Diamond Stuff, Star Stuff

I have read Isabel Waidner’s We Are Made Of Diamond Stuff, my first lyric prose in a while. It’s funny how the brain needs a moment to re-adapt to it. Telling itself, ‘calm down, you don’t have to make sense of every word here, words and meanings do things a bit different here, don’t be so literal!’ Prose lyric can show you how to accept ambivalences. We Are Made Of Diamond Stuff has got both legs (or it might even have more legs) on the ground: Two queer youth hanging/working at a shabby hotel in a small UK coastal town, queers clashing with UKIP protestors (who also have gays amongst them, anti-immigration sentiments unite, yay) and deals with working class hopelessness in a region that had bet on tourism and lost almost everything. Reeboks are not just working class shoes but also come alive as animals. Blake’s tyger tyger growls softly in the back, instead of rainbow colours the queers paint a hotel lobby grey to hunt down a lypard. Waidner draws on aspects from their own life, like the problems of getting UK citizenship even after living and working there for years (working for too little money to be considered worthy) and shakes it up with a bit of magic realism and a sense for the poetic. Waidner conjures up figures she can identify with, other misfits, Eleven from Stranger Things, or Tonya Harding: no matter how good an ice-skater, she was ever not-fragile-womanly-pretty enough, and had her working class background, the dirt under the cultural fingernails showing through, keeping her small. Waidner also has a thing for wordplay that’s a bit cringy but sweet, like “purring rain”, a bit like dad jokes, which doesn’t make her writing any less daring though, but instead adds to it’s layers, makes for more to explore.

It made me remember one of the stops on a trip the southern UK coast I made with a dear friend a few years ago. Especially one small town the name of which I forgot but that filled me with a glorious sadness the causes of which I longed to tell someone about, desperate to share it but I was hit with an inability to express that choked me and made me withdraw into myself.

We stayed at a really pretty shabby chic flat near the beachfront, with the typical nostalgic touristy pubs, union jack pennant chains fluttering in the wind under a grey grey sky, forever stuck on the edge between raining and not-raining. I took a long walk to the other side of town, the streets that showed how tourism isn’t enough to feed all mouths, those streets with rundown houses that stare at you with their windows and don’t like strangers, you can feel it, an overgrown car wreck in a backyard, careless, no, care-forgotten, surveillance and snitch-to-the-cops stickers on lamp posts (always check the lamp posts for stickers when you’re someplace new), clean streets though, and sceptical looks on frown-filled faces, and rightly so: I felt like prying into an intimate part of town. It’s easy to romanticize this UK coast with it’s beautiful rocks and grass and cute tea time and castles and all its small memorials to bashing back the Nazis but I also see how this history haunts the kids who came after with the endless pride, a nationalist pride of having dealt with nationalists. A bit like I really enjoyed watching RRR – what an opulent firework of a film! how joyful! how well choreographed the beautifully crazy fights were! finally something beyond Hollywoods endless western superhero movie culture! –, and it was fun to see Indians knocking down British imperialists in bulk, but boi-o-boi was it layered with casteism and sexism. Ambivalent pleasures everywhere.

Anyway, that was the kind of memories and thoughts that We Are Made Of Diamond Stuff drew me back to. I followed it up with reading an essay by Isabell Waidner, ‘Class, Queers and the Avant-Garde’ (2019) and it was like meeting an old friend, like omg I’m not alone in how I think and feel, I might not be freak, or at least there are other freaks like me. A few quotes:

“… but I’ve not seen classism in literature called out anywhere near as reliably in the establishment media as in the Amazon customer review section.”

“As metaphors, seaside towns hold antagonisms, and so does the best contemporary writing and art: queer potential sits with phobia. Openness to outsiders sits with misanthropy. Dependency on the tourist industry sits with xenophobia and racism. The limitlessness of the sea sits with military defence structures, boulders and border controls.”

“eco-feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne who writes that ‘it’s not a question of integrating homosexuals into society, but of disintegrating society through homosexuality’, expressing Caspar and my shared perspective that queer politics if you want to call them that must be transformative of society at large. In DIAMOND STUFF, the rainbow flak – I mean, flag – is taken to task as a symbol of increasingly reactionary mainstream LGBTQI+ politics. Caspar even asks that ‘someone get [them] a fucking umbrella to protect against the UV of umbrella identity formations’! Finally, ‘FUCK CORPORATE PRIDE,’ capital letters, in NOVELTY THEORY.”

Before I quote the whole thing, there’s a PDF of it here.
And if you read it and get curious about Kevin Killian turning the Amazon comment section into the working class literature feuilleton, one of the books the compile select writings is avails here, pdf even free but also as print book.

By the way, the last quote, the one about queer politics having to be about transforming society at large, that’s what I tried to express with one of my ORCHID party concepts: “”We’re not colourful dabs to brighten a cis-heteronormative society and make it feel better about itself. We are tanks filled with paint made of our love and pain and we will dissolve it into a sea of colours.”

I like to think Isabel Waidner’s title ‘We Are Made Of Diamond Stuff” is a play on Carl Sagan’s “We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” Which is a nice coincidence because I have started watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a beautifully made creative ‘Astrophysics for dummies like me’ format that Sagan made in the 80s. In 2014 it got a reboot with Neil deGrasse Tyson* and that’s the one I am eating up like a child listening to bedtime stories. Space is the place, butches!

P.S.: I love that Makenzie Lystrup swore her oath as new and first female director of Goddard Space Flight Centre on Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot.

* There have been sexual abuse accusations against Tyson a few years ago which makes this another thing that we can’t simply enjoy but have to deal with its ambivalences.

A Little Lost Online

The death of Twitter has made me, well, a lot of us, lose our online community, or rather: Parts of it are splattered all over the web now and Mastodon (I’m on the Hometown instance assemblag.es) has become my new mainstay. It’s different though. I like how it calms me. My timeline there is far from the attention-maximising Twitter tone that even befell my lovingly handcurated lists’ timelines over there over the years. I have seen too many kind and social people leave Twitter or turn into sarcastic shadows of themselves, or go full edgelord. It has not started with Musk’s takeover, it started way before, let’s not give him more credit than due.

As I have discussed with quite some friends, I find the current retreat from public discourse online a bit scary. Feels like the wrong people have won and we have put the holy fear of putting oneself out there into younger generations. While I had my share of bad experiences too, by far the bigger part of my online life was good: It enrichened my life, taught me so so much, not least how to debate, it sharpened my intellect and my political thinking, it made me trust strangers and find community, it empowered me as a queer person and as a vaguely womanish being.

Since the early noughts I have been a very online person, loving my communities there, no matter if music based like GYBO (the main mashups messageboard) or various punk / hardcore boards (shoutout to Mafia and early Emopunk), but also the messageboards of Trash Club and even Optimo, or the ILX list, geez, there were so many communities. On Twitter I soon got into a love affair with a transnational critical tech bubble, leftists post-accelerationists, people with a love for theorizing and politics. My queer and aesthetic needs were satisfied on tumblr where I couldn’t get enough of people starting to learn and teach each other that they/we were worthy, no matter the ignorance of our environment in the geographical location we were thrown into to live.

Moderation was a big topic even back then, lots of messageboard discussions went into it and lots of friendships broke over it. (It’s not that different from offline, where you try to establish basic rules for your club and still end up discussing it all over again for a lot of single events because human behaviour is messy and rules (just like automation) only work for some cases. I digress.

What I actually wanted to express is that only since Twitter is dead for me I have learned how much I got used to it that interesting texts and burning topics and people whose expertise and opinions I knew we can trust got almost thrown at me thanks to my lovingly curated Twitter network. I will never forgive all the Dorseys and Musks for ruining it. It’s why I don’t see an alternative in Dorsey’s Bluesky and don’t even get me started on Substack’s Notes. With a CEO like this you need no competitors to take you down.

Next to the network of people we built, the other big aspect of Twitter I miss is the advanced full-text search possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that it is part of what led to the demise of Twitter culture because it made it so easy to find targets for, well, targeted attacks. But it also turned Twitter into a second, outsourced brain for heavy users like me. I can’t count the times when I semi-remembered a discussion or an important article someone had posted with a good comment and I was able to find it thanks to that search. I miss this deeply. It is also hard to wean yourself from the high that instant news discussion from all areas gives you.

It is hard to build a new community elsewhere and to find a different way to deal with thinking and learning in hivemind style after Twitter. It is hard to build a new international intellectually and emotionally stimulating community of people you really like and who are experts in some area or who are brilliant curators of interesting essays and thoughts, or whose dry humour you share, or who inspire you or challenge you or who post in these wonderfully conversational ways that invite people to engage (instead of just posting to promote stuff). And who might feel the same way about you. As a social process, it takes time to get a new mix of strangers and people whom you know from other places to turn into this special online community that you love to check in daily with and who keep you ambiently curious and engaged.

As for other social platforms… hm… Instagram still is the worst to me. I only keep my account because so many of my local mates use it as their main online thing. In my opinion it really has managed to suck all the fun out of the luscious and/or hilarious thing that visual online self-expression used to be by turning anything you post into influencer stuff. No matter how personal I post there, I always feel it clots into an advertisment, a commercial pose. I mean, of course everything we post online or write down anywhere is a pose as we have the agency about how we present ourselves, and we decide what to share and what not, and that’s a beautiful and rich thing. But on Instagram it doesn’t feel like that, it feels like reducing anything personal to a monetising aspect. I feel dirty even if I just check in to read my PMs. I can’t explain it any better, sorry, but to me the vibes have turned really bad over there. I am still on Facebook and it’s okayish. It’s gone more quiet after so many people have left, but many from the german left bubble are still there, and some of my older friends, and it’s event function still hasn’t been replaced by something better elsewhere because, as I said before: the power of Facebook/Meta/Insta is in your adress book. If anything has replaced ye olde paper phone book in how easy it made it to find people, especially locally and from your wider community, it is Facebook/Meta.

What else is there? I am on some Discords but right now more as a lurker than using it as a social place. If you know me and my interests a bit from online: Wouldn’t say no to recommend-/invitations for good Discord communities that I shouldn’t miss out on, theorizing, critical tech (but tech positive), left politics (the more utopian and constructive the better), speculative thinking, pop culture are my favourite topics but it’s hard to find good fits because at the end it’s about the kind of people who post there.

Photo: As every winter Missy the cat has made my bench her favourite spot – as you can see from all the fur and tiny claw marks – and I can’t bring myself to put it back on the balcony now that it’s spring.


Habe vor ein paar Wochen, als mir die 100. Analyse zu Putin/Krieg in die Timeline gespült wurde, bei einem Bekannten auf Facebook ironisch-polemisch kommentiert, in etwa: “Call me IdPol, aber ich hab heut früh beschlossen, erst wieder so’nen Text zu lesen, wenn er nicht von einem weißen Cis-Mann kommt.”

Kommentiert hab ich, weil ich zwar einerseits dankbar für die ganzen Texte bin, die ich dank meiner Timeline zu lesen bekomme, es aber andererseits mehr als auffällig ist, dass einige Männer so gut wie ausschließlich Texte von Männern teilen – ohne das irgendwie seltsam zu finden. Mich nervt, wenn die kritische Theoriebubble es nicht mal wahrnimmt, dass mit ihrem aufklärerischen Selbstverständnis irgendwas faul sein könnte, wenn sie auch im 21.Jh immer noch so ne dampfende Herrensauna ist, die anscheinend für andere wenig einladend ist zum Mitdiskutieren.

Ich sprech das immer wieder mal an, denn Ausschlussmechanismen zu benennen und sichtbar zu machen ist weiterhin unangenehme Aufgabe derer, die ausgeschlossen werden. Diese Kritik als Identitätspolitik abzutun ist einer dieser Ausschlussmechanismen. Und absurd: Ich kritisiere die identitätsbasierte Bubblehaftigkeit und meine Forderung danach, sie aufzubrechen wird als identitätspolitisch kritisiert?

Ich glaube nicht an das, was gemeinhin als identitäspolitisch kritisiert wird: an geschlechter-essentialistische oder neoliberal-feministische Weltverbesserung, also: dass alles automatisch besser liefe, wenn nicht mehr nur weiße Cis-Männer am Tisch säßen. Aber es ist der Standardvorwurf, der dir heute entgegenschallt, wenn Männern der Ausschluss-Vorwurf nicht schmeckt.

Mir geht es bei der Kritikum ein Aufbrechen dieses uralten Kreislauf des gegenseitigen Schulterklopfens und Anerkennens, in den so viele weiße Cis-Männer nun mal so verstrickt sind, dass sie ihn nicht mal wahrzunehmen scheinen. Wie Stefanie Sargnagel mal zum Thema Frauenquote in der Kultur schrieb: “wieviele mittelmäßige männer pushen sich die ganze zeit gegenseitig? wieviele fade 0815 typen wurden da letztens schon wieder eingeladen?” Teilhabe ist der Punkt. Es geht nicht drum, dass der Diskurs automatisch besser wäre, wenn er diverser wäre.

Und kommt mir nicht mit dem Qualitätsargument, denn egal wie mittelmäßig das ist, was Männer schreiben, es finden sich immer Männer, die sie empfehlen und dieses gegenseitige Empfehlen ist wie ein geschlossener Kreislauf, der nicht so leicht zu durchbrechen ist. Es kostet Mühe. Dafür müssen sich Leute in ihrem jeweiligen Bereich etwas aktiver darum kümmern und suchen, ob es nicht andere Stimmen dazu gibt, und sich immer wieder bewusst machen: Es ist kein Zufall, dass gerade kein Text einer Frau oder eines nicht westlich geprägten oder queeren Menschen dazu kursiert, sondern es liegt an lange gewachsenen Netzwerken und Gewohnheiten und Traditionen.

Sich aktiv um Texte von solchen Anderen zu bemühen ist Arbeit, die meist an denen hängen bleibt, die, manche mehr, manche weniger, unter Ausschlussmechanismen leiden und das bedeutet: Sie opfern dafür Zeit und Arbeit, während andere sich einfach zurücklehnen. Ich merke das persönlich. Es ist Zeit, die mir fehlt, um mich um die Themen zu kümmern, die mich eigentlich interessieren und in die ich mich eigentlich tiefer einarbeiten will. Ich bin dessen auch immer wieder mal müde und will auch einfach gemütlich auf die bestehenden Kreisläufe zurückgreifen. Aber wenn dann eben wieder mal zu einem aktuellen Thema fast ausschließlich Texte von Männern weiterverbreitet werden, und das von Leuten, die sich als aufgeklärt und emanzipatorisch sehen, packt mich wieder dieser Ärger und ich überwinde mich, dass zumindest als Missstand zu kommentieren.

Ich tu das ganz gerne ironisch und scherzend, weil das oft eher ankommt und nicht gleich als Angriff verstanden wird. Das Problem an Ironie ist aber, dass sie nur für die erkennbar ist, die meine Position kennen, sowie eine Anspielung auch nur für die funktioniert, die wissen, auf was sie sich bezieht. Das ist etwas, was ich in Kauf nehme, weil mir sonst das Diskutieren und Kommentieren fad werden würde.

Was aber ein Problem ist, sind Leute, die sowas bewusst in Bad Faith Kritik eskalieren. Es ist eine uralte Propaganda-Taktik um die Position der unliebigen Seite anzweifelbar zu machen und Fronten zu verhärten. Dazu werden verschiedenste Mittel verwendet, von Strohmann-Argument über Red Herring bis zu Pseudo-Logik oder Bothsideism (Hier ist einer von vielen Texten im Netz, die das erläutern).

Es werden gezielt Aussagen gesucht, die extreme Klischees verstärken, im Fall meines Kommentars, den ich eingangs erwähnte, ist es das das Klischee der crazy woken identitätspolitischen Feministin, der ihre Achtsamkeits-Yoga-Matte-von-Feminismusverständis wichtiger ist als dass hier gerade Menschen in einem Krieg sterben. Totally lost und wohlstandsverwahrlost halt.

Es gehört zur Methode, dass Aussagen aus dem Kontext und Tonfall gezerrt und weitergeteilt werden, um anderen zu zeigen, dass was dran ist an den Klischees, und so langfristig ein Feindbild zu verhärten, keine Nuancen zuzulassen und vor allem solidarische konstruktive Diskussionen zu verhindern. Es geht dabei nicht um das Verstehen der Gegenseite, es geht nicht um Auseinandersetzung mit dem Thema, sondern um Ablenkung, um Eskalation und/oder um das Verstärken von Feindbildern.

Mein hier eingangs erwähnter Kommentar war natürlich prädestiniert dafür, weil ja auch wirklich nicht sehr konstruktiv. Ob ichs deswegen verdient habe, darauf die Entgegnung “hab Sex bitte” abzubekommen, wie ein random Mann mit ‘lustigem’ Fakenamen dann drunter kommentierte? Weiß nicht. Immerhin zivilisierter als das gute alte “du gehörst mal richtig durchgefickt,” dieses Ehrenabzeichnen jeder Frau, die sich öffentlich feministisch äußert.

Natürlich war ich neugierig, und hab, um ein bisschen Kontext zu kriegen, sein Profil angeklickt. Dort hat er ganz stolz meinen Kommentar als IdPol-Screenshot-Trophäe zum Aufheizen seiner Follower gepostet, die sich in knapp 90 Kommentaren einen drauf runterholten. Von traurigen RAD-Gestalten über Hot Takes-Journo von der Groove bis zu essentialistischen TERFs, alles dabei. Sichtlich Leute, die sich Verächtlichmachung und Freude an Eskalation zum Hobby erkoren haben.

Hab kurz überlegt, “triggered much?” drunterzuschreiben, weil es mir als so absurde Überreaktion erschien, wie sie sich da reinsteigerten, aber durch diese Art meme-hafter Kommunikation hatte das Problem ja angefangen. Deswegen schreibe ich das hier auch erst heute zu Ende. Ich hatte diesen Text schon kurz danach angefangen, aber es ist eine schmaler Grat zwischen Aufklärung und Verstärkung in unserer aufmerksamkeits-fokussierten Social Media Diskursöffentlichkeit. Vielleicht hilft es, dass jetzt ein zeitlicher Abstand dazwischen liegt, und die Edgelords mich längst vergessen haben.

Ich hatte jedenfalls schon so lange nur ziviliserten Austausch auf Social Media, dass ich ganz vergessen hatte, wie sich so ein Hetz-Post anfühlt. Auch die Verstärkung durch solche Plattformeigenheiten, wie dass du auf Facebook zentral gemeinsame Freund*innen angezeigt bekommst, kann dich in so einer Situation ganz schön runterziehen. Wider besseren Wissens fühlt es sich in solchen Momenten so an, als würden all diese schweigenden gemeinsamen Freund*innen die Meinung dessen stützen, der dich verächtlich zu machen versucht. Das ist wohl etwas, was alle berührt, die nicht komplett verroht sind.

Als ich dann auch einen Screenshot davon machen wollte, war das Profil des Users weg und ist es bis heute, ich hab grad noch mal nachgesehen. Bei so einem Edgelord ist da mein erster Gedanke, dass ihn wer wegen Fakenamen gemeldet hat, um ihn zum Schweigen zu bringen. Das wiederum ist etwas, was ich niemandem wünsche, weil Facebook halt für viele ein zentrales Kontaktmedium ist, und es sich übel anfühlen kann, wenn man da plötzlich rausgeworfen wird. Kenn ich aus eigener Erfahrung. Deswegen blocke ich lieber als zu sowas zu greifen. Ausschluss fühlt sich halt immer scheiße an, ob durch patriarchale Verhältnisse, oder ob durch eine Plattform. Und gerade bei solchen Leuten trägt sowas am End noch zur Radikalisierung bei. Oder er hatte zufällig gerade zu diesem Zeitpunkt die Nase von Facebook voll. Kann natürlich auch sein.

Anyway. Die Unmöglichmachung der Kritik an patriarchalen und rassistischen Ausschlüssen mit dem Totschlagargument, das sei identitätspolitische Wokeness, und das Aufhetzen von Netzfollowern sehe ich derzeit vor allem als neue Variante des alten Spiels, Progressive mundtot zu machen, die an traditionellen Netzwerken kratzen. Im Fall meines Posts: Sexistische Ausschlüsse werden zur Nebensache erklärt, über die zu sprechen angesichts der Hauptsache der Kriegsrealität unangebracht sei. Als würden wir nicht konstant solch große Dissonanzen aushalten und mit verschiedenen Problemen mit verschieden schweren Konsequenzen jonglieren müssen. Der Rückzug ins Zynisch-Destruktive ist für manche halt zur Form des Eskapismus geworden, den ich zwar nachvollziehen kann, aber dem ich hoffentlich nie so verfallen werde.

Und was tun mit der männlichen Dominanz in (linken) Theorietexten? Nicht müde werden, das ist das Wichtigste und Schwierigste. Nicht müde werden, das Missverhältnis anzusprechen. Im Idealfall erklärend und diskussionsoffen (außer bei Leuten, denen es sichtlich um Bad Faith Disput geht). Diese Kritik außerhalb der eigenen Wohlfühlbubble tragen. Gezielt gute Texte von anderen als den üblichen Verdächtigen suchen und weiterverbreiten, auch mal bei Multiplikator*innen drunterkommentieren. Es gibt auch Aktionen wie auf Twitter #Frauenlesen, was ein werter Ansatz war, aber es blieb dann doch arg exklusiv und ich hätte vielleicht lieber sowas wie #nichtnurweißewestlichecismännerlesenbroplz…? Manchmal wär mir auch danach, einfach immer nur bei allen, die nur Texte von Männern posten, #Männerlesen drunter zu kommentieren. Ach, ich weiß ja auch nicht.

Ich schließe mal mit einer Vortrags-Empfehlung: Julia Ingold zum Thema “Warum ich keine Männer mehr lese – eine Autopsie der Ermüdung” am 30.6.22 im Balthasar in der Reihe “Freie Uni Bamberg.” Wenns keinen Zoom-Stream geben sollte, überleg ich mir grad tatsächlich, den Ausflug dorthin zu machen.

Waiting room

My life has turned into waiting. Again. I can do things, sure, I can write, there is some work I can do but what has been the main content of my life for so many years is in a pause position. Again. No concerts, no club nights, no live music events that bring people together. I am okay with it because the pandemy makes it necessary. I am not okay with it because so little is been done to bring the infection numbers down in other areas: People have to go to work and risk infection there. It is nerve-wrecking for so many people around me and the patience gets thinner. I am still trying to just accept the unavoidable and sit this out without getting crazy but then I already had my mental problems before the pandemy. This situation does not make them better. Shutting down my energy to stay sane seems to come with the price of shutting down social life, shutting down thinking, shutting down enthusiasm. I am a person that loves to think. Enjoying things usually means that I automatically dissect them, not because I want to, it is just how I tick. I savour all their little bits and pieces and see connections or similarities to other things and how they are in certain contexts and so on. It is how they are alive to me. In this way for me enjoying things melts into making sense of the world and getting inspired, growing new ideas and projects that I try to realize or tell others about and try it together. The pandemy has changed that, especially this year was hard. Especially since it became clear that our government will not act in any way responsible and fast and the cultural sector will once again have to hit the pause button. Last year I was like, yeah, well, then let’s do some livestream stuff and we did. This year even the thought of it makes me feel exhausted. So instead I have turned to escapism. I drown myself in stories: literature, tv series, games. I did that as a child too. It was the best escape in the age when you can’t get away from your troubled home in other ways yet. But when back then it provided a needed outlet now it sometimes really feels like drowning. I am tired of having become so passive and I am tired of being constantly exhausted and down. I am not a patient girl. Not sure if I got the guts to change yet but hey, soon it is Midwinter, and once more I want to believe that we are halfway through the darkness on more than a seasonal level.


#MakeAmazonPay and build alternatives. I’m all for the movement to support their workers and to make Amazon pay all kinds of taxes instead of doing some charity of their choice and at the same time I believe consumer shaming isn’t the way.

Especially the ongoing pandemic season with lots of lost income and more need for working notebooks and tablets for anything from communication to homeschooling is not the time to shame people for doing some cheap online tech shopping.

btw my impulse for writing this comes from seeing a local initiative going all “repair, swap, recycle, etc. instead of Amazon” today. As if those were in any way alternatives to the massive infrastructure Amazon has built. Such initiatives to go local and LoHaS (and at worst: offline, back to nature etc.) are not exactly what we need to bring on the massive international alternatives we need. They often are escapist at best and elitist at worst.

What we need is not withdrawal but more (internationalist) politics and activism to strengthen workers’ rights and build the huge tech infrastructures we need and want for our shared future (or expropriate Amazon and the likes, but then we still would need the skills to keep such an infrastructure running and updated and looking at public sector’s tech skills… well, pardon my scepticism that this would work. ? ).

Book review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Book review

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I have just finished Jemisin’s Broken Earth. What a world builder she is! The protagonists and dialogue are not even that well written but it all holds together and makes for a fantastic and – as the climate catastrophe reshapes how we perceive our planet – also a quite timely dive into a world in which geography comes alive. Where data and science can only make geosystems understandable on a theoretical base, Broken Earth is the kind of speculative fiction that gives you a feel for it.

The other aspect I enjoyed massively is how Jemisin uses perspectives. The plot has two timelines, one written in third person, one in second person point of view. In the first the experiences of its protagonists are embedded in a world with rules and certainties and history and oppressive hierarchies the young woman main protagonist struggles with. Where the first person story line helps to build the world, the second person one tears it down, or rather: The “you” draws you in as it stumbles through a part or perspective of this world that is falling apart: You are a desoriented, distrustful grown up woman, who has lost children and husband and has become a refugee constantly on the move. I simply love how Jemisin fits these lines together.

One flaw I can’t but mention is how she handles her protagonists: I for one am a bit tired of abuse, psychological and physical torture and the likes as driver of character development, aka “wow, look how strong they became after all that they have suffered.” Don’t get me wrong: If it’s crucial to the story, I am more than fine with violence but in this first book of the trilogy it’s a bit on that side of things. Nevertheless: I love this book.

As I said, the world that Jemisin builds is fantastic, more in the superlative praising sense, than in the literature genre sense: It is not fantasy as an escapist sense, even if it has elements of it. But it hits far too close home than to give you an escape from this world. She builds more of a far future Earth. There are glimpses of a past in “deadciv” objects which are artifacts of dead civilisations and the hostility of the very planet, mythically expressed as “Father Nature,” comes with an undertone of guilt and weight of a well-deserved revenge for past abuse. There is beauty too, threatening as it can’t be physically grasped: huge hovering crystals or obelisks that kept reminding me of the No Man’s Sky cover art. To be honest in my mind I pictured this world in a shattered No Man’s Sky aesthetic with a good mix of afrofuturist glamour and Children of Men raggedness thrown in.

Will definitely read the rest of the Broken Earth saga but first I have two more novels I am really looking forward to: Hollowpox by Morrigan Crow and Kim Stanly Robinson’s The Ministry For The Future.

The last few weeks got pretty dark…

“Fingers of thought are raking the space behind the cushions, looking for loose ideas, finding nothing.” Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store

The few weeks got pretty dark. After the fire at our venue and after Ninja the cat’s death, I withdrew myself a bit from public life and focussed on work and on not letting the tinnitus and the black hole in my chest let take over. It is silly but somehow spaces like Zentralcafé and now Kantine have become something like an exoskeleton for me that I share with others, and without it I feel a bit smaller and more vulnerable. One platform less. It is so long since I have not been passionately involved in working with others on a shared culture space and naturally it is where most of my social life is rooted, so right now I miss it like hell.

The fire at the Kantine caught us at with bad timing too – not to say that there ever is a good timing for this. It came at a moment in which we finally almost had finished moving in. The first year in the Kantine felt like at least 50% work on infrastructure. There’s so little storage space and everything is in the way, and things break from being constantly shoved from one corner to another, and there are so many compromises to make. I also find it hard to make it work as a social space because it lacks niches and corners, there’s no hallway, just a tiny foyer, so there is no space to hang and chat that is not in the loud main room. And in the main room the bar is efficient for giving out drinks but it is not the social meeting point that a bar counter needs to be in a space that is focussed on low social barriers between guests and us. The things you learn about buildings from having to make do, from practical use. But hey, we do make do! It is but an interim solution and as such it is a great place that we will keep making the best of for the next few years. Hope it will get better in our future venue though.

Back to the personal: As for the ringing in my ears and the emotional limping, well, I don’t know if socially isolating myself is the best way of dealing with it but it is what I always do when I am this far down. It makes me feel horribly visible when I go out and I feel like I can’t cope with small talk. And, yeah, well, after so many years too many people in this city’s nightlife know me, so it’s hard to have an anonymous night out dancing and drinking the sad away. And when I am like this I am bad at reaching out to people I would at least like to try to hang out with. Let’s face it: We are all bad at reaching out. As ever I am very thankful for the internet. It gives you the possibility to keep in touch with human beings even when you don’t feel strong enough for doing so in flesh. There are people I have never met and don’t even feel the wish to do so, but to whom I feel closer than to many people that regularly cross my offline way. Anyway. My life over the last few weeks was mostly working, reading, watching tv series, the occasional walk or a talk or a concert or – like tonight – cinema with friends: Eggers’ The Lighthouse.

Oh, and playing with the cute monsters that have just moved in takes up quite some pleasure time too: We got two new cats after Ninja’s death. Our first instinct was to wait a couple of months and let the mourning settle but then the waiting felt like a pretentious thing to do. So now we got Lani, a fluffy shy Siberian whose previous owner got allergic and who didn’t want to give her to breeders. While two young cats would have been easier, she is such a sweetheart that we couldn’t say no.

Our other noob is a 5 month old kitten and she drives me crazy. In the best way. She is either wreaking havoc, running and jumping and kicking invisible demons and clawing her way up and down anything, or she is the softest sleepy bundle of purr, demanding to sleep rolled up close to you. She now is named Missy after the Time Lady from Doctor Who and Missy Misdemeanour EliotMissy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. Lani has a hard time with that crazy little shit that is all jump attacks and got no idea of personal space but it’s slowly getting better. As am I.

See, now I’ve even done a blogpost. Like I used to. Even with a quote I like at the top.

RIP little car

RIP little car (?1997 – ⚰️2019)

I think that the 20th century reaches almost its purest expression on the highway. Here we see, all too clearly, the speed and violence of our age, its strange love affair with the machine and, conceivably, with its own death and destruction.

What is the real significance in our lives of this huge metallised dream? Is the car, in more senses than one, taking us for a ride?JG Ballard

You were my first and will be my last. Inherited you from my mom. When the tow truck got you today an old neighbour walked over to me and said: “Now yet another piece of your mother is gone.” Loved the pathos and the sad cyborgish ambiguity of that. I also felt a bit sorry for that neighbour because in those words also resonated the slightly bitter note of being reminded of her own transcience. There was an ounce of truth in that sentence: You always kept feeling like the car I just borrowed from my mom for a while. I never would have bought a car for myself but I was a big fan of having one available.

I loved all those long relaxing rides, those long roads, especially when on my own and feeling at peace, listening to audiobooks and the sweetest music or just the humming of the motor and the wheels on asphalt. Oh, the old sin of taking pleasure in car cruising. Sorry, future generations but we had so much fun with it, we all felt a bit like an Imperator Furiosa when we first hit the road in our own car. It was one of the best rites of passage, not because of motor and steel and design fetish but because it was geographically liberating: Suddenly you could independently cover bigger distances away from your home.

Oh, that breeze of fresh air I felt in my chest when I hit your gas pedal and headed onto the motorway, for a holiday, to shows, to dj gigs. The quiet late night rides back from other cities, when the others fell asleep and it was just you and me keeping them safe on the road home. I’ve always enjoyed the luxury of a room of my own, sealed off from others, having your own steel cabin to ride. No fellow train passengers who could bother you with disgusting smells or desperate efforts to chat you up. No train schedules, no airport security checks, you could leave whenever and stop and go whereever you wanted.

As nice as it was: Like so many other burning-oil-things cruising in you, little car, hasn’t aged well. The last couple of years I have already used you less and less and tbh you gave me an environmental headache, dear. Good-bye, little car, good-bye another piece of the 20th century. The 21st will move from oil and steel and plastic and highly visible machines to be all about air and hidden machines and machineries and machinerettes.

P.S.: I like that this seems to be the only picture of you that I got.
(It’s monster heads for an Otto von Schirach + Talibam + Shitmat show back in 2010.)


Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes

I love starting a book without any before knowledge, as I have done with the audiobook of Vernon Subutex 1 that I have just finished. For a while it got me cringing and going “geez, why are you doing this to yourself?! Just turn it off.” At first it sounded like yet another deeply cynical story of yet another old straight white man who can’t handle a society becoming more diverse. Also the fallen music nerd/hero in the post-digital era thing hit quite close home for me – she could have written him from quite a few Subutexes I know IRL and they do not make me happy.

In short: At first it seemed all very Houllebecque (no typo, I don’t want his name to be searchable) and I find him boring with his tired pseudo-taboo-breaking provocations. Trying too hard.

Thankfully Virginie Despentes does so much more here. She has written a sharp and cruel but also a compassionate tale of a precarious, post-digital, polarized and individualized society. It’s a journey to the noughts in France with MP3 killing the record store and music critic stars. Despentes brilliantly cruises through perspectives of different classes, genders, religions – the physically violent husband, the transgender immigrant from Brazil, the fascist, the homeless woman, the muslim daughter who choses a veil against the will of her liberal father. Prejudices and stereotypes get deleted or confirmed in unexpected ways, only one thing is sure: It’s complicated!

Subutex is the main protagonist and he is anything but the one you would wish to accompany on his journey from music scene fame to the rock bottom of society. He is the one we deserve though. Subutex is something like the opposite of Loudermilk, a tv show about a dry alcoholic ex-music critic whose social music capital has no worth in our post-digital time. Loudermilk is trying hard to do and be good and overcome his cynicism, he still believes things and people can get better. Subutex might be in a similar situation but is nothing like that. He simply tries to survive, he has no dreams left, he judges even his rare moments of compassion and his own fall with cold sarcasm. He is brutally self-aware, aware of how he would have perceived someone like himself from a better off position. As many of the characters in Virginie Despentes novel he is a test for your empathy.

Vernon Subutex 1 is a rich uncomfy novel that does a great job in capturing the dynamics that are at work in today’s polarized societies.

P.S.: About the audiobook: If you – like me – listen in short bits with days inbetween I would rather recommend the print book, as it make it easier to go a few pages back to refresh something about a character. The audiobook is well-done though, so if your habit is to listen in longer bits – go for it! I will switch to reading for the other two books in the series.

Kill All Normies – a problem of fascination

A german version of this post has been published here and tl;dr version will be published in print, in Analyse & Kritik.

“this is not a book about the alt-right. It is an anti-Left polemic.”
Jordy Cummings

“‘the centre’ – as a proclaimed area of shared, sensible assumptions about the values, needs and possibilities of a political community, defined against threatening ‘extremes’ – is a frequently remade fiction, masking specific ideological commitments and positioning“
Tom Crewe

Pretty late, but I can not not write a few words about Angela Nagles Kill All Normies. I am tired of people scapegoating “left identity politics” just like the far right wants them to, and I find it hard to believe that there are still new articles being published that treat this book like a standard reference without any criticism. Though, to be fair, sometimes these articles stick the word “controversial” to Kill All Normies as a kind of magic spell that signals that the author is aware that criticism is due but that at the same time exempts the author from applying any. Seeing how widely known Kill All Normies has become by now, I would rather wish for this book to be just as critically discussed and dissected as the Sokal (Squared) Hoax. This is my little contribution.

No source citations, spiteful and sloppy style

A first obvious reason why her work should be questioned is Nagles “sloppy sourcing”: There are no citations in this book. Not only does it make verification hard, it is also almost impossible to contextualize statements. Libcom have taken it upon themselves to search for possible sources and have found that there are passages that have similar wording as Wikipedia entries. Well, if work this way, it can happen that you accidentally use use a fascist’s self-description: In Kill All Normies’ case it is Aleksandr Dugin’s description of his own book. Charles Davis gathered similarly problematic references, for example that Nagle describes incidents based on news articles that she doesn’t cite while simply leaving out the parts of the articles that do not support her argument.

Her snarky tabloid press style, quite a few misspellings and an overall writing style that shows in what a rush this text has been written also deserve criticism. Apparently there was little editorial effort. Maybe all this is acceptable for a blogger like me who has not much time for writing, does not write in her first language and has no editorial background and resources. For a published book though, and for one that by now has been translated into several more languages and is making the rounds in a greater extent and that is even used by people with an academic background as allegedly reliable source, all this is a no-go. I can only assume that the publisher, Zero Books, hoped such a sensationalist work would sell even in such a sloppy version. And it has worked. Clickbait in book shape.

Jules Joanne Gleeson files the book rather aptly under “travel writing for internet culture”, thereby pointing out its exoticizing aspect: “Kill All Normies provides a string of curios and oddities (from neo-nazi cults, to inscrutably gendered teenagers) to an audience expected to find them unfamiliar, and titillating.”

Rejection of the feminine, internalized misogyny

Rejection of the feminine is woven all through Nagle’s book. She is noticeably annoyed by feminists and it feels as if she wants to be “one of the guys”, a “cool girl”. It downright smells of internalize misogyny.

Even in small details she sets a subtle mood against people, mostly women, she sees as part of “tumblr-liberalism”, an example: Jordy Cummings observes that Nagle doesn’t use titles for those (e.g. Judith Butler) but uses titles like “doctor” or “professor” for people she deems worthy.

She seriously thinks it helpful to write this about Gamergate, one of the initial events in the origin of the Alt-Right:

“Gamergate itself kicked off when Zoe Quinn created a video game called Depression Quest, which even to a nongamer like me looked like a terrible game featuring many of the fragility and mental illness-fetishizing characteristics of the kind of feminism that has emerged online in recent years. It was the kind of game, about depression, that would have worked as a perfect parody of everything the gamergaters hated about SJWs (social justice warriors).
Nevertheless, her dreadful game got positive reviews from politically sympathetic indie games journalists, which turned into a kind of catalyst for the whole gamergate saga.”

This quote should also give you a taste of her style. As Noah Berlatsky remarks: “Not a single word about that Zoe Quinn “actually has depression, and the fact that her game is about sadness and fragility—and is therefore coded feminine—is precisely why Gamergate saw it, and Quinn, as convenient scapegoats to rally against once Quinn’s abusive ex stirred up the mob.” (Quinn was one of the women who suffered the most massive misogynist attacks in Gamergate.) Nagle often sounds so disdainful about openly showing one’s vulnerability that I almost waited that she uses the insult “snowflakes” herself.

When she writes about the alleged weakness of a woman like Zoe Quinn, Nagle implicitly writes herself as tough-minded critic of feminism and any kind of showing of vulnerability, and: as very conservative if it comes to gender politics. While she does describe the ugliness of right propaganda on the web, again and again she sounds as if she has a tiny bit too much understanding for the Alt-Right and the sexists of the manosphere. As Donald Parkinson points out, “she concludes in her chapter on the manosphere by saying that the ‘sexual revolution’ has led to a ‘steep sexual hierarchy’, the decline of monogamy creating a ‘pecking order’ amongst men. … they develop an ideology around the hatred of women and resentment, blaming ‘cultural marxist feminists’ for talking away this idealized past. The idea that these men just can’t get laid and are therefore doomed to be this reactionary just feeds exactly into the ideology of reddit incels.” It is hardly surprising that Nagle also is not very critical of Jordan Peterson, someone famous for suggesting compulsory monogamy as solution for misogynist violence last year.

The little good I see in this little book is that it introduces people who don’t know anything about it to how the right US scene presents itself online, with a look at quite a few subscenes. But that has been done by others and with a more sober look. Nagle’s nerdy fascination tilts to one side. She writes about Pat Buchanan and Milo Yiannopolous in great length, quotes them directly and uses their theories about an alleged autoritarianism of the left, but her description of the left? Wow. Drastic simplifications and mood-setting descriptions. She uses vocabulary like “hysterical”, “sensitive”, “absurd” etc., which is language that degrades by feminization, just like the Alt-Right uses it. She uses omissions to create the undifferentiated and inaccurate image of a self-contained omnipresent hypersensitive pc-censorship left that she needs to underpin her theory.

Construction and demonization of an imaginary left: “Tumblr Liberalism”

One example of the intentional omissions that Nagle uses to present the “left” as anti-free speech movement becomes obvious when she writes about the protests against Milo “feminism is cancer” Yiannopolous in Berkeley. She describes it as attack on freedom of speech but does not mention with any word that the main reason behind the protests turning out as drastic as they did was that Yiannopolous had announced that in his speech he would call out immigrants without papers by name in order to deliver them to deportation. He also his fans to do the same. As Andrew Stewart writes, this was “an attempt to incite violence against the most vulnerable individuals in our society,” and the concern of protestors was to radically stand up against this, to stand up for people who were actually threatened. To leave that out when describing what happened simply is distorting.

Angela Nagle is taking side for free speech absolutism and even worse: Although this also is a core topic of right propaganda, she sets up this position as reasonable status quo without discussing the arguments against it. There are more examples of how Nagle uses omissions for her lopsided descriptions of campus conflicts as “anti-free speech” censorship instead of political protest with actual arguments. You can find them for example in Richard Seymour’s “The negative dialectics of moralism”.

Nagle uses a similar way of leaving out more complex contexts whenever they do not fit her theory when she lumps together concepts of a progressive left, identity politics that are focussed on working against everyday discrimination and neoliberal diversity tactics and many more into what she calls “Tumblr Liberalism”. She constructs it out of mostly falsifying reduction, out of extreme examples. Hypersensitive call-out culture is her pet point. She can not deliver any substantial proof that it really is characteristic for the major part of the online left and that it is not only a small while very noisy part of it.

While she works out in detail how incels and alt-right came to be, it is kind of impressive how she blocks out nagging invisible everyday experiences of discrimination that are a big part of the roots of “identity politics”. Racism, antisemitism, homo- and transphobia – Nagle has kind of a blind spot for those. According to Kill All Normies her nebulous Tumblr Liberalism was born out of an emotionalized irrational sensitivity that Nagle tries to sloppily trace back to the ideals of the hippie movement that became mainstream culture, ignoring racism, ableism, antisemitism etc.

As I have mentioned before, I find it fascinating how in Kill All Normies Nagle writes up herself as distant voice of reason, a kind of common sense of bothsideism, and by this implicitly targeting readers who also need and want to care only little about experiences of marginalization and discrimination. To position herself as neutral, such a presumption of objectivity, sadly is not a rare move of bourgeois centrists, playing themselves as the balanced average of society. Or of white western thinkers trying to shirk their being intertwined in power relationships and a history of discrimination. Also what is (self-)described as the Intellectual Dark Web (Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Eric and Bret Weinstein, Ben Shapiro, Jonathan Haidt etc.). Jonathan Haidt (of Righteous Mind and Coddling Of The American Mind fame), of course gets mentioned by Nagle. He stands for this kind of populist scientism that pitches “reason” and “logic” against “social justice” and “inclusion”, toughness against vulnerability. A man who manages, as Moira Weigel notes about Coddling Of The American Mind, his book with Greg Lukianoff: “they can write hundreds of pages about what’s wrong with contemporary higher education and not mention debt or adjuncts.”

Anyway. Another example for Nagles construction of her left bogeyman is ridicule for ideas of gender theory that she gives a lot of room. It speaks for itself that she gives a whole two pages of her – on more than one level – slim book to a list of gender terms by “gender-bending Tumblr users”, only to signal “look at these weirdos lel” to her readers. To use this list as allegedly representative example is absurd. As there are no citations and as Nagle did not react to their request, Libcom have done some research themselves: “ it appears that either this list was taken from a clearly labeled ‘list of poorly-attested nonbinary identities’ with insufficient sourcing or evidence that the listed genders were claimed by anyone, or it was sourced from a forum thread on the alt-right hub /pol/ where posters mocked the list.” But who cares if it fits the theory one wants to feed?

Another example is her cold mockery of spoonies. “Spoonies” is a term with which people who live with a chronic illness self-label. It is mainly used with focus on those whose illnesses are invisible to the public eye, like people with chronical pain. If you want to know more, Amanda Hess has written about people using the spoonie tag on social media to share experiences and support each other. These often are people who do not know anyone else who shares their experiences with Crohn or Lupus etc. In the past there were only offline self help groups as possibilities for exchange. Today it has become easier to find others, thanks to social media. This helped bringing about a more offensive way of dealing with it instead of shamefully hiding the illness. From misery to the building their own subculture. The spoon became a symbol and got printed on mugs, stickers, jewellery or shirts. A symbol from which those-in-the-know can recognize each other – as used often in the solidary history of marginalized people.

Nagle does not write anything about positive aspects but only describes spoonies as a “cult of suffering, weakness and vulnerability”. She even suggests that they could lie about their illnesses, once more using negative extremes to sustain her theory: “Young women, very often also identifying as intersectional feminists and radicals, displayed their spoonie identity and lashed out at anyone for not reacting appropriately to their under-recognized, undiagnosed or undiagnosable invisible illnesses or for lacking sensitivity to their other identities.” idk, somehow she often sounds like the cliche of some old bitter man on a park bench, cursing the youth of today. Or, as Josh Davies writes a bit more soberly:
”Nagle’s focus on the way things are said, and her reluctance to think about the politics and processes behind what is being said leaves her seemingly adopting a similar stance on gender to that of many of the conservatives she is critical of: gender non-conformity is something strange, esoteric and frivolous. The way her argument is presented here seems little different to the transphobic ‘I sexually identify as an attack helicopter’ meme regurgitated across the internet by edgy defenders of heteronormativity.”

Donald Parkinson points out: “Fans of Kill All Normies point to the negative reaction to the book from ‘social justice tumblr and twitter’ as proving the book’s point. All it really proves is that leftists aren’t a fan of conservative gender politics and mocking disabled people, which is correct and rightfully so. The reason tumblr ID politics exists is that people experience real oppression in their daily lives, and a lack of collective solutions leads people to individualistic methods of coping with this.”

That parts of this culture bears toxic behaviour can not and should not be denied but you get negative extremes in any other political culture and mostly it does not get criticized with such a spitefulness that makes me ask myself what this criticism actually is about.

Also: To simply absorb and accept the right myth that this so-called Tumblr Liberalism is “the ruling elite” and that the right only has gotten so radical in self-defense, is totally blind to the fact that – as Donald Parkinson writes too – that it has always been a tactic of the right to call out extreme examples to demonize concerns of the progressive left. When she uses their jargon and line of argument, Nagle plays right into the hands of the far right that through her manages to throw a line and hook to the centre of society. Here is another example from Kill All Normies:

“This anti-free speech, anti-free thought, anti-intellectual online movement, which has substituted politics with neuroses, can’t be separated from the real-life scenes millions saw online of college campuses, in which to be on the right was made something exciting, fun and courageous for the first time since… well, possibly ever. When Milo challenged his protesters to argue with him countless times on his tour, he knew that they not only wouldn’t, but also that they couldn’t. They come from an utterly intellectually shut-down world of Tumblr and trigger warnings, and the purging of dissent in which they have only learned to recite jargon.”

Is this still ‘rational’ criticism of the left or already marketing for the Alt-Right?

What Nagle does not mention is the diversity of the progressive left and liberal left, the countless extensive and controversial discussions that are so typical for most of the left online subculture practice and from which approaches get (re)developed further and further. Also “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”: She does not consider that – even if probably no dogs – there is a very diverse group of people behind her examples and what gets so easily subsumed under “the left”. Kids who mix fanfic and memes with cultural and political theorizing, self help groups that are there to help each other with practical and psychological problems, people without academic background discussing complex theory work and trying to put it into help for political practice in actual everyday life, and of course also academic political discourse and so on. Steamroller Nagle levels all those diverse and lively scenes down into some kind of totally homogenous dogmatically-stuck irrational tribalism, a left bogeyman.

That neoliberals commodify a lot of progressive, constructive and nuanced ideas, and watered them down into buzzwords, like as in marketing of anything from political parties to products, doesn’t mean that those ideas and approaches can not still be justified and useful in their more radical form. It is worth differentiating. If anything is typical for the left then it is a hivemind ever re-reflecting, discussing, criticising, discarding and advancing how a better future for everyone can be attained. Nagle however does not seem to care about solutions. For example, as Andrew Stewart writes, she “never mentions that there is a class-based intersectional feminism that can effectively oppose the alt-right.” Josh Davies concludes: “ Nagle’s sweeping generalisations not only obscure their differences but foreclose any discussion of the history and politics of each of the amorphous ‘Tumblr liberalism’’s constituent parts. For a book that focuses so much on the left’s supposed inability to generate and challenge ideas, it often reads as an invitation not to think.”

Kill All Normies often reminds me of the – hopefully never to be translated – german queer essay collection Beißreflexe, a book that is demonizing identity politics in a very similar way: constructing an image out of particular and extreme cases and overall more interested in an acidic takedown than in solutions. Floris Biskamp wrote a great analytic review of that book, structured into seven points, fallacies and mistakes, with which the bogeyman gets constructed. Those would fit for Kill All Normies just as well: Generalization of the particular, alarmistic exaggeration, the effects of standardization, invisible power and ignored capacity to act, misunderstood criticism of privilege, suppressed criticism of racism, pathologization of the others. This review already getting longer than I wanted it to be, I do not have time to go further into this but it is surprising how similar these books, and indeed an international anti-”left identity politics” dispute is structured.

No critically and historically contextualizing look at the Alt-Right

After Kill All Normies Nagle has published a text called ‘The Left case against Open Borders’ in which she plays working class and immigrants off against each other and equates a left idea of globalization with its neoliberal distorting mirror. (The difference if you really need to have it pointed out, maybe is best put by a line from a Die Goldenen Zitronen song: “I could cross your shitty Western Sea – if I were a sneaker” (english version of the song).)
With this essay Nagle was invited for an interview on his show by White Nationalist Tucker Carlson in which she let herself be instrumentalized and celebrated by the right. I do not know if she is as naive or ignorant as to take the racist, antisemitic, sexist and nativist ideology of the right not seriously, or if she simply does not mind playing into their hands, Querfront, so to speak (Strasserite? I think that’d be the political equivalent in english).

It is not just that essay though, Kill All Normies also has not exactly covered itself in glory: A book on the far right that misses out on racism as a topic? Hm. As Jules Joanne Gleeson points out, it also does not connect the Alt-Right with “earlier and on-going trends in the Anglophone right. For instance there is no evaluation of the English Defence League, or older groups such as the Orange Order. Even National Action (a recently banned British group unambiguously part of the ‘nipster’ wing of the Alt-Right, while drawing on the legacy of earlier British neo-nazi tendencies such as ‘Rock Against Communism’ and Combat 18) are not mentioned, despite their aggressive and innovative internet presence.”
Nagle also does not write about the Alt-Right’s international connections with groups like Greece’s Golden Dawn, France’s Génération Identitaire, Putin’s troll army or Hindutva. What about overlaps to the Counter Jihad movement that also had a strong online presence? And Gleeson explicitly criticizes: “Unfortunately, another of the book’s greatest failures is the lack of dedicated treatment of anti-semitism.” And Gleeson also sees Nagle falling for tactics of the right: “Nagle is reliant on a schema produced by the Alt-Right itself: the division between the Alt-Right proper (hardcore national socialists and white supremacists) and Alt-Light (who mostly avoid overt racism, instead deploying a more ‘civic’ western chauvinism). Nagle fails to note how this distinction has been used instrumentally by the Alt-Right itself.”

She does not analyse tactics of the Alt-Right as such and does not point out that next to the demonization of gender theories and feminism and to the distortion of left criticism as censorship, another big propaganda topic of the Alt-Right is its effort to fuel a revival of the American commie-panic. They do that as well by heating up the (antisemitically connotated) agitation against “cultural marxism” as they do it directly by stirring a fear of a communist revolution, as Red Scare revival. This is neither new nor specific for the internet but it needs historical contextualization. As Jack Smith IV sums up: “Renewing the language of the Red Scare equips the right with the talking points they need to delegitimize the rising tide of left-wing populism. The rhetoric is antiquated, but its purpose remains the same: to portray protest as subversion, to undercut the struggle for civil rights and to prevent the left from expanding the boundaries of what’s possible in America by policing the boundaries of what it means to be an American.”

It is remarkable that, as Donald Parkinson mentions, in her narrative of how the alt-right came into existence Nagle uses “a methodology that itself has more in common with liberal cultural theory” than with the “marxist materialism” she claims to use. Kill All Normies sticks to an analysis along her transgression theory, there is nothing about class and economy. (Which adds a hint of irony to the left materialists’ love for Nagle’s book.) Nagle’s analysis is restricted to online discourses and as Parkinson notes too: “Her primary problem with identity politics seems to its ‘oversensitivity’ and ‘extremism’, not their failure to adequately address exploitation and oppression in a materialist manner.”

Digital Dualism and no analysis of digital platforms

Limiting her reflections on online presence (and propaganda stunts) leads Nagle to a chapter title like “The joke isn’t funny any more – the culture war goes offline”. She seems stuck in the thinking of digital dualism, separating “real” offline world and “virtual” online world, when using expressions like “spills into real life”. Her theory seems to be: First there was a “leaderless internet revolution”, then bad left “identity politics” rose and as reaction to that the “irreverent trolling style associated with 4chan” and some point the web was so full that it overflowed and spilled from Tumblr to the IRL campus etc. Maybe someone should put a plug into the Alt-Right parts of the internet so all their hate would stay in there.

By ignoring offline aspects of the right Nagle overlooks important connections and underestimates their danger and cause-effect relationships. Donald Parkins notes this weakness of Kill All Normies: “… ideologues like Richard Spencer and Kevin MacDonald have been organizing their think tanks and affinity groups for quite some time, and as proven by events in Charlottesville they are quite willing to take their ideas ‘to the streets’. There is a lack of information about the actual alt-right as it exists in the [offline] world. … Nothing is said about the efforts of white supremacist organizers like Identity Europa or the Traditionalist Workers Party to organize frats or rural workers and what kind of visions these groups have (a balkanization of the US and the create of an all-white “enthno state” is a common one). Rather Nagle pretends the alt-right is only an online phenomena, when these people have been trying to promote these politics for years.”

Maybe it is the lack of this wider context that makes Nagle neglect how tactical the recruitment and radicalization gets applied online. It is not just an automatic response to “political correctness gone mad.” Even if I were to overlook that she does not relate to the offline organisation and effects of right groups, from a book that limits its analysis to online presence of right groups I would expect at least one little chapter about how attention economy, social metrics, virality etc., in other words how the specific structures and mechanisms of the prominent platforms for online communication and networking contribute to radicalization. There is no space dedicated to this topic in Kill All Normies.

If you are interested in this, here are two reading tipps (I am copy-pasting this from my Matrix And The Manosphere talk script) but – content warning: Both texts are not as sensationalistically written as Kill All Normies.

1.) In her essay “Counter-Creativity” in ‘Sociotechnical Change from Alt-Right to Alt-Tech’ Julia Ebner mentions three tactical goals: “they have leveraged the digital space for three different types of campaigns to reach their key audiences: radicalization campaigns targeting sympathizers, manipulation campaigns targeting the mainstream, and intimidation campaigns targeting political opponents.” In their networks they share instructions, strategic documents on how to start chats with strangers, how to build trust and use widespread grievances, and how to adapt your language to the person you want to reach with your ideology.

2.) Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis also cover this in their great reader Media Manipulation And Disinformation Online. They explore how an amalgam of conspiracy theorists, tech-libertarians, white nationalists, MRAs, trolls, anti-feminists, anti-immigration-activists and bored young people use the techniques of participatory culture and the weak points of social media to spread their beliefs. They intentionally use the possibilities of internet platforms that are optimized for attention economy (because they are financed by advertizing) to specifically use weaknesses of the news media eco sytem.

Both readers are available as free downloads.

Back to Kill All Normies failure on this topic, as Richard Seymour points out: “what one needs then, surely, is not the increasingly hokey attacks on a straw ‘identity politics’, but a political (and psychic) economy of social media. What one needs is an account of how attention is engaged, retained, bought and sold; how online platforms are structured and structuring in their effects on users; how existing social and cultural tendencies are selected and accentuated by these technologies and their corporate organisation; and so on. … What this book does, sadly, is circle around the familiar, well-trodden terrain, not only in terms of its theory, but in terms of its unreflexive ‘backlash’ anti-moralist moralising. It perpetuates the dynamics that it purports to anatomise, scold and shame.”

Transgression as culture of the mainstream and its problem of fascination with the right

The central point that Nagle wants to make is that the culture of transgression had long belonged to the left but today has been taken over by the right. She argues that because the mainstream culture has become a kind of political-correctness-gone-mad of a Tumblr Liberalism that she has carefully constructed herself. The people that did no longer want to put up with it could hardly do anything else but react with an anti-political-correctness move and radicalize themselves into the Alt-Right.

Counter culture, non-conformism, the whole idea of small subcultures with all their codes is disgusting for Nagle, this oozes from every pore of this book. Neocons on the other hand almost get her enthusing: “intellectually equipped and rhetorically gifted”, “smart”, this is how she describes them and Milo Yiannopolous is a figure that clearly fascinates her (he gets a full 71 mentions on her 247 pages and tbh: her take of the Alt-Right sounds just taken from the self-defining text he posted on Breitbart a couple of years ago. Of course she is not the only one who lazily took that over instead of analyzing it but that is no excuse. Actually it is part of the problem and sustains the Alt-Right.)

One point on which Nagle bases her rejection of transgressive culture is that it is not popular, not for the masses but inherently elitist and thereby working against the working class. As rebuttal Jordy Cummings recommends the lecture of Brian Palmer’s Cultures of Darkness:

“Palmer asserts, with tremendous, terrific and big league historical backing, that it is in these transgressive spaces – from pre-20th century Freemasonry to late nights at the DJ booth, from kink culture to tarot cards, to late night union socials and drunken, stoned revelry – that revolutionary and emancipatory ideals are formed through genuine comradeship beyond the meeting room and picket line. … throughout the history of capitalism and its accompanying history of working class struggle, one would be hard pressed to find any social movement against capitalist social relations without finding it rooted in one form of transgressive counterculture or another.” How powerful transgressive culture can be in strengthening a feeling of solidarity and how encouraging it can be, often gets misunderstood and denounced as mere “identity politics” instead of seeing it as an integral part.

And, just as a side note, let me be clear: No matter how understandable and even necessary some criticism of extreme aspects of the so-called identity politics are: They became necessary because the problems of marginalized people were forever dismissed as “Nebenwiderspruch”, as side contradiction, and discriminating and excluding structures were maintained even in progressive left circles. For many people it was the Tumblr-Queerfeminism-&-Crip-&-Antiracism-&-Spoonie-etc. activism that showed them politics as something that has an effect on their everyday life and that they can actively contribute to at all. It has opened room to talk and contribute for many people who were marginalized even in left scenes. That is something the whole white / cis-male / heterosexual / able-bodied dominated political groups have not managed with their endless complex and isolated theory discussions or in their folk politics around working class revolution, revolving around themselves. Hello, this desire for political participation absolutely should be taken up thankfully, discussed friendly, developed further, brought closer together and encouraged, and not sarcastically bashed!

But back to transgression: I would like to wildly guess that the problem has not been transgression as cultural technique of a however disposed left, just as little as the right is “the new punk”, but that the neoliberal bourgeois centre has taken up transgressive culture long ago and turned it into mainstream, alongside a radicalization of capitalism.

Transgression, irony, breaking of taboos – that this grew as mainstream techniques of politics, brands, media and marketing, until the cynical borders of what was acceptable to say and to show were so wide open that the ideology of the right just needed to take up its lose ends because nothing felt “extreme” or “surprising” anymore, seems to be a bigger part of the problem to me. “Disrupt Everything” as society’s, as social consensus. The removal of taboos and of solidarity have been mainstream even before the Alt-Right. This radicalization of the mainstream has made it so anything can be said, any criticism has been countered with free-speech absolutism since many years. And today, in Germany of all countries you get talk shows discussing “Germany for the Germans” on public service television and the right still complains that it gets censored by the “lying press”.

The culture that is consistent with mainstream transgression is not that in a small youth club a group of queer people do not want to let white people with dreadlocks join their zine crafting group. It also is not “I’m drinking male tears”-memes commodified into cups and shirts by white feminists of the media or creative class. No, the consistent culture to go with the middle class and mainstream transgression is the unrestrained shaming and stigmatizing of groups of people who are off worse in talkshows and the tabloid press that had already started years ago. The endless shows and articles that are supposed to make women or poor people “better” and/or ridicule them. Stigmatization of the unemployed as lazy, presentation of young mothers as freaks, humiliation of migrants as asylum cheaters, makeover shows that make “real men” out of “losers”, etc. The list of losers of the late meritocratic hypercapitalism is endless and they can be mocked uninhibitedly, anything else would be censorship. Ethics are censorship in today’s mainstream tabloid logic. Humiliation of people in the media normalizes the accompanying austerity politics that have been built into a huge humiliation machine for the poorest and weakest members of society via overbureaucratization apparatuses that make Kafka look fun, all instead of a welfare state. If all of this has nothing to do with the transgression that Nagle thinks is so central for the rise of the right then I don’t know what has.

I agree with Nagle that the problem can be found in the so-called mainstream, the centre, but I do not accept the right narrative that some kind of “Tumblr Liberalism” is what defines this middle class bourgeois centre. The right is just as present there. As are many others. There is not one elite whose views rule over everyting – not a liberal snowflake social justice warrior one, not a nativist racist sexist one but a wide variety of positions. Donald Parkinson sums it up: “The very notion of a ruling elite should be thrown out, for we live under the power of a ruling class. Furthermore, the ruling class is not homogeneous and competes within itself. So it is hard to say that there is one monolithic ruling class ideology, but rather there are different competing ideologies that are often contradictory. So while liberal multiculturalism is part of the ruling ideology, so is white supremacy. Bourgeois society isn’t one unified bloc.”

Fox News exists side by side with Teen Vogue, sexism sells as well as anti-sexism, Buzzfeed and Dove are centrist extremism, just as VICE and Breitbart are. The commodification of the social struggle needs more of the same: As long as I make my living from turning the struggle against misery into content that I can sell I can not seriously be interested in collective solutions because the constant outrage and emotions work so much better in an attention economy. But it is also the other way round: If I do not experience any other kind of help, when I feel politically powerless and have no social web to catch me, then I commodify what I have and sell the discrimination or whatever misery that I suffer. Patreon instead of politics, competitive individualistic life support instead of social revolution.

The experience that counterculture hardly ever helped to bring about big changes was followed by the experience that counterculture had become impossible at all, by all-pervasive product scouting that cut off any emerging subsubsubscene. We rather have a problem with commodification police than with p.c. police amirite… Where was I? Oh yes, rambling about Nagle’s Kill All Normies, the book the propositions of which get adopted so uncritically by so many, even if the book just amplifies a narrative of the right, thereby fuelling the “culture wars”. No surprise the right likes the book too, as Josh Davies points out: “Prominent US fascist Richard Spencer has endorsed Nagle’s book on his Instagram, noting that it ‘gets’ his movement and that its criticisms of ‘the Tumblr left’ are ‘useful’. It should go without saying that such an endorsement — for an ostensibly left wing book on left and right-wing online cultures — ought to give pause. Apparently not.”

Kill All Normies does not mention that transgression has dug itself deeply into everyday life in a far more dangerous way by an individualizing “disrupt everything” and “commodify everything” startup culture that ultimately would love to do away with any state control. Guess because it does not feed into the narrative of the “culture wars”. From hot take to hot take though: This is a bit thin for a wannabe-”materialist marxist”. Donald Parkinson also mentions: “Nagle also completely ignores the role of Ron Paul libertarianism. Anyone who understands the alt-right knows there’s a connection between libertarian politics and the alt-right, and that many people disappointed by the failure of Ron Paulism turned to the alt-right. … Libertarianism, an ideology where all morality is based on property rights in a country built on a foundation of slavery and segregation attracts racists. Libertarianism’s emphasis on competition can lead its followers to embrace Social Darwinism and explore ideas related to race realism. This creates a connection between white identitarians and libertarianism. … There is a sort of vulgar positivism to libertarian ideology that bides well with race realism. … Seeing markets as more democratic than any kind of state institution, free market liberalism is itself is critical of all that is egalitarian and democratic and therefore in its most extreme variants biding well with the ideology of the alt-right.”

For Nagle both, “Tumblr Liberalism” and the 4Chan-Alt-Right, are extreme efforts to create a counterculture, “transgression”, to rebel against a common sense status quo. That is why she sees no difference between a left concerned with solidarity and openness, and a right filled with racism, sexism and nativist-nationalist separation. Ultimately Nagle is all about a classic bourgeois rejection of extremisms. It is a deeply anti-solidary book. Her bashing is a lack of empathy dressed up as reason, alarmingly conservative. Hence her focus on the inefficiency of transgression: She does not want anything to diverge from the norm, then everything is going to be alright. She has no alternatives to offer, just as Josh Davies criticizes: “This refusal to reflect is compounded by the book’s lack of a sense that there’s anything that can be done. There’s much criticism of the political practices of those opposing the far right but little sense of what Nagle suggests in their place.”

That despite all these shortcomings there are so many people taking Nagle’s book as a serious resource shows most of all one thing: That we have a problem of being fascinated with the right.