Passing Paradoxes: A Quick Response to Some Quibbles With Anti-Praxis

Cybertrop(h)ic has written a response to my recent post on anti-praxis. After a less than interesting response to it on Twitter, it is nice to see some thought going into a critique from someone self-identifying as “post-libertarian/post-right”. The rest of the Twitter right largely seemed upset at something they’d barely read. I’ll happily take an argument built on good faith than that paranoid rubbish any day.

And so, Cybertrop(h)ic’s time taken to respond deserves a thoughtful response in kind.

Primarily, there are a few assumptions made in Cybertrop(h)ic’s response that I’d like to address in the hope that I can further clarify some things left open to misinterpretation. These misinterpretations are mostly my own fault. The points that Cybertrop(h)ic raises in their post are consistently comments I knew I could have spent a lot more time on but simply brushed passed for brevity.

I left a version of this post in the comments of the original post but you know me — any excuse to collect more blog fodder. Below are quotes followed by my responses.

On the Twitter conversation that followed the previous post, Cybertrop(h)ic writes:

One intriguing divergence is that identified by Cyborg Nomade, when he argues that “antipraxis isn’t “do nothing” – but rather do what you want, i.e., follow desire”. To which Matt retorts that capitalism has monopolised desire, and so simply following one’s own desire within capitalism leads to “boomerism”, presumably of the “I just want to grill, watch Netflix and drink Coca Cola. What are you all so fussed about? Enjoy capitalism!” variety.

Matt sees something questionable in this boomerism, and so do I, although from a somewhat different angle. I’m reminded of a line Nick Land wrote in his piece “Romantic Delusion”, in response to the typical “capitalism turns us into mindless consuming zombies” line of anti-capitalist critique:

“We contemptuously mock the trash that it offers the masses, and then think we have understood something about capitalism, rather than about what capitalism has learnt to think of the apes it arose among”

In this framing, mindless consumerism is not the fault of capitalism but of human nature, or more specifically the nature of the majority of the herd. Overly-elitist and essentialist as this take is, ignoring the ways in which capitalism assists in the construction (and constriction) of consuming subjects, Land does have a point: capitalism will give you what you want, but it isn’t capitalism’s fault if you’re not a connoisseur of fine things.

This is a point I agree with. It may not be explicit in the previous post, or the following Twitter discussion, but this is an accelerationist argument shared by both (early) Land and Fisher that can be found in Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. And so, unfortunately, the assumption being made that my questioning of desire is based on some sort of middle-class snobbery is mistaken. What I am calling “boomerism” is precisely the lack of imagination that broadly defines the “boomer” meme in my mind — an unimaginative response from the 20th century’s most spoilt generation, who essentially conflate anti-capitalism with anarcho-primitivism, an argument made by anti-Occupy boomers incessantly following the financial crash of the late 2000s.

In this sense, what is meant by capitalism “monopolising” desire is that capitalism encourages our belief in the false equivalence of a desire for fast food and other mod-cons constituting a desire for capitalism overall. (See Louise Mensch’s infamously bad take below.)

This is an example, arguably made famous by Fisher in recent years, of the ways that capitalist realism limits desire to a desire for material goods, and material goods are understood solely as commodities that only capitalism can produce. Before we can even get to a place of discussing an increasingly commonplace desire for a wealth beyond capitalism, the conversation is shutdown as being a hatred of desire itself rather than a desire for other options or simply a better and less oppressive way of life.

Cybertrop(h)ic, of course, writes that they “happen to think that capitalism actually does pretty well at [fulfilling desires]. It could do a lot better, but it is pretty good at it already.” That’s certainly true, at a very basic level of an itch scratched, but I would argue that capitalism isn’t exactly efficient at this. Surely there are other and better ways of fulfilling needs and desires than the currently dull and dysfunctional system that works by breaking down. Here again the concept of “desire” is further complicated.

Fisher tackles this explicitly and at length in his Postcapitalist Desire lectures — indeed, it’s the entire negative inspiration for the course. He quotes Lyotard at length on it in the final lecture, for instance, specifically drawing on the evil Libidinal Economy‘s veiled swings of contempt at the Marxist academics of the 1960s who carried forth a kind of libidinal snobbery that Cybertrop(h)ic is mistakenly assuming I share. As Lyotard writes:

Why, political intellectuals, do you incline towards the proletariat? In commiseration for what? I realize that a proletarian would hate you, you have no hatred because you are bourgeois, privileged smooth-skinned types, but also because you dare not say the only important thing there is to say, that one can enjoy swallowing the shit of capital, its materials, its metal bars, its polystyrene, its books, its sausage pâtés, swallowing tonnes of it till you burst — and because instead of saying this, which is also what happens in the desire of those who work with their hands, arses and heads, ah, you become a leader of men, what a leader of pimps, you lean forward and divulge: ah, but that’s alienation, it isn’t pretty, hang on, we’ll save you from it, we will work to liberate you from this wicked affection for servitude, we will give you dignity. And in this way you situate yourselves on the most despicable side, the moralistic side where you desire that our capitalized’s desire be totally ignored, forbidden, brought to a standstill, you are like priests with sinners, our servile intensities frighten you, you have to tell yourselves: how they must suffer to endure that! And of course we suffer, we the capitalized, but this does not mean that we do not enjoy, nor that what you think you can offer us as a remedy — for what? — does not disgust us, even more. We abhor therapeutics and its Vaseline, we prefer to burst under the quantitative excesses that you judge the most stupid. And don’t wait for our spontaneity to rise up in revolt either.

That the modern Right doesn’t think the Left is wholly aware of this decades-old critique is a mistake. In fact, they ignore the Left’s critiques of it entirely to encourage the persistent existence of a reactionary working-class. Again, Fisher talks about this far more expertly than I could.

If my stab at a contemporary anti-praxis in relation to desire holds anything within its heart, it is Lyotard’s negativity in this regard; his fury. (I am writing something else on this fury’s place within an anti-praxis at the moment because there is plenty more here worthy of unpacking, so more on this another time.)

Matt seems very insistent on hanging onto the signifier “socialism”, for reasons that I’m failing to ascribe to much beyond a general leftist sentimentality. Sure, “socialism” can charitably be interpreted as meaning nothing more than “post-capitalism”, but then why not just say “post-capitalism”? Matt claims that socialism “[has] long been the stepping stone towards something other than this mess”, to which I respond: really? Since when?! I would say that, historically, socialism has served as a stepping stone to either (1) a worse mess, (2) slightly watered down dirigiste capitalism or (2) nothing of note at all.

The point about socialism being the stepping stone out of capitalism, which I admittedly only nod to in passing, is from Marx’s comments on the negation of the negation. (See here.)

Cliff Notes: Capitalism’s negation of feudalism is defined, in part, for Marx, by the opening up of the potential for individual ownership. However, if individual ownership is universalised, then it’s just social ownership. Ergo, in the most basic and reductive of senses: feudalism > capitalism > socialism.

Whilst capitalism speeds forth ever faster towards its own mutation, it is the capitalists themselves who cause drag on and attempt to decelerate the system so that they can hold onto their private rents (and, as is increasingly the case, proliferate rent as a solution to cultural access and therefore negating capitalism’s initial negation of feudalism and the concept of individual property. We increasingly live in a world twisted towards the negation of Marx’s negation of the negation. It is this negative feedback loop of capitalist drag that has led some to call capitalism’s present “frenzied stasis” a kind of “neofeudalism“. I prefer Peter Frase’s term “rentism” personally.)

No other point being made in the previous post other than that — and, even then, only in passing. I explicitly made the point that “we can argue about the finer points of whether socialism (as an ideological institution) is the best successor to capitalism.” Socialism is, in this sense, just shorthand for postcapitalism minus that term’s “capitalocentrism”.

There is an irony here, however, and this seems to be the very same fallacy that underwrote the previous right-wing responses to the previous post. Cybertrop(h)ic’s word-count unfortunately doesn’t mean they sidestep the same mistake.

If the whole post is repeatedly making the case for a kind of de-institutionalised practice, why would I be hanging onto socialism as a signifier? That’s why I am emphasising it as a general concept. It is a right-wing response that demonstrates the very incapability of thinking outside of institutionalised — that is, in this sense, overtly-defined and reified — categories that the post is trying to critique. Granted, our expectations regarding political language makes this difficult — and this is why there’s a further irony in others thinking a lack of familiar talking points reduced the post to word salad — but, again, this is the whole point of drawing on Deleuze’s essay “Instincts and Institutions”, which arguably implicates our use of language more than anything.

I’ll return to the relevance of that essay after the next point made…

No doubt Matt’s attachment to socialism also contributes to his view of anti-praxis (as de-instutionalised practice) in a narrowly political form. He dismisses bureaucratic, institutionalised party politics in favour of decentralised activism and grassroots mass movements. This is a step in a good-ish direction, (I like the idea of anti-praxis as a destratified, decoded mirror image of praxis) but also misses the bigger picture: this anti-praxis doesn’t need to mean politics in the sensu stricto at all.

There are a lot of things one can do that aren’t politics. Anti-praxis could mean art or business or science or sport or…anything. Sure, a lot of these things are less “impactful” than politics, but then how impactful is politics, really?

Same issue here. I don’t see how this can be the conclusion drawn other than from a woeful misreading of the overarching point. That anti-praxis slips out of the vector of pure politics into other spaces is precisely the point being made, albeit less reductively.

Matt’s suggestion (pace Deleuze) that we fall back on our instincts, live those instincts beyond the institutions that constrain and deny them — “follow our instincts and allow our institutions to adapt accordingly” — while pleasingly aligned with libidinal materialism, seems also a tad misguided. I think the major problem is the word “instinct”, which implies not only some kind of authentic desire that lies repressed beneath the surface (very Freudian, too Freudian) but even a quasi-conservative essentialism and anti-intellectualism.

“Instinct” is used in my previous post simply because Deleuze uses it in his essay on “Instincts and Institutions”. I think what is interesting about this usage (or at least in how that essay is translated) is that it shows how “instinct” and “institution” share a peculiar etymological root whilst supposedly being disparate concepts.

To focus on “instinct” as an inappropriate word to use misses the point being made about its conceptual relation to “institution”. Indeed, in critiquing it as “too Freudian”, isn’t Cybertrop(h)ic conflating the two and erasing the critique being made? What is Freud’s “Trieb” — more readily translated as “drive” these days, anyway — if not an institutionalised form of instinct? A Freudian instinct is precisely an instinct understood within the institution of Freudianism… Precisely the kind of poor logical short-curcuiting being discouraged. I didn’t think I’d need to spell it out.

That Deleuze is implicitly questioning this is important, and it is a point that returns in his work with Guattari — that is, the anti-Freudianism of Anti-Oedipus and their praxes of institutional critique and schizoanalysis, which are two ways of navigating our instinctual baggage.

Again, I want to write more on the relevance of schizoanalysis here in a forthcoming post. The relevance of this was not discussed in my previous post but I had hoped it would linger overhead.

Suffice it to say (for now) that my view of the world is not so black and white that I think we can’t hold multiple views (and critiques) of our situation at once — in fact, that was precisely the point of the post: we can and should do this and I think accelerationism implores us to.

We should be familiar with this kind of argument. For instance, take Deleuze and Guattari asking the question “Who does the earth think it is?”, as in “what is the earth for-itself?”, and how are we implicated and shaped by its disinterested processes? They straddle an apparent paradox where nature is seen as this totality we are but a part of and have no control over, and yet they also explore how we have a capacity (in xenofeminist and promethean terms) to change our own nature. That Alex Williams (via Ray Brassier) would carry forth this sort of question, implicitly following this line of enquiry in their respective bodies of work (asking “what is capital for-itself?”), demonstrates the foundational accelerationist move.

For me, whilst it may break with what Vincent Garton had in mind, I hope this rough and ready unpacking nonetheless resonates much more with Edmund Berger’s original essay on the topic, in which he writes that

U/ACC manifests an anti-praxis line when a very specific sort is proposed, that is, the political-territorial subordination and navigation of the forces in motion by a mass subject – the politics of striation. For this reason, perhaps it is best to view U/ACC not as anti-praxis, but as anti-collective means of intervention.

Again, this is not so controversial unless we consider a collective means of intervention to be the be-all-and-end-all of political action. And I don’t see how such a view abjures any alliance to another mode of praxis in another circumstance. If anything, this argument is an attempt to separate the measurements and diagnoses of accelerationism from other forms of political action. (See “You Are Not An Accelerationist”). This point has constantly been missed by Twitter orbiters, defining themselves as “unconditional accelerationists” and thereby making U/Acc a condition for their own mode of acting. It’s a paradox. It is precisely confusing praxis with anti-praxis.

This is why Berger later writes that

To accelerate the process, and to throw oneself into those flows, leaves behind the (already impossible) specter of collective intervention. This grander anti-praxis opens, in turn, the space for examining forms of praxis that break from the baggage of the past. We could count agorism and exit as forms impeccable to furthering the process, and cypherpolitics and related configurations arise on the far end of the development, as the arc bends towards molecularization of economic and social relations. It is in these horizons that conversation and application must unfold.

No more reterritorializing reactions. No more retroprogressivism.

Isn’t this precisely Steven Shaviro’s proto-accelerationist critique that the whole of the last post sought to draw attention to? Shaviro says no to “Zizek’s hyper-voluntarism”, “Adorno’s ultra-pessimism”, J.K. Gibson-Graham’s positive affirmations and Hardt & Negri’s arguably misguided belief in “a universal, creative, and spontaneously collective class, ready to step in and take control of a world that has already been prepared for them.” So what’s left?

For Williams and Srnicek, at least initially, they see a kind of Leftist anti-praxis that we might say resonantes with Berger’s calls to embrace the anti-collective and my own suggestion that we should make ourselves worthy of the process. As they write in “On Cunning Automata”, discussed briefly the other day:

The opening up of the contingency of the universal, made possible by navigating beyond the suffocating politico-conceptual space of capital, does not entail the achievement of some ludicrous and properly impossible endpoint of ‘full communism’. A genuinely universal accelerative post-capitalism would be distinct from (and distinctly more interesting than) predictable Marxist utopias, given the necessary and indeed increased alienation of the human from the world in which they exist. This new world is not the end of history, but the beginning of a new and very different universal kind.

What is the result of increased alienation if not the nehationThis isn’t socialism as we know it, or communism as we know it either. It is a mode of acting wholly other to the political institutions we continue to use as life rafts in our present chaos. This is not an argument to abandon knowledge but at least organisational baggage. In this sense, it is most similar to the sorts of schizoanalytic praxis explored by Deleuze and Guattari but it is also a praxis which takes into account the latest developments within the capitalist model and its accompanying economic theories.

For me, then, anti-praxis is a kind of double articulation. It’s not purely a negation that hopes to disavow all leftist standpoints, but rather recast them in a new light. It is, in this sense, an attempt to be a nihilist with principles. This is not, as Cybertrop(h)ic believes, “bogging u/acc down in activism”. This is explicitly not the point of that post. It’s an attempt to get over both the left and right’s attempts to overcome the kind of “double articulation” so important to D+G’s original project — the double articulation of human potentiality with an awareness of the nature of the cosmos in which we are situated. (“Geology of Morals”, etc.) Such was D+G’s project of schizoanalysis too.

This has long been obscured from an accelerationist discourse and I don’t really understand why. Isn’t it D+G’s call to “accelerate the process” we’re paying heed to? Then why are we allergic to the contexts in which they made that statement?

I’ll have something clearer and more expansive on why I think this “double articulation” is important soon. Watch this space.

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