Weird Immanence (Part 1)

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Mark’s last book, The Weird & The Eerie, as its title suggests, is split into two parts: the weird is first, followed by the eerie, but each is nonetheless entangled with the other.

Mark writes, early on:

The allure that the weird and the eerie possess is not captured by the idea that we “enjoy what scares us”. It has, rather, to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience.

Here at least, both concepts are anchored in their literary origins, but this is not where they have to remain.

From the first introductory chapter, the political subtext of this allure is always present, just beneath the surface, signifying a subtle change in Mark’s thought in which he sidesteps his well-known fascination with “lost futures” and instead stakes out an occupation with “the new”.

Previously, on his kpunk blog, and also in his second book, Ghosts of my Life, Mark makes it quite clear that music is the most advantageous battleground on which the argument for the existence of capitalist realism could be fought. In Ghosts of my Life in particular, he writes extensively on music.

Music is, in itself, a temporal medium — it is inherently “progressive” in a very literal sense, since most tracks begin and end. However, our music cultures themselves, it seems, are stuck in a groove. The record of history is skipping and the cultural and political progressions we once took for granted seem to have slowed to a full stop. The futures we were promised have not materialised and music, perhaps more so than our visual mediums, has made the gap between promise and reality all too apparent.

And yet, in The Weird & The Eerie, Mark writes not of what we have “lost” but the new in which we encounter that which disturbs us:

The sense of wrongness associated with the weird — the conviction that this does not belong — is often a sign that we are in the presence of the new. The weird here is a signal that the concepts and frameworks which we have previously employed are now obsolete.

There are no lost futures here; no ghosts of options which no longer exist. If we can describe the limbo of our lost futures as a rupturing of the temporal, the new instead ruptures the ontological — the two are inherently related, of course, but it is worth noting their difference for the more specific potentials that each unleashes. For starters, whilst the idea of a lost future is recursively graspable — we can only properly make sense of that which has become obsolete — with the new we find ourselves within that which is radically immanent. Jarringly so. We encounter something towards which all our past experiences are obsolete and which alerts us to the contingency and fallibility of the present, the now. In this mode, the inside is not sufficient enough for the outside, rather than vice versa. It requires the outside be folded in and synthesised.

In its very wrongness, the weird uncovers an oversaturated present, in which there is no space for the weird itself (or an experience of the weird). Recursion after recursion: the weird is weird in itself.

Whilst this may seem like a new direction for Mark, instead it harks back to his PhD thesis, Flatline Constructs, and his love of Spinoza. (As an aside, let us not forget that this is — and, astoundingly, remains — the allure of jungle: that music genre which was so influential for the Ccru.) At one point, Mark, summarising the stakes of the theory of Gothic Materialism that is central to his thesis, writes: “While antropo-Marxism still posits a transcendent and authentic human agent which could overcome capital, Gothic Materialism takes it for granted that real materialism must involve total immanentization; one of its chief resources, therefore, is the philosopher whose whole work was devoted to developing a rigorously immanent account of agency: Spinoza.”

For Mark, Spinoza is an exemplary weird and eerie thinker. He continues: “For Spinoza, there is agency everywhere but this never belongs to human subjects.” What Spinoza does, according to Mark, is he “entifies” — form and function are irrelevant, entities are rather processes. Everything is governed by such processes and so, for Spinoza, this is his way of thinking God as/in nature.

This lends itself all too easily to the Frankensteining of matter and material. If Spinoza is an atheistic materialist, as many of his critics claimed, Mark seems to suggest that it is in a way that is more twisted than those critics dared imagine, even more so today when we consider that what Spinoza saw as ‘God, nature’ has undergone an intensive period of expansion and extension.

Spinoza was a regular feature on kpunk thanks to his wide-ranging influence on many of Mark’s favourite thinkers. Mark would later write that Spinoza “took for granted what would later become the first principle of Marx’s thought — that it was more important to change the world than to interpret it”. He continues:

[Spinoza’s] project of systematically rooting out the underlying motivation for irrational behaviours was effectively psychoanalysis three hundred years early. Freud, whose written acknowledgements to Spinoza were few, nevertheless admitted in his correspondence to being thoroughly indebted to Spinoza’s framework; Lacan was more explicit in his homage, comparing his own excommunication from Psychoanalysis to Spinoza’s banishment from the Amsterdam Synagogue. Deleuze’s thought is unimaginable without Spinoza.

This trajectory is most telling when considering Mark’s thought. In this way, Spinoza lingers in the background of all that Mark writes. Deleuze’s Spinozism, in particular, is central for him in this context.

In Flatline Constructs, Mark summarises the above penchant for Spinozic entifying, with all the impetus on processes, with a quote from Deleuze: “True entities are events.” And yet, as Deleuze continues: “It’s not easy to think in terms of the event.” The weird, like the Gothic for Y2k Mark, is perhaps one such way of making this thought more accessible.

What Deleuze is pointing to here — at least in relation to those arguments found in Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense — is that the “life” of the self is less an enclosed Cartesian cogito and more like some thing which is open to the intensities of all that is around it. Being, itself an intensity, passes through “beings”. As Mark puts it, with inverted commas undermining the deceptively holistic nature of linguistically expressed subjectivity, “‘we’ ‘ourselves’ are caught up in the rhythms, pulsions and patternings of non-human forces.”

“We” “ourselves” are not only “caught” — in fact, we dissolve into flows. Indistinguishable.

Mark continues, in Flatline Constructs, by talking about Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of haecceity, referring to “non-subjectified individuation”. Through the concept of haecceity, we can think of entities as events without making entities subjects. For Mark, it seems, this includes processes of non-subjectifying and de-subjectifying.

The Gothic has an affinity with the concept of the haecceity because it refuses to distinguish human figures from their backgrounds … You can’t enter such zones without entering into composition with them.

It is the immanence of the human to forces, the human as an arrangement of forces in itself, which causes Mark to write of Spinoza’s “psychedelic reason”:

Hey kids: could there be a better reason to read Spinoza? He tells you not to get out of your head but how to get out through your head.

But, ever recursive in our immanence, how do we wrap our heads around this? How do we think of this form of agency without anthropomorphising it, separating it, and reducing its power? How do we think the event without trapping its agency in the anthropotemporal? How do you get out through your head without giving your head an unnecessarily Cartesian level of credit?

We can think of the weird and the eerie, in their literary modes, are qualities of events which allow us to retain a certain distance from these problems of thought which philosophy cannot help but ontologise. The benefit of this deontologising manoeuvre for political thinking is only hinted at by Mark in one instance when he writes that capital “is, at every level, an eerie entity: conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity.”

Perhaps the weird and the eerie, and our acknowledgement of their presence(-as-absence) within capitalism, can allow us to interrogate capital anew? At the very least it reveals to us just how susceptible we are to dissolution by capital’s flows.

All that is solid melts into air, etc.


Before we continue, what we first require is a clarification of the difference between the weird and the eerie — although this is by no means an easy task. If the weird is dependent on a Spinozic immanence, what is the eerie in relation to it? Mark’s concepts are, of course, a challenge to Freud’s often misused and misunderstood unheimlich.

Freud’s unheimlich signals a closed reading of multiplicity, forcing childhood experiences of self consolidation down the cul-de-sac of castration anxiety. By introducing a distinction where (you could argue) there is none, Mark injects multiplicity back into where it has long been absent from. The two words shadow each other; haunt each other.

The eerie, for Mark, it soon becomes apparent, is more explicitly concerned with notions of agency. The weird, we could say, is the jarring experience of the new, “a glitch in the Matrix”, for instance. The eerie is rather a sensation, like the sensation of being watched. (We can also argue, however, that the weird can also be a sensation in the form of deja vu, but this is perceptive rather than agentic.) Each concept is an expression for a whole entanglement of intensities, making complex and two-dimensional that which Freud flattened into the uncanny, the unhomely.

(Perhaps — although this is probably something to be further explored at another time — we can think of the weird as indexical whilst the eerie is causal, along the blurred lines of the thing-in-itself and the noumena…?)

If we return to the weird’s deontologising nature, just as Mark saw music as the most accessible way to think the affects of capitalist realism, sound remains the easiest (but also weirdest) way to consider the eerie.

Mark writes, entangling the eerie with the more accurate translation of the unheimlich as the unhomely:

A sense of the eerie seldom clings to enclosed and inhabited domestic spaces; we find the eerie more readily in landscapes partially emptied of the human. What happened to reproduce these ruins, this disappearance? What kind of entity was involved? What kind of thing was it that emitted such an eerie cry?

In discussing this passage during our Weird & Eerie reading group, I was reminded of an experience I had as a teenager, taking my camera for a walk and having a cheeky cigarette in the fields close to the family home.

Walking across a muddy field in pitch blackness, I heard a terrifying sound like nothing I had ever heard before. A scream which quite literally curdled my blood. It made me feel ill. At first I feared the worst: that somewhere, in this darkness, someone was being attacked, unseen and unheard by all but me.

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It me, listening to vixens. 2007.

But there was something wholly inhuman about this sound and it wasn’t until I had run home and told my Dad about what had happened that I learned this scream most likely belonged to a vixen.

A vixen’s scream is perhaps the perfect example of an eerie cry. (An extensive section of my notes following this story comes very recognisably from Kodwo Eshun.)

In my experience, this disembodied howl ruptured the event of my experience. It created its own world, the edges and contours of which were undefinable. It dislocated my own capacity to world in the process of listening.

It was a cry which came from a thing, a thing with a body, for sure, but a body which I could not describe with any confidence. It was a cry that overcame its own potential categorisation. Kodwo called it a “vocalic body”: the acousmatic cry creates a “body” which overcomes the body of the fox itself, he said.

This is what Mark would call a “force”.

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Sound additionally compounds the eerie in other ways. We spoke previously of how one of the most common sensations associated with the eerie is the sensation of being watched. What about the sensation of being listened to? And being listened to by what?

We can relate this to “our” “selves” through an experience we are all probably familiar with to some degree: the experience of hearing ourselves outside ourselves, i.e. the alien sensation of hearing and failing to recognise a recording of your own voice. We can note, in this instance, that how we normally hear our own voices is haptic. They are not transmitted to us through space, but through our bones. Our recorded selves emanate from a whole other body.

The sensation of the vocalic body can then lead us to ask: How does sound hear us? What do we gain from an understanding of ourselves in the ear of an entity? How do we hear ourselves as something hears us? Hearing, as opposed to seeing, is much harder to imagine. It’s weirder.

Kodwo:

What if we are nothing but a crack or a cry. A crack caught up in a pulsion. A cry caught up in a rhythm.

In Flatline Constructs, Mark was to highlight the perfect fictional example of this, found in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The painting showed a hairless, oppressed creature with a head like an inverted pear, its hands clapped in horror to its ears, its mouth open in a vast, soundless scream. Twisted ripples of the creature’s torment, echoes of its cry, flooded out into the air surrounding it; the man or woman, whichever it was, had become contained by its own howl. It had covered its ears against its own sound. The creature stood on a bridge and no one else was present; the creature screamed in isolation. Cut off by — or despite — its outcry. “He did a woodcut of this,” Rick said, reading the card tacked below the painting. “I think,” Phil Resch said, “that this is how an andy must feel.” He traced in the air the convolutions, visible in the picture, of the creature’s cry.”

What is Dick doing, in describing Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, this vision of the horror of Spinozic immanence, in relation to the specific experience of an “andy”, an android?

1200px-The_Scream

If we can identify Munch’s misshapen painting as an image of a vocalic body, what does this say about the way an android would feel? Mark, in Flatline Constructs, writes of media — via Mcluhan and Baudrillard — as an extension of the human body. What becomes of the subjective body and the vocalic body in moments of non-human haecceity? Is this a becoming-weird? A becoming-eerie?

Mark ends the introduction to his book with a more focused exposition of the eerie in particular:

The perspective of the eerie can give us access to the forces which govern mundane reality but which are ordinarily obscured, just as it can give us access to spaces beyond mundane reality altogether. It is this release from the mundane, this escape from the confines of what is ordinarily taken for reality, which goes some way to account for the peculiar appeal that the eerie possesses.

In the next posts in this series, I’d like to consider, through Mark’s own examples, what the rapturous potentials of a becoming-eerie have to do with Acid Communism specifically.

What I hope is clear by now, specifically in our discussion of Mark’s problematising of Freud, is that his deontologising of certain processes aids in the necessary disruption of self consolidation — the self that is consolidated by capitalist society. In this way, Mark’s recuperation of multiplicity is a form of schizoanalysis, but how might this be further put to use to change our world politically?

Some of you may have already picked up on connections between the disruption of self consolidation and the state consolidation antithetical to patchwork. We’ll consider a schizoanalytic patchwork later but first I’d like to write more about desire.

It is desire, as eerie a force as capital itself, that will be our ladder between Mark’s last and unfinished next book.

To be continued…

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The Lure of the Gothic

As I prepare the promised “Patchwork 101” post, I am all too aware of the dangers of considering this kind of thinking recklessly.

This post began as an aside within “Patchwork 101” itself but it grew too big and started to derail it. I feel, unfortunately, that what I write here is still worth saying. Much of what is to follow (I hope) is obvious, or at least I thought it was, but since I am questioned on it frequently perhaps this is not in fact the case.

So let this be a sort of disclaimer: an attempt to answer some questions that often come up with regards to the way — that is to say: the style, aesthetic, tone — I end up talking about topics like patchwork but also the make-up of this blog more generally.

My interest in the Gothic is probably one of the most frequently questioned and challenged aspects of this blog, particularly when mixed up with politics. “Why does everything have to be about death?” “What is the appeal of darkness and the Gothic when talking about supposedly ‘progressive’ politics?” “Why can’t these politics be about life instead?”

These questions are all legitimate. Other criticisms really aren’t.

Continue reading “The Lure of the Gothic”

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”

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.

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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)”