Responsibility and Justice

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about “responsibility” and how it relates to “justice” following an anti-Landian encounter at a party recently (discussed here). This is something I see as being related to U/ACC in my understanding of that burgeoning theory of Acceleration and I’m going to continue to try make sense of it for myself here.

Whilst “responsibility” may be counter-intuitive to a position of anti-praxis at first glance, my interest in it at the moment is helping me to articulate a fission between my thoughts on philosophies of community and a number of recent life experiences — namely, my stringent and repeatedly expressed belief in the potency of politics of “community” as espoused by the likes of Bataille and Blanchot which has recently been ungrounded (but also, paradoxically, vindicated) by the reality of communities of trauma and the affects of accelerated entropy that haunt them in their pressurised coming-together.

I won’t go into too much detail about those experiences as they have taken shape more recently but they are epitomised for me by this tweet:

This tweet, at the time it was posted, felt like a well-deserved dig at the paradoxical affects of leftist politics on the broader function (or, rather, potential) of communal care. It felt like a symptom of a contemporary Leftist sociality, mutated by filter bubbles and the option to “block” and “mute” online, with the potential to enact versions of those things on a whim IRL having messy, self-defeating consequences.

I found myself bitterly thinking: What use is a politics of “community” when communities inevitably fall apart? What good is any community built on principles of insufficiency? How can any sort of “community” be constituted when we are so eager to abandon each other?

I was quickly frustrated at myself when, taking a step back, I realised that these were precisely the questions raised by Maurice Blanchot in his book The Unavowable Community, which I had read repeatedly and diligently over the previous 12 months. I was unable to see how those issues could be constituted in a reality shaped by a grief so long in the tooth, my vision clouded by stress and paranoia.

Community, in this sense, is not an object or a fenced-in group. Jean-Luc Nancy has poetically referred to it as the between “us”. Perhaps, then, we can think of “community” as a responsibility, a duty, to an immaterial rupture.

Continue reading “Responsibility and Justice”



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.


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…

Mental Health Asteroid

Originally part of yesterday’s post, After the End of the World (Part 1), this post feels more at home on its own. Nonetheless, there’s a cross-pollination of references.

Social trauma, in the process of making-sense, often requires analogies to be formed — regularly channelling apocalyptic imagery to exacerbate a radical destruction of the sociopolitical “world-for-us” that violence of many kinds affectively instantiates.

Such analogies have been endemic in the aftermath of the neverending disruptions to the sociopolitical landscape that have occurred over the last few years. In late 2016, writing in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election in the US, Laurie Penny diagnosed the extremity of psychological affects being experienced by many in that moment as precisely the destruction of “our world”.

The rise to power and election of Donald J. Trump is the sick recrimination of a society shriveled by anger and anxiety, and the response from deep within the psyche of the same society has been various degrees of panic, depression, and grief. Illinois suicide hotlines have been overwhelmed since the election, with calls up 200 percent, according to Chicago public health officials. A mental health asteroid has smashed into the carapace of a culture already calcified with anxiety and ambient dread. Major newsrooms are rumored to have hired in therapists so their journalists can continue to work. Everyone is wondering what this crisis will mean for their future, for their families, trying to work out how they’ll cope. Some coping strategies, however, are more dangerous than others.

I repeatedly referred to this passage within the community that formed in the aftermath of Mark Fisher’s death in 2017 as we tried to make sense of and inhabit the rupture that it opened up within and around us.

A mental health asteroid has smashed into the carapace of a culture already calcified with anxiety and ambient dread”.

Whilst the affective catastrophe this phrase described resonated with the “structures of feeling” that arose in late 2016 and early 2017, as time progressed that resonance dwindled as our “community” repeatedly changed shape. (A lot more on that here).

Despite its eventual redundancy in the face of flux, the image conjured by Penny is nonetheless powerful in its paradoxical nature. The disaster she describes is an asteroid without a crater; a shockwave felt but not seen; a horrific planetary event without the disaster-movie spectacle and mass extinction it seems to promise. It is a disaster that leaves everything standing.

Continue reading “Mental Health Asteroid”

After the End of the World (Part 1)

January 2015: Darryl Pinckney reports from the front line in Ferguson, Missouri, for the New York Review of Books. He is present for the announcement that the police officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted for killing Michael Brown.

Reverend Osagyefo Sekou, a Boston pastor and well-known civil rights activist, is also present and welcomes Pinckney into his group whilst they look for shelter following the announcement and the subsequent civil unrest. Riotous scenes of social self-harm travel around the world.

Sekou, despite being a staunch advocate for nonviolent protest and resolution, does not blame Ferguson’s residents and their supporters for attacking the police and the town itself:

[Reverend Sekou] feels that the system hasn’t worked and now needs to be born again. The young demonstrating in Ferguson had faced tear gas and assault rifles. “There isn’t any political terrain for them to engage in other than putting their bodies on the line.”

Thanks to Tobias Ewe for sharing the following post of Jehu’s on social media recently: Land, Wilderson and the Nine Billion Names of GodI hadn’t read it previously.

(As ever, I miss Jehu’s Twitter.)

What Jehu’s post does is articulate a position that I’ve been thinking about for some time now but he does so more astutely and more succinctly than I ever could — and it is the sort of treacherous position that it is better not to articulate at all if you can’t articulate it well.

Reading Jehu’s post has made me want to pull further at the frayed threads of the Left’s inability to write off humanity as Nick Land supposedly dares them to do.

Jehu writes:

For the longest time, I thought — mistakenly — that people just didn’t get Land — and in large part because they just didn’t get Marx. There is no way, I thought, you could lay Land and Marx side by side and not see they were talking about the same thing.

I have to admit now that I was wrong. The Left will never get Land because Land only offers them death. The idea that death is the culmination of history is a concept that can never be embraced by the Left.

This is a position I’ve tried to explored (tentatively) on this blog a few times over the past few months, or at least I feel I have orbited this point. It was also the central drive behind a paper written in late 2016 which was to be my first foray into notions of community and exit — Monastic Vampirism:

Let us take a shuffling step away from Left melancholia towards of a new Gothic politic – from Old Left to New Left to Dead Left.

There is a sense, in this (now old) articulation, that the invocation of death is facetious but I have always taken it seriously.

The Black Lives Matter movement in the US has been a primary inspiration that I have always been dissuaded from considering head-on (a fair suggestion).

BLM is a humanist political movement that has been built upon chants in which protesters self-identified with the deceased. Desiring to build on this sentiment is not to invoke All Lives Matter but rather to try to learn something from the communality of death that All Lives Matter fails to account for; to learn from the specificity of BLM in the aid of other specificities, all of which orbit each other in their intensive affectivities.

As such, these issues of race and black radicalism have lurked constantly in the background of my readings and writings over the past year but they have always ended up as footnotes and offcuts, primarily because it doesn’t feel like my place to articulate a cultural perspective that is not my own.

I also have a number of friends who are much better informed about these issues than I am.

Despite this, as I find myself reading various elucidations of the horror of whiteness and its disintegration in so much SF, to avoid an adjacent recognition of the horror of blackness (whether in its xenophobic or xenophilic mode) feels increasingly short-sighted.

If we are to learn anything about how to proceed from moments of collective trauma, ontological questions of blackness are essential.

Continue reading “After the End of the World (Part 1)”

Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and the Fisher-Function


[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…


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”

2017 Exit

2017 is almost over. It’s time to embrace the Gothic undercurrents of Christmas time and exacerbate its Dickensian emotional templexity to its fullest potentials by looking to the past, present and future…

It’s been a great few months blogging again and I am so grateful for the few readers that I have had so far. This is, I think, my 5th blog in as many years (and the second one of this year). All previous blogs have died sudden and impulsive deaths, euthanised by the double bind of a depressive low and a lack of audience. The difference this time round is that I am writing under a pseudonym and this is without a doubt the best decision I have ever made online. (I must try not to be cynical about how much more receptive and interested people are to writing when they don’t know who has authored it.)

Nevertheless, the frequency of posts on Xenogoth has finally started to slow down after a few months of arguably posting far too much.

I must confess: this is because my pooled assortment of short essays and amputated footnotes written over the past twelve months, which I have so far been drawing on, is reaching its end. Whilst there are still 50 drafts languishing in limbo, these will take quite some time to develop and half will probably end up in the trash.

Suffice to say, I’ll be taking my time from now on.

Most importantly, however, the dwindling of this pile of left-overs means that I can no longer ignore the two much longer and more substantial texts that I am desperate to finish and self-publish in the New Year. One is currently book-length and I have had on my mind for that for some time now. The other might be serialised somewhere new.

An additional platform has also emerged – my new and already godforsaken CuriousCat profile. You can now “ask me anything” here. Whilst it is primarily a space for shitposting anons, a couple of the questions received so far have been provocative enough to become fuel for future posts.

I also want to try and keep up some sort of sustained philosophical project that allows for semi-regular posts and I’m anticipating that in 2018 that will present itself as a swing towards the Kantian.

Over the past few years I have set myself the task of closely reading one major work of philosophy because I have a tendency to flit about and only dip into things when needed. (Despite expectations, the postgraduate degree I spent most of 2017 working towards only encouraged this further.) So, in 2018 I’ve decided I want to read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, along with J.M. Bernstein (possibly supplementing the lack of Deleuze, et al., with a little help from my #CaveTwitter pals).

The joy of blogs has always been, for me, an opportunity to show my thinking and doing so with the added pressure of knowing it is open to public scrutiny means learning from mistakes a lot faster – and there will certainly be mistakes.

Taking on this project also provides me with an opportunity to “move on” from a lot of thinking from the past year.

Earlier this week I officially graduated from Goldsmiths, and the past 12 months there have been some of the toughest I’ve ever known. The way I decided to work through the events of the past year has been to channel them through my Masters dissertation which looked at the trajectory of Mark Fisher’s work over the last two decades of his life and tried to think a future for it in line with what Robin Mackay termed the Fisher-Function – and particularly its potential collective modes. All this was explored against a frank consideration of collective mourning and melancholia that threatened to smother the university in the months following Mark’s death.

I had begun 2017 closely reading Bataille’s Summa Atheologica alongside Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy’s writings on “community”. The communal rupture that Mark’s death instigated at Goldsmiths made the stakes of that thinking traumatically palpable. I didn’t know how to write on anything else. However, whilst “community” (in their sense) remains a very important concept for me moving forwards, I need to spend less time thinking about it solely in orbit of Mark’s work and the event of his death. I also need to get as far away as possible from the toxicity that has unfortunately never been far away at the university and which has only become more noticeable in hindsight.

Time has made this a necessity rather than making it easier. It feels strange to have spent so much of this year dwelling on the event of Mark’s death only for the same time of year to come around again. Wandering around in the biting dark in New Cross makes me think of little else than spiralling out into nowhere and struggling to find my way back to sadness. I am eternally grateful for those at Goldsmiths who felt similar – and there were so many people who did – and in our spiralling out we soon found ourselves uncomfortably but compassionately in orbit of one another. The heroic amounts of patience and compassion that emerged from this traumatic syzygy is astounding to me still but it was ultimately shortlived. I can’t help but feel that same depression rearing its head on the realisation that so much of that togetherness has since mutated into something else that seems fuelled by competition and infighting rather than collective care and compassion. (Although the illusion that the latter is still intact remains for some.)

All I feel like saying, as 2018 rushes up from the horizon, is: never mind.

I’ve moved on.

There remain many individual relationships that I hold very dear at the end of 2017, within Goldsmiths in particular, and my social depression and renewed tendency to isolate myself has been occasioned by very, very few. The foundation of my own sense of communality has nevetheless revealed itself rotten but there remains a constellation of individuals who, whilst being somewhat disparate, continue to give me hope. In fact, it is the disparateness of their constellation that is the most inspiring. I smile to think that there are people that I am regularly in touch with around the world, many of whom do not know each other, but who nevertheless share this unspoken secret of community and with far more success than those who have comported themselves towards it with a conscious effort. Both within and without Goldsmiths, I think you’ll know who you are reading this.

Pete Wolfendale is one of them although he won’t recognise himself as such. I do not know Pete but, having read his blog post Transcendental Blues this morning, I almost feel like I do. Besides my own past experiences of depression in Sunderland – although its the cliffs at Roker I walked rather than Ryhope – his reaction to the news of Mark’s death is all too familiar. To read this post is to be transported back to January 2017 – a surreal experience as I wait impatiently for January 2018 to get itself over with. I can’t recommend his post enough.

Whilst it is mournful, there is nevetheless a drive within the post that I recognise from my own Masters dissertation. Whilst it considers the past in the mournful present there is a palpable sense that this working-through is aimed towards a new dawn of something-better-than-this – in a way that is more affectively critical and personal than politically utopian.

More than anything, that is what I want from this blog moving forwards. Whilst the constant references to Fisher’s writings may not stop completely, in the New Year I would like to build upon its foundation rather than continue to dwell on it.

I think Pete highlights the perfect post of Mark’s for this sentiment – Abandon hope (summer is coming) – following which he writes:

Mark long advised us not to fall into easy patterns of online behaviour, micro-addictions, dopamine loops, and attention traps that have been designed to capture our cognitive mechanisms, and customised to our unique behavioural profile. Perhaps more than anyone he saw social media as the new frontier of Deleuze’s society of control, not simply deterritorialising and reterritorialising existing disciplinary institutions in strange and more bureaucratic ways, but a whole new plane on which the subpersonal undercurrents of the personal were laid open to observation and manipulation. However, he also refused the obvious conservative response: “Kids these days with their twitter and instagram! Why can’t they all just look up from their phones, get offline, and live real lives?” His answer was that we should use social media pro-actively, not reactively. So I’m redirecting my word generators away from Facebook and back to WordPress. Will this mean a return to the good old days of Deontologistics? Probably not, but who knows? If I write nothing more than this, then at least that will be something.

I’ll say it again: if you’re reading this, thanks for making this blog a highlight of what has ultimately been a shitfuck of a 2017. I hope you’ll stick with me for 2018 and beyond.

Monastic Vampirism

In the 100+ years since Nietzsche wrote of the madman in the marketplace, other mad figures have emerged to think (and try to articulate) the unthinkable. For a long time, much of the energy of this madness has been directed towards capitalism, so notoriously difficult for us to think ourselves outside of. Madness in the Age of Reason was to be unreasonable. Now, in the age of Trump, in the age of fake news and engineered political chaos, what does it mean to think differently, to think against hegemonic thought? What is madness when madness is POTUS?

Since the industrial revolution, Foucault argues, time has taken on a new significance as a way to control productive activity. Since the 18th and 19th centuries, institutions of all kinds have revolved around disciplinary time in order to maximise the efficiency of individual work; “a time of good quality, throughout which the body is constantly applied to its exercise”. This, and other kinds of control and discipline, create “docile bodies”, Foucault says – submissive bodies that accept and internalise the control exerted upon them.

In his descriptions of the applications of disciplinary time, Foucault acknowledges the influence of monasticism on the modern rhythms of our lives. “For centuries, the religious orders had been masters of discipline”, he writes, “they were the specialists of time, the great technicians of rhythm and regular activities.” He describes the “factory-monastery” of the 17th century and its purposeful retention of religious organising and incentive in order to discipline workers.

For Giorgio Agamben, however, in his book The Highest Poverty, Foucault’s references to monasticism are reductive, failing to take into account the longevity, complexity and originally radical aims of these religious communities. Agamben’s study of monasticism explores the ways in which monks seek “to construct a form-of-life, that is to say, a life that is linked so closely to its form that it proves to be inseparable from it”. However, the monk’s aim was not to engage in a life of discipline as an alternative to self-flagellation. As Adam Kotsko explains: “secular law aims to provide boundaries to life through the imposition of prohibitions and punishments, monastic rules aim to positively shape the life of the monks.”

Continue reading “Monastic Vampirism”