Ed Berger Under Fire: A Hellthread

Twitter has been home to more hellthreads than usual in recent weeks but we saw a milder and more productive one forged today, much like the Applied Ballardianism and Accelerationism debate, which was hellish only for being so difficult to follow.

Having spent a lot of time throwing gasoline on the more explosive hellthreads in recent weeks, Crane emerged earlier today with a monster thread that seems more in-depth and thought out, challenging Ed’s recent work on his blog.

It’s an interesting thread, for sure, although — no doubt predictably — I can’t say I agree with Crane’s position. The basis of his critique seems to be a mischaracterisation of genericised Acc positions whilst the rest of it is stuff that I’m sure most in the Acc sphere already agree with, albeit here framed as something new and antithetical to what most believe…

It’s a difficult Twitter read and so, as is somewhat customary on this blog by now as I take on the self-appointed role as cybrarian of hellthreads, here is the conversation in full for posterity along with Ed’s later responses.

(It’s also worth noting that, towards the end, Ed promises a new long-form essay due in the next issue of ŠUM so make sure you look out for that.)



a thread on the recent, brilliant, but, I think, ultimately mistaken work by

I argue Ed, like other accers, has an impoverished theory of the relation b/w (collective) knowledge & action from Fisher’s Spinozist pov. B/c of that, his acc ends bourgeoise revisionism. [1]

Pace Ed, I don’t think ‘capitalist realism’ “is wholly distinct from the sort of picture drawn by the accelerationists.” Like my disagreements with other accelerationists, I disagree with the relationship (or lack thereof) between knowledge and action in Ed’s work. [2]

Ed claims that to claim acc = capitalist realism, the claimant would have to argue for a version of voluntarism, according to which capital would be a priori subject to human intentions (and currently run by a malicious Oz-like ‘man behind the curtain’) [3]

Ed conflates voluntarism and agency. As Fisher himself says, however, voluntarism is an obstacle to agency. In this review of Bakker’s neuropath, Fisher claims even neuro-determinism could be a collectively emancipating form of knowledge. [4] In the ‘Marxist Supernanny’ conclusion to Capitalist Realism, Fisher even calls for “resuscitating the very concept of a general will,” which manifests in his other work in the notion of a ‘general intellect’ as the proletarian consciousness capable of mobilizing against capital [5] Fisher, from the Neuropath review: “Certainly, there are no a priori reasons why Malabou’s question “what should we do with our brain?” should not be answered collectively, by a General Intellect free to experiment on itself.” [6]

This stems from Fisher’s thoroughgoing Spinozism, which is lost in Ed’s reconstruction of capitalist realism. To use Deleuzian language, capitalist realism separates us from what we can do. It does this by naturalizing & setting capital at a scale beyond collective agency [7] If ‘Capitalist Realism’ (CR) as Fisher defines it is as ideological obstacle to imagining alternatives to capitalism before it destroys the world, Ed’s accelerationism is CR insofar as it’s an obstacle to imagining *collectively actionable* alternatives to capital [8] In his ‘Marxist Supernanny’ k-punk post, Fisher writes: “A mature, rational anti-capitalist politics needs to be able to think beyond the phantasms of the family, to imagine an abstract public space not embodied in the figure of a facialized individual.” [9]

Where I diverge from Ed revolves around the issue of the human, and how humanism is best overcome. Ed appears to register to Land’s capital=inhuman formula when he writes that capital can only ‘escape’ if it sheds its human face. [10] Like Fisher, however, I think this is a fundamentally mistaken eschatological picture of capitalism. Here’s Fisher in CR, disabusing us of the illusion that capital is undergoing a process of ‘purification’ to the extent that it can do without human ‘sheathing’:

“One of the problems of Land’s position is also what is most interesting about it: precisely that it posits a ‘pure’ capitalism, a capitalism which is only inhibited and blocked by extrinsic, rather than internal, elements (according to Land’s logic, these elements and atavisms that will eventually be consumed and metabolised by Capital). Yet capitalism cannot be ‘purified’ in this way; strip away the forces of anti-production and capitalism disappears with them. Similarly, there is no progressive tendency towards an ‘unsheathing’ of capitalism, no gradual unmasking of Capital as it ‘really’ is: rapacious, indifferent, inhuman. On the contrary, the essential role of the ‘incorporeal transformations’ effectuated by PR, branding and advertising in capitalism suggests that, in order to operate effectively, capitalism’s rapacity depends upon various forms of sheathing.” [11]

In a discussion about Spinoza, Fisher writes, “The personal is something that needs to be decoded. You can’t leap out to the impersonal. […] [But] [t]hat’s something that is only decided by the continued activity of desubjectization of the group” [12] desubjectization & depersonalization are inseparable from engagement in collective intelligence – which, for Spinoza, means collective action and social/political organization. Fisher: “it’s a collective machine that needs to be continually built […]” [13] What Ed and other accers want when they aspire to depersonalization without social construction is what Fisher calls (in the above) the mistaken belief “that you can just leap out to reason without undertaking such decoding.” [14]

Despite Fisher’s acknowledgment that ‘baboonery’ (humanist enthusiasm) will inevitably be involved in trying to build collective agency, he defines ‘dogmatism’ as being able to distinguish the means from the end of emancipation. [15] Fisher commits to harnessing ‘human’ social organization for effecting a becoming-inhuman through group activity: “Finally, however, we have to recognize that, on Spinoza’s account, the best interests of the human species coincide with becoming-inhuman.” [16]  Further, Fisher’s ‘dogmatism’ likewise recognizes the nonsensical claims that capital can be undone by its own inertia because of the ‘difference’ it produces (following Badiou) or ‘cut-up’ it achieves (re: Ballard’s advantage over Burroughs). Atomization humanizes individuals. [17]

Paradoxically, Ed’s ‘affirmations of the inevitable’ as theoretical achievements divorced from collective agency leads to a stoic interiority with the power only to affirm or deny. Different from the disempowered ‘neurotic’ subject Fisher talks abt, but just as capital-compatible [18]

“Kapitalism requires you to identify with yourself as ‘the subject of loss’, the crippled neurotic who lacks the power to act, sentimentally attached to an interiority which was never there. Theism has retreated, not vanished. The conviction that there is a Factor X, some inexplicably, ineffable residue over and above genetics, neurology and social coding that makes you you — this is the ‘soul superstition’ that Nietzsche rightly excoriated. It is the belief that the human is ultimately explicable in biographical and personal terms which Cold Rationalism emphatically rejects, maintaining, rather, that the personal and the biographical are only explicable in machinic and impersonal terms.” [via]

As Fisher says in his lecture on Land + Lyotard, the ‘machinic’ model of desire means it is inherently social and manipulable for the sake of social/political construction. Hence his talk on creating class consciousness [19]

Fisher defines COMMUNIST REALISM as a plebianization of economics-speak, a demystification of the market-place (including, no doubt, the acc mystifications of capital-as-omnipotent-agent) for the sake of creating class consciousness (which, through Spinoza, = class action) [20]

“Of particular importance, it seems to me, is the popular demystification of economics and ‘the economy’. The austerity myth has only seemed credible because of a widespread economic illiteracy — an illiteracy I very much share. Economics functions now much as theology functioned in the medieval world — as an intricate and elaborate system of concepts, objects and reasoning that is closed to non-initiates. We need something like a Reformation in/and against capitalist economics — the equivalent of the Bible being translated into English. I think this could be done, not bu a series of large-scale conferences, televisions, or films — although of course these wouldn’t hurt — but virally. Small groups of people, including at least one individual who is an expert in economics, could get together and talk through some key concepts and principles, major economic events, etc. This could take place in private homes, in universities and colleges, in social clubs … in addition to everything else, this would also serve the function of reviving sociality, of re-building a class consciousness that has been dissipated by the individualising tendencies of neoliberalism and communicative capitalism.”

For Fisher, the human capacity to become-inhuman through social construction and political engagement with other humans is nothing other than our capacity to be inhuman – that is, our capacity to use reason. [21] if Ed rejects reason as our capacity to enter into greater scales of collective agency through collective intelligence, he could very well fall into one of Fisher’s various ‘fascisms’ (psychedelic fascism / sur-fascism[22]

In a passage from Lenin I’m trying to track down, Lenin says that bourgeois economists never had trouble admitting class struggle was the motor of social history. Therefore, what distinguished booj econs from Marxists was in their rejection of the rev agency of the proles. [23] Mao’s def of revisionism is the denial of the necessity for class struggle to bring down the bourgeoisie, for the proles to be the revolutionary agent effecting this downfall. [24] Through Lenin & Mao, I think Ed’s position in the ‘Land as anti-cap’ pieces is bourgeois revisionism. Following Gouldner, acc’s “Nightmare Marxism” is just the claim that the bourgeoisie were the real revolutionaries the whole time [25]

Ed comes in with a divergence after Tweet #10:

Yo Crane, can only offer a brief reply at the moment but just wanted to point out that I don’t think capital can unsheath itself from the human element – ‘autonomization’ in Landian language is more properly understood, in the breakdown sketched by Marx [1] 

Also it’s not so much that I think acceleration is CR – there’s a division we can draw between a technical tendency (rate of change and elements clustered to that) and the ideological portraits of capitalism that appear at different stages of development [2]

Crane responds:

To the first point: apologies if you think I misattributed that to you, but I took it to be consonant with your position in the first Land as anti-cap post about capital only escaping on the condition it loses its human sheath (& thereby, in your account, ceases to be capitalism) [1]

To the second: I don’t think we can draw that distinction so neatly. I take it that the Marxist critique of bourgeois science (Lenin/Lukacs/etc) goes after reification of the descriptive vocab of “tendencies” such that they’re situated at a scale unreachable by social agency [2] As if the ‘scientific’ elaboration and description of tendencies was not already motivated by the potential benefit of this knowledge for social purposes [3]

Crane then adds a clarification to his first point:

For clarification, I don’t think the self-abolition of capitalism (through intrinsic tendencies or w/e) is the equivalent of the self-abolition of the proletariat, which wages class struggle to end all class etc. [1]

Ed:

fwiw I don’t think they are equivalent either, but I do think that they are intimately related. Furthermore, I think this is evident in Marx’s own writings and as something that supercedes the supposed young Marx/old Marx divide. [1]

What Land refers to as the autonomization of capital indexes, on the one side, the increasing penetration of productive forces by scientific and technical knowledge, and on the other, the breakdown of the law of value (portending the obsolescence of the marketplace) [2] The particular claim about Land isn’t that he is himself anti-capitalist (he’s not), but that the argumentative structure and the data-points he draws upon flips into the Marxian schema for how the capitalist mode of production ‘blows sky-high’, to paraphrase the Grundrisse [3]

The question of class struggle enters at precisely this point: the approach to the real historical limit of capital is opening of the communist possibility space, which is founded upon the annihilation of the reactionary and regressive shackles and the affirmation of progressive, [4] liberatory forces.

Now, I do put a high emphasis on the importance of capital in my reading of Marx (which admittedly is influenced by Postone, who takes a different route in many respects from Lukacs), but I’ll own that (and insist against booj collaboration, but I [5] understand if this gets me the wall someday) [6]

Here the fragmentations start in earnest so here are Crane’s responses to the various comments above collected together in a way that is (hopefully) more readable. (If things are unclear, click on the bracketed numbers to see the original tweets in their proper context.) Crane responds:

I agree. this is where there’s a real ambiguity in Marx (both young & old). I think overemphasis on the self-abolition of capital makes certain arguments in Marx compatible with bourgeoise revisionism if they’re taken apart from his idea of the rev prole collective agent [1]

if the penetration of productive forces by scientific & technical knowledge doesn’t take the form of plebianizing tech/scientific literacy to the effect of increasing collective powers of action, I don’t think it dodges my crit [2]

In response to Ed’s tweet on the question of class struggle, the thread diverges once again. Crane writes:

This is a point of divergence I think. I don’t think Landian autonomization as far as I understand it is that sort of opening of communist possibility space – not unless it has unique status as a class consciousness imparting event [1]

Ed:

Yeah I do think that class consciousness is essential in actualizing that possibility space, and in that sense my position is pretty different from earlier more purely ‘mechanical’ takes, in that I’ve gone from the breakdown of collective action to seeing it as possible in [1] certain forms and in particular conditions. I haven’t written much on it cuz I’ve been trying to finish up a very different kind of project so my headspace has been elsewhere, but got a piece coming out soon in Sum that deals with this. [2] It draws on a lot of the Fisher that you’re using here, actually! [3]

Crane:

Hell yeah, I’m excited to read it [1]

An amicable end to a really interesting thread. We don’t get many of those these days. However, if you’re remiss of the usual cursed ending, you can also follow-up on Ed’s divergence with Miraculate but the less said about them the better…

Advertisements

One thought on “Ed Berger Under Fire: A Hellthread

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s