Episode 2: A Special Form of Darkness

24–26 Feb 2012
Tramway, Glasgow

What we wrote about it at the time: How do ideas of nihilism, darkness, subjectivity and abjection play out in experimental music, performance art, supernatural horror; in neuroscience or philosophy?  Or: how can you trust what you think or feel? A Special Form of Darkness is an open, convivial music/ performance/ ideas hybrid - a cross between a festival, magazine and discussion.

How do ideas of nihilism, darkness, the self, abjection and horror play out in experimental music and performance?


In The Last Messiah, Peter Wessel Zapffe, in a state of bleak dread, concludes that consciousness is “a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature”.  Could our self-awareness be an evolutionary mistake? After all, animals feel pain: conscious humans suffer. 


Can we imagine the World-Without-Us

In The Conspiracy Against the Human Race the horror writer Thomas Ligotti, confronted with our complete cosmological insignificance (and so the inanity of any thing we might do), and inspired by Zapffe’s realisation that the only right consciousness seems to bestow on us is the right to suffer, suggests that we should classify our existence as MALIGNANTLY USELESS. 

But is there anything positive in this? Could a suspicion of our own consciousness be a necessary step in the furthering of thought, and indeed life?


Realities and identities are upgraded like software

The literary critic Fredric Jameson has argued that neoliberal culture is full of the language of innovation and novelty, but culture has never been more standardised and homogenous…the only real novelty is in the way our realities and identities are upgraded like software, so that a settled sense of self becomes impossible. 

What if he’s right: that our language, habits and desires, the ways we experience the world, our ideas of ourselves come to us pre-packaged? Are we all performing ourselves?


I spit myself out

In Powers of Horror Julia Kristeva defines abjection as the state of being symbolically spat out or discarded: disgusting, excluded, repellent.  Is our revulsion at bodily fluids, or our unease at seeing a corpse, a symbolic revulsion at the flimsiness of our own borders as a living being, as a self? 

Is this a useful allegory to understand the disgust of people in power: revolted by or treating as inferior (not quite fully alive) any groups that threaten their own borders or identity?1 And is art the place that explores the abject 2, a place where boundaries begin to break down, a place before distinctions such as the self and the other, existence and non-existence?


A special form of darkness

What’s powerful in these ideas of distrust, pessimism and disgust? How do we make sense of experimental musicians, performance artists, cultural critics, philosophers and scientists who doubt identity, existence and experience?

Is it OK to be suspicious of the blind love of what it is to be human?  Or of how our identities are constructed? What if our naivety about those identities leads to a special form of darkness: if much more is going on than we’re aware of, are we in the dark exactly because we look right through what we should really see?

The Episode was reviewed in The List by Nick Herd and in The Skinny by Gareth K Vile.




  • 1. For e.g.: women and femininity, convicts, the poor, the queer, rioters in Tottenham…
  • 2. The spit, piss or blood in Genesis P. Orridge or GG Allin performances, the used nappies in Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document…Artaud’s identity horror…


Presented by Arika and Tramway

Supported by Creative Scotland, Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Life, Goethe Institute Glasgow, PRS Foundation and The Skinny