do with the postmodern it has everything to do with it, for if anything is eternal is it not the transient, the temporary? It is the contradiction of countering the all consuming narrative by proposing an all consuming narrative of non-narrative that must be made if we are to tackle the non-narrative flow of modern life and reach some kind of understanding of any kind concerning ourselves and the people around us, if not the planet we reside on. Is not contradiction another constant, uncertainty? Surely this non-modernist interpretation is in itself a solid foundation? The foundation upon which to dismantle every preceding foundation? The establishment of a model with which to critique all other models?

For this is the defining response to the postmodern condition, that of critique and dismantling, that of examination, that of resistance. It is not destruction, but a close observation and understanding that defines this, a drawing back of the veil. Social construction, an all encompassing one, an increasingly complex one, defines who we are and that cannot be undone, but if we become aware of the machinery by which it operates social construction can be shifted and crafted anew, and to achieve this perhaps I suggest we must operate somewhere outside the bounds of both philosophy and Praxis, at some intersection of method and theory where contradiction breeds affirmation.

To sit in a room and call it philosophy, then hope the room tells us something meaningful in response, it is entirely ineffectual as any meaningful way of moving forward, and so we reach a point where culture and philosophy compliment each other, the avant-garde and the experimental, those forms of expression that dismantle the excepted modes and create a poetic dissonance, an aesthetics of transgression in response to a stifling unanimity of cultural homogeneity. We must manipulate the very forms of critique and expression to serve as an effective tool of protest, protest at the mandates of socially conservative appeals to normality, to mundanity and banality. To encompass the staggering variation in our number, to recognise difference as an essential component we must endeavour to practice it and look outside the construction of acceptability and prejudice we have erected like a fortress to protect our most fragile works of power and artifice. 

It is with an act that defies the narrative we are provided that this fortress can be dismantled, block by block, an act of creative manipulation. An act of creativity as transgression, as a political and philosophical interrogation of what we consider true, real, natural, human, sane, ordered, normal. Both the artist and the philosopher, and the point where both intersect, are at a unique spot somewhere at the fringes of social change, not driving it per se, but operating outside the eye of the storm. This makes the area of creativity and philosophy far more valuable to us than commonly believed. Think of both as encompassing the role of social critic, of helping us probe and investigate our assumptions of how we live. If there’s one thing that is necessary in this age of information, shifting conceptions of truth and power, of unprecedented complexity and progress despite staggering inequality and exploitation, it’s that. The ability to be critical of the values that drive us, the hierarchies that constrain us, unpick the prejudices that dictate our decisions, take a closer look at what we consider normal and fair. The humanities, the social sciences, art movements harking back to Dadaism, the genuine spirit of experimentalism that drives free improvisation and conceptual art; these more than anything provide us with the tools to interpret this subjective postmodernist cornucopia of horror and riches. Thus, fundamentally, the artist, the philosopher, the critical theorist, the free spirit, they have a key role to play in the times to come. They have the power to speak up for outsiders and to transgress the social norms that define us. We may not have to look to the agents of order to iron out our differences, but the practitioners of chaos to celebrate them.