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…

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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”

Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and the Fisher-Function

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[A]t the limit of discursive thought experience tends not only toward the outside, toward death; it also tends toward contact with another, toward community. Indeed, so much that “[t]here cannot be inner experience without a community of those who live it.” Inner experience requires a community of lucky beings drawn together, bound together in their excessive movement, in their fall away from themselves. This, then, is “where” community is located: in the chance movement of insufficiency; in the openness that my being is in exceeding the requirements of homogenization, preservation, and justification—in the movement outside oneself, which falls in love, dies, laughs, cries, mourns, celebrates, suffers. [1]


0            Spectres of Mark’s

January 14th 2017

Saturday: one week into the second semester of the academic year at Goldsmiths, University of London. The library is busy. The days are still getting dark early and it has been raining heavily all week. I receive a push notification from the Twitter app on my phone telling me that a recent tweet is proving popular with my followers:

Sat opposite two friends who were writing essays for Mark Fisher’s postgraduate class before an imminent deadline, our thoughts grasp at one another, sent into a panic on such little information.

I soon start receiving messages from others about the tweet. At first, most assume it to be a hoax or a misunderstanding. I put Mark’s name into Google followed by the word “dead”, not knowing how else to corroborate the rumour. I see that a former keyboardist in the band Wham!, also named Mark Fisher, had died the month before—surely they meant this Mark…

…But Repeater were Mark’s publisher, having just published his book The Weird and the Eerie. They wouldn’t get this wrong…

…Surely…

We sat in silence, continuing to work in short, shocked bursts of disbelief. Then, we stopped. “What am I doing?” someone said. “What’s the point now?”

Later that evening, our worst fears were confirmed: on Friday 13th January 2017, Mark Fisher had committed suicide.


In the months following Mark’s death, answering this question of “What’s the point now?” became an intense collective project within and around Goldsmiths, informing a great deal of activity, including—but by no means limited to—the summer term public lecture programme which was organised by students and staff within the Visual Cultures department that Fisher himself had been a beloved part of.

Titled The Fisher-Function, the series ran for seven weeks throughout July and August and was built around lesser-known works made by Mark in various different registers—from blog posts and academic papers to mixes and audio essays.

The series was named after a phrase coined by Robin Mackay in his eulogy to Mark given at a campus memorial service on 12th February 2017. In his eulogy, Mackay asked:

What is the Fisher-Function? How did it make itself real, and how can we continue to realise it? Many of us naturally feel a need to ensure this is a moment when the force [Mark] brought into our world is redoubled rather than depleted. And to do so, to continue his work and our own, we have to try to understand his life, and the consequences of his death, at once horrifying and awakening, as a part of the Fisher-Function. And I don’t simply mean the intellectual contributions that we can appreciate, extend, take forward into the future; I also mean what we need to learn in terms of looking after ourselves and each other, right now.

It is precisely the Fisher-Function that I would like to explore in this essay through the very experience of community that gave the term such resonance in the immediate aftermath of Fisher’s death. This essay’s opening epigraph speaks to this community explicitly. Fisher’s death galvanised us as we found ourselves bound together in our excessive movement, in our fall away from ourselves—and it is in this fall, in the exceeding of our individual experiences, that our community has since been located. However, this “location” is not locatable; it is not institutional—it is implicitly outside Goldsmiths; outside ourselves. It is a community formed by the molten intensities of a shared experience that cannot be shared.

In the months immediately prior to Fisher’s death, during my first semester as a postgraduate student at Goldsmiths, I had already written on this paradoxical problem of “community” whilst reading through the works of Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy. A conversation on “community” had entangled the works of all three over a number of decades at the end of the twentieth century and it remains a lively area of study. Serendipitously (and painfully), this initially academic train of thought took on a new significance after Fisher’s death, unfolding into newly potent dimensions as it assisted me through the trauma of the formulation of this new community built on an otherwise isolating experience of grief.

Continue reading “Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and the Fisher-Function”

Cold War, Colder World (Part 1)

[Spoiler warning: these posts will look closely at two recent Netflix shows, Stranger Things (seasons one and two) and Dark. If you don’t want them spoiling, come back another time.]


The Candyman always had some new kind of acid. That month I had already sampled Window Pane and Sunshine. I didn’t know if my system could handle another extended flight to the far reaches. But this Czech acid was different. For one thing, it revealed to me that the entire molecular and submolecular structure of the universe was in fact composed of tiny sickles and hammers. Billions and billions of tiny sickles and hammers shimmered in the beauteous symmetry of the material world. I always thought of this particular “commie trip” as a rather private experience brought about by my having been born and raised in Communist Romania, where sickles and hammers were ubiquitous and unavoidable.

I did not doubt what I had seen, but I did doubt whether there was such a thing as Czech acid from the simple reason that Czechoslovakia, like Romania, was a monochromatic world. It seemed clear that if acid had existed in Eastern Europe it would have brought about the collapse of communism there, just as it was bringing about the downfall of a certain kind of dour-faced, simple-minded America. And at that time it didn’t look like communism was anywhere near collapse. [1]

The return of Stranger Things to Netflix in October meant the return of its version of the Outside to Western pop-consciousness. The show boils down various popular instantiations of the Outside to a median view of the noumenal other-worlds common to so much science fiction—an Outside that is always present but unseen by us; a shadow dimension that is referred to in the show as the “Upside Down”.

In the first season’s backstory, a woman given LSD whilst pregnant—as part of the infamous CIA project MKUltra, which sought to explore new potentials of the human mind through the use of psychedelics—gives birth to a child that displays special mental abilities, including telepathy and telekinesis. The baby is taken from her and subjected to a childhood of experimentation and institutionalisation as a ward of the United States’ clandestine Department of Energy. The child, (code)named Eleven, is trained as a tool for espionage by the US government as it looks for new ways to spy on the Russians at the height of the Cold War.

Eleven escapes from the facility after being told to use her powers of astral projection to locate and listen in on a conversation being had in Russia. This unprecedented use of her powers—mentally travelling further into the political Outside than she ever has before—inadvertently rips a hole in our dimension and let’s loose a horrific, faceless creature which ravages the laboratory, escapes and begins to prey on the small town of Hawkins where the Department of Energy’s lab is located.

As a true 1980s cultural pastiche, heavily reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s ET (1982) amongst other things, the first season’s focus is on a small group of unassuming local kids who become embroiled in the government’s shady experiments when they meet the fugitive Eleven whilst looking for their friend, Will Byers, who has been trapped in the Upside Down by the monster.

In one noteworthy scene, Eleven attempts to explain (with her very limited vocabulary) where Will is hiding by literally flipping “upside down” a Dungeons & Dragons game board—a game the children were playing on the night of Will’s disappearance. Will is trapped in a place where the normal rules of the game do not apply. Here the Outside is a frightening and horrific place that visually mirrors the world we know but is otherwise drenched in a toxic, irradiated atmosphere. More exact details of its content and composition are slowly being teased as the show progresses.

Stranger-Things-Eleven-DD-Board.jpg

The Russian connection, however, should not be understated and it has been made all the more explicit in the show’s second season. The fear of the Communist Other is dramatised as a horrific other world—a cold, monochromatic world—that exists alongside our own; home to monstrous threats that are both accessed and combated with new technologies. In an unusual turn away from the more classical use of the Outside in weird fiction, the Upside Down seems to act as a graspable, visual referent for an otherwise incomprehensible and invisible political Otherness. LSD itself can be seen as the latent catalyst for this rupture—expand your mind too far and all hell will break loose. Acid Communism and the Red Scare collide.

Continue reading “Cold War, Colder World (Part 1)”

Aphex Acid

House […] was born not as a distinct genre but as an approach to making ‘dead’ music come alive… [1]

At the end of Xenogoth‘s last “Acid” post, there were some half-baked thoughts on how Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie preludes the Gothic tendencies currently being erased from his Acid Communism by the many articles and blog posts of Jeremy Gilbert.

The ecstatic horror of acid discussed in that post is exemplified by so much music categorised by the name, but this too is a fact lost on many. The organisers of Acid Corbynism at the recent Labour Party conference fringe events The World Transformed seem to have missed it too – a fact made all too clear by the painful video of an Acid House party held alongside their Acid Corbynism event that ended up doing the rounds on Twitter, resembling the kind of corporate Ibiza pastiche that epitomises University Fresher’s Weeks up and down the country.

I decided to flick through Simon Reynolds’ Energy Flash to find some good descriptions of this music that has been continually hollowed out in recent months, and Reynolds – as usual – did not disappoint.

Continue reading “Aphex Acid”

Acid

Acid is everywhere at the moment, sloshing about in unexpected places – recent releases  from Richard D. James’ AFX alias, alongside a spate of festival appearances, have brought his corrosive jams back into dance music’s collective consciousness; there has been a surge of acid attacks in London, with dozens of the disfigured becoming front-page news; the UK Left has taken up Mark Fisher’s “Acid Communism”, albeit adapting it at a recent Labour Party fringe event to become “Acid Corbynism”, which was just memetic enough to warrant a snooty Guardian overview. These three seemingly unconnected references demonstrate one thing: “Acid” is promiscuous, and that was no doubt part of the attraction when Fisher first put his latest provocative neologism to use.

You could argue that defining “acid” is as awkward as defining “communism”. There have been too many iterations of either word to pin them down with any certainty, but that hasn’t stopped Jeremy Gilbert’s recent attempts to bottle the combo of the two and declare co-authorship alongside Fisher (whilst exorcising Fisher’s nuance and personality) in a recent article on Red Pepper.

Gilbert writes that Acid Communism

was Mark’s term for a utopian sensibility shared by the political radicals and psychedelic experimentalists of the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. It rejected both the conformism and authoritarianism that characterised much of post-war society and the crass individualism of consumer culture. It sought to raise the consciousness of individuals and society as a whole, be that through the creative use of psychedelic chemicals, aesthetic experiments in music and other arts, new kinds of household arrangements, radical forms of therapy, social and political revolution, or all of the above.

He’s not wrong, of course, but compared to what Acid Communism was to potentially become in Fisher’s hands, Gilbert’s synopsis feels so one-dimensional as he insists on erasing the Gothic trajectory towards the Outside that Fisher has always aimed for.

More recently, in the New Statesman, Gilbert defines “Acid” through its psychedelic connotations of “the liberation of human consciousness from the norms of capitalist society [as] a desirable, achievable and pleasurable objective.” Desirable, yes. Achievable, yes… But pleasurable? Not always. Not essentially. Fisher’s AC was explicitly a journey beyond the pleasure principle.

Continue reading “Acid”