WTF #5 Footnotes

WTF did we talk about?

This was our final WTF session of the spring and it didn’t disappoint! We started out with two recommended articles on microplastics (see here and here) but ended up talking more broadly about transhumanism, powdered nutrition, and the ethics of food, topics which raise important questions about sustainable living and human health, labour, and desire. On an aggressively farmed planet where the appetites of rich nations are catered to at the expense of so much, replacing food with powdered nutrition may seem like a step in the right direction. By just eating what we need instead of what we want, can we live more sustainably? By cutting out the time taken for buying ingredients, cooking, and sharing a meal with others are we freeing ourselves of needless drudgery and reclaiming our time for more desirable forms of productive or unproductive labour? Hmm…

Eating frugally and purely for sustenance in this context arguably aims to suppress desire itself by denying all the good stuff (flavour, choice, abundance, and all the joys of food) and saving us from ourselves (human greed got us in this mess in the first place etc.). Oversimplifying here, but if we follow this logic we start to treat the body like a machine we can control with sheer will power and exact measurements of fuel (good luck with that). Feed us only what we need, not what we want, and only the very minimum to make us productive labourers (thinking here of gruel in Victorian workhouses) and suppress those messy and disgusting bodily impulses (see the reason why Kellogg’s cornflakes were invented) – we’ll all be better for it!

We spoke at great length about the slightly sinister minimalist design and branding of Huel (the modern day gruel perhaps?) which offers bulk unflavoured and flavoured powders and liquids in sleek and sterile monochrome packaging. Unlike gruel, Huel isn’t likely to be consumed by anyone poor – they are targeting those privileged enough to choose bland food as a lifestyle choice. Though many savvily branded as well as genuinely innovative food technologies will no doubt continue to shape how we imagine the future of living on this planet with its ever-dwindling resources (3D-printed “meat” anyone?) and may provide some genuine solutions, widening the gap even further between the food we consume and the planet we rely on is a perilous path to take. Like plenty of food we already buy and consume (which is completely divorced from the raw materials and labour that produced them), powdered meals and lab-grown food allow us to continue to perpetuate the myth that we are separate from Nature. We are not.

There were some really great recommendations for further reading on these topics from the group. So for anyone who missed out, see the the full list below.

WTF are people reading?

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory eBook: Graeber, David: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, 2018 – yes, this gets yet another mention, because once again it has added to the conversation!

Being Ecological (Pelican Books): Amazon.co.uk: Morton, Timothy: Books

Timothy Morton, Being Ecological, Pelican, 2018 – Morton has written a bunch of excellent stuff about ecology, philosophy and lots of other interesting topics, but this short book in particular is a great introduction to some of his key ideas and is also quite a nice entry point to learning about object-oriented ontology.

Get drunk without a hangover? Expensive but now possible.

The surprising origin story of Kellogg’s cornflakes. Cornflakes as a cure for masturbation? Errr….

Rachel Laudan’s excellent piece in the Jacobin, ‘A Plea for Culinary Modernsim‘, which explores our ‘obsession with eating natural’.

WTF else?

Non-fungible tokens – for more on this see this recent article on a destroyed Banksy piece. Ctrl members are also watching out to see if NFTs make an appearance in Clare Birchall’s upcoming book Radical Secrecy.

The Meghan and Harry interview – yep, this came up too. See Charles Yu’s short story ‘Systems’ in the New York Times, which explores the pandemic through the lens of shifting public interests through changing patterns in popular internet searches. David Olusoga wrote an interesting piece on Meghan and Harry today in the Guardian, and Ash Sarkar’s article about aristocracy is also worth a read.

The DuPont scandal – another harrowing example of the far-reaching environmental and public health impacts of manmade pollutants, recently dramatised in Dark Waters, starring Mark Ruffalo:

WTF is next?

This was our final WTF is Going On? session of the spring, but we hope to run more later in the year. In the meantime, we still have three more Postcapitalist Desire events and an exciting  special Alluvium Editorial over the next few months – check out our schedule! In the meantime, you can join the conversation on Discord.

J. Lilley-Byrne

Postcapitalist Desire Lecture #4 Footnotes

Session Recap

Great to see new faces this week as we examined Mark Fisher’s fourth Postcapitalist Desire lecture, ‘Union Power and Soul Power’. This lecture left a lot to unpack, and discussion kept returning to Fisher’s formula for postcapitalist desire: a sustained “interlinking” of the potentially transformative power of “organised labour” combined with “countercultural libido” that seemed possible, if only momentarily, in 1960s and 70s. Fisher questions how we avoid the trap of nostalgia to learn from the lessons of the past: the left must assess the conditions that historically produced potential for change with full acknowledgement of the failure of the left’s political project in the 60s and 70s. This led to a particularly interesting discussion of counterfactuals which resonated with the subject of left melancholia, a recurring topic in group discussions that plays into the notion that activism and the revolutionary potential for forging new ways of living are things of the past. Fisher suggests this is perpetuated by the way in which we shape and continue to engage with what the past left behind:

“What was left over were the cultural artefacts, which could then become some cooled-down commodities and sold as something to be individually consumed. […] The condition of our access to a commodity now is that we accept the struggle is something that has already happened, that has disappeared.”

– Mark Fisher, Postcapitalist Desire

Moving beyond this, the shift from left melancholia (the inability to accept the loss and failure of the left’s past political projects) to mourning (a process of acceptance of such loss) seems a promising avenue. However, we are left with a question that Fisher grapples with, and one we’re likely to return to in the next session: what might desire look like beyond capitalism?

If you didn’t manage to catch the session and any of this sounds interesting to you, join us on Discord, where the conversation continues.

Session footnotes are below, and the original reading list can be found here.

Books & Chapters

Decolonising the University

Carol Azumah Dennis, ‘Decolonising Education: a Pedagogic Intervention’, in Gurminder K. Bhambra, Dalia Gebrial, Kerem Nişancıoğlu (eds.), Decolonising the University, Pluto Press, 2018

A Small Man's England by Tommy Sissons | Waterstones

Tommy Sissons, A Small Man’s England, Repeater Books, 2021 – class consciousness and white working class masculinity

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World eBook: Newport,  Cal: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Piatkus, 2016 – reclaiming time and desire

Everything Else

Ash Sarkar, ‘The Slumflower Beef Has Exposed the Limits of Influencer Activism’, Novara Media, 20 January 2021 – “intersectional Thatcherism” and politics as personal branding

Chantal Mouffe, ‘The Affects of Democracy’, Eurozine, 23 November 2018 – populism of affect

Aditya Chakrabortty & Jessica Elgot, ‘Leak reveals Labour plan to focus on flag and patriotism to win back voters’, The Guardian, 2 February 2021

Mark Fisher, ‘Exiting the Vampire Castle’, Open Democracy, (originally published in The North Star), 22 November 2013 – this week’s lecture transcript put many of us in mind of this Fisher article

Seth Moglen, ‘On Mourning Social Injury’, Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, Volume 10, pp. 151–167, 2005 – mourning and melancholia

Geoffrey P. Hunt & Kristin Evans, ‘‘The great unmentionable’: Exploring the pleasures and benefits of ecstasy from the perspectives of drug users’, rugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 15:4, pp. 329-349, 2008 – pleasure, desire and drugs – groovy baby

Russel T. Davies (creator), It’s A Sin, 2021 (Channel 4 & HBO Max) – another example of cultural artefact as “cooled-down commodity” in this nostalgic look back at counter culture of the past

Next Time

We explore the last of Fisher’s final lectures, ‘Libidinal Marxism’. Join us Tuesday 23rd March, 1-3pm. If you’re new to the series but still want to join, get in touch to register.

We’ll also be hosting some additional Postcapitalist Desire events in the coming months, so watch this space for more details.

Next Week, Postcap Desire #4, Union Power and Soul Power

We’re under a week away from our monthly Postcapitalist Desires reading group session, which will cover the fourth of Mark Fisher’s final lecture transcripts on Tuesday 23rd of February 1-3pm (GMT). If you haven’t yet registered for a link to the sessions, but would like to, please email or DM us on Twitter and we’ll set you up! 

As always with our Postcapitalist Desires sessions, it’s up to you how far you wish to delve into each lecture as there’s a wealth of material in each, but we do ask as a minimum that you read the relevant lecture transcript before the session.

In addition to lecture transcript #4, ‘Union Power, Soul Power’, should you wish, the extra reading for this session is:

  • Jefferson Cowie, “Old Fashioned Heroes of the New Working Class” in Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York and London: The New Press, 2010), pp. 23–75.

Registration

Like all of our series, these events are online and free. If you haven’t yet registered, there’s still time – get in touch and we’ll add you to the list. We’ll be sending out a Zoom link to everyone on the list nearer the time. Once you’ve registered, you don’t need to confirm attendance for each session – we’ll send you a fresh link every month. You also don’t need to commit to every session – just attend what you fancy (even if you miss the first session, there is more than enough material in each lecture for discussion).

See you on the Net,

Ctrl Network