About Blogging and Grey Vampires

I’ve always struggled with writing. There are multiple reasons for my problems. On the one side there are psychological reasons. Some of them are related to my own attitude towards things and are personal. But some of these are related to external problems (in the end reflecting back on some, but not all, of my personal problems). And these are the problems I want to write about here. There are also problems that are related to a lack of techniques. But these problems are easy to identify and tackle. And I think this is something that I’m getting better at and evolve with the practice of regular writing.

That I don’t write as regular as I want to is related to a kind of perfectionism. I am pretty aware that I don’t have the big ideas that will change the world. I am relativitly young and no one expects the next big theory or an intricate complete understanding of all philosophers I refer to. But still I want to write something worth reading. This claim has different sides.

There is a tendency to critizise articles and therefore an awareness of possible critiques of one’s own pieces. This tendency is first external, but the awareness internalizes it. Mark “k-punk” Fisher identified and named two of these structures: the troll and the grey vampire (short: GV). In one of his seminal posts to this problem he contrasts trolls and GVs with fans. A fan – in the k-punk sense – is not an uncritical fanatic liking anything with the same name on it. The critical fan Fisher has in mind is someone who engages with an author or a franchise in a sincere way. He is able to articulate what he likes and dislikes about it and how it could (and sometimes should) evolve.

The Fan

One of the best examples imho is Elizabeth Sandifer’s blog TARDIS Eruditorum. She loves Doctor Who and doesn’t hide it. Her own approach of writing about Doctor Who involves what she calls redemptive readings. The concept of redemptive readings allows one to access the aspects of Doctor Who that make it worth watching: What is interesting about it? What is a really interesting view or comment on contemporary phenomena? But that doesn’t lead her to an uncritical approach. If something in Doctor Who is racist or sexist, she names it. The essay that made her blog popular was her view on the episode The Celestial Toymaker. In it she brings to light the racist problems of the story. The result is not: I’m not a fan anymore. But still being a fan, wanting to talk about the problems and hoping and working towards a better future of the show.

The Troll

The troll is not a fan. Fisher writes about the troll (in the post mentioned above):

Trolls pride themselves on not being fans, on not having the investments shared by those occupying whatever space they are trolling. Trolls are not limited to cyberspace, although, evidently, zones of cyberspace – comments boxes and discussion boards – are particularly congenial for them. And of course the elementary Troll gesture is the disavowal of cyberspace itself. In a typical gesture of flailing impotence that nevertheless has effects – of energy-drain and demoralisation – the Troll spends a great deal of time on the web saying how debased, how unsophisticated, the web is – by contrast, we have to conclude, with the superb work routinely being turned out by ‘professionals’ in the media and the academy.

In many ways, the academic qua academic is the Troll par excellence. Postgraduate study has a propensity to breeds trolls; in the worst cases, the mode of nitpicking critique (and autocritique) required by academic training turns people into permanent trolls, trolls who troll themselves, who transform their inability to commit to any position into a virtue, a sign of their maturity (opposed, in their minds, to the allegedly infantile attachments of The Fan). But there is nothing more adolescent – in the worst way – than this posture of alleged detachment, this sneer from nowhere. For what it disavows is its own investments; an investment in always being at the edge of projects it can neither commit to nor entirely sever itself from – the worst kind of libidinal configuration, an appalling trap, an existential toxicity which ensures debilitation for all who come into contact with it (if only that in terms of time and energy wasted – the Troll above all wants to waste time, its libido involves a banal sadism, the dull malice of snatching people’s toys away from them).

The Grey Vampire

On the GV Fisher writes:

The debilitating effects of the Grey Vampire are often much harder to identify and combat. They are ‘friendly’, they seem to be positive, they make their points respectfully – what’s to dislike? Ultimately, though, their stance is precisely the same as the Troll – they are profoundly suspicious of commitments and projects, except that their anti-productivity comes out as sunny scepticism instead of outright aggression. One of their favourite tactics is the devil’s advocate appeal to what someone else, not them, might think. Might not things be seen in another way? (This would be completely different if they were making a point that they were prepared to subjectively identify with: then we could get somewhere, then there would be an actual difference of positions, instead of one position confronting an infinite series of movable obstacles and promissory notes.) Another tactic – particularly effective at wasting time and energy this one – is the claim that all they want is a few clarifications, as if they are just on the brink of being persuaded, when in fact the real aim is to lure you into the swamp of sceptical inertia and mild depression in which they languish.

Grey Vampires are not a standing reserve because – this is the awful tragedy, the terrible revelation that eventually strikes you about them – they will never be mobilised. Like the Troll, their alibi – to themselves as much as to others (and to the big Other) – is that they are always about to do something major – their scepticism, equivocation and vacillation is just a temporary phase, soon to be set aside. But the Grey Vampire never has much of a sense of urgency. That’s partly because they don’t feel that they have to justify themselves to the world (sometimes there is a class dimension here – the GVs tend to have an implacable core of inner confidence which is the birthright of the dominant classes). They worry about their vacillating drift, but not too much. They have doubts, but – sadly in many ways – those doubts will never harden into a breakdown, any kind of subjective destitution.

http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/011182.html

Fisher’s definition of Trolls and GVs is certainly compelling and identifies a big problem within academic structures (as well as cyberculture and other forums of discussion). This attitude of scientific writing and critical thinking can lead to a scepticism that is paralyzing. Especially in humanities – and more so when politics is involved – this attitude can function as a deterrent. “Don’t engage to much in activism and politics! They haven’t thought it through, they don’t understand the other side! They can’t grasp the complexity.”

The merits of scepticism and the double problem

But let’s look at the use of being sceptic and critical. Think for example of the famous Banksy movie Exit through the Gift Shop. In it Banksy supports Mr Brainwash – a wannabe artist – because he thinks everybody should express oneself. In the end this support leads to desastrous consequences. Another case can be made about Graham Harman – a philosopher who engaged in the GV/troll discussion with k-punk in the blogosphere (e.g. here). Harman made a compelling approach for a new way to do philosophy called Object Oriented Ontology. In the first instance his thoughts are interesting. As Peter Wolfendale (first on his blog and later in a book) showed it is impossible to engage with this philosophy seriously. On the one side Harman is unable to give arguments for his position. On the other side he is unable to seriously answer questions. Every time he cites a problem expressed by his critics he refers to a statement of his own that is contrary to the problem without bringing an argument why one should support this statement. He seems to be unable to understand the problems of his approach.

I think Fisher didn’t go deep into Harman’s philosophy. And there is something very positive about Harman too. When I read the collection of interviews Post-Continental Voices by Paul J Ennis, I wasn’t compelled very much by the philosophical positions. As I once wrote in a goodreads review of the book, I thought on the other side that it has a lot of powerful conversations about academic structures. Especially the interview with Harman was interesting because he gave really good advise for students how to engage in writing and publishing.

There seems to be a double problem: On the one side you have this nurtured scepticism and criticism that paralyzes someone engaging in philosophical and political arguments. On the other side you have this kind of support for people who are unable to see problems and therefore just defend stupid positions.

In the second k-punk post there is a passage that is interesting. Here Fisher writes how to handle trolls:

It’s quite easy to identify and distance oneself from a troll: once you’ve established they are a troll, sever all contact with them and – this is imperative – don’t read anything they write. This requires a little discipline, but not much, and after a while you’ll completely forget the upset they caused.

This is an absolutely necessary way to handle really problematic trolls. Now consider Harman reading this passage – maybe already Wolfendale’s valid questions in mind. Here you can get the opposite version of a troll. Someone who considers every statement of a problem with one’s position as trolling.

This reverse trolling can also be tied to academic structures. I remember a very old episode of the podcast The Weeds. In it they discussed the ability of people in the humanities to present oneself and fill gaps. Think about the ability of nearly every humanities student to go to class and discuss a book they haven’t finished reading. In a certain way this is a very good ability. It presents the ability to process information and use selected information to get a whole picture. In the Weeds episode they talked about the hidden tests – and thereby social structures – related to humanities and economics. The hidden test in humanities is described above. It can be seen as a kind of (under current structures) benign cheating. In economies you could make out a similar structure. Cheating on important tests is very common. So why do this tests and why punish cheating? Because cheating isn’t the problem. The problem is bad cheating. A good economist can cheat without anybody noticing. As well as the humanities student and later writer, reporter, etc can cheat without noticing by talking about stuff they haven’t understood or read fully.

This kind of cheating in the humanities is benign if it enables you to engage into works and ideas. But again we have this problem: We can also get people who don’t understand problems and thereby promoting bulls**t and generating reverse trolls.

A solution?

Fisher’s work offers a solution. Participating in last weekends For k-punk: Postcapitalist Desires event I realized how the above mentioned problems are connected to his idea of collectivity. (Huge thanks to Matt “xenogothic” Colquhoun for the later discussion on discord.) Fisher’s perspective includes that only by confronting people with ideas we become aware of other perspectives. So we need spaces where we can publish our ideas – finished or unfinished (and in a sense all ideas are unfinished). This gives us the possibility of engaging with ideas, sharing, developing thoughts and being part of something larger. But you can only have that – if you are allowed to ask honest and serious questions. The problem of trolls and GVs is not that they ask questions or point to difficulties. It is their perspective that commitment to something is in itself a bad thing. If you reread above quotes from the k-punk blog. This perspective is clearly in it. We must keep an open mind, we must be able to abolish our own theories if they aren’t good, but we must also (re)learn to engage in ideas – and we must (re)learn to do it collectively.

To come back to the beginning of this text. I often don’t know who reads my blog or how good or bad the stuff is I’m writing. Until now nobody has commented any of my posts on the page. The dynamics of blogs is a strange thing in itself. But without putting ideas outside and looking for and creating digital and physical spaces to discuss them you are clearly lost in your own isolated world.

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Some comments on my last post

After discussing my last post with a friend (a computer scientist), I realized the naiveté of it. Even if I was aware of the problems to talk about modal logic without calculus, the problems are much bigger than I thought. I think that my model of the logical octagon can be proofed with System T. But as I already mentioned to analyze Meillassoux, you have to multiply it, because of its loose semantics.

Kripke is probably more useful to analyze Meillassoux’s argument in Metaphysics, Speculation, Correlation (I found an English translation here: https://plijournal.com/volumes/22/). Meillassoux talks about the imagination of other worlds. Kripke has already something called the accessibility relation. So you don’t need to have modalities on different planes, but can work with relations.

My next post on Meillassoux is nearly finished. I work with the oppositions from my last post. I’m not sure if it really enlightens the argument. I still publish it in the next days with my questionable logical octagon. But now I’m also trying to get a grip on Kripke’s logic. I will publish something about Kripke and Meillassoux in the next weeks.

I’m also reading this book at the moment: https://www.re-press.org/book-files/OA_Version_Speculative_Turn_9780980668346.pdf

There are some very interesting criticisms of Meillassoux in it. Especially Ray Brassier’s paper is worth reading. Maybe I post something on Brassier’s take on correlationism in the future.

A Matter of Taste

I’m so bored and annoyed by people referring to taste or subjectivity; especially in the context of culture and its products. More explicitly it is not the use of these words that annoys me, but the point where they are used as an argument. For example Person A says: “I like x because of y” (not a problem for me). And person B answers: “I don’t like x, but that’s just a matter of taste.” This reply is what annoys me. Subjectivity and taste as arguments relate to another, but have different aspects. I start with subjectivity.

Subjectivity can function as a description of a state. You can have a meaningful and interesting debate about why a subject (or a person) has a certain opinion. The problem starts at the point where subjectivity is an argument. In discussions sometimes people say: “That’s your opinion and that’s subjective.” Here subjectivity is the end of the discussion. But what exactly is this argument? This argument sounds like the romantic idea of a hidden self or true nature. Something that is taken as completely untethered from anything else. You can feel into your true self (the idea of introspection) and this feeling is your true opinion.

But there is no untethered self. You have your background, your history, your influences, your education and a lot of other factors that influence who you are. That doesn’t mean that you are determined by these influences. One of the main goals of enlightenment and emancipation is to reflect on your origin and influences. Reflection allows you to question them and go in a different direction. You always start somewhere and (at least logically) there was something before.

It is much more interesting to talk about influences, the way people reflect (in the form of theory or not) and the history and context of both people and cultural products. Even if someone defends the romantic idea, it is more interesting to discuss this idea than to use it as a break for discussions or even take it for granted. A response to allegations is often (in my experience) to say that it isn’t meant this way and there is no belief in a hidden self. (What else do they mean?) And that’s ideology in the way Zizek and other use this term. Ideology is not something you belief in. Ideology is the unknown known. It’s the mode of the “as if”. You don’t have to believe in ideology, you just have to talk and act like it. Take for example capitalism. You don’t have to believe in capitalism as long as you make money and spent it. Capitalism even works better and more efficiently when people don’t believe in it and criticize it. They don’t act different. The same is true about subjectivity. You don’t have to believe in your hidden opinion emerging from your inner self as long as you act and talk like it. In this way subjectivity can undermine reflection and progress. You don’t reflect on context, history, your opinions and your behavior as long as you act like it doesn’t matter (even if you believe it does).

Zizek’s analysis is so productive because it helps you see blind spots. On the other side he can drift to contestable views. (The best example is probably his view on 300 as an antifacist film: https://www.lacan.com/zizhollywood.htm Many Zizek-fans have responded; e.g.: http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/009325.html) But even these views are more interesting than a retreat to an even more dubious subjectivity. You can contest them and reflect about the way Zizek thinks and writes. You can discuss at which point his theory goes wrong or is applied contradictorily. To formulate it provocatively: Rather an argument supported celebration of a dubious movie than an emotional, unreflected aversion.

The same is true for taste. Taste is often used as a disposition of someone to like or dislike something. This disposition can be questioned in the same way. Why has someone a certain disposition to like or dislike something? Is it because of someone’s inner self, is it because of a certain context, is it because of a social setting, …?

Culture in the sense of “whole way of life” as well as in its specification through scenes and niches is complex. You don’t live up to it if you are in the facebook-mode of liking ans disliking (Ok, there is no dislike-button on fb, but you know what I mean). You don’t have to reflect all the time (what kind of crappy society would that be?). But moments of reflection are necessary to change something. Enjoy something but don’t stop reflection by referring to shady ideas from the 19th century. Reflection is also not always a killjoy. To be able to see more facets of something can be a way of getting deeper and multilayered enjoyment out of something. Also: Is enjoyment really something you should get all the time? Is it really a goal in itself?

The Mathematics of Complexity

DeLanda, Negarestani and other authors I’m reading at the moment deal with complexity and use mathematical terms to describe their theories. It’s fascinating what tools contemporary mathematics provide for philosophical debates.

Many people from the humanities (at least in my periphery) are not involved in mathematics. In my B.A. I studied formal logic and formal approaches to language. Other mathematics – especially everything concerning more complex functions like differential calculus – were a big blind spot. At the moment I try to gain expertise in chaos mathematics. I am surprised how useful and necessary basic knowledge of mathematical modelling is.

DeLanda’s approach to introduce attractors and other mathematical objects into humanities is rewarding. I’m not sure at the moment how far reaching his approach is and which new problems arise from it. But to discuss these problems sincerely I need the background knowledge.

For other people like me, I can recommend the following site: https://www.complexityexplorer.org/

I stumbled across it on youtube looking for introductions. I just enrolled for the course “Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos”, but you can watch all lectures without enrolling on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLF0b3ThojznQwpDEClMZmHssMsuPnQxZT). I also just ordered Feldman’s book Chaos and Fractals (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15856379-chaos-and-fractals?from_search=true&qid=7OjLhfVhMI&rank=1).

I think its very rewarding to look into it. Feldman starts nearly from point zero (you need to know how to operate with square numbers, solve for x and few other basic algebraic methods, but nothing that goes far beyond it). I can recommend it for every other humanities student or teacher. You’ll be surprised how useful these tools are for your field of study.

k-punk on Deconstruction

http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/011650.html

I found this interesting post by Mark “k-punk” Fisher. His first argument resembles my own. But he also makes a point about deconstruction as a cult.

In the post he uses his concept of trolls and grey vampires. To better understand what a grey vampire (somtimes short: GV) is, have a look at this post: http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/011172.html

Welcome to my new blog

I’m a philosophy student from Karlsruhe, Germany. After finishing my BA-Thesis (an abstract about the Philosophy of Quentin Meillassoux) I plan to get involved in the latest discussions about my subject. My current interests are accelerationism, speculative philosophy and Frankfurt School. I hope that blogging will enable me to have some exchange with other people who like to discuss contemporary problems from a structural and theoretical point of view.

In the next months I will publish thoughts and theories which haven’t made their way into an article or paper yet. So this blog is a lot work in progress. At the moment most of my work is in German. Therefore I will sometimes write in German and translate the posts later into English. It would be great if I could find some readers who like to comment my posts and enter the discussion.