In the ‘Collapse‘ addendum to ‘State Decay‘, invoking the Ccru’s “Flatline Materialism”, I wrote:

I didn’t use the patchwork face of Frankenstein’s monster to illustrate [‘State Decay’] for reasons of aesthetic facetiousness alone. The monster is precisely an example of uprooted Unlife, absolute betweenness, artificial death thanatechnically instantiated that horrifies Frankenstein as the “father” of something made in his bastard image. Patchwork is the bastard image of the state which [it] is born of [whilst] also [threatening] its imperial authority. Horror is its natural aesthetic mode [as it is of modernity in general] but, again, as Fisher writes [in ‘The Weird and The Eerie‘]: “[Terrors] are not all there is to the Outside”.

The Modern Prometheus is often considered to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of experimental science but, as soon as it was first published, Shelley’s novel provided many commentators with a monstrous image for exploring the coupled excitement and danger of an experimental politics.

Shelley herself was deeply influenced by the writings of her mother, the pioneering proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Many early political readings of Frankenstein, in light of Shelley’s maternal heritage, were explicitly Marxist, framing Frankenstein’s monster as an image of a proletarian man to come, transformed by the horrors of industrialised labour into a patchwork Borg-like figure of man-machinery.

(Alternatively, rejecting the transhumanist horror of the Borg, I can’t help but think of Kraftwerk’s affirmation of the fraternal same, famously depicted on the cover of Die Mensch-Maschine).

However, it was the father of modern Conservatism, Edmund Burke, who appropriated the image of the monster most famously (and ironically).

Wollstonecraft herself had clashed with Burke, writing A Vindication of the Rights of Man in response to Burke’s mourning of the French monarchy following the revolution of the 1790s, fuelling the “pamphlet war” in Britain over the validity of our own monarchy. Burke nevertheless later bastardised Wollstonecraft’s daughter’s Gothic creation: “A State without a religion is like a human body without a soul, or rather like an unnatural body of the species of the Frankenstein monster, without a pure and vivifying purpose.” Here, the decomposition of the State without religion, nonetheless “alive”, is seen as abhorrent in the framework of Burke’s Conservatism.

It sounds quite appealing to me.

What must be noted about Frankenstein in particular, and likewise in Wuthering Heights, is that, like so many other Gothic novels, it has, at its heart, a chase; a twisted Gothic line of flight; a pursuit of thanatoidal desire. Frankenstein’s monster, fleeing the regret of his “father”, ends up at the North Pole, journeying to the limits of both the earth and of thought. The thing desired, in this way, is always an-other, pursued “abstractly” rather than directly, beyond life and death, possession and pleasure.

The lines that Frankenstein and his monster take, likewise Jonathan and Dracula in that other Gothic (Yorkshire-based) classic, carve up space negatively across the globe. Elsewhere, in Wuthering Heights, Catherine and Heathcliff carve up the uninhabitable locality in which they are nonetheless embedded: the Yorkshire moors. Existing at the edge of the boundaries of bio-socio-political life, trying to push through to another side, these bastard creations run amok.

(As an aside, Heathcliff is, of course, not Gothically “created” like Frankenstein or Dracula but he is nonetheless an orphan and a “gypsy” (a nomad), outside the State, brought into the Family to run amok within its confines.)

Each of these examples, putting positive and negative conceptions of territorial carving to one side, pursue lines of “streaming, spiralling, zigzagging, snaking, feverish… variation”.

Deleuze and Guattari write:

The organic body is prolonged by straight lines that attach it to what lies in the distance. Hence the primacy of human beings, or of the face: We are this form of expression itself, simultaneously the supreme organism and the relation of all organisms to metric space in general. The abstract, on the contrary, begins only with what Worringer presents as the “Gothic” avatar. It is this nomadic line that he says is mechanical, but in free action and swirling; it is inorganic, yet alive, and all the more alive for being inorganic. … Heads (even a human being’s when it is not a face) unravel and coil into ribbons in a continuous process; mouths curl in spirals. Hair, clothes… This streaming, spiralling, zigzagging, snaking, feverish line of variation liberates a power of life that human beings had rectified and organisms had confined, and which matter now expresses as the trait, flow, or impulse traversing it. If everything is alive, it is not because everything is organic or organized but, on the contrary, because the organism is a diversion of life. In short, the life in question is inorganic, germinal, and intensive, a powerful life without organs, a Body that is all the more alive for having no organs, everything that passes between organisms (“once the natural barriers of organic movement have been overthrown, there are no more limits”).

Entangling this with Burke’s logic, we can see the State, bound by degrees by religion and/or the monarchy, as a diversion of the life of politics. The borders of the State must be perforated, internally and externally, so that life might once again flourish in all its variances.




Lovers’ Flight: The Gothic Line in ‘Wuthering Heights’

All round the horizon there is this same line of sinuous wave-like hills; the scoops into which they fall only revealing other hills beyond, of similar colour and shape, crowned with wild, bleak moors — grand, from the ideas of solitude and loneliness which they suggest, or oppressive from the feeling which they give of being pent-up by some monotonous and illimitable barrier, according to the mood of mind in which the spectator may be. [1]

The peak moment of my late teen tradgoth sensibilities was, without a doubt, smoking a roll-up with a friend in the graveyard of St Michael and All Angels’ Church in Haworth, having ditched our party whilst on a school trip.

We had come to visit the parsonage, next door, once home to the Brontë family.

I remember, despite trying to act all moody and aloof, how cool I thought it was, in the way it did not seem to sit comfortably in time and space. This is something all tourist attractions have in common, perhaps, but there was more to it than this. The rooms of the otherwise sizeable parsonage felt claustrophobic and small; the village graveyard unnervingly overcrowded whilst the moors stretched out, empty, all around us.

The name of the village itself is said to mean “hedged enclosure“.

In my English class, we had been studying the Gothic novel, reading Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, opting for a trip to Haworth over that more famous North Yorkshire parish: Whitby was perhaps too overcoded by its own vampiric tourist industry for our purposes — it is difficult to penetrate the noise. Haworth itself, of course, also has a tourist industry, but we saw little of this. We were bussed directly to the parsonage and back out again, entering an enclosure within an enclosure.

Standing in the graveyard, the fact that Wuthering Heights (along with the rest of the Brontë sisters’ output) had come out of this place was not a surprise to me in that moment. There were ghosts — material and immaterial, and others somewhere in between — every which way you looked.

In her preface to the novel, Charlotte Brontë, pseudonymously editing the text for a second edition following Emily’s untimely death, apologises to the non-Yorkshireman for what they are about to read. Some critics argue that, through her edits, Charlotte hoped to make the horrors imagined by her wyrd sister more palatable to the Brontë family’s audience: England’s well-to-do and well-read city-folk. Whatever her intentions, Charlotte rightly forewarns those from more mannered climes that “in the West-Riding of Yorkshire are things alien and unfamiliar”. [2]

Continue reading “Lovers’ Flight: The Gothic Line in ‘Wuthering Heights’”

Cambridge Analytica

“[Steve Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.” [via]

According to our new Guardian whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, this is a central tenet of the so-called Breitbart doctrine: “If you want to change politics, you first have to change culture, because politics flows from culture.”

The Left has been saying as much for half a century too, if not longer, and yet remains surprised when, despite all its endless books talking about it, capitalism finds more effective and cunning ways to capture these flows.

Watching this interview has got me leafing through Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man again. Here’s some choice cuts:

Just as people know or feel that advertisements and political platforms must not be necessarily true or right, and yet hear and read them and even let themselves be guided by them, so they accept the traditional values and make them part of their mental equipment. If mass communications blend together harmoniously, and often unnoticeably, art, politics, religion, and philosophy with commercials, they bring these realms of culture to their common denominator — the commodity form. The music of the soul is also the music of salesmanship. Exchange value, not truth value counts. On it centers the rationality of the status quo, and all alien rationality is bent to it.

Describing to each other our loves and hatreds, sentiments and resentments, we must use the terms of our advertisements, movies, politicians and best sellers. We must use the same terms for describing our automobiles, foods and furniture, colleagues and competitors-and we understand each other perfectly. This must necessarily be so, for language is nothing private and personal, or rather the private and personal is mediated by the available linguistic material, which is societal material. But this situation disqualifies ordinary language from fulfilling the validating function which it performs in analytic philosophy. “What people mean when they say … ” is related to what they don’t say. Or, what they mean cannot be taken at face value — not because they lie, but because the universe of thought and practice in which they live is a universe of manipulated contradictions.



Notes on our Global Civil War

Bifo has a new essay up on Verso today in which he diagnoses civil war as “a global trend, spreading at various degrees of intensity in many countries of the world.”

However, the American case is particularly interesting as two phenomena are meeting there at particularly acute angles: the privatisation of war and weaponry, and psychotic epidemics.

He takes up Trump’s response to this year’s latest string of mass shootings in the US:

Trump’s argument here is mind-boggling: as lot of people are mentally disturbed in this country, says Trump, we need more weapons in order to kill them in case they try to kill us. Nevertheless there is some truth in these hypocritical words: by themselves, easy weapons do not explain the manslaughter. The malady here is deeper. It concerns social subjectivity itself.

Bifo’s argument is, by any other name, another diagnosis of the coming anarchy; of our patchworks to come. The essay’s alignment with the conversation currently unfolding on Twitter and the blogosphere is obvious.

What we are now seeing, he says, is “a clash of incompatible cultures that do not, and cannot, belong in the same political universe”, echoing recent takes from Land on the timeline.

Civil war is the name we give to this incompatibility. Civil war is not only the name of what is going on right now in the United States of America, but also, in changed forms, what is happening in the EU and the United Kingdom. Brexiteers and remainers are not two political parties that may eventually find a common ground of democratic government, they are two cultural armies that for the next generation will diverge more and more. Across the world, as political government is replaced by automatic governance, the very sphere of social intercourse is collapsing.

Patchwork has an explicitly anti-colonial vector (yet to be properly excavated) and these failing processes are inherent to coming instances of state decay.

The background of the present internal decaying political order in the Northern hemisphere, and the return of racism on a massive scale, is the inability to deal with the end of modernity, and to confront the great migration, and the legacy of centuries of colonialism, exploitation and devastation. Civil war in the white countries is the other side of the same coin.

Bifo raises an interesting point about the role that the gun debate will play in any coming American patchwork, as has been tentatively explored a few times on the timeline. Deleuze, of course, saw America as the country where patchwork was most likely to be instantiated and it is arguably the unifying and paradoxically stellified United States Constitution that has undone most of this potential.

As laws come to resemble immovable statutes in the face of global change, it is instead the social subject that is changing — something’s got to give — and these laws begin to affect the social subject to its detriment.

Mental distress, mental suffering and mental breakdown are a massive phenomenon in the United States: as artificial intelligence promises to extend our memory into infinity, we see an epidemic in cases of dementia.

Nervous breakdown, outbursts of panic, and widespread depression are the different shapes that the wave of dementia takes. That takes form in the American psyche as the aging, white mind becomes increasingly obsessed with the myth of potency and the humiliating experience of impotence.

Is Bifo making the argument that resistance to geopolitical splitting is only exacerbating mental disintegration? (Today is yet another day when I wish Mark was still around to offer his own surgical insights.)

Bifo concludes:

The American liberals, like the centre-left politicians of the European continent seem to think that global trumpism is a provisional disturbance, and democracy will sooner or later be restored and historical reason will regain its course.

They are deluding themselves. Global trumpism is not going to give way to a restoration of the modern reason. The global spread of dementia that has emerged in the years 2016 and 2017 is the new psychosphere of the planet.

Politics can do nothing to deal with the psychotic shift in the social sphere: the political tools for rational government are out of order, and for good.

As reason has been captured by financial algorithms, this evolution has taken a path that seems incompatible with rationality.

We must think of the future from the point of view of systemic psychosis, and this mean the abandonment of political action and of political theory.

We shall see how the response to this essay, if there is one, unfolds over the coming days. Bifo’s call for an abandonment of political action and theory is sure to ruffle some feathers. I’d argue the sentiment here is closer to that already expressed on this blog recently: What we need to do is abandon political action and theory as we know them. The world is changing. Our distress is surely a symptom of our inability to keep up.

I’m reminded, as ever, of that masterful paragraph from Ballard’s The Drowned World:

This growing isolation and self-containment, exhibited by the other members of the unit and from which only the bouyant Kerans seemed immune, reminded Kerans of the slackening metabolism and biological withdrawal of all animals forms about to undergo a major metamorphosis. Sometimes he wondered what zone of transit he himself was entering, sure that his own withdrawal was symptomatic not of a dormant schizophrenia, but of a careful preparation for a radically new environment, with its own internal landscape and logic, where old categories of thought would merely be an encumbrance.

Elsewhere in the mainstream column-o-sphere, Amia Srinivasan has written an essay that asks: “Does anyone have the right to sex?

She also explores the mass shooting as a symptom of not just the demented white mind but the demented male mind in particular. The increase in young male mass shooters becoming gender terrorists through their expressions of MRM sensibilities is surely a red flag suggesting that men, unable to cope with the accelerating disintegration of patriarchy and traditional male subjectivity, misdirect their fury towards women who, it seems, are socially far better prepared for the processes of becoming necessary for malleable subjectivity.

As Srinivasan points out,

feminism, far from being [the] enemy, may well be the primary force resisting the very system that made [Elliot Rodger] feel – as a short, clumsy, effeminate, interracial boy – inadequate. His manifesto reveals that it was overwhelmingly boys, not girls, who bullied him: who pushed him into lockers, called him a loser, made fun of him for his virginity. But it was the girls who deprived him of sex, and the girls, therefore, who had to be destroyed.

The article, at one point, briefly considers the role of political lesbianism in addressing this imbalance, making me wonder if we can consider this as an instantiation of proto-patchwork sensibilities formed explicitly along lines of socio-sexual desire, and there is also a suggestion that such anethical sortings of ideological difference may be required again in the near future. It seems that short tempers and easy-access weapons are short-circuiting the paths towards long-term change, to the detriment of all, even those committing such atrocities.

Srinivasan concludes:

The question, then, is how to dwell in the ambivalent place where we acknowledge that no one is obligated to desire anyone else, that no one has a right to be desired, but also that who is desired and who isn’t is a political question, a question usually answered by more general patterns of domination and exclusion. It is striking, though unsurprising, that while men tend to respond to sexual marginalisation with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, women who experience sexual marginalisation typically respond with talk not of entitlement but empowerment. Or, insofar as they do speak of entitlement, it is entitlement to respect, not to other people’s bodies.


To take this question seriously requires that we recognise that the very idea of fixed sexual preference is political, not metaphysical. As a matter of good politics, we treat the preferences of others as sacred: we are rightly wary of speaking of what people really want, or what some idealised version of them would want. That way, we know, authoritarianism lies. This is true, most of all, in sex, where invocations of real or ideal desires have long been used as a cover for the rape of women and gay men. But the fact is that our sexual preferences can and do alter, sometimes under the operation of our own wills – not automatically, but not impossibly either. What’s more, sexual desire doesn’t always neatly conform to our own sense of it, as generations of gay men and women can attest. Desire can take us by surprise, leading us somewhere we hadn’t imagined we would ever go, or towards someone we never thought we would lust after, or love. In the very best cases, the cases that perhaps ground our best hope, desire can cut against what politics has chosen for us, and choose for itself.

Within our broader considerations of political desires more generally, these same questions are worth keeping in mind. How these considerations might further modulate theories of patchwork deserves a far more in depth consideration and there is one such essay forthcoming by someone else that I think will lay the groundwork for this explicitly. I’m very excited for it to surface.

At all levels, private and public, desire carves up space in unpredictable ways. Love and dynamics of sexuality and gender politics, in particular, may have more of a bearing on Actually Existing Patchwork than has so far been publicly discussed, but there’ll be more on that later in the next Patchwork Yorkshire post and by others elsewhere…

Until then.

The Gothic Secession of Patchwork Yorkshire

To understand the events of the next fifty years, then, one must understand environmental scarcity, cultural and racial clash, geographical density, and the transformation of warfare. The order in which I have named these is not accidental. Each concept except the first relies partly on the one or ones before it, meaning that the last two – new approaches to mapmaking and to warfare — are the most important. They are also the least understood. [via]

Following my previous post on patchwork, ‘State Decay, which tentatively introduced the idea and explored why it is something that the Left should take more seriously, I was repeatedly challenged over the legitimacy of patchwork being anything more than “science fiction”.

The difficulty in addressing this is, of course, that theories of patchwork are inherently speculative, but if we are to jettison the use of our imaginations when addressing the future, what point is there to thinking (about it) at all?

To me, this line of criticism felt like a blatant instantiation of the Left’s consistent inability to dig itself out of the “capitalist realist” fallacy that Mark Fisher so famously described in his book of (roughly) the same name.

Capitalist Realism presents us with myriad ways in which we (quite literally) psyche ourselves out of thinking for the future — or, as Fisher would later recalibrate his focus, alluding to the templexity of our present, “the new”. Surely the one thing the book (and much of Fisher’s thought) asks of its readers is that they realise their melancholy and their defeatism are not, despite appearances, their own.

In this way, the book’s subtitle, “Is there no alternative?”, is not a rhetorical question. It asks to be internalised so that we might root out bad faith wherever it manifests. If we can manage this, maybe we can succeed in answering Fisher’s question confidently in the affirmative.

Does that mean we, you, have to take patchwork seriously? Of course not. It’s my belief, nonetheless, that we should, as one of a multitude of seemingly disparate theories that have the potential to shape the contours of the path ahead.

Patchwork is, in this way, just one alternative — or, rather, one approach which allows for alternatives to naturally proliferate. Only a few proliferations have been considered. If they aren’t to your tastes, we can come up with others.

These theories become increasingly more prescient when we recognise that the odds on something resembling patchwork being instantiated get better every year.

Saying that is all well and good, of course, but the blogosphere and Twitter like stats (and graphs) if you’ve got them. References, please!As such, the repeated critique of ‘State Decay’ went something like this: “If patchwork was worthy of being taken seriously, surely we’d have seen something of the path that will lead us there already?”

Had this been a few years ago, I might have agreed with this. However, I have found, much to my surprise, that my own home county of Yorkshire has been discussed semi-regularly in the press as potentially heading towards something resembling patchwork in the future.

Admittedly, descriptions of contemporary Yorkshire politics are not often worded in this way… But Yorkshire is, at the very least, known for being fragmented.

Continue reading “The Gothic Secession of Patchwork Yorkshire”

Double Occupation

I’m in Budapest right now and this morning I spent a couple of hours in the “House of Terror” — a former administrative building, police headquarters, prison, and place for interrogation (read: torture) and execution during both the Nazi and Communist occupations of Hungary.

The museum that now occupies the space does a surprisingly good job of guiding the visitor through almost sixty years of knotted and difficult history. I had no idea, before coming here, that the country had been subjected to totalitarian puppet-governments for so long.

As I walk around now, I’m struck not only by how horrific and complex this country’s recent history is but also how at ease it seems with this history already.

In a lot of ways, it seems a part of the fabric. History clings to it, clogs it up, like the thick soot and grime of pollutants that make so many of the imposing city blocks look their age — and look all the grander for it.

(I must confess: I am not very well travelled. This is my first time in a country that was once hidden behind the Iron Curtain, and so I don’t know if what I am about to say is unusual or typical. Forgive me if I’m being naive, but…)

What is fascinating to me is that, although this city has a three-story building, a major monument by any measure, the entire purpose of which is to remember the horrors of the Nazi and Communist regimes — and, if only due to its longevity, the terrors of the Communist regime seem much worse by Hungary’s measure — there is still nonetheless a noticeable presence of Communist tat here.

Of course, you won’t find any Nazi merchandise, not even of the “spoils of war” kind you find elsewhere, but you can buy Communist stars on street corners amongst other things.

The House of Terror talks, at one point, of a “double occupation” — a moment where the Nazis and Communists fought for control of the city, each eventually as unwelcome as the other. This phrase seems just as applicable to the present moment too, however. Communism has had a double occupation here all of its own — in the streets and, now, in the imagination.

It’s no surprise that the ideals of communism perservere whereas so many other ideologies have fallen by the wayside, but it is a surprise to find them still visible here, even as tourist souvenirs, all things considered…