More Than This: Notes on Acid Communism

“A new humanity, a new seeing, a new thinking, a new loving: this is the promise of acid communism” (Fisher 2018, 767).

 “Acid gave us the X-ray vision to see through [their lies], so of course they had to take it away from us” (Pynchon 1990, 314).

Time stands still. Out of joint doesn’t even cover it. Get in your car and drive around the grey circuits of highways, looping over the city, through the country. The nights are marked by the strobing rhythm of streetlights, and the days blur into one another. On the radio Bryan Ferry croons: “Tell me one thing more than this — oh, there’s nothing.” Endless re-runs, ever-lengthening work days, and hopeless election cycles all keep us caught in a monotonous present. The past is just a setting for the new HBO costume drama. A future different from the present is unimaginable. What alternative could there be? The mantra is this: “nothing has ever happened, nothing can ever happen” (Fisher 2018, 602).

The conditions which Mark Fisher diagnoses in Capitalist Realism are marked by this stultified perception of time, and it is this question of lost futurity which sustains his work through to the unfinished introduction to Acid Communism.  What for writers like Fukuyama is described as the end of history, is here better understood as the end of historicity. It is not that events no longer happen, but that we cannot conceive of them happening, and that whatever engine drove past generations into the future has ceased to function. Today “capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable,” and the key political question becomes not only how to act to bring about a different world, but how to think a different world at all (Fisher 2009, 8).

If modernity was marked by the drive of progress toward the future, then our present era is typified by its total lack of direction. This is the synchronic time of postmodernism described by Fredric Jameson, in which each moment blurs into another, and we are left in a single contracted present. Citing Jameson, Fisher describes this capitalist realist perception of time as “a depthless experience, in which the past is everywhere at the same time as the historical sense fades; we have a ‘society bereft of all historicity’ that is simultaneously unable to present anything that is not a reheated version of the past” (Fisher 2018, 49). This is not to say that the passage of time has stopped, but that our perception of it has been altered. “We know that a time after the present is going to come, but we don’t expect it will fulfill [sic] the promises of the present” (Berardi 2011, 25).

We mustn’t mistake this temporal stasis for something inevitable, or as a natural end to history to which all the past has been moving. For Fisher, this stasis is not even primary: it is the shadow image of another state of affairs and another world which has failed to emerge. Time is halted, but another temporality and another world struggles to make itself visible from beneath. In “the absence of any great collective project” we discover ourselves unmoored from history (Jameson 1991, 17). Our world is shaped by this other world in negative:

Acid communism both refers to actual historical developments and to a virtual confluence that has not yet come together in actuality. Potentials exert influence without being actualised. Actual social formations are shaped by the potential formations whose actualisation they seek to impede. The impress of “a world which could be free” can be detected in the very structures of a capitalist realist world which makes freedom impossible (Fisher 2018, 758).

What Fisher draws out in each of his books, under the shadow of Capitalist Realism and its lost futures, or as the weird irruption of the ordinary, is this possibility of another world and the great injustice of its prevention. As Susan Buck-Morss writes, reflecting on the loss of collective utopian dreams in both the Soviet and American imaginaries: “‘History’ has failed us. […] There is real tragedy in the shattering of the dreams of modernity—of social utopia, historical progress, and material plenty for all” (2002, 68).

Capitalist realism is the legacy of this defeat, and of the loss of this other vision for the future. “Capitalism, with all its visored cops, its teargas, all the theological niceties of its economics, is set up to block Red Plenty” (Fisher 2018, 577). The present world order, of which the postmodern cancellation of the future is one part, is typified by what Ilya Budraitskis calls anti-revolution: “While counterrevolution emerged as a new force capable of destroying the existing revolution, anti-revolution tries to prevent an imaginary revolution whose terrible specter constantly pursues the ruling powers and heralds their demise” (Budraitskis 2017, 64). We live in the shadow of this tragedy of history, as have all generations before us. What makes the present moment so devastating is that we can no longer see a world beyond this one. Impotence becomes reflexive, and failure becomes total and inevitable.

If the world we know is structured materially and psychically to suppress the emergence of this new and more equitable social organisation, then it remains to examine what this other world could look like, and how it may come into being. It is here that a distinction can be made between Red Plenty and Acid Communism. As Matt Colquhuon explains, Acid Communism’s suggestive prefix is consciously ambivalent, and recalls both chemical and psychedelic properties. If Red Plenty describes the desired but deferred communist horizon, then Acid Communism describes its emergence and irruption into our late capitalist slumber. Colquhuon writes:

‘Acid’ is desire, as corrosive and denaturalising multiplicity, flowing through the multiplicities of communism itself to create alinguistic feedback loops; an ideological accelerator through which the new and previously unknown might be found in the politics we mistakenly think we already know, reinstantiating a politics to come (Colquhuon 2018).

Beyond its connotations as a drug, the acid of Acid Communism here means corrosion and hallucination, and it also unites these two meanings in the melting away of all our collective hallucinations. As Fisher writes in his discussion of weird fiction and its penchant for artificial and upset realities: “What we call the world is a local consensus hallucination, a shared dream” (Fisher 2018, 325). From outside our nested, recurrent dreams of capitalist realism, acid draws us into deeper and less controllable circuits of desire. The world we think we know is revealed as an island of fixity in a maelstrom of possibility. Such is the experience which Fisher associates with the psychedelic culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Under the influence of acid—the drug in this case—and the wider reach of psychedelic music, the generation of 1968 was able to experience their social structures from the outside. Acid, as drug, desire, and destroyer, broke down the very perceptions of the world which kept people bound to it. The question of this generation, before any specific politics could be articulated, was of the outcomes of this weird encounter with times outside capitalist production and subjectification:

If the very fundamentals of our experience, such as our sense of space and time, can be altered, does that not mean that the categories by which we live are plastic, mutable? (Fisher 2018, 763).

This is also the core question of Fisher’s last book The Weird and The Eerie, in which the weird figures as a disturbance of our ordinary lives and the intrusion of experiences and beings other to it. Unlike the uncanny, the weird cannot be reduced to the inward-facing dynamics of the (un)homely, because it is fundamentally a question of the outside folding in to constitute this inside. “I do not encounter myself on the outside, I find the other in me” (Deleuze 1988, 98). The inside, and all that we take for granted in our perceptions, attitudes, and subjectivities, is only ever a selected outside.

What we take to be individuals with their own discreet personalities, desires, and personhoods are never truly so. The acidic message of psychedelia, as much as it was eventually assimilated by capital under the sign of individual expression and consumption, was also and primarily an articulation of collective desire. It is this desire which could never be recuperated and which stands against capital’s domination of time. If capitalist realism denies history in favour of synchronic loop of times—it’s now and it’s forever—then the experience of acid destroys this circuit of time to let new creative energies in:

If “there’s no such thing as time” — because the lighting suspends the distinction between day and night; because drugs affect time-perception — then you are not prey to the urgencies which make so much of workaday life a drudge (Fisher 2018, 763).

Acid reveals another order of time that works against the time of purposeful production. Against the days of labour are the nights spent under florescent lights, and the repudiation of the workday for this night. Akin to Rancière’s workers of nineteenth-century Paris, whose nights were spent in creative work and refuge from the strictures of labour, twentieth-century psychedelia was a rejection of the predetermination of life by work and toil, and the “the revelation of a different world and the initiation of a new kind of relationship between beings” (Rancière 2012, 116). What the anti-revolution of capitalist realism imposes upon us is a perception of time beholden to the rhythms of production, consumption, and exchange. It is this temporality that keeps us isolated in our individual bubbles, as we frantically attempt to keep up with the manic rhythms of a 24-hour computerised economy and the always-online distractions of digital culture. As Bifo Berardi writes, our very perception of the world has been colonised by capital:    

Speed itself has been internalized. During the twentieth century, the machine of speed accomplished the colonization of global space; this was followed by the colonization of the domain of time, of the mind and perception, so that the future collapsed. The collapse of the future is rooted in the acceleration of psychic and cognitive rhythm (Berardi 2011, 23).

Fisher makes clear that the altered perception of psychedelia is not an individuated escape from this rhythm, but a political refusal to participate. Far from being a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, and ultimately assimilable to capital, psychedelia is a libidinal re-wiring of desire and re-weirding of experience. As Acid Communism, this refusal is also what dispels our capitalist realist stupor, and opens us to the arrival of something new. It is the making weird of our lives and our worlds, which uncovers the absurd machinery which keeps us in servitude. Fisher takes the example of the BBC’s 1966 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, which eschews the animal characters for human actors. In this adaptation, writes Fisher:

The ordinary world appears as a tissue of Nonsense, incomprehensibly inconsistent, arbitrary and authoritarian. It is itself a bad dream, a kind of trance. In the solemn and autistic testiness of the adults who torment and perplex Alice, we see the madness of ideology itself: a dreamwork that has forgotten it is a dream, and which seeks to make us forget too, by sweeping us up in its sudden, unpredictable and insatiable violence (Fisher 2018, 765).

The weird is not simply the rupture of this dream, or the final shock to wake us from our slumber. The truth is that there is nothing outside of our collective dreams, and this truth cannot be acknowledged while we forget that we are dreaming. The weird does not wake us, but makes us disturbingly aware that we have never been truly awake, and that other dreams are still possible. The weird does not transcend the psychic and libidinal structures that it disturbs, but remains immanent to them in its stark lucidity. The experience of the weird can be horrifying, but it can just as easily fascinate us as it draws us out of our preconceptions and awakens in us an awareness of the unnatural forces which inhabit us. Fisher writes in The Weird and The Eerie that:

The sense of wrongness associated with the weird – the conviction that this does not belong – is often a sign that we are in the presence of the new. The weird here is a signal that the concepts and frameworks which we have previously employed are now obsolete […] there is an enjoyment in seeing the familiar and the conventional become outmoded (Fisher 2016, 13).

The presence of the new is precisely what is denied under capitalist realism, and it is what re-emerges under the influence of acid’s weird concoction, communist or otherwise. Even as we navigate the humdrum of capitalist realism’s endless present, the shadow of a “world which could be free” hangs over us, threatening to emerge and bring our world crashing down. Only in this collapse of the old can the new take form, and it is the violent irruption of the new which Acid Communism promises: “A new humanity, a new seeing, a new thinking, a new loving: this is the promise of acid communism” (Fisher 2018, 767). Acid Communism unites weird experience with collective becoming, to shatter the old forms of perception and cognition and bring about something other.

We cannot expect to go through this process unchanged. The collective desire of Acid Communism transforms the very sense of time and space upon which our atomised and alienated selves are predicated. Yet there is a joy in dissolving into this new mass becoming, which destroys the categories that previously bound us:

The conditions which made ordinary experience possible could now be encountered, transformed, and escaped […] The entity which underwent this could not be the ordinary subject of experience—it would instead be some anonymous X, a faceless being (Fisher 2018, 766).

The anonymous X which we re-discover ourselves as is a reflection of a larger process. “Interiority [is] little more than an ideological side effect” and “most of what is supposedly ‘inside’ us  has been acquired from a wider social field” (Fisher 2018, 597). The shifting X is not only ourselves, but the future world which has failed to come into being. Acid Communism dissolves “our” prior identities, desires, and perceptions into a “new space-time” in which the future is once again possible but radically undetermined (Fisher 2018, 767). We becoming an anonymous X, in an X collective, inhabiting X space and moving through X time. It is this shifting X which lies at the core of Fisher’s acid philosophy: its anonymity corrodes the world that is, and its collective being shatters the mind-forged manacles of our individuality, reflexive impotence, and temporal stasis.

The future returns, but not as the arrow of modern time. The futurity of Acid Communism recalls the tangled temporalities of what Anna Greenspan calls Gothic Futurism, in which “the future does not wait for us as a brightly lit beacon up ahead” and “lurks always in the shadows of the present” (Greenspan 2014, 74). In the form of this nameless X, Acid Communism imagines a futurity sans the direction of modern time, and it gives us glimpses of this futurity as it strains under the constraints of our eternal present. The future is not allowed to elapse, but it is already here as a virtual presence. Growing within the present is this anonymous X—Red Plenty, Acid Communism, whatever-being—which is obscured at every turn by the reigning reality system. But not, as we were led to believe, forever.

Writing in 2015, Fisher captures a sense of what politics would look like if conceived as inhabiting this potent X. Here rejecting the name of communism, Fisher anticipates the acidic turn he would later make on its promise of a better world. What courses through the anonymous X of a liberated subjectivity is precisely the nameless desire which Fisher describes here, which demands the emergence of a new politics to give voice to futures unachieved:

If we are no longer to define ourselves negatively, by our opposition to Capital, what will be the name of our positive project? I don’t believe that the old signifier communism can be revived for this purpose. It is now irretrievably tainted by terrible associations, forever tied to the nightmares of the 20th century. At the moment, our desire is nameless – but it is real. Our desire is for the future – for an escape from the impasses of the flatlands of Capital’s endless repetitions – and it comes from the future – from the very future in which new perceptions, desires, cognitions are once again possible. As yet, we can grasp this future only in glimmers. But it is for us to construct this future, even as – at another level – it is already constructing us: a new kind of collective agent, a new possibility of speaking in the first person plural. At some point in this process, the name for our new desire will appear and we will recognize it (Fisher 2018, 587).

 


Bibliography: 

Berardi, Franco Bifo. After the Future. Oakland: AK Press, 2011.

Buck-Morss, Susan. Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The passing of Mass Utopia in East and West. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.

Budraitskis, Ilya. “The Extraordinary Adventures of Guy Fawkes” in Supercommunity: Diabolical Togetherness Beyond Contemporary Art, edited by Julieta Aranda, Kiran Kuan Wood, and Anton Vidokle, 63-68. London: Verso, 2017.

Colquhuon, Matt. “Acid Communism.” Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, no. 2 (2018): 2-3.

Deleuze, Gilles.  Foucault. Translated by Sean Hand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1988.

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?. Alresford: Zero Books, 2009.

Fisher, Mark. The Weird And The Eerie. London: Repeater, 2016.

Fisher, Mark. K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher. London: Repeater, 2018.

Greenspan, Anna. Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism: or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

Pynchon, Thomas. Vineland. London: Vintage, 1990.

Rancière, Jacques. Proletarian Nights: The Worker’s Dream in Nineteenth-Century France. Translated by David Fernbach. London: Verso, 2012.

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