Cyberfeminist Beginnings, Cyberfeminist Ends


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(As an aside to this aside, this problematic becomes most apparent in the ways that Land absorbs and neutralises many critiques made against him by the early blogosphere; in the ways he adopts tendencies that were invoked by others to move beyond his Nineties work in order to furnish his new Noughties neoreaction for himself. Horrorism, for instance, is wholly associated with Land today, but it was Alex Williams who first used that term, borrowing it cynically from Martin Amis to describe “a non-dialectical amassing of negativity … a horror piled upon horror, a critical mass capable of pulling the subjectivity attached to the organic human substrate through to some nether-zone of dissolution, a Deleuzean becoming crucially without affirmation.” This was a dark Deleuzeanism proper — far darker than anything Andrew Culp could pull out of the blogosphere — which called for a political praxis of terroristic communism able to “destabilise the current state-capital bond … a kind of meta-terrorism, operating on the plane of capital itself … a capitalist surrealism [seeking] the exploitation of credit-based financial systems for their primary destructive potential … not merely to be thought on the ability to trigger vast crashes, which is readily apparent, but further their capacity to destabilise the consistency of value itself.” That horrorism is today associated with the worst kind of right-wing online edgelording shows just how successful Land’s reterritorialisation of the term has been.)

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

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

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

No Nature, Not Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism — Course Out Now!

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

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

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

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

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

The Philosophy and Politics of Accelerationism — Course Promo

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

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

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


The Rotten Western (Part 2)

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

← Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what of the girls? Williams’ nod to Badiou in his conclusion is a factor I think most people interested in hauntology and accelerationism have forgotten. For Williams, Badiou’s “analysis of the emergence of the new” — recently discussed — “would entail a more strategic examination of precisely where the pop-musical evental sites and historical situations exist within our current time: those regions which appear, from the in-situational point of view, to be marginal, and properly undecideable.”

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

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

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

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

Xenofeminism and the Problem of the Non-Alienated Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crisis of the Negative: The Relativist Right Never Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Break loose.

Hegemony of the Cliché: Pomophobia Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Games Industry: Accelerationism and the Hauntological in Microcosm

I’m currently doing a load of research into accelerationism — when am I not — for a new thing. I’ve been digging far back into the blogosphere to try and accurately trace its development from its 2007 beginnings to the present, but without all the distracting retconning of various philosophers who have at one time or other expressed an accelerationist opinion. (I found a very early Benjamin Noys post where he offers a few examples of accelerationist positions and one was a quote from Roland Barthes so I’m left feeling like just about anyone could be a Noysian accelerationist at this point.)

What I’m currently intrigued by is how the accelerationist split first emerged. (Alex Williams’ (at least I think it’s his) old blog is proving to be fascinating reading right now — straight-up red-hot Landianism over there — no surprises he’s since deleted most of it.) In fact, its split is arguably its founding gesture — an appropriate Big Bang moment for the first blogosphere when the first atom split and birthed a whole network of weird social media enclaves that just keep splitting.

Most people should know by now that “Accelerationism” as a term related to political philosophy was coined by Noys but it was arguably Mark Fisher and Alex Williams who made it what it is. (And, credit where due, Steven Shaviro’s blog was arguably the blog where the initial discussion started.) I’ve mentioned this a few times on here and on Twitter but the initial developments came from  Noys writing his 2010 book The Persistence of the Negative in which he critiques Continental philosophy’s obsession with affirming a certain kind of negativity. Fisher, in deftly trollish fashion, then affirmed Noys’ negative critique. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake on Fisher’s part but, for better or for worse, the name stuck and everyone has been confusing Noys’ and Fisher’s versions ever since.

It seems to me — although I’m still untangling this — that Fisher did this to demonstrate that Noys’ position as being somehow above this entanglement of negations and affirmations was a fallacy. In late capitalist society, we affirm negations and negate affirmations every day. The problem is that this process is far from the vaguely similar process first described in Marx’s dialectical materialism. This is to say that, in the 21st century, the dialectic of capitalism’s positives and negatives has become wholly impotent. This was the discussion within the blogosphere. It was not simply about how all the Conties affirm the negative but about how the negative itself was and remains in crisis.

So why not just be positive? Fisher’s argument was that that is what capitalism wants. It wants positivity all day every day. In this sense, the negative takes on a new potency but it has lost its effective charge. The question was, how can the negative produce the new? Accelerationism, in Noys’ hands, as that byword for everything “bad” about capitalism was the perfect sandbox to try this out in. Can we affirm the negatives of capitalism to produce the new?

It wasn’t as simple as that though, because nothing ever is. Accelerationism was also picked up by the blogosphere because it had obvious implications for the various and already well-established discussions around hauntology.

The relationship between the two is quite interesting, I think, and it is also far more nuanced than the usual assumption of accelerationism is fast and hauntology is slow. As Fisher noted in one post, this is not a philosophy of mind-numbing tautologies where what is negative is bad because it is negative and what is positive is good because it is positive. In fact, what seems to really galvanise discussions around accelerationism is that it is seen as the positive cultural charge to hauntology’s negative charge. Taken together, each with their own internal positives and negatives, they describe a strange tension within the 21st century.

The full argument I have about this might get hashed out somewhere else in more detail but I thought of an illustrative example of this relation that is culturally still prevalent (if not more prevalent) over a decade later but which doesn’t fit into what I’m working on: the games industry.

Accelerationism, as hauntology’s hyperactive cousin, was seen by Fisher and others as an analysis of the ever-increasing speed of technological progression under capitalism and how this was affecting human cultural production and the production of subjectivity. These issues are all still pertinent today. In fact, they can arguably be seen most readily in the microcosm of the games industry.

There, technological hardware is being improved at an astounding rate, with new devices, consoles and ways to play appearing with an increased frequency, and yet it is also an industry currently infatuated with remakes of classic games.

Why is this?

In some ways, the reason is practical. The technological innovations far outpace cultural development so that those foundational cultural experiences become lost as the hardware improves. Because we have memories longer than the rapid cycle of a “console generation”, we don’t just desire the new all the time. Sometimes we want the comfort of something we know. So what do you do if you want to play your old games?

There are some obvious answers. People might still own their old consoles, for example, but playing them on modern TVs can be a nightmare. (I, for instance, still lug my N64 with me wherever I go but it is increasingly temperamental.) Do I need to keep time capsules of all my old home entertainment technology if I want to enjoy something? This level of fetishism is commonplace, with people preserving old setups like vinyl nerds, but it’s hardly practical. There are other workarounds and emulators, of course, but the industry itself seems like it is only just coming to appreciate its tandem responsibilities — not only pushing out new products to feed the desire for the new and improved but also its responsibility to archive and retain access to past experiences that are in danger of being left behind and lost to the casual player who doesn’t sideline as an amateur games historian.

The main reason why this is an important consideration is that it is arguably one not shared by any other medium. Although they do get remade with a depressing frequency, a film doesn’t need to be entirely remade to be enjoyed easily in the same way that a game does. For games, it is a question of accessibility as much as aesthetics. This is to say that it is not always just a money grab but a way to celebrate the existence of something technologically maligned and also remind aging gamers of their foundational gaming experiences that they might want to enjoy for a lot longer than the rapidity of technological development may allow. Still, speed is a factor here. We’re not talking about experiences from decades ago. One decade might be all it takes for the remake treatment to become feasible. This timescale might shrink in future if nothing changes.

Here’s the problem of capitalist speed and cultural drag in a nutshell. The quick fix of just remaking old titles and making them shiny again is one way to do it but it doesn’t always solve the practical problem.

There is a further side effect from this, however. I wonder, considering how precarious gaming culture is, with technological progression and cultural instability leading to what we have at present — a frenzied stasis — isn’t it also this precarity that has led to a largely reactionary culture within the gaming community? One that salivates over superficial progression (graphics!) whilst hating real change? Is this not the very same issue that we see everywhere in society, albeit on a micro scale? That is to say, isn’t it precisely this capitalist acceleration, independent of human culture, which only causes it to drag, that leads not to a frustrated capitalism but to an increasingly reactionary subjectivity? Isn’t the fact that gamers are often such sensitive small-c conservatives a result of a sort of cultural-subcultural negative feedback loop? Stasis becomes a demand left oddly unfulfilled because capitalism cannot help but speed ahead of the lifespan of our desires.

“Well done, Xeno”, I hear you say. “You’ve demonstrated an obvious point about late capitalism using a really annoying example.” But part of me also feels like, if gamers could see themselves as the microcosm of neoliberalism that they are, maybe they’d be less sensitive about incompetence in their industry and more sensitive about how that incompetence mirrors the wider world around them.

Biden is Bethesda, you guys. Will you think a bit more about politics now?

More Theology of the Seething Cosmic Void: Notes on Scaling from Spinoza to Negarestani

As part of the XG Discord reading group, we’ve been reading (and reading around) Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia.

In week one, we talked about how the text is written, its since-removed online origins, and its chaotic references, contradictions, and plot holes, all of which allows the text itself to germinate and pollinate like Nerium Oleander — that strange and toxic plant seemingly without origin, spotted by Kristen Alvanson in the back of a taxi on her way to meet S.

Cyclonopedia is, in this sense, a “bad book” that demands not only to be read but also researched. In trying to figure out what it’s trying to do, it entraps you, and sees how much cognitive noise you have the capacity to filter.

In week two, we connected this to the chapter “A Good Meal”, talking about Reza’s sense of affordance: the way the book suspends an excessive faith in anthropocentric agency that has the capacity to “reach” the outside and instead emphasises, in quite an explicitly Lovecraftian manner, how the outside opens us — it all depends on how much of it you can afford.

We extrapolated outwards from this, and the inter-scalar manoeuvres Reza makes from subjective to cosmic perspectives, to Bataille’s theory of general economy and, similarly, to Nick Land’s essay “Sore Losers”, which might be the most cyclonopedic text published in the 2010s, echoing the various discussions between Nick and Reza on Islamic exotericism that went into Reza’s first book.

For week three — in a discussion held on Friday afternoon over Discord (that was sadly not recorded for Patreon, hence this spirited post trying to gloss all that we discussed) — we decided to jump from Cyclonopedia to Spinoza’s Ethics, exploring to what extent this cosmic perspective — which allows Reza (and us) to view a general economy of the 21st century, entwining capitalism and Islamism in an apocalyptic death spiral — is made possible by the sort of cold rationalism put forth by Baruch Spinoza.

Part of this desire comes from my attempts (undertaken without much success) to articulate what connects Cyclonopedia to Intelligence & Spirit. Something does, I think but something slippery — and it is something similar to that thread that connects Fisher, no matter how inadvertently, to Bataille — as also discussed by Ed Berger recently: the sense through which the noumenal nature of our desires requires that any rationalism come packaged with a certain occultism. This kernel, when fully explored, may constitute, as Ed magnificently put it, “a Lacanian-Spinozist theology … of the seething cosmic void.”

What follows is a brief and idiosyncratic attempt to sketch out this trajectory before it falls out of my head. Please excuse the speed with which I am about to traverse it…

In Spinoza’s pondering of the nature of God, as well as in his challenge to Descartes, he argues that the central fallacy that undermines human reasoning, particularly when it is applied to God, is that we too often try to think of God in the same sense that we think of ourselves. The truth is that we, in fact, cannot.

This is, in part, because it is a logical fallacy to imbue what Spinoza calls “God-or-nature” — the two are inseparable in his philosophy — with any sort of anthropomorphised principle or purpose. Nature does not adhere to rules and rationalisations like we do. It is fundamentally indifferent.

And yet, once we understand this, the ways in which we have historically thought of God nonetheless reveal something about ourselves. That is to say, in thinking rationally about God-or-nature, by detaching ourselves (to the best of our ability) from our socialised sentimentalities, we are able to separate what is “true” of God-or-nature, and what is “true” only of ourselves. As Spinoza writes:

The reason therefore or cause why God or nature acts and why he exists is one and the same. It follows that since he does not exist for the sake of a purpose, he does not act for the sake of a purpose either; but as he has no principle or purpose in existing, so he has no principle or purpose in acting. And the so-called final cause is nothing but a human appetite itself, considered as a principle or primary cause of a thing. For example, when we say that habitation was the final cause of this or that house, we are surely saying simply that human beings had an appetite to build a house because they imagined the advantages of a home. Therefore habitation, insofar as it is considered a final cause, is nothing but this particular appetite, which is in truth an efficient cause that is considered as a first cause because people are commonly ignorant of the causes of their own appetites. For, as I have said, they are certainly conscious of their actions and their appetites, but are ignorant of the causes which determine them to want something.

Here we find clear evidence for Fisher’s claim that Spinoza inaugurated psychoanalysis three hundred years ahead of schedule. Because, in assigning to God-or-nature a certain all-knowing “perfection”, all we are doing is projecting an unknown quality or lack, which is ours and ours alone, onto a noumenal God we cannot know.

This will be obvious to anyone who has ever asked a religious person a seemingly unanswerable question. Take, for instance, that old classic: “Why does God allow people to suffer?” With no answer available, the religious defer to God’s all-knowing benevolence. He definitely has a reason — we just don’t know it yet — it’s all just a part of Gods plan and you gotta have faith, blah blah blah. But isn’t it more likely that God-or-nature is just indifferent? And this does not mean delectably cruel, as Hannibal Lecter might have it; it simply means that God, insofar as God is nature, is naturally indifferent and exists outside our realm of rationalisations.

Whilst Spinoza writes “God or nature”, it is arguably best to just assume Spinoza is talking about nature as the world-in-itself here. Spinoza’s confluence seems to ask his reader: “We would not ask such questions of intent of nature so why should we of God?” For instance, we do not ask why God allows tigers to kill cuter, smaller animals, because the fallacy of a tiger’s indifference to the aesthetic qualities of an animal or the moral qualities of not killing do not compute in that context. This does not mean the tiger is evil. It is simply outside our realm of understanding. (I’m reminded here, perhaps tellingly, of Bataille’s famous remark that a “sexual act is what the tiger is in space.”)

It is important to clarify this because Spinoza’s indifference is not an argument for a kind of universal relativism but rather a “neutral monism”. It is not a suspension of moral judgement but rather a suspension of the judgement of God (as Deleuze, via Artaud, famously put it). The fundamental exercise of rationality is, then, for Spinoza, simply being able to distinguish between the two. As Spinoza writes:

As concerns good and bad: they too indicate nothing positive in things, considered, that is, in themselves. They are simply ways of thinking or notions which we form by comparing things with each other. For one and the same thing can be at the same time both good and bad, and even indifferent. For example, music is good for a melancholy person, but bad for a person in mourning, and to a deaf person it is neither good nor bad. But even though this is the case, we have to retain these words. Because we desire to form an idea of a human being as an exemplar of human nature to which we may look, it will be useful for us to retain these same words in the sense I mentioned. In what follows therefore I will mean by good anything that we certainly know to be a means for us to approach ever closer to the exemplar of human nature that we set for ourselves; and by bad that which we certainly know hinders us from relating to that same exemplar.

What is key here, I think, is that, in writing his Ethics, Spinoza’s main argument is that we must strive for a mastery of the passions — that is, of our emotions and desires; of our emotional responses and actions that are rooted in our desires. To do this, we must know our passions and their objects, and we must recognise that this desire for mastery is a human endeavour alone. To insert the indifference of God-or-nature into this is to distinguish between what is a (or is informed by) human judgement and what emerges the Real — and the possibilities that result from this process of differentiation are, for many, radical and infinite.

This is to say that, whilst Spinoza’s rationalism, on the surface, seems quite explicit and obvious in its claims, it nevertheless leads philosophy to some of its strangest places. To extrapolate this distinction outwards is to distinguish body from organs (Deleuze), moralism from monotheism (Nietzsche), capitalism from realism (Fisher), science from ideology (too many people to count), and all of the above and then some (Negarestani). It is to affirm the ways in which we (as well as God-or-nature) exist and persist irrespective of our categorisations of our (or its) being.

For Spinoza, this insight seems to emerge from his understanding that God-or-nature does not have the same idealised sense of itself as we do, nor does it attempt to shape and filter its own desires based on, for instance, laws or morals. Instead, “to love God” (in Spinoza’s terms, at least) is to become attuned to the distinctive ways in which our passions are products of nature or human judgement. This is not to say that we should therefore suspend our senses of good and bad — or else we suspend ethics — but we must nonetheless reflect on these judgements in light of our understanding of and knowledge of an indifferent God-or-nature that does not share them — that is, we must be able to separate what is “true” from that which just seems ideologically apparent.

It is in this way that we might ultimately find true human freedom — Spinoza’s ultimate goal — which is both a freedom from the passions and, in a way, freedom from ourselves; from our own categorisations of ourselves that limit and dilute the human Real.

Whilst this kind of rationalism is often grounded in the discourses of science, there is a sense — at least at the level of popular science — that science increasingly choses to erase this Spinozistic distinction. I was watching the film Contact recently, for example, famously based on a novel by Carl Sagan.

Here is a movie in which science finds itself hopelessly entangled with ideology — both from within and without. I couldn’t help but wince, for instance, when a Christian extremist suicide-bombs the alien portal generator that humanity has built because he believes that scientists don’t deserve to talk to God, and in sweeps capitalism to save the day — one of the benefits of money and statecraft, the movie argues, is that you can build secret backups for when the zealots shut you down. This is to say that, in myriad ways (many of them hilariously unsubtle), this movie is often incapable of separating the “rationality” of science from the “rationality” of capitalist realism, often despite itself.

Lest we forget that Fisher references Spinoza repeatedly in Capitalist Realism, making precisely this point when he writes:

Spinoza has immense resources for analysing the affective regime of late capitalism, the videodrome-control apparatus described by Burroughs, Philip K. Dick and David Cronenberg in which agency is dissolved in a phantasmagoric haze of psychic and physical intoxicants. Like Burroughs, Spinoza shows that, far from being an aberrant condition, addiction is the standard state for human beings, who are habitually enslaved into reactive and repetitive behaviours by frozen images (of themselves and the world). Freedom, Spinoza shows, is something that can be achieved only when we can apprehend the real causes of our actions, when we can set aside the ‘sad passions’ that intoxicate and entrance us.

(Slavoj Žižek’s The Ticklish Subject is a book I’ve been dipping in and out of recently that goes into this in way more depth, exploring, for example, the Cartesian subject as the spectre that continues to haunt Western academia and the entanglement of science and ideology in late capitalism — suffice it to say that these are all issues within philosophy that go far beyond Spinoza but we’ll be sticking with him for brevity.)

For many of those involved with and adjacent to the Ccru, the perspective from which this freedom is achieved must involve certain inter-scalar manoeuvres that we most often find deployed by weird fiction and some speculative philosophies. What the Ccru do so surreally and effectively, then, is dramatise the stakes of a thought stretched between two perspectives — the all-too-human and the unthinkably cosmic — affirming the gulf between them and the ways that our often flawed knowledge of one can nevertheless tell us a great deal about the other.

What often results from this, in practice, is a strange entangling between science and the occult. But that’s not really rational and Spinozist, is it? After all, Spinoza’s central critique of Descartes is that the latter rests far too much on the unknowable qualities of the “pineal gland” — a gland that is, for Descartes, little more than an anatomic screen onto which he projects his unknowns.

For Descartes, the pineal gland is a kind of God-gland, and Spinoza doesn’t buy it. “Surely I cannot properly express my bewilderment”, he writes, “that a philosopher who had stated firmly that he deduced nothing except from self-evident principles, and affirmed nothing except what he perceived clearly and distinctly, and who had so often rebuked the scholastics because they attempted to explain obscure matters by means of occult qualities, should take up a hypothesis that is more occult than any occult quality.”

There is a kernel of something here, however, which Spinoza wishes to grasp and hold aloft triumphantly. Descartes at least had the right idea when grounding his observations of a certain “animal spirit” in an actual part of our anatomy. This is to say that, rather than the pineal gland being some organ of indeterminate intention, as Descartes has it, it is simply a part of the brain that retains some sort of indifferent function from God-or-nature.

In light of this, Spinozism is a philosophy that seems to resemble Bataille’s Gnosticism, which, “in its psychological process, is not so different from present-day materialism, I mean a materialism not implying an ontology, not implying that matter is the thing-in-itself.” Bataille continues:

For it is a question above all of not submitting oneself, and with oneself one’s reason, to whatever is more elevated, to whatever can give a borrowed authority to the being that I am, and to the reason that arms this being. This being and its reason can in fact only submit to what is lower, to what can never serve in any case to ape a given authority.

Here, Bataille does not affirm our impulses as the will of God but affirms their emergence of Cyclonopedia‘s oily materialism, its “blobjectivity”, reemerges for us. In submitting himself to what is below, Reza submits himself to oil, the thick life blood of the Middle East, and this submission is powered quite explicitly by Reza’s initial infection with the thought of Nick Land.

Land, in his book on Bataille, The Thirst for Annihilation, makes infrequent references to Spinoza but he nonetheless appears like a key antecedent, at least in his establishment of a certain Counter-Enlightenment tendency that is later picked up by far more explicitly transgressive thinker. Similarly, Land himself argues that, “beneath the shadow of the cross”, Spinoza’s “neutral monism” foreshadows the limits of Kantianism first dramatised by the Marquis de Sade, going so far as to write that “Spinoza and Sade occasionally reach a comparable pitch of anegoic coldness” (although never getting quite as cold as Nietzsche).

What is most important in Bataille, it seems — a manoeuvre he takes up from Nietzsche and his “view from the summit” (previously discussed) — and, arguably, also from Freud — is that he inaugurates a practice of scaling that becomes key to Deleuze and Guattari and also to the Ccru. This scaling is the scaling — the “inter-scalar manoeuvres” — previously discussed, where the Unconscious and geological strata find themselves entwined, where subject and planet come into a counter-intuitive relation. It is arguably Spinoza’s rationalism that makes this possible but it is Bataille who takes it to extremes. As Land writes:

Scaling is the positive superfluidity of God inherent to matter, but its gradations of relative transcedence must be commensurated with an impersonal nature exhausting the real: genealogically rather than metaphysically explored. The labyrinth is the unconscious of God, or the repressed of monotheism. The illusion of ego in general requires that it remain unthought. What God really was is something incompatible with antyhing ‘being’ at all. Real composition is not extrinsically created nature, but if this is a Spinozism, it is one in which substance itself is sacrificed to the scales.

This process of scaling remains central to a lot of post-Ccru thought and I think the best book to affirm this practice in recent years — this link between scales but also between occultism and scientific knowledge, via philosophy and psychoanalysis — is undoubtedly Thomas Moynihan’s Spinal Catastrophism. His frequent references to Sandor Ferenczi, in particular, are fascinating. After all, it was Ferenczi most explicitly — that is, more explicitly even than Freud — who connected the chaos of the passions to the earth’s own thalassic nature.

A particular passage that comes to mind is Moynihan’s discussion of Ferenczi’s 1916 essay “On the Ontogenesis of the Interest in Money”, in which he argues that our

drive-to-accumulate [comes] from the sublimation, corollary with uptight posture, of the infant’s desire to play with its own faeces (a desire which Freud, of course, saw as itself a recapitulation of quadruped forms of life and libidinal olfactions). In spinal erection, we repress our anal desire for our own ‘faecal property’, which duly becomes deflected into the drive to accumulate money’s ‘filthy lucre’…

Moynihan is a master of scalable rationalism, dragging scientific understanding to the heights and depths and farthest reaches of the thinkable. What emerges here is a kind of Ferenczian scaling that echoes Cyclonopedia magnificently, retaining the linguistic limit-experience whilst losing the ferocious libido. More specifically, it is a scaling that connects the occultism of an alchemical understanding to the biological reality of intestinal expenditure and psychological repression — a form of psychoanalytic investigation, informed by geophilosophy, that brings to mind that fabled mythological process of alchemy that connects us, through the transformation of matter, to God.

I’m thinking here, specifically, of that scene in Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, in which the thief, on his journey to reach God on the titular summit, meets an alchemist who turns his shit into gold — a process that resembles a kind of alchemical-scientific feedback loop, where the thief is sat within a man-made system of glass organs that digest him and his faeces, the fumes triggering an abjectly psychedelic experience, symbolically connecting his biological systems to a system outside of himself: a kind of fractal alchemy of expenditure and accumulation.

Moynihan connects this allusion to turning shit into gold to Bataille explicitly. He continues:

In this way even capital itself is derived from Ferenczi’s ‘biogenetic ground principle’ of ‘phylogenetic’ repetitiousness. To reach this conclusion, the Hungarian rallied the argument that ‘capitalism’ is ‘not purely practical and utilitarian, but libidinous and irrational.’

That an entire economic system is neither ‘utile’ nor ‘practical’ is, perhaps, a strange notion at first sight. Yet Ferenczi was writing in the midst of the first of the two world wars. Decades later, just after the Second World War, it was Georges Bataille … who noticed that these global conflicts represented ‘the greatest orgies of wealth — and of human beings — that history has recorded’, and that, whilst they may well ‘coincide with an appreciable rise in the general standard of living’, such an upswell in our quality of life represents — like the wars — just another way of expending surplus energy. Bataille was masterful in his sustained revelation of the fact that the capitalist global system is, in Ferenczi’s terms, ‘utterly libidinous and irrational’. For, when any system has an inevitable point of total exhaustion (and our globe is, in the longest term, just such a system), every single process that will ever have taken place within said system becomes utterly indistinct from a route towards that terminal point: thus, what may locally be called ‘means’ or ‘utilities’ are all alike revealed so many avenues through which the wanton and squandrous ‘end’ announces and hastens its arrival.

This, too, brings us back to Negarestani. In Cyclonopedia, Reza famously presents oil as a sort of plane of consistency, or the form(lessness) of “blobjectivity”, where these various affects and processes similarly become “utterly indistinct”.

For Reza, oil is a kind of solar excrement that we hoard, even go to war over, all because it allows us to expend more energy. In burning fossil fuels — that is, in burning the latent energy retained in spent forms of life — that are seized from the war-torn Middle East, we similarly hasten the arrival of an Islamic apocalypticism.

To understand this, and to understand all the entangled processes that constitute the oily Islamism of the desert, is precisely Negarestani’s attempt to unearth an occultism that is necessary for us to engage with if we are to truly understand the Real. Islam is not simply capitalism’s Outside, in this sense, but rather its opposite. Considered from a cosmic perspective, capitalism and Islamism start to resemble the ying to the other’s yang, and yet all of this becomes indistinct when ground down into desert sand.

The way that Reza describes the desert is worth paying close attention to here, particularly when seen as part of the hypercodex previously discussed. In Cyclonopedia‘s glossary, he writes:

The Xerodrome (or the dry-singularity of the Earth) as both the all-erasing monopoly of the monotheistic God and the Tellurian Omega or the plane of base-participation with the cosmic pandemonium (Dust, Sun and the Tellurian Insider). Desert signifies a militant horizontality or a treacherous plane of consistency — in a Deleuze-Guattarian sense — between monotheistic apocalypticism and Tellurian Insurgency against the Sun (god). As a dry-singularity, desert is usually linked to unheard-of wet elements and thus brings about the possibility of revolutionary but anomalous (and perhaps weird) cosmogenesis or world-building processes.

Once again, the density of Reza’s prose reflects the very processes he is describing. The plane of consistency becomes a plane of indifference where god and oil and dust and sun become indistinguishable. To try to rationally — that is, for Parsani, archaeologically — understand it, we must approach the desert from a cosmically wide perspective and accept that, in digging beneath the indifferent sand where all processes become immanent, we are also digging beneath our own skin. [1]

Furthermore, with this in mind, we shouldn’t understand this text as being obscurantist in a wholly negative sense. It instead constitutes a sort of xenopoetics, invoking a Lacanian Real that escapes all language. What is being discussed is that which slips between the spaces like sand in an hourglass. The “true” nature of what we are left with is hard to parse but it is in this sense that Cyclonopedia establishes itself as a kind of excremental product of Negarestani’s philosophical process.

Here we find our understanding of Cyclonopedia as a “bad” book taken to new depths. It is not just “bad” but “shit” — a shit book where rational understandings of the desert, oil, geopolitics, Islamism, Zoroastrianism, geology, geophilosophy, psychoanalysis, and untold other specialisms, find themselves excreted as a noxiously consistent language-turd. In beginning our task of figuring out what Reza cognitively “ate” is to become complicit in the very processes of economical and intellectual accumulation that connect philosophy to capitalism and capitalism to our repressed animalistic desires to play with our own poop.

It is arguably this process of disentanglement that Reza later seeks to externalise. To follow Moynihan, it is as if, in now rejecting his first foray into libidinal philosophy, Reza now recognises the “immaturity” of his thought and desires, in his neorationalist mode, to stand upright.

There is a chapter in Intelligence & Spirit that I think speaks to this explicitly. In “This I, or We or It, the Thing, Which Speaks (Objectivity and Thought)”, Reza uses an extended analogy of a child (or “CHILD (Concept Having Intelligence of Low Degree)” to describe a form of cognition that is underdeveloped –much like this post, perhaps. I can’t help but wondered if this process of cognitive distancing that Intelligence & Spirit inaugurates — where an AGI becomes an independent subject to be reared, and that is itself not yet upright — is precisely a form of (psycho-)Analytic philosophy that attempts to determine the constitution of our own SHIT (Subjective Holism Infected by the Tellurian) without getting its hands dirty.

[1] Side note: in our conversation on Friday, Bob spoke about Reza’s passages on the film Begotten, in which God disembowels itself, and we connected this autobiopsy to the horror of a Spinozist geophilosophy — something I’ve written about previously — that does not take the surgeon’s distancing of seeing only the organs of another but instead looking upon the reality of the body of the self and cuts anyway. This is a good analogy, perhaps, for what Reza calls Parsani’s “leper creativity” — the freedom from human bondage that results from a literal shedding of flesh: a catastrophic becoming-desert, or becoming-dust.