A great comment from Ed on my previous post which, as ever, I cannot allow to languish below the line. Ed writes:
One of the things I’ve returned 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 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, at least 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 irretrievably 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.
There are a few things I’m really interested in here. Ed is right to intuit some vital meshing. I agree with a lot of it, and will inevitably end up repeating some of Ed’s points in my spiel below, but I’d like to look at the critique he mentions in more detail and see if I can better thread some of my more recent thoughts together with it for the sake of clarity (my own, if not anyone else’s.)
Regarding this inverted dialectic, as Ed rightly notes, Badiou uses this in his infamous essay written against Deleuze and Guattari and the rhizome, “The Fascism of the Potato.” It might be worth starting here, at least as a way to summarise Badiou’s argument, and his particular view of the “One becomes two” contra Deleuze and Guattari. Then maybe we can move around it a bit and explore it in Ed’s terms and in relation to his references and some of my own.
Badiou is particularly scathing here. It might be his most infamous essay — and he knew it too; he initially published it under a pseudonym. In reference to the genealogy of the rhizome, which, Deleuze and Guattari write, takes “the Tree or Root as its image [and] endlessly develops the law of the One that becomes two, then of the two that become four”, Badiou says:
Only a moron can confuse the Marxist dialectical principle ‘One divides into two’ with the genealogy for family trees concealed in ‘One becomes two’. For what the dialectic says is the exact opposite of the ‘strong principal unity’ imputed to it; it is the divided essence of the movement as One, that is, a principle of the double precariousness of the One:
a) The One has no existence as entity, there is unity only from movement, all is process.
b) The process itself has its internal being in scission.
For a Marxist, to think the One is to think the unity of opposites, that is, the movement as scission. Dialectical thinking is the only thinking of revolt in that, precisely, it shakes to its roots the omnipotence of the One. For dialectical thinking, the essence of the One is the labour of antagonism that constitutes it, which is the Two.
This sounds even more accelerationist, even in its most vulgar sense, than Deleuze and Guattari and Land — and this is worth bearing in mind when we return to Alex Williams’ “metaterrorism” later on. Badiou continues:
Deleuze-Guattari’s ‘dialectical’ arboriculture, all absorbed as they are to oppose the ‘multiple’ philosophy of the potato to the vertical despotism of the tree, is only a painful falsification. Lenin already remarked that the essence of the dialectic is never the strong and presupposed unity, but unity of opposites, which at once relativizes the concept of the One beyond return: ‘The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.’ [Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics”.]
This seems to describe capitalism to me, and indeed Deleuze and Guattari’s reformulation of capitalism is apt in this regard, but whereas they affirm it for its potentials — leading to Land’s “Deleuzo-Thatcherism” — Badiou rejects it utterly.
This is where Badiou’s conception of a “fascism of the potato” comes in, I think. It’s not really Fascism Classic, but perhaps similar to what Badiou has more recently called a “democratic fascism”.
Democratic fascism, for Badiou, is a kind of dislocation. Regarding Trump, for instance, Badiou says he effectuates “a sort of dislocation of language, a sort of possibility to say anything, and the contrary of anything — there is no problem, the language is not the language of explanation, but a language to create some affects; it’s an affective language which creates a false unity but a practical unity.” Deleuze and Guattari seem to engage in something similar for him, I think. Indeed, we might argue that the dislocation of language is primary in their work, but I think it is more this sense of a false unity that he finds most abhorrent. He continues:
The problem of the dialectic is certainly not that of an excessive force of the One but rather that of its weaknesses. Nonetheless to think unity, albeit as tearing apart and as labour of division, this is what philosophy needs to apply itself to, against the leftist Manichaeism, which loses the thread of the unity of opposites and sees salvation only in the redoubling of the One, which flips into its opposite, for in the dialectic two time One does not equal Two but once again One — the only Two worthy of the name being the essence in becoming of the One.
Leftist Manichaeism is quite a brilliant coinage, I think, and subtly distinguishes the good versus evil, right-side-of-history lib rhetoric, which Badiou thinks is “evil”, from his Maoist dialectic. But this is where I also become a little confused.
I’d actually really like to hear Vince Garton’s thought on this, if he sees this — I’ve been reading Robert Elliott Allinson’s book The Philosophical Influences of Mao Zedong recently, based on his recommendation of it on Twitter at the end of last year. There’s an interesting attempt to trace the trajectory of Mao’s influences in it, idiosyncratically combining the Hegelian dialectic with ancient Chinese philosophical notions of change and, in particular, change as understood through the I Ching.
The I Ching always makes me think of the Ccru, but that might just be a hangover of my layman’s understanding of its recombinant potential, which I always understood as recombinant in a Deleuzian sense. But I suppose that this is a point that the Ccru and the accelerationists actually draw out of Badiou and Deleuze later on.
I want to come back to that point, but let’s conclude Badiou’s attack on Deleuze and Guattari first. He continues:
‘One divides into two’ always means: ‘One is equal to the self-dividing-into-two’, and never: ‘One becomes two,’ This is true for the amoeba — as living unity that reproduces itself — as much as for capitalist society — as unity of a struggle to the death between two antagonistic opposites.
What good comes from these small mistakes for Deleuze and Guattari?
The thing is that they have recognized in the dialectic their true adversary.
Deleuze’s transitory historical strength has come to him from being the bard of the multiple in revolt against the bourgeois One (which, in turn, is only the One of the two that constitutes it as rivalry: two superpowers, two bourgeoisies, classical and state-bureaucratic). As long as the bourgeois One is the antagonistic target of Deleuze, at the time of the uprising against the pseudo-centres, there will be a clientele for the scattered revolts. What is to be done against the One of the proletariat, which qua scission is precisely that mobile and precarious One in which the revolt, through the element of antagonism that traverses it, finds not only its place but also its affirmative dimension? Deleuze and Guattari have discovered only this poor trick: forcefully to reduce the dialectic to the One of reactionary metaphysics, Thus they imagine that they can keep the monopoly of the ontology of the revolts.
The point that Badiou eventually reaches is that, as far as he sees it, for Deleuze and Guattari, “All scission having been eluded, all choice circumvented, the rhizome follows its course towards the unbridled apology of the anything whatsoever.”
Now, I won’t profess to have a full grasp on this, and so my thoughts are, in many regards, as preparatory as Ed’s own, but this all sounds quite familiar to me. This is, in part, the background for Badiou’s use of ∅, or the empty set, which he borrows from Lacan’s theory of sexuation. I’m not capable of explaining that in a hurry, or at all, but I think we all know another version of this same argument, as Sadie Plant makes the same (wo)maneuver in Zeroes + Ones. [That pun is a crime but I can’t bring myself to remove it.] Woman is zero for Plant and Lacan — that is, a consistent multiple — but Badiou extends this category out further to mean the proletariat more generally as the revolutionary subject.
The point is perhaps to avoid the phallic One, the individual, the bourgeois phenomenological subject as the subject who experiences the world always in the first-person rather than the non-person.
Mark Fisher makes an interesting point in relation to this in an old k-punk post from 2005 — notable for being so early on, I think, and in the immediate aftermath of the Ccru moment — in which we recounts a trip to Middlesex University to see Peter Hallward give a talk on Badiou, contra the “State-Continentalist wing” of philosophical orthodoxy in UK academia that he’d just finished railing against with the Leamington Spa massive. Recounting the general argument of the talk, he writes:
Peter situated Badiou’s project in the wider sweep of a ‘subtractive turn’ in French theory. The tendency to subtract, Peter claimed, was a constitutive feature of figures as diverse as Bergson, Sartre, Levi-Strauss and Foucault, but Peter was interested in a particular inflection of this general trend in world-dismantling: a philosophy that aims to strip away ‘the worldly’, that would tear down the Garden of Earthly Delights.
Such a philosophy finds itself in conflict with the phenomenological tradition stewarded by Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger, even if it wouldn’t define itself by opposition to it, given Badiou’s well-known exasperation with ‘”fighting against,” … “deconstructing,” … “surpassing,” … “putting an end to”‘. It’s a question of sidestepping that trajectory, which is itself defined by the problematics of deconstructing and putting an end to, and which lures the unwary into its bad infinity of labyrinthine existential despondency with invitations to critique, always critique.
There’s an air of Lyotard’s critique of Marx here. (Side note: Badiou has regularly been in dialogue with Lyotard and there is a very good account of their coming-togethers written by Matthew McLennan.) Mark continues:
For me, this sets Badiou firmly outside (what has been called) ‘Continental Philosophy’, which has functioned as a synonym for the three H’s and their legacy. In addition to the substantive philosophical differences between Badiou’s rationalism and the phenomenology of the Hegel-Husserl-Heidegger axis , the very concept of a philosophy qualified by locality is profoundly opposed to everything Badiou writes.
This is important to note because this is central to Badiou’s critique of Deleuze, according to Hallward. In his seemingly scathing presentation, Mark writes that Hallward was seemingly “motivated by the claim that, although Deleuze in particular has been seen as breaking out of the Heideggerian intensive death camp”, he nonetheless remains “caught in the white magical circle of phenomenology.” Again, this seems reminiscent of a sort of Deleuzo-Thatcherism. In its phenomenological grounding, no matter how radical its schizophrenic allusions feel, the schizophrenic remains a multiple One, or an inconsistent multiple rather than the consistent multiple of the revolutionary proper. And so:
Badiou’s philosophy, by contrast [to Deleuze’s], is defined by its refusal of Reform at all levels; his substractive ontology is not then part of post-modern/structuralist nostalgia for presence, fullness, authenticity — such nostalgia is nowhere more in evidence than in the denial of the possibility of these states: hence the depressive plaint of the always-already undead: of course, presence was never possible, so of course all we can do is mourn the non-existence of what was never there, nor ever could be…
Here I think the relevance of Mark’s proximity to the Ccru is important. What is this always-already undeadness if not an echo of his Flatline Constructs? But we must also remember that Mark is in the throws of his hauntological turn at this point, and so there’s a tension when he goes on to explicate how the Continentalist’s “pious melancholia turns shilly-shallying lack of commitment into the highest ethical injunction,” he nonetheless affirms the strength of Badiou’s philosophy as “a philosophy of engagement and active decision.”
At this stage, Mark’s thought feels like it is on a knife-edge. The following year, hauntology would reach its peak, becoming a veritable buzzword in a wider musical discourse. But there’s already a shift in his thinking at this point, where he starts to inflect his hauntological thought with this philosophy of engagement. (If Fisher borrows and appropriates from Derrida’s writings on the “act of mourning”, perhaps we can say that Mark really affirmed the action inherent in that process.) I was reminded of this earlier when Enrico asked who Alex Williams was referring to in his “Against Hauntology” post when he suggested that “Some of the stronger pro-hauntology arguments have run along neo-Benjaminian lines, holding that it is not merely an act of mourning for a non-reclaimable past, but rather a way of redeeming time.” I think Williams is referring to Mark here, or at least a tendency that he was ruminating on. (I’m sure I’ve read a k-punk post where Mark says this explicitly but couldn’t find it. That being said, this one gets sort of close.)
What I’m basically trying to say is that, despite his reputation — and perhaps his own attempts to remain true to a particular vector — Mark, for better and for worse, often feels like a Deleuzo-Badiouian in his hauntological and accelerationist writings, which we might argue precisely constitute a “unity of opposites”. I think this is made especially clear in his post “Reflexive Impotence”, later turned into a chapter of Capitalist Realism, in which he begins by asking why “French students out on the streets rejecting neo-liberalism, while British students, whose situation is incomparably worse, [are] resigned to their fate?” The answer, he says, “is partly, also, an answer to why a group like the Arctic Monkeys connect with British teenagers.” Not because of apathy or cynicism but reflexive impotence. And, as I wrote this time last year, the Arctic Monkeys represented a kind of subject that hauntology, as far as Mark was concerned, was intended to critique.
But many of these thoughts are likely still formulating. In 2005, Mark seems to be quite conscious of that fact — of being caught between critiques — even if accelerationism hasn’t been so named yet. Concluding his post on Hallward’s talk, with a point that I think remains true, even 16 years later, he writes:
The most productive area of conceptual discordance is that between Badiou and Deleuze-Guattari. Perhaps we’re in a position to use each to decode the blind spots of the other. Deleuze-Guattari have never been properly assimilated into Continentalism (the sad vitalist zombie that stalks the halls of the academy in their name is testament to that) because they too are philosophers of commitment, in which philosophy knows its place: as a theory of action, not a substitute for it.
Affirming Deleuze and Badiou as philosophers of commitment in their own way feels like a trajectory that is made possible by the Ccru’s various combinations of thought, which are at once Deleuzian and Continental, but wholly against the academic orthodoxy they were otherwise exposed to around Warwick. I’m not sure if this is the same as D+G’s already-third position, as Ed frames it, but perhaps it is the new third way for the 2000s. It is clear that a proper embrace of this trajectory requires a move away from Land’s Deleuzo-Thatcherism but Ed is correct when he notes that this potentially leads to a space even more terrifying that Land’s rhetorically abrasive lib-triggering tendencies.
This, again, is something that comes out of Badiou, I think. Williams’ discussions of “metaterrorism” in his “Post-Land” post, for instance, probably sound Landian to most people in retrospect, at least to those who associate the new far-right accelerationism with his influence. But Williams writes in favour of “a kind of meta-terrorism” following Badiou, not Land —
a kind of meta-terrorism, operating on the plane of capital itself (ideally, in the conception which has obsessed me for some time, in the form of a capitalist surrealism, the exploitation of credit based financial systems for their primary destructive potential. This destruction is not merely to be thought on the ability to trigger vast crashes, which is readily apparent, but further their capacity to destabilise the consistency of value itself). That this consists in taking more seriously the claims of finance capital than even its own agents is the very point itself, and is in a sense an actualisation of Lyotard’s gestures towards a ‘nihilist theory of credit’. Further we might conceptualise the collective forms necessary to actualise this praxis as being very much in the mode of the kind of Maoist party delineated by Badiou in Théorie du Sujet, an institutional actor capable of allowing the ephemeral vanishing term of history (now surrealist avant-capital, rather than the proletariat of course) to cohere, for as long as required to enable it to achieve the absolute dissolution of all structuration, including itself.
There is a lot to unpack here — probably too much for now. In fact, this is something I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about for months now. It was Badiou, not Land, who provocatively advocated for a new terrorism when accelerationism was in its infancy. Žižek recognises this in a few places too, noting Badiou’s bravery to make such a point in the 2000s especially.
To provide an example: in an interview with Cabinet magazine, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Badiou expands on his notion of Evil, first explicated in his Ethics. In line with this rejection of Heideggerian phenomenology and, perhaps, by proxy, an Arendtian ethics, he sees Evil in “the banality of ethics” rather than affirming a new ethics that must emerge from our understanding of “the banality of evil”. Ethics, in this sense, he writes, is reduced to a kind of nihilism — a “will to nothingness, which is like a kind of understudy of blind necessity.” Blind necessity, he continues, is a byword for “economics”, or perhaps what we might now called, after Fisher, “capitalist realism.”
The irony, for Badiou, seems to be that what we call “evil” today is any form of commitment to change; any form of militancy. But the capitalist evil of blind necessity is internalised as its own banality. It is no longer “I was just following orders” but “I was just adhering to capitalism’s performance principle.” And so, from here, Badiou says:
That’s why the idea of evil has become essential. No intellectual will actually defend the brutal power of money and the accompanying political disdain for the disenfranchised, or for manual laborers, but many agree to say that real evil is elsewhere. Who indeed today would defend the Stalinist terror, the African genocides, the Latin American torturers? Nobody. It’s there that the consensus concerning evil is decisive. Under the pretext of not accepting evil, we end up making believe that we have, if not the good, at least the best possible state of affairs — even if this best is not so great. The refrain of “human rights” is nothing other than the ideology of modern liberal capitalism: We won’t massacre you, we won’t torture you in caves, so keep quiet and worship the golden calf. As for those who don’t want to worship it, or who don’t believe in our superiority, there’s always the American army and its European minions to make them be quiet.
Note that even Churchill said that democracy (that is to say the regime of liberal capitalism) was not at all the best of political regimes, but rather the least bad. Philosophy has always been critical of commonly held opinions and of what seems obvious. Accept what you’ve got because all the rest belongs to evil is an obvious idea, which should therefore be immediately examined and critiqued.
My personal position is the following: It is necessary to examine, in a detailed way, the contemporary theory of evil, the ideology of human rights, the concept of democracy. It is necessary to show that nothing there leads in the direction of the real emancipation of humanity. It is necessary to reconstruct rights, in everyday life as in politics, of truth and of the good. Our ability to once again have real ideas and real projects depends on it.
It is important that Badiou is making these comments after 9/11. It seems that, whilst the immediate reaction is to denounce the terrorists as evil incarnate, Badiou’s own Baudrillardian controversy was to say that terrorism is instead an effective force against capitalism’s necessity. Williams’ point is perhaps more relevant to the 2008 financial crash. The way that the crash wholly ungrounded not just capitalism but American exceptionalism — crises of capitalism were no longer just problems for lesser countries who hadn’t implemented their markets properly, as the US used to always say to Latin America — laid the ground for a new terrorism that could exacerbate that moment. The problem is, perhaps, that we were unwilling to engage in that sort of activity, precisely because 9/11 had removed it from the armoury of political stratagems.
Badiou adds on this point:
Terror is a political tool that has been in use as long as human societies have existed. It should therefore be judged as a political tool, and not submitted to infantilizing moral judgment. It should be added that there are different types of terror. Our liberal countries know how to use it perfectly. The colossal American army exerts terrorist blackmail on a global scale, and prisons and executions exert an interior blackmail no less violent.
Badiou, at this stage, has little quarrel with terrorism, so long as it answers to an “ethics of truth”, which “always returns, in precise circumstances, to fighting for the true against the four fundamentals forms of evil: obscurantism, commercial academicism, the politics of profit and inequality, and sexual barbarism.” How this compares to Badiou’s later response to the attacks on Paris, however, is noteworthy. (It is also noteworthy that Land and Fisher came into dialogue for a final time in response to his more sheepish comments on terrorism enacted against his own nation.)
How this fits into Williams’ own comments, I cannot say. This is still a point I am trying to unravel. I hoped I’d find a way to work in some preliminary thoughts but it is too knotted and this response is long enough as it is. But perhaps this lays some more groundwork for dealing with that question of just how extreme the philosophical negativity of early accelerationism could be — yes, even more negative than Land, as Ed points out. It’s the knottiest point of my own recent acc historicising, and one which seemed to turn people off acc far quicker than anything Land has said more recently. But considering how it does actually retain some fidelity to Badiou and his Maoism, it is intriguing that this heresy is far more explicitly leftist than it is Landian.
This is an interesting provocation in itself. To affirm Badiou over Land would probably seem like an attempt to sanitise accelerationism, according to any of the NRx crew. But they have no idea that Badiou was the real badass in the 2000s. It’s his legacy that still needs to be wrestled with.