Rowan Tree Editing Retrospective
Horror, utopia, futures and gender, a look back.
My first Rowan Tree Editing blog goes back to July of last year, my first Medium blog (when I began writing essays regularly, now weekly) goes back to January 2017. In the course of that time, I have written many essays, some I consider more fondly than others. The practice of weekly writing has been wonderful, a discipline but also a form of leisure, a way to organise and articulate thoughts and on a couple of occasions to better understand myself.
This week, I wanted to take an opportunity to pause and reflect back. To highlight nine of these essays I personally like best, why they remain significant to me, and in the course of that to take stock of this project and where it is heading. (As it is very much a project I hope to continue for a long duration into the future.)
Vampires and Class Migration (link)
This is the oldest essay on my website, written a decade ago. Its style is something I have subsequently abandoned, but with certain links to my current approach to essay writing. It addresses the ways in which the idea of the vampire has changed, specifically with regards to the social strata this gothic creature represents. I wrote it for a publication originally, for which it got turned down. But then it was warmly received online and has remained a favourite of mine since. And while I would probably articulate the point differently today, I would maintain that the thesis here is sound and well-illustrated.
Beyond Cockaygne (link)
Of all the essays I wrote for Medium I was most proud of this one, although it was not the most liked by readers. I love utopia, and long thought little of the pre-utopian Cockaygne fable. Reading A. L. Morton’s study, The English Utopia, changed my mind, and this piece looks at the legacy of Cockaygne, its philosophical meaning and how it continues to communicate to certain human and social needs. It covers quite a lot of territory and I would say it holds up well.
The Grim Darkness of Anti-Politics (link)
In part a chance for me to geek-out about my affection for Warhammer 40,000 and its mythos; in part a look at the reactionary culture war; in part a way of introducing my interest in grim dark as a genre. This essay did well when it was first published on Medium. Its central claim is that the alt-right’s appropriation of the aesthetics and archetypes of the miniature wargame produced by Games Workshop is an expression of their fundamental despair. 40k is a satire of their type of politics, but far from being an unaware mix-up, they have taken it on because it suits a politics of hopelessness to style themselves using material designed to mock the very obscenities they represent.
Myth, Reaction, Utopia (link)
Easily my most successful essay, here I look at the different kinds of false histories that sustain contemporary politics. I begin with the most benign, but nonetheless still misguided ‘progressive’ fantasies of a return to the postwar consensus. From there I examine the liberal centrist’s belief in an eternal, timeless 90s, an expression of their crisis. Next, the irrationalist and, relatedly and finally, the fascists, who dream of some prelapsarian nightmare paradise of supremacy, a dream secretly rooted in their despair. My final claim is that what we need to overcome all of these delusions is a humanist, philosophical, utopian imagination, one unafraid to speculate forward.
Utopia in a Burning World (link)
In this essay I ask what it means to maintain a utopian imagination when set against the destruction of the very world that sustains us. I set hope against the despair of our moment, not to undermine the former, but to stress how the latter makes it all the more urgent and vital if we are to traverse this calamity. I wrote this one in response, in part, to the climate student strikes—a polemic, it was intended as a rallying cry. I believe that this polemic is sadly still needed; we still need a serious hope to see ourselves through this peril.
Preface: Born in Blood (link)
As a fan of the horror fiction of George Daniel Lea, it was an honour to be invited to write a preface for one of his books. It’s a great collection of interlocking stories, conveying a strange mythology, even an anti-mythology, where experience and reality reshape and refashion one another with abandon. This work expresses so much of what I love about contemporary British indie horror, its willingness to stray outside of genre expectations, its unwillingness to hold its readers hands, to condescendingly guide them through cheap frights. There are many reviews of such works on Rowan Tree Editing, but for the uninitiated I would recommend starting here.
Introduction to Hope (link)
Coming closer to the present, this essay is the beginning (and currently the entirety) of my close reading of Ernst Bloch seminal three volumed text The Principle of Hope. It is aptly described in its preface as an ‘encyclopaedia of hope that attempts to catalogue the surplus of utopian thought from the early Greek philosophers to the present day.’ I greatly enjoyed reading for and writing this one, and it’s a project I anticipate relishing as it continues in future blogs. Bloch has greatly enriched my appreciation of both utopia and Marxism, and as an advocate of the utopian imagination (as discussed in earlier essays) he speaks powerfully to our current predicaments as a species.
A Soul Detached (link)
No other essay either on this list or on my blog is so personal. Another recent piece, it documents my coming out as non-binary. It involves an exploration of gender, but one not disconnected to the other themes explored in various essays on my blog. I explore at some length my love of utopia, and relate it to my personal concerns. It’s a piece I am quite proud about, and I was—and remain— sincerely pleased that it was warmly received by readers.
I am not done with any of the themes explored in the above pieces. Looking back at them, I hope, gives some sense of a line of thinking that if expansive, is also coherent. Writing this blog is a joy, and I am immensely pleased in particular to have such wonderful readers along for the journey.
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