Covid Libertarianism:
Notes on Althusser and a Spanner in the Works of Ideological Reproduction

An irony in three parts:

The UK Home Office recently released a video advising the public that all “gatherings” are currently illegal. Parties, raves, baby showers, etc. It’s all against the law.

What’s disturbing about the video is its strange suspension between reality and fantasy. It very obviously apes the anti-piracy adverts that generations were forced to watch at the insertion of any VHS or DVD into a home media player. Whereas the original advert proceeds along a succession of obviously-staged scenarios, showing various hypothetical crimes, it feels perverse how, in this new serious-parody, the title cards and drum’n’bass soundtrack are instead interspersed between clips from police body-cam footage. There’s something very sinister about this to me — a lot more sinister than the otherwise cold, familiar gaze of an all-seeing CCTV camera that has happened to catch a crime in its vicinity. The way that this otherwise automated content-gather has been replaced by police officers storming into private houses feeling like a horrifically mundane expansion of the surveillance state. Body-cams are, as a result, in equal parts necessary for our safety from the police and for our further humiliation at their hands. This is to say that, yes, those people hanging out at a baby shower under quarantine are idiots, but that doesn’t diminish the horror of a police presence at a baby shower to me. That fact remains unnerving all on its own.

But that’s not the only concerning thing about this advert. In fact, it feels like a sort of condensed series of tensions and ironies all collapsed together. A further, perhaps more innocuous thought I had, for instance, was: I wonder how many of those currently lured in by raves and parties under lockdown are even old enough to remember the original advert being referenced?

Before I’d even finished having this thought, in swept another blast from the past, as FACT — the anti-piracy organisation — suggested the Home Office might be tempted to ape another advert in their future law-and-order campaigns: their own.

Where to start… First question: Does the Home Office’s advert infringe on intellectual property at all? It is certainly surreal to see an advert created for the purposes of imposing copyright and intellectual property law to be parodied for another purpose… But if that wasn’t all, as one Twitter user pointed out, FACT’s own tongue-in-cheek reply utilises an unofficial upload of their own content… It’s almost as if the law itself is irrelevant; all that matters is the proliferation of the message, even if that message is decisively against the proliferation of other forms of media…

A few others highlighted this strange disconnect between the advert’s content and its expression. For instance, Michael Oswell tweeted: “Bewildering that they’re overtly referencing the most mocked youth-oriented PSA of the last 30 years? Which completely failed?” However, as someone else pointed out in their replies, the UK government has form in this regard:

It’s a deliberate comms strategy designed to have the video shared widely out of mockery. This is becoming more and more popular and was used a lot in the 2019 GE, for example writing ‘Get Brexit Done’ in comic sans. It doesn’t matter if it’s mocked, it gets the message through

Originally tweeted by big ike (@isaacsbits) on February 18, 2021.

As I was thinking about all of this, I was reminded of Louis Althusser’s On the Reproduction of Capital. I must confess I only read this recently. Althusser’s reputation for dry, rock-hard Marxism precedes him, but On the Reproduction of Capital goes to great lengths to slowly unpack its argument, and is pretty readable and tractable as a result.

However, much of his argument feels further complicated by the political uncertainties and contradictions made by the pandemic. I briefly nodded to this on Twitter, adding that I couldn’t really be arsed to unpack a load of Althusser for the sake of talking about and further spreading an insidious PSA from the consistently problematic UK Home Office.

But I’m here to tell you, reader, that I have changed my mind…

Althusser begins his thesis by defining a “mode of production”, adding an additional — but no less essential — caveat, that any mode of production must include the potential for its own reproduction. He writes that, whilst we typically understand a mode of production to be a way “to wrest from [nature] the goods required for subsistence (hunting, gathering, fishing, extraction of minerals, and so on)”, or, alternatively, as a way to “make it produce (agriculture, animal husbandry)”, we must take care not to confuse either of these forms of labour-power for “a state of mind, a behavioural style, or a mood.” This is perhaps to say that, whilst we may understand hunting and gathering or animal husbandry as things that all human societies do — capitalist or otherwise — they only become modes of production when they are put into the service of a capitalist economy. In other words, any generalised activity that ensures our own survival only becomes a mode of production when it is ideologically instantiated under capitalism. Work is not a “mood” in and of itself, but must be combined with one — capitalist ideology — for it to be useful to a wider system. In this sense, modes of production are instead “a set of labour processes that together form a system constituting the production processes of a particular mode of production.” He continues:

A labour process is a series of systematically regulated operations performed by the agents of that labour process, who ‘work on’ an object of labour (raw material, unprocessed material, domesticated animals, land, and so on), using, to that end, instruments of labour (more or less sophisticated tools, and then machines, and so on) in such a way as to ‘transform’ the object of labour into, on the one hand, products capable of satisfying immediate human needs (food, clothing, shelter, and so on) and, on the other hand, instruments of labour for the purpose of ensuring that this labour process can continue to be carried on in future.

Such is my mind under lockdown, I’m left thinking about Minecraft. When I go out mining, I do so to gather resources so that I can build houses and go out on adventures, mostly for their own sake. But all the time I’m constantly on the look out for, amongst other things, diamonds. Diamonds aren’t valuable in the same sense they’re valuable in the real world. They’re valuable because they signify the top level at which you can reproduce the Minecraft labour process. This is to say that 90% of the diamonds I find are used to make diamond pickaxes. I mine diamonds so that I can continue to mine harder, better, faster, stronger.

Minecraft aside — help me, I haven’t been outside in so long — why is Althusser going into such painstaking detail about why and for what purpose we use our labour to extract resources? Because in laying things out like this, it becomes all the more obvious that this process, whereby labour is undertaken to ensure that the labour itself can continue, isn’t just materially necessary but ideologically necessary for capitalism’s continuation. After all, for a long time now, it has arguably been a lot less necessary for us to work as much as we do.

For Althusser, this ideological instantiation works in two ways. On the one hand, it is constituted by “production-exploitation” —

proletarians and other wage-workers must, just to survive, take jobs in the production that exploits them, since none of the means of production are in their hands. That is why they show up ‘all by themselves’ at the personnel office and, after they have been given work, set out ‘all by themselves’ to take their jobs on the day-shift or night-shift.

But, on the other hand, the wage-labourer is also set to work by “the bourgeois ideology of ‘work’.” This ideology, essentially, ensures and maintains the split between those who go to work and those who provide the opportunity to do so. This relation is constituted by the bourgeoisie, who supposedly adhere to a kind of capitalist contract, which Althusser breaks down into a series of short principles: “labour is paid for at its value”; respect for one’s labour contract; and the proliferation of different job opportunities so that every person can find their place. This illusion of a fair deal, though rarely enforced, “does a great deal more to make workers ‘go’ than repression does”, so Althusser argues. In fact, this is why trade unions become a necessary part of the class struggle. It is their job to uphold the bourgeoisie to their own contract and, at the same time, build class consciousness around how much extra work must be done to ensure this is the case. This is to say that the role of a trade union in the class struggle is to ensure that the bourgeoisie upholds its side of the deal and, cunningly, in the process, raise consciousness around how reluctant they are to do this, thereby undermining the capitalist system on the bourgeoisie’s own terms.

But if that was all that was needed to overthrow the system, we’d have likely done so a long time ago. And so, the reproduction of the means of production acquires another layer. It is not enough to ensure that work leads to more work, but that the ideological imperative to work is reproduced as well. This necessitates the existence of what Althusser calls “ideological state apparatuses”. The necessity to work does not proliferate on its own basis, but rather must be supported by a wider superstructure. We know what this is made up of already — primarily, school, but also “the church or other apparatuses such as the army … to say nothing of the political parties” themselves. For Althusser, it is precisely through the reproduction of this superstructure that the base necessity of work is maintained — or, as he puts it, “it is in the forms and under the forms of ideological subjection that the reproduction of the qualification of labour-power is ensured.” As such, when we say that school prepares our children for the world of work, this is true at the level of ideology as well as at the level of self-fulfilment — and that the two can become so blurred is precisely the desired result.

Under lockdown, the desired result has come under considerable strain. School’s out, many are working from home, and the government has generally been woefully incompetent. There is a lot of fallout from this, but perhaps the most egregious example can been seen in the average Covid libertarian’s attempts to fight for false freedoms — last discussed here.

It should come as no surprise, for example, that one of the central concerns of the Covid libertarians is that they can’t send their kids to school. The reasons for this seem confused, and that’s because they are. For the Covid libertarian, repression is to be combatted at all costs. That is, it must be eradicated absolutely. But their understanding of repression is so one-dimensional that they only become useful idiots for a more familiar pre-Covid form of repression instead. As such, when I hear Covid deniers going on about schools and going back to work and going round their friends’ houses, all I hear is: These new repressive measures mean that we cannot repress ourselves in the ways we are otherwise used to, through work, school, and appeals to law and order.

Whereas Althusser, in his book, is talking about workplace dynamics, we can surely imagine his analysis applying just as well to the ways that lockdown measures disrupt the more familiar political-legal hierarchy. For instance, when talking about ideology and repression, he explains that their essential relation means, “for the workers, reproduction of labour-power’s submission to the dominant ideology and, for the agents of exploitation and repression, reproduction of its capacity to handle the dominant ideology properly”. That is what we see when conservatives — whether small-c or big-C — rail against lockdown’s changes to day-to-day life. They don’t care about social freedom for all. What scares those in power is their own inability to handle the dominant ideology with their regular ease. Similarly, what scares the self-repressing contingent that supports them is the fact that the dominant ideology they have otherwise bought into — often literally — is not functioning as it should. What they are protesting, then, is not repressive state apparatuses as such, but the ways that their extension, under such extreme circumstances, has impacted even their own, usually shielded, interests.

This may bring us, tangentially, back to the Home Office video, ironically reproducing a video about copyright infringement in order to tell you not to “gather”. It is yet another example of the dominant ideology being mishandled, due to Covid’s broader disruption to business as usual. As such, rather than being a fun way to assert authority, it only exacerbates the social relation under strain, whereby the rules do not apply in the same way to those who impose them.

But, again, the application of the rule of law is, arguably, secondary. The memefication of Repressive State Apparatuses shows that, in these strange times — not necessarily restricted to the coronavirus pandemic — the message is less important than what the medium otherwise represents: the reproduction of a mode of (ideological) production in trying times. And this is the primary role of Ideological State Apparatuses: “the daily, uninterrupted reproduction of the relations of the production in the ‘consciousness’, that is, the material comportment of the agents of the various functions of capitalist social reproduction.”

That the government ironically reproduces an advert about the laws surrounding the illegal reproduction of media isn’t, then, all that ironic at all. It demonstrates how the rules have changed, or even how they have been inverted.

Let’s think about it this way: Covid-19 produces what Althusser parodically calls a “conflict of duties”, which usually contains within itself a “crisis of conscience.” These conflicts and crises arise when te “subjection-effects” of business-as-usual can no longer be adequately “‘combined’ in each subject’s own acts, which are inscribed in practices, regulated by rituals, and so on.”

And so, whilst many of us are no doubt feeling the mental strain of almost a year under lockdown in the UK, we also recognise how other forms of “subjection-effect” have been displaced and even eroded. We may not be entirely free to do as we please, but we have certainly been freed from most of the usual practices and rituals of capitalist realism. This is not to deny the impact of these conflicting repressions. It is rather to suggest that we might be better off thinking about these conflicts in depth rather than just rejecting any and all of them outright. We should think through each dissonance and the reasons for its appearing, rather than fire mindlessly at any and all Covid inconveniences.

Althusser ponders this kind of vigilance himself, albeit in his own workaday context. He writes:

How are familial, moral, religious, political, or other duties to be reconciled when ‘certain’ circumstances present themselves? One has to make a choice and, even when one does not make a choice (consciously, after the ‘crisis of conscience’ that is one of the sacred rituals to be observed in such cases), the choice makes itself.

Althusser uses the example of the contraceptive pill, and how it set various ideological standpoints in conflict with one another in the 1960s. It constituted a crisis of conscience for many in France, he suggests, particularly those faced with conflicting positions within their relevant familial and religious ideologies. Under lockdown, we see a far more damning crisis produced instead, where the tabloid press demonises those getting onto packed trains and buses in the capital, wholly eliding the conflicts of duty in play.

This is to say that going to work is, in itself, framed as a choice for the worker, and the worker who goes to work has made the wrong choice at the level of state politics. But the reality is that, for vast swathes of the working class, the choice makes itself — or rather, bosses make the choice that the government incorrectly gives to workers. Why does the government make space for this blatant oversight in their messaging? Precisely because the ideological subjection of the reproduction of labour-power must remain in place.

But must it really? In truth, the whole operation is thrown into crisis. This is not a localised conflict of duties but an absolute conflict of duties. There is no choice — related to familial, moral, religious, political or other duties — that is not in conflict with another choice to be made elsewhere. And this is surely why the British government has been so inept at handling the crisis.

This doesn’t apply everywhere, of course. There are many nation-states that are, more or less, back to normal. Coronavirus has not, then, disrupted the entire global system in the same ways. In fact, what has been most humiliated is the very outdated state infrastructure that the UK has previously exported to the world; now held up by that other floundering ideological power, the United States.

I wonder if this, in part, answers the question raised by Clare Hymer on Novara Media the other day, in her brilliant report on the rise and fall of the school-striking climate protesters:

For the best part of [2019], the youth strikers had the wind at their backs. Together with Extinction Rebellion (XR), monthly strikes forced climate breakdown onto the news agenda with a level of success not achieved by any movement previously. In September 2019, as part of a global week of action, 300,000 people participated in more than 200 events nationwide in what was the biggest climate protest the UK had ever seen.

The youth strikers’ message was clear — they wouldn’t stop striking until their demands were met. But two years on from the UK’s first strike, the movement appears to have all but fizzled out. While Covid-19 was certainly a factor — at least until Black Lives Matter broke the seal on mid-pandemic protest — youth strikers from around the country have spoken to Novara Media about tensions that fractured the movement from within. What really happened to the UK youth strikes?

Why was it Black Lives Matter that broke the seal rather than the climate crisis? Perhaps it is down to the fact that BLM can be easily connected to historical precedents. There is, of course, as Hymer points out, plenty of precedence for climate protest in the UK. However, whilst it is a movement that begins in the present, it is otherwise, by its very nature, future-oriented. BLM instead attacks a system of injustice and inequality that is foundational to classic Repressive State Apparatuses. And when the system as a whole is already floundering in the face of a new viral threat, it is arguably much easier to point out historical incompetence in the context of present incompetence. BLM’s attacks of Britain’s ideological firmament were, in their own way, shocking — as in, unexpected . But, considering how the country was barely functioning in every other sense, they were also inevitable. Coronavirus threw the entire system into the air; the government is lucky it was only a few statues that came crashing down with it.

Nevertheless, that momentum hasn’t dissipated, because the crisis hasn’t either. We remain trapped within conflicts of duty and crises of conscience, in which just about every imposition made by the establishment upon its subjects is either in conflict with itself or what uncommon-sense suggests must otherwise be done. As such, there remains a fissure between the general moral duty of staving off the infection rate as best we can as localised communities, and the utter incompetence of the government to make the case for that same choice as a political duty as well. Whereas the Covid libertarian set conflates all conflicts of duty onto one another, ensuring a rejection of one is a rejection of all, and therefore ensuring they are wholly impotent in their negativity, the more strategically-minded political subject should consider where the gaps in these duties lie, and prize them further apart to find the spaces of action still available to us that are lurking underneath.

The proliferating ironies of the UK Home Office are always — always — an easy place to start.

Notes on Acid Horizon

For all my banging on, somewhat speculatively, about a kind of conversation to come, where we can talk about cultural newness in the terms of the present and actually do justice to how pop-musical developments provide glimmers of a now we’re often too caught up in things to appreciate, this conversation held on the Acid Horizon podcast got right to the heart of things in the most brilliant way.

It’s very easy to say that we need to up our game and, instead of dwelling on clichéd readings of decades-old blog interjections, we need to focus on providing our own. But Will and Anton’s contributions here are precisely the sort of necessarily contemporary reading of hyperpop I’d felt was needed. As conversations go, it felt incredibly vital.

If you can’t already tell from my gushing, I was ecstatic listening to this. In many ways, it was vindicating. Two people who evidently know more about the musical impact of this moment than I do — theoretically speaking especially — elucidating its importance in a way I certainly couldn’t.

I do get a shout out towards the very end of this episode, when Craig mentions the “anti-hauntology” debate had around these parts explicitly, but the conversation prior to that had already moved on from the confines of that debate considerably. It’s not an addition to my calls to move the conversation along; it just does it. It is an example of where we could be at. Agree or disagree with Will and Anton, and I imagine the more academic nature of the conversation will nonetheless leave some people feeling a bit confused, they kicked the ball into a whole other court and it is thrilling to listen to them do so.

As an aside, I would like to highlight a moment towards the end, when Adam talks about a post-goth Fisher — a beautifully resonant reading that was so in tune with why this blog got called “xenogothic” in the first place — and shines a light on a tendency I’ve been trying to clarify more recently: the negation of the negation. Was SOPHIE a negation of goth? I’m not sure its that simple, but understanding her contribution more generally, as a negation of negation, feels like very fertile ground for further discussion. Again, that was the accelerationist way.[1] It made me wonder how this fits into Noys’ foundational critique, of the persistence of the negative and the affirmationism that it can otherwise produce. Which side is SOPHIE on? As the accelerationists demonstrated, it’s not such an easy judgement to make.

I haven’t had time to think on this any further for myself at the moment. Maybe this is just an opportunity to fold this episode of Acid Horizon into the mix. If you’ve been following the “anti-hauntology” debate between this blog and Blue Labyrinths in recent weeks, this really is a must listen.

[1] And, perhaps we should note, also the Ccru way — though I’m all for affirming the specificity of the 2008 moment, turning the Ccru’s post-2000s punk “nothing” into something new, they remain a generative multiplicity. Niall made a good point on Twitter I think, saying:

I want to contest the reading of the CCRU as relying on a singular mythic structure (Lovecraftian) for understanding of ‘the outside’. Doesn’t this elide the plurality of other myths also underpinning their work, like Burroughs, Drexciyan mythoi, other occult influences etc.?

Further Responses from Vince Garton and Ed Berger

In my previous post on this topic, in which Ed Berger and I basically swapped notes on Maoist dialectics in relation to Deleuze-Guattari and Badiou, I left a nod to Vince Garton.

After recently reading a book on Mao’s philosophical influences that Vince recommended at the end of last year, I imagined he might have something to say about the things we were discussing. And he did! Below is Vince’s comment in full:

Some excellent quotes from Badiou here — particularly love the one on “the contemporary theory of evil” towards the end.

I suspect that today the points of contact between Badiou and Deleuze (etc.) should be emphasised above the grand disputes. It’s notable that Badiou’s intellectual exclusivism on certain points contrasts with Mao’s own eclecticism, as sketched by Allinson. On one point in particular I would be inclined to go further than Allinson — the influence of Nietzsche. He demonstrates Nietzsche’s formative influence on Mao as one of his earliest encounters with Western philosophy, but Allinson declines the conclusion that Mao was “Nietzschean” because of his own analysis of Nietzsche. I don’t find this analysis convincing, but more importantly it’s one that is shaped by Nietzsche’s post-WWII reception in the West and so cannot have been Mao’s own perception.

We may recall that Lu Xun, one of Mao’s immediate influences, was an out-and-out Nietzschean for a time and remained in close dialogue with Nietzsche throughout his life. There is much more to be said about Nietzsche’s presence in Mao and his subterranean influence on modern China, and indeed since the 1980s various Chinese intellectuals have gestured towards him in more or less open ways.

The intellectual determinants of Maoism and modern China would need a book — or several dozen — to discuss properly, so I will leave it as flagging a useful contrast. “Badiou with Deleuze”, “Badiou with Nietzsche” might be more helpful than “Badiou contra …”, and certainly produce more useful lines of inquiry than the favoured turf wars of academics, which usually devolve into personal grudges only superficially litigated through philosophy.

Badiou’s fascinating gloss on the “one divides into two” as “the divided essence of the movement as One” comes off, to me, as more “Deleuzo-Guattarian” than D&G’s own summary dismissal of the formula in ATP. Ed’s caution on D&G’s treatment of that point seems fully warranted to me. The principle of contradiction-in-tension is essential. It’s sketched not just by Badiou and Mao, but crucially by Nietzsche and in various forms in premodern Chinese philosophy and certain undercurrents of Western theology.

What I would add, though, is that in my admittedly relatively limited readings of him Badiou’s particular interlinking of mathematics and philosophy with politics, his return to the material world, never quite comes off as convincing to me. His concrete political analyses, such as his history of the Cultural Revolution, tend to be quite superficial, to my mind. In our end-of-history universe it is (genuinely) more important than ever to think rigorously about the mechanisms and determinants of meaningful political action.

Badiou, then, could probably benefit from some correction in his own right — first from an ur-Marxian focus on the machinery of political economy in detail; secondly from a closer reading of Chinese intellectual contributions on their own terms, not just because of Mao but also because China is the most important and (in the West) least understood factor in great politics today and one of the few remaining sources of genuinely novel recombinations of philosophical analysis; and thirdly, in groping towards the determinants of political action, from those various much-maligned sources — like D&G and (!) Sorel.

As I began writing this post, Ed already responded to Vince himself too, focussing on Vince’s comments regarding Nietzche. The influence of Nietzsche here is definitely interesting, but Vince is right that Allinson’s book only deals with Nietzsche in brief. The short sub-chapter in The Philosophical Influences of Mao Zedong only focuses on Nietzsche’s striving to go beyond good and evil rather than explicitly dealing with how something like the eternal return (or whatever else) factors into his dialectical thinking. On this point, Ed writes:

Vince — your comment, especially your foregrounding of Nietzsche in Mao’s intellectual development, resonates with some stuff I was looking at yesterday after my initial response to XG. Namely, Alenka Zupančič’s book “The Shortest Shadow”. Zupančič’s focus is on Nietzsche’s comments that noon is not a moment of pure unity, but the moment that “one turns into two”. I’m wondering if this influenced Mao’s own take-up of Lenin’s momentary re-assessment of the dialectic in this manner. She foregrounds the generation of tension through this formula, and makes the important point that the Two that the One splits into simply isn’t two Ones (as D&G read Mao in ATP), but signals the emergence of difference, as the impossibility of a fixed relationship between two elements. “Dionysus the Crucified” is read through this lenses is the drawing of a dynamic relation that is unfixed between two elements, Dionysus and Christ. (Or in Williams-mode: Marxist-Leninism and Neoliberal Capitalism?)

This makes the D&G simplistic rejection of the One —> Two even more puzzling, as this is precisely the same dynamic that runs through the whole of ATP. I’m also wondering if this widens the lenses for the contact between Deleuze and Badiou happening here: Zupančič reads this as Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Event, and is the Event not both the germ and the gulf between Badiou and Deleuze?

On the other hand, I’m having difficulties thinking this in relation to the question of “metaterrorism”, unless metaterrorism is likened to Nietzschean parody, which takes affirmation and negation together and carries them beyond themselves (which fwiw seems to be how Klossowski treated “accelerate the process” itself).

I’d like to add my own two cents by trying to pick up on a few things in each comment simultaneously.

I’m glad, personally, that it’s not just me who is a little confused as to the precise nature of the disagreement between Badiou and Deleuze-Guattari here. I think Vince is right that the disagreements seem to be academic rather than explicitly political. Badiou’s animosity seems rooted in the fact that, as a student in ’68 when Deleuze was a lecturer, he was supposedly part of a student organisation that forced Deleuze to retract his Bolshevism(?). Sounds like classic student hijinks.

Either way, it seems there’s certainly some interpersonal drama that overshadows the actual philosophical disagreements. But that is also something that works both ways. Whereas Badiou had an axe to grind with Deleuze over his political activities (or apparent lack thereof) in ’68, Guattari had an axe to grind with Badiou over his uncritical Lacanianism. (Peter Barker has a funny line on this, when introducing Badiou’s 1982 Theory of the Subject: “Badiou’s reliance on Lacanian psychoanalysis was strongly at odds with the Deleuzo-Guattarian construction of a political unconscious. Unlike the anti-psychiatrist Felix Guattari, Badiou never underwent analysis with Lacan, and so crucially had no axe to grind with the institutional arrangements of Lacan’s Ecole Freudienne.”)

Beyond this, I am in total agreement with Vince’s overall point here. Something percolating alongside this discussion for me is the influence of American political and literary thought on Deleuze and Guattari at that time. One of the other books I’m drowning in at the minute as I attempt to haphazardly constructed an intellectual patchwork of influences on this topic is Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che, which explores the influence of “Third World Marxism” on the various revolutionary Communist groups active stateside from the ’60s to the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it also asks what Lenin, Mao and Che can teach political movements today that have been defanged by what Badiou might call the “ethical” turn in modern politics.

The edition I have has a preface by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, which bigs up the book, but does more to paint a picture of the present impasse than make any comment on how to deal with it. It is, again, superficial rather than asking perhaps the most interesting and difficult of questions: what might Lenin, Mao and Che mean to Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion, et al., today, in the aftermath of the twentieth century? I think that, broadly speaking, regardless of his style of presentation, penchant for maths, etc., this is the question that Badiou brings to the fore in the 2000s. For better or for worse, he attempts to update it to mirror the other “conditions” of our moment, reading this kind of thinking through the science or mathematics of the present, and this is perhaps his biggest influence on contemporary continental theory, and perhaps in part responsible for dissolving the Continental-Analytic divide, albeit monstrously. Žižek’s most recent book really takes up this kind of project, for instance. In Sex and the Failed Absolute, which I’m yet to properly dive into, he addresses the problem mentioned last time, around zero and sexuation, and considers it through the lens of speculative realism and quantum physics. Why? Because he takes up Badiou’s Althusserian streak, through which he suggests that new philosophies are always made possible by simultaneous advances in art, politics and science — Kantian philosophy would not have be possible without Newtonian physics and the French revolution, for instance.

That’s what I find interesting, personally, and accelerationism seems to be a similar attempt at this. It feels like its kind theory of the subject, which tries to formulate a new philosophy that properly responds to capitalism’s current crises. I find a reappraisal of the early accelerationist blogosphere especially interesting on those grounds too. I wholly agree with Vince, basically. My current obsession with Badiou is fuelled less by a belief in his project — and even less by an understanding of his mathematical arguments, which I do not possess — and more by an interest in how his inclusion in the development of accelerationism asks precisely these sorts of questions. “In our end-of-history universe it is (genuinely) more important than ever to think rigorously about the mechanisms and determinants of meaningful political action.” I don’t think I could have said it any better myself. I think that’s precisely what lurks under the surface of many of those early accelerationist blogposts that frame Deleuze with Badiou, and vice versa. It’s about the production of the new, on the one hand, but also how we can produce a “philosophy of action”, as Fisher called it, to appropriately respond to the new and even help fortify the conditions of its emergence. And I don’t think anyone in the accelerationist blogosphere, whether that’s yourselves or the first cohort, takes that task flippantly at all — despite frequent accusations to the contrary.

So, if I can do the same as last time and build around this a little, I’d like to firstly affirm again Vince’s comment that it is better to emphasise Deleuze and Badiou’s points of contact than their points of disconnection. That’s actually where this interest in Badiou has emerged for me, and which seems of particular importance to the early accelerationist blogosphere. Accelerationism was, for Williams, an initial rebuke of hauntology because he contrasted the Badiouian view on change with the Deleuzo-Guattarian view. Or, rather, as Deleuze-Guattari might put it, their subtly different conceptions of “the production of the new”.

I think I wrote on this in a post recently but I can’t remember where. I’ve been working on it for a book so I’ll re-rehearse my spiel below just for the opportunity to exercise my faculties, lol, and maybe this is a further pole to prop up this Nietzschean view of the Event with too.

Sam Gillespie demonstrates in his 2008 book The Mathematics of Novelty that there was a fissure between a Badiouian understanding of the production of the new and a more Deleuzian example. He notes how, for Deleuze, “the aim of philosophy is not to rediscover the eternal or universal, but to find the conditions under which something new is produced.” Gillespie notes that Deleuze’s “principal adversary” in this regard was not Hegel but Plato; “a Platonism of eternal, unchanging forms, existing independently of a world that is continually in a state of change.” It is philosophy’s responsibility, as far as Deleuze is concerned, to uncover “the conditions under which that change occurs.” (This contrasts with Badiou’s Platonism, but he believes less in forms than Platonic “truths”, or maybe “mathematical forms” which amount to the same thing — equations that exist independently of a world that is constantly in a state of ideological change.)

The conditions under which the new is produced are, in one sense, the conditions of being itself. To jettison creativity into some outside is, in a sense, disastrously theological. Deleuze does not believe that all of life emerges from a Oneness — be that one God or the Oneness of the universe – but from a pure multiplicity. “The ‘lines of flight’ that should be familiar to even the most casual reader of Deleuze find their convergence not in a singular point,” Gillespie notes, “but in the various ‘bifurcations’ and ‘divergences’ they assume in the course of their own movement.” Be that the evolution of life itself or the movement of cultural production, the New will generate itself.

Badiou, however, does not assume “that being exists as a creative power, but rather that to think being we need nothing more than a formal assertion that nothing … exists.” Gillespie asserts that these two positions are not so different — “contemporary mathematics attests to the fact that zero” — as Badiou’s starting point — “and infinity” — or Deleuze’s notion of multiplicity — “are coextensive.” But when we consider the production of the New, the difference between these two positions becomes quite stark. We can imagine, perhaps, a generative infinity, but what is it to create ex nihilo? (Numogrammatic senses tingling.)

This tension at the heart of contemporary philosophy is arguably mirrored by tensions within cultural thought at the same time. Badiou positions himself as a militant revolutionary, believing, as Gillespie summarises, that “it is from the inconsistency of the void that something new can appear within the realm of human experience as such: ruptures or breaks within knowledge that force us to redefine our general categories and standards of determination.” Badiou’s thought emerges as a newly-rationalist punk sensibility within contemporary philosophy. This may not be explicitly contra Deleuze, but we might argue it is contra the Deleuzian orthodoxy of the neoliberal academy. In this sense, might we say that Deleuze’s conception of an infinite multiplicity begins to sour against the false meritocracy of centrist progressivism? Is a deferral to the innate creativity of being now seen as the philosophical equivalent of gradualist reformism and market vitalism?

It must be said that this flattening of philosophical and capitalist conceptions of novelty have not gone away. In fact, the two have only become more entangled. Many of those thinkers associated with “speculative realism”, whilst paying heed to Badiou’s various challenges, nonetheless found gaps in his framework. In particular, there is the question of “who is doing the counting?” Badiou’s philosophical deployment of zero and set theory from mathematics produces — as Graham Harman once wrote (in a since-deleted blogpost) — “a militant human subject” that is capable of “disrupting given states-of-situations in truth events.” The problem, however, is that it is precisely that human subject that has been occupied by a parasitic capitalism. As Ray Brassier once argued, it is not simply mathematics that makes an imperative of understanding being as a void but capitalism itself. Indeed, as Brassier notes, this is precisely the argument made by Deleuze and Guattari. He writes: “If capitalism is the name for that curiously pathological social formation in which ‘everything that is bound testifies that it is unbound in its being, that the reign of the multiple is the groundless ground of what is presented, without exception’, it is because it liquidates everything substantial through the law of universal exchangeability, simultaneously exposing and staving off the inconsistent void underlying every consistent presentation through apparatuses of ‘statist’ regularization.” Un-Brassiered, the argument here is that Badiou gives too much numerical agency to the human subject; in a way that we might say is politically contra but philosophically resonant with Land. It can be militant in its counting but it can never be more militant than capitalism itself. In trying to ontologise mathematics, Badiou is only doing capitalism’s work for it.

And yet, this is not to proclaim victory for Deleuze and Guattari either. In fact, the goal is perhaps to synthesise their positions. Deleuze and Guattari, after all, also deploy zero and mathematics in their philosophy, but they speak of zero as intensity rather than as an innately generative extensity. This position has its own problems in the present too, but maybe that’s why their conjuncture is so generative. As Fisher suggested, they help us keep an eye on the other’s blind spots.

Intriguingly, I only just found another Brassier essay on Deleuze and Badiou’s coming together this morning — notably taken from a 2000 issue of Warwick’s philosophy journal Pli; mid Ccru era — which may help attach this brief overview of the production of the new in Deleuze and Badiou to the questions regarding Nietzsche. It’s an essay in which Brassier compares Deleuze and Badiou’s thinking of the dice-throw. The whole essay is worth reading but it has a very nice conclusion, which I’ll also end on, that knits Deleuze and Badiou together in a way that might be particularly generative for this conversation:

Let’s conclude by recapitulating the basic philosophical parameters of the disagreement between Deleuze and Badiou on the question of the dicethrow. Badiou himself sums up the opposition by reinvoking Mallarme, with whom he aligns himself here against the Nietzsche-Deleuze tandem. For Nietzsche-Deleuze ‘Chance comes forth from the Infinite, which has been affirmed’; whereas for Mallarme-Badiou, ‘the Infinite issues forth from Chance, which has been denied’. What then are the philosophical consequences of this slight, yet nevertheless crucial alternation? On the one hand we have the Deleuzean dice-throw as instance of anorganic vitalism. This dice-throw affirms the whole of chance in a single throw; it is the auto-affirmation of cosmic Chance as One-All in which the affirming ‘I’ is cracked and the thrower’s identity dissolved. This is the dice-throw as vital figuration of the great cosmic animal. On the other hand, we have Badiou’s dice-throw as index of the stellar matheme. This dice-throw is an undecidable subtraction separating an irreducibly singular configuration of the alea, and dissolving the cosmic unity of Chance in a gesture that simultaneously reaccentuates the void’s untotalizable dispersion and crystallizes the Subject. This is the dicethrow as mathematical quantification of the stellar void.

So we seem to be confronted with an insuperable conflict of philosophical interest: the event as subjective destitution versus the event as subjective constitution; the event as auto-affirmation of the One-All versus the event as puncturing subtraction from the One and dissemination of the All; a manifold of actual chances coinciding in the sovereign necessity of Chance as a virtual whole versus a plurality of separate and incommensurable chances subtended by the hazard of an infinitely empty void. And the conflict effectively remains insuperable or undecidable until a decision is forced. But perhaps the ability to decide in favour of the undecidable is precisely what separates subtractive intervention from purified affirmation; in which case the quantification of the stellar void punctures the qualitative unity of the cosmic animal.

It’s at this point in the Badiou-Deleuze discourse that my own “I” is cracked and dissolved, but understanding how this is relevant to accelerationism, and how it can be regrounded upon that question of thinking “rigorously about the mechanisms and determinants of meaningful political action” is my main concern here. It might be a fool’s errand, although I think not, especially in light of the conversations we’ve all had over the last few years. This is what I find carried forwards in “unconditional accelerationism” from Williams’ initial accelerationist gesture: “a more strategic examination of precisely where … evental sites and historical situations exist within our current time: those regions which appear, from the in-situational point of view, to be marginal, and properly undecideable.

A Response to Ed Berger

A great comment from Ed on my previous post which, as ever, I cannot allow to languish below the line. Ed writes:

One of the things I’ve returned to off and on lately has been thinking some of these questions in Mao’s (originally Lenin’s, but also Nietzsche’s) inversion of the dialectic, where it’s not the combining of the Two into the One, but the division of the One into the Two. These are some half-baked thoughts at the moment, nothing fully formed or concrete, but for the sake of think-through a extended blogriff—

There’s several different ways that One into Two gets thought, one notable version between the coupling of it to Two into One, a future One that reconstitutes itself from the division into two: the revolutionary break, followed by the reconstitution of the New society. Al Heng-Wu seems to take this position, with the division of One into Two taken as the formula for socialism itself; as Marx implicitly suggests in the Critique of Gotha Program, socialism is marked by the continuation of capitalism alongside the germinal communism. Here it’s a stagist theory, where socialism is marked by the contradiction between capitalism and communism, communism as something beyond socialism sees the capitalist element falling away. Given that this was written in 1964, it’s a prescient anticipation of China from its Dengist period onward.

But then there’s the other way to see it, which seems to have been Mao’s own, at least from the 1950s onwards, where the reconstitution into the One is denied (the famous rejection of synthesis), and the whole idea of stagist progression begins to break down. What interests Mao is the division of the Two into something like the production of a tension, and it is through the tension itself that historical movement takes place.

Setting aside questions of synthesis and progression, I’m having a hard time not seeing Alex William’s efforts in texts like “Xenoeconomics” as doing something similar. He makes some comments that are more horrifying that Land’s ever could be, through the appropriation of the forms of dystopia dreaded by right and left alike, and slams them together in a way that is difficult to grapple with:

“… as a way out of the binaries of a leftism which is utterly and irretrievably moribund, and a neoliberal economics which is ideological bankrupt, we must bend both together in the face of an inhuman and indefatigable capitalism, to think how we might inculcate a new form of radically inhuman subjectivation. This entails the retrieval of the communist project for a new man, AND the liberation of the neo-liberal quest for a capitalism unbound… In thinking how to deliver this subjectivation, an unbinding towards the absolute, an absolute adequation of post-human subjectivity to capital, the crucial concept must be that of institutionalization—agglomerative masses of power (including states, corporations, NGOs, religion, discrete humans), all of which need to be dissolved. In a sense this is a continuation and merging of both Marxist-Leninist Communism and Neo-Liberal capitalism…”

It might be easy to see the Two —> One dynamic in play, with the talking of ‘bending together’ and ‘merging’, but the absolute contradiction between the two seems to me to suggest something else at play, especially when the acephalic dimension is revealed (“we must continue this drive towards dissolution”) — and Mao’s dialectic is utterly acephalic. Williams is proposing a Cultural Revolution of the most extreme form. This is dialed back in the #Accelerate Manifesto with Srnicek, but I see faint hints of this there too… Thinking most of the discussion of the play between verticality and horizontality, the “Plan and the Network”. This is a marriage in the sense that the contradictions are placed side by side, a tension radiating from them…

I’ve not read much Badiou at all, so I’m not sure how any of this might mesh (or not) with his own Maoism. I do find it interesting that the One —> Two is involved in his crit of D&G, and in ATP they assault this as an escape that is stillborn. “One becomes Two: whenever we encounter this formula, even stated strategically by Mao or understood in the most ‘dialectical’ way possible, what we have before us is the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought.. One that becomes Two, Two that becomes Four… Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree”. But what’s interesting to me is their drive to position themselves on the ‘third’ beyond the binary — the holey space between the smooth and striated, the sorcerous edge between town and forest, the metallurgist who is between the sedentary and the nomadic — they too are concerned with the production of tension, tension as the space of maximum development, where destratifying experimentation can occur. And like Fisher constantly pointed out, this is what is at work in the notion of the plateau:

“Intensity as it is understood in the D/G/k-p sense has no connection whatsoever with screwface PantoGoth male climax nor the cult of the Extreme Sensation… Rather intensity means the state of being in tension… Being intense means staying on a plateau”

Not sure if any of this fits together in any meaningful way lol, just fragments that have been tumbling about in the noggin.

There are a few things I’m really interested in here. Ed is right to intuit some vital meshing. I agree with a lot of it, and will inevitably end up repeating some of Ed’s points in my spiel below, but I’d like to look at the critique he mentions in more detail and see if I can better thread some of my more recent thoughts together with it for the sake of clarity (my own, if not anyone else’s.)

Regarding this inverted dialectic, as Ed rightly notes, Badiou uses this in his infamous essay written against Deleuze and Guattari and the rhizome, “The Fascism of the Potato.” It might be worth starting here, at least as a way to summarise Badiou’s argument, and his particular view of the “One becomes two” contra Deleuze and Guattari. Then maybe we can move around it a bit and explore it in Ed’s terms and in relation to his references and some of my own.

Badiou is particularly scathing here. It might be his most infamous essay — and he knew it too; he initially published it under a pseudonym. In reference to the genealogy of the rhizome, which, Deleuze and Guattari write, takes “the Tree or Root as its image [and] endlessly develops the law of the One that becomes two, then of the two that become four”, Badiou says:

Only a moron can confuse the Marxist dialectical principle ‘One divides into two’ with the genealogy for family trees concealed in ‘One becomes two’. For what the dialectic says is the exact opposite of the ‘strong principal unity’ imputed to it; it is the divided essence of the movement as One, that is, a principle of the double precariousness of the One:

a) The One has no existence as entity, there is unity only from movement, all is process.

b) The process itself has its internal being in scission.

For a Marxist, to think the One is to think the unity of opposites, that is, the movement as scission. Dialectical thinking is the only thinking of revolt in that, precisely, it shakes to its roots the omnipotence of the One. For dialectical thinking, the essence of the One is the labour of antagonism that constitutes it, which is the Two.

This sounds even more accelerationist, even in its most vulgar sense, than Deleuze and Guattari and Land — and this is worth bearing in mind when we return to Alex Williams’ “metaterrorism” later on. Badiou continues:

Deleuze-Guattari’s ‘dialectical’ arboriculture, all absorbed as they are to oppose the ‘multiple’ philosophy of the potato to the vertical despotism of the tree, is only a painful falsification. Lenin already remarked that the essence of the dialectic is never the strong and presupposed unity, but unity of opposites, which at once relativizes the concept of the One beyond return: ‘The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.’ [Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics”.]

This seems to describe capitalism to me, and indeed Deleuze and Guattari’s reformulation of capitalism is apt in this regard, but whereas they affirm it for its potentials — leading to Land’s “Deleuzo-Thatcherism” — Badiou rejects it utterly.

This is where Badiou’s conception of a “fascism of the potato” comes in, I think. It’s not really Fascism Classic, but perhaps similar to what Badiou has more recently called a “democratic fascism”.

Democratic fascism, for Badiou, is a kind of dislocation. Regarding Trump, for instance, Badiou says he effectuates “a sort of dislo­ca­tion of lan­guage, a sort of pos­sib­il­ity to say any­thing, and the con­trary of any­thing — there is no prob­lem, the lan­guage is not the lan­guage of explan­a­tion, but a lan­guage to cre­ate some affects; it’s an affect­ive lan­guage which cre­ates a false unity but a prac­tic­al unity.” Deleuze and Guattari seem to engage in something similar for him, I think. Indeed, we might argue that the dislocation of language is primary in their work, but I think it is more this sense of a false unity that he finds most abhorrent. He continues:

The problem of the dialectic is certainly not that of an excessive force of the One but rather that of its weaknesses. Nonetheless to think unity, albeit as tearing apart and as labour of division, this is what philosophy needs to apply itself to, against the leftist Manichaeism, which loses the thread of the unity of opposites and sees salvation only in the redoubling of the One, which flips into its opposite, for in the dialectic two time One does not equal Two but once again One — the only Two worthy of the name being the essence in becoming of the One.

Leftist Manichaeism is quite a brilliant coinage, I think, and subtly distinguishes the good versus evil, right-side-of-history lib rhetoric, which Badiou thinks is “evil”, from his Maoist dialectic. But this is where I also become a little confused.

I’d actually really like to hear Vince Garton’s thought on this, if he sees this — I’ve been reading Robert Elliott Allinson’s book The Philosophical Influences of Mao Zedong recently, based on his recommendation of it on Twitter at the end of last year. There’s an interesting attempt to trace the trajectory of Mao’s influences in it, idiosyncratically combining the Hegelian dialectic with ancient Chinese philosophical notions of change and, in particular, change as understood through the I Ching.

The I Ching always makes me think of the Ccru, but that might just be a hangover of my layman’s understanding of its recombinant potential, which I always understood as recombinant in a Deleuzian sense. But I suppose that this is a point that the Ccru and the accelerationists actually draw out of Badiou and Deleuze later on.

I want to come back to that point, but let’s conclude Badiou’s attack on Deleuze and Guattari first. He continues:

‘One divides into two’ always means: ‘One is equal to the self-dividing-into-two’, and never: ‘One becomes two,’ This is true for the amoeba — as living unity that reproduces itself — as much as for capitalist society — as unity of a struggle to the death between two antagonistic opposites.

What good comes from these small mistakes for Deleuze and Guattari?

The thing is that they have recognized in the dialectic their true adversary.

Deleuze’s transitory historical strength has come to him from being the bard of the multiple in revolt against the bourgeois One (which, in turn, is only the One of the two that constitutes it as rivalry: two superpowers, two bourgeoisies, classical and state-bureaucratic). As long as the bourgeois One is the antagonistic target of Deleuze, at the time of the uprising against the pseudo-centres, there will be a clientele for the scattered revolts. What is to be done against the One of the proletariat, which qua scission is precisely that mobile and precarious One in which the revolt, through the element of antagonism that traverses it, finds not only its place but also its affirmative dimension? Deleuze and Guattari have discovered only this poor trick: forcefully to reduce the dialectic to the One of reactionary metaphysics, Thus they imagine that they can keep the monopoly of the ontology of the revolts.

The point that Badiou eventually reaches is that, as far as he sees it, for Deleuze and Guattari, “All scission having been eluded, all choice circumvented, the rhizome follows its course towards the unbridled apology of the anything whatsoever.”

Now, I won’t profess to have a full grasp on this, and so my thoughts are, in many regards, as preparatory as Ed’s own, but this all sounds quite familiar to me. This is, in part, the background for Badiou’s use of ∅, or the empty set, which he borrows from Lacan’s theory of sexuation. I’m not capable of explaining that in a hurry, or at all, but I think we all know another version of this same argument, as Sadie Plant makes the same (wo)maneuver in Zeroes + Ones. [That pun is a crime but I can’t bring myself to remove it.] Woman is zero for Plant and Lacan — that is, a consistent multiple — but Badiou extends this category out further to mean the proletariat more generally as the revolutionary subject.

The point is perhaps to avoid the phallic One, the individual, the bourgeois phenomenological subject as the subject who experiences the world always in the first-person rather than the non-person.

Mark Fisher makes an interesting point in relation to this in an old k-punk post from 2005 — notable for being so early on, I think, and in the immediate aftermath of the Ccru moment — in which we recounts a trip to Middlesex University to see Peter Hallward give a talk on Badiou, contra the “State-Continentalist wing” of philosophical orthodoxy in UK academia that he’d just finished railing against with the Leamington Spa massive. Recounting the general argument of the talk, he writes:

Peter situated Badiou’s project in the wider sweep of a ‘subtractive turn’ in French theory. The tendency to subtract, Peter claimed, was a constitutive feature of figures as diverse as Bergson, Sartre, Levi-Strauss and Foucault, but Peter was interested in a particular inflection of this general trend in world-dismantling: a philosophy that aims to strip away ‘the worldly’, that would tear down the Garden of Earthly Delights.

Such a philosophy finds itself in conflict with the phenomenological tradition stewarded by Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger, even if it wouldn’t define itself by opposition to it, given Badiou’s well-known exasperation with ‘”fighting against,” … “deconstructing,” … “surpassing,” … “putting an end to”‘. It’s a question of sidestepping that trajectory, which is itself defined by the problematics of deconstructing and putting an end to, and which lures the unwary into its bad infinity of labyrinthine existential despondency with invitations to critique, always critique.

There’s an air of Lyotard’s critique of Marx here. (Side note: Badiou has regularly been in dialogue with Lyotard and there is a very good account of their coming-togethers written by Matthew McLennan.) Mark continues:

For me, this sets Badiou firmly outside (what has been called) ‘Continental Philosophy’, which has functioned as a synonym for the three H’s and their legacy. In addition to the substantive philosophical differences between Badiou’s rationalism and the phenomenology of the Hegel-Husserl-Heidegger axis , the very concept of a philosophy qualified by locality is profoundly opposed to everything Badiou writes.

This is important to note because this is central to Badiou’s critique of Deleuze, according to Hallward. In his seemingly scathing presentation, Mark writes that Hallward was seemingly “motivated by the claim that, although Deleuze in particular has been seen as breaking out of the Heideggerian intensive death camp”, he nonetheless remains “caught in the white magical circle of phenomenology.” Again, this seems reminiscent of a sort of Deleuzo-Thatcherism. In its phenomenological grounding, no matter how radical its schizophrenic allusions feel, the schizophrenic remains a multiple One, or an inconsistent multiple rather than the consistent multiple of the revolutionary proper. And so:

Badiou’s philosophy, by contrast [to Deleuze’s], is defined by its refusal of Reform at all levels; his substractive ontology is not then part of post-modern/structuralist nostalgia for presence, fullness, authenticity — such nostalgia is nowhere more in evidence than in the denial of the possibility of these states: hence the depressive plaint of the always-already undead: of course, presence was never possible, so of course all we can do is mourn the non-existence of what was never there, nor ever could be

Here I think the relevance of Mark’s proximity to the Ccru is important. What is this always-already undeadness if not an echo of his Flatline Constructs? But we must also remember that Mark is in the throws of his hauntological turn at this point, and so there’s a tension when he goes on to explicate how the Continentalist’s “pious melancholia turns shilly-shallying lack of commitment into the highest ethical injunction,” he nonetheless affirms the strength of Badiou’s philosophy as “a philosophy of engagement and active decision.”

At this stage, Mark’s thought feels like it is on a knife-edge. The following year, hauntology would reach its peak, becoming a veritable buzzword in a wider musical discourse. But there’s already a shift in his thinking at this point, where he starts to inflect his hauntological thought with this philosophy of engagement. (If Fisher borrows and appropriates from Derrida’s writings on the “act of mourning”, perhaps we can say that Mark really affirmed the action inherent in that process.) I was reminded of this earlier when Enrico asked who Alex Williams was referring to in his “Against Hauntology” post when he suggested that “Some of the stronger pro-hauntology arguments have run along neo-Benjaminian lines, holding that it is not merely an act of mourning for a non-reclaimable past, but rather a way of redeeming time.” I think Williams is referring to Mark here, or at least a tendency that he was ruminating on. (I’m sure I’ve read a k-punk post where Mark says this explicitly but couldn’t find it. That being said, this one gets sort of close.)

What I’m basically trying to say is that, despite his reputation — and perhaps his own attempts to remain true to a particular vector — Mark, for better and for worse, often feels like a Deleuzo-Badiouian in his hauntological and accelerationist writings, which we might argue precisely constitute a “unity of opposites”. I think this is made especially clear in his post “Reflexive Impotence”, later turned into a chapter of Capitalist Realism, in which he begins by asking why “French students out on the streets rejecting neo-liberalism, while British students, whose situation is incomparably worse, [are] resigned to their fate?” The answer, he says, “is partly, also, an answer to why a group like the Arctic Monkeys connect with British teenagers.” Not because of apathy or cynicism but reflexive impotence. And, as I wrote this time last year, the Arctic Monkeys represented a kind of subject that hauntology, as far as Mark was concerned, was intended to critique.

But many of these thoughts are likely still formulating. In 2005, Mark seems to be quite conscious of that fact — of being caught between critiques — even if accelerationism hasn’t been so named yet. Concluding his post on Hallward’s talk, with a point that I think remains true, even 16 years later, he writes:

The most productive area of conceptual discordance is that between Badiou and Deleuze-Guattari. Perhaps we’re in a position to use each to decode the blind spots of the other. Deleuze-Guattari have never been properly assimilated into Continentalism (the sad vitalist zombie that stalks the halls of the academy in their name is testament to that) because they too are philosophers of commitment, in which philosophy knows its place: as a theory of action, not a substitute for it.

Affirming Deleuze and Badiou as philosophers of commitment in their own way feels like a trajectory that is made possible by the Ccru’s various combinations of thought, which are at once Deleuzian and Continental, but wholly against the academic orthodoxy they were otherwise exposed to around Warwick. I’m not sure if this is the same as D+G’s already-third position, as Ed frames it, but perhaps it is the new third way for the 2000s. It is clear that a proper embrace of this trajectory requires a move away from Land’s Deleuzo-Thatcherism but Ed is correct when he notes that this potentially leads to a space even more terrifying that Land’s rhetorically abrasive lib-triggering tendencies.

This, again, is something that comes out of Badiou, I think. Williams’ discussions of “metaterrorism” in his “Post-Land” post, for instance, probably sound Landian to most people in retrospect, at least to those who associate the new far-right accelerationism with his influence. But Williams writes in favour of “a kind of meta-terrorism” following Badiou, not Land —

a kind of meta-terrorism, operating on the plane of capital itself (ideally, in the conception which has obsessed me for some time, in the form of a capitalist surrealism, the exploitation of credit based financial systems for their primary destructive potential. This destruction is not merely to be thought on the ability to trigger vast crashes, which is readily apparent, but further their capacity to destabilise the consistency of value itself). That this consists in taking more seriously the claims of finance capital than even its own agents is the very point itself, and is in a sense an actualisation of Lyotard’s gestures towards a ‘nihilist theory of credit’. Further we might conceptualise the collective forms necessary to actualise this praxis as being very much in the mode of the kind of Maoist party delineated by Badiou in Théorie du Sujet, an institutional actor capable of allowing the ephemeral vanishing term of history (now surrealist avant-capital, rather than the proletariat of course) to cohere, for as long as required to enable it to achieve the absolute dissolution of all structuration, including itself.

There is a lot to unpack here — probably too much for now. In fact, this is something I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about for months now. It was Badiou, not Land, who provocatively advocated for a new terrorism when accelerationism was in its infancy. Žižek recognises this in a few places too, noting Badiou’s bravery to make such a point in the 2000s especially.

To provide an example: in an interview with Cabinet magazine, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Badiou expands on his notion of Evil, first explicated in his Ethics. In line with this rejection of Heideggerian phenomenology and, perhaps, by proxy, an Arendtian ethics, he sees Evil in “the banality of ethics” rather than affirming a new ethics that must emerge from our understanding of “the banality of evil”. Ethics, in this sense, he writes, is reduced to a kind of nihilism — a “will to nothingness, which is like a kind of understudy of blind necessity.” Blind necessity, he continues, is a byword for “economics”, or perhaps what we might now called, after Fisher, “capitalist realism.”

The irony, for Badiou, seems to be that what we call “evil” today is any form of commitment to change; any form of militancy. But the capitalist evil of blind necessity is internalised as its own banality. It is no longer “I was just following orders” but “I was just adhering to capitalism’s performance principle.” And so, from here, Badiou says:

That’s why the idea of evil has become essential. No intellectual will actually defend the brutal power of money and the accompanying political disdain for the disenfranchised, or for manual laborers, but many agree to say that real evil is elsewhere. Who indeed today would defend the Stalinist terror, the African genocides, the Latin American torturers? Nobody. It’s there that the consensus concerning evil is decisive. Under the pretext of not accepting evil, we end up making believe that we have, if not the good, at least the best possible state of affairs — even if this best is not so great. The refrain of “human rights” is nothing other than the ideology of modern liberal capitalism: We won’t massacre you, we won’t torture you in caves, so keep quiet and worship the golden calf. As for those who don’t want to worship it, or who don’t believe in our superiority, there’s always the American army and its European minions to make them be quiet.

Note that even Churchill said that democracy (that is to say the regime of liberal capitalism) was not at all the best of political regimes, but rather the least bad. Philosophy has always been critical of commonly held opinions and of what seems obvious. Accept what you’ve got because all the rest belongs to evil is an obvious idea, which should therefore be immediately examined and critiqued.

My personal position is the following: It is necessary to examine, in a detailed way, the contemporary theory of evil, the ideology of human rights, the concept of democracy. It is necessary to show that nothing there leads in the direction of the real emancipation of humanity. It is necessary to reconstruct rights, in everyday life as in politics, of truth and of the good. Our ability to once again have real ideas and real projects depends on it.

It is important that Badiou is making these comments after 9/11. It seems that, whilst the immediate reaction is to denounce the terrorists as evil incarnate, Badiou’s own Baudrillardian controversy was to say that terrorism is instead an effective force against capitalism’s necessity. Williams’ point is perhaps more relevant to the 2008 financial crash. The way that the crash wholly ungrounded not just capitalism but American exceptionalism — crises of capitalism were no longer just problems for lesser countries who hadn’t implemented their markets properly, as the US used to always say to Latin America — laid the ground for a new terrorism that could exacerbate that moment. The problem is, perhaps, that we were unwilling to engage in that sort of activity, precisely because 9/11 had removed it from the armoury of political stratagems.

Badiou adds on this point:

Terror is a political tool that has been in use as long as human societies have existed. It should therefore be judged as a political tool, and not submitted to infantilizing moral judgment. It should be added that there are different types of terror. Our liberal countries know how to use it perfectly. The colossal American army exerts terrorist blackmail on a global scale, and prisons and executions exert an interior blackmail no less violent.

Badiou, at this stage, has little quarrel with terrorism, so long as it answers to an “ethics of truth”, which “always returns, in precise circumstances, to fighting for the true against the four fundamentals forms of evil: obscurantism, commercial academicism, the politics of profit and inequality, and sexual barbarism.” How this compares to Badiou’s later response to the attacks on Paris, however, is noteworthy. (It is also noteworthy that Land and Fisher came into dialogue for a final time in response to his more sheepish comments on terrorism enacted against his own nation.)

How this fits into Williams’ own comments, I cannot say. This is still a point I am trying to unravel. I hoped I’d find a way to work in some preliminary thoughts but it is too knotted and this response is long enough as it is. But perhaps this lays some more groundwork for dealing with that question of just how extreme the philosophical negativity of early accelerationism could be — yes, even more negative than Land, as Ed points out. It’s the knottiest point of my own recent acc historicising, and one which seemed to turn people off acc far quicker than anything Land has said more recently. But considering how it does actually retain some fidelity to Badiou and his Maoism, it is intriguing that this heresy is far more explicitly leftist than it is Landian.

This is an interesting provocation in itself. To affirm Badiou over Land would probably seem like an attempt to sanitise accelerationism, according to any of the NRx crew. But they have no idea that Badiou was the real badass in the 2000s. It’s his legacy that still needs to be wrestled with.

A Moment of Renewal:
Notes on Badiou/Acc

I was entertained by this iceberg meme the other day.

It’s interesting to see how swiftly things have been moving of late. Interesting omissions to the meme, which I’m sure I saw on an earlier version of the weird Twitter iceberg from a year or two ago, include Rhett Twitter and patchwork. Granted, no one is really talking about those things anymore or has been for some time. But if we’re talking about deep iceberg dives into occulted Twitter knowledge, it is interesting how this is more or less limited to talking points — albeit some perennial — from the last 12 months or so. Truly, the age of Cave Twitter is over. Now it’s… “Wheel Twitter”? (I don’t know either.)

In the XG Discord, someone (with tongue firmly in cheek) lamented my absence from the iceberg’s nether regions. But I found it intriguing that both “salvagepunk” and “Badiou/Acc” showed up there. Their inclusion seems to be entirely down to my recent banging on about them both in recent months.

As such, I have come to the only reasonable conclusion: I am not on the iceberg; I am the current that moves it!

Jokes aside, “Badiou/Acc” is an interesting and telling coinage. It’s certainly not mine, although I recognise the sentiment. I can only imagine what sort of strange group chat it has emerged from. But it tempted me to make a meme of my own.

Vince’s post about accelerationist genealogies continues to echo down the years. “On the most superficial level, accelerationism has existed for about a decade. At its unspoken core, it is impossibly ancient.” He forewarns against etymological and genealogical projects that appeal to some sort of true history. And he was right too. It doesn’t take long before any study of modernity’s accelerative tendencies reveals itself to be woefully promiscuous. “With the appropriate historical sensibility, modulations of accelerationism soon well up in widely divergent contexts, all over the world, advancing along the storm-front of industrial capitalism”.

I’m increasingly of the opinion that a history of accelerationism isn’t going to help us — at least not a historical idealism — because, as Vince points out, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is best not to think of accelerationism, in the first instance, as a set of ideas at all.” It is “more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines.”

When we make attempts to consider the trajectory of this transhistorical nerve-jangling, are we not already talking about historical materialism? A history of the idea tells us nothing, but a history of the structures of feeling it responds to just might. But structures of feeling are much more difficult things to account for.

Surely we can only ever speak of the present in that regard? And surely, if we are “accelerationists”, that is all we’re really focused on anyway? Unfortunately not. The return to Land in 2016 (and the Ccru’s punk attitude more generally) was necessary, but it seems that we need another post-punk turn more than anything, or else we’ll never get beyond the new orthodoxy of an accelerationist ’90s fetishism.

But it’s not hard to understand how we ended up here. The past, after all, is seductive. In our late-capitalist present, where we have more access to its various twists and turns than at any other time in history, it is very easy to wander into the temporal labyrinth and get lost in there. This is one of the hang-ups of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus for me. It has come to feel obsessed with the past in a way that arguably undermines their own generative project. We need only look to how their work is deployed in the present to see why.

Our investigations of the past can be creative endeavours, of course, producing counter-histories and salvaging maligned potentials still ripe for actioning. But it can also be its own form of (hauntographic) capitalist capture. We produce our own labyrinths, like click-rats, seeing how many Wikipedia hyperlinks it takes us to get from “crème brûlée” back to Hitler. We become seduced, as if by a siren on the rocks, by history’s secrets, and the connections that bind them. We are all too prone to derail any intellectual project otherwise concerned with the present and the future. Deleuze and Guattari even make a case for this seduction themselves, writing, albeit affirmatively, of such sumptuous secrets that “became the form of something whose matter was molecularized, imperceptible, unassignable: not a given of the past but the ungivable ‘What happened?'”

What’s interesting about Badiou, in the context of accelerationism, is that he interjects in this seduction, warning us about our blind spots. This is undoubtedly why Alex Williams deploys myriad references to him in his assailment of hauntology. Hauntology is seductive, he writes. Of course it is. “If all pop music now is a process of mourning the past, (most commonly seen in the retro-necro indie scene, but clearly observable in dance music, hip hop and metal) then hauntology’s emphasis on placing that process centre stage is the obvious logical move.” But we’re no longer is philosophising when we dwell on the past like this, at least not according to Badiou.

In his critical introduction to Badiou, Jason Barker has a nice summary of his definition of philosophy early on. He writes:

The task of philosophy is not to lament its own demise, but to think through the ‘conditions’ of its renewal, and to prepare the ground for its possible return.

In light of the recent debate around anti-hauntology, this may be immediately resonant. We can’t just go around saying whether things are new or not without first defining the terms of our debate. Because, even if we think we’re defending newness against hauntology, when we debate a newness relative to the past, rather than in the immediate context of its appearing in the present, we’re still in the realm of the hauntographic.

This is something that a dozen Redditors mistakenly believed was an effective counter-argument to the celebrating of SOPHIE’s newness. All they do is limit the debate. Because, yes, at the level of sonic aesthetics, there’s probably nothing immediately new about SOPHIE’s music, other than the fact that, at the most superficial level, it is abrasive on your senses and their sensibilities that have otherwise been taught to deride her pop palette. But to think that’s the be-all-and-end-all of the discussion betrays a mind-numbing laziness. The point is rather to consider the following: what are / were the conditions of SOPHIE’s sonic emergence? What is it about the present that allowed her music to emerge when and as it did? What was it a response to? What did it carry forwards? Who was she as its carrier?

To answer all of these questions requires a far deeper consideration of the moment we live in, and what distinguishes it (materially rather than just aesthetically) from ten years ago. That’s readily apparent even at the level of political discourse. For example, I remember the way that even some of the more “progressive” corners of the music press regarded SOPHIE with utter suspicion and cynicism prior to her transition and public coming-out. It is deeply uncomfortable in hindsight. What changed that allowed a transgender pop star to exist suddenly without suspicion and second-guessing? And to what extent did she change that by her own volition?

We can (and should) ask these same questions of accelerationism. Plotting a retroactive idealist map to its emergence doesn’t really tell us anything. It may even superficially undermine the project at hand. The material questions of its appearing, then, should return to the fore. What was it about 2008 that allowed this project to emerge? Culturally, politically, et al.? Was it simply to renew and reground the work of the Ccru, which had become so mournful in its own aftermath, and carry it forwards into the present? Not just celebrating Land as an exemplary heretic but asking how the group’s broader questions, and the reasons for asking them, have changed.

It is for this reason that “accelerationism” — or at least Williams’ initially unnamed Badiouian response to hauntology as a sonic critique — must be “a more strategic examination of precisely where the pop-musical evental sites and historical situations exist within our current time”. And this is a task we have to go about consciously.

This is why I’m increasingly of the opinion that Badiou should be central to any discourse regarding accelerationism going forwards. Precisely because he’s the key jigsaw piece that has been forgotten. (And then, perhaps, to Laruelle after that… And then to who? Who is that figure now? Who is the anti-Laruelle?)

This is, in part, because, without Badiou, we allow the conversation to slip back into the PoMo ineptitude he was otherwise brought in to fight against. But also because we can understand his inclusion in this debate in its own strategic sense. For instance, can we imagine any of the developments of the last decade and a half happening without him? Would there be speculative realism without Badiou? The answer to that is probably a pretty concrete “no”. But would there have been accelerationism?

Most engaged in conversations around accelerationism now would probably respond, “Wait, Badiou who?” But looking at the blogosphere of the late-2000s, it wasn’t Land or Deleuze and Guattari who were the focal point, as they have become, once again, over the last five years. It was Badiou, complicating and unsettling their intellectual dominance. Indeed, it is Badiou’s militancy — his commitment to renewal and return — that initially powered the project and shielded it from the hauntological tendencies that were, at that time, dominant in the blogosphere (and, I’d argue, are dominant again, even though people reject the term itself).

This does not mean we have to resurrect some Badiouian personality cult, however. “Badiou/Acc” misses the point. The point is, rather, to (re)consider accelerationism, as a philosophy, in his terms. If only because we have forgotten them.

As such, as far as accelerationism is concerned, we might retool Barker’s summary slightly as follows:

The task of accelerationism is not to lament capitalism’s / communism’s demise, but to think through the ‘conditions’ of its renewal, and to prepare the ground for its possible return.

The internal “capitalist/communist” split here is, perhaps, between r/acc and l/acc, arguing for a renewed capitalism and a renewed communism respectively. But then u/acc goes a step further and reasserts still Badiouian crux of the problem at hand. (This is, notably, something I tried to affirm in my own expansion on u/acc, and before I’d ever read any Badiou — that is, its emphasis on what Simon O’Sullivan called “the missing subject of accelerationism”.)

In the 1980s, when everyone was writing about the death of Marxism in the midst of the Cold War, Barker writes that, for Badiou:

The crisis of Marxism still demanded a subject to think it — a subject of the crisis — even if Marxism was no longer sufficiently qualified as a doctrine, or credible as a grand narrative, to do so. Moreover, the fact that the Marxist vocabulary, with its sacred talk of States and revolutions, was now completely sterile made no difference to the ‘heterogeneous political capacity’ of Marxism to explore new ways of doing politics. Here, then, Badiou had risen to the challenge of postmodernism by liberating Marxism from academicism on the one hand, and distancing it from the dogmatism of the party on the other hand, while at the same time managing to avoid postmodernism’s more dubious political side-effects (nihilism, historical relativism).

The #Accelerate reader deals with the twenty-first century legacy of Marxism in a similarly heretical sense. But it still circles around this missing subject, never quite landing on the fissure at its heart. The latter essays in the collection focus explicitly on the potential of philosophy’s — or politics’ — renewal after the apparent end of history, but they don’t quite touch upon the subject who is to do that renewing. Credit where due, Reza Negarestani’s “Labour of the Inhuman” gets very close, and problematises that very question of a subject. This is, undoubtedly, because it is the subject of the crisis who is most in question. As such, it would be a few more years before the Xenofeminist Manifesto got even closer.

Still, the challenge to be wrestled with here remains close to Badiou’s own. Following the failures of accelerationism in the 2010s — both the perceived retreat into sanitised party politics and the Christchurch shooting — the crisis of this half-baked term nonetheless requires a subject to think it. (It feels a bit pretentious to be equating Marxism with Accelerationism here, but then we might argue that they are inherently related to one another.) This is perhaps one way of interrogating the Brenton Tarrant’s of this world, who some described as the kind of postmodern subject accelerationism first sought to critique — not a subject who thinks the crisis, but an unthinking contemporary subject.

What debates around accelerationism even go near these questions today? How do we even begin to ask such questions without falling back into nihilism and historical relativism? As far as I’m concerned, and at least in the popular arena of accelerationist discourse, nihilism and historical relativism are precisely where we are at again.

As such, it has broadly been my feeling that, since accelerationism’s utterly calamitous year in 2019, this critique has fallen on its own sword. Its original challenge to postmodernism has been (perhaps fatally) infected by the very postmodern nihilism and historical relativism it was initially intended to forestall.

This is not a nihilism in the Brassierian sense — his affirmation of nihilism as a kind of inverted positivism, a Promethean negativism — but instead a lazy catastrophism. And the historical relativism, as far as I’m concerned, refers to an accelerationist thinking that beatifies the influence of Land without any consideration for the accelerationist debate as it has continued in the twenty-first century beyond his own downfall into Twitter boomerisms.

It would be just as relativist to scrub Land from the record entirely, of course. The return to Land that occured in the 2010s was, again, very understandable at the time. It was a return that sought to renew accelerationism and combat the “transcendental goodboiism” — as someone recently put it in a group chat — that l/acc had started to become known for, and perhaps made stagnant due to its proximity to the Obama years. But the process of this renewal got swept up in the right’s response to the same crisis, which ended in Trump. Now that Trump’s gone, we have been presented with another opportunity, to reaffirm and renew the calls that accelerationism was initially grounded up, back in 2008.

So yes, “Badiou/Acc” — but also an accelerated Badiou, extending his heretical Marxism / Maoism once again into the present. That was accelerationism’s initial gesture in 2008 — a way to renew and reground the questions asked by the Ccru in the 1990s, but which responded to the present. This is to say that the accelerationists of 2008 came into existence precisely because they did not live in the Ccru’s present anymore. They asked how (and if) those questions could be applied to today, and made newly generative in the process.

The same strategic response is needed once again — perhaps more than it ever has been before. Because it’s not the first blogosphere’s time anymore either. As such, a new generation that hopes to breath new life into this strange beast should be wary of LARPing the interests of their predecessors, whilst forgetting all the lessons learned. The iceberg meme, though I’m loath to make the mistake of taking it too seriously, is telling in this regard nonetheless. Already we are watching a superficial Twitter debate make the same mistakes of two previous blogosphere but with an extra helping of impotence.

Instead, we need to seriously think through the ‘conditions’ of accelerationism’s renewal in the here and now, and prepare the ground for its possible return as a vital current within contemporary thought that demands the new instead of more of all this.

Further Notes on Temporal Specificities

Matt Bluemink has written a further response to the anti-hauntology debate that he inaugurated last week, which is, in part, a response to my last post here.

I have a few points of contention here. First, Bluemink writes in favour of a real hauntology. “There are significant differences between Derrida’s and Fisher’s utilisation of the term … and I should first clarify that anti-hauntology is a response to Fisher and not to Derrida.” It is precisely their disarticulation that I disagree with. There are differences between them but I think Fisher’s use of the term is a translation of Derrida’s argument from politics to culture. It is a way to reintroduce the political stakes of Derrida’s point into an apparent cultural stagnation, rather than the vague appropriation it is said to be. Fisher’s hauntology, then, leads to Derrida’s, in much the same way that Simon Reynolds’ writings led young music fans to Nietzsche and Deleuze. Together, Fisher and Reynolds, in their use of hauntology, constructed a gateway to thinking about questions of the new, informed by the philosophies of the 1990s. That is an important foundation to consider going forwards.

For Bluemink, the problem with hauntology — and I’d argue this applies to both its Derridean and Fisherian sense — is that “we are always left discussing the present as a reference or footnote to a specific place in space and time, i.e. the loss of the communist horizon.” Again, this is the point of affirming accelerationism as a discussion that was explicitly constructed in response to the original hauntology debate. When we debate the continued relevance of Fisher’s hauntological writings, we end up shadowboxing a position that he further developed and, in some respects, moved on from. This isn’t to say we should disregard his old thoughts, but we should at the very least consider them in the context of the thoughts that followed, especially when they differ so much from the clichéd appraisal of his thinking.

This is my primary contention with the debate so far. There is a lot of noise here, a lot of feedback, and if this is a debate worth having — and I think it is — I think we need to clean up a lot of that noise. That requires we get a better sense of the timeline we’re contributing to, or else we risk short-circuiting and undermining the debate being had.

As an example, I feel this noise is exacerbated when Bluemink writes something like:

In order to truly break free of the constraints of hauntology we must look at SOPHIE as changing the rules of the game from within. If it hadn’t been for her tragic death who is to say that she may not have become the next Madonna? Or rather something else entirely: a totally new kind of pop culture icon?

I pointed this out before but, again, this is a passage of two halves. On the one hand, we’re affirming SOPHIE as a sort of revolutionary and, on the other, mourning her lost future. With this kind of slippage in mind, the argument of my last post is that hauntology and accelerationism (or anti-hauntology or popular modernism) clearly do not cancel each other out.

What we have on display here is a cognitive dissonance. The question becomes: Is it a dissonance that matters? I don’t think so — which is to say, I don’t think we need to ultimately exorcise it — but we should be more aware of it. When we begin a debate by affirming one side only to repeatedly slide back into the position we’re supposedly opposing, we have to ask deeper questions regarding what is at stake and what is at play here.

This is why I think that, if we are going to engage in a periodisation of recent pop cultural innovations contra Fisher, we should be more attentive to the nonlinear periodisation of Fisher’s work as well. Each one of this books is, effectively, the product of a process of salvage from his own blogging activity. Capitalism Realism (2009), Ghosts of my Life (2014) and The Weird and the Eerie (2017) are all heavily based on blogposts and articles written in the 2000s. The chronology of their publication does not necessarily reflect the progression of Fisher’s thought over time, so much as these books are instead products of an organisational process — his organisation of his thinking — which otherwise happens in real time on his blog and in his essays elsewhere. (This is not a process special to Fisher, it must be said. I think it is how most people write books, honestly.)

So, when we talk about a pessimism that is prevalent in Fisher’s work — and it is something that he is very much known for — we are only really talking about an attitude he explored in depth in the first decade of this century. His writing in the 2010s — and, indeed, a lot of the 2000s texts he reworked in the next decade — are of a very different tone, shaped by the reinvigorating events of 2008, and it is from that time on that he is aiming towards a very different kind of project. My request, then, is that if we’re going to claim to update or respond to Fisher’s hauntological thought, understanding how he himself developed these arguments is surely the first thing we should be doing.

This isn’t simply a point of academic hair-splitting. It raises serious questions around how Fisher’s hauntological thinking continued to influence his work. The Weird and the Eerie is, I think, a prime example. Whilst it revisits decade-old k-punk posts, such as his series on the “pulp modernism” of the Fall from 2006, it highlights how modernism was always spectral and prefigures far more explicitly the “acid communism” that was to come, which was not a nostalgic reappraisal of the 1970s but rather an attempt to consider how the new — in the radical sense he was more familiar with — could still be produced under the conditions of the present and, notably, without melancholy. (Bluemink goes onto reference Wendy Brown and we should note that her critique of left melancholy is one Fisher took on absolutely in the 2010s, even to his own detriment.) As far as The Weird and the Eerie in concerned — any consideration of acid communism is, of course, unavoidably speculative — whilst the Fall played with the ghoulish and the grotesque, they weren’t haunted. Their pulp modernism was projective, speculative and dealing with the horrific immanence of now.

This sort of atemporal haunting within class struggle — i.e. it is the proletariat that spooks the bourgeoisie, rather than simply haunting them (which transforms theirs into an active relation rather than a simply reactive one) — is prevalent in many proto-accelerationist writings. Consider, for instance, Herbert Marcuse’s famous line about “the spectre of a world that could be free”. Marcuse isn’t talking about a lost future but a future that “haunts” us precisely because we lack it. This is relevant to Bluemink’s mention of “the disappearance of the communist horizon”. We can say that, whether the horizon is in view or not, it’s still over there. It’s still a lack; something we don’t possess — and we should never hope to possess it. The shifting nature of a horizon is how progress is made. But the point is rather that horizons can be both positively and negatively perceived, depending on the direction of travel. This is how hauntology and accelerationism remain in dialogue with one another. One looks forwards, the other looks back — but they’re both still looking at horizons.

When we consider horizons in this way, we see how we are enveloped by them. Together, they can frame a given moment’s Overton window. And so Bluemink is correct, then, when he says that hauntology “is the cultural result of a world that has reticently accepted the fundamental tenets of capitalist realism; a world in which popular modernism had become a nostalgic trace of times gone by.” But, again, we find ourselves slipping around Fisherian chronologies here.

Fisher’s writings on hauntology roughly precede his coining of the phrase “capitalist realism”. This is important to note. For what it’s worth, Capitalist Realism still reads to me like Fisher’s most recent book. It is an immediate work, informed by the moment of its publication and his prior decade of writing. Whilst it would be an exaggeration to say he went through some sort of intellectual “break” after it, we should nonetheless note that, after Capitalist Realism, his writing became increasingly reflective of an explicit sense of joy and optimism (even if his books did not).

All of this is important — to me at least, but I am a pedant — because when Bluemink says that “it’s important to note the temporal distinctions implied in coining a term specifically after hauntology”, it seems we are failing to grasp the wealth of terms already coined in that same moment — a moment which is, by this point, quite expansive and even a little stagnant in itself. As such, it seems to me that Bluemink is appealing to temporal distinctions whilst broadly ignoring all the distinctions that actually exist and complicate his argument.

This is to say that, whilst I can agree that what it is important to have a word other than popular modernism that resonates more explicitly with the conditions of the present, when we ignore the use of “capitalism realism” and “accelerationism” to do precisely that, we precisely lose the temporal distinctions already in play. What Bluemink sees as a new injunction, I see as already aged. We come back around to my initial issue with Bluemink’s first essay: “There’s a paradox at work in critiques of hauntology when defenses of musical futurism, no matter how valid, end up echoing debates had 15 years ago.”

Similarly, when Bluemink goes on to say that accelerationism may be relevant but he is less willing to accept it with all its present baggage — a fair comment — it is precisely because accelerationism was disarticulated from its specific temporal moment and made Landian again rather than — as Williams explicitly defined it — “post-Landian”, that these sorts of issues have dogged it in recent years. Suffice it to say, these points around temporal specificity are very important and, if that’s a point of agreement, I am trying to emphasise that we should put the work in rather than simply appeal to it vaguely.

This is particularly apparent when Bluemink discusses Stiegler — a detour in his essay that, I must say, I really enjoyed. Without recanting the argument fully, I would like to focus on the concluding instance when Bluemink writes, “Whereas Land is nihilistic in his assessment of this automated technical system, Stiegler is hopeful.” All the more reason, I think, to affirm the post-Landian valence of accelerationism in 2008, when it was first named as such. Land was effectively retconned as an accelerationist — made its father rather than its foundation; or rather, made its progenitor rather than the ground on which later arguments were built, often contrary to his own positions. If Land is the primal father of accelerationism, the accelerationists did all they could to kill him. (Questions regarding how and why they failed are important to consider, broadly speaking, but they are irrelevant here.) Point being, the sorts of discussion that brought the term “accelerationism” into wider usage are very much aligned with Bluemink’s appraisal of Stiegler (who was, of course, a very important figure for many of the writers who emerged out of that accelerationist moment, directly and indirectly — Yuk Hui and Reza Negarestani are the first to come to mind.)

But we must go a step further than simply acknowledging such arguments and counter-histories exist. If we’re talking about temporal developments of thought and culture, I think it is necessary we put everything in its right place.

This brings us to Bluemink’s consideration of the references I previously highlighted, and he does acknowledge that his argument shares many similarities with the writings of Alex Williams or Robin Mackay. He writes that, perhaps like accelerationism before it, “anti-hauntology” is

a term intended to provoke and ‘ruffle feathers’; intended to put a positive spin on a theory that in my view had become too pessimistic. The fact that it highlights aspects of the discussion which were brought to the table almost 20 years ago can only be a positive thing. I may be in broad agreement with someone like Alex Williams on this matter, but that doesn’t mean that a new engagement with a similar critique from totally different period in time, especially a period where artists like SOPHIE have infiltrated the mainstream in a way that certainly wasn’t imaginable in 2008, isn’t a valuable one.

I agree with this closing point, but I don’t agree that this resonance can only be a good thing. In saying that, we once again undermine the very stakes of the argument at hand. Again, if we’re going to make appeals to temporal specificity, then we cannot have it both ways. This is why the argument raises a red flag for me, and perhaps captures my frustration. That Bluemink’s appraisals of Arca and SOPHIE are resonant with essays and articles written before either of them was on the scene does suggest something of a cultural lag here. It further undermines the claim made regarding their own newness. But my point is that that’s our problem, not theirs. I do think SOPHIE and Arca (among others) have changed our sense of how things are and how they should be. But that we end up echoing arguments had over a decade ago in our appraisals of them clearly suggests an unavoidable level of dissonance here. This is part of the issue with Bluemink’s use of Stiegler. Dissonance and resonance are not a bad/good tautology, but temporally speaking (whether we’re attuned to long- or short-circuits, to use Stiegler’s terms) their presence matters. Long-circuit dissonance is perhaps a sign of “the new”, whereas short-circuit dissonance is a cause for concern. To put it another way: the fact that there is a lot of resonance with past arguments only produces more dissonance regarding our claims that SOPHIE and Arca represent something new.

This seems readily apparent when, in his conclusion, Bluemink suggests that “I think that we could argue that the concept of anti-hauntology arose out of the ruins of accelerationism”. This, to me, feels a bit like Jodi Dean’s comment that what we’re seeing now is a kind of “neofeudalism”. I understand and appreciate the argument, and the problem of templexity is laid bare here. “Neofeudalism” makes late capitalism sound like neo-precapitalism. As far as Dean’s argument goes, it works, because there is some truth in it. And highlighting that truth is part of the critique. But when Bluemink suggests that “anti-hauntology” can emerge from the ruins of accelerationism, which was already an attempt at a clean break from hauntology’s dead-end, we end up reinserting into the debate the very associations that the 2008 accelerationists (as anti-hauntologists) were trying to get away from. It is, then, by definition, an example of how these debates have been short-circuited, in precisely the way Bluemink uses Stiegler to describe. In ignoring, sidestepping or otherwise remaining ignorant to the discussions had under the “accelerationism” name, because we have broadly misunderstood its claims beyond a retconned Landianism, we disindividuate and, consequently, desublimate “the new” as it was being described at the end of the 2000s, and therefore destroy the libidinal energy that accelerationism remained attuned to as recently as 2018. (Let us not forget — again, if we’re talking about temporal specificity — that accelerationism only fell into disrepute in 2019, with the decade of debate had before that year continuing to remain maligned unnecessarily.)

This is, of course, all by-the-by. But it aligns with my general point of disagreement here. So, if I might haul this argument back on track, when talking about SOPHIE, Arca and co., and saying that I think the problem is us and not them, what I mean to say is that we drag these artists down and diminish their potential when our discussions of their work are so temporally unclear. How can we possibly comment on the temporal injunction made by a certain kind of music if our own sense of the temporality of the debate we’re engaging in is so confused? Worse than that, we take far less responsibility for our own contributions to cultural discourse when we assume that, because their music is new, our discussions of said music will be new as well. My issue is that the music is new, the debate is not. Therefore, we do the music — even in defending it — a disservice. They were storming ahead into the future. We run the risk of causing drag on it from behind.

So, my question is: What is it about this debate in the present that is infecting it with such a glaring amnesia? I think the problem is a broader structural issue related to the music industrial-complex — not just artists but the music press, festivals, and all the rest of it.

This is the point of emphasising Fisher’s critique of the very loose knot currently linking the popular, the experimental and the avant-garde, which I pointed to last time and which Bluemink says “summarises my exact criticism of him”. The problem, for me, is that it is not a criticism I think Bluemink has even attempted to address. Fisher writes:

I think what’s also missing is this circuit between the experimental, the avant garde and the popular. It’s that circuit that’s disappeared. Instead what we have is Experimental™, which is actually well established genres with their own niche markets which have no relation to a mainstream.

Whilst Bluemink can argue against it, I don’t think he has really accounted for the critique that Fisher is putting forwards. Indeed, it’s a critique that reemerged very recently, albeit under a different name — what Fisher calls “Experimental™” is very similar to what Simon Reynolds recently called “conceptronica“. It is a sort of experimentalism that is not “experimental” in any actual sense but is instead made to appear so through poorly-applied theory and the sort of language you’d expect to find in a stuffy art gallery. This sort of language is, as Reynolds notes, largely driven by funding bodies. He writes:

Fluent in the critical lingua franca used in art institutions and academia worldwide, conceptronic artists know how to self-curate: They can present projects in terms that translate smoothly into proposals and funding applications. Which is handy, because what sustains these artists is not revenue from record releases but performances on an ever-growing international circuit of experimental music festivals, along with subsidized concerts at museums and universities. Often trained in the visual arts rather than music theory, conceptronica artists increasingly resemble a figure like Matthew Barney, whose work involves multiple media and is staged on a grand scale, more than IDM pioneers like Autechre, whose focus has always been overwhelmingly on sonic experimentation.

(As an aside: perhaps we can note here the recently publicised high-esteem that SOPHIE held Autechre in.)

I think Reynolds’ article was read by many as a critique of the individuals themselves. I don’t think that is the case. Though he may highlight the differences in presentation style utilised by an “anti-intellectual” Aphex Twin and Luke Vibert, compared to Chino Amobi, Lee Gamble and Holly Herndon, it is clear to me that Reynolds is rather highlighting the sorts of “self-curation” artists must undertake in order to survive, rather than highlighting a sort of organic modus operandi adopted by a new generation of their own accord.

What is worthy of note is that all this extra-musical discourse, regarding dialogues with the press and acquiring funding for further musical development, etc. etc., is impacting the kind of music that is produced. The point, then, is not so much about how SOPHIE’s musical development has been curtailed by her death, but how all musical development is being curtailed by para-academic affiliations and the neoliberal framing of cultural value. This is the connection between Fisher’s hauntology and Derrida’s. Aesthetic innovations are irrelevant when the blinkers of capitalism are still installed. That some musical messiahs can occasionaly overcome this is not a point for celebration. We should be asking why there aren’t more of them.

This isn’t simply a matter of education or intellectualising. Aphex Twin and Lee Gamble both have relationships with Urbanomic, for instance, and so they clearly share intergenerational “intellectual” interests. But they both came up in very different worlds. And when we fail to consider that overarching structure at play here, because we’re too busy over-eggoing our own radicality in what constitutes little more than a vague appeal to revolution, we actually stifle the new rather than helping it to proliferate.

It is for this reason that, when Bluemink argues “experimental music has started to be pushed into the mainstream”, I think the (correct) response from Fisher and others would no doubt be: yes, but under what conditions? The popular, the experimental and the avant-garde are in a new moment of relation, but it isn’t necessarily a good one.

This point may take us far from the initial debate regarding how “new” SOPHIE’s music really is, but that was never a debate I had much interest in, precisely because it obscures where the stakes actually lie, which Fisher was more aware of than most. What he went onto challenge is our anemic sense of “the new”, and we will continuously flail around in a chicken-egg argument over aesthetics for as long as we fail to consider how capitalist realism affects the development of even our most future-oriented artists. We need to engage in a kind of speculative aesthetics of our own, and we can only achieve that by imagining the sounds of a world other than this one, just as accelerationist aesthetics tried to do.

It is in this sense that “anti-hauntology”, in its own confused temporality, starts to feel more like a unfortunate symptom of the present rather than a generative response to it.