A Moment of Renewal:
Notes on Badiou/Acc

I was entertained by this iceberg meme the other day.

It’s interesting to see how swiftly things have been moving of late. Interesting omissions to the meme, which I’m sure I saw on an earlier version of the weird Twitter iceberg from a year or two ago, include Rhett Twitter and patchwork. Granted, no one is really talking about those things anymore or has been for some time. But if we’re talking about deep iceberg dives into occulted Twitter knowledge, it is interesting how this is more or less limited to talking points — albeit some perennial — from the last 12 months or so. Truly, the age of Cave Twitter is over. Now it’s… “Wheel Twitter”? (I don’t know either.)

In the XG Discord, someone (with tongue firmly in cheek) lamented my absence from the iceberg’s nether regions. But I found it intriguing that both “salvagepunk” and “Badiou/Acc” showed up there. Their inclusion seems to be entirely down to my recent banging on about them both in recent months.

As such, I have come to the only reasonable conclusion: I am not on the iceberg; I am the current that moves it!

Jokes aside, “Badiou/Acc” is an interesting and telling coinage. It’s certainly not mine, although I recognise the sentiment. I can only imagine what sort of strange group chat it has emerged from. But it tempted me to make a meme of my own.


Vince’s post about accelerationist genealogies continues to echo down the years. “On the most superficial level, accelerationism has existed for about a decade. At its unspoken core, it is impossibly ancient.” He forewarns against etymological and genealogical projects that appeal to some sort of true history. And he was right too. It doesn’t take long before any study of modernity’s accelerative tendencies reveals itself to be woefully promiscuous. “With the appropriate historical sensibility, modulations of accelerationism soon well up in widely divergent contexts, all over the world, advancing along the storm-front of industrial capitalism”.

I’m increasingly of the opinion that a history of accelerationism isn’t going to help us — at least not a historical idealism — because, as Vince points out, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is best not to think of accelerationism, in the first instance, as a set of ideas at all.” It is “more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines.”

When we make attempts to consider the trajectory of this transhistorical nerve-jangling, are we not already talking about historical materialism? A history of the idea tells us nothing, but a history of the structures of feeling it responds to just might. But structures of feeling are much more difficult things to account for.

Surely we can only ever speak of the present in that regard? And surely, if we are “accelerationists”, that is all we’re really focused on anyway? Unfortunately not. The return to Land in 2016 (and the Ccru’s punk attitude more generally) was necessary, but it seems that we need another post-punk turn more than anything, or else we’ll never get beyond the new orthodoxy of an accelerationist ’90s fetishism.

But it’s not hard to understand how we ended up here. The past, after all, is seductive. In our late-capitalist present, where we have more access to its various twists and turns than at any other time in history, it is very easy to wander into the temporal labyrinth and get lost in there. This is one of the hang-ups of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus for me. It has come to feel obsessed with the past in a way that arguably undermines their own generative project. We need only look to how their work is deployed in the present to see why.

Our investigations of the past can be creative endeavours, of course, producing counter-histories and salvaging maligned potentials still ripe for actioning. But it can also be its own form of (hauntographic) capitalist capture. We produce our own labyrinths, like click-rats, seeing how many Wikipedia hyperlinks it takes us to get from “crème brûlée” back to Hitler. We become seduced, as if by a siren on the rocks, by history’s secrets, and the connections that bind them. We are all too prone to derail any intellectual project otherwise concerned with the present and the future. Deleuze and Guattari even make a case for this seduction themselves, writing, albeit affirmatively, of such sumptuous secrets that “became the form of something whose matter was molecularized, imperceptible, unassignable: not a given of the past but the ungivable ‘What happened?'”

What’s interesting about Badiou, in the context of accelerationism, is that he interjects in this seduction, warning us about our blind spots. This is undoubtedly why Alex Williams deploys myriad references to him in his assailment of hauntology. Hauntology is seductive, he writes. Of course it is. “If all pop music now is a process of mourning the past, (most commonly seen in the retro-necro indie scene, but clearly observable in dance music, hip hop and metal) then hauntology’s emphasis on placing that process centre stage is the obvious logical move.” But we’re no longer is philosophising when we dwell on the past like this, at least not according to Badiou.

In his critical introduction to Badiou, Jason Barker has a nice summary of his definition of philosophy early on. He writes:

The task of philosophy is not to lament its own demise, but to think through the ‘conditions’ of its renewal, and to prepare the ground for its possible return.

In light of the recent debate around anti-hauntology, this may be immediately resonant. We can’t just go around saying whether things are new or not without first defining the terms of our debate. Because, even if we think we’re defending newness against hauntology, when we debate a newness relative to the past, rather than in the immediate context of its appearing in the present, we’re still in the realm of the hauntographic.

This is something that a dozen Redditors mistakenly believed was an effective counter-argument to the celebrating of SOPHIE’s newness. All they do is limit the debate. Because, yes, at the level of sonic aesthetics, there’s probably nothing immediately new about SOPHIE’s music, other than the fact that, at the most superficial level, it is abrasive on your senses and their sensibilities that have otherwise been taught to deride her pop palette. But to think that’s the be-all-and-end-all of the discussion betrays a mind-numbing laziness. The point is rather to consider the following: what are / were the conditions of SOPHIE’s sonic emergence? What is it about the present that allowed her music to emerge when and as it did? What was it a response to? What did it carry forwards? Who was she as its carrier?

To answer all of these questions requires a far deeper consideration of the moment we live in, and what distinguishes it (materially rather than just aesthetically) from ten years ago. That’s readily apparent even at the level of political discourse. For example, I remember the way that even some of the more “progressive” corners of the music press regarded SOPHIE with utter suspicion and cynicism prior to her transition and public coming-out. It is deeply uncomfortable in hindsight. What changed that allowed a transgender pop star to exist suddenly without suspicion and second-guessing? And to what extent did she change that by her own volition?

We can (and should) ask these same questions of accelerationism. Plotting a retroactive idealist map to its emergence doesn’t really tell us anything. It may even superficially undermine the project at hand. The material questions of its appearing, then, should return to the fore. What was it about 2008 that allowed this project to emerge? Culturally, politically, et al.? Was it simply to renew and reground the work of the Ccru, which had become so mournful in its own aftermath, and carry it forwards into the present? Not just celebrating Land as an exemplary heretic but asking how the group’s broader questions, and the reasons for asking them, have changed.

It is for this reason that “accelerationism” — or at least Williams’ initially unnamed Badiouian response to hauntology as a sonic critique — must be “a more strategic examination of precisely where the pop-musical evental sites and historical situations exist within our current time”. And this is a task we have to go about consciously.

This is why I’m increasingly of the opinion that Badiou should be central to any discourse regarding accelerationism going forwards. Precisely because he’s the key jigsaw piece that has been forgotten. (And then, perhaps, to Laruelle after that… And then to who? Who is that figure now? Who is the anti-Laruelle?)

This is, in part, because, without Badiou, we allow the conversation to slip back into the PoMo ineptitude he was otherwise brought in to fight against. But also because we can understand his inclusion in this debate in its own strategic sense. For instance, can we imagine any of the developments of the last decade and a half happening without him? Would there be speculative realism without Badiou? The answer to that is probably a pretty concrete “no”. But would there have been accelerationism?

Most engaged in conversations around accelerationism now would probably respond, “Wait, Badiou who?” But looking at the blogosphere of the late-2000s, it wasn’t Land or Deleuze and Guattari who were the focal point, as they have become, once again, over the last five years. It was Badiou, complicating and unsettling their intellectual dominance. Indeed, it is Badiou’s militancy — his commitment to renewal and return — that initially powered the project and shielded it from the hauntological tendencies that were, at that time, dominant in the blogosphere (and, I’d argue, are dominant again, even though people reject the term itself).

This does not mean we have to resurrect some Badiouian personality cult, however. “Badiou/Acc” misses the point. The point is, rather, to (re)consider accelerationism, as a philosophy, in his terms. If only because we have forgotten them.

As such, as far as accelerationism is concerned, we might retool Barker’s summary slightly as follows:

The task of accelerationism is not to lament capitalism’s / communism’s demise, but to think through the ‘conditions’ of its renewal, and to prepare the ground for its possible return.

The internal “capitalist/communist” split here is, perhaps, between r/acc and l/acc, arguing for a renewed capitalism and a renewed communism respectively. But then u/acc goes a step further and reasserts still Badiouian crux of the problem at hand. (This is, notably, something I tried to affirm in my own expansion on u/acc, and before I’d ever read any Badiou — that is, its emphasis on what Simon O’Sullivan called “the missing subject of accelerationism”.)

In the 1980s, when everyone was writing about the death of Marxism in the midst of the Cold War, Barker writes that, for Badiou:

The crisis of Marxism still demanded a subject to think it — a subject of the crisis — even if Marxism was no longer sufficiently qualified as a doctrine, or credible as a grand narrative, to do so. Moreover, the fact that the Marxist vocabulary, with its sacred talk of States and revolutions, was now completely sterile made no difference to the ‘heterogeneous political capacity’ of Marxism to explore new ways of doing politics. Here, then, Badiou had risen to the challenge of postmodernism by liberating Marxism from academicism on the one hand, and distancing it from the dogmatism of the party on the other hand, while at the same time managing to avoid postmodernism’s more dubious political side-effects (nihilism, historical relativism).

The #Accelerate reader deals with the twenty-first century legacy of Marxism in a similarly heretical sense. But it still circles around this missing subject, never quite landing on the fissure at its heart. The latter essays in the collection focus explicitly on the potential of philosophy’s — or politics’ — renewal after the apparent end of history, but they don’t quite touch upon the subject who is to do that renewing. Credit where due, Reza Negarestani’s “Labour of the Inhuman” gets very close, and problematises that very question of a subject. This is, undoubtedly, because it is the subject of the crisis who is most in question. As such, it would be a few more years before the Xenofeminist Manifesto got even closer.

Still, the challenge to be wrestled with here remains close to Badiou’s own. Following the failures of accelerationism in the 2010s — both the perceived retreat into sanitised party politics and the Christchurch shooting — the crisis of this half-baked term nonetheless requires a subject to think it. (It feels a bit pretentious to be equating Marxism with Accelerationism here, but then we might argue that they are inherently related to one another.) This is perhaps one way of interrogating the Brenton Tarrant’s of this world, who some described as the kind of postmodern subject accelerationism first sought to critique — not a subject who thinks the crisis, but an unthinking contemporary subject.

What debates around accelerationism even go near these questions today? How do we even begin to ask such questions without falling back into nihilism and historical relativism? As far as I’m concerned, and at least in the popular arena of accelerationist discourse, nihilism and historical relativism are precisely where we are at again.

As such, it has broadly been my feeling that, since accelerationism’s utterly calamitous year in 2019, this critique has fallen on its own sword. Its original challenge to postmodernism has been (perhaps fatally) infected by the very postmodern nihilism and historical relativism it was initially intended to forestall.

This is not a nihilism in the Brassierian sense — his affirmation of nihilism as a kind of inverted positivism, a Promethean negativism — but instead a lazy catastrophism. And the historical relativism, as far as I’m concerned, refers to an accelerationist thinking that beatifies the influence of Land without any consideration for the accelerationist debate as it has continued in the twenty-first century beyond his own downfall into Twitter boomerisms.

It would be just as relativist to scrub Land from the record entirely, of course. The return to Land that occured in the 2010s was, again, very understandable at the time. It was a return that sought to renew accelerationism and combat the “transcendental goodboiism” — as someone recently put it in a group chat — that l/acc had started to become known for, and perhaps made stagnant due to its proximity to the Obama years. But the process of this renewal got swept up in the right’s response to the same crisis, which ended in Trump. Now that Trump’s gone, we have been presented with another opportunity, to reaffirm and renew the calls that accelerationism was initially grounded up, back in 2008.

So yes, “Badiou/Acc” — but also an accelerated Badiou, extending his heretical Marxism / Maoism once again into the present. That was accelerationism’s initial gesture in 2008 — a way to renew and reground the questions asked by the Ccru in the 1990s, but which responded to the present. This is to say that the accelerationists of 2008 came into existence precisely because they did not live in the Ccru’s present anymore. They asked how (and if) those questions could be applied to today, and made newly generative in the process.

The same strategic response is needed once again — perhaps more than it ever has been before. Because it’s not the first blogosphere’s time anymore either. As such, a new generation that hopes to breath new life into this strange beast should be wary of LARPing the interests of their predecessors, whilst forgetting all the lessons learned. The iceberg meme, though I’m loath to make the mistake of taking it too seriously, is telling in this regard nonetheless. Already we are watching a superficial Twitter debate make the same mistakes of two previous blogosphere but with an extra helping of impotence.

Instead, we need to seriously think through the ‘conditions’ of accelerationism’s renewal in the here and now, and prepare the ground for its possible return as a vital current within contemporary thought that demands the new instead of more of all this.

4 Comments

  1. One of the things I’ve return to off and on lately has been thinking some of these questions in Mao’s (originally Lenin’s, but also Nietzsche’s) inversion of the dialectic, where the it’s not the combining of the Two into the One, but the division of the One into the Two. These are some half-baked thoughts at the moment, nothing fully formed or concrete, but for the sake of think-through a extended blogriff—

    There’s several different ways that One into Two gets thought, one notable version between the coupling of it to Two into One, a future One that reconstitutes itself from the division into two: the revolutionary break, followed by the reconstitution of the New society. Al Heng-Wu seems to take this position, with the division of One into Two taken as the formula for socialism itself; as Marx implicitly suggests in the Critique of Gotha Program, socialism is marked by the continuation of capitalism *alongside* the germinal communism. Here it’s a stagist theory, where socialism is marked by the contradiction between capitalism and communism, communism as something beyond socialism sees the capitalist element falling away. Given that this was written in 1964, it’s a prescient anticipation of China from its Dengist period onward.

    But then there’s the other way to see it, which seems to have been Mao’s own, atleast from the 1950s onwards, where the reconstitution into the One is denied (the famous rejection of synthesis), and the whole idea of stagist progression begins to break down. What interests Mao is the division of the Two into something like the production of a tension, and it is through the tension itself that historical movement takes place.

    Setting aside questions of synthesis and progression, I’m having a hard time not seeing Alex William’s efforts in texts like “Xenoeconomics” as doing something similar. He makes some comments that are more horrifying that Land’s ever could be, through the appropriation of the forms of dystopia dreaded by right and left alike, and slams them together in a way that is difficult to grapple with:

    “… as a way out of the binaries of a leftism which is utterly and irretrivably moribund, and a neoliberal economics which is ideological bankrupt, we must bend both together in the face of an inhuman and indefatigable capitalism, to think how we might inculcate a new form of radically inhuman subjectivation. This entails the retrieval of the communist project for a new man, AND the liberation of the neo-liberal quest for a capitalism unbound… In thinking how to deliver this subjectivation, an unbinding towards the absolute, an absolute adequation of post-human subjectivity to capital, the crucial concept must be that of institutionalization—agglomerative masses of power (including states, corporations, NGOs, religion, discrete humans), all of which need to be dissolved. In a sense this is a continuation and merging of both Marxist-Leninist Communism and Neo-Liberal capitalism…”

    It might be easy to see the Two -> One dynamic in play, with the talking of ‘bending together’ and ‘merging’, but the absolute contradiction between the two seems to me to suggest something else at play, especially when the acephalic dimension is revealed (“we must continue this drive towards dissolution”)—and Mao’s dialectic is utterly acephalic. Williams is proposing a Cultural Revolution of the most extreme form. This is dialed back in the #Accelerate Manifesto with Srnicek, but I see faint hints of this there too… thinking most of the discussion of the play between verticality and horizontality, the “Plan and the Network”. This is a marriage in the sense that the contradictions are placed side by side, a tension radiating from them…

    I’ve not read much Badiou at all, so I’m not sure how any of this might mesh (or not) with his own Maoism. I do find it interesting that the One -> Two is involved in his crit of D&G, and in ATP they assault this as an escape that is stillborn. “One becomes Two: whenever we encounter this formula, even stated strategically by Mao or understood in the most ‘dialectical’ way possible, what we have before us is the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought.. One that becomes Two, Two that becomes Four… Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree”. But what’s interesting to me is their drive to position themselves on the ‘third’ beyond the binary—the holey space between the smooth and striated, the sorcerous edge between town and forest, the metallurgist who is between the sedentary and the nomadic—they too are concerned with the production of tension, tension as the space of maximum development, where destratifying experimentation can occur. And like Fisher constantly pointed out, this is what is at work in the notion of the plateau:

    “Intensity as it is understood in the D/G/k-p sense has no connection whatsoever with screwface PantoGoth male climax nor the cult of the Extreme Sensation… Rather intensity means the state of being in tension… Being intense means staying on a plateau”

    Not sure if any of this fits together in any meaningful way lol, just fragments that have been tumbling about in the noggin.

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