…life continues, but time has somehow stopped.
—Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life
“Every man is not only himself, Men are lived over again.”
—Sir Thomas Browne
Rereading Mark Fisher on the bleakness our impossible lives, about the leaking in of Time, the slow drift into a timeless hell in which we are all full of “passionate intensity” (Yeat’s) but in denial of the truth of our dire situation that there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, and a world which has no future only this endless gray world of death. The bleakness is not in our appearance, which is after all a world of ongoing pulses of rapture and decay, no, it’s more that we are no longer aware of our predicament and have allowed ourselves to jest and parody this truth by denying truth itself (the so called post-truth world).
We’ve allowed reality and the Real to merge in a static realm of non-being that parodies Being. An anti-life that purports to be life itself (Isn’t this the goal of transhumanism? – to merge with the anti-life of machinic gods, become immortal in a static world of un-death, in which inorganic metaloid dreams perpetuate the mimicry of human kind in a kill zone of droned complicity?). The un-bookish masses still have their soup of conspiracy from alien invasions, disappearances, Big Foot, Reptilians, Shadow Governments, and the whole panoply of radio talk show hosts enacting the sequences of death culture from both Left and Right political spectrums: each accusing the other of being the ultra enemy of this temporal death march.
As Mark would say: “While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”1
It’s this sense of an ending, of knowing while not accepting it as truth, of the death of not only Western Civilization but of the species of homo sapiens itself that keeps us churning our in an accelerating parade of endless supercharged echoes this mediascape of repetition and denial hoping against hope that our despair is only temporary rather than the truth of oblivion we all know deep down is the only final solution we can neither escape nor deny.
It’s this sense that we have all come too late into the world, as if the best humanity has to offer has already happened: “The feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush, is as omnipresent as it is disavowed.” (ibid.) Harold Bloom in his Anxiety of Influence argued that there was a blocking agent in the world, a “Covering Cherub,” a composite creature of despair, hate, and rage: a “negative figure of truth’s guardian turned destructive…”.2 This sense that instead of some angelic protector of Time’s vale we have instead a demon of continuity whose only goal is to keep the future at bay, to trap humanity in the bleak but furious present of an endless realm of consumerism, war, and death. A world in which the whole machine of progressive culture has run its course and instead of change and progress we have this infinite production of null culture and capitalist desire: a realm revolving in its own lost maze seeking to repeat the past only as a technological mediascape of pure simulation without surfeit.
We live in a retro world consuming our own fake culture as if it were new rather than the anachronism it truly is, a world that seeks the future as an artefact and promise but returns itself to the repetitive hellscapes of a mode of nostalgia that is neither psychological nor a part of the cultural critique of the age of suspicion, but is rather a replay and sitcom of our bleak lives played out over and over in a worn out version of Big Brother’s Reality TV in which desire turns sour and petty. A world in which the “the art of seduction takes too much time, and… something like Viagra answers not to a biological but to a cultural deficit: desperately short of time, energy and attention, we demand quick fixes. (ibid. KL 293)
Producing the new depends upon certain kinds of withdrawal – from, for instance, sociality as much as from pre-existing cultural forms – but the currently dominant form of socially networked cyberspace, with its endless opportunities for micro-contact and its deluge of YouTube links, has made withdrawal more difficult than ever before. Or, as Simon Reynolds so pithily put it, in recent years, everyday life has sped up, but culture has slowed down. (ibid. KL 308-312)
In a world in which the need to escape our drab lives through travel, adventure, and exploration has given way to an endless series of video games that immerse us in a void of repetitive images of hero worship and nostalgia fantasy combat and corporate desire we have allowed the VR realms to invade our actual lives turning reality outside-in. Immanence without transcendence. A life without meaning, purpose, or desire given to the slow death by drugs, play, and pornography. As Mark puts it: “No matter what the causes for this temporal pathology are, it is clear that no area of Western culture is immune from them. The former redoubts of futurism, such as electronic music, no longer offer escape from formal nostalgia.” (ibid. KL 312)
Trapped in a prison world of hellish delight we seem to have even forgotten that we are lost, our maze like existence in a null land of pure media imbecility plays out its political charade while the economic elite horde all the remaining resources in their palaces of off-shore tax havens against the day of reckoning. Oh, and there will be a day of reckoning… that can be assured. Living in an entropic universe of decay we titter on the edge of oblivion while scientists tell us the future offers only an endless carnival of climate collapse, extinction, pandemics, along with resource depletion of food, water, and air to the point that our escape into machines almost seems an immortal dream or fantasia of the collapsed mind if it were not that such a dark transport is in truth only the bridge-to-nowhere of earth itself into a techno-desert that literalizes the apocalypse of both humanity and earth itself. Like dreamers on the edge of some alien landscape we search the blank walls of futurity for any sign of escape and discover only the endless voids of silence and darkness coming at us. No, there is no escape from our hellish paradise, we’ve all built it together in denying time its continuous renewal, and along with it our ability to envision another world than this one.
One of those fascinating themes in the work of Jorge Luis-Borges had to do with the “contamination of reality by dream,” but for us it has become nightmare rather than those genial dreams of that short story writer that have creeped into our lives. If ours is an age of anachronism as Fisher suggests then we are living mimics of life rather than it’s fulfillment, we reduplicate the endless devices of a dark and infinite regressus in infinitum, ours is an unage of the exhaustion, or attempted exhaustion, in which late capitalism captures our desires and minds as part of a grand narrative of cultural decline and decay without outlet. Ours is a baroque world in which as Borges digresses whose “style deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its possibilities and borders upon its own caricature.” (this quote from his Collected Essays! boxed up in my storage unit…) If Borges’s parables are mere footnotes to imaginary texts, then our lives are litanies to unlived futures, futures we continue to deny if only to keep repeating this world of nightmares.
Yet, in Borges work it is the mirror and the compass, or the labyrinth which is the key to existence. Ana Maria Barrenechea called Borges the Labyrinth-Maker. A labyrinth, after all, is a place in which, ideally, all the possibilities of choice are embodied, and—barring special dispensation like Greek legendary hero Theseus’s—must be exhausted before one reaches the heart. Where, mind, the Minotaur waits with two final possibilities: defeat and death or victory and freedom. We are neither heroic like Theseus nor victims like Sisyphus, instead we are lost in the larger labyrinth of the world, and unlike those fictional heroes who awaited the Old Man of the Sea to exhausts reality’s frightening guises so that they might extort direction from him when Proteus returns to his “true” self, we are neither victim nor hero but rather the perpetrators of a crime so vast that we have forgotten the Crime. If the labyrinth is the site where salvation or death awaits the wary hero, then our maze is an apocalypse where we ourselves hold the keys of fate and doom of our own and the earth’s future.
- Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 190-191). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence. Oxford University Press; 2 edition (April 10, 1997)