I originally had a significantly longer piece in the works to go up today, but technical issues meant that I won’t be able to complete it by midnight – something I’m admittedly quite salty about (a 2000 word piece cut itself down to 500 due to an app failing to sync, something I will never get over). To make up for this here’s a piece that never ended up surfacing – it was initially penned at some stage in May for a Neocities-based webzine that was meant to release at the start of the month. The person behind the zine completely vanished from the internet, and I’m unsure as to whether they’ll ever return. If they’re reading this, I apologize! With this essay I tried to condense my style down into the shortest form possible, throwing together every possible reference I could make into a really confusing mess while trying to shoehorn in the zine’s theme of “heat death”. This was penned before we essentially gave up on lockdown and is extremely dated (especially when you consider the fact it was due to go up 24 days ago). Hopefully we’ll be back to normal content next week – apologies about the technical issues.
“the oxygen mask will descend automatically
please extinguish all smoking materials
deposit syringes in the tray provided
there will be a slight jolt as we cross over
thank you for flying with transnational commodification
we shall shortly be arriving in mayhem
if there is anybody on board who can impersonate a pilot
it would be of comfort to the other passengers”
When noted arsehole Nick Land wrote this introduction to his 1992 essay ‘Circuitries’ the concept of “heat death” or collapse held an aesthetic appeal – capitalism would seemingly strip off its latex mask and we’d all get to live in a tattered ‘Terminator 2’ VHS tape for the rest of our lives. This attitude of “maximum slogan density” that permeated the work of Land and his Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) could be interpreted as an anarchistic response to the world of shut-off petit-bourgeois academic leftism – it could be argued that these essays mirror the youthful nihilism and humor of early Tyler the Creator or Odd Future releases, channeling their hatred towards the five people deluded enough to have read all the texts that they draw from. Heat death was always this distant thing, coming off more as an idealized fantasy (or an irony-laden middle finger) than a coherent event or goal – the machines would overtake us, neo-China would arrive from the future, and somehow this was a good thing. Land seemingly took Lyotard’s claim that we “can enjoy swallowing the shit of capital” to heart, with the glee that surrounds collapse within his work reminding me of that scene in ‘The Simpsons’ where Homer is machine-fed donuts over and over in hell. At risk of sounding dramatic at the moment it feels as if neo-China is in the post – we’re headed closer to both a physical and metaphorical heat death and the systems that rule our lives are beginning to eat themselves. There’s only one real problem – it’s deeply mundane to melt.
As Mark Fisher perfectly pointed out in his essay ‘Terminator vs Avatar’, “[t]he actual near future wasn’t about Capital stripping off its latex mask and revealing the machinic death’s head beneath; it was just the opposite: New Sincerity, Apple Computers advertised by kitschy-cutesy pop”. It turns out that heat death isn’t soundtracked by Brad Fiedel – it instead sounds like Kevin Macleod ukulele solos and faceless corporations going on about how they still love “people and community” during “these trying times”. In the introduction to her book ‘On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal”, Naomi Klein talks about a certain cognitive dissonance inherent to modern life in relation to climate change – “One minute we’re sharing articles about the insect apocalypse and viral videos of walruses falling off cliffs because sea ice loss has destroyed their habitat, and the next, we’re online shopping and willfully turning our minds into Swiss cheese by scrolling through Twitter or Instagram”. Our lives rely upon these mundane and meaningless contradictions and hypocrisies – we read Marxist texts on our Kindles and buy Joy Division t-shirts at the Ploughing Championships. Capital does not (and never will) make full, coherent sense and it could be argued that this is becoming resoundingly clear as we lurch towards oblivion.
I think this point is perfectly encapsulated through the cancellation of the Leaving Cert – a set of exams in Ireland that (supposedly) set the tone for the rest of your life. The Leaving Cert was always viewed as “the system” – nobody particularly liked it, the idea of it changing at all was far-fetched, and everyone just saved face when exposed to it. I’m reminded here of Slavoj Zizek’s humorous comparison of the ideas of democracy and justice under Berlusconi to the oriental spiritualism inherent to the plot of the 2008 film ‘Kung Fu Panda’ – “nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware of their corrupted nature, but we participate in them, we display our belief in them, because we assume that they work even if we do not believe in them”. Nobody particularly liked the idea of stuffing a bunch of teenagers into an exam hall each June (even if they said otherwise in public) and perhaps that’s exactly why the system could remain unchallenged for so long.
Coronavirus arguably put everything into flux – students hadn’t actually been in class for months, the idea of getting a bunch of people to sit in a hall quickly became a logistical nightmare, and people with actual hobbies were getting involved in student activist groups. Our government’s response further underlined this sudden shift in circumstances – they tried to play down calls for predicted grades as “unrealistic” and attempted to hold the exams, but then they actually tried organizing the thing and gave up the very next day. This new system of predicted grades has been criticized by some as being classist and discriminatory for marking people down for coming from schools with low historical performance in state examinations (in other words going after people from disadvantaged areas). I’d like to argue that our education system was always classist and discriminatory – it’s just that now we have to lay that fact out in a publicly-available algorithm and give up performatively pretending that it’s equal. The systems we live under are rife with fundamental contradictions – it’s just that as we approach this heat death saving face becomes significantly harder.
Now I’m not going to pretend that I have the solutions (or even the vague idea of a way forward) when it comes to how we can move away from having our planet melt. However, one has to remember that acting as if change is impossible is just a very easy way to seem gothic online and achieve fuck all of note. Just so whoever ends up reading this zine feels slightly less bleak (and is exposed to slightly less of my own writing) I thought it’d be pertinent to end this piece with the following Mark Fisher quote. “The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again”. I had to re-download ‘Capitalist Realism’ off Libgen to make this quote, I hope it made you feel slightly less bleak.