Terminator vs. Avatar (vs. Marianne Williamson)

A lot has been made of Marianne Williamson recently, the viral Democratic Party underdog who has been turning heads throughout the on-going drama of who is going to be the Democrat presidential nominee in 2020.

She seems to be this year’s time-warp candidate, in being from some bygone era of lost hippiedom but also only being a conceivable candidate for the democratic nomination in the Year of Our Holy Fucked-Up Weirdo 2019.

(I’ve just realised that I’ve been paying far too much attention to these debates but they’re a welcome reprieve from the beige monotony of our prime ministerial debates for the unelected leader of the Conservative party. So thanks for that, America.)

Williamson arrived on my radar after some people — but specifically @Edburg — started pointing out that it is she, rather than Andrew Yang, who is the true Accelerationist — that is, “anti-time” — candidate, what with her apparent desire to rally the troops for the Lemurian time war.

But there is also something else that I find genuinely interesting about her, buried beneath the crusty hippiedom. During her debate appearance, she made numerous calls for a revitalised political libido — and looking at her wrickled competition, a bit of political Viagra certainly wouldn’t go amiss this year (or any year for that matter…)

In particular, I think there’s something interesting in her call back to JFK in the video above, particularly her assertion that Kennedy’s strength was synthesising the people and their imagination together, within the political landscape.

But, as she herself says, to achieve that level of excitement amongst the electorate requires a whole lot more than just superficial slogans and vaguely progressive promises. It’s something that we might even recognise as extralinguistic and therefore already out of reach of the more “polished” — read: bland, over-buffered and over-privileged — candidates that define party politics in the 21st century. Trump’s success despite his stunted capacity for speech is exemplary of that — and his failure to follow through exemplary of the other side of the coin…

Truly, he is the Paradox President… (Though Boris Johnson is likely to give him a run for his money over here.)

(Now I’ve just got Blackalicious in my head, which is actually a pretty good distillation of the point in hand…)

The problem is that Williamson is obviously not exempt from her own criticisms. In fact, it might apply to her even more than the other candidates she attempts to take to task.

If she wants to avoid becoming more of a hypocrite, she needs to drag herself up by her own bootstraps and avoid the quietly reactionary nature of her own superficiality.

This is something epitomised by her enthusiasm and love of the film Avatar which she has mentioned on a number of occasions, but particularly on Twitter.

Reading all these pleas to return to James Cameron’s bloated sci-fi reimagining of Pocahontas led me back to Mark Fisher’s seminal accelerationist essay, Terminator Vs. Avatar“.

Drawing on his favourite passage from Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy — the infamous bit with his “hang on tight and spit on me” suggestion that the English peasantry “enjoyed the hysterical, masochistic, whatever exhaustion it was of hanging on in the mines, in the foundries, in the factories, in hell” — Mark continues:

Spit on Lyotard they certainly did. But in what does the alleged scandalous nature of this passage reside? Hands up who wants to give up their anonymous suburbs and pubs and return to the organic mud of the peasantry. Hands up, that is to say, all those who really want to return to pre-capitalist territorialities, families and villages. Hands up, furthermore, those who really believe that these desires for a restored organic wholeness are extrinsic to late capitalist culture, rather than fully incorporated components of the capitalist libidinal infrastructure. Hollywood itself tells us that we may appear to be always-on techno-addicts, hooked on cyberspace, but inside, in our true selves, we are primitives organically linked to the mother/planet, and victimised by the military-industrial complex. James Cameron’s Avatar is significant because it highlights the disavowal that is constitutive of late capitalist subjectivity, even as it shows how the disavowal is undercut. We can only play at being inner primitives by virtue of cinematic proto-VR technology whose very existence presupposes the destruction of the organic idyll of Pandora.

This very much sounds like Williamson’s own Neo-Reactionary Hippie argument, and it is even one that Mark’s inchoate Acid Communist phase is often (incorrectly) lumped in with (at least when adjacent to the New Age spiritualisms of Acid Gilbertism).

As Mark continues, in this now (admittedly) somewhat outdated essay:

… if there is no desire to go back except as a cheap Hollywood holiday in other people’s misery — if, as Lyotard argues, there are no primitive societies (yes, ‘Terminator was there from the start, distributing microchips to accelerate its advent’); isn’t, then, the only direction forward? Through the shit of capital, its metal bars, it polystyrene, its books, its sausage pâtés, its cyberspace matrix?

Whilst Mark’s later writings may not have been quite so explicitly accelerationist in this regard (favouring a far more practical and immediate politics), he nevertheless continued to see the only way out as through — through what exactly remains up for debate.

In “Terminator vs Avatar”, the suggestion seems to be that the more immediate task at hand is to find the way out through our bourgeois subjectivities — and we’ve all got a bit of bouj in us whether we like it or not, such is the impact of late capitalist decadence. I’d argue the charge made in Acid Communism is very much along the same lines.

So, whereas Williamson embodies the neo-reactionary sur-primitivism of a time-warp hippiedom…

…Mark’s response to this might be, whilst we do come from another realm of consciousness, what we long for are pastures new, not to “go home”.

There is no “home”. There is no such thing as a nativism for consciousness and we should always interrogate the desire to reestablish the old through and with all the techno-virtues of the new.

The true task at hand — and it is a horrifying one — is to recognise that consciousness itself is scorched earth just like the planet on which we stand and, just as is required to combat the climate crisis itself, we require a radical shift in consciousness to address this.

The last time this consciousness was on the verge of global emergence was during the 1960s and ’70s, but that doesn’t mean we need to go back there. Returning to Williamson’s point about JFK, she is arguably also pointing to that which “capital must always obstruct”, as Mark writes in his intro to Acid Communism: “the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy.” Such was the Space Race; the “Lure of the Void“.

The shift in consciousness required is perhaps one which allows us to see the absence of this collectivity from outside the perceptual limits of neoliberalism’s enforced individualism. We have to see ourselves from outside ourselves, through the looking glass into the Nonsense of Wonderland, in order to fully appreciate what is truly missing and must be constructed.

We just need to embrace, with the same confidence that many in the ’60s and ’70s had, the need to step out into the void of the future. This void will not be the same as theirs, but we can at least admire their enthusiasm for it.

In this sense, maybe Williamson does have some shiny pearls of wisdom still worthy of meditating on…


  1. Resonated with this: “There is no such thing as a nativism for consciousness and we should always interrogate the desire to reestablish the old through and with all the techno-virtues of the new.’ I’m reading Jenny Odell’s _How To Do Nothing_ and thinking about the neoliberalizing tendencies of the attention economy, itself wrapped up inexorably in the oft-touted “techno-virtues of the new.” No, there is no home to go back to, but the “radical shift in consciousness” you invoke here surely has to do with something separate from the vampiric focus-draining circuits of digital culture?

    1. Oh yeah, absolutely. But that’s due to capitalism’s own monopolisation of the potentials of those technologies. I’ve written about that a few times before, in orbit of what Jodi Dean calls “communicative capitalism”.

  2. …Mark’s response to this might be, whilst we do come from another realm of consciousness, what we long for are pastures new, not to “go home”.

    Maybe on some level we long for a kind of overcoming of time in which the “new” and the “old” are blended seamlessly? I’m reminded of a comment from Mark wrote in a post about “Lovecraft and the Weird” at http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/009407.html“Throughout his work, Freud repeatedly stressed that the unconscious knows neither negation nor time. Hence the Escheresque image in ‘Civilization and its Discontents’ of the unconscious as a Rome ‘in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest ones'”

    I’m also reminded of a couple of quotes from Lovecraft himself on both the desire to explore the strange and unknown but also the desire to ground that in the familiar, from a pair letter to Clark Ashton Smith at https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft

    “The true function of phantasy is to give the imagination a ground for limitless expansion, and to satisfy aesthetically the sincere and burning curiosity and sense of awe which a sensitive minority of mankind feel toward the alluring and provocative abysses of unplumbed space and unguessed entity which press in upon the known world from unknown infinities and in unknown relationships of time, space, matter, force, dimensionality, and consciousness. This curiosity and sense of awe, I believe, are quite basic among the sensitive minority in question; and I see no reason to think that they will decline in the future—for as you point out, the frontier of the unknown can never do more than scratch the surface of eternally unknowable infinity.”


    “I do differ from you radically in respect to familiar things & scenes; for I always demand close correlation with the landscape & historic stream to which I belong, & would feel completely lost in infinity without a system of reference-points based on known & accustomed objects. I take complete relativity so much for granted, that I cannot conceive of anything as existing in itself in any recognisable form. What gives things an aspect & quasi-significance to us is the fact that we view things consistently from a certain artificial & fortuitous angle. Without the preservation of that angle, coherent consciousness & entity itself becomes inconceivable. Thus my wish for freedom is not so much a wish to put all terrestrial things behind me & plunge forever into abysses beyond light, matter, & energy. That, indeed, would mean annihilation as a personality rather than liberation. My wish is perhaps best defined as a wish for infinite visioning & voyaging power, yet without loss of the familiar background which gives all things significance. I want to know what stretches Outside, & be able to visit all the gulfs & dimensions beyond Space & Time. I want, too, to juggle the calendar at will; bringing things from the immemorial past down into the present, & making long journeys into the forgotten years. But I want the familiar Old Providence of my childhood as a perpetual base for these necromancies & excursions—& in a good part of these necromancies & excursions I want certain transmuted features of Old Providence to form part of the alien voids I visit or conjure up. I am as geographic-minded as a cat—places are everything to me. Long observation has shewn me that no other objective experience can give me even a quarter of the kick I can extract from the sight of a fresh landscape or urban vista whose antiquity & historic linkages are such as to correspond with certain fixed childhood dream-patterns of mine.”

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