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”

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Nationalist Realism

Capitalism is pervasive across the entirety of the globe. An obvious point but one that warrants more careful consideration.

Capitalist realism cannot be thought of without a consideration for its Cthulhic (and Cthelllic) global tendrils that weave their way through, over and around our nation-states. When we talk about the end of the world being easier to imagine than the end of capitalism, this is no doubt partly why. Ours in a world so thoroughly entangled with itself and it is capital that seems to do much of the entangling.

Is this even further exacerbated by the dovetailing of capital’s and the Left’s globalising tendencies? Is it a coincidence that the fracturing of (geo)political subjectivities has brought about new hopes for postcapitalist futures? Can we glimpse something other through the ever-growing cracks?

Patchwork is a way of widening these cracks to finally see the plethora of futures that might lie ahead.


Another obvious observation: Capitalism is an economic and — thanks to its parasite neoliberalism — political system that is sewn into the very fabric of our national identities.

Perhaps, in corroding Mark Fisher’s “capitalist realism” down to its implicit and constitutive parts, we can also consider a kind of “nationalist realism” — here defined as our belief in the Nation as a sacred concept that, like its more explicitly economic counterpart, is given its shape by processes of dreamwork.

In my previous post, “Egress“, I quoted Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and his exploration of Freud’s dreamwork as being that process which legitimises capitalism as a system despite itself:

When we are dreaming, we forget, but immediately forget that we have done so; since the gaps and lacunae in our memories are Photoshopped out, they do not trouble or torment us. What dreamwork does is to produce a confabulated consistency which covers over anomalies and contradictions, and it is this which Wendy Brown picked up on when she argued that it was precisely dreamwork which provided the best model for understanding contemporary forms of power. [1]

Perhaps we can consider the Nation — and, in turn, nationalism; nationness — in a similar way. Patchwork becomes, in this framework, the antithesis to dreamwork — making inconsistencies its foundation rather than glossing over them.


Nationalists are, as Benedict Anderson writes, members of an “imagined community“. Nations and their cultures shape an illusionary consistency in the minds of their citizens that are at odds with reality. Whilst Fisher argues that we must awaken ourselves to the illusions of capitalist realism, it is increasingly apparent that we should take note of inconsistencies in other areas of political thought too.

Whereas Mark believed that the cultural dissolution of capitalist realism could lead to the instantiation of a New Politics, a New Future, the cultural dissolution of the idea of the Nation-State could likewise lead to the blossoming of something new.

To further build on “Egress”, perhaps we can consider Left melancholia as a feeling of impotency with this similarly closed structure of the nation-state. As the Left hangs onto its utopian, globalist vision of a world without borders, it ignores not only the concerns over immigration of its supposedly right-wing opposition but also the internal fragmentation of its own ideological “borders”.

This is not to say that immigration scare-mongering holds much water but it is evidently a symptom of the fracturing of illusionary nationalist psyches. This is not something to be afraid of, as we have tentatively been exploring.

Elsewhere in “Egress”, I quoted Simon O’Sullivan’s essay “The Missing Subject of Accelerationism“:

On the face of it what has become known as left accelerationism involves something more immediately recognisable: a communist subject, or a subject that is the product of collective enunciation […] a ‘new’ kind of (human) subject, the result of the knitting together of ‘disparate proletarian identities’, and one capable of ‘abductive experimentation’ in to how best to act in the world.

What is this “knitting together” if not precisely a patchwork, providing new potentials for our burgeoning geontologies?

Nationalist Realism is not only a belief, of course, it is an atmosphere. Like Fisher’s capitalist realism, it is a “pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action.”

It is likewise something to be overcome but we remain skittish around the suggestion.

What this blog has been trying to make clear recently is that this needn’t be the case.

More on this in future…




[1] Mark Fisher. Capitalist Realism (London: Zero Books, 2009), 60.

An Introduction to Sadposting

My previous post ‘Disturbed‘ came out in a flurry. I spent all of the next day thinking about deleting it.

I wrote it on my phone in about twenty minutes, my mind racing whilst lying in bed, reminiscing, dumping thoughts into my WordPress app in the hope that I might sleep better — I did — but thinking maybe it was too personal or too emotional to have on this blog…

Then I hit publish, set my alarm and rolled over.

It’s not a big deal, really. And yet why am I still so anxious about it?


What does a post like that say? It’s not subject to the same standards of more theoretical posts and I think my anxiety is that it is nonetheless viewed in that same way.

Writing, as a hobby, often speaks to momentary feelings and experiences and needn’t do anything more than that.

Consider this post a fragmentary and confessional introduction to that sort of post, regarding what I haven’t been able to say to those around me in recent weeks.

Continue reading “An Introduction to Sadposting”

Patchwork Pub Chat

Local government reorganisation is a great British hobby

Patchwork posts are stalling as I consider turning this investigation into something more purposefully substantial and long-form.

The PhD itch might need scratching soon…

Questions for future posts keep piling up as I dive deeper into the subjective fracturing inherent to the Gothic novel and read up on non-humanities takes on geopolitics.

Last night, with all this in mind, I met someone who works in city planning between Newcastle and Manchester and who is as enamoured by Yorkshire’s fractured infrastructure as I am.

He spoke about, for instance, how Leeds is the biggest city in the EU without a metro system and advocated higher connectivity between the county’s various cities. In his professional view, it was this lack of effective transport infrastructure alone that has held the county back from reaching its otherwise obvious potential to be a nation in its own right.

It was interesting to hear this call for better internal connectivity between Yorkshire’s cities when the government’s solution remains to forge “high speed” rail links to London to increase prosperity…

He said that One Yorkshire was the only way to go.

As he kept talking about connectivity, I decided to pitch patchwork to him as a model of “low integration, high connectivity.” I wasn’t very successful getting through to him — “I’m not a lefty but that sounds far too corporate for my liking”. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to hear someone actively working in this area, fascinated by local authority boundary changes, highlighting various regional secessionary trends but still holding on to that dream of blanket unification, even when it seemed to be antithetical to what he himself saw as the best way forward.


Ed Berger recently sent over a study on this sort of entanglement of unificatory and secessionary trends in a paper titled “Contested Sovereignty: Mapping Referendums on Sovereignty over Time and Space“, mentioned in an article on the history of “sovereignty referendums” in the Washington Post.

The spiral of conflicting sovereignties is fascinating. I can’t help but be reminded, reading the WP article, of how Nigel Farage declared the day the Brexit vote was announced as “our Independence Day”.

Farage was rightly ridiculed, considering so many Independence Days around the world celebrate the end of British rule, but does this not highlight just how entangled our various political and economic unions are in the minds of so many?

The British empire has dissolved (at least as a symbol of power) and the Soviet Union fell only 25 years ago. Now other unions exist in their places. They’re not strictly comparable, of course, but as these unions layer up on top of each other’s former or contested boundaries, the fracturing of identities is hardly a surprising result.

It seems obvious to me now, nationally and internationally, that there is a conflict over which future will win out — unified or patchwork. Desires for both seem internalised by many.

If you’re still wondering what the production of subjectivity has to do with patchwork, surely these trends reveal how it is in fact the eye of the storm. The conflict is as internally subjective as it is externally geopolitical.

Whichever one wins out globally will have a currently unimaginable impact on who we think we are.

Disturbed

I had wanted to write a post about the “crisis actors” conspiracy a few weeks back, following the Parkland shooting, but it didn’t come together quick enough to stay relevant and interesting.

The memetic entropy of some political arguments is pretty astounding.

One circular debate that is persevering, however, is that the students of that school are partly to blame for not being more accepting and trying to help Nicholas Cruz. Their response has been consistent and clear: “You didn’t know this kid.”

There’s an interesting dynamic to this that is very illuminating. Partly, it’s the tone of empathy that these people have for Cruz. As if to say, I know what it’s like to be ostracised at school — sometimes I felt like shooting up these arseholes too.

Evidently, Cruz isn’t a one off and he’s just one instance of a certain kind of fragile masculinity that has snapped. I’m sure we all know kids like that — the kind of kids that only need an excuse.

The difference is, those who were mindlessly ostracised because kids are definitely cruel aren’t the ones who shoot up their schools.

I’ve got my own sob stories of being bullied for lacking a certain level of masculinity or generally being a sexually repressed teenager. Most men do because men are weird. Those experiences are not comparable to the kids who were ostracised out of fear.


I saw a tweet on the timeline, quoting an essay by a Parkland student, who hit the nail on the head:

But it also brought back a memory from my primary school days, of a “friendship” from that time which has continued to haunt me.

Being in the UK, school violence on this scale isn’t a consideration, but I still knew kids like Cruz.

I remember one is particular who was a really difficult kid. We had had a fraught friendship. My Mum worked as a social worker specialising in foster children and other troubled kids and so young people who had had unstable starts in life were often at our house and I often seemed to end up on play dates with the difficult kids after their parents would chat to mine in the playground. Most were the sweetest kids just looking for a friend. On a handful of occasions, they would be straight up sadists.

This one kid in particular was a constant presence. Ostracised by everyone else, I repeatedly tried to befriend him but instead he only made me his target, verbally bullying for the most part. Towards the end of primary school, he’d started to become more physically violent.

The first instance I remember was when he grabbed my then “girlfriend” (quotes because we were 9, so…) and, like some sort of movie villain, held her like a human shield with a sharpened pencil to her jugular as if to provoke me somehow when the teacher had left the room. All I remember was being terrified. I’d never seen someone threaten violence that explicitly in real life before. She was just pissed and I remember she slapped him after wriggling free but she didn’t see the look in his eyes that I had seen. I felt like I went into shock.

His violence escalated but was short-lived. I later heard that, one day, whilst I was off school sick, he’d jumped on the back of a friend of mine during lunch break. He’d simply been shrugged off but landed in such a way that he broke his femur. He spent 6 months in a leg brace after that, humiliated, and didn’t attack anyone again.

This kid was never provoked. He simply wanted to show off his strength somehow and any humiliation he suffered was brought on by his own failed attempts to torment others.

He made it to Year 8 at secondary school before being removed from mainstream education. He still wasn’t violent anymore. Rumours went around that he had terrible insomnia and was going to be home educated.

We never saw him again.

I still thought about him often, however, as a sort of boogeyman, a terror of my childhood.

When I was in my early 20s, I saw him in the local paper. He’d been arrested for the rape of a local boy and the grooming of another, both whilst working as a local football coach. He’d lured them in with football-related trading cards. One of the boys text his parents what had happened, too ashamed and scared to tell them to their faces. They then notified the police who found 1000s of child abuse images downloaded from the Internet on his computer.

I followed the case really closely. Mortified that he’d finally found victims who were helpless before him. Still the same age group, only now he was older. He got sentenced to 7 years or something, I think, and life on the Sex Offenders Register. He should be out soon by that count…

This haunts me (beyond the obvious reasons) because this is a boy that I felt, in a perverse sort of way, very close to. I felt like I knew him really well, in that way you get to know bullies in trying to protect yourself and predict their actions. I used to watch him like a hawk, never wanting to be caught off guard by a tantrum. I never thought things would go this far though.

I remember after it had happened I felt that same sense of shock, as if I’d known “evil” and had dodged a proverbial bullet.

I can’t help but feel like these are the sorts of people I keep seeing parts of my Twitter feed defending.

Disturbed kids aren’t for kids to deal with. They’re always their victims, even before they murder them.

Salida Zapatista

A great question from Anon on CuriousCat earlier today:

Dude, loved reading your exit posts that you’ve been producing recently (just finished the one on the gothic line). It isn’t something i’ve seen you talk about (and don’t really know if you’re interested), but would love to know if/what you think about exit-movements in latin american such as the zapatista movement or indiginous resistance in places like Brazil (well, thinking about it i really can’t even tell if they can be considered the type of exit politics you’ve been drawing up, but still seems like there’d be some spark).


To expand on my direct but more informal reply:

The way I see it, any future instantiation of large-scale patchwork is wholly dependent on movements of internal resistance, whether indigenous or otherwise.

The Zapatista movement, in particular, is a fascinating example. I remember they were repeatedly mentioned last year by a Guatamalan friend of mine who was particularly interested in artistic forms of protest (as performance art or otherwise) and so the Zapatistas, with their inherently creative approaches towards resistance, are an fantastic example of the various forms exit strategies can take.

Anon’s reticence to refer to these movements as coming under “exit politics” is understandable. There is little “physical” exit involved in their aims but, as has been explored in various forms already on this blog, exit must likewise refer to the carving up of “interiors” — whether geopolitical or ontological.

The seasteading movement, for all its faults, is certainly aware of this (at one level) and so they have actively pursued the creation of entirely new territories. This is most likely an easier way to achieve secession (if you’ve got the resources) than the carving up of what is deemed to be the pre-existing sovereign territory of a nation-state. However, that doesn’t alleviate the problems of other subject groups.

This is partly why I have stuck to considerations of a UK patchwork. Not only is it my home country (“write about what you know”, and all that), but border lines have been constantly shifting here for centuries, whether related to the Irish Troubles, Welsh devolution, Scottish independence and other examples, like Yorkshire, which I’ve already been considering here.

But beyond this, the main reason is that post-colonial politics are not, admittedly, my forte. Therefore, references to these politics have been glaringly absent from this blog — but absence is not a sign of indifference.

The post-colonial politics of Latin America and India — to take another example — have repeatedly been on my periphery. (India especially, as last year I spent a surprising amount of time working on art projects that were related to Indian independence from British rule — 2017 marked the 60th anniversary of this. For instance, to momentarily lift up my lazily-maintained mask of anonymity, I worked on this.)

Continue reading “Salida Zapatista”

A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation

One of the first posts on this blog was about Star Trek: Discovery. The new series — a weird, templexed adventure set prior to The Original Series (TOS) whilst at the same time being the most technologically advanced we’ve so far seen — introduced a new kind of engine, vastly superior to the warp drive, that was to unpin all of the series’ plot twists and turns. I referred to it as “a tardigrade-powered rhizomatic nomad engine” and, having just finished the series earlier this week, I stand by that descriptor.

Unfortunately, what happened (of course) was that the crew were incapable of properly harnessing it.

The second half of the series — spoiler warning — dealt with some of the more complex issues of using such a system, particularly when the Discovery ended up having to use an ill-fitting human pilot after inadvertently killing off their original giant space tardigrade.

The main result of this experiment was that the crew of the Discovery, adjusting to their new tech, slipped through into a parallel (or, rather “Mirror”) universe where the United Federation of Planets (UFP) did not exist and human civilisation had rather colonised outer space as a “Terran” intergalactic empire, characterised by a penchant for bloody-thirsty backstabbing, human supremacy, the enslavement of “lesser” species and adhering to a neo-Roman fascist ideology. (Kind of like the Klingons in the primary universe.)

The heavy caricaturing of either side sounds fairly dull here and could, in less capable hands, feel like prog sci-fi getting high on its own supply — it wouldn’t be the first time Star Trek pushed the “our universe is so wholesome and ethical, our opposite is obviously the worst space Nazi, fascist regime imaginable” line — but there were just enough dollops of moral ambiguity on all sides to make for a somewhat consistently compelling journey.

It wasn’t really a surprise that the show went this way and, for all its faults, it did ask questions that felt prescient to our present moment — even if just by capturing our present political paranoia.

“How far is the UFP from the Terran empire, really?”

Both had fought a war with the Klingons but the Terrans had won their war already. In their universe, the UFP were only delaying defeat… Should the UFP, on their return, adopt some Terran tactics to avoid extinction? Should the Terrans take notes from the UFP, when they tumble into vicious post-victory in-fighting?…

Intergalactic horseshoe politics.

Star Trek has, throughout its various versions, set itself up as a “progressive” show, by the measures of the time it was made in. This is, to my mind, the “Star Trek spirit”. I am not a TOS loyalist. I knew that what was wrong with the most recent run of films was that, although they were good fun, they lost their “Star Trek” sheen by simply updating TOS aesthetically whilst retaining outdated displays of chivalry and machismo.

Adam Kotsko raises an interesting point about this in one of a new series of Star Trek: Discovery-themed posts over on An und für sich.

He writes how most of the series following TOS have tried to “distance themselves from some of the unsavory aspects of TOS itself, like the sexism, the tokenism, the imperialistic politics, the weird Orientalism of the portrayal of the Klingons, etc.” He continues:

By contrast, TNG was very self-consciously progressive — it was at this point that [series creator] Gene Roddenberry started to think more and more of Star Trek as a serious utopian vision rather than a frame for Twilight Zone-style thought experiments — and by passing off TOS as a nostalgic joke, they were saying that they had outgrown all those silly costumes and the silly attitudes that went with them.

He goes on to note, however, that Discovery has returned to much of TOS‘s tensions. The Klingons are, again,

a racialized/Orientalized Other, with whom the Federation is involved in an intense struggle for influence that always threatens to break out into war. So Discovery says: okay, let’s make them look like intensely racialized Others, and let’s lean into the Orientalism by making them religious fanatics parallel to Islamic jihadists — and then let’s still humanize them.

All this, Kotsko says, makes for an even more compelling and affecting series

because something like the Original Series — which loudly proclaimed its progressive bona fides while nursing a reactionary underside — might be the perfect vehicle to capture the strange dynamics of our moment, where eight years of self-satisfied progressivism have been swept aside by a tidal wave of reactionary resentment, where we all feel like we have been transported to the Mirror Universe (but then, maybe our former captain was from there all along). … By returning, in our own era of intense conflict, to the only Star Trek show that was produced during an era of serious domestic political ferment, Discovery reminds us that our future is never guaranteed.

I definitely agree with Kotsko but it is this dynamic, in previous series, that has always been the most compelling for me.

The best conflicts with the Borg, for instance, also felt like the UFP doing battle with itself. (“Soviets vs Maoists, or something.“)

There’s a further dynamic to excavate here, however. One I’m reminded of following the recent death of Stephen Hawking and the anticipation in the science community for his final paper, “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation“, which — it has been suggested — will explore the possibility of multiple big bangs giving birth to a much-theorised multiverse.

The title of the paper is the most intriguing and I can’t help but read it, in light of recent discussions, as being suggestive of some sort of exit from our universe’s Bataillean general economy.

(I can’t even imagine a universe not fitting with Bataille’s theory of energetic expenditure, which would surely be entirely other to our physics model and therefore incompatible with present multiverse theories…)

In light of this, I’m left feeling that Star Trek’s insistence on its Mirror Universe being the political antithesis to the series’ own righteous progressivism is, ultimately, unfortunate.

This is a general hang-up of the show, of course. (Even within their own universe, in prior series, when the UFP discovers a world that is even more utopian than their own, there is always a sinister underbelly waiting to be unearthed so as to discredit it.)

Whilst Discovery does to a good job of tapping into our present crisis of Leftist progressivism, considering the potential content of Hawking’s paper, I’m wondering: what does a smooth exit from Star Trek’s eternally inflating progressivism look like?

That might offer us a vision that genuinely speaks to our near-future rather than just our confused present.