A Forest

Come closer and see
See into the dark
Just follow your eyes

Into the trees

Suddenly I stop
But I know it’s too late

I used to work with a burly Welshman called Marc.

Marc liked music and we would talk a lot about our favourite records.

Most of the time we worked together it was to install exhibitions and so this was often the perfect time to listen to albums and talk about them. Other times, we’d just listen to the radio.

This morning, whilst on the bus into work, The Cure’s A Forest came on and I was reminded of the last time I had heard that song. It had come on the radio whilst I working with Marc around three years ago.

Marc began to laugh to himself when he heard it and told me a story about seeing The Cure at Glastonbury in 1986. I’ve never been to Glastonbury but one part of its reputation that precedes it is the size of the festival site itself. Marc said this can be irritating but it has its uses.

He told me that, whilst standing around all day, eating and drinking and listening to music, he had felt the need to relieve himself. He walked around for a while but felt that this was an “evacuation” that warranted more privacy, shelter and a wider berth than your usual duck behind a tree…

Marc decided to walk for some distance, away from the festival site, away from camp sites, away from any potential passersby.

He found himself walking through a forest, through patches of bluebells and wild flowers, and soon he was in a suitable clearing, alone.

Marc dropped his trousers to his ankles, placed a selection of large leaves in a pile in front of him and attempted to squat next to a tree.

Before he had had a chance to exert any pressure on himself, he heard a low rumbling sound. The clearing around him gradually came alive with activity, like a storm had brewed out of nowhere, and then continued to excite itself beyond the possible influence of any natural source.

Before Marc’s very eyes, too shocked and too unstable to move, buffeted by the violent currents of air now billowing around him, his pre-selected leaves lost to the wind, a helicopter descended into the clearing.

As it touched down, a succession of bodies, their heads bowed towards the ground out of reach of the rotor blades, exited the helicopter and made their way to the edge of the clearing, towards the festival site, some carrying bits of equipment and lighter instruments.

The final person to disembark the helicopter, their hair a black bramble mess, caught Marc’s eye as they looked up towards their destination and, were it not for the force of air at their back, may have otherwise stopped in horror at the sight of Marc’s Somerset greeting.

It was Robert Smith.

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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)”

“Hello Darkness…”

Following the announcement a few days ago that pioneering junglist Tango has died, @peculmile shared an article by Mark Fisher that appeared in the New Statesman back in 1994 — which, it turns out, was already up on Egress. It was nevertheless new to me.

It feels like a good time to revisit this piece. Almost 25 years on, it still resonates.


I’ve recently been thinking about the key difference between desire and pleasure in Mark’s Acid Communism for another essay. The reason for this is, as ever, Jeremy Gilbert and his declaration that, for Mark, “the liberation of human consciousness from the norms of capitalist society is a desirable, achievable and pleasurable objective”.

For me, this invocation of pleasure is completely wrong. I do not believe that Acid Communism was, for Mark, a purely affirmative project. In line with so much of (if not all) his writings, Acid Communism was to be a project beyond the pleasure principle. (I’ve already discussed this at length elsewhere — check this blog’s ‘Acid’ tag —  and so I won’t go over old arguments as to why that is the case here. There’ll also be new ones to come.)

Mark’s Dark Side article is no exception to this. Even in 1994, the tension of a politics and culture beyond the pleasure principle could not be clearer:

Dark Side is a music not of ecstasy, but of dread. Like dub reggae, though, it displaces dread into celebration.

The atemporal “spectre of a world that could be free”, as invoked by Marcuse in Eros & Civilisation (and by Mark in Acid Communism), can be found here too, in aural form.

[T]his music could come from the near-future as imagined by the cyberpunk fiction of William Gibson. In reality, it hails from the proletarian quarter of what Jonathan Meades has taken to calling “the distant present”.

If Mark, in part, hoped to rehabilitate the potentials of the 1970s, it is because the anxiety of that decade is, once again, “back on the agenda” — as it was in the 1990s and as it is again now. (Should we expect this anxiety to re-emerge every 20 years…?)

It is also interesting that this resembles some sort of “Dark Enlightenment” for Fisher:

To assume that these changes must be negative is to buy into the old story that both socialists and conservatives still peddle. If Steve Redhead was right when he said that the 1980s saw “Britain’s version of the Enlightenment turning in upon itself”, perhaps the “darkness” now emerging is everything kept repressed by enlightened reason. Dark Side’s dread futurism invites us to recognise the way things are mutating. Our horror might only be the death throes of the old order. Who knows what the new may bring?

The new didn’t seem to bring anything as drastic as Fisher and others had hoped and predicted, and Mark wrote about this sense of a future lost frequently throughout the 2000s. There doesn’t seem to be the same culture of dread in music today, but it certainly hasn’t gone away either.

Flowdan’s Disasterpiece has been back on heavy rotation for me this past week. Hugely underrated album. It even has its own flatline construct…

Understanding

The best thing about Jungle is that every first encounter with a tune has the potential to be ungrounding. Not only is that the general sensation of the genre as a whole, but sometimes a track comes along that has you falling over yourself all over again.

Just when Jungle starts to become familiar, all it takes is one track to make everything feel strange again. This track somehow manages to unground itself three times over the course of its seven minutes, denying you of the one thing it seems to promise: understanding. It is a masterpiece.

RIP Tango.


K-Punk on “Tales from the Darkside” for FactMag:

Translating rave frenzy into jungle dread, ‘Tales From The Darkside’ runs at a cartoon-hectic pace, with its stabbing riff sounding like pitched-up electro, Mantronix’s ‘Bassline’ running at  +8. The brief, speeded-up-to-chirrup rap sample you hear, though, is from Eric B and Rakim.

Wander into the Bog of Names

Leaving the path
Lured by an emerald
I wander into the Bog of Names

As is so often the case in January, I have spent a lot of the month latching onto a couple of albums from last year that were slow burners which I had not yet given the chance to click with me yet.

Richard Dawson’s Peasant is an album that it has taken me a while to connect with  a fact that has surprised me. I have been a fan of Dawson for a good few years now, entranced by 2011’s The Magic Bridge and later obsessed with 2014’s Nothing Important. Whilst 2017’s Peasant is recognisably Dawson, the maximalism of his latest effort will no doubt be jarring at first to anyone more familiar with his trademark Geordie primitivism.

Previously, his music has always embodied a weirdness (in the true Fisherian sense), pivoting on “the contrast between the terrestrial-empirical and the Outside“, de-naturalising the quotidian and dragging the psychedelic out from under minutiae. “Wooden Bag” from 2011’s The Magic Bridge is a perfect example of this. What begins as a Proustian encounter with a picnic box becomes an affective wormhole, an albatross around Dawson’s neck, a time capsule for his memories and something of a casket for himself.

This continues throughout the album, with glimpses of an unknown beyond that is always tied to material objects (excluding, perhaps, “Grandad’s Deathbed Hallucinations” in which Dawson takes a leap towards this Outside, set adrift in his experience by such close proximity to death).

The Magic Bridge is primarily, in this way, an album of object-oriented hauntologies.

Continue reading “Wander into the Bog of Names”