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The Psychedelic Gothic in Acid Renaissance

By Paul Watson on .

previously unpublished photograph from the Keep of the Archives shoot, by Paul Watson

In a recent blogpost Ellen Rogers wrote of her current Gnosis project:

It’s taken me 4 years to try and articulate what this project is about, but I felt like I was repeatedly going back to square one… Until recently all I really knew was that I was blindly following a feeling that was coming to me from the ground up.

This resonated strongly with me. I’ve written a few posts trying to articulate what’s behind my Acid Renaissance series — and I feel I’ve at least mentioned most of the starting points — but I don’t feel like I’ve properly explained it, and that’s because the full purpose of the project isn’t clear to me yet.

But I’m starting to see those weird (or wyrd?) connections, and one I’d like to start picking away at (like a scab) is the Psychedelic Gothic, a strange overlapping of my previous thoughts on the Gothic, Re-enchantment, and Acid Communism.

The lights shine clear through the sodium haze…

Back in August last year in my post The Gothic Mode in England’s Dark Dreaming I wrote:

Incidentally this picks out one interesting point about the Gothic: the seeming paradox between authenticity in self-expression (which is primarily a Modernist trait) and the knowing use of costumed performance at the expense of the “real” (which is arguably Postmodernist). Depending on your perspective this could make the Gothic simultaneously Modernist and Postmodernist, Post-Postmodernist, or simply outside of all of these wider cultural movements (this last status of “outsider” would probably suit the Gothic just fine, but that’s one for the academics, though.)

In the same post I quoted Catherine Spooner (2006) as saying:

A text may be Gothic and simultaneously many other things. The X-Files, for example, is a detective series in the Gothic mode, but it is also science fiction, conspiracy theory and a buddy cop drama.

But I think it may be more complicated than this. Are we talking about the Victorian Literary Gothic mode, the Expressionist Gothic mode, the Lovecraftian Gothic mode, or indeed — more pertinently for me in my current work — the Psychedelic Gothic mode? The Gothic (in terms of academic study) is just so broad. It’s a virus (a word I’m not using here with any negative connotations) that spreads itself into all corners of culture.

The use of the Gothic mode in my England’s Dark Dreaming series of drawings is, I think, fairly obvious. But I think that my current Acid Renaissance: Albion’s True Standard Advanced uses a somewhat less common Gothic mode: the Psychedelic Gothic.

And the kissing and the colour come crashing down…

There are some very interesting parallels between Suzi Gablik’s 1991 book The Reenchantment of Art — which I'm currently reading — and Mark Fisher’s 2016 draft introduction for his unfinished book Acid Communism. The first few chapters of Gablik’s book also mirror several of Fisher’s arguments from his 2009 book Capitalist Realism, although using the language of artistic/cultural criticism rather than socio-political criticism. As someone for whom both subjects are of great interest, this confluence is not unexpected, but it is incredibly pleasing.

Back in 2017 I wrote a post Re-enchantment, Metaphoric Density, and Deep Myth in which I cautiously explained my interest in the concept of re-enchantment, followed the next year by another post of (somewhat disjointed) notes on re-enchantment as resistance in Deep England. This latter post references Fisher, but only touching on his work on Hauntology - it is only more recently, after reading Fisher’s Acid Communism introduction (and various related articles on “Psychedelic Socialism” by Jeremy Gilbert) that I started to draw tentative connections, but only now in reading Gablik’s book are those connections laid out clearly.

Fisher argued that we are trapped in capitalist realism, the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it. and that this trap creates a reflexive impotence. Gablik’s argument is almost identical, just set in different terms:

Within the “dominator” system, the self is central; power is associated with authority, mastery, invulnerability and a strong affirmation of ego-boundaries…

Within the dominator system, art has become organised around the primacy of objects rather than relationships, and has been set apart from reciprocal or participative interactions. What I shall argue is that it has become trapped within a rigid model of insular individuality.

And the hints of the solution that Fisher started to write about in his draft introduction for the unfinished Acid Communism also seem to match what I’m starting to read about in Gablik’s call for re-enchantment: a new cultural paradigm that embraces a revitalised sense of community, an enlarged ecological perspective, and access to mythic and archetypal sources of spiritual life.

For the brand new darkness, for the bright new way…

I have called the particular strain of the Gothic mode I’m using in my Acid Renaissance series “psychedelic gothic”. I’m attempting to be open to a wider range of influences than in England’s Dark Dreaming, to escape the traps of capitalist realism, to become less insular and more open. And that includes embracing the weird, seeking a deeper sense of re-enchantment.

My thoughts are still churning away on this subject, and are liable to shift and evolve. I haven’t finished reading Gablik’s book yet and there are already some minor points where I disagree with her. But these are my initial scribbled notes which should act as a starting point.

Books Referenced

Fisher, M. (2009). Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (2009). Ropley: O Books.

Fisher, M. (2016). Acid Communism (Unfinished Introduction). In: D Ambrose, ed., K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016). London: Watkins Media Ltd.

Gablik, S. (1991). The Reenchantment of Art. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Spooner, C. (2006). Contemporary Gothic. London: Reaktion Books.