Greening Psychoanalytic Intervention as a Response to Crisis: A made-up doctoral thesis title.

The sun is shining, and there are green parakeets in the trees beside my balcony.

I spent yesterday more connected despite solitude than in previous periods of confinement. Collective anguish is fecund ground for foraging new ways of being together. I watch older members of one Zoom conference transition into this new mode of connecting with ease, while elsewhere psychoanalysts refuse to engage with any modality beyond what was established a century ago.

There are plenty of jokes about all this being nothing new for the anxious, the sickly, housebound, the agoraphobe, the depressed. The difference is that it is the foundation for every discussion now. They talk loud and fast about getting back to normal; well fuck that. Even if it were possible, why is it desirable?

The detached Lacanian response was to start wrapping the pandemic up in symbolisation. Analysts are interrupting their analysands’ material fears with the focus on unravelling a signifying chain. As a friend pointed out to me, it is either that or exaggeration at the other end: this will be it, this will be the encounter with the Real. Both approaches are unhelpful. Just as 9/11 exists as the shockwave which gave us nothing but acceleration and unretracted surveillance measures, we stand to be hoisted from this period of protracted time like it was a dream state, kicking and screaming, into a return to more of the same.

Žižek was right when he said that sometimes the most radical response is inaction. When we emerge from this faced with the imposed threat of more global neoliberalism, more irresponsible use of surveillance powers, and the story that a pause in shopping was only one necessary moment in time, it will be of existential importance to remember immanence.

Immanence is the state we are forced to return to when we are confronted with something too monolithic to ignore. This has occurred in a way which has made clear the dialectic between all those producing for Capital, to greater and lesser extents, and the drivers of Capital. We have a choice between forgetting this, a necessary process of repression if Capital is to continue as before, or insisting on using it as a point of radical intervention. The war is waged on two fronts: Do we concede our human rights in the interest of public health, or do we struggle for a way to maintain both? Do we submit to a return to alienation by way of consumer-capitalism, or do we remember that ironically it was physical isolation and a locking out of the consumer markets that brought us closer together via the apparatus that was for so long smeared as our undoing?

Both are possible without human sacrifice, as long as a political ideology is maintained. A critique of capitalism must remain at the core of discourse on civil liberties and public health; otherwise, all we do is permit global powers to play fast and loose with human life while medical provisions become a question of competitiveness. Those of us in the field of mental health must remember that our fight is political. We must remember that neither the drives nor desire nor the tools we have to address them are transhistorical. We must engage with society as it is, and remember that a virtual couch is just as real as an actual couch in a context in which we are all, temporarily, disembodied. Only by encountering the pandemic as a real, existential threat can we hope to address it as an opportunity for a radical readdressing of Being, and only through these interventions will we have a greener future.

 

Image: Two women during the Spanish flu epidemic. (Keystone / Getty Images)

All watched over by machines of loving grace.

I went for a long walk through Highgate Woods yesterday after passing through a derelict high street. I hear more sirens on a daily basis than ever before up here and there were helicopters circling overhead. Masked and gloved guards at shop entrances doing the jobs of healthcare workers. There was such a delay in acceptance in Britain that the adoption of customs befitting this reality seemed to occur overnight. I said good night to a city with crowds spilling out of bars and woke up to one where people dodge out of each other’s way when on the same side of the road. Little muzzled ghosts donning masks, slipping into the woods – it felt so utterly lonely at first, and surreal, like I had fallen out of time.

Then the sun came out, I noticed more and more people nodding and smiling at each other as they made way for two metres. The masks stood for a symptom impossible to ignore, as if gagging the mouth necessitated smiling with the eyes, meaning that, for once, people have to acknowledge their mutual alienation.

I emerged onto a clearing where dozens of people found the space to sit in the cold sun or throw balls at a distance, and there was a strained sense of elation, joy beneath the eyes of spies scanning the green. I have dreamt of this for so long, in part. Streets free of the useless detritus of Capital, strangers saying hello to each other. I have never felt such disparate hope and despair before. Hotels and offices are being forced to house the homeless and the bumblebees are coming back, all watched over by machines of loving grace.

 

Title attributed to Richard Brautigan.

Society as schizogenic

There has been something unsettling in the global panic. Beyond the immediate material uncertainties, something was making me feel quite mad. Watching masses of people begin to sharpen guillotines (online and figurative though they may be) has not been unexpected, we have been talking about the inherent impossibility of capitalism forever. But now it has had its machinery ripped out for everyone to see, and everyone is looking at it, responding in abject horror. The Lieutenant Governor of Texas said that old people should be willing to die for capitalism, that he is willing to die. We always knew their religiosity, but now they are articulating it. The emperor has no clothes, and a noose around his neck.

It is always traumatic when a God dies. The realisation that your parents are not omnipotent, the humiliation of your heroes, the corruption of the State, and the slow dawning upon reaching adulthood that no one knows what they’re doing, this is it. These are all encounters with the flimsy nature of the symbolic and the limitations of knowledge. It is traumatic until we shuffle things around and find some order in the chaos. Snake oil merchants are good in times of crisis, explaining the success of everyone from self-help writers to David Icke and Alex Jones. With any luck, we get comfortable with the chaos. This is one potential life-cycle of an individual. On a mass scale, it appears that we have been forced into a confrontation with a mortally wounded God willing to do almost anything to remain immortal. There is one form of madness which emerges from conspiracy – being the object of collusion. There is another which comes from the whole world suddenly acknowledging your beliefs, and seeing a politician quite explicitly state them to be true on television. For so long, we have lived with a form of neoliberalism which requires disavowal of its ambitions in order to function. Now that its function has encountered material impossibility, it is becoming properly violent: the old apparatus of fascism will return. Damn your human rights; we must save the economy.

Laing wrote about the emergence of madness as a result of conspiracy in the family as follows:

“The characteristic family pattern that has emerged from the studies of the families of schizophrenics does not so much involve a child who is subject to outright neglect or even to obvious trauma, but a child who has been subject to subtle but persistent disconfirmation, usually unwittingly. For many years lack of genuine confirmation takes the form of actively confirming a false self, so that the person whose false self is confirmed and real self disconfirmed is placed in a false position. Someone in a false position feels guilt, shame, or anxiety at not being false. Confirmation of a false self goes on without anyone in the family being aware that this is the state of affairs. The schizogenic potential of the situation seems to reside largely in the fact that it is not recognised by anyone…”

He goes on to say that schizophrenia could be avoided if the conspiracy could be intervened, if only to “state the truth of the matter.”

The false self is a subject of capitalism forced to believe in meritocracy and the general goodwill of the free market system, because she is pathologised if she behaves otherwise. Society has been kept in a schizogenic position for so long, having what it senses to be true, disavowed, that what we are witnessing now is, despite its surface madness, a shedding of pathology. It is a move from catatonic schizophrenia (compliance despite oneself) into hysteria again: a demand, a violent resistance, even if that resistance is sitting still. It is an encounter with the real, which is always traumatic, as we have seen. Civilisation passes through its adolescence over and over again, building new Gods to worship each time it can do nothing with the hole left by the absence of the last one, not knowing what to do with the grief. Trauma allows the possibility of something new if we can slow down and work out how to be with each other in radically new ways. This is going to require absolute resistance to imminent attempts by the corporate State to reterritorialise suffering, defining new ways to justify its existence (see how bad things are when the economy tanks), and careful inspection of the immediate emergence of community-based cooperative efforts in the face of catastrophic loss.

 

Image: Goya

Assembly required

I’ve never experienced such turgid paranoia in my quiet middle-class neighbourhood before. No one was ‘observing social distance,’ but the term has already embedded itself into our lexicon. The supermarket was heaving, however, at 8 a.m., people shuffling about, frantically loading baskets on impulse. It had never been so busy and so quiet at once. A dozen downcast eyes, all avoiding one another, lips behind masks observing silence, which was only broken to mumble in quintessential British derision at the man fingering all the fruit. He didn’t give a damn. It was as if he’d burst in and done a shit in the lettuces. The village had turned on him, this tall, blond man who looked like he’d never left Hampstead. It was as if all the revulsion they usually reserved for the homeless or the foreign was suddenly turned inward, against their own. Their avoidance of him, this vector of filth and death, made me panic. Suddenly every inch of me was hyper-vigilant of the proximity of other bodies, any one of which could be carrying. How you long for it to make itself visible, so you can know. I hurriedly grabbed what little food there was left and found myself hyperventilating, already exhausted at the idea of having to disinfect everything on returning home.

I grew up on science fiction which always hoped that an alien threat would have the silver lining of unifying the species. It’s what Bush and Blair echoed when they claimed the world was at war with terror, the absurdity of the statement only to be revealed when domestic terror attacks proved to be the biggest threat to peace. The alien invasion is here, but it is firmly embedded in us. While the US and China are busy reviving a Cold War blame game, we should be vigilant, not just of our physical health, but of the psychosocial effects of internalising a hostile alien invader, in both real and imaginary ways. Covid-19 will not be the great equaliser optimists anticipate; it is, however, the absolute manifestation of Capital in its death drive. It is the endpoint of the force which atomises us absolutely. It has the power to reduce us to paranoid, obsessive-compulsive consumer-drones whose only purpose is to survive in service of The Economy. We must get through this, for now, but then we must reinvent a reason to live. Over the next (take a guess), we will have been unsocialised to a degree unprecedented for a culture so meshed in excess and instant gratification, it is going to be frightening. It is also going to be fertile ground for inventing entirely new ways of being with one another. Lest we forget how to assemble.

Image from Reddit.

Covid-19: the bad and the ugly

Illustration by Molly Crabapple.

Too big to fail.

A country which will see some of the worst effects of the virus because it has an unaffordable healthcare system just paid the stock market more money than we can conceive of to prevent its collapse. Again. This section is important:

“The New York Fed said in a statement it was expanding its purchases of Treasuries to include longer-term notes, bills and other instruments as a result of the “highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets” as a result of the virus.”

There is nothing unusual about this. In an actual free market, markets should be expected to crash and burn when they have no consumers. They are not meant to be constantly reanimated by speculative wealth like walking corpses or a fucking Emperor who never dies, while actual human beings are deprived of viral testing and vaccines, and contagion persists because they can’t afford time off work. Unusual implies unnatural. It suggests the premise of an immortal stock market which remains unchanged even if that means most of the population has to die. It is a perverse illustration of capitalist realism.

The money the Federal Reserve has been pumping into the stock market so that corporations don’t have to declare bankruptcy since last December could have paid to revolutionise healthcare in the US, to end hunger and ensure that thousands of people don’t die in the next year. They made a conscious choice to preserve the phantom of a failing system over the lives of people, and political conservatives have the gall to disregard anything left of mass murder as ideological.


In the UK mass hysteria has been met with no productive public health policy which explains the general sense of despair. Gallows humour and disavowal are both rational responses to futility. Everything I have read these last few days has only highlighted what I already know about our despotic economy but after reading about Gilead today I have no more words.

Self-isolation is necessary but it also stands to be a training ground for social engineering in the future when events of recent weeks have indicated that community acting in its collective interest is the only way to survive crises. There are mutual aid efforts popping up across the country – look for your local.

Neither I nor most people I know can survive for long without work. Those who work in the gig economy, informal markets, even those who are employed are employed by companies who outsourced their recruitment so legal sick pay is out of the question, or they’re on zero-hour contracts for industries which are going to shut down any day anyway.

These issues usually disregarded as the way things are will become exacerbated and the government will invent new words to justify their existence. At this point absolute resistance is necessary. Utopian thinking is necessary.

For people who are at the farthest margins, this is just one more crisis, but one more crisis which serves a blow to the middle classes as well is an opportunity to reveal the inherent dysfunction of markets which depend on exploitation.


rent crisis

I would say that if this confrontation doesn’t make things clear I don’t know what will, but I know that up to 200 million people dead in 1350 only empowered capitalism so I’m gonna go ahead and make some predictions for later this year…

– New rhetoric about the necessity of a stable market to withstand ‘irregularities’ and how strengthened trade deals with extra-EU markets is part of that future.
– New policing powers.
– The acknowledgement of a public health deficit but the promise that its salvation lies in more privatisation. Everyone with decision making power will be replaced by some consultant type with some business relationship to some Tory MP who will blame all the death on the failings of the last Labour government and promise to ‘get it done.’
– Pharmaceutical deals with US.
– Amazon will be shipping health-care items.
– People will need to discharge their frustration so the Brexit logic will be stretched to contain this event; people will insist this could have been prevented if only we had shut our borders sooner, and socially conservative, fiscally liberal ideology will intensify in cities, while those previously Labour seats which voted for Brexit will see a sudden emergence in NazBol-like rhetoric. They will blame not just the migrant, but the traveller for bringing contagion, and insist on a nationally ‘pure’ socialism.

Covid-19: the good

One thing will become clear when this crisis settles, that we either forge our way to global eco-socialism or face mass extinction. Whatever the details of the truth of this particular event, continuous catastrophes are bound to our unnatural and unsustainable relationship with an otherwise violent but harmonious ecology. Since man, in his phallic, totalising nature, has set out to master the environment, he has waged a war he can’t win because nature is unconscious, indifferent, and cannot be intimidated or reasoned with. It contains memory, however, repressed in the glaciers we are melting at an alarming speed. If you think this is bad, wait for the ice-age viruses.

I ate blueberries for breakfast today, imported from Chile. I am aware that this is totally unnatural and bourgeois; we were never meant to have a limitless choice every day. We don’t need to. I would be content to be restricted to basic sustenance; someday we’re not going to have a choice. People are razing rainforests to breed a surplus of cows for slaughter. Every pandemic in my lifetime has been the outcome of some egregious act of playing God, when we have the wealth it takes to live sustainably and not without luxury. Better we make the choice before it is made for us.

 

Illustration by Olaf Hajek

1989: an archive

The phenomenological world is not the bringing to explicit expression of a pre-existing being, but the laying down of being. Philosophy is not the reflection of a pre-existing truth, but, like art, the act of bringing truth into being.

We are born into an alien world, set out to assemble alien signs into survival tools. From this protracted gesture, we etch meaning over a lifetime. I wanted to put an anchor in the year mine began.


Television oracles predicting techno-utopian home solutions.

Don Bluth, whose animation gave me the colour palette I daydreamed in, with this Communist banger.


I first discovered Laibach when I was seventeen. Volk was in an Oxfam Music and I bought it without deliberation because I had never before encountered an industrial band have the panache to put some pastoral painting on the cover of their album satirising a bunch of national anthems. It was the first realisation I had that musical expression could expand the perimeters even of its own theatrics and actually manifest political ideas beyond the abstract.

A few years later I met a woman at a sex party who showed me her passport issued by Neue Slowenische Kunst (a utopia, a republic of sorts, a nation without territory). NSK isn’t a place; it’s an idea. The party was stumbling into its seventy-second hour and she told me it failed to clear at any border control. Meanwhile, five men were failing to summon the will it took to urinate on the woman in the bathtub begging to be showered, and I sobered violently to the failure of ideas to bury their tendrils into soil.


Ceefax was like a rustic precursor to the internet. I remember feeling something like comfort or intrigue that when even the TV stations went to bed, there were still people like me out there, people who couldn’t sleep. Their messages would appear in bright pixels across the quiet of the night and I knew I wasn’t totally alone. I was eleven when we got our first PC. My mother was probably ripped off by some guy selling a huge outdated machine that sounded like twin jets starting up. We collected it from his musty flat. He seemed irritated by my mother’s rudimentary questions, as though even by the year 2000, chain-smoking his way through the fragmented appearance of low-res porn had given him restless leg syndrome. His socks were worn out and he didn’t smile once.

I didn’t fully comprehend what the internet was, but I knew it was a little like Ceefax, just bigger, that it could connect me to a constellation of insomniacs. Soon the screech of dial-up was thrilling, the interruption of phone calls infuriating. Why did speaking need to take so long, each period of chatter so laboured and dull? I had hurtled headfirst into a cornucopia of buffering low-res porn and disc drive point-and-click adventures: entire worlds I could slip into when I was sick of this one, which was all the time. I was roleplaying in MSN chat rooms, having multiple conversations at once with people in six time zones and the odd paedophile. I was eleven years old when I became too fast for time.


Bold promises.

Build them up, tear them down.

Screenshot 2020-03-16 at 02.14.47

You asked me how I relate to my own memories. I move through a catalogue of lost loves and feel nothing (and why do people say lost as if it were theirs in the first place); six years of him flattened onto a page, every word he ever uttered to me squeezed into a song. I don’t feel much of anything.


How could you possibly have been aware of the magnitude?


I’m not a biological determinist but there is something spooky about DNA. Our bodies are not our own; they are hosts to alien life, anything from gut bacteria to cancers able to seize control of the gears. I have a birth defect. Nothing major, just a split down a fingernail which never grows out. My mother and grandmother both have defects in the same finger; they serve as a reminder that despite my swings away, the pendulum falls back to base matter. I have changed my face a hundred times and it doesn’t make a dent in the gravity of blood. We have the same nervous tics, my grandmother and I, despite my lifelong defiance of her tyranny, our violent split like the fault line down my nail. I haven’t seen her in over a decade and yet I’ll never be rid of her because I still bite the inside of my mouth with nervous energy the way she always did. 

When I was eighteen I had a black day. For twenty-four hours I did nothing but smoke weed and listen to Tom Waits, passing out and only getting up to go to the bathroom. My mother came in to find me by the eighteenth hour and looked like she’d seen a ghost. This is just like [redacted], she said. He would lock himself away listening to these records when he was smoking too much cannabis. And that’s how I learned my father and I both liked Tom Waits.


The year I was born Tetsuo was released. Twenty-one years later I would meet a man who never processed finding his father’s brains splattered against the wall, so everything he did was in defiance of his mortality. His penis was augmented with silicon and steel ball bearings, and he never stopped moving for a second. When we hurt each other and his name felt too hazardous in my mouth I replaced every instance of it with Iron Man. 


“How many times did you do acid together?”

“You see if I say, then it will be used against me…”

Daniel found Daniel Johnston on Kurt Cobain’s T-Shirt. I found Daniel Johnston in Daniel’s bedroom back in his mother’s house, drawn to the beauty of album covers of nothing but crude line drawings. Daniel spelt it Kurdt, and he had painted every one of his walls with black poster paint and a tiny brush, which meant that when we were fucking while his mother was out, it came off on my palms. It was in that moment, Daniel behind me, my hands marked by his manic effort to block out the light, that I remembered that my father had found us and lived in our first flat over Christmas. I was five years old and watched him paint all of our light bulbs with acrylics which felt sandy to the touch and cracked easily. I gazed at him being creative and felt proud to be his. My mother returned after dark, and my father had painted the bulbs with dark colours, so it was as if turning on the lights made the room darker. When the shouting and crashing began, I realised he wasn’t just an artist, there was something else I didn’t yet have the words for. He hurt her one last time and then he was gone.

Daniel and I lay on sodden sheets and listened to Don’t Be Scared from start to finish, and on the eighth track I cried in silence.


When I was nineteen I fell in love with a musician fifteen years my senior. I mistook his loneliness for independence and emotional ineptitude for stoicism. He had been in a band which got close to ‘making it’ and never got over the concessions he had to make in order to make a living, so he lived in the past. His house was a cornucopia of obsessional reverie. The get-to-know-you portion was spent two days straight getting high, leafing through magazines older than our parents and listening to every record we could. I trawled through his bookcases slipping vinyl from sleeves with the care of a Rabbi because he was so precious about his things, and we frantically swapped one for another, having to lift the needle and adjust dials, a process more tactile and therefore more erotic than clicking a touchpad. We knew that we were both going to die and that there wasn’t enough time to swap all the articles and short stories, to listen to all the LPs all the way through. We drove the Welsh coast sometimes at a slow pace, listening to Zeppelin while visiting sites which inspired songs, and sometimes faster, consuming lines of speed and hours of Psychic TV. In anxious anticipation of the acceleration of time and culture and its transition from analogue to digital, under the suspicion that we would lose this space for road trips and languishing, he digitised huge libraries of music for me. He would stay in his den of antiquity and I, the Millennial, would leave with my black box labelled 1960-1999. He gifted me a prehistory.

What he gave me were relics he thought encompassed his era: the generation which resisted all the gaudy consumerism left over from the golden age of capitalism; the generation of flannel and nihilism, of the resistance to smiling television faces, work and the pursuit of happiness; the generation of Prozac Nation. For someone entrenched in the endless proliferation of identity politics, the ADHD buzz of social media and acceleration of absolutely everything, I find that Generation X suddenly tugs at my sleeves with the quiet dignity of a weaponised silence, a sort of monument to boredom as a political decision to be unmoved by the shit outside. I discovered everything Genesis P-Orridge had ever done through him, he put it all on there for me. The night I found him most endearing was also the night I fell out of love with him. He was depressed and wanted to stay in watching old bootlegs and documentaries. We watched the one in which Courtney definitely had Kurt killed, then I watched him gazing at home videos of Perry Farrell and his old girlfriend and muse letting off fireworks in their bedroom, scaring the shit out of their pet chicken; young, hopeful and in love, or just pale and high. I realised he would never exist in the present with me. 


“Everybody’s doing something; we’ll do nothing.”


“He’s my Elvis. He’s my guy. I listen to him every day.” 


The last transit of Venus took place in June 2012. We both had birthdays, but only one of us had somewhere to be. I knew you would miss its crossing of the sun, so I recorded NASA’s live stream on my phone to send to you later. I thought about the satellites beaming the image down, and the image bouncing up and down between my bedroom and the exosphere, the extra-terrestrial hackeysack required just to transmit you some pixels. Transits of Venus occur in pairs, interrupted by periods of over a century. The next one will happen in 2117 when we will no longer have birthdays to share. I figured with such a monumental occasion preoccupying the satellites no one would care about my naked body bouncing between here and Hubble, and so I made some porn to send to you too. Given your cosmic predilections, I found your apathy over Venus odd. Only later I realised you had marked its passing; you held me one last time, and then you returned to her.


Back when we were in pyjamas, my cousin played Monkey Island and those Sierra-era adventure games, so I must have played a little then, but my memory begins when I first dreamt in polygons. I was about nine years old, and the only access I had to a games console was in a house my mother used to clean. I played truant so that I could play as a dinosaur with weaponised eggs, squeeze through pipes and gallop through fields in a little green hat. There was never enough time; adventures were always interrupted by the return of the children in whose worlds I was an intruder. Our drab flat was monochrome in comparison. I went to bed each night praying to be returned to what felt like vast and kaleidoscopic space where time moved differently and joy was possible.

I couldn’t have my own N64, but by then people were already practically giving away their obsolete NES consoles. I discovered Secret of Mana at a car boot sale, and the roof of our flat blew clean off. There was something infinitely more beautiful about these older graphics, and I wondered why all this stuff was piling up in second-hand shops and by walls down residential roads. I was forever lost to high fantasy and MIDI tracks. I fought to the death and fell in love, and I had the patience to explore everything. I cracked every single secret in Donkey Kong Country before I knew what a walkthrough was, and I forgot what it was to be hungry or go straight to the bathroom when I needed to pee.

I grew old between the first Gameboy and the Occulus Rift, and I can still get lost in a game. Games like Stardew Valley, Always Sometimes Monsters and Richard and Alice have plugged right into my childhood, wrenching at its heart. They are lovingly crafted, but it’s never quite the same. You can’t experience the roof blowing off twice.


sandmanpic1

I was at my local library after school. I read the occasional Manga when I was young and loved illustrative art but I had never found a Western comic which grabbed my attention. Something about the spine of The Doll’s House jumped out at me. It’s hard to define what it is that makes a literary world feel just right when you fall into it, but that’s what it was, like returning to a home I didn’t know I had. I read every volume of The Sandman from the library and when I grew up and made money I bought my own so that every time I felt alone, I could return there. Those books survived years of homelessness and turbulence; the world contained was a constant that gave me warmth and courage, a little anchor in time. They survived all that just to be lost as collateral in a bad breakup. I was devastated…then I realised the objects are neither here nor there, I can replace them. It’s the mark they made on me that matters.


The beginning of the end of something.


Each epoch has its seers, conduits for the spectrum of human experience, able to channel a cacophony of love and despair into a melody.


You couldn’t stand the Smashing Pumpkins, which made it easier for me to leave you and take them with me.


I associate her house with mothballs, violence and Chanel 5. It was worth it because from the wreckage I salvaged Ella and Louis and Nina Simone.


There were days we thought we had forever.


He used to like blackcurrant in his cider; they called it Snakebite. I heard my Doc Marten’s peel its sticky stratum from the club floor so each step was like ripping off a plaster. It coursed through his veins for three years of love until throwing up its end on my bedroom floor.  

Screenshot 2020-03-16 at 02.57.42

I used to dream of growing up and running for the hills. By the time I got there, nothing was wild any more.