Picnic at Hanging Rock (2018)

Now that Westworld season 2 has finished, it’s about time I found some more telly to write about.

The BBC has just started showing a new mini-series based on Joan Lindsey’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. (Originally released on Amazon Prime, I believe, and now finding its way to the old-fashioned broadcast TV.)

Eighteen months ago, I’d never heard of the book before reading about it in Mark’s The Weird and the Eerie. After Mark’s beautiful exploration of the book, I bought it and demolished it in a single sitting. Shortly afterwards, I fell in love with the 1976 film adaptation as well.

I’ve written about the story before — briefly in “Reaching Out to the Other” — so I won’t rehearse the synopsis again in too much detail because, going forwards, it might not even be that useful.

Suffice it to say that the central event around which the story orbits is the disappearance of a group of young Australian women from a late 19th / early 20th century boarding school, enticed onto some other plane (we can only assume) by some unknown agency when they visit a local beauty spot for a picnic.

The film and book, from this point, both consider the effects of the women’s unexplained absence on their community. The story, in this way, is a tracing of the repercussions that ripple out from an event: an event which is nothing more than an absence. It is, effectively, a study of trauma without trauma; the trauma of a void, of gaps, of unexplained emptiness.

Fisher wrote, all too presciently, in the final sentences of The Weird and the Eerie, about how the disappeared women in the book and film are

fully prepared to take the step into the unknown. They are possessed by the eerie calm that settles whenever familiar passions can be overcome. They have disappeared, and their disappearances will leave haunting gaps, eerie intimations of the outside.

My love for this story was intensified further by Robin’s lecture on the film at the start of this year, as a “study of cryptolithic passion”, a “descent into the world-soul”.

It is the story of a “splitting away from the socially conditioned personality”, a “shedding of a layer of subjectivity … reaching out towards a complicity with the inorganic.” (I’m drawing on my notes here.)

Robin called it — the film in particular, that is, with its deeply evocative soundtrack — “one of the most sustained geopoetical works” there is.

So it goes without saying that, as I start episode one of this new adaptation, it has a lot to live up to…


What is immediately different about this adaptation is, well… everything.

We begin with Hester Appleyard (played by Natalie Dormer) pacing around an abandoned house. It’s an already familiar beginning but not from this story.

A major strength of the novel is its realism, its utter immersion in the mundane. The event around which its narrative unfolds is a flash of a kind of magical realism, never resolved, amongst an otherwise “normal” account of life in a school.

Here, however, we’re immediately thrown into a familiar trope of the paranormal: “unsuspecting woman buys decrepit old mansion.” Except she’s not unassuming. There’s something not quite right about this Miss Appleyard. She seems to be something of a… con woman?

Everything here is heightened, exaggerated. There’s no realism here. It’s just another example of Hollywood bloating out a narrative to make it more appealing (and familiar) to their zombic audiences.

Ten minutes in and this seems to be Picnic at Hanging Rock meets St Trinian’s. And I can’t think of a worse fate for this story.

Things end up going from bad to worse.

Miranda, the lead in all versions of the story, is here quite familiar. A wayward spirit possessed, even before her encounter with the rock, by a strange libidinal force.

Robin noted too that there is “an eerie, languorous eroticism that hovers over” the 1976 film: there is “a libidinal force at work in the whole narrative”. That was always already expressed without needing to subject Miranda, as this new adaptation chooses, to a sexual assault in the stables…

The girls seem to be tempted by men left, right and centre. I remember there being very few men in the previous versions, to their credit. What was so interesting was an exploration of inherently libidinal women. Women whose desires overflow in their relative boarding school isolation, not needing to be channelled into any nearby men. Miranda, drawn libidinally towards the earth, here becomes fodder for a near-rape as if to emphasise the danger she brings upon herself.

It is a version of the story that seems to be an enemy of itself, inserting precisely what the story was written against back into its DNA. I’m not usually one to get upset about disloyal book adaptations and remakes, but to bastardise the story’s very nature to such an extent is a powerful disappointment.


Sam Wollaston has reviewed this first episode for the Guardian. I can’t say I agree with it. Not his impression of this series nor his reappraisal of the ’76 adaptation as “thin, all about the creation of an atmosphere and not a lot else.”

Wollaston goes on to ask the question that I first wondered when hearing this adaptation was in the works: “How the hell are they going to stretch out that story to six episodes?” The answer, he rightly points out, is by “filling it out, making it bigger in every way.”

Bigger is not always better. If the previous version was “thin”, this new version is so “big” as to eclipse everything that made the originals worthwhile.

For a story that centres around an absence, it is the singular strength of the film — a strength it holds even over the original novella — that it doubles down on its eeriness, exacerbating the emptiness of a mystery on the Australian frontier, resisting the temptation to do what this new adaptation has done: force-feed it familiarity to fattened it up for Hollywood expectations.

Just as the girls are “fully prepared to take the step into the unknown”, the film and novel asked as much of their audiences — and to devastating effect. Here, it seems, the unknown has been utterly exorcised, replaced with shitty tropes, the absence of which were partly what made the original film so enchanting.

I’m not enchanted by this. Nor am I unsettled. Perhaps shockingly, for someone who loves the “thin” 1976 adaptation so much, I’m just bored.

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Friday the 13th

Our next k-punk event is happening tomorrow night. Whereas the last two have been moments of intense stress and anxiety around this time, I feel very relaxed going into Night #3.

Each time we have had to contend with our snide inner voices. The overall logistical success of the night can all too easily overtake the reasons why we’re doing it.

We’re not promoters or events organisers in any other capacity. It often feels like we’ve fallen into this role. We had an idea and it’s taken us for a ride. We wanted to keep remembering Mark Fisher in the spaces where his legacy felt most potent to us: in non-academic spaces, in pubs and clubs, with music and with the people we love.

Coordinating all the variables in order to create the circumstances for such nights of remembrance and joy has often been more work than anticipated.

But, today, I’m free of all stress. Not that there isn’t much still to do and shepherd into position, but the reasons why we’re doing this have remained very much present in my mind this week. I think this is because Mark himself feels present this week.

Wednesday was both his 50th birthday and the World Cup semi-final — two events for the price of one which I’m sure would have occasioned a lengthy k-punk post (each).

Reading Mark on football was always a joy. He had a Twitter account dedicated to World Cup commentary and there were times where his k-punk blog struggled to talk about anything else, albeit — of course — entangled with everything else. From 2010:

“English football,” the writer Robin Carmody argued on his live journal page, “is a metaphor for precisely what the neoliberals have done to England itself …” But it’s more than a metaphor. Football has been at the forefront of the total re-engineering of English culture, society and economy wrought by neoliberalism over the last thirty years. Neoliberalism presented itself as supremely realistic — as the only possible realism. It told us that utopia is impossible because there is no such thing as society, only individuals pursuing their own interests. What better image of this anti-utopianism is there than the Premiership, with its imperious, untouchable elite of clubs, its synergy with multinational media conglomerates, its conspicuously consuming players, its super-predatory club owners buying success like they are buying another yacht? Competition, exploitation, the strong lording it over the weak, paparazzi snaps of the fabulously wealthy masters of the universe players exiting nightclubs, flashing their very new money: football as anti-egalitarian Nietzschean combat. Forget utopia: dream, instead – if you’re young – of eventually becoming like this, of owning these Cheshire mansions, of getting a cyborg-slick WAG; or if you’re too old to ever lace up those ultrabranded boots, get used to being inferior, to never making it – dream instead of media-transfiguration via reality TV, or of a lottery win…

The World Cup has an entirely different atmosphere to the Premiere League, of course. This year, the most noticeable difference is perhaps the extent to which this 2018 England squad’s young players were media trained. WAGs were exorcised from proceedings and the team were defined by their post-match composure, as well as by their inability to score outside of a “set piece”.

Both on and off the pitch, they were suffocated by their own professionalisation, their creativity rotted away. Much was made of their wholesome hotel fun but, despite the media’s painfully excessive historicising — “This is the first World Cup team to score twice in a semi-final at this temperature in this country on this day. This team is truly making their own history.” — much of what occurred in this year’s tournament seemed to be down to good luck.

Mark would have had more to say here and he would have certainly said it better. Perhaps he already did. In 2010, he wrote extensively on the footie blog Minus The Shooting and, even when a post wasn’t authored by him, he seemed to have a presence in every one. He wrote about football as well as he wrote on just about everything else.

On the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands:

Sporting events always end with a feeling of anti-climax, even when you’ve won them. The intense immersion and heightened dissipate instantly once the tension of competition is over. As a World Cup watcher, I usually start to feel this looming anti-climax once the semi-finals come around – by then, the sense that anything can still happen as hardened into a few determinate possibilities, and the glow of festival time starts to give way to the bleak twilight of everyday routine again. The sense of anti-climax is reinforced for the World Cup watcher by the fact that finals haven’t often tended to be classics. Last night’s game, to say the least, didn’t break the pattern – it was a case of the unpalatable in pursuit of the unloveable. The BBC pundits were frantically building the narrative – “Spain were a joy to watch”, “it was a victory for football” – and, yes, even my hard heart was glad for Iniesta, less one point of the moveable tiki-taka triangle last night than a tireless force: the will to win personified, the perfect mixture of urgency and patience.

Paul Myerscought, for the London Review of Books, picked up on a Fisherian comment that continues to resonate into 2018. He wrote:

One of the contributors, Mark Fisher (a.k.a k-punk), has focused on the ‘negative alchemy’ of the England shirt, its ability to turn good players miraculously into bad. Fisher has persuasive things to say about why England fail. Such a shame that so far as the FA are concerned, he may as well be talking to himself.


Mark is, unfortunately, in the air for other reasons.

Today is Friday the 13th.

Mark died on Friday the 13th January 2017 and, since that time, I have noticed more Friday the 13th’s than ever before. Each Friday the 13th has become an anniversary for Mark. Usually resulting in an exchange with Robin, who first pointed this out to me.

As Robin referred to it in a message yesterday, each Friday the 13th is “the real crytochronic anniversary”.

Brexit Has Failed; Long Live Brexit

The successive resignations that have struck the Conservative Party in the UK this week have heralded the same cry, again and again, from the left-wing media: Brexit has failed. No one can deny that Brexit has been, generally speaking, a resolute failure, but I can’t help but feel like the finality of so much of this week’s political commentary is wishful thinking.

The solution, they cry, is to hold a general election. The possibility of this occurring certainly seems to be increasingly likely, but to what end? Will that cauterise the “failed” Brexit project? Will it occasion accurate use of the past tense rather than limiting temporal references to a never-ending omnishambles? Surely no one believes or expects Brexit to “end” so soon but still the suggestive cry continues to echo around the web. Brexit has failed.

We are living in the midst of a perpetual political failure — “the normalisation of crisis”, as Fisher called it — and there remains no end in sight. Like the financial crash of 2008, this week is (apparently) yet another watershed moment, but the anticipated major change that should follow it will likely never materialise.

This isn’t some rerun of “the end of history” but there certainly seems to be a crisis of narrative; the end of linearity. Paul Mason, to my surprise, has acknowledged the fragmentary nature of contemporary geopolitics quite explicitly in a new article for iNews. This blog has been focussed on this tendency for months and so it feels unusual to hear it acknowledged in the mainstream media, which tends to balk at any acknowledgement of present fragmentations.

Mason highlights the fact obvious to anyone since 2016: the main reason Brexit has been such a failure is that those within the Conservative Party have been too busy playing political games from the very moment the referendum on EU membership was announced.

Mason describes Boris Johnson’s personal “three-phase plan” as follows: “exit the European Union, take over the Tory party, destroy what’s left of the welfare state in pursuit of a new, primary relationship with the USA.” Then, he continues:

[Boris] Johnson has invited comparisons between himself and Churchill, not least by writing one of the worst biographies of Churchill ever published. Like Churchill he was a journalist. Like Churchill he switched sides. Like Churchill he’s had a classical education and understands rhetoric.

Unlike Churchill, history is against him. For history is breaking the globalised world economy into chunks, and stimulating new military rivalries. In a fragmenting world you need to be part of, or close to, something big, friendly and efficient. That is the continent on our doorstep, not the failing democracy of the USA.

Mason likewise goes on to argue for a general election, in the face of May’s crumbling cabinet, but this point about the fragmenting world economy drifts off, unaddressed.

Perhaps this is because it’s an obvious point. Brexit is likewise a symptom of a fragmenting globe but, at the same time, it is so often defined by the new alliances that it might occasion.

Farewell, EU… Hello, America? Hello, China?

Europe is, in itself, threatening to fragment even further as its individual member states wrestle with their own internal problems and rifts. With that in mind, is it accurate to call Europe efficient? That’s a strange sort of compliment, especially for Mason — a journalist whose career remains defined, in my mind, by his reporting on the “economic war” between Greece and the European “troika”.

I reject Boris Johnson’s woeful foreign policy opinions on principle but are the UK left’s any stronger? Britain seems totally bemused by its own position on the world stage, from all angles, and it is true that that position will be defined by its future alliances. But as the “special relationship” wanes and EU relations continue to sour and the UK’s internal makeup threatens to shift, will a general election solve anything? If Jeremy Corbyn were to become PM, on his well-established anti-austerity platform, will relations not sour even further, to the lows previously experienced by Greece?

I hope this says more about the EU’s neoliberal core than Corbyn’s potential leadership skills, which I’m still keen to see if only for it providing this country with a long-overdue shake-up.

The Conservatives certainly seem incapable — now more so than ever — of delivering what was unconvincingly promised. Could the Labour Party change things for the better? The biggest obstacle to major economic change nonetheless remains the same.

The EU would undoubtedly be a thorn in the side of a pre-Brexit anti-austerity Corbyn government. A mid-Brexit government of any flavour will likely continue the new status quo. Will a post-Brexit Corbyn government fare any better? Perhaps there is only one way to find out.

That could be a general election, but a general election seems inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, whilst Schrodinger’s Brexit continues in its limbo. From here, yes, the possibilities are infinite, but these possibilities are meaningless until the box on the world is opened or — better yet — smashed to pieces.

 

“Acid Communism”: New Essay in Krisis Magazine

‘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.

I was invited to write an essay for Krisis, Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, back in January.

Their latest issue, “Marx from the Margins”, is an A-to-Z exploration of all the strange places Marxism has spread to in the 200 years since Karl Marx’s birth back in 1818 in the German city of Trier.

Specifically, I was asked to write a short entry on “Acid Communism”, Mark Fisher’s corrosive play on Marx’s original manifesto and it has finally gone live.

I’m really proud of this one. You can read it here.

Continue reading ““Acid Communism”: New Essay in Krisis Magazine”

Nightdriving

As I attempt to drift off to sleep tonight, I’m finding myself in another strange dream loop.

A few hours ago, I arrived back in London after three days spent in the north of England, time split between dual parental homes in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

The drive home to London was long. Five hours in sweltering heat. Rhizomatic country roads turn into motorway Möbius strips before the free-for-all which is London seems to shatter all illusions that driving can be a relaxing experience.

The one hundred and twelve miles spent on the M1 were regularly glorious and I found myself entering a kind of meditative state on various occasions.

This is what I love about driving. It may be the only activity in which I can achieve such a state. Mind, body and car all feel as one. I’m alert and responsive to the road around me but nothing else exists outside of this scenario, this task. Nothing else is of any concern.

I found myself thinking about mindfulness, in between these moments.

Mindfulness often annoys me in this regard. It too often feels like teaching your granny to suck eggs (or, perhaps, a singular grape). Put me on the M1 and I’ll show you mindfulness.

I change gears and adjust my interior surroundings without thinking, without looking, totally in tune with the task at hand, feeling every vibration within the car, every shift in performance. I am a cautious driver and, having driven around an exploding jalopy for three years in Hull, I know when my car is under the weather.

I feel like I have melted into the car itself, inseparable from it, like some sort of benign T-1000 — a sensation only exacerbated by the summer sun in this year’s heatwave that is brazenly blazing through the driver’s side windows.

I spend at least an hour meditating on Simon Sellars’ elucidations on Mad Max and Crash in his new book, Applied Ballardianismpondering just how perversely similar my automobilised bliss is to the mindfulness fad that irritates me so much.

… when incomplete bodies, fractured by the demands of capitalism, are rebuilt, they’re bound together by the signs and symbols of banal technology.

I think that at least my “late capitalist” ecstasy is devoid of the watered-down signifiers of “late orientalism”.


In any other circumstance, the alignments of these conditions would threaten to lull me into a nap. But despite the relaxing monotony of the experience, I don’t once feel drowsy. Only when we have stopped and I have lost my sense of immanence to car and road do I start to yawn.

Now, as I try to fall asleep, past midnight, a puddle of heatwave sweat and movers-day adrenaline, I am finding myself falling seamlessly into a dream about driving.

My eyes slowly shut and I am immediately behind the wheel of the car, staring down the infinite expanse of the rolling M1.

Somehow aware that I am asleep, I jolt myself awake.

Again and again, I try to settle into the driving seat of my unconscious but the innate anxiety of falling asleep at the wheel prevents me from entering the dream in which I’m driving.

Instead, I stare at the ceiling for hours, tempted to take the car out for a late night spin.

Talking Shoplifting and Patchwork with Justin Murphy

A chat in which I doxx myself and ramble incoherently about patchwork. (I show up at 40:05.)


I made the mistake of listening back to this this morning, trying to gathered thoughts together better.

There are so many points here, from Justin and the live chat, that were sort of lost in the momentum of the conversation and left underdeveloped but I enjoyed doing this all the more for that reason.

There’s a lot of questions that we didn’t answer but I hope the fact they were raised says it all about the possibilities that patchwork can offer the left, politically but also ontologically.

For K-Punk: 50 Years // July ’68

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After the success of our first two nights — ‘For K-Punk‘ and ‘Consciousness Razing‘ — we’re doing one more.

This one is to celebrate what would have been Mark Fisher’s 50th birthday, which falls this year on Wednesday 11th July 2018. A few days later, on Saturday 14th, we’re going to throw one final(?) party, raising money for the Mark Fisher Memorial Fund.

Full lineup and details below, also at 4kpunk.tumblr.com

Continue reading “For K-Punk: 50 Years // July ’68”