Artificial Mythologies — A Sad & Lonely Constellation

This was a talk given at the A Sad & Lonely Constellation conference held in Milan on 3rd May 2019. You can read more about this event here.

This session was really great and I enjoyed it immensely. The discussion, once it got going, was fantastic and all too short. David Roden’s final comments (sidenote: you can read his excellent paper here) were almost painful to end on because he ended up opening up so many doors which I would have loved to have probed the other panelists on. My silence at the end was occasioned by me trying to scramble together some online reference points which just didn’t load in quick enough. I was particularly interested to hear Amelia’s thoughts on how she saw her own research on alienation fitting in between these various points made in the Q&A.

Maybe those thoughts could be posted here at another time.

During the Q&A I also was asked a question about glitches. In response I mentioned I’d written on the topic before in relation to the TV show Westworld and glossed an argument from a previous post. That post can be found here — it’s not great but I’ve been in the process of massively reworking all of my Westworld posts to become the final chapter of my book Egress which I should probably get round to finishing at some point…

Anyway, here’s a transcript of my talk below, which perhaps attempted to cram too much into a 15 minute presentation, but I had a lot of fun presenting it.

Hi everyone.

I’d just like to start by saying thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here and shout out to the Italian Weird Theory contingent.

What I want to talk about today is the weird ways in which AI might provide a new ground for previously unrealised political potentialities, but in a way that drags into the discussion some philosophical (and not-so-philosophical) references points which I hope are surprising enough to shake up our prospective discussion.

A lot of this is part of new research I’ve been working on for only a couple of months and so this reading is fragile and but, in my experience, sharing that sort of thing anyway can make for some good conversation.

With that in mind, I want to begin this talk in true academic style by telling you all about a book that I haven’t read. It’s a book called Dogs and it’s by the French philosopher Mark Alizart, which is currently forthcoming in English translation via Polity Books. As its title suggests, it’s a book about dogs but, more specifically, it’s a book about humanity’s relationship to dogs across millennia. To quote from the summary of the book on Polity’s website:

Mark Alizart dispenses with the well-worn clichés concerning dogs and their masters, seeing them not as submissive pets but rather as unexpected life coaches, ready to teach us the elusive recipes for contentment and joy. Dogs have faced their fate in life with a certain detachment that is not easy to understand. Unlike other animals in a similar situation, they have not become hardened, nor have they let themselves die a little inside. On the contrary, they seem to have softened.

Whilst this might all sound very nice and a little wet behind the ears, once the book reaches its conclusion — so I’m told — it makes the quite surprising connection between dogs and artificial intelligence. Alizart argues that our relationship to dogs has not just shaped them as a species in myriad ways through, for instance, domestication; it has also fundamentally shaped us as well in ways that we may not fully appreciate.

Alizart goes on to suggest that we might need to start thinking of ourselves in a position relative to dogs when we are eventually confronted by the reality of an AGI. This is not a dystopian vision, however, where we are reduced to little more than pets for our AI overlords, as Alizart holds dogs’ civilisational relationship to humans in much higher regard. This relationship instead signals a new inter-species companionship, a kind of techno-species friendship, which will impact both humans and AI in equal measure and to an extent that we, at present, can’t yet fully foresee.

What is made explicit in the book’s summary is that the nature of this relationship should be a softening rather than a hardening of these intersubjective boundaries.

Whilst I’ll need to actually read the book to fully grasp Alizart’s argument — rigorous para-academic over here — I haven’t stopped thinking about this suggestion since it was told to me a few weeks ago, particularly at a time when so many theorists have been emphasising an eco-political need to reimagine our relationships to other species; to rethink the hierarchies of our cross-species relations.

This is something I’ve written about before, particularly in relation to the hardening of these subjective boundaries. An article that will forever stay with me is Laurie Penny’s 2016 essay “Against Bargaining” in which she describes the psychological impact of Trump’s election in the US as a “mental health asteroid”. We see this sort of thing more often than we might think — in which crises of subjectivity are increasingly equated with climate disaster or extinction events. Mark Fisher most famously noted how we’ve seen this in relation to capitalism as a whole, but I think the effects of “capitalist realism” on subjectivity — which Mark would also talk about length of course — are worthy of far more consideration than the overall picture because, whilst thinking the end of capitalism remains difficult, I think we’re far more aware of the fact that we as subjects are more malleable than we often given ourselves credit for. And so when Alizart talks of a softening, I think this is what he means — the innate malleability of capitalist subjectivity.

This is a malleability that is far more visible within ecological discourses today than in political philosophy more generally — and I think the emphasis on this which we find in Deleuze and Guattari’s “geophilosophy” or, more recently, other people’s writings around “geopoetics” are deserving of far more attention in this regard — and so Alizart’s call to take a critical step back from our anthropocentrism in order to help us relate to an AGI, which we might see as representing something like a new species in the sense that it is a new and external intelligence, presents us with a shift of perspective that this kind of species-being — to borrow a turn of phrase from Donna Haraway — requires. In this way, an AGI may likewise assist us in politically thinking our ecological dilemmas, making us the “Other Species” for a change by way of it constituting, as Reza Negarestani writes in his book Intelligence and Spirit, an “outside view of ourselves [which] tells us what we are in virtue of what we are determinably not.”[1]

Reza’s book is a particularly interesting example of this kind of philosophical discourse related to AGI because he infrequently nods to this kind of intersubjective relation.  For instance, when writing on how to rethink the very task of a philosophy of intelligence, he writes: “In an age when philosophy is considered to be at best an antiquated enterprise, and at worst a residue of what is orthodoxly normative, patriarchal, repressive, and complicit with all that is overprivileged and fascist, what does it mean to rekindle philosophy’s insinuative temptations to think and to act, to galvanize that activity which is at bottom impersonal and communist?”[2]

When writing on this before, I’ve always emphasized the observation that, when we see post-capitalist and post-apocalyptic dramas in our fictions, they almost always occasion the emergence of a newly communal, collective and — yes — communist subject. The TV show The Walking Dead is a particularly interesting if bad example of this, where the zombified dead provide the central characters with this outside view of themselves, by telling them what they are in virtue of what they are not, causing a complete social breakdown of the kinds of communality we know and leading to us seeing this communality rebuilt in a variety of different ways. Those who are unable to adapt die, and so a great deal of emphasis is put on this human malleability. However, the prevalence of this kind of narrative in horror — it’s also interestingly central to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos — whilst innately acknowledging the truth that such a transition will never be easy, and it may even be — by present standards — deeply immoral, it also betrays the depths of our present pessimism.

So, what I’d like to consider here, very briefly, after an all too long introduction, is a very different perspective than that recently made popular within Reza’s book — one which focuses on fictions but reimagines their valences via a trip down a slightly different history of philosophy than the one deployed by Reza. For instance, whilst Reza might argue that this outside view of ourselves has constantly been attempted by philosophy — often failing, albeit productively — I’d like to shift away from this argument and instead argue that this more accurately the very purpose of mythology. I wonder: how can an AGI help us reimagine mythology in a way that has long been desired but has never been fully actuated within our reality, and, further to that, how we might consider a newly mythical thinking to also be innately communist.

First things first, and being all too aware of the time, I want to give you a whistle-stop and inevitably reductive history of mythology:

Studies of mythology in the West typically begin in Greece with the likes of Plato and Aristotle, for whom philosophy was understood as the return of a knowledge following the pre-historic age of pure theology. Mythology then, constituted by fragmentary memories of a time before writing, becomes, for the Greeks, a transitory knowledge, on which Aristotle in particular would ground his “hermeneutics”, notably named after the mythical figure of Hermes, the messenger of the Gods. In this sense, philosophy is born of but distinct from mythology. As central as these tales were to the Greeks, providing their philosophers with a language and a vocabulary more than anything, through which to comment abstractly on thought and that which is both within and outside of themselves, philosophy was nonetheless placed above the myth in a new hierarchy of human thinking.

Fast forward to the 18th century and this hierarchy between mythology and philosophy is disturbed. Myth begins to rise above philosophy as the imagined home of a profound and original knowledge, of which philosophy is only ever an extrapolation and a reduction. This triggered something of an existential crisis amongst the thinkers of the age. The Romantics, in particular, wanting (in some instances, colonially – that is, literally and physically) to return to a mythic space-time, in order to acquire a glimpse of this original truth, instead find themselves blinkered by the strata of reason in which they are embedded. To paraphrase an exploration of this period by Rudolph Gasche: “the language of the sciences and the new rationality (in contrast to the “old reason” of the Greeks) by which [we have] been marked, whose spell [we] cannot escape, allows the anticipated return to the mythical only in a distorted form”[3] — perhaps, a gothic form. “Therefore,” Gasche continues, “the simple return or the turning back fails: what remains is the longing for the origins and the painful experience of the impossibility of its renewed realization.”[4]

Here the horror of the story of Frankenstein, that myth of the modern Prometheus, might quickly come to mind. In thinking ourselves, euphemistically at least, as Gods in our apparent mastery of the sciences, we are nonetheless terrified by our own aptitude for destruction or abominable creation, contrasted to the absolute and apparently pure creativity of that which supposedly gave us life. And what is Frankenstein himself if not an artificial intelligence.

This desire to produce a new mythology was not, despite how it may sound, regressive but is rather rooted in a desire to reground poetry — and, by extension, subjectivity — within the uneasy new age of reason, and none were more successful in this regard than Schelling. Whereas Hegel would notoriously equate mythology with religion in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, echoing the long-held Platonic-Aristotelian view of myth as a lower and less rational thought, which positions philosophy as an exercise in the hardening of the boundaries of a previous subject, Schelling would, by contrast, offer up a far more generous reading with his Philosophy of Mythology, presented as a series of lectures given towards the end of his life.

Here, Schelling defines mythology as the poetic expression of that which is beyond historical time, as the expression of “occurrences and events that belong to an entirely different order of things (not only … the historical, but also the human…)”[5] The Greek mythology of Gods and Goddesses is just one such example of this, but it is Schelling’s implicit argument that this particular form of expression is not the only kind and we should not misjudge a system of mythology as a somehow primitive mode of thought, in its general disregard for truth. This is tendency that continues to persist in the arts today. For Schelling, it seems, this is the misstep taken by his unfortunately more famous colleague Hegel. The importance of myth to what Hegel calls Spirit — albeit reduced in Hegel’s own analysis — is that mythology is the expression of Spirit’s “poetic drive for invention.”[6] In this sense, we can see why the Creation Myth is a primary category within different mythologies from around the world. This is to suggest that, whilst philosophy tends to concern itself with ends, mythology becomes a transcultural attempt to think beginnings — the beginnings of religions, of peoples, of places, of times, of ideas, but also — and particularly revelant to our discussion today perhaps — of revolutions and technologies. It is in this sense that Gilles Deleuze would write in his essay “Desert Islands” of the way that geography and geology, in particular, are examples of “science mak[ing] mythology more concrete, and mythology mak[ing] science more vivid.”[7]

What is most interesting about Schelling’s Philosophy of Mythology is that, in tracing its roots and tracing mythology itself back to the point of its own emergence within human culture, he finds that it is not, in fact, the product of human agency in itself. Just as we have come to appreciate the poetic in its unruliness, its resistance to reason, its multiplicitous interpretations, we find that mythology instead lurks in the shadow of Hegel’s Spirit. Reza, who has used Hegel and German Idealism at length in his book on AGI, nonetheless seems to miss something in his picking up of Spirit in a typically Hegelian mode, which Schelling himself critiqued Hegel for missing also. Reza, however, even goes further, distancing geistig even more than Hegel from any occultural connotation, and defining it as that which constitutes a “community of rational agents as a social model of mind” which is, more specifically, a social model which is defined by its function. Schelling’s mythology is, again, contrary to this – it does not intend to “assert or teach something” but rather just invent.[8] To call upon its function is to kill it — to condition it is to kill it — and in this sense we further parallels with the political discussions that have long circled the topics of communism and, more recently, accelerationism.

The importance of myth to the discussion of an emerging AGI, however, is that, in the its uneasy outsideness, in being that which emerges from us but is beyond us, its future origins may shift our own origins in their predominance. For instance, to return to our canine friends, in looking at the psychedelic dogs produced by Google DeepDream, we might see this as a nascent and inchoate example of an externally “sensuous imagination”, to borrow a phrase from Schelling. And yet, in its imaging of noumenal dogs, it is still the product of a broadly anthropocentric subjectivity. If our thinking on this matter is indeed to become more rigorously political but also radical and communist, we need to soften ourselves further still. DeepDream, for instance, is an example of us using computer to dream dogs. We instead need to think what it is like for dogs to dream us.

[1] Reza Negarestani, Intelligence & Spirit (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2019), 4

[2] Ibid., 407-408

[3] Rudolph Gasche, Georges Bataille: Phenomenology and Phantasmatology, trans. Roland Vegso(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), 32

[4] Ibid.

[5] F.W.J. Schelling, Historical-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, trans. Mason Richey and Markus Zisselsberger (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 9

[6] Ibid., 13

[7] Gilles Deleuze, “Desert Islands” in Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974 (South Pasadena: Semiotext(e), 2004), 9

[8] Schelling, Historical-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, 13

A Sad & Lonely Constellation

I’m going to be beamed into Caffè Letterario Macao in Milan on Friday to do a short presentation on AI, communism, dogs and mythology for A Sad & Lonely Constellation: Navigating the Antinomies of Technological Hope, a conference which “attempts to navigate through the thick swarm of hopes surrounding the body of Artificial Intelligence as it accelerates towards us.”

It will also explore the “hope for the deflation of politics into techne; the desire to attenuate the anxiety of hermeneutics through a mechanised literature freed from the debilitating excesses of subjectivity; the aspiration for novel sapient artificial entities which, by demanding and asking for reasons, can go beyond ‘thinking’ by association.”

I’ll also be taking part in a panel discussion with top boffins Chiara Di Leone, David Roden and Michael Eby called “Concrete Politics and A Swarm of Technological Hopes”.

The lineup for the rest of the day is awesome with plenty of familiar faces, such as Ben Woodard, Anna Longo, Enrico Monacelli, and others all also announced as taking part.

For more information, check the Facebook event here. You can also give them a like and a follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — and, not forgetting their post-conference festivities: if you’re local to Milan, you can head to the after party at Bar Doria.

The event is free and all are welcome. The talks will also be live-streamed by the New Centre for Research and Practice. Please check ASALC’s Facebook page and the ‘discussion’ section of this event for the weblinks of the broadcast.

Anomalous Worlds: On Accelerationism & Patchwork

This was a talk given at the fourth #WYRDPATCHWORKSHOP event, organised by Diffractions Collective and held at Punctum in Prague. Listen above, read below.

What I want to talk about today is patchwork and accelerationism, and how they are intrinsically related, but that feels like a difficult task at the moment…

In fact, I had a whole other talk planned for today, presenting some recent research on this topic which goes back to the naturphilosophie of Schelling and Fichte and how post-Kantian debates around theodicy and the temporality of evil offer us something today in how we think about capitalism, filling in the blindspots of some more explicitly Kantian thinking along these lines.

As thrilling as that might sound, it felt too far removed from the events of the last few weeks.

One of the major talking points of the last week has been the appearance of the word “accelerationism” in the manifesto of the perpetrator of the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand, a xenophobic and particularly Islamophobic terrorist attack which killed 50 people.

Suffice it to say, it’s been a bad week for the discourse.

I wrote a quick blogpost about this the other day, wanting to address this situation head on, writing about how this shooter’s form of “accelerationism” should be completely unrecognisable to an accelerationist who has been influenced by this thought as it has emerged from its source — and I think that’s true whether you’re on the left or the right.

This was a post that looked inevitably trivial in the face of the horror of that attack. Of everything that needed to be said in the aftermath of that event, the defence of one obscure word from the peripheries of political philosophy, which appeared on just one page of a meandering and incoherent manifesto, might suggest that my priorities are in the wrong place. But I also think that it’s important that we firmly hold onto the terms and politics we have developed for ourselves. To denounce a word in the face of its abhorrent appropriation feels too much like giving in and being complicit in the rejection of radical politics that that attack really represents. This kind of politics wants to override the intentions of progressive discourses, lest we forget the shooter defended his ethnonationalism on environmentalist grounds also.

This is what the enemy wants — the dilution of the words and signifiers that we think hold power for us. With that in mind, I’d personally much rather take a stand on what I believe in and its fundamental rejection of the shooter’s politics than let it all melt away, just like everything else around us, into the nondescript swamp of PR politics.

This extended form of defence is — admittedly — something I’ve engaged in far too much over the last week and, frankly, I’m exhausted by it now. Twitter is probably not the best place for it anyway and today I feel, in many ways, completely done with Twitter. What’s worse, though, is that this prospective counter-discourse appears to have even more of an uphill climb ahead of it than I initially anticipated. Gregory Marks, who goes by the handle @thewastedworld on Twitter, recently did noone any favours by creating a Twitter bot that retweets all mentions of “Accelerationism”. Gregory is a really great writer and I cast no shade on him in pointing to his new creation, even if he is the Doctor Frankenstein in this situation, because, as cursed as his Twitter invention may be, it has revealed the enormity of a pill that was already difficult to swallow — that is, that the shooter’s particular brand of accelerationism seems to dominate Twitter in many respects, and that’s on both the right and the left. Regarding the latter, I’ve also written against these widespread left-wing misunderstandings of accelerationism recently, in particular how they have proliferated more locally, but I personally had no idea just how far these misconceptions spread across the internet. These is certainly not a form of this politics that I come across online or in my everyday life.

This talk isn’t going to be a recounting of those defensive arguments but this is nonetheless the background onto which this talk has all written and the message central to those previous posts bares repeating here before I continue, because it demonstrates the mechanism just discussed in the Q&A with Enrico on the hegemonic consolidation of myths — in that here we see an idea of accelerationism which is abhorrently violent and superficial but which we can interpret as only helping to embolden present ideological hegemonies by ejecting the radical outsideness of accelerationism, and in many ways calls for change in themselves, out onto the scorched earth of political extremism. This is a message has direct implications for patchwork politics as well and which we can see examples of around the world. Palestine might be the most obvious example, where patch-adjacent demands of self-determination are dismissed as being complicit in terrorism and must be denounced across all political lines.

So, hopefully, especially in present company, I hope it goes without saying that the shooter’s form of accelerationism is utterly superficial, calling for nothing more than the intensification of social change in order to combat social change. These so-called “accelerationists” simply want identity politics to eat itself, and I mean that quite literally. They worship the political figure of the ouroboros — the snake that eats its own tail (likewise referred to by Enrico in his talk); it is a form that is self-destructive and self-constituting in equal measure. It is a sort of tactical destruction and fear-mongering that aims to keep things exactly where they are in their frenzied stasis.

This is not the accelerationism I know and study. It is, in fact, fundamentally opposed to this way of thinking. It is precisely this in-grown process of self-destruction and self-constitution that accelerationism points to and tries to exit. It sees the ouroboros for what it is and looks for ways to kill it.

This is something already explored by Enrico in his talk — this sort of in-grown logic of performative exit which is, in fact, the spectacle of an already hegemonic system flexing its own limits, and as Enrico also pointed out, this is something I’ve written about a few times recently.

I personally adhere by the Mark Fisher definition of accelerationism. In a 2014 essay entitled “Postcapitalist Desire”, Fisher defines accelerationism as follows:

Capitalism is a necessarily failed escape from feudalism, which, instead of destroying encastement, reconstitutes social stratification in the class structure. It is only given this model that Deleuze and Guattari’s call to “accelerate the process” makes sense. It does not mean accelerating any or everything in capitalism willy-nilly, in the hope that capitalism will thereby collapse. Rather, it means accelerating the processes of destratification that capitalism cannot but obstruct.

What is meant by this is that a true accelerationist wants to affirm capitalism’s own outward-facing orientation — and this orientation is a central insight of Karl Marx. The desire that fuels a capitalist system is insatiable but, in constantly reaching beyond itself, it also puts itself at risk. It threatens its own destruction every time it attempts to assimilate a new outside. In that sense, capitalism does not refer to some state of things outside ourselves. Capitalism is nothing without us — that is, our desires — and so, as an aside, I want to be clear here, when I say capitalism in this talk, know this refers to the entire system, from the oppressive forces of the state and the economic systems that escape its boundaries, but also ourselves and our internalised sense of our bordered constitution. Capital and subject are, in this way, horrific mirrors of each other. To quote Mark Fisher again:

… the most Gothic description of Capital is also the most literal. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labour is ours, and the zombies it makes are us.

So, accelerationism, for Mark Fisher and others, is an intensification of this process of destratification, of finding the outsides to our presently cloistered existence, but it is also an intensification of our awareness of this process as it already occurs. It’s a call to hold open the moments of capitalism’s own exit so that we might see what else may inadvertently come through from the other side. Because, as both Nick Land and Mark Fisher have written repeatedly, to find ways out is to let the outside in.

As things present stand and churn, capitalism only wants to let enough of the outside in so that it might be able to sustain itself. It was the belief of Mark Fisher that to let the outside of capitalism in might transform capitalism — and ourselves with it — into something radically new. This is not say that we, as people, as agents, can accelerate capitalism’s processes of destratification in themselves, but rather that we might become better at seeing the exits that capitalism opens up for us and exploit them accordingly. Because, as Fisher writes in his 2009 book, Capitalist Realism, capitalism is an ideological system that is adept at covering over its own failings and inconsistencies. It attempts to hide the doors it cannot help but open out onto the new.

Fisher would go on to hint at this further in his final book before his untimely death, 2016’s The Weird and the Eerie, in which ghost stories and weird fictions are seen as parables for exploring the emergence of new worlds. He asks, perhaps far too implicitly, how we might sustain our grasp on the anomalies of this world, on the weird, so that the weird might begin to change the system in which it appears.

For accelerationists — and unfortunately this is something common to both the terroristic and DeleuzoGuattarian varieties — political anomalies should be encouraged for this same reason. Many anti-accelerationist think-pieces attribute this tactic to the frogmen of 4chan prior to Trump’s election — those individuals who wanted to see Trump become president so that he might exacerbate and demonstrate the impotency of a modern progressivism. However, by the same token, in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn could likewise be seen as such an anomaly, and his elevation within the public consciousness has certainly revealed, to an unprecedented degree, the cloying conservatism that is rife within all corners of British politics.

There are some other instances too, in which we are more attuned to this capitalistic process of outsideness — although, for the most part, these instances are often only seen with the benefit of hindsight. The most obvious example of this comes in the form of radical geographies. We have thoroughly plotted the lines along which capitalism has reached into its geographical outsides through the processes of colonialism. More recently, however, we see other discourses emerging which highlight capitalism’s ideological exits — for example, where brands and businesses increasingly want to be seen as being “woke”. Whilst the right-wing has only noticed the existence of this tendency very recently, deploring capitalism’s contemporary tendency to ignore the right’s well-founded pro-capitalist and conservative opinions, it has been a criticism on the left for decades, particularly in queer discourses under the names Pink Capitalism or homocapitalism, where we see criticism of banks and major corporations that sponsor and want to be seen as supporting LGBT movements for no reason other than to legitimate their own continued existence. The increasing social acceptance of LGBT peoples presents queerness as a new ground for capitalism to colonised, albeit this time it is a new corner within our collective consciousness rather than within the world around us.

This is perhaps the perfect example of capitalism’s own progressivism, leaving behind its grassroots supporters in favour of new markets, for no reason other than its desire to sustain itself.  

Now, it’s here that we might do well to re-introduce patchwork into the accelerationist equation.

Patchwork thinking is an explicit form of accelerationist thinking which takes these geographical and ideological issues and makes them its primary battleground.

This is not just a recently constructed preference but a foundation of this discourse. Nick Land may connect Accelerationism to a Moldbuggian Patchwork on his Xenosystems blog but Deleuze and Guattari also speak of acceleration and patchwork in their seminal collaborative work, Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Being so closely related to accelerationism, patchwork is also not without its controversies, and I’ve previously written numerous blog posts that attempted to counter the suggestion that patchwork is a project of state fragmentation that would lead to nothing but the proliferation of ethnostates. The argument, just like that of accelerationism, is quite to the contrary.

This is because the accelerationist outsight, its outsideness, is inherently scalable. It’s not just capitalism, as a socioeconomic and ideological system, which runs on an engine of stratifying and destratifying itself. As Deleuze and Guattari reveal this to us, this is a cyclical process that is common to the state, to social institutions, to the subject, to the planet itself. Theirs is a structuralist critique which takes structuralism to its absolute limits. If you dig deep enough, you will find that nothing is as self-sustaining and self-constituting as it necessarily thinks it is.

An ethnonationalism, just like that held by the Christchurch shooter, is antithetical to this position, and this is a form of right-wing thought that even Nick Land has denounced. On his Xenosystems blog, in a post called “Outsideness”, Land writes how an inwards-facing neoreactionary (or NRx) thought holds “a firmly consolidated core identity [as its] central ambition.” It is “a micro-culture [which] models itself on a protected state, in which belonging is sacred, and boundaries rigorously policed.”

By contrast, an outwardly-oriented neoreactionary thought, which Land himself claims to adhere to, is “defined primarily by Exit, relat[ing] itself to what it escapes.” He notably mentions patchwork in relation to this outwards-facing position, calling it “a set of options, and opportunities for leverage, rather than a menu of potential homes.” Outer-NRx, then, for him, “is intrinsically nomad[ic], unsettled, and micro-agitational. Its culture consists of departures it does not regret.”

Now, I’m not a neoreactionary, but I think this internal analysis of the movement is productively nuanced and insightful. It is the kind of insight that the left also desperately needs. The contemporary left, as I understand it, at least here in the UK, has no sense of itself along these lines. But these lines are deeply important, not least for a defense of an accelerationist discourse and practice that fundamentally opposes the world view of terrorists like the Christchurch shooter.

The shooter is, undoubtedly, an observer of this inward-facing online discourse because, like him, an inward-facing neoreactionary politics is, by and large, ethnonationalist and isolationist. It doesn’t define itself by what it exits. It’s a grumpy and inarticulate teenager slamming the door behind them as they hide in a room in the house that the rest of us nevertheless have to live in, maybe playing their music really loud to make living here a misery for the rest of us, but being ultimately unwilling and unable to move out and live on their own. An outer-neoreactionary makes no such fuss. It simply packs a bag and leaves in the night, perhaps with nowhere to go.

For me, in my writing, I’ve been trying to explore the tensions of a leftist politics that nonetheless holds these same distinctions within itself, albeit typically unacknowledged. For example, Left-Accelerationism is often frequently derided online in certain circles, because it represents what began as a desire for an exit from capitalism that chose to reduce itself to a technosocialism — that is, a socialism that embraces technology, and particularly the state’s use of technology, to bring about utopian social change — i.e. fully automated labour, universal basic income, and things like that. This thought might not be ethnocentric but it nonetheless demands a firmly consolidated core identity. This could be an internationalism rather than a plain old nationalism, but the core identity is still central. And this is the same kind of tension that is central and unacknowledged with a project like the European Union today.

Personally, I’m all for the social freedoms that the EU proclaims to support and insist upon, and technologically improving our lives within that club would sure be nice, but I nonethless reject it as a fundamentally neoliberal project wherein our proud shared identity as Europeans is defined by a blanket neoliberalism and capitalism, where an inability and unwillingness to keep up with the herd is a punishable offence. This principle does have its benefits — wherein states and production lines are all held to the same standards when it comes to issues of human or animal rights, for instance, but this likewise applies to standards that are wholly capitalistic and neoliberal.

This point is particularly poignant for me this weekend as I spent most of yesterday on a Put It To The People march through central London. This was a one-million-strong march organised by a political group which is calling for any final Brexit deal to be put to the people in a final referendum. For reasons explored elsewhere, mostly my blog, I’ve noted how I am pro-exit but anti-Brexit. Brexit is a rejection of neoliberalism abroad in favour of neoliberalism at home. It is not an exit that I choose to recognise as such and so, personally, I’d be in favour of having the opportunity to judge that final exit plan and have a say in whether we go through with it and leave or reject it and remain.

What struck me was that, in defending accelerationism for much of the past week and denouncing the suggestion that I am in bed with fascists and terrorists, it was on this democratic people’s march that I felt more complicit in the terrors of a static pro-capitalist neoliberalism than I have ever previously felt, standing for three hours in Parliament Square only to leave after hearing a keynote speech from former deputy prime minister for the Conservative party under Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine, who did not mince words, declaring the European project to be the direct result of the legacy of war-mongering racist Winston Churchill and queen amongst arseholes, his friend Margaret Thatcher.

I don’t want to leave the EU on Theresa May’s terms but I definitely don’t want to remain under the terms of Churchill and Thatcher.

It is this feeling of being caught between a rock and a hard place that the left fails to adequately acknowledge and counter, and it is because of this that I feel that we must make room for difference. There must be room for a thinking about the possible ways in which our expressions of desire can exist beyond the present state of things rather than always being expressed within them.

Patchwork, for me, is the name of prospective geopolitical desire which does not define itself by what it is already within — that is, by the infrastructures and institutions of capitalist nationhood — but rather defines itself by what it exits.

For many, this is a difficult thought to comprehend and make consistent with a leftist worldview, but that is not because it is in anyway right-wing. It is down to nothing other than the left’s own inward-facing and reductive sense of itself.

Let me explain this way: previously, via Mark Fisher, we defined accelerationism as a philosophical project which looks to the outside and attempts to sustain the exits that are opened out onto it by the systems in which we already live. And this is, in many respects, at least at the level of the individual subjectivity, a sort of first principle which defines many modern texts on ethics.

Emmanuel Levinas, for instance, defines his ethics by the primacy of the encounter with the Other — that is, a being who is outside oneself. Georges Bataille would likewise plot an ethics in this vein. However, Bataille emphasises the inherent evil of this encounter, that is, the risk it poses to the self. To communicate with another, for him, is to threaten one’s own life, figuratively speaking. We see ourselves just as we see capitalism, as we see the state, as self-contained and self-constituting beings, and in communicating with others we risk the violent destruction of that illusion.

This is precisely the tension that exists at the heart of inward- and outward-facing accelerationist politics. One response to this risk, which the Christchurch shooter undoubtedly felt about himself and white people more generally, is to turn away and fold back in on oneself. But this won’t do.

Whilst Bataille may see communication in itself as being “evil”, in its inherent risk to the self, it is a necessary evil. He writes in his book On Nietzsche:

The human being without evil would be folded onto himself, enclosed in his independent sphere. But the absence of “communication” — empty solitude — would be without any doubt a greater evil.

He continues — and I noticed that this is a quote which featured on the poster for this event:

… “communication” cannot take place without wounding or defiling the beings, is itself guilty. The good, in whatever way one envisions it, is the good of beings, but in wanting to attain it, we must ourselves question — in the night, through evil — the very being in relation to which we want it.

A fundamental principle is expressed as follows: “Communication” cannot take place between one full and intact being and another: it wants beings who question being in themselves, who place their being at the limit of death, of nothingness. The moral summit is the moment of risk, of the suspension of the being beyond itself, at the limit of nothingness.

This is the heart of Bataille’s ethical project, which takes the full weight of a communal living upon itself. This is also the heart of patchwork for me, which is too an ethical project as I see it.

Patchwork is the suspension of the nation-state beyond itself. It is an occulted image of the nation-state which defiles and wounds itself, and in the process defiles and wounds others around it, not with physical violence or warfare, but with thought and communication as instances of symbolic, linguistic, cognitive and technological perforation. It is a communication which demands an openness from that which is being communicated with. It is not a neoliberal multiculturalism, in this sense, which consolidates different within distinct nationalised totalities. It demands for the very real perforation of borders and boundaries. It is a system where nation-states question their very nature. They don’t sustain themselves on myths of foundation and constitution but embrace the amorphous and nomadic nature of the subjects which truly constitute their existence.

In a blog post written before his extended online hiatus back in 2017, Vince Garton would write on the misguided task of excavating accelerationism’s antedecents within writings on politics and philosophy. Finding previous examples of this sensation of acceleration might be thrilling and interesting but we need to jettison the past into the future, not simply point to it from the present. As such, Vince writes, concluding his blog post, that

the intellectual history and genealogy of accelerationism must look beyond the contingencies of its present expressions. To have any value, it must tap into the subterranean current of communication itself.

This, for me, is the role of patchwork in discussions around accelerationism — patchwork as that which accelerationism opens out onto — and this is something that I think Chris‘s talk explored in incredible depth. It is a world rethought along currents of communication rather than capital. It is a world that puts the other first in a way that capitalism cannot even conceive of. It is an almost Bataillean project of collective subjectivity and one which may transgress the world we know but only so we might egress out onto a world we don’t. It is not the strengthening of present borders of power. It is not the strengthening of patriarchy, of whiteness, of capitalism, of colonialism, of nationhood. Any project which calls for those things is no project of ours. We must accelerate the anomalies which emerge within these categories of hegemony and build a patchwork out of the amorphous results.


Another archive retrieval.

Back in 2015, I went to this ceramics exhibition at the National Museum in Cardiff called Fragile? 

The last room of the exhibition was home to Keith Harrison’s installation Mute which consisted of a giant wall of speakers attached to two turntables.

Each of the speakers had a ceramic disc attached to its front and the idea was that, over the course of the exhibition, you could watch the deterioration of these ceramics plates through sound.

On the wall behind the turntables there were lots of records you could use to abuse the speakers for yourself. Jazz worked best, apparently. Brass timbres seemed to do a lot of damage.

I wanted to find out for myself so, one Sunday during the unusually hot Welsh summer, I decided to cycle over with a record bag and play some of my noisiest records for a hour. I think its the most fun I had all year.

Caribou Vibration Ensemble — The Interlude Film

Here it is. I’d recommend picking your own soundtrack when watching the first video. The good thing is it will go with just about anything.

In collaboration with Jason Evans, this short film was made to be a backdrop for a short interlude during the Caribou Vibration Ensemble’s set at ATP Nightmare Before Christmas on Sunday 11th December 2011.

During the interlude, the members of Caribou left the stage leaving the rest of the ensemble – including Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden, James Holden, Ahmed Gallab, Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra Arkestra and a 4-piece horn section – to play. The video began at this point and lasted the entirety of the 10 minute interlude.

Watch this space for other photos and videos taken over the ATP weekend.