AI is Good Actually:
Notes on Commie Grimes and Intelligence & Spirit

A tweet was doing the rounds today, laughing at a TikTok made by Grimes in which she argues that the development of artificial intelligence is “the fastest path to communism”. That it instantaneously became a meme was somewhat depressing. Ignoring the fact that it is Grimes, partner of Elon Musk, making the argument, it is telling that so many people think she’s crazy just for saying automation is good actually.

This unthinking reaction reminded me of the communist thread running through Reza Negarestani’s Intelligence & Spirit, particularly his reading of Plato’s concept of the Good alongside Hegel and Marx. That many who otherwise identify themselves as communists would ridicule her assertion that AI can radically change the present state of things shows how far we still have to go if we are to escape the bounds of capitalist realism.

Yes, even communists — especially communists — are ideologically affected by capitalist realism — something made obvious when you ask them what it would take to escape the bounds of capitalism. That a communist defines their political beliefs by what they know ought to be done means little if they cannot imagine the full spectrum of what possibly can be done. Any communism that is held up as an ideal, but has little material relation to present circumstances, isn’t a political project — that’s just cope.

This is something that Reza explores in a really fascinating way in Intelligence & Spirit. For Reza, the creation of actually existing artificial intelligence — that is, as a form of computational intelligence — is a viable technological project because it expands our notion of what intelligence is, and anything that separates humanity from its own arrogant exceptionalism is worthwhile. This is useful for political projects like communism precisely because it pokes holes in capitalist realism, or, as Reza might call it, capitalist intelligence. He writes:

Intelligence posits the objective reality of that which is, and in doing so retroactively recognizes its conditions of realization. The first operation is a leap from the atemporal domain of ideas into the realm of the sensible… the second [operation is] a leap… that retroactively recognizes how the ideas are linked to the sensible… But as the leaps from the simple reality of the sensory flux to the formal reality of ideas grow proportionally larger, as the positing of a more cohesive reality requires a greater leap over the sectors of the line, as the expanse of what is intelligible broadens, the risks become greater, and there is much more to lose by a misjudged leap. What is at stake now is not the body of intelligence but its very idea. Yet it is only through these leaps (positing the measures of all reality and the retroactive recognition of its realization as such) that intelligence can bind together and cohere the divided parts — an operation without which there would be no intelligible reality and no realization of intelligence.

This is undoubtedly the point at which Reza’s project gets the most Badiouian. One of the most strikingly simple and intriguing points made by Badiou in his work, which he borrows from Althusser, is that scientific and technological developments have been largely disconnected from developments in philosophical and political thinking. Throughout the history of philosophy, new ideas have helped midwife new worlds teased by scientific discoveries. Kant did not exist in a vacuum — he helped bring about a philosophical world that understood Newtonian physics. The same is true of Nietzsche, Bergson and Deleuze, who brought about a philosophical world that understood the developments in our understanding of biology across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Badiou asks the same question of now. Where is the new philosophy to help midwife a new understanding of the world, already upon us thanks to technological developments, such as the Internet, and scientific advancements in the realm of, say, quantum physics? It doesn’t seem to exist, or has yet to penetrate the popular imagination in any meaningful and revolutionary way. (Though everyone likes to talk about how irrelevant he is these days, Žižek has tellingly taken this project very seriously, with his last book attempting to philosophically think through quantum mechanics very explicitly.)

The truth is that, today, these areas of thought are incoherent. Philosophy and politics are largely disconnected from technology and science in the popular imagination. If anyone does attempt to think about politics and AI or philosophy and the blockchain, the immediate assumption is that it is some bad-news, reactionary, capitalistic project trying to bridge incompatible worlds. This is understood as the smart and sensible approach. It is not.

Reza makes this point by arguing that the reconnection of these segments of thought is what Plato calls the Good:

For Plato, the Good makes intelligible all of reality, as well as acting on the intelligible. Absent the Good… the line can never be divided and the divided segment can never be integrated, and therefore both the intelligible and intelligence must succumb to impossibility. Intelligence is that which acts on the intelligible, and the intelligible is that which is differentiated and integrated by intelligence. The underlying principle that warrants both is the Good as the principal mutuality of intelligence and the intelligible according to which the conception of intelligence, at every juncture of its history, is simultaneously a craftsman, the exercise of the craft or production of mixtures or intelligibilities, an ingredient of its craft, and the product of this ongoing craft. In so far as the Good is not just one transcendental idea or form but is their transcendental or formal unity (the form of forms), neither intelligence nor the intelligible can ever be taken as a fulfilled ideal or completed totality. Once either of the two is seen as concluded or continued in the absence of the other, the irruption of pathologies and tragedies is certain.

Though knotted, what we have here is an elucidation of those first two operations described by Reza in the first paragraph. The Good is a form of becoming — the form of forms, yes, but also the forming of forms? How different modes of knowledge factor into the Good simultaneously is something we struggle to ascertain today, given how sprawling our total knowledge is. But knowledge can never be and has never been held in a totality. Our brains don’t work like that. And even if we were able to learn everything by rote, rote learning isn’t a factor in intelligence — intelligence, as Reza makes clear, is acting on the intelligible.

Take the relationship between Newton and Kant. Newton sees the apple fall, and from that observation the concept of gravity becomes intelligible to him. Kant’s further elucidation of Newton’s discovery that there is a world of forces unseen and unknowable (at least directly) to us is a demonstration of Kant’s intelligence. Kant takes the knowledge of philosophy he already has and he combines it with this new intelligible world revealed by Newton. This is, essentially, the relationship Hegel and Marx expand upon, further strengthening the feedback loop between idealism and materialism. That neither is ever fully complete, in being dependent upon events like the falling apple, is important because it leaves us with a certain responsibility when it comes to responding to contingency and combining otherwise distinct strands of knowledge.

This is what Althusser calls “aleatory materialism”. The real movement of history — and, yes, the “real movement” of communism, in the words of Marx and Engels — must be open to chance and contingency. In fact, that is all that the real movement is. To hold every new technology or innovation up against a pre-existing ideal of what communism is and see how it fits into our dreams is to always be disappointed, and it is to effectively fall back on a kind of transcendental miserablism, denying yourself a role in shaping the future because you think you already know what it will look like.

For further clarity, this PhD thesis seems like good further reading on this topic. The abstract defines Althusser’s conception of history in a way immediately relevant to the topic at hand:

Aleatory materialism is an attempt to conceptualise history as open-ended but nevertheless amenable to scientific inquiry. Althusser argued that theories of history which supposed their object had a fixed direction or telos rested on unscientific premises. Such theories were premised on circular reasoning. By taking particular patterns of events to be universal and timeless, those particular patterns could only be explained by pre-existing themselves. […]

The way out of this impasse, Althusser argued, was to treat all social forms as contingent, rather than necessary, outcomes. Social structures included strategies and institutions to secure their continued reproduction. They were, however, unable to totally suppress the contingency that initially gave rise to them. It is because of contingency that the laws governing human behaviour can change. Social systems can transition into new systems comprised of new sets of laws. No particular configuration is destined to arise or persist indefinitely. Althusser showed that it is possible to accept both that history is amenable to scientific inquiry and that it is an open system, with a future that is not preordained but over which the actions of agents have a genuine influence. In doing so, this theory demonstrates how teleological theories are mechanisms of justification for prevailing forms of social power, by which they portray themselves as inevitable and natural outcomes, not accurate accounts of history.

Hopefully the relevance of this brief definition is immediately apparent. Though associated with Althusser’s late thought, when he was mentally unwell, in hindsight we take this insight for granted today. Aleatory materialism is a critique of capitalist realism ahead of time, and demonstrates how Reza and other post-Ccru acolytes moved towards accelerationism, which, as I’ve recently argued, was always quietly influenced by Badiou. The accelerationist argument is the same as Althusser’s, albeit updated to now — when we forego the political potentials offered by scientific and technological innovations, we find ourselves immediately engaged in reactionary thinking. Just look at the mind-numbing cynicism projected onto NFTs for a recent example — that we judge NFTs by how similar they are to already-existing forms of social power, or how quickly the new is seized upon by those same forms, rather than what is precisely new about them, tells you everything you need to know about where we’re at. Capitalist realism isn’t ending — it is alive and well in our knee-jerk social media cynicism and our reluctance to counter emergent forms of capitalist capture.

Reza argues that the one way to overcome this cynicism is to embrace the “transcendental excess” of the Good, which resembles a kind of Bergsonian divide between matter and memory. Though the two are intrinsically related, one cannot hope to fully contain its other. We cannot remember all matter, and matter cannot hope to capture the entirety of memory. There is a similar line between what Reza called intelligence and the intelligible. What is immediately intelligible to us does not and cannot define the limits of intelligence as such. Reza puts it like this:

This excess is precisely what demands that intelligence must never rest, but must expand the scope of the intelligible and thus the realization of itself… Driven by the transcendental excess of the form of ideas — the Good — intelligence is compelled to extend its retroactive power of knowing (the intelligibility of its conditions of realization) and to readjust its realization to new intelligibilities… It is the transcendental excess of the Good that deepens the abyss of the intelligible through which intelligence conceives and reshapes itself. Accordingly, transcendental excess (the Good) is what points to the excess of reality. It is because of this transcendental excess that the excess of reality in respect to thinking can be postulated and uncovered. Scientific knowledge of reality is a Good-in-itself, but it is only knowledge to the extent that it is an idea afforded by this transcendental excess, unbound and set in motion by the Good as the idea of ideas, the form of forms.

This is to say that scientific knowledge is often new, but when we fold it back into our view of the world as defined by capitalist realism, we hollow it out. And that’s not the Good… That’s the Bad.

Already, I think we see the relationship between artificial intelligence and communism starting to emerge here, as well as the cynicism immediately afforded to Grimes. The point here is not, of course, to argue that Intelligence & Spirit says we should take Grimes seriously, but the reaction to her otherwise basic comment on how technology and communism are related shows that her argument is less a product of billionaire-grade weed than it is currently unintelligible to us. That’s capitalism’s fault, not hers.

Similarly, though we associate AI more generally with sci-fi depictions of the horrors of capitalism, as if the machines embody capitalism absolutely, capitalism (and capitalist realism) is instead in here with us. If there is no “outside” to capitalism, it is because there is no outside to our own sensory cognition. Capitalism determines our entire world view in a false totality and tells us what is and is not a given. It adjudicates our expectations and our sense of what is rational and possible. Actually-existing AI, on the contrary, explodes that capture. It eliminates the myth of the given as a foundation for capitalist realism. It transforms what can be done, by establishing new forms of intelligence.

If this sounds idealistic, and wholly contrary to what we have been told about AI and its potentials under capitalism, we should put more effort into questioning what we have been told rather than denouncing anyone who entertains other possibilities. Because the truth is, when we see horrible and dystopic visions of AI in the media, we aren’t seeing a new world but a reflection of the worst of ourselves. Whether Google Deep Dream or the Terminator films, we’re not seeing psychedelic futures or sociopathic machinery, we’re seeing the limits of our own imaginations.

[I have a short text on Google DeepDream coming out in an essay collection later this year, and so I don’t want to rehash the argument too much ahead of time, but it is a good example of these limits.]

When we understand how Google Deep Dream works, for example, we can see that it isn’t imaginative or innovative or “intelligent”. It is effectively an interesting failure. What we think of as “hallucinations” are in fact a computer’s inability to process the new. We give it an image it has likely never seen before, and in attempting to make that image intelligible, it transforms it into what it already knows in abundance — pictures of dogs. That’s not “artificial intelligence”, that’s artificial dementia. Reza’s view of AI is radically different to this anemic pop-culture understanding. He continues:

In so far as intelligence is only intelligence in virtue of recognizing what is intelligible and acting upon it in light of the transcendental excess of the Good, which perpetually dissolves the limits of what is intelligible, if intelligence were to stop at any particular stage and accept it as the totality of what there is, it would retroactively abort its own reality as intelligence. Simply put, an intelligence that takes what is currently intelligible for the totality of reality can never have been intelligence to begin with.

Here’s looking at you, Google DeepDream.

The continuity of the line cannot be mistaken for the manifest totality of its segments. The Good, as the expression of this continuity, demands that intelligence dissolve all manifest totalities, suspend itself in ever more bottomless chasms of the intelligible, and, in doing so, transform itself into an intelligence more accustomed to wider domains of intelligibilities and more capable of acting upon what is intelligible. It is only by assimilating itself to the abyss of intelligibilities — ontological, epistemological, and axiological — that intelligence can be realized as intelligence. In the end, it is Plato who stares into the abyss by breaking apart one firmament after another, while Nietzsche rests supine on the ground staring blankly at the given sky above.

Reza’s Platonism is here a kind of Marxian real movement, and he quotes Marx and Engels in a footnote, clarifying this point succintly:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

And so, in this respect, Grimes is right. Whether it is a point best expressed on TikTok is another matter — and its virality across a cynical social media landscape tells us a great deal about contemporary limits rather than contemporary possibilities — but nothing she says is inaccurate at face value. And that is true whether we are thinking historically, in that it aligns with the thought of Marx and Engels, or whether we are thinking about the possibilities of now. Again, that this is a point even tangentially associated with Elon Musk doesn’t bode well, but again, this shows how the limits of the present are so often entangled with present possibilities — a point Reza’s discussion of the Good ends on. He writes:

[The limit] makes intelligible the abyss of reality, bringing new sectors of it into focus by introducing measures, and thus enabling intelligence to answer the question of what ought to be thought and done. [The unlimited], meanwhile, expands the horizon of what can be made intelligible. And finally, the interplay of both is what dissolves any manifest totality that lays claim to reality, thereby enabling intelligence to explore what can be thought and done. The relation between the two is one of mutual reinforcement. In this context, we can speak of a maximal communism of the Good as that which dissipates all seeming totalities of history. But this is the Good as an expression of the transcendental excess through which intelligence at once makes itself intelligible to itself in ever broader domains, and reworks itself by comporting itself with what is intelligible. The transcendental excess of the Good is neither that of the transcendent nor that of nature.

When we conflate Grimes and Musk, we conflate what he, as a dodgy billionaire, ought to do with her creative thinking regarding what can be done. Indeed, their relationship may well epitomize the conditions of our age in that regard, but it does not represent those conditions in their totality. That Twitter fails to realise that shows just how unintelligent that platform truly is.

The Slow Cancellation of…
Sorry, What Were We Talking About?:
Some Concessions and Further Notes

Thanks to Matheus Calderon, who sent over the text for Noys’ lecture. Below is a more in-depth commentary on Noys’ talk, made up of a few concessions, notes and further confusion following my previous post.

With that previous post in mind, let’s turn to what Noys actually had to say. You can watch the talk back below.

In my previous post, I was mostly confused by Noys’ appeals to the present. This is clarified very early on. Drawing on various texts from queer theory, afrofuturism/afropessimism, and accelerationism, Noys writes:

In all cases, there are complex articulations of past, present, and future that could be discovered in these texts and in these contrasting lines of thought. They are also, obviously, turning to the future and the past to address the present. This complexity does not, I argue, invalidate the point that the orientation to past and future risks abandoning the present. The splitting between a past primal wounding that provides a negative rupture and a utopian future that sends its ‘tendrils’ into a destitute present, leave us living in the worst of all possible worlds… In these orientations, however, this absent present is addressed as a moment of stagnation, degeneration or decadence, what Badiou calls an ‘atonal world’ that lacks points of decision.

But this still ignores Alex Williams’ founding accelerationist argument where he explicitly affirms these same Badiouian points of decision, calling on us to address them.

I can nevertheless see what Noys is trying to do. He is attempting to intervene in a kind of Parmenidean paradox. To say things need to start moving suggests an impossible moment of prior stasis. Noys seems to be arguing that, in presenting the present as static, we trap ourselves in an impossible perspective that is fatally limited to the first-person. The point should be to get beyond the privileged positions we give ourselves as individuals — what Noys nicely conflates with “the bourgeois viewpoint” — which observes the world in its flux only in relation to our own stasis. For Parmenides’ partner Zeno, in particular, the opposite was also true: we cannot say the world is still, only because we ourselves are moving at speed. Either everything is moving or nothing is, and nothing, as a kind of radical stillness, is an impossibility. Instead, we should look to the bigger picture of what is happening around us.

This is how I am understanding Noys when he writes:

If we currently exist in a present emptiness, one half of the bourgeois viewpoint, the alternative offered is an original, or future, fullness. While these theoretical currents claim to transcend the antinomies of bourgeois thought, we may also be suspicious of such self-characterisations. Certainly, the antinomy between original fullness and present standstill does seem to remain resonant, even if these terms are reworked by the currents I have sketched.

But wasn’t this Lyotard’s point regarding the impossibility of an outside, later taken up by the accelerationists?

Putting Lyotard to one side, our references to the pre-Socratics are intentional here, since Noys mentions them repeatedly, albeit only in passing, noting Heidegger and Nietzsche’s turns to antiquity, which they acknowledge as that founding moment in philosophy. There we find a familiar discussion regarding the generative capacities of finitude and infinitude, which has particular bearing on how we are able to categorise difference, change, and the new.

I don’t want to expand on this history too much here, as I’m planning to write on this in far more detail for my upcoming talk at Ctrl Network. I’ll no doubt have to work some of Noys’ points into that lecture between now and then. For now, suffice it to say that what we find in the pre-Socratics are those first attempts to rigorously stamp out the obscurantism of Heraclitean riddles. For Heraclitus, the apparent truism that we cannot step into the same river twice is not just a philosophy of nature but a way of problematising epistemology as such. For him, all language is poetry, the meaning of which can change in every instance we encounter it. But this is only true from the limited perspective of the individual, so argued Parmenides and Zeno. Collectively, we can speak of things that are true for all of us. Indeed, that must be where we turn our attention. (Mathematics takes the cake here, and continues to.)

When Plato later banishes poets from the republic, in the name of his theory of forms, he does so to service this kind of truth. Poets are still great thinkers, and contribute much to culture and society, but he insists that we must be able to decide on the proper names for things — as Ideas or Forms — before we can begin to play with them. Otherwise, how would we have language? We need shared understanding. Without it, how would we be able to converse with one another? (This is of central importance to Plato. Conversation is the primary form that his dialectical philosophy takes, after all.) In the end, we can say there is difference, and naming difference is how we give form to the new, and even new ideas. It is the goal of philosophy to set that process to work and maintain its motion.

It is downstream from here, from this Platonic river of forms, that we find the great ocean of philosophy. The tension here is never quite resolved. Aristotle makes an attempt, and reigns supreme for centuries, but Plato soon returns to the fore, both positively and negatively. The battle over his contemporary relevance no doubt falls to that central dialectic of the mid-2000s blogosphere, between the anti-Platonism of Deleuze and and the Cantorian Platonism of Badiou.

Even prior to that moment, we might turn to Alfred North Whitehead, who was famous for having said that “the European philosophical tradition … consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” But this was not to diminish the thousands of years of thought to have followed since Plato’s own, as if it is all derivative in a pejorative sense. It is instead to understand philosophy – and, indeed, thought itself – in a Platonic manner. Whitehead’s comment is, in this sense, reflexive: the form of Plato’s ideas – nothing less than a theory of ideas themselves – provided a structure from which all ideas since could emerge. He provides us with an Idea of philosophy, against which we can judge all other variants. We find ourselves connected across millennia. Plato sought truth and so do we. And yet, a fundamental tension remains.

If there is such a thing as truth – and we know that there is: two plus two will always equal four, for example – then how do we account for all that has changed in the meantime? If truths don’t change, how do we keep inventing new ones? Are we even “inventing” the new if truths are things that have always been true, but were previously unknown? If we “discover” the new, is it still really new? Or only new to us? This tension defines twentieth century philosophy, and underlies some of its central texts: Being and Time, Process and Reality, Difference and Repetition, Being and Event. (There are other examples still, albeit not of the same canonical stature, but Yuk Hui’s Recursivity and Contingency is another that comes to mind.)

Suddenly, our understanding of the new no longer seems so linear… Indeed, not even Plato can be held up as a central origin; his theory of forms was not wholly original in itself. Philosophical positions very similar to his were already circulating in other parts of the world at this time. Confucius, for instance – whose thought predates Plato’s by about a century – developed his own theory of forms. His “reification of names”, as it was called, is worth noting because it perhaps clarifies why Plato’s theory is so important to his Republic that he would ban all poets from the city in its name. Contrary to first impressions, Plato is not a joyless authoritarian but rather seeks to build a utopia based on the true order of things. He hopes to live, first and foremost, in accordance with nature and natural law – an attractive proposition, since to do so would negate all the pretensions of ideology. Similarly, Confucius suggests that all social disorder can be traced back to an inability to give things their proper names. The theory of forms, then, takes on a social dimension – to name each thing in its proper place, not just Plato’s tables but emotions and experiences as well, is to be able to articulate one’s self in accordance with nature. “When names are not rectified, what is said will not seem reasonable”, Confucius writes. “When what is said does not seem reasonable, nothing will get accomplished.”

The political dimension of the new now comes to the fore, and it is this sentiment that is explored consistently throughout the entirety of recorded history — not history understood as a linear progression but as a problematic always re-problematised in the present in which we encounter it.

It is from here we uncover the tension between idealism and materialism that Noys points to when he argues tangentially against a certain form of capitalist realism, which collapses capitalist ideology onto a Platonic understanding of the universe. This is to say that capitalism establishes itself as eternal, as always having been here, and it has now finally won out over the twentieth century’s alternatives. “The end of history”, though a point of critique for Fukuyama, is then picked up and affirmed by conservatives who herald their own victory. Truth has won out and its name is capitalism. For many, it is no doubt very easy to believe them, as they appeal to various habits of human relations — exchange, trading, etc. — that have always been with us and which, for them, constitute the seeds of our true capitalist nature. That is, until we put in the work to actually track capitalism’s development. Suddenly we see how forms and names can be manipulated. So we look for the origins of language — structuralism — before acknowledging that, yes, language does not lie inert and unchanging. It does change in every instance we encounter it — post-structuralism — but all the more reason to make note of those encounters and the differences between him, in the present. (Shout out Althusser.) So Noys writes:

These statements do not say all we have is the present, but rather we must account for this present through historical reconstruction, hence the Phenomenology of Spirit or Capital, while tracing the possibilities of the present as potentials to realise a future of self-determination and freedom. In each of these iterations of the phrase it is implied that we have to grasp the present conditions as the site of overcoming. My point, therefore, is a simple one: contemporary radical theoretical forms have embraced the future or the deep ontological past in a flight from the present. Images of stagnation and inertia remain to characterise the present of high capitalism in accents that are more Nietzschean than anything else.

From here Noys goes on to challenge this history, attacking the forgetting of Being in Heidegger. “Western metaphysics begins, with Socrates and Plato, to forget Being and Being leads a fugitive role in the history of that metaphysics”, Noys writes, summarising Heidegger’s position. “We need to return to before the rift, to the moment of the pre-Socratics,” Heidegger argues, if we are “to find a thinking of Being qua Being.”

As mentioned last time, this is where we can turn instead to the importance of Whitehead, and of Steven Shaviro’s speculative injunction in the philosophy of the late 2000s (as well as his particular brand of accelerationism, which I find to be wholly commensurate with much of what is called “unconditional accelerationism” — or, as Shaviro might describe it, “accelerationism without criteria”.) “What if Whitehead, instead of Heidegger, had set the agenda for postmodern thought?”, he asks. The question of beginnings is once again central. Shaviro continues:

Where does one start in philosophy? Heidegger asks the question of Being: “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” But Whitehead is splendidly indifferent to this question. He asks, instead: “How is it that there is always something new?” Whitehead doesn’t see any point in returning to our ultimate beginnings. He is interested in creation rather than rectification, Becoming rather than Being, the New rather than the immemorially old.

Oddly, Noys does not follow this trajectory, which feels characteristically accelerationist to me, in being contrary to capitalism’s insistent that it is immemorially old. Indeed, there is plenty out there that explores and further clarifies Noys’ own position. Instead, he seems to be on the lookout for enemies. He turns to Nietzsche’s “philosophy for the future”, which is “scathing towards the ‘frivolous deification of the present’, and dismissive of ‘the barbaric turmoil known as “the present”‘.”

The non-linear development of thought presents itself again. Though it feels more natural to suggest Nietzsche’s futurism inverts Heidegger’s history, the opposite is true. But then what was Nietzsche reacting to? Isn’t Heidegger following that Enlightenment tendency, from Rousseau through to Freud and all the rest of it, of finding our primal scene? Nietzsche certainly emerges from this context as an anti-Enlightenment figure, in the way that he attempts to prefigure, as Noys puts it, “a past of hierarchical authority that throws a bridge to a future authoritarian rebirth of rank.” But both are accelerationists, apparently, in their own ways. Together they give form to the double-articulation that accelerationism, in Noys’ view, hopes to affirm: Nietzsche cloaks the left hand of a dark future whilst Heidegger shrouds the right in the truth of philosophy’s deep past, before it alienated itself from its true object.

Soon enough, Heidegger falls away, his role left unresolved. Noys instead warns against any form of left-Nietzscheanism that may seem tangentially resonant with much of Marxism. We must not confuse the two, he insists, even though Nietzsche’s elitism may seem to resonate with the vanguardism of Marxist-Leninism.

This is a fair observation, but from here I am lost. Noys turns to Mark Fisher, rather than the more obvious choice, Nick Land, to explore the fallacies of such a thinking. He makes Fisher out to be the central left-Nietzschean of our age. This is a reading immediately complicated by any consideration of Fisher’s far more prominent Spinozism (not to mention Nietzsche’s anti-Spinozism), but let us take Noys at his word here. In reference to Fisher’s critique of “the slow cancellation of the future” that he began his talk with, Noys writes:

The cultural diagnosis of Mark Fisher we cited, for example, is explicitly Nietzschean, and Fisher identifies with Nietzsche’s aristocratic critique of culture. While Fisher identifies capitalism as Nietzschean ‘slave morality’: resentful, levelling, opposed to innovation, identifying the working class with experimentation, the structure of aristocratic critique remains. The present remains a stagnant present. While this Nietzschean critique is often given a radical accent, or presented as a radical gesture, or even ‘the most radical gesture’, it comes at the cost of fundamentally losing the basis of a critical radicalism.

It is here that my inchoate critique reemerges.

What is this “critical radicalism” that Fisher was losing sight of? It was a “critical radicalism” that manifest itself as a “reflexive impotence”, recently discussed here. In previously citing Natasha Lennard’s article for Salon, I mentioned how what was being rejected at that time was the looming “celebrity vanguard” that many on the left feared the likes of Russell Brand and Owen Jones represented. This was a left whose “critical radicalism” amounted to nothing more than an impotent horizontalism; a radicalism that didn’t so much critique its pop-cultural figureheads as denounce any cultural representation whatsoever. It was a leftism that kept making appeals to an illusory outsideness, arguing that what we needed was a form of cultural representation that wasn’t produced under capitalism. Fisher’s point was that familiar Lyotardian one: there is no outside, the only way out is through.

Though he may reference Lyotard and Nietzsche in his critiques, this thought has next to no relation to the hysterical accelerationism Noys once took aim at in The Persistence of the Negative. This is Fisher’s “popular modernism”, which decries the impotence of a “critical radicalism” that no longer sees any role for popular culture in the creation of certain structures of feeling. It is an argument that has since been vindicated. When the left eventually dropped this pretension to an impossible purity, it discovered a resurgence of its ideas in the political imagination. In 2015 Jeremy Corbyn broke through, with the grassroots movement surrounding him making active use of capitalism’s cultural dynamics, producing memes and conflating Corbyn with designer fashion as part of an irreverent merchandising campaign — a clear example of what Fisher called “designer communism”.

Though defeated in parliament, this new leftist energy has persisted. The memetically intelligent and culturally attuned Northern Independence Party is showing how this kind of defiant cultural participation can actively produce new conversations and, one hopes, real change. It was this sort of role that Fisher saw in the likes of The Jam and, yes, Russell Brand. Though a controversial suggestion, then and now, even Brand acknowledged that things must be dire if it was up to someone like him to raise consciousness in the 21st century. Brand arguably rose to the top because there were few other representatives to rally around. (Now his influence seems to have diminished somewhat, but only because people have followed his lead and engaged with politics in a way that, at one time, only Brand dared to.)

Clearly, this wasn’t elitism. This was generating structures of feeling, and using popular individuals to awaken collective undercurrents — something that Noys’ “critical radicalism”, at that time, was quite allergic too. As Fisher writes in his 2014 essay “Going Overground”:

One of the problems with many of the horizontalist models of political action is that they assume that we already know what we think and feel, and we are simply prevented from expressing ourselves by oppressive power structures. Yet mass mediated art could name and focus feelings that were not only suppressed – by ‘internal’ as well as external censoring agencies – but which were inchoate, unformed, virtual. Mass mediation transformed, not merely ‘represented’ these affects; after they were named and brought into focus, the feelings ‘themselves’ were experienced differently.

In my jumble of thoughts provoked by his abstract, I suggested that Noys’ critique of Fisher was dependent on a misremembering of what form this “critical radicalism” took, which was either impotent horizontalism or neoliberal centrism. However, it doesn’t seem to me that Noys is so forgetful. Unfortunately, it seems worse than that. Noys seems to affirm the leftist melancholy of the late 2000s, as if we didn’t get to see the results of that moment’s great negativity. He recruits Mario Tronti to his cause, affirming Tronti’s argument “that working class passivity and lack of struggle could have effects on capitalism.” Drawing on Tronti’s analyis of the crash of 1929, Noys suggests that a

lack of struggles… robbed capitalists and capital of the ability and knowledge it gained from the struggle by workers. Without workers’ struggles no innovation and no development and no knowledge.

We could argue there is an air of “anti-praxis” here, taken from unconditional accelerationism, or even the horrorism of Nick Land’s “do nothing”. Either way, the same issue lingers over Noys’ talk. But the real implication is that this is nothing more than an echo of the dominant leftist position that emerged around the crash of 2008. No leaders, no programme — that is how we win.

But we didn’t win. Nothing happened. Austerity instead made everything worse. Noys’ position suddenly appears like more of a kakocracy than accelerationism ever was. It echoes the impotence that define an era, that Fisher and others put on blast, and which accelerationism was an ardent rejection of. Noys was always a critic of accelerationism, so perhaps this is unsurprising, but I’m sure many would not expect the rejection of accelerationism to be such a depressive rejection of praxis. Though Noys’ talk began by denouncing a Fisherian pessimism, he suddenly seems more pessimistic than Mark ever was.

This, to me, feels like an instance of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In light of Noys’ full critique, I am willing to admit that Fisher’s theoretical allegiances may have been a bit confused. Nietzsche’s aristocratic radicalism is certainly less popular in the present, and Fisher may have been conflating his Nietzschean analysis with a sort of Marxist-Leninism, as Noys seems to suggest. (Although there is clearly more of an emphasis on the latter here, compared to some of Nietzsche’s more loyal twentieth-century adherents, who Fisher was explicitly not a fan of — Bataille and DH Lawrence come to mind, even though I’d argue they both lie on the pop-mod spectrum in that they encouraged the emergence of specifically psychosexual structures of feeling in their own times.) Regardless, the point of the previous post remains intact. Noys’ appeals to a “critical radicalism” are misplaced. What counted for critical radicalism at the time Fisher was writing was a leftist melancholy that refused to engage with the present, which Noys nonetheless seems to interpret as the only viable response to a present defined by “weakness and disorientation”. Surely this is more indicative of the self-fulfilling prophecies of “reflexive impotence” than Fisher’s “slow cancellations of the future”? As Fisher remarked of the reflexively impotent:

They know things are bad, but more than that, they know they can’t do anything about it. But that ‘knowledge’, that reflexivity, is not a passive observation of an already existing state of affairs. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Denouncing left-Nietzscheanism might sound good now, in the aftermath of Losurdo’s newly translated critique, but what this amounts to, placed back into the historical context under consideration, is a defense of a period when the left was arguably least capable of engaging with the present as a site of struggle. Tronti’s argument that an end to class struggle may presage an end to capitalism, rather than vice versa, may have once seemed attractive in its contrarianism, but not now. His analysis of the post-crash world after 1929 hardly seems resonant with our post-crash world since 2008. That is, in part, because class struggle had already been eliminated — at least semantically. The beginning of the twentieth-century was defined not just by the ultimate ascendency of global capitalism, but also by the defaulting of an entire country to the middle class — that generic class position used to deny the very existence of class as a struggle. In the late 90s, the British centre-left declared that we are all middle class now, and suddenly everything was meant to be fine. But capitalism kept churning regardless.

Yes, capitalism may generate struggles that we allow to persist in our resistance against them, but I’d argue that is because our resistance has not been strong enough. Any argument that suggests the left should once again weaken its own position is an awful one, and one that is wholly out of touch with the actual struggles of the present.

The Slow Cancellation of…
Sorry, What Were We Talking About?

I was sorry to miss this recent talk from Benjamin Noys. I only heard about it after the fact. Here’s the abstract:

In the face of what Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi and Mark Fisher have called ‘the slow cancellation of the future’ contemporary theory has often responded by stressing the utopian possibilities of ‘inventing the future’ or turning to a fundamental past ontological rift or wounding. The crisis of the future, I wish to suggest, is in fact a crisis of the imagination of the present. In contrast to the invention of the future, or the turn to the past, I argue we need to de-invent the future and return to the present as a fraught and fragmentary site of struggle.

You shouldn’t judge a talk by its abstract alone, obviously. They can be such hastily written things. But I do have a lot of questions…

I tweeted about this the other day and it seems that my suspicions were somewhat confirmed by others who attended. This makes me feel like it might be worth airing these questions in a more lucid form than a few bewildered tweets, not only because Noys’ approach seems bizarre to me, but because it seems indicative of what’s gone wrong with the accelerationist blogosphere over the last few years. It suggests that many have been struck by a certain amnesia.


I’m mostly curious to know how Noys’ argument actually differs from Fisher’s. After all, Fisher was better attuned to the time-signature of the present than anyone.

Though Noys apparently took aim at Fisher’s Nietzschean pessimism in this talk, Fisher’s critiques from Capitalist Realism onwards — and his notion of “reflexive impotence” in particular — were a diagnosis of a new strand of left melancholia, emerging from the Long Nineties and flaring up around the Occupy movement — a task explicitly grounded in the present. As Wendy Brown writes of this strange pathology:

“Left melancholia” is [Walter] Benjamin’s unambivalent epithet for the revolutionary hack who is, finally, not serious about political change, who is more attached to a particular political analysis or ideal — even to the failure of that ideal — than to seizing possibilities for radical change in the present. In the context of Benjamin’s enigmatic insistence on the political value of a dialectical historical grasp of the time of the Now, Left melancholia represents not only a refusal to come to terms with the particular character of the present, that is, a failure to understand history in terms other than “empty time” or “progress.” It signifies as well a certain narcissism with regard to one’s past political attachments and identity that exceeds any contemporary investment in political mobilization, alliance, or transformation.

Mark referenced this essay a few times, including in his final lectures. But the left’s reluctance or inability to deal with the present was something he critiqued constantly. (It was also his argument in “Exiting the Vampire Castle”, where he swaps the death rattle of New Labour for Twitter’s tendency to call visible socialists “sell-outs” in 2013.)

This makes Noys’ argument sound particularly weak, even self-defeating. To talk of left-Nietzscheanism ends up sounding more like an indirect flex that he’s read Losurdo and nothing more. I can’t think of any other reason why someone might think critiques of left-Nietzscheanism and the mid-2000s pessimism of Mark Fisher have any bearing whatsoever on our present moment.

What’s worse is the other side of Noys’ critique is similarly misrepresented here. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s Inventing the Future wasn’t detached from the present either. It was a speculative politics, yes, but speculation begins in the present; it intervenes in the present. That was Williams’ original argument when he first made moves against the blogosphere’s hauntological trend, insisting that we sod all that “good postmodernism” rubbish and actually interrogate “in our current time… those regions which appear, from the in-situational point of view, to be marginal, and properly undecideable.”

What is that if not a demarcation of the present as a “fraught and fragmentary site of struggle”?

It’s as if the first blogosphere never happened; as if Mark Fisher, Alex Williams and Steven Shaviro never wrote all they did about the contingencies of now. To make matters worse, Noys was there for all this. It was Williams’ denouncement of hauntology, and his insistence on the present as a site of struggle, that Noys first (perjoratively) named “accelerationism”. But accelerationism, for the likes of Williams and Fisher, was always, fundamentally, concerned with “the new”, how it appears or fails to appear, how new forms of political subjectivity can be “invented” or “discovered” after the end of history; after capitalism’s claim to have won out overall. It is in this way that accelerationism begins from the present and moves outwards, as all speculative philosophies do. Indeed, Alfred North Whitehead, so central to the accelerationist writings of Steven Shaviro, argues that speculative philosophy is essentially a meeting point for temporalised logics: “Whenever we attempt to express the matter of immediate experience, we find that its understanding leads us beyond itself, to its contemporaries, to its past, to its future, and to the universals in terms of which its definitiveness is exhibited.”

Maybe Noys addressed all this in his talk… Maybe he’s just forgotten all of his previous entanglements… But if that is the case, then the present is being misused as a rug, under which we can conveniently forget the past once witnessed and the future once promised. Noys’ talk doesn’t sound like an argument for the “present” but a “presenteeism”. It is showing up and achieving nothing.

We might note that forgetting is also a central tool of capitalism realism. Fisher always suggested that “the slow cancellation of the future” took place in memory, first and foremost. The future is cancelled as old visions are reified as novelties of the past. Representations are decoupled from transhistorical gestures towards emancipation. Structures of feeling are diminished, abstracted, made distant. The present becomes a postmodern soup where only the past is eternally and destructively present.

There’s a reason why the final albums of arch-hauntologist The Caretaker attempted to sonically document an experience of dementia or, as on his earlier works, retrograde amnesia. Capitalism’s drive to make us forget is a demented infringement upon our cognitive potentials in the present.

Fisher’s Acid Communism, again, hoped to intervene in this demented space. As if channeling the psychedelic drawn-from-memory still lives of Ivan Seal, he found a productive tension in the cognitive dichotomy of remembering and hallucinating — two closely related processes that both take place in the present. This gives form to that long-considered tension between hauntology and accelerationism. The dialectic between them attempts to illuminate capitalist dreamwork and allow us to regain some agency in the here and now. This isn’t a new tension. It was central throughout the first blogosphere, dramatised in the imagined dialogues between Deleuze and Badiou.

With all of this in mind, it seems strange that Noys would offer up, as a critical intervention, a summary of his opponents’ positions from over decade ago. It makes it seem less like a timely critique than a symptom of what Fisher and others were describing way back when… For Noys to demonstrate this as part of a series of talks called “Theory in Crisis” only makes things stranger. It starts to feel more demonstrative than diagnostic… How can we take someone’s claim to the present seriously when they themselves seem so far removed from it?

But again, it’s just an abstract. I’ll happily eat my words if a recording appears, but I have a strong feeling I won’t have to…



Update: Noys talk is now online — a follow-up here.

A Brief History of the New:
Guest Lecture with Ctrl Network

I’m very excited to be returning to Ctrl Network in April to give another guest lecture on “the new”. Last time I spoke at Ctrl Network, I presented new research, which later turned into the introduction to Postcapitalist Desire. This lecture might end up being something similar. A prologue of sorts to a book on accelerationism I started last year.

Read the abstract below, and book a place on Eventbrite to come listen live and join the Q&A on 21st April 2021, 13.00-15.00 GMT.

A Brief History of the New

How do we free ourselves from the tyranny of the “post-“? Jumping off from Fisher’s unfinished lecture series, which ends with post-structuralism’s moment of absolute negation, this lecture will return to the philosophy’s beginnings, tracing a wandering line of abstraction from Heraclitus to the Ccru, considering how “the new” has been thought and we might begin to think “the new” anew again.

Concluding the Ctrl Network reading group series exploring the lecture transcripts of Matt Colquhoun’s Postcapitalist Desire: Mark Fisher the Final Lectures, we are very excited to host a special guest lecture from Matt on Wednesday 21st April 2021, 1-3pm, with a chance for attendees to ask questions.

This event will take place online via Zoom. A link will be supplied nearer the time. There are limited places at this event so register early to avoid disappointment!

Please note, Matt’s lecture will be recorded and made available at a future date on our website.

In the meantime, our reading group will be exploring the final lecture transcripts as well as Matt’s introduction to the book in our monthly online sessions. All are welcome to join. To find out more, see our website.

Notes on Lenin and Accelerationist Meta-Terrorism

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, terrorism was an increasingly popular political tool deployed against Russian absolutism. It had proved effective in the past. Russian nihilists — revolutionaries who preached the absolute negation of absolutism — assassinated Alexander II in 1881. A year later, another band of revolutionaries would make an attempt on the life of his son, Alexander III.

Amongst those hanged for the conspiracy against the new tsar was Aleksandr Ulyanov, the older brother of Vladimir Lenin. Though Lenin himself was not an advocate of terrorism — once describing terrorists as “liberals with bombs”, exchanging the word for the deed in their propaganda machine — his brother’s execution was a major factor in his own radicalisation.

Lenin’s brother, who was a firm believer in his cause, did not want to die for it. At his trial, prior to sentencing, he had made a rousing speech regarding the necessity of their actions when faced with the towering inequality present in Russia at that time. “Terror is that form of struggle which has been created by the nineteenth century,” he declared, “the only form of self-defence in which a minority, strong only through its spiritual force and the awareness of its righteousness, can resort against the majority’s awareness of physical force.” As his mother wept, he continued:

Of course terror is not the intelligentsia’s weapon in organised struggle. It is only a road that some individuals take spontaneously when their discontent reaches extremity. Thus viewed, terrorism is an expression of the popular struggle and will last as long as the nation’s needs are not satisfied.

Though perhaps convincing to discontented young men at that time, it was not a practice that resonated with Aleksandr’s younger brother. As Tariq Ali notes in The Dilemmas of Lenin, for the future leader of the USSR:

Terrorism as a political act could not be resuscitated. It simply did not work. It was an inefficient substitute for mass action. It concentrated on individuals while leaving the system in tact, which is why it had long ceased to interest or attract the bulk of the intelligentsia.

Lenin was, on the contrary, something of an accelerationist. Whilst accelerationism and terrorism have become synonymous in the twenty-first century, in Lenin’s time they were explicitly counterpoised to one another. The lessons the early Marxists took from their more terroristic anarchist forebears was that absolute negation of the existing order was only possible collectively. Nothing is ever destroyed by the limited actions of a few, no matter how explosive and deadly they may be.

Of course, “accelerationism” is clearly a term of no use to Tariq Ali, but we might note how familiar Lenin’s view of revolutionary praxis will be to many an accelerationist when he writes that, for Lenin, “the coming revolution would be based on the growing strength of the proletariat, aided by the quickening pace of capitalist development and therefore bourgeois democratic in character.” The further capitalism spreads, the more proletariat there are. Capitalism, in its expedience, recruits more enemies than it does adherents. And so, for Lenin, “untrammelled capitalist development … would increase the size and weight of the proletariat, thus bringing it face to face with its enemy.”

Is this the kind of action Alex Williams is referring to when he advocates for a kind of “meta-terrorism” in response to the squalid stasis of late-capitalism? In the twenty-first century, terrorism is an act that has been vetoed by any moral-political orthodoxy. In postmodernity, this is perhaps because there is no singular entity to fight against. Islamic terrorists wage war against the amorphous targets of a shape-shifting Western hemisphere in the hope of carving out a space for their Islamist absolutism. Capitalism, on the contrary, spreads best through dissolidarity, and yet becomes absolutist in its global multiplicity. Then how might we accelerate capitalism’s development further still? So that it might start to dissolve itself in its own acidic consistency? Williams writes:

Instead of flying the planes into symbols of western capitalism, we plunge the financial-capitalistic contents of the towers into the human world itself, dissolving, sundering, shattering…

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

Further excavation is needed to locate Lyotard’s “nihilist theory of credit” and Badiou’s Maoist agitations, but we might note how the establishment has already mastered the meta-terrorist gesture in the last two decades? The definition of the term “meta-terrorism” already in circulation refers to the exacerbation of panic and consternation when a terrorist attack occurs. We see this deployed by the right all the time. Islamists attack the West, the West ensures that all fear and outrage is directed towards othered minorities who are otherwise “representative” of the “enemy” — no doubt fueling further terrorism. Just as terrorism itself is ineffective in its targeting of individuals by individuals, so is meta-terrorism ineffective in its targeting of minorities already rebelling under the cosh of globalist capitalism.

Is the argument, then, that the only meta-terrorism worth pursuing is system against system? When capitalism experiences one of its many market paroxysms, even one that is ultimately inconsequential in nature, it should be utilised to inflame dissent against the capitalist class. Treat capitalism how capitalism treats the Islamic faith; use their attempts to terrorise the proletariat against themselves, fueling hatred of their hypocrisies and injustices. Many are already doing this, of course, although not under the “accelerationist” mantle. But connecting the dots between revolutionary movements can’t hurt.

Junk Capital:
On the Anti-Burrovian Trajectory of Nick Land

In his recollection of his time at the University of Warwick, as a student studying under Nick Land, Robin Mackey describes how, then as now, Land’s reputation preceded him:

Before I met Land, I already knew of him through the gossip of new undergraduates taken aback by what they had heard on the grapevine: Did Land really claim that he had come back from the dead? Did he really think he was an android sent from the future to terminate human security? In person he belied these outrageous claims (both of which he did indeed make in writing), being thoroughly polite and amiable and, above all, willing to engage in earnest conversation with anyone. He had paid his philosophical dues and could hold his own in a discussion with any professor; these discussions often turning vituperative, however, as Land railed against the institution and its conservatism. But he preferred to spend his time in the bar with undergraduates, always buying the drinks, smoking continually, and conversing animatedly (and where possible, vehemently) about any topic whatsoever.

If Land preferred to spend his time with undergraduates, it was perhaps because he was fascinated, as Mackay notes, by “the sensibilities of the first generation … to have grown up surrounded by technology.” Today, such sensibilities are a bottomless source for parental panics but, for Land, they signalled exciting times ahead. As Mackay writes: “The unbridled production of new brands of erotic adventure within capitalism” had the potential to usher in a cyberpunk “transformation of the human, cutting its bonds with the (cultural, familial, and ultimately biological) past and opening it up to new, inorganic distributions of affect.” It is arguably this same belief in the revolutionary potential of youth that has allowed Land’s work to continue to circulate through myriad young cybercultures in more recent years as well.

This technology that the young are ever-increasingly surrounded by, however, was not and is not inert. The transformation then underway was particular. To be surrounded by technology was, more or less, to be surrounded by globalised capitalism. Youth culture from the 1990s onwards was beholden to the structural possibilities of work and play that capitalism itself was selecting for. Though the future seemed open ended, with the benefit of hindsight we can see how the bottleneck of the present was prefigured, by hollowing out the countercultures once synonymous with anti-capitalism but which were increasingly synonymous with the excitations of the system itself. At around that same time, Timothy Leary updated his famous phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out” for the PC era, advising people instead to “turn on, boot up, jack in.” Counter-cultures were, at that moment, the new capitalist cultures of the dot.com era.

This was of particular interest to Land, who was (and, arguably, remains) deeply engaged in the cultural implications of free-market capitalism, following its ultimate victory during the Thatcher-Reagan years and following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The issue for Land’s critics is that his interests only served to shake up a philosophical conservativism rather than a more political one — something that is blatantly apparent in the present. His philosophy was born from the moment that conservatism, broadly speaking, began its own modernisation process. When accelerationism was christened in 2008, this is why it was post-Landian. Land accounted for a moment when the ratchet of modernity was cranked up several notches. He planted the seeds for a new philosophy in a heretically Badiouian sense, birthing a new thought that could do justice to the new political, socioeconomic and scientific advances of its era. However, we have been stuck in that era for some time now, atrophying along its over-worked vectors. Land’s relevance persists because neoliberalism does. For most, this persistence is more a sign of our stagnation than of a newly-emergent right-wing radicality.

But surely even Land himself would admit that the mundane present capitalism has provided us with is far from what he too believed was to come. Consider, for example, Land’s cyberpunk interventions in the day-to-day runnings of an up-tight academic institution like the University of Warwick in the 1990s. These activities were not protests against capitalism but celebrations of its innately mutative nature, revolutionising the structure of the university as an institution, the way it was run, and the ways teaching, research and writing were done inside its hallowed walls. At its most innocuous, this could be seen in the Ccru’s favouring of the Internet over stuffy academic journals. In universities today, however, this mutative process has borne only rotten fruit. Indeed, whilst it is hard to deny that the unsentimental march of marketisation has radically transformed “The University” as an institution, with the benefit of hindsight it is difficult to imagine how anyone deemed the potentials of such a process to be exciting in the slightest.

Nevertheless, for Land at least, they were exciting, but not just because capitalism could transform his own place of work. Bootstrapped to every mode of production within society, the accelerative nature of capitalism was transforming every human endeavour along with it. The impact of capitalism on writing, in particular, provided new vectors for experimentation and, therefore, new vectors for thought as well. As Mackay explains, Land sought “to intensify capitalism’s undoing of language through new practices of writing, speaking, and thinking”.

In this regard, we might say that Land was to a Nineties cyberculture as William Burroughs had been to the Beat generation before him. Burroughs, too, was concerned with the “technology of writing” — that utilitarian function of language that is taught in schools, and arguably the only type of writing that can be taught.

“There is a definite technology for the negative use of words to cause confusion, to create and aggravate conflicts, and to discredit opponents”, Burroughs writes. However, for him, this is “the opposite of what a writer does.” The writer is more like a magician, going far beyond the accepted technological bounds of a given medium and sending new weapons back from the future, in order to counter the technology of writing that is “developed in the mass media … refined in Life and Time, and carried still further by the CIA in some subsidized literary periodicals.” Land, instead, flattened the circle in accordance with the new era, plugging into the networks Burroughs was most suspicious of. Suddenly, the technology of writing was colliding with new writings on technology. Over the decades since, it seems the generative tension between the two, for Land at least, has struggled to sustain itself.

It is nonetheless worth bearing in mind Burroughs’ appraisal of the written word and the myriad ways it is used and abused. Whereas Walter Benjamin had one argued that the aesthetisation of politics is a key weapon in the armoury of any fascist regime, for Burroughs this process is innate to writing itself. Writing is never not political and it is never not pursued under some sort of aesthetic guise. Writing, then, is the form of political aestheticisation that we witness every day, both for the better and for the worse — and this is no minor accusation to come from someone like Burroughs, who has dedicated their life to the very medium they distrusted most.

Burroughs was a literary accelerationist, in this sense. He intensified the cascading conundrums of modern language to break the illusion of a “common” (or, rather, an ideologically mass-mediated) sense and introduce into capitalism a newly virulent surreality. From within the depths of its confounding currents, Burroughs single-handedly short-circuited the system that swirled around him and supercharged its most ubiquitous weapon — language — towards new processes.

Land, whilst sympathetic to and heavily influenced by Burroughs’ work, updated his insights to a new era, contaminating language with numbers. Through the heretical deployment of gematria — the assigning of numerical value to letters, producing new modes of connection and resonance; a practice associated with various ancient religions, and particularly Judaism — Land intensified not just language itself but capitalism’s alphanumerical relationship to thought, wholly recasting Burroughs’ notorious relationship between writing and drugs.

This is to say that capital was to Land as junk had been to Burroughs — and Land’s self-destructive relationship with late-capitalism was certainly as generative and morally ambiguous as Burroughs’ entanglements had been before him.

Just as Burroughs had once described heroin — “junk” — as a “transitional” drug, operating “between living and dead matter, between animal and vegetable life”, to the extent that it is hard to “avoid the feeling that junk is in some way alive”, Land saw capital as a similarly transitional (but exceedingly more abstract) substance that was zombifying labour relations and production in all its guises. As in Burroughs’ visions of a drug-addicted mid-century America, Land’s capital is not just a concern for Wall Street junkies but everyone. Even anti-capitalists — just like the narcotics agents in Burroughs’ novels — are caught up in their “special relation” to capital. But this clandestine networking of desires and addictions, power and control, remains obfuscated from those on the outside of this obscured but nonetheless pervasive counter-culture, who are concerned but easily manipulated.

As such, we can imagine Land echoing Burroughs at almost every heretical turn. “Official propaganda opposes any factual statement about [capital], so that almost nothing accurate has been written on the subject.” Accuracy is not to be found in the objective reporting of financial journalists and economists, nor on the bank statements of everyday people; an accurate portrayal of capitalist life can only be written by a cut-up, jacked-up, fucked-up subject who feels its controlling influence pumping through their veins; who desires it, knows its many names, and feels the hum from those blackened alleyways of knowledge that the addict is most likely to find it in.

Land was one such subject, and yet he also seemed to embrace a wholly anti-Burrovian position. He was Burroughs come full circle, from anti-capitalist to hyper-capitalist. After all, Burroughs was a writer who, like Land, was no stranger to serious controversy, but even he was adverse to “the Ugly Spirit” of the “acquisitive evil” that is American capitalism. Unlike Land, Burroughs saw his own intensive writing practice as a way to resist capital’s dark possession. Land, instead, saw writing as its ultimate possessive vector; as a way to let capitalism (further) in.

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.”