Neurotic I Am

I am very aware that I’m posting a lot at the moment and I’m creating a confused web of content that is incessantly referring to itself. Apologies for that. As I start this post I’m paranoid that I might be getting hard to follow and keep up with. The paradox is that the more I post, the more aware I am of the lack of quality control. I know that I should let things stew for a bit longer but never in my entire blogging life have I managed to give my thoughts the time they deserve when presented in this format. Rapidfire posting is my preferred mode of production.

This posting frequency is definitely counter-intuitive to being read — and I’m okay with that — but I am also appreciative of the support I get from the few people who do sometimes read what I word-vomit up here and I don’t want to overwhelm and bore those people with unnecessary buckets of the stuff…

This blog is only six months old (although there is far more than six months worth of material here by now) and the most flattering comments I’ve received about it so far have been about how my fervour is encouraging others to (re)engage with the blogosphere themselves. I’d like that more than anything. The last thing I want to feel like I’m doing here is talking to myself (even though that is surely an inevitability no matter how many people I add to my blogroll). Twitter offsets that feeling somewhat but engaging in conversation with others over long-form posts is something I would definitely like to encourage.

There is always a reticence to do so, however, and there is perhaps a feeling that to blog (especially if you are involved or pursuing academia) is inherently onanistic. Axxonhorror, new to blogosphere (welcome!), captures the feeling well. I’m sure their first post will speak truth to many people’s blogging experiences. How many times I’ve found myself writing posts like this, interrogating the desire to write by writing and not writing.

Most of the time I’m steeped in self-critical indolences, so always considered the idea of creating and maintaining a blog to be pathetic self-indulgence and a wasteful addition of never-to-be-read words to the vast information oceans. I’ve felt it was a safeguard too: to spare myself the future painful awkwardness of rereading or even merely knowing about the existence of formerly written sentences I immediately loathe. I’ve decided to accept the inevitable embarrassment, as perhaps surprisingly, there still exists some primal impulse towards cognitive action in my unpleasant brain, some desire to write cogent posts, organise mental activity, thoughts, and information. A will-to-think? No, mostly it’s just a means to more worthily procrastinate my degree (maths), devoting some part of my dilettante behaviour to blogging, which is marginally better than some of the alternatives of wasting time.

I’ve been asked a few times how I manage to write so much and for tips on making writing into a habit but the drive behind what I do is just as Axxonnhorror describes it. It makes me wonder what kind of image people have of me in their minds: a studious guy who lounges around all day reading and writing, furiously typing out essays on a daily basis. I only wish that were the case.

To tell you the truth, at the moment I have very little time on my hands. My day jobs have been relentless so far this year and I was sick for most of December and January, run down but unable to afford a break. (No sick leave for the precariat). The time needed to write in-depth essays or work on other projects was something I lost around the time this blog came into being but without such projects I’m left feeling purposeless. This blog a hobby I take far too seriously as I desperately look for job satisfaction from everywhere but the jobs I’m paid for. In essence, it is an excuse to turn my otherwise languorous depression into a neurotically productive one.

Productive depression is something I think is alien to most, and that’s no surprise when we function under the auspices of being productive members of society — that central spire around which all mental illness turns: if you’re not productive, of course you’re unwell.

For me, when I’m depressed and anxious, writing becomes a quick fix and a distraction. There is a self-destructive mania to working on a post at the expense of other life tasks. It is an opportunity to step into and live inside my own head in a way that the majority of my day forbids. It’s an attempt at privately grounding myself whilst, at the same time, being an attempt to public flaying myself.

Now I wake up every morning and feel that constant and insatiable WordPress itch that I am desperate to scratch, like a cigarette craving. I have an unhealthy dependence on the endorphin hit that comes from pushing that “Publish…” button. In this way, hitting that button is closely associated with my own sense of self-worth. It’s all a superficial attempt to keep depression at bay which is, in itself, fuelled by depression. If I was content with my life, I probably wouldn’t be spending so much time here. The WordPress phone app doesn’t help with this as I’m able to work on posts in every spare moment of the day (and I do). Writing is jouissance is suffering. I don’t blog from home, picking at my library of knowledge. I blog from the bus, trying to forget about the day I’ve had or am going to have.

All of this is, I hope, obvious; a reality that is generally known but left unsaid. The intention is not to respond to the question “Woah how do you blog so much?” with a glib “I hate myself”. The currents at play are complex but the discomfort of talking about them frankly risks contaminating the function of the outlet. There is, perhaps, a more impersonal way to approach this that allows for a return to our usual programming…

Continue reading “Neurotic I Am”

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Responses to ‘LD50’

I’ve been surprised and amused by the responses to my LD50 post from the other day from the gallery’s supporters.

Below are various Twitter comments posted here for posterity.

Also, I’d rather not leave any misunderstandings or bad readings to fester on the timeline so it seems sensible to clarify things as they come up.

More tweets might appear if I manage to inadvertently irritate anyone else.

I have a longer post on “justice” brewing too.

LD50

When I was writing about the effect of Mark Fisher’s death on communities at and around Goldsmiths last year, there was a notable exemption from the timeline of 2017’s events.

LD50.

I’d thought about including it, as the drama surrounding the gallery and its exhibition and events programme (which Goldsmiths was directly implicated in) was a topic of conversation that persisted for weeks, months even… but it ended up on the cutting room floor.

There was something of an institutional paranoia about being inadvertently caught up in fascism that the intense reaction to LD50 epitomised: the desire to retain some sort of mythical political purity.

It’s amusing in hindsight, in much the same way a lot of my notes from lectures on the Ccru include transcribed questions that ask whether this or that element is inherently fascist (because of Land’s involvement alone).

It’s a wonder anyone managed to get anything done.


I found my notes about LD50 recently, written early last summer:

LD50 has been a major part of this community.

Analysis of right-wing political projects has been very abstract. LD50 brought it right home.

The crisis of Mark’s death brought to a head a number of other crises that preceded and exceeded his death — LD50, Trump, Grenfell. Neo-fascist digital infrastructure and support for it; neo-authoritarian American politics; austerity.

LD50 is a flashpoint within the struggle for Land’s thought. Three groups are fighting for it. LD50 brings this home.

The focus on community in and through grief is correct. The struggle to inhabit the turbulence of this moment and to let it work upon you and make it an intervention. To make your life an intervention.

Even if it’s just a footnote, make concrete the right-wing abstraction.

LD50 brought what many think of as an American thing to our doorstep. Taking on an invasive proximity. Reaching right into the question of the struggle of Acceleration and what to do with melancholy.

It is interesting how dissipated that paranoia now is and how the fight is over having been “won”.

What LD50 brought home has been absorbed but not processed. “Shutting down” the gallery felt like an act of collectivised and externalised repression. Rather than properly coming to terms with what people feared most about themselves and their own politics, they found something else to stamp on as an act of displaced atonement.


An Anon on CuriousCat asked me late last year: “LD50. Fascist gallery or accelerationist hub wrongfully targeted?”

I think the response still stands:

Is this really a question that still interests people? It all took place on my doorstep but I can’t profess to having any real understanding of a protest I didn’t go to over an exhibition I didn’t see. From what I have seen: Edgy twitter archaeology doesn’t seem very accelerationist to me. As for fascist — according to whom? Reactionary, boujee artists who were horrified by a sudden flash of self-awareness illuminating their complicity? Or anon Tumblrs with ulterior motives? The Shutdown LD50 campaign began by asking earnest and necessary questions but I have no interest in defending either side’s contribution to a shitshow that has used up more than enough oxygen in 2017.

However, following yesterday’s post about Westworld and Trump, I can’t stop thinking about what the 2018 versions of 2017’s fights will look like. Short-term victories seem to have done nothing for long-term goals. As the new world order becomes familiar, people sink back into complacency.

What is to be done?


I was at a party recently, having to defend openly reading Nick Land. You know, the usual…

It wasn’t the first time this has happened but this person was perhaps the most belligerent I’ve had to answer to. It was an encounter that stuck with me more than others and finally made me wary of talking about what I write on this blog in public.

It has stuck with me because the argument dropped at my feet was that the crux of Land’s philosophy, as far as this person was concerned, was a rejection of justice. And how could anyone give him the time of day when that is his untenable position?! It’s just so right-wing!

My response was to point to @cyborg_nomade‘s recent tweet about the various political positions on Acceleration and talk about my interest in community/ies but, in a state of utter mental exhaustion after a very long working week, I didn’t actually do a whole lot of talking. I just took all the character judgements on the chin and waited for it to be over.

Much like the aftermath to any other kind of argument, I spent days thinking of all the things I wish I’d said but didn’t think of in the moment. And so here I am, left wanting to articulate something where before there was just an overtired silence.

“What the fuck is ‘justice’?!” I found myself muttering bitterly to myself as I wandered around the house and to the shops and to the office for the next few days…

Justice, it seems to me, is a spectre. It is a social promise but when is it ever meaningfully achieved? The word itself seems to jettison half its agency to the Outside. Too often when invoked does it resemble a theological concept.

In a conversation at a reading group a few days after this encounter, much time was given instead to the word “responsibility”, as invoked by Helen Hester at a recent conference in London — a conference I didn’t attend and so I can’t comment on her sense of the word in any detail but it has nonetheless echoed around my head as I try to come to terms with my own formulation of it. It is a formulation that is important to the first part of this new series (along with its tangent and the in-progress Part 2).

Land’s horrorist approach to the end of the “World”, as laid out on his blog, clearly rejects justice, but it does seem to express a sense of responsibility (responsibility to nothing is a responsibility nonetheless):

It is thus that the approximate contours of the horrorist task emerge into focus. Rather than resisting the desperation of the progressive ideal by terrorizing its enemies, it directs itself to the culmination of progressive despair in the abandonment of reality compensation. It de-mobilizes, de-massifies, and de-democratizes, through subtle, singular, catalytic interventions, oriented to the realization of fate. The Cathedral has to be horrified into paralysis. The horrorist message (to its enemies): Nothing that you are doing can possibly work.

“What is to be done?” is not a neutral question. The agent it invokes already strains towards progress. This suffices to suggest a horrorist response: Nothing. Do nothing. Your progressive ‘praxis’ will come to nought in any case. Despair. Subside into horror. You can pretend to prevail in antagonism against ‘us’, but reality is your true — and fatal — enemy. We have no interest in shouting at you. We whisper, gently, in your ear: “despair”. (The horror.)

I think it is this responsibility to nothing that irks the left the most. The privilege of being able to do nothing transforms it into doing something. The leftist horror, it seems to me, is that they are already closet horrorists. They overcompensate the volume of their doing to make sure that it seems they are doing something of value. (A phenomenon the Right have latched onto in their obsession with “virtue signalling“.)

LD50 offered an opportunity to meaningfully reckon with this. A moment that past with an intense amount of confusion, panic and international news coverage but little meaningful change other than a shuttered and graffitied gallery space.


Following the consideration of counter-intuitive praxes in The Walking Dead and The OA in my post ‘Mental Health Asteroid‘ I was interested to see Adam Kotsko mention the latter show in the aftermath of this week’s school shooting in Florida, which has occasioned the all-too-familiar ineffective public outcry and, notably, accusations that Trump himself has ‘done nothing‘.

Kotsko invokes the concept of ‘liturgy’, related to his study and great work translating Agamben, which I need to read more of as it continues to orbit questions of community that are central to the interests of this blog. (I’d recommend this post by Kotsko for further reading and some of these themes were considered here, again in brief, in ‘Monastic Vampirism‘).

Kotsko writes:

[The OA] does not presume, I think, to offer a solution to school shootings — certainly it does not indulge in the fantasy that such a problem can be solved without cost. But it does suggest that a counter-liturgy, born out of deep trauma, may be able to disrupt the liturgy of the school shooting in which we all find ourselves.

School shootings are the most spectacular and horrifying example of similar events that provoke near-scripted responses. The religiosity of these responses is endemic and increasingly lacking subtly the further down the path of leftist eschatology we travel.

If that is the politics the left are choosing to stick with, they need counter-liturgies for a lot more than mass shootings…

After the Trump Glitch

I didn’t know Mark had written on Westworld and so now here I am reading over his thoughts, published in the New Humanist.

For those unfamiliar, Westworld is a generally unpopular 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton (best known for writing the novels that would become The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park) which was remade for TV to critical acclaim in 2016. It’s due to return for a second season in April this year.

I’d thought about Westworld a lot when it first came out, writing on it for an essay that I later shelved and forgot about.

What I’d wanted to consider in that essay from 2016 is now outdated in an interesting way and so I thought it might be interesting to explore this train of thought again before the series comes back.

Considering the cultural and sociopolitical context in which the first series came out and the effect this context had on the discussion around it, I’m left wondering where the series will go next and, particularly, how it will be received by commentators.

Continue reading “After the Trump Glitch”

The Sensation of Looking

Spending a few days exploring the 2014 Brighton Photo Biennial with friends, a recurring joke passed between us that went something like, “I saw plenty of things I liked during the Biennial, but none of them were photographs”.

The highlight of one particularly chilly October morning was Camper Obscura. As the name suggests, it is a touring camper van turned into a camera obscura. We found it down by Brighton Pier advertising itself on a sandwich board offering “free visual experiences”. Finding such a promise irresistible, I boarded the van with a friend.

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Sat opposite each other, we were given a large piece of cardboard which we held between us under something resembling a periscope. Sat in darkness with the camper’s curtains drawn and the door closed, we adjusted the position of our cardboard to bring the light streaming down from above into focus. A disorientating image appeared before us.

Continuously readjusting the cardboard as the periscope turned and our arms grew tired, our host explained the science behind what we saw before us — the physics of light and the way the camera obscura attempts to copy the biological function of the eye. These explanations only went so far, unable to fully account for the uncanny image we saw before us.

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Turning the periscope towards the sea, it seemed to lose its more familiar ebb. Mediated through a camper van and onto a piece of cardboard we struggled to keep level, waves looks like writhing maggots at a lower visual fidelity. To look at it for too long was migraine-inducing.

These and other experiences over the weekend seemed to summarise my frustrated relationship with photography. I rarely look at the medium in books or exhibitions and find myself feeling anything that comes close to my initial experiences of looking at the world around me.

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My sustained interest in photography despite this seems to be occasioned by a familiar feedback loop. As Hubert Damisch reminds us in his Five Notes for a Phenomenology of the Photographic Image, it was this sensation that first inspired the invention of the modern camera.

Each and every one of those innumerable inventors who made photography what it is today were not actually concerned with the creation of a new type of image or a novel mode of representation, they simply wished to fix the images which “spontaneously” formed on the ground of the camera obscura.

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The adventure of photography begins with our first attempts to retain that image he had long known how to make. The failure of photography begins when we realise that it is never quite the same. The practice of photography finds its feet in the affirmation of a representative impossibility.

Although the camera obscura is now inseparable from an established technological lineage, it is worth remembering that it existed with this purpose all of its own; a purpose that runs deeper than its now technological redundancy as a precursor to the modern camera.

This seems central for Damisch, for whom photography has been co-opted into filling a specific role and, importantly, one that is profoundly different from that of the camera obscura that came before it. He seems to lament the discussion on the sensation of looking that was inherent in the camera obscura that has since been lost to photographic theory’s obsession with the technical implications of the modern photographic process or the prevalence of “documentary photography”.

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The retention of the image, its development and multiplication form an ordered succession of steps which now compose the photographic act, always taken in its reductive whole. History has determined that this act would find its purpose in reproduction, much the way the purpose of film as spectacle was (perhaps inadvertently) established from the start.

With a focus on photography’s scientific and commercial potentials at first winning out over more explicitly artistic pursuits, is it any wonder that the desire to capture the sensation of the camera obscura has been forgotten as one of the medium’s defining characteristics?

Nicéphore Niépce is the only pioneer Damisch mentions by name in his Five Notes, no doubt because of the lasting power of his impressionistic window view (pictured below) which, whilst less “technically” accomplished than the efforts of his competitors, captures the sensation of looking through a camera obscura perfectly and with an almost painterly quality, resembling a black-and-white Monet or Cézanne.

View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras,_Joseph_Nicéphore_Niépce

Instead, despite these beginnings, photography has been defined in opposition to and in competition with painting. Photography claims to have won the war of representation but it is painting alone that has benefited from this conflict, having been freed — according to Andre Bazin — “once and for all, from its obsession with realism and [allowing] it to recover its aesthetic autonomy.”

This aesthetic autonomy can be seen throughout modern art following the invention of the camera and it is with Paul Cézanne in particular, born a little over a decade after Niépce made this first photograph, that the discussion on the sensation of looking in the visual arts has continued.

Although similar in style to the Impressionists, it is the artistic process that differs most. Cézanne would work analytically, considering all angles and characteristics of his subject to produce a painting that bore all the sensations of his intense and often repeated looking — documents of his experiences of not just light and colour, but form and line and everything else as they appeared to him. As Gilles Deleuze wrote on Cézanne’s works, this sensation is only experienced in the viewer “by entering the painting, by reaching the unity of the sensing and the sensed.” The process of looking feeds back into the the expression of the sensation of looking. This now seems to be an obvious point to make about this period in art history but it is worth noting as a function that photography is capable of but has long since forgotten.

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Darkness Itself III: Whitstable Flesh

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There is something keeping the south afloat — financially speaking; unnaturally speaking. I am sure of it.

Recent trips to the coastal settlements that dot the seaward edges of Kent and East Sussex have given me a glimpse into an alternate timeline where the all-too-familiar hardships of the north have been kept at bay.

Nowhere is the North more grim than at its edges and if the Justified Ancients sought to encapsulate all of it with their parochial roll call, the oceanic currents of their jagged trance nevertheless suggest a land that is coastal even at its centre.

Nothing disintegrates quite like the coast.

Nevertheless, here in the south, there are far fewer boats left to rot. Greasy spoons are replaced with novelty eateries. London expats bake pies and make the most of easy-access eels, charging double for authentic East London recipes that have been both displaced and returned to their source. Ramshackled fishing huts are yours for £150 a night on Air B&B.

Even the rain is somehow pleasant here. It doesn’t chill the soul in the same way.

Whereas fairgrounds take up beach-side car parks in the north, locked up as travellers and carnies alike wait for the end of the endless out-of-season season, here there are no rides to be seen anywhere. It is as if the heart of a coastal culture of the mildest hedonisms has been removed to stop the gangrenous spread of class strife.

Penny slots remain, of course – there is no accounting for that plague – but they seem to ensnare far fewer drunks and minors.

There are no tanning salons. Even though the south still shares the British weather, they seem to have lost the need to make up for the sun’s abandonment of these isles. Fortunes continue to proliferate here, bringing smiles and strength to the local economy.

The north, in short, is mournful. It struggles.

The south sells itself as the prosperous vision the north forgot.

As I continue to wander and explore, I grow suspicious. There is surely something else at play here – some deal with the devil.

In Whitstable, recently, I could have sworn I felt it.

Continue reading “Darkness Itself III: Whitstable Flesh”