I really enjoyed this chat with Meta the other night and I wanted to add a few notes on things discussed, along with some links.
I also wanted to provide a less rambling explainer as to why I relished the opportunity to (tentatively) correct a few missteps in my first book, Egress. I felt a little out of practice with regards to speaking aloud about these things, and I feel very much like these ideas are still percolating and are not fully cooked through yet. But having these sorts of chats that are mid-transition to the next project are very useful for helping to clarify a few things.
So, for my own sanity, and maybe as a way to introduce this conversation a bit more lucidly, here’s a brief summary of some things discussed and where I stand at the moment within my own work and how I view the work of others (particularly that of Mark Fisher).
One thing I’m increasingly aware of at present is that Egress, by the very nature of the circumstances it was written under, focuses on a kind of politics of transcendence. This is clear enough from the title alone. It is about an escape (or maybe just the idea of an escape) from mourning and melancholy, both personal and political, into some sort of “outside” or “beyond”. The book doesn’t necessarily provide a blueprint on how to do it or how to strategize towards it one way or another (cf. “Maximum Jailbreak”); the sheer shock and trauma of a death is very good at compounding strategic thinking in that way. It instead documents a series of events (or, perhaps, one long Event) and tries to articulate a structure of feeling that emerged from within it, following what was a deeply depressing and quite genuinely traumatic few years for me, my friends and the Left in general.
In many ways, the book settles into the space it was written in and, in the end, forsakes any dramatic escape whatsoever (leading some to say it remains mired in the melancholia it advocates an escape from). But for me, if anything, Egress was an attempt at a sort of Stoic approach to an unfolding process of grief and political uncertainty. Rather than this constituting some banal truism — “it doesn’t go away, but it does get easier” — I wanted to reckon with how the world, then and now, feels immanently grief-stricken, and what the appropriate response to that might be.
The intention was not to write a stiff-upper-lip guide to weathering horror or simply provide an overly optimistic vision of the future if we all just pull ourselves together — the point is precisely that, all things considered, there is a lot to be miserable about but how do you work through that without resorting to a pOsiTiVe MeNtAl AtTiTuDe. Because it is not that nothing can be done; the question of “What is to be done?” cannot be met by a Landian “Do nothing”. Even if certain edgelords feign that response, affirmed impotence is actually pretty difficult to do, I think. (I always think about that scene from The Big Lebowski: “Ulli doesn’t care about anything; he’s a nihilist.” “Ah, that must be exhausting.”) The response I am personally interested in is, instead, a kind of Deleuzian Stoicism, of trying to make yourself worthy of the things that happen to you (cf. Logic of Sense; my reading of “U/Acc”).
Intriguingly, this gets to the heart of what I am currently exploring in relation to the old accelerationist blogosphere. As someone called the “Lacanian_Lifter” (lol) commented on YouTube, after the Hermitix stream, “I have my doubts about transcending a state of mind while immersed in the practices that condition that state of mind.” Well… exactly! Such is the problem of immanence, of idealism/materialism, and of capitalist realism itself. How do you simultaneously theorize and strategize for emancipation whilst, at the same time, accounting for the totality that seems to smother all attempts to do so? This sort of paradox is what I find addressed beautifully by Deleuze in Logic of Sense, where he addresses the Copernican humiliation of Freudo-Marxism but nonetheless looks out ahead of himself. Because, after all, we are not “the master in our own house”, as Freud put it — a materialist world view (a scientific world view; a (properly) nihilistic world view) must admit that we are very much at the mercy of the universe.
This is an idea increasingly associated with Land and, for some, the “Dark Enlightenment”, but it is in fact a thought first expressed in modernity by Freud himself, followed by Adorno and Horkheimer. As Élisabeth Roudinesco argues, in an article intriguingly titled “Freud, thinker of the dark Enlightenment”, “while [Freud] believed firmly in reason and human progress, [he] was at the same time – by a dialectical twist that was fundamental to his thinking – critical of the delusions of progress and reason” (cf. “Make the Dark Enlightenment Great again…?”; Lacan’s essay, “Kant avec Sade”). In this sense, psychoanalysis is where the problem of materialism/idealism comes home to roost, with one bouncing off the other. Does consciousness produce our reality (idealism), or does reality produce consciousness (materialism)? A dark enlightenment sees this for what it is — the equivalent of asking “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” For Deleuze and Guattari, also Lacan, this becomes a question of “which comes first: desire or the thing desired?”
That we are not fully in control of our desires, or that we cannot fully know the conditions that produce them — see: “transcendental materialism” or “libidinal materialism” — shouldn’t stop us from acting, however. This is something that Žižek actually picks up on really well in his otherwise peculiar book on Deleuze, Organs Without Bodies. Though we should not assign agency to capitalism as if it were a kind of anthropomophised subject, it is nonetheless an “eerie entity” in Fisher’s Spinozist argument, possessing what Žižek succintly calls “the pure agency of transcendental causality.”
Žižek continues, further unpacking Deleuze’s peculiar conception of “quasi-causality” in Logic of Sense:
The concept of quasi-cause is that which prevents a regression into simple reductionism: it Let us take Deleuze’s own example from his Time-Image: the emergence of cinematic neorealism. One can, of course, explain neorealism by a set of historical circumstances (the trauma of World War II, etc.). However, there is an excess in the emergence of the New: neorealism is an Event which cannot simply be reduced to its material/historical causes, and the “quasi-cause” is the cause of this excess, the cause of that which makes an Event (an emergence of the New) irreducible to its historical circumstances. One can also say that the quasi-cause is the second-level, the meta-cause of the very excess of the effect over its (corporeal) causes. This is how one should understand what Deleuze says about being affected: insofar as the incorporeal Event is a pure affect (an impassive-neutral-sterile result), and insofar as something New (a new Event, an Event of/as the New) can only emerge if the chain of its corporeal causes is not complete, one should postulate, over and above the network of corporeal causes, a pure, transcendental, capacity to affect. This, also, is why Lacan appreciated so much The Logic of Sense: is the Deleuzian quasi-cause not the exact equivalent of Lacan’s objet petit a, this pure, immaterial, spectral entity which serves as the object-cause of desire?
What is most interesting to me about this is how it emphasizes the importance of a politics of immanence over a politics of transcendence — in essence, an accelerationism. Affect gains momentum; it is excess, surplus, as the quasi-cause of desire itself. It is a politics after finitude.
In hindsight, I feel like this is something that I didn’t pay too much attention to when writing Egress. It is there, somewhat embryonically, but I cannot claim to have been as awake to the implications of this think at the time. But it is there. It allows other things to slot further into place. When Fisher writes that “the inside is a folding of the outside”, for instance, is this not precisely a figure of immanence that he is referring to. It is not that the inside and the outside are in transcendental correlation, but that they are, essentially, entangled.
Such is the twist in Deleuze’s philosophy of immanence, which he nonetheless describes as a “transcendental empiricism” (and what is an encounter with the weird or the eerie if not precisely that?) It’s not simply that capitalism is a barrier for us to push beyond — on the contrary, it constitutes a sort of “plane of immanence” today, and an “image of thought (to use the deleuzoguattarian nomenclature) — but that’s what is so peculiar about capitalism: it is both what we are in and what we are; it is an absence of exteriority that nonetheless produces a paradoxical sense of interiority. It is a sort of non-Euclidean political geometry (geology?), through which we are able to erase any spatial sense of an “outside” whilst, at the same time, still talking about an “inside”. And this kind of thinking unsettles our classic post-Kantian sense of correlation — enter Meillassoux.
When this kind of thinking starts influencing Fisher’s thought, that’s when I think he is at his most interesting for me — when his mournful hauntological thinking butts up against his joyful accelerationist thinking; when his quasi-Derridean philosophy of transcendence butts up against the post-Landian philosophies of immanence defining the developing speculative realist movement (not just Meillassoux, Grant, Brassier, Harman, but their “post-continental” antecedents: Deleuze, Badiou, Laruelle, Henry).
In Egress, I explored this tension through Bataille and Blanchot almost exclusively. I have no regrets about this — it reflects what I was reading at the time — but it certainly fails to encapsulate the full breadth of this conversation. (That being said, as I am trying to provide a much fuller account of this intellectual history right now for book #2, it does have a tendency to spool out uncontrollably — focusing on Bataille and Blanchot was much easier.) I also appreciate the point that was repeatedly made about avoiding Land in all this, but that too is easier said than done. No one wants to hear about him and yet he’s useful because seemingly everybody has. When talking about the blogosphere and a lot of these conversations around infinity, politics and philosophy, capitalism and immanence, he remains the elephant in the room. As such, he is a first point of entry for a lot of people, because he does loom so large. But the point has to be made that, whilst he’s the elephant, the room is otherwise very crowded — so crowded you can ignore him completely and be very much in possession of all the facts.
But that never, ever happens — and to our detriment. Land looms too large even for his detractors. I was re-reading Zack Beauchamp’s account of accelerationism’s downfall again yesterday, for example, and it is so depressing to me that the story of accelerationism somehow begins with Land and the Ccru, and ends with Land and the “Dark Enlightenment”, with nothing at all is said of the discussions — the real discussions — around speculative realism and post-continental philosophy that happened in between, and which did not really involve him at all.
Simply for the sake of providing an accurate historical account of early 21st century thought, it should be acknowledged that accelerationism was intended to explore “the politics of speculative realism”, first and foremost. Land kills his little corner of the discussion in much the same way that Graham Harman killed his — he takes the more interesting talking points of others and then adopts them as a brand. Land becomes the accelerationist, whereas, for the rest of them, he seemed to represent nothing more than an abstract problem to be dealt with.
Still, it is Fisher who, for better or for worse, re-centers Land in the narrative. Though he categorizes Alex Williams’ “xenoeconomics” as a left-landianism, he’s also the person who demonstrates how important Land really is to a lot of their concerns — if not as a positive influence, at least as a problem. This is what resituates an otherwise washed-up Land back in the heart of the conversation. As Fisher writes in a blogpost from 2009:
Nick Land needs to be counted as a speculative realist theorist, if only because he provided a version of Deleuze and Guattari evacuated of any “pseudo-biological vitalist ethology” (but also because Metzinger’s account of identity as a systemic illusion generated from cybernetic feedback sounds like a detailed elaboration of concepts sketched in texts such as “Meltdown” and “No Future”). Behind all these discussions, of course, is the issue of speculative realism’s relationship to politics, if any. […] Is there a way of commensurating the necessarily human focus of the political with the nonhuman perspective opened up by SR that will not betray or compromise its fundamental insights?
These are questions that haven’t yet been answered satisfactorily, in my view. People fixate so much on Land’s personality that they fail to ask the questions that follow — and that is true of Land himself.
Part of the reason I’m left wanting to write this book about accelerationism is that I think the blogosphere as a whole did not really respond to the reality of the Christchurch shooting well at all (myself included). It did not understand itself as the quasi-cause of a movement wholly other to its central concern — that in a philosophy of immanence, the individual is a secondary quality, all too easily overwhelmed. But that is a starting point, not a conclusion. That the individual, as a kind of limit, is broken down opens up a new world for us.
Brenton Tarrant violently rejected that notion, in his own way, mourning the diminishing influence and prosperity of a white race. He demonstrated himself to be a sort of cosmic incel. It’s not that women won’t fuck him, but that the universe itself is fucking with him no longer. He was truly, in this sense, the kind of subject accelerationism set out to critique. But that Land, in conversation with Beauchamp, could only manage a mealy-mouthed rebuttal about the fate of the individual as well, suggested that, whilst he could hardly be blamed for such violence in any sense of direct correlation, this sense of a quasi-causality also had him running scared. This process, that he so gleefully affirmed, had situated him alongside a mass murderer. Land was humiliated and has since only doubled down on his boomerisms.
It is in this sense that, on reflection, I think there’s more to be said about this kind of Deleuzian Stoicism, especially with regards to problems like the hyper-conservative far-right, post-pandemic politics and the worsening climate crisis. We will find ourselves humiliated, overwhelmed, overcome, but our sense of action does not stop at the overwhelming of such a limit. It is where action begins.
When every other field of political action seems to be insisting upon our own finitude, there is something to be said for these maligned discussions of infinity.