I went down to London for a brief 24-hour visit yesterday to attend a private screening of Jake Chapman’s new film, Accelerate or Die! (You Get the Dystopia You Deserve), at the Prince Charles cinema off Leicester Square.
I was interviewed for the film back in spring 2022 and have been eagerly anticipating the final edit for a while. But enough time has passed that I also forgot a lot of what was discussed. The interview itself lasted for a couple of hours, and with a dozen or so other contributors being interviewed, it was clear that only a small amount of what was said by we talking heads would make the cut. This led to — if I’m completely honest — a certain anxiety. How would all that was discussed be represented in the edit?
This anxiety was unwarranted. I came away very impressed. Having spent a lot of time on this blog trying to summarise, explore, extend and — most notably — write primers for the twisted and wind-battered umbrella term that is “accelerationism”, I’m aware of how difficult it can be to summarise. For a one-hour art film / documentary, Accelerate or Die! does a very good job.
The film starts by giving us a lay of the land. What the fuck is up with capitalism? What is this peculiar sensation that bamboozles us daily, where an end-of-history stasis collides with the intensifying speed and complexity of (post)modern life? Are we hurtling forwards or not? If the former, into what? Extinction, apocalypse, the utter redefinition of humanity and nature as we “know” them?
Much to my surprise, the film doesn’t stay within the confines of that trouble; it moves onto what the various strands of accelerationism actually have to say about our present crisis. (A strange point to have to make, but most articles trying to offer an overview of accelerationism generally don’t do this, or at least provide a reductive and question-begging one-liner that clarifies nothing.) And so, Jake’s film moves methodically from “left accelerationism” to “far right accelerationism” into “xenofeminism” and “unconditional accelerationism”, giving a fair hearing to both (with r/acc rightly discussed very disparagingly).
It was particularly interesting to hear u/acc discussed on the big screen. Accelerationism in general is something that some people know about, to varying degrees, but the discussions of the u/acc blogosphere, which I was a part of between 2016-19, are often reduced to a footnote, if they’re mentioned at all, and so it was fascinating for u/acc to be the final chapter here, described generously by Jake was /acc’s “most radical” form.
Admittedly, u/acc also comes across as particularly nihilistic here — with no mention of Ray Brassier’s key understanding of nihilism as a “speculative opportunity” — and I imagine that the film won’t win over too many hearts and minds to the u/acc cause, but for me, it did an excellent job of reintroducing the implications of a certain kind of speculative realist thought regardless (even if only implicitly).
The film ends on a note from Maya about Georges Bataille’s general versus restricted economy. Though environmentalism often frames the climate crisis and its implications for the future of humanity is very humanist terms, it is a worthy critique, I think, to address how parochial even these well-meaning conversations can be in the broader context of how we are now able to think about the universe we inhabit just a small corner of.
Bataille’s argument, in The Accursed Share, is that the earth isn’t a closed, homeostatic system wherein the excesses of expenditure are an acutely bad human habit to be removed, as if the world would regulate itself without our input. Indeed, the fate of the planet as a whole is tied to our closest solar neighbour.
Since the very existence of life on this planet is obviously dependent on the star we live in orbit of, which is itself a giant incinerator of finite energy and gaseous resources, our sense of constant expenditure is arguably innately solar (and therefore inhuman) in nature. As such, the more we learn about the universe, the more aware we must necessarily be of how our anthropocentrism is so often misguided.
There is plenty we must do to address the imminent problems we face, related to the ravages of capitalism, of course, but as Jake said in the Q&A that followed the screening, we restrict our fight for a very near and proximate future — the world of our children and grandchildren — only looking 100 or so years into the future of life on this planet. Again, we do so necessarily, but we also cannot then bracket off the epistemological challenges of our epoch, in which we are increasingly aware of a deep time that humiliates a more humanist parochialism. Modern philosophy has demonstrated repeatedly how inhuman the processes that drive us are, and accelerationism always tries to keep that knowledge in sight.
The film rightly frames this as a kind of anti-praxis — Pete Wolfendale is quoted pointedly as saying that accelerationism insists we “buckle up and enjoy the ride” — but my own writings on u/acc nonetheless insist on a certain Deleuzean angle to this notion, such that we must nonetheless “make ourselves worthy of the things that happen to us.” We might not be in the driver’s seat, but we can (and must) respond to the directions capitalism takes us in by thinking about what it is we might become in the midst of its intensifying processes.
U/acc was explored by Jake as a theory that necessarily attends to this rift — although rather than belittling our more human concerns, I’d argue we need not cosmism over environmentalism, but the dehumanising perspectives of both; a paradox, perhaps, but an important one to wrestle with. Our responsibilities — to ourselves and the world around us — are thus twofold: we must address imminent problems of social justice; and we must attune ourselves to the more protracted but also more radical changes that lie beyond this century, with regards to the ultimate ungrounding of (our) humanity.
We do not know what we could be, and so accelerationism — or so I believe these days — must think the other side of these crises as much as it must attune itself to the speed with which they are approaching. (The film also makes a very good point of this in the discussions around “xenofeminism”, it must be said, even if ending on a more nihilistic note.) As Alex Williams wrote in 2008: “what is necessary is to think the in-itself of capitalism outside of any correlation to the human.” That, to me, encapsulates the core of a speculative realist politics.
There is always more to be said on this speculative realist angle. SR is often sidestepped as the true source of an accelerationist politics (debatable, I know, but it’s the hill I’ll die on.) The film leaves a few breadcrumbs that lead there; Alex Williams is another notable talking head in the film. But that’s a question that would need another film entirely to do justice. (Sequel?)
The other talking heads are worth mentioning here too. Alongside myself, you’ll find Alex Williams, Pete Wolfendale, Patricia McCormack, Maya B Kronic, Amy Ireland, Will Davies, Jeanette Winterson, Will Self, Anab Jain, Jon Ardern, Beth Singler, Isabel Millar, and Tim Crosland. It’s a fantastic lineup. The production crew were so impressed with the quality of the interviews that they intend to make a website for the film that hosts a lot of this additional material, including full interviews and transcripts. They will fascinating to watch/read.
I also loved how much of the film centred on Amy and Maya specifically. As the two people most responsible for midwifing, shaping and disseminating this thought over the years — whether in their own work or in their passionate support of the work of others — it is a film that really gives them their due.
Overall, it is an excellent overview of one of the most complex and misunderstood political philosophies of the twenty-first century, and if the film manages to get a wider release, I think it will become the go-to primer for accelerationism as a whole. So many have tried to produce similar introductions, to varying degrees of success and complexity, but as an entry-level /acc primer, I can’t think of anyone doing a better job. Whether well-versed or unfamiliar, it is more than worth seeing.
How you can see it is still yet to be determined. There was word at the screening that the film has been sold for broadcast in the US, but not yet in the UK. Watch this space for more info over the coming months.