Jonathan Greenaway

At first glance, it would seem that Thomas Ligotti and Mark Fisher would have much in common. Fisher mentioned Ligotti, a preternaturally skilled writer of short stories, on his influential blog k-punk as a talented amateur philosophy. This is perhaps the highest praise someone like Fisher could give, scathing as he was about the institutionalisation of knowledge and the slow collapse of academic philosophy into bloodless, bureaucratic irrelevance, sucked dry by the grey vampires that haunt contemporary institutions of learning. The gatekeeping high-handedness of the “proper” philosopher is a model against which Fisher’s own work consistently rebels, and Ligotti’s amateur philosophy no doubt appealed to Fisher. That said, their models of working could hardly be more different – one, networked, collaborative and technological, the other remote and hermetic and bleak. With his background from the (in)famous CCRU, his long-standing interest in accelerationism, post-humanism and a bleak, theoretically heterogeneous techno-inspired pessimism, his interest in Ligotti is easily comprehensible. Fisher mentions Ligotti approvingly in a post about dolls and the film Toy Story 3 as he explored the ways in which contemporary consciousness was increasingly a matter of puppets and their strings – a strange shadow play performed on a psychic stage. Thus, in the wake of the posthumous publication of the K-punk collection, which includes the unfinished introduction to Fisher’s work-in-progress Acid Communism, it may be worth taking some time to deepen the relationship between the two.

This attempt then, to bring Ligotti and Fisher together may, appropriately enough, be doomed from the start. After all, any kind of Marxism, with its interest in ideas such as historical materialism, emancipatory politics, class struggle and the transformation of the world would seem to be fundamentally at odds with Ligotti whose views on the malignant uselessness of the cosmos are well known and who would see such a philosophy as, at best, wilfully self-deceiving. The aim of this paper then, it to see what scope there may be for reading Ligotti beyond the expected route of an annihilationist pessimism, and to see if it is possible to think of an Acid Weird, or perhaps more provocatively, a Weird Communism. The affective specificity of Ligotti could seem to be nothing but diametrically opposed to the psychedelia of acid communism but (as any good dialectician knows) when presented by a choice we should be aware that it is potentially a false one.In other words, living as we are in the nightmare world of late capitalism, haunted by the spectre of a world that could be free, Ligotti can serve as not only herald of doom but also a diagnostician of the forces that spectre at bay.

Firstly, as Matt Colquhoun explains, ‘the word ‘acid’ in particular, by invoking industrial chemicals, psychedelics and various sub-genres of dance music, is promiscuous’ and it would be a mistake to think that a pure, uncut definition could easily be provided – just as much as with communism in the twentieth century.[1] However, from the unfinished introduction to the Acid Communism book Fisher raises some fascinating questions, which following on from his well-known short work, The Weird and the Eerie, offer some suggestive ways for combining it with weird fiction. Adoptees of acid communism have been drawn to its affirmative and positive aspects which is, I think, a mistake, or rather, not the entire story.[2] The provocation and promise of acid communism is about, in part, the reforming of subjectivity and refers to both the psychedelic trip of renewed (class) consciousness and the collective active becoming of a communist politics. This was a long-standing concern of Fisher’s work, which came into sharper focus with his move away from the cyber gothic-materialism of the CCRU and towards a more dialectical futurism influenced by Berardi and Zizek. Back in Capitalist Realism, Fisher wrote that the required subject — a collective subject — does not exist, yet the crisis, like all the other global crises we’re now facing, demands that it be constructed.[3] Importantly, by the time of Acid Communism, Fisher wrote that ‘the impress of a world which could be free’ can be detected in the very structures of a capitalist realist world which makes freedom impossible.’[4] Or, as ‘Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror’ opens, ‘something lives in the lake, rustles through the woods, inhabits the stones or the earth beneath them. Whatever it may be, this something lies just out of sight.’[5]

Before turning in more detail to Ligotti’s fiction, it is worth restating Fisher’s own slightly idiosyncratic definitions of the weird and the eerie. Here Fisher is reversing or seeking to get beyond the somewhat tired overreliance on that Freud essay which hangs over much analysis of weird fiction. Rather than re-tread the familiar psychoanalytic-uncanny mode of criticism, which seeks to process the external through the ‘gaps and impasses of the inside,’ Fisher instead uses the weird and the eerie to see the inside from the perspective of the outside. The weird is that which does not belong – a thing where there should be no thing, or a combination of two things, which do not belong together. To encounter the weird is, for Fisher, to encounter the new (an encounter that, under capitalist realism, is increasingly impossible). This is why Fisher mentions montage as perhaps the cultural form of the weird par excellence, and why it is a form that lends itself to a kind of political commitment – as in the weird juxtapositions of Andre Breton, or in the visceral obliteration of the subject explored by Mark Steven in the context of extreme horror.[6]

The eerie, in contrast, is not the presence of something that should not be there, but is rather the absence of something that should be present there – it is a mode of questioning that ‘also entails a disengagement from our current attachments’ but this is not a disengagement of shock (as with the weird) but one of fascination. (One need only think of the phrase “eerie calm” to see the truth of that). The eerie also raises questions of agency – who has done this? What malevolent force controls our destiny? Unsurprisingly, Fisher mentions capitalism itself as an intrinsically eerie construction, ‘conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly insubstantial entity.’[7] A pertinent question to raise at this point is to wonder: how far has capitalism colonized and captured the world, to what extent does eerie calm form the basis of our political and cultural reality? Alternatively, to pose the question in another fashion, what could Acid Communism corrode, and what hallucinations could it induce?

For Fisher, capitalist realism is the horizon of what is thinkable, and the default mode of existence under contemporary neoliberal capitalism. It is the sine qua non of cultural creation and infused with a static deadlock that single-mindedly seeks to prevent the emergence of the new. From his writing on lost futures and hauntology to his compelling analysis of the soporific anhedonia of contemporary culture, Fisher argues that this capitalist realism is all pervading and almost inescapable. Franco Berardi, one of Fisher’s main sources, takes this further, arguing that capitalism has brought about the ‘colonization of the domain of time, of the mind and perception, so that the future collapsed’.[8] Temporally, culturally and politically it seems impossible to think the outside of capitalism. Yet it was not always this way. In his writing on Acid Communism Fisher argues that the counterculture writing and libertarian communism of the 1960s and 70s was not a degenerate ideology always already compromised by capital but could also be read as a genuinely new moment wherein acid both corroded the individualist hierarchical structures of capitalism and liberated and instantiated a collective subjectivity. Acid heralds a moment of the weird where time itself becomes malleable and the internal, apparently fixed realities of consciousness become unmoored – ‘I find the other in me,’ as Delueze puts it.

Here then it starts to become more clear what an acid trip it might be to read Ligotti. Read with an eye to the intrusion of the weird we might move beyond a literalist reading of his work. Ligotti’s short fiction is not describing the world as it is. Just as psychedelia could be dismissed as a flight from reality, Ligotti’s fiction can easily be read literally, as simply describing some basic philosophical truth about the world but this seems far too keen to dismiss both the material weirdness of the world and the texts themselves. As Fisher writes ‘altered states of consciousness could offer a perception of the systems of power exploitation and ritual that was more not less lucid than ordinary consciousness.[9] Acid Communism is not a matter of simple hedonistic indulgence, but is a rewiring of the flows of desire and the intrusion of the weird into our day-to-day experiences. So then, what Fisher offers to readings of Ligotti is a chance to move beyond anhedonia or a straightforward negation of the world to explore the possibility of an outside that emerges both beyond and through his nightmare landscapes. What Ligotti offers to Acid Communism is the awareness that any process of revolutionary change, of encountering the absolute outside, of engaging with the weird, is not just a positive and affirming experience of transcending the pleasure principle, but can also be an extremely bad trip. Laughter that comes from the outside, as Fisher writes about in reference to an old adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, can all too easily be accompanied by screams.

In the case of Ligotti’s fiction, perhaps now a Weird Acid-Communist reading can be put forth. In ‘The Last feast of Harlequin’ the story follows a good realist subject, an anthropologist dedicated to the ‘primary pursuit of articulating the significance of the clown figure in diverse cultural contexts.’[10] The role of the clown is a noble one (and I think a role with fairly obvious connections and similarities to the acid communist reading outlined previously, existing as they do outside the authorities and temporal structures of capitalist reality) but the narrator of the tale cannot yet abandon his commitment to an individualist subjectivity. He remains an outsider looking in. The town of Mirocaw, with housing that appear spatially unmoored and impossible is a disorientating space, which undoes the ability to anchor oneself, to be able to state with unequivocal certainty that this is where I am. The tale refers to a previous academic visitor to the town, Raymond Thoss, who has ‘gone native’ producing what the stale academe judges to be psychedelic and impressionistic work on festivals and other collective rituals. The narrator is numb, wracked by ‘profound depression’ (a symptom of life under capitalist realism, especially for those who make their living as academics as Fisher wrote about movingly and presciently).[11] Whilst encountering the collective inhabitants of the town there is a weird moment of misrecognition – the narrators sees themselves in a window through which they have been judging the passers-by. Outside the window is a ‘lunatic severity’ and superimposed upon it is their own face, which looks flabby and ‘seemed the face of someone less than alive.’[12] The narrator recognises their own outsider status and is repulsed by it. At the climax of the story comes what could be read as formation of new collective subjectivity, but it is a ‘sickening metamorphosis’ to which the narrator can only recoil in horror.

In the final pages of the story comes a striking paragraph, which resonates strongly with the acid-weird:

At certain times I could almost dissolve entirely into this inner realm of purity and emptiness, the paradise of the unborn. I remember how I was momentarily overtaken by a feeling I had never known when in disguise I drifted through the streets of Mirocaw, untouched by the drunken noisy forms around me… It was the feeling I had been liberated from the weight of life. But I recoil at this seductive nostalgia for it mocks my existence as mere foolery… (294)

The true horror of the story is that the narrator, when confronted with their trip, with the acidic dissolution of what they thought to be the (capitalist) real world, dismisses it all as mere foolishness. Before them lies an exit, but it is a doorway they refuse. He prefers to return to the world haunted by the weird, forced to live in the world of capitalist realism in the knowledge that the weird might intrude and bring down the world around him at any time. The weird is thus the intrusion of contingency into the world-system of capitalist realism, a destabilising influence which capitalist realist subjectivity is inescapably haunted by. Another Ligotti text serves an excellent example. The short story ‘In the Shadow of Another World’ can be read as an in depth examination of capitalist realism and the ways in which the spectre of the world which would be free haunts the cultural imagination of capitalist realism. The house with its turret has windows through which one can see beyond but which are kept shuttered closed. The previous owner of the house seems to have been some sort of acid communist – the house is ‘sterile but safe’ and the home’s owner has an attitude of ‘risk, not retreat.’ But such encounters are costly – glimpses of the world beyond the spiritual wasteland of capitalist sterility carries with it a price – ‘again and again in his notebooks he describes himself as ‘overwhelmed’ to the point of madness.’[13] When the specific windows of the house are opened, the narrator:

perceived through these prismatic lenses vague forms which seemed to be struggling towards visibility, freakish outlines labouring to gain full embodiment. Whether their nature was that of the dead or the demonic – or some peculiar progeny generated by their union – I could not tell. (371)

Later, the narrator sees again these spectral forms in an orgiastic collectivity that collapses the distinction between object and subject. Overwhelmed, the narrator shuts their eyes and reflects on the house with its innocent ambiance as the one place from which these ghosts of another world have been exorcised, and the outside becomes a space of genuine terror from which the subject must protect themselves. The narrator is struck by the house ‘as a monument to Terror and the stricken ingenuity it may inspire.’[14] At the end of the narrative the narrator flees the house in terror at these shadows of another world and looks back noting that ‘the sights were now all inside the house, which had become an edifice possessed by the festivities of another world.’ As for the ordinary townsfolk who live nearby:

How can they know what it is their houses are truly nestled among? They cannot see, nor even wish to see, that world of shadows with which they consort every moment of their brief and innocent lives. But often, during the visionary time of twilight, I am sure they have sensed it. (379)

Throughout there are these loaded moments of semantic doubling as the language of pessimism constantly gestures beyond to the outside as readers are forcibly reminded that perhaps there might be what capitalist realism denies – an exit to something new, no matter how terrifying that might be. What is so striking is the ways in which the cost of transformation – the toll of bringing out a genuinely new kind of consciousness is one from which Ligotti’s narrators can only flee, looking back wistfully, haunted at what might have been. The reaction to flee is not a sign that a new kind of consciousness, a psychedelic shattering of the self is not necessary, but reflects an anxiety that such an experience is not survivable, that consciousness, much as it may yearn for a way out cannot endure what it might be to step outside the horizon of thought. Yet even so, what is striking is the way in which Ligotti mixes affect, blending horror with fascination as his protagonists are drawn to the possibility of a radical transformation even if, and perhaps even because such a transformation would necessarily involve the destruction of individualised atomised subjectivity.  As the writer and academic Gregory Marks puts it in their blog on acid communism and time:

Acid Communism unites weird experience with collective becoming, to shatter the old forms of perception and cognition and bring about something other. We cannot expect to go through this process unchanged. The collective desire of Acid Communism transforms the very sense of time and space upon which our atomised and alienated selves are predicated. Yet there is a joy in dissolving into this new mass becoming, which destroys the categories that previously bound us.[15]

Perhaps those within the Ligotti tale are right to flee from the various limit experiences, from the intrusions of the weird that make their way into their everyday life. The joy that many of them feel in the first sight of a new subjectivity or a new way of being together, has to be dismissed, overwritten by the demand to preserve the self, alone, in a universe far stranger and laden with more possibility than seems conceivable by the ideological constraints of capitalist realism. Yet perhaps in their fear the acid communist might see the importance of moving beyond the idea of the automatous individual, for ‘most of what is supposedly inside us has been acquired from the wider social field.’[16] Fisher’s interest in this line of thought, which extends from Spinoza to Marcuse, speaks instead of a joyful and productive combination of various bodies from which Ligotti’s characters can only run screaming, forever blinded to the truth that terrors are not all there is to the Outside.[17]

[1] Matt Colquhoun, ‘Acid Communism, Krisis: A Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, Issue 2, (2018),
[2] This has often come out in British contexts under the guise of an Acid Corbynism – whilst the renewal of British left politics has been greatly bolstered by the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership, it seems somewhat conceptually reductive to fix Fisher’s acid to electoral social democracy.
[3] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (London: Zero Books 2009) p. 66.
[4] Mark Fisher, k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016), ed. Darren Ambrose, (London: Repeater Books 2019) p. 758.
[5] Thomas Ligotti, Songs of A Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, (London: Penguin Books 2015) p. 183.
[6] Mark Stevens, Splatter Capital: The Political Economy of Gore Films, (London: Repeater Books 2016).
[7] Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, (London: Repeater Books 2016) p. 11.
[8] Franco Beradi, After the Future, (Edinburgh: AK Press 2011) p. 23.
[9] Fisher, (2019) pp. 763-4.
[10] Ligotti, (2015) p. 225.
[11] See
[12] Ligotti, (2015) p. 272.
[13] Ligotti, (2015) p. 371.
[14] Ligotti, (2015) p. 376.
[15] See
[16] Fisher, (2019) p. 597.
[17] Fisher, (2016) p. 9.