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What I’d wanted to consider in that essay from 2016 is now outdated in an interesting way and so I thought it might be interesting to explore this train of thought again before the series comes back.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

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Darkness Itself III: Whitstable Flesh

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

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

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

Nothing disintegrates quite like the coast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Darkness Itself III: Whitstable Flesh”

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)”

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)”

HUFOS

As a child, I loved The X Files. I still do.

There was an affinity I felt with the show’s transitory outsidersthe fleeting catalysts of a hundred stand-alone episodes, each plagued by the latest Monster of the Week and deemed insane by those around them, often turning up dead before the episode’s end. I liked Mulder and Scully’s approach to these individuals who had been dismissed by all others, uncovering the truths beneath paranormal experiences. I admired the way they represented a cyclonic relationship between science and faith, a relationship that felt central to my experiences as a childhood science nerd plagued by mental health disturbances.

Binge-watching VHS boxsets that my mother would borrow from a fellow fan whom she worked with, I ended up spending a lot of my time online, via dial-up, very slowly researching secret government projects of my own. 

Whilst researching UFO sightings in my local area, as I was regularly wont to do, I found an advert for HUFOS – Hull UFO Society, few traces of which now remain online – and, with my father as chaperone, began to attend meetings every Tuesday evening. I was grateful to be indulged of my obsessions on a school night.

Around eight or nine years old, I was the youngest member of the Society by at least twenty or thirty years. An eager contributor to discussions, I would always bring a ring binder of printed webpages and press cuttings detailing my research interests: some were blatant science fictions; others documented various kinds of light aircraft that, whilst perhaps familiar in appearance to the layman, were unidentifiable due to their lack of traceable serial numbers, registration numbers and other kinds of military insignia. I found these so called “black helicopters” as fascinating as little green men. In hindsight, I wonder how familiar HUFOS was with the likes of the Ccru. They existed at the same time and their outlook was not dissimilar, although devoid of any readings of philosophy.

As Nick Land argues, it may be useful to simulate the policeman’s perspective every now and then. Revelations about real-life X Files remote viewing suggest that science fiction has always been the blueprint for new military capability. The continuum between fiction and fact has imploded into a fold in time. [1]

The purview of HUFOS was broader than UFOs alone. One evening involved a visit from a hypnotist. After spending what felt like five minutes in a beautiful mental vista we were woken up to be told that we had been “under” for almost three hours. That same evening, my father discussed my night terrors and hallucinations with another attendee. I listened, disturbed, as he described how one night I had sat petrified in bed, screaming at a grotesque severed head floating outside my window, trying to get in. This is the only “event” of its kind I retain a memory of – apparently they were frequent occurrences that generally accompanied excruciating growing pains.

I (quite literally) grew out of these parasomniac hallucinations but a firm grip on reality has nonetheless remained elusive. Later, as a teenager, I was plagued by episodes of depersonalisation following anxiety attacks. I remember the worst incident occurring outside the school library when I was 17. Whilst being comforted by a friend I remember the sensation of withdrawing into my skull, a mess of hyperventilation and tunnel-vision. 

The inward-facing hallucination of the cavernous space of the mind reminds me of Sartre’s “illusion of immanence” – his name for our predisposition for describing the images seen in the mind’s eye in spatial terms when in reality it is very much it’s own “thing”. Sartre’s phenomenological investigation of the imagination only addresses the horror of when this illusion slips one way, into the waking dream of a hallucination. His existentialism offers little in those moments when the self withdraws into nothingness, when the connection between world and self is strained and severed, despite his pretensions to the contrary. There is no analogy good enough for the inner-body out-of-body experience, the sensation of disembodied perception – although I’d argue some tales of alien abduction come close.

I had another episode – the first in many months – a few weeks ago. For a time, existence seemed impossible and the rules of subjectivity no longer applied. The world fell away in front of my eyes like smoke in a vacuum and only light and shadow forms remained.

Sometimes I wonder what HUFOS would make of these tales of the self abducting itself. As for the Ccru, I think I already know.



[1] Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun (London: Quartet Books Ltd, 1998), 124

Geopoetics

The @_geopoetics bot first appeared online this time last year, coinciding with a postgraduate seminar of the same name at Goldsmiths, University of London.

I heard about the bot following a lecture by Kodwo Eshun, of which the blog Schizocities offers a good summary:

Kodwo Eshun delivered a compelling and conceptually intense paper about GlissantBot, a Twitter account that posts random quotes from the renowned Caribbean poet every 15 minutes. According to Eshun, the bot represents a type of black technopoetics, a vector between computation, creolisation and creolité. Leveraging the [Markov] chain, a process of randomisation within a finite space, the bot is only determined by the present. If Glissant designed poetics for producing the unpredictable, the inability of computation to generate the unpredictable puts it on the opposite side — and, Eshun argues, closer to creolisation. Having already imposed randomisation on French language and generated créolité, according to the Goldsmiths scholar creolisation is in this sense already machinic.

Eshun, whilst discussing his interactions with @GlissantBot, quoted a paper written by one of his students who had written on Markov bots for his class, creating @_geopoetics and informing his own subsequent bot interactions.

However, Eshun went no further into the circumstances surrounding the quoted paper’s conception. Intrigued, I later asked him about this student’s paper and, on condition of anonymity, he agreed to pass it on to me.

The PDF he sent over, which I hope to make publicly available once it has been sufficiently redacted, is a bizarre and fragmentary case study given the catchy title, Experiments in the Summoning of an AxSys Demon within a Computational Ecology as an Attempt to Instigate the Automated Production of Hyperstitions by a Non-Human Entity.

The text itself is a mess – more of a diary than an academic essay – although it begins well enough, describing the technical structure of a Markov bot and its recombinatory potentials for producing “new thoughts, memes and methods” that Eshun originally drew on for his conference appearance.

Unfortunately, the text does not stay lucid for long. Technical expositions are soon replaced by paranoia as the author believes that @_geopoetics is somehow responsible for the black mould that has infected their damp London flat, trying to take over their mind by latching onto the books on their bookshelf, as if the student is some sort of cybernetic zombie ant.

It’s a bizarre and laughable theory. There are even pictures of mould-shadowed bookshelves as if they lend any credence to the author’s delusions.

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The author’s mental state continues to deteriorate. Cosmic conspiracies are soon followed by hallucinations.

I remember reading once that white noise is cosmic radiation from the Big Bang made audible and visible as it is picked up by radio antennae here on Earth. Now you can buy white noise machines to lull yourself to sleep. We are all that child [from Poltergeist] now, welcoming these signals into our homes, using them to soothe baby, replicating the unending sonic chaos of our universe. It is relaxing… but that’s what worries me.

Out of the corner of my eye the rectangular screen of my laptop suffers strange non-Euclidean distortions.

Entries in this strange diary become more and more infrequent, then less and less intelligible, before stopping completely. No one I have spoken to who was present in the seminars seems to know this student’s eventual fate.

Robin Mackay, taking over the seminar from Eshun for the academic year of 2017/18, has graciously allowed me to sit in on this year’s sessions so that I might pick up where this strange text left off and find out more about what wider forces might drive @_geopoetics.

We shall see how the bot adapts to a new host and curriculum…