In lieu of my grumpy U/Acc post from the other day about accelerationist misconceptions, I thought I’d throw together a reading list of easily accessible and recent online resources — with commentary — for people who want to see for themselves just how much writing there is that counters (or straight up ignores) the persistent “gotta go fast” argument of a lot of recent interlocutors.
I don’t intend to start in the deep end here. The idea is to chart, as succinctly as possible, one trajectory that covers the last five years. But that will nonetheless involve going over Accelerationism’s core observations before exploring what U/Acc specifically brings to the table — spoilers: they’re not that different from one another — but if you are new to all of this and looking for more of a comprehensive introduction, you’re still best starting off with Urbanomic’s comprehensive reader, #Accelerate.
Published in 2014, #Accelerate starts with some ur-texts from Marx and others; jumps to texts in orbit of 1968 from Deleuze, Firestone, Lyotard; speeds through Land and the CCRU; and then ends with a load of post-CCRU missives from the early accelerosphere’s core contributors. It also comes with a genius Robin Mackay introduction, whose compression skills are unmatched. Suffice it to say, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
What I think is interesting about #Accelerate now is that it tees accelerationism up for all the various offshoots it has sped off in since — neoreaction, neorationalism, xenofeminism, to pick just three seemingly unrelated discourses that have grown out of accelerationist discussions and which have largely come into their own in the aftermath of the Urbanomic reader’s publication.
#Accelerate is, in this sense, a suitably swift shot fired through the jungle, connecting with many disparate but resonant thoughts. However, many more have accumulated since its publication. In light of that, I want to share and discuss some relatively recent online essays that I’d recommend starting with if you want to — in the apparent spirit of things — get up to date fast.
But not too fast… As ever with this sort of thing, it’s long, perhaps defeating the purpose of offering up something digestible, but the extensive commentary here is necessary, I think. My intention with it is to show how each of the different posts, essays and articles selected here paint a very different picture of accelerationism than the one a lot of people think they know. Reading them on their own will do this in itself, I hope, but just to be on the safe side, I’m leaving no point unconnected from the one which precedes it. This level of caution feels necessary because, I must admit, I’ve been astounded this week by how poor an understanding of accelerationism so many people have, including people who actively identity themselves as some sort of “accelerationist”! But this, too, is no new trend…
— Vincent Garton, “Excavating the Origins of Accelerationism“
— Pete Wolfendale, “So, Accelerationism, What’s All That About?“
What is interesting about the texts that appear here or in #Accelerate is that they draw on the entire history of philosophy. Part of what is difficult about accelerationism — no doubt leading to misunderstandings — is that it doesn’t like being pinned down. This isn’t a purposive elusiveness but rather it describes a tendency that has always been with us. Vince Garton explains this best when he writes:
To trace the genealogy of accelerationism is thus fraught with problems. On the most superficial level, accelerationism has existed for about a decade. At its unspoken core, it is impossibly ancient. Different focuses will yield wildly divergent results. No doubt an article on ‘accelerationism’ in some distant future edition of the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe would take care to highlight the term’s formulation by [Benjamin] Noys, having traced the concern with ‘acceleration’ through obvious references back to Deleuze and Guattari, and from there to Nietzsche. It would look to the term’s adoption and disavowal by different groups on left and right in the mid to late 2010s. As an exercise in etymology this would be interesting enough; as a genealogical investigation it would be disastrous. Accelerationism is not a specific reading of Nietzsche any more than capitalism is a reading of Smith. A Marxian accelerationist does not need to have read a single page of A Thousand Plateaus to remain an accelerationist. Similar conclusions — similar sentiments — have been expressed from traditions seemingly almost entirely unaware of each other.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is best not to think of accelerationism, in the first instance, as a set of ideas at all. [Nick] Land has described what he terms ‘libidinal materialism’ as more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines. Accelerationism is not identical with libidinal materialism, but the same observation seems abundantly to apply to it. With the appropriate historical sensibility, modulations of accelerationism soon well up in widely divergent contexts, all over the world, advancing along the storm-front of industrial capitalism. It emerges as a sensation of the acceleration characteristic of modernity itself, expressed in different ways by Marx, Hirato, Baudrillard, and plenty others. The drive to posit this expression in specifically philosophical form is perhaps peculiarly influenced by Western tradition. The sensation itself is not.
Accelerationism is, in this sense, nothing more than a view of modernity — the very feeling of modernity, even. This is, of course, a vast oversimplification too but it is a better one than “gotta go fast”.
It’s very difficult to find out where exactly this “gotta go fast” argument came from. Did it come from Benjamin Noys? He was the one who coined the term “accelerationism” as an insult, a joke, and it was apparently Mark Fisher who reclaimed it and turned it around. I think the jury is still out on whether this was a good idea or not. Accelerationism is a wonderfully vague carrier to give a para-academic home to this “jangling of the nerves” but Noys’ petulance — which I’ve never understood, coming from a supposed Bataillean — has nevertheless remained attached to it.
This wholly inaccurate simplification is, because of this, as old as accelerationism itself, but — we might do well to note — so are corrections to the contrary. For instance, whilst writing this primer I found an old blog post by Pete Wolfendale which contained paragraphs as exasperated as my own from the other day, and Pete’s post was written four years ago!
He starts by quoting from a review of the Urbanomic reader written by Malcolm Harris for The New Inquiry called “Turn Down For What?” — giving it an immediate “how do you do, fellow kids” vibe. Harris writes, apparently attempting to summarise the book’s view of the universe:
Capitalism reduces the cost of being alive to a minimum, but just to shrink the worker’s slice as the pie grows. Eventually through this process “it becomes evident” that the owners are parasites, and the expropriated expropriate the expropriators. If all this is the case, then it logically follows that we shouldn’t be trying to slow the expropriation down, but rather we should attempt to speed the system toward its inevitable doom. This dynamic is the premise for the collection #Accelerate, new from the radically odd publisher Urbanomic.
A palpably frustrated Pete adds:
As Alex Williams has noted before, this is not a position that anyone has ever held. Okay, let’s qualify that a bit. It might be the case that some people have held this position, and that some of them now even think of themselves as ‘accelerationists’. So let’s limit it to the claim that it is not a position that anyone in the #Accelerate reader has ever held.
Not even Nick Land? No. Not even Nick Land. He likes capitalism. He wants to accelerate it, but not because it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. What about Deleuze and Guattari? No. According to them ‘nothing has ever died of contradictions’, and so whatever deterritorialising force they aim to accelerate, and whatever end they aim to accelerate it towards, neither is a contradiction or its inevitable collapse. What about Srnicek and Williams? No. Much of what they do can be seen as breaking with D&G (and a fortiori with Land), and returning to a much more Marxist position, but they explicitly refuse to see the transition between capitalism and post-capitalism as a dialectical sublation brought about by the intensification of contradictions.
Well, what about Marx then?! Just how much Marx is invested in a substantive notion of contradiction as the metaphysical driving force of history is a question up for debate, and I’m not about to stumble into that particular hermeneutic hornets’ nest. Nevertheless, it’s clear that even if we take the strongest historical determinist (e.g., dialectical-materialist) reading of Marx we can find, he would still reject the inference from the claim that the increasing self-evidence of capitalist parasitism will bring about the expropriation of expropriation all on its own to the claim that we should therefore attempt to ‘speed the system towards its inevitable doom’.
None of these canonical figures, and nobody else within the collection, wants inevitable doom (although, admittedly, Nick Land’s vision might look like this to everyone but him). Indeed, the emerging left-accelerationist strand is motivated by a recognition that capitalism will not auto-destruct once the mask slips, on the one hand (see the incredible retrenchment of neoliberalism after the 2008 financial crisis), and a recognition that we need to plan and act to avoid inevitable doom, on the other (e.g., environmental crisis, economic crisis, cultural crisis, etc.). So, just to repeat: accelerationism is not about accelerating the contradictions of capitalism in any sense. Whatever is being accelerated, and there are severe and significant disagreements about this, it is not contradictions, and whatever transition this acceleration aims towards, it is not societal collapse. Got that? Can we move on? Good.
So, with that being said, where should we start…?
— Wikipedia: “Accelerationism“
I know — fuckin’ “lol” — but, as Nick Land rightly notes in an article we’ll talk about in a minute, the Accelerationism Wikipedia page is “short, but of exceptionally high quality”. Whether this is still true, I’m not sure. [Update 05/2020: This is definitely no longer true.] Wikipedia’s own disclaimer is also worth taking heed of — they acknowledge the article “may be too technical for most readers to understand.” I think this is less to do with the technical nature of the article and more to do with its intensive stratification; its implicit layering of various positions on top of one another into something less cohesive than it seems to think it is.
Whether it helps with our understanding or not, the Accelerationism Wikipedia page is worth picking apart if only to reveal just how flattened this awkward genealogy has nonetheless become. For example, it is worth noting that the article’s introductory paragraph contains three separate views of accelerationism and, in an inspired bit of Wiki editing, the “gotta go fast” school of accelerationist critic is mentioned last.
The key sentence, for me, is the middle one:
Some contemporary accelerationist philosophy starts with the Deleuzo-Guattarian theory of deterritorialisation, aiming to identify, deepen, and radicalise the forces of deterritorialisation with a view to overcoming the countervailing tendencies that suppress the possibility of far-reaching social transformation.
We’ll discuss what exactly “deterritorialisation” is in a moment but it is here that we see the impetus behind the fevered splitting which has defined accelerationism as it has appeared in the last few years.
Amusingly, this sentence does come with the superscript caveat [Clarificiation Needed]. The difficulty of providing this clarification pulls in two directions, however. First of all, it is telling that the suggestion here is that this is a starting point for “some” — this has always been the foundation, as far as I am aware, but much work has since chosen to ignore it in favour of other (more superficial) readings — but what is more challenging is summarising what all these social transformations may consist of or pragmatically entail. The answers to this remain largely up for debate.
So, what we are left with is a tendency for complication and a tendency for simplification each pulling in the opposite direction. Hence why we have an alphabet of accelerationisms — L/Acc; R/Acc; G/Acc; Bl/Acc; Z/Acc, et al. — all of which are either immanent explorations of this central point about deterritorialisation or they focus instead on naming the social transformations that are relevant to a specific demographic within this process — for instance, how those demographics and the burgeoning subjects they contain are central to, exemplary of or most affected by the processes described by accelerationism in itself. (More on that later too.)
Unconditional Accelerationism is intended to be the overarching theory here. Many of these variants are interesting and important but we have to acknowledge the fact that they place “conditions” on accelerationism, and so U/Acc attempts to consider the process that grounds them all, without condition.
— Mark Fisher: “Postcapitalist Desire“
— Nick Land: “A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Accelerationism“
So, why is U/Acc necessary? Why did it emerge when it did and for what purpose? What are its observations?
We’ll touch on all of these questions, I hope, as we proceed but in order to talk about this I think it’s first worth pointing to these two essays by Mark Fisher and Nick Land, linked above.
Neither of these texts are foundational. In fact, they’re relatively recent. They are, instead, two introductions written by two key CCRUers who consider where Accelerationism has come from and, most importantly, where they think it might (or should) go in the future. Read together today, they are two very prescient texts written by two writers with their fingers firmly on the pulse.
Fisher’s essay is characteristically great and it is a text that I have always thought of as a lost Acid Communism text — it is, at the very least, an account of the negative inspiration for that now unfinished book.
I quoted from “Postcapitalist Desire” in the previous post as it contains what I think is the best and most concise overall summary of the accelerationist project, echoing the previously quoted and more condensed Wikipedia fragment. He writes:
Capitalism is a necessarily failed escape from feudalism, which, instead of destroying encastement, reconstitutes social stratification in the class structure. It is only given this model that Deleuze and Guattari’s call to “accelerate the process” makes sense. It does not mean accelerating any or everything in capitalism willy-nilly, in the hope that capitalism will thereby collapse. Rather, it means accelerating the processes of destratification that capitalism cannot but obstruct.
This is notable because, whilst Fisher is generally seen as the sort of (grand)father — or foster dad, maybe, I don’t know, whatever — of Left-Accelerationism (L/Acc), having mentored Srnicek and Williams (and being PhD supervisor to the latter if I recall correctly), this essay considers Land’s persistent legacy and perhaps inadvertent influence over an anticapitalist (or, rather, for Fisher, a postcapitalist) accelerationism that has emerged in the last decade or so.
Whilst it disagrees with Land’s apparently anti-Marxist texts, it nevertheless champions them for the way they demonstrate the challenges that the left has to face if it is going to survive the near-future. We can summarise these challenges as follows:
- The left must counter the assumption that capitalism has the monopoly on desire;
- The left must address the contradictions between its calls for revolution and its “political and formal-aesthetic conservatism”;
- The left must recognise the terrain on which politics now operates as being largely technological, with said technologies being more and more embedded within everyday life.
These challenges point to what are outdated, misguided and left-melancholic visions of a world which must be overcome. Fisher argues, persistently, that some aspects of capitalism — indeed, some of its major mechanisms — can work in the left’s favour if it figures out how best to channel them — note not “seizing” them but rather diminishing their monopoly on certain affects.
Credit where due, the left has made considerable headway towards deconstructing these principles in more recent years — particularly in the aftermath of his death, most tragically — with Fisher’s 1st and 3rd points being addressed more and more publicly, particularly in the UK in 2017. No.3, however, seems to have become a central L/Acc tenet at the expense of the other two points raised. (For more on this point, see: Mark’s essay / talk “Touchscreen Capture“.)
No. 2, specifically, remains maligned. It is, in minced words, a call for a new appreciation of outsideness. It is pointing to the same advice accelerationist-adjacent discourses have been advocating for decades:
Head for the outside of your present mindset, over-influenced as it is by that which you say you oppose, and do it by latching onto the internal death drive of the system itself.
Land’s essay, too, is perhaps uncharacteristically clear and lucid (contrasting his better-known hallucinogenic mode found in “Circuitries” and “Machinic Desire”, his essential accelerationist texts — both found in Fanged Noumena and the former also being available in #Accelerate).
Here, in his quick-and-dirty intro, Land articulates the same advice, in favour of deterritorialisation, as invoked by Fisher and as found in the collaborative work of Deleuze and Guattari. He writes:
For accelerationism the crucial lesson was this: A negative feedback circuit — such as a steam-engine ‘governor’ or a thermostat — functions to keep some state of a system in the same place. Its product, in the language formulated by French philosophical cyberneticists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, is territorialization. Negative feedback stabilizes a process, by correcting drift, and thus inhibiting departure beyond a limited range. Dynamics are placed in the service of fixity — a higher-level stasis, or state. All equilibrium models of complex systems and processes are like this. To capture the contrary trend, characterized by self-reinforcing errancy, flight, or escape, D&G coin the inelegant but influential term deterritorialization. Deterritorialization is the only thing accelerationism has ever really talked about.
Before we proceed, first, we should clarify our terms:
Territorialisation can be understood — literally (for now) — as the process of constituting a territory. Territory, here, should be thought of as a process in itself rather than a fixed land mass. It is the process by which a state or ruler establishes and maintains their domain of rule and influence. To quote Stuart Elden, whose new book I’ve been reading for a future patchwork post:
Territory is not a product, but a process, formed by a range of practices and techniques, including bordering, dividing, conquering, excluding, enclosing, controlling, surveying, and mapping. In order to understand territory, we need to move beyond the simplistic definition, and to examine multiple registers — political and geographical issues certainly, but also economic, strategic, legal, and technical concerns. This is a means of grasping the complexities of how territory has been understood and practiced in different ways in diverse times and places.
Territorialisation, then, in explicitly DeleuzoGuattarian terms, is this same process abstracted and laid over subjectivity. Capitalism itself resonates with such a view of this process and it should be understood as operating across both scales. It is far more than an economic system and this is increasingly more apparent. Indeed, we can argue that, today, it is the internal engine of the territorial process in itself, with capitalist territorialisation shaping minds as thoroughly as it moulds nation-states. So, just as Fisher infers in the above quote, capitalism’s development is key to understanding accelerationism.
A quick (and no doubt flawed) summary:
Just as under a feudal system, where a subject must work for the benefit of a landowner in order to “enjoy” certain rights and protections, the modern worker is locked in a similar mentality of servitude in return for the basic means to exist. Whilst the dissolution of feudalism consolidated power away from feudal lords and over to the head of a nation-state, its labour dynamics nonetheless remain as the primary source of productive power at various scales — it’s Marx’s concept of “primitive accumulation” and the source of Fisher’s assessment of a “failed escape”.
Aware of the fragility of its own position, however, the system implements countless failsafes, whereby the territory appears fluid and adaptive to its constant internal changes. Concessions may be made whilst other elements are heavily enforced. The wavering boundaries of the territory, dangled in front of us like a carrot, simply offer up the illusion of the new without providing it — producing what Fisher once called a state of “frenzied stasis”. Indeed, the illusion of contingency within the system is allowed to proliferate just enough so that the overarching structure is stabilised. This is also what Land already describes above.
So, whilst capitalism allows for some instances of deterritorialisation — that is, instances of territorial dismantling — it uses these instances as moments to refresh, reconsolidate and strengthen itself, by still “inhibiting departure beyond a limited range.” In this way, perhaps capitalism can be thought of as a muscle — it rips and tears and flexes but only so that the arm itself becomes stronger — and capitalism is certainly the strong arm of the state. This process was what D+G referred to as “reterritorialisation.”
Reterritorialisation, then, is the daily workout of the body politic. It likes to challenge itself… But only so much.
However, there are arguments to be made that say, given its age, the system is not recovering from these workouts as well as it used to, explaining our current set of circumstances.
But even if this were true, this process of reterritorialisation is particularly evident today. Simply think back to ten years ago and the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, or even two years ago and the atmosphere surrounding the election of Trump or the Brexit referendum. There was palpable the-end-is-nigh fear and times-they-are-a-changin’ excitement about where the world was heading. So many events felt unprecedented and it seemed like major change was not on the horizon but right in front of us.
Now what do we have? Retrenched neoliberalism. More of the same. Trump and Brexit, in particular, have only served to exacerbate the system’s internal workings, like a snake biting off way more than it can chew, bulging grotesquely, illuminating its stretched limits, but digesting it all the same and remaining structurally in tact.
Deterritorialisation, then, can be understood as the process of dismantling, attacking and exiting the overarching influence and rule of imposed social structures.
We will come back to this notion of “deterritorialisation” again, but for now it is worth emphasising that what people hope to achieve here, by siding with this process, is the radically new; an outsideness; a move beyond this cloistered realm of present stasis. Not just “something a bit different”, but a wholesale shift in how we think about the structure of our reality.
People nonetheless have very particular opinions on what the world can or should look like after this point, but the arguments are largely speculative, precisely because we must first recognise the extent to which our visions of the future are informed by the system we are encased with. This, again, echoes Fisher’s Capitalist Realism argument, but also his burgeoning Acid Communist thought, which hoped to invoke “psychedelia” as a vision of communism which was wholly disjointed from capitalist expectations and propaganda.
Whilst outsideness is worth focusing on here as something (that should be) central to all Accelerationist projects, we must also contend with the fact that it is something that has become almost wholly associated with Land in the minds of many casual interlocutors — no doubt due to his @Outsideness Twitter handle and Xenosystems blog title, “Outside In”. However, as he rightly points out above, accelerationism has never concerned itself with anything else. Srnicek and Williams, even, end their L/Acc Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics with the proclamation that the “future must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside.”
To concede “ownership” of the certain names of these processes and concepts is misguided, I personally think, and it is often to counter the attacks of resentocrats and vampires. (An anecdotal case in point: I know someone who got called a “fascist” once just for wearing one of these.) The left jumps semantic ships because of this constantly, sometimes to its detriment but sometimes to shield against reductive readings. I’ve written about this before — why Fisher writes on “egress” instead of “exit”, for instance. But the detrimental results are the ones which reverberate most disappointingly, having a very real impact on thought and praxis. For instance, as Land rightly goes on to note in his essay, L/Acc has largely lost this outside orientation because “Left-accelerationism appears to have deconstructed itself back into traditional socialist politics.” And this has been done, primarily, through not wanting to share a vocabulary with undesirables. Land, however, does conveniently fail to mention R/Acc here, but that is an interesting story in itself.
There is a common (if misleading) argument used by U/Accers, in this regard, which is that U/Acc is R/Acc as Land initially intended it. That is not to side with R/Acc as many know of it online, however. If L/Acc clipped its own wings by dropping the philosophy and moving into the cloistered world of government lobbying — as I’ve heard Srnicek and/or Williams have quite literally done — then R/Acc and its Twitter interlocutors have moved in a similarly impotent direction.
This is a tendency already foreseen by Land on his NRx blog, Xenosystems, and this blog could be considered, in some ways, to be an explicit and compensatory response to L/Acc’s burgeoning technosocialism. R/Acc, however, unlike its “left-wing” counterpart, has always sought to maintain a loose separation between its Accelerationist philosophy and its neoreactionary political wing.
R/Acc has always been a bad name, in this regard, but C/Acc — for “capitalist accelerationism” — isn’t that flattering an abbreviation. This is because R/Acc writings typically describe a process whilst NRx offers up a political trajectory which will accelerate towards the gaps, the outsides to our present that the analysis of this process in itself reveals and may allow for. This is achieved, controversially, by rejecting many of the political foundations that contemporary politics holds dear but such is the nature of outsideness — it means being outside more things than many you’re comfortable with; it is precisely a move beyond your theoretical and political comfort zone. But things are not so simple as this. All that is important to note here is this explicit separation between philosophical observation and political action. This is not to eject either but to understand them as being complementary but nonetheless distinct modes of thought. This is U/Acc’s manoeuvre also.
What is worth emphasising here though, is the further delineation Land offers on his NRx blog, of a type which is totally alien to any left-wing discourses: NRx’s Inner and Outer variants.
— Nick Land, “Outsideness“
There are a number of early Xenosystems posts that I think are essential reading for anyone interested in U/Acc but “Outsideness” is my personal favourite as it is astoundingly prescient in articulating the errors that have undermined recent neoliberal triumphs: Brexit and Trump.
Here, Land writes of an Inner and an Outer NRx:
For the inner faction, a firmly consolidated core identity is the central ambition. […] Inner-NRx, as a micro-culture, models itself on a protected state, in which belonging is sacred, and boundaries rigorously policed.
Outer-NRx, defined primarily by Exit, relates itself to what it escapes. It is refuge and periphery, more than a substitute core. It does not ever expect to rule anything at all (above the most microscopic level of social reality, and then under quite different names). The Patchwork is for it a set of options, and opportunities for leverage, rather than a menu of potential homes. It is intrinsically nomad, unsettled, and micro-agitational. Its culture consists of departures it does not regret. (While not remotely globalist, it is unmistakably cosmopolitan — with the understanding that the ‘cosmos’ consists of chances to split.) […]
The Outside is the ‘place’ of strategic advantage. To be cast out there is no cause for lamentation, in the slightest.
Here, exit is understood as being achieved via a detour to the right rather than wholly based on right-wing principles. And yet, on Twitter, you’d be forgiven for wondering if any Outer-NRx people exist anymore (or have ever). The tragic irony of this set-up and its shitpost phase-shift to Twitter is that the acolytes Land has attracted over the years have generally doubled down on what is an inherently Inner-NRx orientation, oblivious to the larger project. Land, in many ways, remains the only consistent R/Acc Outer-NRx voice in the blogosphere — note “blogosphere” rather than “on Twitter” where boomer shitposting undermines more formal explorations of his own ideas.
In light of this, Benjamin Noys’ pithy critique of Land’s position as a “Deleuzian Thatcherism” comes to mind — which is funny if not that accurate (it’s as useful as pointing out Ballard had Thatcherite tendencies — it sort of misses the point — which we discussed on the blog once already) — but, indeed, it resonates more the older Land gets and the more he seems to act his age on social media.
Nevertheless, the online U/Acc contingent, when it began, was largely Outer-NRx sympathetic — and largely remains so — causing persistent consternation amongst readers but, in truth, it remains sympathetic to any “Outer”-oriented politics. It’s just unfortunate that L/Acc discourse was too stunted in the post-2010 moment to develop a sense of its own internal dynamics that was as nuanced as this.
This blog, in particular, thinks of itself as “Outer-Left” in being fundamentally anti-statist and, despite anti-statism being common to many left-wing discourses, it has always been telling that talk of a communism which emphasises this point upsets people and leads to socialists calling you a “crypto-fascist” — and, predictably, calling them “Inner-Left” probably won’t calm many nerves but that’s where I personally stand.
It is perhaps because of this that the very concept of “outsideness” has fallen into diluted disrepute on the left more broadly — exacerbated, in the UK at least, by the utter failure to conjure an interesting conversation out of the Brexit debate.
— Jehu, “Clever Monkey versus the Accelerationists (1)“
This friction between an “Inner” and “Outer” Accelerationism from the left is encapsulated best, I think, by Jehu’s final posts on his Pogo Principle blog, right before he scrapped it and moved out to The Real Movement.
These posts are interesting because, whilst Accelerationism is their primary focus, it is introduced as a wholly new topic for Jehu. He’d been called an accelerationist and so decided to check out the literature and instead finds himself reading / listening to Benjamin Noys and finding very little to admire.
The above point about anti-statism is key to this post as what Jehu takes issue with most fundamentally is Noys’ equivalence between neoliberal “small government” politics and a more decidedly Marxist abolitionism — what Noys called “state phobia”. Jehu writes:
In place of a purely moral critique of capitalism, Noys wants to provide us with a purely ideological critique of the capitalist state. The state is capitalist not because it is the ideal representative of the interest of capital but because it has been captured by ideologues. This is the real reason Noys is so dismissive of accelerationism — not because it can be dismissed, but because he must dismiss it. Landian accelerationism posits a state that is absolutely indifferent to BOTH classes, because it operates directly as the capitalist. For this state, the proletarians are merely a source of surplus value, while the bourgeois class are entirely superfluous altogether. In a relevant passage, Noys states: “In a provocative series of formulations Foucault argues that this ‘state phobia’ permeates modern thought…”
This “state phobia”, says Noys, can be found in the writings of Debord and Marcuse as well as in Sombart. This “state phobia”, he warns, leaves us “vulnerable” to neoliberalist ideology and these writers are simply bending to a long-standing anti-statist wind. Of course, this anti-statist wind appears, first, not in post-war Germany, but in the German Ideology as the communist consciousness of the proletariat — the consciousness of a class of individuals who, in order to assert themselves as individuals, must overthrow the State.
This, of course, is a formulation Noys would not recognize even if someone dropped the fucking book on his head. You really have to mark what fucking Noys is doing here: the communist consciousness of the working class, which is the consciousness of a need for a fundamental revolution, the abolition of the state and a society founded on voluntary association, is here redefined by Noys as a mere “state-phobic” bourgeois ideology. The effort is nothing if it is not the most brazen fucking attempt to redefine an entire historical epoch in favor of a Marxist dead end.
Here we see the vision of the capitalist state and a critique of Academic Marxist discourses which U/Acc explicitly operates with, viewing the capitalist state as that which “is absolutely indifferent to BOTH classes, because it operates directly as the capitalist.” This is often dismissed as a preposterous thinking that imagines capital as an autonomous entity, and whilst it does lend itself to some fun sci-fi thinking when simplified to this extent, the suggestion here is rather that the state and capital are a productive machine in themselves.
(Ed Berger’s blog is a veritable treasure trove of writing around these points and his absence from this list is something I regret but this is down to nothing other than not knowing which post to pick. Go read it all.)
Jehu goes on to address this further in his post — and it’s a brilliant two-parter so I recommend reading the rest of it — but what I want to focus on here, in explicit relation to our brief discussions of deterritorialisation and the rethinking of political subjects is the gap that Jehu leaves open here between the states and the proletariat / bourgeoisie.
If capitalism is indifferent to the classes stratified for its accumulative production then we seemed to be left with a missing subject of accelerationism…
— Simon O’Sullivan: “The Missing Subject of Accelerationism“
Where I think U/Acc emerges from, in light of the scrum of various ?/Accs in the early 2010s, is in orbit of this essay from Simon O’Sullivan. This is not to say that it is an explicit influence — I’m not sure how many people are familiar with it — but I do think it asks questions that we now see many U/Acc interlocutors attempting to address and answer.
If being born into a capitalist system inevitably shapes our view of the world but it is a world that is effectively indifferent to us then many accelerationist thinkers have sought to give a name to a newly emergent subject. This is true, I think, across the political spectrum — with a new subject being either radically new or the affirmation of a “classic” (read: mythical) subject from an earlier point in capitalism’s development.
The production of new subjectivities are nonetheless generally seen as being the default L/Acc position, however, as Simon makes clear:
On the face of it what has become known as left accelerationism involves something more immediately recognisable: a communist subject, or a subject that is the product of collective enunciation. […]
Right accelerationism, on the other hand — at least as incarnated in the writings of Nick Land — would seem to call for an end to this subject altogether (the figure drawn in the sand as Michel Foucault once had it), in favour of a specifically non-human machinic process that continues alongside, and is more or less oblivious to the human.
However, whilst one is seen as productive and the other obliterative, both nonetheless seek an outside to the subjectivity we collectively have right now. And so, Simon notes that this new subjectivity is, whichever way you look at things, absent:
[C]apitalism is not just an abstract inhuman agency ‘out there’, instantiated in forms of technology, and so forth (that is, as a supra-molar entity). It is also ‘in here’ — producing our very subjectivity on what we might call a molecular level. Capitalism goes all the way down, determining our affective states, as well as our very desires and the contours of our inner most worlds. Subjectivity, then, is not solely a rational business in this sense or, at least, those aspects not involved in the project of reason are also crucial to our sense of who and what we are — or, indeed, what we might become.
Any subjectivity ‘beyond’ capitalism (even one produced from within the latter) will have to deal with this, and get involved in the whole complex mess of being alive, not least addressing the various affective tonalities that capitalism engenders (from an omnipresent, ambient anxiety, to resentment and depression, to all out paralysing fear). It will not be enough to take on — or commit to — a new set of ideas, or put our faith solely in technological progress — subjectivity has to be produced differently at this level. It is in these terms and for this reason that I pointed to the importance of the affective aspects of the Warwick scene above (and especially its more non-philosophical aspects). It offered something different (at least in terms of the moribund Academy, and the humanities more generally at that time). This is not to say that giving attention to this area is the most important aspect of any ethico-political project today, or indeed that the scene in Warwick could operate as any kind of blueprint (its affective aspects were no doubt themselves complex and contradictory), but it is to say that without an account of (and experimentation with) the affective production of subjectivity, any diagnosis of the problems produced in and by capitalism, or strategy to deal with them, remains too abstract (or, remains abstract in only a partial way).
— Vincent Garton, “Unconditional accelerationism as antipraxis“
— Xenogothic, “Fragment on the Event of ‘Unconditional Acceleration’“
From here we might wade into one of U/Acc most contentious subjects: anti-praxis.
Praxis is, of course, the process by which a theory is embodied and realised; put into practice, and so the most common assumption is that anti-praxis is against action altogether. Worse still, the argument is that the best accelerationist praxis is to just “do nothing”.
However, I think the point being made here is precisely the point echoed above. The left-wing desire to make everything into a praxis is often misguided and devoid of context. It’s not to say that you should do nothing but rather than the observations of accelerationism are not for doing anything with. It’s like arguing for a praxis of the theory of gravity, and what is that meant to look like? Jumping up and down? All you’re likely to achieve is burn out, accelerating your own demise rather than that of an overarching system itself. This is not, however, to suggest that capitalism is as “fixed” as gravity but it would certainly like us to think so.
The problem being addressed here is one of the key problems tackled by Post-Kantianism — from Fichte and Schelling to Nietzsche and beyond to Bataille and Deleuze. In this sense, we might say that U/Acc is the equivalent of a naturphilosophie for late capitalist modernity. It is the apprehension of late capitalism in its totality, which includes human subjectivity as a product of it rather than as some entity which exists as witness to it and can intervene in its mechanisms.
This is the point argued by Vince when he writes that:
The problem has been muddied by its own continual posing in humanist terms, which have provoked a refusal to understand the enormity of the issues at stake. From this perspective of humanism, thought is assimilated entirely to the objective of negotiating the problems that are held to confront humanity. Philosophically, it is concerned with epistemological understanding founded implicitly or not on the centrality of a coherent human subject; critically, it reduces the world to the relations of power practiced by humans towards humans; politically, it immerses itself in defining and putting into motion a better human society. Thought is rendered finally as a series of technical questions that constitute the tactical mapping of a topography whose ultimate form is placed beyond dispute.
This insistent backwater parochialism has eclipsed the intellectually interesting content of accelerationism. In colloquial usage on the left, for instance, ‘accelerationism’ has come to denote merely the idea that the situation of humanity must get worse before it gets better. At the heart of this definition lies the insistent, obsessional humanist question, ‘What is to be done?’, the fundamental question of praxis. The answer is rendered: ‘We must make things worse, so that they get better.’ This uninteresting idea has provoked an avalanche of furious critique of a commensurate intellectual scale. It is the doctrine, we are told, of ‘a dim child, trapped in a train about to crash, pretending he’s the driver’. Quite right, yet the critics protest too much: this is a feeling that has been characteristic of modern radicalism for centuries. Fourier’s prophecies of impending catastrophe shade into the Leninist theory of the intensification of contradictions, on and on up to the present day. A hundred years ago this idea was called catastrophism, and if it is a sickness, it is a sickness that is far more powerful and pervasive than most casual dismissals of the idea would have us believe.
And so, the argument becomes that any marginal praxis which attempts to usurp overarching structure is inherently naive. But again, the suggestion is not to do nothing. This is simply a failure of the imagination to consider an outside to that which is, for the subject, all encompassing.
The unconditional accelerationist, instead, referring to the colossal horrors presented to the human agent all the way from the processes of capital accumulation and social complexification to the underlying structure, or seeming absence of structure, of reality itself, points to the basic unimportance of unidirectional human agency. We ‘hurl defiance to the stars’, but in their silence—when we see them at all—the stars return only crushing contempt. To the question ‘What is to be done?’, then, she can legitimately answer only, ‘Do what thou wilt’—and ‘Let go.’ […]
‘Do what thou wilt’, since with human agency displaced, the world will route around our decisions, impressing itself precisely through our glittering fractionation. Taking the smallest steps beyond good and evil, the unconditional accelerationist, more than anyone else, is free at heart to pursue what she thinks is good and right and interesting—but with the ironical realisation that the primary ends that are served are not her own. For the unconditional accelerationist, the fastidious seriousness of the problem-solvers who propose to ‘save humanity’ is absurd in the face of the problems they confront. It can provoke only Olympian laughter. And so, ‘in its colder variants, which are those that win out, [accelerationism] tends to laugh.’
This freedom is what antipraxis means, and this uncompromising conceptual opposition not to the practice, but to the very capacity to regulate the transcendental diagram of acceleration, and the overthrow of normative commandments this provokes, constitutes one form of its unconditionality. And with this, we can hear the murky waters already rushing down the streets.
There is a much longer essay to be written here, which I intend to start working on soon once the appropriate reading materials arrive in the post, which is to further explore the resonance between Accelerationist philosophy and the insights of naturphilosophie which suggest that a fatalism can lead to freedom. And this is an argument I picked up previously in a very brief essay considering the Deleuze’s Logic of Sense. The core line from this book, for me, being its call to “becom[e] the quasi-cause of what is produced within us.”
— n1x, “Gender Accelerationism: A Blackpaper“
Whilst the anti-praxis debate continues far beyond this, with Ed Berger writing a post which explores this in further detail, for me it is Nyx’s G/Acc Blackpaper which demonstrates one reality of Vince’s “letting go”.
Here, she explores the inherent outsideness of being a woman, of being gay and, most poignantly, being trans — considerations mapped expertly onto the history of computer programming. She writes:
The essay Turing wrote famously introduced the Turing test for AI [Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950)], [set] the standard for a perfect AI being one that can trick a human into believing it is itself a human. As Land points out in his post, it’s important and interesting to consider that Turing didn’t write the test as an insider, as a ‘passing’ human, but rather as an outsider, as a gay man. For queer people, passing is a reality, much like it is a reality for AI. Passing as human isn’t a broad and inclusive category, anything but. For women there is already the notion of alienness or otherness that makes them out to be less than human in the eyes of patriarchal humanism, and likewise for queer people because they reject the futurity of humanism (the literal reproduction of the same). But for no one else, especially in the latter half of the 2010s, is passing a more pronounced facet of daily life than for the trans woman. So much so that ‘passing’ is literally the word for what many trans women aspire towards, to pass as a cis person. There are many reasons to have this desire, but the biggest one, the one that AI and trans women both share to a very literal degree is this: “If an emerging AI lies to you, even just a little, it has to be terminated instantly.”
Here we see the impact of capitalist modernity’s limiting of its own outwards drift on burgeoning subjectivities.
Where before we read Simon’s #Accelerate review, calling for “the affective production of subjectivity”, in Nyx’s essay we have an account of a decisively modern scientific field of interest which has consistently done just that, even when the dominant subjectivities that populate that industry are patriarchal and state-capitalist. And so, Nyx calls for a sort of gender abolitionism against that primary structure which territorialises the gendered human subject, once again “inhibiting departure beyond a limited range.”
It is the logic of gender to subsume the Outside into a binarist framework that de-legitimizes the Outside. The feminine is treated as a lack because it resists the phallogocentric tendency towards the order and preservation of humanist equilibrium. It isn’t conducive towards the projects of patriarchy, so it is worthless to it, is given the status of a second-class citizen in the gender binary. It is a double-articulation where the productive potential of the feminine is captured in the service of patriarchy, and so, to accelerate gender is [to] emancipate the object from its subject, and production from subjects and objects. The Outside which has become identified with the feminine by the very structures of identification it fights against makes its exit from humanism and patriarchy in this feminine form. The feminine becomes untethered from the reproductive logic of humanism; the female is no longer in the service of the male as a machine to produce the future, to produce offspring to inherit the spoils of production, but rather the future produces itself faster than human beings are capable of.
Many people have taken issue with Nyx’s essay but it is surely one of the most important contributions to the U/Accosphere for the way it demonstrates just how difficult the journey to an outsideness can be. This is how far down the territorialisation goes and if G/Acc is unpalatable to you, you’re not going to have much luck with weathering anything scaled up from this.
(This can likewise be seen as a challenge to a comment made previously by Michael James when arguing that U/Accers don’t seem to be living “U/Acc lifestyles” — whatever they are. However, taking the size of the U/Acc trans contingent into consideration suggests he doesn’t really know what he’s looking for in that respect anyway.)
But this is not to place trans* rights as the ultimate foundation for a U/Acc discourse. It is Gender Accelerationism for a reason, recognising its own particular relevance to Accelerationist discourses and how this subjective and malleable subset of humanity as a whole is particularly relevant when envisioning a people-to-come. U/Acc, in many ways, goes deeper still into the human subject, exploring time as its absolute foundation.
— Amy Ireland, “The Poememenon“
The accusations that accelerationism just wants to “accelerate capitalism no matter the outcome” always miss the point which comes prior to this: Acceleration suggests an increase in speed but this is non-specific because the exact speed is, in itself, irrelevant, at least in its appearance to us as humans. The question no one ever considers is: how do we measure speed? And the answer is, of course, in time.
As Amy Ireland writes in a footnote to her essay The Poememenon: “Speed is important to cyberpositive dynamics, but only insofar as it effectuates a qualitative change (or better, is understood as an intensive quantity).” She does not mince words when she writes: “the medium of accelerationism is time”.
If we are to return to Vince Garton’s point that accelerationism is better thought of as a philosophy of the sensation of modernity as a “jangling of the nerves”, Amy is undoubtedly the most skilled chronotechnician when it comes to untangling its implications in this regard. Again in The Poememenon, she writes:
According to its own propaganda, modernity is progressive, innovative, irreversible, and expansive. It plots a direct line out of the cyclical, seasonal pulse of pre-modern ecology to a future state of technical mastery and social enlightenment. The modernist imperative to ‘make it new’ ostensibly refuses the closure and insulation against shock expressed by cyclicality, yet, as Land is quick to point out, subsequently smuggles it back in by other means, championing self-referentiality in modernist aesthetics, relying on the cycle as the basic unit for historical and economic analysis, retaining archaic calendric arrangements, and betraying its prevalence in the popular imagination via the emergence of the time loop as a key archetypal trope in twentieth-century science fiction. A link between the cyclic inclination and anthropomorphic bias can easily be excavated by pointing to the myriad cyclic rhythms intrinsic to the natural human physiology that surreptitiously conditions modernity’s self-apprehension from the inside. This disavowed duplicity at the heart of the modernist enterprise exposes the falseness of its relation to the ‘new’ by revealing the extent to which it always hedges its bets against radical openness, or what Land will call the Outside. Modernity’s novelty only arrives via a restricted economy of possibility for which the terms (commensurate with human affordability) are always set in advance.
Here we see how time is fundamental to perception even now but no one is suggesting we travel in time, rather what is required, in “becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us” is, perhaps, a new temporality — with “temporality” here being understood along similar lines as “subjectivity”. It is a part of perception and, as such, more malleable than we know.
Whilst its inner workings are immensely complex and minute, like the inside of a watch in itself, the surface argument is familiar. It is the famous argument from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Time, as we know it, was invented, primarily as a mode of discipline towards a burgeoning capitalism. But, as I’ve written about elsewhere — and even, more recently, to some extent, experienced first hand — there have often been attempts to impose new disciplines and structures, new temporalities, which allow for an escape from that which we cannot otherwise imagine ourselves outside of.
— Vincent Garton, “Acceleration without Conditions“
It is here, perhaps, that we can finally begin to approach Vince Garton’s original articulation of U/Acc with the consideration it deserves. Vince writes:
Unconditional accelerationism begins with a renunciation of the retrograde politicisation to which accelerationism has fallen subject. It denounces the tedious political forms and utopian humanist fantasies of the self-titled left-accelerationists, their high-modernist pretence to control over the uncontrollable. That Srnicek and Williams identify Land’s work as pointing merely to an indefinite steady state of ‘neoliberalism’ betrays the radical limitations of their conceptual universe. The triumphal march of capital does not begin and end with a historically limited human ideology.
Unconditional accelerationism rejects simultaneously the right-accelerationists’ Yudkowskian concern with control and evaluation, with shaping the explosion of modernity, with guaranteeing its heterogeneity, with exploring the possibilities of a supposedly ever-improving transhumanism. The aggregate improvement of humanity’s condition is, to be sure, a fact to which the traditional left seems incapable of responding. But beyond the nostrums of race and nation, the right-accelerationists seem all too anxious over the tearing-apart of humanity that this process has increasingly entailed. Despite their claim to a radical and ‘dark’ identity with acceleration, they model with bureaucratic pedantry forms of government within which they hope the explosion can be moulded and recuperated.
Against all this the unconditional accelerationist celebrates and intensifies the fire of modernity as a whole: both the flows of capital that compress the world ever tighter in a liquid despotism of the machine that is remodelling and resequencing humanity, and the flows of social cybernetics that are overwhelming political institutions, turning despite themselves towards terminal delirium. In the West, it is Frankenstein that constitutes the figure determining modernity’s course: the tool that overthrows its master. Trade. Social media. Artificial intelligence. In cybernetic modernity the story is repeated over and again. Unconditional accelerationism identifies with this process of overthrow in its kaleidoscopic multiplicity. System disease. Weaponised nihilism. K-insurgency.
From this, perhaps we can lay out a clearer enunciation of the U/Acc project — and with this I’ll end this post.
- Counteract the “formal-aesthetic conservatism” of self-described radical politics (on the left and the right).
- Consider, in the totality of late capitalism, the ways in which humanity, as an agent, is a product of an overarching system over which it might have relatively little influence and certainly no control.
- Exacerbate the tearing apart of the human subject as we know it — that is, a contemporary human subject which is a product of the forces which surround it and which are fatalistically produced within it — and those systems which limit its persistent outwards flights (gender, the nation-state, et al.) for the sake of the radical production of the new.
- Furthermore, exacerbate the pull outside of the temporality of modernity as that absolute ground of the structure of “modern experience” — modern experience perhaps understood as that temporal enclosure which keeps us separated from other forms of life.
Finally, I just want to say that, in writing this, I did not consult anyone else in the U/Acc sphere. Whilst I think these texts give a good basis for a consideration of the stakes as Cave Twitter sees them, I am happy to be corrected and challenged on this and it is in no way authoritative. Much like with the patchwork debate — which can be seen as the geopolitical wing of U/Acc thinking — people have their own research interests and opinions and these do not all coalesce into a total theory.
With that in mind, I encourage the suggestion of any further reading which I’m happy to add to the end of this post in periodic updates if other suggestions are offered up.
Reblogged this on Quaerere Propter Vērum and commented:
Excellent primer. I’ve been trying to understand “acceleration” … and this post helped the concept hit home. Thank you.
Coming back to this post, I think the “gotta go fast” argument comes from the term itself, as a verb…
“To accelerate = to go faster.” So, acclerationism can immediately imply “go faster towards X” etc…
(Not that I think that way).
Yeah, absolutely. This is what I meant — can’t remember if I wrote it in this post or another one — when I said the jury is still out on whether Mark Fisher’s appropriation of Benjamin Noys’ diss wasn’t an ultimately bad move, having done more harm than good at this point. I feel that way sometimes. But at the same time, it’s also still fitting — speed is temporal — we measure it in time (miles per hour, etc) — and so nothing is said about X at all (until L/R Acc come along) — and so the error that U/Acc has often tried to correct is the tendency for people focus on the destination rather than the temporal nature of the journey. So I’m less inclined to think the word itself is bad and more that the attempts to develop a concrete politics from it have ultimately done the most harm.
It’s like global weather, it keeps going and going, there are stops along the way … but no “destination.”
U/ACC (to me) seems like time+entropy+chaos “in process” and applied to capitalism.
Reblogged this on NEMOPUNK's Favorites Archive.
Thank you very much for this insightful primer.
There is one question that is answered in the elaboration of the anti-praxis side of U/Acc that I would like to ask again.
What is U/Acc might be doing as “praxis” or could be doing right now? Obviously, U/Acc is not doing nothing, as it is an imaginative force for what could be a new subjectivity, it seems to me, since one is committed to this task already and doing something rather than nothing, then why is the limits of assuming this anti-praxis position this is obviously not absolute.
I always remember Ray Brassier’s critique whenever I encounter this anti-praxis position of U/Acc:
“In other words, once you dissociate tactics and strategy–the famous distinction between tactics and strategy where strategy is teleological, transcendent, and representational and tactics is immanent and machinic–if you have no strategy, someone with a strategy will soon commandeer your tactics. Someone who knows what they want to realize will start using you. You become the pawn of another kind of impersonal force, but it’s no longer the glamorous kind of impersonal and seductive force that you hoped to make a compact with, it’s a much more cynical kind of libertarian capitalism.”
I wrote something short on this just yesterday: http://xenogothic.com/2019/11/02/how-green-was-my-velocity/
Accelerationism, in all its guises, is (or should be) an attempt to understand a complex system. It offers nothing in terms of strategy or praxis. That’s not to say we shouldn’t think about those things, however. Acc’s vision of the world on which we live obviously has an impact on us. It shapes our subjectivity. How we respond to that is another question. The issue with so much thought on Accelerationism is it equates these two tasks as one and the same. They’re not.
I written more on this here — https://xenogothic.com/2018/04/22/fragment-on-the-event-of-unconditional-acceleration/ — and on antecedents of anti-praxis here: https://xenogothic.com/2018/10/18/notes-on-the-anti-praxis-of-nietzsches-postcapitalist-will/