Badiou/Acc:
Terror and Parody with Ed Berger

Ed with another whopper of a comment on the last post:

I’ve found myself wondering if some of these things become clearer when we consider not only the post-2008 ‘Accelerationist debate’ not only through this subterranean Nietzschean-Maoist frame, but also through a return to what has been retroactively inscribed as the ‘accelerationist moment’ of the 1970s. When Noys used the term, it was in ref to D&G’s Anti-Oedipus, Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, Irigaray’s Speculum, Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death… but one of the problems here, from the position of intellectual history (side note: intellectual history in these contexts seems, as Vince put it, about excavating these hidden lines buried in the past for the application in the present…. this is what Deleuze described — referencing Foucault — as the work of the ‘seer’, but in a way isn’t this also part of what ‘salvagepunk’ is all about?), is that the “accelerate the process” moment in AO isn’t a one-off thing. It traces back to Nietzsche’s late manuscripts, which were salvaged by Klossowski when he was tasked with compiling and editing these manuscripts for a French edition of Nietzsche’s collected works in the 1960s (Deleuze and Foucault, incidentally, were the ones who oversaw Klossowski’s portion of the project). ‘Accelerating’ or ‘hastening the process’ became a central concern in Klossowski’s Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, which imo should be treated, if we’re gonna roll with something like the Noys periodization, as the ur-moment for “accelerationism”. Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle set the stage for Living Currency, which in turn set the stage for Anti-Oedipus and Libidinal Economy….

In 1972, around the time that AO was released, Klossowski, Deleuze, Lyotard and Derrida attended a conference on Nietzsche at Cerisy-la-Salle. Klossowski’s talk (found here) was titled “Circulus Vitiosus”. The passage from Nietzsche where “accelerate the process” appears is quoted in full, but what Klossowski draws from this is the notion of a “conspiracy” that explodes the “evolution of [the] modern economy” towards a state of “planetary planning of existence” from within. Probably taking cue from Bataille, Klossowski describes this process as engendering an “excess”—and then asks:

“In what measure would the Nietzschean description of excess not simply be an abbreviated, non-dialectical, version of the notion of class-struggle and infrastructure in Marx?… [Nietzsche’s] historical incomprehension of the master and the slave, the notion of excess deployed in opposition to the mediocrisation process leads him to a terrain similar to that which is occupied by Marx. Both meet, so to speak, back-to-back”

I guess my first question is whether or not the Nietzschean-Klossowskian “non-dialectical” form of process/class struggle reciprocal relationship conforms to, on the one hand, William’s “non-dialectical negativity” (the excess as negativity?), and then on the other, to the inverted dialectical One —> Two, the Nietzsche-Mao line that seems to be smuggled in implicitly into Williams’ approach (intentionally or not — The Badiou Question).

The second is whether or not “metaterrorism” operates along a similar logic of what Klossowski here describes as “parody”. Klossowksi himself links parody to both terror and terrorism:

“How, in any case, does the vicious circle, as a selective dilemma, become the instrument of a conspiracy? That is, do you recognise or not that your actions have no sense or purpose, other than the fact that they are always nothing but the same situations infinitely repeated? What follows from this is the following exigency: act with no remorse. The worst, if it has not yet been attained, never shall be. Here we begin to see the basis upon which Nietzsche, with all the terror alluded to earlier, introduces his experimental programme of conspiracy. And yet, the terror of the thought of eternal return, in this form, may very well be nothing other than a parody of the real terrorism of industrial modernity. The god of the vicious circle, as the pure simulation of a universal economy, is still only an appearance. Even if the thought of the circle were also merely a parody, the parody would remain, nonetheless, a deranged creation in the form of a conspiracy. If the conspiracy suggests certain acts to be accomplished, then the thought of the vicious circle demands that these acts, once accomplished, become necessarily the never-ending simulation of an action emptied by repetition of all its content, which will never be established once and for all.”

In this perspective, the very transformation of the dialectic from Two —> One into One —> Two is itself an act of (meta?)terrorism, because the movement is the subterranean one from the world of closure (the “vicious circle” that might just a parodic reflection of “industrial modernity”) into an infinite cosmos of difference (the eternal return, as a ‘parody of doctrine’ itself). I’m also reminded, on a more practical level, of the comment that Fisher made in ‘Post-Apocalypse Now’: “The war must be fought from and on the desert of the virtual-Real apocalypse. One tactic could be to explode the fantasy of unsheathed productive capacities. This involves taking the anti- of anti-capitalism seriously, as itself the sufficient condition for the emergence of a new political-economic organisation. The embrace of the anti- would become a return of a negativity which late capitalism’s compulsory positivity is compelled to suppress at many levels.” The ‘negativity which returns’ holds the exact same position within Fisher as ‘excess’ does for Klossowski, allowing him to bind Nietzsche and Marx together in infernal coupling. And operating internally to the “desert of the virtual-Real apocalypse” in order to call capitalism on its game—to make good on the promise of advanced industrial modernity that it makes, but cannot deliver — is the act of parodic terrorism.

What makes this even more interesting is that Deleuze and Lyotard both affirm the Klossowskian line on parody, defending it from Derrida and others. Lyotard: “…it is impossible to determine beforehand what the effectiveness of a parody will be, that’s why Nietzsche says it is necessary to be experimenters and artists, not people who have a plan and try to realise it — that’s old politics. Nietzsche says it’s necessary to try things out and discover which intensities produce which effects.” Deleuze: “The efficacious parody, in the sense of Nietzsche or Klossowski, does not pretend to be a copy of a model, but rather, in its parodic act overthrows, in the same blow, the model and the copy… everybody senses that what is at stake is something altogether different, which, to speak like Klossowski, pushes the simulacra so far that its product goes against, at the same time, the copy and the model. It seems to me that this is exactly the criterion of effective parody in the sense that Nietzsche understands it.”

Given that Klossowski introduces parody in relation to the question of “accelerating the process”, and Deleuze and Lyotard both affirm this, it seems vital for properly articulating the real nature of the “accelerationist moment” that Noys writes about — and perhaps allows us restage some of the stakes when these themes were revived in new contexts after the 2008 crisis.

This initial trajectory that Ed carves out is fantastic. (Does this feature in your new book, Ed?)

My first thoughts may be tangential right from the off but I’d like to include them anyway, as it might help graft what Ed’s comment has brought to mind onto a broader history of this trajectory in France in particular. I’ll also be returning to Badiou a fair bit, not to keep bending the argument to him, but at least to see, even in tracing this parallel trajectory, he has his place.


I was actually reading Living Currency the other day, alongside Althusser’s On the Reproduction of Capital. I was trying to trace the twentieth century’s problematising of the subject, which Land makes so central to his philosophy — how the process of valorisation continually abstracts not just the proletariat but, if you go as far as Land, the whole of humanity. All this “capital is the real subject of history” stuff or “capital is an autonomous entity” gets a lot of ridicule these days for its Landian proximity, but these ideas were of explicit concern to many of the most ardent Marxist in the 1950s and ’60s.

Having pondered this now in orbit of “the process” via Klossowski and co., I’m nonetheless curious as to where Althusser fits into this trajectory. He ran in very different circles to the above, of course, but there’s an intriguing overlap that may also further ground Badiou’s relation to all this. Spinoza is likely the key.

I saw someone on Reddit the other day asking about why people became so interested in Spinoza in France, and someone nodded to Deleuze. But translations of Deleuze’s works on Spinoza only really brought attention to him in the Anglosphere. In France, he was already of some interest to people. In fact, I recently discovered that Althusser ran a Spinoza reading group about a decade before Deleuze’s own reflections, which was attended by Badiou, who wrote a dissertation on him (and then apparently dropped him from his thought for the most part, despite his influence on two of his “masters” — Althusser as well as Lacan).

Following this rabbit hole, I came across a (relatively) recent essay by Caroline Williams for the LA Review of Books on Spinoza and Althusser. What is central for Althusser is precisely a rethinking of the subject, which Spinoza famously undertakes in his Ethics. Williams notes, however, that the problem for Althusser — perhaps following Spinoza’s talk of an immanent nature naturing — is that historical materialism reveals to us that history is a process without a subject. I think this section below is the most interesting bit on this. It is a bit abstruse — maybe even more so when pulled out of its wider context — but there is a fair amount of resonance here, I think:

In proposing the ideas of structural causality and history as a process without the subject, something excessive is opened up by Althusser’s thought. What had previously been the elusive ground of agency now mutates and morphs into something altogether different. When in his later writings Althusser suggests that the materialism of the encounter is “a process that has no subject,” does he not implore us to combine this image of the conjunction of elements, “raining down” like an infinity of atoms, whose singular relations and individualities constitute the subject merely as their ideological (or imaginary) effects? It is these concrete yet seemingly transitory combinations that the materialist philosopher studies. Historical materialism does not commence with an original abstract picture of man, or with a conception of human essence, as do theories of the social contract. Marx, like Spinoza, precludes essentialism by understanding the essence of any “thing” as that which corresponds to its actuality and concrete relations, and thus to a form of materialism. Social relations, economic relations of exchange (of wealth, of capital) cannot be reduced to relations merely between subjects, since they involve relationships with many different kinds of thing (in nature, technology, society, etc.), each of which reproduce and shape social relations of production, as well as the forms of struggle emerging through them and unfolding within the materiality of ideology. In this image of materialism, anything we might call “the subject” is found only within this social morphology of relation and combination where forms of struggle commence and where politics constantly reshapes itself in the process.

So, is what is being accelerated, in this sense, history? (Plausible, considering it has supposedly “ended” for us but continues for capital itself.) I tried to make a similar point in relation to accelerationism via Lukacs when writing the introduction to Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire, which felt quite bold and which I thought might be tying “the process” a little too readily to an orthodox Hegelian-Marxism, but I’m quite glad I made the connection in hindsight.

Anyway, this all seems quite commensurate with Klossowski, D+G, Lyotard — as well as Nietzsche and Mao, of course — doesn’t it? (Not necessarily a rhetorical question. I’m still puzzling this connection out.)

Perhaps, following Klossowski, the properly Nietzschean (and Bataillean) vision here — which is also proto-Landian — is that this process makes a mockery of the subject. It is a sort of Copernican humiliation. Terrorism, then — or metaterrorism — is an attempt to humiliate the process in return by parodying it. The reality of such a manoeuvre might be far-fetched, but Deleuze and Guattari certainly entertained it when they deployed Professor Challenger, the original eco-terrorist, as a conceptual persona in “The Geology of Morals”, which is itself a (post-)structuralist / materialist parody of structuralism.

So yes, I think this is a really interesting line to follow. How does it relate to post-2008 accelerationism? Perhaps its a question of what is to be done with parody, or what is to be done after it has done its work? I feel like that is the question Badiou asks post-68 with a fury that is perhaps comparable to that of the post-2008 blogosphere. However, who is to do this work if the acceleration of history is precisely without a subject? Following Althusser via Badiou, is the issue precisely that “the missing subject of accelerationism” is impossible to instantiate? Or is it in its perpetual destruction that we find the source of our tension?

Badiou’s Theory of the Subject has a strange relationship to this — and it is an incredibly difficult book that I might not be understanding very well at all. But in the chapter on “Lack and Destruction” he entertains the idea — quite common in a lot of Marxist thinking at that time I think; it reminds me again of Lukacs — that the bourgeoisie produces the proletariat. The proletariat does not exist, in any material sense, until it is organised by the bourgeoisie in “a place”.

A place, in Badiou’s terminology, is a kind of stasis or site of deadening. It is counterposed, at this stage in his thought, to the event. In the translator’s glossary to the translation I have, they make a note that there’s an echo of this concept in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, where he “describes an ethics of willing the event in terms of ‘a sort of leaping in place’, saut sur place.” When thinking about parody, this tangential note of seemingly limited significance might actually be a pretty interesting meeting point. Logic of Sense is a masterpiece of philosophical parody, surely? For Badiou, however, it’s not just about proliferating contradictions in order to produce tension (or “torsion”). For him, parody is an innately destructive act. He seems to suggest that part of the problem is that, for the proletariat to sustain itself, it must always parody the bourgeoisie. There is always a pressure to become the petit bourgeoisie. The only option, then, is to affirm the void from which they came.

I might be wrong on this but this is what I think Badiou is saying when he says:

The proletariat exists everywhere where some political outplace is produced. It is therefore by purging itself that it exists. It has no anteriority over the organisation of its political survival. To expel the bourgeois politics by compressing its own organism-support and to bring into existence the proletarian politics, are one and the same.

This seems to be its own kind of excess for Badiou. And it makes me think of Fisher and his love of Jameson’s “baroque sunbursts”. Is excess both the exaggeration of parody and the excess that the proletariat already are for capitalism, in lurking on its outside?

Maybe it’s also worth adding that the tension between exaggeration and excess isn’t just a way to deal with the bourgeoisie for Badiou but also for philosophy itself. It is his anti-philosophy. Though it’s often assumed to be some pretentious negativity, I’m left thinking about the Ccru’s sense of humour, in parodying their own academic positions and, indeed, the whole academic enterprise in order to precisely do philosophy. That is surely anti-philosophy as far as Badiou is concerned.

Whereas the Ccru’s example might be more in line with Lyotard’s sacrilegious theorising of a kind of acquiescence to excess in Libidinal Economy, Badiou takes a more destructive than generative approach. In Theory of the Subject he writes:

‘Destory, he says’: such is the necessary — and prolonged — proletarian statement. This barbarous statement forbids us to imagine the political subject in the structural modality of the heritage, the transmission, the corruption, the inversion. But also in that of the purifying cut, of the world broken in two.

Isn’t this Mao’s revolutionary dialectic? His One —> Two?

All this brings me forwards to our recent past, and your writing, again with Vince, on anti-praxis. I’m also reminded of Enrico’s definition of anti-praxis from “Applying Applied Ballardianism”:

Anti-praxis consists of two basic principles: making political action as impersonal as possible and intensifying the actually existing processes of liberation and emancipation, without situating our actions within/against capitalism, but following those political vectors which point directly towards a possible exit.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot at present precisely because Badiou makes use of the “anti-” prefix so excessively — in terms of the anti-philosophies of Lacan, Wittgenstein, Pascal, Saint Paul, Rosseau and, notably for us, Nietzsche — to the point that Laruelle’s book on him could only have been called Anti-Badiou. (It’s very good too, I might add.)

When writing on Nietzsche’s anti-philosophy, Badiou seems to be picking up on this tendency towards parodisation as well. He notes three “operations” that Nietzsche makes use of in his thought:

1. A linguistic, logical, genealogical critique of the statement of philosophy; a deposing of the category of truth, an unraveling of pretensions of philosophy to constitute itself as theory. In order to do so, antiphilosophy often delves into the resources the sophists exploit as well. In the case of Nietzsche, this operation bears the name “overturning of all values,” struggle against the Plato-disease, combatant grammar of signs and types.

2. The recognition of the fact that philosophy, in the final instance, cannot be reduced to its discursive appearance, its proportions, its fallacious theoretical exterior. Philosophy is an act, of which the fabulations about “truth” are the clothing, the propaganda, the lies…

3. The appeal made, against the philosophical act, to another, radically new act, which will either be called philosophical as well, thereby creating an equivocation (through which the little philosopher consents with delight to the spit that covers his body) or else, more honestly, supraphilosophical or even aphilosophical. This act without precedent destroys the philosophical act, all the while clarifying its noxious character…

(I’m not sure Badiou’s seminar on Nietzsche has ever been published — just the ones on Lacan and Wittgenstein — but Wanyoung Kim has a translation available on Academia.edu here.)

I hope all of this is coming together rather than spoiling the both. Suffice it to say, yes, I think this does allow us to restage part of the 2008 debate, but also our own conversations just a few years ago.

It also makes me wonder about Mark’s writings on satire too, actually. How do satire and parody function in the present? Irony was better weaponised by the other side back in 2016, surely? To weaponise parody again now is to go far beyond what would be seen as in good taste… Such is horrorism, right? A parody of terrorism. But then perhaps we’re stuck in a kind of gift logic, where parody really does just end up with us doing Joker shit. The accelerationist cliche emerges where you parody the system to the extent you burn the whole world down and say, “Top that, capitalism.” Then again, perhaps wresting parody back from that kind of politics of escalation is part of the project. Not becoming hypercapitalist but rather ridiculing capitalism into illegitimacy.


Update #1: A quick addendum from Ed:

Wonderful post, XG — gonna be uncharacteristically brief (lol) because I’m out running errands atm….

It’s really interesting that you bring up Althusser in this way. I’ve been curious about the relationship between Althusser and Deleuze; deep in D&R, there is an engagement with Marx that imo actually has more depth than most people seem to have lent it (the only person I’ve seen engage with it in any extended famous, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been Benjamin Noys). But looking through the footnotes where he mentions Marx, and it becomes clear that the Marx that is being engaged with by Deleuze is mainly Althusser’s Marx. Not sure if this iteration differs from the Marx of Capitalism & Schizophrenia at all, but this might be an interesting avenue in figuring out how this hangs together.

I think you’re right to relate the proletariat directly to this question of excess; as I read Klossowski’s talk, this is how I think he’s reading it too. In Nietzsche’s ‘accelerationist fragment’, the leveling process — that which is to be accelerated—generates an excess, the “strong of the future”, which becomes in D&G the “people-to-come”. He seems to be suggesting a shared identity between this and the proletariat… Funny, Land places the AI-to-come, Pythia/Mother Hellcrypt/etc in this position, but I’m not sure if his interpretation conforms to the question of excess? A middle ground perhaps: the Fisherian vision of the machinic proletariat.

There’s an aspect of Klossowski’s parody — Nietzsche’s parody? He says that he is also parodying Nietzsche, so its a tough thing to unwind lol — that is fairly esoteric, with regard to the question of agency, the thing that is excess to the process… thinking of this bit in his earlier essay “Nietzsche, Polytheism, and Parody”:

“Was it not necessary to appeal to conscious thought, and thus to borrow from the language of the herd (in this ease, the language of positivism), and thus to take up once again the notions of utility and goal, and direct them toward and against every utility, toward and against every goal?”

Feel like this is working alongside what you’re saying here about Badiou and the ‘anti-‘. Anti-praxis looks both familiar and strange from this vantage point.

And to answer your question at the outset: nope, this isn’t in the book! The great Obsolete Capitalism group really needs the credit for putting this history together, but maybe it can the seeds of a book-to-come…

4 Comments

  1. Wonderful post, XG—gonna be uncharacteristically brief (lol) because I’m out running errands atm….

    It’s really interesting that you bring up Althusser in this way. I’ve been curious about the relationship between Althusser and Deleuze; deep in D&R, there is an engagement with Marx that imo actually has more depth than most people seem to have lent it (the only person I’ve seen engage with it in any extended famous, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been Benjamin Noys). But looking through the footnotes where he mentions Marx, and it becomes clear that the Marx that is being engaged with by Deleuze is mainly Althusser’s Marx. Not sure if this iteration differs from the Marx of Capitalism & Schizophrenia at all, but this might be an interesting avenue in figuring out how this hangs together.

    I think you’re right to relate the proletariat directly to this question of excess; as I read Klossowski’s talk, this is how I think he’s reading it too. In Nietzsche’s ‘accelerationist fragment’, the leveling process—that which is to be accelerated—generates an excess, the “strong of the future”, which becomes in D&G the “people-to-come”. He seems to be suggesting a shared identity between this and the proletariat… Funny, Land places the AI-to-come, Pythia/Mother Hellcrypt/etc in this position, but I’m not sure if his intepretation conforms to the question of excess? A middle ground perhaps: the Fisherian vision of the machinic proletariat.

    There’s an aspect of Klossowski’s parody—Nietzsche’s parody? He says that he is also parodying Nietzsche, so its a tough thing to unwind lol—that is fairly esoteric, with regard to the question of agency, the thing that is excess to the process… thinking of this bit in his earlier essay “Nietzsche, Polytheism, and Parody”:

    “Was it not necessary to appeal to conseious thought, and thus to borrow from the language of the herd (in this ease, the language of positivism), and thus to take up once again the notions of utility and goal, and direct them toward and against every utility, toward and against every goal?”

    Feel like this is working alongside what you’re saying here about Badiou and the ‘anti-‘. Anti-praxis looks both familiar and strange from this vantage point.

    And to answer your question at the outset: nope, this isn’t in the book! The great Obsolete Capitalism group really needs the credit for putting this history together, but maybe it can the seeds of a book-to-come…

      1. Yeah, it’s in The Persistence of the Negative, I do believe! He has an interesting section on how this is kind of a minor point of crisis internal to D&R, because Deleuze is forced to confront the negative and preserve it internally to his notion of affirmation that is being advanced in the text.

        I’ve had some of an obsession with that footnote, because Deleuze seems to want to run Marx/Althusser together with Toynbee. Christian Kerslake has a great paper that talks about the relationship between Deleuze and Toynbee’s philosophy of history that sheds a lot on the structure of ATP: https://www.parrhesiajournal.org/parrhesia04/parrhesia04_kerslake.pdf (Vince also knows a lot about Toynbee, so maybe his spirit could be summoned again if this strand opens anything up)

        1. Ah, of course. I really need to do a proper read of Persistence. In truth, most of my Badiou research began as an attempt to lay the groundwork for diving into it. The tension between negation and affirmation is something I struggle with in early acc conversations, although I’m still none the wiser.

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