Towards A Gothic Marxism I – On Monsters

gothicmarxismWe live in an age of monsters. Such a statement is hardly controversial anymore – from every aspect of culture monsters peer at us, we consume them, we profess our fear, yet the market is saturated with vampires, ghouls, demons, and ghosts. We loathe the monsters, we hide from them. but we love them too. How could we not? They are everywhere, and so enormously profitable too.

There are other monsters too – the news media is full of them. We’re told to consume these monsters too – to fear them, these shadowy figures – them­ that come from over there, that exist on the outside, that mean to do us harm and who threaten not just our lives but our way of life.  The monsters in culture have found expression in political discourse too – frequently we find ourselves in the presence of a monster almost without knowing. We’re about a decade away from the last crises of global capitalism, when the monstrous progeny that is the financial market suffered a near-fatal crash. Sometimes, the creature brought to life with lightning bolts in a self-made miracle of modernity reveals itself to be strong, fearless, and therefore powerful. The markets that we thought were self-regulating turned out to be a creature with a mind of its own. Of course, the behemoth that was the financial crises of 2008 wasn’t just one monster – it brought forth a veritable swarm. There were zombie banks, zombie debt and countless homes that were possessed and repossessed. There were vampires too, and in the case of the investment bank Goldman Sachs, there was, in one memorable phrase, ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.’

Yet, what should be remembered is that the appearance of monsters is not the same thing as the arrival of monsters. Just because you see something for the first time, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been there all along, just behind you, just of sight. Monsters are, after all, nothing if not elusive and as Toni Morrison points out ‘Invisible things are not necessarily not-there.’ It’s easy to forget but the monstrosity of modernity doesn’t begin and end with its economic crises, but rather, as David McNally puts it, what is most striking about capitalist monstrosity, ‘is its elusive everydayness, its apparently seamless integration into the banal and mundane rhythms of quotidian existence.’

At the end of the horror movie, the monster is fought, confronted and defeated.

They retreat to their castle, to the crypt or their lair and life goes on.

Maybe some years pass.

The castle falls into disrepair and its easy for the monster to be forgotten. But they are still there. The crises may be over, but the task is to name the monster that remains, normalized and ostensibly tamed— capitalism itself. The monsters we see all around us in culture are an anxiety-laden response to real social practices and symbolic registers. Vampires, zombies, kidnappers and other monsters are an outworking of a particular set of social concerns – determined by economic and other material conditions (I’ve written about this in contemporary horror film and the theme of the home for example) but what needs to be made explicit is that whilst we have concrete monsters to fear, they reflect something far more diffuse – that wider, far more nebulous threat to human personhood and bodily integrity which emerges when one’s own life is dependent upon selling your energy and labour on the market.  To quote McNally again, body-panics are part of the ‘phenomenology of bourgeois life,’ and given the desperate attempts of liberal ideology to disavow and disguise these horrors, it’s little wonder they are sublimated and find expression in culture.

Yet the figure of the monster operates on both sides of the economic exchange – the body-snatchers, the predatory vampires, the killers are all there, waiting to break down our bodies and sell them, and consume them. Yet, there are victims too – think of the figure of the zombie, robbed of its subjectivity, reduced to mere body and flesh. We have then a multiplicity of monsters, both inflicted by capitalism and the victims of it. As Mark Fisher pointed, an accurate understanding of capitalism will inevitably lead us to monsters, ‘the most Gothic description of Capital is also the most accurate. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire, and zombie-maker; but the living labour it converts into dead labour is ours, and the zombies it makes are us.’  What’s needed then, is not an understanding that would split us away from this abstract monster-producing form that we call capital but rather a way of thinking and viewing our contemporary condition that could restore us some political agency. Rather, we begin with an immanent critique, with an awareness that Capital is both abstract, impersonal and systemic and at the same time would be nothing without our complicity in a globe-spanning network of oppression. We are deep within the monster factory. For this, we need a Gothic Marxism – analysis that would expose the occult economies of capitalism that keep hidden the ways in which capitalism operates and normalizes itself as well as understand this cultural proliferation of monsters for what they are – not just a warning of what we think may happen, but a record of what is, in so many ways, already happening.
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