IF Capital, part 4: NOT reading ****collapse

Click here to read part 3.

In the winter of 1994 I got my first taste of the intellectual output of the CCRU. I obtained the first issue of ****collapse magazine, an enigmatic mixture of unintelligible quasi-philosophy and dystopian science fiction.

How did I get my copy? This is mysterious.

I could not “download” it from the “information superhighway” as a “hypertext” document because we were all living on the cusp with only pre-Event technology. The magazine wasn’t available in the shops. It’s inconceivable that the embryonic accelerationists of Warwick would travel to Birmingham to flog their intellectual wares. So I didn’t buy it from a student stall.

Perhaps I posted a cheque for Β£2.50 and received a copy by mail? But how did I know that ****collapse even existed? In addition, a trip to the post office was, for me, a highly unusual and infrequent occurrence. I was either at β€œhome” (a converted garage at the back of a newsagents with an extraordinarily low ceiling and a single pokey window) or in a room at “the lab” (equally inauspicious), or traversing in-between typically in a state of mild paranoia. Only something extraordinary could knock me from this habitual path. Plus my daily marijuana habit had thoroughly weakened my will. In consequence, even if I knew that ****collapse was available, it’s simply impossible that I purchased a stamp and envelope and posted a cheque.

My body naturally gravitated to a position of rest on a chair. And there I would read, smoke, and read some more. Only three things could typically get me moving. First, my naive working class assumption that I should turn up a the department every day because they were paying me (despite clear evidence that wealthier students regularly absconded for extended skiing trips); second, my commitment to Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, whose undeniable theoretical power could only be self-referentially determined in practice; and, third, avoidance of withering looks from those with larger sacrificial sunk costs in the party when I failed to supply sufficient political labour. Apart from these objective forces, I was typically asleep, smoking marijuana, reading books, playing computer games or clubbing.

I did not download it. I did not buy it from a stall or shop. I did not post a cheque. We have eliminated the impossible. Only the improbable remains.

As a Marxist, and therefore a naive scientific materialist, my stock of explanatory resources is severely limited by the austere requirements of reason and evidence. I therefore have no recourse but to draw upon the richer philosophical resources of accelerationism to explain how I got hold of a copy of ****collapse. Let us consider then, with all appropriate seriousness, that occult forces from the future were controlling events, conspiring in the noumenon to render the improbable probable.

But we may never truly know and so this must remain mere speculation for now. Regardless of the means, whether mundane or miraculous, the fact is that one day in 1994 I held a copy of ****collapse in my hand. The cover looked like this: 

The magazine was like a messy student rag (visual jokes, fake letters) crossed with a sci-fi/horror fanzine (highly stylised short stories and essays of varying quality) with a high density of bizarre neologisms that generated an overall vibe of philosophical threat, aptly summarised by the magazine’s doomy title. The articles inside were black-and-white, literally cut’n’pasted wonky on the page, mixed with chaotic graphics and ugly typewriter or early word-processor fonts, all poorly but joyously printed on non-glossy A4 paper. I was immediately a fan, and it’s testament to the enigmatic power of this cultural artefact that I’ve held onto my copy for (as of writing) 27 years.

The cover, red and black and unashamedly ugly, featured a lone wolf, a coy reference to the work of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, metaphorically breaking free from social convention as represented by a 3D visualisation of the pole of a complex-valued function. The background was decorated with either medical cross-sections, satellite pictures of earthly hurricanes or Jupiter’s eye. It was hard to tell. On the right, a self-similar echo of either tree bark or the same complex-valued function, this time represented as a 2D contour plot, drew the eye toward something FREE. The first edition of ****collapse boasted a pre-Event magnetic audio tape (then known as a “cassette”) stuck to the cover in a jiffy bag.

My excitement kindled like a child spotting a plastic free gift bundled with a comic on the newsagent shelf. The creators of ****collapse had gone the extra mile.

The cassette was titled: “Meltdown: a Cyberian Audio Experience”. This promised quick sonic gratification. I removed the tape, which revealed some hidden text (shown above) that I subsequently learned was a quotation from Nick Land’s essay, Meltdown. This text, we can now see, with the benefit of hindsight, contained an uncannily accurate prediction of the favourite online persona of CIA agents when posing as online leftists — a full 25 years before it happened. Again, Marxism lacks the explanatory resources. Such eerie prescience can only be explained either by hyper acceleration toward a future where retrocausality manifests and time loops back on itself, or, alternatively, by hyperstitial invocation, some kind of a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy. However, the latter explanation seems less likely given ****collapse’s lack of distribution in the United States.

Sadly I no longer have the tape. And I don’t remember what was on it. If time looping is involved then the reality glitch may have been repaired and my memory wiped. I vaguely recall listening to it. I think it featured the voice of Sadie Plant and Warwick University philosopher Nick Land over a background of techno. Any meaning it may have conveyed dissipated as heat long ago.

I had heard of Nick Land from the small trickle of Warwick students who, after their graduation, switched to Birmingham to study for a MSc in Artificial Intelligence or Cognitive Science. As a post grad I taught some modules and got to know them. The ex-Warwick students would talk admiringly and excitedly of Land. The general thrust, as I recall, was clear: Land was insane (in a good and charismatic way), was developing something philosophically new or novel (I doubted that but supposed it possible), and — most importantly of all — not only did a fuck load of drugs (definite 90s lad points for this behaviour), but actually did them with his students (surprising, risky, highly notable, clearly sticking two fingers up at the university bureaucracy and all sober and serious-minded people). We all mightily approved of this behaviour.

But this was pre-Event so all my information was literally gained offline “from a bloke down the pub” and its veracity should therefore be doubted. Post-event I do find corroborating online rumours that Land and the academic bureaucracy parted ways precisely because he repeatedly broke the rules in just the ways described. So all power to him. (Please post any corrections on a postcard to the address displayed below).

But what was this new philosophy? To find out would require a commitment of my labour time, specifically to actually read ****collapse. But if laziness is a sign of intelligence then I can almost be arsed to claim it. And often my labour is so abstract that it lacks concrete manifestation altogether.

So did I read the actual contents of ****collapse?

I probably speed-read a handful of paragraphs. But essentially I did not.

It didn’t help that the prose was deliberately obtuse, dense and oblique. So a lazy, and therefore highly intelligent, thought occurred to me: surely I could grok the overall philosophical point by just looking at the pictures?

So, like a child rushing through the Beano, I greedily scanned the black-and-white pictures for sources of philosophical stimulation. Here ****collapse succeeded admirably, rewarding the reader with tits, Disney soft porn, Jesus and cocks.

Extract from the first edition of ****collapse magazine:
Disney’s Giuseppe drawing a big cock and balls penetrating a woman from behind.
Art by Mark Williams.

I decided that this new kind of philosophy was pretty good, even though I had no idea what it was about. And, of course, this is the key founding property of all successful philosophical schools: there has to be some mystery because people don’t fall in love with philosophy that they immediately understand. Even better, for some tastes, if it turns out to be essentially incoherent.

The creators of ****collapse clearly wanted to not only philosophise, but also to create art. And that necessarily implied a great deal of pretentious artifice. But the pictures reeled me in.

I sub-sampled some of the text, which was an unusual mixture of dystopian science-fiction horror, but without any storytelling, and philosophy, but without any logical argument. This was intriguing but unrewarding. The language was ornate, opaque, and obscure. But the style wasn’t the fake profundity of much postmodern philosophising of the time. Rather it seemed to be a simple consequence of writing while high on drugs. Speed, LSD and ecstasy lurked behind the authorial voices. When writing while off you’re head you believe that truth can be manifested by the ritual invocation of powerful words. And so there was a lot of manic repetition.

The first page dropped one small hint as to what it was all about: “schizotechnics with attitude”, a reference to Deleuze and Guattari’s, “schizoanalysis”, which, I subsequently learned, attempts to break down existing conventional meanings, subvert them, and construct entirely new ones. I was disorientated and confused by the text precisely because that was the aim.

And what was ****collapsing? I wasn’t sure. Everything? It didn’t really matter, especially as in the mid 90s the possibility of the complete collapse of civilisation seemed only a theoretical possibility.

The ex-Warwick students, still fresh from their experiences in the orbit of the CCRU, told me the new philosophy was inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. I knew of Deleuze but not his co-author, and not these books. And, if I was going to take a detour from my typical fare of Marxism, Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, Cybernetics, and Psychology, then surely better to go straight to the primary texts, rather than derivative works that, with all due respect to the creators of ****collapse, were likely to be a Fall from the original source of power, however vibrant and fun. Give me the content straight and neat, so I can taste its essence.

The hyperstitial invocation therefore worked its magic. I found myself walking to the university library to scour the shelves for a copy of Anti-Oedipus. During my book searches I frequently became starrily light-headed upon rapidly standing from a prolonged crouch, sometimes nearly passing out, having to hold onto the shelves to avoid falling. This, I flattered myself, was the genetic gift of healthy low blood pressure rather than physiological weakness engendered by an unhealthy lifestyle of sitting, smoking, drinking heavily and eating chips (greasy fries for US readers).

Some claim that the mixture of newspaper print and grease makes the chips taste better.

Heavy drinking, as we all know, stimulates the appetite. One cold Birmingham night, drunk and suddenly alone, friends having departed, hunger stirring, I spied a late night takeaway and strode over-confidently in to order chips plus battered sausage. I left, feeling like the richest man alive. But such was my hunger that I devoured the lot within 100 yards. And yet I was still hungry. Shrugging, I returned for seconds. This time I ordered chips and curry sauce but no sausage (one didn’t want to overindulge). I left, once again feeling that my cuppeth overfloweth, truly happy, as only a drunk can be, as the plastic fork repeatedly plunged from warm carton to open mouth. But, to my surprise, I found that I had once again devoured the whole lot a short distance from the takeway, which now beckoned me back, calling like a siren. This was unusual, but why not? Even through my strong armour of alcohol I could feel a slight twinge of embarrassment upon returning to the takeaway to order for a third time. My money was nearly gone and I could only afford a single portion of chips. I stepped out, back onto the pavement, fully determined to walk straight home, my hunger now abating yet still room for the third and final serving of lovely hot potato and grease. Had I been sober I would have been appalled. But drunk all felt beerily benign. When I finally got home, and stumbled in, empty handed but belly full, the nausea rose. My stomach rebelled. Now, many talk of Lovecraftian horror but few have experienced existential terror. For as I wretched, no vomit came, but instead a densely packed, solid amalgam of greasy potato literally extruded from my distended mouth, like a great turd from an anus. To rid myself of it I had to hold it in both hands and chomp through it with my teeth. As my stomach heaved, squeezing the enormous bolus out, I had to bite down multiple times, my eyes streaming with the exertion of it all.

I lay on the floor all emptied out like a shrivelled meat sock. At least the horror was over. I knew then, more than ever, that all is a great chaotic orgy of forms transforming into forms. That night the potato should have transformed into more of me. I was to be the devourer. But instead, in a perverse parody of the miracle of birth, an entirely unexpected new form manifested into reality. My Insides became the Outside. I could taste the lard in my mouth for weeks.

The true allegorical meaning of this episode will become apparent later. But looking back now, it seems likely that my dizzy spells were due to an unhealthy lifestyle rather than good genes. Plus, Marxists priors favour nurture over nature. Despite the dizziness I successfully located a copy of Anti-Oedipus, had the librarian stamp it, and took it home to read.

As an excusable teenager I had read about 80% of the entirety of Nietzsche’s published works (there’s more than you might think). I flattered myself that I had attained a reasonably high level of Nietzschean expertise. This was the outcome of an obsessional and autistic focus that only a teenager can truly marshal. Whether this is a good thing is of course extremely doubtful. And, just like teenage love, my ardour died as quickly as it initially flared. Yet I still retain fond thoughts of Nietzsche wandering the mountains planning the Dionysian revolution while occasionally masturbating furiously behind a tree, thinking of dear Cosima, moustache all a quiver.

Out of all the secondary literature I had devoured, Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy was standout: a fantastic example of taking a philosopher seriously, deepening their concepts, and finding a consistency absent in the original, and therefore elevating their system. On this evidence, Deleuze was not a wanker, and so I jumped straight into Anti-Oedipus. 

Although I didn’t go to the Virtual Futures conference, and I didn’t talk to Sadie Plant, and I didn’t read the first issue of ****collapse magazine, nonetheless the evidence was accumulating that the fully accelerated AI thing from the future was prodding me, inexorably, closer and closer, via its occult powers of retrocausality, towards some kind of unavoidable and momentous non event. The atoms of the real movement of history, so deterministically fixed on the communist horizon, suddenly swerved. The signs were ominous, the days inauspicious, the stars misaligned, the synchronicities dark. For the CCRU, via their zany zine ****collapse and their evangelical diaspora, had prodded me towards reading some French philosophy.

Click here to read part 5.

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