January 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
The last time I saw Mark, he seemed to have no idea who I was. Coming out of exile for the day for a conference, I missed his keynote speech, but tapped him on the arm & said hello in passing. I looked different after all, I thought, & he must get a lot of such interruptions since becoming a theory-celeb. But then the previous time I had run into him, at a quote-unquote radical bookfair, he had spotted & buttonholed me, grinning behind a new beard, asking about the projects I was failing to finish. Family life & East Anglian melancholy, I thought, seemed to be doing him good. In actuality then, no goodbyes, & no specifying – stating outright, in the empirical terms he might otherwise laugh at – what his writing & his example had meant to me, what I owed to him. But then the Hallmark moment of reconciliation never does come, does it; life doesn’t work that way.
When I started reading K-Punk it was like the moment in The Shining when Jack walks into The Gold Room & casts an eye over a company he’s somehow always already known. (Abducted into the temporal circuitry of subjecthood, you thought you were living one life, but in fact it was a whole different one: “Mr Grady, weren’t you the caretaker here?” “You are mistaken sir. You have always been the caretaker.”) Clicking through the archive & the links in his blogroll was an exercise in incredulity: who were all these bizarre people & where did they get their opinions? What was an “OediPod”? What was “dubstep”? How was it that they had read Nietzsche & the Situationists too? Since when were Girls Aloud good? (The fact that this kind of revaluation of values has become a mere social media parlour trick, in the form of the “..…..Actually, It’s Good” argument, is perhaps a very backhanded compliment to Mark.) I’d already started, out of the despairing fervour of my teenage anarchism, to write blogs and to read some of the music writing with I’d become besotted – Lipstick Traces in particular; & what should I find among the first K-Punk posts I read? – but here was the extraordinary implication, by example, that a goon like me could do it too. Working-class, provincial, mentally ill, autistic, barely socialised, bitter, angry, ugly, too-smart-for-his-own-good: in K-Punk there was a voice and a form that seemed to speak to a subject-position I wanted only to be rid of, to permit a speaking out of, a speaking beyond, a subjectivity otherwise utterly mired in a cultural & social silence broken only by the eternal lexical readymades of self-hatred. & it was a voice, or a Kollective of voices, that constantly expanded: the mythology of that period of blogging, as spaces honeycombed with “portals” like the films-within-films of Inland Empire, leading on to uncanny or bizarre or head-spinning fragments of culture & argument, was correct, at least for those of us outside London. Listing the things the blogs introduced me to would produce a Borgesian 1:1 map of the territory of my adult life. (The fact that K-Punk was often side-achingly funny in a way I could never manage was a very big bonus.)
That the writing I did & the positions I defended were made in K-Punk’s image hardly needs stating. That he gave any consideration to the scribblings of a pretentious 18-year-old, despised by his classmates & barely tolerated by his family, is testament to the generosity of which so many have spoken. That the rest hasn’t quite been history was very much my fault, rather than his. I learned far more from K-Punk, and the five-finger exercises his example permitted, than most of the BA I inadvertently followed his footsteps through. (I used to buy my shampoo from the Boots above which sat the CCRU’s old headquarters.) The long fading of the ‘blog moment’, under puncturing economic crisis and a vast recomposition of cultural technics, was accompanied by an inevitable shift in positions. (Mark knew it was the fate of the unfortunate individual subject to have, like every subject before it, to kill the father.) Years later I wrote a review of Ghosts Of My Life that laid out some of my frustrations. I found the increasing populist bent of his work admirable, but couldn’t, in my obscurantist (& queer) heart, share it. As a music writer – & recovering Adornian – I worried over many of his too, too solid historical claims – about post-punk, hauntology, the ‘nuum. (Neither could I be convinced that Sleaford Mods were Actually Good.) But the fact that I felt I had to argue with this absent voice – to view the object of the writing in the light of its concept: an “aristocratic-proletarian” voice that cut effortlessly against the misery that the culture industry structurally requires of subjects – showed the grip of its cold vividness. Writing on Ghosts…, I realised how much my own increasingly entrenched taste had ended up a mirror of Mark’s own: “greyness, melancholy, artifice, technology, texture, eeriness”, and the ways in which these became a social (& communist) poetics. That this very attempt at writing ends up being more about me than him is inevitable in the circumstances: after he left Twitter we hardly interacted, except at a weird & rousing symposium back at Warwick a few years ago, at which he gave a bravura, apparently impromptu performance. But then “[t]echnology (from psychoanalysis to surveillance) has made us all ghosts… contaminated by other people’s memories”. I never stopped thinking he was perhaps the best of us.