McKenzie Wark
Durham: Duke University Press, 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-4780-1938-1
RRP: $15.95 (paperback)

Kim Feser

Free University of Berlin (Germany)

The cover design is reminiscent of a notebook: handwritten “Practices / Raving / McKenzie Wark” on a monochrome pink background. The small book is published in the Practices series alongside the titles Fly-Fishing, Juggling, and Running (Tomorrowing has only been announced so far, which somehow seems appropriate). The series’ website states that the volumes shall “reveal the pleasures of losing oneself in doing anything that holds sway over us, no matter how common or minor it might seem” (Duke University Press n.d.). How does Raving fit into this randomly appearing list of profane desubjectifying practices?

Raving unfolds in both detailed intimate as well as abstract theoretical passages, whereby these perspectives repeatedly transform into each other. McKenzie Wark writes in the styles of autofiction (“These things did not happen. The person to whom they did not happen is me” [4]) and autotheory (“to gather concepts from situations” [4]). Personal story fragments about raving and its entanglement with other practices—particularly social belonging, gender transition, drug use, sex and writing in bed—merge with political-theoretical thoughts on related aspects of queerness, blackness, gentrification, commodification and club culture. Six chapters, partly based on earlier published texts and lectures/performances, are written in this oscillating style. They are supplemented by a “Glossary of Concepts” (91–94), condensed paragraphs on key terms used throughout the book, including in chapter titles. The concepts are defined as “impersonal characters in the autotheory text” (93) and shall function as “resonant abstractions” (93). In addition to these impersonal characters, the book is populated by many people known by name or anonymised, often by single capital letters. Some of them are also referenced in footnotes, bibliography and notes on a collection of colour photos showing scenes from raves, festivals and clubs. Most of the personal situations described in the book happened recently in Brooklyn, New York. Additionally, there are some memories of the 1990s (including “Edward” [43], who plays a crucial role in Wark’s [2020] previous autofictional/autotheoretical book Reverse Cowgirl).

The author mentions that she was asked to write a book for the series, and therefore proposed “raving” (47). That seems to be an obvious choice: She calls herself a raver but also clarifies that her main activity is writing and lecturing. The tension between these practices is addressed in the book. At raves, the author of Raving avoids students and is avoided by them (61). She is also aware that her book might be part of “style extraction” (56, 94) if it commodifies gestures and information that emerged from raves. Such phenomena of contemporary capitalism are fundamentally criticised in Wark’s work, from A Hacker Manifesto (2004) to Capital Is Dead: Is This Something Worse? (2019). In Raving, McKenzie Wark, respectively the autofictional/autotheoretical first person writer, situates herself specifically: “The point of view will be that of this middle-aged, middle-class, white transsexual dance freak” (6). These attributes are addressed at various explicit, implicit and conceptual levels.

She has the urge to dance excessively in order to achieve a state of bodily experience beyond normative gender-specific attributions and thoughts. Consuming drugs, mostly ketamine, seems to help: “Dancing and k make it all go away!” (42) That’s how she wants to reach her goal: “A dissociative time, a transsexual time, a ketamine time” (30). This “k-time”, an immanent and not utopian temporality (no time for “tomorrowing”), is one of the book’s central concepts (92). It refers to the so called “k-hole” (30), a dissociative hallucinatory state after taking ketamine. Also, it’s situated in a critical discussion with Mark Fisher’s (aka “k-punk”) thoughts on “acid communism”. In collective “k-time” the presence of “ketamine femmunism” (30) can be experienced, as Wark writes in the “Ketamine Femmunism” chapter (based on an online lecture on Fisher for the Berlin Haus der Kulturen der Welt [House of World Cultures]). “Femmunism” (92) is described as a collective state where dominant masculinity is absent and obsolete. Wark’s cautious remark that femmunism “might mingle” with blackness (94), almost sounds manifesto-like given her general reluctance to embrace hopeful scenarios.

Wark also describes how she prepares herself before going out. How she packs her silver rave bag, how she meets lovers and close friends. How several circles of “rave friends” interact via social media and share information about upcoming events. How she enters the dance floor by herself or with others. But ravers sometimes are annoyed by stereotypical “coworkers” (91) who lack the intense desire for “k-time”, because their participation in the rave is subordinate to their work lives. Worse are the harassing “punishers”, mostly “straight, white, cis men” (92), who only attend raves for spectacle purposes. The mix of the crowd is regulated by door policy which is, along with spatial design and sound, an essential aspect of rave as a “constructed situation” (93). Due to the praxis of “reparative discrimination” (93) people “who need it most” (93) and “whose style is being extracted” (94) are given priority admission. Wark mentions that she and her transsexual friends often receive free entry or head to the locations which they can easily access. Depending on venues this works specifically for black people. Wark emphasises the background of the entire constellation in this regard: “The rave, techno, nightlife, surround: they’re all, among other things, gifts of blackness” (9).

Given the social dynamics, risks, and potentials that McKenzie Wark discusses, raving seems fundamentally different from the more individually defined practices fly-fishing, juggling and running—if that’s not a completely biased perspective of a review for a journal of electronic dance music culture. But what is the book’s contribution to a critical discourse on electronic dance music culture? The one-word title, which is due to the book series Practices, can be misleading. The book is neither a basic introduction to the practice of raving, nor a study of participant observation. As indeed the author points out, it combines a very subjective autofictional perspective with an exuberant creation of concepts. This seems inspired particularly by Deleuze/Guattari, Kathy Acker (see Wark [2021]) and Kodwo Eshun (whose praise of Raving is quoted on the back cover). The oscillation between fiction around the character “McKenzie Wark” and meaningful conceptualization, strengthened not least by the “big name” the author has made for herself through her previous relevant publications, seems to evoke rather enthusiastic approval or possibly sceptical rejection. A productive-critical reading attitude is possible, however, if the relationship between the formation of concepts and the situations described is investigated immanently. The book itselfinvites to read between the lines, to be aware of subliminal counterpoints or barely noticeable voices. To name some aspects:

The brief stories and details about raves and club culture are predominantly set in Brooklyn / New York. They are shaped by the specific conditions of gentrification and “style extraction”, the presence of coworkers and, not least, academics. In view of locally different conditions of underground and capitalization, of confining “normal” lifestyles and resistant practices, of possible contrasts between rural and urban lifestyles, the nature and goals of raves might also have to be accentuated differently.

Also, the book is permeated by the theme of age, without this being explicitly reflected in the concepts: “It’s not always easy, being a middle-aged, clockable transsexual raver” (1, see 42, 57). Based on this initial statement, and against the background of a reference to a club event for her 60th birthday (88), Wark’s discomfort and inner struggle with the demands of beauty and youthfulness become apparent.

In general, health issues seem to play a role only at the descriptive level. Physical care and mutual awareness are mentioned, but there are several instances of risky drug use, including a fatal GHB overdose (73). When it comes to inventing expressions for key concepts, however, a euphoric ketamine hype dominates.


Duke University Press. n.d. Practices. <https://www.dukeupress.edu/series/Practices>, (Accessed 17 October 2023).

Wark, McKenzie. 2004. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge: Stanford University Press.

Wark, McKenzie. 2019. Capital Is Dead: Is This Something Worse?. New York: Verso Books.

Wark, McKenzie. 2020. Reverse Cowgirl. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

Wark, McKenzie. 2021. Philosophy for Spiders: On the Low Theory of Kathy Acker. Durham: Duke University Press.