Category Archives: Writing

interrupt your text

McKenzie Wark interviewed at Bomb Magazine:

I’m interested in writing that engages with the way people read now. If you are a literary person, perhaps you and your friends are on Twitter or Instagram and share photos of favorite passages from the books you happen to be reading. I certainly do. So, I wanted the text to read like a feed. I think we read texts in juxtaposition now. I make those juxtapositions intentional. I interrupt my text with my favorite writers who sometimes seem to comment or provide a contrast or who describe what I am failing to describe and do it better.

Interesting observation from a writer whose work I’ve long been inspired by. That said, I think this nascent tradition had its foundations laid in the golden age of blogging, which was often heavy on the blockquotes as well as the hyperlinks… and that was in turn surely influenced by the telos of academic texts, if not necessarily their style. A dialectics of style, perhaps?

Also wonder if this isn’t perhaps a way of short-circuiting the notorious “agony of influence”… instead of flinching from the inescapability of the megatext, make your way through it like a forest, hacking through undergrowth or racing through clearings as necessary, dodging wolves and befriending other adventurers along the way.

(The emerging genre of “theory fiction” appears to be one expression of this instinct… I’m thinking particularly of Sellars’s Applied Ballardianism, here, but mostly because that’s the only example of the genre I can confidently claim to have encountered on the genre’s own terms. Though one might counterclaim that theory fiction is just autofiction for the overeducated, I suppose… but what else are we meant to do with the multiple self-subjectivities that our scholarship has cursed us with, eh?)

Developing Potential: a report from the Local Trust

Around this time last year, I started doing some freelance work with a community development consultancy. We were working on a report-cum-strategy-guide for the Local Trust, and more specifically for community groups who are having redevelopment done to them: advice not on how to stop the development process — because once it’s started, it’s effectively impossible to stop, and that’s very much by design — but on how to stand up to it and, perhaps, wrest some concessions and community benefit out of the suits, flacks and hucksters who play The Regeneration Game.

That report — finally given the stirring title Developing Potential — was released earlier this week; you can read the guidebook for communities and the Big Local case studies as separate documents, or you can hoover down a pdf of the whole thing with all the trimmings.

Despite my shocking lack of objectivity on the topic (as demonstrated above), Blue Chula put me to work on background research and report drafting. My text is in many places unrecognisable in the final version — turns out my prolixity is about as appropriate for third sector publications as it is for academia — but BC and the Local Trust have nonetheless done me the great honour of naming me as one of the report’s authors.

It’s a shame we couldn’t have released something closer to our earlier drafts, but recent changes in the legal system mean that charitable organisations have to be extremely cautious about criticising the government, as they risk forfeiting their charitable status and/or funding if they are seen as being too “political”*. But nonetheless Helen at BC pushed hard to publish case studies in which the communities portrayed could see themselves and their experiences represented fairly, and while the guidebook is notably less torches-and-pitchforks than my earliest outlines suggested it should be, I think it’s realistic about the prospects, and about the sacrifices necessary for a community to get involved in the redevelopment of their neighbourhood.

In other words, I am genuinely honoured to have my name on it — even as I’m fairly certain that it doesn’t entirely deserve to be there.

[ * — Thankfully I am not a charitable organisation, which leaves me free to decry this policy as being born of the same craven sleight-of-hand that trumpets a rejigging of the planning system in the name of “inclusivity” while actually watering down what remains of the planning system to the extent that developers can largely do what they want, provided they have the funding for a good law firm, which of course they always do. If there’s one thing I learned from spending a few months digging into UK planning law and the way such projects play out on the ground, it’s that not only is the planning system of the UK deeply dysfunctional and biased toward the developer, but that it is working exactly as its designers intended it to work. I’d hold those designers in somewhat lesser contempt if they had the courage to admit that. ]

beyond the valley of the trolls

Interesting interview with Anna Wiener, The New Yorker‘s woman-on-the-ground in Silicon Valley. Her critique is informed by actually having spent a number of years in the trenches of tech, always on the non-coding side of the payroll.

Today’s iteration of Silicon Valley seems ahistorical, anti-intellectual, irreverent in a way that is more reflective of the current phase of capitalism than of any unique industry value. I feel the industry needs to be more closely tied to both the government and academia, and better integrated—not in the current NSA, Stanford-pipeline sort of way. We’ve lost, for example, the tradition of research labs. In the late twentieth century, the countercultural idealism hardened into a libertarian ethos, an anti-institutional, anti-government stance, and also this new form of hubris that was legitimized by venture capital. I think people are incredibly reluctant to surrender that underdog identity, regardless of how true it was, then or now.

Like the interviewer here, I read (and was blown away by) her memoir piece at n+1 back in 2016; if her just-about-to-drop book manages to sustain that same tension and vibe, it’ll be a great (but also enervating) read.

the shell-game of morphological freedom (retro essay reissue)

As the first step in what will presumably be a long, stop-start sort of project, I have retrieved one of my more obscurely-published and less-read essays and republished it here on VCTB*. This piece — a double review of two ostensibly non-fiction titles on transhumanism — never got a proper title, as it was written for a serialised element of the sadly short-lived ARC Magazine‘s supplementary web content, and thus got a thematic/iterative title from the editorial team. As such, I have retitled it “Bigger, better, faster, (Max) More!”, partly in satirical honour of transhumanism’s primary intellectual ideologue, and partly as tribute to an album whose best-known singles are the worst tracks therein.

So, yeah: here’s one of the more searing passages from what was, even by my own standards, a long and incendiary essay in which I first solidified a lot of my apostate thinking about transhumanism:

… what [the doctrine of self-augmentation] lacks, what transhumanism lacks, and what the Californian ideology which underpins transhumanism lacks, is any sense of responsibility for the consequences of your actions upon others. It’s not even that the questions are so new or hard to formulate; the social sciences are grappling hard with them as we speak, in an attempt to resolve the paradox of a world where transhumanists can talk blithely about “improving” and “extending” human capacities without addressing the questions of where the implied baseline is and who gets to police it, and where politicians can talk about market-enabled choice and “diverse healthcare outcomes” while framing disability or long-term illness as one of many ways that the feckless supposedly sponge off of the state. It’s as a part of this globally diffuse paradigm of me-first-why-not privilege that transhumanism starts to look less like an oddball cybercultural anomaly and more like yet another proxy front for oligarchy-as-usual. As James Bridle says, “technology is the reification and instrumentalisation of human desires”; nowhere is that more plain to see than transhumanism.

One of the reasons for unearthing this piece is that I shall probably strip it for parts toward another piece that needs writing in the wake of this gruesome story; regular readers will probably recognise many connections to my “How does the rabbit get in the hat?” talk from late 2017.

[ * — Ultimately I plan to put versions of everything to which I retain the rights (which is pretty much all of my work, I think?) up on my canonical site, but that will require doing a proper job of its infrmation architecture, for which I really don’t have the time at the moment, for reasons which shall hopefully be explained more fully fairly soon. ]