By Lorenzo Cirnigliaro
Translated by Alessandro Sbordoni
In a previous article, entitled Born in the Lost Future, I tried to make a systematic analysis of an elusive, pervasive feeling, which I sense grips the last generation and constitutes itself as the spirit of these times out of joint. If Fisher’s hauntology — generally understood as nostalgia for a lost future — addresses a kind of depression that lost its object of desire, and that heard the future coming and later falling apart, the post-hauntological feeling instead rises from the ashes of this mourning; a flowing nebula in which the eternity of the present opens up between a disappeared past, lost futures, and utopian futures.
After publishing my first article, someone dear to me, and older than a few generations, wrote to me: “I always thought that by nature, or due to evolutionary drive, each generation cherished the promise of doing better than the generation of their parents — or at least, being happier. As I read your article, however, it seems that such a promise has been broken.” He then went on to define post-hauntology — which I discussed in my previous article — as a kind of “hedonistic collapse.”
At times, reading those words made me feel uncomfortable. Is it possible that the only future I am able to dream up is about collapse? That the only feeling I can talk about is sorrow? Where is all this leading me?
I often tell the people around me that I am deranged in this period; everything stopped making sense and so, I too stopped being reasonable.
Italy sentences a man to death under the torture allowed by article 41-bis. A band of boys is probed for incitement to crime and terrorist organisation. A friend of mine told me that for months and months, he used to vomit every morning before his shift started. A cop yells at a protester to suck his dick.
To talk about pain, to sense it in the cracks that inhabit the uproar of the social is maybe the only way I have to cling to a reality that I reject; such a lost promise is the meaning of living in times like these. Happiness, once felt as something communal, even as the glue of a certain desire, is now falling apart. What remains among the ashes is pain; a particular kind of pain: existential, systemic.
If this is the trend, if the world is like this, we must follow its landslide, its fierce contradiction.
Hedonistic collapse refers to the effort of feeling pleasure, even perceiving it in very limited time scales — it is a kind of temporary happiness that, as soon as it is felt, already puts you in touch with finitude. Yet, just the acknowledgement of the state of grace in which we live, often, already makes us wonder what we may be overlooking and how it is possible that this is happening. It is awful, of course. So where does happiness lie? Where does the search for pleasure draw its energy? In other words, how to live in the lost future?
It is a rather complex answer that I am trying to give you, and give myself, here. We necessarily live as reactionaries. The ground on which we walk is precarious and, at the same time, it does not move at all; pain unravels in its biographies: my words can only pick up some of it.
There are times when the pursuit of pleasure, what I desire, is born out of a schizoid process, that is seriously faulty. During the week, I repress and endure and then release bulimically at the end of it. It is an obsessive escape from idleness, from the dread of being nothing, just to later embody that same idle void which is given in its most metaphysical ravings at 6 AM, in house parties, and at never-ending after-parties. Think about a psychopathology that assumes the same features of existence, torn between an obsession for tomorrow, and that everything has a meaning and at the same time the fear that this will become real, and that moment will come when you have to deal with it — the fear that it will come in the morning.
A friend claims that he feels like he has to die every day to remind himself that he is alive: an everlasting reincarnation that leaves behind every idea about tomorrow, every refuge in unrealistic dreams, since the collapse of the present is the only true thing left, the only space where to live.
I believe this is the reason why the post-hauntological pain we share is so morbidly interesting to me. In a world that stops being exciting, despite the everlasting de-libidinisation of tomorrow, and always searching for something to believe in, perhaps the time has come to give up the future, to realise that our wish is the unthinkable: the language that speaks does not belong to the existing.
“Heaven can wait / ‘Til I’m old and asleep.” In 2022, Organ Tapes (the stage name of Tim Zha) released his latest album 唱着那无人问津的歌谣 (Chang Zhe Na Wu Ren Wen Jin De Ge Yao). Similar to Bladee and the Drain Gang, I am convinced that Zha speaks about our lives with an underlying sensitivity that is explicit in his music, in the ambiences that he is able to create. Organ Tapes is maybe the most authentic voice of that which I would describe as a post-hauntological genre. Soft synthetic sounds, somewhere between flute and strings, his voice crystallizes metropolitan atmospheres that cloud the passage of time. Background rustles, laughter, noises that fit together, often rough everyday spaces. Through the use of bewildering samples, this album brings us into contact with a nervous familiarity, that shifting metropolitan nebula that we go through day after day. A sort of sad dancehall melody, yet, not because of this unhappy. As “Heaven Can Wait” declares:
“But you run from the faults of each day
I was tired of what I had made
Things you never expected to see
Cold as a dawn on a beach
Cold as a snow and asleep
Holding your warmth in the sheets.”
The aesthetics of pain, of the faults of each day, the search for human warmth. I have been compulsively listening to Organ Tapes for months now as I move around Rome, with my backpack to remind me that I always have something to do, and my helmet always reminding me that I have somewhere to go. Yet, withdrawing into Zha’s melodies in another dimension within my headphones, the collapse appears in all its spectacularity. As he sings that heaven can wait, it brings me down to earth more than anyone who tells me that I have to build a new tomorrow, organise my life, make it work in a predictable way.
To give up the future, in this regard, means precisely what it seems: an escape. It means to find again the meaning of our lives and our pains; not within the paradigm of logic, which is always predictable, but within the irreducible singularity of being-in-situation. Tiqqun, the French pre-Invisible Committee collective writes:
“‘Not to fear one’s time is a question of space.’
In a squat. In an orgy. In a riot. In a train or an occupied village. In search of, amid unknowns, a free party that is unfindable. I experience this slight shift. The experience
of my desubjectivization. I become
a whatever singularity.”
If it becomes necessary to give up the idea of time, if heaven can wait, the ground onto which we engage in conflict becomes the ground of space itself.
To paraphrase what Organ Tapes says in “Here and Now,” if heaven goes, I will stay here. Given such a link between dancehall melody and insurrectionary anarchism, I discover a fascinating, at least seductive tendency. On the other hand, as the Invisible Committee argues, contemporary uprisings are not driven by political ideologies but by ethical truths. What we feel deep down, which once shared shows itself as authentic and true, is the most revolutionary of the feelings we have within us — each with its own kind, each with its own biography.
From this point of view, Tiqqun, Invisible Committee, and Organ Tapes come together in the search for a dissolution of the self, in the awareness of a greater desire, in the irreducible and unproductive here and now.
To draw on the words of Tiqqun, it is only through the conflict with the stability of forms — in civil war, in the joy of revolt, where both places and times are either re-signified or give up their meaning — that it becomes clear who are the friends and who are the enemies. The heat of the bedsheets settles down the only form of authority for those who, like me, have left behind the narrative about the linearity of the Outside. Agamben states that the need for the law, that is, for a coercive authority, has established itself thanks to the increasing disappearance of the common, the assertion of the dissemination of bodies. To put oneself above experience itself, thus, becomes the prerogative of power and state devices. But, as Simone Sauza writes in Tutto Era Cenere [All Was Ashes], this is the same ritual practice as serial killing.
Analysing the violence that places serial killers side by side with the laws of the State has led me on a path that is already hard to cross. But at least inviting. The only world that I identify as legitimate, the only reason that reflects the need we have to live together, that is the only space that I define as real: it is the place of the bodies that bind, con-spire, and breathe together. Only in this way, to repeat the words of Franco “Bifo” Berardi, it is possible to convert the fear of extinction into the cool awareness of impermanence, idleness, the courage to recognise ourselves, and the necessity to find ourselves again.
To be con-temporary, therefore, according to Agamben, is to be in-temporary. To live within time, within its shortcomings and contradictions, in the irreducible and disturbing awareness of being present, of being im-permanent.
“In a squat. In an orgy. In a riot. In a train or an occupied village. We meet again.
We meet again
as whatever singularities. That is to say
not on the basis of a common belonging,
but of a common presence.”
In the loss of the world, communal presence becomes the only really important thing in times out of joint. As Hannah Arendt replied to the Zionists who accused her of not loving Jewish people: “I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective. […] I indeed love ‘only’ my friends.” Now that everything gives way to the fiction of the social — where everyone is in need of cognitive-behavioural therapies, where the logics that govern us force us into unremitting insecurity, and where systemic repression makes it all unsurprising — to find ourselves is the difficult task that unites us.
I do not know if this is meant to be taken as a hymn to revolt, a speculation of thinking or a delirious lament. Mariano Tomatis, at a presentation of his book Incantagioni [Incantations], argued that magic is necessary within such an oppressive society because it opens new narratives in opposition to the dominant ones. Perhaps my words should be read in a similar way, with that magical element that would rule out realism, where the impossible becomes thinkable and the present becomes unpredictable.
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.