The form of fandom that is obsessed with the question “could X and Y exist in the same universe?” expresses its labour not through fanfiction or fan art but through the production of Fan Theory, as a form of creative discursive practice. Often these theories are presented under the aegis that one has uncovered the ‘true meaning’ or ‘hidden truth’ behind an otherwise ambiguous detail, as seen in the proliferation of ‘ending explained’ videos on youtube that attempt to unpick the final sequences of Hollywood films. Whilst much of this theorising is being undertaken tongue-in-cheek, or for no productive reason other than the joy of speculation, it points towards a more general indication that contemporary fandom is about attempting to map the available territory, draw connections between canons and find contingencies and links between disparate worlds.
This tendency is taken to perhaps its most extreme degree in the fan theory/meme ‘the Tommy Westphall Universe’ (Keith Gow and Ash Crowe, 1999-), which theorises that most of the fictions of American television have taken place in the mind of an autistic boy named Tommy Westphall, a character in the TV series St. Elsewhere – the final episode of which implied the whole series had taken place in Tommy’s mind. Through St. Elsewhere’s crossovers and spin-offs with other dramas and sitcoms a web of interconnections is formed that, at its most recent update in 2016, included 419 shows all taking place within the mind of Tommy Westphall. Some of these connections are the result of official crossovers and spin-offs instigated by television networks’ desire to migrate existing audiences to new shows, such as Cheers’ (1982-93) spinoff into Frasier (1993-2004) and the less successful The Tortellis (1987). Others are based upon ‘Easter Egg’ type details and production bleedthroughs, such as the inclusion of ‘Morley’ brand cigarettes – a copyright-free approximation of the Marlborough brand produced by American prop manufacturer The Earl Hays Press and used frequently on-screen (for example by X-Files ‘Smoking Man’).
Such diagrams could be posited as paranoiac works – a tendency that Hal Foster also identifies in the archival impulse of contemporary art-making. Foster states ‘what is paranoia if not a practice of forced connections, of my own private archive, of my own notes from the underground, put on display?’ Foster points towards the Freudian paranoid, who ‘projects his meanings onto the world precisely because it appears ominously drained of all significance.’ To some extent, the fan is also a structuralist, and the structuralist is also a paranoiac – as Freud remarked, ‘the delusions of paranoiacs have an unpalatable external similarity and internal kinship to the systems of our philosophers,’ (what then, would the Post-structuralist be? Not the optimist Pronoiac, rather the Denialist perhaps?) The schematism of the Tommy Westphall diagram could be thought of akin to the Victor Tausk’s influencing machines, with their ‘boxes, cranks, levers, wheels, buttons, wires, batteries, and the like’replaced by plot twists and character arcs, alongside an overarching belief that someone (or something – a universalising logic?) is pulling the levers. Eve Sedgewick states that the epistemophilia of the paranoiac is not just the simple drive towards ‘unique access to true knowledge’ but also offers a way of ‘seeking, finding, and organizing knowledge. Paranoia knows some things well and others poorly.’ The fan is perhaps happy to know fiction better than reality.
The form of fan-being that is able to draw such sprawling webs of connection is reliant upon a certain suspension of scepticism, supplanted instead by a radical credulity, a willingness to encounter at face value and undertake an enhanced immersion into the world of TV. Whilst Sedgewick states that ‘in a world where no one need be delusional to find evidence of systemic oppression, to theorize out of anything but a paranoid critical stance has come to seem naïve, pious, or complaisant,’ the radically credulous fan is both naïve and paranoid in their theorisations, eager to seek the ‘truth’ of worlds they know to be fictional. The radicality of such a position is in the fact that the fan-as-producer does not see the fictional canon as sacred or fixed, and could perhaps be compelled to view the political realities of Earth Prime through the same lens. The fan’s sense of devotion and accumulated knowledge grants them a degree of authority to expand the canon of a shared universe, a refusal of orthodoxy that echoes Barthes’ assertion that ‘refusing to assign a ‘secret’, an ultimate meaning, to the text [is] an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases – reason, science, law.’
Such an indiscernibility between the real and fictitious, and the perceived contingencies of the two are formed by long hours of continuous consumption, in which the shared platform (i.e. same channel/same hardware) implies the same universe. Media theorist Raymond Williams framed such a relationship in terms of flow in his work Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974) where he states that ‘planned flow, is…the defining characteristic of broadcasting, simultaneously as a technology and as a cultural form’ and that in such a flow could be found the ‘meanings and values of a specific culture.’ The contemporary mediascape is split between the fixed immersive flows of streaming platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime, with their autoplay technology and predictive algorithms designed to lead viewers down binge watch cul-de-sacs, and the scattergun admixture of YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, in which attention is fleeting and transient, always accompanied by the spectre of infinite choice.
 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re so Paranoid, you Probably Think This Essay is About You,” in Touching Feeling (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 130.
 Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading,” 126.
 Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, ed and trans. Stephen Heath
(London: Fontana Press,1977), 147.
 Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and cultural form (London: Routledge Classics, 2003), 86.
In 1990, Sci-Fi magazine New Worlds’ sometimes-editor Charles Platt coined the term ‘Quantum Fiction’ as a call for fiction to follow quantum theory in physics towards a form that ‘acknowledges the observer…as an active participant…presents a narrative as short bites, or quanta…and rejects the concept of a single objective view of reality’. Complaining that ‘Science fiction writers are in the ironic position of depicting the future using techniques derived entirely from the past’ Platt points towards Gibson’s Neuromancer and the two-column passages in Delaney’s Dhalgren as approaching quantum fiction, and called for authors to facilitate a process of selection and flow on the part of readers – ‘The appeal of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, for instance, was largely a function of its mood, shifting perspectives, and fragmentary images.’
Platt cites his inspiration as the analytic cubism of Picasso, Braque and latterly David Hockney, calling for a fiction which will similarly allow the capture of essence and allow ‘the vicarious experience of moving freely through the scene,’ which he feels to have been achieved by Ballard, whose 1960s novels ‘contained multiple segmented perspectives very much like cubist paintings, sampling not only space but time and human psychology.’ He stated: ‘this kind of experience, in which we are free to sample fragments of artistically rendered reality, is random access,’ highlighting experiments in the production of hyperfictions that utilised web architecture to allow stratified forms of storytelling, turning the reader into a pathfinder. Three prominent examples of Hyperfiction from Platt’s era, all of which are still running online in archived form (although I can’t get portal or afternoon to work properly on chrome or safari):
Platt and his interlocutors in the article also point towards some example of the hypertext or quantum approach in more conventional literary formats including Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, John Brunner Stand on Zanzibar, Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, Milorad Pavić The Dictionary of the Khazars, and experiments undertaken by the the Oulipo movement in france, for example Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual and the lipogram A Void. More widely we could see elements of the hyperficitonal in the epistolary form or choose-your-own-adventure (Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch as the most prominent recent outing). Platt’s contention is that these attempts to innovate the literary form have failed because ‘they were not easily accessible to the mass audience, were extremely difficult for the writer to control successfully, and therefore never led to an enduring school or tradition.’
Whilst Platt’s proposal might have once seemed a logical route for the progression of modernist popular culture, the linear, discrete mode has remained the dominant form of production, with hosting platforms rather than the works themselves enabling random access between an admixture of worlds. Platt’s predictions belong to a different world infused with the optimism of web 1.0. Although he anticipates the hyperactive attention economy of the present-day web, he still assumes a great degree of patience on the part of his reader – truly engaging with these hyperfictions can become very tedious when much of their value rests on the novelty of the technology in a pre-google/pre-wikipedia world where the internet barely existed. To the contemporary reader, any text hosted online is inherently hyperlinked to the whole rest of the internet, the equivalent of the temptation to stare out the window or simply move on is too great.
Hyperfictions of these kinds are constructed in the mind of internet users, for whom the admixture of the timeline and infinite scroll begins to take on this kind of assemblage effect, the headlines of shared news stories never read are intermingled with photos of the children of acquaintances. The affectual rollercoaster of the twitter feed swings instantly between outrage and hilarity, with no buffer zone producing mixed emotions and mixed affects. How do you feel when you put your phone down? You’re not sure. Good and Bad – goodbad, badgood. Maybe the timeline is a hyperfiction or at least a hyperspace, or a quantum space? Maybe all of those attributions are too grand.
Mark Fisher covered these ideas in his piece ‘Time Wars’, lamenting the intermixing of work and non-work time that contemporary communicative capitalism has engendered:
Cyberspatial urgencies – the smartphone’s flashing red light, the siren call of its alert – function like trance-inhibitors or alarm clocks that keep waking us out of collective dreaming. In these conditions, intellectual work can only be undertaken on a short-term basis. Only prisoners have time to read, and if you want to engage in a twenty-year long research project funded by the state, you will have to kill someone.
Against this background of timeline admixture fans will become active participants in a work when it feels complete and compelling in it’s verisimilitude, and express that participation through production whether invited to do so or not – in fact preferring to play within fictional universes that appear more complete and aesthetically congruent such as the highly detailed universes of Star Trek and Star Wars, and allow the authorial status of these productions to be inherently collective.
In Foucault’s text What is an Author? (1969), he calls towards a notion of literature in which the status of the author becomes increasingly irrelevant, signalling the ways that the writer of the modernist work has historically been upheld as a heroic individual, with the meaning and value of a text dependent upon proper attribution and cases of ‘Literary anonymity…of interest only as a puzzle to be solved as, in our day, literary works are totally dominated by the sovereignty of the author.’ Barthes echoes these concerns in The Death of the Author, stating ‘when the Author has been found, the text is ‘explained’ – victory to the critic.’ (two examples that spring to mind, the speculation around the attribution of Pauline Réage’s Story of O and Bataille’s Story of the Eye published under the psuedonym Lord Auch – in both cases the sexual transgressions detailed within build a greater power when authorial attribution is removed, or at least that the notion of the mortal author can be held at arms distance).
Instead Foucault indicates that the future cultural work might take the form of discursive practice, following the example of those who choose to work within the oeuvre of Marx and Freud, who ‘made possible a certain number of analogies that could be adopted by future texts, but…also made possible a certain number of differences.’ Foucault draws attention to these differences as a vital component to any significant work, for which the originators of such fields simply ‘cleared a space’. If, as the epithet goes, nothing ever died of its contradictions, might we infer the reverse, that contradictions are what anything healthy needs to live?
Foucault predicts a future in which ‘We can easily imagine a culture where discourse would circulate without any need for an author. Discourses, whatever their status, form, or value, and regardless of our manner of handling them, would unfold in a pervasive anonymity.’ The meme is probably the truest incarnation of this tendency, and by extension ideas of theoretical discourse that hold a memetic, hyperstitional charge – accelerationism most notably, with the notion of originary authorship impossible to locate within a group voice such as that of the CCRU (or latterly cave twitter) and irrelevant to a practice emerging via a process of hyperstition (i.e. we can never reliably attribute the author of an idea that arrives from our future). This is authorship arriving via the logic of the mob.
The shared universe work also constitutes a discursive practice, that of a single fiction inhabited by multiple authors. Sometimes literally, as in the case of posthumous sequels by a ghost writer or named author working in another’s milieu, a tendency found mainly in popular fiction, (i.e. Eric Van Lustbader’s Jason Bourne novels which now greatly outnumber those by series initiator Robert Ludlum, with the later books bearing both writers’ names in a confusion of authorship). In most cases of the canon or fan work, the notion of authorship ultimately recedes into obscurity, with the world produced by an author coming to act as a stand-in for authorial sovereignty. This is particularly present in the realms of film, television and comic books which are usually ensemble productions from their outset. Barthes alludes to such a form in his conception of texts that are ‘not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the AuthorGod) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.’ Such an admixture as this is the dominant form for fiction in the postmodernist mode, and yet the patchwork, ‘writers room’ nature of composition does not diminish any of its power for the fan, for whom hero worship of an author or creator is something removed from their appreciation for the work itself.
To Barthes, this multidimensional space is reliant upon the reader, whose cultural awareness and intertextual lack of orthodoxy allows such a commingling:
there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author. The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.
At the most basic level Barthes sees such instances as polysemous works, containing ‘a “floating chain” of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others.’ More ideally, such works would become ‘writerly’, not simply constituting a choice to read or ignore, but to ‘make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text,’ with the opposite (and majority) of texts ‘read, but not written: the readerly. We call any readerly text a classic text.’ The writerly text does not rely on the novelty of Quantum Fiction-style ‘random access’, but is that which offers ‘several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one’ and in its multiplicity constitutes a universe, or in Barthes’ terms ‘a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds,’ presenting plural polysemous images and formations that invite the reader to become active and participant.
As a side note, returning to Charles Platt, this blog post interview about his time as editor and occasional art director of New Worlds, (including ballard layouts etc,) its a good read if just to learn about how magazines were put together before word processing.
 Michel Foucault “What is an Author?” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard, Sherry Simon (New York: Cornell University Press,1977), 126.
Where the early sci-fi fandoms used the form of the fanzine as a means to an end (to enable communication and the formation of community, bypassing mainstream print media), contemporary fanzines, at least in the guise seen at zine fairs and zine libraries, are perhaps more concerned with the media of the fanzine as an end in and of itself. Hardcopy is cherished as novelty, for the physicality of laser printed or risographed pages, the print equivalent of vinyl fetishists going on about crackles and warmth. Some part of the contemporary urge to make zines must come from a place of nostalgia and anachronism – a rejection of mass methods of communication and yearning for a simpler pre-internet age. It inherits its DIY spirit and Lo-Fi cut and paste aesthetic via the Situationists, Punk (Sniffin’ Glue) and Grunge (Sub-pop) and feeds into (or has been co-opted by) a lifestyle consumerism focused on discern and connoisseurship (the handmade/artisanal/locally-sourced) rather than maximal ingestion.
I don’t mean to be a miserablist – I am far from an austere corporeality-rejecting cyber-rationalist. I too would choose a book on paper or an album on vinyl any day of the week. Some things worth keeping need to be made-tangible, made-real (not to mention the risk of cultural wipeout via electromagnetic pulse). Sometimes the handmade and DIY is still the fastest and easiest way to publish, beneath the formalism of the ISBN. For some marginalised communities the fanzine has remained a vital avenue of production – to bypass censorship, overcome disenfranchisement, or avoid jumping through the gatekeeper hoops of academic and commercial publishing. The zine-qua-zine also facilitates a community of producers who swap copies by post and in person. Physical publications retain a possibility of real world stumble-across that is increasingly difficult to replicate via social media platforms whose primary instinct is to centralise and ghettoise.
For the purposes of this project, I am more concerned with the impulse to produce on the part of fans, over and above a fixation with the media forms that these productions take. Trying to trace the beginnings of the fan-production mode is another rabbit hole of conjecture (Greek and Roman myths/The Bible/The Canterbury Tales/the complete works of Shakespeare/Jane Austen fanfics/Gulliver’s travels fanfics all get a mention) – suffice to say the impulse to make work using characters and worlds produced by others has been around a long time, and arguably has constituted the primary mode of cultural production for much of human history, counter to the modernist myth of authorial genius.
The truest contemporary equivalents of the fanzine impulse are now in the online communities hosted by platforms such as fanfiction repository AO3 (Archive of Our Own), and on more general platforms like reddit and Tumblr. Shifting these communities online has accelerated the speed and quantity of production, with AO3 hosting over 5 million works produced by fans since 2009. Fan art can be traditional works of devotion and tribute such as drawings, slash fiction by singular fans, or at its most ambitious collaborative film works that come close to studio productions in scale and ambition, if not quite in execution.
These fan produced films and TV shows constitute a genre in their own right, flavoured by an aesthetic of optimistic ambition. For example the unofficial Star Trek series Hidden Frontier, of which 50 full-length episodes were produced between 2000-2007
Unofficial straight-to-VHS Doctor Who spinoffs produced by Reeltime Pictures, carefully skirting copyright and licensing issues.
Star Wars has inspired a huge number of fan produced films, that since 2002 have been recognised by The Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards. (Lucasfilm retains some antagonism towards fan productions, originally forbidding any fanfiction-type entries that were set in-universe or sought to expand the canon, with Jim Ward, former vice president of marketing stating “We love our fans…But if in fact someone is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that’s not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is.”)
For the most part, these fan produced films originate from a period in the 90s and early 2000s slightly before the regurgitation and reboot mode of hollywood kicked in (the franchise mentality which seeks to keep audiences topped up with regular doses of their preferred cinematic universe). They speak of a fan’s desire to fill a gap, to continue storylines, a genuine need and hunger for content before the overload of youtube, when there hadn’t been any new Doctor Who episodes for ten years, and Star Wars was just three films. While not matching the production values of commercial film and television (recent Star Wars fan films come close) these works are perhaps closest in form to those made by contemporary video artists, with similar budgets and techniques, using DSLR cameras, thrifty costumes and a reliance on greenscreen (I’m thinking of someone like Rachel Maclean). The accessibility of editing and effects software to amateurs has closed the gap between ‘industry’ and laymen. The main thing that sticks out in most fan films is the languorous pace of editing, as though every shot is miraculous and precious to the amateur film-maker – slow editing pace being a notorious characteristic of artist film.
On occasion, methods originating in the world of fan art are explicitly co-opted by artists as low cost and effective approaches to image production, such as the ‘machinima’ technique that uses in-game video editors to produce moving image works. Artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy utilise the technique in their Finding Fanon (2015-18) series of moving image works, that use the Grand Theft Auto V (2013) in-game video editor. In the series, avatars of the artists search through the eerie desolate edgelands of San Andreas at dusk, beneath a poetic voiceover that occasionally alludes to the work of postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon, at one point speculating “What if Fanon’s message was not simply one of love, but a warning of the impending reality that we are asleep to? Wake up my friend, let us search for the answer.” (Probably in reference to Fanon: “Today, I believe in the possibility of love; that is why I endeavour to trace its imperfections, its perversions” – thinking back to the earlier thought that the form of love expressed by the fan is the perverted, unrequited love of the onanist).
Whilst to most artist filmmakers using the constraints of a video game to produce footage might become a barrier to freeform image-making, Achiampong and Blandy allow the limitations of the fan mode to become their conceptual material, stating: ‘The baggage that comes with [using GTA v] is equally exciting, the fact that you are forced into certain stereotypes, certain types of landscapes, it’s a bit like working with found object sculpture but in a virtual form.’ In instances such as these, it is the devotion drive of the fan that has inspired and allowed the pushing and adaptation of image production technologies to find new, economically viable routes that are free from the profit motive, and thus allow for the uncovering of new possibilities within the existing media.
The status of the contemporary fan-as-producer has become increasingly legitimised under the advocacy of the not-for-profit Organisation for Transformative Works, (transformative in the sense of utilising pre-existing authored works) of which AO3 is a part. The OTW aims ‘to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms.’ There has been a proliferation of academic research on the subject of the fan in the past decade that has grown around the peer-reviewed journal of the OTW – Transformative Works and Cultures (2008-), and has instigated a turn away from the typical view of fan activity as simply a hobby or pastime and towards the positioning of fan output as a form of labour that generates value for both the audiences and parent companies of media franchises.
In a 2014 issue of the journal focusing on ‘Fandom and/as labor’, Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis describe how ‘this disjuncture [between fan labour and work] partially comes from the fact that fan activity is by all appearances both freely chosen and understood as pleasure, neither of which is typically associated with work.’ Such attitudes to labour deepen the affinity between the subjectivity of the fan and the artist, with the pleasurable, immaterial labour of both being somewhat incompatible with traditional economic models. Both also stand to make a specific contribution to contemporary dialogues around the shifting status of labour and the spectre of new forms of cultural production that might be engendered by an automated post-work society.
As well as defining one form of the genre cul-de-sac of Sci-Fi, Amazing Stories, shortly followed by the arguably more influential Astounding Science Fiction (Still running as Analog) and other fiction magazines of its ilk also spawned the community of Sci-Fi fanclubs and the secondary media of the fanzine. The history of early fandom and the fanzine and the question of the ‘original’ fanzine is a very contested area and a pretty deep internet rabbit hole to fall into – most of the secondary research is happy to repeat the claim that The Comet was the first fanzine, but delving a bit deeper makes tracing the beginnings of fan activity and production (i.e. the point at which these publications became more than just newsletters or bulletin boards) very complex. Alot of this information is scattered across different very comprehensive sites run by fan communities, and I have spent more time than I probably should have done trying to tie together threads that are not concisely compiled elsewhere in one place.
The Comet sprang from the vibrant letters page of Amazing, which began to constitute communities of its own including Chicago’s Science Correspondence Club. The SCC bypassed the letters page of Amazing into its own amateur publication, whose first issue appeared in May 1930 – the copy that is usually credited as the first fanzine. A full scan of that issue is available at http://fanac.org/fanzines/Comet/ and shows that the contents were mostly concerned with the election of officials for the newly formed club, castigation of members who had yet to pay their dues, and a single piece of science content – a short essay on ‘Trends in Psychology’ by Lilith Lorraine (who would become a frequent contributor and editor of SF zines of the period). Original editor of the Comet, Raymond Arthur Palmer would also go on to edit SF prozines including Amazing Stories, overseeing the publication of the Shaver Mysteries in the mid 1940s. The Comet quickly changed its name to Cosmology, and ended in 1933 after 17 issues (quite a long run for a ‘zine of the time).
The publication of the Bronx-based Scienceers club, The Planet (first issue July 1930) is also regularly mentioned as an early prominent (possibly first ‘proper’) fanzine title. One of the primary distinctions of the Scienceers over the SCC is the fact that they were the first club to meet in person (rather than by post) and again, names associated with The Planet would become involved in professional Sci-Fi and comicbook publishing. Associate editor Mort Weisinger became a prominent editor at DC comics, overseeing Silver age superman throughout the 50s and 60s, alongside fellow Scienceer Julius Schwartz. Schwartz and Weisinger led a partial splinter group of the Scienceers, publishing their own fanzine The Time Traveller,sometimes credited as the first Sci-Fi fanzine that was primarily concerned with Fiction more than Science. These connections are sometimes tied together with the fact that the Scienceers logo bears something of a passing resemblance to Superman’s.
Delving into this early first fandom history, a picture emerges in which Superman was a joint product of the context and milieu of fanzines and their fan-producers. Time Traveller subscriber and Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s 1929 fanzine Cosmic Stories is another often-cited contender for ‘first fanzine’, which sounds like it may have been more along the lines of a fanzine as outlet for fan-produced fictions, containing Siegel’s rejected submissions to professional SF magazines. The distribution is reported to have been in very low numbers and localised, so its impact or claim as ‘first fanzine’ is probably negligible – unfortunately if there are any still existing copies they don’t seem to have made it online in scanned form. Within a few years Siegel would team up with school friend Joe Shuster to produce another fan fiction-zine, titled Science Fiction, the January 1933 issue of which contained the story ‘Reign of the Superman’ – the beginnings of Siegel and Shuster’s many attempts to bring the Superman character we now know into fruition.
The Comet and Planet as two examples of first era ‘zines are definitely oriented towards facilitating community exchange between fans, rather than publishing new fiction produced by fans, or even much writing about the fiction of others. Where there is original written contributions these are mostly small articles of around 100 words on the subject of new scientific discoveries – the first two issues of the Planet contain pieces entitled ‘Shall We Eat in 2030?’, ‘The Sea as a Source of Power’, ‘Space Flying As News’, ‘The Internal Heat of the Earth’. The editors are clearly working in the mold of Amazing’s Hugo Gernsback and his view that Sci-Fi should be science first and fiction second. Where the early zines concern fiction their orientation is definitely as fans of the pulp magazines – a list of the best ‘Scientific-Fantasy’ stories of 1930 in issue 6 of The Planet pulls its entries from pulp titles The Blue Book, The Argosy, Astounding Stories, Wonder Stories and Weird Tales (Astounding accounts for 9 of the 15 entries).
Another sense that emerges from my admittedly fleeting browse of the first wave SF fanzines is that while there is a definite community and particular humour that forms on the pages, they are also marked by quite fractious exchanges between individual fans and rival Sci-Fi clubs. Non-Payment of subscription dues seems to be a long-running irritation (admittedly running something like this by postal subscription must have been an administrative nightmare). The front cover of Detours from October 1940, (the issue in which Russ Chauvenet coined the term ‘fanzine’) details a disagreement between rival clubs about the date of a proposed conference (as a side note, the names of the early sci-fi clubs are really great – The Solaroids and The Sunspots both have big Thomas Pynchon vibes). Rivalries between and schisms within clubs constitute a fanlore of their own such as the split between the Futurians and the New Futurians that was important in the birth of the New Wave.
A large part of this early fandom’s regard is towards itself, as evinced by the nuanced lexicon of positions within the fan ecology that revere dedication and shun the outside world (admittedly with self deprecation). Examples include the ‘Trufan’ (one who is particularly dedicated and active), the ‘Actifan’ (an active fan), the B.N.F (Big name fan – one who has achieved a level of fame within their particular fandom), and the Faan (‘One whose interests lie in fans and their activities rather than science fiction.’) The world outside of Fandom is Mundania, where fans go when they Gafiate (Get Away From It All). This fan lexicon is another example of the kind of linguistic complexity used to shut out/shut in or dis/enfranchise that I talked about in the recent post On Complexity and its Opposite, and while the price of acceptance may have been a high degree of dedication on the part of fans, this is understandable for a community as removed from ‘real life’ and therefore open to derision and ridicule as that around Science Fiction.
Alongside the US based first fandom outlined above, a parallel scene of UK fandom was emerging in tandem, documented in great detail in Rob Hansen’s comprehensive Then, Then Again and Home Front. One of the fanzine titles emerging from this UK scene, Novae Terrae (1936-39) the magazine of the Nuneaton Science Fiction League, was the predecessor to long-running pro-magazine title New Worlds, which pioneered the ‘new-wave’ of literary science fiction including the early work of J.G. Ballard. Many of the stories that would ultimately be compiled as chapters in the Atrocity Exhibition first appeared in New Worlds. Two great sites that catalogue which of Ballard’s stories first appeared through magazines such as New Worlds:
Where the US fan and ‘zine community turned most substantially into the pop culture of comic books, UK fanzines beget the darker world of New Wave sci-fi (although maybe this is a selective view.) In both instances, these fan scenes resulted in an opening up of the New, in the terms also referred to in the ‘on complexity’ post, after technologies such as the mimeograph and photocopier are passed down for misuse into the hands of amateurs.
Sci-Fi fandom’s high degree of self regard and self-historicisation is probably why there is so much contention and importance placed on the idea of what was first. In truth the beginnings of the fanzine and the pop culture it spawned are not works of individual genius but a product of zeitgeist. The techniques and technology were already existent: distribution lists of knowledge exchange such as amateur press associations were already popular in the late 19th century, including the United Amateur Press run by a young H.P. Lovecraft. The fanzine and its antecedents were the product of a communal, societal need and mode of behaviour, vitally born out of fan devotion toward speculative fictioning, and the particular moment of 1930s high modernism for which Sci-Fi held such resonance. These things just had to be made weird before they could beget new territory.
The fan is not the spectator/consumer/viewer/audience that haunts art history and film studies, forever inscrutable and unknowable. Nor is the fan simply the user or follower of social media platforms, a willing participant in the generation of content and engagement. The fan crosses over to occupy some space within the worlds produced by fiction, transcending the space of enjoyment towards one of enactment – this is the nature of fan-being. To be a fan is to be productive, both in the sense of lending one’s credulity and imaginative power to the production of contingent worlds, and through the forms of labour and active authorship that fans undertake – through fan theory, fan art and fan fictioning. The fan is a usually collective subject, drawing upon and thriving within the specific system of relations that fandom entails, either on the informal level of shared appreciation with friends, or in more formalised fan engagement, such as membership of fanclubs, societies and online communities. The sociality of the fan is at once both personal immersion and social alienation from the ‘straight’ world of non-fans, or members of rival fandoms – it is to be possessed of a split subjectivity between oneself and the object of one’s obsession.
To be a fanboy or fangirl is to reject desublimation, to not know where enjoyment (and thus immersion) should end, or at least to ignore the curtailments and self-regulation that the social mores of production entail. It is to allow oneself to believe in fictional worlds and universes to a degree that does not overwrite but can be adjacent to lived reality, and have an equal level of ‘real-world’ effect. It is to not allow one’s knowledge of the political realities of production to result in scepticism but rather a radical credulity – a stance oriented towards the possible, the hypothetical and the mythopoetic. To be a fan is to love, in a form that comes close to that expounded as a political possibility by Michael Hardt, whereby ‘we lose ourselves…and open the possibility of a new world, but…love constitutes powerful bonds that last.’ Hardt in turn follows the path of Spinoza’s declaration that ‘Love is nothing but joy with the accompanying idea of an external cause.’
The conflation of the fan and the lover runs deep. Vera Keller points out that in early modern Europe fans were referred to as Lovers, with the contemporary Dutch word for fan remaining liefhebber – literally, “lover”, and the term also being the root of the English ‘Amateur’. In a similar vein we could also point to the ‘phile’ suffix/prefix coming from the Greek Philos – to love. Keller describes how the activity of Lovers in this period birthed new artistic forms of production such as the cabinet d’amateur or ‘Gallery Paintings’ in which constcammer/ Kunstkammer/ Wunderkammer/ cabinets of curiosity were re-depicted as a collection-as-whole. Flemish painter Willem van Haecht specialised in the form, depicting the collection of his patron Cornelis van der Geest, for whom van Haecht also acted as curator. Some of the depictions of the collection record visits by important figures such as Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, others place historic figures such as Alexander the Great inside the gallery, admiring van der Geest’s collection. The cabinet d’amateur paintings contain many copied re-depictions of work by other artists, a form of sampling in which the overall painting becomes a confused mesh of authorial sovereignty, the equivalent of a gallery catalogue being elevated to the status of a work of art in its own right. The value of these paintings partly rests in the novelty of van Haecht’s ability to re-produce the works of great masters such as van Eyck and Rubens in miniature, functioning as a camera (Camera=Chamber=Kammer) to perform the first gallery install shots.
Another example Keller points to is 16th/17th century Album Amicorum friendship books, as works of multiple authorship in their collections of autographs, engravings and quotations. Two good examples viewable online are that of cartographer and antiquarian Abraham Ortelius, whose album is available in digitised form via the University of Cambridge digital library and the album of Moyses Walens available via the British Library. Such albums act as directories of the early modern republic of letters that accompanied and engendered the rise of enlightenment humanism, communal equivalents of the personal commonplace books that were prevalent at that time. Keller’s conclusion is ultimately that “The history of the lover…intervenes between the heroic, self-curating individualism of the Renaissance, and the mass market of modern celebrity culture,” however it seems to me that such examples as the cabinet d’amateur and album amicorum do not constitute a ‘work’ in the discrete sense but are simply scrapbooks and collections from an age before mechanical reproduction. The products of the human hand contained within are only such out of technological necessity, rather than a desire for a multiplicitous authorial voice in defiance of renaissance individualism.
The early modern Lover perhaps has more in common with the contemporary collector, and helps to distinguish how the collector is a different thing to the Fan. Whilst one might be both, their impulses are not mutually inclusive. Clumsily I might suggest that the collector’s desire is to ‘have’ and the fan’s desire is to ‘be’ the object of their affections. If both are Lovers, such a love is importantly unreciprocated by the object of their affections and even thrives upon the absence of reciprocation. To be a fan is to be both autist and onanist.
The form of fandom to which I am referring is native to and perhaps most compatible with genre fiction, in particular Sci-Fi. It is made possible by the open-ended and speculative nature of these forms of fiction and the effective worlding that takes place within. Science Fiction in a form we would recognise is usually traced back to the 1920s, although its roots certainly lie further back in the fantasy, gothic, weird and speculative fictions of the 1800s and beyond, with all of these forms of fiction interchangeable and loosely defined until the mid 20th century. Credit for the genrefication of Sci-Fi often goes to the pulp short fiction magazines of the 20s and 30s such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, which existed within a wider context of popular fiction magazines designed to satisfy a public appetite for short fiction. A browse through the index at https://www.pulpmags.org/magazines.html shows a huge number of niche titles from this era including Basketball Stories, Fight Stories, Frontier stories, Indian stories, Jungle stories, Ranch Romances and Saucy Stories. Amazing Stories is often cited as defining Sci-Fi as a specific genre in its pulp form, its founder Hugo Gernsback using the editorial of issue 1 (april 1926) to distance Amazing from the wider fiction magazine offering: ‘There is the usual fiction magazine, the love story and the sex-appeal type of magazine, the adventure type, and so on, but a magazine of “Scientifiction” is a pioneer in its field in America.’ this ‘Scientifiction’ was defined as ‘a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision,’ and pointing to the fictions of Poe, Verne and H.G Wells, should be ‘always instructive. They supply knowledge that we might not otherwise obtain—and they supply it in a very palatable form.’
Importantly then, the form of Sci-Fi envisioned by Gernsback contained a twin charge of the rational (Ratiocination as Poe would have it) and the weird (I’m not totally convinced though that the affective ‘Weird’ in the terms Mark Fisher carved out is what applies to the imaginative openings in this kind of Sci-Fi) its speculative elements had to remain credible and ultimately to concern the advancement of the human race through science. Gernsback’s explicit ambition is that these fictions seek to prophesise and lay the imaginative groundwork for future technologists, using the example of Verne predicting the submarine and stating that ‘Many great science stories destined to be of an historical interest are still to be written, and Amazing Stories magazine will be the medium through which such stories will come to you. Posterity will point to them as having blazed a new trail, not only in literature and fiction, but in progress as well.’ (Is such an ambition Hyperstitional? Perhaps not, insomuch as it is the readers of these fictions which will seek to make them real rather than the fictions themselves, therefore they are more proposition or hypothesis than hyperstition.) It’s perhaps the same kind of speculative-functional intention that the Russian cosmist writers were driven by, that new fictions can open up new worlds.
At the end of the first spin-off future post I moved towards some thoughts on complexity, in this case the inherent complications of comic book universes and their infinite crossovers and twisted timelines – a trope that has been variably regulated (crisis on infinite earths) and proliferated (the new 52) over the last 50 years. I ended that post by saying that an affect of complexity is part of the fun of superhero comics (at least when read on a macro scale) and that encouraging this affect could act as a frustration to capital’s simplification/centralisation drive. I’ve been mulling this over and I think there is more to say and work out with regards to complexity as a necessarily alter-capitalist impulse.
To say ‘affect of complexity’ could suggest purple prose or a neckbeard floweriness. My call for complexity is not a call for the baroque, or at least not a super-textual baroque – not at the level of the surface texture, of hyper-sophistication. I am interested though in the baroque as a political proposition, as an opposition to the project of rationalist protestant modernism, of stripped-back and stripped-bare churches and homes, of ascetic and aesthetic piety. The baroque is complication taken to the point of absurdity, to the point where it renders a thing useless, too unwieldy – in other words makes a thing Art, to the degree in which art is the useless thing (the vital question here being, ‘useless to whom?’ and whether only useful things are digestible to capital). The baroque can be used to obscure, occlude and occult, to glamour.
To Deleuze, the baroque is an example of his favourite diagram – the fold – in action, taking this folding to the nth degree. The baroque “invents the infinite work or operation. The problem is not how to finish a fold, but how to continue it, make it go through the roof, take it to infinity.” In this way the baroque contains something of the cyber-positive, of runaway growth and exponential additivism. Deleuze’s baroque was importantly characterised by its duplicity, its organisation of the high and the low, interior and exterior: “the characteristic of the Baroque is the fold that goes on to infinity…it differentiates them along two lines…the coils of matter, and the fold in the soul.” In the example of the folded complexity of an expanded superhero universe, it is perhaps the latter, the substructural layer which contains the intricacies of the baroque, whilst the surface remains open and direct – often linguistically simple to the point of naivety (indeed language often reaches its lower limits and fails in the comic book, degrading to the onomatopoeic; “THUNK”, “KA-TAANG”, “RRRROWWR”, “BZZZT”).
If not the textually baroque, then what is it’s opposite, its other? Not unadorned minimalism which is itself easily digested by capital and spat out as advertising copy, wipe clean surfaces and office lobby sculptures. Much of the art and culture that I enjoy and choose to make could be described as ‘primitive’ in impulse or execution and specifically un-complicated. This is not really to do with genre (guitar/synthesiser) or technological achievement (lo-fi/Hi-fi) as much as it is to do with a certain directness – a refusal of academic sophistication or training which reveals, knows or feels (a priori) that sophistication is a myth or a method of gatekeeping that has little to do with a fulfilling experience of cultural production or reception. This is not to do with being easy or difficult to enjoy – works of outsider or folk art can be just as ‘difficult’ to eyes and ears trained on the products of mass media. Nor is it about obscurantism, i.e that which is harder to access is inherently better, or the artist who has elected to stay underground and never sell out – works of primitive impulse can occasionally but rarely be found in the realm of mass entertainment, made by those whose impulse was to seek money, success and fame.
It seems that often where primitive impulses are allowed to flourish unfiltered, this is where the space of the new opens up. When the technology or instrument that is slightly old is handed down beyond the realm of the expert and the controlled conditions of the laboratory, when that instrument is mis-played, mis-handled, perverted, queered, jazzed by those who don’t know, dont care or don’t want to read the manual, that’s usually where the new is being made. Three quick examples that spring to mind; the american suburban garage proto-punk bands and their cargo cult approximations of british invasion R and B, Lee “scratch” Perry’s misuse of the studio as his instrument, A Guy Called Gerald’s sampler with insufficient memory curtailing the sample “Voodoo Rage” into the repeated mantra of “Voodoo Ray”.
Where these breakages have opened up a space for the new, this is not simply in the sense of the novel (i.e. this is good simply because it has never been done before) but the new as in new potentials, new territory, the ‘new’ or ‘next’ that is essentially the problem of contemporary art, politics, ideas – that which is at stake in the cultural impasse of capitalist realism. Why is this in any way alter-capitalist? Why would capital (or at least commerce) not want to co-opt this rare affect for mass consumption? In many cases it does and has, but has rarely succeeded in its capture and reproduction on its own terms. After all the new is what capital also desires, but cannot produce of itself apart from new markets for the old or undesired. Where capital’s impulses are at the heart of cultural production, this is where sophistication, training and complexity step in as an ersatz coverup for the lack of fundamental new – the smoke and mirrors of showbusiness.
Stepping back for a moment, what was at stake in my previous post was the ability of complexity to empower or disempower – much of this has to do with the twin tactics of obfuscation and gate-keeping, both of which can be used to shut out and shut in as needed. The conversation around ‘International Art English’ is a good enough example – Alix Rule and David Levine’s much-circulated 2013 piece took issue with the garbled continental philosophy of eflux distributed gallery press releases, asking “Can we imagine an art world without IAE? If press releases could not telegraph the seriousness of their subjects, what would they simply say? Without its special language, would art need to submit to the scrutiny of broader audiences and local ones? Would it hold up?” Hito Steyerl takes a nuanced approach in her criticism of Rule and Levine, pointing out their preference for a standardised English that effectively disenfranchises non-native English speakers from the realm of critical theory. Steyerl calls instead for ‘a language that is not policed by formerly imperial, newly global corporations, by national statistics – a language that takes on and confronts issues of circulation, labor, and privilege.’
There is a right and wrong place for over-complexity in the eyes of capital – the right place being the machinations of finance and economics, which most laymen admit to being too confused by to bother trying to understand, the wrong place being in consumer products (cultural artefacts included). Sophisticated but uncomplicated is probably capital’s preferred cultural flavour – the equivalent of the ubiquitous TV chef line: “simple ingredients, expertly prepared.” Over-complexity of the wrong kind in the wrong places runs the risk of either shutting out new consumers or trapping existing audiences in one place. Capital wants you to be a loyal consumer but it doesnt want you to be a total geek – capital prefers omnivores. It requires a certain amount of lateral travel. If you get too stuck in one cul-de-sac you might run out of road, run out of product once your completist desires have been realised, leaving you either to luxuriate in the knowledge of possessing the full set, or more dangerously to turn your consumptive impulses to production (more on fan production to come in later posts).
Likewise, learning to tolerate, read and produce complexity and its opposite in alter-capitalist forms requires two modes of action; revel in useless complication where you wish to frustrate the money men, employ primitivity and degradations of the machinery when you have something new to say.
Shared universe works usually build a devoted fan following (Fandoms), with the universe form symptomatic of production companies’ desire to build brand loyalty, and fandom symptomatic of the enveloping immersion that shared universe works are able to produce. Often, fans become so immersed within the fictional worlds to which they are devoted that obsession begets production, with fans becoming authors who join in the work of expanding and constituting a shared universe. This spreading of authorship within creative works, and the further dislocation of impetus between authors and fans is particularly compatible with the modes of production and knowledge transfer enabled by the internet, in which the notion of provenance has become increasingly irrelevant. As media consumers are encouraged to become producers of user-generated content the traditional constraints of copyright become impossible to police and increasingly anachronistic. Only the gatekeeping of what is granted the status of canon (accepted into an official shared universe history) can diminish the ability of fans to receive recognition as authors. In this way shared universe works take on something of the self-propagating meme or hyperstition – the process by which ideas might make themselves real and wherein ‘fiction is not opposed to the real. Rather [the real] is understood to be composed of fictions.’
The fictions and artworks that I will examine throughout this project extend the tendency of worlding, in the Heidegerrian sense of the process by which the world ‘presences’ – (‘the world’s worlding cannot be explained by anything else nor can it be fathomed through anything else.’) In the sense too of Donna Haraway’s ‘relentlessly contingent sf worlding of living and dying, of becoming-with and unbecoming-with, of sympoiesis, and so, just possibly, of multispecies flourishing on earth.’ It is Deleuze’s interpretation of the Leibniz monad, whereby ‘every soul or subject (monad) is completely closed, windowless and doorless, and contains the whole world in its darkest depths, while also illuminating some little portion of that world, each monad, a different portion.’ If a ‘universing’ might have anything specific to offer beyond an extrapolative worlding, it might be the possibility to encompass and pluralise, through spin-offs that create not just artworks-as-worlds, but parasitic spaces for the production of the new within a cultural landscape that is perceptibly stagnant.
This project takes place in the shadow of discourses in contemporary theory that posit fictions and fictioning as practices carrying a speculative political charge. The dialogues branching out from this nascent field of research are summarised in two anthologies published in late 2017 – Sternberg Press’ Fiction as Method and Repeater Books’ Futures and Fictions, which both seek to position fiction as a tool for overcoming the kind of stagnant neoliberal present outlined by Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism (2009). The editors of Fiction as Method, Jon K Shaw and Theo Reeves-Evison state their interest in ‘the role of fiction in moving us beyond the impasses of the present, in opening to the radically new, embracing or reinvigorating the incoming future, and of turning towards the abstract, even numinous, outside,’ sentiments echoed by Simon O’Sullivan, co-editor of Futures and Fictions, who outlines that volume’s interest in ‘how these future fictions have a more general traction on the real, not least insofar as they can offer concrete models for other ways of life in the present.’
To some extent, searching for ‘concrete models’ in fiction is an attempt to live prefiguratively, bypassing political processes. The intention of this project is not to search for concrete models in shared universes that can be put into play in our lived political reality, but to use such works as a political formation for thinking about impasse differently. Throughout, the notion of the ‘real’ will remain as a spectre upon this work – It is not the ambition of this essay to establish terms for this real within idealist/materialist or rationalist/empiricist dialectics beyond a recognition that much fictioning discourse takes place in the wake of object-oriented ontology/speculative realism, by which a fiction becomes an object of ontic parity with material substance. These philosophical modes are dependent upon Kantian conceptions of a noumenal realm inaccessible to the lived experience of human subjects – such an elusive real is certainly at stake in the notion of fiction, with verisimilitude offering the line of demarcation for belief as a political impetus. For now I will persist with the nebulous definition that the real is that which is no longer fiction, and fiction is that which is not yet real.
The academic discourses around fictioning widely acknowledge their lineage with the CCRU and their debt to the notion of hyperstition, in particular the importance of mythos and its deployment in a practice of mythopoesis (i.e. myth-making), meanwhile seeking to distance themselves from the perceived promethean tendencies of accelerationism for which this project ultimately laid the groundwork. Where the Nick Land school of unconditional acceleration (U/Acc) and the collective Laboria Cuboniks’ XenoFeminism urge their subject to embrace and enhance the alienations of technocapital as a means through/beyond/outside, the social justice drive of the contemporary liberal left would prefer to seek new strategies for unification which take proper account of the myriad subjectivities of race, gender and social class for whom such alienations constitute a very real form of subjugation. The politics of empowerment and privilege-checking through which the social justice movement operates is often accused of weakening the social democratic left, producing fragmentations that echo the individuating atomisation of neoliberalism. Laboria Cuboniks assert that ‘…‘cyberspace’ once offered the promise of escaping the strictures of essentialist identity categories…these stages are too often overrun with the disavowed pleasures of accusation, shaming, and denunciation,’ resulting in a state in which ‘valuable platforms for connection, organization, and skill-sharing become clogged with obstacles to productive debate positioned as if they are debate.’
These sentiments are echoed in Laboria Cuboniks member Patricia Reed’s more recent text Optimist Realism: Finance and the Politicization of Anticipation (2018) which characterises the contemporary political impasse as ‘a retreat to nationalisms, based on assurances of economic betterment through isolationism, coupled with identitarian essentialisms…making things simpler, graspable and (relatively) immediate as a reaction against the intractability of today’s interconnected reality.’ Reed echoes the interests of the accelerationist discourse, focusing on the use of high-frequency trading software as an example of futurity at play in the present, wherein ‘the future has been co-opted by the category of finance; the future has dissolved (and bifurcated) into futures,’ and calls for a re-appropriation of such temporal hacking for left-political purposes. Rather than the speculative mythopoesis of fictioning, Reed’s is a more pragmatic and rational programme, declaring the need for ‘an optimist realism, not one where we conceive of the inevitability of ‘progress’ through wishful thinking…[but] the plasticity of politics embedded in, and constrained by reality that is partially constructable by us, whilst simultaneously indiferent and invariant to us.’ If fictioning is to be anything more than the ‘wishful thinking’ that Reed diagnoses it must retain a grip on interconnected reality as a complex and malleable substance beyond the purely speculative and fantastical.
Mark Fisher’s divisive 2013 text Exiting the Vampire Castle likewise pointed towards ‘identitarian piety’ as a bourgeois-capitalist mode of subjectivity and sought to reiterate the importance of social class to societal politics in an environment where ‘the sheer mention of class is now automatically treated as if that means one is trying to downgrade the importance of race and gender.’ Fisher instead seeks ‘conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication,’ a sentiment later developed in the unfinished Acid Communism project where overcoming the impasses of the contemporary left requires the instantiation of a new collective subject accessed via the ‘outside’ that a psychedelic consciousness-raising could offer. The project is predicated upon the ‘collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy’ as an attempt to ‘focus on what capital must always obstruct.’ Importantly the form of communism envisioned by Fisher is not one of socialist centralisation and state control, but rather the multitude of possibilities offered by the popular culture of the 1960s and 1970s, which ‘did not simply “express” some already-existing capitalist reality, they anticipated and actually produced new possibilities…commodities could themselves be the means by which rebellious currents could propagate.’
This project will seek to expand the field of discussion around ficitioning by diagramming the crossover and spinoff impulse that has become a dominant mode of contemporary cultural production, with particular reference to Hollywood cinema and contemporary art practices, and to consider how such discursive spaces may carry a speculative potential working within the alienations of neoliberalism. This project is a suggestion that the impasses of the contemporary moment might constitute a fictioning structure of their own in the shared universe form, and furthermore, that such a model calls forth its own specific collective subject in the figure of the fan.
 CCRU, “Lemurian Time War” in CCRU Writings 1997-2003, (Falmouth: Urbanomic,2017), 35.
 Martin Heidegger, “The Thing” in Poetry, Language, Thought, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 177.
 To Haraway the term SF encompasses not just Sci-Fi, but ‘speculative fabulation, science fact and speculative feminism’.
 Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 40.
 Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughin, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 157, quoted in Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari, 123.
 Jon K Shaw and Theo Reeves-Evison “Introduction” in Fiction as Method, (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017), 8.
 Henriette Gunkel, Ayesha Hameed and Simon O’Sullivan, “Futures and Fictions” in Futures and Fictions, (London: Repeater Books, 2017), 1.
 Patricia Reed, “Optimist Realism: Finance and the Politicization of Anticipation” in MoneyLab Reader 2: Overcoming the Hype, Eds. Inte Gloerich et al. (Institute of Network Cultures: Amsterdam, 2018), 14.
This is the first in what will probably/hopefully be a long series of blog posts dividing up and adding to my masters dissertation. Its a fiddly process of going back through a messy google drive folder, finding bits of research that didn’t make it into the final draft and incorporating them back in, taking out the academic bits that aren’t needed here and chasing up loose ends. I’m planning to take my time and go properly down some rabbit holes that I didn’t have time for before.
For context the full title of the dissertation was ‘Spin-Off Future: The Shared Universe and the Fan’ and the basic premise was an idea that ‘the future will be a spin-off, not a sequel’. I will get to that idea eventually but hope that continuing this research in the form of a blog will mean things don’t have to make too much sense along the way/can ‘hang together’ differently.
Spin-Off Future 1: EARTH-ONE, EARTH-TWO, EARTH PRIME
Contemporary pop culture increasingly operates through the construction of universes. Films, TV programmes, comic books, novels and video games exist not as standalone artefacts, nor simply in sequential series, but constitute universes of possibility with their own particular logics that invite expansion through crossover and spinoff. Variously referred to as shared/expanded/extended/cinematic universes or multiverses, such works form canons with a distinct milieu, pretext and mise-en-scène, found particularly within the genre fiction modes of Sci Fi, fantasy and horror. Increasingly the shared universe mode is also found in popular culture outside of genre fiction, such as the Pixar animated universe, Disney’s Mickey Mouse Universe– even the work of the K-pop boyband BTS is positioned within its own universe (The ‘Bangtan’ or BTS Universe).
The important distinguishing characteristic of shared universe culture is the capacity to host fictions by multiple authors or producers using the same sets of characters, aesthetics and timelines. The milieu provided to the canon of 20th century popular culture takes place on the pluralist, extra-planetary register of Einsteinian physics, in which such conceptions on a universal scale are commonplace. Quantum physics post-Einstein is engaged in the pursuit of a model that develops the general theory of relativity and allows the possibility of multiple universes encompassed within an extra-dimensional space – the multiverse proposed by Bosonic String Theory, Superstring Theory and M-Theory. It is not necessarily within my remit to engage with and wilfully misunderstand the literature of quantum physics, beyond the thought that these projects may have provided an inflection to the popular culture of the 20th century.
One of the main games of contemporary fans and consumers of pop culture is postulating on whether two separate fictional characters could co-exist in the same universe. A cursory search for the terms ‘Universe’ and ‘Shared Universe’ on the subreddit r/fantheory (as of July 2019) offers a huge number of results, including; ‘The Matrix & The Terminator are in the same Universe’,‘Star Wars – BSG [Battlestar Galactica] – Star Trek in same universe’, ‘The Mario universe is just the Zelda timeline millions of years into the future,’ revealing a fundamental concern with ontological intersection, the attempt to grasp whether two separate beings can really inhabit a shared reality. The basis of this notion arguably derives from the world of superhero comics, whose parallel competing publishers, D.C and Marvel, comprise separate but equivalent universes, with their own crossover series and superhero teams such as D.C’s Justice Society and Justice League of America, and Marvel’s Avengers. The highly plural mode of authorship within these universes has produced complex webs of interrelation, with multiple spinoffs and intersections that make the construction of a coherent history or timeline almost impossible.
The origins of this tendency can be traced back to the October 1956 issue of Showcase comic, where DC re-launched The Flash, reviving a character that had existed in a previous incarnation from 1940-1951, a moment widely attributed as the transition from comics’ Golden Age (spanning 1938-1956) to the Silver Age (1956-1970). Golden Age Flash (real name Jay Garrick) was a student scientist from Keystone City, with a girlfriend named Joan, the new Flash (real name Barry Allen) was a police scientist from Central City, whose girlfriend was named Iris. New Flash lived in a world where the original Flash Comics of his predecessor also existed, of which Allen was a reader and a fan. Allen speculates shortly before the lab experiment that would provide him the gift of superhuman speed – “I wonder what it would really be like – to be the fastest man on earth?”
The relationship of Garrick and Allen was further complicated in issue #123 of TheFlash – ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (September 1959) where the two characters were brought together after new flash accidentally slips between dimensions, ending up in Keystone City. Allen seeks out Garrick (now in retirement) and enlists him in a crime fighting adventure, postulating on the workings of their coexistence:
My theory is, both Earths were created at the same time in two quite similar universes! They vibrate differently – which keeps them apart! Life, customs – even languages – evolved on your earth almost exactly as they did on my earth! Destiny must have decreed there’d be a Flash – on each Earth!
The Flash Volume 1, #123 – ‘Flash of Two Worlds,’ 1963
Allen even refers to the writer of the original Jay Garrick comics: ‘A writer named Gardner Fox wrote about your adventures…Obviously when Fox was asleep, his mind was “tuned in” on your vibratory Earth!’ A further complication arose when DC sought to undertake a crossover series between the golden age superhero team ‘Justice Society of America’ with the new silver age team ‘Justice League of America’ – as both old and new Flash were members of the respective teams. The solution settled upon was that of Earth-One and Earth-Two, explained in greater detail in the crossover story ‘Crisis on Earth-One!’ (Justice League of America #21, 1960) which explained that ‘Two objects – like our planet Earth and its duplicate – can inhabit the same space if they vibrate (as all matter does, to an extent) at different speeds.’
Thus began a period of increasingly fractal pluralisation within the multiverse of DC comics, resulting in the production of twelve separate co-existent adjacent Earths throughout the 1960s and 70s, alongside ‘Earth Prime’ – our own world. Earth Prime is that which most closely approximates consensus reality, in which the writers and readers of comic books also exist (Flash #179 (1968) features DC Editor Julius Schwartz as a character, Flash #228 (1974) sees writer Cary Bates become a character who enters the world of Earth-One). The same concept is referred to in the Marvel comics universe as Earth-1218, and recurs throughout modernist and postmodernist meta-fictions as the incorporated realm of the reader, the space beyond the fourth wall and that which is at stake in the rupture of verisimilitude.
In the case of DC comics, this multiplication of worlds and universes would come to be deemed unwieldy, a barrier to new readers (and customers), resulting in a simplification of the multiverse through the 12-issue series Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985), seeking to reset the DC universe back to a single continuity. In the introduction to Crisis, writer Marv Wolfman states:
The problem began when comics changed. When heroes teamed up with other heroes. When a touch of reality found its way onto the four-colour pages…Flash’s world was the same as Superman’s and Batman’s and Wonder Woman’s. If you root your characters in a “real” world, then the characters themselves become real…DC continuity was so confusing no new reader could easily understand it…we were also stumbling over each other trying to figure out simple answers to difficult questions. But multiple Earths wasn’t the only problem. We had multiple futures too.
Crisis’ attempt to kill off DC’s pluralist multiverse in the 1980s didn’t stick however, with a new incarnation multiverse coming in 2011 as DC launched The New 52. Post-2000 comic adaptation franchise movies have also become an increasingly tangled mess of continuities across the DC Extended Universe films, the TV-based Arrowverse and Marvel’s similar split between the competing Marvel Cinematic Universe and X-Men film franchises. In late 2019 The Arrowverse undertook its own ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ with five episodes spread across different characters’ standalone series, rebooting continuity across the arrowverse.
It would be easy to dismiss all these layers of complication, all the crossovers and bleed-throughs as attempts to achieve ‘buy-in’ on the part of the consumer/viewer/fan. You watched the original ‘X’, now enjoy the updated re-booted version. The fan of ‘x’ becomes a fan of ‘y’ through the crossover – maybe the same logic as the ‘you might also enjoy’ autoplay of netflix. The opposite is also true – the fan is so caught up in the tangled web of a given universe that they don’t have time or headspace to get distracted by other fictions (or products). Both of these feel possible in the case of more recent and more cynical attempts to ‘univers-ise’ pop culture, but in the case of comics, where things are so complicated, I’m more inclined to say the specific affect of complexity is (or can be) part of the enjoyment (just as easily a reader can skim across the surface unaware of the tangled mess below). Maybe part of the same tendency that is in play when contemporary art defers to the complexity of International Art English and its garblings of continental philosophy (equally I’m no advocate for the Plain English Campaign) – those who are in the know, who can ‘pass’ and read between the lines can also feel safely shut away from the noobs.
The difference with comics is that the multiversal complexity is not an obfuscation to hide a lack of content or build intangible value – its an overflowing of content pouring forth from multiple authors in a multi-generational diagram of inter-relation. It is a defiance of popular culture (i.e. Capital’s) other big drive – to extract, consume, digest and simplify whatever it can (the Deleuzo-Guattarian motley painting), to turn all culture into marketing and advertising copy. These bastions of complication should be relished in dumb times, when capital would prefer our enjoyment to remain shallow and fleeting. They provide a parallel-as-entertainment form of the wider complication and bleedthrough we see in everyday life post-globalisation and post-internet. Trained to enjoy fiction with a wide temporal bandwidth we might better navigate a world in which complexity begets disempowerment, or at least learn to enjoy the shitstorm.
 Robert Kanigher, Showcase Volume 1, #4 – ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’, (New York: DC Comics, 1956).
 Paul Sassiene, The Comic Book: The One Essential Guide for Comic Book Fans Everywhere. (Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, 1994), 69.
 Gardner Fox, The Flash Volume 1, #123 – ‘Flash of Two Worlds’, (New York: DC Comics, 1961), 10.
In Deleuzian terms, the gyre is capital in its ordinary mode of operation, of territorialising, deterritorialising and reterritorialising processes, a cycle of constant breakage and rebirth – planetary loops of rotation and oceanic circulation that have facilitated the trade in goods and exploitation of people. As Frederic Jameson asserts, these tendencies make themselves apparent in the self-referentiality of cultural postmodernism, wherein “the interrelationship of culture and the economic…is not a one-way street but a continuous reciprocal interaction and feedback loop,” – loops that make themselves evident not only in the retreading of cultural forms but in the frequent trope of the time loop found in films from Groundhog Day (1993) to Looper (2012) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Against the closed loop of the gyre, accelerationism more frequently invokes the figure of the spiral or whirlpool, as that which draws inwards towards nodes of centralisation or ultimate destruction.
Critics of the accelerationist discourse frequently invoke the image of the whirlpool to imply the inevitable catastrophe that a perceived abandonment to market forces will entail. Bifo Berardi describes the tendency as a “devastating spiral of abstraction and nihilism,” while Noys likens Land’s conception of capital to H.P. Lovecraft’s monstrous Shoggoth; “driving before it a spiral, rethickening cloud of the pallid abyss vapor…a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles.” These critics draw upon the classical image of the whirlpool, from the Scandinavian Maelström (etymologically a grinding wheel, a mill stone), and the monstrous Charybdis of ancient greek mythology – a monster or demon manifesting as the whirlpool.
Edgar Allan Poe’s 1841 short story A Descent into the Maelstrom sets a precedent for such depictions of the whirlpool in the modern literary canon. Told from the perspective of a Norwegian fisherman relating his tale of terror to a companion, Poe’s maelstrom forms out of currents in collision and disarray, at a ‘Monstrous Velocity’ into “a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into phrensied convulsion—heaving, boiling, hissing—gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices…with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes except in precipitous descents.” While based on the real treacherous currents at Moskstraumen, Norway, Poe’s whirlpool is an artistic exaggeration, reaching “a circle of more than a mile in diameter” and creating “vortices or pits [that] are of such an extent and depth, that if a ship comes within its attraction, it is inevitably absorbed and carried down to the bottom.”
Poe’s whirlpool is the ocean as a hungry beast, only to be satisfied by the consumption of unlucky sailors, but the whirlpool is not only that which leads to certain destruction on the seafloor, it is also a tunnel: “in the centre of the channel of the Maelström is an abyss penetrating the globe, and issuing in some very remote part” – therefore the maelstrom carries a speculative role in its destructive potential as a mode of transport, an early iteration of the sci-fi trope of the Black Hole as a portal to other dimensions or galactic shortcuts, in works such as Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, (1974) or the Christopher Nolan-directed Interstellar, (2014).
Whilst Poe’s fisherman never enters the tunnel of the maelstrom, instead managing to escape through careful reasoning and live to tell the tale, the depths of the whirlpool do fulfil their destructive potential in Jules Verne’ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, (1869), the denouement of which sees Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, caught up in a maelstrom that allows Verne to break the impasse of Professor Arronax’s imprisonment – a convenient vortex in which to sever the bonds of the narrative up to this point, with the central characters launched from the ship by the maelstrom’s force:
Horror struck me cold. Were we then being dragged into that terrible whirlpool on the Norwegian coast, from which no ship has ever come out? I felt the Nautilus beginning to turn, then whirling in an ever narrowing spiral…The boat sprang out like a stone from a catapult. My head crashed against the steel frame, and I lost consciousness
In both Poe and Verne, the whirlpool or maelstrom offers a device for rupturing the smooth sailing narrative plane, a machine for descent – to destruction or fates unknown, or for the speeding up of flagging narrative arcs. The whirlpool here is a temporal accelerator.
Arguably the reverse tendency is at play in one of the most iconic uses of the spiral/whirlpool in contemporary art – Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, (1970) and its accompanying 35 minute film work of the same name. Smithson inferred that the Jetty and its accompanying film were a portal for regressive transport into prehistory, a route backward in time, stating that “Everything about movies and moviemaking is archaic and crude. One is transported by this Archeozoic medium into the earliest known geological eras. The movieola becomes a “time machine” that transforms trucks into dinosaurs.” The spiral form of the jetty is also suggestive of Smithson’s obsession with entropy, the incremental loss of energy and mass spiralling out into the waters of the lake – just as Smithson intended that the sculpture would ultimately be lost to the landscape.
However, the human viewer (or walker) activating the work must begin at the shore and work their way inwards, to a point where the path abruptly ends, or where the inverse water spiral belonging to the lake begins. In the accompanying film work, Smithson is seen running along the structure of the jetty, seemingly chased by the camera positioned in a helicopter above, only to find himself at the end of the route with nowhere else to turn – he does not enter the pink water, but stays on the rocky surface, held by the terrestrial path. The direction of the whirlpool here certainly seems to be inward, not outward, of negentropy towards a point of inevitable collision between the land and the water. The jetty acts as an inversion of the marine whirlpool – rather than drawing down, it brings the surface of the lake bed upward into the realm of the human, an incursion of the terrestrial into the watery – a magic circle for transporting the viewer forwards into the past.
Eugene Thacker also invokes the spiral as an iteration of the ‘magic circle’ trope in occult literature and popular culture. Thacker points out how the magic circle in works such as Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1592) serves to create zones for the uncovering or enacting of alternate behaviours: “as a boundary between the natural and supernatural, and the possible … the magic circle is not only a boundary, but also a passage, a gateway, a portal.” Thacker cites Junji Ito’s manga Uzumaki, (1998-9) as an example of the magic circle in spiral form, in which the protagonist’s obsession with spirals leads him to ultimately contort his body into a horrific flattened spiral form in a final act of masochistic submission to the lure of the spiral.
Thacker traces how
the outer world of the spiral’s manifestation can “infect” or spread into the ideational world of the spiral as an idea. Beyond a geometrical symbol, and beyond a pattern in nature, the spiral in Uzumaki is ultimately equivalent to thought itself …”thought” as unhuman, “thought” as equivalent to the world-without-us. In this sense Uzumaki suggests that the Absolute is horrific, in part because it is utterly unhuman.
To the writers of the CCRU lineage the spiral is a positive symbol of a similar release from capital’s endless loop of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation, featuring prominently as a symbol of resistance in collectively authored theory-fictions such as Barker Speaks and Lemurian Time War, where spirals are described as “particularly repugnant symbols of imperfection and volatility. Unlike closed loops, spirals always have loose ends. This allows them to spread, making them contagious and unpredictable.” The CCRU spiral promises escape from the Cybernetics of Wiener, whose feedback loops were intended only to maintain equilibrium, described by Nick Land and Sadie Plant as “propaganda against positive feedback … establishing a cybernetics of stability fortified against the future. There is no space in such a theory for anything truly cyberpositive, subtle or intelligent.”
The post-CCRU output of Land continues to be haunted by the figure of the spiral, describing his NRx writing from 2008 onwards as a “time-twisted vector that spirals forwards into the past, and backwards into the future.” Amy Ireland, in her piece The Poememenon: Form as Occult Technology (2017) draws a further lineage between the work of Land and the poetry and occult works of W.B. Yeats, particularly the prophetic poem The Second Coming (1919) which in its first stanza conjours up the image of a giant whirlpool sweeping across the land:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats’ use of the term ‘gyre’ relates not to the loop of oceanic gyres, but to a form of vortex at the intersection of two counter-rotating cones, a figure that was pivotal to the poet’s 1925 divinatory text A Vision, largely derived from his wife Georgie Hyde-Lees’ automatic writing, and outlining a system of historical cycles that allow a vantage point from which the spiral of modernity can be seen as a falling-into-place, an assembly rather than an entropic falling apart or cataclysmic destruction.
Spiro-gnomic proficiency, or the ability to grasp terrestrial modernity through the figure of the spiral, which invokes-by-diagramming sustained positive feedback, entropy dissipation, time anomaly, intelligence, the price system, memetic or viral propagation, prime distribution, arms races, addiction, and zero control, among other things, compiles a body of esoteric knowledge and uses it to read catastrophe backwards as anastrophe, the primary process it sympathizes with opening the gateway to the retrochronic vantage point.
In opposition to Noys and Berardi’s reading of accelerationism as nihilistic and self-destructive, Ireland’s more nuanced and cyberpositive reading allows us to see the spiral or whirlpool as a positive and constructive force, one which allows transport away from the terminally recurring loop, and for the paths of a future beyond to be reached. This is the whirlpool not as site of devastation, but as a portal from which futurity spools out to envelop us.
The core of the CCRU lineage retains a fundamentally useful political sentiment – that of cyberpositivity, of attempts to break out of the gyre of homeostatic capital by encouraging its acts of self destruction, shedding and rebirth. The poetics of monstrous liquidity engendered by the accelerationist discourse is not one of brute force, but rather that of the trickster, the shape shifter – the free flowing motility of capital and its uncanny ability to find new routes and openings, to seep into any crack or fissure. In the CCRU reckoning, the flows of capital cannot be countered or stopped, and any attempts at slow-down simply become reterritorialisations that allow capital to strengthen. In part the message is perhaps to ‘be more like capital’, be more tricksterish – not to ‘go with the flow’ as helpless subjects tossed on the waves, but to find routes within the flow, to become skilled navigators of capital – able to recognise moments of deterritorialisation and their potentials.
Where capital’s historic displacements were facilitated by gyres, loops and circulating currents, future displacements are likely to be provoked by the motion of rising water levels. The rate of global sea level rise is incrementally accelerating, with water levels predicted to increase by 65 centimeters by 2100, resulting in population displacements of up to 2 billion people in the same period. These factors will see the ocean continuing to play a pivotal role in the near future of human subjects, as a force for further displacement of populations, and as a potential force of interruption to capital’s reterritorialing impulse.
Rather than the circulatory movements of people and goods harnessed in the name of capital accumulation, the malignant, increasingly volatile anthropocenic ocean may act instead as a method of capture and retrenchment to the Earth’s major land masses and high grounds, the abandonment of islands, lowlands and major coastal cities, or conversely a change in conception towards the sea as a place to live and dwell, the formation of seabound communities in abandonment of terra firma. As the whirlpool pulls downwards, so the waters rise.
 Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1991) 15-16
 Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles, California: Semiotext(e), 2012), 36
 H.P. Lovecraft, “At the Mountains of Madness” in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales (London: Vintage 2011), quoted in Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism (Winchester: Zero Books, 2014), 79
 Edgar Allan Poe, Tales (London: Wiley & Putnam, 1846), 85
The monstrous liquid surface of the Earth’s oceans has been implicated throughout modernity as a conduit or medium for the movement of people and goods necessary to global capitalism. These processes are enabled by the five major oceanic gyres which form loops around the Earth’s seas with their interconnected currents and gulf streams produced by converging winds, tides and the effects of the Earth’s rotation. Historically, for ocean-going vessels that were dependent on wind for propulsion, following the north Atlantic gyre could halve journey time – the Mayflower made its 1620 voyage to America in 67 days, while the return journey following the gyre and westerlies took only 34 days. The paths and directions of these trade winds and gyres correlate with the maps of the Atlantic slave trade, and the resulting forced displacements of populations from West Africa to Brazil, the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the USA.
These ‘Triangle Trade’ routes found their earliest incarnation in the Portuguese Volta do Mar (‘Turn of the Sea’) routes, forged by prospectors such as Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), connecting the Iberian peninsula with the Azores and sub-saharan West Africa, which had previously been largely unreachable to Europeans by land. Renaissance Portugal and Spain prospered as a result of these new trade routes and the access to gold and slave labour that they allowed. Cedric Robinson notes that the continued usage of African enslaved people in the new American colonies was thus a continuation of the existing European system:
The use of slave labor in the New World of the sixteenth century by the Spanish Crown…was consequently a most natural step. Slave labor had been a basis for colonial trade in the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Indies; it was already the foundation of colonization in the Canaries, the Azores, and the Madeiran islands
After Christopher Columbus expanded the Volta do Mar outwards across the Atlantic in 1492, nascent capitalism hungrily incorporated more African bodies and more resources into the gyre, whose currents, winds and coriolis-determined directions provided a topographical index for a 300 year period of human cruelty and upheaval. Robinson invokes this connection through his term ‘Racial Capitalism’, stating that “the historical development of world capitalism was influenced in a most fundamental way by the particularistic forces of racism and nationalism,” sentiments echoed more recently and viscerally by Frank B. Wilderson III: “Capital was kick-started by the rape of the African continent…something about the Black body in and of itself made it the repository of the violence that was the slave trade.”
Similar sentiments are contained within Donna Harraway’s term ‘Plantationocene’, inferring that anthropocenic climate change can trace its origin to the plantation slave trade, and Paul Gilroy, in his 1993 work, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness describes plantation slavery as “capitalism with its clothes off,” and connects slavery not only with capitalism, but also classical humanism and modernism, by stating that:
Plantation slavery was more than just a system of labour and a distinct mode of racial domination. Whether it encapsulates the inner essence of capitalism or was a vestigial, essentially precapitalist element in a dependant relationship to capitalism proper, it provided the foundations for a distinctive network of economic, social, and political relations.
Gilroy highlights the importance of the ocean-going vessel in the formation of a Black hybrid cultural identity, simultaneously African, American and European, describing ships as “micro-systems of linguistic and political hybridity” and “cultural and political units rather than abstract embodiments of the triangular trade.” More recent Black theorists such as Fred Moten and Christina Sharpe take up Gilroy’s invocation of the ship as the ‘Chronotype’ of Black cultural identity. Sharpe’s 2016 In the Wake: on Blackness and Being likens the state of contemporary Black subjectivity to the wake left after a ship has passed: “to be in the wake is to occupy and to be occupied by the continuous and changing present of slavery’s as yet unresolved unfolding.” Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s 2013 The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study positions the people of the Black diaspora as ‘the shipped’, and that “to have been shipped is to have been moved by others, with others” – a subjectivity formed in the hold of the slave ship; “thrown together touching each other we were denied all sentiment, denied all the things that were supposed to produce sentiment, family, nation, language, religion, place, home.” Taken cumulatively, the work of these writers makes the case that contemporary Black diasporic subjectivity is figured in relation to the ocean, as the site of transportation and speculative means for return.
Sondra Perry’s 2018 installation Typhoon Coming on continues this association, appropriating the imagery of J.M.W Turner’s painting Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon Coming on which depicts the 1781 Zong massacre of 133 enslaved Africans thrown overboard in order to claim insurance money. Perry overlays Turner’s painting as a texture onto 3D rendered waves and intersperses the image with a solid purple, used by the rendering software to warn of missing data – a connection that poignantly highlights the absence of Black subjects in narratives of techno-capital. Perry asserts that “when we’re talking about labour and exploitation inside the digital realm…it’s a similar relationship when we’re talking about people being moved over oceans in order to become labour sources.” Perry thereby pulls Black oceanic subjectivity forwards from slavery as a historic episode and makes its continuing structures of exploitation immanent to contemporary post-digital subjects.
It is clear that capitalism is founded upon both the trade loops carried by ocean currents and gyres, and the Atlantic slave trade that they facilitated. However, the accelerationist discourse has largely failed to address the position of subjects within accelerating capital, or the ethical implications of deterritorialisation’s inevitable human cost. Noys points out the problematics of Land’s infatuation with autonomous capital by stating that “the history of slave labor and literally monstrous class struggle is occluded in the accelerationist invocation of…liquid and accelerative dynamism. The horror involves a forgetting of class struggle…and the abolition of friction in the name of immersion.”
These sentiments are echoed by Aria Dean, in her 2017 piece Notes on Blacceleration, stating not only that that “the accelerationist account passes over slavery’s foundational role in capital accumulation,” but also that the calls from Land for the instantian of a ‘new inhuman subject’ (i.e. Artificial Intelligence) miss the fact that such a subject “already exists and has for some time. It is found in the black (non)subject, as it emerges in the history of capitalism that is nothing other than racial capitalism.” Dean seeks to acknowledge the vital position that black subjectivities have played and continue to play within capitalism, stating that “accelerationism always already exists in the territory of blackness, whether it knows it or not—and, conversely, that blackness is always already accelerationist.” Taken in combination with the work of Black theorists who prefigure blackness in relation to the ocean, Dean’s assertion fuses the connection between the sea and the accelerated subject – to be of the ocean is to be accelerationist.