Winter Walks IX

Photographs taken around the local neighbourhood, and on walks from our front door to Huddersfield’s edgelands, back in December 2020.

The End of History 2:
Stagnant Boogaloo (Synder Cut)

Last month I wrote about the strange reception Capitalist Realism gets in the present, especially when readers see how scathing Mark was about his students. But those who take umbrage at this are, in my experience, either too young to remember 2009 or suffer from Noughties Amnesia.

Noughties Amnesia is real. Not only is it real, but it is also prevalent. I feel like I have only recently begun to wrestle with my own amnesia, focussing hard on the specific cultural products of that era and the specific Noughties conditions that gave rise to them. In so doing, I’ve realised just how reluctant others are to consider the cultural influence of 2002-2009 on our present.

When we look back on music from this time, 9/11 casts a long shadow. When I look back on music I liked during that decade, for instance, there feels like a clear “hauntological” line drawn in the sand around 2002 — the year of The Disintegration Loops, Geogaddi, House Arrest. Before then, we had Kid A, Drukqs, The Glow Pt. 2, CLOUDDEAD, Verpertine, Confield, Voodoo, Deltron 3030. We still had a future. Then, in 2003 and 2004, we saw the first Animal Collective albums, Joanna Newsom arrived on the scene, and so did Kanye with “Through the Wire”. Lightning Bolt released Wonderful Rainbow. Neopsychedelia and freak folk emerge as a sort of resilient flipside to an otherwise dark new era. By mid-decade, we’re achieved optimal balance — Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead rubs shoulders with Scott Walker’s The Drift and the first Burial record. Kode9 and the Spaceape made what I think is the defining album of that era, Memories of the Future, whilst Joanna Newsom, Beck, LCD Soundsystem and Animal Collective continued to go from strength to post-hippie strength.

Maybe there’s little insight in pointing out that there were both happy and sad albums released over the course of that decade, but there is something specific to the Noughties about these developments. There is a certain resonance between these various sonic extremes that paint the decade as a way of coming to terms with some pretty difficult stuff. 9/11, yes, but also a lot more than that — the death of rave, the end of the counterculture, a pop-modernist sensibility wrestling with a growing sense of the “post-“. If we want to understand where we’re at now, or at least where we’ve just been in the 2010s, surely these are the cultural products we need to be turning to and thinking about more deeply.

But what I’ve noticed very recently is that we’re not that keen on doing that. We tend to skip over the Noughties altogether as a misstep, instead reaching for far-flung examples from the twentieth century in order to speak to the present.

This was something that I noticed pop up in response to my recent tweet about Zack Synder’s 300 and his more recent extended “cuts”. 300 is a film I’ve thought a lot about recently. I think it was responsible for triggering some of the initial questions that would grow into the accelerationist blogosphere. In particular, there is Steven Shaviro’s critique of Žižek’s reading of the film (which first appeared in Lacanian Ink and then, later, in his book In Defense of Lost Causes). Žižek defends the film as a nod to a kind of Marxist-Leninist militancy that isn’t just fantastical propaganda for the right but could be utilised by the left. He draws on Badiou to give his argument a foundation. “We need a popular disciple”, Badiou says, and he would later be vindicated when Occupy failed to organise properly and change the world. Shaviro takes up this question and relates it to various post-Ccru problematics, regarding affirmation and negativity in relation to contemporary politics, and relates this to “the new” and the question of “what is to be done?” Alex Williams and Benjamin Noys soon put an even finer point on these questions.

To my mind, then, 300 is so utterly of its time. It raised some very specific questions about the moment it was released. It also had considerable cultural influence — it gave rise to one of the first memes; it was heralded as a huge technical achievement given how it was made; it was the peak of Hollywood’s (retrospectively reactionary) Frank Miller fever. It is a 2000s movie if ever there was one.

And yet, when tweeting about how Snyder’s influence has continued into the present — in which he’s still making very reactionary superhero movies but from the newly fetishised position of an editorial auteur — his 2000s example was repeatedly deferred. Two challenges over 300‘s influence came from the 1970s and the 1990s respectively. “What is new about 300?” someone suggested. “What about Dirty Harry?” “What about Fight Club?” suggested someone else. 300 is just another example in a long line of reactionary Hollywood blockbusters. There’s nothing special about it. In fact, you could argue that Dirty Harry is a better precursor to our current reactionary moment than 300 is.

I appreciate this argument but I disagree. There is always something special about it. The issue here — again, much like in last month’s conversations around “anti-hauntology” — is that our failure to consider what has changed is part of the problem. Yes, 300 and Dirty Harry are two reactionary movies, but Dirty Harry, released in 1971, is far closer in time to Nixon’s 1972 election victory than Trump’s. Nixon and Trump obviously share many similarities — we might even say Trump is little more than a Nixon reboot — but in leaping over 300 to reach for Dirty Harry as a reference, we also leap over any potential analysis of what has changed between now and then. Though they might have appeared in orbit of two similar presidencies, Dirty Harry and 300 couldn’t be more different as far as films go. And that’s interesting to me. It should not be a question of how this line of reaction has continued but rather how it has come to be repeated. If we want to be good little Deleuzians here — and I think many readers of this blog do — surely we must remain attentive to what is different and what is a repetition? When we reach mindlessly into our more culturally accepted histories, we remove the possibility of such an analysis.

That is, in part, why I’m being such a stickler for recent history at the moment. It is on this shorter timeline, where the 21st century is considered on its own terms rather than on the terms of the 20th century, that I think real cultural analysis can be extracted. All the more reason to consider the start of Synder’s career to its current developments. Have the politics of his film’s changed much? I don’t think so. He continues to produce postmodern Homeric epics. But whereas, as Žižek points out, 300 is a claustrophobic little movie — “shot in a warehouse in Montreal, with the entire background and many persons and objects digitally constructed … the artificial (digital) nature of the background creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, as if the story does not take place in ‘real’ reality with its endless open horizons, but in a ‘closed world,’ a kind of relief-world of closed space” — his more recent and more expansive films suggest a very different world is emerging.

This is to say that the fact Synder has kept his politics but now produces four-hour epics with largely the same digital process echoes an ideological development that far outstretches Nixon’s short-lived second term. It suggests a further reboot, where the end of neoliberalism’s capacity to innovate starts to resemble its beginnings — like a new Star Wars movie, attempting to hit all the same notes as the first Seventies outing, albeit with all the contemporary aesthetic preferences. But the fact it is a reboot is unimportant. It is far more pressing that we consider what has changed — that is, what is it that is different, which can be smuggled into the status quo with ease, precisely because it is attached to something already familiar — and, in the process, make it more legible. As such, our current feelings of stagnation might feel like the perpetual current of the Long Nineties but I don’t think that is the case. We only see continuity when we ourselves stand still. But there is change and we should pay more attenion to it.

The End of History 2: Stagnant Boogalo (Synder Cut) might have all the hallmarks of the first stagnation but, if we’re not careful, we’ll find this one to be far longer and more oppressive in its dominance.

Remember the Noughties. That’s where the real lessons lie. That’s where all the best lines of flight lie buried.

Hull and the Bomb

In researching my recent essay for Plaza Protocol, “The Geology of Malls”, I ended up thinking quite a bit about Hull’s strange post-war nihilism. It is a city that has a very peculiar relationship to its own destruction. There, I wrote that “Hull’s creativity is inextricably tied to the history of its own destruction”, highlighting how the Adelphi Club, with its infamous bombed-out car park, has even lampooned its own brush with annihilation. A “culture bomb”, installed over the club’s entrance, is tongue in cheek, but it also speaks to a persistent feeling that has long defined the city — that its culture is a direct byproduct of its historical pummelings.

I think this is broadly true. I don’t think a group like COUM Transmissions, for instance, or a mind like Philip Larkin’s, could have thrived anywhere else. How that has been used in more recent years is another matter, however. It is a sentiment that has no doubt helped it in the twenty-first century, when cultural opportunities have made its own phoenix narrative an easy play for PR firms looking to sell an easy redemption story. But there’s still a blackened and burnt underbelly that I genuinely miss. There’s a charred and hardened humour to Hull’s sense of itself that I miss whenever I live anywhere else.

Anyway, I could have gone on a whole other detour about this in my essay but decided against it. However, I did come across this pamphlet at the time that I’ve had pinned to my blog drafts ever since. Produced by Hull City Council, this pamphlet was an attempt to educate the public about the reality of an impeding nuclear war but also explain what it’s impact would be locally.

It’s part PSA, part bomb porn — at least in hindsight. And whilst it’s a fun little novelty, I actually found loads of examples of Hull’s particular pamphlet online in various places. This is to say that, whilst various UK cities produced these sorts of things at the height of the Cold War, it is Hull’s that seems to continually be brought up in various local contexts, not just as a historical novelty but as some sort of relic that speaks to its very core.

I wanted to post this back in November 2020 when I first came across it, but I’ve been holding off on it until “Geology of Malls” was out in the world. Now you have the context, it feels a good time to post this fascinating little bonus. So here you go.

Framing Adam Curtis

The reviews are in. Adam Curtis’s latest documentary series, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, has been described as “dazzling” and “overwhelming” (in a good way), as well as “dazzling” and “incoherent” (in a bad way). Apart from the occasional lukewarm review, however, the critical reception has been very positive. But, as anyone on Twitter will have noticed, beyond the column inches of cultural critics, there is a curious development. Many have developed a pronounced distaste for Curtis and his style of documentary. The emergent question is, “why?”

In his latest series, which he describes as an “emotional history” of the twentieth century, Curtis tells a convincing story. He bounces around the world in a disorientating series of tales and vignettes that nonetheless, over the course of five hours, are transformed from frayed threads into a formidable rope. Indeed, there is no denying that his exploration of our peculiar misery, from the end of empires to the end of histories, is a striking tapestry of maligned battles, failures and victories from around the world, of the sort that are rarely given any oxygen in public discourse.

These stories are told with his characteristic charm and editorial prowess, and the questions they provoke resonate with our current shellshock, following the downfall of Trump. What happened to us? How did we become so trapped in this stagnant world that nonetheless fizzes and flails in its attempts to produce new spectacles? If Obama was a new era, and Trump was a new era, why does everything just feel the same? The upheaval we have experienced is nothing compared to the previous century, of course, but then how come we’re all so tired? Is it precisely the long arm of the twentieth century that has us so fatigued? Are we troubled by some sort of transhistorical PTSD?

These are urgent questions, and they’ve been urgent for some time. In fact, I’d argue Curtis has asked these questions before, each time in response to a new moment of friction, but always with the same approach. Nevertheless, his persistent has paid off. Only now does it feel like these questions are making an appearance in a more mainstream discourse. Whether we are discussing his own work or the work of others, Curtis is, in part, to thank for that. But if that’s true, why are we now so cynical about his efforts?

To anyone who has followed his career to date, the trajectory is clear. He has been transformed from the frequently-pirated BBC bad boy of the 2000s — I still have my unofficial DVD copy of his five 2000s films somewhere, bought off some dodgy eBay seller in 2009 — to unsung critical darling of the 2010s. In the 2020s, however, he seems to have become a BBC cliché — a judgement in part bolstered by his appearances on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe and, by proxy, his association with Brooker’s other creations. (Does the cynicism around Curtis’s latest film not echo the attitude towards the most recent series of Black Mirror?) These critical evaluations of the zeitgeist, put together with an increasingly rare irreverence and intelligence, are few and far between these days. But, together, Brooker and Curtis have cornered the market. It’s not hard to see why. They’re irreverent recombinant attitudes are a form of good postmodernism ripping chunks off the bad. They may be critical, but they otherwise fit snuggly within the general order of things. They provide just the right amount of pressure and confrontation — no more, no less.

This is my problem with Curtis. As much as I enjoy the tales he tells, he has come to resemble the BBC’s last man, looking over its entire history, able to peruse its archives with impunity and use them against the present orthodoxy. And yet, whilst he is very capable of poking holes in the illusions around us, he seems incapable of breaking through and actualising his own critiques. It is a fate that has afflicted every cultural product of the 2000s — eventutally. There comes a time when your own archival mastery of the end of history becomes less an intervention in our stagnation and more a symptom of the very problem under consideration. In rooting our predicament so firmly in our past, we come to understand how things have always been this way. Capitalist realism is no longer a specific critique of a specific era — the dying years of New Labour and the Bush administration — but a predicament foreshadowed for centuries. Perhaps that’s true, but what does excavating the breadcrumb trail reveal to us? That we live in a world of diminishing returns of the same? We are left always lagging behind ourselves, applying critiques to the recent past but never to the conditions of the present.

Perhaps this is all just splitting hairs. A misdirected cynicism from the deep stagnation of lockdown. Perhaps none of this truly matters. So what if Curtis is Marmite. Who cares about that undulating, grotesque blob we call “public opinion”? Our media landscape is better off with Curtis in it. Just sit down and listen; you might learn something.

But never before have the questions Curtis asks been so relevant to his own thesis. After all, when we consider what Curtis is asking in his latest series — to quote the BBC’s promotional materials: “whether modern culture, despite its radicalism, is really just part of the new system of power” — surely we must consider whether his crowning as the one politically-daring documentarian at the BBC is something of a poisoned chalice? What is it about Curtis that allows him to occupy his more-or-less unique position? What is it about the new system of power he describes that precisely allows him to (continue to) exist within it? What is it that allows him to make the same kind of film about our ideological stagnation for more than twenty years? What if the thing we can’t get out of our heads is Curtis’s narrative drone over stark title cards? What if all he’s become is the personification of our own impotent political consciousness, endlessly trawling the depths of Wikipedia at the end of time, looking for a URL that will hyperlink us out of our misery?

If we want an documentary less complicit in its own critique, perhaps Framing Britney Spears offers us a more constructive and less existentially dreadful lesson. It is a new feature-length documentary, produced by the New York Times, on the #FreeBritney movement — an online activist group that began as a disparate group of online fans concerned about their favourite popstar’s domestic welfare, which ended up raising awareness around “conservatorships”, one of the most opaque legal measures deployed by the American justice system.

Beyond that, the documentary offers us something similar to Curtis’s own series: an “emotional history” of our pop-cultural development. On the one hand, it shows us how, following the age of the Celebrity, our worst tendencies have been democratised, vindicating Curtis’s cynicism — the hounding that drove Britney to a mental breakdown is also experienced, to varying degrees, by many online today. But just as many more of us are experiencing the scrutiny once reserved for the most famous amongst us, we are also able to hold many of our most opaque institutions to account in new ways. It is intriguing to contrast her story, in this regard, with that of the “cancel culture” whiners. Our inability to deal with such issues, such as the distinction between scrutiny and harassment, is perhaps indicative of that same persistent emotional immaturity.

We might note, too, that the documentary has faced many of the same criticisms as Curtis’s. It’s evocative and powerful, telling the story of our own sadism, but it supposedly lacks journalistic rigour. Nevertheless, the words of one of the paralegals echoes throughout — “We don’t know what we don’t know.” Two quests for knowledge face off against each other, separated by twenty years, each coming to fuel our best and worst tendencies.

On the one hand, the documentary frames Spears as a pop-cultural conundrum. She is both innocent and seductive, powerful and preyed-upon, hero and villain, sweetheart and succubus. One journalist notes how her initial rise and fall coincided with the Monica Lewinsky affair. (In fact, one of the documentary’s main strengths is that shows how Britney’s story intersects with some of the major political events and questions of her — and our — lifetime, albeit without labouring the point for an hour at a time.) The point is brief but it has a resounding clarity. Britney Spears became a scratching post for the American public to work through its own cultural dissonance regarding the place of women in society. Today, for better or for worse, we do much of that work on each other.

As the documentary progresses, the #FreeBritney movement becomes a lightning rod of its own. Though it may remain focussed on the prospects of an individual, it is reflective of our broader emo-cultural development. It reveals a fandom — one of those most maligned of pop-cultural communities — making a clear and positive impact on the world beyond their immediate concerns. This is the progressive side of social media’s democratisation of information technologies. It shows that, although it is not uniform in its advancements, cultural power is shifting — even if we’re still not sure how best to wield it.

In this sense, Framing Britney Spears offers some answers to the more troubling questions we have about ourselves. Can’t Get You Out of My Head shows how those very questions have encouraged their own mental health crisis. But only one documentary, in both its presentation and its content, feels truly of its time, making strides into unknown emotional territory — and, for all its strengths, it’s not Curtis’s.

“A teacher ‘who really gave a shit'”:
For k-punk in The Art Newspaper

Many thanks to Kabir Jhala, who interviewed Natasha Eves and I for an article about this year’s For k-punk event at the ICA. You can read it here.

This nearly five-hour-long “digital afterparty” is “part virtual club night, part lecture and an expression of collective grief”, says the writer Matt Colquhoun, who edited Postcapitalist Desire and, along with the textile artist Natasha Eves, organises For k-punk. “We debuted it at 10pm to mimic a club night and held a Discord server with all of our friends. It was the closest thing we’ll get to a gig for a while,” Eves says. Both were students of Fisher’s at the time of his death — For k-punk commemorates a teacher who “really gave a shit”, they say.

Buddies Without Organs — Episode #04:
The Geology of Morals

In case you missed it, the newest episode of Buddies Without Organs went live on Monday!

We read the “Geology of Morals” chapter of A Thousand Plateaus and were also joined by our new buddy Corey J. White. Go check it out over on the website here, follow us on Twitter and wherever you get your podcasts! (And if we’re not currently wherever you get your podcasts, let us know and we’ll sort it out!)

By the way, we’re also now on YouTube too, if that’s your preferred way to listen. All the episodes so far are available here. Don’t forget to liKe And sUbScRiBe!?

Badiou/Acc:
Terror and Parody with Ed Berger

Ed with another whopper of a comment on the last post:

I’ve found myself wondering if some of these things become clearer when we consider not only the post-2008 ‘Accelerationist debate’ not only through this subterranean Nietzschean-Maoist frame, but also through a return to what has been retroactively inscribed as the ‘accelerationist moment’ of the 1970s. When Noys used the term, it was in ref to D&G’s Anti-Oedipus, Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, Irigaray’s Speculum, Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death… but one of the problems here, from the position of intellectual history (side note: intellectual history in these contexts seems, as Vince put it, about excavating these hidden lines buried in the past for the application in the present…. this is what Deleuze described — referencing Foucault — as the work of the ‘seer’, but in a way isn’t this also part of what ‘salvagepunk’ is all about?), is that the “accelerate the process” moment in AO isn’t a one-off thing. It traces back to Nietzsche’s late manuscripts, which were salvaged by Klossowski when he was tasked with compiling and editing these manuscripts for a French edition of Nietzsche’s collected works in the 1960s (Deleuze and Foucault, incidentally, were the ones who oversaw Klossowski’s portion of the project). ‘Accelerating’ or ‘hastening the process’ became a central concern in Klossowski’s Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, which imo should be treated, if we’re gonna roll with something like the Noys periodization, as the ur-moment for “accelerationism”. Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle set the stage for Living Currency, which in turn set the stage for Anti-Oedipus and Libidinal Economy….

In 1972, around the time that AO was released, Klossowski, Deleuze, Lyotard and Derrida attended a conference on Nietzsche at Cerisy-la-Salle. Klossowski’s talk (found here) was titled “Circulus Vitiosus”. The passage from Nietzsche where “accelerate the process” appears is quoted in full, but what Klossowski draws from this is the notion of a “conspiracy” that explodes the “evolution of [the] modern economy” towards a state of “planetary planning of existence” from within. Probably taking cue from Bataille, Klossowski describes this process as engendering an “excess”—and then asks:

“In what measure would the Nietzschean description of excess not simply be an abbreviated, non-dialectical, version of the notion of class-struggle and infrastructure in Marx?… [Nietzsche’s] historical incomprehension of the master and the slave, the notion of excess deployed in opposition to the mediocrisation process leads him to a terrain similar to that which is occupied by Marx. Both meet, so to speak, back-to-back”

I guess my first question is whether or not the Nietzschean-Klossowskian “non-dialectical” form of process/class struggle reciprocal relationship conforms to, on the one hand, William’s “non-dialectical negativity” (the excess as negativity?), and then on the other, to the inverted dialectical One —> Two, the Nietzsche-Mao line that seems to be smuggled in implicitly into Williams’ approach (intentionally or not — The Badiou Question).

The second is whether or not “metaterrorism” operates along a similar logic of what Klossowski here describes as “parody”. Klossowksi himself links parody to both terror and terrorism:

“How, in any case, does the vicious circle, as a selective dilemma, become the instrument of a conspiracy? That is, do you recognise or not that your actions have no sense or purpose, other than the fact that they are always nothing but the same situations infinitely repeated? What follows from this is the following exigency: act with no remorse. The worst, if it has not yet been attained, never shall be. Here we begin to see the basis upon which Nietzsche, with all the terror alluded to earlier, introduces his experimental programme of conspiracy. And yet, the terror of the thought of eternal return, in this form, may very well be nothing other than a parody of the real terrorism of industrial modernity. The god of the vicious circle, as the pure simulation of a universal economy, is still only an appearance. Even if the thought of the circle were also merely a parody, the parody would remain, nonetheless, a deranged creation in the form of a conspiracy. If the conspiracy suggests certain acts to be accomplished, then the thought of the vicious circle demands that these acts, once accomplished, become necessarily the never-ending simulation of an action emptied by repetition of all its content, which will never be established once and for all.”

In this perspective, the very transformation of the dialectic from Two —> One into One —> Two is itself an act of (meta?)terrorism, because the movement is the subterranean one from the world of closure (the “vicious circle” that might just a parodic reflection of “industrial modernity”) into an infinite cosmos of difference (the eternal return, as a ‘parody of doctrine’ itself). I’m also reminded, on a more practical level, of the comment that Fisher made in ‘Post-Apocalypse Now’: “The war must be fought from and on the desert of the virtual-Real apocalypse. One tactic could be to explode the fantasy of unsheathed productive capacities. This involves taking the anti- of anti-capitalism seriously, as itself the sufficient condition for the emergence of a new political-economic organisation. The embrace of the anti- would become a return of a negativity which late capitalism’s compulsory positivity is compelled to suppress at many levels.” The ‘negativity which returns’ holds the exact same position within Fisher as ‘excess’ does for Klossowski, allowing him to bind Nietzsche and Marx together in infernal coupling. And operating internally to the “desert of the virtual-Real apocalypse” in order to call capitalism on its game—to make good on the promise of advanced industrial modernity that it makes, but cannot deliver — is the act of parodic terrorism.

What makes this even more interesting is that Deleuze and Lyotard both affirm the Klossowskian line on parody, defending it from Derrida and others. Lyotard: “…it is impossible to determine beforehand what the effectiveness of a parody will be, that’s why Nietzsche says it is necessary to be experimenters and artists, not people who have a plan and try to realise it — that’s old politics. Nietzsche says it’s necessary to try things out and discover which intensities produce which effects.” Deleuze: “The efficacious parody, in the sense of Nietzsche or Klossowski, does not pretend to be a copy of a model, but rather, in its parodic act overthrows, in the same blow, the model and the copy… everybody senses that what is at stake is something altogether different, which, to speak like Klossowski, pushes the simulacra so far that its product goes against, at the same time, the copy and the model. It seems to me that this is exactly the criterion of effective parody in the sense that Nietzsche understands it.”

Given that Klossowski introduces parody in relation to the question of “accelerating the process”, and Deleuze and Lyotard both affirm this, it seems vital for properly articulating the real nature of the “accelerationist moment” that Noys writes about — and perhaps allows us restage some of the stakes when these themes were revived in new contexts after the 2008 crisis.

This initial trajectory that Ed carves out is fantastic. (Does this feature in your new book, Ed?)

My first thoughts may be tangential right from the off but I’d like to include them anyway, as it might help graft what Ed’s comment has brought to mind onto a broader history of this trajectory in France in particular. I’ll also be returning to Badiou a fair bit, not to keep bending the argument to him, but at least to see, even in tracing this parallel trajectory, he has his place.


I was actually reading Living Currency the other day, alongside Althusser’s On the Reproduction of Capital. I was trying to trace the twentieth century’s problematising of the subject, which Land makes so central to his philosophy — how the process of valorisation continually abstracts not just the proletariat but, if you go as far as Land, the whole of humanity. All this “capital is the real subject of history” stuff or “capital is an autonomous entity” gets a lot of ridicule these days for its Landian proximity, but these ideas were of explicit concern to many of the most ardent Marxist in the 1950s and ’60s.

Having pondered this now in orbit of “the process” via Klossowski and co., I’m nonetheless curious as to where Althusser fits into this trajectory. He ran in very different circles to the above, of course, but there’s an intriguing overlap that may also further ground Badiou’s relation to all this. Spinoza is likely the key.

I saw someone on Reddit the other day asking about why people became so interested in Spinoza in France, and someone nodded to Deleuze. But translations of Deleuze’s works on Spinoza only really brought attention to him in the Anglosphere. In France, he was already of some interest to people. In fact, I recently discovered that Althusser ran a Spinoza reading group about a decade before Deleuze’s own reflections, which was attended by Badiou, who wrote a dissertation on him (and then apparently dropped him from his thought for the most part, despite his influence on two of his “masters” — Althusser as well as Lacan).

Following this rabbit hole, I came across a (relatively) recent essay by Caroline Williams for the LA Review of Books on Spinoza and Althusser. What is central for Althusser is precisely a rethinking of the subject, which Spinoza famously undertakes in his Ethics. Williams notes, however, that the problem for Althusser — perhaps following Spinoza’s talk of an immanent nature naturing — is that historical materialism reveals to us that history is a process without a subject. I think this section below is the most interesting bit on this. It is a bit abstruse — maybe even more so when pulled out of its wider context — but there is a fair amount of resonance here, I think:

In proposing the ideas of structural causality and history as a process without the subject, something excessive is opened up by Althusser’s thought. What had previously been the elusive ground of agency now mutates and morphs into something altogether different. When in his later writings Althusser suggests that the materialism of the encounter is “a process that has no subject,” does he not implore us to combine this image of the conjunction of elements, “raining down” like an infinity of atoms, whose singular relations and individualities constitute the subject merely as their ideological (or imaginary) effects? It is these concrete yet seemingly transitory combinations that the materialist philosopher studies. Historical materialism does not commence with an original abstract picture of man, or with a conception of human essence, as do theories of the social contract. Marx, like Spinoza, precludes essentialism by understanding the essence of any “thing” as that which corresponds to its actuality and concrete relations, and thus to a form of materialism. Social relations, economic relations of exchange (of wealth, of capital) cannot be reduced to relations merely between subjects, since they involve relationships with many different kinds of thing (in nature, technology, society, etc.), each of which reproduce and shape social relations of production, as well as the forms of struggle emerging through them and unfolding within the materiality of ideology. In this image of materialism, anything we might call “the subject” is found only within this social morphology of relation and combination where forms of struggle commence and where politics constantly reshapes itself in the process.

So, is what is being accelerated, in this sense, history? (Plausible, considering it has supposedly “ended” for us but continues for capital itself.) I tried to make a similar point in relation to accelerationism via Lukacs when writing the introduction to Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire, which felt quite bold and which I thought might be tying “the process” a little too readily to an orthodox Hegelian-Marxism, but I’m quite glad I made the connection in hindsight.

Anyway, this all seems quite commensurate with Klossowski, D+G, Lyotard — as well as Nietzsche and Mao, of course — doesn’t it? (Not necessarily a rhetorical question. I’m still puzzling this connection out.)

Perhaps, following Klossowski, the properly Nietzschean (and Bataillean) vision here — which is also proto-Landian — is that this process makes a mockery of the subject. It is a sort of Copernican humiliation. Terrorism, then — or metaterrorism — is an attempt to humiliate the process in return by parodying it. The reality of such a manoeuvre might be far-fetched, but Deleuze and Guattari certainly entertained it when they deployed Professor Challenger, the original eco-terrorist, as a conceptual persona in “The Geology of Morals”, which is itself a (post-)structuralist / materialist parody of structuralism.

So yes, I think this is a really interesting line to follow. How does it relate to post-2008 accelerationism? Perhaps its a question of what is to be done with parody, or what is to be done after it has done its work? I feel like that is the question Badiou asks post-68 with a fury that is perhaps comparable to that of the post-2008 blogosphere. However, who is to do this work if the acceleration of history is precisely without a subject? Following Althusser via Badiou, is the issue precisely that “the missing subject of accelerationism” is impossible to instantiate? Or is it in its perpetual destruction that we find the source of our tension?

Badiou’s Theory of the Subject has a strange relationship to this — and it is an incredibly difficult book that I might not be understanding very well at all. But in the chapter on “Lack and Destruction” he entertains the idea — quite common in a lot of Marxist thinking at that time I think; it reminds me again of Lukacs — that the bourgeoisie produces the proletariat. The proletariat does not exist, in any material sense, until it is organised by the bourgeoisie in “a place”.

A place, in Badiou’s terminology, is a kind of stasis or site of deadening. It is counterposed, at this stage in his thought, to the event. In the translator’s glossary to the translation I have, they make a note that there’s an echo of this concept in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, where he “describes an ethics of willing the event in terms of ‘a sort of leaping in place’, saut sur place.” When thinking about parody, this tangential note of seemingly limited significance might actually be a pretty interesting meeting point. Logic of Sense is a masterpiece of philosophical parody, surely? For Badiou, however, it’s not just about proliferating contradictions in order to produce tension (or “torsion”). For him, parody is an innately destructive act. He seems to suggest that part of the problem is that, for the proletariat to sustain itself, it must always parody the bourgeoisie. There is always a pressure to become the petit bourgeoisie. The only option, then, is to affirm the void from which they came.

I might be wrong on this but this is what I think Badiou is saying when he says:

The proletariat exists everywhere where some political outplace is produced. It is therefore by purging itself that it exists. It has no anteriority over the organisation of its political survival. To expel the bourgeois politics by compressing its own organism-support and to bring into existence the proletarian politics, are one and the same.

This seems to be its own kind of excess for Badiou. And it makes me think of Fisher and his love of Jameson’s “baroque sunbursts”. Is excess both the exaggeration of parody and the excess that the proletariat already are for capitalism, in lurking on its outside?

Maybe it’s also worth adding that the tension between exaggeration and excess isn’t just a way to deal with the bourgeoisie for Badiou but also for philosophy itself. It is his anti-philosophy. Though it’s often assumed to be some pretentious negativity, I’m left thinking about the Ccru’s sense of humour, in parodying their own academic positions and, indeed, the whole academic enterprise in order to precisely do philosophy. That is surely anti-philosophy as far as Badiou is concerned.

Whereas the Ccru’s example might be more in line with Lyotard’s sacrilegious theorising of a kind of acquiescence to excess in Libidinal Economy, Badiou takes a more destructive than generative approach. In Theory of the Subject he writes:

‘Destory, he says’: such is the necessary — and prolonged — proletarian statement. This barbarous statement forbids us to imagine the political subject in the structural modality of the heritage, the transmission, the corruption, the inversion. But also in that of the purifying cut, of the world broken in two.

Isn’t this Mao’s revolutionary dialectic? His One —> Two?

All this brings me forwards to our recent past, and your writing, again with Vince, on anti-praxis. I’m also reminded of Enrico’s definition of anti-praxis from “Applying Applied Ballardianism”:

Anti-praxis consists of two basic principles: making political action as impersonal as possible and intensifying the actually existing processes of liberation and emancipation, without situating our actions within/against capitalism, but following those political vectors which point directly towards a possible exit.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot at present precisely because Badiou makes use of the “anti-” prefix so excessively — in terms of the anti-philosophies of Lacan, Wittgenstein, Pascal, Saint Paul, Rosseau and, notably for us, Nietzsche — to the point that Laruelle’s book on him could only have been called Anti-Badiou. (It’s very good too, I might add.)

When writing on Nietzsche’s anti-philosophy, Badiou seems to be picking up on this tendency towards parodisation as well. He notes three “operations” that Nietzsche makes use of in his thought:

1. A linguistic, logical, genealogical critique of the statement of philosophy; a deposing of the category of truth, an unraveling of pretensions of philosophy to constitute itself as theory. In order to do so, antiphilosophy often delves into the resources the sophists exploit as well. In the case of Nietzsche, this operation bears the name “overturning of all values,” struggle against the Plato-disease, combatant grammar of signs and types.

2. The recognition of the fact that philosophy, in the final instance, cannot be reduced to its discursive appearance, its proportions, its fallacious theoretical exterior. Philosophy is an act, of which the fabulations about “truth” are the clothing, the propaganda, the lies…

3. The appeal made, against the philosophical act, to another, radically new act, which will either be called philosophical as well, thereby creating an equivocation (through which the little philosopher consents with delight to the spit that covers his body) or else, more honestly, supraphilosophical or even aphilosophical. This act without precedent destroys the philosophical act, all the while clarifying its noxious character…

(I’m not sure Badiou’s seminar on Nietzsche has ever been published — just the ones on Lacan and Wittgenstein — but Wanyoung Kim has a translation available on Academia.edu here.)

I hope all of this is coming together rather than spoiling the both. Suffice it to say, yes, I think this does allow us to restage part of the 2008 debate, but also our own conversations just a few years ago.

It also makes me wonder about Mark’s writings on satire too, actually. How do satire and parody function in the present? Irony was better weaponised by the other side back in 2016, surely? To weaponise parody again now is to go far beyond what would be seen as in good taste… Such is horrorism, right? A parody of terrorism. But then perhaps we’re stuck in a kind of gift logic, where parody really does just end up with us doing Joker shit. The accelerationist cliche emerges where you parody the system to the extent you burn the whole world down and say, “Top that, capitalism.” Then again, perhaps wresting parody back from that kind of politics of escalation is part of the project. Not becoming hypercapitalist but rather ridiculing capitalism into illegitimacy.


Update #1: A quick addendum from Ed:

Wonderful post, XG — gonna be uncharacteristically brief (lol) because I’m out running errands atm….

It’s really interesting that you bring up Althusser in this way. I’ve been curious about the relationship between Althusser and Deleuze; deep in D&R, there is an engagement with Marx that imo actually has more depth than most people seem to have lent it (the only person I’ve seen engage with it in any extended famous, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been Benjamin Noys). But looking through the footnotes where he mentions Marx, and it becomes clear that the Marx that is being engaged with by Deleuze is mainly Althusser’s Marx. Not sure if this iteration differs from the Marx of Capitalism & Schizophrenia at all, but this might be an interesting avenue in figuring out how this hangs together.

I think you’re right to relate the proletariat directly to this question of excess; as I read Klossowski’s talk, this is how I think he’s reading it too. In Nietzsche’s ‘accelerationist fragment’, the leveling process — that which is to be accelerated—generates an excess, the “strong of the future”, which becomes in D&G the “people-to-come”. He seems to be suggesting a shared identity between this and the proletariat… Funny, Land places the AI-to-come, Pythia/Mother Hellcrypt/etc in this position, but I’m not sure if his interpretation conforms to the question of excess? A middle ground perhaps: the Fisherian vision of the machinic proletariat.

There’s an aspect of Klossowski’s parody — Nietzsche’s parody? He says that he is also parodying Nietzsche, so its a tough thing to unwind lol — that is fairly esoteric, with regard to the question of agency, the thing that is excess to the process… thinking of this bit in his earlier essay “Nietzsche, Polytheism, and Parody”:

“Was it not necessary to appeal to conscious thought, and thus to borrow from the language of the herd (in this ease, the language of positivism), and thus to take up once again the notions of utility and goal, and direct them toward and against every utility, toward and against every goal?”

Feel like this is working alongside what you’re saying here about Badiou and the ‘anti-‘. Anti-praxis looks both familiar and strange from this vantage point.

And to answer your question at the outset: nope, this isn’t in the book! The great Obsolete Capitalism group really needs the credit for putting this history together, but maybe it can the seeds of a book-to-come…

Solidarity and Cryptocurrency:
Notes on NFTs

Following a recent episode of the Interdependence podcast on “non-fungible tokens” — or NFTs — my Twitter timeline has been a buzz with enthusiasm and cynicism in equal measure.

I can’t proclaim to be that well-informed on the comings and goings of cryptocurrency. I have a wallet of my own, and prefer to invest in coins with some sort of broader utility, like Filecoin, but I cannot claim to understand the technical aspects that underline each token. A vigilant approach seems necessary. That is even more true when we become aware of cryptocurrency’s many associations. David Golumbia, perhaps most infamously, declared it to be a form of “software as right-wing extremism”. Though I’ve not read Golumbia’s book, the reasoning behind this seems to be because of its primary investors. (Capitalists are going to capitalist, I guess?)

But it seems to me that this is a superficial appraisal, and one perhaps worthy of some reconsideration — not least because NFTs intervene in interesting ways in the more recognisably-capitalist dynamics of crypto-markets, precisely because of their non-fungibility.

The fungibility of currencies is, generally speaking, pretty common-sensical. It allows a currency to be internally coherent, for instance — 100 pennies are equal to a pound — and also interchangeable, irrespective of any other currency’s vitality — GBP can be exchange for USD, et al. The fungibility of cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, allows it to function in a similar way. Bitcoin can be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies but also for traditional currencies as well.

Nick Land seized upon this innate consistency with other currencies in his unpublished work Crypto-Current, and broadly affirmed it. If capital is to be understood as a kind of “decoded money”, as Land has referred to it in his Nineties works, then Bitcoin is capital in a far more literal sense than was true according to Land’s previous cyberpunk pretensions. The way that the blockchain was being implemented to automate other processes only extends this resonance.

Land had always gone far beyond Marx’s gothic view of capital, as that autonomous and vampiric force, in order to produce not just a philosophy of capitalism but a capitalist philosophy, instituting capitalism as its own form of Kantian critique — that is, asking not what we (are able to) think about capitalism but instead asking what capitalism thinks about us. That might be a fair summary of Land’s Nineties work and it remains broadly true today. It is along these same lines that he has argued that Bitcoin is the latest capitalistic development to cause philosophical problems for the Left. For one thing, in side-stepping the trust protocols of mints and national banks, cryptocurrency allows capital a new lease of autonomy, but it also proliferates capital in itself, complexifying its self-valorisation process, with each brand of cryptocurrency effectively giving rise to a new and self-contained economic system in its own. This newly Balkanises, whilst also allowing greater access to, the global economy in its fungibility. Soon, the world becomes fungible all the way down.

As such, although some on the Left see a great deal of potential in cryptocurrency as a technological innovation, Land focuses his attentions on affirming its “techno-libertarian or crypto-anarchist” philosophical foundations. What it presents, he argues, is a further challenge to the Left’s fundamental principles, and indeed further alienates the Left from capitalism’s ever-advancing frontiers. He covers all this and more in the conclusion to Cryptocurrent‘s introduction, when he writes:

The left thus recognises its enemy [capitalism], with striking realism, as an emergent — and intrinsically fractured — agent of social dissolidarity. A crucial symmetry has to be immediately noted. The “struggle” here is not even imaginably one-on-one. Capital is essentially capitals, at war among themselves. It advances only through disintegration. If — not at all unreasonably — the basic vector of capital is identified with a tendency to social abandonment, what it abandons most originally is itself. That is why the left finds itself so commonly locked in a fight to defend what capital is from what it threatens to become. Bitcoin tells us — more clearly than any other innovation — what it is becoming next, by escaping transcendent governance in principle. Consistent “right wing-extremism”, automated governance, and unflinching critical philosophy are inter-translatable [– fungible? –] without significant discrepancy. The crypto-current is a nightmare for the left (rigorously conceived). It is other things, but that is the main one. Philosophical phase change doesn’t happen without a fight, least of all when attempting to route around one.

Against this background, aren’t NFTs precisely a challenge to this right-wing claim to the politics of cryptocurrency? Though many read about their focus on scarcity and ownership and run scared, surely they challenge cryptocurrency’s continuity with capitalism more generally? By emphasising social solidarity over dissolidarity; commitment over abandonment? Trust remains key, but that trust is constituted socially rather than the capitalist superstructure itself.

John Palmer’s experiment with $ESSAY seems like a fascinating step in this direction — and I look forward to hearing his appearance on Interdependence. I’d love to try something similar myself. That is, after all, the hardest thing about contributing to this strange world. Solidarity is a difficult thing to come by, not least the kind that lets us all earn and live and do what we do. NFTs might just allow us to build solidarity in a way that both challenges the expectations of a capitalist economy — solidarity without similarity — alongside our own cynicism regarding what is required to sustain our treasured cultures, online and off.

That, to me, is an interesting prospect.