Lucid Accelerationism: Notes on U/Acc and Z/Acc

Can we reclaim L/Acc in the name of a lucid accelerationism?

I greatly enjoyed Meta-Nomad’s detailed exploration of accelerationism in an interview over on Parallax Optics. (Thanks for the shout-out too.) It is an incredibly lucid exploration of accelerationism’s inner philosophical workings and if you want to get down into the depths of accelerationist thought, in a way that is devoid of my own subjective fuzz, it is an excellent place to start.

However, because of this, it has made me somewhat wary about my own writings on accelerationism and got me thinking about the distinction, as I see it, between U/Acc and Z/Acc — a distinction that is one of perspective, perhaps; differing perspectives of the transcendental.

It feels useful to affirm these distinctions because I have been worried that I may be derailing U/Acc of late, pivoting it slightly away from its original observations. I’ve risked doing this by doing so much work to center the human subject within capitalism’s mechanisms, but this is only to affirm the experience of the writer writing about U/Acc; to affirm the sense of being driftwood headed down river; trying to infer the ways in which one is weathered by the accelerative climate of our era.

As I wrote recently: “L/R [Acc] fall into the cold water of capitalism and attempt to swim hard. U/Acc floats to live, and hopes to find itself carried back to the source, back to the end of the river.”

Broadly speaking, what interests me about /Acc is its use as a form of Ballardian critique. This is what interests me about various accelerationist off-shoots also, particularly those that appear in the works of Mark Fisher — capitalist realism and hauntology being the most obvious ones.

This summary of what this kind of critique entails — taken from my recent Quietus essay — is the one I’m sticking with: “Just as J.G. Ballard’s novels are strewn with prescient cultural observations, he also sketched bold new visions of what the human subject might look like if left too long in the pressure cooker of his concerns.” This is one purpose of accelerationism as I see it. It is an observation of the mechanisms of capitalism, as they unfold distinct from our own agency, and the affects of these mechanisms of our sense of our selves as such.

The danger, however, is that this can very easily slip into another kind of humanism, where the question of “What is being done to us?” is reduced to “What is to be done?”

This shift is necessary, on occasion, surely, if we are to avoid slipping into a kind of passive nihilism, but I suppose the central point to be retained, as far as I am concerned, is that this must not come at the cost of the lucidity that accelerationism first allows for.

An understanding of “lucidity” is something I have taken from Justin Barton’s book Hidden Valleys, in which he describes, for instance, the lucidity of the modernists of the twentieth century — a lucidity that emerges from the ways in which the subjects of modernist fiction are able to enter into the flows of the landscapes, the wildernesses, on or near which they reside. He writes:

The eerie wilderness in modernism can be the mountain in Picnic at Hanging Rock, or the places by the sea in The Waves (both the places by the sea, and the places from which another sea is perceived, in one of which there is an urn at which Rhoda and Louis stand, gazing toward the fluidities of the anomalous dimension). It can be the beach in Neuromancer, or the night countryside emptiness of the places across which the horse-god worshipping boy rides his horse in Equus — or it can be Zarathustra’s mountains, or a forest somewhere outside Athens, or “the eye of the forest” in Patti Smith’s Horses (from which you can look up toward “the sea of possibilities”).

This modernist wilderness is an anomalous dimension, nonetheless visible from our own vantage points if we know what to look out for. It is a noumenal plane that we can see from within the depths of things that exists beyond the edges of things but which the limits of our quotidian experiences stop us from accessing or knowing intimately.

It is a transcendental vision of the workings of the world that we know — or perhaps can only feel — and which unfold apart from us as well as within us. It is the moving of matter, that moves regardless of our input, and it is an eye cast towards the movements of a wilderness, an Outside, which opens up worlds apart from the one we know, restricted within the imagination as a zone of human action. This wilderness is, then, instead, a zone of inhuman action, and what takes places there affects us as much as — if not more than — we affect it.

As Justin describes it, in countless works of fiction from the twentieth century — and fiction is primarily where it is revealed to us, or at least enunciated for us:

There is always a wilderness or semi-wilderness: a hauntingly (and hauntedly) positive hinterland, or Outside. And the world of modernism is always transected by an anomalous dimension inhabited by forces that are both positive and negative, and can recurrently prove to be at a higher level of power than the forces of the ordinary world.

Lucidity, then, is our capacity to become attune to this other world through a geopoetics. As Mark Fisher writes in The Weird and the Eerie, speaking of the disappeared women in Picnic at Hanging Rock — and it is typically women who are better at accessing this lucidity, something which Justin also affirms — it is our capacity to throw off “the petty repressions and mean confines of common experience” so that we might enter “into a heightened atmosphere of oneiric lucidity”; a psychedelic dreaming-awake.

It is this, perhaps, that affects my writing with a “political and cultural bias”, as Meta put it. I laughed at this. He’s absolutely right, of course, but this also hasn’t stop people from calling my writing slippery, with a political viewpoint that is never affirmed. This is telling in itself, I think. To anyone explicitly not on the left, my bias is clear. To anyone who is, it’s not. I think this is because U/Acc is understood, for me at least, culturally. Whereas others take a more scientific approach — even if it is not classically rational, as Meta’s work with magick demonstrates — my approach to accelerationism is that it is a cultural concern because this is precisely where I think the critique takes place most effectively.

“Capitalism wasn’t voted in and it won’t be voted out either,” was a comment made by someone once — I can’t remember who — that continues to resonate with me. If my accelerationism is implicitly imbued with my leftism, it is because I think the lucidity it offers us can inform political praxis in other spheres. This is not to confuse accelerationism with political praxis in itself. To understand it is to undergo a sort of unconsciousness raising that I think offers us untold potentials but to restrict this to a prescribed mode of action is to cut this lucidity down in the midst of its ever-unfolding development. It nonetheless requires an ethical response, I think, but this is not to be confused with a leftist moralism or a rightist bloodymindedness — two sides of the same coin.

So, I would like to affirm my bias but I would also not like this bias to come to define accelerationism for anyone looking to understand it in more detail. This is the danger of the U/Acc Reader‘s virality, having spread further than I could have ever imagined it doing. This is also why I am heartened to see it shared alongside Meta’s Z/Acc Primer very frequently. Together, I’d like to think they offer us the perfect conjuncture through which we might avoid the foreclosure of a desired lucidity.

The tension of U/Acc is perhaps that it is a thought that knows its own position. (It is from here that accelerationism finds antecedents in the German Idealists — Schelling in particular: that prophet of the Unconscious.) It is the paradox of recognising the noumenal without and a noumena within. In this sense, theoretically speaking, we might say that “accelerationists” typically partake in a mode of writing that allows the Outside in. This is my attraction to Mark’s writing, at its most lucid. He writes knowing that he is hardly the person writing. He understands his position as a scribe possessed by uttunul signal.

Perhaps that’s all a bit embarrassing. It is undoubtedly one step away from the humanisms that have reduced accelerationisms — impotently on the left and violently on the far right — to shadows of their former selves. What we are trying to be affirmed here, then, so self-consciously, is an inhumanism. It is accelerationism as an experiment in inhumanism as Robin Mackay once described it, speaking of Nick Land — it is to be “prepared to let thought take [you] beyond such contemplative comforts; to put [yourself] at risk in the name of philosophy – even if, in the process, [you] repudiate that ancient name, along with its traditions.”

Z/Acc, as I see it, is not so different. It is similarly an experiment in inhumanism, but one which agonises far less about the impact of an Outsideness on the subject who is contemplating it. As Meta-Nomad explains:

This is what Deleuze — working strictly in the Kantian sense — understood when he replaced subject-object transcendental system with an immanentized version wherein the former is a desiring-machine and the latter is an inverted communicatory economy. It’s production and consumption all the way down. What can we say of ‘man’ caught in the belly of process, very little.

If we might convert the “I” of U/Acc’s drifting subject-position — a concern with which has arguably been intensified, inadvertently, by the problems that have arisen from its earlier concerns with “anti-praxis” — into a 1, Z/Acc completes the binary with a 0. It is complementary but distinct, opening up a further dimension to our capacities for thinking the forces that surround us.

As Parallax Optics describes it, Z/Acc is /Acc’s “absolute negative image.” In this sense, if U/Acc is to exist, then Z/Acc must also. One is the positive charge to the other’s negative (which perhaps complements Meta’s physics-oriented vision of the stakes of things). Which is which, I’m not sure I could say… (Both hope to be cyberpositive.) Nevertheless, each keeps its other on its toes.

Meta is doing some really important work here.

Update: A brief response from Meta-Nomad on Twitter:

In short, yes, Z/Acc accepts — and somewhat promotes — the reality of the cybernegative, which has to exist if the positive does.

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