Written with: Various devices | Notes | Various operating systems

I've been having limited luck sticking to my goal of writing on a regular basis. My "main" writing project I haven't touched in weeks, although it does still hold some life in my mind. And although I do get flashes of motivation to write - either blog posts or snippets of short stories - I'm finding it hard to sit down and make them reality.

My brain is a lot more active than my writing hand, as a general rule. I turn ideas for writing around in my head a thousand times, then turn the *idea of writing them* around a thousand times more, and by the time I start writing...I've probably given up on that idea and moved to a new one. This is a terrible practice and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

But that is the state of my brain; always in movement, always talking to itself, rarely making requisite space to express it through action. The epic struggle I go through some mornings to convince myself life is worth getting out of bed for will probably never make it to the page, but it consumes an impressive amount of my mind.

What I have been doing, at least, is reading! In a few weeks I've gotten through a good 2/3 of Mark Fisher's "Ghosts of my Life". It's a great book, and probably the most invested I've been in a piece of academic writing in years. Hauntology is a very compelling topic, both for the way it makes you consider the lingering relevance of the past and reconsider the media made in the present.

For the most part, Fisher explores the concept of hauntology via certain electronic musicians, especially dub pioneers like Goldie and Tricky, certain TV and film works (especially British public programming of the 70s, but The Shining is a noteworthy exception), and independent experimental musicians of the new century like The Caretaker.

Generally speaking, these artists all draw deliberate attention to the distinctions between analogue and digital media formats. However, rather than acting purely out of a one-dimensional exercise in nostalgia, they focus deliberately on the tension of this historical shift in how media is made, presented, and consumed. The 1970s which hauntological work obsessively retreads is defined by “grain”: in media formats (the crackle of a vinyl disc, the visible grain of film and television); in the world (the unclean, “raw” landscapes of 1970s Britain, full of haunted and individual places as opposed to the sanitised, corporate “non-places” of the contemporary city); and in the mind (flawed recall, repetitive returns, half-remembered snippets of songs whose origins are long forgotten).

On the one hand, the purpose and appeal of this fixation is to simply contrast with the work that more directly belongs to the 21st century. Music on a CD player is devoid of crackle, a flawless, spotless digital imprint of audio information. The same, we think, is true of DVD video, TV and cinema shot on digital cameras, and by extension, our contemporary environment: hotel rooms and corporate plazas devoid of a past, the grime and ghosts scrubbed out on a daily basis, a too-perfect system which we can never escape.

The academic links Fisher draws between media formats and contemporary society are complicated and multifaceted, but even on an instinctual, emotive level, it makes sense to say that this new cultural landscape corresponds with a “cancellation of the future”. The digital perfection of culture, for all its "improvements", coincides culture itself becoming slow or backwards-moving. Contemporary culture speaks its own language, which, when read, says that there is no alternative to itself; late capitalist reality proliferates itself by erasing the possibility of anything else from our brains.

I wondered: where does this leave vaporwave? To you it might be a strange thought to have, but I've been strangely drawn to voporwave a lot in the past few months. On paper, the genre/movement/aesthetic is directly opposed to hauntology: a vapid, nostalgic fixation on the very mediums and cultural shifts which spelled death for the ghostly crackle of the 1970s; its "chill", corporate aesthetic at odds with the grainy, melancholic hopefulness for a future of individual, challenging artistic expression.

On the other hand, it shares some strikingly obvious conceptual (and in some ways aesthetic) overlap. The best vaporwave, in my view, makes the aesthetics in question feel "haunted": digital samples of old commercials skip and repeat, VHS tapes visibly decay, old '80s and '90s computers suffer and evolve as their memory is corrupted.

Maybe it's not a matter of one decade being inherently more hauntological than the other. Maybe it's become necessary to search for the hauntological as a reaction to the present, no matter how many problems of today had already taken root in the decade of interest. For people whose memory of the '80s and '90s is dim enough to hold a sense of mystery, a sense of things lost and hidden, this time period can hold a promise of a lost future. Not necessarily the utopian-consumerist future explicitly advertised in the commercials that vaporwave artists often mine; rather, in the faults, glitches, and gaps amongst that material.

I understand that less critical, more consumerist, actively escapist vaporwave does exist. But from the beginning, vaporwave has been an unsettling genre, a space where things aren't quite right. Sure, the first minute of "LISA FRANK 420 / MODERN COMPUTING" is more well known than the rest of the album; but sit with it and you might feel your skin crawl as the too-deep vocal sample breaks and repeats itself, the '80s pop studio reverb stretched to an uncomfortable degree. Few vaporwave artists have located quite the same vein since (although I do have a few favourite exceptions, namely Diskette Park and Infinity Frequencies).

As uncommon as this ground is, I'm convinced that there's an increasing demand amongst internet creators and consumers for this particular kind of hauntology, one fixated on the cracks and uncertainties of media formats and corporate spaces just-past. Although I have my fair share of complaints about the movement, the influx of "backrooms" themed internet media feels like an expression of this: the idea that something can go so fundamentally wrong in urban, capitalist life that we slip into a glitch-space, a cavernous nothingness between realities, feels darkly escapist, evoking a similar sense of inbetween-ness to the more deliberately unsettling vaporwave I talked about above.

Fittingly, vaporwave pioneer Vektroid (Ramona Xavier, of Floral Shoppe fame) has since worked "backrooms" lore and aesthetics into her more contemporary work, an aesthetic convergence which I think speaks to the cross-purposes of these two internet-borne media fixations.

What does it mean to find hauntology in the practice of vaporwave artists? I don't fully know yet. but this blog post has been sitting in my notes app for too long, and I'm determined to get it out there. I hope it made you look at certain media and aesthetics in a new or slightly different light!


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