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A Utopia of Writing

Review ~ Andrey Platonov’s ‘Factory of Literature’

‘Art is organically an essential part of life, just like sweating is part of a human body and motion is part of wind.’

‘I am advocating for the smell of the authors’ soul in his writings and simultaneously for the real faces of people and groups in the same work.’

Available online, introduced by McKenzie Wark and translated by Anna Kalashyan, Andrey Platonov’s essay ‘Factory of Literature’ is a sort of writer’s utopia, a Marxist outline of how to construct an idealised writer’s community. It is a subject with which I have already been preoccupied. …

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Time for Marx, Ricœur and Hudis

The vast concerns of an eternal scene.

Be wise to-day; ’tis madness to defer;
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is push’d out of life.
Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
~ Edward Young,

Life in lockdown can lack the markers of prior forms of existence. I have described this subjectively in previous essays, characterising it as a mode of life marked by a peculiar lack of texture. That sense of the tactile is redolent not because sensation itself is lessened, but because it is flattened, repetitive, predictable. …

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A Shattering Capitalism

Of Lockdown and Socialism

Over the last few weeks, as well as my usual run of manuscripts (novels, memoirs, etc.) I have worked daily on editing pieces (interviews, essays, reports, statements) for Mutiny, the socialist organisation to which I proudly belong. I have also put together videos; live-tweeted protests comrades attended, and even applied my decrepit millennial brain to the art of gifs and memes, with little success, it must be admitted.

The experience of coronavirus lockdown has been that of a kind of networked scriptorium. A collaborative if largely virtual effort at theorising and informing as the sweep of events constantly threatens to overtake all understanding. …

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Interrogating Left Habits

Conversations with the Living and Dead

The previous few weeks have been busy. Not only have I been working on more manuscripts than usual (2020 has been an excellent year for Rowan Tree Editing), but equally I have been commissioning, editing and writing daily blogs for the left organisation to which I belong, Mutiny. Indeed, that partly inspired my previous Patreon/Medium piece. I’m also running a reading group, and in spare moments I try my hand at video editing (also for Mutiny). The latest of these, which are made for YouTube, goes someway to explaining the uptake in activity on the organised left:

It is good, however, to pause amidst the dizzying succession of events: a Labour election defeat signifying the collapse of any imaginable reformist route to socialism, a global pandemic, a mass uprising against racist police violence that has spread out from the US. There has been a sense since 2008 that history is being contested, and since 2016 that the forces of reaction and inhumanity are winning in that contest. Now, catastrophe and crisis is a constant note even for those of us living in the wealthier, more insulated environs of the world. …

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Literacy and Theory

The Left Must Learn To Write

Thanks to the technologies of modern capitalism, shaped by profit seeking, many forms of self-expression once considered essentially human (dance, song, acting) have been professionalised. Where such activities are still encouraged, it is often uniquely in childhood. And how often do we look to children dancing or singing or playing and comment that they could be a dancer, a singer, an actor, rather than merely acknowledging that these activities are inherent to humanity.

One form of self-communication, however, has been radically democratised throughout modernity. Writing. Literacy goes as far back as 8000 BCE, and thereafter the story of literacy is anything but a consistent one; in Ancient Rome, for example, literacy rates were probably much higher than historical stereotypes assume, and an ability to read and write often crucial for navigating imperial society, but the post-antiquity period would have seen a huge drop off in the capacity to engage with written language. …

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Atrocity & Games

Playing Humanity

Sometimes and by happenstance I will read two books in proximity and find the content of each overlap in strange and amusing ways. First encountering both Christopher Hinz and Etan Ilfeld’s Duchamp Verses Einstein (published 2019) as well as Stefan Zweig’s Chess (published 1942, shortly before the author’s suicide, and mentioned in a recent, different essay of mine) constitutes such an unusual and unintended coupling of narratives. Both books are fictional mediations on then human condition, which resourcefully utilise chess, the historic rise of Nazism and a wry if bleak sensibility. …

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Gnosticism and Postmodernism

Philip K. Dick’s Time Out Of Joint

Because I’m the center of the universe. At least, that’s what I’ve inferred from their actions. They act as if I am. I only have that to go on. They’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to construct a sham world around me to keep me pacified. Buildings, cars, an entire town. Natural-looking, but completely unreal. The part I don’t understand is the contest.

The premise of Philip K. Dick’s Time Out Of Joint — published in 1959–60 — is simple. Ostensibly, the protagonist Ragle Gumm lives in a late fifties all-American suburb routinely solving a regular magazine puzzle, from which he earns his living. However, in ‘reality’, ‘This was the year 1997. Not 1959.’ …

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Painful Illuminations

Apocalypse, Revolution, Crusoe

In the short story ‘The Machine Stops’ by E. M. Forster, when the archetypal resident of the machine is informed of the titular event, namely the end of her world, she responds chiefly in disbelief, ‘It would be impious,’ says Vashti, ‘if it was not mad.’ There are many things to unpack about that story, which I recently reread with my wife. And if we get round to a recorded conversation, hopefully some of those things will be unpacked, but for now I would like to sit with Forster’s depiction of this all too human response to crisis.

There is a cheap saying often repeated on the left, which I have mentioned in my blogs before and still consider worthwhile interrogating for the very fact of its currency; that is, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. The truth is that the end of the world and the end of capitalism should not be so neatly divided. We live and breathe capitalism. As Marx observed, ‘The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.’ For the quite strange utopian Marxist Alexander Bogdanov, Lenin’s failed rival, ‘The philosophy of a class is the highest form of its collective consciousness.’ That is not to say that such ideas need to be all-encompassing, although as Mark Fisher persuasively argued in Capitalist Realism they can come close. …

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Review ~ The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature

Nature created glorious structures with no intent or foresight, the Giant’s Causeway being one such example. Competence without comprehension. The illusion of purpose by the purposeless.

Humans are “promiscuous” teleologists, interpreting natural phenomena as being there for us.

Nature saw to it that there are far more bacteria on Earth than stars in the universe. She dearly loves her fungi, viruses, prions, and the glorious symphony of decomposition.

Two concerns tie together the stories in this, the second offering from author Christopher Slatsky. The first is an interest in mediums to convey what can be encapsulated as horror. Not just the content of horror as a genre, nor only in how the content is conveyed, but in how horror struggles against the limits of mediums — against writing and language in particular. There is a fascination, then, in what different artistic forms can do to overcome such limits, and this is sometimes explored directly: ‘Film is philosophy cloaked in the mantle of literature, shorn of the shackles of live theater.’ The second concern starts with anthropology per se — a field of study that has appeared in earlier stories by Slatsky — and goes on to a broader philosophical anthropology. The question that drives this interest in social and cultural practices is over what is conveyed about being human in different manifestations of cultural horror: ‘A people were best described by their monsters, in the complexities of their hauntings and strangeness.’ …

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(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Don Quixote on a Motorbike

Review ~ Norman Bissell ‘Barnhill’

The world’s becoming a nightmare as far as I’m concerned.

I have written before about my ambiguous relationship to the legacy and works of George Orwell, pen name of Eric Blair. His writings served as my first introduction to the power of long narrative fiction, and in particular how pathos can be communicated through the tragic tradition. Still, many of his later choices as a writer and human being trouble me. He took decisions I consider awful, but produced works I nonetheless value. At an early stage of my own critical reflections on Orwell (then unspoken), I was fortunate to meet Norman Bissell during a stay on the Scottish Isle of Jura, when he was writing Barnhill about Orwell’s time in the selfsame place. Here, the author secluded himself in a remote farmhouse — the titular — to write his most famous novel, Nineteen Eighty-four.


Rowan Fortune (RTE)

Utopian flâneur, writer and freelance editor. Rowan has been published by Envoi, the Tablet, Clarion and others.

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