“I” can make you feel better

SOPHIE’s music is deeply important to me, both personally and intellectually. This essay will be mostly intellectual, since I don’t think blogging is the place to express personal attachments, though I cannot deny that this is a personal way of dealing with the news of SOPHIE’s passing.

Accelerationism is the claim that there are emancipatory tendencies internal to capitalism, but none of them are yet emancipatory. Marxism, often, has tended to claim that the contradictions inherent to capitalism will either drive us toward the inevitable revolution, or, in its more pessimistic modes, that capitalism’s fetters are never quite strong enough, and without the intervention of revolutionary agents or events, capitalism is here to stay. Accelerationism never makes such claims. At every turn, there are ways out, the difficulty is in locating them. It is therefore an ethics in the truest sense, a Spinozistic art of living that seeks to find emancipatory joy through the accelerationism of tendencies that capitalism always creates. SOPHIE’s only full-length album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, presents such an ethics of escape.

Much is made of PC Music’s (I mean a genre, here) or “hyperpop’s” relation to consumerism. The saccharinity of Hannah Diamond’s almost child-like delivery on “Hi” appearing to approach the focus-grouped sounds of mid-2000s MTV pop with the wonder of a child who has a whole £20 to spend at a shopping centre. This celebration of unabashed consumerism supposedly prefigures the abundance of a truly emancipated society (so the story goes). GFOTY’s 2017 album GFOTYBUCKS is similarly a celebration of that which seems antithetical to the radicality that people like me sometimes read into it. Starbucks, the tax-avoiding megacorporation becomes a vessel for GFOTY’s club-going, USA-celebrating non-identity. All that is solid melts into brands, but this apparent total alienation of identity, becomes her freedom. Alone at the club on “Friday Night”, GFOTY retreats so far into consumerist, sexual clichés that the even the experience of the consumption no longer seems to matter. She arrives at the club at 2am, leaves at 2am, and in quite literally no time at all has completed all that she wanted.

But I have always felt unsure about this. Can the mere assertion of the feeling of abundance ever be radical? I really doubt it. GFOTY is alone at the club, an isolated individual who shuns all meaningful collective connections. And nonetheless, she’s still buying her drinks and the hangover-coffee the following morning. You can buy yourself into losing your identity, but capital never really cared about your identity anyway, unless it could profit off it. In the attempted destruction of identity, one does nothing better than accelerate profit margins.

SOPHIE never fell foul of this trap. In the same way that I find it hard to believe that most of the PC Music crew know what accelerationism is, I find it increasingly difficult to believe that SOPHIE did not. SOPHIE’s music is, to me and others, the perfect example of a piece of art that seeks to engage with an Outside that is beyond us, an engagement allowed by the re-understanding of the present. Accelerationism always involves the process of beating capital at its own game, and I believe that SOPHIE understood this. In a 2018 interview, SOPHIE describes SOPHIE’s disappointment at SOPHIE’s fans’ caring about the revelation of SOPHIE’s identity in the video for “It’s Okay to Cry”, the opening track of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. In previous work, SOPHIE had celebrated the destruction of identity under 21st century western capitalism, similarly to other hyperpop artists. But this reduction to nothingness was emancipatory precisely because it inaugurates an infinite proliferation of possibility. On “Immaterial”, the lyrics read

You could be me and I could be you
Always the same and never the same
Day by day, life after life

Without my legs or my hair
Without my genes or my blood
With no name and with no type of story
Where do I live?
Tell me, where do I exist?

Not satisfied with this collapse, SOPHIE later affirms, triumphantly, “I could be anything I want”. The destructive force of capitalism is then harnessed when SOPHIE is able to construct a knowingly artificial identity, since artifice is all that is left. It is too strong, perhaps, to even call this an identity. SOPHIE can be whoever SOPHIE wants precisely because of the awareness that there is nothing SOPHIE can be. This point, a friend recently pointed out to me, is even more obvious when one recognises that SOPHIE did all SOPHIE could to disavow anything that attached itself to the name of the artist; such a circumscription of ‘who she was’ would destroy the whole point of what SOPHIE was doing.

But this disavowal is not just a hippy-esque claim to personal freedom, it is an affirmation of the emancipatory potential of these possibilities. One can be whatever one wants, but SOPHIE was aware that retreat into mere consumerism was not the lesson of this possibility. After expressing her disappointment that people cared about the artist’s identity, SOPHIE explains the discovery that SOPHIE’s physicality was a new mode of artistic expression. In that revelatory video, SOPHIE performs entirely bare-chested, something not possible for cisgender women on Twitter, the censoring algorithm would, of course jump on such a video immediately. And yet here SOPHIE is, with breasts, on YouTube. It still strikes me as deeply weird, in Fisher’s sense of a thing which should not be here, but in drawing attention to this weirdness SOPHIE explodes the apparent necessity of the norms of gender performance into their radical contingency. In the weirdness of the performance, SOPHIE illustrates the arbitrariness of YouTube’s algorithmic censorship, and so finds, in the very heart of modern capitalism, an escape from its rules.

When I play people SOPHIE’s music, they are usually taken aback. But it is not the pounding drums or bouncy bass-synths that do this, it’s the moments of playful pop-sincerity that seem so out of place. This is because they are out of place. Those tonalities, intended for the mainstream (though never solely appreciated there), are sonically thrown into queer nightlife, and one, again, recognises the absurd arbitrariness of the tonalities we are used to, the sounds we associate with one another. Not only are our current associations shown to be arbitrary, but other ones are shown to be present, transgressions from the Outside.

Accelerationism teaches us that fictions and mythmaking can re-describe and re-make reality such that we unlock its emancipatory potential, but for far too long have these myths drawn on the Ancient, the Eternal, looking forward to a determinate end-point at the future. We should note that SOPHIE was never really an artist, but always a myth, one that created the person SOPHIE then became, and created an aesthetic revolution in pop music while working to destroy the necessary order of things. It has never been the case that the Inside, the Mainstream has included everything, so accelerationism’s impulse to discover a postcapitalist, post-heteropatriarchal, post-white-supremacist Outside must always recognise that there is not just one way out, there are always infinite lines of escape to be discovered and followed. SOPHIE found that escape, it is now up to us to continue the project.

Rest in Power.

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