Nowhere Fast:
What Happened to Accelerationism?
(Part One)

The history of a thing, in general, is the succession of forces which take possession of it and the co-existence of the forces which struggle for possession.

— Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy

It is a difficult task, for the philosopher, to pull names away from a usage that prostitutes them.

— Alain Badiou, Ethics

Accelerationism. Chances are, if you have heard that term before, you don’t think too highly of it. Few do. But even fewer people seem to know what its claims are, and that’s including many of those who self-identify as “accelerationists”.

For the blissfully unaware, “accelerationism” is a promiscuous term; its meaning has changed considerably since it was first coined and debated online by a gathering of bloggers in the late 2000s. At that time, it was a contentious and emergent school of thought, concerned with the inner workings of capitalism and how they are continually “speeding up”, despite the apparent stagnation of culture, wages, etc. It also considered the effects that this contradictory conflict may be having on human subjectivity and society more generally, and how the left specifically can (and, indeed, must) use its knowledge of the disparity between economic and cultural velocities to rethink its own sense of fate, political agency, and thus its own forward momentum.

Most scandalously, it was a critical thought concerned with intervening within capitalism’s control mechanisms by intensifying certain aspects of the system itself – specifically, the production of anti-capitalist sentiments, which capitalism must produce within itself to ensure an illusion of progress, just as it must eventually capture, obstruct, or defuse those same sentiments to ensure its own survival. (Control, as William Burroughs once argued, can never be absolute, or else it ceases to be control; it requires both opposition and acquiescence.) In short, accelerationism considered how we might keep our foot on the throttle, overcoming capitalism’s habits of deintensification and reterritorialization for the sake of new (and, notably, postcapitalist) political aims.

Some readers will, at this point, be confused by what they have just read. If you are already familiar with the term “accelerationism”, you may find this definition wholly unrecognisable. This is because, since the late 2010s, accelerationism has become far more closely associated with the most reactionary tendencies in contemporary society, and better known as a half-baked terroristic strategy championed in the manifestos of white supremacists and on the websites of the far-right’s online agitators.

Among this crowd, accelerationism expresses a commitment to “accelerating” – that is, exacerbating – conflict, contradiction, and other points of societal tension in order to provoke capitalism’s protocols for self-preservation into action. Far-right accelerationists, then, want to exacerbate capitalism’s fault lines, provoking an immune response within the system itself, thereby strengthening it, forestalling the further ascendency of any anti-capitalist sentiment — in particular, a form of “woke capitalism” that they believe kowtows too readily to progressive values.

Whereas one side argues that we must intensify the system’s inadvertent production of alternatives to itself, the other believes we must exacerbate discontent and chaos in order to provoke the system’s self-organising and self-limiting tendencies.

For many, these two accelerationisms are wholly discontinuous and fundamentally opposed to one another; for others, they nonetheless share key influences that cannot be ignored. As a result of this split, accelerationist discourses have since devolved into a lacklustre back-and-forth between those understandably concerned about the rise of far-right reactionary movements across the West and those who wish to salvage some kind of radical and progressive kernel from its rotting remains.

No matter who wins, accelerationism loses. What was once a lively online scene of philosophical discussion, cultural production, and political argumentation has now dried up completely. It has become a dead horse flogged incessantly by critics and adherents alike. For a movement supposedly dedicated to an acceleration away from stasis, it has embarrassingly beaten itself to death with its own riding crop, succumbing to its own conceptual complexity and finding itself stuck in a mess entirely of its own making.

Faced with such a situation, we might undertake a difficult but appropriately contradictory task: the exploration of the emergence, subsequent development, and ultimate demise of the term “accelerationism” in contemporary philosophical, cultural, and political discourses.

Though a project that will no doubt provoke alarm (or perhaps just total disinterest) from some quarters, the reasons for undertaking such a project are twofold:

Firstly, in focusing on accelerationism’s development over the last two decades specifically, we will attempt to dispel certain myths and misunderstandings that have dogged this philosophy since its inception, thanks to various misguided attempts at historicization (which generally welcome in slippery retcons).

This will, secondly, lead to an attempt to clarify accelerationism’s claims about the future, but also – and perhaps most importantly – its continuing implications for our present. Indeed, to understand the rise and fall of accelerationism is, in this blogger’s opinion, to understand something about the character of our age, and the peculiar obstacles that all kinds of political thought in our present moment face.

To understand the implications of accelerationism in this manner is neither an attempt to salvage it for one last outing nor chisel a commiserating epigraph onto its tombstone, but instead to understand the untimely mutations and possessions that occurred between its niche emergence and its popular disavowal. Why? Because there are many other terms and ideological positions that have fallen victim to this mutative process in recent years also – “postmodernism” being perhaps the most obvious example, which has similarly become wholly detached from its original meaning to refer to some nebulous boogieman waiting to tear the world apart.

As such, accelerationism encapsulates, in microcosm, the trials and tribulations faced by any new political thought that is otherwise produced under our late-capitalist system. Furthermore, the speed with which it has emerged and subsequently atrophied helps re-problematise the modernist imperative that it otherwise hoped to re-establish, insisting that we “make it new” whilst at the same time questioning what “the new” really is.

This two-part questioning of the new was first reinvigorated in online discourses by Alain Badiou, who referred to it as our “crisis of the negative” – a crisis since severed from acclerationism’s conceptual genealogy over the course of its short lifetime. “Contrary to Hegel, for whom the negation of the negation produces a new affirmation, I think we must assert that today negativity, properly speaking, does not create anything new”, Badiou argued in 2007. “It destroys the old, of course, but does not give rise to a new creation.”

What constitutes “the new” as such has been a question for philosophy since its inception, but following the financial crash of 2008, when capitalism’s tendency to produce recurrent crises was denounced by both governments and their citizens around the world, this question acquired a new resonance. What was it, at that moment, that stopped a new postcapitalist world from emerging? And if such a crisis were to repeat itself, how might we act differently to ensure that real change is able to occur?

In its first instance, accelerationism was an attempt to engage with this very crisis. It was less a continuation of Nineties postmodern critique (as many have thought about it since) than a response to its contemporary impotence, as capitalism sputtered and choked on its own failures but could not be overcome. This is to say that accelerationism was an attempt to both diagnose our contemporary stuckness and, in the process, propel ourselves towards escape velocity. It was meant to be a tow rope for a generation going nowhere fast, violently spinning wheel and kicking up nothing but mud.

However, like postmodernism before it, accelerationism was a mode of thought that began to show symptoms of the very reactionary disease it first sought to diagnose and describe. It was a thrust towards revolution that tripped and fell on its own sword.

There is considerable irony here. Returning to our opening definition, if we are to understand accelerationism as a philosophical thought interested in the intensification of capitalism’s self-undermining forces, which capitalism cannot help but produce for itself, we might argue that accelerationism has done much the same thing to its own cause: it has produced unforeseen forces that have undermined its own trajectory from within. Whilst many of accelerationism’s initial theorisers were explicit in the precise elements of capitalism that they hoped to intensify, they have failed to control the processual intensification of their own collective thinking. But such a contradiction does not signal the end for this philosophy’s usefulness. One of the founding principles of accelerationist thought, after all, is that nothing has ever died from its contradictions — capitalism in particular — and accelerationism itself is no exception to this rule.

This claim regarding contradictions originates in Anti-Oedipus, the 1972 work by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. In their wide-ranging analysis of desire under capitalism, they introduce a notion that has stalked certain strands of political philosophy ever since. Together, they write:

The death of a social machine has never been heralded by a disharmony or a dysfunction; on the contrary, social machines make a habit of feeding on the contradictions they give rise to, on the crises they provoke, on the anxieties they engender, and on the infernal operations they regenerate.

Deleuze and Guattari hold capitalism firmly in their sights when speaking to such oddly resilient social machines, but the rise and fall of accelerationism nonetheless demonstrates that critiques of capitalism are by no means immune to this insight either. Indeed, we might say that accelerationism’s “demise” functions as a proof of concept. Though we might argue the arguments of the first blogospheric “accelerationists” failed many years ago, this volatile topic has only gotten more famous, even resilient, the more it has failed and failed again. The point this philosophy hoped to make has thus been proven by its own downfall — that is, the ever-accelerating and increasingly entropic spread of information under postmodern capitalism is both a major tool for and obstacle to building any mass political movement that hopes to work against capitalism as the dominant socioeconomic system governing our lives. This is to say that accelerationism was founded on a description of its own cause of death. Its death was foretold from the outset…

Now that accelerationism is “over”, perhaps it is time to draw out this process anew, and reveal how the present contradictory co-existence of a far-left and far-right accelerationism might yet provoke new thought for a new era. The question for us becomes: how can we remain vigilant to this process of rhetorical decay and nonetheless find new modes of attack? As Deleuze famously wrote elsewhere: “It’s not a question of worrying or of hoping for the best, but of finding new weapons.” Once upon a time, accelerationism was one such weapon, but it has now been blunted beyond repair. Nevertheless, it is perhaps only after we have answered that deceptively simple question – “what happened?” — that we will be able to approach the considerably more complex question of “what happens next?”

On 11th May 2017, “accelerationism” properly entered the popular imagination. In a “long read” article for the Guardian, author and journalist Andy Beckett declared that this strange philosophy, rooted in the dialectical materialism of Marxism, as well as some of the more obscure science-fiction novels of the twentieth century, would soon come to define how we think about the past, present, and future — that is, if it hasn’t already.

The term had originally emerged from the feverish posting of an online “blogosphere” ten years earlier — an archipelago of blogs on which a disparate gathering of cultural critics, academics, para-academics, philosophers, and anonymous interlocutors all debated the cultural, political, and intellectual events of the day. As the blogosphere steadily grew, increasing in confidence and scope, it eventually became a generative melting pot for some of the most incendiary thinkers of a new era.

By the early 2010s, this gathering of bloggers had largely graduated from the Internet to the hallowed ground of print media, and there were soon half a dozen books published engaging with the topic of accelerationism in multiple contexts, from politics and philosophy to art and culture, as well as their many points of intersection. Nevertheless, accelerationism remained a somewhat niche para-academic concern, and so it was no less of a surprise when the term eventually found its way inside one of the most famous newspapers in the world. 

In his article for the Guardian, Beckett argues that, before the world even knows what has hit it — such is the nature of the beast — this “new way of thinking about the contemporary world and its potential” will be on the lips of every worker and every government. The general foundation of this “fringe philosophy”, as Beckett explains it, is the observation that our technological development has been accelerating at an alarming rate. This is blatantly apparent — look at any graph attempting to measure civilisation’s technological progress over the last few centuries and you will find an exponential inclination that shows no signs of slacking. [1]

And yet, nothing can keep accelerating forever, can it? And what will be in store for us if the curve starts to decline and flatten? Alternatively, what happens if the incline of that graph reaches its peak, and it is no longer an incline but a cliff face? Will technological progress — and its primary driver, capitalism — stall and plummet? Or will capitalism necessarily transform itself into something entirely different, at least when compared to the socioeconomic system that we have come to know?

This peak – also ominously known as “the Singularity” — is predicted to coincide with the development of an artificial general intelligence. Beyond this technological threshold, computers will not just be able to think for themselves, they will also be capable of doing anything the human mind can. From here on out, the full automation of work and life will be a very real possibility. It is a new technological frontier that many seemingly cannot wait for. [2] But in properly considering this fast-approaching event horizon — nothing short of capitalism producing its own labour revolution — we might ask ourselves some additional questions: Once the singularity has been reached, will we have any need for capitalism any longer? Will capitalism have any need for us?

Whilst the answers to such questions remain shrouded in a kind of sci-fi uncertainty, for better or for worse the nature of the world beyond the Singularity — if we are to take such a concept seriously, and we should note that not everybody does — will undoubtedly contain many new opportunities regarding how we choose (and how we are able) to live our lives. This is precisely why, for many, it is something to be feared. Accelerationism, on the other hand — at least according to Beckett — wants to embrace these opportunities, come what may.

With all this percolating in the background, Beckett frames the de facto accelerationist position as follows:

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified — either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

The accelerationist gambit, then, seems to be one of libertarian impatience — not just for the sake of free-market capitalists, but for capital itself. Capital is pulling at its human leash; soon enough, something will have to give. For the average card-carrying accelerationist, the faster we get to breaking point the better. “Gotta go fast, man!” But what’s the rush? Beckett does not provide much in the way of an answer — at least not a clear one — but we might argue the case for him as follows:

There is a famous adage that goes: “The future is already here — it is just unevenly distributed.” [3] We might expand upon this adage like so: If technological progress under capitalism is accelerating, it is doing so under the auspices of a capitalist class that is manipulating its development for their own self-interest. As billionaires hold their own private space race, others rely on food banks or work whilst homeless. The very idea of the future becomes an experiential luxury for the few who can afford it, and a mere spectacle that the rest of us plebs should be grateful to witness from the gutter. Whilst many conservative political pundits will claim that we are all — no matter our class, creed, or colour — increasingly better off under capitalism, it seems that, for most people, the futures we were once promised by politicians and poets have plateaued onto an endless expanse of sameness and stagnation. As a result, inequality rises — not simply because conditions are worsening, although in many places they are, but also because “progress” (and an anemic sense of progress at that) is only accessible to a few.

Clear examples of this disparity between future and present, and the blatant curtailing of opportunity that results, are found everywhere today. But so is the fact that capitalism gets many of its best ideas from those who oppose its flimsy universalism. However, capitalism isn’t so slick. An increasingly incompetent establishment does not reterritorialize dissent smoothly but often through a series of embarrassingly U-turns and adaptations. Here we see how the situation described above, though actively maintained by a political establishment, has started to show strain.

Consider the UK Labour Party’s 2019 policy to provide all households with free broadband internet. In a speech given at the University of Lancaster, then leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn announced that his “government will make broadband free for everybody”. Introduced as a key election pledge, Corbyn promised to deliver “Full-fibre broadband to every home, in every part of our country, for free — as a universal public service.” He noted that, outside of the UK, many other countries are far better connected. They recognise that “What was once a luxury is now an essential utility”, and one that is “too important to be left to the corporations.” Under the plan, he would create a new company called “British Broadband” — much like British Telecom, or BT, a once publicly owned company that ran the country’s telephone network before it was privatised in 1984 under Margaret Thatcher. Despite that fate, many of the UK’s most important and cherished institutions began life this way, and it was time, in Corbyn’s view, for a new set of public services that reflected the needs of working people in the twenty-first century.

Denounced in the media as “Broadband Communism”, the policy was ridiculed as a non-starter and a frivolous promise that most people didn’t really care about. However, it was a policy later poached from the Labour Party’s manifesto by an incumbent Conservative government. As the coronavirus pandemic led to millions suddenly working from home, then-prime minister Boris Johnson was forced to acknowledge that Internet access was indeed an essential domestic utility.

Even prior to the pandemic, many on the left were rightly framing the idea of nationalised broadband as akin to the National Health Service before it, which many argued had faced similar resistance at the time. Ash Sarkar, for example, writing for the Guardian, explored how the “idea of the NHS took root in the political imagination less as an example of social entitlement’s victory over private provision, and more as the embodiment of brand Britain.” A year later, when Johnson embraced the idea of “broadband communism”, it was seemingly along these same lines. Broadband isn’t a frivolous luxury but good for business! After a bruising Brexit process, rebuilding “brand Britain” was precisely what was needed.

Ultimately, Johnson scrapped the plans. Rather than entertaining the idea of a British Broadband company, he left the plans with private companies who obviously resisted the move, arguing that government subsidies were insufficient to cover the cost of the works required. With residents unable to pay for the necessary work themselves, the plan was shelved. But by that time, public opinion had shifted and embraced universal access to broadband as a no-brainer. Johnson was left embarrassed as the extra provisions argued for by the Labour Party — that a nationalised broadband service would be necessary to counter private enterprise’s constant handwringing about their profits — were validated as corporate handwringing stopped the project in its tracks.

What is most telling about this situation, and what makes it relevant to accelerationism, is that the government’s ideological pivot — from denouncing the plans as virulently anti-capitalist to embracing them as a necessary adaptation for capitalism to make — demonstrates how capitalist ideology routinely lags behind capitalism’s own material conditions. In a bizarre display of hypocrisy, it is system in which the ruling elite increasingly dismisses access to its own elevated standards of living as somehow “communist”. But in insulting policy suggestions that would arguably extend the reach of “communicative capitalism” into untapped markets, it only illustrates how engagement with the shifting landscape of modern life under capitalism has transcended any “classical” capitalist thinking.

This is also true in a negative sense: capitalism not only dismisses its successes as “communist” but also its own failures. A common sight during the coronavirus pandemic, for instance, was empty shelves in Western supermarkets, caused by disrupted supply chains and short-staffed shops. “It’s like living in a communist country”, some would say — a Pavlovian response to images of empty shelves and long queues after they were used for decades to argue that communist countries like Russia or socialist countries like Venezuela are miserable and inefficient. And yet, as others pointed out, since communism was supposedly vanquished some thirty years previously, at the end of the twentieth century, these images were no longer “like communism” but a clear result of capitalist ill-preparedness.

Western incompetence was ignored in favour of old-fashioned Orientalism and red scare tactics, as if the “Wuhan flu” contained a heavy viral load of both SARS-CoV-2 and Chinese communism. In truth, many East Asian countries recovered from the pandemic far quicker than those in the West, not because of some vague sense of communist discipline or subjugation, but because they had put their capitalist infrastructure to better use than other nations, having understood the necessity of such disease control measures following previous outbreaks in the early 2000s. Still, Western capitalism’s paranoia speaks volumes. The suggestion that the West is supposedly surrounded by communism on all sides only further cements the idea that capitalism’s ideological stability — no longer a steady forward movement but a stasis — is wavering from within. It is not simply “communism” banging at the door, but any future beyond contemporary capitalism’s stagnation.

It was precisely this sort of ideological wavering that accelerationism sought to focus on and exploit, acknowledging that the increasing speed of capitalism’s development is accompanied by the diffuse sense that its time is almost up. We, as a society, are ready for the next big thing. Instead, capitalists, buoyed by the confidence that comes from being the owners of the means of production, have begun to tamp the brakes, choosing to languish in a frenetic stasis. By using the latest technological developments to perpetually remake the old rather than push forward towards the new — a tendency most visible in popular culture, particularly cinema and video games, but just as present in politics itself — capitalism encourages a desire for the familiar (even if what is “familiar” is more oppressive than what is newly possible). The reasons why are increasingly obvious. Capitalists are unwilling to take a gamble on “the new” as such, because they know it may lead to capitalism’s radical mutation or ultimate demise. And, if that is the case, who can blame them? After all, their livelihoods depend on an artificial scarcity that they have spent decades, even centuries, cultivating. The arrival of a long-promised “red plenty” would surely be the end of the world as they know it. [4]

Accelerationism is unsympathetic to any kind of cautiously conservative handwringing. Its cyberpunk need for speed is aimed squarely at those forces that wish to hold onto capitalism, refusing to relinquish control and maintaining a tight grip on it, perhaps out of fear, as if they were holding onto the short leash of a rabid dog, pretending they have everything under control. But as they lose their grip, further revealing how any so-called “trickle-down” economy is a thinly veiled lie, accelerationism demands acceleration for all, not just the chosen few. It is a thought that asks those sympathetic to its cause, “if the capitalists are stalling their chosen system’s development for the sake of their continued comfort, hoarding wealth and exploiting workers in order to finance their own planetary escape plans, then how might the rest of us counteract their global filibustering?”

We will make an attempt to answer this question, but let’s return to Beckett’s article and its definition of accelerationism before we forget about it completely.

Unfortunately, Beckett’s article is distinctly lacking in this sort of exposition, or any real interrogation of its implications. Whilst he does capture the fervour of accelerationism’s largely underground online discourse, and the war raging within its politically disparate ranks — particularly with regards to the present status of a revolutionary Marxism, largely diminished in the popular imagination, noting, for instance, that, in 1848, Karl Marx “saw an ever more frantic capitalism as the essential prelude to the moment when the ordinary citizen ‘is at last compelled to face … his real conditions of life’ and start a revolution” — the average reader will likely be left confused and uncertain as to what any of accelerationism’s more contemporary adherents are actually fighting for, beyond a certain interpretation of Marx. It frames accelerationism as something that hardly feels important to the human race, as Beckett suggests it soon will be.

This is not to heap an unnecessary amount of criticism upon Beckett’s article, however. No-one could be expected to offer up a full account of such a fringe philosophy, with its various points of academic contention, and still find a home in a widely read mainstream newspaper. The minutiae of the movement is hardly interesting enough to sustain a Guardian reader through their morning coffee. But many would have at least preferred that the various points of contention were not collapsed onto each other, to the point that accelerationism appeared, to the casual reader at least, to be an utterly impotent and confused political position; an ill thought-out philosophy attributed to some amphetamine casualties and NASCAR enthusiasts.

That being said, accelerationism is certainly a little rough around the edges. But this is because the movement insists upon intervening in any and all present contingencies. It is a difficult thing to appraise in a way that will please everyone precisely because it hopes to kick up the dust, not wait for it to settle. Just as you attempt to grasp its contemporary concerns, it moves swiftly with the times, changing shape and sprouting new variants. This is, of course, not without its problems. The overarching issue here is perhaps that, if Beckett’s article does struggle to provide an accurate disambiguation of accelerationism, it is because even those within accelerationist discourses are still figuring things out for themselves – lest we forget that this apparently new way of thinking about the world is barely into its teens.

Still, accelerationism and its claims needn’t cause us too much confusion. We might note that another British newspaper, the New Statesman, had engaged with accelerationism a year prior to Beckett, exploring the subject in a much shorter but far more accurate article online. This article explains that, whilst some people “understand ‘accelerationism’ as being the process by which capitalism is pushed to its worst excesses as soon as possible in order to provoke an anti-capitalist response … few philosophers preach anything so simple (or so passive).” The focus for many is instead “on repurposing the tools of capitalism, outlining a model for political change opposed to the work of those Marxists who seek to entirely reject the suspect tools of, to give one example, knowledge of late capitalist economics.” This definition is succinct and, to this blogger, broadly agreeable. But it also encapsulates the central point of contention within accelerationist discourses: How far into this vague affirmation of capitalist complicity are we prepared to go? And how can we be certain that encouraging the development and implementation of certain technologies or tendencies will work out in our favour?

History hardly reassures us on this point. Despite this, accelerationism suggests, with an unlikely confidence, that we can still beat the system at its own game. Or we must at least try. What alternative do we have? Capitalism is too far gone to simply be repealed, and new potentials present themselves every day. As such, we should do all that we can to understand contemporary capitalism’s peculiar temperament and strategize accordingly. And yet, as the New Statesman article suggests, whilst this could be viewed as essentially advocating for a better understanding of economic theory, others believe the accelerationist position resembles a kind of “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” cliché, amounting to little more than an intellectualised complicity with capitalist forces, mistaking an understanding of the machinations of the market for an uncritical belief in their potential.

The impotence of such an argument is readily apparent when we reconsider Beckett’s summary of the accelerationist position, previously quoted. Here it is again, for convenience:

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

The problem here, considering all we have added to our considerations thus far, is that all of these positions supposedly favoured by accelerationists – automation, deregulation, small government – are just the same tendencies that a post-Fordist libertarian capitalism has spent the last four or five decades selecting for. Beneath the thin gloss of abstruse Continental philosophies, does this not reduce the accelerationist movement to an online gathering of socioeconomic “glory supporters”, cheerleading the market’s abstract choices as and when it makes them? This does not sound like a position that warrants serious investigation by philosophers, artists, and politicians this side of the millennium…

Many of accelerationism’s critics would no doubt agree with this appraisal. Those who retain an interest in its arguments are, to said critics, clueless armchair philosophers who have confused a dogmatic support for the clotting edge of the status quo with a radical and revolutionary sentiment. To the knowing reader, however, the picture Beckett presents of accelerationist interests is missing something. For example, at one point, he describes accelerationism as a “political heresy”, and he is right to do so. But by sidestepping its specific calls to unbound capitalism from bourgeois protectionism, challenging all orthodoxies that speak for stasis (or, at best, a neoliberalist “gradual reform”) within capitalism’s shrinking bounds, accelerationism instead looks like a carpet-bombing of ressentiment, rather than an attempt to generate alternatives to the various political positions otherwise allowed to exist quite comfortably within the scope of capitalism’s promiscuous ideological lens.

The crux of accelerationism’s heresy can be simply described: whereas most anti-capitalist theories imagine a non-capitalist beyond for society to escape into, accelerationism sees the future as necessarily emerging from within capitalism itself. But rather than signalling a complicity with capitalism, as is so often the assumption, the idea is that a vigilance regarding the changing nature of present conditions, events and their potentials is preferrable to any sort of perpetually postponed dream of transcendence.

It is only in this sense that accelerationism, as Beckett describes it, “goes against conservatism, traditional socialism, social democracy, environmentalism, protectionism, populism, nationalism, localism and all the other ideologies that have sought to moderate or reverse the already hugely disruptive, seemingly runaway pace of change in the modern world.” Whilst the intention is perhaps to insinuate the average accelerationist’s bloody-minded refusal to wait patiently for any other political project to win out, or a belief that there is no fighting this runaway pace of change, it also casts accelerationism as a blunt instrument for the uncouth thinker, an unsubtle battering ram for the pseudointellectual, rather than a serious attempt to reckon with the blockages in our political and philosophical thinking, which undermine our progress towards something beyond this broadly unjust and unequal society that we know in the present. On the contrary, accelerationism (in the beginning at least) presented itself as a form of postmodern critique that sought to develop a clear trajectory outward from any position of recognised capture.

To invoke the “postmodern” here is easily dismissed in our present moment. It has also become a kind of conceptual boogieman — something to be readily feared and denounced, despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of any concrete and universally recognised definition. For many contemporary right-wing thinkers, for instance, “postmodernism” has become a useful short-hand for a kind of populist “critical theory” that obfuscates truth in favour of relativism, blaming all the world’s ills on hard-to-define abstract structures and hierarchies. Jordan Peterson has done more than most to popularise this view. In his best-selling book 12 Rules for Life, he equates postmodernism with “the long arm of Marx”, using it as a catch-all term for the dishonest persistence of leftist thought, which lives on in contemporary society despite its successive humiliations during the twentieth century. Leftists thus display a contemptable arrogance in daring to parrot their theories down the years following the unearthing of Stalin’s gulags, he suggests.

Peterson seems aghast that the left has the gall to keep fighting after such a resounding set of defeats. But Peterson also starts to look like a champion who is afraid to have his title contested. Beneath the apparently thin veneer of progressivism, what Peterson calls “postmodern neomarxism” is described in scaremongering terms as a truly “nihilistic and destructive” philosophy. “It puts the act of categorization itself in doubt”, he continues. “It negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power.” (An intriguing argument, for a maladapted liberal, that is surely nothing more than a denial of Bacon and Hobbes’ shared adage that “knowledge is power”.) Instead, for the postmodernist, “there are no facts”, he says. As far as Peterson is concerned, capitalism and reality are essentially synonyms. Capitalism does, of course, shape our reality. So does science. But whereas science changes its position depending on contemporary levels of understanding, finding new ways to represent that which is currently hidden from view, Peterson’s brand of capitalist realism is a stubborn ideological position that refuses to update itself according to its own material conditions.

What is further interesting about Peterson’s pseudo-intellectual flailing is that, for some, “postmodernism” has been defined precisely as the limiting of acts of categorization in the computer age. In his seminal exploration of “the postmodern condition”, published in 1979, Jean-François Lyotard described the nature of capitalism’s contemporary stasis very successfully: postmodernism, he argued, was the settling of modernism’s frenzy into a relatively stable configuration; “not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant.” (We might note that Lyotard’s earlier book, Libidinal Economy, is widely regarded as a key proto-accelerationist text.) This is to say that, under postmodernism, there are differences, there are alternatives, there are arguments for other worlds, but the problem is that these alternatives and arguments are themselves static. They are reified and fixed, like chess pieces with specific characters and moves, caught in an unending stalemate. It is a “frenzied stasis”, as the late Mark Fisher argued, in which things may violently vibrate but nothing ever really moves forwards. Postmodernism, then, is not a response to a contentious present, but the suspension of present contentions altogether.

For Lyotard, the implications of this are not only aesthetic or political but broadly epistemological. In a postmodern world, any newly discovered form of knowledge or expression is immediately subordinated to a totalizing ideological “truth”. This is an unfortunate side-effect of society’s computerisation, he argues. Just as any new programme loaded onto a computer for the first time must nonetheless be rendered in a format that is legible to the operating system at large, so any new perspective on our world must be legible to a pre-existing hegemonic framework — even forms of knowledge that are principally opposed to that framework altogether, and for good reason. This is not simply a function of capitalist society for Lyotard, but any computerised socioeconomic alternative.

We might note that, when Lyotard’s appraisal of postmodernism was written, there was still such a thing as the Soviet Union — a clear alternative to capitalism’s ideological hegemony. The problem is less with the classic formulation of a particular ideology, but the “advanced liberal management” systems used to keep them running. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, this computational stasis is even more apparent today. From that moment onwards, the choice was no longer between capitalism and communism but reduced to a choice between Microsoft and Apple.

Because of this capture of knowledge and the means of its production, many saw the new “postmodern” world as a reduction and a renunciation of what had come before it, with modernism’s pluralist approach to political agency transformed into a one-dimensional consumerism. And yet, at the same time, this reduction of the uses of knowledge necessitated a new commitment to modernism’s pluralism for others. For Lyotard especially, postmodernist critique was a kind of battle cry, signalling “a war on totality” that demands we bear witness “to the unpresentable” — that is, all that cannot be rendered in the computational language of global capital. Here we find Peterson’s critique yet again, but can perhaps now appreciate its ahistoricity: our present methods of categorisation are very recent, very limited, and ultimately disregard so many other ways of being.

This is also another way of arguing that, whilst capitalism is everywhere, not everything is capitalist. Capitalism is fuelled by our desires, for instance, but not everything we desire is necessarily capitalist in essence. It is with great difficulty that we excavate these things from their capitalist encasement, however. But in attempting to do so regardless, we demand of ourselves a new conception of the world that is not impossibly non-capitalist but seductively post-capitalist. As Marx himself argued, we should not forsake wealth as such, but attempt to transform wealth beyond the bounds of capitalism’s regresive value-structure. There is a wealth beyond capitalism. Once we learn to acknowledge that capitalism, in its present stasis, is not capable of providing us with the world we desire, then the future will truly return to us.

However, over the decades since Lyotard wrote his critique, capitalism has become an increasingly dynamic and pluralist system in its own right, to the extent that it can readily accommodate most political or subjective positions within its bounds. This is often to the chagrin of its loudest cheerleaders: those who like and hope to endlessly maintain (a certain period of or, most notably, an idealised and ultimately nonexistent version of) capitalism.

This is most visible within so-called “identity politics”. For someone like Jordan Peterson, there is a stubbornness to accept differing positions within an established framework, as if those people now fighting for representation are trying to expand the purview of the system at large. Why this is a bad thing is unclear on the surface; the most obvious reason is that it takes the spotlight off Peterson and others like him. His specific refusal to use someone’s preferred gender pronouns, for instance — at least if they differ from what he expects — is a child’s stubborn refusal that does not want other ways of being to be acknowledged because then they can never be accommodated, shaking up a present hierarchy. Although many have come to recently accept that simple “male” and “female” categories are, in fact, socially oppressive and fail to account for the plurality of human experience, for Peterson the splitting of these categories means that those who feel uncomfortable in an expanding world lose their hegemonic footing within it. (The sound of tiny violins begins to swell.) As such, Peterson’s work is fundamentally based on a fear of change and instability, which goes some way to explain the irony of his emotional instability: his own life has been changed unimaginably by global fame; now he lives a life of contradictions and harsh exposure that does not collapse as he believes society would if such vast changes were available to all. In my opinion, it is this sense of internal change, as he continues to rant about his particular brand of conservatism, that leads him to cry tears of social confusion in front of Joe Rogan or Piers Morgan or whoever wants to lick his boots.

Anyway, the overarching point here is that, for those who dismiss the issue of non-binary pronouns as identity politics gone too far, it suggests that their chosen system is not as total and robust as they think it is. If reactionaries feel that certain minorities have increased their sway, is it not because capitalism itself is making room for new forms of life? But if there is no outside to capitalism, then where are these people coming from? They come from within, enacting a previously unthinkable kind of political agency.

And yet, from the other side, there are those who critique the present state of “identity politics” as simply demanding the system include you when, in fact, there is strength to be found in being part of what Lyotard calls “the unpresentable”. It is ultimately a hollowing-out of alternatives forms of life — particularly queer life, in this context — which results in the knowledge and perspectives these positions represent being assimilated and transformed into commodities to squabble over without anything really being at stake. But this process, if it is happening, has not been absolute. Whilst activists fight for dignity and basic human rights, for a certain level of recognition within the system, the resistance they meet is clearly upsetting, but it also confirms the ways that certain forms of life remain on the fringes. This is also something to affirm — which is difficult, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Indeed, a third position, somewhere between the two, suggests that any radical response to capitalism cannot simply refute commodification or computerisation in an attempt to return to pre-digital high-modernist ideals. We are more than capable of acknowledging how certain minoritarian subject positions, though gathering traction in our capitalist world, remain wholly other to its machinations. We must instead acknowledge that the world has changed and is changing, and it is in such spaces of contention that we can not just achieve progress within the system but also perforate its narrow purview, forcing it to not just adapt but be utterly transformed.

Accelerationism likewise hopes to intervene in this kind of highly contentious and indeterminate space. It hopes to radically represent the unpresentable, but not simply to any capitalist gaze for the sake of consumption and capture. It recognises that certain new radical subjectivities can be produce from within capitalism’s bounds, and it hopes to further intensify their influence. It hopes to use computerisation and categorisation to build new worlds, to see how outsider identities and politics nonetheless function within the system at large so that they might defiantly affect it, rather than be at its mercy. This is to say that it is not just the forms of technology that capitalism produces that might give rise to postcapitalist futures, but forms of subjectivity as well, and accelerationism considers how both are forms of techne capable of generating the new. As Fredric Jameson once argued, any

new political art (if it is indeed possible at all) will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is to say, to its fundamental object — the world space of multinational capital — at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spatial as well as our social confusion.

This mode of accelerationist thinking was exemplified by the writer and blogger Mark Fisher, who repeatedly put forward a view of accelerationism that was less entangled in its own contradictions and likewise less prone to the “social confusion” that has since come to define its discussion online. In a 2013 essay for the online journal e-flux, for instance, he expresses his frustrations with the many appraisals of accelerationist discourse in such a way that it now seems to criticise Beckett’s journalistic reading of the accelerationist position, albeit four years ahead of time. Fisher writes:

A certain, perhaps now dominant, take on accelerationism has it that the position amounts to a cheerleading for the intensification of any capitalist process whatsoever, particularly the “worst,” in the hope that this will bring the system to a point of terminal crisis… This formulation, however, is question-begging in that it assumes what accelerationism rejects — the idea that everything produced “under” capitalism fully belongs to capitalism. By contrast, accelerationism maintains that there are desires and processes which capitalism gives rise to and feeds upon, but which it cannot contain; and it is the acceleration of these processes that will push capitalism beyond its limits.

In light of this more nuanced articulation, accelerationists do not simply favour post-human automation uncritically for the sake of change, as Beckett suggests; they instead favour the potentials that these innovations uncover, which capitalism produces for itself but then must repress later on. For all its injustices, for all of its subjugations and oppressions, capitalism has nonetheless encouraged the development of ways of living that give an inchoate form to worlds radically different to our own. It has similarly encouraged the development of emancipatory technologies that might produce the utopian worlds we have been promised for generations. Indeed, technology has already alleviated many forms of suffering that previous generations once saw as inevitable and unavoidable. But again, are these technological developments purely capitalist in nature? To stick with a prior example, we might consider capitalism’s attempts to streamline and cheapen the production of commodities through automation. As a result of this essentially capitalistic drive to innovate on the factory floor, capitalism has inadvertently produced a glimmer of a world without work. However, this glimmer has then been necessarily obscured by the capitalist class themselves — the bourgeoisie; the owners of the means of production — so as not to encourage the emergence of this other (postcapitalist) world any further. Workers, rather than liberated, live in an enforced precarity. Capitalism has long spent far too much time curtailing its own radicality. We live at a time when this kind of self-sabotage has never been more egregious and hard to believe.

It was Fisher’s position, then — shared amongst all accelerationists at that time and now hopefully quite familiar to us — that what must be accelerated are the tendencies within capitalism that the system itself produces but which it must always also obstruct within itself, for the sake of its own survival. It is a political and philosophical position that does not simply cheerlead speed but remains vigilant to those opportune moments when capitalism tamps its own brakes, or assimilates positions that have been historically antithetical to its aims. The rallying cry for the accelerationist, then, is that we must stop capitalism from purposefully stunting its own growth, and the growth of other progressive moments around it. We must instead encourage its development, allowing it (and us) to mutate into something new.

Two years after the publication of Beckett’s article, none of this would matter. On 15th March 2019, a 28-year-old heavily armed Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, travelled to two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, opening fire on those both inside and out, killing 51 worshippers and passers-by, and injuring 40 more.

Prior to the attack, which he also livestreamed on Facebook, Tarrant uploaded a digital manifesto to the online imageboard 8chan. The document is a peculiar sign of the times, littered with references to memes and examples of “copypasta”, whilst at the same time expressing concern about the climate crisis and modern capitalism’s apparent indifference towards society more generally. Though ideologically promiscuous — no doubt intentionally so, stoking further confusion and division — the bottom line for Tarrant was not achieving social justice or unearthing a wealth beyond capitalism but spreading hate and racism. If he despises, in his words, our “globalist, capitalist, egalitarian” world order, it is because it encourages global migration, diluting gene pools and further eradicating any dream of a white ethno-state. Indeed, his eco-fascist worldview is vehemently anti-conservative, but only because, in his opinion, nothing is being adequately conserved — not the planet, nor an idealised way of life, nor a pure white race.

Having offered up a bizarre range of reasons for why he has committed this devastating act of terrorism, Tarrant goes on to incite others to commit similar acts by embracing tactics of “destabilisation and accelerationism”. He insists that, if a white supremacist way of life is to be preserved, he and others like him must show people what they risk losing in a coming race war. It is in this sense that he argues a “vote for a radical candidate that opposes your values and incites agitation or anxiety in your own people works far more in your favour than a vote for a milquetoast political candidate that has no ability or wish to enact radical change.” And so, if we are to solve this crisis of whiteness, things are going to have to get worse before they can get better. “Stability and comfort are the enemies of revolutionary change”, he argues, essentially contradicting his own fascistic conservatism. If the right is to restabilise white power, they must first “destabilize and discomfort society where ever possible.” [sic]

Although the word “accelerationism” only appears once across the manifesto’s eighty-seven pages, journalists and researchers immediately homed in on this unfamiliar term. It was later revealed that Tarrant was not the first white supremacist to act upon this “accelerationist” worldview. In fact, numerous murders and attacks upon minorities had been perpetrated in the name of “accelerationism” by several far-right sects, all recently established in the US and Europe throughout the late 2010s. Some groups, like The Base – no doubt an ironic reference to the Islamist terror organisation of the same name, al-Qaeda – and the Atomwaffen Division, had even become established as international organisations with their own training camps and militias. Though Tarrant was the most high-profile individual to commit an act of terror in support of this cause, it soon became clear that he was not alone. This growing movement of far-right accelerationists was clearly something for the world to be worried about.

Unsurprisingly, from this moment on, a very different kind of article about accelerationism came to dominate in the media and elsewhere. Eight months after the shootings, journalist Zack Beauchamp wrote what was perhaps the most widely read and cited article about the term for Vox, which contrasted Beckett’s Guardian article in the starkest of terms. Whereas the subtitle of Beckett’s piece promised to explain “how a fringe philosophy predicted the world in which we live”, Beauchamp instead derides accelerationism as “the obscure idea inspiring white supremacist killers around the world”. His summary of accelerationism, read side-by-side with Beckett’s, previously cited, makes explicit the extent to which this fringe philosophy had drastically fallen from grace. [5] Beauchamp declares:

Accelerationists reject any effort to seize political power through the ballot box, dismissing the alt-right’s attempts to engage in mass politics as pointless. If one votes, one should vote for the most extreme candidate, left or right, to intensify points of political and social conflict within Western societies. Their preferred tactic for heightening these contradictions, however, is not voting, but violence — attacking racial minorities and Jews as a way of bringing us closer to a race war, and using firearms to spark divisive fights over gun control. The ultimate goal is to collapse the government itself; they hope for a white-dominated future after that.

We might assume these conflicting definitions of accelerationism are simply the result of an etymological misfortune — that is, two disparate movements sharing a name. Some have, more recently, made attempts to separate the two, but the definitions are still confused. For example, in 2020, Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Centre, wrote that, “In most scholarly contexts, the term [accelerationism] is used to describe a movement separate from the white supremacist variation [that seeks] to push beyond capitalism by bringing it to its most oppressive and divisive form, prompting a movement to build a just economic system in response.” But as we have already seen, this is simply not true either.

This misreading has nonetheless dogged accelerationist discourses for years. As far back as 2014, Malcolm Harris described accelerationism as the belief that “we should attempt to speed the system toward its inevitable doom.” Pete Wolfendale, a frequent contributor to the accelerationist blogosphere, argued in response that “this is not a position that anyone has ever held.” Indeed, it was a deeply frustrating misreading for many, including those who disliked accelerationism as an idea, because, as Wolfendale argues, when people “attack straw men versions of their opponents … this leaves us all the poorer for having less productive disagreement.”

This stubborn misreading, denounced by all who first theorised accelerationism, somehow continually came to the fore. But researchers did not have to look far to find some connection that corroborated a “scholarly” accelerationism’s proximity to the far-right… A familiar name appears in both Beauchamp’s and Beckett’s articles: Nick Land.

Nick Land is often referred to as “the father of accelerationism”. Having taught several of the original accelerationist bloggers at the University of Warwick in the 1990s, his influence is undeniable. As a lecturer, he enjoyed a certain notoriety on campus as an eccentric and unorthodox teacher, but the mythology surrounding his work and conduct as an academic has led to a personality cult forming around him, distorting the indirect ways that Land influenced his students at the time.

For example, though much is made of his teaching methods and general academic conduct today, much less attention is given to Land’s own (presumably former) areas of expertise. Along with his colleague, Keith Ansell-Pearson, Land taught on two philosophy courses — “Recent Continental Philosophy”, focussing on figures like Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jacques Derrida; and “Current French Philosophy”, which explored the work of Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, François Laruelle and others.

These latter three figures (Deleuze, Badiou, Laruelle) are of central importance to accelerationism’s development, with many within the accelerationist blogosphere arguing, for instance, that the “most productive area of conceptual discordance is that between Badiou and Deleuze-Guattari”, wherein philosophy is newly understood “as a theory of action, not a substitute for it”. If Land was previously an inspirational teacher, it was perhaps because he seemed to affirm and live by this sentiment more forcefully than any other member of staff. Indeed, the emphasis placed on Warwick’s interest in current philosophy fed into a culture of active philosophical production at the university. Philosophy was not just something to study but something to do, and it was this attitude that endeared students to Land at that time, who encouraged not a passive fidelity to the curriculum but the active questioning and extension of its insights and claims. As Robin Mackay writes, recalling his first interactions with Land as an undergraduate in 1992:

One could not help but be impressed by the sense of a man whose entire being was invested in his work; for whom philosophy was neither a nine-to-five affair nor a straightforwardly life-affirming labor; and who took seriously the ridiculously megalomaniacal aspiration of philosophy to synopsize everything that is known into a grand speculative framework. He was uniquely able to open up students’ minds to the conceptual resources of the history of philosophy in a way that made philosophical thinking seem urgent and concrete: a cache of weapons for ‘making trouble,’ a toolkit for escaping from everything dismal, inhibiting, and tedious.

Having once took on a stuffy academic tradition and its outmoded values, today Land simply scorns the world. He continues to have a considerable impact on young and impressionable minds, it seems, but he has rejected philosophy as a theory of action absolutely. As such, few among the original accelerationists believe he is worth paying much attention to. (As Iain Hamilton Grant — whose translation of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy might be just as significant a precursor to the rise of accelerationism — comments to Becket for the Guardian: “I try not to read his stuff. Folk [in the accelerationist movement] are embarrassed. They think he’s sounding like a thug.”) He is now best known as the author of a range of pro-capitalist and anti-Marxist texts, which “bait the liberal” and attempt to humiliate a right-thinking, moral-political orthodoxy by emphasising capitalism’s utter indifference to humanity. He is also a proponent of scientific racism and an open supporter of technocratic regimes around the world, making him a persona non grata on the academic left. But for those interested in accelerationism, his work from the 1990s retains a provocative allure and he is regularly cited as the author of some of accelerationism’s key ur-texts.

His 1994 essay-fiction “Meltdown”, for instance, paints an apocalyptic picture of our planet “captured by a technocapital singularity”. Writing in a poetic cyberpunk prose characteristic of the era, “capital” is taken to be an outdated moniker for a cosmic virus that is now inseparable from its chosen host, dissolving the Earth’s biosphere into its ever-expanding technosphere, which repeatedly sends humanity into paroxysms, triggering increasingly feverish immune responses. His position is, essentially, an extension of Lyotard’s analysis of the postmodern condition — or perhaps more akin to the analyses of Fredric Jameson — albeit affirmed and embraced. Society has experienced full “computerisation” and now it is only a matter of time before this infrastructural transition makes the jump to our anatomies. “It might still be a few decades before artificial intelligences surpass the horizon of biological ones,” Land writes, “but it is utterly superstitious to imagine that the human dominion of terrestrial culture is still marked out in centuries, let alone in some metaphysical perpetuity.” In this way, Land’s philosophy resembles a restaging of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, swapping the VHS tape out for the dial-up modem. “Love live the New Flesh!” It is a philosophy that “aligns itself with the replicants”, as found in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — “rather than placing a personal unconscious within the organism, it places the organism within the machinic unconscious”; it is not about the mind inside the body, but the body inside the capitalist machine. As Mark Fisher later wrote, it was an understanding of postmodern capitalism “as a future shock absorber as well as a scorched earth terminator of all traditions and archaisms, operating in a time of anachronistic conjunctions (genetic engineering labs next to lovingly reconstructed nineteenth-century village greens).”

In his earliest essays, the subjects most capable of intervening in such a space were ostensibly cyberpunk radicals. However, as Ray Brassier notes, whilst Land may have once argued that “it’s radical guerrilla militant lesbian feminists who are the only revolutionary subjects”, over the years since he has moved away from such a position. Now he is no longer “willing to endorse or affirm radicals” and “his critique of the Marxist left is that it’s not radical, revolutionary, or critical enough”. Today,

he seems to realize there is no bearer of revolutionary intensification left. Therefore, politics must be displaced, it must be deputized, and all you can do is endorse or affirm impersonal processes, which at least harbour the promise of generating or ushering in the next phase of deterritorialization.

Land himself does not mince words. In 2013, he argued that the system works best when we leave it well alone. “Do nothing”, he says. “Despair. Subside into horror.” Join the ranks of capitalism’s glory-supporters. “Hostility to coercive egalitarianism and a sense that Western civilization is going to hell will probably suffice to get you into the club.” That club is the neoreactionary movement, or NRx — a movement driven by a conservative fatalism that “frustrates all familiar demands for activism.” Because there is no need to fight for capitalism. It is doing just fine on its own. Renewing our faith in its impersonal machinations is all that is required of us. “Rather than attempting to make something happen, fatality restores something that cannot be stopped.”

From this position, Land began pouring scorn on both the left and the right. (More recently, he has allowed the alt-right to take him under his wing.) He no doubt sees Brenton Tarrant, for example, as just a straight-forward reactionary flailing against his own irrelevance. But the left, too, in refusing to engage with the right on these fatalist grounds, are sleep-walking into a demise all of their own. Both outcomes are fine by Land. Ultimately, capitalism isn’t interested in either side’s parochial concerns. It’s got bigger plans. As Land suggests, “racists and anti-racists can be expected to eventually bond in a defensive fraternity, when they recognize that traditionally-differentiated human populations are being torn asunder on an axis of variation that dwarfs all of their established concerns.” Tarrant’s desired “race war” is an unlikely outcome — capitalism is mutating contemporary subjectivity in far more nuanced ways than encouraging the innocuous proliferation of racially diverse neighbourhoods and mixed-race families. “Miscegenation doesn’t get close to the issue”, Land writes — “whatever emerges from the dialectics of racial terror remains trapped in trivialities.” Our evolutionary future holds much more in store for us than that, he argues. “Think face tentacles.”

Following on from this mutating of our very subjectivities, capitalism and philosophy are made almost interchangeable in Land’s thought. Philosophy “is any culture’s pole of maximum abstraction, or intrinsically experimental intelligence, expressing the liberation of cognitive capabilities from immediate practical application, and their testing against ‘ultimate’ problems at the horizon of understanding.” By this definition, capitalism comes to represent the pole of maximum abstraction uncoupled from the human. “Capital only retains anthropological characteristics as a symptom of underdevelopment”, he writes. “Man is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag.” It is in response to this idea that Land produces not a critical philosophy of capitalism but a capitalist philosophy; asking not what we think about capitalism but instead asking what capitalism thinks about us.

Though this might make Tarrant just a garden-variety xenophobe in his eyes, Land’s thought nonetheless pulls towards a belief in “scientific racism” and the darker side of “evolutionary psychology”. He argues certain revolutionary sentiments are genetically instantiated, and capitalism is busy picking a winning team. (Human breeding habits are nothing if not another kind of “free market”, in this sense.) As such, to read Land’s work generously — a controversial suggestion in and of itself — the argument to be extracted from his most infamous writings on race is perhaps that all science and politics, in the twenty-first century, is innately eugenic. Capitalism does not just select for policies and products but for subjectivities, making capitalism itself a “hyper-racist” entity within the free market of “human biodiversity”, selecting for factors like high IQ or a predisposition to certain ideological positions. Land’s defence of this point is often that, whilst he appreciates capitalism’s innate racism, he is far from a white supremacist. On the contrary, the future is not white and Western. If far-right extremists like Tarrant are afraid for the future of white people, maybe it’s because they have also noticed capitalism is not selecting for their biopolitical traits any longer.

None of this exposition is intended to diminish Land’s penchant for racism. But it does show how, following the utter eclipsing of any left-wing accelerationism in 2019, not even present-day Land has anything in common with its terroristic variant. Land himself knew this, but whereas he had quietly gloated about the left’s attempts to reinvigorate a politics of agency based on influential works he’d long since renounced, Land soon found himself on the backfoot. Despite the fact his writings on race and the decline of Western civilisation contain attempts at a kind of Lovecraftian gallows humour, he was clearly spooked by the actions of the Christchurch shooter, as so many were. This is evident when we compare all of the provocative comments above with his exceedingly well-behaved email responses to Beauchamp’s journalistic inquiries, relayed in the 2019 Vox article. In fact, Beauchamp’s summary of Land’s philosophical position is surprisingly accurate — albeit tamed, in this instance, or perhaps just cunningly reduced to a dog-whistle. “Land argued that capitalist technological advancement was transforming not just our societies, but our very selves,” Beauchamp explains. For Land, the self “was being dissolved by the increasing speed and pace of modern life — the individual was becoming less important than the techno-capitalist system it found itself in.”

Showing a questionable level of restraint, Land’s description of the dissolution of the individual self encapsulates the crux of accelerationism’s biopolitical stance in the broadest terms. It is applicable to most accelerationist thinkers and their antecedents — Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus especially. The dissolution of the individual was something similarly called for by leftist thinkers like Mark Fisher, who argued in his first book Capitalist Realism, that capitalism’s “mandatory individualism” is the greatest obstacle to the re-instantiation of the “required subject — a collective subject — [which] does not exist, yet the crisis, like all the other global crises we’re now facing, demands that it be constructed.” But Land’s definition is also notable for the subtle — arguably too subtle — way in which it undermines his own far-right bastard offspring, who he is otherwise being invited to comment upon. Indeed, whilst Land may hold left-wing anti-capitalism in open contempt, he makes it clear that this is because he supports this process of subjective fragmentation and dissolution that globalised capitalism encourages. Meanwhile, Brenton Tarrant and those like him, quite explicitly, do not.

Still, this is not to defend Land’s response. As sensationalist as Beauchamp’s article is, it only makes Land’s response appear more lacking. In his “characteristically cryptic” explanations of what accelerationism represents, he insists that its task is simply to explore “what ‘the process’ wants (i.e. spontaneously promotes) and what resistances it provokes.” This cold, academic detachment, like that of an impartial observer, feels far from characteristic of the Nick Land most know from Twitter, who resembles some Frankensteinian amalgam of Tucker Carlson and Peter Thiel.

Perhaps Land hoped that Beauchamp would do his due diligence, but in the end Beauchamp fails to properly interrogate the argument he has transcribed here, and does not compare it to Tarrant’s worldview in any recognisable sense. He simply makes false equivalences. “The story starts with a bunch of Deleuzian British philosophers theorizing techno-capitalism in the 90s”, he wrote on Twitter shortly after the article was published. “It ends with the past two years of extreme right killings.” These are certainly the two bizarre poles of accelerationism’s trajectory, but the insinuation is that there is some general concordance between the two is nothing more than sensationalism.

Land himself could have done more to defend himself from this, but in cowardly refusing to fully give his political views an airing, as well as a refusal to openly condemn Tarrant’s actions, he tacitly welcomed his association with the term and made the overall quality of the conversation poorer for the rest of us. Maybe he did this as part of a general grift, but Land’s resentment has found a voice over the years since Vox drastically increased his online infamy. For example, Land has taken to denouncing much of their journalistic output. “Vox pretending that ‘the narrative’ is some external social phenomenon they’re dispassionately observing is roughly as ludicrous as things get”, he tweeted a few years later, decrying an unrelated Vox article on race politics in the US that repeatedly reference “the narrative” of race relations whilst implicitly denying the fact, in Land’s view, that they were at all responsible for shaping it… The irony of this tweet is so blatant to be laughable, for a man who hides from the fact his worshipping of the impersonal forces of capital has influenced some of the most deplorable people in the world. The fact remains, whilst Land liked to play up the horror for laughs on his blog (before it was hacked and annihilated), when real horror reared its head, he brushed aside any suggestion he might share some of the responsibility for its emergence.

Whereas Land seemed flummoxed by all the sudden press attention, it soon became clear that a supposedly “original” accelerationism simply washing its hands of its violent offspring, no matter how errant and unrecognisable it may have been, was not enough. No “nuanced” position was worth a damn if it couldn’t account for the very real violence that had been enacted in its name. In its inability to respond to Christchurch – as if it were not already obvious, given the philosophical preamble above – accelerationism only demonstrated how it had lost its defining sense of urgency. A new and uncomfortable question emerged that few seemed ready to approach and deal with: What good is any kind of semantic opposition to certain forces under capitalism when faced with the abject reality of the Christchurch massacre? Put even more simply, the question that needed to be asked was an already familiar one: What is to be done?

Following a period of reflection, it soon became clear that there remained much work to be done to counter this far-right variant of accelerationism and society’s stagnation more generally. We can accept that the name “accelerationism” is now tainted beyond any hope of redemption, but we can still insist upon the post-capitalist futures that accelerationism first sought to welcome with open arms, by utilising the strategies and provocations that accelerationist discourses first introduced to a new generation of political thinkers. As Benjamin Noys, the academic and writer who first coined the term “accelerationism”, argued in a Facebook post shortly after the Christchurch massacre: “while trivial in the face of the horror of that act, which is so despicable, not allowing this ‘chaos’ to spread into all our signifiers is something.” But this chaos is precisely the point. The chaos of capitalism, if not far-right terrorism, has spread into all our signifiers. Though he might affirm it, if Land’s philosophy is good for anything it is the vibrant and sheering way in which he informs us of this strange immanence. And it affects far more than the academic fortunes of accelerationism alone.

The extent to which we are able to take responsibility for the chaos around us is a question that must remain at the heart of any future accelerationist discourse (if such a thing is possible). Giving Land the benefit of the doubt — not that he deserves it — we might ask ourselves: To what extent are we responsible for the meanings that our works accrue when spread throughout capitalism’s disinformation engine? Looking at the bigger picture, we might ask: To what extent are we individually responsible for systemic phenomena like the climate crisis or racism? Land’s response, as already mentioned, is to care less and do nothing. But his free-floating response does not invalidate the question in itself.

The problem of agency was, in fact, one of accelerationism’s founding concerns — it was precisely what separated accelerationism (in Alex Williams’ initial formulation) from Landianism. As Mark Fisher wrote at the moment of accelerationism’s emergence:

One major difference between [Alex Williams’] accelerationism and Landianism is over the question of agency: for Landianism, Capital is the only agent of note, whereas for [Alex], Capital must be assisted to become something else. But what form would this assistance take? As per [Mario] Tronti’s question about the left after the demise of the workers’ movements, what group subject could emerge which would be both willing and able to offer it? In the lack of a collective agent, wouldn’t we be back to a kind of theoretical parlour game that has no consequences?

It is a problem that is not limited to accelerationism but any contemporary political movement, which hopes to move beyond a mandatory individualism (and the magical voluntarism that results) and instead towards a collective movement properly conceived. The main obstacle here isn’t simply how we think about ourselves but how the system at large atomises us regardless. This is a problem that dates back to the Protestant reformation, when the attributing of individual responsibility began to let social institutions and their growing totalising systems off the hook. And this remains the very paradox of our age. As Fisher later wrote in Capitalist Realism, referring to the climate crisis:

Now, when the appeal to individual ethical responsibility has never been more clamorous — in her book Frames Of War, Judith Butler uses the term ‘responsibilization’ to refer to this phenomenon — it is necessary to wager instead on structure at its most totalizing. Instead of saying that everyone — i.e. every one — is responsible for climate change, we all have to do our bit, it would be better to say that no-one is, and that’s the very problem. The cause of eco-catastrophe is an impersonal structure which, even though it is capable of producing all manner of effects, is precisely not a subject capable of exercising responsibility.

But what are we supposed to do in that sort of situation? It is in response to this that Fisher argues we need a “collective subject”, but still, what can we, as individuals, do to nurture this subject-to-come, the establishment of which is so necessary if we are to properly refute the demands that capitalism places on individual subjectivity? How do we forsake a particular form of personal responsibility that diminishes how the system itself is set up, whilst at the same time affirming our collective or social responsibility to fight for justice and change within its bounds?

Lyotard’s postmodern critique returns once again. We can acknowledge that there is no outside to capitalism in its totality, but we can demand one nonetheless. How we go about that remains an open question to many. Land’s position may clear, Tarrant’s also, but both are bullshit. The response is not and cannot be “do nothing”, nor can it be to exacerbate the worst injustices society proliferates. The affirmation of impotence is not a response worthy of our time, and accelerationism has always fought against such a suggestion. We should remember this. In fact, there is nothing more important for us to remember.

Accelerationism may be dead. It died when it collided with an event, a crisis, a massacre, that it could not produce an adequate response to. But accelerationism was also born from just such a situation. That is, it was born of a crisis within capitalism that the left struggled to generate any effective response to. An event without a subject: the 2008 financial crash.

To be continued…


[1] There are various ways of measuring technological progress. One of the most common is the tracking of Moore’s Law – the suggestion made by Intel CEO Gordon Moore that the number of transistors in “integrated circuit” computer chips tends to double every two years. In 1972, the number of transistors within the average IC chip was around 2000; in 2018, it was 25,000,000,000. Other ways of measuring progress are available and they are often far more explicitly capitalistic, using historical financial data – perhaps the only reliable data set that could be used to make claims about such an abstract notion over such a long period of time – in order to measure rates of global productivity. For an example of this measurement, consider this very telling graph produced by the multinational investment bank Barclays plc in 2018.

[2] In his book The Singularity is Near, for example. Ray Kurzweil argues strongly in favour of the “ongoing acceleration of technology” in this regard, which he sees as

the implication and inevitable result of what I call the law of accelerating returns, which describes the acceleration of the pace of and the exponential growth of the products of an evolutionary process. These products include, in particular, information-bearing technologies such as computation, and their acceleration extends substantially beyond the predictions made by what has become known as Moore’s Law.

The book is a considerable tome, and not without its critics, but it certainly offers a series of fascinating speculations regarding the avenues currently open to science that may allow us to fully (re)model and understand “the computational capacity of the human brain”, before then exceeding it.

[3] Though often attributed to the science-fiction writer William Gibson, even he has forgotten precisely when and where he first used it.

[4] The phrase “red plenty” is often used in socialist circles to refer to the Soviet idea of a “planned economy” that could “beat capitalism on its own terms.” As Francis Spufford explains it in his 2010 book Red Plenty:

Because the whole system of production and distribution in the USSR was owned by the state, because all Russia was (in Lenin’s words) “one office, one factory”, it could be directed, as capitalism could not, to the fastest, most lavish fulfilment of human needs. Therefore it would easily out-produce the wasteful chaos of the marketplace. Planning would be the USSR’s own self-turning millstone, its own self-victualling tablecloth.

Unfortunately, the Soviet Union failed to live up to its own dream, but that dream — much like the dream of communism more generally — nonetheless lives on beyond its failures.

[5] Over the years since the Christchurch shooting, it is interesting to note that “Accelerationism” has also become a staple not only in the mainstream media but also in academic papers and journals tasked with understanding contemporary extremism and terrorism. For example, in early 2020, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a UK-based extremism thinktank, published a report on the spread of disinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic. It found that crises “like Covid-19 are playing into ‘accelerationism’ on the extreme right, which promotes the idea that democracy is a failure and that groups should accelerate [to] its end through mobilising social conflict and violence”.

Mind Spray

In the darkest of moments, reading invigorates and writing stills. Sinking into pain, like a stagnant body of water, life quickly feels squalid, sickly and directionless. But if this stinging ennui is at all existential, then it must be recognised as a resource and a reservoir. If the question asked is: “What’s the point of all this?”, then the answer must be honest but active. “There is no point, other than that spike you sharpen and whittle and grind for yourself.” Writing becomes a compulsive distraction when one is instilled with the fanciful idea that the articulation of all joy and all pain is essential. What makes terror and horror worthwhile is your own making it worthwhile. Writing becomes the only sure way of paying tribute to experience that does not demand the shedding of blood. Silence thoughts by giving them stony form in words. When all feels hopeless in depression’s false certainty, see what you can write through the will to chance. In the words of Jeru the Damaja: “I annihilate as I articulate / words of power, your rhymes are unconfounding so death’s your fate.”

Year in Review

It’s been an odd year… I’ve spent most of it doing the following: settling into a new city, Newcastle Upon Tyne; finishing my second book, Narcissus in Bloom; starting my PhD; and having a breakdown.

When I think about time spent blogging, I feel like I’ve actually neglected this space a lot this year. That has perhaps only been true the last few months, from late summer onwards. And it was certainly strange to use this space so sparingly. My life has revolved around it for around five years. And then suddenly, it didn’t.

Or maybe it is more accurate to say that I’ve simply used the blog differently this year — more diaristically, perhaps. As I look back over everything posted this year, the suggestion I’ve used the blog less than previous years certainly feels like an illusion. I’ve written about as much as I have any other year, albeit perhaps not on such a wide array of topics. It has most served a more explicitly therapeutic purpose than ever before.

But I think a lot of what has come out of this changed relation has been interesting. It remains so to me, at least. In fact, I’m oddly proud of what I did write this year. I moved into new territory and onto new topics and spent plenty of time feeling inspired as a result. I only wish I didn’t have to have a breakdown to appreciate the breakthroughs.

Outside of the blog, I think the most significant thing published this year was my introduction to the reissue of Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of my Life, which I’m also very proud of, as it’s not often I get to really flex my cybrarian muscles these days, sketching out the development of a given concept or idea (in this instance, “hauntology”) through a URL rabbit hole.

The last few months have also given me time to travel. Trips to London, Kraków and Málaga have been hugely inspiring in terms of building international solidarity post-Covid and reconnecting with a broader community of people who all share similar interests. (Something I do not take for granted, as the blogging life can be quite solitary.) I’m hoping there’ll be more opportunities to talk with people in the flesh in 2023.

But until then, as is tradition, here are all of the posts I’ve written this year, sorted into loose categories. Apologies that one category definitely takes precedence over all the others… But that’s just how this year has gone…

There’s a bunch of Mark Fisher-related stuff, as ever; a few posts on more general topics or current events, and also a few podcast / radio appearances. Seeing it all together, it looks like quite a lot… Weird to feel like I’ve distinctly slowed down… Time and productivity have lost all meaning, it seems.

Here’s hoping 2023 isn’t an utter crap shoot, for all of us.

Mark Fisher

Five Years [13/01/2022]
Disintensification-by-Canonisation: Thoughts on the Fisher-Function [20/01/2022]
For K-Punk 2022: Robin Mackay’s ‘By The North Sea’ [21/01/2022]
For K-Punk 2022 // By The North Sea [28/01/2022]
Jornada de Vigilia por Mark Fisher [15/02/2022]
“Maintaining Now the Spectres of Mark.” [20/02/2022]
Caja Negra’s Mark Fisher Vigil [23/02/2022]
Egress Review: “Un lenguaje común” by Óscar Brox [08/03/2022]
Notes on Capitalist Surrealism [17/03/2022]
Mark Fisher in Translation: Transnational Communities of Capitalist Realism [07/04/2022]
Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of my Life: Zer0 Classics Edition [08/05/2022]
Mark Fisher in Translation — Video Now Online [09/06/2022]
Desiderio Postcapitalista. Le Ultime Lezioni. [03/07/2022]
ポスト資本主義の欲望 — Japanese Translation of Postcapitalist Desire [18/07/2022]
Rob Doyle on Ghosts of My Life [26/07/2022]
Storm Crow [01/08/2022]
Mental Health is (Still) a Political Issue: On Mark Fisher’s Lost Futures at the Moth Club [10/08/2022]
For K-Punk: Ghosts of My Life [12/09/2022]
For K-Punk: Ghosts of My Life — Full Lineup Announcement [04/10/2022]
Resurfacing, Resisting: Capitalist Realism in 2022 [05/10/2022]
For K-Punk: Ghosts of My Life — Photos and Audio [24/10/2022]

The Time I Spent Having a Very Public Mental Breakdown and Manically Writing a Lot About Writing

Mundane Schizophrenias: Notes on Wounds and Degraded Ideals [22/02/2022]
Wound Stories: The Orphan-Unconscious in Harry Potter and Anti-Oedipus [09/03/2022]
Our Last Night Together [15/03/2022]
Home [17/03/2022]
Relationships and the Real: Thoughts on Desiring-Production as Social Production [15/05/2022]
Sex and Subjective Instability [16/05/2022]
Dreams of the Liminal [18/05/2022]
What Crisis? [19/05/2022]
The Maternal Return [20/05/2022]
The Problem of Love Unregulated [21/05/2022]
Masculinity, Patriarchy and the New Tenderness [22/05/2022]
Burn the Diaries [23/05/2022]
Coming Home to Self [24/05/2022]
Wounds [26/05/2022]
Strength [27/05/2022]
Negative Participation [28/05/2022]
Meatspace [28/05/2022]
Meatspace 2 [07/06/2022]
Cause and Affect: On Spinoza and Mark Fisher [14/06/2022]
Untitled (Three Days of Calm) [17/06/2022]
House Sparrow [20/06/2022]
Questions [22/06/2022]
Material Love [24/06/2022]
Trauma Self [25/06/2022]
Lion [25/06/2022]
Lost and Safe [26/05/2022]
No Transformation [27/06/2022]
Seeing and Seen [28/06/2022]
Reading [01/07/2022]
Knights of Journals [02/07/2022]
Taking Risks [04/07/2022]
Absurdity [05/07/2022]
Actualising Literature [06/07/2022]
Mind and Matter: A Note on Acid Communism [14/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part One) [15/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Two) [16/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Three) [17/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Four) [18/07/2022]
Deleuze and the Temporalities of Mental Illness [19/07/2022]
Sense, Sensation, Sensuality: Sex and the Body without Organs [20/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Five) [21/07/2022]
A World of One’s Own (Part Six) [22/07/2022]
Collioure [23/07/2022]
Discharged: Notes on Annie Ernaux and the End of a Diary [23/07/2022]
I Cried At Your Show With The Teenagers: On Phoebe Bridgers [24/07/2022]
Surfeminism: Notes on an Androgynous Writing [27/07/2022]
Ouija Words: On Sylvia Plath [28/07/2022]
Midnight Automatic [29/07/2022]
Writing After Silence [30/07/2022]
Unlatched Red Being: On Anne Carson and Phoebe Bridgers [31/07/2022]
Diary Fragments [03/08/2022]
Synchronicity and the Will-To-Chance: Notes on the Ruptured Space-Time of Trauma [04/08/2022]
Notes on Estrangement: Decreation and Ekstasis [08/08/2022]
Researching Sleep: Writing Lacunae [11/08/2022]
Coming Through: Notes on Solitude and Substance, Fashion and Poetry [25/08/2022]
Stigmatext / Statictext [18/11/2022]
The Meds Stopped Working [19/12/2022]


Vile Venerations, Past and Present: Thoughts on Blair and Colston [07/01/2022]
Everyday Authoritarianism [12/01/2022]
Oedipal Israel: Notes on Oedipus Beyond Psychoanalysis [22/01/2022]
Ukraine [28/02/2022]
Disestablished Orders: Notes on Abstraction and Empathy in Culture and Politics [02/03/2022]
Peterson versus Foucault [14/03/2022]
Notes Against Reading Widely (For a Pluralist Militancy) [15/03/2022]
Can Straights Be Queer? [31/03/2022]
Nomads of the Deep: Notes on Palestine and the Orphan-Unconscious [22/05/2022]
A Note on The Madwoman in the Attic [02/08/2022]
“En este lugar nunca estuvo Palbo Ruiz Picasso”: Notes on the Deterritorialization of Málaga [17/12/22]
Abolition of the Family, Abolition of the Individual: Notes on Anti-Oedipus [22/12/2022]

Film & TV

Spencer [03/01/2022]
It’s Mattel’s Hyperreality, We Just Live in It [31/01/2022]
The Demon of the Continent: Notes on Prey [12/08/2022]
Capitalism and Control: The Oedipal Rise of Steve Jobs [15/08/2022]
Drug War, Time War [13/12/2022]


There’s No End [10/02/2022]
The Spectre of Indie Sleaze [09/03/2022]
The Return of the New (Again) [06/04/2022]
Woodstock ’99: A Mismanaged Structure of Feeling [23/08/2022]
“New Mask” by NY Graffiti [03/09/2022]
Make It Nu: Thoughts on Modernism and Rap Metal [13/12/2022]
2022: Albums of the Year [14/12/2022]


Translating Silence: Notes on Bousquet and Learning French [04/02/2022]
“Joe Bousquet and his Double” by René Nelli [Draft Translation] [17/02/2022]
“Joe Bousquet and the Morality of Language” by Ferdinand Alquié [Draft Translation] [19/02/2022]


NFTs and Open Access: Power in the Age of Digital Individualism [24/01/2022]
NFTs and Open Access: Promiscuous Communities [03/02/2022]


A World Without Any Future?: XG at Kunstraum Lakeside [31/01/2022]
Anti-Oedipus, Pro-Antigone: XG at Unsound 2022 [29/09/2022]
Anti-Oedipus, Pro-Antigone: Notes from Unsound 2022 [14/10/2022]


2022 Slug [11/01/2022]
Friends are Good [11/04/2022]
Spring News [01/05/2022]
Transitions [23/05/2022]
Coffee in Crisis [24/07/2022]
Patchwork: A Reflection [23/12/2022]


New Year’s Day [02/01/2022]
Winscar [05/01/2022]
Haworth [09/01/2022]
The Royal George [16/01/2022]
Top Withens [23/01/2022]
All Centre @ Spanners [08/02/2022]
The Royal George II [11/02/2022]
Harlow Carr [16/02/2022]
Rain [18/02/2022]
Slaithwaite Canal [27/02/2022]
Move (Part One) [09/03/2022]
Iceboy Violet at the Star and Shadow [22/03/2022]
Move (Part Two) + Tusk Mini [04/04/2022]
Incursions (11/04/2022) [14/04/2022]
Armstrong Bridge [15/04/2022]
¡PASCUA! [27/04/2022]
Incursions (18/04/2022) [29/04/2022]
No Familiar [10/05/2022]
Incursions (09/05/2022) [13/05/2022]
Late May [16/06/2022]
Incursions (23/05/2022) [19/06/2022]
Saz [21/06/2022]
Tynemouth [23/06/2022]
Whitley Bay [23/06/2022]
25/06/2022 [29/06/2022]
Possible Hope [13/08/2022]
Beachfires [27/08/2022]
Kuba Ryniewicz’ Parallel Stories From Here [09/09/2022]
London [15/11/2022]
Sully x Flowdan [17/11/2022]
Marsden Rock [19/11/2022]
Blanchland Moor [21/11/2022]
Bonfire Night [23/11/2022]
Night Walks [25/11/2022]
Corin [27/11/2022]
Penance Stare + Divide & Dissolve [08/12/2022]
November [09/12/2022]

Essays Elsewhere

Chimeras: Inventory of Synthetic Cognition [19/04/2022]
“A Subject Cut Into Pieces”: Interview in The Courier [30/06/2022]
『無条件加速主義入門』Japanese Translation of the U/Acc Primer [28/11/2022]

Podcasts & Radio

The K Files Teaser Trailer [15/01/2022]
Blobtology: XG on Horror Vanguard [09/02/2022]
The K-Files: Episodes So Far [21/02/2022]
The K-Files: Episode #3 — “Who’s Pulling Your Strings?” [07/03/2022]
The K-Files: Episode #04 — “Have You Been Enjoying Yourself?” [15/03/2022]
Getting Out of our Faces with Zer0 Books Patreons [23/03/2022]
The K-Files: Episode #05 — “Terminator Vs. Avatar” [12/04/2022]
In memoriam Mark Fisher (1968-2017) — Radio Tribute on Österreich 1 [06/05/2022]
Dream Flats w/ Kitty & Archie on Slacks Radio [21/06/2022]
New Tenderness 001 [05/08/2022]
XG on “Behind the News” [26/08/2022]
Ghosts of My Life: XG on Horror Vanguard [01/09/2022]
New Tenderness 002 [06/09/2022]
New Tenderness 003 [04/10/2022]
New Tenderness 004 [06/11/2022]
New Tenderness 005 [02/12/2022]
New Tenderness 006 [20/12/2022]

Patreon Posts

XG Reading Group 4.0: Postcapitalist Desire [19/01/2022]
Blogger’s Digest #16 [01/02/2022]

A Reflection

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on patchwork. Years, in fact. But I still occasionally get messages or tweets that ask for an updated missive on the topic.

I’ve generally got no interest in ever supplying one. At this point, I feel much the same way about patchwork as I do about accelerationism. It was such a complicated moment in the recent history of the blogosphere, with so many possible offshoots and points of interest, that in the end, for my own sanity, I have just stopped caring about its latest mutations, and for the last few years have instead made attempts to boil the whole thing back and cut off the chaff to return to a long-obscured essence.

As such, the only way to think about patchwork or accelerationism these days is reductively. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound that great or intellectually adventurous or whatever, but I have seen too many minds lost to the sheer abundance of possible adaptations over the years. The multiplication of resonances helped no-one, and too many people seemed to catch brainworms by proxy with Nick Land. (I nearly did myself, and I’m grateful to my friends who consistently challenged some of my more manic bullshit in 2018.)

In the end, this persistent fragmentation only assisted with the (re)entry of reactionary alternatives to a thought that was being actively fought over in the years leading up to Trump’s election.

In many ways, it was like Brexit. Prior to Brexit becoming a reality, there were plenty of discussions on the left that were openly critical of the European Union and even advocated for a kind of “Lexit”. But once it was clear that this major change in our political landscape would be the responsibility of conservatives and reactionaries alone, there was no possible “lexit” worth fighting for. It became something to resist, if only to maintain a prior space of possibility that was rapidly being shuttered by an establishment that insisted it was the new punk.

If patchwork politics continued to interest me personally post-Brexit, it was because I felt (and, to be honest, still do feel) there are dormant potentials lying in wait in any future geopolitical fragmentation. In the UK especially, Scottish independence, Welsh independence, Northern independence are still movements that I find interesting, and patchwork itself (as a product of a Silicon Valley blogosphere) remained relevant because it was a thought that was attuned to the cutting edge of technological innovation and which sought to intervene in such spaces that have long been the preserve of Randians and the like. The purpose was always to enter into this conversation and try to inject (or otherwise uncover) some genuinely progressive ideas into their neoreactionary foundations.

But at a certain point, when the undecidability of these movements and moments was eventually closed off by a hardening of right-wing power and neoliberal priorities — with a few significant contributors to the discourse even shamelessly trading in their intellectual explorations in order to grift for the enemy — it no longer seemed productive to make arguments in that space specifically. So I stopped.

But that has not stopped the cycle of diminishing returns from continuing anyway.

To return to accelerationism, we can see the fallout of this trajectory continuing apace even now. Take the recent manifesto for an “effective accelerationism”, which has been doing the rounds of Twitter — a supposedly “accelerationist” retooling of “effective altruism” (a bold move considering how its source material has been so widely ridiculed lately).

After everyone had fun laughing at it a few weeks back, Nick Land endorsed it. But all the more reason, for me at least, to go back to the moment “accelerationism” was born — not the 1990s but in 2008 — in order to take heed of and reaffirm Alex Williams’ warning: capital is not the accelerant; “in its present form [it] is incapable of delivering anything but inertia”. Having too much faith in the process, even if we can make it sound cool and Lovecraftian, leads to little but a “dark/banal fall into mere neo-liberalism”. If the theoretical petri dish of the Nineties was to have any continuing relevance for the problem of a postcapitalist desire, which should be at the very core of any accelerationism worth its salt, then it remains necessary we think as follows:

Though we might wish to create a system which has had done with judgement, to ground the praxis (and here we return to the “sticky” issue of agency) necessary to arrive at this state requires the illegitimate use of the very devices the praxis seeks to erase.

An “effective accelerationism” will, ironically, be deeply ineffective in this regard, since it forgets this core tenet altogether, making it an “Emperor’s New Clothes” manifesto for a movement long since twisted beyond all theoretical recognition (even if it retains some Landian aesthetic markers and stylisations.)

Ultimately, no new accelerationism has been worth engaging with for years. The “dark/banal fall into mere neo-liberalism” has been as dark and banal as predicted. Indeed, this was already understood to be Land’s trajectory almost 15 years ago, and he has followed it oh so predictably. His approval today is no badge of honour. It only confirms the most obvious critiques of e/acc: it is the most pointless manifesto going; a hip bill in praise of the status quo.

(My take on this, restricted to Twitter, was grumpy and wholly uninterested in any sort of debate. That same day, however, I happened to bump into Pete Wolfendale in the pub — who has long been one of the best commentators on accelerationism — and he later sent over his review of William MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future, which can easily be extended to the half-baked Twitter aestheticization of this same approach in e/acc.)

Suffice it to say, it’s hard to stay interested in accelerationism these days. I still have half a book draft chronicling its rise and fall, from 2008 to 2019, that I might get finished one day. (I was also interviewed for a TV documentary about accelerationism earlier this year, along with a host of other very interesting people who’ve written about it at length and genuinely extended its proposals, but I’m not allowed to talk about that yet.) But as far as I’m concerned, there is no active movement worth investing in today. All that is left to do with accelerationism is argue in favour of a better historiographic approach and a proper archiving of the debate to date. But even then, I doubt it will stop the persistently diminishing returns.

If that’s how I feel about accelerationism at present, patchwork is even less present on my mind. Though it grew out of accelerationist debates, it was always a needlessly difficult uphill climb. I’m aware that I failed to convince many people of its potentials, outside a constant stream of impressionable blog spelunkers, and that is because, on reflection, the approach was all wrong from the start. In taking its lead from a neoreactionary obsession with “exit” and trying to change course, the patchwork discourse was doomed to fail, because it could never fully separate itself from and make something positive of its own critique.

It was an approach that failed because it did not contend with the myriad other debates in twentieth-century political philosopher (and more recently) that were having a far more developed version of this conversation than anyone in orbit of Mencius Moldbug was remotely capable of.

It is the same problem with accelerationism today. Though I can (and do) try to affirm Alex Williams’ always initially post-Landian reading, the problem of the post- is that it always remains tied to the thing it hopes to get beyond. And so accelerationism, as a contemporary and much-needed challenge to Land, has always ended up deferring back to his thoughts on the topic, despite the fact accelerationism, in its first instance, no longer saw him as particularly useful in the present.

Patchwork, on this blog, suffered from similar problems. It was always post-Moldbuggian, but as a result, it never shook off its Moldbuggian baggage. It was a conversation that would have been better served starting from another entry point entirely.

It is also worth mentioning the other dramas that were going on at that time, which were never sufficiently recorded in the online record. The death knell of patchwork discourse was undoubtedly rung by Justin Murphy, with his contribution to what was otherwise a really interesting series of events run in Prague doing little but piss people off and undermine the positive investment in another way of approaching patchwork as a twenty-first problem. Indeed, it derailed much of the discussion on the day in question, prefiguring a lot of “effective altruism” debates had more recently and setting a cat among the pigeons that proved to me more of an unnecessary distraction than anything productively provocative.

I’m not sure how well the video linked above records the discontent in hindsight, but on the ground in Prague it was reported that many people walked out, and objections to Murphy’s reactionary talk smothered any potential for a productive panel at the end of the event and wholly overshadowed the more interesting presentations given by others. It was a truly decisive moment, turning a lot of people off the topic, as well as making Murphy’s reactionary turn obvious to a lot more people, who decided they had no time for debating something he was involved with.

Essentially, the very thing that many were trying to intervene within and challenge was welcomed back by Murphy via his increasing platform, and what followed was a load of entryism that made a lot of interesting interventions up to that point seem moot. The challenges and heterodox thinking around patchwork and its more radical political potentials were driven out by an influx of people that no one had any sort of time for.

The discourse died a death soon after, and the ripple effect left a real gouge in the blogosphere as a whole thereafter. Cave Twitter — a Slack group that effectively revitalised the blogosphere, although it was later taken up as a generalised hashtag that a lot of random people put in their Twitter bios — was fragmented and basically disbanded. It was a real shame. The Slack only existed as a secretive enclave following a similar breakdown in relations amongst what was then known as #RhettTwitter, which was similarly overrun by reactionaries, and Murphy’s turn towards an NRx grift seemed to suggest history was about to repeat itself.

Forever stubborn, I kept writing about these things for sometime afterwards, until it became clear that the meatspaces my writing had gotten me invited to were increasingly populated by neoreactionaries and, at one pub meet in North London, a card-carrying Nazi. Online disagreements seeped into real life and I began to largely keep to myself because Twitter had started to have a negative impact on my mental heath anyway and I didn’t want it to take over my life offline either. (Nina Power remains a cautionary tale for what happens when the line blurs.) I drew a much harder line in the sand for myself not long after; I probably should have drawn it a lot sooner.

Fast forward a few years, however, and I can’t say I’ve fully stopped thinking about patchwork and the politics of exit/egress. In fact, their real life significance has actually become more pronounced post-Covid. After moving to Newcastle and more openly identifying as queer, changing my wardrobe to something that makes me feel more comfortable in a non-binary gender identity, I’ve come to realise the importance of a decisive exit from certain spaces.

I’ve discussed this with a lot of queer friends. A few months back, I had a strange night out in Newcastle that saw me traversing an eclectic number of spaces. I attended a noise gig at the Lubber Fiend, emitting big dyke energy in a hard-shouldered suit jacket and pleated skirt. It’s a mode of dress that I find personally very affirming. There is no getting away from the fact I’m 6″4′ in boots and look like a giant goth, but adding a softer edge to my wardrobe signals an inner truth that has long been discounted by myself and others. And nowhere is that sort of fashion statement more at home than a noise gig.

But afterwards, the night was young. A few friends and I headed out into the centre of Newcastle, but in navigating the crowds of regular drinkers, I have never felt more vulnerable. Waiting outside a takeaway with a cigarette as friends bought chips, I found myself been looked at and openly gestured towards and felt genuinely afraid for my safety after realising I was no longer in a safe space where I could express myself without qualm or question.

Talking to friends about this later, who were far more used to this kind of experience, the remedy to calm my nerves was obvious. Don’t go back. Restrict yourself to spaces where you can be yourself. Exit the normalised “club” environment, rife as it already is with sexual harassment and lairy lads. There’s no need to go there. Curate a new environment that is decidedly queer and where the risk of any encounter with someone not sympathetic to those experiences and forms of life is reduced to an absolute minimum. It turns out it is quite an easy thing to do. But it is a conscious reorientation of one’s relationship to public space.

This realisation was new to be only given its context. After all, many of the original patchwork debates were explicitly concerned with an exit not just from an established political landscape but also a tech-bro arena. In 2018, I wrote two posts on this, one of which is still regularly shared and cited: “Patchwork from the Left” and “The Ethics of Exit”.

In the former, I wrote the following in response to a critique from a fellow blogger who (understandably) could not see past patchwork’s reactionary beginnings and saw “unconditional accelerationism” as retaining too many Landian propositions:

… calling patchwork, as this blog has been formulating it, a “Landian unconditional accelerationist utopianism” betrays an ignorance of U/Acc contentions with (present day) Land and its distinct lack of any kind of end-game utopianism. Granted, this is a criticism of U/Acc more generally and one that has yet to be sufficiently addressed. In my view, what patchwork shares with the “unconditional” is that it is not preloaded with any particular rigid utopianism. It is a flinging open of all doors, allowing the outside — as multiplicity; as alternative(s) — in. For Land, yes, that “outside” is capital. For others, it’s “blackness” or “queer temporalities”. This language is not exclusively Landian and this blog does not treat it as such.

The latter post makes a similar point, albeit more pointedly:

The message of this blog has consistently been: other options are available. Solidarity without similarity. What the vision of patchwork explored on this blog emphasises is its inherent multiplicity and the example of a queer exit … is a perfect one. To socially exit into enclosed queer spaces is something that many people do for various reasons. Experiencing violence and abuse is one such reason; simply seeking a previously elusive sense of solidarity is another. It is also, we must acknowledge here, not a social isolationism. To enter a queer space is not to exit society at large. It is an attempt to find autonomy from within a larger structure. What if that larger structure, rather than being violently consolidatory and hostile to exits (of all kinds), was rather predicated on the possibilities of such fragmentations? The structure we’re apparently stuck with is so often “unjust” and all too often the intention of exit is separate from attempts to change that wider system. Activism is a large part of queer politics, for instance, but the central consideration is, generally speaking, survival. (But survival alone is, of course, not enough.)

I wrote each of these posts as a tellingly vocal ally. I have since found myself having a lot more skin in the game. And so, in this regard, my thought remains unchanged. But I also better appreciate today how pointless it is to tie such a political orientation (even critically) to the likes of Moldbug and Land.

All of this came back to my mind this week, as I’ve been reading Enrico Monacelli’s new book, The Great Psychic Outdoors, in the run-up to Christmas. It’s forthcoming on Repeater Books next year and is essentially a politically and philosophically astute history of lo-fi music. Indeed, it is sending me off down as many philosophical rabbit holes as it is sonic ones. What more can you ask for?

One particular reference that has struck me early on is to Paolo Virno’s work, and particularly his own understanding of social revolution as an “exodus”. Virno’s ideas on this topic can be most readily found in his 2015 book, The Idea of World: Public Intellect and Use of Life. (On picking it up, I have been kicking myself that I had not read it sooner, but it was only translated into English this year — coincidently, by my second PhD supervisor, Lorenzo Chiesa.)

It is a book that threads together many points of interest for the u/acc sphere. Each section of the book is concerned, in one way or another, with ethics and with our sense of our own agency. Part one explores the possibility of any ethics (and action) in relation to a cosmological view of our world, exploring the “unconditional principle” at the heart of our modern understanding of the world-without-us. Part three takes a biopolitical ethics (at once echoing Levinas, Agamben, Foucault) and gives it a more distinctly Promethean bent. Two central concerns of any worthwhile accelerationist politics, right there. Part two, however, is the most relevant here, in that is puts forward a “political theory of exodus”.

Here Virno begins from a familiar u/acc-esque position — one which routinely causes people to reject u/acc outright — antipraxis.

“Today, nothing seems so enigmatic — and unattainable — as acting”, he begins.

[T]he paralysis of acting is connected with some essential aspects of contemporary existence. It is there, close to these essential aspects, that we need to delve into — knowing that they do not amount to an unfortunate conjuncture, but to an inescapable background. In order to break the spell, it is necessary to elaborate a model of action that will enable it to feed on precisely what is now blocking it. The interdiction itself is to be transformed into a laissez-passer.

It is precisely an exit, an egress, an exodus that is to be affirmed here. Indeed, we can understand Laissez-passer as a “pass”, a “permit”… We might think of it as a kind of “hall pass”, in this regard. Playing the system to attain a period of leave, which is then exploited to play truant indefinitely. (As an aside, can we not see how this paragraph echoes perfectly Alex Williams’ post-Landian politics of a speculative realism? A “praxis [that] requires the illegitimate use of the very devices the praxis seeks to erase”?)

This truancy — particularly its seizing of a more absolute flouting of rule and law — can be directly correlated to Virno’s exodus. He writes: “I call Exodus the mass defection from the State, the alliance between general intellect and political action, and the transit towards the public sphere of the Intellect.” Indeed, Virno has a particular conception of public intellectual life — that is, a kind of common sense or shared “intellect-in-general“. He affirms the bugbear of many an activist, the separation of theory and praxis, in order to emphasise the ways that political action and its strategies can be inherently confined to the logics of the state in general.

Pure theory and pure intellect may at times feel far removed from everyday life, but such is the point of theory. It allows us to go further out, to think more radically than the playing field of political action — which so often reduced to a “political labour”, Virno argues — often allows us to. This is not to create a hierarchy between one and the other, however, as if political action is therefore lesser. Not at all. Instead, the boldness of our intellect, untethered from its “general” application, can make our actions even more radical. The two exist at a necessary distance from each other, in the sense that each goads the other out of any space of comfort, tucked alongside the modus operandi of the State and its laws.

Thus, the term [Exodus] does not at all point at a miserable existential strategy, exiting on tiptoes from the backdoor, or searching for a sheltering hole. On the contrary, what I mean by ‘exodus’ is a model of thorough action, one that is capable of confronting the ‘ultimate things’ of modern politics … today we need to delimit anew the field of common affairs.

Virno continues:

Exodus is the foundation of a Republic. But the very idea of ‘republic’ requires a dismissal of the state system. The political action of exodus therefore consists of a resourceful withdrawal. Only those who open a way out are able to found something; but, vice versa, only those who found something manage to find the crossing that will enable them to leave Egypt.

On this point, Virno shares a common reference with many of patchwork’s reactionary adherents: Albert O. Hirschman’s 1970 work Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Indeed, Hirschman’s conception of “exit” is one of the most promiscuous parts of his theory. Virno, however, moves in a direction similar to those of us who approached patchwork from the left, echoing the “lines of flight” advocated by Deleuze and Guattari:

Nothing is less passive than flight. The ‘exit’ modifies the conditions within which the confrontation takes place, instead of presupposing them as an unmovable horizon — it changes the context in which the problem arose, instead of tackling the problem by choosing one or the other expected alternative. In short, the ‘exit’ consists in an audacious invention that alters the rules of the game and makes our adversary lose his bearings.

Silicon Valley types, like Moldbug, love this perspective. It allows them to fantasise about LARPing Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The “resourceful withdrawal” is one of withdrawing their capital. Governments hate it when big corporations do that, choosing to operate out of tax havens, for instance, rather than “contributing” to a given state economy more directly. It is an easy way of effectuating policy and no one ever seems to pay it much mind. It’s all just corporate leveraging…

But we need only look everywhere around us right now, in the UK at least, to see how differently a “resourceful withdrawal” from below is treated. Unfairly paid and working in declining conditions, workers can withdraw their labour. But this way of changing the rules of the game is demonised far more often by the establishment, precisely because it comes from below.

Virno affirms this kind of withdrawal, harking back to his intellectual roots with Autonomia. He describes how a young workforce in 1970s Italy

contradict[ed] all expectations, preferr[ing] precariousness and part-time work over permanent jobs in large companies. Albeit only for a short time, occupational mobility functioned as a political resource, causing the eclipse of industrial discipline and permitting a certain degree of self-determination. Even in this case pre-established roles were deserted and a ‘territory’ unknown to official maps was colonized.

Of course, at a time when precariousness has been seized upon and exploited by capitalism and leveraged the other way, Virno updates this sense of exodus accordingly:

Defection is the opposite of the desperate ‘You have nothing to lose but your chains’; instead, it hinges on a latent richness, an exuberance of possibilities, and ultimately the principle of the tertium datur. But, in the post-Fordist age, what is the virtual abundance that elicits the option of flight to the detriment of the option of resistance? Evidently, what is at stake is not a spatial frontier, but an excess of knowledge, communication, and acting in concert implied by the public character of the general intellect. The act of collective imagination I call ‘defection’ gives an autonomous, affirmative, and highlighted expression to this excess, thus preventing its ‘transfer’ into the power of state Administration.

Expanding on this point, Virno takes up the concept of “Intemperance”, which he sets across from a more general “Incontinence”, both discussed in ancient ethics by the likes of Aristotle. He does so to further emphasise the exoduses afforded by a theoretical thinking that far exceeds the bounds of any kind of common sense, or what Deleuze calls “state philosophy”:

While incontinence amounts to vulgar unruliness, disregard for the laws, and giving in to the most immediate whims, Intemperance consists instead of opposing intellectual knowledge to ethical and political norms. We adopt a theoretical premise in place of a practical one as a guiding principle of action, and the consequences that follow may be extravagant and dangerous with regard to the harmony of social life. […]

Exodus finds in Intemperance its main virtue. The preliminary obligation to obedience to the State is not disregarded out of incontinence but in the name of a systematic combination of Intellect and political Action.

In order to avoid a wholesale book report, suffice it to say that Virno continues wonderfully along these lines, and I only wish I had had this book at my disposal when wading into discussions of patchwork back in 2018. Admittedly, I am fairly certain that many people did raise Virno’s work as being relevant to those discussions years ago, and whilst I certainly found much to admire in his theories of the Multitude (which likewise make an appearance in The Idea of World), I did not appreciate quite how thoroughly his work aligns with the weird leftist blogosphere of the late 2010s and likewise addresses many of the problems that we fumbled with for years in our discussions of “patchwork” and its potentials.

For instance, I came across this interview with Virno on generation online from 2002 earlier today, and I am almost certain I have quoted from it before. At one point, he is asked about the relevance of “exodus” to non-European contexts:

Do you think it’s possible to sustain this point of view of exodus in the regions of the third world such as, for example, Latin America? We ask you this because … there have been very polemical voices over the possibility of extending this thesis to contexts in which the struggles and the resistances must deal with an extreme, corrupt, and decomposed, neoliberal state, that don’t seem like the states of Western Europe. Above all was the critique of the Argentine philosopher Nicolás Casullo, that to maintain exodus, in our country, we should look not to the multitudes, but rather to the state itself.

Virno’s response speaks even more so to the peculiar political developments of the last few years, particularly Brexit and its fallout, never mind the specific state of the “first” and “third” worlds in the early 2000s. Even more interestingly, he suggests we should ignore these tantrums within the state form altogether and turn our attention to the plight of the Palestinians, which is the kind of context I always hoped “patchwork” would be able to more concretely speak to, contrary to Silicon Valley’s dreams of seasteading tax havens, etc.

Virno responds:

It is not only an Argentine problem, also Italy or in France there exists the temptation to consider the National State as a refuge, a salvation in the face of globalization. Considering the National State as the place of possible exodus in the face of globalization, its violence, its laws. But this — in Argentina, as in France and Italy — is a complete illusion, a daydream that always run the risk of turning into a nightmare. Exodus is not nostalgic, but to consider the National State as refuge is nostalgic. Exodus is not a step back, but is rather leaving the land of the Pharaoh; the land of the Pharaoh was until one or two generations ago the National State, today it is the Global State, and the National States are like empty shells, like empty boxes and, for that, upon them is made an emotive investment but, naturally, that is very dangerous because it runs the risk of transforming sooner or later into xenophobia or, in every manner, into a rabid and subaltern attitude at the same time: rabies and subalternity together.

I want to be more clear: we shouldn’t speak more of Argentina, France or Italy, we should speak of Palestine. All of us are in Jenin. As much as you hope that the sooner a Palestinian state can be created the sooner it is possible to save lives, but in the conceptual plane I think that the creation of a new state is a disaster that would not have any power, that will have none of the prerogatives of the ancient national states: it would mean solely the fact that the prisoners, if not tortured, would be mistreated in their mother tongue, but it does not seem to me that that would be a grand conquest. The grand occasion that still was given after ten years, in the epoch of the first Intifada, was that of constructing a not necessarily statist or state-centric form of organization. All of the national states today, those that exist or those that are being founded, are the caricature, the parody of what the National State was as bearer of all rights. We all know that most of the economic, scientific research — not to speak of military — functions are in another place. I understand perfectly but it is a new form of ambivalence. Exodus is necessary but can also take a reactionary form.

It is this reactionary form that so many saw looming over us as a new leviathan in the 2010s. There was a protracted and promiscuous attempt, at that time, to retain something of Virno’s radical exodus in light of the “resourceful withdrawals” teased and threatened in the name of MAGA or Brexit, which came to dominate any kind of discussion along these lines.

I’m not sure anyone was particularly successful. I think my book Egress, for instance, attempted to deal with all the themes above, albeit implicitly without evoking the patchwork discourse that had occupied me over the years immediately prior to its publication. But the book’s subtitle and study of Mark Fisher’s work tended to pull focus in this regard. Only one person, to my mind, wrote publicly about how the book’s title gestured towards a more explicitly post-Landian sense of exit and defection, both in terms of political action and a bold theoretical thinking. That was Geoff Schullenberger in his review of Egress.

But this review always troubled me for the ways Schullenberger tries to tie my titular concept a little too closely to Hirschman, seeing it as a poor reading of “exit” that cannot do without voice, as if he is the only authority on the matter. “[I]n the end, both [myself] and Fisher seem unable to plausibly link accelerationist exit and collectivist politics”, he writes. But Schullenberger seemed far more ignorant of the lineage I was invoking than I was at that time. Indeed, I only wish I had Virno in my arsenal, as his discussion of the relationship between Exodus and the Multitude is far clearer on this. Such an argument shuts down Schullenberger’s more reactionary (if nonetheless sympathetic) reading of my book with ease. But alas, such is hindsight.

I think my next book, Narcissus in Bloom, likewise retains this thematic… It explores more explicitly the politics of representation and our powers of observation, arguing not for a complete renouncement of our ocular-centricity — if we can count our sense of “appearing” as another kind of “voice” — but rather, following Martin Jay, an “ocular-eccentricity”.

In so doing, the book affirms the tale of Narcissus not as a story of capture by the spectacle, as is suggested by the moral panic surrounding the pathology of narcissism, but rather follows Ovid’s version of the tale to its conclusion, where Narcissus transforms himself into a flower, affirming another form of life.

Narcissus is another tale of exit, in this regard. And here I take up the opportunity to consider how central Narcissus, as a figure used and abused both critically and clinically, is to queer discourses and various post-structuralist attempts to perforated the false unity of liberalism’s individual subject.

There’s no time left to shoehorn Virno into that book, though I can think of a few uses for him. And anyway, I would hate to step on Enrico’s toes. But Enrico’s use of Virno is worth returning to, with all this in mind. It really did excite me no end to see Enrico take him up in his own book on lo-fi, exploring the idea of social revolution as exodus through sonic retreats into bedrooms and home studios.

It is exciting to me if only because it is a book that I think the general reader will gobble up as enthusiastically as I did. And yet, at the same time, it is a book that wonderfully expands on discussions and debates that have occupied this part of the internet for years now. I can see the traces of certain lines of flight, with their roots in the very particular discussions had by “weird theory” Twitter for years, that were no doubt impenetrable for many on the outside. But all of those ideas are still there in Enrico’s book. They are cunningly smuggled into a topic that your average music fan will get a lot out of — in that way that Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher long since mastered.

I think my own writing still has a tendency to be more opaque. I’m not so good at seamlessly sprinkling my philosophy over more accessible topics. It is something I would generally like to get better at, even if I secretly like the tension and challenge produced… But still, that attempt at smuggling remains and has become more pronounced for many of us who cut our teeth in the blogosphere of the late 2010s. I only wish that whose who remain enamoured with patchwork / accelerationist discussions would see that.

Indeed, for all those people who are probably excited about this post, given its explicit nod to a discourse long dead, I can only suggest you open your minds a little further. I don’t talk about “patchwork” anymore, as a term and discourse that was smothered by its own naive attempts to intervene in a predominantly reactionary discourse from the left. But the implications of exit and voice, intellect and action, theory and praxis, outsideness and capture? I don’t think I write about much else…

My recent report from Malaga, for instance, arguably has all of this and more, as does yesterday’s admittedly dense discussion of the abolition of the family. If these sorts of posts aren’t recognised as fitting into the patchwork discourse, it is arguably because that discourse was always so limited. Its reactionary beginnings were well founded to exclude any perspectives on exodus that might include the sorts of flight long actualised by leftists, queers and all the other things reactionaries hate. But all the more reason to leave that particular enclave of discussion behind.

I chose to exit the patchwork discourse. I defected from the cabal of brainworms that it birthed. I withdrew from an echo chamber of Landian fanfiction. But I think the work I have done since has been all the more interesting for it. I feel a lot better for putting the tools and weapons acquired to other uses. That was always the point of egress/exit/exodus, after all…

Abolition of the Family,
Abolition of the Individual:
Notes on Anti-Oedipus

What is it that moves over the body of a society? It is always flows, and a person is always a cutting off [coupure] of a flow. A person is always a point of departure for the production of a flow, a point of destination for the reception of a flow, a flow of any kind; or, better yet, an interception of many flows…

How to respond to the idea that we should abolish the family?

Speaking personally, I have always had a complicated relationship to the notion. On the one hand, having always had a slightly perforated sense of family as an adoptee, existing somewhat on the fringes of more than one family, I have initially found arguments around the abolition of the family too often centre the experiences of those who have grown up in broadly functional families themselves and have no experienced the dysfunctions produced by a falling outside its bounds.

That being said, I certainly know what it is like to have parents. But as a child, despite being welcomed wholeheartedly into a new family, my difference within that same family was also often openly acknowledged. Not maliciously, but nonetheless in subtle ways that made me feel like some sort of outsider, because, symbolically speaking at least, I always was.

Later in life, I have experienced this in reverse. I have gotten to know my biological mother’s family — my father’s identity remains a secret to everyone but her — but having gotten to know them as an adult, I have also never felt able to develop any real sort of foothold. Any attempt to do so has often been too painful to see through.

Of course, none of this has much to do with what is being called for by family abolitionists. But in practice, I find myself oddly triggered by the discussion — supportive in theory; uncomfortable with the reality. These dysfunctions, for instance, are not a problem for family abolitionists but rather speak to the hold that the family has upon us. In cases of adoption most explicitly, we have historically been (and largely remain) reluctant to accommodate or rectify the injustices experiences by so many bastards.

This is even true on a more micropolitical level. For example, when I talk to people about the struggles of being an adoptee who feels somewhat estranged from any particular family, the response often given is: “It doesn’t matter — you can always choose your own family.” But part of me always baulks at this. The notion of “choosing” a family nonetheless feels dependent on having some sort of stable model on which to base your desires. Whether from within or from without, the family remains an uncomfortable point of reference that I’d almost wish we could away with altogether.

This is because, although you can certainly choose new members for your family, the family model itself remains steadfast through signifiers and forms of relation if not exactly within the same structure. (I wholly embrace being referred to as “queer uncle Matt” by friends at present, for instance, particularly those who are younger than me and may see me as some sort of elder, but I do wonder sometimes about our reliance on familial signifiers like “auntie” and “uncle” for those on the edges of our immediate others.) And so, what if you feel like you’ve never really had an experience of that kind of family? What if you don’t feel like you know what that “family” model really looks like? At least not in a way that isn’t in itself triggering…

I have a tendency to struggle with the maintenance of interpersonal relationships as a result of this, because the original example of kinship that so many of us possess feels fundamentally malformed in my experiences. The designated names of different family members begins to feel like a series of hollow signifiers, giving a sense of structure to my relations that may have no significance otherwise. The “mum” who is not really my mum, etc. But even this is a malformed thought process — what makes a mum anyway? As a result, I struggle to know how to relate to anyone, and so have a tendency to withdraw and close myself off.

But this is not a tendency that I particularly like about myself. I have developed an awareness of these thought processes as something to try and actively fight against. Again, the ways that my thought is structured by social expectations, givens and pressures runs contrary to many of my political beliefs. This does not, I don’t think, eject my politics into the realm of fantasy. Nor does it make me feel like my neuroses are particularly invalid. But it is towards the cleft between the two that a lot of my thinking has been oriented of late, and the return of family abolition to Twitter discourse has made me want to write some tentative thoughts down.

If I am to try and embrace such an attempt to think against myself, I am inclined to believe that my personal circumstances can also be considered a strength too. Having no expectations of what a “family” should be leaves a lot of space for reimagining certain kinds of kinship — which is the fundamental demand of most family abolitionists anyway: a new kind of kinship that is structured otherwise to the hierarchy of the nuclear family, particularly with regards to “patriarchy” as the male-centred form of its institutionalised organisation. But the centrality of the family as an ideal to social life nonetheless restricts our imagination of what a family can be, as well as our social relations as a whole, and that is just as apparent if we have grown up in loving families or found our familial relations to be maladapted.

But anyway, to affirm the positive, maybe I’m in the perfect position to think through this problem, I tell myself. Surely it is for the benefit of someone like me that these multiple senses of displacement — queer, adopted, etc. — are affirmed, so that the restructuring of power relations within the institution of the family can be rethought to include those who do not fit into its bourgeois bounds. But the idea of the family looms large regardless. It haunts as a loss, or something that I should grieve as such, even if the reality is quite different. Indeed, like Camus’s Outsider, the designations of “mother,” “father,” “uncle,” “auntie”, etc., all come with expectations of action and response. Whether experienced from within or without, the family’s hold on our psychic lives cannot be understated.

Again, it is clear that this brief overview of my own messy thoughts is notably devoid of any specific reference to things family abolitionists, past and present, have ever said or argued. But this is purposeful. Ultimately, I recognise why many people cannot get past the emotional response that is provoked by the phrase “abolish the family”, because I too, even now, struggle to move past it sometimes. It is undoubtedly the topic, above all others, that pushes my buttons and which I struggle to formulate any coherent response to. (All the more reason to start a PhD roughly related to the topic.) And I think that is true for many people as well. But we should all try to grasp it, I think, for reasons that we can easily transplant from elsewhere.

We should be suspicious, I think, of how vigorously our restricted idea of the family holds onto us — that is, precisely how it holds onto us rather than how we hold onto it. We are more than happy to hold such healthy suspicions of other ideas. But the family remains a hard barrier for many. To twist Mark Fisher’s famously borrowed adage: even the end of capitalism is now easier for us to imagine than the end of the family. But this is for many of the same structural reasons that our imaginations are stifled in other ways. As such, we should pay attention to how the two ideas are linked, not just in terms of their structural power but also in terms of how these ideas function ideologically.

To twist Fisher’s words in this way isn’t even much of a stretch. He made similar remarks himself, referencing Helen Hester’s work on the subject. I am reminded of the point he makes in his Postcapitalist Desire lectures when discussing Herbert Marcuse and Ellen Willis:

I actually think that domestic realism is even more powerful than capitalist realism in today’s world. Even when I was at school, in the 1980s, there were fairly serious debates about alternatives to the family. I remember when I taught teenagers, a few years ago, you’d talk about alternatives to the family and they were just horrified by the very thought of it. And the full tragedy of that was, of course, that many of them had come from very difficult family backgrounds. So, they had an idealised idea of the family that didn’t fit with their experience of the family at all. And yet that very idealisation implied that they still help up the family as an idea. The countercultural mission has almost entirely disappeared now as a widespread cultural phenomenon.

As ever, I wish we’d have gotten more from Fisher on this point — although this essay, on which the lecture is based, was clearly ripe for salvage in any hypothetical Acid Communism manuscript.

Fisher goes into a bit more detail on this point, which I think is worth considering below, as a way of further grounding what it is I actually want to talk about in this post:

I don’t distinguish, in a Kantian sense, between the family as a transcendental structure and a family as an empirical fact. The family, as an empirical fact, is under massive pressure. As I understand it, particularly in the UK … there are more people living on their own than ever before. Of course, divorce has increased beyond all proportion since the 1970s. So, the family is not empirically strong, I would say — it’s empirically weak but it is transcendentally strong. It’s strong as a sort of basic structure that is still normative. Now if you think of people living collectively, you think of that as a temporary phase, when actually there is more of that than there was in the 1970s, all because people can’t afford to live on their own, particularly in London.

So, there’s increasing amounts of people living outside the family structure, and yet the family remains normative, I would suggest.

Fisher’s argument makes the idea of a “domestic realism” (a la capitalist realism) seem self-evident. But I think it is interesting to further explore some of the ways we can think about the idea’s grip upon us.

One way of doing this is through the work of Deleuze and Guattari.

At the very start of his seminars, Fisher tells his students that, whilst it is nowhere to be found on the reading list, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is the unspoken foundational text of the course. Having been rereading it recently, as I sink my teeth into my PhD, I’ve found it to be particularly fascinating on this point. Indeed, though capitalism looms large as the primary object of their critique, as it does for Fisher’s, it is the family that comes in for a particularly forceful beating, at least as a transcendental idea passed down by the shortsightedness of Freudian psychoanalysis. And this is even more apparent in Deleuze’s seminars on the book, which are currently being translated by the Deleuze Seminars Project.

Following Deleuze and Guattari, there are arguably two ways of talking about our responses to the idea of the family and its abolition: there is a psychotic response and a schizo response. Given my prevaricating above about rejecting family abolition because it calls for the dissolution of something I’ve long wanted but never had, I can see how the psychotic response can all too easily be established.

For starters, Deleuze suggests that there are “two major kinds of interpretations” of psychosis in psychoanalysis. The first proceeds “in terms of degradation, decomposition”; it proceeds “under the sign of the negative”. Psychosis, in this sense, is what “happens when something breaks down, or when there is a kind of degradation” — a degradation “of the rapport with the real, with the unity of the person.”

This is a point that Deleuze and Guattaria reject outright. The individual, after all, is a relatively recent concept, born of Protestantism and Cartesian. Even the idea of a “person”, as an individuated subject, was integral to John Locke’s liberalism. And so the point is implicit for Deleuze and Guattari that any understanding of a “degradation” of individual personhood is nothing less than false problem, and rather speaks to the fallibility of the Cartesian subject and liberalism’s bastardisation of its constitution for political ends.

Given its reliance on a sense of unified selfhood, then, Deleuze describes this kind of interpretation of psychosis as “personological”. Psychosis interpreters of this ilk “always come back to take the ‘me’ as a basic reference … to mark a sort of defeat from the point of view of the unity of the person, and of his/her rapports with reality.” The questions he leaves hanging in the air of the seminar are precisely: what unity? whose reality? Neither of these things is a given.

Nevertheless, the influence of this kind of thinking is hard to shake off. On matters of the family, this is where I often find myself. Any discussions of the breakdown of the family as an idea are all too easily projected onto my own sense of disunity as a person, which is traumatic only in the sense that it seems to disqualify oneself from a “normative” understanding of what a person actually is — a transcendental idea in its own right, which is the direct product of that other transcendental idea: the family.

But there is another view of psychosis that is far more interesting.

The second major interpretation of psychosis is structuralist, Deleuze says (although not in the sense that it is a direct product of structuralism):

This time, psychosis is interpreted by virtue of “essential phenomena of the structure”. It is no longer an accident that occurs to people, in the form of a kind of mechanism of decomposition, degradation. It’s an essential event in the structure, related to the distribution of positions, situations and relationships within a structure.

On this point, Deleuze’s references Lacan — one of the few times he references Lacan positively, in fact — drawing attention to the ways that, in Lacan’s analysis, psychosis is a structure relevant to all of us.

It is worth affirming here that, in theoretical discussions of psychoanalysis, references to psychosis and schizophrenia are not synonymous with the “psychotic” and “schizophrenic” person encountered “in real life”. As Deleuze puts it, we must not overly equivocate “the schizophrenic and schizophrenic activity”, on account of the innumerable “ambiguities” that exist between the two. Theoretically speaking, then, we might say that each refers to a structure of thought rather than being an umbrella term for a specific clinical symptomatology. As Deleuze argued in Coldness and Cruelty, there is always a cleft between the clinical and the critical, and so what is being attempted in many theoretical discussions of such psychoanalytic structures is the undoubtedly very difficult task of creating “a kind of lyrical picture of schizophrenia” in particular, as well as of psychosis, neurosis, perversion, et al.

The psychotic, then, for Lacan, is someone with a particularly fraught relationship to the familial structure, which he understands through the absence of a paternal signifier, the Name-of-the-Father. For the psychotic, this signifier is foreclosed.

In Lacanian thought, the Name-of-the-Father is so named to emphasise its symbolic function. It is not “The Father” strictly speaking — it is not a necessarily gendered notion but one that nonetheless takes on the role of patriarchal authority and law; it is the person who “wears the trousers”, so to speak. For the psychotic, the Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed from the symbolic order and is instead only imaginary. This sense of foreclosure is different to a sense of loss — for the psychotic, as Freud writes, “the ego rejects the incompatible idea together with its affect and behaves as if the idea had never occurred to the ego at all.” It is not something buried in the unconscious but ejected from it altogether.

If Deleuze has particular sympathy for the Lacanian psychotic, it is that he sees this position as being far more common than psychoanalytic nomenclature may suggest. Indeed, it may be difficult for us to imagine such a psychotic. After all, who does not have a symbolic father of some kind; some kind of “father figure”. Such a symbolic relation may be established outside the bounds of the family, in the form of a particularly influential teacher, for instance, or more amorphously in the broader disciplinary structures of the State. But it is in the very notion of a “father figure” that the symbolic grasp of the family persists and is dragged over everything. It is as if a complete (psychotic) absence of patriarchal authority were utterly impossible in our current system. For Deleuze, this is simply not the case. This is because he takes a step back from this psychoanalytic structure and instead takes the more poststructuralist view — this time in its proper philosophical sense — and instead wonders how we might understand the processes that produce these structures in the first place.

On this point — and pouring a more characteristic scorn on Lacanian thought — Deleuze writes much later, in a series of reflection on Anti-Oedipus presented to his students in 1980:

What annoys me in psychoanalysis of the Lacanian camp is the cult of castration. The family is a system of transmission, the social investments of one generation passed on to another, but I absolutely do not think that the family is a necessary element in the making of social investments because, in any case, there are desiring machines that, on their own, constitute social libidinal investments of the large social machines.

To this end, the question seems to be, why must every authority figure be a father? There are other processes at work that produce the family as a structure, and it is towards these that we should turn our attention. The Freudian emphasis on the family is, in this regard, an underexamined foundation. Superseding the bounds of the family, why can’t we describe such figures in a way that is not behold to a familial sentimentality? Why can’t we just call a fascist a fascist?

This point is made clear in Mark Seem’s introduction to the English translation of Anti-Oedipus:

Reversing the Freudian distinction between neurosis and psychosis that measures everything against the former, Anti-Oedipus concludes: the neurotic is the one on whom the Oedipal imprints take, whereas the psychotic is the one incapable of being oedipalized, even and especially by psychoanalysis. The first task of the revolutionary, they add, is to learn from the psychotic how to shake off the Oedipal yoke and the effects of power, in order to initiate a radical politics of desire freed from all beliefs. Such a politics dissolves the mystifications of power through the kindling, on all levels, of anti-oedipal forces — the schizzes-flows — forces that escape coding, scramble the codes, and flee in all directions: orphans (no daddy-mommy-me), atheists (no beliefs), and nomads (no habits, no territories).

What is of particular interest to me, as I begin my PhD, is the role of orphans in this schema. Though we have a tendency to think of orphans, in the first instance, as tragic figures — think Oliver Twist. They are so often the heroes of our stories. (I discussed this in Krakow a few months back.) Indeed, we far more often herald orphans (or children otherwise displaced) as heroes for the ways that they can circumvent the mystifications of power that otherwise bind us to the status quo. It should be noted that few (although not all) of these figures are far from tired to the structure of psychosis in the ways that Lacan might argue.

Deleuze discusses orphans often, but culturally speaking, there are many examples we can draw upon and learn from that show how even the orphan is not somehow inoculated from oedipal forces. (Enter Batman.) But this is where the role of the schizo becomes most relevant. For Deleuze and Guattari, orphans are instead more at home on the schizo’s place of immanence.

For Deleuze, the schizo is a more positive alternative to the psychotic. Batman, for instance, is the psychotic proper. Following the traumatic break of his orphaning, his solitude is affirmed as allowing for a new sovereignty. Wholly independent — financially, interpersonally — the Batman attacks the family in negative. He sees the networks of a criminal underground and sets about rendering them asunder. Crime families become things for him to smash. Capable of shedding the symbolic significance of his family name, he moves through familial shadows, cutting off flows.

But Spiderman, however, as another superheroic orphan (of a type), proceeds otherwise. In Spiderman, there is — as per his namesake — a drive to establish new webs of connection, to take responsibility for those around him, to do what is best for the neighbourhood. Flinging webs around an expansive sense of community, criminals are instead those who would disrupt these extrafamilial bonds. Spiderman is the schizo proper in this regard, traversing great distances in a single swing and using this mode of extension to expand a sense of family explicitly.

Like Lenz in Anti-Oedipus, “he is in the mountains, amid falling snowfiakes, with other gods or without any gods at all, without a family, without a father or a mother, with nature.”

The problem with the Lacanian understanding of psychosis, then, for Deleuze and Guattari, is the ways in which it remains tied to the family unnecessarily. This is true of psychoanalysis in general they argue:

Let us add that by enveloping the illness in a familial complex internal to the patient, and then the familial complex itself in the transference or the doctor-patient relationship, Freudian psychoanalysis made a somewhat intensive use of the family. Granted, this use distorted the nature of the intensive quantities in the unconscious. Nevertheless it still respected in part the general principle of a production of these quantities. When it became necessary once again to confront psychosis directly, however, the family was immediately reopened in extension, and was in itself considered as the indicator for measuring the forces of alienation and disalienation. In this manner the study of the families of schizophrenics has breathed new life into Oedipus by making it reign over the extensive order of an expanded family, where not only each person would combine to a greater or lesser extent his or her triangle with the triangle of others, but where the entirety of the extended family also would oscillate between the two poles of a “healthy” triangulation, structuring and differentiating, and forms of perverted triangles, bringing about their fusion in the realm of the undifferentiated.

The schizo newly problematises the inescapability of Oedipus. There are countless examples of this figure — both fictional and actual — who humiliate Oedipus’s essentialised nature by psychoanalysis. (These include Oedipus himself, who falls back into the family in a movement of great irony, but whom, beforehand, was a orphan wandering the land who became a hero for the Theban people, with his schizoid thinking allowing him to make new connections and solve the riddle of the sphinx.) It is this pre-oedipal reality that is to be affirmed, and to do so beyond the realms of myth and infancy requires a rethinking not only of the family as an institution but also the potentials of its primary product: the individual.

Again, the task of family abolition in this regard is not to disavow your nan, but rather to reaffirm the potential revolutionary junctures accessible to all of us when we free ourselves from the family as a social machine, which primarily maintains the production of individuals, traditions and privations, all of which break apart potential flows. To hold onto the family as an ineluctable structure only obscures the processes that far exceed its bounds. It is to enter into a far wider sense of social production that reinvigorates each person with a truly radical political agency. If the end of capitalism remains at all unthinkable to us, then it is necessary we proceed in a more segmented fashion. Start smaller; start with the family.

Anyway, merry Christmas…

New Tenderness

An hour of winter heaters for refrigerated kitchen shuffles to help you through the cost of living crisis.

I had a lot of fun putting this one together… It has been getting me through just about every ill-advised venture outside.


The Waterproof Candle — Electrically Heated Child
Ruth White — Mists and Rains
Slacker — Love is the Devil
Current Value — Weight
En:vy — Over You
aya — babylos (bey x hmw)
Particle — Eskimode (ft. Redders)
SAULT — Love Will Free Your Mind
Lukid — Chord
Low End Activist — Get Get (ft. Emz)
Tracks — Mans On Road
Bored Lord — Smells Like Rave Spirit
Skee Mask — CZ3000 Dub
Lil Peep — The Song They Played (When I Crashed Into The Wall)
Limp Bizkit — Build a Bridge

The Meds Stopped Working

One of the first posts to gain traction on this blog was about anti-depressants. After Timothy Morton outed himself as a particularly callous moron on the subject, I went through a few of Mark Fisher’s most famous comments on the pharmacological treatment of depression and how it is often used to cover over any analysis of the more structural / material problems at work in society today.

At the time, the NHS was running a kind of awareness campaign to normalise the usage of SSRIs and hear from people who had had their lives changed by them for the better. But this wholly ignored far more damning issues with the NHS’s treatment of mental issues, including 1) how social circumstances lead to an endemic depressions today and 2) the ways that the NHS’s treatment for those with mental health issues is impossible to access for so many because of those same circumstances.

I made a few points related to all of the above, but what was key for me was that, despite finding Morton’s flippant comments utterly disgusting, I had plenty of faith in anti-depressants themselves. As much as I appreciated Fisher’s scepticism towards them, I’d actually always found that they worked just fine for me. It’s everything else that doesn’t work and that needs to be addressed. Because the fact remains: medication works for some, not all; the system itself, however, works for far fewer people than that.

I’ve been thinking back to this post often the past week or so. Things have changed a lot recently. After over a decade on citalopram (on and off), I found that, despite being on the highest available dose, the medication had stopped working for me. I had a full-on suicidal breakdown whilst taking my medication and I found that the “capitalist palliative” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

There were many reasons for this, no doubt. Not only had I presumably built up a tolerance to citalopram, my personal life completely fell apart and there came a point where I found myself incapable of responding rationally to anything else that life might throw at me, with my emotions becoming completely dysregulated in the process. Medication only did so much to actually soften the blows at that time and even therapy, which I’d been paying for for six months, was starting to make things worse rather than better. It felt clear that none of the support I had at my immediate disposal was actually suitable to my needs, but it was also a real struggle to make any meaningful change to my treatment plan.

Following months of struggling to access any effective treatment whatsoever, I was eventually given a new regime of medications, which were eventually whittled back to a single daily dose of sertraline. (I’ve written about this a few times, so I won’t retread over the details.)

Sertraline is the most commonly proscribed antidepressant these days, as it is seen as a bit more bespoke than an older drug like citalopram, or so I was told. Whereas the maximum dosage for citalopram is 40mg, sertraline can go up to a maximum of 200mg, meaning there is more of a range to work with so that the drug can be prescribed at varying intensities to best treat an individual’s particular needs.

It worked for me, for a time. I felt myself stabilise. But I never actually began to feel better. It felt like the medication had simply hit pause, rather than do anything to fix my situation. I found this was a very different reaction than I ever had to citalopram. Whereas citalopram, when it worked, helped to raise up the low end of my emotional range, so that I could not fall into too deep of a depression and could function better day to day, sertraline put a limit on my top end too. It squeezed the middle, and didn’t make me feel good at all, but instead like even more of a powder keg with no way to alleviate the pressure, meaning I’d become quickly overwhelmed by daily life, falling into a habit of sleeping all day.

For the last three months, that has been my reality. I’ve struggled to write or do anything creative. This blog, previously an integral outlet for me, shrivelled up. I’ve pushed through this feeling necessarily at times, in order to hit deadlines and have a social life, but I have generally found a lot of things that used to come easily a lot more difficult. I’d find myself exhausted by the slightest bit of mental exertion, with just a few days of concentrated engagement with people and events always leading to a complete burn out, or just a few hours working on a book draft resulting in at least a four-hour nap every day. Over time, these limitations meant I started to socially withdraw more and more.

As the months flew by, life itself didn’t change much. I still found a lot of things hard, particularly a constant awareness that I lacked any real foundation, pitying myself as I felt turned and spurned like a stray dog. But ultimately, I didn’t do anything about it. I put no effort into changing my circumstances. Because all I felt was numb.

After three months on sertraline, I became deeply fed up of this numbness, and I gradually identified that it wasn’t because I was irreparably broken or whatever. It was the meds themselves.

Maybe my dosage was too high. Maybe there were other medicines I could have explored. But as long as I wasn’t actively suicidal, my GP seemed to have no interest in any of my concerns. I wasn’t allowed to have any meaningful say in my own treatment, primarily because, at my most unwell, I’d abused what I’d been prescribed and taken an overdose. But the solution from the medical professionals around me was presumably to numb my feelings altogether and leave me to it. Every complaint (about emotional flatness, too much or too little sleep) was dismissed. I was told to just wait and see, hang on until my next medication review. But when was that going to be? In another three months time? Six months, more likely… Sertraline left me without hope. Though it stopped me from feeling suicidal, it only intensified my despair as I thought daily about how I could not go on like this.

It seems clear that the meds aren’t working for me anymore. And without that basic silver lining, I felt there was little hope to hold out for. I was numbed to the point I couldn’t articulate my thoughts, I couldn’t be bothered to act in my own best interests, and I couldn’t feel much of anything — sadness or happiness. By any measure, despite being on anti-depressants, I was still struggling with all the anhedonic symptoms of depression. I was simply not a risk to myself anymore. But this new regime of treatment began to feel like a fate worse than death. I took pain from nothing and joy from little. It was horrible in that surreal sense of medicalised ennui. I was drugged so I wouldn’t suffer, but found that feeling nothing was its own kind of torture. I struggled to connect with other people and sustain relationships and felt all the more alienated as I wandered around in a constant brain fog.

No one around me seemed to get it. (Hard to blame them, since I have barely understood it myself.) My assumption has been, perhaps I’m just a shitty, annoying and inconsiderate person. I’m being treated, after all. I’m no longer acting insane. This is meant to be me “well”. But taking the doctors at their word, I was questioning everything about myself and nothing about what was being done to me. The more important questions, then, were never asked, by myself or by anyone else: is this medication really doing what it is supposed to…?

Enough is enough. With the meds no longer working, and the system itself still so broken that I have no faith in it fixing things, last week I decided to go cold turkey on the sertraline. Whether this is a wise decision or not, I don’t know. I’m sure my doctor will think it is reckless when they realise I haven’t picked up my prescription in a while. Then again, I don’t expect anyone to notice. They seem to care very little and are so administratively incompetent that staying medicated has been a challenge. So if they’re not going to try and make things work, neither am I.

It has been a strange experience so far. I am over the worst of the withdrawal symptoms, with the worst “brain zaps” of my life having finally begun to subside. But I am also already feeling the positives. My emotional range has expanded in ways I’d forgotten it could. I made a new show for Slack’s at home and found such euphoria in the process. I was grinning from ear to ear like I had not done in months. At the same time, I’ve been crying at just about every melancholic moment on the TV going, from silly melodramatic sitcoms to overtly sentimental Christmas adverts. I have even found myself frequently laughing at the things that have made me sad. But it is a novelty to feel things so fully for the first time in months. I am sure the mood swings will quiet down soon, but right now I’m almost glad for them. Crying is cathartic, after all. It has been oddly uncomfortable to find it an impossible thing to do.

All in all, I actually feel so much better for giving up on the meds. I feel like I have taken charge of my own treatment. I will do something else now, and what I do is fully up to me. I feel reenergised. I will try and put other things in place that make my life work better. It’s about time I went out fully on my own, got my own place, set up a life and routine that works for me and is not tied up unnecessarily with other people’s, including the assertions of my useless GP. I need to build a foundation for my own life before I can hope to share it purposefully with anyone else and that is what I intend to do. In fact, I am excited that this is what 2023 will have in store for me. 2022 has been a lot of trial and a lot of error. But I feel like I have done little for myself. I have white-knuckled it, being petrified in place, stuck in medicated purgatory, admitting I have no idea what I’m doing and relying on medical professionals to tell me what is best. The truth is: none of them know or care. Their priorities are limited, their conduct neglectful and their advice unfit for purpose.

But what will continue to sadden me is that I now know what it is like to experience the medicated life from the other side. I know what it is like to find the first port of call for most physicians no longer works for me. I will still advocate for SSRIs regardless — they are worth taking a chance on, in case they do work for you. But it also seems clear to me now that they are not and never have been a long-term and meaningful fix under the current system. If you can build up a tolerance, or if certain medications don’t affect you like they do others, what are you supposed to do? Changing the circumstances of your life is one thing, but how doable is that? Eat better, exercise more, drink less. Yes, these are all things that help. But please kindly shut the fuck up if it’s your only piece of advice. None of those things will exorcise your demons. None of those things will free you from drudgery. All are palliatives. Because all they do is allow you to “function” in a very restricted sense. (To get you back to work, which, in my experience, is just as effective at making you ill.)

This is the struggle I feel left with, moving forwards into 2023. I need to change my circumstances, but I am hardly in a position to ever live comfortably, with myself or others. Accepting a bumpy past and inevitable future of neurodivergence and the ways that I — never mind anyone else — can learn to accommodate it is a tough pill to swallow. And so the next year is undoubtedly going to be a real struggle, financially and otherwise. I imagine it will be lonely too. But it will force me to carve out a space for myself in a world that feels far from accommodating than anywhere available to me in the present. That is ultimately what it takes. The meds aren’t a solution anymore — perhaps they never were. All I can do is affirm what agency I have and never again let myself be put in a position, by our ineffective system, where that agency is medically diminished or taken away.

That cunt Morton would never understand that.

“En este lugar nunca estuvo Pablo Ruiz Picasso”:
Notes on Deterritorialization in Málaga

Kike España is showing us around La Casa Invisible, a squatted DIY venue and organising space nestled amongst the labyrinthine backstreets of Málaga. It’s an enormous building. The central courtyard is busy with local misfits and activists, spurning the usual tourist crowd. A cash bar keeps everyone watered amongst LGBT+ flags and a banner that reads “Málaga no se vende” – Málaga is not for sale.

As we wander round, we accidentally interrupt a group of women having a discussion in the main exhibition space, up on the first floor, overlooking the touristic low tide below. We poke our heads out of a row of floor-to-ceiling windows. It is early December and Málaga is out of season. Nevertheless, I meet a surprising amount of fellow Newcastle residents who have come for a cheap getaway. You cannot escape the swells of visitors. Except here.

We move on quickly down meandering corridors. Louis Moreno, who gave a talk on spatial conjunctures and new urbanism that morning at the Universidad de Málaga, says they make him feel like he’s playing Resident Evil.

Long corridors appear like blind alleys, lined by doors over two meters tall, as if built to accommodate creatures not of this world, and you wonder if a devil dog might jump out at you at any moment. But the space is not foreboding. We British folk are simply not used to having so much room to manoeuvre. It is hard not to be intimidated (or perhaps just awestruck) by so much possibility.

We stop for a while in a small office and peruse a library of books in Spanish and German, taking a few freebies for the road that have been produced by some of the groups that use the space. The one book in English we find is a gargantuan omnibus edition of all three volumes of Grant Morrison’s 1990s comic book series The Invisibles, which tells various stories of the extraordinary, often outcast and often queer members of a secret organization fighting social oppression through violence and magic in time-fucked London.

And here we were, in the headquarters of Málaga’s own Invisibles, who are resisting psychic oppression through other means.

The whole building functions as a hypersigil, as Morrison might call it: a defiant stamp within the city’s topology; a circle of salt creating an inner sanctum that keeps capitalist sorceries at bay. But what is notable is that the building openly functions as a thorn in the side of the city’s preferred way of doing things. It’s very existence is a provocation.

I am reminded of Mark Fisher’s comments on capitalist counter-sorceries: La Casa Invisibles is “a weapon built from the very same materials that capitalist sorcery itself uses.” In a city threatened by overdevelopment and the seemingly irresistible influence of AirBnBs, La Invi (as it is affectionately known) shows what other forces the occupation of property can be used to conjure.

Perhaps that is what we sense (and eventually find) lurking in the building’s many darkened rooms. Horrors not to spook us, but to unsettle the forces of capitalist realism that seek to penetrate the building from its outside.

I’ve wanted to come to Málaga for some years now. When I was at Goldsmiths in 2017, following the death of Mark Fisher, I was part of a reading group for Fisher’s last book The Weird and the Eerie. There, I got to know then-lecturer in Visual Cultures, Stefan Nowotny.

In the pub afterwards, Stefan often spoke about a dream he had: of moving to Málaga and setting up a communal living space, which also housed facilities for organising, cultural production, and academic research. A few years later, the dream is now a reality.

La Casa Azul, much like La Casa Invisibles, is home to a small group who work in various different fields. Their collective library of books in all languages sprawls across rooms, corridors and staircases. There is also a bookshop directly downstairs, Librería Suburbia, which I was excited to discover was selling the Spanish translation of my book Egress. There’s a sound studio and various printing presses (from riso to letterpress), as well as a flat for guests. This was home for our five-day stay.

I am visiting with Natasha Eves, a co-conspirator with whom I’ve organised a few of the For K-Punk events over the years. (We’re curious to see if one such an event might work in Málaga…)

We talk about Mark’s work often, and I’m immediately reminded of the other cities in which I’ve discussed his writings over the last few years. In particular, I’m reminded of a talk given in Ljubljana in late 2021 to celebrate the Slovenian translation of Capitalist Realism. There, discussions oscillated around the various spaces squatted and occupied by publishers, theatre companies and artists ever since the revolution in 1987. But a journal was produced around the time of my visit discussing the potential “eviction of culture” from Metelkova as the right-wing government cracked down on leftists and counter-cultural producers in the city.

The same problems and threats were to be found in Málaga as well – indeed, as they are everywhere. La Casa Invisible was the focal point of a great deal of attention in this regard. Though the building has not been served an eviction notice explicitly, the government has repeatedly (and often passively) cracked down on its activities – for instance, by shutting off the building’s water supply, which likewise affected the bar in the courtyard and which was now not supposed to sell anything. But the space has found a number of ways around the council’s disruptive methods: on our tour of the space, Kike showed us a room to the back of La Casa Invisible that housed almost 9000 litres of water, which they had delivered periodically and which was independently connected to the plumbing by those who work and organise there.

The reason for the local government’s stifling of La Casa Invisible’s activities seems to be that it is an “unofficial” space. Nothing more. The city’s liberal council is a stickler for the rule of law, of course. The space hardly seems “unsafe”, however. It’s the (liberalist) principle, the restrictions of which only serve as a means of controlling cultural production (and, by proxy, cultural capital) in the city.

There is a deep irony to this behaviour. In recent decades, the city has embraced the fact it is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and this fact is fixated on in order to drive tourism. But as is often the effect of driving a tourist economy at all costs, the city itself is suffering as rents rise and AirBnBs replace housing in the city centre. Local residents are understandably cynical of the council’s obsession with Picasso in this regard, especially because he lived here only fleetingly. He produced no art in the city, as he was only a young child when he resided in Málaga; downstairs in La Casa Azul, a sign in the window reads: “En este lugar nunca estuvo Pablo Ruiz Picasso”, meaning “Pablo Ruiz Picasso was never in this place”.  

On our second day, Natasha and I decided to visit the Museo Picasso Málaga. Despite all we’d heard about the city’s relationship to the artist, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised. The rotating collection of works, changed every three years, was thoughtfully curated and both of us left feeling deeply inspired. Though Picasso’s reputation is often questioned today, not least for his tendency to be a scoundrel, the museum celebrated his radical influence on twentieth-century art as a whole. Leaflets advertising the museum articulated this succinctly:

Picasso’s fundamental contribution to the 20th century stems from his transformation of the work of art into an expression that vindicates absolute individual liberty in the face of conventions, rules, manifestos and dogmas. Picasso switched from one style to another with unparalleled ease. He interpreted and played down the canons developed by the great painters of the past, and manipulated stereotypes and myths of bourgeois culture, opting to bestow dignity on quotidian anecdotes and short stories that became great visual poems in his hands. Picasso was an artist who rethought the history of painting and thus revolutionised the fundamental and previously untouchable principles of representation. He demolished once and for all the hierarchical humanistic relationships in which the representation of the human form was more important than that of the object.

This expression of “absolute individual liberty in the face of conventions, rules, manifestos and dogmas” was further affirmed in the last part of the museum’s exhibition, entitled “Picasso face-to-face with the museum”, which explored how Picasso travelled across Europe in his youth to see the works of many of the great master painters, producing studies of or otherwise adapting and challenging a European canon.

Particular attention was paid to his studies of Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas. Rather than passively receive and merely try to copy these great works, however, Picasso challenged them, using them as objects that he could paint again by his own hand, in various styles.

His approach was truly modernist in this regard, making each work new again. In this sense, his love of art museums seemed to function as a kind of state-sanctioned compartmentalisation: the past was fixed in these places; all the better for him to push off from their foundations and out into the future that lay so clearly beyond their walls.

For all of Picasso’s radicality, however, it was easy to see how the city itself was not re-appropriating the artist’s own response to the world around him.

In one section of the exhibition, focusing on Picasso’s “magic” paintings, the evocative copy stencilled onto the walls argues that “Picasso demonstrated how desire could disassemble the body into independent parts, to be encountered and enjoyed one after another, seemingly at random.” It is an approach that speaks to the modernist schizophrenia of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. In Picasso’s hands, though a essential resemblance is never entirely lost from the subjects he depicts, facial features crowd and swarm the canvas in ways that are affectively relatable but far from reality — “freckles dashing towards the horizon, hair carried off by the wind, eyes you traverse instead of seeing yourself in or gazing into in those glum face-to-face encounters between signifying subjectivities.”

Whilst such an approach is invigorating inside the museum, the city centre of Málaga begins to feel like a grotesque inversion or parody of Picasso’s deterritorializing approach. Whereas the topology of the face is disassembled so that subjectivity flows smoothly across the evacuated space of the Real, the very topology of the city is disassembled so that it is capital that flows smoothly across the evicted properties of real estate. Picasso is reterritorialised and put to work, not so much as a challenge to norms of aesthetic expression but instead as a way to usurp culture itself and allow easy access for capital instead.

It is for these reasons that, in spite the museum’s sensitive and affirmative curatorial engagement with Picasso’s work, the veneration of Picasso elsewhere was, with a sickening irony, also suffocating the potentials of his own legacy and those who were also born or otherwise live here. You can only hope that the irony of the situation is lost on those in charge, otherwise the Picassofication of Málaga is nothing less than cruel. In approaching its already tenuous relationship to its most famous “son” in this way, the city’s local council actively stifles and neglects the sorts of spaces that might actually produce more credible local heroes and radicals in the future.

Picasso was never in this place; nevertheless, they ignore those who are here, who are challenging an establishment in ways Picasso did himself, who might likewise revolutionise the city’s culture in the present. But whereas Picasso is made abundantly visible, those who do live and work in Málaga today are actively invisibilised by his shadow.

In his talk given at the Over-Tourist City conference at the Universidad de Málaga, Louis Moreno discussed the shifting nature of gentrification and its relationship to “ground rent”. Once again, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus was brought to the fore, as Louis drew on the book’s chapter about apparatuses of capture, applying it to recent real estate developments in London’s King’s Cross.

For clarity, “ground rent” is that foundational exchange that makes the owning of property profitable in the first instance. A shop, for example, may lease its premises from a landlord, and so, although a tenant may produce income for themselves through whatever commercial activities they undertake, the landowner is always at the top of the economic hierarchy, feeding on all that happens below and wielding their power as the titleholder to influence the kinds of activity that are deemed to be legitimate, etc. The same is true of all property, including housing, with ground rent necessitating the selling of our labour in order to pay for the rental of our homes.

But the point for Deleuze and Guattari is how these different ground rents overlap and comingle. We must pay our rent, and so we go to work, but it is often the case that our workplaces often have ground rents of their own, and so we must work both to sustain ourselves, our workplaces, and other properties in our local community. In this way, as Deleuze and Guattari write:

Ground rent homogenizes, equalizes different conditions of productivity by linking the excess of the highest conditions of productivity over the lowest to a landowner: since the price (profit included) is established on the basis of the least productive land, rent taps the surplus profit accruing to the best lands; it taps “the difference between the product of two equal amounts of capital and labor.” This is the very model of an apparatus of capture, inseparable from a process of relative deterritorialization.

But there is a point at which our communities can shift, both by shutting down some institutions and replacing them with others. To explain this, Deleuze and Guattari focus on the politics of exchange (whether related to stock, labour or commodities):

Take two abstract groups, one of which (A) gives seeds and receives axes, while the other (B) does the opposite. What is the collective evaluation of the objects based on? It is based on the idea of the last objects received, or rather receivable, on each side.

Presumably, there will come a point when the farmer who sells seeds has enough axes, or perhaps needs axes less frequently than the axe-producer needs to sell them. Similarly, the axe-producer who buys seeds may reach a point where they need seeds no longer, and may in fact be capable of harvesting their own. This process of exchange is unlikely to be viewed as indefinite, then. Each side of the exchange will no doubt have some idea of when they reach the limits of their need. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they write of “the idea of the last objects received, or receivable, on each side.” They continue:

By “last” or “marginal” we must understand not the most recent, nor the final, but rather the penultimate, the next to the last, in other words, the last one before the apparent exchange loses its appeal for the exchangers, or forces them to modify their respective assemblages, to enter another assemblage.

Put another way, at what point must the seed-axe producer prepare to change their relations? At what point is it necessary to enter into a new seed-x or axe-x assemblage?

We will consider that the farmer-gatherer group A, which receives axes, has an “idea” of the number of axes that would force it to change assemblage; and the manufacturing group B, of the quantity of seeds that would force it to change assemblage. We may say, then, that the seed-ax relation is determined by the last quantity of seeds (for group B) corresponding to the last ax (for group A). The last as the object of a collective evaluation determines the value of the entire series. It marks the exact point at which the assemblage must reproduce itself, begin a new operation period or a new cycle, lodge itself on another territory, and beyond which the assemblage could not continue as such. This is indeed a next-to-the-last, a penultimate, since it comes before the ultimate. The ultimate is when the assemblage must change its nature: B would have to plant the excess seeds. A would have to increase the rhythm of its own plantings and remain on the same land.

From here, Deleuze and Guattari write a surprisingly beautiful passage on how this kind of exchange, this shifting of assemblages, is not just limited to economic machinations but rather underpins the “economics of everyday life”, which allows them to generalise the assemblages of production-consumption to refer to everything from alcoholism to love. They write:

We can now posit a conceptual difference between the “limit” and the “threshold”: the limit designates the penultimate marking a necessary rebeginning, and the threshold the ultimate marking an inevitable change. It is an economic given of every enterprise to include an evaluation of the limit beyond which the enterprise would have to modify its structure. Marginalism claims to demonstrate the frequency of this penultimate mechanism: it applies not only to the last exchangeable objects but also to the last producible object, or the last producer him- or herself, the marginal or limit-producer before the assemblage changes. This is an economics of everyday life. For example, what does an alcoholic call the last glass? The alcoholic makes a subjective evaluation of how much he or she can tolerate. What can be tolerated is precisely the limit at which, as the alcoholic sees it, he or she will be able to start over again (after a rest, a pause …). But beyond that limit there lies a threshold that would cause the alcoholic to change assemblage: it would change either the nature of the drinks or the customary places and hours of the drinking. Or worse yet, the alcoholic would enter a suicidal assemblage, or a medical, hospital assemblage, etc. It is of little importance that the alcoholic may be fooling him- or herself, or makes a very ambiguous use of the theme “I’m going to stop,” the theme of the last one. What counts is the existence of a spontaneous marginal criterion and marginalist evaluation determining the value of the entire series of “glasses.” The same goes for having the last word in a domestic-squabble assemblage. Both partners evaluate from the start the volume or density of the last word that would give them the advantage and conclude the discussion, marking the end of an operation period or cycle of the assemblage, allowing it to start all over again. Both calculate their words in accordance with their evaluation of this last word, and the vaguely agreed time for it to come. And beyond the last (penultimate) word there lie still other words, this time final words that would cause them to enter another assemblage, divorce, for example, because they would have overstepped “bounds.” The same could be said for the last love. Proust has shown how a love can be oriented toward its own limit, its own margin: it repeats its own ending. A new love follows, so that each love is serial, so that there is a series of loves. But once again, “beyond” lies the ultimate, at the point where the assemblage changes, where the assemblage of love is superseded by an artistic assemblage — the Work to be written, which is the problem Proust tackles…

Intriguingly, despite its deceptively dry delivery, we might use this same section of Deleuze and Guattari’s work to discuss the Picassofication of Málaga. As far as cultural production is concerned, and the (economic) validity of radical art, it seems that Picasso is precisely this last or marginal figure for those who oversee the governance of the city today. It is as if an artist-economy assemblage has long since passed its limit.

But there is nonetheless something that follows the limit: it is the threshold. “The threshold comes ‘after’ the limit,” Deleuze and Guattari write, “‘after’ the last receivable objects: it marks the moment when the apparent exchange is no longer of interest.” When the threshold is crossed, Deleuze and Guattari “believe that it is precisely at this moment that stockpiling begins.” And in Málaga, it is Picasso himself who is now stockpiled.

Following the life of Picasso, the city’s (already tenuous) relationship with a cultural radical is cauterised. It is as if, because Picasso was so productive, no assemblage with any other artist is deemed necessary, and so the city shifts the formation of its cultural exchanges, using the accrued products of its artist-economy assemblage with Picasso to sustain a new tourist-economy assemblage.

The artists who come after Picasso are jilted, discarded, made invisible through the devaluation of their activities, and all the while the culture of the city is threatened with stagnation, smothering its citizens for the sake of what is currently (economically) productive at the expense of all else.

It is a kind of utilitarian relation, perhaps, but in focusing specifically on the shifting value of ground rents, despite this kind of relation being functionally central to everyday life, it is precisely everyday life that suffers. Indeed, everyday life is itself devalued, so that the economic benefits of tourism trump the quality of life of those people who actually live and create in Málaga itself.

On our third day in Málaga, we returned to La Casa Invisible. Over lunchtime, the venue and its supporters had organized a demonstration against the various inane threats to its existence. As was soon reported by local press (awkwardly Google-translated):

From the building on Calle Nosquera 9-11 in the capital of Malaga, a day of “MOBILIZA-ACCIÓN” #LaInviSeQueda has taken place within the calendar of actions of the citizen space. On this occasion, a demonstration has not been called, but a new mobilization with “the idea of ​​staging that if they play La Invisible we will take over the city,” according to a statement. […] “The irresponsible claim of Mayor Francisco de la Torre is clearer than ever: to put an end to a consolidated social and cultural project with almost 16 years of experience,” they detail in the letter that they have sent to the media.

The demo was incredibly well-attended and might just have been the best organised demo I’ve ever been to. (Spot me briefly beneath a tree in this video taken by @adrianagru.) Leading the charge, a monstrous Major Francisco de la Torre, with devilled face, top hat and far-reaching limbs bobbing alongside a real-estate body. Behind him, a drum procession, followed by hundreds of marchers.

Not being a Spanish speaker, many of the speeches and chants were lost on me, but I learnt one: ¡La Invi se queda! (The Invisible remains.) Stefan also noted how some of the placards carried or attached to trolleyed sound systems reflected what those involved with La Casa Invisible were often reading.

Against a tendency in Britain to see political thought as anathema to political action, here there were no anxieties about wielding placards that referenced radical principles and concepts from political philosophy. That being said, the most accessible sentiments were inevitably by favourites. This included a quote from the late Foucault: “Where there is power there is also resistance”.

The whole action was intensely affective, and it is not the first to have occur in the city in recent months. As Gerald Ruinig writes in an invigorating article on the transversal website, describing an atmosphere that was certainly replicated on the march I attended:

Incompliant flight, breaking through the consumption and movement patterns of the expensive shopping mile, stares of disbelief from passersby and even most of the protest participants are astounded by what is possible on this day.

This was readily apparent when I bumped into a group of elderly Geordies I’d met in a bar a few nights before. “You causing trouble?” one of the men asked, catching me off guard. It took me a few seconds to recognise him, but once I did I explained, as best I could, what was happening. They left no less bemused than when they arrived.

How is this possible in a city that has become more and more beholden to tourism? That caves in to the assignment and handing-over of the city center to speculation, gentrification and touristification? Culture instrumentalized as attraction in the competition amongst cities and as brand in the service of tourism — from the claim to Picasso’s birthplace to the countless museum institutions erected of mediocre quality? How is this possible, above all, in a city that is now also shedding its liberal cloak and attempting to evict the sole remaining sociocultural oasis in the thoroughly-touristified desert of its center?

These questions are palpable, even to the non-Spanish speaker and, indeed, someone like myself who is visiting the city for the very first time.

From La Casa Invisible, we meandered through the centre of Málaga, stopping off in a number of the city’s plazas. Each one played host to a different performance, from traditional to interpretative dance and also a lot of singing, often to the tune of popular songs with their lyrics adapted for the protest itself.

The demo was intended to last from 1130 to 1330, but went on for at least another hour. At that time, the local policía upped their attempts at intimidation. First, this amounted to simply videoing protesters and gathering information; after 1330, the procession was stalked by three riot vans and police officers with riot helmets and firearms attached to their belts. The response felt acutely exaggerated; there was no possibility of this crowd, enthused with collective joy, turning violent.

The final stop was Plaza de la Merced, close to La Casa Azul, where there was more singing and a particularly affecting performance by a solitary dancer. The dance began with Capoeira-like attacks on the monstrous major, followed by a teasing of different audience members (offering up a yellow box — displaying the logo of a local gig economy company, something like Uber — before taking it away), and ending with the smashing of three ceramic roof tiles, which are ubiquitous across the city’s skyline.

Having not understood any of the songs or speeches, the message here was clear as day. The major’s liberalist obsession with property was stifling life in the city, not just in threatening the existence of La Casa Invisible as a free and accessible cultural enterprise but also life as it is lived more generally, which cannot be understood here without paying specific attention to its cultural traditions, its political radicality and its communal spirit.

There is a vibrant life beyond commerce here, one that feels even more special to a pitiful Brit. On our final evening, sitting outside one of three bars named after Picasso in the Plaza de la Merced, our conversation turned to political grief. In the UK, the phrase oft repeated is that the Tories are governing on borrowed time. But if a general election were called tomorrow, who would you vote for? Internally, I entertain the idea of not voting, despite being deeply cynical of those who don’t.

I feel increasingly tired of life in England. Each trip to Europe, especially around the Mediterranean, is stark in contrast to everyday life in the UK. Good food is easily accessible and markedly cheaper. A slower pace of life leaves more room to meditate on one’s own existence. One never feels quite so smothered by drudgery. Though this may just be a somewhat touristic perspective on la Vie en rose – as who doesn’t feel lighter when on holiday – there is a distinct kind of political hope felt here too.

For a few years now, as I’ve often documented on this blog, I have watched with keen interest as Mark Fisher’s work is taken up in other countries and translated into other languages. It is an interesting development for a writer who often feels so parochially British. But I have found that his critical view of life in Britain is an interesting measure for others to use. What often feels settled in the UK, what often feels past the point of no return, is far less settled elsewhere.

If history has ended everywhere, its passing has been marked relatively recently here. Other places in Europe lack Britain’s depressive liberal continuity. Whereas I am often left wanting to fight for something long lost, in Málaga and elsewhere this process of stultification and capture is still ongoing. There is far more active resistance, it seems. Nothing is taken for granted and no hegemony is taken as a given. Another world and another life is possible. Though it is no less under threat, the gaps in the firmament feel wider and most hospitable. And although there is anger and resistance in abundance, it is so heavily underlined by a visceral collective joy.

After the march, we take a siesta, then return to La Casa Invisible for drinks and a lock-in. Originally a club, La Invi’s present occupiers know how to make the most of the space that they are in. They sell bottles over the bar for cash and two local musicians play an hours-long set of improvised techno, facing off against each other to produce an infectious river of sound.

There is no DJ-raver assemblage here. There is no waiting for the “last” song. (A way to get around licensing laws? No fees to be paid on music no one will ever hear again.) The assemblage dissolves into a pure multiplicity of joy and celebration that I imagine lasting all night. But I do not have the stamina to find out. I walk back through the city centre alone in the early hours, having made friends with a few people who soon seem too tired to entertain a monolingual foreigner in a second language. I do not blame them. They have put up a fight today like I have never seen.

On our final day, before heading back to the airport to catch our flight home, Natasha and I visit the Centre Pompidou next to Málaga’s port — another monstrosity of capitalism. All cranes, cruise ships and shipping containers, it reminds me of Felixstowe, that “nerve ganglion of capital.”

Inside the Centre Pompidou, we visit a small exhibition of works by Lucio Fontana, which also features appearances from Yves Klein, Giacomo Balla and Piero Manzoni. Many of the works included form part of Fontana’s explorations of holes and slashes, perforating the flat topology of the canvas.

“I don’t want to make a picture”, Fontana said. “I want to open up space, to create a new dimension for art, to link it up to the cosmos as it extends to infinity, beyond the flat surface of the image”, helping to give rise to the Spatialist movement.

Here again, I feel a resonance with Málaga’s activists and radicals, who perforate the topology of the city in their own ways. But the past and present are cleft apart here still. It is abundantly clear that what is fetished in the city’s cultural institutions struggles to exist in actuality outside their walls. Indeed, just as Picasso is reterritorialised by Málaga’s local council, so is Fontana. Here, his holes are contained. The relation to infinity that he strove for so absolutely is ironically denied. The portals torn into canvases lead to nowhere. They are rendered black holes here, where possibility goes to die.

Nevertheless, La Invi se queda. The Invisible remains. The newest dimension of spatialised politics can be found in the heart of Málaga, and the local council cannot wait to flatten it, fill it with another gift shop perhaps, selling even more Picasso tea-towels, so that the city’s residents and tourists alike might use these former abstractions in the course of their drudgery. No other possible appropriation is allowed. Certainly not a true deterritorialisation of their limited purview of urban possibility. But I have no doubts that La Invi will continue to put up a fight, picking holes of its own in the fabric, the shroud, of the city’s Picassofication, ripping it up to start again.

After the last, infinity…

Albums of the Year

I found it hard to keep up with a lot of stuff this past year, and so I’ve been eagerly gathering together the “end of year” lists of just about everyone who’s posted one so far, on Twitter or elsewhere. I’ll probably spend most of Christmas playing catch up.

Though I don’t feel like I listened to much, the albums this year that did catch my ear ended up burying themselves deep. These have all been on repeat for days, at some point or another.

Ellen Arkbro & Johan Graden — I get along without you very well
Current Value — Platinum Scatter
DJ Hank — City Stars
Codeine — Dessau
Low End Activist — Hostile Utopia
rRoxymore — Perpetual Now
Daphni — Cherry
Kali Malone — Living Torch
DJ Q — Est. 2003
Nik Colk Void — Bucked Up Space
Lila Tirando a Violeta — Desire Path
Iceboy Violent — The Vanity Project

Drug War, Time War

I enjoyed watching Synchronic recently, in which paramedic Anthony Mackie gets a brain tumour on his pineal gland and tries to solve the mystery of a designer drug that is disappearing people or causing them to suffer bizarre and horrible deaths.

It just so happens that the drug affects the pineal gland specifically and allows the user to travel through time. With law enforcement not taking the emerging social crisis seriously, and with his tumour making the potential effects of the drug oddly intriguing to him, Mackie falls down a surreal rabbit-hole where he begins to lose his grip of reality — or “reality” otherwise begins to lose its grip on him.

Mackie is far from a puritan; occupation aside, he is on a path, it is claimed, to becoming “a junkie-paramedic cliche”. But when he is called out to a medical emergency involving his best friend’s daughter, who goes missing after taking the drug, Mackie seems torn between getting it off the streets altogether and abusing it for himself. It is an interesting development, to my mind, in that the film initially walks an uncomfortable tightrope between light social commentary on the bizarre scourge of designer drugs and the potential liberation offered by such radically new chemical compounds. That the drug affects the user’s sense of time feels appropriate to this. There are few topics that have so captured our attention as time-travel, but in almost every sci-fi film in which it is a major theme, we are presented with oddly abstract morality tales that insist time is the last thing you ever want to play with.

All of the Back to the Future films revolve around an escape from the temporality of certain social structures. In the first film, the enclosure temporally fought against is the family, although its enclosure must notably be affirmed anew towards the end if Marty McFly is to exist at all as a subject when he returns to the present.

The second film reveals time-travel as a weapon that can be used both for good and ill; in the future, Marty purchases a sports almanac that tells him the results of various sporting events, which eventually falls into the hands of his neighbourhood bully, allowing him to accrue great wealth and power by exploiting this knowledge and gambling across time periods. Marty must travel backwards and forwards in time in order to rectify this mistake and stop the development of a dark and dystopian future. This particular morality tale runs both ways — though Marty in the hero, he learns the hard way that his desire for self-actualisation through twisting time has as many potential risks as it does rewards. (Of course, he and Doc generally can’t help themselves despite this.)

Left with a considerable temporal mess, after becoming stranded on an “alternate” timeline at the end of the second film — it is not the present they hoped for, at least — the third and final film in the franchise returns our heroes to that period in American history when the nation-state and its body politic was far from settled, the Wild West — a space and time that continues to exert a powerful symbolic hold on the American imagination as a period of raw potential and possibility, prior to the settled political programmes that now define it.

This sort of return to historically significant (and significantly indeterminate) time periods is often where more positive examples of time-travel’s benefits are found. By way of another example, we might consider the recent TV adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, in which occulted film reels are fought over by political elites and those who resist them. The films show the Allies winning World War II — our reality, of course, but an alternate vision of the fictional character’s history — and so the films provide hope and a sense of potential new futures to a cast of characters living in a dystopian America that is ruled by the fascist coalition of imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

Whatever approach we take, time-travel narratives are essentially narratives about control in this regard — that is, control of our own destinies or the fate of the world in general. It is seen as a method of manipulation, of affecting the bigger picture, contrary to our otherwise minor role in time’s great expanse. But to turn to drugs as a way of manipulating time solely from the perspective of the individual is interesting. It aligns this sense of control with one that may be more familiar to readers of philosophy.

Gilles Deleuze’s understanding of “control” is the same, he acknowledges, as that of William S. Burroughs. Writing on and extending Foucault’s thesis of disciplinary societies, Deleuze notes that, whereas discipline takes place in “major sites of confinement” — that is, in space — control, for Burroughs, instead takes place in time. “Control needs time in which to exercise control”, Burroughs writes, but it also, notably, “needs opposition or acquiescence; otherwise it ceases to be control.” Control responds to the fact that there is always the possibility of resistance to its mechanisms, and so it knowingly holds open a (space-)time — read: time-as-enclosure — of possibility and becoming for its own benefit.

Though seemingly paradoxical, retaining this sense of a possible resistance works in control’s favour. “All control systems try to make control as tight as possible,” Burrough continues, “but at the same time, if they succeeded completely, there would be nothing left to control.” This is to say that control must allow the person subjected to it to retain a certain sense of becoming in time, if it is to remain control at all. Whereas confinement and discipline are more absolute and rigid, fixing us in space, control is more indeterminate and diffuse, providing us with the illusion of freedom through the paltry gift of limited “free time”.

It is precisely this temporal struggle that allows control and its dissenting subjects to persist and adapt. Consider how we relate to cultural time and its artefacts under capitalism — that is, within its totalising global market — which allows for the contradictory proliferation of arguments against its hegemony from within itself. The irony should not be lost on us that capitalism’s vast distribution network means you can have the Communist Manifesto rapidly delivered straight to your front door. Tales of historical alternates — real or imagined — are made readily available to all of us in the present, albeit with all tension removed. With everything “available” — or at least “consumable” — in the present, our sense of temporal becoming is diminished.

But this does not make the very expression of opposition to control impotent in and of itself. We must continue to resist, albeit with a little more cunning, so that we might stay one step ahead of control, rather than allowing it to remain one step ahead of us. If time is essential to control, it is just as essential that we fight for more time in actuality. Let us remember Deleuze’s famous adage: “It is not a case of worrying or hoping for the best, but of finding new weapons.”

These weapons must be temporal in nature. The Communist Manifesto remains one such example, if an “old” one, for the ways its ideas continue to haunt and inspire us through time, despite their apparent irrelevance in our restricted present. This is an argument made most famous, of course, by Jacques Derrida, in his book Specters of Marx, where he affirms the ways that the idea of communism haunts us, despite the suggestion that it has been vanquished by capitalism’s new universalism and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Francis Fukuyama later argued that the Soviet Union’s collapse precisely brought about the “end of history” — that is, an end to time’s symbolic advance — as the twentieth century’s political battles were settled and the world came to accept that any future was bound to be capitalist rather than potentially anything else. But the writings of Karl Marx linger on as a promise of another world and another future, making their historical arguments a kind of temporal weapon that aims to think the future otherwise.

Though a contentious argument in contemporary political discourse, we can nonetheless see similar processes of temporal control and resistance unfolding in many science-fiction films, in which time-travel is used as both a tool for fugitivity and capture. But in truth, few of the examples we might think of are wholly positive.

In the alternate worlds we depict, wherein time-travel is possible, its potentials are understandably like catnip to the curious, but the sheer complexity of time’s functioning always delivers the same lesson: meddle all you like, but you’ll only be left with a bigger mess to tidy up than you started with. The science of time-travel is so complex and dangerous, it can never be made accessible to the plebs. When it inevitably is, however, time dilutes the paternal function of our understanding of the universe, only allowing us to play so that we can learn lessons for ourselves the hard way. We wander into temporal chaos, through hubris, but also acquiesce, returning to linear time’s symbolic order.

That is, at least, how time-travel appears to us in so many films, where it is often representative of the highest form of technology — the ultimate Promethean flame that we better not steal from the Gods above. But what becomes of time-travel when the tables are turned, when such a power is not the preserve of gods or mad scientists but is produced from below, in the backstreets, in makeshift drug labs, in the mind? What if time-travel were understood as being properly psychedelic?

Capitalist realism loves to brag about its win against communism in the twentieth century, but so many other wars were not won, and the war on drugs is one of the most infamous “social” conflicts to be usurped by an unrelenting guerrilla warfare. I reckon the time war will be similar. And it is interesting to see films like Synchronic that — all sci-fi spectacle aside — seem to implicitly connect the dots. But in the end, not even Synchronic can escape the expectations of your average time-travelling fable, and so it struggles to make good on its own premise.

Halfway through the film, Mackie references Back to the Future himself, making the now-common observation that time-travel is a whole lot easier for white people. “The past sucks.” But it seems strange that the film never offers Mackie (or us) a sense of the future. He can only ever travel backwards. The future always remains strangely unknown — a truism that loses its edge when Mackie finds himself travelling all the way back to the Ice Age and sharing a fire with a nomad on the tundra.

This oversight is made all the more disappointing when it turns out that, in the end — and despite the light-hearted swipe at its predecessor — Synchronic echoes Back to the Future‘s morality tale exactly: family is everything, and there’s no time like the present.

Unfortunately for Mackie, in the film’s closing moments, it is made abundantly clear that he no longer has either. For a film that raises so many questions about the time-travel genre, approached from a genuinely interesting and modern angle, it dare not hypothesise any notable answers…

In the trenches of both the drug war and the time war, the potentials of psychedelia ares till yet to be fully re-established.