by Boris Karloff
Lecture at Public Netbase Media~Space on 24th of April, 1998
Dark Terrors -
An Unforgettable Visit to
the Hammer House of Horror
by Boris Karloff
Lecture at Public Netbase Media~Space on 24th of April, 1998
I will be describing some very reliable anti-zombiefication techniques. These will be: COLLECTIVE PHANTOMS; MEDIA INVASIONS; SPECULATIVE PLAYGROUNDS; PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY and finally the VOODOO MEME.
First of all let me put into context what I mean by the terms ZOMBIE CULTURE and VAMPIRE MANAGEMENT. This is the theoretical bit so try and concentrate. Are you sitting comfortably?
To begin with, we have to realise that capital has entered a new phase of domination. Following on from what Marx described as the formal domination of capitalism, that is, the legal imposition of discipline, the legal subordination of human time to capitalist exploitation, and then the real domination, that is, the technological and material dependence of social activity on capitalist forms of social relations, we have now entered a phase of capitalist domination which is beyond the formal and real — virtual domination, realized through the pervasiveness of the semiotic code of capital within the collective brain, within language and within cognition, in other words, inscribed into the actual processes of your mind and even within your own imaginations. To put it simply, capitalism has become internalised.
Now we can understand how zombiefication, and the establishment of zombie culture, operates as an elaborate programme of mind invasion supervised by a vampire management. It can be regarded as a complex process of manipulation at the level of symbols and aims at implanting specific forms of ideology into zombie minds, to ensure that they think and act in accordance with the dictates of zombie culture. Zombie culture is designed to enable the vampire mangement to feed of our collective psychic energies.
There is a battle for your brains, for your psychic energy. So the techniques that I describe here are all concerned with how we can use our intelligences - this is the terrain that we fight on, which is not to say that other, older forms of resistance are not important.
Perhaps the most powerful weapon to help us in this fight is the general intellect. If we regard capitalist society from a two-dimensional view, with production on one side, by production I mean every activity that is subordinated to the capitalist codes (and of course I also include immaterial production, mental activity), then on the other side we have all the energy, including psychic energies, that are taken from us by the vampire management as we produce and reproduce these capitalist codes. The general intellect then is the collective intelligence of our social, living labour power, the intelligence used for all the activities that are subordinated to capitalist social relations. Actually this neat little dialectical equation is far too simple, as the virtual domination of capitalism implies, capitalism is reproduced, and produces itself, at micro levels, so infact the flows of power between us and through us are far more complex than this simple two-sided model allows us to realise. We are, after-all, multi-dimensional beings.
Unlike orthodox Marxists, I also interpret the general intellect from a cultural perspective. I see it as a collective pool of power, one that is both subordinated to the virtual domination of capitalism, to capitalist social relations, but that also can be plugged into by anyone in order to discover ways of resisting capitalism, on the terrain of our imaginations. Looking at the general intellect from this perspective allows us to understand the collective nature of all cultural production, and how anyone can build their own forms of cultural sabotage and psychic assaults against zombie culture.
It is one of the paradoxes of the zombie nation that anti-zombie behaviour is present as an immanent force in everyone.
Ok, so let’s now look at these anti-zombiefication techniques.
A collective phantom is essentially a multiple identity, a name that anyone can use and that therefore has multiple uses and users. But I want to differentiate between the terms 'multiple name' and 'collective phantom'. I want to suggest that the former tends to operate within an 'art' context, and has been used to question bourgeoisie notions of individuality and originality. We can think of examples like the Neoists' use of the multiple name Monty Cantsin, and then following that the name Karen Elliot which was associated with various avant-garde activities throughout the 80s. Before this there was the multiple name Claus Oldenburg used by mail artists in the 70s, and we can go as far back as the Berlin Dadaists and their use of 'Jesus Christ' as a multiple name.
Unlike a multiple name that is restricted to art contexts, a collective phantom operates within the wider context of popular culture, and is used as a tool for class war. Let's now go back 185 years to give an example of a collective phantom that demonstrates this.
During the years 1811-1815, the name General Ludd was connected with a series of conflicts in the North of England, in the textile manufacturing industry. These involved highly organised groups attacking and destroying the newly installed factory based machines which were annihilating traditional forms of craftsmanship. These Luddites were not, as middle class fantasists might have us think, simply opposed to technology. Their actions had revolutionary tendencies. They understood that what was really at issue was the freedom of the capitalist to destroy traditional customs, whether by new machinery, the factory system or the free market.
When the Luddites issued their communiqués and manifestos, or sent threatening letters to their enemies, they signed them as General Ludd. General Ludd was the collective phantom that led them into battle, who issued the orders and taunted the rich, as when a factory owner was greeted in the street with cries of "I'm General Ludd". In 1812, the following demands were made in a Luddite leaflet distributed in Leeds:
"To all croppers, Weavers &c. & Public at large.
You are requested to come forward with Arms and help the Redressers to redress their Wrongs and shake off the hateful Yoke of a Silly Old Man and his Son more silly and their Rogueish Ministers, all Nobles and Tyrants must be brought down. Come let us follow the Noble Example of the brave Citizens of Paris who in Sight of 30,000 Tyrant Redcoats brought a Tyrant to the Ground. By so doing you will be best aiming at your own Interest. Above 40,000 Heroes are ready to break out, to crush the old Government & establish a new one.
Apply to General Ludd Commander of the Army of Redressers."
General Ludd arrived at a moment of transitional conflict. In a comparable way, a present-day collective phantom, called Boris Karloff, has also arrived at a moment of transitional conflict. Whilst vampire management continues to establishish a globalised capitalism, Boris Karloff expresses the new antagonisms, not by smashing textile machines, but by planting class war viruses within the collective imagination, using the collective identity to carry out cultural sabotages, media hoaxes, creating urban legends and performances, producing magazines and manifestos, and infiltrating bulletin boards and TV or radio broadcasts, all of which help to spread the name all over the world...
For example, in London there is currently a huge state propaganda effort behind the plans for Millenium celebrations, including of course the construction of the Millenium Dome at Greenwich. This is basically an attempt to divert attention from the fact that London is a city that is falling apart, it has a completely fucked up transport system, and must be one of the unhealthiest cities in Europe for pollution levels. And what is the government doing about it? Fuck all, I mean we have a transport infrastructure in Britain that is entirely controlled by the economic and social dictates of cars and roads.So these plans for the Millenium are merely a way of trying to gloss over all the social and economic crises in Britain at the end of the 20th Century. And what are we being offered exactly - a fucking theme park on the edge of the Thames. I mean, capitalism cannot even pretend to be progressive anymore, all it can do is make increasingly more desperate attempts at hiding the fact that the planetary work machines created by vampire management are designed to sqeeze every last drop of psychic energy out of us. So Boris Karloff has joined forces with other collective phantoms and groups to establish an Anti Millenium Alliance, which is aimed at attacking, in various ways, the state’s Millenium propaganda.
Boris Karloff has stated:
"Boris Karloff is a -dividual, because the character has many personalities and reputations; Boris Karloff is also a con-dividual, because many individuals share the name; Boris Karloff is a multitude as well as a 'decentralized subject'... Anyone can be Boris Karloff simply by adopting the name. You can be Boris Karloff."
This may be the most obvious anti-zombiefication technique, since it must be clear what the term is referring to — that is, the invasion of zombie culture's media machines through direct attacks that are immediately digested by the media machines' voracious appetite for information. It is, therefore, a violation that infects the host from the inside.
I will concentrate on some of the ingredients required for a successful media invasion.
A media invasion needs to be conducted using the same techniques as a conventional corporate media campaign — that is, you need a strong image that includes a well designed logo and memorable name, as well as a core idea to your invasion plan that can be expressed in just one sentence. However, unlike the corporate media campaign, the media invasion is by necessity an uneconomic, or even anti-economic, activity.
You will need promotional material for your group or organisation, like a newsletter, and you must learn how to write effective press releases, how to feed the media the main ideas that you then want them to repeat for you. You should practise media interview techniques, and learn how to approach an interview situation by already having in mind everything that you want to say, and having this rehearsed so you can say it without thinking. You need to learn how to adapt questions so you can give them the answers you want. You have to be aware of how the media will filter what you have to say, so you have to ensure that you repeat yourself enough, expressing yourself in simple sentences that can infect the journalists mind.
You need to organise a database of media contacts. You have to make regular press releases, so that your group maintains a media profile in the minds of journalists. And remember, as far as you should be concerned, you are as important as anyone else in the media's gaze, the media mind that demands constant input. So give it to it, feed the media the sensation, weirdness and bizarre information that it needs (these are after all just promotional ploys).
For example, consider the activities of the S.P.C.A.S.M.F.E.F. and the S.P.C.S.M.E.F. This is the press release that they sent out recently.
'Having heard Stan Brakhage speak about his hypnogogic vision & having heard him mention that brine shrimp were used in the making of some of his films & having then seen some recent examples, a few people were horrified to have not seen any disclaimer announcing that "No Sea Monkeys were Harmed in the Making of This Film". It's a well-known fact that certain paints used in hand-painting celluloid can lead to bladder cancer. This cancer in brine shrimp is particularly harsh since problems voiding water in sea creatures can lead to their DROWNING - an especially horrible death! Imagine suffocating from breathing air! There's simply no place to turn to.
Two rival groups have formed as response to this disturbing situation: the S.P.C.A.S.M.F.E.F. & the S.P.C.S.M.E.F.: the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Sea Monkeys From Experimental Filmmakers & the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Sea Monkeys by Experimental Filmmakers. Where 1 society might've seemed adequate, it was found that these 2 societies were necessary to satisfy 2 factions with differing grammatical orientations. When proposals for 1st actions were put forth & the possibility of boycotting Mr. Brakhage's films was brought up, it was decided that he was NOT an experimental filmmaker because he uses the same techniques over & over again & simply DESCRIBES each film differently. As such, these societies are soliciting information about truly experimental filmmakers who misuse sea-monkeys & who may not be well-known because of their non-canonization. PLEASE HELP US BRING THESE SLIME OUT OF THE SHADOWS SO THAT WE CAN GIVE THEM THEIR DUE!'
You might well ask, what is the point of winding up some experimental film-makers, but of course there is more to it than that. This is about attacking the whole process of canonization within the art world, that creates stars and perpetuates the myth of genius. This process functions as another example of the authority of words. Someone like Brakhage achieves his success just because he can promote himself through language. So we should attack this process and by doing so also undermine the seriousness with which experimental film-makers, and artists in general, can take themselves.
What I mean by a speculative playground is a space where people are able to experiment with concepts, investigate possibilities, and share and collaborate on tracing new lines of flight. Here they can kick ideas around and throw ideas at each other. And as a playground, with the emphasis on the word play, there is an abandonment of competitive urges and the dissolution of ego-ice — the pressure is off, people can afford to be embarrassed, to say things out loud, to go off on tangents, to make a mess or to babble away at themselves and others. At the same time there is some kind of structure to all this activity, however loose, a framework that enables a discussion about where to go next. But this structure is not hierarchical. A speculative playground is a conspiracy of equals, a haphazard grouping that can form new connections and traverse movements across fixed conceptions and old dogmas. The point is, of course, to resist the big freeze of zombie culture.
A speculative playground that I want to use as an example is the Hammer House of Horror. But what the Hammer House of Horror exactly is is very hard to tell. It is infact a multiple name. The first Hammer House of Horror appeared in 1957 and was a British-based low-budget film company. Various radical groups throughout the sixties and seventies adopted the name and used it as a vehicle for their own activities. Since then, countless discourses have referred to the Hammer House of Horror as a mythical place where dominant social relations are turned upside down. When searching the phrase "Hammer House of Horror" on the Internet, there can be found several references to projects that use this name. There is a mention of a "triple H" in the writings of Alexander Trocchi, and the psychiatrist R.D. Laing often referred to his experimental communal retreat for schizophrenics as a "Hammer House of Horror".
I first encountered this Hammer House of Horror at the meetings they held before the legendary Dead By Dawn all-night speedcore parties in South London. These parties attracted a diverse range of people, and over a two and a half year period the starting points for these assemblies could range from discussions about media pranks against the literary establishment, the possibilities for autonomous and self-published print creations, what sex will be like in an anarchist society, speed fictions and other techno contaminants, and a final meeting that sought to expand further the sub-net of activity connected to experimental dance music and these Dead By Dawn events.
But this Hammer House of Horror then probably mutated into an electronic mailing list. Its participants now describe themselves as "residents" of the Hammer House of Horror, and regard the mailing list as a speculative playground that creates its own mythologies and complex patterns, eventually to transform itself into a self-reflexive perpetuum mobilum. One of the myths of this Hammer House of Horror is that this Hammer House of Horror is but a shadow of a shadow of the real Hammer House of Horror, and that this HHH exists to spread terrifying plots against the real HHH. Every thirteen messages or so a hint is given as to the true existence of the real HHH, and those residents who are sufficiently enlightened can begin their counter plotting on behalf of the one, true HHH.
It is impossible to fix and define the HHH. The residents constantly change names or deliberately use each others names; new discussion threads are started that refer to previous postings that may not have been sent, messages are sent that comment on future messages to come, and email is cross-posted from other lists that may or may not exist.
Every few months, in conjunction with appropriate astrological events, usually a full moon, this Hammer House of Horror publishes its own newspaper called "The Hermetic Hammer" in which they reveal, through text and images remixed from the HHH mailing list and connected web sites, how it is that the Hammer House residents know, "Absolutely everything about nothing and absolutely nothing about everything" (to quote the slogan beneath the paper's heading). The "Hermetic Hammer" is usually handed out at football matches.
Even though the Hammer House of Horror is often accused, even by its own residents, of an "anonymous elitism" that depends on a thorough immersion in hermetic codes for their extraordinary games to be comprehensible to anyone, the Hammer House of Horror is still an inspiration to those searching for ways to go beyond mere polemic against zombiefication and to actively engage with the challenge of transforming the world. Included in the signature to Hammer House of Horror email is the following declaration, "The non-existence of this Hammer House of Horror is guaranteed by a multiplicity of discords, paradoxes and contradictions. Listen carefully to these tangled plots and you may hear a new world"
London is an exciting place to live for psychogeographic activities, the exploration of urban space based on simply wandering around the city, investigating the layers of history that can be peeled away from the buildings and streets. These layers tell their own site specific stories about the ongoing narrative concerning ruling class conspiracies and working class resistance.
One of the principle agents of psychogeographical exploration in London is the London Spy. The London Spy organises regular trips, or 'tours', to notable locations that are able to reveal important information about the historical development of zombie culture. The London Spy uses the technique of drifting around these sites, seeking to discover hitherto unknown clues, piecing together fragments of observations and exploring psychic ambiences.
For example, in August 1993 I attended a London Spy tour to Limehouse in East London. We assembled outside the Empire Memorial Hostel of the British Sailors Society, which was where members of the Situationist International had stayed during their Fourth Conference in September 1960. The London Spy drew our attention to the conjunction of this event with the activities of Humfrey Gilbert, who 400 years before had proposed an Elizabethan 'Achademy', which, the London Spy claimed, was later established as an alchemical laboratory known as the Society of the New Art, and located somewhere in Limehouse.
It was also Gilbert who initiated the campaign to open up the Nothwest Passage, and thereby establishing important trade routes that would help build the British Empire. 400 years later the SI took up this theme when they demanded:
"It is a matter of finding, of opening up, the 'Northwest Passage' towards a new revolution that cannot tolerate masses of performers, a revolution that must surge over that central terrain which has until now been sheltered from revolutionary upheavals: the conquest of everyday life."
During our wanderings around the area the London Spy drew our attention to the statue of Clement Atlee outside a nearby library. Atlee was the British Prime Minister who authorised the bombing of Hiroshima. Meanwhile, the town hall over the road used to contain important socialist relics, including Prince Kropotkin's table and various documents relating to the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. According to the London Spy, these objects had to be removed before work could begin on building Canary Wharf (the London Spy has since proved that Canary Wharf is a huge 'virtual' pyramid that is used by the vampire management to channel working class psychic energies)
Hopefully you are now beginning to realise the potential results of psychogeography. In an article called "Why Psychogeography", Richard Essex offers the following as an analysis of psychogeographic activity:
"By suspending the "common sense" as we move from location to location in our daily life, we can rediscover the wilderness within the city. By exploring those areas we have no good reason to be in, we can discover the reasons we are constrained to certain areas.
"But this layer of psychogeographical activity soon reveals other layers. Questions of gender, of race, of access for people with disabilities soon arise. Any specific locality does not have a unique character. It is not just that a woman may relate differently to a place than a man, but that a woman's presence (or even the presence of a horde of women) can transform that place. Normality no longer functions as a global variable, it can only exist as the production of the functioning of a particular power at a particular place...
"Psychogeography...is a tool of class struggle. When kids from council estates wander into posh housing areas they are immediately harassed by the police...(The police) only accept conventional explanations in terms of economic activity. Psychogeography is always an uneconomic, even anti-economic, activity."
When I mention the idea of a voodoo meme, for those of us living in London and Vienna I'm also referring to dance music. Voodoo is an invisible influence for all present-day dance music. Voodoo, of course, is based on pagan religious ideas that were combined with Catholic forms, a syncretic religion created by the violently transported people of west africa who were forcibly taken away as slaves.
However, unlike Christianity, voodoo makes no distinction between the mind and the body, and has no hierarchical subordination of the the flesh to the spirit. Voodoo makes use of a panopoly of Gods and Goddesses (called Loa) within its metaphysics, and, unlike Christianity, with its emphasis on an individualistic spirituality, voodoo interprets the possession by spirit entities as a communal and collective experience.
This voodoo meme passed over into early jazz and blues, which then became the secret force that attracted white kids to the rebel spirits of Rock and Roll. Of course the story is not that simple, because this process of assimilation that brought voodoo into a dominant culture is also one that tells us how capital can always appropriate and simulate new models that promise greater flexbility for its own project of social control, and of course help generate new and higher rates of profit for the Vampire Management. To make this point clearer consider how voodoo rites actually make no distinction between the participants. Everyone is involved in the event and there is no such thing as an audience. However, when public gatherings of black slaves were outlawed in New Orleans in 1817, the effect of this was to create supervised dances in which African music was put into a western form of presentation. The split between performer and passive consumer was thus established. These binary oppositions are central to capitalism and zombie culture.
In the last decade or so electronic dance music has emerged to challenge these binary oppositions. What follows are some notes I made last summer to a party I attended somewhere in the North-West of France, a party that demonstrates how far this voodoo meme has mutated.
This is the beginning of an era, a party that can go anywhere. A dense area of woodland has been reclaimed by hordes of unwashing urban nihilists, speeding cyberzombies, all these swarming possibilities. What's happening is an event that is part of a network of parties that have been organised across Europe for the last four years (in France, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Holland and Italy), and collectively known as Technivals. Technivals began in the summer of '94, following Spiral Tribe's exodus from the UK (Spiral Tribe were one of the earliest and perhaps most notorious British-based sound-systems and illegal party co-ordinators). Several Spiral members had been up on criminal charges with the fall-out after the massive Castlemorton party (in May 1992 thousands of people travelling to the annual Avon Free Festival were forced by Police blockades to move to Castlemorton Common where they created a huge party that lasted several days — the Criminal Justice Act that became law in 1994 and which includes criminal sanctions against public assembly, outdoor unlicensed music events, unauthorised camping and 'aggravated trespass' was the state's response to this event, and others like it).
The Technivals quickly outgrew their initial Spiral Tribe influence, inspiring home-grown networks of sound-systems, T-shirts, zines, vege-burger bars, DJs, newsletters, record labels etc. A Technival is always free. The Technival has no single focus but is a collection of different sound-systems, enabling a psychic drift from one system to the other, between tracks, conversations, chance encounters, coffee-breaks, continuing sleep-deprivation etc. Everyone has access to everywhere , the Technival is an interspace free of security guards, celebrity DJs, over-priced drinks, trendy affectations, or toilets with the water taps turned off (or any toilets for that matter). Everyone contributes to an energy burn-out that is valued in itself, for nothing other than its own collective self-consciousness and a desire to waste time.
These events cannot simply be interpreted as an escape from everyday routine. To regard them in this way is to refuse that realities can exist beyond words. It would also miss out on the actual collective practises arising within the parallel cultures constructed around electronic dance music. What these practises inspire for those involved is a confidence and power that has an outgrowth into a self-creativity that encourages exploration and experimentation. From this perspective, we can understand the interconnectedness of dancers, DJs, labels, zines, squat-party organisers and so on, and how that binary relationship between producer and consumer is dissolved in this process. Listeners and dancers can also be producers and distributors, and so on. And listening itself is a creative act that produces responses never present in the mind of the producer. This sub-net of activity invites anyone to become involved at their own level, whilst no single level within the evolving process is more important than the next.
There is a constant dynamic development to the music, which arises from a conscious cross-fertilisation that produces hybrid forms. It is a music that traces its influences in several directions at once. It has high-jacked the high-art categories of experimentation and composition to create an avant-pop in which the old cultural delineations are no longer applicable. This music also points to a use of technology which is always about making do with whatever equipment is at hand. Its focus is on experimentation with sounds, frequencies and rhythms that shake loose of linear approaches. Ultimately, these sonic constructions are aimed at dancing bodies. And yet the music is also a desire for transversality, for movement and change in other domains.
In this context, the political relates to a power struggle at a cultural level. What has happened in the last decade or so is that, alongside the enclosure of political debate in the public arena and the continuing contraction of social space, there has been an outbreak of music that becomes the soundtrack to resistance, not just in the sense of people fightin g cops on the streets, but also in terms of a micro-politics, where the ability to become intensified, to make connections where there weren't supposed to be any, to dissolve ego-ice and to discard the weight of inherited identities, conveys a rejection of the existing models held out for mass acceptance. And unlike the parasitic function of most academic criticism, a discourse that always writes from the outside in, it is only by way of the poetic myths that are being spread by those involved, that the significance of these activities, concerning the desire for opening up new psychic spaces, may find an adequate expression.