IF Capital, part 8: NOT writing anything at all

Click here to read part 7.

I had annoyed the semi-famous novelist, David Lodge. It wasn’t really my fault. Regardless, the free booze washed away even repressed feelings of guilt. At some point I wandered back to the back-of-the-newsagent converted garage that I shared with a fellow student. Back to sleep it off.

And then a new day, cursed with a hangover but blessed by the existence of our, by modern standards, teeny-tiny TV and SEGA megadrive. Back to smoking weed, playing games and internal reveries on philosophy I’d half-read and half-understood.

I had liked the first issue of ****collapse despite mainly looking at the pictures and not reading it. My reading style accidentally fitted content that was mainly form. However, my critical faculties were not entirely crowded out by my dissolute lifestyle. I was intrigued by the countercultural cyber-philosophy inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s works, not least because of the drugs/rave/techno/sci-fi aesthetic, but also for its attempt to theorise The Event. But I remained sceptical because, as a straightforward working class youth, the social milieu seemed stuffed full of middle-class wankers. In consequence, I was simultaneously a brilliant and awful reader of this philosophical current. But, regardless, I had bigger fish to fry, more important libidinal desires to sate, such as smoking even more weed and beating my Micro Machines lap times on the Sega Megadrive. Priorities, gentlemen.

Working class kids are implicitly taught that their opinions are worthless. And when they do venture them, they tend to be oppositional, and so they learn from their brushes with authority to simply keep quiet. Such formative experiences may generate a rich inner life coupled with outward unseriousness and superficiality, a rush for the quip, joke or indecency in order to avoid risky public class conflict, however mild. The ability to confidently express one’s opinions in the form of an unashamed public monologue is common amongst the privileged, those that simply take it as given that they belong and that they count. Working class kids learn to hide. Plus, I had a grown up in a household without books. In consequence, I thought a great deal about philosophy but hardly ever talked about it, and when I did I was usually flippant and facetious. If no-one has taken you seriously it becomes hard to take oneself seriously. Best just to think alone, and generally keep quiet.

On this particular day I was ruminating alone while taking superb racing lines around tea pots and cutlery. I wondered why Deleuze and Guattari were popular. Obviously capitalist society creates a demand for anti-capitalist narratives. And the major narrative, that of communism, had been successfully discredited in the rich countries of the West, mainly due to incessant propaganda but also real failures and crimes of the Soviet state. To actually find a route to Marxism, in the 90s in the UK, was difficult. It was socially much more acceptable to engage with radical philosophy that escaped the taint of Stalinism. And then let’s add the incorrigible romanticism of the young. There’s no getting away from the fact that Deleuze and Guattari’s themes attract personality types who, despite denials, find the ideal of schizophrenic insanity, the delirium of irrationality, not hopelessly but liberatingly romantic, a Dionysian intellectual escape perfectly in tune with the club tunes of the day. We all know the archetype of the teenage poet who, perhaps frustrated in love or by lack of peer recognition, transmutes their mild dysphoria into cataclysmic psychic pain, which they narcissistically and secretly enjoy. The next step is pure negation: such an easy and simple strategy: to utterly reject the given as entirely compromised by capital, to turn away completely. Romantic anti-capitalism is beguiling, because it appears super-radical, is very easy to pull off, and avoids the difficult, messy and uncomfortable truths of Marx’s analysis that recognises real material constraints on social possibilities that transcend modes of production. Such was my image of D&G’s most ardent and uncritical nomads: they didn’t really get, perhaps would never get, Engels’ dictum, “freedom is the recognition of necessity”. They wanted to fly away, birth their own ecstatic wings, simply by thinking differently.

I call this the misanthropic method. It consists in noticing a gnarly structure in one’s own personality (e.g. common-or-garden narcissism, reflex contrarianism in order to stand-out from the crowd, the insatiable need for social recognition that overpowers any desire for earnest truth-seeking, intellectual posturing rather than earnest study etc. etc.) that is irrational and maladapted yet infused with high libidinal investment. Then imagine the behavioural consequences if the gnarl was the controlling and dominating structure of your entire personality. Imagine what kind of person you would be, and how you would act in the world if the gnarly demon fully rode you. And then project its existence onto all the psyches around you. Project your failings onto everyone else. Yes, yes: they are the silly preening fuckers, with hardly any self-consciousness, not I!

The misanthropic method, I have found, is remarkably successful, not least because we are all ultimately exactly the same. First apply the method to yourself — this is essential for personal growth. It stops you from being a dick. Not just “ruthless criticism of all that exists” but ruthless criticism of your own existence. And, less importantly but no less usefully, it stimulates your critical faculties to find the hidden gnarl in other thinkers. It can explain all the surface nonsense. A final advantage of the misanthropic method is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to experimentally falsify. So it’s better not to state it publicly. Keep it to yourself.

And so it seemed to me, misanthropically, that the Warwickian cyber philosophers were trying way too hard to be cool and had adopted a radical aesthetic to overcompensate for the absence of substantive content. An intriguingly wrapped present that, once opened, revealed just a pair of nylon socks from C&A. So a trickster plan popped into my head, all the more attractive because its execution would require minimal effort, allowing me to quickly return to dragstering around virtual toilet seats, bumping AI cars off pool tables, and beating more lap records.

I had very few possessions, just clothes, a few books, music tapes and a portable stereo. But I also carried with me something that I considered precious: an unpublished collection of my short stories. I had laboriously cranked these out while spending 1993 on the dole in post-industrial Bradford, in between simulating an effort to look for work to the relevant authorities, playing Micro Machines, smoking weed, and becoming involved in Marxist-Leninist politics. Perhaps I could retrieve something useful from this collection of dubious treasures? Perhaps an old story that I could spruce up and submit to ****Collapse magazine? I fantasised of smuggling in a little subterranean critique under the wasted gaze of the cyber philosophers.

My short stories had, perhaps the only, merit of being consistently themed, revolving around the culture of techno music (early Detroit Techno only please), late 80s/early 90s rave culture, and the effects and uncertain significance of taking drugs (in those days, mainly weed, LSD, ecstasy, magic mushrooms and speed). My misadventures in the UK’s rave culture had encountered some deeply dark sides of humanity (I had shockingly and sadly witnessed a brutal murder that I tried to deal with by writing about it) and the real dangers of overdoing it (I had come close to hospitalisation and probably death on multiple occasions, from either doing too much, dodgy powder, or extreme heatstroke). But I didn’t think my experiences were especially noteworthy or unusual. The only statistically unusual property is that I managed to turn them into quasi-literature.

Were my stories any good? I will simply say, β€œI was quite young at the time”. So I retain a mixture of pride and horror. My stories were abstract, with spare and repetitive rhythmic language that deliberately broke the rules of intelligible English (yes I wrote sometimes while tripping, because I had to try, even though conscious of, and embarrassed by, this very literal methodology). The stories were very light on plot development and characterisation and therefore not at all accessible or entertaining. Readers had to grind through pages of almost random gibberish: a perfect fit for the house style of ****collapse. 

In between the abstract literary bleeps and bloops I sometimes descended to concrete social reality and captured some of the counterculture zeitgeist, especially the realisation that everyday life, the conventional arrangement of our social world, wasn’t all it should be, that something was wrong. The wage system, which enforces a contractual separation between work and leisure, a literal on/off timer that buzzes to split us and switch us between multiple personality types: prisoner during the day, and, depending on one’s personal income, the free individual of the night. This modal split is hugely intensified by the stark contrast between wage labour and the unwaged labour of Dionysian intoxication of rave and ecstatic dance. This critical type of (not necessarily class) consciousness spontaneously arises in every cohort that transitions from the childlike homilies of the educational system, where we’re told we’re all in it together, part of the illusory community of the nation state, to the harsh material realities of a class rule and a competitive international labour market, where it’s everyone for themselves. A small proportion of the cohort attempt to live permanently in the Dionysian free state, but nothing can escape the rule of Capital, and therefore either return to sober and painful reality, or find a way to make money from charging at the doorway to temporary freedom.

In sum, I wrote some stories about what I knew. And, as a writer and semi-autistic nominalist, I naturally assumed that once the stories were written my work was done. If I recall, I sent a sample story, in the (Pre Event) post, to a handful of publishers whose addresses I found in the back of the small number of books I owned (no strategic googling to find a publisher who might be a good β€œfit”, no playing the numbers game and emailing hundreds etc.) Remarkably, some publishers bothered to reply to me – all rejections of course. The recurring theme was that my foul language (presumably the swearing rather than poor constructions, although it wasn’t always clear) and depictions of drug taking were definitely not their cup of tea. I could easily accept that no-one would want to read my unwelcoming prose. And so I considered my work as done. I could not be blamed if the world lost the chance to sample my literary genius. I stopped submitting my work and made no further efforts to actually get my writing in front of people’s faces. I shrugged and moved on. But just as soon as I shrugged the zeitgeist was captured, in a more dark, entertaining and accessible form by Irvine Welsh in his hugely successful and excellent novel, Trainspotting. Did I send off my work to more publishers in order to exploit this new cultural trend? No, of course not.

In consequence, my year of unkempt and dissolute unemployment had yielded a thick wad of unpublished material. One story, in particular, I thought might be suitable for ****collapse (with the brief addition of one new mischievous paragraph at the end). So – undoubtedly through a weed-induced haze – I posted my story to the Cambridge address printed at the back of issue 1. This was a Pre Event trip to the Post Office. Looking back I am surprised that I manifested this level of commitment. An incredibly low probability event.

Contents page of an unpublished book of short stories. I chose one of these stories to submit to ****collapse magazine.

And then I forgot about it. I returned to the Micro Machines, trying not get too annoyed when my flatmate beat my lap records, and research on the computational approach to emotions. Very occasionally, as was obligatory, I also returned to my parents house to say hello.

One one occasion, while staying at my parents’ small home in the “Home Counties”, I became so bored by the stifling social regression that I decided to ingest all my remaining cannabis resin before sleep. My aim was to induce lucid dreaming and raid my inner life for entertainment. Any notions of attaining spiritual enlightenment through drug-induced wishful thinking had been justifiably squashed by the misanthropic method. I had a lot of marijuana left but the substantial dark substance before me gave no pause. I was some kind of psychonaut, after all, with quite a lot of hard-won experience under my belt. And since any form of preparation would require effort I simply crumbled and separated the black-resiny-snotty-oily substance in my hand and then gulped down all the little pieces with cold water. No tea or brownies or cakes or frilly fancy stuff for me. I was a man with his drugs. Keep it simple and direct. So after eating it all, I got into bed and closed my eyes.

Marijuana was a pretty safe bet: rather than a gritty comedown polluted with paranoid, abyssal thoughts that were finally knocked away in daybreak hours lost in Sega blue sky virtual worlds I instead fully expected to enjoy an extended lie-in punctuated with hyponopompic episodes of pleasant and transporting lucid dreaming. Goodbye Home Counties, Hello Alien Vistas.

Do not eat in one go.

The next thing I remember was my Father knocking on my bedroom door asking from outside if I was OK and informing me it was lunchtime. I immediately realised that I could not move a single muscle in my body. I was entombed in my physical cage, immobile, the normal connections from mind to muscle not severed but effaced.

I had to respond quickly otherwise my drug-induced catatonia would provoke real alarm. Otherwise I would be found out, embarrassed, in a spot of social discomfort best avoided. And there was no point in being truthful with my parents for that would entail a lengthy conservation where I would find even myself truly boring when I equated their wine drinking with my drug taking.

But I could not respond. My mouth did not exist. I had nothing. Just my panicked thoughts, literally disembodied, and the sense that I was mere seconds away from being discovered.

I had resources to draw on, however. I had been trapped in my body many times due to sleep paralysis induced by lucid dreaming. I had discovered that a strange kind of exertion of abstract will was necessary to fully wake and regain control over one’s recalcitrant body. When entombed as conscious ego without conscious control you must will yourself awake, with every fibre of your being, very much like the physical effort required to lift a truly heavy weight, except it’s unclear what exactly you are struggling against. These are very abstract, mental exertions against quasi-mental-chemical forces, ineffable yet as real as a mass under gravity.

And so I willed in panic, desperately pulling myself from my entombed depths and up into the driving seat of my existence and the light. I climbed, I struggled, and I surfaced, and, breaking through into semi-control over my own flesh, I managed to croak:

β€œI’m not feeling well, I’ll be down in a moment”.

I should have said something more portentous more in keeping with my return from the underworld but I had no time for any flourishes only excuses. In my panic I had committed to come down to eat lunch with my parents. I had successfully prevented my Father from seeing his Son unnaturally zombified, a pale frozen shadow surely in need of medical treatment, but I now had to somehow drag myself out of bed and downstairs, and hope to conceal my extreme stupor.

But actually getting to the family dinner table immediately became a task on par with scaling Everest. The tale of my epic journey — where each micro movement, each infinitesimal translation or rotation of muscle and bone, each slight shift of eyes or turn of head to survey in trepidation the terrain ahead, necessitated once more, and afresh, and yet again an entirely new and different yet similarly titanic battle of my entombed and panicked will against everything that was outside and recalcitrant, especially my own dissociated body, a war fought repeatedly for the gain of the smallest territorial advance, such as a few inches of trembling hand towards bedcover, a glacial turn of a hip that was not my own, and — oh god — even the carpet rug descended into infinite trenches and impassable mountains — well this traumatic tale must be told another day. All I will say is that my cold, sweaty, pale and supernaturally slow progress, my juddering shuffle of self-inflicted invalidity, the frequent pauses of nausea and disorientation, all aggregated into what must have appeared to any observer nothing less than an avant-garde, stop-motion animated meditation upon the intrinsic difficulty and deep pathos of the human mind as it wills its frail body through space and time. Broken robot. Ragged doll. Massive twat.

I think it must have taken at least twenty minutes to make it out of bed and downstairs to the table. I do not consider myself heroic. But I believe, in all earnestness, that my shuffling, micro-incremental descent down the stairs elevated me into the ranks of a Nietzschean superman, such was the iron of my will, such was the strength of my purpose.

β€œOh you don’t look well at all,” said my Mother on my entrance to the dining room.

And it was true, the nausea had increased remarkably. I was all dizzy and woozy, all flaccid, placid and alabaster ill.

β€œYes, I don’t feel well,” I mumbled as one in a trance.

My plate of food appeared below my nose. I heard myself announce that I thought I was going to be sick. Father swiftly grabbed for a nearby bowl. Immediately, and without hesitation, I projectile vomited with such force that I covered both him and the walls with significant volumes of chunky, foul-smelling sickly splash-back.

Coloured etching by T. Sandars, 1773, after J. Collier

Quite undeservedly my chemical experimentation yielded the prize of familial sympathy. My father, splattered and stained by god-knows-what from my stomach, and shocked by the violent eruption, was nonetheless empathic. I quickly claimed to have a stomach bug. And I didn’t even need to feign the symptoms, for I was genuinely ill and fucked up. I therefore gracefully retired from lunch, my contribution to the culture complete, my work for the day done, and slowly willed myself back to bed, reversing every hard-won victory on the way, to finally return to the welcome bosomy comfort of THC dreams and hallucinatory reveries, while my parents cleaned my mess.

But my trials were far from over. For this particular misadventure was just beginning …

Part 9 downloading …


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