Accelerationism: Ray Brassier

Transcribed from the Backdoor Broadcasting Company recording.

I’m going to be talking about Nick Land’s work. I’m going to talk about it philosophically, and explain why, because I think that’s a key to understanding what its political ramifications might be. If you want to understand if a politics of accelerationism is possible or feasible, you need to confront the internal conceptual intelligibility of the accelerationist program.

Several of us here have been influenced by Land’s work in one way or another. I once had a conversation with him, which consisted of a disagreement whereby he insisted I kept translating what he took to be pragmatic issues, issues of what he called “machinic practice”, into conceptual issues. He accused me of philosophical conservatism, by insisting on translating what he took to be the pragmatic back into the theoretical. But I want to insist that this is necessary, because this “machinic practicism” that Land insisted on leads to a kind of practical impotence.

So I want to insist that it’s necessary to confront fundamental conceptual issues before you can really understand what it is that you’re doing. And in that regard, I don’t buy into the whole rhetoric about the need to ditch representation. I think if you try to get beyond conceptual representation, you end up engendering performative contradictions, not just theoretical ones. Contradictions at the level of concepts manifest themselves as an incapacity at the level of practice.

That’s why I’m going to operate in this way, and I’m going to do it by schematizing Nick’s work or agenda in terms of three explicitly dialectical contrasts. Where a machinic pragmatism insists on the need to resist and to obviate any kind of dialectical antagonism or opposition, I think it’s necessary to do that in order to be able to identify what its strengths and weaknesses are. The three points that I wish to focus on, or the three dyads, are: critique and materialism, teleology and eschatology, and practicism and voluntarism.

Robin Mackay and I are editing a volume of Land’s writings, called Fanged Noumena. These texts are pretty extraordinary. As Mark said, no matter how much one may detest their rhetorical animus, it’s simply not enough to dismiss them as a kind of puerile, indulgent hyper-Nietzscheanism. It’s far more sophisticated than that, even if I do think it’s stymied by incoherencies, and by any account, these are extraordinary texts. They provide a sobering contrast with the flaccid inanity of contemporary Bergsonian vitalism. The French philosopher Vincent Descombes once described Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy as manifestations of what he called “mad black Hegelianism”. An attempt to find the prosecution of a kind of Marxist materialism that would somehow be anti-Hegelian. In the same regard, Land’s work is a “mad black Deleuzianism”, an attempt to turn Deleuze’s vitalist impetus, the affirmationist élan that animates the Deleuzoguattarian corpus into something much more ostensibly unsavoury, but also much more conceptually liberating.

What is really interesting in these texts is the way in which there is an extraordinary re-elaboration of negativity, a kind of non-conceptual negativity, and these texts bristle with this kind of sublimated fury, and that’s what makes them really powerful. Because I want to show that it’s possible to rehabilitate the powers of the negative against what Ben Noys has called the “affirmationist consensus” in contemporary theory, this is a moment in Land’s work that I’m acutely interested in, although I’ll try to explain why I think he doesn’t succeed in wresting the negative from, preventing it from being subordinated to, a kind of affirmationism.

First of all, Land is operating under the aegis of Deleuze and Guattari’s work. He proposes to radicalise critique, to convert the ideal conditioning of the representation of matter to the material conditioning of ideal representation. In the Landian apparatus, materiality is construed solely as the production of production. Transcendental materialism in its Landian version becomes a materialization of critique. The critique of the Kantian critique of metaphysics, of which there are several versions, supplemented in various configurations by 20th century continental philosophy, is converted into a materialist metaphysics of critique, by collapsing the hierarchy of the transcendental and the empirical. The first move, the really interesting move, and in fact, the key to understanding the Deleuzoguattarian concept of destratification in Landianism, is that the first thing that needs to be destratified is the empirical/transcendental difference. This is seen to be the enabling condition for critical philosophy.

But it’s no longer a Hegelian or dialectical sublation of this difference. It’s non-dialectical. It’s a reduction of the difference to matter, because Land claims thinking is a function of materiality, and representational thought, that is to say, conceptual categorization and even, on this account, the logic of the dialectic itself, is simply a circumscribed or depotentiated version of a functional potency generated by matter itself. The claim is that matter itself is synthetic and productive. Matter is primary process, and everything that unfolds at the level of conceptual representation is merely secondary and derivative. Synthesis is primary and productive, and all synthesis is the conjoining of heterogeneous terms.

What Land proposed to retain from Kant was the emphasis on the transcendental efficacy of synthesis, the primacy of transcendental synthesis, but no longer as the synthesis of empirical items, objects of experience anchored in a constituting subject. It’s the self-synthesising potency of what he called intensive materiality. This becomes the key term. It’s a brilliant explication of the logical operation that Deleuze and Guattari carry out vis-a-vis Kantianism in Anti-Oedipus. Matter is nothing but machinic production, self-differentiation, and the fundamental binary that organizes this materialist metaphysics is that between intensive materiality, which he identifies with the body without organs, and death, this moment of absolute indifference as absolute difference. Land is quite explicit about the link to a certain version of Schellingianism here. He explicitly links Deleuze and Guattari to Schelling.

The binaries between what he calls intensive zero as matter in itself and every kind of conceptual binary between concepts and objects, or representing and represented: the claim is that by levelling this fundamental dualism, the dualism of transcendental form and empirical content, you get this materialist monism where you explain how matter itself generates its own representation. It generates its own representation, and by this account, representation itself is relegated to the status of a transcendental illusion. It’s a misprision of primary processes; it’s at the level of merely secondary processes.

But this materialist critique of transcendental critique, I argue, reproduces the critical problem of the connection between thought and reality. Why? Because the problem then becomes: how can you simply circumvent representation, and talk about matter itself as primary process, about reality in itself? This process, which is obviously the problem which underlies Kantian critique in the first place, re-emerges in an exacerbated form in this materialist subversion of Kantianism. But the problem is particularly acute, and this is where the Landian elimination of the Bergsonian component in Deleuze’s thought becomes awkward, and generates a difficulty for him. Why?

In many ways, you can align the Deleuzian critique of representation with the Bergsonian critique of representation. Much of what Deleuze says is problematic about the categories of representation, about representation as the mediating framework that segments and parcels out the world, the flux of duration, into discretely individuated objects… the claim is that you have a sub-representational layer of experience which it is possible to access through intuition. The Bergsonian critique of metaphysics and the destitution of representation intuits the real differences in being, you can intuit the real nature of matter, time; duration in the Bergsonian register.

There’s a problem here for Landianism, because he can’t do this. He’s supplanted representation, but he wants to supplant this kind of Bergsonian vitalist phenomenology for an unconscious thanatropism. The point is: how do you access the machinic unconscious? It’s not simply given. Land insists time and time again, nothing is ever given, everything is produced. The problem is that Land’s materialist liquidation of representation, because it doesn’t want to reaffirm, allegedly, the primacy of sub-representational experience, which Bergson and phenomenology do in various ways… he has to explain what it is he’s talking about. He’s doing a kind of materialist metaphysics, and there’s an issue about what kind of traction this extraordinarily sophisticated conceptual apparatus can gain upon the process of primary production, the real as intensive difference, matter in itself, whatever you want to call it.

This is an initial philosophical difficulty, which interestingly Land himself in conversation tried to dismiss by saying “well, you have to understand that thinking itself is no longer about representational congruence between concepts and objects, ideas and things, but is itself a productive process.” The discussion of machinic mapping versus representational tracing in the opening plateau of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari claim that schizoanalysis, or rhizomatics, or whatever you want to call it, is itself a praxis, a doing. There’s a positive feedback loop between what you are thinking about and your thinking. So that your conceptual practice is no longer tracing intelligible structures from a pre-existing, readymade reality, it’s actually tracing movements and tendencies in material processes. It becomes self-legitimating in this sense. The question then becomes one of intensification. It’s no longer an epistemological question of the legitimacy or the validity of your thinking vis-a-vis an allegedly independent reality, it’s simply a question of how your schizoanalytical practice accentuates or intensifies primary production, or on the contrary, delays and inhibits it. Truth or falsity becomes subordinate to the dyad intensificatory/deintensificatory. This is the conceptual trope which becomes translated into a political register. At the level of what it is you’re doing as a machinic materialist, intensifying primary production; all your practices become governed by the imperative to intensify and accelerate. To ruthlessly demolish any obstacle that threatens to delay or inhibit this.

I think there’s a problem here, and the problem is this: the concept of intensity becomes fatally equivocal in this register. There’s an equivocation between the Kantian talk of intensities at the level of appearances, and the Bergsonian talk of intensive difference as qualitative difference of experience of duration. When Bergson is talking about intensity, he means a difference in quality which can never be mapped on to magnitude or extensity. But this experience of intensity has a phenomenological correlate.

Hence, vitalism is hence all about having intense experiences. But Landianism can’t avail itself of this register of intensification, because he’s not interested in phenomenological subjectivity and he’s not interested in experiences insofar as they are experiences of a subject in the Deleuzoguattarian register: an organism, with a face and a personal identity, etc. These are all the things that are supposed to require destratification.

The claim that you can dispense with the need of any epistemological legitimation for your metaphysics by simply saying it’s not about truth or falsity, it’s just about the intensification of the primary process, is incoherent, because matter itself as primary production, or death, is not translatable into any register of affective experience or affective intensity.

This is why I find this move unconvincing, the claim that you can just keep on intensifying and intensifying. The second problem arises here: a kind of imperative to affirm re-emerges, because the claim is that, in mapping the process of movements of deterritorialization and partial reterritorialization, you’re mapping activity itself, because it’s nested upon the strata, it occupies an immanent position vis-a-vis these material processes; you no longer have the transcendent exteriority between theory and world. Theory itself is implicated in the reality it’s describing. Then things become unclear.

There is a substitution, of a sublimated materialist eschatology, for all forms of rationalist teleology. Why keep intensifying? Because there is always a surplus of stratification. One wouldn’t need to deterritorialize and destratify unless there was always a complement of reterritorialization and restratification. You only need to deterritorialize because there are strata. Why is there stratification in the first place?

Because there is an organising dualism. The claim is that, although the real itself is absolutely deterritorialized, the degree zero of absolute intensity, it’s always differentiated and stratified, sedimented in various complex ways. Once thinking itself becomes subordinated to the imperative to intensify and destratify, it’s clear that there must be a limitrophic point of absolute deterritorialization towards which the process of affirmation or acceleration tends.

If you’re accelerating, there are material constraints upon your capacity to accelerate, but there must also be a transcendental speed limit at some point. The ultimate limit is not a limit at all for him, it’s death, or cosmic schizophrenia. That’s the ultimate horizon. Land unabashedly endorses this remarkable thesis of Anti-Oedipus, but strips it of all its palliatives, about how this might generate new forms of creative existence, etc. For him it’s just: “at the end of the process is death”.

The title of one of Nick’s papers is called “Making It With Death”, a brilliant title. Because death is inherently productive, it’s the motor, the mode of antiproduction which generates all production, the production of production. This is not simply Freud’s “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, where life itself and all vital differences are unilateral deviations from intensive death. The claim is that you can have a moment of convergence with absolute intensity, or absolute deterritorialization. What is this, who would be the bearer, what vehicle would continue to exist to be the bearer of this thanatropic acceleration?

Not the human species, certainly. The claim is that all terrestrial history is a history of intensification, of human social organisation and the developments of advanced technological capitalist society are just a moment or a phase in the process. The continuation or intensification of the process demands the elimination of humanity as a substrate for the process. The question is then, under what conditions?

Here I think a fundamental contradiction, a conceptual incoherence emerges: how can you intensify when there is no longer anything left to intensify? If your schizoanalytical practice is fuelled by the need to always intensify and deterritorialize, there comes a point at which there is no agency left: you yourself have been dissolved back into the process. Once secondary production has been re-integrated or feeds back into primary production, ironically what you have is a bizarre mimesis of the serpent of absolute knowledge, except this time, it’s the serpent of absolute production.

The point is that organically individuated human subjects cannot position themselves vis-a-vis this circuit or this process. It’s happening without you anyway. It doesn’t need you. The very concept of agency is stripped out. There’s a quote of Land’s: “it’s happening anyway and there is nothing you can do about it.” Something is working through you, there is nothing you can do about it, so you might as well fuse. This is a philosophical problem. It’s a retention of this romantic, Schopenhauerian idea of fusion between the personal and impersonal, the individuated subject and cosmic schizophrenia, the impersonal primary process. But for Schopenhauer it still makes sense to postulate that. The moment at which the will turns against itself governs Schopenhauer’s whole ethical and practical philosophy.

For Land, there is no longer any kind of fulcrum for the point of reversion, the conversion from secondary to primary process, because there are no individuated bearers left any more. This convergence does not unfold at the level of experience. In that regard, the whole vocabulary of intensification and disintensification becomes redundant. The paradox is simply this: under what conditions could you will the impossibility of willing? How could you affirm that which incapacitates all affirmation?

This is a conceptual problem with interesting practical and political consequences. It has a political valence, because I think it explains Nick’s political trajectory from a kind of radical ultra-left anarchism. From a point when, in a paper called “Kant, Capital and the Prohibition of Incest: a polemical introduction to the configuration of philosophy and modernity”, he says “the state apparatus of an advanced industrial society can certainly not be defeated without a willingness to escalate the cycle of violence without limits.” Interestingly, in this paper, it’s radical guerrilla militant lesbian feminists who are the only revolutionary subjects.

He moves from this moment, where he’s perfectly willing to endorse or affirm radicals, where his critique of the Marxist left is that it’s not radical, revolutionary, or critical enough, and then five or six years later he seems to realize there is no bearer of revolutionary intensification left. Therefore politics must be displaced, it must be deputized, and all you can do is endorse or affirm impersonal processes which at least harbour the promise of generating or ushering in the next phase of deterritorialization.

What does this mean? It means affirming free markets, deregulation, the capitalist desecration of traditional forms of social organization, etc. Why? Not because he thinks it’s promoting individual democracy and freedom. He has to instrumentalize neoliberalism in the name of something allegedly far darker and more potentially corrosive, but in the process it seems you end up… if your enemy’s enemy is your friend, there comes a dangerous point where you forget the conditions under which you made this strategic alliance, because you can no longer see, you can no longer identify what the goal is any more. You end up endorsing and embracing a kind of neoliberal politics or ideology, and the pretence of instrumental distance, that this could just be the cunning of schizophrenic reason, quickly evaporates because it’s not possible to dissociate praxis from identifiable ends any more.

In other words, once you dissociate tactics and strategy–the famous distinction between tactics and strategy where strategy is teleological, transcendent, and representational and tactics is immanent and machinic–if you have no strategy, someone with a strategy will soon commandeer your tactics. Someone who knows what they want to realize will start using you. You become the pawn of another kind of impersonal force, but it’s no longer the glamorous kind of impersonal and seductive force that you hoped to make a compact with, it’s a much more cynical kind of libertarian capitalism.

Accelerationism: questions after session 1, Mark Fisher and Ray Brassier

Transcribed from the Backdoor Broadcasting Company recording.

Alberto Toscano: I’m wondering if either of you actually think Land has a theory of capitalism. It seems to me simply an aesthetics, a very common extrapolation from a certain lyrical vision of capitalism which to one extent or another you famously encounter in the Communist Manifesto, which simply doesn’t seem to actually involve any theory, if by theory we also understand something which could find confirmation or refutation. You mentioned the “mad black Hegelianism” and “mad black Deleuzianism” and so on… and to one extent of another, that model of ever-going faster and deterritorializing has an inkling of truth, at the same time as it completely misunderstands, and which Deleuze and Guattari do understand, the opportunistic nature of the system in which this form of social life is valued. That’s where there is a gap between the aesthetic payoff, which is the most disavowed, narcissistic, humanist thing you could want. “Enjoying the death of the universe”: is there anything more pitifully human? On the one hand, there is this idea that that this is going to be really exciting, that speed is something you can experience, that destruction is something you can experience, and then on the other hand, the disappointing day-to-day reality of sausage patties and various other things.

From both of your presentations, what really struck me is this constant form of disavowal. I’m interested in this as a symptom of a certain theoretical and political moment. There is a disavowal of phenomenology, a virulent attack on phenomenology, and it ultimately turns out that the only thing which justifies this is a form of experience, a form of course inhuman[?] but nevertheless. You have this disavowed morality, and Jameson’s very good at pointing out that once you have these dualisms–the intensive and the extensive–you have morality all over again, you have disavowed teleology very clearly, you have disavowed vitalism, because capitalism as a network is this being which wants things and so on.

What strikes me is that this is a completely ideological position, and there is nothing wrong with ideology as such, but it’s a position that simply states things about the world because it would be more exciting for the world to be like that, rather than because there is anything which seems to give purchase to that account. And that might be mobilizing, cynically speaking, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into anything that would be recognizably a theory. I agree that compared to some of the homilies of left moralism, there’s a mobilizing kick to this, but it’s at a purely ideological level. I might agree that ideologically speaking it’s an interesting counterpart, but I wouldn’t say it’s an interesting theory.

Mark Fisher: I think Ray’s highlighted the issue of the whole status of theory, and that goes back to Lyotard in Libidinal Economy. There’s this hatred of the position of theory itself, that partly is a twisted response to a kind of Marxist moment, already to the whole reflexivity issue about what theory is doing, that “philosophy has merely interpreted the world”, etc. That’s the thing: it’s not enough. That’s the point of the conversations we were having at various points: it doesn’t matter what the theory is, theory is just part of the hyperstitional circuit of intensification.

In order to make it into a theory, you have to construe it in particular ways. He’s got a get-out clause in relation to that: it doesn’t matter if your theory is good, because theory is already bad and on the side of representation anyway. There’s reason to raise a very serious problem with that. It’s something inherited, I think, from Lyotard, who I emphasize above Deleuze and Guattari as the key figure here. That “scorched earth, burning the ground on which you walk” kind of position in relation to theory which Lyotard spectacularly, and inevitably, fails to generate in his own work is something that you could [take off? (unclear)]

Ray Brassier: I think the really interesting issue is the status of critique, of critical theory. Because in a way, at the start of his trajectory, it seems that he accepts the post-Hegelian, kind of Marxist critique of the sterility of philosophy, that it’s nothing more than a series of ideological symptoms. He wants to radicalize the critique of theory, but he says the question… in a way he turns the Marxist critique of philosophy against Marxist critical theory itself, and says: “What is it that you’re doing? In what way does this critical praxis actually intersect with …” If you take this minimalist definition of communism, simply as the movement to abolish the existing state of things, that the world is constantly changing, being transformed, and communism is simply the movement to abolish the existing state of things, and the communist task is somehow to facilitate this move, [then] all your theoretical activity must be governed by the imperative to connect and facilitate this movement.

Nick really agrees with this, but as we said, the bearer of this movement is no longer the revolutionary proletariat, it becomes capitalism itself. In a way, this is my fundamental disagreement with the premise of the whole account: if you begin by disavowing the relative autonomy of theory, and the need to negotiate with theoretical problems theoretically, the need to articulate the relation between theory and practice in theoretical terms, you end up with a kind of hyper-practicism, which is impotent as theoreticism. There’s a blind devotion to practice: we must do something, we must do something, we must intervene. Which ends up being as completely useless as the most abstruse hyper-critical, hyper-theoretical reflection.

So I think that the initial premise of the Landian trajectory, which I think he inherits from critical theory, from his tutors… well, not mentors, because he has a very antagonistic relationship to them, but from the Frankfurt school advocates by whom he was taught…

MF: The other argument against it is: if the appeal is to the hyperstitional efficacy of things, well, Nick’s texts had limited hyperstitional efficacy. They didn’t feed back into capitalism at all, which didn’t require them. Capitalism didn’t require hyperstitional intensification by Nick Land’s work. And that’s a serious objection. Because otherwise, what is it doing?

RB: Otherwise I’m sure he would have become a CEO or something.

MF: It was like waving a flag as the juggernaut of capitalism rushes past him. Why is that any better than trying to stem the flood of that juggernaut? It’s equally impotent. He’s completely undercut the position of any kind of agency at all, but then you raise the very simple question of why write anything? Unless you maintain a theory/practice distinction of at least a minimal kind, you don’t get a real mode of practice at all. Writing then becomes a hyper-representational thing. It’s like a dog chasing its tail, endlessly trying to produce a form of writing which would somehow transcode the intensities it’s alluding to into a pure form of intensity, which is why he ends up with strings of numbers.

The thing I will say about it is at least he took it seriously. And this is really rare, particularly amongst people in his position. He really took all of these issues seriously to the point of derangement. To the point where he was hearing voices… this is what’s so admirable about it.

RB: Ironically, the thing which makes his work most theoretically, conceptually interesting, and which is there right from the beginning, is this interest in signifying systems. He took this with his obsession of constructing a counter-signifying regime using numbers. This is one of the most fascinating moments of his project: to create an anti-logos. If logos is the medium of human rationality, of means-end reasoning, then the anti-logos, which would be a purely numerical medium…

MF: The digital alludes to the mathematical, doesn’t it?

RB: Yes..

MF: It’s not about a theory of numbers, it’s about a numerical practice…

RB: Yes, but a signifying practice, that signifies things which have never been and are conceptually unintelligible for anyone using the resources of current conceptual categories, etc. This is something of conceptual interest, which could be pursued independently of this whole practical thing, of connecting theory with capitalism.

Rob: Insofar as there’s this critique of organically individuated human subjects, for me it’s made more problematic by your invocation of so many proper names of male philosophers, albeit all with “-ism”s on the end. And can I also observe that–and I know what the occasion of this day is–but the oscillation between “the Landian trajectory” and then occasionally switching back and forward into “Nick”, in a sense you’re inscribing the difficulty of your own opposition, with this romance element in that, so if I could just observe that as something which seems to me problematic. If you’re going to maintain this argument to the extent which you seem to be theoretically outlining it, you should dispense with all the proper names whatsoever.

MF: Well, no, there was a perfectly valid theory of proper names in Deleuze and Guattari. Why do you think that proper names refer to organic individuals?

Rob: Uh, because when they then revert to “Nick”… [unintelligible]

MF: That’s just another form of… [unintelligible]

Rob: Well, I’m just making an observation; I’m not making a huge…

RB: I can see your [point]…

Rob: The reason I raise this was to ask Mark, that if you are raising questions of praxis, of the idea of the human, then I think one of the most powerful ideas on the Left at the moment is Zizek’s insistence on the idea of sovereign decision. And you are talking about the remorselessness and so forth, the predator or terminator quality of capitalism. So there is, in this hopeful idea, a kind of alternative to that too, which may require a certain idea of the individual, which is the ability to be absolutely remorseless back. And I’ll give two examples of this, one of which you’ll know very well.

In Anouilh’s Antigone, at one point Antigone says a wonderful thing to Creon. She says: “I’m here to say no to you, and then to die.”

The second one, which I know you know, is of the chief leader in Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, who in that brilliant early scene, will not let go of the adversary. So there’s an idea of militancy which is inconceivable without some kind of idea of absolute counter-remorselessness, to be the terminator back.

Which is why I’m making the quite serious point about the necessity to allow for the fact that the individual, whether in the form of Nick or proper names, remains in the equation, no matter how much one may want to theorise it out, and I don’t think one should.

Pete: Mine follows on from Alberto’s. Leaving the problems of the relation between theory and practice behind, and just sticking within theory, I’m wondering whether there’s not an additional problem with this kind of metaphysics of capitalism, whether giving capitalism some kind of special or privileged place in your metaphysics or of thinking capitalism from a particularly metaphysical standpoint actually prevents or disables concrete empirical critique of the social structures involved in capitalism. Does this metaphysics of capitalism corrupt genuine empirical study of it?

Alex: I probably agree with Rob to a limited extent, on the point that I think it’s somewhat illegitimate to attempt to valorise someone like Land via a romantic-individualistic conception, even though we might want to use his name to indicate the works collected underneath it. But thinking a bit more broadly, I really wanted to ask Ray about the dissolution of theory into pure practical self-generating matter, on which I think he’s absolutely correct. But isn’t it partly because of the inadequacy of thought to bind the absolute intensity i.e. =0, =death, he necessarily nominates an inorganic bearer to be able to think and experience that?

RB: Yes, absolutely. And in that regard, I consider myself an idealist, opposed to a materialist, as I insist on the need to preserve the relative autonomy of thinking, and the cogency and the consistency of thinking, and of conceptual rationality, precisely in order to be able to adjudicate the relationship between thinking and reality, between theory and practice, and also it’s an enabling condition for practice. In other words, if you try to fuse thought into material reality indiscriminately, I think that leads to an impotent short-circuit. So I would insist on defending the representational structures that are simply attacked… it’s a caricature of representation that’s being attacked, it’s a straw man. Representation here, and theoretical representation in particular, is a straw man.

I want to defend the imperatives of conceptualization, and even a kind of dialectics, as although I agree with what Nick says about the way in which death is a marker for real identity of matter itself, the point is that you should never confuse the symbolic marker for the thing in itself. You need a much more careful and subtle articulation of those terms–actually, between zero, one, and two–to explain the autonomy of thought and rationality and of thinking. Not to put too fine a point on it, so that you can maintain and generate a locus of rational agency. In other words, keep a space of subjectivation open that provides a prism for practical incision, a point of insertion. And that has to be done, and I think this involves re-examining the legacy of Hegel, and of Hegelianism. In other words, to maintain a kind of conceptual rationality that necessitates transformation at the level of practical existence. It requires a lot of theoretical work to do this. I would insist on the need to preserve the autonomy of rationality as something that allows you to intervene, to cut, in the continuity.

Alex: Yeah, me too. This is very much the thing that Land doesn’t just remove as an option; I mean, any ability to intervene is deliberately abjured. There is no agency at all for Land. Well, there’s a paradox, there’s this strange excrescence of subjectivity which his project seeks to almost practically erase because of the difficulties that it presents, but there is obviously a paradox there as for him it’s kind of unintelligible on some level; for him I think the real aim of his project is towards this kind of obliteration of this problematic thing. It’s almost self-refuting to that extent. He wants to close this void, this excision into the world.

RB: I think that’s a problem.

MF: As for Pete’s problem, I guess my own work is much more towards the very empirical study of capitalism. I’m not fully sure of the answer to that question, but I think it’s a good question. Of course, you’re in danger of doing capitalism its own work for it, or are you? That’s the weird thing. Part of the problem of Nick’s work is that capitalism cannot identify with it. That he is the cheerleader for capitalism is absurd. Of course, capitalism couldn’t work if it advertised itself as what it really is: the remorseless terminators which suck up all human intelligence and metabolize it, etc. In fact it requires an utterly inane set of cultural conditions: PR couldn’t be further from this Landian model of identity disintegration, the absolutely banal world of PR and of advertising, etc. [unintelligible] Even if it’s irrelevant, it’s happening anyway. It could be teletubbies, it’s indifferent, it doesn’t matter. I think there is an important question to what extent we need to talk about capitalism in this metaphysical way in order to demystify it, or if it’s the danger of the demystification… [unintelligible] contours of it.

In terms of Rob’s question, no-one’s claiming that individuals don’t exist. If you’re a Marxist, that’s the problem, that’s where you’re starting from. One of the great virtues of Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of capitalism is that you could have this massive planetary deterritorialization and destratification, this unnameable thing on one hand, but on the other hand, how it operates is by the production of a banal biographical individualism. And we can see that everywhere. This is where Nick is wrong: there is no tendency towards the decoding of individual identity in capitalism. It improvises new and increasingly inane forms of subjective personalization.

Rob: So why give up terminator to the bad guys?

MF: No, I don’t want to at all!

Rob: The usefulness of the metaphor, these figures of militant implacability, why cede those?

MF: The terminator is interesting as the agent of an impersonal process, that’s the thing that I value. I don’t think we should cede it at all, I think we should to steal it back and that’s what leftist accelerationism is. It’s not a question of stealing it back, either; accelerationism starts off as a Marxist thing, I think, then Land tries to steal some of that intensity. Anyway, as Ray was saying, it’s bizarre, neoliberalism then becomes the agent of this planetary terminator desubjectification program. Which, on an empirical level, is manifestly absurd, I would say.

Alex[?]: I want to bring it back to politics. One of the things being said today is that we should take accelerationism as a guide to practical political action. It strikes me there are two pitfalls to this. Firstly, when we talk about Deleuze and Guattari and Anti-Oedipus, we have to really place it back in the context in which it was written: just after 1968, in France. People believed the revolution was around the corner, and the book is very much written in that tone. If we look at A Thousand Plateaus, by the late 70’s there’s a much more sober tone. It’s “well, you can’t deterritorialize too much”, and the book has all these images of people who did deterritorialize too much: drug addicts, and so on. And there’s talk about lines of death, that too much deterritorialization leads to fascism.

And if we look at the futurists, who were perhaps the original accelerationists, it’s perhaps not coincidential that there is a link between futurism and fascism. Not necessarily a logical one, but nonetheless that’s clearly one of the paths futurism can go down. So my first question is: if we do go down the accelerationist path politically, how do we know that’s going to be emancipatory or progressive in any way, are there not lots of lines of death that we risk encountering or following?

The second problem is a concrete problem which I think Ray identified, which is that you can easily go down the road of a pure instrumentality: in order to get to this particular end, we should do things which support causes or processes that we don’t inherently like, whether it be liberalism or whatever. And in a way we’ve been here before: all sorts of Trotskyite entryism, ideas like “it’s got to get a lot worse before it can possibly get better”, and historically that kind of politics has been quite disastrous, mostly. So, how do we avoid these two pitfalls?

MF: It’s not about accelerating just anything whatsoever about capitalism. It’s about going back to the fundamental insight of the Communist Manifesto, that capitalism makes available certain possibilities that didn’t previously exist in any social system. As Jameson says, this is the most collective society ever to exist on earth. It’s the society of total, global, interdependence. So it’s then a question, and this is where I think the “Wal-Mart as Utopia” essay is really interesting, of how we maximise the potentials which capitalism inhibits. That’s a strategic question. It’s not that we will just make everything faster, and everything worse, and why would it be worse, actually?

There are some fairly benign examples of interesting things in capitalism at the moment, but we don’t know where they’re going: decommodification, which somehow seems integral to a certain logic of certain aspects of capitalism. In recorded music, which is tending towards a state of either decommodification or zero-price as a commodity, and this is coming about through capitalism. Something like the internet, again, has emerged through capitalism and at the moment is locked into certain tendencies because of capitalism. So it’s a strategic question of how we can instrumentalize something like the internet, which would not have happened without capitalism in the form that it has, in order to achieve goals that capitalism cannot and will not ever achieve. It’s a question of strategic instrumentalization, not making things worse and hoping that it gets so bad that people will revolt. That’s not a form of accelerationism that I would advocate.

RB: But with instrumentalization then you’re back to a kind of teleology, a means-end reasoning, that’s the problem I think.

MF: But in politics that’s not a problem, you have to have that means-end reasoning.

RB: But can you square that with full-blown accelerationist [metaphysics?]?

MF: But they can’t be squared anyway. As you said, that kind of accelerationism for its own sake is incoherent, both pragmatically and conceptually. The only kind of accelerationism that would make sense is an instrumental one, not an absolute one, which as you’ve indicated is a nonsense anyway.

Rob: Why aren’t we then describing this as the reform of capitalism? Why aren’t we saying “there are certain bits of capitalism we like, there are bits we don’t like, we want to keep the bits we like…”

MF: Because they are not bits of capitalism. Those things that we want to accelerate are locked by capitalism in a way which necessarily blocks that. So it’s not a case of reforming, it’s a case of escaping out of capitalism, so that they can deliver these extra potentials which capitalism will inevitably block. And they must do so. Reform will say “stay in the capitalist framework, these things will eventually reach their potential.” I’d say that’s just not true, they never will.


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