The Gold Paper

Section of the Gold Paper on mental health that I helped write. Read the whole document here.



<Today in a class with Harry Gamboa Jr, he asked us to respond to the idea of nuclear war, following the news that the US declared the desire to withdraw from the US/Russia nuclear arms pact.>

Nuclear War

I think of my Russian friend who has currently given up her passport to the UK government in an attempt to remain – just as the UK rejects all kinds of remainers.

I think of the bureaucracy that stifles resistance. I think of the call on the oppressed to be ‘the bigger man’ in a nonviolent morality that has been taken up as the moral standard for western protest.

I remember the last nuclear scare, between the US and North Korea last year. I was in my hometown, in the bar where my friend has worked for the last five years at least. There’s a huge projection screen, typically showing sports, but this time it was the news. Maybe it was the BBC, but I don’t remember it it being impartial enough. The locals were gathered at the bar and at the table permanently reserved for them. Muttering racist mutterings and making jokes.

I sat with my drink, allowing the media induced panic to wash over me. It was deeply affective. We all continued to drink. It’s funny how matter-of-fact the news presenters can report on the idea of imminent nuclear war. The deeply embedded xenophobia; the control fantasies of old alcoholics in a bar. I suppose we’re in it together. The steady obliteration towards another kind of collapse. One fella, Clarky, already has an open wound on his head.

In another place, near Vegas, a tour guide points to small huts in the desert, telling us that’s where they keep the missiles —

accelerating towards area 51.

In the nuclear testing museum, sponsored by those who make such weapons, there’s an area 51 exhibit. Mutation fantasies, an escape to the sky as ours is crashing down. It’s a shame the prosthetics and fake aliens are so shit.

Who is there with the placards, welcoming our destruction?

Autonomy of Affect – Brian Massumi

When approaching this text, I was thinking of the extra-textual influences that run through it – particularly those of Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, and cyberpunk philosophies that come out of that. Also I did a course on subjectivity this last year, so this focuses a little more on processes of subjectification which for Guattari are part of an ethico-aesthetic paradigm.

Firstly, the story of the brain, or, the missing half-second.

In some ways, it’s a three tier process, in which personal experience only gets a look in at this third level. I want to emphasise that these are not clearly delineated levels, but is just a simplified schema, roughly borrowed from Mark Fisher’s PHD thesis ‘Flatline Constructs’, in which he posits the Gothic Flatline, or, the idea that we are as ‘dead’ as the machines – radical immanence:

Level one, is a storm of electrical data, or, the autonomic reaction.

Level two, is the data transfer, from one sense or process to another.

Level three, is where personal experience gets in, reducing the complexity into something expressible.

Deleuze and Guattari outline something similar in their 1972 book, Anti-Oedipus:

“This is tantamount to saying that the subject is produced as a mere residuum alongside the desiring-machines, or that he confuses himself with this third productive machine and with the residual reconciliation that it brings about: a conjunctive synthesis of consummation in the form of a wonderstruck “So that’s what it was!” […] “So it’s me!”” Guattari/Deleuze – Anti-Oedipus, p.17-18

The subjective process here – so that’s what it was, it’s me – is secondary to the primary emotion experienced as the intensities, becomings and transitions which Massumi conceptualises as ‘affect’, autonomous to the subject yet immanent to it and exerting influence.

Page 35: “Affect is autonomous to the degree to which it escapes confinement in the particular body whose vitality, or potential for interaction, it is. […] Actually existing, structured things live in and through that which escapes them.”

In a lecture titled ‘Perception Attack’, Massumi gives an easily relatable example of this:

“We need only think of attention. Attention is the base-state habit of perception. Every awareness begins in a shift. We think of ourselves as directing the shifts in our attention. But if you pay attention to paying attention, you quickly sense that rather than you directing your attention, your attention is directing you.” [emphasis added]

You are already caught up in rhythms of perception, happening before you can know it, or as Massumi says:

Page 30: “For the present is lost with the missing half second, passing too quickly to be perceived, too quickly, actually, to have happened. […] Something that happens too quickly to have happened, actually, is virtual. […] The virtual, the pressing crowd of incipiencies and tendencies, is a realm of potential.”

So as we glance around this room at one another, or the objects in this space, the primacy of our conscious control is a consensual myth of subjectivity, we simply respond to intentions as they arise. Which opens to other arguments around free will and so on. For Spinoza, the mind is an idea of the body, and affect is that which impinges upon, affects, the body and is at the same time the idea of affection (31). So, if the body is always pre-consciously reacting, pretending towards, can we really be said to have free will as we (self-)consciously (desire to) understand it?

Page 29: “Will and consciousness are subtractive. They are limitative, derived functions that reduce a complexity too rich to be functionally expressed.”

This reflective intension to be understood as a passage through Bergsonian virtuality rather than domineering humanist self-determination.

Page 39: “Theoretical moves aimed at ending Man end up making human culture the measure and meaning of all things in a kind of unfettered anthropomorphism precluding […] articulations of cultural theory and ecology. It is meaningless to interrogate the relation of the human to the nonhuman if the nonhuman is only a construct of human culture, or inertness.”

Second, the story of the brainless, Ronald Reagan, and other presidential candidates:

Page 40: “The only conclusion is that Reagan was an effective leader not in spite of but because of his double dysfunction. He was able to produce ideological effects by non-ideological means, a global shift in the political direction of the United States by falling apart. His means were affective. Once again: affective, as opposed to emotional. This is not about empathy of emotive identification, or any form of identification for that matter.”

Ideology rarefies, closing off the possibility that anything could be different, turning what is becoming into something fixed and permanent, distant from the lives and concerns of ordinary people. It is impossible to understand part of the system without placing it into relation to the whole system, the totality, which isn’t one thing, but a set of relations. This whole is not given to us in experience, it has to be constructed in consciousness, and from our situatedness.

In his experimental book, The Atrocity Exhibition from 1970, J.G. Ballard has a chapter titled, ‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’, which prefiguratively echoes Massumi’s argument on page 106:

“created a scenario of the conceptual orgasm,
The conceptual role of Reagan. Fragments of Reagan’s cinetized postures were used in the construction of model psychodramas in which the Reagan-figure played the role of husband, doctor, insurance salesman, marriage counsellor, etc. The failure of these roles to express any meaning reveals the non-functional character of Reagan. Reagan’s success therefore indicates society’s periodic need to re-conceptualize its political leaders. Reagan thus appears as a series of posture concepts, basic equations which re-formulate the roles of aggression and anality.”

Reagan, as a series of posture concepts, a non-functional character, allows for his reconceptualisation. To return to Deleuze and Guattari, the “So that’s what it was” recurs via the institutional frameworks, apparatuses of capture, an oedipal reduction:

Page 41: “[Reagan] was unqualified and without content. But, his incipience was prolonged by technologies of image transmission and then relayed by apparatuses such as the family or the church or the school or the chamber of commerce, which in conjunction with the media acted as part of the nervous system of a new and frighteningly reactive body politic. […] Receiving apparatuses fulfilled the inhibitory, limitative function. They selected one line of movement, one progression of meaning, to actualize and implant locally. This is why Reagan could be so many things to so many people […] Because he was actualized, in their neighbourhood, as a movement and a meaning of their selection.”

This inhibitory, limitative function forms Deleuze and Guattari’s criticism of the apparatus of psychoanalysis, and advertising has its roots in psychoanalysis, a dreary prefiguration of selection:

“How could the conjunctive synthesis of “So that’s what it was!” and “So it’s me!” have been reduced to the endless dreary discovery of Oedipus: “So it’s my father, my mother”? […] We merely see how very little the consumption of pure intensities has to do with family figures, and how very different the connective tissue of the “So it’s…” is from the Oedipal tissue.” Guattari/Deleuze – Anti-Oedipus, p.20.

This confidence in the media, and in the social apparatuses to react, is echoed in the political (non-)strategy of Donald Trump. Trump activated the media in a very similar way to what Massumi proposes as the (non-)function of Reagan, and as Massumi says, “Confidence is the emotional translation of affect as capturable life potential” (41). Michael Moore’s new film 11/9 laid out how Trump got the media to actualise contradictory narratives in the path of their selection, hyperstitioning the contentless into actuality.

In his 1989 text, The Three Ecologies, Felix Guattari likens Donald Trump as “another form of algae” in the realm of social ecology, “permitted to proliferate unchecked”. Guattari goes on to say that “We live in a time when it is not only animal species that are disappearing; so too are the words, expressions, and gestures of human solidarity.” (135 3eco)

What do these pure intensities have to do with family figures, as Deleuze and Guattari ask? Well, the family figure is what is immediately available to us, conceptually. The totality is not immediately available to us, which is why awful shitty right wing conservative politicians such as Margaret Thatcher can make statements such as “There is no such thing as society”, because society is not immediately available to us through experience, it has to be constructed through consciousness, through practice. Ideas such as society are ideologically mystified in this context, enabling the disappearance of the gestures of human solidarity. It is much easier to have a reactive body politic that deals with the immediate than an active, engaged practice that deals with complexity and interrelationality. Capitalism itself is not given in experience, it has to be constructed as a system of relations.

This was the aim of feminist consciousness raising groups, which used experience as their raw material in order to open a reflective space in which to draw out commonality and construct a political consciousness. They understood the process by which a lack of class consciousness becomes self consciousness (class in the expanded social and/or economic sense), in which we blame ourselves for how we feel (personalising it) rather than the outside causes of our subjugation (depersonalising it). This may manifest as shame.

Q: I turn to this because of Massumi’s own interest in the political potential of affect, and I wonder what the emergent countertactics, or collective, could and can be? I see consciousness raising practices as one such mode:

Page 44: “In North America at least, the far right is far more attuned to the imagistic potential of the postmodern body than the established left and has exploited that advantage for at least the last two decades. Philosophies of affect, potential, and actualization may aid in finding countertactics.”

Finally, the economic picture and speculative valorisation of ‘emergent collectivity’:

In the conclusion of Massumi’s text we see him turn to questions of value and economic considerations. This is the work I have seen him continue to elaborate on with his collaborator Erin Manning, and the SenseLab.

Page 44: “[…] the commentators are operating under the assumption that the stock market registers affective fluctuations in adjoining spheres more directly than properly economic indicators. Are they confused? Not according to certain economic theorists who, when called upon to explain to a nonspecialist audience the ultimate foundation of the capitalist monetary system, answer “faith”.”

Page 45: “The ability of affect to produce an economic effect more swiftly and surely than economics itself means that affect is a real condition, as intrinsic variable of the late capitalist system, as infrastructural as a factory. […] it is everywhere […] It is beyond infrastructural. It is transversal.”

This has developed into a project they call the Three Ecologies Process Seed Bank (lol) which they imagine as a form of cryptoeconomy/currency which valorises the qualitative, which is speculative, rather than the quantitative. A qualitative becoming rather than a quantitative being. It borrows heavily from Guattari’s Three Ecologies:

We live now under a capitalist system of valorization, in which value is based upon a general equivalent. What makes that system reprehensible is its crushing of all other modes of valorization, which thus find themselves alienated from capitalist hegemony. That hegemony, however, can be challenged, or at least made to incorporate methods of valorization based on existential productions, and determined neither in terms of abstract labour time, nor of expected capitalist profit. Computerization in particular has unleashed the potential for new forms of ‘exchange’ of value, new collective negotiations, whose ultimate product will be more individual, more singular, more dissensual forms of social action. Our task – one which encompasses the whole future of research and artistic production – is not only to bring these exchanges into existence; it is to extend notions of collective interest to encompass practices which, in the short term, ‘profit’ no one, but which are, in the long run, vehicles of processual enrichment. It should be stressed here that the promotion of existential values and the values of desire offers no ready-made global alternatives. Any such alternatives will be the product of more general shifts in existing value systems; of the gradual -emergence of new poles of valorization.” [emphasis added] (146 3ecologies)

Project summary taken from “Named after Guattari’s notion of the three interconnected “ecologies” of the mental, social, and environmental, the Institute’s project is to digitally codify offline qualities and affects so that they can then be tokenized as a unit of the cryptocurrency, and in turn exchanged for fiat money—generating cash from a reading group. Much of the platform has already been conceptualized, but the key obstacle remaining is to invent what they call an affect-o-meter: the specific computational mechanism that can turn a quality that hangs in the air into the binary quantities of machine code.”

However, I have my reservations on a project that appears to want to monetise affect, even as part of an alternative economy, I am skeptical of it being subsumed. On top of that Manning and Massumi claim that:

Neoliberalism is our natural environment. [ick] We therefore operate with what we call strategic duplicity. This involves recognizing what works in the systems we work against. Which means: We don’t just oppose them head on. We work with them, strategically, while nurturing an alien logic that moves in very different directions.”

Which at the end of the day relies on the development of an ‘affect-o-meter’, which they’re still trying to invent, in order to monetise these emergent collectivities. Does this not just attempt to quantify the qualitative, whilst reinforcing the existing competitive modes of monetising excess (valorising productivity perhaps i.e. you haven’t done your daily affect for money) rather than seeking to collectively support everyone (our lives our important no matter how productive we are, our productivity shouldn’t be valorised, but we should have the space to enter processes of enrichment)? I’m skeptical of the method, following what happened with bitcoin. This feels a little game-showy, a little carrot and stick if done badly. But maybe I’m wrong.

The affect-o-meter seems to be a way of quantifying the qualitative, rather than the vehicles of processual enrichment which Guattari speaks of.

To rephrase, my concern over the affect-o-meter is the potential for its use in the service economy and the experiential economy. That a machine such as the affect-o-meter could be used as another form of surveillance and performance monitoring. So, for example, a waiter in a restaurant. On the table they are serving, an ‘affect-o-meter’ sits, monitoring the qualitative experience of the diners. If the diners have a pleasurable experience, the affect-o-meter produces a quantity of fiat money which can be used in a performance review. This is my concern, how it can be subsumed to further the contemporary states and economies of neoliberal precarity and performance reviews.

Notes on hope and zombies


“Once we know what we want, we’re no longer alone, the world repopulates. Everywhere there are allies, closenesses, and an infinite graduation of possible friendships. [Hope] is the best agent of the maintenance of order […] an immense pedagogy of waiting.” p.10 The Invisible Committee – Now

On reading this passage, I was reminded of Mark Fisher’s k-punk post titled ‘Abandon hope (summer is coming)’.

Quoting Deleuze, he writes “There’s no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons”, referring to Spinoza’s idea that “There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” So hope and fear are interchangeable, passive affects that arise from our incapacity to actually act.

Like all superstitions, hope is something we call upon when we have nothing else. […] the condition of hope is passivity. […]

We don’t need hope; what we need is confidence and the capacity to act.

Mark asks:

Whereas hope and fear are superstitious (although they may have some hyperstitional effects), confidence is essentially hyperstitional: it immediately increases the capacity to act, the capacity to act increases confidence, and so on – a self-fulfilling prophecy, a virtuous spiral.

So how are we to rebuild our confidence? While the conditions are difficult – and in England, they are about to get much more difficult – we can still act, and act imminently and immanently. How?

Going on to outline a number of possible actions to take:

  1. Socialisation beyond social media
  2. Knowing someone in this life feels as desperate as me (consciousness raising)
    1. Talk to fellow workers about how we feel
    2. Talk to opponents
    3. Create knowledge exchange labs
    4. Create social spaces
    5. Use social media pro-actively, not reactively
    6. Generate new figures of loathing in our propaganda
    7. Engage in forms of activism aimed at logistical disruption
    8. Develop hub struggles (example: miners’ strike) to swarm to

Outer England has been sedated, but it is waking from its long slumber, carrying new weapons ….

This call for the confidence to act resonates both with Now and the slogans of ‘68, the latter was arguably a ‘hub struggle’ as Mark puts it. The slogans establish new social spaces – the beaches of the street – generate new figures of loathing – the bosses – disrupts logistically – no more calls for higher wages, instead abolish the system – and the slogans themselves articulate a culture of feeling and constitute a form of public consciousness raising.

“Decision is what traces in the present the manner and possibility of acting, of making a leap that is not into the void.” p.11 The Invisible Committee – Now

But, “The idea of a ‘precariat’ conveniently hides the fact that there is simply no longer a shared experience of work, even precarious work.” p.14 The Invisible Committee – Now

In a society that has abolished all adventures, the only adventure left is to abolish society. (Slogan from May ’68)



Live without dead time – enjoy without chains

Meanwhile everyone wants to breathe and nobody can breathe and many say, “We will breathe later”. And most of them don’t die because they are already dead. 

These two slogans from ‘68, and the presence of death or the already-dead made me think on the figure of the zombie. The Haitian history of the zombie presents the horror of dehumanisation during slavery – zombie labourers and their uprising.

Yet performance artist Martin O’Brien speaks of living in ‘zombie time’ as someone with cystic fibrosis. For him, zombies embody a fear of infection in popular culture, an abject body bereft of subjectivity and individual identity. This dis-easing of a non-dead population when faced with the un-dead raises questions about mortality and living itself – how do we know we’re breathing?

“The zombie able to challenge the human understand of mortality: a body bereft of subjectivity and individual identity, once dead but now living again, but simultaneously still dead. The zombie is rotting flesh, animated and stumbling. Curiously, most of the common representations of the zombie depict it as motivated only by its need for survival as a species. The zombie bites in order to both feed and create more zombies. The population of the zombie can only increase as the population of the human decreases. The zombie is both human and non-human animal, it is both dead and alive, it is something to both fear and pity.”

O’Brien joked at a conference that “zombies are anti-capitalist, because in films they bring about the fall of capitalism.” Does the ‘zombification’ of a population in this ‘dead time’ bring about the end? A zombie uprising.

“[…] The bite reduces the other into a piece of meat [or data?]. It establishes a relationship between two people predicated upon predator/prey dynamics. Or perhaps it is an inbuilt fear of contagion associated with the mouth of another.”

Martin O’Brien – ‘Flesh-Eaters: Notes Towards a Zombie Methodology’, November 24th 2015.

Tinnitus as a process of protest

The text from a talk I gave on Friday 8th June at Goldsmiths, as part of the GLITS Sound and Silence conference. I might post a more thorough response to some of the great questions I received, but between this and Consciousness Razing on the 9th, I’m feeling a little worn out. But thank you to Stian for sharing the panel with me, and thank you to the GLITS team for organising and thank you to the audience for being so brilliant and responsive to what I had to say! Was the confidence boost I needed after a rough first year of my MA… Not everything is properly cited, but feel free to ask…


Hello everyone, first I want to thank the organisers for putting together this event.

Today I am going to speak about tinnitus as a process of protest.

In The Five Senses by Michel Serres, he outlines ‘three kinds of audible’, the body, the environment and the collective. I will be using these three types as a framework to structure the first section of this paper, beginning with the body, then environment, then collective.

I shall then move on in the second section to speak about the privatisation of stress and the media. And I will close with the third section by opening the question of new political compositions that resist appropriated life.

Serres is a French philosopher, who has been working at Stanford University in close proximity to Silicon Valley since 1984. An online article describes his writing as “like a slow night of constant drinking, taking us irreversibly to places we didn’t know we were heading towards.” The Five Senses has the subtitle, A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies, and he writes of the complex tapestry of the body, whose underside is riddled with knots, joins, planes, loops and bindings. Thresholds, interference and transitions are all integral to the mixed sensations that Serres speaks of. It is through this that the richness of sensation is experienced.

But let’s begin with the first kind of audible, the body.

Section one: Serres 


Serres writes that the primary source of noise is within the body, the murmurings of which the ear sometimes strains to hear, stimuli produced and perceived within the organism, connected to the position in and movements of the body. Serres writes that there are “billions of cells dedicated to biochemical reactions, the likes of which should have us all fainting from the pressure of their collective hum.” (5S,106) Using Serres’ framework, the neurological sounds of tinnitus are the bodily source, the body reformatted into hearing hums of synaptic agencies, geological residues,[1] ordinarily imperceptible. To hear the bodily sounds is to be sick.

Tinnitus is commonly understood as a ringing in the ears. It is known as a phantom sound, a sound heard without the presence of an external noise. Tinnitus is a recurring trope on the animated spy show Archer, from which I’ll play a very short clip:

I chose Archer, because the sound effect of high frequency ringing they use is the closest to what my own tinnitus sounds like, although there are many different sounds and forms.

This paper will focus on subjective tinnitus, where the head or ear noises are only perceivable by the sufferer and are typically traced to auditory or neurological reactions to hearing loss. Other forms exist, such as objective tinnitus, where the tinnitant sounds can be heard both by the sufferer and someone else, for example the pulsing of excessive blood flow in the ear or the clicking of bones, however this objective form is extremely rare.[2]

Many of you may be familiar with temporary tinnitus, which is a common occurrence after a loud concert, for example, or other exposure to what would be understood in medical terms as acoustic trauma, such as a sudden loud noise, and the ringing in your ears may last from a few minutes to several days. However the impact of a sudden noise trauma can be permanent, for example shellshock can cause permanent damage, such as hearing loss and tinnitus.

As a symptom, tinnitus is not a recent phenomenon. Although the particular reasons for its widespread affectation are historically contingent, shifting with the material conditions of the times. Tinnitus has numerous triggers and forms, and a UK specialist named David Baguley says he believes “there are about as many triggers as there are people with tinnitus.”

Evading clear diagnosis, it is a nuisance for sufferers and the scientific establishment alike. The statistics for those who suffer from chronic tinnitus make it an astonishingly common condition. In the UK, just under half of adults will have experienced some form of tinnitus, with around 10% suffering from chronic or prolonged tinnitus, and around 1-3% finding it negatively impacts their everyday activity,[3] beyond the common complaints of disturbed sleep and annoyance. To give a figure, that’s around 6 million people[4] in the UK who hear tinnitant noises almost consistently.

For Serres, “what the deaf hear are neither signals nor voices, but tinnitus; hellish shrieks; high-pitched, strained, monotonous cries that drive you mad. This dreadful torture condemns them to a life of music. Their lives become a tricky balancing act, as they strive to maintain an equilibrium between the layer of music and the chaotic bombardment of noise.” (5S,106) This characterisation of tinnitus as torture is a common across philosophical, medical and media discourse – a description I believe to not be particularly useful for the lived experience of having a condition such as tinnitus, in its chronic temporality. Shifting away from this characterisation is a necessary step in order to make the tinnitant experience less isolating and to open out to new affects and creative compositions.


The second source of noise, for Serres, is that of the environment. These sounds are “spread over the world: thunder, wind, surf, bird, avalanches, the terrifying rumbling that precedes earthquakes, cosmic events.” (5S,107) These sounds are resolved into information by the ear, and subsequently these environmental sounds become analogical, the projected and folded sounds of the world mapped in, upon and beyond the synaptic. The information taken in from the world through the ear, becomes translated into language, an attempt to find a way of passing on information and describing the sounds coming from within. Passing from reality to language.

Literary and sound studies scholar Steven Connor outlines some of historic sonic analogies for tinnitus, saying that “Writers on tinnitus rarely fail to be impressed by their range and variety. [Adam] Politzer included sounds that resembled waterfalls, ringing bells, the buzzing of a swarm of bees, the swish of leaves in a wood, the rumbling of a train, the chirping of crickets and twittering of birds.” Connor goes on to say that in 1853, William Wilde put forward the popular idea that descriptions of tinnitant noises were influenced deeply by their environment, proposing: “a class-inflected atlas of tinnitus referents. Thus, country folk will draw their similitudes from falling or flowing water, the sounds of birds and bees and the rustling of leaves, but urban sufferers will hear their tinnitus echoed in industrial noises and the rolling of carriages.”[5]

The way we describe and experience our bodily sounds is closely linked to our social situations and lived environments, in an attempt to make a relation with, to name and to communicate something we do not yet know. For example, I have always thought of my tinnitus as sounding like various electronic sounds, from electrical hum, the ping of a CRT television turning on and the high pitched fuzz of the static, or even the low quality sound of rain when illegally streaming a film online. I also wear earplugs at night, this dam creating an inner, inland sea with an oceanic hum and the crashing of waves. This further interference influenced by the compression of my jaw, the pressure of my ear on the pillow and the vibratory movements of housemates in the interlinked hallways and bedrooms.

A BBC Radio 4 show called The Digital Human has an episode titled Silence. In this episode, the use of environmental noise in order to achieve ‘mental silence’ is advocated for those with tinnitus. One section of the show features Scottish sound artist Cavan Campbell who records natural silence

– conjuring up images of Andy Serkis as Martin Hannett in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party  People (1min) –

Campbell does this in order to create natural soundscapes from across Scotland. He campaigns for the protection of natural silence in the face of increased man-made noise pollution. On the show, Campbell claims that “silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”[6] I will return to this a little later.

Cavan Campbell’s final point on the show is he speaks of how, for example, the low frequencies produced by Atlantic waves resonate in our bones and that busy environments also have lots of low frequencies. This means that our bodies can feel the difference. Our skin and bones becoming part of the auditory system, vibrating from the touch of the environment. The skin is a generalised eardrum.


The last source of sound comes from the collective, noise being what defines the social for Serres. Being part of the group means that we don’t hear its noise. Serres writes that this noise: “surpass[es] the others by far, often to the point of cancelling them both out: silencing the body, silencing the world. […] society makes a colossal noise, the latter increases in direct proportion to the former, the town rat can be distinguished from the country rat by its immunity to this din.” (5S,107)

In The Five Senses, the collective is established as something intoxicated with communication. The collective notices little outside of itself, devoting itself to its own noise and revelling in it. Serres writes that “It resembles a sick body, rumbling from the clamour of its own organs.” (5S,89) But then going on to confirm that the collective is not sick, but intoxicated. Veiled in language, the world is silenced and the collective is immune, its developed tolerance meaning it cannot hear itself.

Tinnitus is bodily sound made audible, an apparent consequence of collective noise. (In a book called The Glands that Regulate Personality, Louis Berman writes that “the outcries of the wretched and miserable, the gray-and-dreary lived din an unmanageable tinnitus in our ears.” Another rather grim example comes from Jimmy Savile, who says that his tinnitus doesn’t bother him in the slightest, he calls it a friend that reminds him of all the girls and the discos). Collective noise cancels out environmental noise and tinnitant sounds cancel out environmental silence. The amplifications of the body being mistaken for environmental sounds may be a timid desire for serenity. If, as Cavan Campbell says, the equilibrium of environmental silence is to hear the presence of everything. This means to hear everything without its cancelling out or disturbance by the collective din or tinnitus.

Silence is then yearned for as something lost. For those with tinnitus, things such as silence and birdsong can become obsessive fixations. I want to be careful here to not make or romanticise the separation between culture and nature. Silence, the serenity of silence becomes both poison and cure. Serres speaks of the restorative qualities of silence, for Serres silence is healing. However, what of those like myself who cannot hear silence as it is understood? The fixation on the ability to be able to hear silence becomes poison, when not being silence-hearing means that for the tinnitant individual there may be the loss of the feeling that life is worth living – to follow Bernard Stiegler.  The desire to not be sick, to not be listening in new ways, to not be listening in ways that can annoy one or make one uncomfortable under current political conditions. This can lead individuals, such as the suicidal Essex pensioner whom I will speak about later, to take permanent action in order to achieve “some peace and quiet”.

Although yes, perhaps environmental silence, in its eeriness, can be a “detachment from the urgencies of the everyday.” Tinnitus chronically cancelling out the environmental sounds as an apparent consequence of collective noise, can increase stress, disturb sleep and cause annoyance. In extreme, it is reactively acknowledged as the loss of the feeling that life is worth living. When taken in its popular understanding that it occurs because of an individual failing to protect their health or as the loss of ability, the differential listening of tinnitus can be hard to reconcile.

For the conservative organism, life is expected and managed by the attachment to the ‘natural’ and normal, securitising itself against the unknown and the uncomfortable. However what we understand as natural and normal is a construction. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan diagnoses a tendency that with each new environment, there is an act of collective cannibalism, because the

“previous environment with all its private and social values, is swallowed by the new environment and reprocessed for whatever values are digestible. Thus, Nature was succeeded by the mechanical environment and became what we call the “content” of the new industrial environment. Again and again the old environment is upgraded into an art form while the new conditions are regarded as corrupt and degrading. […] More timid people prefer to accept the content, the previous environment’s values, as the continuing reality of their time. Our natural bias is to accept the new gimmick (automaton, say) as a thing that can be accommodated in the old ethical order.”[7]

For example, to cope with this collective tinnitant-pollutant, the commodity form of synthetic ‘environmental silence’ is developed instead. These recorded ‘sounds of nature’ are amplified in order to ironically manage and cancel out the collective din, pumped through earbuds and lounges. In the cacophony of the collective new environments are built, building a new construction of the self when the old is undermined by tinnitus.

For people who are first faced with the weirdness of tinnitus, which disrupts the known, psychologists such as Laurence McKenna praise the benefits of projection into the mundane, “[people] who may initially even think [tinnitus is] the noise of the central heating, are easier for us to treat, because they aren’t panicked.”[8] This minimises the disruption, tries to make it mundane and controllable. Although arguably, this is a mundane process, an amplification of synaptic rhythms that were always already occurring. Why are we so fearful of tinnitus? What produces the noise that makes you feel uncomfortable? What generates the noise that troubles you?

I do not intend to enter into a reformist narrative of how we should make friends with tinnitus without changing the conditions that have brought it about, or rather without challenging the neoliberal demand to control tinnitus within environments and structures that increase stress, annoyance and depression. The demand to hear silence, to be normal, is a reduction of the possibilities that tinnitus may present us with. Partially this is because of how it has been framed by medical discourse and the media and the subsequent therapeutic imaginary of self-transformation purported by these. How can you rely on yourself when your sense of self has been undermined by tinnitus? How can we compose ourselves differently to shift from perceived neurosis and make use of other procedures (following Felix Guattari) that are more collective, more social, more political?

The mingling of the senses, the complex layering and implications of the sounds that are audible to us is our lived experience. In the noise of the media, these minglings are reduced, formalised and spectacularised in order to portray discourses that are typically unhelpful and exercise power over people. I will outline some moments that have stood out to me now.

Section two:

What generates the noise that troubles you? (D.Bauer)

The media

I should be more specific when I say media, which for now I mean radio and more specifically BBC Radio. I have heard shows about tinnitus on Radio 2, 4 and 5 live.

Radio 2 is perhaps the most bizarre because it was a segment on the Jeremy Vine Show. For those that don’t know who Jeremy Vine is, he hosts a call in show every weekday lunchtime where members of the public as well as experts can chime in on particular topics. For this particular broadcast, Vine reels off the discussion topics: “today we’ll be discussing immigration, tinnitus, whether the private sector is prejudiced against the public sector and comedy”. I don’t think anything exposes the state of British popular media more than that list. Anyway, the second segment opens with Vine’s characteristic brashness of which I will play you a clip:

“A pensioner from Essex was so tormented by the sound of screaming in his ears that he shot himself in the head. […] his wife told the court that ‘all he wanted was some peace and quiet.’ […] listen to this and see how long you can bear it before you want to turn the radio down.  – noise –  Now that white noise is what someone with tinnitus may hear every minute of the day. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this is another […]  – noise – Or can you imagine this incessant banging in your ears, like the neighbours are doing DIY, when you are trying to sleep? This is tinnitus as well – noise – The British Tinnitus Association provided us with those sounds […] It’s, it’s almost like torture.”[9]  (Clip is about 1:15min)

Google Drive link for Jeremy Vine (for those without access to BBC iPlayer)

Like Serres, we have this characterisation of tinnitus as torture. In his typically derisive tone, Vine presents, with a sad irony, the Essex pensioner’s suicide as mere foible; stresses ‘abnormal’ experience as torture.

Later in the show, Vine attempts to incite a standard-blame game when speaking to Crystal Rolfe from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), he barely listens to what she is saying in order to get the soundbite answer he wants. He asks repeatedly, “if a young person is listening to music with earphones and you can hear it, is it too loud?” This characterises Vine’s debate around tinnitus as a surface-level criticism and lacking depth, not only this but being outright dangerous in its reporting of suicide.

Getting a yes from Crystal, puts into public discourse that tinnitus is just the fault of irresponsible young people with loud music. Those who listen to earphones too loudly apparently lack the capacity for self-care, and this attempts to shame and discipline them publicly. Although wearing earphones could be seen as a mark of survival in the midst of semiotic pollution.

A dialogue between Mark Fisher and poet Sam Berkson published on the Quietus engages with thoughts on earphone wearing. Fisher names the number of adverts on the London tube and buses, ‘semiotic pollution’ to which Berkson says that the only sensible response is to put earphones on, to not look at the surroundings and to shut your senses off. Berkson believes this to be a terrible position for people to be in, to be unaware of your surrounds, however to be present in the space is simply to be surrounded by what Fisher terms the ‘massive cyber-blitz of adverts in London’. Fisher remarks that “It is not that people tune out of public space – there is no public space for them to be in anyway. It is either a case of a certain kind of immersion or in this babble – the babble of competing mobile phone voices, or the babble of capital, shouting at you to buy something. […] I think certain kinds of disconnection are needed now. Unplugging from certain kinds of networks.”[10]

Holding this in mind, I want to play you the clip of Vine speaking to Crystal Rolfe. (9:40ish to about 10:33)

(Sounds more like Vine had an issue on the tube this morning.)

In such discourses, there is a privatisation of stress. People have to securitise themselves against tinnitus in the first place, a fear of becoming permanently damaged instilled in the public imagination. Then if tinnitus does occur, it has to be contained and managed lest it be ‘unmanageable’. Much of the medical or therapeutic literature speaks of tinnitus management. Because of this discourse, I think of Mark Fisher’s business ontology, “in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business.”

I wanted to note that the white noise that appeared towards the end of the clip I just played was not part of the original broadcast. I recorded the audio because I didn’t trust BBC iPlayer to work, using a programme called Audio Hijack in order to record Jeremy Vine’s show. Very fittingly, when the free trial runs out – which it did about halfway through the programme – it layers white noise over the recording. The use of noise in this context is to interfere with public access, causing enough annoyance (like spotify ads) in order to encourage you to purchase the full software, which means the white noise is removed.

This is noise used to deter theft. Noise used in the service of capital. Noise that expands in the space, unwanted noise filling the recording. Noise you cannot edit or tune out, only mask. The disciplining noise of a mosquito tone. Noise as deterrent.

In this world of self-management and business ontology, we invest in ourselves, we practice self-care both through consumption and cutting back. Desire is filtered into products that simply mask our noise, this self-belief and apparent autonomy is individuated, made serial and purchasable. The individual capacity to care or to enjoy is obscured by tinnitus. And the collective capacity to care and enjoy is obscured by capital. Tinnitus presents a challenge to how we compose ourselves under neoliberal capitalism.

For example, to return to the BBC Radio 4 show Digital Human, the show uses statements such as “how people feel about silence depends on who they are” and “silence is the absence of sounds we don’t like.”[11] This individualising discourse which suggests silence is both a given and a choice over which we have autonomy, peaks in Isobel Anderson’s improvement story. Belfast based musician Anderson learns to manage her tinnitus and subsequently begins denouncing people as feeling ‘entitled’[12] to silence which she understands as because of the availability of curated sound environments. However, her concurrent claim is that tinnitus is a problem of the nervous system and that for anyone who is angry, stressed or upset then there is no such thing as silence.

Anderson’s turnaround is symptomatic of a therapeutic imaginary under neoliberalism, as outlined in Mark Fisher’s writings. As the public sphere privatises stress, the management of illness and emotions is under duress by the claim that such issues can be solved through individual self-transformation with the assistance of a private therapist. Fisher’s text, ‘No Romance Without Finance’ states that, “where consciousness-raising pointed to impersonal and collective structures”[13] – which Anderson vaguely acknowledges with her comments on stress – “neoliberalism sees only individuals, choices and personal responsibility”[14] – demonstrated by Anderson’s condemnation of ‘entitlement’ which forecloses the material struggles around mental and aural health as well as Vine’s earphoned scapegoats.

Fisher writes of how austerity insists that the lower classes manage their desires, to take pride in self-management and in a supposed independence from others. Yet the working classes are also depicted as apparently incapable of self-determination, as lacking the capacity for self-care, and are subsequently subjected to intensive disciplining in popular discourse. This shows that knowledge and awareness in itself does nothing to change the structural issues which fix the subject within the double bind of self-realisation and absolute dependence engendered by the proliferation of therapeutic and medical orthodoxies. It’s worth noting here you can have CBT for tinnitus.

In an article by Mack Hagood titled Listening to Tinnitus: Roles of Media When Hearing Breaks Down, Hagood explores his realisation that the experience, discourse and treatment of tinnitus is bound up in mediation, and subsequently how and where aural media studies could go with this. In Hagood’s text I was surprised to read the following: “In the process of externalizing their experience for others to hear, people with tinnitus can make their own perception of the sound grow stronger. They may also generate anxiety in others, encouraging them to notice and problematize their own, previously benign tinnitus.”[15]

The consensual reality is one where silence can be heard, proven precarious by tinnitus. Hagood’s comment reminds me of a post I saw on the TinnitusTalk forum with the heading “Can You Create Your Own Tinnitus?” Other forum users responded with claims such as “tinnitus is contagious” and that “everyone can hear these sounds if they listen and then when they label it it becomes permanent.”[16] Reactive fears of tinnitant infection and contagion[17] are formed through a rejection of the sick body teeming with imperceptible agencies. Hearing the body in this way, beyond consensual reality of silence-hearing and wellbeing, agitates fear understood as a subjective deficiency rather than difference, morphing into guilt and inferiority or hatred and resentment.

Following this contagion thought, Hagood writes of how incorrect information can induce bothersome tinnitus, information being something circulated through media. He proposes that it may be productive to think of tinnitus as a ‘communicable dis-ease’, which he understands is “strengthened in circulation through networks of neurons, discourse and media.”

Although Hagood does goes on to write that “there is both a need and an opportunity in tinnitus for an applied sound studies, one that intervenes in this mediated public discourse, works against moral panic and hyperawareness, and suggests the quieting possibilities that open up when we grasp the constructed nature of our aurality. Listening to tinnitus as a networked coproduction highlights the ways in which our most subjective aural perceptions are also social, cultural, and mediated”

If tinnitus is, as Hagood says, “hard to objectify as subject of research and treatment or worthy of empathy and activism”, then how do we enter into a relationship with it and step into the unknown, in order to shift our whole relation to the body and the world, rather than simply writing ourselves off as faulty? If tinnitus cannot be silenced, how can we respond and compose with its affective differential tones?

Barbara Streisand talks about her tinnitus: (2min)

Section three: Political Compositions

An Editor’s Note from The New Inquiry issue titled Sick reads:

“Being sick changes your relation to your body and how you inhabit it. As an experience, it is stubbornly untheoretical, even though it oozes theory, infecting concepts of cleanliness, system, and body with its disorder. Mutated understandings proliferate from sickness that lance falsely clear categories, revealing the orderliness of the world to be a form of disease.” [18]

Medicine and media reduce the complexity of the mingled and unmanaged relations that occur between the body, the collective and the environment. Taking biological so called ‘anomalies’ as the sole source of distress is an effective way to erase the structures that impinge on our lives.

Tinnitus is an emerging protest from the collective: the low level whine, a bodily protest. When the tinnitant subject tries to contain itself through isolation, the tinnitant sounds could be, to lend from Mark Fisher, “the sound of the loneliness that happens when consciousness is deflated, and the conditions for raising it are absent.”[19]

Tinnitus destabilises subjectivity, fronting impersonal affects which current conditions mark as a personal deficiency to be managed through methods such as; therapeutic imaginaries (the double bind of self-realisation and absolute dependence), heroic discourses (see: 2017 film Baby Driver), securitising logics, sustaining corporate economies, metrics of improvement, access to use value, erasing bodies from economic considerations. All brutally narrow the forms that health can take, instead promoting momentary relief through consumption, or, through constant surveillance and self-management.

This protest needs more than Vine’s individualised earphoned scapegoats; it needs creative commons. Others will be interrupted and invited to join in the unmanageable rupture of the endemic, to not listen as we know it. Breaking from economical self-management may open out to sounding creative sites of care where the original subject is (dis)integrated; re-insisting on (in)appropriated life and composing in chronic temporalities with others and their intense investments in a particular historical, political and social field.[20]

In order to develop this potential commons, processes of consciousness raising are required. This is not in order to become aware of an already-existing state of affairs, but to shift one’s whole relationship to the world in order to create, to quote Mark Fisher, “a new subject – a we that is both the agent of struggle and what is struggled for.”[21] Rather than fixing it in a single image, sound, language, or rhythm that can be managed through intolerant abstractions, the body is to be increasingly defined, openly and intensively, by the set of affects of which it is capable.[22] The contagious dis-ease of tinnitus is not a terminable limit but intensive communicable potential, because, as radical therapist Viviane Maximino says, “When this body contacts others subjectivities affected by similar forces, they manage to sustain themselves in the destabilization, amplifying the creative processes.”[23]

These creative processes are political processes, establishing care as the common stake in the flourishing of life, replacing securitising logics and the imperatives of profit in favour of sustained experimentation and composition. A new tonal, or rather, tinnitant consistency – an emergent adventure – composing and layering remarkable intensities and affects. Listening, but not as we know it.

Thank you for listening.

Continue reading “Tinnitus as a process of protest”

Crossed lines, no longer secure

One year ago, I was sat in bed. My partner-at-the-time was sleeping on the floor. I had found out a couple of days before that he had fucked another woman in his friend’s house on the Tuesday. I had left a full-time job at the beginning of the academic year, to give my time to the Junior Fellowship at Goldsmiths. Since September a family friend of his had offered us the attic room in her house for £175pm each. I could just get by on savings and my meagre income from the university. So, when things felt irreparable, I couldn’t afford to leave. He shared his privileges with me, which then became cruelly twisted.

It was a Saturday, and I just found out Mark Fisher died. Mark. The only person who made me feel like I belonged in the academy. Mark. Who’s text Good for Nothing made me cry because it articulated that same class power(lessness) I felt. Mark. The lecturer who I hung about after class to chat to, because I wanted to make sure he was okay. His vulnerability emanated from him. Mark. Who was glorious when angry, beautifully articulating those things at the back of your mind, those things that had been bothering you all your life, you just couldn’t name it. He was wonderful at naming things. Once named, we could do something about it – at least we hoped.

My partner and I sat separately on the bed, each of us crying. Neither of us able to comfort one another. I was too repulsed by him to even touch him. There was a particular cruelty to the chain of events, as those who had begun to build my trust and self-worth were rapidly taken away. So we cried. We hoped it wasn’t suicide, but we knew it was. Then it was confirmed and we cried more. I don’t remember much else from the rest of that day, other than receiving messages on Facebook as we lived too far away from our support networks.

I became fanatic, fixating desperately on Mark and being active on campus. Our attic bedroom became a site of despair, confusion and depression. Once I moved out in June, I returned once to collect my things, attempting to go on my own. As soon as I entered the room I had a panic attack lasting several hours, not stopping until my friend came over (reluctantly because he had also fallen out with my partner) and helped me. I spent six months in that space that I felt I couldn’t afford to leave. My declining mental health making any thought of getting another job and leaving impossible. We lived an hour (sometimes an hour and a half, depending on traffic) away from our support networks, our friends and our workplaces. Everything was an hour away from the emotional abuse we submitted one another to. Our landlady despaired, she was also going through a hard time after her parents’ deaths. It was a miserable, miserable period. I am relieved to no longer be there.

Friday night at Res., this came flooding back to me as I blinked back tears. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what was going on in my personal life at the time. I felt classed and gendered, not finding any understanding. Respite came in the form of friends who let me stay with them, as well as organising on campus, fighting for Mark’s memory. I burnt out every week. Commuting, working, campaigning, crying, drinking, smoking, drugs, sleeping for long periods, spending long days inside too burnt out to move. I was lucky to have a roof over my head in London and I still value my landlady’s generosity every day. Privilege sharing is important. But when I did view the house I was going to move into, I cried because the residents made tea and were kind and caring. All of this is a reminder to never privatise myself to a single individual again and the mindfuckery that goes with that. Being communal in our selves is important. Considering Bifo’s writings, sense is indeed made in shared spaces and happiness is most certainly of the corporeal mind.

I miss Mark deeply. He just got what it is like to be poor. There was a bitter irony to my lived situation, and the loss of such a wonderful man. If he couldn’t manage it… we were scared. I think of him every day. I wish I’d told you how important you were to me. I wish your care wasn’t a rarity. You helped me feel like I belong somewhere, even if that was in not-belonging. Because you felt you didn’t belong either, Mark. The marks of class are indeed designed to be indelible, you understood it so well. I miss you.

When your dad talked about Hillsborough at your memorial, that you were there, and had carried that survivor’s guilt with you. I cried even harder. It made sense. It continues to make sense. You were a constellation of such incredible histories, communities and memories. And you lived the contradictions, perhaps more personally and creatively than many. I am so glad I knew you. I am so glad you shared some of your passion and fury with me. We are still dreaming of those lost futures as we try to enact unknown ones.

We are indebted to you, love.



One recognisable cycle of the human complex system is that of anxiety and depression. Within this, we can recognise anxiety and panic as productive forces and depression as withdrawal or non-productivity. The productivity of anxiety succumbs, withdraws and collapses into exhaustion and depression. SSRIs or antidepressants can be used in an attempt to neutralise these intensities, softening panic (filling up) and depression (emptying out). The self can reconstitute itself whilst under the influence of these drugs through recognising the actual social forces and foldings that have occurred. This provides opportunities for the self to break with its fettered image (to quote Mark Fisher, “the mirror cracks, I am an other, and I always was” [1]) – or alternatively becoming more deeply stratified under capitalism through the ‘psychopathic’ extraction of useful labour.

This phenomenon will be critiqued and analysed through defining anxiety and its potential for post-capitalist desires, then situating my experience with antidepressants using Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, outlining the problem of useful labour extraction and finally introducing the notion of an ethics of the eerie. It is necessary at this stage to put a clear divide between the productive mode of anxiety and the withdrawal mode of depression because anxiety is too often rather reductively seen as cut off. This text separates them out in order to counter the assumptions around anxious experience to begin with, establishing a point of departure. There is a certain rigidity here that will be complicated as posts go on…

Anxiety as pathologised under capitalism exists as a limitation. It becomes cut off or blocked under such conditions. The productivity of anxiety does not occur in the capitalist understanding (surplus labour value), but in anxiety’s expansive capacity to respond to actual social forces using multiple (productive) processes. Hyperproductive anxiety may make the subject appear to be a fully functioning member of capitalist society in their efforts to subdue it. For example an anxious subject may meet every work deadline, but she is coerced by job precarity or low self-worth. It is to be argued that when triggered, anxiety signals the desire for something beyond or outside the current conditions. When this desire goes unfulfilled or thwarted, it becomes panic, which is then cut off, entering the mode of withdrawal: exhaustion or depression. Anxiety serves its function as a tool of everyday criticality analysis, identifying and engaging with oppression and risk. Uncommunicated, it exists as cut off and isolated – even paralytical. Since sense is only made in shared spaces, these uncommunicated limitations overwhelm the individuated subject and are interpreted as a personal failure to integrate or function properly within assumed norms.

When communicated, anxiety offers a basis for the collective building of structural/institutional critique. It has been subjugated as an experience for too long – David B. Morris argues that “we must be prepared to insist that pain, depression, and disability cannot be reduced to the emblems of a private dystopia.” [2] Non-privatised anxiety is the repeated potential openings for connection. Methodologies for reopening and engaging positively with potential connections offer difficulties, because of our embeddedness in existing oppressive structures. Coping mechanisms, such as the ‘flight response’ further perpetuate this conception of a totalised social where withdrawal is the only possibility. Instead, any “enquiry into the nature of what the world is like” should also be “inevitably an unraveling of what human beings had taken themselves to be,” [3] in order to make commitments that challenge the structural mechanisms that hold us and keep ourselves fixed.

Teen movies offer some insight into negative and positive aspects. Motives for assimilation may be either deeper stratification in the first instance or post-capitalist desires in the second; for example the desire to be accepted by the popular crowd who have utopia focused on the perfection of the self; or the desire to be part of a undercommons revolt involving “collective utopian politics and the public exercise of utopian virtues” [4] leading to a more harmonious, if still imperfect, social order. Here, a drama of value [5] plays out in an attempt to shift the responsibility away from the ‘self that must get better’ to the necessary expansion of the commons and facilitation of participation – the former being a negative solidarity of “solitary, private, individual” bodies. The latter mode is the anti-capitalist productivity, or commoning, of anxiety that we must mobilise. Both situations can lead to the cut off mode outlined above as the conditions for participation may remain ambiguous. The proposition here is how can we work from anxious experience in order to communicate potential alliances, equalising knowledges and mobilising a more collective politics.

Antidepressants, anxiety and heterotopia

Anxiety has been present throughout my life, although at the age of fourteen I suffered from anxiety and depression with increasing intensity. At my friend’s recommendation I went to see the local doctor. Following a blood test [6] and numerous psychological health questionnaires, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and given a prescription for citalopram. No further support was offered and I did not know to ask. I began taking the antidepressants with little to no information about what they would do – apart from that they ‘would help’ – as well as minimal information on the conditions I had been diagnosed with. I was not offered any form of counselling or therapy – not knowing any better than to place my trust in the doctor’s recommendations. Unfortunately my story is not uncommon and has various socioeconomic implications.

This ignorance meant I was cast adrift from the feeling self that I knew; observing situations and acknowledging the emotional reaction I would ordinarily have, without actually experiencing the intensity of the response-emotion. I was alarmed by my inability to experience intensity of emotion (or to resemble the image I held of myself). Because of this I decided to stop taking citalopram. On reflection, citalopram granted me an outside perception of the relation between social distress and my ‘typical’ emotional reactions. Although recognising these relations required me to hold some prior image of (my)self in similitude, a voiding process began. The abjection I felt towards unfeeling recognises the outside of feeling, inciting “the challenge of treating discontent, abjection and psychopathology as traces of an as yet unimaginable outside rather than as symptoms of maladjustment.” [7] The shudder of abjection is a shudder of the eerie.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at the age of twenty helped me develop skills for articulating and mapping the external foldings that formulate my anxious mood. The psychological emerges “as the product of forces from the outside.” [8] Even then the eerie effect of SSRIs went unarticulated – dismissed as a missed opportunity to catch my mental health issues ‘early on,’ whilst simultaneously dismissing the conception of it being a politicised indictment of the care I received (fuck off and take these pills becomes we are sacrosanct individuals, so tell me about your family but don’t implicate my profession in social reproduction).

Michel Foucault writing on the mirror as a joint experience of utopia and heterotopia was the first text to come close to articulating my experience of taking SSRIs. Through this spatialisation the pathological can be verbalised, changing the structure of the “relation between the visible and invisible […] revealing through gaze and language what had previously been below and beyond their domain.” This “new alliance forged between words and things” [9] could not be founded in my initial ignorance and the use of heterotopia for this purpose is admittedly clumsy. However I have decided to keep faith with this lumbering articulation. Throughout, the interior mechanisms of the antidepressant diagramming is played out in exterior space:

“The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror.

I acknowledge my typical emotional reactions, but I am absent from them. Whilst on antidepressants, emotion-intensities become a virtual mapping over my lived experience. I hold a prior image of (my)self in this moment. I am made visible, but I am distant, absented.

But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am.

I begin to situate myself using the image of (my)self, coming back to where I am from the standpoint of another perspective. I am reconstituted in their relation.

The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.” [10]

Being distanced from the reactive self allowed me to see the pathological in active relation. This absencing allowed me to presence myself with a different relational understanding of (my)self and social forces. In order to be perceived, it had to pass through absence, holding the absent self distant yet in similitude.

Heterotopia describes a process, a relation between spaces. It offers similitude rather than resemblance, which simultaneously de-anchors the subject from an identitarian reference point and allows for a resituating of the self beyond this (or potentially deepening the embeddedness in capitalist orderings). This resituating is a process building outside of and in relation to homogenous or dominant modalities. Through SSRIs these hierarchies of intensity (anxiety, panic, depression) give way to a series of exclusively lateral relations [11] – different in the way they are experienced because of the emotional flattening of the SSRIs, but equivalent in regards to the relational processes that would produce such intensities. Instead of cutting off and withdrawing from intensities, a process of deferral occurs. The similitude of these processes shifts the point of reference, exposing mechanisms of desire, creation and their repeated potential openings. Here, we can see such relationships or responses from the outside, from the standpoint of another perspective. The self-referential remains, entering a process of disarticulation: again, “the mirror cracks, I am an other, and I always was.” [12] Potentially rearticulated and rebuilt after the shock of losing its referent – a freeing from identitarian fetters – the methodology of this is where we must intervene lest this deindividuated self be dispassionately reterritorialised in order to extract useful labour. This is where transversal practice is needed, but that is not to be expanded upon here.

In Flatline Constructs, Mark Fisher writes of the non-resistance of postmodern anxiety, perhaps to be further explored through the removal of reference anchors (see pg.43 Hetherington) and the desire for immanence. But that is to be expanded upon elsewhere…

Useful labour extraction

This text is about the specific experience of taking antidepressants for anxiety. Antidepressants suppress the vicious cycling of productivity/withdrawal leaving the analytical capacities and reflexivity of anxiety in similitude, distanced from the self-critical. In 4 Theses on Depression and Radical Praxis, Sophie Monk and Joni (Pitt) Coren work from Mark’s thought in Good For Nothing to make the argument for “a life-producing and therapeutic praxis that incorporates depression rather than abjecting it” as well as a demand for “a more nuanced thinking of pharmaceuticals.” [13] Depression, “whose underlying conviction is that we are all uniquely responsible for our own misery and therefore deserve it,” [14] struggles to recognise itself relationally, turning inwards because of its withdrawal mechanisms. Depression isolates, not recognising friendship and consequently never fully in the open. We may be able to begin working for change using antidepressants as proposed by Monk and Coren, because the ‘infernally paradoxical logic’ of depression is “the internalised expression of actual social forces.” [15] Monk and Coren explain that the left’s rejection of antidepressants due to the drugs’ connection with big pharma as well as the inability of someone on medication to be ‘fully present’ in radical politics disregards the lived experience and demands made upon those with mental health issues within activist politics. They argue that “medication has the potential to both pacify and galvanise us” and that our collective depression can perhaps be weaponised by using such medications, further enabling our participation in potentially traumatic and overwhelming confrontations with oppressors.

Antidepressants are criticised for their ‘numbing’ of populations because they are used as an end in themselves in order to trudge out useful labour, rather than as a transformative agent. Privatised disaffection is allowed to proliferate, antidepressants used to minimise the affective impact of this resubordination. When “the social subject is increasingly asked to perform its worth publicly as evidence of its value” [16] it breeds, as David Smail writes, “a technology of manipulation and deceit in which the plausibility of the front you manage to present becomes all-important.” [17] Antidepressants become part of these technologies of deceit, under the influence of “social forces, some of which have a vested interest in denying any connection between depression and politics.” [18] Popular culture tropes such as the ‘stepford smiler’ [19] acknowledge this.

In The Psychopath Factory, Tristam Adams writes that in semiocapitalism, “desensitisation is a symptom – but it is not an immediately unproductive symptom, like collapse and panic.” [20] Solutions such as antidepressants “follow the same psychopathic trajectory: returning the organism to a deadened, efficient and productive state.” [21] This resonates with the David Smail quote above, however an engaged radical praxis is what stops SSRIs from allowing people to simply be better capitalist subjects. This is emphasised by Mark Fisher in his article Good For Nothing, where he argues that the aim is to convert privatised disaffection into politicised anger. [22]

Adams believes panic and anxiety to be unproductive because of the organism’s exhausting sensitivity to the “energies and effects of late capitalism” and he quotes Bifo:

“[as] the acceleration of impulses provokes stress in the physical organism [it] demands a psychotropic reformatting of perceptions and cognitive interaction, through the use of psychopharmacological drugs or the pure and simple deactivation of empathy.” [23]

Anxiety can be understood here as a resistance to the capitalist understanding of productivity. Because if psychopathy is an example par excellence of capitalist code, then anxiety is a failure of capitalist code. The issue here is not necessarily the drugs themselves, but the methodologies of use. If the inside is a folding of the outside then we must move beyond the transgressive Ripley towards egress. The former being susceptible to capitalist assimilation due to its (see also: his) individuated mode for the extraction of useful labour. Through using antidepressants as an end in themselves, subjects become exceedingly vulnerable to capitalist reterritorialisations. He only helps himself: utopia in the self.

If, as Adams writes, “the horror of confronting the psychopath is the horror of the mirror – an exaggerated and emboldened form of our own subjectivity presented back to us.” [24] Then instead of seeking individual solutions to our collective pathologies engendered by late capitalism (the horror of the mirror), we must shift our focus outwards, using antidepressants as a heterotopic mirror space in which to hold ourselves in similitude, in order to break with its reflection – possible through taking a transversal approach to the outside via collective practice. A potential methodology for this reflective practice can be found in the relational dynamic of antidepressants and anxiety, in combination with an ‘ethics of the eerie.’ Observing and communicating complexity in order to leave or transform it.

Ethics of the eerie

In conjunction to the heterotopic qualities of SSRIs, we can also understand them as eerie agents, transcending affect-intensities in order to articulate them relationally. Under SSRIs a failure of presence occurs – “gaps where agency should be.” [25] In The Weird and the Eerie, Mark Fisher writes;

“the perspective of the eerie can give us access to the forces which govern mundane reality but which are ordinarily obscured, just as it can give us access to spaces beyond mundane reality altogether.” [26]

Eerie agents constantly pose the question of the eerie and from this, the outside becomes available. SSRIs invoke a partial emptying of the human, a disengagement from our current attachments. There is a serenity, an eerie calm, a detachment from the urgencies of the everyday. [27] The outside is available to us, engineered and manufactured as part of a practice – egress – or through ingesting an eerie agent. The sensation of the eerie can invoke anxiety (a folding) because of anxiety’s recognition of potential alterity in uncertain surroundings – “the quickest way to produce a sense of the eerie is to restrict information in this way.” [28] This filling up by anxiety can be seen as a failure of absence under neoliberalism because in this context anxiety is a something where there should be nothing. Conversely, as part of a postcapitalist desire, anxiety is a repetition of an opening to the outside, folding it inside the organism, filling it up.

Here, an ethics of the eerie can be put into practice, as outlined by Mark in his analysis of Tarkovsky’s Stalker;

“Cautious, always alert to potential dangers, drawing on [past] knowledge but aware of the way in which the Zone’s mutability so often renders previous experience obsolete, the stalker invokes a space bristling with unseen menace and promise. Humble in the face of the unknown, yet dedicated to exploring the outside, the stalker offers a kind of ethics of the eerie.” [29]

The stalker is anxious due to perceiving openings to the outside. He gathers intelligence, sharing it with others as part of a process of exploration. Everything the stalker knows, including himself, is disarticulated through contact with the outside. These proliferating connections offer a new and unknown consistency as an other; inviting alterity as opposed to identitarian fetters. Anxiety allows for a transversal practice, a productive and rational methodology that responds to the complexity of actual social forces through recognising potential openings or connections to the outside. These desires are often thwarted under capitalist structurings, becoming cut off and entering into depressive withdrawal. SSRIs enable the critical-rational framework of anxiety to remain, distanced from the human complex system, an in-human observation of response-relations.

SSRIs as an eerie agent remove the subject from the urgencies of the everyday. However, without an ethics of the eerie, the horror of the mirror results in a reterritorialisation, as we are magnified privately back at ourselves, abjection thrusting us back into the known – performing identities. In order to egress, an ethics of the eerie holds the known in similitude, entering a process of disarticulation (in a similar way to Foucault’s heterotopic mirror). This is not mere transgression, where the limits are known, but an adventure “involving forms of knowledge, subjectivity and sensation that lie beyond common experience” [30] which invoke the feeling of inscrutability – a barely perceptible world of eerie traces. Traces that fold into anxiety, signalling the outside.

Continue reading “SSRIs”

a thank you

Written for the FAAH degree show catalogue, whilst I was a junior fellow


This show is a celebration; a celebration of the final year group’s ability to collaborate and to be kind in times of hardship. Not only to gather in the Marquis of Granby, but to produce a collective body of work that is impressive and expansive because of the alliances that have kindled here. These are bonds that we have all been lucky enough to be a part of, building amid the hungover utopianism.

The death of Mark Fisher, the theorist and teacher we treasured, who affirmed so many of us during our time at Goldsmiths, shook us to the core. We were adamant that he would not be forgotten and the displays of pure militancy across the joint honours degree were certainly acts to be proud of. When I see the work and speak to this third year, I see how Mark’s presence and writings have worked in and through them – yet each person brings their own spin to it. It is these mutations that are exciting.

This is a year group orientated towards collective adventure, experimentation and joyful openness in a year that has been dogged by grief, disturbing global politics and division. This is a year group that acts with confidence, whether they would claim it or not, confidence in their ability to do something different, to bring one another together and produce something brilliant.

My life has been irreversibly affected by the influence of this incredible group of artists. I’ve jokingly said a few times that I’m having the best year of my degree and I’m not even on it anymore. The transmutations that have occurred through these additive and contagious alliances are tangible. A ferocious patience will be required to see where it will go next, but it is adoring in its immanence.

Thank you – all of you.