By Lorenzo Cirnigliaro
Translated by Alessandro Sbordoni
Recently my mother told me that going twenty years back in time, she would have most likely not let me be born. I forgive her for this: time is out of joint. As Hamlet declares: “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!” The time is out of joint reads out the poor child grappling with his father’s spectre. To be or not to be: it is, in fact, with being and non-being that we have to deal with and, needless to say, the background is tragic. Heidegger said that being is understood only in Being. Being-there, at a fixed point in time. Dasein. But what happens when the time is out of joint? What happens when time disappears, when the past and the future co-exist, and the present is a cursed spite? It is just then that Hamlet asks: “To be or not to be?”
So, what does it mean that the time is out joint? In 1993, Derrida wrote about “a disajointed now that always risks maintaining nothing together in the assured conjunction of some context whose border would still be determinable.” Still determinable, nonetheless. But time stopped being linear and, as a result, ceased to exist. Now its demise is the story of my rejected identity, my non-being. But how did time die? Who killed history?
Derrida wrote Spectres of Marx in 1993. The Berlin Wall collapsed a few years before, followed by historical communism. Those were the years when an apocalyptic tone in philosophy held sway over the public debate. Derrida found all this disgusting, a “tiresome anachronism”: a déjà vu. According to many others like him, “a certain […] end of communist Marxism did not await the recent collapse of the USSR and everything that depends on it throughout the world”; the same question already reverberated. It is, in fact, Hamlet who anticipates Derrida’s work. If the time is out of joint, how is it possible to declare a real “end of Marxism”, a real “end of history”?
The Marxist legacy that, as Derrida reminded us, haunts our consciousness, points to the spectres with which the philosopher himself fought throughout his life; that is to say, the feeling that there is something deeply wrong with a time that is out of joint: the phrase the time is out of joint suggests something that in the present is not working, or rather, that is not working as it should.
The present lends itself to ontological psychopathology; its existence is constituted in relationship to two absences: what is no longer and what is not yet. Thus, Derrida’s hauntologie, the proper concept of being, is founded precisely on non-being, that is, on the virtual power of what has been and what is not yet, with regard to the present situation. And all this presents itself as something essentially wrong, tiresome.
I remember the first time I read Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life. It was March 2020, the midst of the pandemic, and it was my last year of high school. I just finished reading Capitalist Realism, and the teenage feeling of finding myself living through the wrong times exactly matched the visionary thinking of a scholar who became a loyal comrade, a voice that was with me in the shock of the present that I was experiencing. Ghost of My Life was a necessary stop. I wanted to know more about his ideas, his views, and his depression. I wanted to understand his suicide, his ghosts, and the deep emotional implications that were calling me to him.
The shock of the present is the acknowledgement of living in times that are out of joint; it is the perception of the amorphous and intrinsic violence that governs outer space. My generation, born at the turn of the new millennium, is the plastic representation of a temporal dystopia; more than hauntological: post-hauntological. I do not think I belong to the slow cancellation of the future, nor I am able to conceive the idea of a lost future. I was born in the lost future; I would venture to say that I am also a product of that. The post-hauntological feeling refers to the fact that, just like a Derridean déjà vu, there is nothing new. Then again, I was born among the new, I never lived through any form of futuristic hallucination, science fiction or technological utopia. It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the new. And if the new is always imaginable in itself, can we really call it new?
Post-hauntological psychopathology is a distorted form of apathy, standing between compulsive research for excitement and the hidden belief that nothing can be really disappointing. Nothing can really disappoint. The post-hauntological feeling belongs to a relentless escape from the real. The horizon of possibilities is not attractive, not surprising and thus never disappointing. It is what Simon Reynolds calls the “delibidinalisation of tomorrow,” that is the most relevant aspect of the depressive mood of my times. On the other hand, it corresponds to the extreme libidinisation of today and the present in a porn-like environment that almost seems to inject doses of immediate, but finite, pleasure.
A dear friend of mine told me that, when he goes out in the evening, drinking is often a way to not think about tomorrow. To make today last as long as possible and thus make sure to delay the reality of the next day as much as possible. I often noticed that face to face with the anxiety caused by past or future events, my instinct simply tells me not to think about it. If the time is out of joint, how can I think of setting it right again? If job insecurity, environmental disaster, studying for years for a fucking underpaid job, potentially unhappy romantic relationships, and poor mental health are on the horizon, do I really have to wait for such a tomorrow?
In the past few weeks, I was working in Santa Maria del Soccorso, a Roman neighbourhood near the Rebibbia prison. At the entry of the neighbourhood, there is an inscription on the wall of a building that I look at every time I go there. Between the erasures and the tags, it is possible to read: “Despite the harshness of these times, do not lose affection.” The capacity we have to hold onto each other is the true politicisation of tomorrow’s dread; our relationships crystallise in the sharing of pain, in the collectivism of fear. Common experience gives us the necessary strength to channel the shit into the conflict, the only weapon in a time that is out of joint: the only horizon of the opening of the possible. “We are always-already spread through whatever we attach ourselves to,” writes The Invisible Committee. Dissemination is our weak spot, but it is also our strength. We are united by our own fears and desires. Ours is a common experience that is not characteristically hauntological and defined by nostalgia, but post-hauntological inasmuch as it is characterised by anxiety. The first true answer we have to give ourselves, then, is about removing responsibility. Sharing pain is authentic to the extent that we understand that the only real responsibility we have to take on is a collective one.
To drain. Drainage, passive depletion by forced drainage. In 2022, Bladee from Swedish collective Drain Gang released his new album Spiderr. The widespread and declared sadness of the group refers precisely to the post-hauntological feeling about which I am speaking. The sound itself appears to be stripped by Bladee’s rhymes, semi-passive rhythms, which are never explosive, but lasting and pervasive. One feels as if literally getting into his head, taken by a voice that now and then sounds like an everlasting howl. As “DiSASTER PRELUDE” goes:
“I make a wish
I want to know it exists
That’s my only wish, uh
Believe in the myth.”
The only desire is to believe in a myth, wish for something and, if possible, idealise it to the extreme. In “DRAIN STORY”, it is all about the fear of failing, feeling drained, powerless, and helpless in the face of the elimination of desire. The music video is excruciating, the camera revolves around Bladee from start to finish. The symptoms are typical of anxiety, passing out, and flipping out; the consequence of a certain malaise, this generational malaise. And in the end, everything falls apart.
At the end of the video, the camera almost seems to fall down, halting its movements: you can only see the sky turning white, as if in a daze. If the hauntology of Burial and Boards of Canada referred to the nostalgia for a future that never took place, a past aesthetic and artistic melancholy, the post-hauntology of Drain Gang is the flowing nebula of the present, a space-time box where the future and the past do not exist because they coincide and everything is out of touch. A void teeming with things, abysmal.
Right before the political elections in Italy, I have been particularly struck by the words of Tiziano Cancelli on Not concerning an Apology of Abstention. Tiziano and I do not know each other. I have been following him on Facebook for some time and often shared his views. His outburst made me want to work on a discourse starting from his thoughts, but which needs to be pursued and thoroughly dug up. As Tiziano writes: “to share resources, knowledge, emotions. To come together, to meet, to talk to each other, not to make a theoretical policy of intellectual bubbles, but to solve, in a concrete way, the issues that affect us and forbid us from living as we could.” We are always-already spread through whatever we attach ourselves to. And what we are linked to are nothing but our own links, our own capacity to live pursuing the warmth of another, our own reason for living. Therein lies the basis for a real political will, which does not mean participating in the fiction of the electoral and democratic game, but in the ability to create conflict from common experience: something is not as it should be.
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to ask Bifo a question at a conference here in Rome: If will itself cannot do anything in the face of the violence that takes hold of our world, what form must the conflict take?
His reply was characterised by the tenderness typical of those who recognise the emotional state of the other, with calm and reassuring words that touched me and for which I had no way to thank him properly. “The only conflict that exists is collective,” he told me. “That is the real space of will.” He ended by quoting the words of Portland’s Black Lives Matter occupants, “Stay tight, stay together.”
What does this mean? There is no need for a vacuum to be created, no crisis to be averted. Tomorrow’s failure is written in the present, the disaster is already in our homes, even if it is not done to the sound of lightning but in the form of eerie lullabies. And if we come together in the storm, in the cold, and in the violence of nature, our new home will become what we attach ourselves to.
In 1993, radical architect Lebbeus Woods was walking through Sarajevo after the city had been plundered by a fierce and destructive war. Shortly after, he published a pamphlet of extraordinary poetic and antagonistic power: War and Architecture. I judge the manifesto that opens the booklet as a masterpiece of our times and I quote it below in its entirety.
“Architecture and war are not incompatible. Architecture is war. War is architecture.
I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms.
I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, no firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no ‘sacred and primordial site’.
I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful fears.
I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then ‘melt into air’.
I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, a silhouette against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name. Nor can you know mine.
Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city.”
Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city. At war. This is perhaps the mythology of the nearest future. Not the war, the everlasting presence of contemporary madness, but being at war. Because there we will feel the warmth of our bodies. There, the aestheticisation and sharing of pain will mean conflict, it will mean happiness.
The original version of this article was published in the Italian magazine Not.
Lorenzo Cirnigliaro was born in Rome. He took part in several projects, many of which have never been realised. For now, he wanders the city at night keeping busy with memes and dismissing power.
Alessandro Sbordoni is an Italian writer. He is an editor of Blue Labyrinths and the Italian magazine Charta Sporca. He lives and works in London.