A Further Fragment on Unconditional Accelerationism: What is Anti-Praxis?

It is clear that the concept of anti-praxis within unconditional accelerationism remains woefully misunderstood. Regularly confused with Nick Land’s brand of horrorism — “Do nothing” — many still believe that “anti-praxis” is some pretentious way of expressing the same sentiment. I doubt even the most insufferable of accelerationists would think such a position warranted a term so pretentiously over-specific to describe something as basic as inactivity.

My own attempt to rectify this, by emphasising Deleuze’s call to “make yourself worthy of the process” in a previous post from 2018, had caught on more than I was aware but, given that old post’s fragmentary nature, it is a clear that it hasn’t done a great deal to unmuddy the waters.

Recently discussing this in a Discord server, I thought I’d turn back to this old post and attach some more recent research to it, in order to (finally) articulate with some more clarity just how this Deleuzian adage works in practice (if not in praxis).


What we call an instinct and what we call an institution essentially designate procedures of satisfaction. On the one hand, an organism reacts instinctively to external stimuli, extracting from the external world the elements which will satisfy its tendencies and needs; these elements comprise worlds that are specific to different animals. On the other hand, the subject institutes an original world between its tendencies and the external milieu, developing artificial means of satisfaction. […] There is no doubt that tendencies find satisfaction in the institution: sexuality finds it in marriage, and avarice in property. The example of an institution like the State … does not have a tendency to which it corresponds. But it is clear that such institutions are secondary: they already presuppose institutionalized behaviors, recalling a derived utility that is properly social. In the end, this utility locates the principle from which it is derived in the relation of tendencies to the social. The institution is always given as an organized system of means.

— Gilles Deleuze, “Instincts and Institutions”

What we talk about “praxis”, in the context of unconditional accelerationism, it is a term perhaps best understood as designating an institutionalised practice. We might call anti-praxis, then, a kind of de-institutionalised practice.

A critique of institutions was always baked into the meaning of the “unconditional” in unconditional accelerationism (u/acc), as far as I’m aware. The splintering of accelerationism into left and right variants in the mid-2010s had, at that point, done nothing but put different coloured carts before the same horse. Institutionalising accelerationism was a mistake; this philosophy was always an attempt to untangle and critique the institutions that passed themselves off as the rightful home for certain instincts under capitalist realism, whether they be political institutions or — as later became a focus for many — even ontological categories like (clock) time. To feed accelerationism back into the institutions it sought to short-circuit only short-circuited accelerationism itself.

It is a point that always bears repeating: accelerationism was first of all a call to rethink the political landscape of the late 2000s, already defined by leftist melancholy, now-familiar parliamentarian deadlocks and a woeful “democratic” impotence. This was most true following the financial crash, when it was clear that those in power, no matter their political affiliation, would have bailed out the bankers no matter what; it remains true following the last two US presidential elections — or, I should say, the previous one and the current one — where the choice, to many on the left, has been one of backing the lesser of two evils.

Because of this, any attempt to shoehorn accelerationism back into our increasingly inadequate political demarcations is a confused step backwards that ignores the questions this mode of thought initially posed — specifically, what defines the political “left” and “right” following the (supposed) ultimate victory of capitalism? This isn’t to say that accelerationism is wholly incompatible with a left- or right-wing politics, but folding it into our present understandings of either wing is to ignore the critiques at its heart. Perhaps the most pressing critique can be framed as the following question: With many of the arguments central to the left’s existence apparently cast into the trash fire of history by capitalism’s final hegemonic ascendancy, then what is left for the left to do? What is required of us to update our understanding of capitalism — arguably, Marxism itself — so that it can account for and reflect the complexities of our postmodern moment? Whilst the accelerationist response has been derailed for many years, u/acc was an attempt to reassert it. In attempting to hook our understanding up to old measures of progress and comprehension, we ignore the extent to which subjectivity has already been changed. The response to this from u/acc sounds simple enough but, in reality, it is anything but. It is a response that might go something like this:

Institutionally speaking, political thought is in the gutter. We might do well to trust our instincts.

This no doubt sounds naive. For one, we do not live in 2008 anymore and there are plenty of interesting political thinkers involved at the party political level. Whilst we may despair at the state of political bureaucracy in the twenty-first century, do we really need to eject bureaucracy outright as a way to get things done? Is the answer really something so vague and empty as “follow your little leftist hearts”? The point is, rather, to consider how our desires are vetoed from the very start by the institutions of capitalist realism. This was a difficult task in 2008; it remains one in 2020.

For example, whilst we might think confidently that the impotence of Occupy is far behind us at the level of popular leftist thought, just last week on Twitter Extinction Rebellion — as spokespeople for what they (rightfully) call the most important sociopolitical issue of our times — tweeted this:

David Graeber — who it has just been announced passed away on the day I am writing this (RIP) — put it best:

Clearly, as far as mass movements go — and that is the scale we all want to be organising at, surely? — the left still has a lot of work to do regarding not just how it acts but how it thinks and responds to current events. In this sense, capitalist realism is alive and well, even at the top of our most celebrated and presently iconic activist movements. For the accelerationists of the late 2000s, there was a similar frustration.

Extinction Rebellion’s tweet, at its worst, represents a kind of capitalist apologism. The point of a statement like “socialism or extinction”, for anyone who knows their anti-capitalist / Marxist history / theory, is surely to say “postcapitalism or bust”. Sure, we can argue about the finer points of whether socialism (as an ideological institution) is the best successor to capitalism but, generically speaking, it’s long been the stepping stone towards something other than this mess. The issue, of course, is that this mess has been pulling harder and harder away from the left and towards what Mark Fisher called a “frenzied stasis” for a number of decades now. For many, this is a bad sign because capitalism has clearly passed its best. Whilst its continued dominance will allow those it benefits to continue lining their pockets, for the rest of us — and, indeed, for the planet — the persistence of business as usual, and the forestalling of progress whereby capitalism is not allowed to morph into something else (as it seems to be yearning to do — for better or worse) isn’t going to work out well for anybody.

Following the financial crash, it was clear that this issue wasn’t simply down to a totalitarian bourgeoisie enforcing capitalism upon us. It was an issue of ideology. The planet, in essence, is beholden to capitalism through a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. Whilst our instincts show us to be a species in peril, pacing back and forth like zoo animals, we are institutionally blinded to any sort of alternative, instead relishing our own oppression and loving our habitual consumption of the shit of capital. That doesn’t mean we’re not having fun but it raises questions about what we might be straining to become, and what the impact of the stunting of our growth by panicking capitalists might be.

This isn’t necessarily a nod to some sort of posthuman utopia. Even at a more mundane level of society as it is now, we know the relation between instinct and institution can change quite radically over the course of a lifetime. Consider Deleuze’s examples quoted above. How might we think the unfurling of human sexual desire out of the institution of marriage? I’d have to agree with the Bible bashers on that one — marriage ain’t what it used to be, and thank goodness. Various forms of sexual relation have flourished over the last century but we still find other ideals through which to institute our own satisfaction — through the family, for instance — which seem less likely to crumble under a collective willpower. It raises interesting questions though. Considering how complex the social development of sexual relations has been over the last few centuries, how might we consider the constant flux of capitalism in the same way? (Mark Fisher made much the same point in an essay for eflux, notably about accelerationism as well.) Indeed, when we look at the history of sexuality — a relevant example, no doubt, considering the centrality of desire to both love and money — can we find a set of praxes here to emulate?

Not really… Surely, the lesson to be learned is that we must follow our instincts and allow our institutions to adapt accordingly. Indeed, that we must preserve some room for adaptation. Capitalism may adapt along with us, but it might also “adapt” into something else in the process. We should also be prepared for the realisation that we do not want exactly what we say we want, and that the best way to satisfy our needs and desires may not look how we imagine it to in our minds.

Deleuze takes up this problem explicitly in his essay on “Instincts and Institutions”. He writes:

The problem common to instinct and to institution is still this: how does the synthesis of tendencies and the object that satisfies them come about? Indeed, the water that I drink does not resemble at all the hydrates my organism lacks. The more perfect an instinct is in its domain, the more it belongs to the species, and the more it seems to constitute an original, irreducible power of synthesis.

We might argue that the implicit point being made here, following Herbert Marcuse, is that, whilst capitalism implores us to see it through a series of biological foundations, these are but institutions it has attempted to subsume into the deepest levels of the organism.

Deleuze continues:

But the more perfectible instinct is, and thus imperfect, the more it is subjected to variation, to indecision, and the more it allows itself to be reduced to the mere play of internal individual factors and exterior circumstances — the more it gives way to intelligence. However, if we take this line of argument to its limit, how could such a synthesis, offering to a tendency a suitable object, be intelligent when such a synthesis, to be realized, implies a period of time too long for the individual to live, and experiments which it would not survive?

We are forced back on the idea that intelligence is something more social than individual, and that intelligence finds in the social its intermediate milieu, the third term that makes intelligence possible. What does the social mean with respect to tendencies? It means integrating circumstances into a system of anticipation, and internal factors into a system that regulates their appearance, thus replacing the species.

Understood in relation to some sort of utopia, we might see this intelligence as a relation to come, yet to be fully realised. We might also understand it as already being here, with the age of social media inaugurating capitalism’s ultimate integration of technological circumstances with the anticipation of its continued survival. Somewhat ironically, with regards to the climate crisis, we lack this level of social intelligence. Capitalism has the monopoly on smart.

This is where the accelerationist version of “what is to be done?” enters into consideration. The classic version of this question is one that U/Acc blogs have often poked fun at — largely because the handwringing of the twenty-first left, at its most melancholic, is symptomatic of its constant looking for something to do, to the extent that it starts to resemble a widow trying to keep themselves busy — but it is a question that persists regardless.

Considering the circumstances described above, however, another set of questions emerge to complicate this Leninist call to action.

Praxis is, of course, not just the other side of the political coin from theory; it is also an accepted mode of action — instituted by the Party, for instance, in a Marxist-Leninist sense. It is action backed up by theory. But when the party as a political entity has fallen into such disrepute, what remains of praxis today? How are we supposed to talk about rectifying our institutions when they are in such a dire state of disrepair? Without top-down recommendations, do these forms of political action default to popular opinion? What is popular opinion when social intelligence is rotten with capitalist realism? Is horizontalism an effective alternative? Many would argue that simply negating our institutions doesn’t solve anything but is affirming them anything more than masochism at this point? What is to be done about the question of what is to be done?

I’m persistently playing devil’s advocate in asking these questions but, for what it’s worth, I think Jodi Dean’s writings on a new sense of the “party” are very illuminating. We need to rethink a lot of what we take for granted. This is not to abandon all that came before but nor is deferring to some sort of theoretical canon going to solve anything. Marx is still useful and so are many other theorists. But this does not solve our problem — the problem of a new thought and politics that can respond to our present crisis in negation.

Ultimately, this is the point at which accelerationism enters the fray. It was a mode of thought explicitly concerned with the failure of praxis in 2008 and the left’s inability to think of alternatives — alternative futures (theoretical ideals), on the one hand, and alternative forms of action on the other. Anti-praxis becomes relevant here as a way to think praxis and the crisis of negation together, whilst also acting against the institutions that would typically define these terms. It is also, arguably, a way of playing the so-called “long game.” Whilst praxis, particularly at present, means giving yourself over to the weather-vane of contemporary (party) politics, anti-praxis becomes a way of halting our inane flailing and looking beyond to another form of action altogether. Again, this isn’t necessarily a rejection of party politics, but it is an attempt to think at a different scale. It is a form of action that looks to the bigger picture, beyond the localism of party politics and personal grievance and instead towards an almost cosmic perspective — a perspective all the rage in the era of the “Anthropocene”, but one which most humanities departments are ill-equipped to actually respond to. (Mark Fisher’s joke that he wanted to set up a ‘Centre for the Inhumanities’ comes to mind here.) It is a way of taking the personal (which capitalism loves to amplify) and making it impersonal.

This is not to denounce institutional critique either, of course, which is a very important and productive praxis in specific contexts, but it is rather to try and consider how this differs and relates to spheres outside our workplaces or local modes of political organising. What kind of thought speaks to a scale beyond that? What kind of thought speaks to capitalism as a whole? Not to alternatives within capitalism, but postcapitalist discourses? Is such a thought even possible anymore? What does it look like now and what might it look like in the future?

Vincent Garton’s anti-praxis takes this kind of perspective broadly in its sights and, whilst his position sounds woefully nihilistic (in the worse sense of that word), it also speaks to a new kind of freedom that emerges from feeling our size amidst capitalism’s great totality — a kind of productive nihilism that may emerge following the realisation that, whilst our local actions make us feel good, they are unimportant before the “colossal horror” of the capitalist system at large. As he writes on his old blog:

On its very terms, human agency has already been elevated to become the guide and measure of the world, and this, conceptually, is intolerable. It is precisely against this view that accelerationism defines itself as ‘antihuman(ist)’, and against the fundamental question of praxis that it offers ‘antipraxis’. This can hardly mean ‘Do nothing’, of course: that would mean not just to return to the fundamental question of praxis, but to offer perhaps the most numbly tedious answer of all. The unconditional accelerationist, instead, referring to the colossal horrors presented to the human agent all the way from the processes of capital accumulation and social complexification to the underlying structure, or seeming absence of structure, of reality itself, points to the basic unimportance of unidirectional human agency. We ‘hurl defiance to the stars’, but in their silence — when we see them at all — the stars return only crushing contempt. To the question ‘What is to be done?’, then, she can legitimately answer only, ‘Do what thou wilt’ — and ‘Let go.’

Personally, I have reason to differ with Garton’s old position somewhat. Whilst it resonates with more positions than many are willing to generously conceded — a more hubristic brand of environmentalism, for one — his argument here is an explicit reaction against the so-called “managerialism” of Srnicek and Williams; the impotence of their “left-accelerationism”, which arguably turns its back on their initially revolutionary proposals once the opportunity of institutional influence asserts itself. Their Inventing the Future certainly seems to be something of a retreat (at least on Williams’ part) from the initially inhumanist provocations described as “accelerationist” by Benjamin Noys. (For those unaware, in a now-deleted blogpost, it was Williams who first asked perhaps the foundational accelerationist questions that Garton expands upon here, specifically: “What is capital-in-itself?” and “What is capital-for-itself?”)

If I have reason for quibbling the hostility against Srnicek and Williams, it is because this seems to be a narrative that has long been spun in their absence. I’m personally quite interested in talking to either/or about how they view their old writings and political actions since, and whether they felt they necessarily climbed down from prior provocations or whether it was the runaway train of glib accelerationist thought that has betrayed their positions since.

What has been of great interest to me in recent months is my personal realisation that the ground from which accelerationism first emerged (prior to the apparent climb-down of Inventing the Future) still retains a shade of anti-praxis. Alex Williams’ writings in particular — although his deletion of his blog suggests he no longer agrees with his former self — is a long-neglected starting point for accelerationist thought. It is with him, not Land, that accelerationism proper should look to for its foundation. This is to say that accelerationism wasn’t just a continuation of Landian thought but an attempt to complicate its implications with the circumstances of a new decade that veered considerably from where Land himself had predicted it would go. Unconditional accelerationism, in this sense, is not just Landian accelerationism before all the factionalism; I think it makes a lot more sense when seen as an extension of Williams’ “post-Landianism” — his articulation of Land’s machinic desires alongside a critique of Badiou’s post-Marxist-Leninism and aligned with Brassier’s unbound nihilism.

It is the (negative) influence of Badiou especially that makes the question of what is to be done so central for the early accelerationists. But I don’t want to talk about Williams’ old blog here. Instead, I think the best person to turn to to understand this foundation is probably Steven Shaviro.


Shaviro’s books on accelerationism are certainly worth reading but I also find — as is often the case with too many of those initial forays into post-blog publishing (Noys’ book on accelerationism for Zero is similar) — that they lose some contextual foundation in being removed from the blogosphere. This is to say that, in an oddly backwards process, the books are often more reductive than the blogs.

For instance, the questions first asked by the “accelerationists” in 2008 seem to emerge almost from nowhere but Shaviro’s blog does well to ground their answers within the original crises of the financial crash and an already frequently critiqued impotence in philosophy (discussed and dissected by the likes of Zizek and Badiou). Whilst there is a great deal of value in mapping out how these questions are related to previous countercultural movements, it is nonetheless true that this original galvanising moment, which articulates the acute relevance of accelerationism to the twenty-first century, has long been overlooked, and it is with Shaviro, moreso than anyone else, who was seemingly asking all of the right questions at that moment.

What I find particularly interesting about this, having spent a great deal of time blog-spelunking in recent months, is that I think Shaviro’s position still contains a great deal of mileage, and even describes an approach to the financial crash in 2008 that seems wholly resonant with the U/Acc blogosphere of 2016-18. Before we explore Shaviro’s foundation, however, it is necessary to provide a sort of caveat.

Shaviro’s position — when we come to it — may sound more humanist than some accelerationists are used to, but what is worthy of note, I think, is that this position is not incompatible with an inhumanist view of capital that has come to dominate — indeed, a view that many accelerationists have since fetishized and reified into a kind of edgy idiocy, before which they are left agog, mouths agape, before their new techo(g)nomic deity. In this sense, despite first appearances, Shaviro’s position resonates nicely with Ray Brassier’s “post-Landian” nihilism, which acknowledges the scientific truth about our existence — that we live in an indifferent universe — and, perhaps, a tandem economic truth as well — we live in an indifferent economy. Acknowledging this indifference is not an argument for inactivity either; it is an acknowledgement that frees us to consider possibilities we may have never considered before, subsumed, as we are and have long been, under the God-fearing auspices of an apparently God-given universe — the theological equivalent of capitalist realism.

It is important to linger over the full implications of capital’s indifference to us and why this is another foundational accelerationist position. Its critics denounce accelerationism through this suggestion as nothing more than a reheated catastrophism, but accelerationism is instead the observation that capitalism itself is catastrophist — to conflate this obversation with what humans should do is to misunderstand how capitalism functions and how we relate to it (at least according to Deleuze and Guattari — arguably the last wholesale critique of capitalism to still matter since Marx). As Brassier writes:

Integrated global capitalism is constitutively dysfunctional: it works by breaking down. It is fuelled by the random undecidabilities, excessive inconsistencies, aleatory interruptions, which it continuously reappropriates, axiomatizing empirical contingency. It turns catastrophe into a resource, ruin into opportunity, harnessing the uncomputable.

Capitalism, then, is a confounding foe precisely because of its algorithmic indifference to human activity. Indeed, to place it under human condition is a fallacy. We do not control it; if anything, it controls us. However, again, this is not to assign capitalism with some sort of benevolent agency. We are simply caught up in its currents and flows.

Most notably, this is to acknowledge that not even the capitalists have control over capital. They accumulate it and hoard it but they are not in control of the system itself. Economists are, as Mark Fisher has remarked, little more than weather forecasters. In his Postcapitalist Desire lectures, he explains:

From the point of view of capital, then — capital is certainly an ideological construction, but it’s less ideological than you are — the human bourgeoisie are just a means of its being produced. The big Hegelian story, in this respect, is of human potentiality, of human production being split off… The products of human activity are being split off from the humans who produced them, and coming back as a quasi-autonomous force. It might sound complicated, but it’s fairly simple, isn’t it? What is the economy if not that? […] Nobody — including and especially capitalists — can will the financial crisis of 2008 away, and yet, absent human beings from the picture, there is no financial crisis. It is entirely an affair of human consciousness, the economy, in that sense, and yet humans have no power to effect it. It’s like weather — the economy is like weather. There are people who can be experts in what the weather is going to be and profit from it, but they can’t change the weather. Not on a fundamental level. This is part of what’s being pointed to: it’s fundamental.

But what is capitalism? Capitalism, then, would be this system whereby this alienation — to use that term — of human capacities is taken to its absolute limit. It’s a monstrously, prodigiously productive system, yet it’s also one which seems to — and does — exploit and oppress the majority of the population, and which even the minority have limited capacity to alter.

In the heat-fucked nihilism of Brassierese, that sounds like this:

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. ‘Capital’ names what Deleuze and Guattari call the monstrous ‘Thing’, the cancerous, anti-social anomaly, the catastrophic overevent through which the inconsistent void underlying every consistent presentation becomes unbound and the ontological fabric from which every social bond is woven is exposed as constitutively empty.

For Fisher and Brassier both, understanding capitalism in this way does not abjure our capacity to act. This is not declaring “the economy works in mysterious ways” and then being done with it; this is not deferring to theoretical thoughts and economic prayers. And yet, acknowledging this truth — that much of the universe (and the economy) swirls in a chaos beyond our own disinterestedness — does allow us to dismiss certain modes of action outright. Boiled down to its essence, we can regain our understanding of a foundational striving that flows underneath the ideological chaos of bourgeois posturing. We can retain a fidelity to this indifference and to the revolutionary principles that persist underneath the compartmentalising of neoliberal party politics.

For Shaviro, this is what it means to “make yourself worthy of the process” (although he doesn’t use this phrase himself); to retain a fidelity to human action in the face of fanged noumena. To return to Deleuze on instincts and institutions, this means that our relationship to capitalism becomes similar to the current relation between animals and humans. As Deleuze writes:

In the end, the problem of instinct and institutions will be grasped most acutely … when the demands of men come to bear on the animal by integrating it into institutions (totemism and domestication), when the urgent needs of the animal encounters the human, either fleeing or attacking us, or patiently waiting for nourishment and protection.

Isn’t this how we find ourselves acting before capitalism? Can nothing more be done?

Whilst capital might begin selecting for vegan options on the menu in response to our own shifting attitudes, that doesn’t mean capitalism itself is showing any less of a thirst for human flesh. For Deleuze, perhaps the issue is that we can seldom differentiate between demanding a seat at the table and demanding a place on the plate. (Perhaps an analogy a little too close to home given the UK’s recent “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme and the second lockdown expected to follow it.) In light of this, we must implore each other to think differently and beyond the institutions that cannot and will not ever satisfy our needs, and which are arguably set up to use us to fuel something else. This is to say that institutions are power stations run on instinct, but we’ve got a problem when they start to look like slaughterhouses for new ways of being.

Before I tied myself up in even more awkward analogies, we should turn to Shaviro, who translates this problem into more general terms (whilst still drawing on Deleuze’s theory of the institution). Indeed, he writes on this at length. The resulting essay is, I think, one of the best blogposts to emerge from the proto-accelerationist blogosphere, expressing a sentiment that many of the first accelerationists would pick up on and run with. Here, he skewers the impotence of an overly humanist Marxism which attempts to transform Marx into Christ, building up a church through which to defer to the human body of the messenger rather than the inhuman forces he channelled and described. It is this post that I would like to end on. I’m still digesting much of this but, as far as I am concerned, this is the thought that later gives rise, through a complex process of osmosis and distillation, to u/acc’s anti-praxis. (I hope to write on this more soon.)

Drawing back the skin of “what is to be done?” to get to the problem of the subject that is doing the “doing”, Shaviro writes:

… there is a good reason why recent Marxist theory is so concerned with the problem of the subject. It is a way of raising the question of agency. What is to be done? How might capitalism be altered or abolished? It’s hard to give credence any longer to the old-fashioned Marxist narrative, according to which the “negation of the negation,” or the “expropriation of the expropriators,” would inevitably take place, sooner or later. Neither the worldwide economic collapse of the 1930s, nor the uprisings and radical confrontations of the 1960s, led to anything like the “final conflict” of which generations of revolutionaries dreamed. Today we are no longer able to believe that the capitalist order is fated to collapse from its own contradictions. It is true that these contradictions lead to turmoil, and to misery for many. Yet the overall process of capital accumulation is not necessarily harmed by these convulsions. If Capital could speak, it might well say, in the manner of Nietzsche’s Overman, that “whatever does not kill me, makes me stronger.” The genius of capitalism lies in its ability to turn to its own account whatever destabilizes it, and whatever is raised against it. In the absence of that old militant optimism, we are left with the sinking feeling that nothing works, that nothing we can do will make any difference. This sense of paralysis is precisely the flip side of our “empowerment” as consumers. The more brutal the neoliberal “reforms” of the last thirty years have been, and the more they have taken away from us, the more they have forced upon us the conviction that there is No Alternative.

This crushing demoralization is itself a testimony to Marx’s prescience. How else but with a sense of utter helplessness could we respond to a world in which Marx’s insights into the tendencies and structures of capitalism have been so powerfully verified? From primitive accumulation to capital accumulation, from globalization to technological innovation, from exploitation in sweatshops to the delirium of ungrounded financial circulation: all the processes that Marx analyzed and theorized in the three volumes of Capital are far more prevalent today, and operate on a far more massive scale, than was ever the case in Marx’s own time. By the late 1990s, all this had become so evident that Marx’s analytical acumen was admired, and even celebrated, on Wall Street. As the business journalist John Cassidy wrote in a widely-noticed and frequently-cited article in The New Yorker (1997): Marx “wrote riveting passages about globalization, inequality, political corruption, monopolization, technical progress, the decline of high culture, and the enervating nature of modern existence — issues that economists are now confronting anew. . . Marx predicted most of [globalization’s] ramifications a hundred and fifty years ago. . . [Marx’s] books will be worth reading as long as capitalism endures.”

From this point of view, the problem with Marx’s analysis is that it is just too successful. His account of the inner logic of capitalism is so insightful, so powerful, and so all-embracing, that it seems to offer no point of escape. The more we see the world in the grim terms of capital logic, the less we are able to imagine things ever being different. Marx dissected the inner workings of capitalism for the purpose of finding a way to overthrow it; but the very success of his analysis makes capitalism seem like a fatality. For the power of capital pervades all aspects of human life, and subsumes all impulses and all actions. Its contingent origins notwithstanding, capitalism consumes everything, digests whatever it encounters, transforms the most alien customs and ways of life into more of itself. “Markets will seep like gas through any boundary that gives them the slightest opening” (Dibbell 2006, 43). Adorno’s gloomy vision of a totally administered and thoroughly commodified society is merely a rational assessment of what it means to live in a world of ubiquitous, unregulated financial flows. For that matter, what is Althusser’s Spinozism, his view of history as a “process without a subject,” but a contemplation of the social world sub specie aeternitatis, and thereby a kind of fatalism, presenting capitalism as an ineluctable structure of interlinked overdeterminations whose necessity we must learn to dispassionately accept?

From here, we shift gear, and find accelerationism’s forebears in two of the most widely-cited Marxists of the twentieth-century, as if denouncing accelerationism today is prostrating the sacrificial lamb before a normative politics that does not truck with any of the political analyses of the previous century but is incapable of registering why and what should replace them. It is a sentiment most wittily captured by Zizek in The Ticklish Subject: “A spectre is haunting Western academia, the spectre of the Cartesian subject.” (A haunting that, according to Shaviro, Zizek has arguably since lost sight of.) Shaviro continues:

All this explains why cultural Marxism turns away from Marx’s own “economism” and back to the subject. It seeks after some voluntary principle: some instance that is not just passively determined, that is capable of willing and effecting change, and that escapes being caught up in the redundancy of capitalist circulation. By rehabilitating agency, and by foregrounding particular practices of resistance, cultural Marxism hopes to find some sort of potential for overcoming capitalism. This reinvention of the subjective element takes many forms. At one extreme, there is Zizek’s hyper-voluntarism, his fantasy of enforcing a rupture with capitalism, and imposing communism, by dint of a sheer, wilful imposition of “ruthless terror.” At the other extreme, Adorno’s ultra-pessimism, his hopelessness about all possibilities for action, is really an alibi for a retreat into the remnants of a shattered interiority: a subjectivity that remains pure and uncontaminated by capitalism precisely to the extent that it is impotent, and defined entirely by the extremity of its negations. Despite their differences, both of these positions can be defined by their invocation of the spirit of the negative. Adorno’s and Zizek’s negations alike work to clear out a space for the cultivation of a subjectivity that supposedly would not be entirely determined by, and would not entirely subordinated to, capital. For my part, I cannot see anything creative, or pragmatically productive, in such proposals. Neither Zizek’s manic voluntarism nor Adorno’s melancholia is anything more than a dramatic, and self-dramatizing, gesture. That is to say, in spite of themselves they both restore subjectivity in the form of a spectacle that is, precisely, a negotiable commodity. In the world of aesthetic capitalism, critical negativity is little more than a consoling and compensatory fiction.

On the other hand, it is hard to say that those variants of cultural Marxism that present agency and subjectivity affirmatively, and without recourse to negation, do much better. J. K. Gibson-Graham tell us that the Marxist image of capitalism as a closed, voracious, and totalizing system is an error. They offer us the cheerful sense that a plethora of inventive, non-capitalist economic and social practices [that] already exist in the world today. This means that we have already, without quite realizing it, reached “the end of capitalism (as we know it).” Indeed, Gibson-Graham come perilously close to saying that the only thing keeping capitalism alive today is the inveterate prejudice on the part of Marxists that it really exists. Apparently, if we were just a bit more optimistic, we could simply think all the oppression away.

For their part, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are by no means so obstinately cheerful. Nonetheless, I am a bit taken aback by their insistence that globalized, affective capitalism has already established, not only the “objective conditions” for communism, but also the “subjective conditions” as well. The latter come in the form of the multitude as a universal, creative, and spontaneously collective class, ready to step in and take control of a world that has already been prepared for them. This is really a twenty-first century update of the messianic side of Marx’s vision: “The centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labor reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” Thus we have come full circle, back to the position that we initially rejected: one according to which the restoration of agency is not needed, for the internal dynamics of capitalism themselves lead inexorably to its ultimate abolition.

These are the crises in negation that feel wholly unsuited to the present. Enter accelerationism, which takes these blockages as dead ends and looks for a third way. What is most striking to me, however, in reading Shaviro’s appraisal, is that accelerationist discourse today, through its own impotence and amnesia, has fallen back on these same coordinates.

This new thought, that was seen to be a new vector, beyond the Adorno’s and Zizek’s and Negri’s and Gibson-Graham’s, falls back on variations of their own positions. When we speak of anti-praxis we speak of a series of negations, of anti-affirmations, where wishful thinking and self-assurance becomes the foundation for any kind of praxis. Psychologically speaking, hope — and even confidence — is a powerful thing. But this should not give way to misplaced faith in an otherwise indifferent process. It is a process we should make ourselves worthy of, in the sense that it isn’t going to make itself worthy of us.

There are serious theoretical questions buried here, in what otherwise still sounds like an all too subjectivist handwringing, but once we get past this, then we can really start getting down to business…

A Postcapitalist Battle of the Sexes

One of the comments that came up persistently following Aly’s reading list — and even in a comment on my own post [since deleted] — is that reducing accelerationism to some battle of the sexes is reductive and lame.

I’m not sure what those people think they are defending in saying this. If I was to emphasise Alex Williams’ original communist inflection on accelerationism, would these same commentators decry the reduction of accelerationism to the class struggle?


On Twitter, @CmonNowGirl commented on my last post with a link to a recent essay of their own on “Gender Realism” — a really excellent bridging of the gap between Mark Fisher’s capitalist realism and an Irigarayian feminism. I’m really glad @CmonNowGirl brought this up, as it further grounds the importance of cyber/xenofeminism to accelerationism’s overall lineage.

Fisher wrote on feminism fairly often. In his own accelerationist writings, he addressed the melancholy of Ellen Willis, for instance, as a way to highlight second-wave feminism’s crisis of negation. He writes for eflux:

In her 1979 essay “The Family: Love It or Leave It,” the late music and cultural critic Ellen Willis noted that the counterculture’s desire to replace the family with a system of collective child-rearing would have entailed “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude.” It’s very difficult, in our deflated times, to re-create the counterculture’s confidence that such a “social and psychic revolution” could not only happen, but was already in the process of unfolding. Like many of her generation, Willis’s life was shaped by first being swept up by these hopes, then seeing them gradually wither as the forces of reaction regained control of history. There’s probably no better account of the Sixties counterculture’s retreat from Promethean ambition into self-destruction, resignation, and pragmatism than Willis’s collection of essays Beginning To See The Light.

The upset commentator on my last post expressed concern that I, xenogothic, great reader of Mark Fisher, could be so easily caught up in Aly’s manufacturing of outrage that he would have surely had little time for. (It was a truly mind-numbing comment.) The truth is Mark was a huge supporter of accelerationism’s feminist foundations and using them to reinvigorate accelerationism’s wayward edgelording. He adds in his essay on Willis:

I want to situate accelerationism not as some heretical form of Marxism, but as an attempt to converge with, intensify, and politicize the most challenging and exploratory dimensions of popular culture. Willis’s desire for “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude” and her “quarrel with the left” over desire and freedom can provide a different way into thinking what is at stake in this much misunderstood concept.

What @CmonNowGirl calls “gender realism” is precisely the sort of extension to his own thinking that Fisher applauded. In fact, “gender realism” resonates very nicely with what Helen Hester has called “domestic realism”. Hester’s essay on this was the required reading for the last session of Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire course at Goldsmiths in 2017. We unfortunately don’t know what Fisher would have had to say on it but it is nonetheless mentioned over the course of the course — which you’ll be able to read for yourself next month in this new collection I’ve edited.

Mentioning Willis’s text — also required reading — in his introduction to the course, Fisher says:

And what I particularly like about this piece by Ellen Willis is how it raises the question of what we’ll look at later; of what Helen Hester calls “domestic realism”, which is a bit of a parallel to what I’ve called “capitalist realism” — i.e. the idea that domestic structures, the ways we organise our lives at home, are fixed and immutable, and we can’t imagine them being any different. In the Sixties, in the counterculture, people did try to live in a different way, did try to live in a more collective and communal way. It didn’t work out. It stalled. It failed. It went wrong. Interestingly, Willis’s argument is that part of the problem was impatience. People thought that we could overcome these structures very quickly. In fact, they are highly tenacious and will reassert themselves unless they are continually dismantled.

In the session on Willis’s text, which did go ahead before Fisher’s death, he expands on this — [emphasis in the quotation below is all mine]:

What the counterculture aimed at was the phrase that I picked up: “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude”. We who came after the 1960s — even though I was born in the 1960s, although too late to comprehend it at that time — we who come after it find it hard to imagine a time when those ambitions seemed to be realistic. What’s being registered in this text by this time is the simultaneous and synchronised emergence of capitalist realism and domestic realism, and their co-implication: the idea that there’s no alternative to capitalism and there’s no alternative to the family either.

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

@CmonNowGirl’s essay, along with Helen Hester’s, covers a lot of the groundwork here, expounding upon why capitalist and gender and domestic realism are co-implicated and, most importantly, why so much has been done to obscure their relationship to one another.

An accelerationism that dismisses this as a superfluous “battle of the sexes” is precisely the outlook of someone who doesn’t know what accelerationism’s stakes are. It is, of course, not the only revolution that accelerationism first sought to instigate, but it is a major one. Without first revolutionising these relations, little else will be able to follow.

Cyberfeminist Beginnings, Cyberfeminist Ends

Beginnings

My mind is elsewhere as of late, but it would be remiss of this blog to witness some accelerationist drama on Twitter and then let it go unacknowledged.

Aly recently posted an accelerationist reader that controversially, as Ed Berger explains on his blog, “skips all the usual suspects (Marx, Deleuze, Guattari, Land, Fisher…).”

The reading list is great. By (almost) exclusively citing women, it provocatively provides accelerationism with an alternate history — or rather, it provides an alternative to what has since become understood as acc “canon”.

It’s a shame that this is how accelerationism is now approached, through claims of canon and non-canon. We were discussing this in the XG reading group on Sunday — the extent to which Reza Negarestani is now retconned as a card-carrying member of the Ccru. He never was, but that’s not to delegitimise Reza. It’s important.

The Ccru, in themselves, were not “canon”. They were a Thing that emerged from a combination of all this cross-cultural pulp; a veritable Swamp Thing. But they found a certain amount of fame nonetheless. Reza was someone who kept their momentum going along a new vector. He wasn’t a part of Ccru but he was successful in inserting himself into that demoralised post-Warwick trajectory, lighting up the blogosphere. He was an outsider who wrote himself inside the fiction. It says a lot about how successful he was — but also how short people’s memories are — when the Ccru and Reza and the rest of the blogosphere started to lose their defining outsider status. It’s a process whereby narratives get calcified, fossilized. For Reza, that acephalous oily mouth, that’s effectively theory-death — although a death he later welcomed. But an essence is lost in the process. The original fault is filled in like grout between tiles.

When Robin addresses Reza’s strange history in his Brief History of Geotrauma, he writes that “Trauma belongs to a time beyond personal memory”. What is being investigated there is something prehistoric; prewriting; prenarrative. I think that’s an important consideration here.

A narrative is something that we build on top. Extending a narrative has its uses but, at a certain point, all we are doing is repressing that which we were first trying to describe. This is, arguably, why Deleuze and Guattari and the Ccru and Reza all try to describe and enact what they are describing simultaneously. It’s a kind of writing in your own blood. It is a kind of traumatic writing that triggers and is triggered. It drives stakes down beneath texts to those things we dress up in philosophy only to later forget them. It’s a practice of holding wounds open rather than than stitching them with so many words.

This is why Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos grew beyond him so successfully. His personal traumas were obscured by the sharing of a cosmic perspective and the truth was unearthed from beneath one man’s sexually repressed and racist neuroses. The wounds were opened so wide as to swallow the world in them.

For better and for worse, since the days of the Ccru, accelerationism and its adjacent weird theories have been given the status of a Cthulhu mythos, always adding strings to the bow. Of course, acc thought is nowhere near as internally cohesive as the Ccru’s brand of fictioning. Perhaps because it arrived too late (and this is perhaps why we must repeatedly go back to the Nineties, skipping over the actual moment of accelerationism’s Noughties emergence). Today, accelerationism, as a political philosophy that hopes to deal with the impasses of postmodern capitalism, is crawling with PoMo rot. We should be careful what we attached it to, in case you lose control of its spread.

This is why repeated attempts have been made to try and re-situate accelerationism’s original concerns. Aly’s list is perhaps the most important recent example. (You wouldn’t think it to look at it — no shade, of course; it is just minimal as far as acc primers go — but the response to it speaks volumes.) It is a list that does well to add an obscured dimension back into accelerationist thinking and Ed’s follow-up post goes a step further towards situating the list in a context that those people mad about it have conveniently forgotten about, having become too caught up in an ahistorical narrative. It is necessary that we drag “accelerationism — now more a splinter of cyberfeminism than vice-versa — back to the (un)ground that gave rise to it in the first place”.

It’s been quite exciting to see — even the backlash. The squabbling has reminded me of that exciting time online in 2018 when U/Acc and G/Acc were first being developed in the blogosphere and in the bowels of Cave Twitter. Amy Ireland and Nyx Land were doing so much valuable work to re-centre this trajectory via a kind of feminist horrorism, drawn quite explicitly from Land’s often ignored tendency to give voice to a feminine Nietzscheanism — and going further still, building on those members / affiliates of the Ccru so often lost under Land’s shadow — many of whom are mentioned in Ed’s post.

Whilst Land remained the central vector and influence, emphasising his (proto-)xenofeminist tendencies was an attempt to uncover this same trajectory, re-contaminating his thinking, and making it something impossible for his more uncritical acolytes to ignore.

It was later Mother Hellcrypt, an elusive avatar occasionally invoked by Land himself, that became a icon for those of us thinking these things through. She was the vector through which this history was allowed to flow.

I’d like to think this blog has always had a place for this lineage — although, admittedly, it’s not my main area of expertise. Amidst the blogosphere’s patchwork of ideological perspectives, these threads were best explored by others, but a defence of accelerationism’s feminist valences has nonetheless been a regular feature here. (The last time was notably in response to another of Aly’s excellent blog posts, attempting to reconnect XF to the insights provided by accelerationism’s central ur-text, Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy — a connection squeamishly ignored by XF’s critics, even though it holds the answers to many of their concerns.)

But the question still remains: Why has this disarticulation between XF and accelerationism occurred in the first place? XF was arguably an attempt to intensify a vector that seemed to lead to an amputation. An acc-fearing feminism and a feminism-fearing acc found themselves firmly gripping two sides of the same saw. (Never mind Twitter spitting its dummy out the other night, it was clear that we were having a bit of a crisis when XF, and accelerationism’s feminist beginnings more broadly, had to be defended against other feminists rather than from any other explicitly acc contingent.) As ever, accelerationism is caught unproductively in the middle as all sides of the political compass try and use it as a vessel for vague, paranoid concerns.

Again, Ed’s excellent post drives home the fact that things are not as they used to be. But still: why? Aly’s reading list raises a number of valuable questions in this regard, some that should give everyone pause for thought.

Accelerationist thinking has long been a boy’s club — that’s undeniable. The assumption of ownership by male interlocutors has always been a point of contention, with some of the most important contributors to acc thought being chased off platforms not with pitchforks but through creepy replyguy tendencies. Theorybros are a scourge that many thinkers have struggled against and found the battle not worth fighting for, going quiet / private or disappearing altogether rather than masochistically fighting for a seat at the table, the other occupants of which having previously looked up to them for guidance. (I probably wouldn’t be blogging here still without early support and encouragement from Amy Ireland in 2017, who introduced me to the rest of Cave Twitter — I think the same is true for many people around these parts.)

Suffice it to say, if accelerationism’s feminist foundations are shocking to you, perhaps ask yourself why. What has led to this ground being obscured from your vision of this unruly thought? It’s long had a presence on every acc blog that matters, so why is a list that only lists its feminist (or at least female) influences the source of so much outrage?

The answers will be obvious to most. If they’re not to you, maybe take a look at yourself and ask why.



Ends

Following the recent release of the acc course written by Meta-Nomad and myself, I’ve been continuing to flesh out my side of the project in the hope of turning my material into a book draft. (Don’t hold your breath, it’ll take me a while yet.)

This version of acc’s genealogy that I’m newly sketching out for myself — contrary to Vincent Garton’s perennial wisdom — doesn’t (presently) include any explicitly feminist material, to my shame, but — following the recent Twitter drama around acc’s cyberfeminist beginnings — I’m now wondering about how this project is still relevant to that cyberfeminist trajectory, and how I might make space for it in my otherwise heavily localised considerations.

This is to say that my focus might be somewhat controversial in its own right. It isn’t much concerned with Land, or Deleuze and Guattari either, except in passing. Instead, it situates accelerationism within the immediate circumstances of its blogospheric emergence: the financial crash of 2007/08 and the critical impasse that left-wing thought seemed to be faced with at that time.

Alain Badiou called this impasse our “crisis of negation”. His argument, succinctly put, is no doubt familiar: we are capable of destroying the old but we are incapable of producing the new. Today I’m wondering to what extent xenofeminism and cyberfeminism are concerned with this same crisis in negation, albeit within feminist thought, that acc first sought to rectify more generally…


This argument regarding the crisis in negation has long been doing the rounds culturally — Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds’ writings on hauntology made much the same claim. However it was Badiou (and, to a lesser extent, Žižek) who led the charge politically in the late 2000s.

With this long ignored Badiouian basis in mind, we might argue that accelerationism and hauntology are concerned with the same problems. Accelerationism, however, placed itself distinctly in opposition to its theoretical neighbour.

Alex Williams, on his long dead blog Splintering Bone Ashes, rejected hauntology as a “form of good postmodernism, as set against the bad PoMo of a rampaging retroism.” It is, he writes, “a cowardly move, lusting after utopias that never were, or which are now unreachable, a retreat into childhood/youth, just as trapped in the endless re-iterative mechanistics of the postmodern as the lowest form of retroism, merely in a hyper-self-aware form.” As a result, hauntology is too liable to falling on its own sword — and, in its melancholy, it would probably be happy if it did so — because it “cedes too much ground to what it attempts to oppose”.

Accelerationism emerges as a kind of political response to hauntology’s cultural ascendancy in this regard — the overbearing nature of its melancholic “end of history” stasis. Accelerationism, then, challenges Badiou, at the height of his (recently acquired) powers in the Anglosphere, with the same critique — he also cedes too much ground to what he attempts to oppose. Williams nonetheless draws on Badiou’s thought and then, notably, pushes it further. He writes:

Perhaps what [the financial crash] offers … is a chink in the armour of late capital, a Badiouian event, evading the usual in-situational structural determinations. In a sense Badiou would not recognise (economic) it really does give an opportunity (as did the crash of 1929) to recalibrate both the state-market relation and the type of economic theory deployed by governments. But this will be merely to retrench, to stabilise, to maintain the present system, in a new form, by whatever means necessary and available. Politically it is less clear, for in order that the potential this event offers to be fully exploited, we need a politics capable of fully evading even the kind of generic humanism Badiou’s politics (for example) proffers. For the impasse of the end of history can only be properly surmounted by a final nihilistic overcoming of humanism — in a sense even Badiou fails this test, his minimal-communist humanism not going far enough. What perhaps this might entail is a rethinking of a revolutionary position, built on the basis of a rethinking of the very notion of value itself.

Now, I don’t want to just regurgitate my research from my half of the acc course here, but suffice it to say that a renewed focus on Williams’ initial accelerationist texts has proved hugely informative for me as of late. (It was following this post quoted above that Noys responded: “that’s the sort of kakocratic thinking I’ve been calling accelerationism” and Williams (followed closely by Fisher) went “yoink!”)

I feel like a new sense of acc’s beginnings has given me a new appreciation of just how shit the conversation around it has become. Indeed, all the squabbling about what is and isn’t acc is not only futile but damaging when we fail to realise that what we are witnessing is accelerationism falling victim to the very forces to hoped to critique. This was articulated after the Christchurch shooting — Brenton Tarrant is the very subject that accelerationism first sought to critique — but accelerationism’s problems started long before he pulled a trigger.

What we failed to see, in the years prior, was how Accelerationism was similarly sliding from the “good” PoMo deterritorialising political heresy of the 2000s to a bad PoMo horroristic conservatism in the 2010s. It is the equivalent of Burial releasing an album of Arctic Monkeys covers and we run with it for the sheer “mad lad” cahones of it. Or perhaps the other way round — Alex Turner releases an “Archangel” cover for Record Store Day. The line between blessed and cursed runs thin and whilst we might get caught up in the lulz and the spectacle of it all, we should remain vigilant to the fact that this could be the system’s way of ironing out the dialectical movement that exists (with difficulty) between diagnosis and symptom. Before you know it, the world has moved on, and someone picks up that release and sees Burial and Alex Turner as natural bedfellows. Where there was, initially, a critical tension, there is now a flatness as a postmodern cultural consciousness eats its outliers.

Are we still able to affirm, after everything that has happened, Williams’ attempts to play chicken with these tensions in the hope they might break the system? I’m not so sure. He obviously no longer thinks so. But it remains relevant because this problem that Williams and others sought to address has still yet to be resolved. There is the additional irony that this problem is most relevant to accelerationism itself today. It has become entangled in the forces of PoMo it hoped to accelerate out from. Clearly some acc theorising had done nothing but place drag on that attempt.

(As an aside, it is worth noting, I think, that although Land’s influence looms large over accelerationism — the fury around Aly’s recent reading list seemed to come primarily from Land’s sidelining — many of the early accelerationists were critical of his fidelity to capitalism. Whilst his Nineties analysis of capitalism is DeleuzoGuattarian, it seems he later came to prefer its reterritorialising tendencies rather than call for a vigilance against them. This is to say that Land seems to absorb ideological extremes and others’ attempts to move past his thought in order to retain his own relevance, just like capital. Perhaps such a tactic is not to be rebuked in and of itself — we could just call to “learning” or “changing your mind” — but it certainly complicated his affinity with the neoconservative right in the present moment, which begs the question: To what extent does Land’s aping of capital through a cultural conservatism similarly cause drag on the system rather than lubricating it?)

(As an aside to this aside, this problematic becomes most apparent in the ways that Land absorbs and neutralises many critiques made against him by the early blogosphere; in the ways he adopts tendencies that were invoked by others to move beyond his Nineties work in order to furnish his new Noughties neoreaction for himself. Horrorism, for instance, is wholly associated with Land today, but it was Alex Williams who first used that term, borrowing it cynically from Martin Amis to describe “a non-dialectical amassing of negativity … a horror piled upon horror, a critical mass capable of pulling the subjectivity attached to the organic human substrate through to some nether-zone of dissolution, a Deleuzean becoming crucially without affirmation.” This was a dark Deleuzeanism proper — far darker than anything Andrew Culp could pull out of the blogosphere — which called for a political praxis of terroristic communism able to “destabilise the current state-capital bond … a kind of meta-terrorism, operating on the plane of capital itself … a capitalist surrealism [seeking] the exploitation of credit-based financial systems for their primary destructive potential … 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 horrorism is today associated with the worst kind of right-wing online edgelording shows just how successful Land’s reterritorialisation of the term has been.)

Where does accelerationism’s cyberfeminist foundation fit into all of this? I’d argue that G/Acc, most explicitly, was the first successful attempt to answer Badiou’s melancholy call. Feminism itself has been caught within its own crisis of negation, happy to destroy old gender norms but reluctant to build new ones (outside the purview of capitalist orthodoxy). Accelerationism’s adjacency to trans discourses is obviously relevant here. There’s no more accessible way to hack the matrix of subjectivity in the present than fucking with gender. G/acc recentred the cyberfeminist lineage and added to this the horrorism that trans discourse injects into a liberal establishment.

G/acc’s relationship to u/acc in this regard is wholly positive. U/acc flattened the playing field, attempting to destroy the build-up of misconceptions and divergences that obscured accelerationism’s striving for the new over the destruction of the old. Without ceding too much ground to the destructive tendency it hoped to critique, g/acc emerged as a product of that striving; the phoenix from the ashes.

Cyberfeminism has arguably always played that role in this thought. The outrage triggered by a reading list — a fucking reading list — that recentres this shows just how rotten and fatally ingrown (broadly speaking) accelerationism’s attempts to produce the new have become.

No Nature, Not Ever

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Gary Snyder quotation recently and how it has been bastardised to become some generic caption for an inspirational poster in your dentist’s waiting room.

In every instance it is shared online — search “Gary Synder” on Twitter and 75% of tweets are replicating this line and anchoring it down with hashtags — it seems to invert its own logic by setting up a false dichotomy. It seems to beg the question: If nature is home, where are we now? But, for Snyder, often somewhat controversially, it is instead the case that nature is home and your home is nature; i.e. nature is the place I live, no matter where that is.

It is this immanent and Zen-like view of nature that allows Synder, as poet laureate of the Pacific North West, to encapsulate the veil we’ve discussed repeatedly in recent weeks, between subject and void, nature and society. His poems take form as he picks holes in the thin paper that separates planes.

I wonder if his collection No Nature is a response to this bastardisation of his poems. What is it for one of America’s foremost “nature” poets to declare there is no nature? It’s a kind of punk contrarianism. Sometimes there’s nothing more fun than shouting “no fun, not ever.” Similarly, for Synder, true nature is revealed when we declare there is no nature. Synder’s is a kind of poetic postnaturalism in this regard.

Snyder’s poem “In the Santa Clarita Valley” is often chosen as being most representative of this turn.

Like skinny wildweed flowers sticking up
hexagonal “Denny’s” sign
starry “Carl’s”
loopy “McDonald’s”
eight-petaled yellow “Shell”
blue-and-white “Mobil” with a big red “O”

growing in the asphalt riparian zone
by the soft roar of the flow
of Interstate 5.

His later poems have often entertained a post-natural view of the world in which the flows of human life and capital become riparian zones of their own; invisible rivers, no less natural than the ones we already know.

For Synder — like D.H. Lawrence before him — alienation is not caused by capitalism in and of itself; not any longer. Alienation is not the sight of a McDonald’s sign but our othering of it. The false dichotomy of nature and society, which we think we make for nature’s benefit, only others ourselves from its flows. Capitalism, as shapeshifting current, does as much to plug us back into the nature that we distinguish ourselves from (ideologically) than it does to destroy it (materially). This is to say that capital is precisely the vector that drives our interventions in our own environment. Nature and society’s modes of productivity mirror each other. What we require more than anything is not a new moralising incision between the two but a way to think both together in a new relation. Mountains and websites.


All this reminds me of that moment, late last year, when a proper push was made to give voice to an ecologically-minded accelerationism. But what use is ecology to accelerationism, really? It doesn’t mean accelerationism cannot inform a thinking about our environment but environment and ecology are subtly different things. Synder himself makes the point when he is asked in an interview about the poetic distinction between the two terms, in relation to his poem above:

Look at the words. “Environment” means the surroundings. The surroundings can include an oil refinery, can include all of Los Angeles and the I-5 strip. That’s the environment too, whatever surrounds us. … Everything surrounds everything else. … What is “ecological”? Etymologically, the “household of nature” is what’s being called up. “Ecological” refers to the systems of biological nature, which include energy, and mineral and chemical transformations and pathways. “The environment” is used more commonly to also include human and technological productions. And it’s not an absolute, hard and fast separation. …

Such is the problem of accelerationism more generally. It’s speciation is often productive but only if we understand this process within a grander scheme of things. Mutations are welcome but when we make them distinct from the world in which they are acting, which accelerationism (without conditions) has always spoken to, then we fall into that all too human tunnel vision. It slots accelerationism into a more general trend within the humanities, claiming itself necessary because we can no longer see the trees for the commodity that is wood. It asks: How can we protect nature from Acceleration? In the process, it abjures one of accelerationism’s central observations (going back to the geophilosophy of the Ccru and Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia and even the solar economy of Georges Bataille): Acceleration is natural.

The challenge of accelerationism was always to complicate our understanding of a world-for-us and a world-without-us in this regard. “What are things-in-themselves?” is one philosophical starting point. “What is the world-without-us?” is another, slotting itself into a present confluence of speculative fictions and hypotheticals that are increasingly defining how we see our own futures. “What is capital-without-us?” is the speculative-realist juncture that first birthed an accelerationist thinking.

It is time that complicates and stitches together all of these perspectives. An environmental accelerationism is no different; always included in the Ccru’s accelerationist musings and explored through their preoccupation with geotrauma. In this sense, there is no nature; only time. You do not rectify this outlook by focusing on nature but by opening up time. As Snyder puts it, we require an “openness not just for the human community but for the natural community; it’s for our immediate neighborhood of all the other species, all of us passing through time.”

The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism — Course Out Now!

Following our one-hour promo chat from the other day, I’m very excited to announce that The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism, a collaborative course written by James ‘@meta_nomad‘ Ellis and myself is now live at teachable.com.

The course is a two-parter, with James covering the philosophy of accelerationism and me on politics. (I’ll put the full course outline after the jump…)

We’re both very excited to be coming together on this. The course comes in three tiers. Tier 1 (£100) gives you access to all the course materials — almost seven hours worth of video + audio + lecture transcripts; Tier 2 (£150) is the course materials and the opportunity to take part in two seminars with James and myself; Tier 3 (£200) is all of the above and you also get a one-on-one seminar (or more like a threesome) with James and myself as well.

As we discussed the other day, we’re both very excited about the kinds of conversations that the course might generate — Ed Berger has already written a genius blogpost in response to the promo chat. So please join us for what we think will be a really exciting set of conversations.

Continue reading “The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism — Course Out Now!”

The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism — Course Promo

Meta-Nomad very generously asked me to collaborate with him on a course about accelerationism six weeks ago. He suggested that he’d cover the philosophy of accelerationism and I could cover the politics of accelerationism. I thought this was a really interesting idea. The result is a load of content that we’re going to be releasing this Friday (24th July 2020) via his Teachable page.

I don’t want to give away too much — we’ll be sharing more info later in the week, including course outlines and costs — but we have recorded the above chat which begins a particular conversation that we hope this course will go on to further develop.

A promotional video for the second Hermitix course called The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism, a collaboration with Matt Colquhoun (www.xenogothic.com). The course will be a paid course consisting of 10 lectures and transcripts, with optional seminars and one-on-ones. James Ellis (Meta-Nomad) will cover the philosophical aspects of Accelerationism and Matt Colquhoun will cover the political aspects.

Enjoy!

The Rotten Western (Part 2)

Spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2 from the very start. You have been warned.



← Part One

After the shock of Joel’s horrific death subsides, Ellie and Dina plan their trip to Seattle, where they hope to avenge Joel by hunting down the members of the Washington Liberation Front who are responsible for his demise. What Joel did to deserve such a death is, for the moment, unclear. “Joel pissed off a lot of people,” Ellie admits.

Before heading out, they visit Joel’s house to take on final look at the life they knew — a briefly sheltered life; a brief life with Joel. Inside what we find is not so much a house as a museum piece. It is unclear how long Joel has been gone — days; maybe a week or two? — but already his home feels like a living memorial. However, this home is very different to the homes we’ve so far seen Joel inhabit… For starters, the Old West nostalgia in Joel’s Jackson house is surprising. Whilst, at first glance, it seems to suit an idealised version of the man we’ve come to know, as I lingered amongst its decorations and detritus I also found it jarring with reality.

It was a moment that took me back to the start of the first game. As Ellie staggers around Joel’s now-vacant house, grief-stricken, I wanted to replay the first game’s prologue, in which Joel’s daughter Sarah staggers around their home half-asleep looking for her father.

Sarah and Joel’s house is recognisably modern. It’s messy too; the banal neglect — no doubt the product of an entwined teenage laziness and single-parent fatigue — is pervasive. It is also strangely haunted by a violence to come, in which we can already predict the surreality of a house in ruins, its present lived-in state foreshadowing an inevitable, soon-to-be looted state-to-come. But the house is lived in, at least. Joel’s house in Jackson feels like it has been laid out all too neatly, like it will be the future home of a Joel waxwork. It is sterile, and haunted by an unpredictable past rather than an all too predictable future.

We could argue that, post-outbreak, the entire world is haunted by the past in this way but the eeriness of much of The Last of Us‘s environments comes from the fact that these pasts are forgotten. As recognisable as the suburbs and cityscapes are to us as players, we become accustomed to seeing them as ancient ruins — that is, we see them through the eyes of the game’s protagonists. The difference between the two is, perhaps, one of grief. Whilst we might grieve the sight of a burned down house in our present, as the sight of it invades our capacity for empathy uninvited, we do not grieve the remnants of ancient civilsations.

The tension between the past, present and future in this regard has been the defining enviro-temporal tension of the Gothic for centuries, but this only makes the design of Joel’s house more surreal. It slips somewhere between the two — between the Gothic and the grief-stricken. It’s preservation jars with a narrative wherein life so often ends without legacy.

Most interesting to me, in this regard, are the paintings on the walls of Joel’s two houses. In the first game, Sarah’s room is peppered with posters for bands and films, for instance. As you head into the corridor and, eventually, to her father’s bedroom — it’s the middle of the night and he is, conspicuously, not at home — you see that the walls are decorated with various family photographs and natural vistas.

Much has been said about the snowy landscape “easter eggs” above Joel’s bed and set as his phone’s background, both foreshadowing an environment later on in the game where you first get to play as Ellie, but beyond this it is intriguing to see the majesty of nature devoid of any presence of the human.

On another wall in Joel’s room, for instance, there is a painting of horses running free. It is that stereotypical image of American natural beauty but it also foreshadows the stampede of infected and uninfected that the player is about to be caught up in. Elsewhere, there are pictures of ducks about to take flight, similarly evoking a natural tranquillity whilst also being a sight you might expect to see on the end of a gun. Humans are nonetheless absent in all instances.

In this sense, the decorations are more reminiscent of a dentist’s waiting room or my grandma’s house rather than a modern family home. It inadvertently emphasises some of the critiques of the first game — the player is left feeling more like an observer than an actual participant in the world around them — but, in The Last of Us Part 2, this changes; there are many figures in the landscapes that adorn Joel’s walls, as if the decoration now reflects the forced changes in play style. Actions have consequences. This is no longer (just) about an indifferent nature in-itself. This is a game with a Promethean edge, imploring the player to interrupt the world, even when the odds are not in their favour.

In the game’s next act, this point is made clear almost immediately. Whilst this is true within the context of the game’s new mechanics most explicitly, it is also evidenced by Ellie and Dina’s interactions with their environment. Take, for instance, the musical encounter that has already proved to be iconic in representing the game’s intensified emphasis on player agency and character development.

As Ellie and Dina trawl through downtown Seattle, they chance upon a music shop. Vinyl records fill the bins ready to be flicked through but, perhaps to our surprise, they are not some by-gone novelty for the pair; in Jackson, it is shown that they have the capacity to listen to music from the old world and they also watch old DVDs. Instead, confronted with this snapshot of an old way of life, Ellie wonders if there are people out there in the world somewhere who are making new movies. She writes new songs, she says, as well as listening to old ones, so surely there are people out there lucky enough to have the resources and know-how to make new movies too.

Though it may seem like a somewhat naive question, Ellie’s reasons for asking it are quite convincing. In a world so disconnected from itself, you can never account for how good or how bad other parts of the world might have it, and you also can’t account for what kind of cultural artefacts might remain a part of their social fabric. This is to say that, in its abject primitivism, the Fermi paradox is made wholly terrestrial.

As I play through the game, I find myself thinking about this a lot. Joel’s nostalgic nature isn’t something I want to criticise. In fact, it is all too relatable. In his role as father figure, he wants to inspire Ellie with his knowledge and expertise, showing her things about the old world that she can take with her into the new. Whilst Ellie’s excitement and curiosity in this regard is endlessly endearing, Joel’s own melancholy never quite fades into the background. And it is an understandable melancholy too. If I was able to watch old films or listen to old records depicting a world catastrophically destroyed by a zombifying pathogen, I think the cognitive dissonance would soon start to take its toll. For the younger characters in The Last of Us Part 2, however, this disconnect is taken to be a given. They don’t focus much on what has been lost but always push forwards, considering what they can do next. They seem inspired by the old world but only because it shows them the kind of cultural production possible in the new one they hope to build.

Joel’s is less focused on the future. Whilst this might seem like a cynical appraisal of his character, one look around his house makes it quite clear that, if Joel Miller had a film camera in post-apocalyptia, he’d be making Westerns. Whereas Ellie’s inner songbook contains the works of A-Ha and Pearl Jam; Joel’s starts to feel like a world of reactionary American primitivism — what Leslie Fielder once termed a “higher masculine sentimentality” — where a rugged music like the blues might suddenly makes an ahistoric comeback. After all, there are cowboys everywhere. Joel has even taken up carving them ornately into wood. But this romantic figure of man and horse — seemingly representative of a fraught if nonetheless very human relationship with nature — is far more reminiscent of the life Joel has acquired for himself after the apocalypse rather than being representative of anything that came before it.

In many ways, this is precisely the function of the Western in popular culture — a way of laundering the present through the romanticism of the past. As Sam Peckinpah, director of The Wild Bunch (among other Westerns), once said: “The Western is the universal frame within which it’s possible to comment on today.” However, in a game like The Last of Us Part 2, this sort of process is most commonly inverted — we launder the present through the horror of the future. As such, it is strange to see the Western’s original polarity contained with the game in miniature; it renders it strangely cyclonic, with overlapping feedback loops, giving rise to a kind of temporal horseshoe of cowboy metaphysics that immediately renders time out of joint.

This strange templexity is only made more apparent by the abundant references and archetypes taken directly from many a classic Wester. For example, walking around dead Joel’s house, I found myself thinking about his previous adventures and general misanthropy — at least in the first game. As I try to picture him as some archetypal cowboy, he starts to resemble Uncle Ethan in Henry Ford’s The Searchers — the coldhearted horse-riding rifleman.

The Joel we met in the first game — before Ellie eventually thawed him out — was similarly violent and cold, traversing the plains of former downtown financial districts, overshadowed by wrecked skyscrapers not unlike the geological towers of Monument Valley. However, this hardly seems like an existence Joel would want to romanticise after the fact, in the way he has done in Jackson.

But even in a film as revered as The Searchers, the cowboy’s life is deeply disturbing. Ethan the anti-hero, played by John Wayne, isn’t just cold; he’s a horrible and vindictive racist — surely even by the standards of 1956 (and this is apparent from the opening scene). The horror that often greets his actions, painted on the faces of his dysfunctional and god-fearing posse, is tellingly triggered most often by the strange disregard Ethan has for the living and the dead. He mutilates corpses out of spite, for instance; he also has no sympathy for the Indians, allowing them no respite so that they might deal with their dead and wounded after a shootout. This disturbs his fellow travellers even more than the racialised threat of the Red Man. (These attitudes are less scandalous when expressed following a zombie apocalypse, when the Indians are substituted by undead hoards, but we might note that this only normalises Joel’s familiar contempt as dead.)

Despite all of this, The Searchers, in the popular imagination at least, continues to be upheld as this classic and deeply romanticised representation of the Old West. It is as if the sheer majesty of its location quite literally overshadows the deeds depicted on screen.

Joel seems to romanticise his own life in much the same way. The majesty of the classic Western becomes a way for him to look beyond the violence of his life and revel in nature. It is an understandable compartmentalisation, considering the plant-horror of the cordyceptic pathogen, but still, the extent to which his house starts to feel like a Searchers shrine, with its paintings of gun-toting cowboys in Monument Valley, seems oddly out of place.

Why does Joel retain such a firm grasp on the Old West? Is this just Joel romanticising his own trauma in order to better deal with it? Is this him compartmentalising a life he never knew in the form of old genre tropes many of those younger than him may have never seen? Is a fall back into the Texan stereotype really all it takes to scrub the horror of his life away?

Perhaps this mournful dissonance is unescapable for Joel. After all, he seems to recognise, implicitly, that he lives in a new Rotten West, but the only way he can find hope for himself is by going backwards. Ellie and Dina, retaining a very different (post-)cultural foundation, find the West taking on a very different form — theirs is a postmodern Western, no doubt, but it is far more hauntological in that sense; that is, it is a kind of “good PoMo”, as Alex Williams once put it, compared to Joel’s “bad” form of reactionary pastiche.

I think this is because, whilst Joel has a world to mourn, it is a world that decisively dies with him. Most of what Ellie and Dina know of life is violent political factionalism and the equally violently indifference of nature. Whilst this might resemble the Wild West absolutely, they don’t seem to know that. It’s not an echo of the past for them; just the present that they know. As such, they’re still mournful, but their alienation seems to come from the fact that they don’t actually know what it is they’re supposed to be mourning. They live a hauntological existence precisely because they are mourning their own stuckness.

I’d argue that this position echoes my own (revitalised) version of hauntology quite acutely, but Alex Williams’ old critique is still worth bearing in mind. For Williams, hauntology is always representative of “a cowardly move, lusting after utopias that never were, or which are now unreachable, a retreat into childhood/youth, just as trapped in the endless re-iterative mechanistics of the postmodern as the lowest form of retroism, merely in a hyper-self-aware form.” Because of this, hauntology “cedes too much ground to what it attempts to oppose, because of an a priori assumption: that there is nothing else (at this moment in time at least), that nothing else is possible, and as such we [must] make the best of this (and that the best we can do is to hint at the possible which remains forever out of reach — with all the pseudo-messianic dimensions this involves).”

What we see in Joel’s house is precisely a “making the best of it”. The scenes represented on his walls are representations of the life he already lives, but exorcised of all horror and instead jettisoned to a few hundred years in the past. This temporal displacement is precisely an aesthetic instantiation of the a priori Williams is talking about. There is nothing else at this moment in time at least; ergo, all that is really possible is to return to a past moment, and a past moment that Joel himself has not experienced. It is a theoretical past rather than an observed one; the very definition of the Western as an ideological a priori.

So, what of the girls? Williams’ nod to Badiou in his conclusion is a factor I think most people interested in hauntology and accelerationism have forgotten. For Williams, Badiou’s “analysis of the emergence of the new” — recently discussed — “would entail a more strategic examination of precisely where the pop-musical 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.”

This is perhaps where Ellie and Dina lie. Whereas Joel, no matter how loveable, inhabits the reactionary misanthropy of a classic Western like The Searchers, Ellie and Dina personify a more revolutionary kind of homesteader, given the fact that they do not see themselves as some sort of iteration of the past. They respond with vengeance but because they are determined to pass through their new world of grief and transform it into a world where the same thing cannot happen again.

It is an intriguing form of the categorical imperative. They act upon the world in such a way as to punish those who live amongst them and think they can act with impunity. But they do so without much consideration for the now-normalised zombie apocalypse. This is, in itself, an intriguing gulf also present in many a genre film. The characters in any Western exist on a knife edge, where the indifference of the desert and the indifference of their fellow human beings produce quite distinct (but also oddly entangled) responses. In the Rotten Western, this already fine line becomes impossibly blurred. Nature and society are no longer false dialectical opposites, as they have been since the Enlightenment — or, perhaps, it is precisely that, but the falseness of this relation now takes precedent, transforming nature/society into a kind of corpse bride, with each mirroring the other and with each causing the other to rot.

It is a gross (but also nihilistic and realist) bastardisation of the relationship that dominates Joel’s house. Whereas he sees the best in this entanglement, represented by the image of a cowboy and his bucking broncho, in a cyclonic relationship that surfs the tension between natural rebellion and societal respect, the flatline construct of body alive and body dead is perhaps a far more honest appraisal of their new reality.

The figure of the survivor on horseback is an apparition; the reality is two humans, survivor and undead, in a never-ending tussle.

Xenofeminism and the Problem of the Non-Alienated Region

Alex has written a really fantastic blogpost on the tensions between immanence and transcendence in the Xenofeminist Manifesto. It chimes with something I’ve been thinking about recently, after spending quite a bit of time with Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. (I’m going to pull on this thread here, which may or may not resonate with Alex’s post — I cannot claim to be as well acquainted with XF’s named antecedents as she is.)

The sense in which “alienation” is used in xenofeminism’s self-described “politics of alienation” has been a sticking point for a few people in recent years — and Alex’s response to this handwringing is entertaining enough: “I don’t care enough to comment”. But I do feel like, indirectly at least, Alex has sketched the outline of a figure that these critiques always fail to see.

This figure emerges in the form of a fundamental tension, which Alex draws out as follows:

For XF, calls to nature are power moves — linguistic expressions of the will to power that inadvertently locks one into a prison — in which we “are told to seek solace in unfreedom, staking claims on being ‘born’ this way, as if offering an excuse with nature’s blessing” (Cuboniks 2015, 5). Appeals to nature — or more specifically, truth in nature — are “a retreat from what makes trans and queer politics more than just a lobby: that it is an arduous assertion of freedom against an order that seemed immutable” (Cuboniks 2015, 5). Here, nature is figured as a kind of limit which must be overcome — an order that can be overthrown or escape. This xenofeminism confronts a prison, sure, but prisons have outsides: they are escapable.

Yet while this XF is embedded rather neatly in the language of transcendence, hardly two pages later the manifesto shatters any illusion of transcendence or the possibility (possibilities?) therein. With a heavy dose of Donne Haraway, XFM reads: “‘Nature’ — understood here, as the unbounded arena of science — is all there is“ (Cuboniks 2015, 4). Where the previous XF almost yearns for a kind of innocence (though I’m sure no one will ever admit to it), this other Xenofeminism — where nature is not a limit but “all there is” — invokes Haraway’s unwavering refusal to tease out the organic and the inorganic: “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism” (Cuboniks 2015, 2).

This tension has led to a number of critics trying to tease out just what exactly XF is talking about when it talks about alienation. The first of these was Annie Goh’s for Mute magazine, which many found to be deficient in constructing a flawed history of the term’s philosophical uses. I’ve been nursing an argument recently that this article’s paranoic drawing of lines around certain senses of the term doesn’t get us anywhere because it misses out a central if silent reference: Lyotard.

Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy declares — controversially, of course — that there is a false tautology in most understandings of alienation in the present, as if the presence of alienation suggests there is some non-alienated region for us to escape to. But this position, more often than not, falls back on primitivist arguments of retreat. When dealing with something like capitalism, this kind of logic is never not reactionary. It also ignores the extent to which people — specifically, the modern proletariat — enjoy their alienation, complicating the entangled processes of desire and capitalism.

I’m partly interested in this because of my current research into adoption and surrogacy. Because, despite all the recent romanticising of familial abolition, I find it interesting that there is little consideration of how adopted children (broadly speaking — that is, whatever the circumstances of their births) are quintessentially alienated subjects. It seems to me that any focus on the politics of surrogacy, though still valuable in and of itself, can only ever have half of the picture if it refuses to consider the complex affects of alienation commonly experienced by those who are surrogates, who are born of surrogacy, or who raise surrogate children. This is because, no matter how emphatically the abolition of the family is called for, it nonetheless remains this oddly transcendental prison that we cannot see outside of.

This is intriguing for me in my research because I think it can be argued that most of the trauma experienced by those in the adoptive triad comes from the fact that they are outside of a societal limit of familial relations that are so abstract and yet so concrete. Each figure in this complex relationship is primed to escape the bounds of what we understand as a “family” but this very process of adoption and surrogacy exists in order to suture together some ill-fitting ideal. The resulting alienation occurs because, as we know, even though the nuclear family is a bygone category — with its failure statistically more common today than not — it remains a sort of transcendental institution that defines how we think about and imagine our domestic relations.

Mark Fisher wrote about this once, commenting on Beginning to See the Light by Ellen Willis, who mourns the extent to which the hippies, who were all for communal living, for a time, couldn’t get past the desire deep down to marry off and start a family. Mark writes:

The counterculture’s politics were anticapitalist, Willis argues, but this did not entail a straightforward rejection of everything produced in the capitalist field. Certainly, pleasure and individualism were important to what Willis characterizes as her “quarrel with the left,” yet the desire to do away with the family could not be construed in these terms alone; it was inevitably also a matter of new and unprecedented forms of collective (but non-statist) organization.

Willis declares her generation naive to have thought they could have done away with the desire for the family so swiftly. Mark talks about how this is prevalent in even the most unlikely of places — as even children who have been abused and are the products of abjectly dysfunctional families still yearn for the ideal — and the Right arguably preyed on this in the 1970s. He continues:

Willis insists that the return of familialism was central to the rise of the new Right, which was just about to be confirmed in grand style with the election of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK. “If there is one cultural trend that has defined the seventies,” Willis wrote, “it is the aggressive resurgence of family chauvinism.” For Willis, perhaps the most disturbing signs of this new conservatism was the embrace of the family by elements of the Left, a trend reinforced by the tendency for former adherents of the counterculture (including herself) to (re)turn to the family out of a mixture of exhaustion and defeatism. “I’ve fought, I’ve paid my dues, I’m tired of being marginal. I want in!” Impatience — the desire for a sudden, total, and irrevocable change, for the end of the family within a generation — gave way to a bitter resignation when that (inevitably) failed to happen.

Mark goes on to claim that the questions raised by Willis’s obituary for the counterculture — not least in its admissions of impatience — are explicitly accelerationist, at least when coupled with a necessary clarification of the term. He writes:

I want to situate accelerationism not as some heretical form of Marxism, but as an attempt to converge with, intensify, and politicize the most challenging and exploratory dimensions of popular culture. Willis’s desire for “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude” and her “quarrel with the left” over desire and freedom can provide a different way into thinking what is at stake in this much misunderstood concept. A certain, perhaps now dominant, take on accelerationism has it that the position amounts to a cheerleading for the intensification of any capitalist process whatsoever, particularly the “worst,” in the hope that this will bring the system to a point of terminal crisis. … This formulation, however, is question-begging in that it assumes what accelerationism rejects — the idea that everything produced “under” capitalism fully belongs to capitalism. By contrast, accelerationism maintains that there are desires and processes which capitalism gives rise to and feeds upon, but which it cannot contain; and it is the acceleration of these processes that will push capitalism beyond its limits. Accelerationism is also the conviction that the world desired by the Left is post-capitalist — that there is no possibility of a return to a pre-capitalist world and that there is no serious desire to return to such a world, even if we could.

Here we see Lyotard’s charge, that the oppressed might enjoy their oppression, landing perhaps a little too close to home — and we cannot deny that XF has always been, quite explicitly, accelerationism-adjacent, whether in Fisher’s sense or otherwise.

I’d argue that Lyotard’s challenge of total alienation isn’t just a huge factor within capitalist realism but also in what Helen Hester has called “domestic realism”. In fact, we might argue that (part of) XF’s sense of alienation approaches the family in much the same way accelerationism approaches capitalism. We cannot disavow everything the family produces simply because of the circumstances of their genesis — not least because the ideal of the family is the primary foundation we have for a communal form of living. In this sense, we can use it as a starting point, as any politics of surrogacy surely has to do by default in our present moment. But this position necessitates the inclusion of Lyotard’s own problematic — we have to then account for the ways that parents and their children actually enjoy the tortorous Christmases, the shit family outings, the passed-on neuroses, the genetic familiarity…

When XF calls for transcendence from nature whilst acknowledging its immanence, surely this is the battleground they are describing? The call for the abolition of the family, of gender, of domestic realism, cannot fall back on the fallacy of a non-alienated region to set up camp in.

And if alienation is all there is, then the only way out is through.

The Crisis of the Negative: The Relativist Right Never Change

Two things inaugurated the blogosphere’s engagement with accelerationism: the financial crash of 2007/08 and Slavoj Žižek’s analysis of Zack Synder’s 2006 film, 300, for Lacanian Ink.

I discovered this the other day by doing a big deep dive and, whilst I’m saving a proper excavation of this moment for something else, I can’t stop thinking about it at the moment as all the usual suspects come out with their dumbest middling takes on the Black Lives Matter movement. They tend to look like this:

The furious facepalming going on in response to this is obviously justified but I’m just so bored of it at this point. The contrarianism is so tired but it’s also been dismissed so many times over the years. You’d think we’d have moved on. Unfortunately not.

Not that this is something unique to this account. There’s little difference between this shit and the stuff that about a dozen other accounts put out on Twitter. You know who they are. From where I am, they’ve all just morphed into some indistinguishable blob of Justin Murphy podcast alumni. I have most of them on mute.

What this has to do with the moment the accelerationist blogosphere was born is that, funnily enough, accelerationism basically came about in response to this sort of Žižek Edgelord Playbook. It was moronic then, almost fifteen years ago, and it’s moronic now, but the difference is that everyone seems to have forgotten the reason why.


I’m sure everyone remembers 300 — for the memes if not for its actual storyline. (I don’t think I ever saw it, personally, but all those kicking memes are still ingrained in my mind like an inescapable pop song.) Since its release is 2006, most have tried to forget about it, however, despite its influence being hard to ignore. That’s because it is generally considered to be a precursor to a lot of alt right bullshit.

There’s a great article on this that was written a few years back for the AV Club, which argues:

This is a movie that makes a grand, mythic spectacle out of the whole defending-the-white-homeland trope, and if you look at the YouTube comments on any of the scenes [described] above, you will witness some serious human ugliness. It would be a pretty big stretch to blame 300 for Donald Trump or whatever, but the movie really did lionize the heroic white warriors fighting to repel the endless dark-skinned hordes — to, in the gravelly narrator’s words, “rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny.” (Oh no! Mysticism!) This sort of bullshit did help establish a world where Donald Trump could be elected president, and it deserves to be remembered for that. It’s an influential movie in all the wrong possible ways. It’s our Birth Of A Nation.

This was written in 2017 but of course 300 is a film that Slavoj Žižek once wrote a glowing appraisal of back in 2007.

In stereotypically Žižekian fashion, the Slovenian philosopher uses his article on 300 in Lacanian Ink to attempt to subvert the film’s fascistic overtones and instead affirm its narrative of militaristic and sacrificial discipline from the left.

Ignoring the film’s racialised antagonists, amongst other things, he disagrees with the ways the film has been “attacked as the worst kind of patriotic militarism with clear allusions to the recent tensions with Iran and events in Iraq”. Instead, Žižek argues that the film should “be thoroughly defended against these accusations.”

Žižek’s case is superficially contrarian. For starters, he points out that the film in fact tells the story of “a small and poor country (Greece) invaded by the army of a much larger state (Persia), at that point much more developed, and with a much more developed military technology”. The Spartans are clearly the underdogs and so, if we are to draw parallels between the film and the US’s then-recent interventions in the Middle East, surely the supposedly American — that is, white — heroes of the saga are instead representative of the Taliban?

This is most clear following the film’s climax. “When the last surviving group of the Spartans and their king Leonidas are killed by the thousands of arrows”, Žižek argues, “are they not in a way bombed to death by techno-soldiers operating sophisticated weapons from a safe distance, like today’s US soldiers who push the rocket buttons from the warships safely away in the Persian Gulf?”

Žižek does not go on to suggest that the film is an opportunity for consciousness-raising, however, as one might generously expect, through which the American movie-going public might potentially develop empathy for the Other. Instead, he argues that the film offers the left a chance to develop a revolutionary spirit through discipline and sacrifice. Quoting his friend and fellow philosopher Alain Badiou, he writes:

“We need a popular discipline. I would even say… that ‘those who have nothing have only their discipline.’ The poor, those with no financial or military means, those with no power — all they have is their discipline, their capacity to act together. This discipline is already a form of organization.” In today’s era of hedonist permissivity as the ruling ideology, the time is coming for the Left to (re)appropriate discipline and the spirit of sacrifice: there is nothing inherently “Fascist” about these values.

This controversial argument emerges from Badiou’s suggestion — in the same 2007 interview from which Žižek is quoting — that the left should make contact, once again, with the militancy of Marxist-Leninism, albeit in a form appropriate to the new challenges of the twenty-first century. Žižek’s suggestion that 300 is somehow representative of this move is unconvincing and no doubt purposefully antagonistic, but Badiou’s original argument is nonetheless an interesting one.

The left, he argues, seems allergic to effective organisation, precisely because it is the State that organises most effectively. In trying to negate the State — that is, embody everything that the State is not — the left are dooming themselves, relegating themselves to never becoming more than a weak, impotent, subservient and disorganised opposition to bourgeois oppression and state power.

It’s a familiar position. You might even think it’s not far from Terese’s shitpost above, but, unlike that tweet, there’s a little bit more to it.

Badiou grounds this problem of opposites, of mirroring the State in negative, within Marxism. “For Marx,” he argues, “the dialectical conception of negation defined the relation between philosophy and politics — what used to be called the problem of dialectical materialism.” Drawing on German idealism, Marx argued that Hegel’s philosophy of the dialectic — the idea that the comprehension of a unity between opposites, through logic and reason, leads to the production of new thought — must be applied to lived experience in the material world rather than just the life of the mind. When considering the constitution of a capitalist society, this means understanding the interrelations of the working and ruling classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, so that the proletariat might rise up and escape the unjust conflicts that keep the system in motion. To do this, the proletariat must understand the positivity of their nonetheless negative position. This is to say that it is only in affirming the strengths of their negative existence — for instance, their greater numbers over a relatively small elite — that the proletariat can change the world.

However, for Badiou, this conception of the negative in relation to political praxis is no longer sufficient. He explains:

Just as the party, which was once the victorious form of insurrection, is today outdated, so too is the dialectical theory of negation. It can no longer articulate a living link between philosophy and politics. In trying to clarify the political situation, we also need to search for a new formulation of the problem of critique and negation. I think that it is necessary, above all in the field of political action, to surpass the concept of a negation taken solely in its destructive and properly negative aspect. Contrary to Hegel, for whom the negation of the negation produces a new affirmation, I think we must assert that today negativity, properly speaking, does not create anything new. It destroys the old, of course, but does not give rise to a new creation.

It is Badiou’s interjection here, suggested indirectly through the garish cultural expositions of Slavoj Žižek, that sent up a flare over the blogosphere of the late 2000s. Badiou, unfortunately, seemed to be correct; the then-recent protest movements, particularly Occupy, which had emerged following the financial crash certainly seemed largely inept for the task at hand.

Steven Shaviro, who (amazingly) continues to run the blog The Pinocchio Theory, was the first to pass comment on Žižek’s article. Shaviro suggests that, rather than extending Badiou’s argument, he only manages to epitomise it absolutely. Although he may believe that he is firmly on the side of a rationalist Marxist-Hegelianism, through which “the free subject of Reason can only emerge through a ruthless self-discipline”, Shaviro instead argues that Žižek’s “contrarianism is just a sort of idiotic macho one-upmanship (as in: I can be even more outrageous and anti-commonsensical than anybody else), of the same sort that is routinely practiced by right-wing political economists … or evolutionary theorists like the guys … who wrote about how rape was an adaptive strategy.”

In other words, this is precisely the sort of negativity that Badiou was denouncing. Žižek isn’t producing new thought or action through his contrarianism; instead, he only entrenches the mire of postmodern impotence displayed routinely by the relativist right. As Shaviro damningly declares, Žižek “totally depends upon the well-meaning, right-thinking liberal ideology that he sets out to frustrate and contradict at every turn. His own ideas remain parasitic upon those of the postmodern, multicultural consensus that he claims to upset.”

It is nonetheless intriguing, considering the vast amount of material Žižek has produced throughout his career that attempts to skewer this kind of ideological trap, that he would find himself so complicit in that which he claims to despise. Shaviro concludes with a similar bemusement, noting how his “theories are little more than yet another demonstration, or symptom, of the situation that he himself has pointed to: the fact that, in the current climate, we find it difficult to imagine any alternative to capitalism; that in fact we find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Žižek’s thought itself is one more demonstration of our current blockage of imagination.”

Nevertheless, thanks to Žižek’s utter embodiment of the issue at hand, Badiou’s initial question somehow manages to penetrate the postmodern fuzz. We are indeed in the thrall of a “crisis of the negative”, as he calls it. “Our problem today is that the destructive part of negation is no longer, in and of itself, capable of producing the new.” It is from here that accelerationism was born.


The post-Ccru crowd took this charge very seriously and, for all their missteps and wrong turns, they consistently produced school after school of thought that — even if only for a time — revitalised a para-academic domain of philosophy and politics and, in some cases, made genuine in-roads into the hallow halls they’d previously hoped to escape from. They were all the more capable of doing this, I believe, because they kept this crisis of the negative in mind. They knew what impotence looked like and did their best to escape it whenever it started to take hold.

The Twitter gobshites have no such aspirations, obviously — although they’ll continue to trade on their PhDs if they’ve got them — and no such capabilities. There’s no desire to actually effect anything on display here. It’s the sort of post-European bourgeois ineptitude that defines so many East Coast edgelords. All soft hands and plush chaise longues and drinking problems, but they’re far more bovine than Madame Bovary.

The impotence of this sort of post-right thinking demonstrates the extent to which they missed out on the lesson from Occupy. They’ve slipped back into — or, even more likely, never left — the right-wing need to say dumb shit loudly for likes, emboldened by the system they claim themselves to be free radicals within.

Of course, Terese and her sort don’t openly define themselves by what they reject, but they are nonetheless parasites that feed upon the sensitivity of popular opinion. It looks all the more pathetic in this moment, as an emboldened left is fucking shit up and making changes in a way that previous protest movements couldn’t force through. The fact that that is as true over here in the UK as it is in the US is astounding — we never get anything done!

Disavowing this kind of rubbish is worthwhile, but it is best to remember the above as well, I think. This Žižekian playbook is dusty, but its also demonstrative of the kind of thinking those with genuine nous have been ridiculing for a long, long time. And we’re in a moment where the left is showing signs of shirking off the gravitational pull of an impotent black hole they gleefully lurk on the edges of.

Break loose.

Hegemony of the Cliché: Pomophobia Revisited

This is something that emerged fleetingly from the Q&A following my lecture yesterday for the University of Birmingham’s Contemporary Theory Reading Group — which was fantastic by the way; I’ll post about it when the lecture recording goes live.

Hailey Maxwell asked a question about how I see myself and my project in relation to Fisher. I’ve obviously had a lot to say about this recently but it led to a coinage in the moment that Niall later suggested could be a decent alternative to capitalism realism: the “hegemony of the cliché”.

This emerged explicitly from my recent reflecting on Dan Barrow’s article about my book — particularly his affirmation of the fact that Egress reaches for a “Mark Fisher beyond the cliché”, something I deeply appreciated.

This was certainly my intent, quite explicitly in fact, but I have also recently expressed a tandem frustration regarding the suggestion that the presence of Bataille and Blanchot in my book is worthy of disavowal because Mark himself didn’t like them.

Writing beyond the cliché of Mark Fisher is one thing but what about the ways in which the text moves beyond the clichés of Bataille, Deleuze and others?

I’ve said all I have to say on that particularly thought-provoking article but there remains much to be said, I think, about the ways that many thinkers, of all stripes, are made impotent by the clichéd figures that are constructed around them as well.

I’ve written a few scattered things on this before but it is a difficult thing to articulate. For instance, there is a sense, particularly online, that everyone wants to Cliff Notes reading of a particular text rather than be supplied with the tools to excavate new readings for themselves.

There are many cases where these tools warrant further use. Nietzsche is always the first to come to mind as a figure whose legacy is still being debated. But also, how do we dismantle this desire for fast thought in a way that doesn’t just sound like obfuscation and gate-keeping?


When I think about this stuff, the death of the author, as famously described by Roland Barthes, always looms large, and I’m left wondering to what extent this has produced new (albeit oddly distanced) impositions upon how we think about texts?

Barthes’ argument that a text cannot have a single interpretation, grounded by its author’s intent, has led — perhaps inadvertently but nonetheless intractably — to the sort of postmodern relativism that Derrida has likewise been derided for contributing towards.

It is a slippage critiqued most powerfully by Mark Fisher himself and Robin Mackay in their conclusion to the Ccru era essay “Pomophobia”, in which they decry “the clogged digestive system” of the postmodern subject, “of the West’s Last Men”, which “expresses all too acutely the constipated Eurocontinence of these constricted bodies, themselves minor fascicular elements of a resonant system of transcendental miserabilism disseminated across all levels of culture.” (Suffice it to say that it is densely packed text and we’ll try untangled some of it in due course.) They continue:

The dreary textocratic dribblings of post-theory are merely the transcendental idealist counterpoint to the empirical realism of postmodern culture. Kurt Cobain embodied what theory disembodies, the raging stomach pains which plagued him finding their disintensified correlate in the chin-rubbing, brow-furrowing protocols of urbane academic anxiety. Smells like Hegelian Spirit.

By contrast, synthetic culture disorganises the docilising regimes of disciplinary body politics. Hip hop and jungle work on the body, not in the overlit luminotopological epistemoscapes of necrospective mummification, but in the dark zones where you don’t have a chance to think about what things would mean before they happen. Effects arrive before objects, scrambling the operating system of the automonitoring signifying apparatus.

The speed of jungle is important here. In racing passed apprehension as a flurry of unintentified sonic objects, it reaches down into the truth of speed itself as an intensity rather than as a commodified categorisation or USP — no one has ever said they like jungle for the speedy efficiency with which is delivers its constitutive parts to your eardrums. It raises the subject up, in a sense, to hitch a ride on the speed of the world around it, but subculturally speaking we can also consider its opposite.

Following the heydey of grunge, in which Cobain would ironically write hits critiquing the bulimia of the pop market, slowcore hit the scene. The band Low, in particular, made a name for themselves by, in their own words, playing as slow as possible in front of crowds who came for the next mindless angst-relieving thrashy grunge band. This wasn’t a rejection of speed as such but just a rejection of the markets expectation of it. Either you speed up even faster than expected (jungle) or you slow down — so long as you’re jamming the signal.

Here affect (or, more accurately, intensity) is still the name of the game but also we find ourselves confronted by what that intensity contains: the unadulterated “truth”, the Real. Cobain may have wrestled — alongside his stomach pains — with suggestions Nirvana had sold out but the band stayed true to itself even as it was dragged by the market into some kind of inauthenticity.

The distance between these two things — authenticity and truth — can seem superficial but authenticity is, again, firmly within the purview of the postmodern. Truth is perhaps that which is buried beneath the all too easily available. It is that which passes beneath the hegemony of the cliché — an all-powerful blanket of superficiality.

This is similar to what I think Fisher and Mackay are gesturing towards when they point, in their essay, to “samploid music and video games” that emerge “as the leading probe-heads of synthetic culture precisely because of their overt machinism, their asignifying functionality, their indifference to epistemological conundra brewed up in the depths of the strata.” (As far as video games are concerned, this is arguably no longer the case.)

It is a function that is demonstrated by the text itself. This is a gourmet word salad; a linguistic Impossible Burger, a billion dollar lab experiment made to imitate a Big Mac. This is to say that, although it has the cognitive effect of a rapid fire look through a thesaurus, hitting you with affective utterances that may appear pretension and superficial, the technical nomenclature also demands a slow reading in order to be understood, as each term used packs a punch that perforates the “epistemological conundra” of the (c)overtly familiar. This is not philosophy as sleek Ferrari but philosophy as backyard kit car, ready for a deconstruction derby. If it’s Derridean, it’s Derrida with a cattle pod up his arse.

It’s messy and it’s dirty. There’s no fetishing this. And that resistance to fetishisation is largely the point. As Fisher and Mackay continue:

What is dissolved in synthetic culture is not commodification per se, but commodity fetishism as it regulates the bourgeois object system, in which everything is assigned a proper place. Synthetic culture sheds no Benjaminite tears for the lost aura of objects in the age of mechanical reproduction, celebrating instead the way in which the subject-object dichotomy and its attendant pathos are reconfigured as machinic circuits in the age of cybernetic replication. “The transaesthetics of banality” plays upon the poignant, if bathetic, aura of found objects, but for abstract culture everything that’s ready made, or mass-marketed, is there to be dismantled and relocated into the unfamiliar architectures of the synthetic composition, the “uncanny adjacencies” of the hip hop or jungle track, where they have a machinic, rather than merely a citational, role to play: decomposable elements on a plane of consistency, not cut up fragments.

To the jaded eyes of the PoMophile, sampling can appear to be part of its own aesthetic of incongruent bricolage, yet another example of the crippling self-consciousness bedevilling a culture so exhausted it is fit only to sort through its own entrails. But, far from being imprisoned in the past, synthetic culture unlocks the machinic surplus value in the already actualized, stretching and warping time into nonorganically reprogrammed somatic circuits of inhuman speeds and slownesses.

A breath of fresh air, a little relation to the outside, that’s all schizoanalysis asks.

Sample culture precisely employs a kind of machinic thinking through which sounds are repurposed beyond the cliché; that is, behind their smooth reception in a culture that always wants to flog the convenient and familiar. (I’m reminded of rkss’ DJ Tools here.)

These reintensifications are possible (and necessary) with so much culture, not just with music. I’ve spoken about it in recent months in relation to DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf but the truth is that I think it is possible with anyone. It is always worth looking beneath the philosophies you think you know and excavating explicitly those concepts and frameworks that jar with that abstract sense of market propriety. Getting down into how something feels always reveals untold connections to present affects. That which you think you know can always be updated to a present in which it finds itself resituated.

This is not to say you must suspend your judgement of things; rather it is to argue that you can find in almost anything an understanding that grates against the system in which we presently live. This is like the arguments that the removal of the statue of Edward Colston from Bristol isn’t an erasure of history but history happening. The “destructive” repurposing of a statue for protest is sample culture at its most potent. The affective release of the act is more powerful than any object, all too comfortable on its pedestal.

The final question of the Q&A, asked by Niall, was what exactly did Mark Fisher hate about cultural studies despite being somehow who, arguably, “did” cultural studies himself, and I think the answer lies in this very suggestion. When Barthes argued that no text should be limited by the immediate (material) context in which it was produced, he nonetheless set the stage for a kind of cultural studies that has made little attempt to feed back onto the immediate (still material) contexts of its readers. “What does / did it mean?” supercedes “How does it / could it change the world?” But as Marx (and, more explicitly, Stuart Hall) made clear, the former should always lead to the latter, otherwise cultural studies is doomed to impotence. It is doomed to support, rather than intrude upon, the hegemony of the cliché.