If this post appears somewhat fragmented, that is because I’ve built it out of some stuff that got discarded whilst I was working on my #WYRDPATCHWORKSHOP talk a few weeks back. I’d recommend giving that a read first for some broader context but it’s not essential.
Patchwork, in the work of Nick Land in particular, is seen as a geopolitical desire that is, explicitly, strapped onto the branch of contemporary political philosophy known as Accelerationism. For Land, it seems, “accelerating the process” patchwise, in a way that is socioeconomically affective, relates to cutting out the middleman when it comes to capitalism’s influence.
Rather than having governments hire corporations, just accept that governments can’t keep up with the new techonomic world and, instead, let’s have a do-over.
This is a major generalisation, of course, and it is one which favours a particularly dystopian vision of the world from the left. However, whilst many see Land’s arguments as being associated with the “sovereign corporations” of Mencius Moldbug, hard to favour in light of contemporary inequality and the rampant ineffectuality of privatisation, there are also arguments to be made for a patchwork that could likewise resemble a fragmentary socialism where the “nationalisation” of industry is not just the further consolidation of state power. It could be seen less as the absorption of all business into the state and instead the absorption of the state by local business. This too is a generalisation — I’m trying to be brief — but suffice it to say that the overarching point of patchwork is that, regardless of where your politics lie, what comes under fire is the modern state form as the most formidable barrier to new political imaginaries.
This observation might sound all well and good but, predictably, patchwork ends up coming up against many of the same problems that accelerationism has in recent years. To enforce any particular left or right variant is sort of antithetical to what patchwork as a mode of thought is trying to attune itself to. This is not to simply hold up multiplicity as an end unto itself but rather to better account for the ground from which various contemporary tendencies move outwards from.
I recently published a primer on this intention as it is found in the discourse around unconditional accelerationism. Unconditional accelerationism, in contrast to a left or right accelerationism (and a dozen other variations of this philosophy that proliferate online) attempts to describe a process which unfolds beyond the realm of politics. This is not to ignore politics but rather to acknowledge that politics itself is expressed from within an overarching process from which it is not, in itself, distinct. We could even say that politics is dependent on this process — to quote a recent Ed Berger tweet: “the conditioned is dependent on the unconditional“.
As far as I am concerned, patchwork thinking is the real-world political arm of this analysis. It says: Here is the tendency that we see unfolding across decades, even centuries — that is, the unruly spread of capitalist nationhood, symptomatic of an attempt to quieten a certain ‘jangling of nerves’ — and here are a series of speculative geopolitical predictions which we see as worthy of encouragement if we want to effectuate real change from within the midst of this process rather than be mindless slaves to its affectations.
This makes patchwork a sort of antistatecraft. Just like capitalism, the territorialisation of the state, in its restlessness, opens doors for us which reveal new ways of geopolitical organisation, and patchwork attempts to provide a way of thinking them which are beyond the conditioned imaginary of the modern state form. It is an attempt to chart the unruly development of the state form itself to reveal its contingency as just one of a plurality of possible forms of interrelation between peoples and peoples-to-come. It is to follow the innate line of flight of the “state-form” we know in order to produce other kinds of state.
I sort of discussed this during my first #WYRDPATCHWORKSHOP talk, when I talked about how the Wyrd Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth offer us an example of an occulted, minoritarian outsideness, but one that is also strangely fatalistic. The fatalistic nature of this example has continue to be a issue in my mind and so the question lingers: when we talk about processes of deterritorialisation — innate entropic death drives within systems which pull towards their own demise — to what extent does this betray a deterministic approach to capitalism or geopolitics — that is, a sense of inevitability, or fatalism.
I wrote the U/Acc primer in part to try and address this problem as it is found in accelerationism. I was frustrated that accelerationism was being frequently reduced to the belief that we need to somehow speed up capitalism’s downfall no matter the cost — as if we have any real say in the matter — but I was also frustrated by a tendency to equate this determinism with a straight-up delusional religiosity which is betrayed by an interest in sci-fi or weird fiction; or narrative, fiction and myth more generally.
For me, the implicit reason for enjoying this approach is to suggest that we can read something like H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu, for example, and rather than just do the Cultural Studies thing of saying what the text is doing in the most boring way possible, we can instead try to tap into the power of that story and replicate the power of that mythos for our present moment, by putting into the very process of cultural production an occulted thinking that these sorts of stories bring to light at the limits of our conditioned realities. So, we shouldn’t just analyse culture in this way but actively try to produce it in its own outsider image.
Despite this, for some, this approach is reduced to such dumb dismissals as “Accelerationism is a sci-fi Cthulhu Cult that believes a giant dead octopus at the bottom of the ocean controls the world’s economy and doesn’t care about real-world affects and risks”…
And yet, in contrast to accelerationism, patchwork has never quite had to deal with this kind of critique, at least not to the same extent, perhaps because we’re a lot more familiar with thinking about the state in this way. Thomas Hobbes, for example, way back in 1651, wrote Leviathan, in which the state is presented to us in abstract, evoking the spectacle of a great whale, a kraken, a sea monster, albeit one cast in a positive light. Leviathan — used to give an image to a strong, undivided government — is, for Hobbes, despite the innate horror of the image, something to strive for.
Vincent Garton, on the Urbanomic website in 2017, wrote a marvellous essay — and a key patchwork text — in which he critiques Hobbes’ use of this image and calls, instead, for the formulation of “an Anti-Leviathan” — Leviathan Rots. Vince writes that what we need is “an enthusiasm that will be absolute, not relative, comfortable in its disjuncture, a theoretical orientation that is not dependent on a praxis of repetition of hegemony, but is open and expectant towards the processes that are ripping up the Leviathan — divesting it of its oceanic pretences, and drowning it in the expansive flux of the deep, green sea….”
Vince is a very interesting character within all of this, and a key contributor to these ideas. Between 2016 and 2017, he had a persistent online presence and was known for being a prolific and authoritative blogger on the topic of “unconditional accelerationism”. Then, at some point, he disappeared.
Vince’s last blog post, at this time, published on his Cyclonograph blog in July 2017, discussed the potential excavation of the antecedents of accelerationism — accelerationism, he writes, is, on “the most superficial level”, only about a decade old but it is also, at “its unspoken core … impossibly ancient.” This is because, he continues, accelerationism is “more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines”. It can be traced back through many paths and many cultures. Acceleration is, he says, a “sensation”, perhaps described most frequently by those in the West but it is nonetheless felt around the world. To reduce this tendency to any singular canonical trajectory is to reductively construct a bad genealogy. To relativise it is a mistake. Just as he calls for in Leviathan Rots, we need an “Absolute” approach to accelerationism — an unconditional approach.
We might say that accelerationism, then, is a philosophy which attempts to describe the unruly nature(s) of the politics we see erupting out of modernity and treat them accordingly, rejecting the consolidatory tendency of the state form and its striving for a total(itarian)ising theory which is innately false, only choosing to acknowledge a select number of the inputs that give it its form — that is, ejecting that which betrays the system of nation-state or capitalism as insufficient. As such, Vince writes, ending his previous blog on something of a cliffhanger: “When it is written, then, the intellectual history and genealogy of accelerationism must look beyond the contingencies of its present expressions.”
A year later, in July 2018, Vince returned, with a new blog, Cyclonograph II, and a seemingly new focus. His first piece of writing published around this time was an essay for the online magazine Jacobite entitled “Catholicism and the Gravity of Horror“, detailing his Catholicism and the horror integral to such a religious position, which many seemed to read, on the one hand, as a retraction of past political dalliances, or, on the other, as a conflation of Accelerationism with Catholicism itself. (Not a manoeuvre attractive to many tech-savvy secularists.)
But what Vince is describing here is the way in which the Church have followed the lead of the State in consolidating itself into an authoritative institution despite the ways in which its “ground” suggests an antithetical approach. He is putting forward a Catholicism which looks beyond the contingencies of its present expressions. He writes:
The Church today, mystical body of Christ that it remains, is not the ideal Church. Across its history it has been all too easy to founder, driven to despair by its mysteries or — far more common today — losing sight of them entirely, falling into a simplistic world of smooth and total immanence and giving up the commission of self-surrender. The theologian walks a precipice, and must take care neither to collapse, like Luther, into the oppressive darkness of a fallen world, nor to dissolve in the false light of an insipid liberalism that averts its gaze because it has forgotten how to fear.
What I find here, in connecting Vince’s past and present blogs, is a favouring, perhaps, of one particular “jangling of the nerves” — an unconditional one — and, as such, a jangling which, again, looks beyond contingent expressions, leading him to acknowledge the ways in which “modern philosophy, particularly aesthetic philosophy, driven for centuries with all its enlightened instincts away from religion, comes at its edge once more and continually into contact with theology.”
This is because what transcendental philosophies — and even transcendental politics — share with modern religion is a (somewhat performative) attempt to commune with that which is outside themselves. It considers its conditions of existence, establishing an outside of which it can say nothing. This has been the effect of Kantian philosophy on the world as we know it. What we find in Kant is precisely an attempt to give thought its conditions; to sketch out its edges, the areas beyond which thought itself cannot go. We find this within most popular conceptions of accelerationism too, placing conditions on politics in order to adequately describe their limits. As such, whether we call this radical Outside “Nature” or “God” or “the thing-in-itself” or the “Other” or “Cthulhu”, what we find is the acknowledgement of a process which is beyond ourselves but of which we can say nothing in particular. So, for Kant, everything we experience is conditioned by perception. We cannot speak to the world as it would be without us. We cannot even speak of ourselves understood outside of perception and it is from here that we find the limit of Lovecraftian horror and Catholic reasoning.
But the story does not end there. To finish the story with our terror before the unthinkable and unimaginable is, arguably, to accept impotence, failing to consider the thought that has emerged after this.
This is something I’m researching at the moment — the development and critique of Kantian thought to be found amongst the Post-Kantian German Idealists. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, in particular, emerges as an important figure who attempts to address the recursive nature of Kant’s position. Yes, we can say nothing of the “Outside”, but at the same time we must acknowledge that we ourselves are a product of it. Just as Judeo-Christian theology insists that we have been made in God’s image, we find a Post-Kantian thought which finds that whilst “Nature” may be inaccessible to us “in itself”, we also are nature-in-itself, and so thought becomes a way in which nature thinks itself. As Iain Hamilton Grant writes in his book Philosophies of Nature After Schelling:
… the grounds of the finitude of transcendental reflection are not simply logical, as Hegel will present it, but rather physical, and concern the relation between productivity and product. The transcendental is productive in the pursuit of conditions, but, having established such conditions as conditions, mere product when it accordingly determines a thought as thus conditions. There is an energetic cost, in other words, to thought about thought.
Now, I won’t pretend have any authoritative grasp on this as yet — this is an ongoing area of research for me, and new terrain to boot — but as I understand it, this manoeuvre in naturephilosophy is an attempt to rebuild the subject, in particular, as the product of a productive natural history by reversing through the strata of the subject to find its unconditioned core; its “nature”. But, if thought is nature thinking itself, then what is the ground of nature? And what is the ground of that ground? What is nature understood unconditionally? This is something which is likewise developed by Deleuze and Guattari, and whilst their Kantian thinking is often explored by philosophers, the influence of naturephilosophy on their ideas seems to be a lot less prevalent around these blogospheric parts, but there are some who have explored this in great depth. I know that Ben Woodard is soon to publish a book on Schelling, for instance; Thomas Murphy is incredibly knowledgeable about this period in the history of philosophy; and, last but certainly not least, there is also Thomas Moynihan’s forthcoming book Spinal Catastrophism (recently announced and out in September) which pursues these ideas with an explicitly post-CCRU bent.
It is via the CCRU that we can see the retention of a predilection for Gothic horror in naturephilosophy. In considering Schelling’s interjection of the human subject as nature which thinks itself, I’m reminded of the opening scene from Begotten, for instance, where we see God disembowel himself. Such is deterritorialisation, and the ultimate horrific impact of a Nature which performs persistent biopsies on itself. As such, there is a sense that, in hoping to understand Nature, we have to delve inside ourselves as we already are and so the energetic cost that is spent is nature itself; is us.
But, of course, in the film, out of the bowels of God emerges Mother Nature. Nature begets nature begets nature, each time in a new and appropriately unholy form.
And so, as Iain Hamilton Grant continues, in a chapter of his book which is notably titled “‘What thinks in me is what is outside of me'”:
It is in consequence of the derivative nature of the product with respect to productivity that Schelling’s transcendentalism begins with the assertion ‘nature IS a priori‘, but immediately raises the problem of how a nature can be thus a priori and, at the same time, ‘unconditioned’. Accordingly, Schelling completely reinvents a transcendental philosophy that must reverse through the series of conditions until it discovers either the ‘unconditioned is nature’ that ‘cannot be any thing‘, or that nature is unconditional.
This seemingly proto-structuralist account of nature is likewise taken up and taken to its extremes by Deleuze and Guattari in their call for a geology of morals. Their question, “Who does the earth think it is?”, might be qualified with a small addition: “Who does the earth think it is unconditionally?”
What becomes critical here, and which I’ll hopefully explore more in future, is the way in which, as already suggested, this geological approach to nature likewise produces new natures. By digging down, new matter is brought to the surface.
As Grant writes at the start of his book, introducing Schelling and his naturephilosophy:
Philosophy does not, according to Schelling, consist in a redescription of otherwise available phenomena, but launches ‘thought-operations’ in the ‘medium of the universal and the impersonal’. It is ‘not [a] demonstrative, but [a] generative‘ process through which productive nature itself acts on, or produces, itself: ‘to philosophise about nature means to create nature’.
We might do well to think of accelerationism and patchwork in much the same way.