"awaking have found nothing in their hands" (from land-grab time to sand through the fingers)

Go read: this FT piece on the linguistic tendencies and frothings of financial crises.

Sir Isaac Newton, four centuries before, had remained a wallflower, seeing the South Sea Bubble for what it was. But he was persuaded to take the floor for the last waltz. “I can predict the motion of heavenly bodies,” he observed ruefully, “but not the madness of crowds.”

(Thanks to Gopal for this)

"an individual, and total life"

Japanese Red Army film, nominally about a plane hijacking, for your viewing pleasure over at Ubuweb: Masao Adachi & Kôji Wakamatsu's Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen (The Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War) [1971]. Adachi and Wakamatsu are part of the fûkeiron crew that made the quite incredible A.K.A. Serial Killer. Old school experimental propaganda.

Vogliamo tutto

... e anche, questo. Per passare dal rifiuto verso il manifesto di nostro fame.

From dead of winter to a grip of frost

A fitting song for the day. Not enough snow here, but rumor has it, play this loud enough through a speaker made of abandoned elk bone, and a storm will come.

Dust in the wind

To talk of compromise as a "solution" to the crisis is to mistake a weather vane for a sail. It cannot catch the wind. It can only turn creaking to show the direction of the wind as it blows right by. And it can only promise that it will make nothing of it. No intervention, no harnessing. Just a dull and void butterknife drawing a petty trail in the gathering gust.

DIY Death

Saw this when I was in Des Moines: Joe Scanlan's DIY yuppie death kit, (of course, able to be bought in very expensive, pre-assembled, art world sanctioned form) titled: "DIY, or How to kill yourself anywhere in the world for under $399." Yes, those are indeed IKEA bookshelves and nightstands reconfigured into a white laminated chipboard coffin and flower stands. (Should be called Nekrö.) No, it isn't that different from the umlaut-filled necropolis that is IKEA , that odd site of both the knowing-better-than of responsible Scandinavianism and the fact of actual affordability (cheaper than Wal-Mart). However, we can rest easy knowing that somewhere in northern Sweden, trolls once named Tromsö and Sniglar are furious at those who stole their accursed birth-right names in order to sub-name metal bunk-beds and unstained pine diaper changing tables. And they are coming for their revenge, back to a world where they don't belong. Armed with ancient fury and weird aluminum wrenches that don't fit anything else other than one set of bolts that don't fit where they should, that is to say, that don't fit into the world designed for and against them.

Don't bury the dead!

Audio of my talk in London, on apocalyptic politics, in which one can hear me talk very, very quickly, urge all Communists to refuse to bury their dead, explain and come a bit unstuck. (Link here.)

For a bit of total affective contrast (and a shift in political perspective, or at least a deepening of rationalism by the man who claimed he doesn't want an apocalypse because he will be the guy in glasses who will of course be the first killed by tidal wave/wave of fire/wave of zombies), here's Ben Noys' excellent talk on accelerationism and negation from our panel:

Thanks to Mike, over at Avoiding the Void, for recording and uploading these.

Biopolitical airlines soar high above the cripple

Max Ernst, Untitled, 1920.

A handleless knife

New statement from the Tarnac crew (9 no more, but 10, with numbers sure to grow with the new decade), "Why We Will No Longer Respect the Judicial Restraints Placed Upon Us," on refusing to play the role of Public Enemy, on the task of desertion, and the imbecility of doom.

Like the greatest number of people today, we are torn apart by the paradox of the situation: on the one hand, we cannot continue to live like this nor let the world, led by an oligarchy of imbeciles, run to its doom; on the other hand, any perspective more desirable than the current disaster, any idea of the practical route by which we might escape this disaster, has been stolen. And no one revolts without having the perspective of a better life, except for several sympathetically desperate souls.

There's no shortage of ugliness in the world

The House is Black (1962), Iranian proto-New Wave documentary of a leper colony, only film from Forough Farrokhzad, crucial female poet. Totally remarkable, dark as pitch, and pitch perfect.

Thanks to Jeff over at Dossier for the reminder that this exists.

Mutual blackening goes digital

In the burnt tundra aftermath of the Hideous Gnosis symposium, documents float to the putrid surface like so many buoyant corpses borne aloft by Luciferian eels. Or something like that. Thanks to Nicola for all the work on this, and keep an eye for the volume to emerge from it, with writing from me and the other usual suspects on this, plus surprise appearances from the likes of Eugene Thacker and Reza Negarestani.

Des Moines (Gentrification, foetus, gas station)

First reflections on Des Moines (here visiting my sister before we all pack up and drive across the plains eastward to Maine) and its mess of near-contradictions:

White dry cold, and Tony Smith black steel rectangles in the laser trip-wire guarded sculpture gardens. Spacious streets, and boutique dog stores selling eerily fetish gear-esque hot pink spandex harnesses for tiny dogs. Insistent pro-life billboards. Those massive copper colored glass and poured concrete blocks of insurance modernism.

And fighting the good fight against the winter, the irrepressible libidinal undercurrent of the Midwest finds its never-to-be-spoken name in two gas station chains: GIT 'N GO and KUM 'N GO.

The Anti-Capitalist Transition

David Harvey on "Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition," a long and critical stocktaking of what "co-revolutionary" Communism would and should look like. Particularly good, as Mr. Harvey always is, on sketching a big-picture portrait of the geographical and temporal make-up of the present and the ongoing defunctness of its planned future. Also, his ending note is a striking one, for those of us who understand Communism not as a fixed political program but as the self-constitution of a nameless mass out of an increasingly unavoidable recognition that capitalism's direction of history is no direction at all. Just the endless spiraling production of more rope with which to hang us all.

Communists, Marx and Engels averred in their original conception laid out in The Communist Manifesto, have no political party. They simply constitute themselves at all times and in all places as those who understand the limits, failings, and destructive tendencies of the capitalist order as well as the innumerable ideological masks and false legitimations that capitalists and their apologists (particularly in the media) produce in order to perpetuate their singular class power. Communists are all those who work incessantly to produce a different future to that which capitalism portends.

The headless horsemen of the apocalypse

[unfortunately couldn't make the black gathering of Hideous Gnosis, but I was present in absentia. Here's my contribution...]

At its raspy start, black metal begins with the obscene purity of the end: with Pure Fucking Armageddon, the title of Mayhem’s first demo from 1986. Of course, black metal never really begins. It’s always been out of time, eternally out of joint with a world it hates, even as it cannot leave that world behind. But if we take one among many points of departure, it may as well be this one, from the good old dark days, a declaration of where to go from there. The name itself is a founding gesture, and we take it as such, as a formal template and an injunction to be fulfilled: black metal will be pure fucking Armageddon. Or, to specify, it will operate beneath that constitutive fantasy, and it will be constituted by how it keeps reproducing its distance from such a fantasy. That is, it promises itself as pure and as Armageddon, even as it dismantles any possibility of ever being either. Rather, it is impure fucking apocalypse. (As for the fucking issue, that remains spot-on and relatively uncomplicated. To follow Sargeist, it’s the difference between “black murder” and “Black Fucking Murder.” It is one of BM’s great modifiers, endlessly recombined to specify the blackness and metalness of things, ranking up there with necro, grim, dark, cold, Northern, pestilent, Satanic, and in certain periods, Carpathian and Transylvanian.)

Above all, black metal is war. It is fought under the banner of a desired final war to come: the striving march from impure apocalypse of the present to the pure Armageddon of the end. To leave behind the messiness and imprecision of the Now, not by dreaming about the future but through a constant return to buried antagonisms (i.e. Satan’s alternate history of the world, flammable churches, pagan knowledge, ancestral legacies). To become a fierce and directed manifestation of shared hatred toward the assumed positivity of what the order of the day is (i.e. Christianity, liberal democracy, multi-nationalism, warm weather, false metal). And above all, to know finally, once and for all, what the hell to do with that hellish hatred of the present.

What is the difference between apocalypse and Armageddon? Apocalypse is a mode of vision, a process, a revelation of what is hidden, of the unclear, of the undifferentiated. To be properly black metal about it all, if the veil is lifted, the revelation is of the cursed impure that could not be grasped in this rational order. A black sun casts different light, and the growing shadows reveal only what has been hidden in plain sight all along. Consequently, apocalypse is not the end but the beginning of the end. In revealing the hidden, it starts the process of resorting, reorienting, struggling through the mess of what has been shown and now won’t go away. The apocalypse leads to the post-apocalypse. Contrary to this, Armageddon is the site of the terminal end. It is not the end itself (not the eschaton), but the battlefield on which the final confrontation will be fought between the differentiated enemies, now clear and “pure” in their opposition.

What does this have to do with black metal, or with Mayhem’s demo title as a founding gesture? It is to think of black metal as a battlefield from the start, as a phenomenal working through of that imagined site, that promised zone of contestation where the contemporary world is swept away to confront the old antagonisms. But against its endless stated reiterations, the battlefield – and the war itself – is not purified location of Armageddon. It is rather the total messiness of the impure apocalypse and the strewn landscape. A total, unceasing war not between enemies grouped on opposite sides of the final Two, but a war to try and draw forth a Two, to rediscover the possibility of antagonism and movement in the permanent fog and jumble of the present.

So stands black metal, pulled in two again and again, without enlightenment or escape. Composed of antinomies that do not, against all odds, cancel each other out. It is a blurring, buzzing, necessarily late 20th century electric mess (the howling sound of global infrastructure and transmission), but it can only think itself as the cruel and nostalgic articulation of a local heritage of ancient earth and cold blood. And it is the strident forging of the horde’s shared total enmity, yet which can only make itself appear as the individualistic work of loner devotees of Satan with too many crossbows and a love of strolling in the woods. In other words, pulled somewhere between a willingness to be unapologetic enemies of what the world has become, a deep and arcane goofiness riddled with stone-faced mediocre nationalism, a sonic blast, and a melancholia of the unwanted, black metal takes formless shape. Bellicosity and dysphoria, raging mess and lost purity.

The point of this investigation isn’t to redeem this or iron out its contradictions. It certainly isn’t to separate the musical wheat from the crypto-Fascist chaff. Rather, to dwell in the utter overdetermination and to start to grasp, as black metal itself does raggedly, what can never be separated or cleared away. Black metal is the failure of dialectical reason, and for that reason, it is a razor sharp capture of the stuck-record world it rejects. All that cohabits impossibly cannot be separated, and it therefore must be a site of war, a contested site of destruction without clean-up or resolution. That which is negated sticks around in its own negation, and it starts to reek. Restless decay that does not fade away, but only gets louder. Nihil unbound and bound to fail.

What, then, is black metal if not totality itself: overdetermination that does not cancel out, the impossible whole that lumbers on? Following Ben Noy’s application of the logic of the partisan (according to which the “bad partisan” produces the end of discernible enemies by making enmity absolute and universal), this bellum omnium contra omnes is not a war between discrete individuals all against all. It is the war fought between two totalities, between black metal’s endless antagonism and liberal capitalism’s eternal present.

The condition on which black metal is staked is that of militancy, of how to transition from melancholic dejection of the Now to furious rejection in the name of Then (as interstitial moment of lost pagan battle or future Ragnarok). The lyrics of Vordr’s “From Ruins to Victorious Triumph,” screeched over its D-beat stomp and churning fuzz, precisely map this envisioned arc. From “I do not care / For the earthly pleasures / Of humanity / I couldn't care less / I couldn't care less” to “Along with the unseen / I shall rise / From ruins to victorious triumph / My time is yet to come.” This may start with the frosty and properly misanthropic turn away from the accepted sphere of the human, yet it still remains trapped in the potential realm of the petulant bedroom shut-in, the dysphoric who dwells in the petty pleasures of feigning disinterest in the earthly sphere. That is, who prefers to stay home and out of the fray. The point of transition is truly apocalyptic: to rise with the “unseen”, the impure, the undifferentiated. It begins in the ruins, not in the lyrical twilight solitude of the allegorical death’s head but from the ruined ground, if not from farther below, and the accumulated broken weight of past struggle and constant failure.

To move toward a temporary conclusion, from this sense of the where, I venture three further questions about this war of fractured and antinomian totality. When does it take place? Who is fighting and leading the battle? What kind of war is it?

To start with the temporal dimension, the when of the war: black metal is the restaging of a past war that was to have been yet which missed its chance. (The beginning of the end that didn’t take, the failed start.) If, returning to that Vordr line, “my time is yet to come,” black metal hinges on the incapacity – and fury at that incapacity – of that time ever coming to be. Apocalyptically, it is caught between imminent and immanent eschaton: it predicts and describes a final battle, yet it grasps that final battle as one which has been there all along. Out of this noisy deadlock, it reaches in one of two directions. Either it hails toward a past that wasn’t there (the time of lost telluric tradition, to be approached gnostically or through embedded folk traditions), or it approaches a stance outside of human time (the sublime of Nature, the atemporal adversity of Satan, the anti-thought of nothing itself). Either the nostalgia of degraded purity, or the purity of the concept of the inhuman itself. What binds the two together, even as it remains beyond the explicit purview of black metal thought, is an underground awareness that the banality and brutality of the contemporary world is both intolerable and inescapable. And furthermore, that it is far worse than any necrotic pestilential midnight hell swarm ever conjured by Norwegians. Therein the desperation of black metal vocals: it’s just the howl of the thought that this is both the worst of all possible worlds and the only possible world. The point, then, is to find a mode of virulent resistance and acid bath negativity, and it can only ever come from afar. Not from the immanent same of the present, not from the imminent difference of the future, but from an absent past.

Who fights this war, and who leads them? Despite the constant lip service to the affective portrait of the loner individual, we should venture the contrary: black metal has no individuals, and it has no leaders. At times, it has nations, folklores, heritages, and kingdoms. It has pasts. But above all, it has that corrosive negativity which takes as its first target the very individualism black metal reifies. This is no ideological swindle or disavowal. It is there in relentless repetition of the imagery (hordes, legions, swarms, armies of the night, cults, fasces), and it is there in the music, in the sheer nihilistic impurity of the din, crushing the possibility of any individual sustaining itself as a discrete positivity. The war by the human in the name of the inhuman devours the former. And no one can lead, no one deserves such a reward of being worth a damn in the face of it all. Instead, it is the sovereignty of the partisan group, the collected enemies of the world. In this way, despite its moronic and frequent attempts to be Fascist and despite the fact that we should ourselves wage total war against all such attempts, it never can be. It is perhaps always marked by its tainted proximity and distance from it, the negative term persisting even in absence: all non-Nazi black metal is still NSNSBM (not so National Socialist black metal). But its contested and scarred ground remains the battlefield of the impure and the undifferentiated. It can never leave this, and it doesn’t want to. If we do talk about blood and land, it can only be a feeling of blood, a cold comportment against the warm torpor of the capitalist present, not a genetic coldness shared by the northern tribes. And it can only be a land to be taken en masse, not to be rescued from a untainted past. Black metal dreams a sovereign, and, in the next breath, severs his head to spatter the blood across all. What remains are the headless horsemen of the apocalypse, the acephalic leaders of a chiefless crowd marching off to permanent war.

Finally, what kind of war? It is the war of totality against itself. Always caught mid-flight, black metal is the negative insistence: no transcendence, no redemption, no revelation. Yet this negation does not hack and slash open a clear spot on Armageddon’s planes. It does not allow for apocalyptic krisis, the clarity of separation and judgment, or for the understanding of what the battle has been about from the start, the secret history of the world made bloody well clear. Black metal is the obsessive yearning lunge toward such clarity, and it is the abortive impossibility of reaching it. What is all this desire for, and talk about, purity but the mislocation of real lust for clarity, for knowing who your enemies are? Because it knows, with imperfect gnosis, that the enemy is something immense and diffuse, and so it becomes that enemy itself, singing of the far-off End’s clarity with the voice of autophagic contradiction.

And so it is sonically. It is a static war, restless and bristling, but it is also a war of static. A war both by and against static: the buzzing howl nearly drowned out in the constant growl of late capitalist totality. For despite its hailing back to the absent origin, black metal is the sound – and politics, for there is no divorcing of the two – of this infernal and eternal present turned up and back on itself. It is feedback literalized. The pickups register, amplify, and ramp up to overdriven fever pitch all the circuits of the world order, the pathways of circulation, the electrified hum of production and calculation. And above all, the inhuman voice of the once-human nearly lost in the roar.

Black metal brings out the deadlock that was there from the start, between individuation and totality, and between a principle of negativity and the inertia of the positive. If the condition on which black metal is staked is indeed that of militancy, its impossible solution is collective militancy: that alone can make the deadlock tremor. To strike a totality by becoming a negative totality together, not the smooth individual rods of a fascist bundle, but a storm and swarm of the anti. To take on the abortive passage of the apocalyptic as a mandate and injunction, not to do right, but to do wrongly to a wrong world. Never to fall into sadness or dejection at the prospect, but to rage with joy. The crooked grin of the misanthrope who finds his grim horde, the smile hidden behind the shared illusion of non-pleasure. And above all, to do this together. To become totally singular and negatively universal is to take on the acephalic mess that we are and to undo the idiocy of any nostalgia for a purer time. Only from there do we forge Luciferian, not Satanic, collectivity: knowing very well that we can’t take the throne, and doing it all the same. There’s a reason that it isn’t Wolf in the Throne Room. It’s Wolves, that strident, impure, unwanted pack of inhuman negativity, the absent crown shattered into knives for and against all.


The dialectic makes a triumphant return to American soil, with Historical Materialism New York. A formidable gathering, no doubt, and any and all should come: what matters, as always, are less the papers and more the collective geist. (On my end, I'll be talking about "Communization and its Discontents": militancy, negative zones, provocation, occupation, pleasure, torches, misanthropic realism, and all the rest.) Come join the fray...

Historical Materialism, Second North American Conference
January 14-16 2010, New York City

Opening Plenary Thursday January 14th, 7pm

Graduate Center
City University of New York
365 5th Avenue
New York, NY



Please join us for the second North American Historical Materialism Conference, beginning the evening of January 14th, 2010. Founded in 1997, the quarterly Historical Materialism (HM) journal is among the foremost publications of critical Marxist theory in the world, known for both its breadth as well as its intellectual rigor. Following upon successful conferences in London and Toronto, the New York City conference – the first ever in the US – will provide a lively space for scholars and activists to critically engage theoretical, historical, and practical issues of crucial importance to the movement for a world beyond capitalism.

The ongoing economic crisis continues to disrupt political and business establishments across the planet and inflict suffering upon millions in the form of mass unemployment and food shortages. Despite the popular expectations raised by a new presidency, U.S. imperial ambitions appear locked in place. The existential threat of climate change looms. Economic, political, military and ecological crises intersect as they intensify, making the world a much more dangerous place— but also one in which the space for theory and practice aimed at challenging capitalism, and exploring systemic alternatives, has grown.

In organizing the first US Historical Materialism conference we hope to open a space for critical, rigorous and boundary-pushing theory, to explore and provoke our understanding of capital and anti-capitalist alternatives with a critical eye to the traditions of the past, while confronting the crises and struggles unfolding around us.

Panels Include:

The Future of the Radical Left / Theories of the Developmentalist State / Witch-Hunting and Enclosures / Philosophy of Finance / Race and Labor / The Politics of Oil / Communism and Catastrophe / Women, Work and Violence / Theories of Exploitation / Ecology and Crisis / The Problem of Organization / Commons and Subjectivity / Capitalism, Slavery and the Civil War / Communization / Sexuality and Marriage / Fetishism and the Value Form / Marx’s Theory of Money / Post-Operaïsmo / Crisis Theory…

Confirmed speakers:

Anna M. Agathangelou, Stanley Aronowitz, Gopal Balakrishnan, Banu Bargu, Deepankar Basu, Karl Beitel, Riccardo Bellofiore, Aaron Benanav, Jasper Bernes, Paul Blackledge, George Caffentzis, Dana Cloud, Patricia Clough, Gérard Duménil, Hester Eisenstein, Sara Farris, Silvia Federici, Robert Fine, Duncan Foley, Benedetto Fontana, Maya Gonzalez, Paul Heideman, Nancy Holmstrom, Matt Huber, Robert Hullot-Kentor, Andrew Kliman, Sabu Kohso, Michael Krätke, Tim Kreiner, Deepa Kumar, David Laibman, Neil Larsen, Paul Le Blanc, William Lewis, Geoff Mann, Paul Mattick, Michael McCarthy, Annie McClanahan, Geoffrey McDonald, Alan Milchman, Simon Mohun, Gary Mongiovi, Fred Moseley, Justin Myers, August Nimtz, Bertell Ollman, Melda Ozturk, Ozgur Ozturk, Mi Park, Nina Power, Nagesh Rao, Jason Read, John Riddell, William Clare Roberts, Heather Rogers, Sander, Anwar Shaikh, Hasana Sharp, Tony Smith, Jason E. Smith, Richard Smith, Hae-Yung Song, Marcel Stoetzler, Lee Sustar, Peter Thomas, Massimiliano Tomba, Aylin Topal, Alberto Toscano, Ben Trott, Ramaa Vasudevan, Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo, Chris Vials, Marina Vishmidt, Joel Wainwright, Victor Wallis, Paul Warren, Evan Calder Williams, Ted Winslow, Christopher Wright

Conference supported by:

The Center for the Study of Work, Culture and Technology
SpaceTime Research Collective
Haymarket Books

for all enquiries email: hm2010nyc@gmail.com

Garbage city, airplane boneyard: "And then they come here. The problem is they're just not wanted any more."

Two remarkable instances of salvage, one utterly lumpen, one utterly big business, both minus the punk, and both material signs of the times.

From Erik, this io9 article (and the Inhabitat piece here, with more pictures and gestures toward the socio-political backdrop) on Manshiyat naser ('Garbage City'), on the outskirts of Cairo, where the Zabbaleen (garbage collectors) carve an "informal" - a term that always leaves a bad taste in the mouth - economy from the city's constant refuse output, recycling, reselling, dwelling total in the cast-off. Much to say about this, but I don't know the geopolitcal context as I should. Cynically, I can't help but noticing how the light in the pictures only ramps up the Wall-Eness of the view from above, the odd quiet of the reshaped piles of sorted trash. (The asubjective POV that marks so much of the post-apocalyptic.) More interesting/desperate is the consequences of swine flu epidemic fears this past spring, which led to the mass slaughter of the Zabbaleen's pigs, pigs that were crucial in the processing (read: eating scraps) of the garbage. This of course leads to the inability of fully taking on and working through the wasteheaps, which now spread back from the zone composed solely of excess waste to the central sites producing waste and excess.

And from Alberto, a lighter note, given the fact that there really is a company called Air Salvage International (with whom I'd like to/fear to fly, on a shitty dirigible made of leftover beer bottles, car seats, and wings of melted down action figures). The story of the "jet cemetery":

"Against a backdrop of the Cotswold hills, three giant Boeing 747s which had until recently been plying their trade in southern Africa as freighters, await their turn in the new year to be painstakingly stripped of anything of value, before their gleaming aluminium airframes meet the jaws of an industrial wrecking machine."

A winter, a thousand Decembers, year two

[Updates on the Greek situation, via Retort.]

To: Retort
From: AP

One year after the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos, Greece is in turmoil. The last days have seen many and recurrent demonstrations: Athens (apprx. 13,000 people), Thessaloniki (8000-10,000), Patras (2500), Ioannina (1500), Heraklion, Xanthi, Zakynthos, Paros, Volos, just to name a few. Police have responded with numerous arrests and heavy use of chemical gasses. The demonstrations have been battlegrounds. On many occasions, Delta forces deliberately ran their motorcycles into crowds hitting and injuring people, severely wounding a sixty-year old woman in one instance; images and videos can be seen in the links below. According to some estimates (occupiedlondon.org), from Saturday 5 December until Monday 7 December at least 823 people have been detained; 159 have officially been arrested and charged, including comrades from abroad. Comrades in Athens reached by telephone and indymedia report that those detained have been refused their right to see a lawyer. Detained foreigners were also unable to seek legal advice and are kept in the Immigration/Alien police department.

The university asylum has been repeatedly undermined in recent days, while the government is pressing for a ban on university asylum through its ministers and mainstream media. Apart from preventing students from entering university buildings and detaining them, special forces entered university premises on several occasions without reason or provocation, most notably in Thessaloniki, making several arrests.

The raid by special forces at the autonomous political/social space Resalto (http://anarxiko-resalto.blogspot.com/) on 5 December led to the arrest of 21 comrades under the Terrorism Act. There is the intention to charge them with the formation of a criminal organization and with making and distributing weapons. Exaggerated mainstream media reports paint the picture of a terrorist cell rather than the open social centre that it actually is. The raid at Resalto at Keratsini led to a spontaneous occupation of the Keratsini Town Hall, which was eventually broken by police forces: 41 people were arrested during the eviction and received misdemeanor charges. Both the raid at Resalto and the arrests have been condemned by Keratsini Municipal Council in a statement, asking for their release.

There has been a lot of talk in mainstream media about the injured rector of the Athens University. According to these reports, the rector was hit and suffered a mild concussion and a minor cardiac episode when demonstrators entered the University Administration Building. A comrade who witnessed the scene states that the rector appeared in a state of shock but was not hit by anyone. This much emphasized injury could still be used as a pretext by the government to allow police into the university.

There are occupations throughout the country including the Athens Polytechnic, Thessaloniki Theatre Department, Kozani Town Hall. More actions and solidarity demonstrations are scheduled in the next days.


December 8, 2009



(see minutes 307” and 532”, where the “delta force” motorcycle cops run two demonstrators over on purpose.)




Prying back open the gap that never could be really closed (hotel bar interior design, insurrectionary negation, and capitalist bad wiring)

Looking at the very particular (i.e. totally typical) red upholstery plus refracted fake crystal lighting decoration choices of a shitty Holiday Inn hotel bar here in London, where A and I stopped in to escape the post-work banker crowds, can't help but be struck by the thought:

What is genuinely, cancerously unthinkable about contemporary capitalism isn't the speed and breadth of its fiber optic tentacles. It isn't automated container shipping, it isn't necro-economics and the phantom gargantua of bail-outs. It isn't hunger or plague or rising oceans.

If there actually is an unthinkable Real of capitalism, it is that somewhere, at some time, a meeting was held in which was discussed, in good faith, the genuine connection between the choice of a particular reproduced Italian architectural drawing with fake gilded frame and the tangible profitability of the business as a whole. Someone actually had to accept and enact the overleaping of that absent linkage, actually decide, or pretend to the point of performative belief, that the selection of this exact thing - and not some other - was the correct decision and that in some impossible way, its singular presence creates the conditions for the further influx of capital.

The horror of it isn't moral. It isn't just that it's culturally stale, a mass approximation of yuppies after the fall. It's the fact that such a forced connection becomes itself real and tangible, there in the smell and sound of the place, ground into the carpets, there in the minute calculations of how many pounds charged versus how few paid to dishwashers.

Against this, total corrosive negativity against the positivity of that connection. While of course recognizing that collectively being "against" something doesn't negate its existence - it negates the legitimacy of its right to existence. And in this case, the existence of an impossible leap that has become the natural terrain of everyday life, of forced correspondence between phenomenon (that shade of carpet, that pattern of wallpaper) and value itself. Against both the assumed subtlety of the relation and the assumed flimsiness of it: it is because it is a fundamentally "unnatural" link that it keeps repairing itself.

Therefore, to start with the insistence that such a point of contact is the hardest - and first - fuse to be blown. It needs to be short-circuited, and we might start with our willful laughter, at the very idea that there ever be any organic connection between the specificity of objects and the value they generate. There is no connection beyond that leap, the leap that makes itself the well-spring of the reproducing world.

Coupled with laughter (excuse us if we think you're just fucking with us), concrete practices (excuse us if we need to borrow this space for a while) of prying back open, and stepping into, the gap that never could be really closed. At the edge of thought, the big leap of bad faith and bad wiring, the crisis of legitimacy at the missing center of every connection between phenomena and capital.

Conspiratorial materialism

A few thoughts on what conspiratorial materialism might look like...

From quantity to quality: from one dead banker to ten thousand dead bankers.

From paranoia as individual pathology to paranoia as the correct affect and understanding of a pathological systemic order: from the false certainty of misrepresenting how the world works to the dead-on certainty of that misrepresentation as the actual presentation of the world's workings.

The problem isn't just the difficulty of cognitive mapping but what you see when you do it correctly. All those slippery connections, backhanded deals, flows of money maybe secret but never fully surprising aren't proof of hidden drivers at the wheelor cabals of the powerful pulling the strings. It's just the clearly lit fact of the totality, and hence mapping it better reveals only the tangles piled high.

And then to avoid the dysphoric muteness that results from the necessary attempt to present the mess sharply. Maybe to remember how Alexander the Great dealt with the Gordian knot (that is to say, sharply: don't untangle, just cut through) and learn how to do it en masse.

Salvagepunk doubleheader!

Guest introducing, via a back and forth with China Miéville, a special lumpen, trash heap, rag and bone edition of Kino First, to follow the post- Historical Materialism conference headache. To alleviate that headache, a salvagpunk double feature screening, with me promising to keep comments brief. Should be a hell of a time. BYOB.

Info below:

At the Hotshoe Gallery in Farringdon:

Richard Lester, The Bedsitting Room (1969)

Peter Sykes, Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973)

Introduction by Evan Calder Williams

Date: Monday 30th November 2009
Time: 7.00pm
Place: Hotshoe Gallery, 29-31 Saffron Hill, London EC1N 8SW.

London time (drizzle, debate, drink, repeat)

Off to London for a week and a half, for much excitement, Historical Materialism conference, guest hosting a Kino-Fist double header (of The Bed Sitting Room and, if it's a go, Steptoe and Son Ride Again), Zero book launches, meeting new comrades, Brighton wandering, lots and lots of Marxist pub dialogue, and, if past trips are any indication, discovering buried busts of Lenin in front of Constructivist apartment complexes. Good times... track me down if you're in the area.

Refusal report

An interview with me and others on the California Report, talking about occupation, where to place anger, and non-acceptance of "not having a choice."

Occupied California

News from all around the way...

New York Times



SF Gate (and here)


Continued updates, of course, at OccupyCa

Unsere Unis


Map of occupied universities in Europe (plus our American outposts far, far away).

Occupations across the state!

Refusal and excitement spreading wide. Here in Santa Cruz, the first waves of exactly what I've been hoping to see: open occupation, expression of a general will, and the start of a long struggle with centripetal force and gravity. More updates and thoughts to follow, but news here:






Tomorrow happens today

In this winter of our discontent, let's crank up the heat a little...

Jameson! Brown! Postone! Rowbotham! Apocalypse! Crisis! Red Planets! Derivatives!

Good times a-comin' - HM conference and mass gathering in Lodon. As always, too many simultaneous good panels meets the difficulty of having a finite body. To no great surprise, my talk falls under the heading of APOCALYPSE MARXISM, on a panel I'm proud to be sharing with Mark Fisher (k-punk) and Ben Noys (No Useless Leniency). Or as it should perhaps be phrased MARXISM --> APOCALYPSE. From analysis of value form to the burning horizons of end times...


Another World is Necessary: Crisis, Struggle and Political Alternatives

27 - 29 November 2009
Birkbeck College and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Thornhaugh Street, London XC1H OXG

REGISTER NOW at: http://mercury.soas.ac.uk/hm/conference2009.htm


CONFERENCE PROGRAMME now available at:

Speakers include: Gilbert Achcar * Robert Albritton * Kevin Anderson *
Jairus Banaji * Wendy Brown * Alex Callinicos * Vivek Chibber * Hester
Eisenstein * Ben Fine * Ferruccio Gambino * Lindsey German * Peter
Hallward * John Holloway * Fredric Jameson * Bob Jessop * David
McNally * China Mieville * Kim Moody * Leo Panitch * Moishe Postone *
Sheila Rowbotham * Julian Stallabrass * Hillel Ticktin * Kees Van Der Pijl *
Hilary Wainright


"Start the game by tackling University and then play the levels in numerical order. "

Virtual, immaterial, post-Fordist capital gets its cutrate virtual experience, with the joy and excitement of navigating its speculative waters in Creditability, a thrilling new game.

"Take a journey into the world of money and credit. Choose a bank account! Buy a house! Avoid the identity fraudsters! Do all these and more playing Creditability. "

(thanks to Alberto for this lead, and for probably making me waste hours of my life, as I already feel the Lovecraftian horror of my draw toward playing this...)

Openings out of fought closures

A thought, following the library study-in this weekend (and what to me was remarkable, namely a self-constituting group that formed out of a disparate collection of a couple hundred, a group that recognized our numbers, composition, and potential force, and asserted ourselves through mass argument, a channeling of palpable excitement at the prospect of such an emergent formation, and the clear-eyed recognition of where we stood and how we appear).

It's one thing to struggle to close off and hold a space against those who may try to enter and remove you. It's a whole other, and far more powerful, thing to insist on not closing that space but to hold that space open to others, to be enough of a mass to assert not just the capacity to shut down but to use better. The endpoint is not barricades, human or objects, capable of withholding. The point on the approaching horizon is to hold out - and to take hold collectively - without needing those barricades.

"water would bring an acute condition to a crisis" (i.e. the "ascending douche")

If we speak of needing a cold bath of political realism, the icy shock to clear the head and get the blood pumping, we might need to work harder to find a metaphorical equivalent of the following description. (Although I remain committed to a rejection of all ascetic fantasies. Spartan measures for times of plenty, perhaps, dionysian moments for scarcer years.)

"Gräfenberg offered a menu of water treatments: head baths - patients would lie on the floor with their heads in basins of cold water; wet stomach packs; the ascending douche, spraying water up the genitals, and the wet sheet treatment, in which patients were wrapped for hours, mummylike, in wet bandages. The cold douche was the coup de grâce: icy water was discharged over patients from a height of twenty feet. These were spartan measures, but they worked well on an overfed, overdrugged, and stressed-out generation."

(description of Vincent Priessnitz's mid 19th century spa, from Porter's The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity)

RIP, Chris Harman

Obituary from Alex Callinicos here.

Horrors: Werewolf of Washington

After a long hiatus, our horror squadron regroups. I know very little about this film, other than that it is nominally about a post-Nixon press assistant to the president who also happens to be a werewolf. Also, I know that it is one of the greatest film posters ever. Think I may have found a next tattoo. Though we might question the tagline: makes what perfectly clear? (We also may follow this up with Teen Wolf Too, a pretty necessary one-two punch.)

Sunday, 7 PM, my house

Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses

Bordiga, on capital as vampire in a rather different and necessary turn: the vampire that has to finish destroying the dead before getting on with the business of being a bloodsucker.

"Modern capital, which needs consumers as it needs to produce ever more, has a great interest in letting the products of dead labour fall into disuse as soon as possible so as to impose their renewal with living labour, the only type from which it “sucks” profit. That is why it is in seventh heaven when war breaks out and that is why it is so well trained for the practice of disasters. Car production in America is massive, but all, or nearly all, families have a car, so demand might be exhausted. So then it is better that the cars last only a short time. So that this is indeed the case, firstly they are badly built with a series of botched parts. If the users break their necks more often, no matter: a client is lost, but there is another car to substitute. Then they call on fashion with a large cretinising subsidy of advertising propaganda, through which everyone wants the latest model, like the women who are ashamed to put on a dress, even if perfectly good, “from last year”. The fools are taken in and it does not matter that a Ford built in 1920 lasts longer than a brand new 1951 model. And finally the dumped cars are not used even for scrap, and are thrown into car cemeteries. Who dares to take one saying: you have thrown it away as if it were worthless, what harm is there in me fixing and reusing it? He would get a kick up the backside and a gaol sentence.

To exploit living labour, capital must destroy dead labour which is still useful. Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses."

("Murder of the Dead", from Battaglia Communista, 1951)

derrière les décors des restaurants chics parisiens, ce sont aussi les sans-papiers qui tiennent les coulisses

Piece over at The Commune on the migrant cleaners in Paris, some of whom occupied the chic top-floor restaurant of the Pompidou Center. (Article from Libération here.) This is pretty damn powerful, even in its incipient stage, with real lessons to be learned for us here. Demands like, "We are not on strike just for ourselves, we want papers for all workers, including those working illegally" change the game. It's necessary - for us here, for all - to strive to find that precision of something concrete and comprehensible, yet the fulfillment of which would entirely rupture the ruling order of the day. (In this case, the regularization of sans-papiers would fundamentally alter the class and political composition of France.) The singular demand becomes universal...

"There is no harder thing than to have Glenn Beck outlive your child"

Victim In Fatal Car Accident Tragically Not Glenn Beck

Can't help myself here. Until Mr. Beck becomes the hidden sleeper cell ultra-leftist we know him to be, this will still be necessary.

Notes on apocalyptic method

[Two sets of three thoughts: on what is to be drawn from thinking combined and uneven development and on what an apocalyptic version looks like.]

What is the perspective which underlies this model of combined and uneven development and which it offers beyond itself? What does this have to do with making sense of movies about the end of the world and our reversion/conversion to cavemen, gas-obsessed barbarians, walking corpses, insane loners in an empty city? And what foothold does it give for a radical politics posed against late capitalism?

First, it is a perspective onto the ways in which we see neither a simple monolithic advance – or reversal, at times – of history as progress nor a scattered patchwork of different time scales, historical projects, and their resultant organization of bodies and moneys. Rather, it is a properly dialectical conception of real abstractions, in this case between political geography and visions of where the world historical project is going. Specifically, it considers the consequences of the intersections between such a monolithic perspective (the march forward of global capitalism through and toward liberal democracy as a way to weather the increasingly severe economic, ecological, and sociopolitical crises bound to emerge) and the zones which can never be seen by it as other than barbaric pockets of anti-modernity, lingering vestiges of intolerance, superstition, and simpler times to be celebrated for their “authentic diversity” while folded in under certain strictures of extractive market relations.

This isn’t to say that one perspective or the other, either the unified teleology of capitalist progress or the competing and incompatible micro-visions of different historical trajectories, is more or less true. Rather, the point is to grasp how the unified vision only gains consistency through its relationship to what cannot fit into it and of how it provides an ideological backdrop for the material shaping of a world that will preserve those unwelcome zones. In other words, decisively not “flattening the world” and welcoming all equally into the financial fold, but providing the narrative of that as the cover story for an opposite practice.

Second, what does or would it mean to fight “progress”, to refuse the trendlines and timelines offered? Neither to desperately cling to past regimes nor, crucially, to fetishized the way things were. Instead, to wonder, like a strain of idiosyncratic apocalypticism at once anti-capitalist and anti-modern, if the savage might throw away his bow for a rifle in order to take aim at the very need to throw away the bow in the first place. To take up the arms of the contemporary capitalist world, either to beat it at its own game (a certain Communist vision of employing “capitalist” technology in order to develop productive forces beyond the limits of capitalist scarcity) or to take it down from within (alternately, versions of Italian workerism and certain Situationist and anarchist cultural practices). The point, as always, is to stay a bit savage in the midst of all this mediated savagery, to fight for something more equal, organized, perhaps even clean and modern, by never going totally non-native.

Third, to stress the givenness of this order. One is always in the shadow of the world that rejects you, and privation is not reduced to the grayness of a degree zero. These are apocalyptic zones, sites in which we see exposed both the collapse of capitalist universality and the revealed presence of what cannot be included (“differentiated”, recognized) without undermining the workings of the global economic order. For this reason, the degradation to the status and material forms of the “backward,” the primitive, the anarchic, the hell-on-earth is always historically marked, and not in terms of what era of backwardness a region approximates. It is not uncommon to hear people speak of certain zones (deep in jungles, high on mountains) as “unchanged since the 13th century”, or the like, claims which, while perhaps accurate in describing agricultural practices, family structure, etc, are incapable of recognizing that such zones are historically tarred, however much in shadow, with the sign of the Now, precisely because they are visible to us only as a not-this, not-Now.

Even on a less extreme scale, the collapse – and willful maintenance by powerful nations – of certain areas into the barest subsistence farming, warlord powers, “clan” battles, uncontrollable ravages of disease, and aching famine: these must be grasped as “signs of the time”, not as vestiges of what should be outmoded if we could just get everyone to agree on the universal model of liberal capitalism. These barbarisms are the direct result and fundamental support system for all those new beasts springing forth, odd innovations in finance, different ways of streamlining shipping containers, revolutions in the time scales and cycles of capital. The seeming banalities and technical details are the real writers of a new apocalypse. To counter this, to write otherwise, is to also refuse to pass through the old stages, to stand in the present while recognizing that any capture of it we manage is of a moment already passing. The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk, indeed.

Before proceeding further, we need to take stock of a theoretical question perhaps specific to my apocalyptic project. If “combined and uneven development” as a concept and model itself grasps the levels of hellishness that ensure and ensured, what does combined and uneven apocalypse offer, beyond a demonstration of a deep attachment to pithy rewording? The point isn’t just to ramp this up, to stress that the political and social effects of capitalism are “apocalyptic,” in the looser sense of so bad that it signals the end of things. Rather, three reasons.

1 . It is rather to stress the apocalyptic potential of these spaces, not as permanent catastrophe – a paradoxical catastrophe that does not signal end but systemic health – but as permanent visibility of the “hidden.” It is not permanent, but a historical duration, particular to the 20th century and only getting worse, in which no event can signal a phase shift. It is diffuse apocalypse.

2. Despite our brief forays into consideration of “real world” conditions, the emphasis here is on the cultural fantasies of apocalypse and what follows it. Crucially, however, these should nor be taken as just hyperbolic versions of how things really are. Visions of the world after peak oil don’t just ramp our seemingly inevitable situation, zombies don’t just take the struggle of laborers and the denigration of the homeless and make them more mindlessly and necrotically horrible. If there is an allegorical relation at play between these movies and their historical conditions, it isn’t one of standing in as the limit-case of what already is the case. Rather, the argument is that given the ideological structure of capitalism, combined and uneven development is an invisible truth. We know it to be the case, but to speak it, to show it, remains something altogether different. These films and books, mass cultural phenomena and subcultural obsessions, are the closest articulation we can get of the structures of totality underpinning this, not a mirror but a prism. In the distortions of this restless cognitive mapping, we get closer to not just the texture of an age, but the support structure on which it is stretched and formed.

3. If this odd collection of instances, this anti-canon of shared apocalyptic dreams and nightmares, are an inconstant lens onto how things are, they are also a path to be followed to what may be. They are concrete fashionings not of how things will go (the real possibility of zombie holocaust remains unlikely) but how we might like them to, kickbacks against the horror of the endless same, projections out from the barely detectable of this conjuncture to a conjecture of where this leads us. With this comes, necessarily, a revision of what apocalypse can or should mean, and an insistence on readying ourselves for the role we will have its coming to be.

So forget enlightenment, forget the worry of starting in the dusk and losing our way. Let's willfully begin at midnight, with the singing of and about the dark times.

MJ Book Up for Pre-order

The zero MJ book is up on Amazon for pre-order. In it you will find many things of interest (particularly digging the rather occult title of Ian Penman's essay, "Notes toward a ritual exorcism of the dead king") and my take on Captain EO, NGOs, Islamic H.R. Giger, imperialist musical lasers of universal love and imposed democratic market relations. You know, the usual.

(Plus, the cover is damn good. Guessing the illustration is from Ms. Oldfield Ford, but I could be wrong.)

The memory of modern ideas, extend behind him like fields of ashes

Been meaning to link this here for a while. For any in NYC come December, Black Metal Theory (in connection with Glossator and Show No Mercy) will be happening. I'll be talking about "Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse": acephalic group formation, becoming a good barbarian, Enlightenment fascism, failed misanthropic reason. Expect quite a wide range, from esoteric mining of the occult to the somewhat more immediately political (Ben Noys, who will be gone and whose paper I hope to "read" in a black metal goblin rasp, and me). Yes, a likely degree of nerd-dom and likely some failed attempts to summon spirits of deep. But hell, should be a blast. And there will be together-drinking.


Black Metal Theory Symposium
December 12, 2009
The Public Assembly
70 North 6th St
Brooklyn, NY
1:00-7:00 p.m.
$10 cover

I: 1:00-2:15
The Light that Illuminates Itself, the Dark that Soils itself: Blackened Notes from Schelling’s Underground
Steven Shakespeare
The Counter-Reformation in Stone and Metal: Spiritual Substances
Erik Butler
BAsileus philosoPHOrum METaloricum
Scott Wilson
(moderator: Niall Scott)

II: 2:20-3:30
Transcendental Black Metal
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix
Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya
Nicola Masciandaro
Perpetual Rot: Obsessive Cycles of Deterioration
Joseph Russo
(moderator: Steven Shakespeare)

Interlude: 3:30-4:30
Nader Sadek, Baptism in Black (Phase II)
Sym-posium (together-drinking)

III: 4:30-5:45
‘Remain true to the earth!’: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal
Benjamin Noys (in absentia)
The Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Evan Calder Williams
Black Confessions and Absu-lution
Niall Scott
Meaningful Leaning Mess
Brandon Stosuy
(moderator: Scott Wilson)

IV: 5:50-7:00
Black Metal and Evil
Aspasia Stephanou
Red in a World of Black: A Discussion of Blood in Black Metal
Murray Resinski
‘Goatsteps behind my steps’: Black Metal and Ritual Renewal
Anthony Sciscione
(moderator: Erik Butler)

The smoke rising to the sky

By shooting priests and firing churches, the Spanish workers and peasants were not merely seeking to destroy their enemies and the symbol of their power but to rid Spain once and for all of everything that, in their view, stood for obscurantims and oppression. A fervent Catholic, the Basque minister Manuel de Irujo, confirmed such an interpretation when he stated: "Those who burn churches are not thereby exhibiting anti-religious feelings; it is just a question of demonstration against the state, and, if I may say so, the smoke rising to the sky is merely a sort of appeal to God in the face of human injustice."

- from Broué and Témime's The Revolution and The Civil War in Spain

The university is not our enemy. It is a visible staging ground on which a battle is to be fought.

To clarify:

The public university is not our enemy. It is not a monolithic beast to be simply countered, but a complex assemblage, intersecting vectors of thinking and money, invested capital and seething discontent, workers and the disappearing prospects of work, of reactionary forms and vast potential. And it is reeling, deeply in crisis. To speak of killing it is like speaking of rope in the cell of a prisoner to be hanged the following morning. Such an outcome waits around the corner, in years to come, not at our hands but beneath the weight and hunger of global capitalism in its current desperation.

This must be countered. The notion and promise of what public education can and should be must be protected at all costs. For whatever its failures, the public university itself remains a critical space for beginning to counter those economic processes and social models that far exceed the scope and reach of this campus, of any network of campuses. We remain committed to truly public education, to wider discourse, to rigorous analyses, to theories of action, as both means and end. These things can be and must be weapons to be shared and learned, tools to pry open frozen forms of uncritical thought and sad resignation. Machines for amplification and networks for mass communication.

If we are to speak of opening the university wider, of taking its spaces in order to make it a common zone (at once seeming paradox and concrete tactic), a zone of contention and resistance, we have to start with understanding it as a site, not as object, of antagonism. We have to grasp where it is already open and where its many blockades to access stand heavy. How to use those blockages against their ends, to expose them and use them for better, sharper purposes. How to see these openings and find emerging allies who also know that this situation must become the emergency that we already know it to be. No false enemies in a time of real enemies.

The university is not our enemy. It is a visible staging ground on which a battle is to be fought.

Solidarity with the Academy of Arts occupation in Vienna

Their statement:


The Bologna process aims at extensive convergence with the Anglo-American education system. The goal is to enter competition in the global education market to strengthen its own economic position and increase research dependent revenues. The establishment of regulative norms and the harmonization of standards are its basis and at the same time its precondition: without standardization no measurability, without measurability no comparability, without comparability no competition. Economization and competition logic are imposed on every level of the knowledge landscape.

The result is intercontinental as well as inter-EU competition, within which single universities and their departments compete amongst themselves for the best results and statistics. The processes involved in the creation of an education economy with knowledge as the traded commodity correspond with the general ambitions of privatization and commodification in all spheres of life under neoliberal capitalism. They lead to educational institution’s increased dependency on their sponsors; cynically defined as the autonomization of the universities.

In this context autonomy is a euphemism for the new forms of governing institutions. The autonomized universities are not autonomous in the sense of self-determined at all. They are rather directed to fulfil the needs of economy and industry, as well as to subjugate themselves to market logic; efficiency, competition and managerial ruling structures. The democratisation of the universities, implemented in the 1970s, is successively abolished; democratically legitimized bodies are disenfranchised and replaced by top-down hierarchical structures.

In the composition of the Bologna 3-level study model, a paradigm change has manifested itself, in the last few years there has been a shift from a pluralistic education ideal to an economy orientated education. The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna has repeatedly and explicitly positioned itself against this degradation and the establishment of the Bachelor-Master system.

We refuse to subjugate ourselves to the logic of politics and economy!

We’re fighting to define learning, teaching and research for ourselves!

We declare solidarity with the education protests in Bangladesh, Brazil, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Great Britain, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Croatia, Netherlands, Serbia, South Africa, USA!"

Solidarity to all those who try and refuse the accepted logic of politics and economy, with clear thought and real conviction, however it is done, everywhere that it needs to be done. Solidarity to those who both analyze the complexities of the system in which they participate and commit to direct actions, who break the false stalemate between sophisticated, rigorous thought and concrete expressions of discontent and refusal. From USA, back to you, in solidarity!

(Group statement of solidarity here.)

What if it has been rational all along?

Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 Return of the Living Dead ruined zombie films. Or that is what intelligent critical thinkers are supposed to think. Coming out the same year as the manic, claustrophobic Day of the Dead, Return made zombies self-aware kitsch, made the whole thing about moaning brains…, about Linnea Quigley stripping in a graveyard to the thought of being eaten alive by rotting corpses, of the kind of joke that can only end in our current idiotic quagmire of LOLzombies and zombie apocalypse survival guides. It is the beginning of the end, the point at which the fissures of crass commercialism, elision of left critique, and general bullshit can be detected.

None of this, however, is the case. Return is a startling film, shot through with deep, unabiding sadness, visions of collectivity, the blackest of comedy, a treatise on pain and memory, an unsteady shaking oscillation between and cobbled together construction of cheap gags, gory excess, and moments of lyrical quiet. Of course, the ways in which it is remembered – and perhaps, the dominant way in which it asks to be watched – is rather kitschy, cheap, and ultimately not that interesting. Yes, there is the cheap frisson of auto-referentiality, of people talking about how to kill zombies based on the Romero movies they have seen. There are really shitty jokes about eating brains. There are running zombies who chase and swarm. (Which, contrary to the supposed innovation of 28 Days Later and its imitators, are nothing new. Idiotic starving rage hordes that also run are.) There is generally a film populated with petty, hysterical, and generally moronic people. But in the midst of all this that is rather forgettable, these other unexpected blooms emerge.

It is, from the start, a film about work and non-work, about those caught in the structures of employment and those punks who seemingly opt out. In a medical supply company warehouse, Freddy – coded as a semi-punk kid aiming to make a working class run at it – starts his first day of work. It will consequently turn into a film about the worst first day of work in history, yet one which curiously demonstrates the deep hooks of an ideology of respect and worry about the job you have: in the midst of the soon-to-come zombie apocalypse, Freddy is ordered to watch his foul language (“if you want to keep your job”). On this first day, to impress, scare, and gently haze him, his older coworker, Frank, tells him that the events of that famous film, Night of the Living Dead, were very real indeed, but that the film got it wrong. That it was some military testing of an experimental chemical, the soon to be infamous 245 Trioxin, which caused bodies to jerk about. The military dealt with it predictably, sweeping it under the bureaucratic rug, sealing the bodies in barrels and then promptly losing track of their location. Of course, those barrels happen to be in the basement of this particular storage facility. And, of course, what would be breaking in the new guy without showing him a corpse in a military issued barrel?

1985 was evidently a big year in connections between the undead and the military-industrial complex. Dawn of the Dead set in the bunkered world of major military spending, Return set against the backdrop of the biotechnologies developed and left to wreak havoc elsewhere, in other times and places. In a horrible prescient echo forward to Hurricane Katrina, we are wrongly assured that the zombie cans are safe.

FREDDY: “These things don’t leak do they?”

FRANK: “Hell no, these things were made by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

We know now all too well what sort of guarantee this is, and sure enough, the barrel cracks and spews forth its toxic load.

Before we return to the inevitable result of this contagion, we are offered a glimpse of another sort of contagion let loose onto the American landscape, the idiocies of the self-declared punks, here in every pop culture permutation: tough leather and pierced skinhead, Rick James-esque fancy dresser, over-sexed/sexually frank dyed hair slut, tag along “good girl”, couple of New Wavers, the obligatory mohawk and dirty Converse wearing weirdo.

Until the outbreak of the undead forces a shift in their non-routines, their daily life seems to consist of making inane pseudo-Bataille statements (“I like death.” “I like death with sex.”), driving around carefully to preserve gas, visiting cemeteries, and declaring the various ways in which they are punk. We should draw out here a key question, not just for this film, but for our approach to this genre as a whole, namely, what movie do these people imagine themselves to be in? (This is an approach to watching and talking about movies I owe entirely to Marshall Leicester.) The answer in this case has to be, at the very least, three-fold. Frank, Freddy, and their boss Burt try their damnedest to play the parts inherited from a Romero movie: both their failed tactics and increasingly frustrated way of talking about those failures derive from the sense of, it worked there, why not here? In addition, they are indebted to some imaginary Abbot and Costello sketch about the perils of the working world. The punks have watched a mainstream news report on the “punk movement,” early MTV, perhaps a documentary on British punk, and, apparently, this movie itself, in a weird doubling back on a film that distinguishes itself in part by its punk soundtrack and iconography (and with the film’s tagline, “They’re Back From the Grave and Ready to Party!”). And the zombies? A longer question to be addressed, but we might say as a start that they didn’t particularly care about Night of the Living Dead but found Eisenstein’s Strike and Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers worth remembering.

Back at the medical suppliers, we’re at the early stages of another fierce return of the repressed, now staged on the most bodily of levels, a mute raging of surplus-life, the will to survive triggered and grown monstrous. Hacking and coughing, Frank and Freddy leave the basement to enter some of the more remarkable minutes in any zombie film I’ve seen. The gas, it appears, not only animates whole-bodied human corpses. It is an obscene principle of life itself, a whisper to everything that has lived that it never stopped living. A bisected dog for classroom use barks and pants, its exposed organs twitching.

A display of pinioned butterflies flaps its wings gently. And a cadaver hung indifferently by meathook in a freezer wakes up very, very angry about this state of affairs.

The workers and their boss, as we would expect in a film like this, decide that dealing with a representative of the pissed-off undead means killing him more thoroughly. But, as we learn in this film, in an echo of that first moment of realization in Night of the Living Dead (the “funny, it’s not usually this hard to kill the poor”) is that it is no longer about destroying the body as a whole by removing its head. Instead, what you get is this:

An even more furious, acephalic zombie running and flailing blindly through the warehouse. The sightless, thoughtless refusal to die. Tied up and hack-sawed apart, the severed limbs shake in rage. Flesh melted away with acid, the bones will not be quiet. And incinerated, the ashes may lay still, but the desperate insistences of the body do not stop. They rise up in a cloud of smoke, to meet the rain and trickle down through grass, earth, and coffin lids, to pass the message to the other dead bodies that hadn’t gotten the word: you never stopped living.

In terms of transmission, Return represents an odd intermediary between the global totality cause in the Romero cycle and one-to-one infection logic emphasized in recent zombie culture. Here, there is a discernible event (the army created a gas with certain properties) and that event has to be directly transmitted (exposure to the gas or something already affected by it), but it remains strangely diffuse, raining down on the dead and the living alike. Furthermore, its effects break with either of these opposed models. It doesn’t give the living a virus or surplus-life that “resurrects” them after death, it doesn’t create a condition that only affects those who die after that condition has come to be. Yet the zombies we see in the film are, more than anything, a continuation of what they were in life, far more than in the parodic shambles of Romero’s shoppers and munchers. Here, they run, they talk, they scheme and fool, they work together toward common goals. If the thought of surplus-life hangs heavy over the whole genre, it does so here negatively. It is decisively present, in that form of a fanatical insistence of all once-living matter to flex its rotting muscles. And as for those who were alive when they face the gas, indeed, they become “dead” in the eyes of the living, but more than that, they become unable to truly die. Above all, the motivation to this uncanny life is not the urging of the body itself or a deep impulse transmitted by radiation or saliva borne bacteria. Even the gas itself seems a cover story, a phenomenally present form of transmission that isn’t ultimately about chemicals. Instead, it is about thought, a death-knowledge, a knowledge – and an antagonism – strong enough to counter life.

This death-knowledge, which is less an allegorical reading of the film than a close sense of just how we see the transmission and “reanimation” work throughout it, is a certain awareness. It simply makes you aware of your own death, finds some lingering shred of consciousness and infects it, brings the faint memory of death into the dominant horizon, and with it the “pain of being dead.” Crucially, this isn’t just an intellectual knowledge. It is somatic, it speaks another tongue to the minimal units of living matter which, once made aware, can not forget and will not settle down. The implication which forms a powerful nihilistic core to the film – one which entirely exceeds the petty immoral sex-and-death nihilism of the costume punks – and which cannot be shaken is that being “alive” is solely the consequence of ignorance, of not being cognizant of your own decay.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the workers exposed to the gas. The major arc of the film is their story, as they move from mock frustration (with a bit of real terror) to a deep sickness, an ontological horror as they become dead without dying. The gas gives the same message to the living and the dead (Did you know that you are dead? What are you going to do about it?) , yet while this knowledge animates the dead, stirs them into an action impelled by the pain of awareness itself, this shock to thought produces a mournful stasis for the workers. As well as dialogue that would be quite funny if it weren’t injected with a rending, lingering sadness that we cannot not share. When the paramedics are called to treat them, and find them shivering,death-shroud pale, with no pulse, temperature that of the cold morgue, they are understandably stupefied.

PARAMEDIC: “Because technically you’re not alive. But you’re conscious. So we don’t know what it means.”

FREDDY: “Are you saying we’re dead?”

PARAMEDIC: “Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

PARAMEDIC: “I didn’t mean you were really dead. Dead people don’t move around and talk.”

Because technically you’re not alive. But you’re conscious… in a move familiar the horror genre, we are supposed to be unsettled, spooked, or disturbed by the prospect that animating consciousness – and with it, the prospect to harm us – can exist, in a rupture with the everyday, in forms that exceed the living. That there are consciousnesses alien, and likely hostile, to our own. The standard narrative logic of those films tends to function via initial disbelief (how could this be possible?), then a recognition that belief must be suspended in order to deal with the threat, a conquering of the threat, and a return to “normal” that can never be truly normal again, now infused with the knowledge that there are textures and shapes of being that exceed our ability to grasp. All that we need to grasp is how to deal with them, with adequate violence and skill. In Return, we are indeed unsettled. But this unsettling is the consequence of a far darker operation: not that there are other kinds of perhaps undead consciousness, but that the very condition of normal life, supposed to be the normal condition and cause of consciousness, is itself a mere symptom of actively repressing what we know to be the case, that we’re dying from the start, death warmed over and stretched out over the duration of a heart’s muscle tissue winding down, a self-tiring clock. Consequently, the return to “death” is the approach to the original state of things.

Almost. What this leaves out is the messianic undertones of the film and this schematic, which establishes two “false” poles of false consciousness to be avoided and the hard work of convincing others to join, via a sort of radical zombie pedagogy, a third way, the undead truth. The message begins with the gas, but it becomes part of the flesh of all that it touches, so that when the corpse is burned, it is the conviction and knowledge now part of the flesh itself which turns to smoke and spreads. The structure is essentially missionary, soldiers of God spreading the word: Have you heard the good news? Jesus died for you. Or, in the case of this film, Have you heard the bad news? You’ve already died. A necro version of the sunglasses that lay bare the class/alien race structure in Carpenter’s They Live, once you see, you can’t go back to seeing otherwise.

What of brains…, the constant, self-mocking cry kicked off in this film, that the figure of the zombie can’t seem to shake? We should consider it two ways, in how it derivates and deviates from the Romero model and on the terms established by the film itself. In Romero’s Dead series, the zombies have no particular love or appetite for brains. (One might imagine a particular distaste for them, given the difficulty of opening up a skull, even for hordes of the undead who aren’t very adept at using tools.) They fixate on general gutting and tearing, a non-targeted sloppy free-for-all. And while the never fully given explanations of why varies from film to film, the rough consensus is that they do it because of some deep, and now misrecognized, memory: of a savage primal past, of the mechanism of hunger which no longer physiologically applies, of rampant consumer consumption. In each case, the point is that they do not chose to do it and that somewhere along the way, the message got mixed up. (“Consume commodities? Fuck, we’ve been going about this all wrong.”) Things are quite different in Return. The zombies know very well what they are doing, and they’re quite good about making sure it gets done. It is an active choice, one that can be delayed in order for the greater collective enterprise of spreading zombie mayhem. And if anything, the problem isn’t that they don’t remember clearly enough. It is that they remember far too clearly, an awful clarity of mnemotechnic pain, searing reminders of the decay of all things living.

The startling moment in which this is fully laid bare is one unlikely to be forgotten by any who have seen the film. A long-dead, grave husk zombie captured by the living, with nothing left of her but her head, shoulders, and an exposed spine swaying to and fro, is interrogated on an examining table. When asked “why brains?”, she responds in a hissing whisper, “The pain of being dead… I can feel myself rot.” Pressed further as to the connection between this “pain” (which already seems closer to the pain of knowing you are dead) and brain lust, she replies, “Eating brains makes the pain go away.” Obviously, our interest is not in speculating ways in which the consumption of brains might physiologically dull the pain of a rotting body. The film itself has little interest in this either, leaving any direct connection opaque and pointing in more compelling directions. If it is knowledge that causes this pain, a certain brutal deconstruction, willful misuse, and redeployment of knowledge can be the only solution. An overliteralized version of giving you something else to think about, albeit thoughts which enter through the guts rather than ears and eyes, swallowing a different sort of knowledge, distracting yourself from what you can’t stop thinking about. (A distraction that never lasts: how could it when we never stop falling apart?) And more sharply, a sort of pain sharing, an act of spreading the bad word. Inheriting a pain inherent to your position in a system you didn’t choose, solace comes in knowing that this pain – and what it drives you to willfully choose to do – is not singular but collective. If, as Fredric Jameson puts it pithily, “History is what hurts,” Return is the story of how the already dead attempt to write a history “back from the grave” and into this world, a trajectory in reverse, written in a pain that are doomed to feel and that they demand we all feel. It’s hard to envision another cinematic instance of such direct propaganda work. Want to know what the pain of thought and thought of pain is? Give me your head for a moment.

Out of this unyielding “pain,” one has two choices, at least according to the film: suicide or mass participation in knowledge-sharing. (The other non-choice that we see pursued, with no great success, is to skulk around a cellar, biting into the brains of idiot punks who have little knowledge to share , or to wait around until you “turn” to make a bad joke and go for your girlfriend’s head.)

The first choice we witness in a moment that genuinely shares pain beyond the film, to all who watch it, as Frank, now “technically not alive” prays briefly, removes his wedding ring, and pushes himself into the blazing fires of the crematorium. Yet even this attempt to cut himself out of the cycle, to refuse to participate in the zombie holocaust, cannot succeed. It may remove his ongoing personal pain, but as we witness earlier, it is the fact of burning and the transmission of the buried message in the smoke, out into the night air, that allows for the mass dissemination of knowledge. In opting out of the cursed game, Frank becomes a martyr for a cause he died to avoid supporting.

If Frank’s death is the awful pathos of both cyclical inevitability and a broken man, the other alternative is the joyous center of the film, its moments of genuine cheers from the audience, and the “utopian” kernel of it all. It is collectivity formed out of what could be a crushing awareness, knowing that you are not even special in the ontological pain you feel, that you are just one of a growing horde of those powerless to change it, to die properly, to quit the pain. Yet against either the dysphoric retreat or the retreat into the fantasy of the irrational – I will act as irrational, bloody shambling horde like, as the system that made us – that linger at the edges of this first knowledge emerges a new rationality.

This is a crucial point, for much of the ideology of zombies hinges on the assumption of their irrationality. Sure, maybe they once knew what they were doing, and now remember a broken shard of it. Or maybe, in the later iterations of the Romero cycle, particularly Land of the Dead, they can move toward an incipient group knowledge, rudimentary use of tools and implements, basic swarm strategies, and so on. Return shows something different altogether: what if what this thing we assumed from the start to be, at least initially, mindless, irrational, mute in its anger and illogical hunger, what if it has been rational all along? What if it not only can hurt, but comprehends this hurt? And what if it realizes that this pain is not individual but collective? What if the ways in which it aims to destroy the system that wants to destroy it is rational?

Return approaches, in the midst of its gags and rockin’ soundtrack, these very serious questions, questions that have little to do with the fantasmagoria, as we will venture. The closest it gets is to ask: my God, what if they get their shit together? The threat – and the supposed horror we feel at witnessing an uncanny imitation of almost-life – is not that of an otherness that shows our complicity in mindless structures of consumption or of an underlying savagery, not blind groupthink or hive mind, not of never being at peace and forced to wander, not of the very unearthing and undermining of the natural order of things. It is the threat of collectivity itself. It is something we have learned to be fear, not the end of romantic “individuality” itself but the prospect that autonomous subjects may recognize the limits of that autonomy and begin to act together, an unholy and uneven assemblage of different tactics, motives, and skills unified into a shared weapon against this arrangement of the world.

“Send more paramedics…”

It is also, in this case, getting onto the ambulance radio to pretend to be a concerned citizen and call for more paramedics to deliver into the mouths of your fellow zombies waiting in the shadows. It is dressing up in the policeman’s uniform, acting very official, and directing drivers to where they will meet their untimely end (or, depending on your perspective, be “convinced” of the fact of their deadness and the need to do something about it). It is being very rational and coldly calculating about how to achieve and enact your apparent irrationality.

The world of the living is, to be sure, not interested in the utopian potential of this mode of organization and antagonism. Having learned that Trioxin has been leaked, with all its attendant effects, Colonel Glover receives a call in bed and makes the decision, still in his monogrammed pajamas, to nuke the town.

A high, keening whistling as the zombies, their victims, and those trying to avoid being either look up and wait. And then, the mushroom cloud rises at dawn.

We learn that it was a complete success, that the threat has been contained, and, even more fortunately, that the rain is putting out the fires. The rain, which of course, now carries the atomized microparticles of the death-knowledge, sprayed infinitesimally small into the atmosphere, the message of antagonism and pain diffuse, now carried in clouds and tiny water droplets to fall onto other towns, onto other places of the dead. Here we go again.