Mike Ma’s “Harassment Architecture”: A Review
“I’m too young to formulate respectable opinions of the world, so I don’t expect anyone to take me seriously. I’m rambling, and someone is listening, even if it isn’t you. That someone is either more naive than I am, or much smarter and enjoying the pompous sting.”
— Mike Ma
Harassment Architecture is one of the self-published titles you’ll find on the obscure end of political twitter. Yes, by this I mean the virtual non-space of anon-avatars and burner accounts which is as weirdly frivolous as it is strangely known to anyone that matters and even commands the attention of heads of states for its infallible instincts. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Voltaire, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer: they would all be on there with us if they were our contemporaries. I am mentioning this because Harassment Architecture is a brain-child of this same bon mot-miasma which has been massaging and deterritorialising polite society’s amygdalae for the past decade or so.
I do not exactly recall how I first encountered this book, but the cover and the evocative title immediately appealed to me. Harassment Architecture: a concise way of feeling about the world. Inside: short bits, impressionistic stream-of-consciousness ramblings of a young man casting drastic abysses between banal everyday situations and intrusive, sweaty, overboarding on-edge violent fantasies. Whatever you think, Ma is certainly thin-skinned, perhaps literally so. Perhaps, this is the mystery of all contemporary Zoomer sensibility: the accelerating dissolution of all biota slowly turning reality into a borderless interplay of unicameral psyche schizoid nightmare.
If you’re a university type who gets their book recommendation from the Guardian, you will almost certainly think this book is toxic. And no doubt you’ll find plenty of the very fashionable zoomer racism, homophobia, misogyny and other carefully calculated offenses predictably corroding Western posthistoire’s ultimate taboos.
Concretely, what we find is the mundane safety of Ma’s everyday subverted with malign thymotic mind-chatter which is as ceaseless as it is aimless. The outcome is at times hilarious, at times vapid. Commencing the book, I had to laugh out loud at the thought of the protagonist blasting “Tannhäuser” at some West-Coast traffic light to produce a minor car accident and escape the scene in a hit and run. It emanated all the stunted acceleration in the Human Zoo, universal sentiment of all of today’s young men with a bit of talent. The pace does not keep up throughout. At its worst, Ma approaches the constipated rants of the most sclerotic segments of the online right with its aphoristic absolutes and banal reductive certainties. A bit too 2016, I might say. Then again, I admit we all age horribly quickly today and constantly need to reassess our opinions in light of the ceaseless onslaught of late majorities occupying dead tropes and taking the fun out of everything. In return, Ma has enough protracted teenage angst to keep the book afloat: megatonnes of romantic longing, of cryptic unrequisited romantic interest, of overboarding disgust, giving it just enough youthful innocence so that even the Guardian crowd might forgive him one day – should he chose to sell out. Nonetheless, the book is entertaining, short-chaptered and eroticised by enough scandalous slurs to keep even the most atrophied Zoomer’s attention span at bay.
Notably, there are enough disclaimers in the book to safely distance the author from his violent fantasies, a necessary degree of separation to illustrate to the audience the author’s self-awareness which distinguishes the book from an Eliot Rodgers or Anders Breivik manifesto. But perhaps this says more about the world than about Ma. Trying to find out more about the young author, I personally found this strange and frightening anti-terrorism piece about him. I conclude that if the spook-ridden anti-terrorism establishment dedicates you a piece, it is a telltale sign that indicates that this kind of transgression is something you can barely get away with today. A punk-rock street credibility certification of sorts: “unsafe for consumption.” Then again: the now canonised-and-utterly-harmless Naked Lunch was deemed enough of a threat to national morality when it came out to be banned. Perhaps it is a contemporary illusion which makes it seem that the securitarian discourses around culture give this material a different edge, an underlying fear that the system goes full-dictatorship and authors get guantanamoed if they’re insisting too much on ambiguity. Not a good sign that the sweaty fragility of leadership becomes paranoid about every remnant of edginess put onto a hyperscaler. I suppose there is always enough well-meaning humourless people pointing out that there might be even more humourless people who might get all the wrong ideas resulting in some Metcalfe clusterfuck bringing down the Western world in a frantic spasm of apocalyptic chaos.
The reason I liked the book is that it’s violent rants and hallucinations struck me as utterly contemporary. I saw it incarnating today’s collective condition which Enzensberger a quarter of a century ago clairvoyantly called the molecular civil war: a mysterious global phenomenon spontaneously appearing in the world from Los Angeles to Kabul and manifesting itself in the decay of the public sphere and the omnipresence of a latent interpersonal violence. He writes:
“What gives today’s civil wars a new and terrifying slant is the fact that they are waged without stakes on either side, that they are wars about nothing at all. This gives them the characteristics of a political retrovirus. We have always regarded politics as a struggle between opposing interests, not only for power, for resources and for better opportunities, but also in pursuit of wishes, plans and ideas. And although this power play invariably results in bloodshed and is often unpredictable, at least the intentions of those involved are usually obvious. But where no value is attributed to life — either to one’s own life or to the lives of one’s opponents — this becomes impossible, and all political thought, from Aristotle and Machiavelli to Marx and Weber, is turned upside down. All that remains is the Hobbesian ur-myth of the war of everyone against everyone else.”
Yes, concerned Guardian columnist: This war exists in all young men. And there’s no army of social workers in the world which could solve the problem qua therapy. It’s the inevitable ennui which stems from the impossibility of politics in the 21st century, from being locked into the end of history and death of politics by global governance. In Ma, this condition finds its everyday phenomenology; a spectacle of slow-burning nihilist desperation. Every conversation is stunted, asphyxiated in its roots by the impossibility to find a commonplace against the trash heaps of accumulated niche propaganda polluting every mind with conditioned reflexes. What is the contemporary right-wing but the most violent longing for the real, itself suspended in the formless and anonymous virtual where actions are never followed by consequences. Ma’s work is the poetisation of sound instincts desperately attempting to penetrate through the clutter of this virtual, which carpet bombs the everyday with almost universal demoralisation.
Overall, I shall thus recommend Harassment Architecture. The author clearly has talent and perhaps even a Celinian lucidity. Despite its raving madness, the work is infused with a clairvoyant irate sanity that pervades it in the paranoia against a world which is all agrochemical death trap: “Fluoride in the water, hormones in the milk, gender dysmorphia in the air,” is the sober and sobering assessment describing our condition. I admit that buried under my placid exterior I still feel the same existential panic of a prison globe slowly territorialising fertility to anticipate history’s most gentle and slow dance universal genocide in the name of Malthusian elite ecology. The success of Ma’s book must be in capturing some of the ominous cultural anxiety whose inarticulate epiphenomenal desperation leaks out of all corners of the internet. If today millions identify with frogs, it is also because they are scandalised about being boiled far too quickly and obviously. The sooner we come to terms with this condition, the better. Why not buy Harassment Architecture for your teenage nephew then?
I do not know where Ma is taking it from here. I personally believe that we must refuse drowning out and deadening our sensitivity when harassed by the intrusive and omnipresent ugliness of the world. To stay alive in this regime means to use the same wild live existential panic to keep relentlessly fucking this beautiful trash world: against all odds in order to transform it. I believe Ma is doubtlessly doing his part: the only way out is to go deeper in.