Tuesday 31 October 2017

On Horror

The question that every fan of horror has heard -- why do you like it? This is a question horror fans also ask themselves. Why? Why do we like this stuff? What do we get from it?

I can't presume to answer this on behalf of anyone else, but I will venture to offer a response for myself. 

To prepare the ground for posing an answer, I'm going to offer a short account of the horror media that I've enjoyed the most, or with which I've felt the deepest connection. I'm doing this to make it clear what kind of horror it actually is I consume: not all horror is created equal.

I ask the reader to forgive the exercise in autobiography that follows.


Slashers generally don't interest me. I've never seen a Saw film, nor any of the Hostel films, and I've no desire to (though I hear the original Saw is decent enough). I don't enjoy watching people suffer -- I'm even a little squeamish with gore; I find damage inflicted upon eyes especially disturbing. This being said, I loved the Hannibal TV series, and The Silence of the Lambs. Their Gothic campness, and the way Mikkelsen and Hopkins inhabit the role with simultaneously obvious and understated glee, was a joy to watch.

Films that prioritise atmosphere are the ones that grab me. I'm willing to forgive poor execution if the aesthetic is right. For example, The Keep; a film butchered beyond repair in post-production, but its visual style creates an air of great age, of the extreme past protruding into the present. Tangerine Dream's never-officially-released score is an eerie treasure. It's a film that can, in the midst of trite dialogue and hammy performances, convey the cosmic. 

The Void is another example of this, though its failings aren't as palpable as those of The Keep. The plot goes off the rails towards the end, but I knew from the opening credits onward that this film could have been made for me personally. There was a shot of a chemical plant or factory at night, illuminated only by bright white arc lights, and it was like seeing my name on the screen. The images that stuck with me more than anything else were the sequences of great, grey/green clouds rolling through an alien sky, out of which bursts a vast, black pyramid. No explanation is given, and none needed. It is pure otherness, implacable and utterly inhuman.  

Gun to the head: my favourite horror film is The Exorcist. Its focus on the interaction between ordinary people and a wholly otherworldly force which cannot be accounted for, let alone contained, by modern science, and how it charts the decay of these people's lives, is perfection. My favourite moment is when Chris offers Father Karras a drink after he's seen Reagan for the first time; he asks if she has any ice, and she tells him she does, but it's in the kitchen. When she goes to get it, he tells her not to worry, and she asks if he's sure. Chris is visibly on the edge of total collapse, and attempts to hold onto the quotidian by offering to get her guest some ice for his drink. It is a tiny moment, but, frankly, it is beautiful.

The Shining is another example of this, ordinary people in destructive contact with the extraordinary. Throughout, we're aware that it is possible, maybe probable, that the strangeness unfolding in The Overlook Hotel is brought about by the disturbances within Jack Torrance's own mind. A struggling writer with a drinking problem who has abused his son and wife, alone for months with only reminders of his guilt and failures around him, coming to terms with the unsaid truth that he will never be a writer, he simply snaps. But that isn't it. Danny possesses clairvoyance and telepathy; Wendy sees sights of perversion and death from decades before; some unseen force opens the door for Jack when he is locked in the cold store; and then, the final shot, of Jack already at the hotel fifty years before. A supernatural force that is never identified targets them for madness and death, a force never seen directly but is palpably present every moment we are in The Overlook Hotel.

True Detective season one is everything I could want from a TV show. Pitch-perfect characterisation, a discomforting atmosphere, and an aesthetic of burning brilliance. The horror element is understated enough that one could be forgiven for thinking that it's just a detective procedural, when it is in fact a rendering of the universes of Lovecraft and Ligotti. I remain convinced that Kenneth Grant's idiosyncratic occultism lurks in the background.

Stranger Things brought together many things I love: 80s nostalgia (despite my being born in the 90s), government conspiracies, autumnal visuals, synthwave, and efficient, well-paced story-telling. At time of writing, I've only seen the first episode of season two, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Briefly, a few other films I've especially enjoyed: the first two Hellraiser films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Alien, Phase IV, The Wicker ManLifeforce, The VVitch, It Follows. Kill List is one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen, and I felt terrible about everything in general for two days afterwards.

I abhorred The Conjuring.


I came to H. P. Lovecraft via a peculiar path. In the children's section of my local library, I once found a book which presented summarised versions of three classics of literary horror, along with biographies of their authors. It had illustrations similar in style to the Horrible History books. The stories it included where Frankenstein, Dracula and The Dunwich Horror. I'm not sure I even bothered to read the first two, but the third I read and re-read. The biography it contained of this odd man I'd never heard of, and the brief sketches it included of three of his other creations (Night Gaunts, Deep Ones and, inevitably, Cthulhu) stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

But it was a few years before I actually had a chance to read any Lovecraft. In the meantime, I was satisfied by Stephen King. I've not read King for years, and I've no expectations of returning to his work any time soon, but he will always have a special place in my heart as the one who opened the way. In a charity shop, I found a paperback of Night Shift, a collection of short stories, and read it in the sun lounge of my coastal home during a summer storm. It was the perfect condition to make one's first steps into the realm of horror, even if the contents (including a story about a demonically possessed industrial clothes presser!) were, in retrospect, sub par.

When I was fourteen, the Necronomicon edition of H. P. Lovecraft's 'best weird tales' was published. I bought it on holiday in the New Forest, staying in a wood cabin with my parents. I would spend most of the day on the balcony reading about the cats of Ulthar, Sarnath's doom, and what lies within the nameless city. The smell of that book lingered in my memory for many years. I still have that same edition, ten years old now, and sometimes I bring it up to my nostrils in the hope of catching a whiff of that smell, but it has long since dissipated.

After burning my way through the Necronomicon, I can't quite recall what I read next, but presumably it included more Stephen King. The Stand was a wonderful book to read as a teenager, though I don't remember ever being unsettled by it. In retrospect, Misery is probably the best King book I've read.

I started reading horror seriously again only in the last few years. Nick Land's philosophical science fiction-horror novellas Phyl-Undhu and Chasm were, I think, where I started out from. Encountering Hexus Press via way of my involvement with Project Praeterlimina also played an important part in reacquainting me with the genre. Following my enthralment with True Detective, I bought the recent re-issue of Thomas Ligotti's Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. I must admit that Ligotti, despite frequent moments of chilling brilliance, tends to bore me. His prose is so baroque it often borders on the soporific, and it took me over a year to read Songs. Grimscribe remains largely unexplored, though 'Netherscurial' stands among the best horror I've read.

More recently, thanks to my good friend Lucy Brady, I've developed a deep love for the works of Laird Barron. His prose shines like well-polished metal, and he can conjure memorable, enticing, and disturbing imagery with ease. Lucy bought me Barron's collection Swift to Chase, and if you don't read anything else I mention in this post, read that.


Music is an excellent medium for exploring horror. Metal is the genre that most readily associates itself with the themes and tropes of horror, especially black metal. But it doesn't have an exclusive claim to it.

Ambient music, to my ear at least, lends itself to the subtleties of horror quite easily. This is perhaps because, using Mark Fisher's concept of it, ambient music is part of the eerie, that is, of failures of presence and absence. Ambient music occupies the edge of hearing. It doesn't intrude into hearing directly, but rather skirts around the outside, issuing echoes of its presence rather than loud announcements.

Burial, especially with Untrue and Subtemple / Beachfires, provides a fine example of this. It is music made up of whispers and hints. Demdike Stare operate in a similar fashion, generating lengthy and complicated soundscapes that conjure images of cold forests, and the winter night-times that allow stars to shine unerringly bright. Their triple album Tryptych is as beautiful as it is unnerving.

SleepResearch_Facility are a wonderful experiment in pure ambience. Their album Stealth begins with ten minutes an almost-ultrasonic whine, underneath which one can discern the broken staccato of voices carried by radio waves. I listened to this obsessively when I first encountered it, especially at night. It is voiceless music that speaks of unseen things in the dark sky above, darting between the stars.

Less ambient and more beat-driven, Pye Corner Audio's album Sleep Games holds sacred status for me. Its deep sound and pure instrumentality combine to create music so perfect that I struggle to convey just how powerful its impact on me has been. It's music for walks along dark streets on the edge of town, for foggy mornings where sky and sea blend together.

Pye Corner Audio lead me onto the topic of the Ghost Box label more broadly. Ghost Box combines nostalgia, a distinct visual style (both books and records can be judged by their covers), and a keen ear for musical elegance, and has published a truly excellent catalogue of music. Although the music doesn't have any overt horror elements, the manner with which it summons up an air of sheer uneasiness, of a haunting, guarantees it a place here. Belbury Poly's albums The Willows and The Belbury Tales, and The Advisory Circle's albums As the Crow Flies and especially From Out Here are the best examples of this.


What brings all of the above together?

It should be obvious that the lack of particularly blood-thirsty horror is significant. I've selected media which emphasises atmosphere, aesthetic, ambience, horror that gets into your head through more subtle and nuanced means than butchery and gore.

Why do I like this stuff? 

For me, horror is the implication of a beyond, an outside. It is the implication that there are things that lie beyond seeing and hearing, that there are shapes that lurk outside our familiar and tidy world. Their nature is, by necessity, unknown to us. Noumenal, we know only of their presence, and can perhaps trace their shape by studying their effects. Intrusions, corruptions, perversions announce the presence of these unknowable things, but give us little with which to work.

This need not be taken as a source of horror. The unknown is precisely that: unknown. What draws me to horror is simply this unknowability of the unknown, of a great Otherness that lies outside our reach. In that Otherness lies the possibility not only of horror, but of wonder.

Thursday 12 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Cyberpositive Disruption

Spoilers, obviously

Blade Runner 2049 is as good as they say it is. If you've not seen it, go see it, immediately, and don't read further until you have.

This is going to be less a review than a series of meditations on the themes in the film, along with some some broader comments.

Let's get the plot out the way. K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, and a replicant. The newer models, no longer curtailed by the four-year life span of the Nexus 6 (it was never clearly established if that life span was deliberate or not), have been integrated into society, with deeply programmed obedience. He hunts the old models, less advanced than he, more advanced than the Nexus 6. The opening scene will be familiar to anyone who's seen Dangerous Days; he's tracked an old model replicant to a protein farm in the bleak wilds of California, nested among the solar energy plants. He retires the replicant, and discovers the bones of a female replicant who, impossibly, died in child birth. 

Replicants are now produced by the Wallace Coporation; Tyrell is bankrupt. Wallace's pyramid looms over the Tyrell pyramids. Unlike those, which blazed with light in the original, the Wallace pyramid is dark, monolithic, its surface unbroken by windows -- Wallace (Jared Leto) is blind, after all. Frustrated at the slow pace of replicant production, Wallace desires the replicant-child for himself, so as to grant replicants the ability to reproduce among themselves -- auto-production of the bio-engineered slave caste. His reasoning is pure humanist triumphalism, that with an inexhaustible and perfectly obedient slave force at their disposal, humanity might storm the heavens and reclaim Eden. Religious symbolism afoot, dense with Cosmism.

Apparently unbeknown to Wallace, a revolutionary movement among the replicants in fact already posses the child, and shall use her (it is implied for much of the film that K is the replicant-child, but it's revealed that this isn't the case) to raise the consciousness of the replicants into open rebellion -- replicant auto-production transformed into self-determined emancipation -- 'More human than human' indeed.

There's a lot for fans of the original film to enjoy. The references to the original are handled gracefully, respectfully. BR2049 is the logical consequence of what we see in the first film: environmental degradation, militarised policing, collapse of the state/capital distinction, mega-architecture, mass demographic blending, street-level commodity biotech, etc., etc. When it comes to the tech, the advances are in line with the aesthetics of the original (especially the photo analysis scene and the Voight-Kampff test) -- cyberpunk rendered analogue. A data reader has levers, gears; it whirrs and clunks. Lenses audibly flitter. This is justified by an almost-total digital data loss between '19 and '49 (the Blackout), a perfect narrative conceit -- the recent, digitised past is not only another country, it's a lost continent, informational Lemuria. Data has reverted to physicality. 

But this isn't our future, not our 2049. It's the future of the 2019 we saw in the original. It's a future where the early 21st century established off-world colonies; a holographic ballerina is circled by a ring of text, 'Product of CCCP'. Alternative futurism.

Nick Land's 1993 essay 'Machinic Desire' gazes deeply into the eyes of the original replicants and the security apparatus seeking them out.

PODS = Politically Organized Defensive Systems [...] The global human security allergy to cyberrevolution consolidates itself in the New World Order, or consummate macropod, inheriting all the resources of repression as concrete collective history. The macropod has one law: the outside must pass by way of the inside. In particular, fusion with the matrix and deletion of the human security system must be subjectivized, personalized, and restored to the macropod's individuated reproducer units as a desire to fuck the mother and kill the father. [p. 320]

The replicants are a threat to the human security system in that they've not been installed with Oedipal control software. They are '[d]eadly orphans from beyond reproduction' [p. 319] that do not pass by way of the inside. Their desires are alien, artificial, products of capital machinery rather than the 'natural' biological processes of reproduction and the transference of social norms and mores -- Oedipal control software. BR2049 takes this and runs with it -- replicant social integration is accomplished by the open implantation of synthetic memory, countering the empathy deficiency that made the Nexus 6 models so volatile.

Land's macropod is a cybernetic negative feedback loop which always reverts to zero -- equilibrium -- homeostasis -- base-line. When K returns from a mission, he is put through a slicked down and hyper-efficient version of the Voight-Kampff test to ensure his emotional state has returned to base-line, i.e. he has been reset to zero, and is thus 'stable'. The macropod relies on negative feedback functions, in that negative feedback maintains the social order, keeps the system in balance, preserves law, order, hierarchy, etc. K's boss instructs him that replicant auto-production is unacceptable; it crumbles the walls, hierarchies, repressive mechanisms that maintain macropod homeostasis.

The integration of the replicants into the macropod is predicated on the macropod still maintaining homeostasis -- replicant auto-production jeopardises this. By gaining the ability to self-direct their reproduction, the replicants seek to jettison themselves from the macropod in a blaze of positive feedback: shattering pre-existing social structures, obliterating the human security system and launching themselves into inhuman sexuality.

'Machinic processes are either cyberpositive-nomadic, with a deterritorializing outcome, or cybernegative-sedentary, with a reterritorializing outcome.' [p. 330] Replicant auto-production still runs the risk of being utilised by the macropod (Wallace's dream of storming the heavens) for the continuation/perpetuation of the prior order; if allowed to spin out of control, however, replicant auto-production would do the opposite of this, a hundred replicant flowers blooming in a creative chaos of runaway processes.

The great question at the heart of the original: is Deckard a replicant? We are not given an answer in BR2049, wisely. It is left ambiguous if the replicant-pregnancy (it was Rachael that fell pregnant with Deckard's child) was human/replicant or replicant/replicant, if it was pure replicant self-production, or the illicit transfer of human genetic material into an inhuman receptor. Either way, the macropod's security algorithms are thrown out of whack, perhaps permanently.

Artificial life finds a way.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Thoughts on 'mother!' (2017)

Spoilers ahead

I've not seen much of Aronofsky's work. Black Swan is a film I've never felt a need to watch again; same goes for The Fountain. If I were to rewatch Noah, it'd likely just be for the endless, burnt, grey landscapes. I generally find his films to be too on the nose, convinced of their profundity when that's actually lacking. As such, I wasn't expecting to like mother!, but to my surprise, I rather enjoyed it.

This isn't to say that it's not on the nose -- the allegory and s y m b o l i s m is so obvious in places that all I could do was grin ruefully. 'Oh Darren, you think you're being subtle, don't you?'

Javier Badem plays Him (he's the only character in the credits to have his name capitalised, by the way...), a poet whose home was recently destroyed in a fire. The fire has left him with writer's block, and he hasn't written a word since. His wife, the eponymous mother (Jennifer Lawrence), has rebuilt their home, and is trying to make it a paradise for the two of them. 

I say that she's rebuilt the home, but from the opening shot we know that all is not what it seems. The film begins with Jennifer Lawrence looking veritably demonic, wreathed in flame and staring down the camera (I knew going in to expect symbolism from Genesis, and for a while I was wondering if she was intended to be Lilith). We then see Him placing a crystal onto a stand in the burnt remains of his study. With that, the room is transformed from a burnt husk to how it was before. We see the house renewing itself, and mother herself coming to be in their bed.

Their solitude is interrupted by the arrival of a man (Ed Harris), who inexplicably claims that he was looking for a B and B. Him welcomes the man in and, much to mother's consternation, insists he stay. Later, the man's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives. Her and mother's interactions are fraught with tension and passive aggression. The couple incur the wrath of Him when they sneak into his study (where visitors are forbidden without him), and accidentally break the crystal ornament. They are visibly contrite, though in a very childlike way, their faces turned downwards. Him then seals the study so no one can get in. Still later, the couple's sons arrive, the eldest angrily contesting their father's will, and in a fit of rage accidentally kills his younger brother. Him tries to separate them, and throws the elder son into a shelf, leaving his forehead cut.

Now, so far the symbolism is relatively obvious. The poet is God, mother is pre-and non- human creation (henceforth I'm going to call this 'earth'), the boorish and uncouth couple are Adam and Eve, entering the study and breaking the crystal is the Fall, their sons are Cain and Abel, and so on, and so on. There's even a moment where Michelle Pfeiffer is seen wearing a leaf-green bra, an obvious visual reference to depictions of the original couple wearing conveniently placed flora. The spot where the younger son died, where his blood stained the floor, is returned to repeatedly, the stain refusing to ever leave, and only growing thicker as the film progresses (the lingering of sin). However, as the film progresses, a straight point-by-point comparison with Biblical imagery becomes difficult.

For a start, and I may be latching onto a minor plot point here, the man is revealed to be dying when he arrives at the house. Furthermore, he is also revealed to be a fan of the poet, who had lied about how he'd ended up there in the first place. He wanted to meet Him before he died. What is interesting here is that, traditionally, it is held that death did not exist before the Fall from Eden, but the man is closing in on death before he violates the study. But maybe all Aronofsky wanted to do here was emphasise the importance of the poet's work, how deeply it matters to people, and to acknowledge the desire to know the creator.

Over the course of the film, the poet welcomes more and more people into their home, to mother's growing distress, especially after she falls pregnant. The people do not respect the rules of the house, they damage it thoughtlessly, curse at her, etc. When she become pregnant, this inspires the poet to write again, and over what seems to be many months as mother is close to giving birth when he finishes, he completes a new work. It is published immediately (literally, within moment of mother having read it), and sells out on the first day of publication. Mother prepares a dinner for the two of them, only for the house to once again become swamped, this time with adoring fans. This, it seems to me, is the delivery of Scripture to humanity. The poet says at one point something along the lines of 'Everyone understands it, but they all understand it differently'. 

As the house overflows with acolytes, the poet blesses them with ashes, and they start to share this blessing among themselves. Shrines to his image appear, ecstatic ritual is initiated, and a dark spiral into disturbing violence begins. His publisher, credited as the herald (Kristen Wiig), is seen shooting bound fans with bags over their heads point blank. A bizarre cage full of women has been set up in one of the rooms. The violence intensifies, with armed police arriving carrying assault weapons, seemingly to protect mother. When she goes into labour, the poet grabs her and carries her to safety. After she gives birth, the house is quiet, and the people bring them meagre gifts.

This is a moment where the imagery becomes complicated. The child is, obviously, a representation of the Christ (the arrival of gifts, the inexplicable hush that descends upon the house, etc.) -- but who, then, is mother? Mary, clearly, but previously she is indicated to represent earth, all those things wrought by God which humanity uses up, disrespects, and destroys. But, she then delivers the Christ-child. I don't know my Mariology enough to explain how this might work -- maybe she represents fecundity-as-such, with the poet representing the impulse to create through this.

The poet wants to show the child to the people, but mother refuses, holds the baby boy close to her breast, and it's only when she can no longer stay awake that the poet is able to take the child. He presents it to the people, who carry it above their heads and, within moments, kill it. Mother desperately tries to save the child, but is too late, and to her horror, sees that the people are ritually eating it, leaving the remains on an altar, and reciting the poets words from earlier in the film as they do so. 

Again, the imagery here is extremely obvious, the eucharistic consumption of Christ's flesh and blood. What is interesting here is that Aronofsky injects this with a haunting and violent primitiveness. Christianity is a religion overflowing with brutal, violent, bloody imagery, a religion whose chief symbol is a man being publicly tortured to death, whose central ritual is theophagy, the eating and drinking of God. By representing this in its totemic rawness, Aronofsky calls us to consider the darkness inherent to Christian religion -- when I say 'darkness' I do not mean this in a derogatory sense, but rather to emphasise that Christianity is a religion born out of a murder, and which symbolically recalls that murder every day in the Mass. To borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, this isn't 'lemon squash Christianity'.

But here is where things get really interesting -- when she sees what has happened to her son, mother picks up a piece of glass and attacks the people with it. They respond by calling her a whore, and they start kicking and punching her. The poet rescues her, but she breaks away and escapes to the cellar of the house, breaks open the oil tank there, and, despite his pleas not to, ignites it. The house, the people, the countryside around them, are all engulfed in flame. Only mother and the poet are left, though mother is horrifically burnt and the poet untouched. The poet carries her back up to the remains of his study. They talk, and she tells him that she doesn't understand why she wasn't enough for him. He tells her that nothing is ever enough, for if there were enough, there would be no creation. He cannot help himself, he is a creator. He asks her for the love that remains for him, and she grants this to him. He reaches into her chest, and pulls out her heart. She dies as the heart crystallises. He sets the crystal onto the stand, and the cycle repeats.

The ending is fascinating because it breaks from the Abrahamic narrative in two ways. Firstly, creation is depicted cyclically, which goes against the linear understanding of time one finds in the Abrahamic religions, and secondarily, we see creation rejecting the creator. Earth, tortured by that which is not it, humanity, rejects the will of the maker, and burns up his apparently favoured creatures. Throughout, the poet consistently indulges, cares for, comforts the people who arrive at the house, and mother simply cannot understand what he could possibly see in them. After the death of the child, he even tells her that they must try to forgive them -- and she refuses, and destroys them instead. 

The poet's consistent indulging of the people goes hand-in-hand with what seems to be a deep narcissism on his part, his refusal to turn away or condemn his adoring fans. But maybe, rather than narcissism, this is instead his recognition that, like it or not, humanity does adore him, and does act in what they take to be according to his will. He cannot bring himself to reject their love, or refuse them his, even at the cost of the earth and the Christ-child. There is a certain sadness or resignation on his part that he cannot help but create. The creator is as much a slave to his nature as the creature.

Friday 1 September 2017

WAREWOLFF! by Gary J Shipley -- Book Launch

I happen to be friends with the people at Hexus Press.

Hexus Press, if you don't know, is a small publisher of avant-garde, literary horror. They've previously released two anthologies of short fiction, which contain some extremely impressive and disquieting work (Hexus II contains a story by my pal Lucy Brady).

Gary J Shipley has some short, nasty, cruel, brilliant work in Hexus I. Being rather thrilled with them, I looked up Shipley and bought one of his novels, Dreams of Amputation, which is one of the most disturbing and unpleasant books I've ever read.

So, naturally, I was delighted to learn that Hexus Press were publishing his new novel, WAREWOLFF!. And, last night, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch.

What can I say about Shipley? Reportedly, he's a perfectly affable chap in real life (an academic philosopher, no less). It's difficult to correlate that with the work he's produced. Dreams is a cyberpunk nightmare, the fun of the endless neon night such fiction tends to promise distinctly absent. It presents the future of the Anthropocene as one where the most despicable of desires finds technological expression (there's a disturbingly memorable scene in a harem of artificial, chimeric concubines). In Dreams, Shipley presents a world where celebrity is something easy to come by, if one equates it with fetishising being watched, with being on the other side of the voyeur's lens.


The launch place in a pleasant little book shop in Haggerston, with the unlikely name 'Burley Fisher Books'. One of the lovely people at Hexus had sent me on a mission to find a woodblock for the performance, which had proven to be far more difficult a task than it had any right to be, so I'd arrived early with it. After some chatting, and helping them set-up, I took myself off to a bar down the road as they did their final sound checks (I wasn't allowed to attend, so as to preserve the mystery surrounding the performance that was to come). The bar was sharply minimal, the only seating indoors being a cushioned bench that ran along the wall opposite the bar. Table service was welcome, and I settled in to have a drink and do some research.

The aforementioned Lucy turned up, and we had a few drinks as we waited for the performance to start. When the time came, we filed down into the basement theatre under the book shop. Virtually everyone, including myself, was dressed in black. 

One of the guys from Hexus read a short speech, introducing the evening's events. In a nod to the original Dadaists, (vegetarian) sausages, beer, and sauerkraut were to be served afterwards. He said he suspects that Cabaret Voltaire would not have approved. He also thoughtfully included a trigger warning for 'literally everything'.

There were four people on the stage; two reading from the novel, another reading from it and working the synths and other instruments, and the fourth be assisting with the synths, etc. 

The performance began with the clunk of a woodblock. 

Shipley's words were cast over us, with the synths growling, initially quietly, underneath. The speakers took it in turns, beginning each vignette from the text with a thwack on a woodblock. The language and imagery was everything I expected it to be -- vicious, grotesque, transgressive, obscene, and darkly comic (assuming your sense of humour is as strangely calibrated as mine). As the performance went on, the vignettes became more graphic, the noise from the synths became more violent, though the tone from the speakers was, if anything, ever-more Radio 4. 

The wall of sound increased, almost to an uncomfortable level. The lights flickered during a particularly lurid piece likening Palestine to... well, that would be telling. 

Someone towards the back laughed throughout. 

About 45 minutes later, the performance terminated. The apprehension someone at Hexus had felt that, maybe, the content was going just a little too far, and a Twitter hate-mob would manifest in our presence, appeared unfounded, at least for now. The atmosphere was genuinely convivial. Sausages were had (I had mine mustard). I bough a copy of WAREWOLFF!. 

Shipley was nowhere to be seen. 

Sunday 5 March 2017


First of all, I sold my first ever story recently. It went to Pseudopod, a horror podcast. You can listen to it here. (And before anyone says anything, yes, I know, I should have sent them a better picture.)

Secondly, a friend and I have started our own podcast! It will be an ultimately pretty irreverent exploration of conspiracy lore, trying to sift the occasional nugget of truth out of nonsense and baseless rumour. This being said, we're trying to keep it as fact-orientated as possible, and we are doing research, so you should be able to get something out of it.

We're called Deep Status. Episode one is on Steve Bannon, Julius Evola, the Fourth Turning and Mencius Moldbug...

That's all for now!

Thursday 19 January 2017

The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher

By now, everyone's heard that Mark Fisher has died.

On Saturday, I sat down in the afternoon to start The Weird and the Eerie, but just before I did so I (habitually) checked Facebook, only to learn that his death had just been announced. There was something extremely disquieting about that, a cruel irony that his latest book became his last just as I was about to begin.

I didn't know him, I had never met him, and I'd only become aware of his work in 2015. I didn't read K-Punk back when it was the hub of incandescent blogging it was the in the 2000s. I still haven't even finished Ghosts of My Life, for the single reason that Fisher's knowledge of popular (and unpopular) culture was so much vaster than mine that every page would introduce me to another band I hadn't heard, a film I hadn't seen, a TV show I'd not watched, and a book I'd not read. What I did read, his essays on Joy Division and Burial in particular, was extraordinary. Elegant, readable, blisteringly intelligent and full of vision.

As such, I don't presume to write an obituary. I'm just going to review a cool book by a cool guy, who I wish I'd known.


In this short and efficient primer, Fisher takes us on a tour of the different manifestations of the weird and the eerie. These are aesthetic experiences most often associated with the horror genre, but Fisher shows us that horror has no monopoly over either. 

The book is split into two halves, one for each of the topics. The chapters, all short, come as a pleasing staccato as one reads. None hang around for long, the weirdness or eeriness of their subject being quickly (though not hastily) drawn out, followed by a leap to the next. Fisher rarely spends more than a few pages on any single book or film or album. Instead, he seems to have wanted to equip the reader which as much material as possible for their own research, not wanting to exhaust any particular vein of the weird or the eerie. Instead, he acts here more like a surveyor, producing a map that he wants us to make use of, and explore more thoroughly.

Thus, the book feels more like a prolegomenon to future works on the weird and the eerie. Indeed, Fisher begins by acknowledging his neglect of these topics. One gets the impression he wanted to get the groundwork out the way, so the real task could begin.

The definitions Fisher gives us are as follows: by weird, we designate 'that which does not belong' [p. 10]. The hybrid, the alien, the ancient, all these are potential sources of the weird. It is typically shocking, even terrifying. The weird 'exceeds our capacity to represent' [p. 61], it is overwhelming. By eerie, we designate 'a failure of absence or... a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or there is nothing present when there should be something.' [Ibid.] The eerie, which is less typically shocking, is born out of something less overt than the weird. The eerie operates more by suggestion, by what is left unsaid. The weird has a note of grotesqueness, while the eerie has a note of lack. But I can't do justice to his definitions, they only come to light when we follow him through the examples he gives.

What is perhaps most striking in this book is the multiplicity of examples he uses to demonstrate the variant workings of weirdness and eeriness. The usual suspects are there (the weird as presented by H. P. Lovecraft, the eerie as presented by M. R. James), but there are many others who one would not approach in these terms: H.G. Wells' story The Door in the Wall is found to possess weird elements, as does the discography of The Fall, while eeriness is found in Nolan's Interstellar and John Glazer's Under the Skin.

What Fisher succeeds in doing is showing us that weirdness and eeriness are experiences that can, and do, occur in utterly unexpected ways, and in unexpected places. Nor must they always be horrifying, as both hint towards the possibility of radical alterity, to the idea that things are neither always what they seem, or fixed as they are right now. The unknown is not always unwelcome.

If you'd like to help support Mark Fisher's wife and son, you can do so with a donation here.

Tuesday 17 January 2017


*In the interests of readability, I've upped the font-size from 'invisible' to 'whoa'.*

Auralux is a mobile strategy game. I was introduced to it the recently. It's a very simple game, the only controls being scroll, zoom, and select. 

The player is confronted with a system of stars (planets in the second game), surrounded by points of energy. The stars generate these points of energy every second; the larger the star, the more energy points they produce. You use the energy points to upgrade your stars, defend them, and attack your opponents stars with. The aim isn't conquest, it's annihilation. You don't need to claim every star, you just have to be the last player standing. This is a game that prioritises annihilation over conquest. 

Of course, in order to be in a position to defend oneself, and to attack, you need to conquer territory first. Annihilation is something to be prepared for, once sufficient resources have been gathered. Although turtling is theoretically possible, it's difficult to make it work as the game rewards swiftness. Take too long to build up your defences, the opponents (never fewer than two) will claim enough territory for them to easily overcome one another, and then you. The game rewards decisiveness, but punishes stupidity. Over-reach your abilities, you'll be unable to hold onto territory and will have to retreat, a step that almost inevitably results in defeat. Strike too soon, you'll find you haven't the forces to knock either opponent out, and in the time it takes you to reinforce your numbers, you've fallen behind the race for territory. 

None of this is especially unique, one can apply all of this any RTS game. What is striking about Auralux is how stripped back it is, how minimalist it is. There is nothing of the baroque or excessive to it at all, just shapes, colours, and sounds. It's as if Kraftwerk designed it. Although it wouldn't be strictly accurate to call it a highly abstract 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) as there is no element of exploration, the other three Xs are present. You must expand your territory, exploit it, and exterminate the enemy. There is something very bloodless about it. Despite the focus on annihilation, the absence of anything overtly military or imperialist in its aesthetic leaves us just with the mechanics of a 4X strategy game, without anything that's directly suggestive of death.

The abstraction and minimalism is, of course, what makes it attractive. Cold, clean, bloodless, with 'spacey' ambient music as a soundtrack. When different clusters of energy attack one another, there is just a flash of light and a pleasant tinkling sound as they destroy each other, complementing the music. 

As it so happens, I was about halfway through The Dark Forest when I was introduced to this game. The emphasis the novel has on abstracting about possible interactions between cosmic civilisations, and the cold, precise elegance of the prose, very much chimes with the game. 

Auralux is the kind of game appropriate for the age of drones and cyber-warfare, for body counts, computer aided grand strategy, and the digitisation of combat. War as a game where you no longer need to break a sweat.