Notes on Accelerationism
Goldsmiths, University of London, 14th September 2010
feat. Mark Fisher, Ray Brassier, Benjamin Noys, Alex Andrews, Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams
Introduction (Mark Fisher): Brief introduction to Nick Land’s theory of accelerationism, alluding to Fanged Noumena, his forthcoming collected writings, which draws on Deleuze and Gautarri’s Anti-Oedipus and Lytoard’s Libidinal Economy.
Mark Fisher: Terminator vs. Avatar
In Economie Libidinal Lyotard questions whether intellectuals are inclined towards or alienated from the proletariat? Are they guilty of a moralism against the capitalised? A position derived from Nietzsche. Iain Grant Hamilton says there was little critical response to the accelerationist gambit and Nick Land’s writing has been largely ignored. The question for accelerationism is which path do we choose: withdrawal from the world-market or totalization?
The English unemployed did not have to become workers to survive, they – hang on tight and spit on me – enjoyed the hysterical, masochistic, whatever exhaustion it was of hanging on in the mines, in the foundries, in the factories, in hell, they enjoyed it, enjoyed the mad destruction of their organic body which was indeed imposed upon them, they enjoyed the decomposition of their personal identity, the identity that the peasant tradition had constructed for them, enjoyed the dissolutions of their families and villages, and enjoyed the new monstrous anonymity of the suburbs and the pubs in morning and evening. – Jean-Francois Lyotard, Libidinal Economy
Here we have the mad destruction of their exhausted bodies and monstrous anonymity, yet who wants to return to pre-capitalist territorialities? The film Avatar is capitalist disavowal (it plays at being primitives via an elaborate techno-spectacle)
1. Everyone is an accelerationist
2. This has never happened before.
3. Marx is nothing but an accelerationist.
Fisher applauds the parenthetical hatred present in Libidinal Economy ( affirmation vs. ‘no!’), which is an attack on academic Marxist disavowal (the ruthless protectionism of the petite-bourgeois). Those who Graham Harman calls ‘career sandbaggers’.
If technics is thinking about itself, it can be a high-road to thinking that passes through inhuman thinking. The history of capitalism as invasion from the future, the Terminator death-drive is to be relished rather than abominated, it presents an antagonism that the left requires.
However, Nick Land’s accelerationism misunderstands Deleuze and Guatarri’s most important ideas about capitalism, the tendency of capitalism (i.e. the anti-market, cf. Delanda, Arrighi, Braudel) towards stagflation and monopoly; its breaking down/disequalibrium. We must be able to think good and evil simultaneously. In crisis capitalism has abandoned the future and the left colludes with this meta-narrative.
Ray Brassier on Nick Land’s Accelerationism:
Philosophical questions are key to the political ramifications of accelerationism. Machinic practice converted into the theoretical leads to impotence, the ditching of representation engenders a performative contradiction, manifested as incapacity at the level of practice. This can be split into three dyads:
Nick Land’s hatred or rhetorical animus is more than hyper-Nietzcheanism, its far more than that – even if it is stymied by conceptual incoherences. It is a sobering contrast to flaccid Bergsonian vitalism. Land is characterized as mad-black Deluezianism, a non-conceptual negativity (a sublimated fury), a rehabilitation of the power of the negative against affirmationist consensus.
Land claims that materialism is the production of production, the materialisation of critique. Following Deleuze’s reconditioning of Kant’s critique of metaphysics, he collapses the transcendental and the material, the emprical/transcendental distinction. Claiming that thinking is a function of materiality, a schema in which matter is primary and its representation is secondary. Here there’s an auto-synthesis the potency of intensive matter (thought). Matter as machinic hyletic production; self-differentiation . The synthesis of absolute difference and absolute indifference (as we find in Schelling: intensive zero as matter in-itself). Representing/represented.
Matter itself generates its own representation, producing a transcendental illusion (my note: a Fata Morgana!) The question is how can we circumvent representation and talk about the primary process (matter in-itself).
We have a problem here as Land eliminates Bergsonianism in Deleuze’s account, the dualism that allows access through intuition (the ability to intuit the real nature of durée). Land supplants Bergsonianism with unconscious thanotropism (nothing is given/everything is produced). There’s a philosophical difficulty here with regard to the primacy of matter. [see the rhizome chapter in Thousand Plateaus; the praxis of tracing, the positive feedback between thinking and conceptual practice, tracing movements and tendencies in material, a machinic practice that is schizo-analytic]. In this process there’s a dyad between intensification and delay producing an imperative to intensify/accelerate and demolish anything that inhibits.
Here’s the problem: Intensity is equivocal (Kantian appearance/Bergsonian qualitative difference in experience). You experience intensity (vitalism). However, Land is not interested in subjective experience, faciality and identity, and instead requires destratification. Matter as primary production, as death, is not translateable into intensity (i.e. thought) since death cannot be experienced.
The imperative to affirm through mapping demolishes the transcendental exteriority of the world. [long pause]. It is the subsitiution of sublimated eschatology for all teleology. So why intensify/destratify if we always have this surplus of strata? There is still the problem of the organising dualism once thinking is subordinated to intensification (or acceleration). However, isn’t there a transcendental speed limit? Particularly since cosmic schizophrenia equals death.
This leads to a question. Death generates the ‘production of production’ (see Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle), it is the moment of convergence with absolute intensity. So the question then becomes who would be the bearer of this thanotropic expression? Certainly not human beings or the human substrate! What is left to intensify once the secondary is reintegrated into primary production, you end up with a mimesis (a circular process), a process that doesn’t need you. ‘It is happening and it doesn’t need you, anyway’. Here there’s a retention of the romantic Schopenhauerean notion of fusion where the will turns against itself. There is no fulcrum left for this reversal since there is no longer any subjective bearer of this intensity.
How can you affirm everything that incapacitates affirmation? There is no bearer of the political intensification of the left. The affirmation of free-markets/deregulation instrumentalizes neoliberalism in name of something far darker. It’s like saying my enemy’s enemy is my friend and you end up embracing neoliberal ideology, since you are unable to dissociate practice from ends; tactics from strategy. The problem is that someone with a strategy will dragoon your tactics cynically as we find in libertarian capitalism.
AT: Isn’t this just an aesthetics without a theory? Accelerationism misunderstands the opportunist nature of the capitalist system. Enjoying the death of the universe is a narcissistic solipsism. We can’t experience that sort of speed. We can’t experience death. It seems to be an ideological position to make the world more exciting. Is this even a theory?
MF: This goes back to Lyotard’s hatred of theory (theory is not enough, the point of philosophy is to change the world), a theory of scorched earth.
RB: It’s to do with the status of critique and critical theory. Nick Land accepts post-Hegelian Marxist critique. He turns the Marxist critique of philosophy against theory itself, asking ‘what are you doing?’ However, Land’s practicism is as impotent as theory itself.
MF: Nick Land didn’t feed back into capitalism (it didn’t need him). It’s like waving a flag for a juggernaut that is speeding past you.
RB: Personally, I’d like to keep the theory/practice distinction as a useful distinction. However, what is interesting in Land is this signifying regime using numbers (an anti- logos that is purely a numerical/digital signifying practice).
MF: The whole point is to be adopt Zizek’s sovereign decision and to be remorseless back. To be the Terminator in return.
Q1: Isn’t the problem that thinking capitalism’s metaphysics corrupts our empirical understanding of?
Q2:. So does this dissolution of theory into pure practice, into practical self-generating matter, posit the inadequacy of an organic bearer of this practice?
RB: I’m an idealist, I want to retain the autonomy of thought/matter distinction. I want to defend representation (representation in theory is a kind of strawman) I want to defend the dialectical understanding the identity of matter in-itself. There is a need to generate a locus/space of subjectivation for practical insertion, a need to reexamine Hegelianism, to preserve the rational ability to intervene.
MF: No one is claiming that individuals don’t exist (this is a problem in Deleuze and Gautarri, planetary deterritorialisation vs. banal identitarianism).
Q. If we look at Anti-Oedipus in comparison to A Thousand Plateaus, TP is much more sober in tone, post-68 there are all these people that deterritorialize too much (drug addicts, etc). We’ve been here before, it was a disaster for leftism, this vulgar Marxist/fascist accelerationism.
MF: However, if we look at music and we see this tendency towards decommodification, or zero price. The strategic question is can we instrumentalize and achieve that which capitalism inhibits?
RB: Isn’t this teleological deployment, though? An instrumentalism?
Benjamin Noys’ rejection of accelerationism as capitalist fantasy (‘political defeat experienced as victory’) is here in full: The Grammar of Neoliberalism. And hopefully the remaining talks will be up on Backdoor Broadcasting soon.
EDIT: Amusing sci-fi commentary from John Hutnyk here: Working notes for a sci-fi novella (after accelerationism).