So, I’ve finally finished my MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths. I say “finally” as if the past 12 months haven’t been the quickest I’ve ever known, but at the same time I have felt the passing of every single hour spent writing these last three months (which are to blame for the inactivity here). My dissertation – titled Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and the Fisher-Function – was handed in last Tuesday and now I wake up every morning asking myself “What next?” As far as my essay is concerned, I’d like it to have a life after the course but I’m not sure what life is best suited for it yet. As far as existing is concerned, I’d also like to continue with that too but I haven’t the foggiest as to what I should spend my time doing…
My dissertation, for those interested, was the culmination of a strangely serendipitous thread of thought I’ve followed doggedly over the last 12 months. Almost everything I’ve written this past year has been about “community” – my diaristic theory-fiction about @_geopoetics being the only exception. My very first essay of the academic year was about communal madness and monasticism – an updated version of which became a K’ex talk – and then I wrote about COUM Transmissions and co(u)mmunity for my Curating & Ethics class. When Mark Fisher died in January I found myself living within a community just like those I’d been writing about. I felt unable to write about anything else as what I’d considered with academic distance suddenly exploded in my face.
The essay tries to articulate this experience and ways of – personally and politically – carrying it with us. It looks at the conceptual act of “egress” discussed in Mark’s 2016 book The Weird and the Eerie and considers what the political stakes of that act are in light of his wider writings and his suicide. I’ve long admired what Mark said about his book Capitalist Realism – that he wanted to write a book about political economy that his 16 year old students could related to – and so the essay is written in a way that is indebted to his approach to cultural criticism. I consider questions of grief and depression, mourning and melancholy, community and communism that haunt political philosophy by looking at (of all things) The Matrix; the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James and Joan Lindsay; The Walking Dead and The OA whilst at the same time narrating the all-too-real circumstances that have made these stakes so traumatically palpable this year – namely, Mark’s suicide and the Grenfell tower fire – and the tensions of processing political violence with culture that becomes immediately facetious before it. It is a “project” that has informed my life and relationships at every level. Coming to terms with how communities are forged and fall apart through traumas like these has been a difficult thing to articulate this year, but I’m glad I’ve tried…
The essay ended with a little rumination on friendship and now I’m thinking a lot about how I’ve never before had friendships like those I’ve acquired this year. I’m also aware of the friendships I’ve lost this year (and those that have been stifled along the way) as I’ve struggled to keep my mental health in check. I wish I had had the energy to sustain some of these friendships and I also regret not getting to know half the people I’ve met this year as well as I could have done. I started the year strong, confident and excited; I ended it awkward, tongue-tied and withdrawn. It’s not the first time I’ve socially fluctuated this way but this year has been the most painful instance, particularly as I’ve dedicated so much thought to the mechanisms of such a private and public process. I hope to get better at practising what I’ve been preaching.
To quote Blanchot one more time for good measure:
Friendship, this relation without dependence, without episode, yet into which all of the simplicity of life enters, passes by way of the recognition of the common strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends but only to speak to them, not to make of them a topic of conversations (or essays), but the movement of understanding in which, speaking to us, they reserve, even on the most familiar terms, an infinite distance, the fundamental separation on the basis of which what separates becomes relation.
I am all too aware of everything I – in my essays, blog posts, photographs – can never say: all the communal knowledge and experience that is left to one side when trying to articulate subjective experience. They say “write about what you know” but what I know escapes writing; escapes photography. “Knowledge” and “experience” – they egress.
I will nonetheless continue to explore (perhaps futilely) this common strangeness and infinite distance with my photography. I feel like this inarticulate between is what I have consistently tried to capture since my undergraduate degree. It has generally emerged through photographs of friends (mostly Katie) and/or the sea (much like in the photos above) and it seems all I’ve done this year is scale that project up to philosophy and writing. I’m glad to have spent the year so deeply immersed in philosophy but the next step is to better bridge the gap between theory and practice. This is what I have been trying to achieve with Affections. Now 6 years in the making, it explores these very same strangenesses and distances between peoples that the sea has always symbolised for me in its natural state of abstraction. Now I feel like I have half a chance of completing the writing that will accompany the images which I started a few years ago without any confidence.
I also have #03-#05 of my Picture Wizard books to finish… #03 has been finished since late 2016 but I haven’t had the chance to raise the money to print it. #02 remains my best photobook sequence ever (if I do say so myself) so #04 and #05 have a lot to live up to. I hope they’ll all have seen the light of day by the end of 2018. This year’s #05 may even be the final one. I can’t keep adding to the backlog!
The main priority though, of course, is getting a job. If anyone has any photography or writing needs of any kind: proofreading/editing; any kind of photographing; print buying; exhibition installing; curating – please get in touch. In the meantime, I’ll be writing cover letters for the foreseeable.
More blogs soon.
– – –
Photos from Botany Bay at the end of August and a Derbyshire quarry back in June. The first of the backlog…