I was recently invited by Marko Bauer and Primož Krašovec at ŠUM to contribute a short text to a radio show they host on Ljubljana’s Radio Študent called Pisalni stroji. They select a theme, each contributing a short text on a topic of their choosing and invite a guest to contribute a third. This month they invited me to write something (and pick a track to play too) on the topic of “Hyper / stition“. I tried to write something about the concept’s apparent connection to the Real / realism.
It was a tough exercise in condensation which I’m not that used to over here, particularly as it was written during the mania of my recent sleep deprivation. I’ll put any errors down to that.
A huge thank you to Marko and Primož for inviting me and, as ever, much love to the Ljubljana contingent.
The political attraction of hyperstition, and the strand which it is often reduced to, is that it generates “fictions that make themselves real.” This is not the only mechanism of the hyperstitional process but it is seemingly the most accessible — the first signpost on a journey towards the outside of present hegemonies.
The innate pull of hyperstition towards the outside has always been explicit, with the term firmly embedded within the Lovecraftian mythos of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU). In the decades since, this position of outsideness has been argued for most explicitly in the writings of Nick Land on his Xenosystems blog — his rightwards flight “relat[ing] itself to what it escapes”, considering the Outside to be the “‘place’ of strategic advantage” — but also, we find a desired outsideness in the work of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams who proclaim, emphatically, from the left, that the “future must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside.”
To reach this outside, however, from whatever direction, requires a new unbelief in the future. This is not a belief based on pre-existing evidence, relics or established authority; it is, instead, radically speculative, contrarian even. It is a hyperstition understood as the psychosomaticism of a body politic which produces “real” symptoms; an unbelief in a social sickness from which mutations abound. However, in our present moment, it is hard to ascertain “what” kind of sickness this might be and “where” exactly its outside lies. With left and right facing off against the other, we see how the perpetual movement of the inside erects mirrors and false flags with an alarming efficiency. The system is all too good at containment.
Much has been made of the contemporary resonance of the term “hyperstition” in the last few years. Many on the right, in particular, argue that the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States was the direct result of some of his supporters’ hyperstitional prowess, in succeeding to bring about the seemingly unthinkable through a doubling-down on Trump’s own irreality. However, this new — or rather “alt” — trajectory is still, notably, internal to the dominant infrastructures of the Western world. This is to say that Trump’s election was a relative trauma; a “fiction” explicitly for the post-Obama left, exposing their entrenched disbelief in any alternatives, whether of a positive or a negative nature. However, one side’s win over another is not, in itself, a hyperstition. As Iris Carter tells us, hyperstitions “are not representations, neither disinformation nor mythology”; they are not the product of ‘fake news’ and propaganda because they “cannot be judged true or false.” All Trump’s presidency has done is rupture a hegemony that many did not know existed: the realism of progressive politics; the “realistic” belief that things will, always, eventually, get better.
The biggest lesson of the last four years, in this respect, should be that “fiction is not opposed to the real.” Political realities are, in fact, as the CCRU tells us, “composed of fictions” — that is, fictions plural — of “consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual, affective and behavioural responses.” Each terrain contains within it the virtualities of other forms of life and it is these virtualities which may come to realise themselves, often whether we like it or not. However, whilst the transformations we have seen in recent years are undeniable, they are also superficial. To realise one virtuality is not to change reality itself. All we see is a change in direction; a shift in favour of another trajectory which is nonetheless internal and current to the overarching system. Fictions will always realise themselves but not all realisations will bring us to an outside.
Nick Land himself has already made more nuanced distinctions along these internal lines, of particular relevance to the neoreactionary ideologies that he has explored in depth on his blog. In one post, for instance, he notes how there are “Inner” and “Outer” neoreactionary politics. The former “models itself on a protected state, in which belonging is sacred, and boundaries rigorously policed”; the latter “is intrinsically nomad[ic], unsettled”, looking for “opportunities for leverage, rather than a menu of potential homes.” Trump’s election, was such a moment of leverage, but one which nonetheless became a home. the outward momentum that Trump’s presidency seemed to promise for an Outer-Neoreactionary nomad has surely already been squandered on the grounds of the mundanely familiar, subsumed into an already dominant realism.
There are similar outward-facing arguments on the left as well. Mark Fisher’s most famous coinage “capitalist realism” has done particularly well to give shape to our present global hegemony. Realism, for Fisher, in this instance, is the naturalisation of a politics. It is to give an ideology its “biological foundation”, in the words of Herbert Marcuse. But that it not to say that realisms in themselves are to be frowned upon. Fisher’s move is rather to represent the dominant realism as it appears to us; to represent and re-present it. As the CCRU would argue: “Far from constituting a subversion of representative realism, [hyperstition] merely consummates a process that representative realism initiated.” Representative realism is not, then, in itself, the Real. Hyperstition should be seen as putting the Real back in realism. The question is what we do with it.
Similarly, Fisher also writes of a potential “communist realism” which takes a realist’s approach to its own development, echoing the affective mechanisms of hyperstition. He writes on his K-Punk blog:
[Communist realism] isn’t an eventalism, which will wager all its hopes on a sudden and final transformation. It isn’t a utopianism, which concedes anything “realistic” to the enemy. It is about soberly and pragmatically assessing the resources that are available to us here and now, and thinking about how we can best use and increase those resources. It is about moving — perhaps slowly, but certainly purposively — from where we are now to somewhere very different.
Here we see a call for an Outer Communism which has plans far beyond those beloved by socialists. Whereas Land expresses his ideas in terms he hopes will be most repulsive to the realism of the modern left, Fisher expresses himself in ways that might coax them outside of themselves more gently. Both, however, should be seen as wholly hostile to the status quo.
Many CCRU orbiters, past and present, have argued that the term “hyperstition” has fallen into disrepute — being at once diluted and overdetermined — but this is due to our failure to adequately contend with this very fact: that “hyperstition” is not something you do but rather something which you make the best of. As Land, again, tells us, in terms which can be applied to a myriad of political movements on both the left and the right:
We do not, and cannot, know what we want, anymore than we can know what the machines of the next century will be like, because real potentials need to be discovered, not imagined.
He writes, more recently, in an essay from 2017:
Realism begins as a subtraction of attachment to illusion — as disillusionment. To determine it positively, from the beginning, would be already unrealistic (in exactly the same way that naive realism is unrealistic). Reality hides.
Here we see the true nexus of Fisher’s question which lurks within his Acid Communism, interrogating the nature of postcapitalist desire and asking whether or not we want what we say we want. Unbelief comes to resemble desire itself: the desire to find what reality hides; the desire of discovery. Hyperstitional fictions, then, must also be discovered. They cannot be created. We must remember that fictions are more than capable of transforming themselves. The best we can do is latch onto them and, perhaps, embed them in our realisms.