This was a talk given at the fourth #WYRDPATCHWORKSHOP event, organised by Diffractions Collective and held at Punctum in Prague. Listen above, read below.
What I want to talk about today is patchwork and accelerationism, and how they are intrinsically related, but that feels like a difficult task at the moment…
In fact, I had a whole other talk planned for today, presenting some recent research on this topic which goes back to the naturphilosophie of Schelling and Fichte and how post-Kantian debates around theodicy and the temporality of evil offer us something today in how we think about capitalism, filling in the blindspots of some more explicitly Kantian thinking along these lines.
As thrilling as that might sound, it felt too far removed from the events of the last few weeks.
One of the major talking points of the last week has been the appearance of the word “accelerationism” in the manifesto of the perpetrator of the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand, a xenophobic and particularly Islamophobic terrorist attack which killed 50 people.
Suffice it to say, it’s been a bad week for the discourse.
I wrote a quick blogpost about this the other day, wanting to address this situation head on, writing about how this shooter’s form of “accelerationism” should be completely unrecognisable to an accelerationist who has been influenced by this thought as it has emerged from its source — and I think that’s true whether you’re on the left or the right.
This was a post that looked inevitably trivial in the face of the horror of that attack. Of everything that needed to be said in the aftermath of that event, the defence of one obscure word from the peripheries of political philosophy, which appeared on just one page of a meandering and incoherent manifesto, might suggest that my priorities are in the wrong place. But I also think that it’s important that we firmly hold onto the terms and politics we have developed for ourselves. To denounce a word in the face of its abhorrent appropriation feels too much like giving in and being complicit in the rejection of radical politics that that attack really represents. This kind of politics wants to override the intentions of progressive discourses, lest we forget the shooter defended his ethnonationalism on environmentalist grounds also.
This is what the enemy wants — the dilution of the words and signifiers that we think hold power for us. With that in mind, I’d personally much rather take a stand on what I believe in and its fundamental rejection of the shooter’s politics than let it all melt away, just like everything else around us, into the nondescript swamp of PR politics.
This extended form of defence is — admittedly — something I’ve engaged in far too much over the last week and, frankly, I’m exhausted by it now. Twitter is probably not the best place for it anyway and today I feel, in many ways, completely done with Twitter. What’s worse, though, is that this prospective counter-discourse appears to have even more of an uphill climb ahead of it than I initially anticipated. Gregory Marks, who goes by the handle @thewastedworld on Twitter, recently did noone any favours by creating a Twitter bot that retweets all mentions of “Accelerationism”. Gregory is a really great writer and I cast no shade on him in pointing to his new creation, even if he is the Doctor Frankenstein in this situation, because, as cursed as his Twitter invention may be, it has revealed the enormity of a pill that was already difficult to swallow — that is, that the shooter’s particular brand of accelerationism seems to dominate Twitter in many respects, and that’s on both the right and the left. Regarding the latter, I’ve also written against these widespread left-wing misunderstandings of accelerationism recently, in particular how they have proliferated more locally, but I personally had no idea just how far these misconceptions spread across the internet. These is certainly not a form of this politics that I come across online or in my everyday life.
This talk isn’t going to be a recounting of those defensive arguments but this is nonetheless the background onto which this talk has all written and the message central to those previous posts bares repeating here before I continue, because it demonstrates the mechanism just discussed in the Q&A with Enrico on the hegemonic consolidation of myths — in that here we see an idea of accelerationism which is abhorrently violent and superficial but which we can interpret as only helping to embolden present ideological hegemonies by ejecting the radical outsideness of accelerationism, and in many ways calls for change in themselves, out onto the scorched earth of political extremism. This is a message has direct implications for patchwork politics as well and which we can see examples of around the world. Palestine might be the most obvious example, where patch-adjacent demands of self-determination are dismissed as being complicit in terrorism and must be denounced across all political lines.
So, hopefully, especially in present company, I hope it goes without saying that the shooter’s form of accelerationism is utterly superficial, calling for nothing more than the intensification of social change in order to combat social change. These so-called “accelerationists” simply want identity politics to eat itself, and I mean that quite literally. They worship the political figure of the ouroboros — the snake that eats its own tail (likewise referred to by Enrico in his talk); it is a form that is self-destructive and self-constituting in equal measure. It is a sort of tactical destruction and fear-mongering that aims to keep things exactly where they are in their frenzied stasis.
This is not the accelerationism I know and study. It is, in fact, fundamentally opposed to this way of thinking. It is precisely this in-grown process of self-destruction and self-constitution that accelerationism points to and tries to exit. It sees the ouroboros for what it is and looks for ways to kill it.
This is something already explored by Enrico in his talk — this sort of in-grown logic of performative exit which is, in fact, the spectacle of an already hegemonic system flexing its own limits, and as Enrico also pointed out, this is something I’ve written about a few times recently.
I personally adhere by the Mark Fisher definition of accelerationism. In a 2014 essay entitled “Postcapitalist Desire”, Fisher defines accelerationism as follows:
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.
What is meant by this is that a true accelerationist wants to affirm capitalism’s own outward-facing orientation — and this orientation is a central insight of Karl Marx. The desire that fuels a capitalist system is insatiable but, in constantly reaching beyond itself, it also puts itself at risk. It threatens its own destruction every time it attempts to assimilate a new outside. In that sense, capitalism does not refer to some state of things outside ourselves. Capitalism is nothing without us — that is, our desires — and so, as an aside, I want to be clear here, when I say capitalism in this talk, know this refers to the entire system, from the oppressive forces of the state and the economic systems that escape its boundaries, but also ourselves and our internalised sense of our bordered constitution. Capital and subject are, in this way, horrific mirrors of each other. To quote Mark Fisher again:
… the most Gothic description of Capital is also the most literal. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labour is ours, and the zombies it makes are us.
So, accelerationism, for Mark Fisher and others, is an intensification of this process of destratification, of finding the outsides to our presently cloistered existence, but it is also an intensification of our awareness of this process as it already occurs. It’s a call to hold open the moments of capitalism’s own exit so that we might see what else may inadvertently come through from the other side. Because, as both Nick Land and Mark Fisher have written repeatedly, to find ways out is to let the outside in.
As things present stand and churn, capitalism only wants to let enough of the outside in so that it might be able to sustain itself. It was the belief of Mark Fisher that to let the outside of capitalism in might transform capitalism — and ourselves with it — into something radically new. This is not say that we, as people, as agents, can accelerate capitalism’s processes of destratification in themselves, but rather that we might become better at seeing the exits that capitalism opens up for us and exploit them accordingly. Because, as Fisher writes in his 2009 book, Capitalist Realism, capitalism is an ideological system that is adept at covering over its own failings and inconsistencies. It attempts to hide the doors it cannot help but open out onto the new.
Fisher would go on to hint at this further in his final book before his untimely death, 2016’s The Weird and the Eerie, in which ghost stories and weird fictions are seen as parables for exploring the emergence of new worlds. He asks, perhaps far too implicitly, how we might sustain our grasp on the anomalies of this world, on the weird, so that the weird might begin to change the system in which it appears.
For accelerationists — and unfortunately this is something common to both the terroristic and DeleuzoGuattarian varieties — political anomalies should be encouraged for this same reason. Many anti-accelerationist think-pieces attribute this tactic to the frogmen of 4chan prior to Trump’s election — those individuals who wanted to see Trump become president so that he might exacerbate and demonstrate the impotency of a modern progressivism. However, by the same token, in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn could likewise be seen as such an anomaly, and his elevation within the public consciousness has certainly revealed, to an unprecedented degree, the cloying conservatism that is rife within all corners of British politics.
There are some other instances too, in which we are more attuned to this capitalistic process of outsideness — although, for the most part, these instances are often only seen with the benefit of hindsight. The most obvious example of this comes in the form of radical geographies. We have thoroughly plotted the lines along which capitalism has reached into its geographical outsides through the processes of colonialism. More recently, however, we see other discourses emerging which highlight capitalism’s ideological exits — for example, where brands and businesses increasingly want to be seen as being “woke”. Whilst the right-wing has only noticed the existence of this tendency very recently, deploring capitalism’s contemporary tendency to ignore the right’s well-founded pro-capitalist and conservative opinions, it has been a criticism on the left for decades, particularly in queer discourses under the names Pink Capitalism or homocapitalism, where we see criticism of banks and major corporations that sponsor and want to be seen as supporting LGBT movements for no reason other than to legitimate their own continued existence. The increasing social acceptance of LGBT peoples presents queerness as a new ground for capitalism to colonised, albeit this time it is a new corner within our collective consciousness rather than within the world around us.
This is perhaps the perfect example of capitalism’s own progressivism, leaving behind its grassroots supporters in favour of new markets, for no reason other than its desire to sustain itself.
Now, it’s here that we might do well to re-introduce patchwork into the accelerationist equation.
Patchwork thinking is an explicit form of accelerationist thinking which takes these geographical and ideological issues and makes them its primary battleground.
This is not just a recently constructed preference but a foundation of this discourse. Nick Land may connect Accelerationism to a Moldbuggian Patchwork on his Xenosystems blog but Deleuze and Guattari also speak of acceleration and patchwork in their seminal collaborative work, Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
Being so closely related to accelerationism, patchwork is also not without its controversies, and I’ve previously written numerous blog posts that attempted to counter the suggestion that patchwork is a project of state fragmentation that would lead to nothing but the proliferation of ethnostates. The argument, just like that of accelerationism, is quite to the contrary.
This is because the accelerationist outsight, its outsideness, is inherently scalable. It’s not just capitalism, as a socioeconomic and ideological system, which runs on an engine of stratifying and destratifying itself. As Deleuze and Guattari reveal this to us, this is a cyclical process that is common to the state, to social institutions, to the subject, to the planet itself. Theirs is a structuralist critique which takes structuralism to its absolute limits. If you dig deep enough, you will find that nothing is as self-sustaining and self-constituting as it necessarily thinks it is.
An ethnonationalism, just like that held by the Christchurch shooter, is antithetical to this position, and this is a form of right-wing thought that even Nick Land has denounced. On his Xenosystems blog, in a post called “Outsideness”, Land writes how an inwards-facing neoreactionary (or NRx) thought holds “a firmly consolidated core identity [as its] central ambition.” It is “a micro-culture [which] models itself on a protected state, in which belonging is sacred, and boundaries rigorously policed.”
By contrast, an outwardly-oriented neoreactionary thought, which Land himself claims to adhere to, is “defined primarily by Exit, relat[ing] itself to what it escapes.” He notably mentions patchwork in relation to this outwards-facing position, calling it “a set of options, and opportunities for leverage, rather than a menu of potential homes.” Outer-NRx, then, for him, “is intrinsically nomad[ic], unsettled, and micro-agitational. Its culture consists of departures it does not regret.”
Now, I’m not a neoreactionary, but I think this internal analysis of the movement is productively nuanced and insightful. It is the kind of insight that the left also desperately needs. The contemporary left, as I understand it, at least here in the UK, has no sense of itself along these lines. But these lines are deeply important, not least for a defense of an accelerationist discourse and practice that fundamentally opposes the world view of terrorists like the Christchurch shooter.
The shooter is, undoubtedly, an observer of this inward-facing online discourse because, like him, an inward-facing neoreactionary politics is, by and large, ethnonationalist and isolationist. It doesn’t define itself by what it exits. It’s a grumpy and inarticulate teenager slamming the door behind them as they hide in a room in the house that the rest of us nevertheless have to live in, maybe playing their music really loud to make living here a misery for the rest of us, but being ultimately unwilling and unable to move out and live on their own. An outer-neoreactionary makes no such fuss. It simply packs a bag and leaves in the night, perhaps with nowhere to go.
For me, in my writing, I’ve been trying to explore the tensions of a leftist politics that nonetheless holds these same distinctions within itself, albeit typically unacknowledged. For example, Left-Accelerationism is often frequently derided online in certain circles, because it represents what began as a desire for an exit from capitalism that chose to reduce itself to a technosocialism — that is, a socialism that embraces technology, and particularly the state’s use of technology, to bring about utopian social change — i.e. fully automated labour, universal basic income, and things like that. This thought might not be ethnocentric but it nonetheless demands a firmly consolidated core identity. This could be an internationalism rather than a plain old nationalism, but the core identity is still central. And this is the same kind of tension that is central and unacknowledged with a project like the European Union today.
Personally, I’m all for the social freedoms that the EU proclaims to support and insist upon, and technologically improving our lives within that club would sure be nice, but I nonethless reject it as a fundamentally neoliberal project wherein our proud shared identity as Europeans is defined by a blanket neoliberalism and capitalism, where an inability and unwillingness to keep up with the herd is a punishable offence. This principle does have its benefits — wherein states and production lines are all held to the same standards when it comes to issues of human or animal rights, for instance, but this likewise applies to standards that are wholly capitalistic and neoliberal.
This point is particularly poignant for me this weekend as I spent most of yesterday on a Put It To The People march through central London. This was a one-million-strong march organised by a political group which is calling for any final Brexit deal to be put to the people in a final referendum. For reasons explored elsewhere, mostly my blog, I’ve noted how I am pro-exit but anti-Brexit. Brexit is a rejection of neoliberalism abroad in favour of neoliberalism at home. It is not an exit that I choose to recognise as such and so, personally, I’d be in favour of having the opportunity to judge that final exit plan and have a say in whether we go through with it and leave or reject it and remain.
What struck me was that, in defending accelerationism for much of the past week and denouncing the suggestion that I am in bed with fascists and terrorists, it was on this democratic people’s march that I felt more complicit in the terrors of a static pro-capitalist neoliberalism than I have ever previously felt, standing for three hours in Parliament Square only to leave after hearing a keynote speech from former deputy prime minister for the Conservative party under Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine, who did not mince words, declaring the European project to be the direct result of the legacy of war-mongering racist Winston Churchill and queen amongst arseholes, his friend Margaret Thatcher.
I don’t want to leave the EU on Theresa May’s terms but I definitely don’t want to remain under the terms of Churchill and Thatcher.
It is this feeling of being caught between a rock and a hard place that the left fails to adequately acknowledge and counter, and it is because of this that I feel that we must make room for difference. There must be room for a thinking about the possible ways in which our expressions of desire can exist beyond the present state of things rather than always being expressed within them.
Patchwork, for me, is the name of prospective geopolitical desire which does not define itself by what it is already within — that is, by the infrastructures and institutions of capitalist nationhood — but rather defines itself by what it exits.
For many, this is a difficult thought to comprehend and make consistent with a leftist worldview, but that is not because it is in anyway right-wing. It is down to nothing other than the left’s own inward-facing and reductive sense of itself.
Let me explain this way: previously, via Mark Fisher, we defined accelerationism as a philosophical project which looks to the outside and attempts to sustain the exits that are opened out onto it by the systems in which we already live. And this is, in many respects, at least at the level of the individual subjectivity, a sort of first principle which defines many modern texts on ethics.
Emmanuel Levinas, for instance, defines his ethics by the primacy of the encounter with the Other — that is, a being who is outside oneself. Georges Bataille would likewise plot an ethics in this vein. However, Bataille emphasises the inherent evil of this encounter, that is, the risk it poses to the self. To communicate with another, for him, is to threaten one’s own life, figuratively speaking. We see ourselves just as we see capitalism, as we see the state, as self-contained and self-constituting beings, and in communicating with others we risk the violent destruction of that illusion.
This is precisely the tension that exists at the heart of inward- and outward-facing accelerationist politics. One response to this risk, which the Christchurch shooter undoubtedly felt about himself and white people more generally, is to turn away and fold back in on oneself. But this won’t do.
Whilst Bataille may see communication in itself as being “evil”, in its inherent risk to the self, it is a necessary evil. He writes in his book On Nietzsche:
The human being without evil would be folded onto himself, enclosed in his independent sphere. But the absence of “communication” — empty solitude — would be without any doubt a greater evil.
He continues — and I noticed that this is a quote which featured on the poster for this event:
… “communication” cannot take place without wounding or defiling the beings, is itself guilty. The good, in whatever way one envisions it, is the good of beings, but in wanting to attain it, we must ourselves question — in the night, through evil — the very being in relation to which we want it.
A fundamental principle is expressed as follows: “Communication” cannot take place between one full and intact being and another: it wants beings who question being in themselves, who place their being at the limit of death, of nothingness. The moral summit is the moment of risk, of the suspension of the being beyond itself, at the limit of nothingness.
This is the heart of Bataille’s ethical project, which takes the full weight of a communal living upon itself. This is also the heart of patchwork for me, which is too an ethical project as I see it.
Patchwork is the suspension of the nation-state beyond itself. It is an occulted image of the nation-state which defiles and wounds itself, and in the process defiles and wounds others around it, not with physical violence or warfare, but with thought and communication as instances of symbolic, linguistic, cognitive and technological perforation. It is a communication which demands an openness from that which is being communicated with. It is not a neoliberal multiculturalism, in this sense, which consolidates different within distinct nationalised totalities. It demands for the very real perforation of borders and boundaries. It is a system where nation-states question their very nature. They don’t sustain themselves on myths of foundation and constitution but embrace the amorphous and nomadic nature of the subjects which truly constitute their existence.
In a blog post written before his extended online hiatus back in 2017, Vince Garton would write on the misguided task of excavating accelerationism’s antedecents within writings on politics and philosophy. Finding previous examples of this sensation of acceleration might be thrilling and interesting but we need to jettison the past into the future, not simply point to it from the present. As such, Vince writes, concluding his blog post, that
the intellectual history and genealogy of accelerationism must look beyond the contingencies of its present expressions. To have any value, it must tap into the subterranean current of communication itself.
This, for me, is the role of patchwork in discussions around accelerationism — patchwork as that which accelerationism opens out onto — and this is something that I think Chris‘s talk explored in incredible depth. It is a world rethought along currents of communication rather than capital. It is a world that puts the other first in a way that capitalism cannot even conceive of. It is an almost Bataillean project of collective subjectivity and one which may transgress the world we know but only so we might egress out onto a world we don’t. It is not the strengthening of present borders of power. It is not the strengthening of patriarchy, of whiteness, of capitalism, of colonialism, of nationhood. Any project which calls for those things is no project of ours. We must accelerate the anomalies which emerge within these categories of hegemony and build a patchwork out of the amorphous results.
Hi, great talk! In the q&a after, your questioner asks in relation to a book called soemthing like “masses and power” and you say you have not read it but its on your list… can you confirm the name and author of said book please?
Thanks very much! And yes — sorry, we got the name wrong. It’s “Crowds & Power” by Elias Canetti.
I have the “Accelerationist Reader.”
I have read “The Marx Engels Reader” (might have the title wrong).
Are there 3 “best books” you recommend that can provide more insight to the accelerationist idea for the interested layperson?
The U/Acc primer from this blog (https://xenogothic.com/2019/03/04/a-u-acc-primer/) covers it directly pretty well. I also generally recommend Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil & Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus to understand the philosophical context; you may need to do introductory reading (https://www.newappsblog.com/2012/08/how-to-begin-reading-deleuze.html for Deleuze, and then Deleuze’s book on Nietzsche) for those depending on how philosophically knowledgeable you are. Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena & Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie are important too, though all of these but the primer touch on it more indirectly than directly.
Not sure about “best books”. People dig up new antecedents to it all the time. I’d suggest something by Paul Virilio maybe, Deleuze + Guattari,… The book that always comes to mind for me is JG Ballard’s The Drowned World. It’s not an explicit influence to most but I think it dramatises a lot of stuff very well.