Pierrot le fou

Face of the French new wave, Jean-Paul Belmondo passed away this week.

I hadn’t thought about Belmondo for many years. After the news broke, I watched Pierrot le fou for the first time since 2010. (I can oddly remember the last time I watched it: in a Welsh cottage with an old school friend I ran away with for the weekend.) I used to have a poster of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film on my wall back then, with Belmondo’s blue face squinting out at me. It was the only poster I cared enough about to frame.

In my pre-goth days, I wanted to be like Belmondo in that film. I wore a lot of primary colours and had an ill-fitting grey suit I’d wear around a lot too. People just thought I looked preppy. At best, those in the know thought I looked like a David Byrne wannabe (which was fine by me); at worst, I looked like Kenneth Williams. But I wanted to be like Belmondo’s character more than anything, chain-smoking and reading art history in bath whilst railing against the world. He represented a sort of transitory cool that didn’t seem to fit in any particular time or place.

In the film, his character is confounding. Intellectually, he is cultured but resentful of the culture; he is fashionable for the period, if a little shabby, wearing bright colours and patterns, but he exudes an inner darkness. He seems to relish life’s potential but, for that very reason, he is nihilistic, humiliating the restrictive norms and values of an era that he will not be contained by.

In many ways, the relationship between the film’s central couple — Belmondo and Anna Karina — reflects the dynamic he has with his counterpart in Breathless, Jean Seberg. Hubert Dreyfus has a famous lecture on that film in which he argues the two lovers represent the two Nietzschean halves of an active and passive nihilism. With that in mind, Belmondo arguably reprises his role in Pierrot le fou. But whereas Belmondo’s intensity is confined to the inner city in that iconic debut, he is given much more scope in its spiritual sequel. He is no longer a bottle rocket ricocheting around the arrondissements, to be thwarted in an (anti-)climatic police shoot-out. His intensity unfurls into far more surreal regions of France, out into its provinces. Rather than die in the gutter, he blows himself to pieces on the coast. It is the perfect one-up on a film like Breathless, so renowned and celebrated. Indeed, for many, Godard’s own career seems to start and end there. But just as Godard references Arthur Rimbaud throughout, Pierrot le fou is truly his season in hell. He seems to forsake the reputation of his debut ahead of time and insists, as Rimbaud does, that one must be absolutely modern. Belmondo and Karina aren’t so much on the run from the law as from the past and the encroaching present.

Still, they are hardly unperturbed by their desires. Together, they swing back and forth between manic creativity and depressive inactivity. They muse on fate, relishing the arrival of choices made that are so far unknown to them, only to refuse those that have become more apparent. Their trip to the coast starts to resemble a kind of Robinson Crusoe adventure or a journey into the heart of darkness. They bring scraps of culture and drink them deep, all the while fighting the urge to live by the things they read. They attempt to give themselves over to the tide. La mer, les vagues, le ciel. La vie est peut-être triste, mais elle est toujours belle, Belmondo says. But when he says these words, Karina pokes fun at him. They have made it to the coast, and yet, whilst Belmondo might feel like he is finally living a care-free life, Karina points out that he still had to follow a load of straight roads to get there. “Oh yeah?” he says, as he turns right off the road, bumper bouncing off the sand and driving straight into the sea.

La vraie vie est ailleurs, they repeat throughout, again quoting Rimbaud. Real life lies elsewhere. A truism if ever there was one, the pair surge towards real life whenever the confines of artificiality are made apparent to them. But, of course, they never find what they’re looking for. Still, the search continues. Soon enough, their constant veering off-road becomes increasingly metatextual. And yet, there is no mise en abyme. The film echoes and rebounds off itself perpetually, but never produces an exact copy of its own reflection, because not even the film can contain them — nor narrative, nor words, nor actions, nor ideas, nor feelings. Belmondo tries to write a modernist novel, aping Joyce or Woolf; Karina sings and dances along her fate line. The absurdity of making a song and dance about shooting a film about writing a book about capturing real life remains stable for just a scene or two before it, too, collapses like everything else. Quoting Sartre, Belmondo scribbles in his journal: La poésie, c’est qui perd gagne.

It is funny, watching the film back now, for the first time in over a decade, after reading through every obituary that begins by highlighting Belmondo’s role in Godard’s Breathless. It is certainly the most significant role he had, according to the Anglosphere, particularly because it set the stage for a dozen American rip-offs, and the travesty that is Tarantino. (Or was that Bande à part?) But Pierrot le fou has no interest in American’s New Wave fetishism. Instead, it attempts to break out of the bounds of that film — and cinema — altogether, always leaving in a hurry…

partir en vitessepartir en vitesse partir en vitesse

The tragic irony, of course, is that the world is a stage. Though it is hard to believe Godard could cast such a shadow over America in the five years between Breathless and Pierrot le fou, seen today the desire to outrun the relationship between America and France is palpable. Although Hollywood pays tribute to him incessantly, he makes jokes about stupid tourists and the Vietnam War. But there is no non-Americanised outside for any of them to escape into, especially not in the world of cinema. (In one scene, Belmondo fantasises about going to the moon, but it’s the moon that is trying to break its orbit with Earth, since Russia tried to tell it about Lenin and America tried to fill it with Coke.) Still, Godard embraces the absurdity of trying. He plays for laughs what America always casts as horror. In this sense, Pierrot le fou oddly reminds me of other films from the 1960s, like Carnival of Souls or Psycho, for the way it lampoons the seductive horror of the American interior, the provincial motel, or of small-town violence. But if Belmondo and Karina are at all like Marion Crane and Norman Bates, they are from an alternate universe where the pair took Crane’s embezzled money and eloped. Godard tells a different story. If there is a Nietzschean quality to the film, as Dreyfus says of its predecessor, it is in Belmondo and Karina’s love of fate. But they really put the amour back into amor fati.

Belmondo puts Bataille quotes in his journal too: l’érotisme, en ce sens, trahit cette nostalgie d’une continuité des êtres… “Eroticism, in this sense, betrays nostalgia for continuity.” But he does not write this down. Instead, our eye follows the quote as he erases it with a formless scribble from his pen.

RIP Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Is there (Still) No Alternative?:
XG in Ljubljana

I am immensely excited to be flying to Ljubljana soon to give a lecture as part of the Maska Institute‘s 2021/22 Contemporary Performing Arts Seminar. In part a celebration of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, recently translated into Slovenian, I’ll be talking a bit about Mark’s legacy and what more can be said about Fisher’s debut 12 years on.

Taking place on 9th September 2021 at the New Post Office, this will be the first in a series of lectures organized by the Maska Institute, with future speakers including Lea Kuhar, Ana Reberc, Muanis Sinanović, Nina Hlebec, Jaša Bužinel, Robert Bobnič, Vesna Pobežin Roš, Varja Hrvatin, Maša Radi Buh and Jakob Ribič. There will also be a reading group for the book held alongside these sessions.

This is the first in-person event I’ll be attending since the pandemic began, so I am very much looking forward to it, and I’m also excited to meet the Ljubljana crew, who have done so much brilliant stuff in recent years. It’ll be nice to chat over a beer rather than over email.

You can find more information on the Maska Institute’s website here, and RSVP to the lectures and reading group on Facebook here. Below is their synopsis of the series and my lecture.

The allure of Mark Fisher’s social-critical theory may be found in his rare virtue of being crystal clear about what bothers him and what attracts him, of exposing in a completely honest theoretical way what he himself sees as the problem: capitalist realism, or the question: ‘Is there no alternative?’ The issue is not a new one, but it is raised in a new and honest way. Depressive hedonism, corporatism of desire, love of bureaucracy, reflexive impotence, fluid present and historical amnesia… so many symptoms or reasons why we cannot even raise the question of an alternative to capitalism. The autumn part of the Seminar will ask this question again and again, revolving around Fisher’s issue and confronting it in different ways, trying to find traces of an alternative. 

The fall semester will start in September with a lecture by Matt Colquhoun. Matt Colquhoun edited Mark Fisher’s posthumously published book Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures of Mark Fisher and in 2020 published his own book Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and Mark Fisher; he is also the author of the blog xenogothic, and writes on various topics such as photography, contemporary popular music, accelerationism, counterculture, etc. 

For the Seminar he will give a lecture on Fisher’s theoretical development from his first book Capitalist Realism, a translation of which was recently published by the Maska Institute, to his last, unpublished and unfinished essay Acid Communism, which was to serve as a preface to his new book, as well as on the theoretical nuances, digressions, and unrealised possibilities that Fisher’s work left us with. The lecture will be followed by a discussion with the author about why Fisher is so relevant today, what makes him a special thinker, what social critical theory meant to him and why he did it differently, and in what way – what precisely is the charm of Mark Fisher.

RIP Jean-Luc Nancy

I’m sad to hear that Jean-Luc Nancy has passed away.

I spent a few years immersed in his book, The Inoperative Community, and the rethinking of communism that emerged from without. It is not a book I particularly liked or agreed with — finding its reading of Bataille, in particular, to be lacking — but I was fascinated by the responses it generated. Blanchot’s The Unavowable Community and Agamben’s The Coming Community were such hugely influential books on me as I tried to piece together what exactly I found so disagreeable. And yet, whilst I might take their side in opposition to Nancy’s own, I carry a muted respect for his provocations.

Sometimes there’s nothing more valuable than a sparing partner, whether that is someone you can actively engage in open disagreement with or someone you can install in your own head as a devil’s advocate. Nancy was like that to a lot of my thinking when I was writing Egress — a role Badiou is fulfilling these days. The importance of that cannot be overstated.

But what is just as fascinating about Nancy’s career is how doggedly he affixed himself to certain conversations and debates. Although The Inoperative Community may be more famous these days for the responses it generated, Nancy’s own response, years later, in The Disavowed Community, is a beautiful riposte to the decades he and his interlocutors spent mutually flaying each other’s philosophical selves. The coda to the work feels like a fitting epigraph, affirming the disagreements and discussions that defined much of his work. To memorialize a person with reference to the often critical work of others is not to diminish Nancy’s contributions, in this sense; rather the philosophical relations are his contribution, and perhaps his most important one.

Concluding The Disavowed Community — his book-length response to Blanchot’s The Unavowable Community, which was, in turn, a response to Nancy’s earlier Inoperative Community — Nancy writes of the idea of continuing a philosophical conversation with someone like Blanchot, then deceased, who has seemingly lost the ability to reply:

Blanchot underscores how much the self that speaks also denounces in the end the illusion of its own consistence, in other words, the fact that the self “cannot affirm itself alone.” This affirmation can be understood in several ways. One can reinforce the (transcendental, existential) antecedence of relation over all isolation (individuation, subjectivation). But Blanchot adds a tone here that he himself designates as “sarcasm” — there is derision in the avowal of the “self”‘s illusory character. Why this sarcasm? Why this dark humor if not out of sorrowful regret [déploration]? After all, the inexorable disappearance of “self” is indeed lamented. However, this disappearance only makes one pole of speech disappear, while speech continues to circulate between other poles, of disappeared “selves” taken up again, revived, listened to again, repeated.

The so-called [soi-disant] dead and living form the eternal return of sense. Blanchot knows this. In “The Song of the Sirens,” he writes: “Not the event of the encounter become present, but the opening of this infinite movement that is the encounter itself.” And yet when he attempts to think the encounter and the people together, the infinite movement becomes movement of the instant dissociation of a community that must only scarcely give space to the encounter, the mythical image of which is the impossibility for a man to reunite with the gift of a woman.

What appears to be a peculiar non sequitur nonetheless echoes Blanchot’s preoccupation with the “community of lovers”, whose relation is outside the standardized couplings of our various legal partnerships. Lovers are keepers of a secret intimacy, which cannot be touched by law. But Blanchot’s misstep, for Nancy, seems to be his fixation on transcendence and transgression. A community of lovers is soon defined by what it escapes — a problem haunting communism itself, which is the real elephant in the room throughout their discussion. So too is a death defined by the life it ends. But for Nancy, this metaphysical transcendence is illusory. A dead person does not become all that which escapes their life, but a sort of essence, always already present, which exceeds and persists and continues in spite of what those left behind now lack.

What is most heartening about Nancy’s engagement with his critics is the way he folds his argument back on the argument shared. Blanchot may have passed by the time Nancy writes his final response, but there is strength here rather than cowardice. That he still feels capable of engaging in discourse with his friend is powerful. Indeed, to talk to him, even in disagreement, is to affirm the eternal return of a relation beyond its physical or legal parameters. It substitutes Blanchot’s philosophy of transcendence for a immanent relation, which may be intensified by death but nonetheless signifies a continuation. It is this that Nancy excavates from Blanchot’s conception of love, which Nancy casts back upon Blanchot himself, as a sparing partner he seems to have a great deal of affection for, even if the intimacy of the exercise is more or less hidden from view. Blanchot calls this the unavowable; Nancy warns we must not mistake the unavowable for a complacent disavowal that we ourselves enable. He continues:

Everything happens as if, with the illusion and/or impossibility of love, a “self” is given that ought to be the subject of love and is unable to be so, since love exceeds all possible presence to both the other and the self, and must diminish or sublimate itself in its own infinity. But the infinite — and it is precisely this that distances me from Blanchot — does not simply consist in escape [fuite] and vanishing. It is all this in a much more present and concrete [actuelle] manner — in the efficacy of relation, proximity, contact. This efficacy certainly does not have the character of a presence to one’s self or to you, or to those whom one attributes an intimacy — at least as long as one represents presence and intimacy as substantive modes of being. But these representations always stem [relèvent] from fairly heavy. In truth, with the density and sufficiency that the most classical metaphysics supposes, substances themselves consist as well in what is based on nothing, being under everything. In this “underneath”, these substances float above the void, creating comings and goings, encounters and compearances [comparutions].

Nancy unearths the undercommons as an excess that does not escape but rather can never be contained. That is what remains. That is his remainder. Long may we keep conversing with it.

They do not live nature as nature, but as a process of production:
On Lenz and Lorde’s Desiring-Productions

Anna Gaca, writing for Pitchfork, has mixed feelings about Lorde’s new record, Solar Power.

I don’t envy her the task of putting those feelings down on the Internet; I’m sure she’s had to log off for a week until Lorde’s fans calm down about her going the album a 6.8. Her review is interesting though. She perfectly sums up how I feel about this album too, but what she dislikes, I think I like most of all.

Comparing Lorde’s new effort to her previously jagged and angular album, Melodrama, Gaca writes that,

while Melodrama purportedly unfolded within the confines of a house party, the concept came so naturally you didn’t have to think about it; it just felt like you were there. Solar Power tries to be bigger and smaller at the same time, spanning scenes of domestic bliss and apocalyptic flight without the conceptual architecture to unite them.

Trying for everything makes it all sound a little incoherent.

Personally, I think there’s something quite remarkable in this attempt to bridge scales and experiences without taking a conceptual run-up. For an album implicitly concerned about the climate crisis, surely this makes sense. How do we address the issues facing us without abstraction? How do we connect the domestic and the cosmic?

Lorde’s approach is intriguingly hands-off. “Now if you’re looking for a savior, well that’s not me … Let’s hope the sun will show us the path”, she sings on the first track, before the second song — lead single “Solar Power” — basically contradicts it. But then, this is no doubt the dichotomy of being a megastar within the global pop machine and also just some twenty-something Kiwi. There’s a contradictory sense that, whilst she’s not gonna be saving anyone, she’s in the sort of globetrotting position of influence to change something… Right?

It gives a new perspective to her album cover, which has reminded me of something for weeks now, and I’ve only just realised that it’s the cover I drew for a recent episode of the Buddies Without Organs podcast, where we discussed Deleuze and Guattari’s attempt to do much the same thing — to go for a walk like a schizophrenic; like Georg Buchner’s character, Lenz, who tries to cover the world in a few strides.

Everything seemed so small, so near, so wet, he would have liked to set the earth down behind an oven, he could not grasp why it took so much time to clamber down a slope, to reach a distant point; he was convinced he could cover it all with a pair of strides.

If Solar Power is incoherent, it is surely because Lorde’s own life is. Can’t relate? Who can? How many of us can take on the world in so few strides? To be famous is surely to be professionally schizophrenic — to have one’s domestic existence amplified and scrutinized on a global scale. But it seems that, in unplugging herself from the pop machine in-between projects, there’s a possibility that Lorde’s desire for a normal life in a world that’s not heat-fucked, and her desire to affirm that parochial existence on a global stage, might produce some sort of structure of feeling. Maybe the same is true of its opposite — that a global rallying cry for new leaders and new desires might preserve the parochial existence she treasures more than anything.

Weirdly enough, it’s a familiar sentiment. Though every media plug talks about her absence from social media, she’s got the intensive relationship between on- and offline, home life and world wide web, down to a tee. It’s as if the stakes are bigger for her. The shift is more dizzying because it’s not as simple as logging on and logging off. To send a tweet is like entering orbit, surfing the waves of some global market that wants to consume her utterly.

I wonder if that’s why Lorde is so drawn to the sun. In that classic Bataillean sense, she’s somewhat aware of her accursed share of the pop market. Every album cycle, she dominates the music industry’s nonetheless restricted economy. Then, after making some millions, she goes home, and basks in the intensity of a more general solar economy, which she seems to experience with a similar intensity.

There is a lingering sense that this album is an experiment in dissolving the distinction between the two, only to become more like Lenz. Deleuze and Guattari write the following of his relationship to the world:

Lenz has projected himself back to a time before the man-nature dichotomy, before all the co-ordinates based on this fundamental dichotomy have been laid down. He does not live nature as nature, but as a process of production. There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever.

Lorde’s album seems to interrogate these same connections — in her own way (obviously). She finds herself plugged into the process(es) of production, which are currently — disastrously — out of sync. To combine them again might help us save the world — letting the sun lead the way. At the same time, Lorde seems to want to explicate herself from part of it somehow, but it’s surely too late for that. She’s a little bit hooked on the glitz and the glam; the pop star’s libidinal economy. Who can blame her? But there’s a growing sense that her ability to unplug and engage with nature is a pop star’s prerogative too. And that, at least, is something we can all be encouraged to reconnect with.

We might never be royals, but we can all bask in the sun.

Previously on XG’s love of Lorde

Unconditional Love:
A Note on Acid Narcissism

I’m still bouncing back and forth between projects at the moment, struggling to find my footing. This week, having fallen off one horse, I decided to go back to a book I’m working on about narcissism and photography. The general thesis is, for all our moral panicking about an endemic “culture of narcissism”, our historical understanding of this most infamous complexes has frequently been positive and constructive.

We’ve seen this understanding struggling to emerge over the last few years, on both the left and the right. That Trump supporters think diagnoses of narcissism are useless is probably to be expected, but that the left engages in habits of armchair diagnosis is left broadly unacknowledged. As Jia Tolentino recently wrote, in a review of one of the few other books on narcissism that questions our general obsession with the term, “in pathologizing narcissism, we have forgotten how perilous it is to constantly diagnose other people.” There is a real danger in throwing the term narcissism around so narcissistically, as if the person diagnosing is somehow on the moral high ground; it is “the danger of any particular world view that requires, for the sake of consistency, its owner to believe that she is good.”

Though others have questioned this tendency, many accounts remain ahistorical and reductive, struggling to shift off the full weight of our contemporary preoccupation with this personality disorder. Although I’m primarily exploring how this is can be fixed through an art-historical reading — essential since contemporary folk-psychological understandings are tied to photography — I have been intrigued to discover that a number of philosophers have tentatively made this same argument over the course of the twentieth century, often in passing and in comments that seem to be generally overlooked. They offer breadcrumbs that allow us to reconstruct not just a misused clinical narcissism but a critical one.

Jacques Derrida, for instance, argued there is not one narcissism, but many, claiming that, “without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the other would be absolutely destroyed, it would be destroyed in advance.” Recalling Freud’s comment “that another person’s narcissism has a great attraction for those who have renounced part of their own narcissism and are in search of object-love”, Derrida insists that the “relation to the other … must trace a movement of reappropriation in the image of oneself for love to be possible”.

It sounds like a twisted logic, but it is a form of narcissism many of us experience every day. Still, its history is complex… For Freud, this form of narcissism was essentially misogynistic — he uses the example of men, devoid of self-awareness, who love narcissistic women because it gives them something to chase. It is the narcissism of the hunt. But for Derrida, this same understanding needn’t be used so restrictively and with such a moralistic overtone. This kind of narcissistic love is, in fact, very useful, even natural. It entangles you in another. It is to fall in love with a certain reflection of yourself in another’s eyes. Just as certain people hunt lions, as if it is a form of game recognizing game in the natural world, in our own social relations we frequently talk about how to love someone “brings out the best in you”. It is to acknowledge that you might love yourself more when you are with them. But this is no straight-forward self-centeredness. Just as Ovid’s Narcissus tears himself apart, both in love with himself and tormented by the inaccessibility of himself, it is a kind of narcissism that often leads to ego-death rather than becoming a red flag for a poor understanding of sociopathy.

Most tellingly, it is a form of love made as natural as breathing when we have children. (We can, of course, love others in this way, and the point is perhaps that we should, by no longer restricting this understanding of love to our immediate family.) The love you have for a child is an unconditional love, for instance, which does not simply mean “I will love you no matter what you do”, but, as Deleuze writes in Proust & Signs, it is “to love without being loved, because love implicates the seizure of these possible worlds in the beloved, worlds that expel me as much as they draw me in”. Again, this is something we intuit in our love of our children. For Freud, the “charm of a child lies in a great extent in his narcissism, his self-contentment and inaccessibility, just as does the charm of certain animals which seem not to concern themselves about us, such as cats and the large beasts of prey.” It is a love for those who possess a “narcissistic consistency with which they manage to keep away from their ego anything that might diminish it.” So too for Deleuze, who notes that this kind of love also implores us “to stop loving, because the emptying of the worlds, the explication of the beloved, lead the self that loves to its death.”

This form of narcissism makes more sense in our present moment when we consider the reasons why a derogatory “narcissism” is as applicable to Donald Trump as it is to the Black Lives Matter movement. Our limited understanding and fear of narcissism is, in fact, nothing more than the doubling down on narcissism itself. Neoliberalism is built on ideological positions of idealism and individualism, and so the fact that conservative commentators see narcissism as a symptom of decline is an example of a cultural hegemony reaping what it has sown. But whereas Trump is “narcissistic” in a manner broadly encouraged by society, especially among elites, the Black Lives Matter movement is a project for encouraging black communites to love without being loved, to love each other, vouch and protect each other, when the world at large has no love for black interests in turn. Often denounced as a kind of “collective narcissism”, Black Lives Matter is narcissistic in the only way that matters — an understanding that has been eradicated from our social understanding of the term in favour of a moral panic about taking too many selfies.

Perhaps the best way of understanding this split is through the words etymological root: narce. Though a promiscuous prefix, it most notably gives us the word “narcotic”, which reflects its usage as a cure for everything from cancers to earache in the ancient world, as well as a sense of intoxication. But this sense of narce does not and has never existed in a “narcissistic” vacuum of “psychedelic fascism”, but provides us with new grounds for “psychedelic reason”, as well as social change and adaptation. Just as Ovid’s Narcissus went through a metamorphosis, transforming himself violently from man to flower, representing nature’s self-overcoming, narcissism in many psychoanalytic contexts is not being trapped within neoliberalism’s enclosure of the self but finding a way out through the self. Our negative understanding of narcissism both moralizes against, whilst keeping us encased within, the former; the latter, though it is demanded and struggled for constantly, is avoided. This is not amnesia but ideology. Narcissism is restricted as a way to interpret the world, cleft of its capacity to change it.

Parameters of Change:
Notes on Queer Accelerationism and Libidinal Materialism

The central point of contention within accelerationist discourses is one of complicity. If there is no “outside” to capitalism, how far is any affirmation of capitalist forces prepared to go? Even when you are affirming the capitalist production of anti-capitalist sentiments — as is the default accelerationist position; accelerating the negation of negation — a certain anxiety remains: to what extent are you just doing a Jameela Jamil?

For many, the response to this problem is old and obvious – in the words of Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” But Lorde’s point, when she uttered these immortal words at the New York University Institute for the Humanities annual conference in 1984, was that differences must be incorporated into any overarching discussions about the nature of society, rather than be given their own unique and compartmentalized pasture. Otherwise, all we are left with is a form of “epistemic apartheid”.

Accelerationism has fallen foul of this in recent years, as Adam Fitchett recently discussed, noting how a feminist accelerationism is compartmentalised as “xenofeminism” and given its own outcrop to play around in, whilst others gatekeep “accelerationism” “proper”, failing to realise that accelerationism was built on a cyberfeminist foundation. But this is how capitalism itself operates, splitting and organizing everything into its own category and genre.

To offer up a more familiar example, the same sort of contradiction happens in music all the time. Rock’n’roll or certain forms of dance music have gradually become hegemonic and coded as “white”, while R&B and hip-hop get filed into the “urban” category. The truth, of course, is that all of the above have been built on a black foundation. But this isn’t just cultural appropriation. That’s like white boys trying to rap. This is instead a kind of cultural expropriation.

The problem with this process of compartmentalisation for Lorde, within the context of academia at that time, is that black lesbians like her only get to speak to and for black lesbians, as if her experiences could not also tell us something about the system at large. She is excluded, just as she is in the world outside. “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy?” she asks. The answer is simple: “It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable.”

I sort of changed my mind about my last post, which I’ve since taken down. It was a rushed and half-baked response to Adam’s summary of XF and g/acc talking points, which speedily encapsulates the thrill of an old discourse that we haven’t really seen around here for a minute. I got overexcited by it. But others have rightfully taken issue with it, and on listening to some of the discussion that has taken place online, I am left embarrassed that I didn’t address a lot of the post’s problems when I had the chance. I focussed entirely on the pre-season recap, without addressing all that went wrong afterwards.

Going back to the drawing board and doing my homework, I found that what I liked about Adam’s post was just a repeat of Nyx’s blackpaper, which makes the argument about overlooked women oddly citationless. The argument towards the end about xenofeminism and socialism was also incredibly misinformed, not just from a feminist standpoint but even from a Landian standpoint. It’s barely recognisable as any form of accelerationism whatsoever.

And that’s weird, because it’s a post that starts with excellent overview of the conceptual stakes, before doubling down on impotence and ending with a contradiction. And not the fun kind either. Instead, it fails to synthesise the stakes of the material under consideration, even critically. For example, after arguing that xenofeminism shouldn’t be separate from accelerationism, Adam nonetheless writes that:

Xenofeminism is still too leftist for its own good. It wants to be something different, alien, amorphous and adaptable but it remains trapped within the cage of conventional socialist politics. I’ve argued before that socialism is a ball and chain hanging around accelerationism’s neck. Any interesting politics that comes out of acc needs to radically dissociate itself from the discourse of socialist and communist intellectual traditions.

The problem is that accelerationism separated from communism or socialism (read: from Marxism) just isn’t accelerationism. This is the sort of hack-job compartmentalisation that renders acc useless. It is from Marx that the entire dialectical manoeuvre of negating the negation comes. And so, Adam fundamentally misunderstands the stakes. This becomes more evident when he adds:

This Marxist illusion must be overcome in favour of a libidinal realism: the key opposition is not Capital vs. Labour but Super Ego vs. Id. The ultimate oppression is not the oppression of the underclass by the overclass, it is the oppression of desire by constraints. XF, in its admitted rationalism, has failed to go deep into the bowels of the libidinal.

Unfortunately, it is Adam who has voided his own bowels here. This passage is fatally confused, not least because it calls for a libidinal realism that is stuck in the mind, which is not a realism but an idealism. I mean, even Nick Land insisted upon an libidinal materialism… And an accelerationism that isn’t materialist is no accelerationism at all.

Let’s break this down:

Generally speaking, a “materialism” is a philosophical position concerned with what things are made of — that is, matter. However, in this context, it is more readily a reference to the Marxist theory of historical materialism, which considers, in addition, how our material conditions influence our understanding of our own development – that is, our history. This is important because, for Marx, “the abstract materialism of natural science” too often “excludes the historical process”. It talks about matter without considering how or why matter changes, and so his theory is an attempt to fix this blind spot.

Already, this is the foundation for a number of social media controversies regarding how people understand cause and effect within contemporary capitalist society. For instance, how many times has someone received a Twitter scolding for saying “ADHD is your brain of capitalism”? I’m sure I’ve witnessed this happen at least twice, and a quick Google even brought about this article by someone very angry about it. Of course, dismissing a disability by saying it is some sort of capitalist excess is bad form — precisely because it denies that person’s individual material circumstances. But we can still — and, indeed, should — utilize our understanding of capitalism to explore why certain forms of mental functioning are increasingly dominant socially. This is because most individualized explanations eject the social dimension entirely, and are therefore guilty of doing precisely what Marx criticized over a hundred and fifty years ago. When we say that mental illness is just brain chemistry, for example, without any attention paid to what is causing our brain chemistry to develop or change in a certain way, we precisely engage in a form of “abstract materialism” that “excludes the historical process”.

Adam, in a misstep even worse than this, rests his critique of xenofeminism on an abstract idealism instead. He calls for the freeing of desire from constraints without any exploration of where our desires come from or what is constraining them. These are both structural problems. Reducing desire to an opposition between superego and id is like trying to figure out where a curious smell is coming from by looking more closely at the end of your nose.

Not that this sentiment is shocking. Plenty of people reject Marx’s materialist view of capitalism out of hand today. But what is weird about that is we’re perfectly happy to consider the historical-materialist process in other areas of science. Indeed, what is striking about the ideological rejection of Marx’s materialist approach today is that, in many other areas of knowledge, it has been implemented without so much as a second thought. It was in Marx’s time that we first understood that old adage “you are what you eat”, for example, as developments in nutritional science began to tell us much more about our health, unveiling the fact that our abilities and sensibilities are influenced by the things we eat and drink. Marx’s view was that history is similarly shaped by the labour we do and, in particular, the technologies that enable that labour. Simply put, historical materialism is the argument that reality creates consciousness, not the other way round. “Technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life,” he writes, “and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations.” Adam argues, instead, that consciousness is real and leaves it at that.

Maybe Adam is putting some Kantianism to work here. Kant’s “transcendental idealism” is less concerned with history than it is with reason itself. In his Critique of Pure Reason, he famously argues that we can never hope to know “things-in-themselves” outside of our experience of them. Contrary to any materialism, Kant is concerned with the various limits placed upon what we are able to know about matter outside our experience of it – that is, in itself. Following Kant, we might ask ourselves: what am I able to know about a table? (Philosophers love tables.) Recalling Plato’s theory of forms, I can understand what a table is made of, what it looks like, what it feels like, what it is used for, etc. I can attain an understanding of its generic form, of its “tableness” – those identifiable qualities that all tables share, no matter their design. I can even learn how to take material, like wood or metal, and turn it into a table – that is, I can take my idea of “tableness” and use it to shape the matter around me to reflect that very idea. But Kant argues that, even with that level of mastery, I cannot know the table-in-itself. No level of knowledge about tables allows me to understand what a table is outside of my perception of it. There will always be a gap regarding what I can know about a table’s nature. It is that gap that makes Kant’s idealism “transcendental” – our knowledge of some things cannot transcend our experience of them.

Land’s transcendental or libidinal materialism brings Kant and Marx together. He suggests that we cannot possess absolute knowledge of the material conditions that produce our desires. What we end up with is the realisation that we are at the mercy of certain processes that we do not have direct access to. At the level of the individual, Freud’s idealism may have called this process “the unconscious”, with its drives and desires affecting us in ways that circumvent our conscious willpower; but Land, zooming outwards from the ego to look at the world as a whole, acknowledges this unconscious process as nothing less than capitalism itself. “Wanting more is the index of interlock with cyberpositive machinic processes,” he writes, “and not an expression of private idiosyncrasy.” As he puts it elsewhere, “rather than placing the personal unconscious within the organism,” libidinal materialism “places the organism within the machinic unconscious.” Capitalism becomes a set of material conditions that create consciousness, but these conditions may never be fully revealed to consciousness itself. Capitalism, then, has a certain level of autonomy beyond our experience of it — what Zizek calls the “pure agency of transcendental causality”. As such, we also cannot understand or hope to grasp capitalism-in-itself. In fact, capitalism represents the materialisation of Kantian critique. Land’s is not a philosophy of capitalism but a capitalist philosophy. He is less concerned about what we think of capitalism and more interested in what capitalism “thinks” about us.

The cyberfeminist undercurrent of accelerationism intervenes here, extending Freud’s transcendental view of desire to include his hapless view of woman. Indeed, it is little surprise that Land’s NRx bros see capital and women as similarly enigmatic entities.

For Lacan, woman famously does not exist in Freudian psychoanalysis. For Freud, he suggests, there is no accounting for woman-in-herself. Lacan argues that she is an enigma, a kind of social unconscious, and ultimately unknowable in Freud’s theory of sexuality. She is absence to male presence, the zero to his one. But for Luce Irigaray, taking issue with and extending Lacan’s analysis, this makes woman matter –literally. If, for Marx, it is technology that “reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life”, for Irigaray technology is female. Or rather, woman is reduced to a kind of technology — think Stepford Wives. Under patriarchy, she writes that

women’s bodies — through their use, consumption, and circulation — provide for the condition making social life and culture possible, although they remain an unknown “infrastructure” of the elaboration of that social life and culture. The exploitation of the matter that has been sexualized female is so integral a part of our sociocultural horizon that is no way to interpret it except within this horizon.

Though this may sound like a leap, it follows Marx’s historical materialism closely. Patriarchal capitalism has long subordinated women to its cause, treating women as property — not just in an abstract way, but literally under law. In this sense, materialism is feminism, and a transcendental material feminism affirms woman as the ground from which cultural conditions emerge. Sadie Plant extrapolates outwards from here, unearthing a hidden history of technological woman, who has far more agency than her inert Stepford Wife ideal. In many ways, it is an affirmation of Irigaray’s critique, exploring the true extent to which women make culture — particularly cyberculture — possible.

In hindsight, it is ironic, that all accelerationism has been able to muster of late is an affirmation of this founding sentiment. I appreciate the frustration emanating from various corners of the blogosphere and the Discord archipelago all the more now. An acc boys’ club says: “Women make our culture possible!” Irigarayan interlocutors reply, “No shit, Sherlock. Now put your books down and come watch me code the future into existence.”

It is this sentiment that resonates with Sadie Plant and her 90s calls to action today. Whereas a Landian personality cult continues to affirm his insistence that we “do nothing”, Plant writes to us from 1992:

Even though the ability to control one’s own life is lost in the midst of all-pervasive capitalist relations, the demand to do so continues to assert itself, and the situationists were convinced that this demand is encouraged by the increasingly obvious discrepancy between the possibilities awoken by capitalist development and the poverty of their actual use.

Just as Audre Lorde argued that, when we compartmentalise certain kinds of knowledge as outside of the norm, “only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable”, xenofeminism extends the purview of a liberalised feminism to its absolute limit, making itself not just immanent to capitalism, leaning into its value-structure like Land does, but immanent to mother nature as a planetary materialism, leaning out of capitalism by following its exogamic trajectory and retreating ahead of it.

This is the one thing to be salvaged from the previously deleted post: xenofeminism keeps this question of action in tact, at once affirming and humiliating our contemporary understanding of change and how it is brought about.

What is the xenofeminist cry of “if nature is unjust, change nature”, after all, if not a hilarious affirmation of the neoliberal mindset? And I mean that as a compliment. It is a proper negation of the situation at hand. The neoliberal individual, content with gradual reformism, keeps the wolf from the door by insisting that “if capitalism is unjust, let’s change capitalism”. The usual response is refusal — we don’t want capitalism, we want something else. Capitalist realism, as an immanent view of the system, is mistakenly countered with dreams of transcendence. But philosophically speaking, transcendence has been out of fashion for a while. (Even a “transcendental materialism” is, in an odd twist, a philosophy of immanence.) Scaling outwards to an immanent view of nature, XF queers reform by swapping the ideological filibuster for biotech mutations on demand, taking the immanence of capitalist realism to its absolute conclusion, from restricted economy to general economy, from liberal feminism to base materialism.

In this sense, though Adam claims that Nyx, with her gender-accelerationist blackpaper, is “faithful to her Plant and D&G, but not to her Bataille”, he couldn’t be more wrong. His own idealism has already betrayed Bataille ahead of time, whilst the base materialism of trans identities already goes much further than his own appeals to anal liberation. “Base matter is external and foreign to ideal human aspirations, and it refuses to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations”, Bataille writes. Falling outside Irigaray’s social stock exchange, for trans identities form is malleable and therefore irrelevant. That is the radical intervention of trans abstraction within patriarchal capitalism. (We can turn to Luciana Parisi’s Abstract Sex for a thorough exploration of that.) When Adam suggests that “0 looks much more like an arsehole than a vagina”, he misunderstands Bataille’s gesture, which he carries forward in a number of far more lucid essays. In short, Adam mistakes zero for a form rather than for formlessness. It’s not about the orifice but what comes out of it: surplus — and trans lives are routinely coded as surplus lives. (There is a lot of discussion of that notion in the new Transgender Marxism collection.)

It is with all this in mind that Adam’s call to go further actually comes up short on xenofeminism / accelerationism’s trajectory, despite his insistence to the contrary. Though it starts off cosmic, his vision only narrows the parameters of change, mistaking a philosophical stumble for a radical leap of faith.

He doesn’t yet know what woman can do.

Communism Within, Communism Without:
The Paranoia of Capitalist Realism

There is a famous adage, attributed to the science-fiction writer William Gibson, that goes: “The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.” If technological progress under capitalism is accelerating, it is doing so under the auspices of a capitalist class that is manipulating its development for their own self-interest. As billionaires hold their own private space race, others rely on food banks or work whilst homeless. The very idea of the future becomes a luxury for the few who can afford it. Whilst many conservative political pundits will claim that we are all – no matter our class, creed, or colour – increasingly better off under capitalism, it seems that, for most people, the futures we were once promised by politicians and poets have plateaued onto an endless expanse of sameness and stagnation. Inequality rises as the ways we measure equality become rapidly outmoded.

At a time when the very idea of “class war” or “class struggle” has been diminished by decades of neoliberal policy, which insists upon the sovereign agency of the individual, minimizing the structural nature of inequality, this position may seem out of touch with the lived experiences of working people. However, a clear example of this disparity between future and present can be seen in the UK when we consider the 2019 Labour Party policy to provide all households with a broadband internet connection.

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

Denounced in the media as “Broadband Communism”, it was a policy later poached from the Labour Party’s manifesto by an incumbent right-wing Conservative government that was also forced to acknowledged that the Internet was not a futuristic luxury but an essential utility within our working and social lives under contemporary capitalism – something that became even more apparent when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Even prior to the pandemic, many on the left were rightly framing the idea of nationalised broadband as being like the idea for a National Health Service, which many argued had faced similar resistance at the time. Ash Sarkar, for example, writing for the Guardian, explored how the “idea of the NHS took root in the political imagination less as an example of social entitlement’s victory over private provision, and more as the embodiment of brand Britain.” A year later, Boris Johnson’s right-wing government embraced the idea of full nation-wide access to broadband, supposedly along these lines. Broadband isn’t a frivolous luxury but good for business! After a bruising Brexit process, rebuilding “brand Britain” was precisely what was needed.

Johnson later scrapped the plans as private companies resisted the move, arguing that government subsidies were insufficient to cover the work required. With residents largely unable to pay for it out of their own pocket, the plan was shelved. But by that time, public opinion had shifted and embraced universal access to broadband as a no-brainer. Johnson was left embarrassed as the extra provisions argued for by the Labour Party – that a nationalised broadband service would be necessary to counter private enterprise’s constant handwringing about their profits – were validated as corporate handwringing stopped the project in its tracks.

What is most telling about this scenario is the government’s ideological pivot, from denouncing the plans as “Broadband Communism” to embracing them as good business sense. It demonstrates how capitalist ideology routinely falls behind itself, dismissing access to its own elevated standards of living as somehow “communist”. In insulting arguments that would extend the reach of “communicative capitalism” to untapped markets, it only illustrates how engagement with the shifting landscape of modern life under capitalism has transcended any “classical” capitalist thinking.

This is also true in a negative sense. Capitalism not only dismisses its successes as “communist” but also its failures. A common sight online during the coronavirus pandemic, for instance, was empty shelves in Western supermarkets as the virus disrupted supply chains. “It’s like living in a communist country”, some would say, whilst others pointed out it’s not “like communism” but a clear result of capitalist ill-preparedness. Western incompetence was ignored in favour of old-fashioned Orientalism and red scare tactics, as if the “Wuhan flu” contained a heavy viral load of both SARS-CoV-2 and Chinese communism. Taking a step back from this capitalist middle ground, supposedly surrounded by communism on all sides, only further cements the idea that capitalism’s ideological stability to wavering.

It was precisely this sort of ideological wavering that accelerationism sought to focus on and exploit, exacerbating the cracks in capitalist realism’s ideological consistency, acknowledging that the increasing speed of capitalism’s development is accompanied by the diffuse sense that – ideologically speaking, at least – its time is almost up. We, as a society, are ready for the next big thing. Instead, capitalists, as the owners of the means of production, have begun to tamp the brakes, choosing to languish in a frenetic stasis, using the latest technological developments to perpetually remake the old rather than push forward towards the new. Why? Perhaps they are unwilling to take a gamble on “the new” as such, because they know it may be constituted by capitalism’s radical mutation or its ultimate demise. And, if that is the case, who can blame them? After all, their livelihoods depend on an artificial scarcity that they have spent decades, even centuries, cultivating. The arrival of a long-promised “red plenty” would surely be the end of the world as they know it.

Egress and Immanence:
Hermitix De-Brief

I really enjoyed this chat with Meta the other night and I wanted to add a few notes on things discussed, along with some links.

I also wanted to provide a less rambling explainer as to why I relished the opportunity to (tentatively) correct a few missteps in my first book, Egress. I felt a little out of practice with regards to speaking aloud about these things, and I feel very much like these ideas are still percolating and are not fully cooked through yet. But having these sorts of chats that are mid-transition to the next project are very useful for helping to clarify a few things.

So, for my own sanity, and maybe as a way to introduce this conversation a bit more lucidly, here’s a brief summary of some things discussed and where I stand at the moment within my own work and how I view the work of others (particularly that of Mark Fisher).

One thing I’m increasingly aware of at present is that Egress, by the very nature of the circumstances it was written under, focuses on a kind of politics of transcendence. This is clear enough from the title alone. It is about an escape (or maybe just the idea of an escape) from mourning and melancholy, both personal and political, into some sort of “outside” or “beyond”. The book doesn’t necessarily provide a blueprint on how to do it or how to strategize towards it one way or another (cf. “Maximum Jailbreak”); the sheer shock and trauma of a death is very good at compounding strategic thinking in that way. It instead documents a series of events (or, perhaps, one long Event) and tries to articulate a structure of feeling that emerged from within it, following what was a deeply depressing and quite genuinely traumatic few years for me, my friends and the Left in general.

In many ways, the book settles into the space it was written in and, in the end, forsakes any dramatic escape whatsoever (leading some to say it remains mired in the melancholia it advocates an escape from). But for me, if anything, Egress was an attempt at a sort of Stoic approach to an unfolding process of grief and political uncertainty. Rather than this constituting some banal truism — “it doesn’t go away, but it does get easier” — I wanted to reckon with how the world, then and now, feels immanently grief-stricken, and what the appropriate response to that might be.

The intention was not to write a stiff-upper-lip guide to weathering horror or simply provide an overly optimistic vision of the future if we all just pull ourselves together — the point is precisely that, all things considered, there is a lot to be miserable about but how do you work through that without resorting to a pOsiTiVe MeNtAl AtTiTuDe. Because it is not that nothing can be done; the question of “What is to be done?” cannot be met by a Landian “Do nothing”. Even if certain edgelords feign that response, affirmed impotence is actually pretty difficult to do, I think. (I always think about that scene from The Big Lebowski: “Ulli doesn’t care about anything; he’s a nihilist.” “Ah, that must be exhausting.”) The response I am personally interested in is, instead, a kind of Deleuzian Stoicism, of trying to make yourself worthy of the things that happen to you (cf. Logic of Sense; my reading of “U/Acc”).

Intriguingly, this gets to the heart of what I am currently exploring in relation to the old accelerationist blogosphere. As someone called the “Lacanian_Lifter” (lol) commented on YouTube, after the Hermitix stream, “I have my doubts about transcending a state of mind while immersed in the practices that condition that state of mind.” Well… exactly! Such is the problem of immanence, of idealism/materialism, and of capitalist realism itself. How do you simultaneously theorize and strategize for emancipation whilst, at the same time, accounting for the totality that seems to smother all attempts to do so? This sort of paradox is what I find addressed beautifully by Deleuze in Logic of Sense, where he addresses the Copernican humiliation of Freudo-Marxism but nonetheless looks out ahead of himself. Because, after all, we are not “the master in our own house”, as Freud put it — a materialist world view (a scientific world view; a (properly) nihilistic world view) must admit that we are very much at the mercy of the universe.

This is an idea increasingly associated with Land and, for some, the “Dark Enlightenment”, but it is in fact a thought first expressed in modernity by Freud himself, followed by Adorno and Horkheimer. As Élisabeth Roudinesco argues, in an article intriguingly titled “Freud, thinker of the dark Enlightenment”, “while [Freud] believed firmly in reason and human progress, [he] was at the same time – by a dialectical twist that was fundamental to his thinking – critical of the delusions of progress and reason” (cf. “Make the Dark Enlightenment Great again…?”; Lacan’s essay, “Kant avec Sade”). In this sense, psychoanalysis is where the problem of materialism/idealism comes home to roost, with one bouncing off the other. Does consciousness produce our reality (idealism), or does reality produce consciousness (materialism)? A dark enlightenment sees this for what it is — the equivalent of asking “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” For Deleuze and Guattari, also Lacan, this becomes a question of “which comes first: desire or the thing desired?”

That we are not fully in control of our desires, or that we cannot fully know the conditions that produce them — see: “transcendental materialism” or “libidinal materialism” — shouldn’t stop us from acting, however. This is something that Žižek actually picks up on really well in his otherwise peculiar book on Deleuze, Organs Without Bodies. Though we should not assign agency to capitalism as if it were a kind of anthropomophised subject, it is nonetheless an “eerie entity” in Fisher’s Spinozist argument, possessing what Žižek succintly calls “the pure agency of transcendental causality.”

Žižek continues, further unpacking Deleuze’s peculiar conception of “quasi-causality” in Logic of Sense:

The concept of quasi-cause is that which prevents a regression into simple reductionism: it Let us take Deleuze’s own example from his Time-Image: the emergence of cinematic neorealism. One can, of course, explain neorealism by a set of historical circumstances (the trauma of World War II, etc.). However, there is an excess in the emergence of the New: neorealism is an Event which cannot simply be reduced to its material/historical causes, and the “quasi-cause” is the cause of this excess, the cause of that which makes an Event (an emergence of the New) irreducible to its historical circumstances. One can also say that the quasi-cause is the second-level, the meta-cause of the very excess of the effect over its (corporeal) causes. This is how one should understand what Deleuze says about being affected: insofar as the incorporeal Event is a pure affect (an impassive-neutral-sterile result), and insofar as something New (a new Event, an Event of/as the New) can only emerge if the chain of its corporeal causes is not complete, one should postulate, over and above the network of corporeal causes, a pure, transcendental, capacity to affect. This, also, is why Lacan appreciated so much The Logic of Sense: is the Deleuzian quasi-cause not the exact equivalent of Lacan’s objet petit a, this pure, immaterial, spectral entity which serves as the object-cause of desire?

What is most interesting to me about this is how it emphasizes the importance of a politics of immanence over a politics of transcendence — in essence, an accelerationism. Affect gains momentum; it is excess, surplus, as the quasi-cause of desire itself. It is a politics after finitude.

In hindsight, I feel like this is something that I didn’t pay too much attention to when writing Egress. It is there, somewhat embryonically, but I cannot claim to have been as awake to the implications of this think at the time. But it is there. It allows other things to slot further into place. When Fisher writes that “the inside is a folding of the outside”, for instance, is this not precisely a figure of immanence that he is referring to. It is not that the inside and the outside are in transcendental correlation, but that they are, essentially, entangled.

Such is the twist in Deleuze’s philosophy of immanence, which he nonetheless describes as a “transcendental empiricism” (and what is an encounter with the weird or the eerie if not precisely that?) It’s not simply that capitalism is a barrier for us to push beyond — on the contrary, it constitutes a sort of “plane of immanence” today, and an “image of thought (to use the deleuzoguattarian nomenclature) — but that’s what is so peculiar about capitalism: it is both what we are in and what we are; it is an absence of exteriority that nonetheless produces a paradoxical sense of interiority. It is a sort of non-Euclidean political geometry (geology?), through which we are able to erase any spatial sense of an “outside” whilst, at the same time, still talking about an “inside”. And this kind of thinking unsettles our classic post-Kantian sense of correlation — enter Meillassoux.

When this kind of thinking starts influencing Fisher’s thought, that’s when I think he is at his most interesting for me — when his mournful hauntological thinking butts up against his joyful accelerationist thinking; when his quasi-Derridean philosophy of transcendence butts up against the post-Landian philosophies of immanence defining the developing speculative realist movement (not just Meillassoux, Grant, Brassier, Harman, but their “post-continental” antecedents: Deleuze, Badiou, Laruelle, Henry).

In Egress, I explored this tension through Bataille and Blanchot almost exclusively. I have no regrets about this — it reflects what I was reading at the time — but it certainly fails to encapsulate the full breadth of this conversation. (That being said, as I am trying to provide a much fuller account of this intellectual history right now for book #2, it does have a tendency to spool out uncontrollably — focusing on Bataille and Blanchot was much easier.) I also appreciate the point that was repeatedly made about avoiding Land in all this, but that too is easier said than done. No one wants to hear about him and yet he’s useful because seemingly everybody has. When talking about the blogosphere and a lot of these conversations around infinity, politics and philosophy, capitalism and immanence, he remains the elephant in the room. As such, he is a first point of entry for a lot of people, because he does loom so large. But the point has to be made that, whilst he’s the elephant, the room is otherwise very crowded — so crowded you can ignore him completely and be very much in possession of all the facts.

But that never, ever happens — and to our detriment. Land looms too large even for his detractors. I was re-reading Zack Beauchamp’s account of accelerationism’s downfall again yesterday, for example, and it is so depressing to me that the story of accelerationism somehow begins with Land and the Ccru, and ends with Land and the “Dark Enlightenment”, with nothing at all is said of the discussions — the real discussions — around speculative realism and post-continental philosophy that happened in between, and which did not really involve him at all.

Simply for the sake of providing an accurate historical account of early 21st century thought, it should be acknowledged that accelerationism was intended to explore “the politics of speculative realism”, first and foremost. Land kills his little corner of the discussion in much the same way that Graham Harman killed his — he takes the more interesting talking points of others and then adopts them as a brand. Land becomes the accelerationist, whereas, for the rest of them, he seemed to represent nothing more than an abstract problem to be dealt with.

Still, it is Fisher who, for better or for worse, re-centers Land in the narrative. Though he categorizes Alex Williams’ “xenoeconomics” as a left-landianism, he’s also the person who demonstrates how important Land really is to a lot of their concerns — if not as a positive influence, at least as a problem. This is what resituates an otherwise washed-up Land back in the heart of the conversation. As Fisher writes in a blogpost from 2009:

Nick Land needs to be counted as a speculative realist theorist, if only because he provided a version of Deleuze and Guattari evacuated of any “pseudo-biological vitalist ethology” (but also because Metzinger’s account of identity as a systemic illusion generated from cybernetic feedback sounds like a detailed elaboration of concepts sketched in texts such as “Meltdown” and “No Future”). Behind all these discussions, of course, is the issue of speculative realism’s relationship to politics, if any. […] Is there a way of commensurating the necessarily human focus of the political with the nonhuman perspective opened up by SR that will not betray or compromise its fundamental insights?

These are questions that haven’t yet been answered satisfactorily, in my view. People fixate so much on Land’s personality that they fail to ask the questions that follow — and that is true of Land himself.

Part of the reason I’m left wanting to write this book about accelerationism is that I think the blogosphere as a whole did not really respond to the reality of the Christchurch shooting well at all (myself included). It did not understand itself as the quasi-cause of a movement wholly other to its central concern — that in a philosophy of immanence, the individual is a secondary quality, all too easily overwhelmed. But that is a starting point, not a conclusion. That the individual, as a kind of limit, is broken down opens up a new world for us.

Brenton Tarrant violently rejected that notion, in his own way, mourning the diminishing influence and prosperity of a white race. He demonstrated himself to be a sort of cosmic incel. It’s not that women won’t fuck him, but that the universe itself is fucking with him no longer. He was truly, in this sense, the kind of subject accelerationism set out to critique. But that Land, in conversation with Beauchamp, could only manage a mealy-mouthed rebuttal about the fate of the individual as well, suggested that, whilst he could hardly be blamed for such violence in any sense of direct correlation, this sense of a quasi-causality also had him running scared. This process, that he so gleefully affirmed, had situated him alongside a mass murderer. Land was humiliated and has since only doubled down on his boomerisms.

It is in this sense that, on reflection, I think there’s more to be said about this kind of Deleuzian Stoicism, especially with regards to problems like the hyper-conservative far-right, post-pandemic politics and the worsening climate crisis. We will find ourselves humiliated, overwhelmed, overcome, but our sense of action does not stop at the overwhelming of such a limit. It is where action begins.

When every other field of political action seems to be insisting upon our own finitude, there is something to be said for these maligned discussions of infinity.