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”

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

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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)”

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”