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”

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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

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


0            Spectres of Mark’s

January 14th 2017

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

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

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

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

…Surely…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold War, Colder World (Part 1)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stranger-Things-Eleven-DD-Board.jpg

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

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

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”

Introduction to ‘Flatline Constructs’

The Fisher-Function was a seven week lecture series at Goldsmiths, University of London, that orbited the work of the late Mark Fisher. Instead of the traditional lecture format, F-F took the form of collective reading and listening sessions, open to all. This text was written to introduce Week 6 of the programme which took place on June 1st, 2017.


Mark submitted his Philosophy and Literature PhD thesis to the University of Warwick in 1999. Entitled Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction, the thesis explores a radical plane of immanence—the Gothic flatline—on which the anthropocentric tendency to give agency to inanimate objects is subverted, so that everything—animate or inanimate—is seen as ‘dead’. Rather than privileging human agency over the agency of objects, Mark argues for their radical immanence within the
emerging technosphere: the world of cybernetics. He asks, “what if we are as ‘dead’ as the machines”?

Never one to alienate his audience with an isolated academic discourse, Mark illustrates his theory with a constellation of popular sci-f movies and books. Bursting with infuence from his time with the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, here Mark is nevertheless distinguishing himself from their anonymised hivemind, writing in a style that is very much his own—the Gothic Spinozist mode, frst articulated in his PhD thesis, that will
become familiar to readers of his later work. Mark defines Capitalist Realism, in part, as our ‘inertial, undead’ ideological default. In Ghosts of My Life he remembers darkside Jungle’s active identifcation with the ‘inorganic circuitry’ beneath the living tissue of the Terminator. In The Weird and the Eerie he expands his Gothic Materialism of the cybernetic, initially separated from the supernatural, to include the Fortean atmosphere of the English pastoral that so interested him in his later years, positioning neolithic stone circles alongside android anatomies.

In his eulogy to Mark, Robin Mackay wondered “what remains after the physical body’s gone, when the singularity of a life can no longer rely on that frail support and needs other carriers”. With this in mind, what role does this Gothic Materialism play within the Fisher-Function? Rather than becoming immediately facetious, can Mark’s real death recalibrate the stakes of his conceptual deaths? Can death in this mode be collectively thought in a way that prepares us for—and helps us to move beyond—our present reality, not only of personal grief but of capitalist apocalypticism?

Deleuze and Outsideness

A few months ago I ended up reading what – I think – is Gilles Deleuze’s first published essay, and I was pleasantly surprised how much it resonated with current questions I have regarding communism and outsideness.

The essay, titled “From Christ to the Bourgeoisie”, was published in 1946 in the short-lived philosophy journal Espace. Deleuze declares in the opening paragraph that “today many people no longer [believe] in interior life, it no longer pays to do so” and it is our “industrial and technical world” that has reduced mankind to “total exteriority.”

However, Deleuze argues, this is nonetheless a preferable position to be in despite the general cynicism towards a loss of moralising religiosity in some corners of social life at the time. He argues that the limiting of spirituality to interior life, as is Christianity and capitalism’s entangled raison d’etre, is to limit consciousness itself. He continues, highlighting the essentiality of externalisation to consciousness-raising:

Is there no spiritual life apart from interior life? In this purely objective world where the workman works with companions, the Leader [Chef], the Instigator [Meneur] can emerge. The Leader, is the one that reveals a possible world, in which for example the workman would no longer work for masters. But this world, thus revealed, remains external, no less external than the first world in which he was born. So much so that the first objective world envelops in itself the principle of its own negation, without reference to any interiority. The Leader is the one that offers a friendship, not love, a friendship within a team [équipe]. Out of friendship, the team consists in realizing the possible outside world that the chief revealed.

It all sounds sort of familiar.

The Outside is the ‘place’ of strategic advantage. To be cast out there is no cause for lamentation, in the slightest.