Who’s Driving?: A Fragment on Freud, Ballard and Accelerationism

This was something necessarily culled from a work-in-progress that I liked but which is too much of a tangent to be worth keeping. Clipped and posted here for posterity.

Explaining his theory of the unconscious mind in his 1923 work, The Ego and the Id, Sigmund Freud deploys an analogy of a man on horseback to describe the relationship between his titular arenas of the mind.

“The functional importance of the ego is manifested,” he writes, “in the fact that normally control over the approaches to motility devolves upon it.” This is to say that we often assign ourselves agency based on our self-consciousness of our own willpower. Operating as the go-between for the id and the superego, the agency of the ego is assumed to all powerful and reasonable. “Thus in its relation to the id”, Freud continues, the ego “is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength whilst the ego uses borrowed forces.” Furthering the analogy, however, Freud notes that this relationship is not so one-sided. He write: “Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id’s will into action as if it were its own.” [1]

Accelerationism, innately concerned with the relationship between desire and capitalism, updates this analogy for now. Here, the ego and the id are scaled upwards, with society and capitalism fulfilling their respective roles.

With this in mind, we might transform the rider and his horse into the appropriately post-Fordist figure of a driver and his car. The analogy finds itself further complicated, however.

Here we find the raw id-engine buried under the superficial gleam of all the latest mod cons. Accelerationism, then, takes seriously the possibilities afforded to the modern subject by the intrusion of an accelerating technological progressivism upon the psyche. To get where we want to go, is it necessary that we strip back the shell of modernity in which we are encased? Not really. But we nonetheless have a responsibility to better understand our relationship to the machine in which we find ourselves inside.

In this sense, accelerationism poses the same questions that J.G Ballard did when he wrote his novel, Crash. Writing a new introduction to the novel in 1995, Ballard couldn’t be more explicit. He presents his reader with a number of rhetorical questions: 

Do we see, in the car crash, a sinister portent of a nightmare marriage between sex and technology? Will modern technology provide us with hitherto undreamed-of means for tapping our own psychopathologies? Is this harnessing of our innate perversity conceivably of benefit to us? Is there some deviant logic unfolding more powerfully than that provided by reason?

The role of accelerationism today is not to fetishise this relationship — as was the case with Ballard too, who emphases the fact that, for him, “the novel has a political role quite apart from its sexual content”. Instead, it becomes a bridge on which these questions become as pertinent to the mundane perversity of the job centre as they are to the Cronenbergian hyperviolence of a vaginated automobile. 

Accelerationism necessarily plunders the space in between and asks: “Where next?”

[1] We might note here that, just as Fisher suggested, this was Spinoza’s view of “the emotions” also. As Spinoza writes in the Ethics:

we do not have absolute sovereignty over [the emotions]. The Stoics however thought that they depended absolutely on our will and that we could have absolute sovereignty over them. But they were compelled by refractory experience rather than by their principles to admit that a good deal of practice and effort are also required to restrain and govern them.

Leave a Reply