sitting on the vampire castle's covered patio
on Twitter culture nonsense, reading good books, reading bad books, not reading at all, and the need for better desires
In 2013, Mark Fisher published the essay “Exiting the Vampire Castle,” arguing that cyberspace hellscapes like twitter are just that and then some: liberal moral puritanism hellscapes rife with an unripened sense of nuance and class—and this is on purpose. I’ll get into that in a minute.
As I stated in my first ‘welcome’ post, I’m trying to limit myself to one (1) thing I can get mad at on Twitter per week. This is my attempt at a slow, bloody crawl out of the vampire castle. But yesterday, I chose my Thing To Get Mad At.
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A Twitter account @Abookishdiaries took it upon themselves to do what needed to be done: Put the bard himself, Billy Shakespeare, and others, on blast. They’ve had it too good for too long. This tweeter, who has now gone private (a smart move, frankly) has not been quiet about their preferences: They enjoy The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, all things Colleen Hoover, and “The Grishaverse,” which refers to a series of YA books. I did watch two episodes of the Netflix adaptation of these books—great production value! That’s my review.
Anyways, I’m putting a few pictures in from the Cursed Tweet.
I mean, damn, when you put it that way.
Of course, this person got clowned on, hard. They doubled down, which is really the only position one can take when they think they’ve hit it out of the ballpark.
I’m not trying to cancel the canceller, but this is my one thing I’m allowed to get mad at. And I do think it speaks to a larger issue.
It has, for years, struck me as odd that so many legal adults not only adore YA novels, they hate everything else. A few years back, I saw a TikTok posted on Twitter, which I wish I had the foresight to save, but I didn’t, so take my word for it: a woman, who insists we know that she’s bisexual, proclaims that books assigned in school are Bad, capital B. She does not ‘relate’ to anyone in The Grapes of Wrath. But she does relate to characters in the Percy Jackson series.
I’ve seen adults proclaim on #BookTok that The Picture of Dorian Gray and Madame Bovary are boring at best, problematic at worst. But you know what gets a 5/5 on Goodreads? The City of Thorns and Glass.
I made that title up, but you wouldn’t know that. If I accidentally named a real title, that would be very funny.
So, here’s the question, or set of questions: Why are we seeing such an uptick in people too old to be reading YA so defensive of YA? What draws them to, by definition, juvenile projects? And why must everything else die so YA must live? Why is everything… p r o b l e m a t i c?
I think, deep down, these people know this is embarrassing. So, to justify this, everything else must be impure. They don’t care that Shakespeare was writing in Elizabethan England, where everyone was racist (and if you were there, you would be too, don’t pretend otherwise). They don’t care that Burroughs killed his wife, not really. It’s more the fact that Naked Lunch is a weird book and it’s not for everyone. It’s honestly not for me! But this isn’t enough.
At the risk of being one of those people that rails madly against “Cancel Culture” and sounds like a centrist Gen X-er having an aneurysm, there is a genuinely worrying trend of absolutism at play here. It’s a call for complete moral purity, and it’s more than that: it’s a moral purity that competes against others. The cleanest soul wins and goes to identity politics heaven when they die. The other thing about identity politics morality is that it’s a sneaky way of ignoring class. And that’s worth it in and of itself. This way, we can have unproductive conversations about race, gender, and sexuality, without tackling the heavy beast: class and how capitalism operates, actively urging on people to take on an identity politics that does not intersect with class. In “Exiting the Vampire Castle”:
"Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and pre-emptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it."
Distract yourselves, lumpenprols, your chains are getting tighter but they have a button with your pronouns on them now.
YA is simple. Again, by definition, it’s a juvenile project. For juveniles. In the best case scenario, the YA writer is someone who’s found their niche, and that niche is for preteens, for whatever reason. And I’m not saying books for actual preteens shouldn’t exist. (My father made me read Wuthering Heights when I was 10, and I felt very lost. I might as well have been reading Hungarian. But you know what I did get? You guessed it: Percy Jackson. But one can’t read Percy Jackson forever, as much as others might scream otherwise. That book did rule, though. I stand by it.)
However, I think plenty of YA writers fall into another, more insidious category: that of the shameless careerist, knowing this is a potentially more profitable way to be a fiction writer that requires very little to actually write, and so the YA writers of the world copy and cannibalize off of each other for eternity. The books become so similar that claiming plagiarism would be a useless gambit. And that’s a very safe little world to be in. You, as the adult YA reader, can fool yourself into thinking this is intelligent work—from the author, but more importantly from you. You’re reading! Or listening to an audiobook! You’re gaining knowledge of fictional worlds with fictional people and those fictional people’s inner lives. What makes that so different from any other novel? Other novels have Bad Things in them, too. So actually, this is better. 5/5 stars on Goodreads. Make a TikTok about it and scream forever into your YA echo chamber. Anyone who challenges this is an elitist, and probably a racism apologist, if not a racist themselves.
I warned you, this is my one thing I’m allowed to get mad at this week! And now, this is the part where I say something hopefully interesting. Audience, I introduce you to a few players: Mark Fisher, P.E Moskowitz, and Jacques Lacan. Let’s get into it:
“Exiting the Vampire Castle” explains why Twitter, and other social media platforms that get their fill from the discourse machine, is so bad for us. As individuals, to be sure, but also as people who want something that resembles a Collective Left: It’s a moralizing that is vampiric, draining the soul out of you and all of your friends. Should my Weekly Thing I Get Mad At become a series on here, it’s important to understand this essay and, therefore, my own attempt to speak through my crawl out of the vampire castle.
Fisher names the Laws of the Vampire Castle: 1) individualize and privatize everything, 2) make action and thought appear very, very difficult, 3) propagate as much guilt as you can, 4) essentialize, 5) think like a liberal (because you are one).
So, how do these laws apply to the Cancelled Writers tweet? The explanation of Law One sums it up:
"While in theory it claims to be in favour of structural critique, in practice it never focuses on anything except individual behaviour... Remember: condemning individuals is always more important than paying attention to impersonal structures. The actual ruling class propagates ideologies of individualism, while tending to act as a class... The VC, as dupe-servants of the ruling class, does the opposite: it pays lip service to ‘solidarity’ and ‘collectivity’, while always acting as if the individualist categories imposed by power really hold. Because they are petit-bourgeois to the core, the members of the Vampires’ Castle are intensely competitive, but this is repressed in the passive aggressive manner typical of the bourgeoisie. What holds them together is not solidarity, but mutual fear – the fear that they will be the next one to be outed, exposed, condemned."
Making a long list of authors to get through cancelling, whether they’re long dead or not, that’ll save you for a while. If your plan works—and, considering the state of idpol culture we’re seeing—it was always a risky gambit, since so much of that post seems satirical, but it wasn’t as risky as we would like to think. Where the original poster went wrong was in having their post spread outside of YA twitter, outside of their VC in crowd.
You’d think someone who’d spend so much time creating an extensive list of writer wrong doings would want the structures to change, but that means, should that structural change occur, there would be no more need of Bad People lists. No more moral purity in Colleen Hoover and YA.
This cannot be.
Then, you would have to face your desires for what they are: not to consume content that has been thoroughly approved by BookTok and the purity police in your head, but instead, to consume things meant for children. And that means confronting a fear of something that requires something of you. And maybe it even has a racist character. Maybe the author doesn’t break the fourth wall and say: This guy sucks, huh? I dislike him. He is bad. You are a good reader.
Pictured: a real Martin Scorsese quote that he really said. I wouldn’t lie to you on my own Substack.
Fisher wrote “Exiting…” in 2013. He would not live to see what has happened to us. He would not live to see how much worse it could get.
Luckily, we have other Substacks for that.
P.E. Moskowitz (@_pem_pem)’s “Fuck Puritanism” gets at the heart of the Uber Contemporary online moment. Here’s a link to it. They begin by naming
“… the conundrum we are in: there seems to be a constantly shifting set of rules and norms we must follow, and oppressions we must acknowledge being perpetrators of, lest we be punished for our misdeeds. No book tells us how to follow or acknowledge these things, we simply must learn by being repeatedly told we are bad, wrong, hate disabled people or trans people, over and over again, ad infinitum, until we learn. Learn what, exactly? Again, no one seems to know.”
As Moskowitz points out, the U.S. is a country built on puritanism, why wouldn’t it stay that way in seemingly ‘left’ spaces? Why wouldn’t identity politics also be deeply conservative? Simple answer: of course it would be.
The hyper individualized idpol oriented VC servants are operating on a few levels. One, the backbone of puritanism that will, it seems, forever plague this country, a semi-transparent specter that haunts and sits on shoulders and screams. Two, this is a competition to see who has the Bestest Soul, someone has to fall so that someone else may be more correct. And so, the systems that be can never die. As a religious zealotry remains a haunting figure, they help in reviving the Super Structure over and over again. This is a very neat trick up capitalism’s sleeve.
“The tenderqueers, the cancel-obsessed, whatever you want to call them, must constantly reaffirm their own moral goodness and authority over other people’s moral goodness. To give up on this project would be to admit that theirs is in contradiction with what they state they want. They do not want material progress, they do not want an effective antiracism or anti-transphobia, they want authority. But when this is made obvious to them, they feel their entire identities threatened.”
Moskowitz astutely describes these people as Secular Puritans, vying for the title of Best Canceller, vying for a nice new position in the VC. They also describe them as Political Anorexics. They depend on failure, so that they may continue forever and the rest of us are subject to their whims. These people aren’t as obviously dangerous as, say, LibsofTiktok aka Chaya Raichik, who seems to actively want people to die for fairly harmless, even if often annoying, things they say online.
But the Secular Puritans are dangerous to our psyches, dangerous to a productive dialogue, to a unified Left. At this point, when you use all the same tactics as Raichik, save doxxing and stochastic terrorism (for now), you act more as a foot soldier for the openly conservative than you do as a champion for social justice. They’ve changed the crime, the word, ‘groomer’ to ‘ableist,’ and they both have the same amount of meaning, generally speaking: very little.
I could go on and on about how bad these people are at thinking and reading and contributing to the culture. Honestly, read “Exiting the Vampire Castle” in its entirety, which I’ve linked here, and read “Fuck Puritanism,” which I’ve linked above.
What I want to talk about now is Desire.
According to Jacques Lacan, we have two daddies, which is some real queer representation. Jokes aside, there are two Fathers to contend with. Pere Jouissance, who obscenely enjoys and desires whatever he wants, and the Nom/Non, who forbids, acts as your Watcher. One Father, a hedonist, the other, Law and Order proper. Everyone, according to Lacan, suffers between the two Fathers, the two desires. Structure and chaos, pleasure and pain. But the Moral Puritans, the VC foot soldiers have an almost clever, if tortured, way of solving this dilemma for themselves. They get their pleasure from being law and order. And when pleasure is connected with failure, their obvious desire to fail, which we’ve explained above, makes even more sense. They can continue to be the law, and get their jollies that way, and it never ends, and the system they rail against half-heartedly lives another day, cheering them on.
There is, for the BookTok Moral Puritan, another desire, another Pere Jouissance to be. This is the lazy reader. The one who says Ayn Rand’s problem is limited to racism; the one who says Shakespeare has to pay for his crimes four hundred years old or no; the one who cannot understand the difference between representation and approval. If every representation is an endorsement, life is simpler, and so is getting your desire to be right, to understand on first try, and to scold anyone who is not right, anyone who is not attending the Church of Social Justice religiously, who isn’t in the pews.
So, what’s left to do? It’s deceptively simple: get better desires, go to rehab for an addiction to failure. When you get better desires, desires to actually change the structures that seemingly saturate the literary market with Problematics, desires to engage with things in good faith, with nuance, desires to learn something, to think a little harder, desires not to go to war for the Vampires, you’ll stop wanting to fail, you’ll stop upholding the system that gives you the role of the Two Fathers and stops giving you your, frankly, bad desires. It’s only then we have a fighting chance.
Anyways, who wants to start a book club with me?
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